HC Deb 01 June 1840 vol 54 cc800-10

House in committee on the Customs Duties Bill.

On the first clause—

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he would avail himself of that opportunity to state the course which he intended to pursue with respect to Baltic timber, which was one of the articles affected by this bill. He had received many communications on the subject, and he had endeavoured to ascertain the real facts of the case by every means in his power. He was bound to say, according to the best information which he had been able to obtain from those for whose opinions he had the highest respect, that the effect of any addition to the present duty on Baltic timber would not only be injurious to the trade, but would also tend to diminish, instead of increase, the revenue of the country. The duty on Baltic timber at present was 55s. a load, and on Canadian timber it was only 10s.; so, that if by an increase of the duty on Baltic timber he should prevent the introduction of one load from the Baltic, to be supplied from Canada instead, it was clear that he should lose the difference between the amount of duty on a load of Baltic and a load of Canadian timber. It was not his intention, however, to postpone the present bill. He should go on with that measure, but it was his intention to bring the article of timber separately under the consideration of the House, with the view of getting the same amount of revenue from that article as at present, which, in fact, he could not give up, but he would not attempt to obtain that amount by a percentage on the present duty, but by assimilating the duty in certain cases between Baltic and Canadian timber. He would not then enter into details, but by the end of the week he would be prepared to state the plan he proposed to adopt for levying the revenue from timber.

Mr. Grote

was glad to hear that it was the intention of the right hon. Gentleman to alter this bill so far as it related to Baltic timber. He was sure if an increased duty was placed on timber from the Baltic, as was originally proposed, that such a course would not only cause a serious loss or ruin to many persons engaged in the trade, but would also have the worst effect upon the revenue. He was, therefore, happy that an alteration in respect to timber was to be made in the bill.

Mr. Goulburn

said, that if the right hon. Gentleman admitted a distinction with respect to timber from the fear that an increase of duty would cause a loss to the revenue, he would warn the right hon. Gentleman that the same principle would be found to apply to other articles, and that he would be asked to make other exemptions from the operation of this bill. For himself, if timber were exempted, he should feel considerable difficulty with respect to spirits, on which the difference of the duty was far greater than on timber. With respect to the differential duties between Canada and other timber, he should not give an opinion; but if there was any intention to deprive Canada timber of the advantage it had enjoyed, there never was a time when it was less called for than when we were trying to adjust the differences with Canada, when, whilst we persevered in maintaining our rights, it should be our object to do every thing that would conciliate the colony.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

wished it to be distinctly understood that it was not at all with reference to an alteration of the scale of duties that he made the proposition; so far from it, that he believed that by the alteration he should propose, he should leave the question which had been mooted, and respecting which a great variety of opinions prevailed, in a better state for Canadian interests; for he was satisfied, from the communications he had received, that the additional burthen which by the bill he originally had imposed on Baltic timber would have caused more difficulty and doubt than by the course he now proposed to take.

Mr. A. Chapman

said, the object of the differential duty had been, not to put one penny more into the Exchequer, but to give employment to 1,000 ships, and 15,000 seamen, at a time when they were debarred from employment in the Baltic. This was the consideration which had induced the Timber committee to come to the resolution, and he thought no measure had been more satisfactory to the country generally than the present scale of duties. Timber was an article of such importance to us, that we must draw it from every part of the globe.

Mr. Hawes,

as one of that committee, must say, that the present scale of duty was considered unfair and unequal, and a reduction had been recommended. He regretted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not now state the course he intended to take; it was of great importance that the trade should know it.

Mr. Hume

was surprised that the hon. Member for Whitby should have stated, that the present scale of duty was satisfactory; every consumer of timber disapproved of it. He hoped the time was not far distant when the Chancellor of the Exchequer could equalize the duty, and thereby increase the revenue.

Mr. Kemble

agreed with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goulburn) that this would be an inauspicious moment to deprive Canadian timber of any advantage. With respect to the proposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a person largely concerned in the timber trade with the Baltic, as well as Canada, had stated to him, that the proposed alteration would diminish instead of augment the revenue. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he contemplated any further alteration in the bill, or intended to adhere to it with this single exception?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he did not intend to propose any other alteration in the bill except verbal alterations, and if any should be proposed, he meant to oppose them.

