HC Deb 21 April 1845 vol 79 cc1092-5
The Chancellor of the Exchequer

moved that the Customs' Import Duties Bill be lead a third time.

Mr. Kemble

rose to call the attention of the House to the case of the holders of staves on which the duty had been paid in the bonding warehouses on the 14th of February, and not since removed. He insisted upon the grievance sustained by those parties who still held staves on which they had paid the duty, in being brought into competition with the holders of staves which had been imported since the duty had been removed. He considered that their claims to a return of the duty rested on the same grounds with the claims lately set up by the holders of sugar. Indeed, their case was stronger; for it was evident to every body that the Sugar Duties would be altered this year, whereas the duty on staves had been so lately altered by the Tariff in 1842, that no one could suppose a second alteration would take place within so short a period. There could be no fear of fraud in this case, because relief was only asked for those who had their goods under the Queen's lock; and, as the principle had so lately been admitted in the case of the Sugar Duties, he trusted no objection would be made to the relief in this case.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, the House would recollect, when the propriety of allowing a drawback on the sugar was under consideration, he stated that it would give rise to applications from every person having goods in bond where the duties had been reduced. Notwithstanding, the House thought that sugar was an article on which they ought to make an exception; they did it principally on this ground, that the time fixed for the expiration of the Sugar Duties had been anticipated by about three months. He was not disposed to acquiesce in the proposition of his hon. Friend with respect to staves, because there was no peculiarity in the article which did not apply to others where the duties had been reduced. There was this peculiarity also against a return of the duty—that the coopers themselves urged the abolition of the duty; now, a certain number of them came forward to get a return of the duty upon their stocks in the Queen's warehouses; thus obtaining a preference over those who had taken their goods out of bond. On these grounds he could not accede to the proposition.

Mr. Hawes

said, the application was made, not by the coopers, but by merchants who had bonded staves for the use of the coopers. He thought that wherever it was possible to estimate the loss, and the goods were in the state in which they were unsorted, Government ought to allow the drawback.

Mr. Hume

said, that when the Government undertook a great measure like the present, they ought to act upon general principles, not to favour one party because they had powerful advocates in this House, and oppose those who were weakly supported. The speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not rest upon any principle, and it was against all the precedents that had been established for the last sixty years. The precedent was, that whenever Government abolished duty on goods, they relieved those goods that were previously liable to duty wherever it could be done. [The Chancellor of the Exchequer: Never.] That was invariably the case. He would challenge the right hon. Gentleman to name an instance to the contrary. Whenever goods were under the lock and key of the Excise Office that was done; and those goods being under lock and key of the Customs, he did not see that there was any difference.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, what the hon. Member had stated was quite true of the Excise, but not of the Customs; and, for this simple reason, that when the duties were increased, the increase was not laid upon the goods in bend. The principle had only been violated in the case of sugar, and that for the special reason be had mentioned.

Mr. Gladstone

said, the analogy that had been attempted to be drawn between this case and the wholesale dealers in sugar would not hold, for he recollected that in that case the remission of the duties was forced upon the Government, not simply on the ground that it was impossible to commit fraud, though that was a necessary part of the case, but on the ground that the alteration of the Sugar Duties took place three months earlier than parties could have anticipated. It appeared to him that the House was treading on slippery ground in discussing a question of this kind. In 1842, a large number of sweeping reductions were made without affording any relief to a single party. It appeared to him that the Motion of the hon. Member, under the colour of equity and kindness, would yet, if adopted, give rise to infinite embarrassment.

Sir Robert Peel

was altogether opposed to the principle of allowing drawbacks in any case. The general rule on the remission of Customs' duties ought to be to make them without compensation to any parties. The hon. Member for Montrose had warned them of the evil of giving way to powerful interests, and not giving weak ones the same advantage. Now it happened that they were resisting the claims of the wholesale importers of staves, because they knew it would injuriously affect the interests of coopers and small dealers, who had already paid the duty for staves, and used them so soon as they were imported. There had been a great outcry against the duty on staves. It was said, "Repeal the duty, remove the restriction, and the trade will flourish." Well, they had removed the duty, and the parties in that trade would, of course, derive the benefit of it. As a general rule, the importer should take the increased trade consequent on the decreased duty as a compensation for any small additional cost he might have paid for the article as duty before its reduction. In the case of the holders of bonded sugar there was a peculiarity, which distinguished it from the present case of the holders of staves. The Sugar Duties were imposed annually, and according to the Act of Parliament those duties would not have expired until the month of July, so that the parties importing sugar had a right to calculate that the duties would continue until that period. But even in the case of the Sugar Duties, the allowance of a drawback was a measure rather forced upon the Government than as one proceeding from them, as it was in opposition to the general rule, which he considered it was always desirable, if possible, to adhere to.

Bill read a third time and passed.