HC Deb 05 June 1840 vol 54 cc955-9

The House having gone into committee of Ways and Means, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, he would state to the committee the course he intended to pursue with respect to the article of timber, which he proposed to except from the five per cent. imposed upon other articles. The hon. Alderman who spoke on a former occasion on that subject had stated that he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had given no adequate reason for such a course. He thought that he had stated to the House that, after the proposition he had formerly made with regard to these duties had been made public, he obtained information from parties who were competent to give him the fullest information upon the subject, and upon whose opinion he could rely, that an increasing differential duty upon timber would have a very great influence upon the trade by reason of the very close competition which existed in that trade; that a slight increase would displace much of the Baltic timber, and would be the means of introducing colonial timber; and he thought also that he had stated that those who gave him such information represented to him that if such an increase did take place, that so far from his obtaining an increase of revenue by that means, that is, by displacing timber upon which a high duty was paid, and replacing it by limber upon which a low duty was paid, he would, in fact, obtain a reduction of duty to a very considerable amount. When that statement was made to him he felt it his duty after having obtained his information from, and being influenced by the opinions of, capable and impartial persons, who assisted him in the consideration of the question, and after devoting the best attention he could himself give to the question, and feeling also that the result contemplated would certainly take place, that the effect would be in some cases about one-twelfth increase, and in other cases one sixth, upon Baltic timber, and that the inevitable result would be a diminution of the revenue, he felt it his duty to make that alteration with regard to the timber duty which he would immediately develope to the House. The object he had in view undoubtedly was to obtain additional revenue: and it was his duty also to get that increase so as not to affect the consumption of the article; and if he found that so far from the article producing the revenue which he expected, and that, in fact, he should obtain less, he felt it incumbent upon him not to adhere to any rule or regulation he had previously made, or to any decision previously adopted, to come down to the House and to state that he had proposed a plan which would not accomplish the objects that were intended. Among other reasons which had induced him to alter the proposition he had made, was a feeling that a great differential duty already existed between the Baltic and Canada timber, and that if he were to increase that difference, and that from such an increase the result would be a great injury to one class of those engaged in the timber trade at the expense of the other—that, so far as regarded the colonial interests, great injury would arise, that certain parties would inevitably suffer, that they would press the complaints upon the public and upon the House, and seek an alteration in the amount of the duty. It was for these reasons, which were political reasons, that he considered the proposition anew. Under these circumstances, when he came to the decision he had then arrived at, he stated to the House that he gave up the five per cent, duty upon timber, and would make that article a separate question for two reasons; first, he obtained an equal amount of revenue from timber as he expected before; secondly, he obtained that revenue in the shape of duty upon two articles of consumption in an equal proportion. This was his plan. In the first place, he found there was a long list of small articles, such as cutting-boards for shoemaker's occupying two or three pages in the list, which produced a very small revenue. He did not intend to propose any alteration in the duty on these articles. It was the great articles on which the duty was to be collected, which were known by the names of timbers, deals, and battens. The whole amount of the duty collected on timber was 1,602,000l., and of this the amount collected on timber, deals, deal-ends, battens, and batten-ends amounted to 1,465,000l. He, therefore, proposed not to interfere with the small articles, but with the large ones alone, from which the whole revenue was collected. He proposed to levy an additional duty of 1s. 6d. per load on all timber imported whether from Canada or the Baltic, and, taking that as a principle, he should adapt it to the different relations of timber imported. He should adapt that principle to the additional duty on deals and deal ends. Gentlemen who were conversant with the trade were perfectly aware that these terms were used to signify different lengths and dimensions of timber. The resolution which he should put into the hands of the Chairman, would render it unnecessary for him to go at length into the details of the bill. In the first place he proposed an additional duty on timber of 1s. 6d. per load, and an additional duty of 7s. 6d. upon battens, and upon batten-ends an additional duty of 3s., and an additional duty upon deals of the first class 1s. 6d. The other different duties would be according to the quality of the article. The resolution he had to submit to the committee would state the duties proposed, and the bill would contain the additional rate of charge upon the different articles. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving, That, towards raising the supply granted to her Majesty, there shall be raised, levied, collected, and paid, an additional duty of customs not exceeding the following amounts, on the timber, wood, and wood goods, after specified, in lieu of the duty imposed on all descriptions of timber, wood, and wood goods, by an act of the present Session of Parliament; that is to say, on timber, wood, and wood goods, now chargeable by the load, containing fifty cubic feet, an additional duty the load, of 1s. 6d.; on battens and batten ends, deals and deal ends, an additional duty equal in amount to the sum of 1s. 6d. upon each load of timber contained in 120 of such battens, batten-ends, deals, and deal ends respectively.

Mr. Alderman Thompson

said that, without entering into the question of the policy of the differential duties, he was not able to see why any exception should be made in the case of timber. He could not understand why, if differential duties were continued, they should not equally apply to sugar, coffee, and oils. Purchases of timber had been made by parties under the impression that the duties would remain the same as they had formerly been, and a new scale of duties would lead to great inconvenience. He therefore objected to the plan of the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Labouchere

said that the hon. Member for Sunderland had not appreciated the arguments of his right hon. Friend at their just value. His right hon. Friend had stated, that, to his former proposition, as to the duties on colonial and foreign timber, there was both a financial objection and a commercial objection; a financial objection, inasmuch as the augmentation of the rate of duty might, as it frequently happened, be attended with a less amount of duty received in the aggregate; a commercial objection, founded upon the consideration that the duties upon Baltic timber were already enormous. Its con- sequent high price was very prejudicial to the builder, and to the permanency of our structures and buildings here; and no one, therefore, would desire any augmentation in the duties upon the import of that finer description of timber. He had lately seen several intelligent persons interested in the timber trade, and from them he had learned that the proposition of his right hon. Friend would be acquiesced in by the dealers in that article. So far from there being anything intricate in the proposed increase of duties, the principle was quite simple, and was applicable to all timber, whether introduced from Canada or from the Baltic.

Mr. Warburton

concurred in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman, that already the amount of the differential duties upon Baltic timber, exceeding, as it did, 45s. per load above the duty on our own colonial timber, was excessive, and felt to be prejudicial in respect to the construction of our buildings. This was a great mistake in a commercial point of view, and did not now admit easily of a remedy. The proposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be seen to continue the same preference given to our own colonial produce, and would place the trade in these sorts of timber exactly upon the same footing as it had stood for a long period of time.

Mr. Hutt

believed that the remarks which had fallen from the hon. Member for Sunderland would not be coincided in by his constituents. The proposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer met with his approbation.

Mr. Villiers

would not let the Session pass without bringing the whole subject of the timber duties before the House. He considered the question was left perfectly open by the arrangement proposed—that the differential duties were as objectionable as they were before—and that the same arguments remained against them as before. The case of those who wished to have the duties altered was, that the present system was a waste of the resources of the country; and the hon. Alderman and his colleague might be assured that he would give them an opportunity of establishing their position, that the system they contended for was of advantage to the colonial and the shipping interests.

Resolution agreed to.

The House resumed, resolution reported.