Mr. W. Attwood

said, the bill was so unfair and unequal in its operation, that he could not believe the House would adopt it without further alteration. In the clause before the Committee the original proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was, that the additional duty should be levied from the 15th of May, but he submitted, that although that arrangement might seem to be fair, it inflicted a hardship on parties dealing in the articles. Though there was a proviso with respect to contracts, yet there might be virtual agreements made, which would not have the benefit of the clause. Instead of fixing a particular day when the duty should commence, the fairest way would be to levy it from and after the passing of the bill. It was bad both in principle and practice to charge the duty from the passing of the resolution of this House.

Mr. Hume

said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to give a schedule to show how the five per cent, would bear upon particular articles.

Captain Jones

rose to propose certain amendments, limiting the increase of duty on Scotch and Irish spirits to five per cent, on the existing duties. He did not propose to interfere with English spirits, rum and brandy; Irish spirits, or Scotch spirits, coming to England would be subject to the 4d, duty. He was bound to give some reason, and it was this—that Irish spirits were taxed to the utmost at present. The reports of the commissioners on the subject of Irish excise showed beyond the least possibility of cavil, that Irish spirits had already been taxed to the utmost. If the present duty were augmented, the effect would not fail to be an increase of illicit distillation. In another point of view, he wished the House to look at the probable effect of such a proceeding. A general complaint would be raised, that justice had not been done to Ireland. For some time past it had been found impossible to levy assessed taxes upon Ireland, and he did not hesitate to say, that any attempt to levy them there must be unsuccessful. For these reasons he proposed to leave out the words "United Kingdom," and should that proposition be agreed to, he intended to propose such additional words as might be necessary for carrying the object which he had in view into effect.

Mr. Lucas

observed, that by some means or other the English distillers obtained information beforehand, which enabled them to get rid of their stocks of spirits, and the result would be, that not 500l. in duty would be collected in England during the present year. By some arts of divination the Scotch distillers arrived at the same knowledge, but the Irish distillers remained in ignorance, retained their stocks on hand, and were therefore in great danger of losing severely. The measure would therefore be an ex post facto law.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

was understood to say, it was impossible, that any of the parties concerned could have obtained the least information upon this subject one hour earlier than the others. Knowing the state of the revenue, it was perfectly natural, that persons engaged in the manufacture of spirits should anticipate the possibility of being subjected to increased taxation, and, apprehensive that they could not escape the Chancellor of the Exchequer, took their measures accordingly. The question which the House had to decide was, whether there should be a per centage or not. Now, he contended, that spirits were a very proper object of taxation, and then the only practical question which remained was, whether 4d. would be too heavy. On this point he arrived at a different conclusion from that put forth by the hon. Gentleman opposite. The present duty was 2s. 4d. From 1831 to 1834 it was 3s. 4d. He was far from saying, that it would now be expedient to bring back the amount to 3s. 4d. by the addition of 1s., but what he pro- posed to do was, to raise it from 2s. 4d. to 2s. 8d., not 2s. 10d., as in the year 1826, yet it was worthy of observation, that when the duty was 2s. 10d. the revenue was a rising revenue, at the same time that he thought the addition of 1s. would now make it a falling revenue.

Mr. Goulburn

said it was true, that in 1830 the duty was 2s. 10d., and the revenue was then rising. An impression at that time prevailed, that the remission of 6d. would put an end to illicit distillation, but the change which then took place had not produced the effect which had been expected. Although he could not profess himself favourable to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, he felt, that not possessing the official information which was accessible to him, he (Mr. Goulburn) ought not to oppose the measure which had been submitted to the House by her Majesty's Government, nevertheless, he felt all the responsibility with the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Callaghan

said, it was quite clear, that the English and Scottish distillers were not likely to suffer, whereas the Irish had not been aware of the measure intended. There was not less than 20,000 puncheons of spirits now on the hands of the distillers in Ireland which would be affected by this proposed increase of duty, and he would contend, that never had there been any duty which was so unpalatable to the capitalists in spirits in Ireland as this would be. The unanimous opinion in that country was, that the additional duty would not be of any advantage to the revenue, but that, on the contrary, it would encourage illicit distillation. He therefore hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not press the proposition he had made.

Mr. Home Drummond

was of opinion, that if the additional duty of 4d. per gallon did not answer the object that was in view, the Government would then find it necessary to take off a larger sum than was now added to the rate of duty. He should support the amendment.

Mr. Plumptre

supported the proposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and would have been better pleased if a heavier duty on spirits had been proposed, so that the system of gin drinking might be checked.

Sir Robert Ferguson

could not support the proposed increase of duty, as in his opinion it would give a great stimulus to smuggling, to the great injury of the country.

Mr. Sergeant Jackson

deprecated the plan, as falling more heavily on Ireland and Scotland than on England, and, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had listened to reason on one item of his proposed taxation—namely, the timber trade—he hoped he would also take into consideration the inequality with which this tax would bear on the three kingdoms.

Mr. R. Steuart

had no fear of this additional tax leading to smuggling in Scotland, as that system had received a most effectual check by the last enactment on this subject.

Mr. Shaw

so far agreed in opinion with the hon. Member for Kent, that if he thought an increased duty would lead to a diminution in the consumption of spirits, he would give his vote in favour of the additional rate, but as he believed, that it would not have that effect, and that on the contrary it would encourage illicit distillation, he should vote for the amendment of the hon. Member for Londonderry.

The Committee divided on the question that the words "United Kingdom" stand part of the Clause:—Ayes 97; Noes 26: Majority 71.

List of the AYES.
Adam, Admiral Hall, Sir B.
Aglionby, Major Hayter, W. G.
Attwood, W. Hector, C. J.
Bailey, J., jun. Hobhouse, rt. hn. Sir J.
Baring, rt. hon. F. T. Hobhouse, T. B.
Barnard, E. G. Hodges, T. L.
Benett, J. Hodgson, R.
Blake, W. J. Hollond, R.
Bowes, J. Hoskins, K.
Broadley, H. Howard, P. H.
Brocklehurst, J. James, W.
Brodie, W. B. Jervis, S.
Bruges, W. H. L. Kemble, H.
Bryan, G. Knight, H. G.
Buller, E. Labouchere, rt. hn. H.
Busfeild, W. Langdale, C.
Childers, J. W. Lushington, C.
Clay, W. Lushington, S.
Clive, E. B. Macaulay, T. B.
Collier, J. Marsland, H.
Courtenay, P. Martin, J.
Elliot, J. E. Maule, hon. F.
Ellice, right hon. E. Morpeth, Viscount
Euston, Earl Morris, D.
Fector, J. M. Muskett, G. A.
Filmer, Sir E. O'Ferrall, R. M.
Fort, J. Ord, W.
Gaskell, J. Milnes Parnell, rt. hn. Sir H.
Grey, right hon. Sir C. Pechell, Captain
Grey, right hon. Sir G. Pendarves, E. W.
Phillpotts, J. Style, Sir C.
Pigot, D. R. Talbot, C. R. M.
Plumptre, J. P. Tancred, H. W.
Price, Sir R. Teignmouth, Lord
Pusey, P. Thornely, T.
Rawdon, Colonel Troubridge, Sir E. T.
Rickford, W. Tufnell, H.
Rolleston, L. Turner, E.
Round, C. G. Wakley, T.
Rundle, J. Walker, R.
Russell, Lord J. White, A.
Rutherfurd, A. Williams, W.
Salwey, Colonel Williams, W. A.
Seymour, Lord Winnington, Sir T. E.
Sheppard T. Wood, Colonel
Slaney, R. A. Wood, B.
Smith, R. V. Yates, J. A.
Smyth, Sir G. H. TELLERS.
Steuart, R. Gordon, R.
Strutt, E. Parker, J.
List of the NOES.
Arbuthnott, H. Jackson, Sergeant
Barry, G. S. Lowther, Colonel
Bodkin, J. J. Lucas, E.
Bridgeman, H. Mackenzie, T.
Callaghan, D. Maher, J.
Corry, hon. H. Martin, T. B.
Damer, hon. D. Round, J.
Evans, G. Shaw, F.
Ferguson, Sir R. Vigors, N. A.
Godson, R. White, H.
Gordon, Captain Young, J.
Hamilton, Lord C.
Hayes, Sir E. TELLERS.
Hope, hon. C. Jones, Captain
Hughes, W. B. Drummond, H.

Clause agreed to.

On Clause 7,

Mr. B. Wood

rose to propose the omission of a clause. Its effect was, to impose the extra duty upon the buyer, where a contract for the sale of goods was not completed at the time fixed for the act to come into operation. This would operate very unjustly where the bargain was made upon the understanding, that the duty was included in the price.

The Chancellor of' the Exchequer

said, it was difficult to frame a provision which should not in some individual cases produce hardship, but a similar clause had been introduced into other acts by which duties had been increased, and upon the whole it appeared fairer, that the buyer should pay the extra duty, which was not taken into account when the bargain was made.

Clause agreed to.

On Clause 8,

Captain Pechell

proposed to add a proviso, excepting windows from the proposed additional tax of 2s. in the pound. He could not agree in the statement which was often made, that this tax affected mainly the more opulent classes, for although it was true, that the cottage of the agricultural labourer was exempt from the duty, yet artisans, who formed the largest body of the working classes, felt the pressure of the tax in the shape of the increased rent of the lodgings which they occupied. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give some explanation as to what was meant by the surveys which were intended to be made, as, notwithstanding the explanation which had been given, some alarm still existed upon the subject.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

did not think the hon. Member could expect to succeed in his proposition. Considerable reduction had been made in this tax, and he could not make any concession with respect to it upon the present occasion. He admitted the tax was unpopular. He did not enter into the defence of any single item. The bill must be taken as a whole.

Mr. Hume

observed, that the right hon. Gentleman had givan no answer to the question respecting the assessment of reopened windows. Would old windows opened since the passing of the act of 4th and 5th William 4th on this subject, be liable to assessment under the new survey? Lord Althorp had given a distinct pledge that they should not be assessed.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, the provisions of the act alluded to should be strictly adhered to, and the attention of the surveyors had been directed to them. The assurance given by the act of Parliament would not in the slightest degree be infringed by the present bill.

Mr. Godson

could find no clause in the act of Parliament carrying out the pledge which the hon. Member for Kilkenny said, had been given by Lord Althorp. All reopened windows would consequently be assessed under the new survey.

Sir B. Hall

said, that the pledge given by Lord Althorp was to the effect, not merely that these re-opened windows should be free from assessment, but that the first tax repealed should be the window tax. Instead of this being done, an increased duty was now laid on windows.

Mr. Brotherton

thought the increase of the assessed taxes would restrict the present franchise under the registration law, and he trusted the new act for the registration of voters would pass, and relieve the voters from the present restriction of the franchise.

Mr. Fector

observed, that innkeepers felt it to be a grievance, that while the duty on shop windows had been repealed, their bar windows still remained liable to tax.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

referred to the last act, and quoted a clause exempting all windows re-opened since the passing of that act from assessment. The same exemption did not apply to newly built windows.

Mr. Jervis

said, the exemption did not apply to the property, but to the person. He thought it desirable to add a clause to the present bill to carry into effect the object intended to be secured by the last act on the subject.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that if the House thought such a clause desirable, he had no objection to its introduction.

The Committee divided on the question that the proviso proposed by aptai n Pechell be inserted:—Ayes 36; Noes 83: Majority 47.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, Major Marsland, H.
Attwood, W. Maunsell, T. P.
Bateson, Sir R. Morris, D.
Berkeley, C. Neeld, J.
Boldero, H. G. Parker, M.
Bruges, W. H. L. Rolleston, Colonel
Codrington, C. W. Round, J.
Duncombe, T. S. Rundle, J.
Farnham, E. B. Rushout, B.
Fector, J. M. Salwey, Colonel
Gaskell, J. Milnes Sibthorpe, Colonel
Godson, R. Sotheron, T. E.
Hall, B. Vigors, N. A.
Hector, C. J. Vivian, J. E.
Hindley, C. Wakley, T.
Hollond, H. Williams, W.
Hughes, W. B.
Lockhart, A. M. TELLERS.
Lushington, S. Pechell, Captain
Mackenzie, W. F. Berkely, F. H.
List of the NOES.
Acland, Sir T. Bryan, G.
Adam, Adm. Sir C. Buller, E.
Bainbridge, E. T. Busfield, W.
Baring, rt. hon. F. T. Clay, W.
Barnard, E. G. Clive, R. H.
Bewes, T. Collier, J.
Blake, M. J. Dundas, C. W. D.
Blake, W. J. Egerton, Sir P. G.
Bodkin, J. J. Eliot, Lord
Bridgeman, H. Elliot, hon. J. E.
Broadley, H. Euston, Earl of
Brodie, W. B. Fleetwood, Sir H.
Brotherton, J. Fort, J.
Gillon, W. D. Pigot, D. R.
Gordon, R. Plumptre, J. P.
Grey, rt. hn. Sir C. E. Ponsonby, C. F. A.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G. Price, Sir R.
Hayter, W. G. Protheroe, E.
Hobhouse, rt. hn. Sir J. Pryme, G.
Hobhouse, T. B. Rawdon, J. D.
Hodges, T. L. Reddington, T. N.
Hodgson, R. Russell, Lord J.
Hoskins, K. Rutherford, rt. hn. A.
Howard, P. H. Sandon, Viscount
Hume, J. Scholefield, J.
Inglis, Sir R. H. Seymour, Lord
James, W. Sheppard, T.
Jervis, J. Smith, V.
Labouchere, rt. hn. H. Stanley, W. O.
Langdale, hon. C. Stewart, R.
Macaulay, rt. hn. T. B. Strutt, E.
Maher, J. Style, Sir C.
Martin, J. Talbot, C. R. M.
Martin, T. B. Tancred, H. W.
Maule, hon. F. Thornley, T.
Melgund, Lord Tufnell, H.
Morpeth, Viscount White, A.
Muskett, G. A. Williams, W. A.
O'Ferrall, M. Winnington, H.
Ord, W. Wood, B.
Parnell, Sir H. TELLERS.
Pendarves, E. W. Stanley, hon. E. J.
Philips, M. Parker, J.

On Clause 12,

Mr. Gillon

proposed as an amendment, that the words referring to carriages kept to be let on hire be omitted, which would exonerate them from all taxation.

Colonel Sibthorp

considered, that this tax pressed very unfairly, and was for taking it off altogether.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that he would be very much disposed to do so; but that as it amounted to the sum of 154,000l. per annum, the present state of the revenue would not permit the reduction.

Mr. Hume

was of opinion, that if the carriage tax were removed altogether, the horse tax would more than make up the difference.

Captain Berkeley

observed, that the number of post-horses on the road to Windsor, had amazingly diminished of late.

The Committee divided on the question that the words stand part of the clause:—Ayes 69; Noes 58:—Majority 11.

List of the AYES.
Adam, Admiral Bewes, T.
Aglionby, Major Blake, M. J.
Ainsworth, P. Blake, W. J.
Archbold, R. Bodkin, J. J.
Baring, rt. hon. F. T. Bridgeman, H.
Berkeley, hon. H. Brotherton, J.
Buller, E. Pigot, D. R.
Cavendish, hon. C. Price, Sir R.
Clay, W. Protheroe, E.
Clive, hon. E. B. Rawdon, Col. J.
D'Eyncourt, rt. hn. C. T. Redington, hon. T. N.
Duncombe, T. Rundle, J.
Dundas, C. W. D. Russell, Lord J.
Elliot, hon. J. E. Rutherford, rt. hn. A.
Ellis, W. Scholefleld, J.
Euston, Earl of Seymour, Lord
Fitzroy, Lord C. Smith, R. V.
Fleetwood, Sir P. Stanley, rt. hon. E. J.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir C. Stanley, W. O.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G. Steuart, R.
Hayter, W. G. Stuart, W. V.
Hobhouse, rt. hn. Sir J. Stock, Dr.
Hoskins, K. Strutt, E.
Howard, P. H. Style, Sir C.
Howard, Sir R. Talbot, C. R. M.
James, W. Tancred, H. W.
Jervis, J. Thornley, T.
Langdale, hon. C. Tufnell, H.
Macaulay, rt. hn. T. B. Turner, E.
Martin, J. Williams, W. A.
Maule, hon. F. Wood, G. W.
Melgund, Lord Wood, B.
Morpeth, Viscount Wyse, T.
Muskett, G. A. TELLERS.
O'Ferrall, R. M. Gordon, R.
Parnell, rt. hn. Sir H. Parker, J.
List of the NOES.
Adair, Lord Jones, Captain
Attwood, W. Lockhart, A. M.
Bainbridge, E. Mackenzie, W.
Bateson, Sir R. Morris, D.
Berkeley, C. Neeld, J.
Boldero, H. G. Neeld, J.
Bramston, T. W. Palmer, R.
Broadley, H. Pechell, Captain
Brodie, W. B. Plumptre, J. P.
Brownrigg, S. Ponsonby, C. F. A.
Bruges, W. H. Pryme, G.
Burroughes, H. Rice, E. R.
Busfeild, W. Rolleston, L.
Cavendish, Hon. G. Round, J.
Darby, G. Salwey, Colonel
Douglas, Sir C. Sandon, Lord
Eaton, R. J. Shaw, rt. hon. F.
Egerton, Sir P. Sheppard, T.
Ewart, W. Sibthorp, Colonel
Farnham, E. B. Sotheron, T. E.
Fector, J. M. Stuart, Lord J.
Filmer, Sir E. Verner, Colonel
Godson, R. Vigors, N. A.
Hector, C. J. Wakley, T.
Hindley, C. White, A.
Hodges, T. L. Williams, W.
Hodgson, R. Winnington, H. J.
Hollond, R.
Howard, F. G. TELLERS.
Hughes, W. B. Gillon, W.
Jackson, Sergeant Hume, J.

Remaining clauses agreed to, House resumed.