HC Deb 17 February 1852 vol 119 cc687-95

, in moving, pursuant to notice, for leave to bring in a Bill to modify the duty on Carriages, said that he proposed that there should be in future only three classes or rates of payment, instead of the thirteen or fourteen now enforced. His proposition was for a duty of 3l. for four-wheeled carriages drawn by, two horses, 2l. for four-wheeled carriages drawn by one horse, and 1l. for two-wheeled carriages. That was the proposition which he had the honour to submit to the House, though not as a volunteer, for the fact was that the whole of the coachmakers throughout the kingdom complained that their trade was deeply depressed, as the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer was well aware, from the numerous petitions on the subject that had reached him. He (Sir De L. Evans) had, however, only been selected as the organ of their complaints, because the greater number of the coachmakers carried on business in the city which he had the good fortune to represent. At this period of the evening, and in the present state of the House, it would ill become him to speak at any length on the subject, and therefore he would refer but to one point to show the unsatisfactory nature of this tax, and that was the duty on four-wheeled carriages let to hire. In the whole kingdom there were a thousand coachmakers, and yet, owing to the nature of the tax which was imposed, only 507 carriages last year, and 461 carriages this year, were let to hire throughout the country. The duty from this source amounted last year to 3,041l., and this year only to 2,760l., which, deducting the expense of collection, would probably not bring in more than 1,500l. to the Exchequer. Now, what was the reason that the tax fell off so from year to year? The tax was 6l. a year; but as that tax was payable if the carriage were hired but for a single day, and the average time of letting was not more than three months in the year, in point of fact the coachmaker paid at the rate of 25l. yearly. The party hiring the carriage—the consumer, if he might use the expression—had of course to pay the tax ultimately, and he believed that this was the only thing manufactured in this country, except hair powder, which paid an annual tax. If there were no other grievance than this of which the coachmakers had to complain, it would be one for the favourable consideration of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. For thirteen years successively this tax had fallen from 10,000l. till it reached its present amount. With the increase of population and the general increase of prosperity, this item of taxation exhibited a decrease year after year. That would serve to show that there must be something wrong in the tax itself. The present rates of duty on carriages varied from about 9l. to 1l. and some shillings; and there were a variety of exemptions, which led to all sorts of frauds and evasions, or at any rate to a deviation from the spirit of the Act. There were four Acts of Parliament by which the duties on carriages were imposed; and as the clauses contained a great variety of exemptions, there were, consequently, all sorts of evasions and frauds practised. For instance, four-wheeled carriages, with wheels of less than 30 inches in diameter, drawn by mules or ponies of less than 12 hands in height, were exempt from duty. This was intended for the relief of persons in humble cireumstances; but the advertisements respecting "brilliant pony equipages under tax," which were so plentifully inserted in the newspapers, showed that these were not the persons who profited by the exemption. Then there was the dogcart exemption, which flourished most extensively, many noblemen, and even, as he was told, members of the episcopal bench, availing themselves of it. It was only necessary to show a receipt from the builder for 21l. to the surveyor, and to have the name of the owner painted on the cart, and the thing was done. But it so happened that a dog-cart, with springs, could not be built for 21l.; and thousands on thousands of cases occurred in which parties exerted, and successfully exerted, their ingenuity to evade the annual payment of 3l. 5s. Sometimes a dog-cart, which could not be made under 40l., was sold for 21l., but then 19l. was given for a whip. Sometimes the gentleman who ordered the drag would not pay more than the legal price himself, but his wife would take care that the tradesman did not suffer. The House was about to deprive the electors of St. Albans of their franchise for septennial corruption; but the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchechequer was unwittingly causing corruption annually a hundredfold greater than was committed in that unfortunate borough, He trusted, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman would take this matter into his consideration, and allow him to introduce this Bill. He believed that the rates of duty which he proposed, would yield as much revenue as was now produced from this source, while at the same time thirty-eight different classes of skilled artificers would obtain greatly increased employment.


seconded the Motion.


said, he was afraid that he could not at present agree to the Motion of his hon. and gallant Friend. At the same time he must do him the justice to say that he had very fairly stated his case; and he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) should not speak the truth if he did not admit that that there was a good deal in the operation of the tax which was not at all satisfactory. He also must say that of all the various persons who had done him the honour to wait on him to ask for a revision or reduction of taxation, no persons had made a fairer statement than those who had asked for the reduction of the carriage duty, He did not think, however, that the calculations which his hon. and gallant Friend had made as to the amount which would be received if the proposed rates were substituted, were quite justified by the information which he had obtained. He hardly remembered any proposed reduction of taxation, on making which he had not been told that he knew nothing about the matter, and that in the end the tax would produce a much larger amount than before. In his opinion, one of the most unjust of the direct taxes—taxes which were beginning to be unpopular with hon. Members on that (the Ministerial) side of the House, though some time ago they directed their principal energies against indirect taxation—one of the most unjust of the direct taxes, was the duty on stamps upon conveyances. He had, therefore, made a proposal to effect some reduction in that particular; but the House thought proper to carry that reduction a good deal further than he had himself proposed, and he was told that the estimated loss of 500,000l. under this head was grossly exaggerated, and that the revenue would not suffer a loss of half that amount. Now, the loss on the first complete year of the reduced duty was 497,000l. Calculations so very accurate as this could not always be expected; but the result served to show that the officers of the tax department were more correct in their estimates than hon. Gentlemen in that House, He quite agreed that it was desirable in many respects to alter the mode in which the carriage tax was imposed; but that could not be done without resorting to one of two alternatives—either by submitting to a considerable loss of revenue, or by bringing under taxation a large class of carriages which at present did not pay any duty. The least sum which would be lost to the revenue, if the rates proposed by his hon. Friend were adopted, would be 200,000l., assuming that only the carriages now taxed would be liable. What amount would be received if other carriages not now paying duty were charged, would be matter for speculation. Among those who were now exempted were a large number of persons who had market carts—a class of carriages which had increased to an enormous extent, but which would be taxed if his hon. and gallant Friend's proposal were adopted by the House. At the same time he was satisfied that the opposition to the modification of the tax which his hon. and learned Friend proposed, would be greater than he anticipated; because he had seen several deputations on the subject, and he knew that the feeling in the south of England was by no means so favourable to the modification and extension of the tax as it was in the north. He could not, therefore, agree to a plan which he believed would entail a considerable loss to the revenue; and certainly, in the present state of the financial prospects of the year, with the unascertained duration of the war that was going on in South Africa, he very much doubted whether he should be able to afford any money for the reduction of taxation. He thought it would, under such circumstances, be extremely premature to sacrifice revenue to the extent of 200,000l., as he should be obliged to do if he agreed to the proposal of his hon. and gallant Friend. The proposition of his hon. and gallant Friend was not the only one for the reduction of taxation that stood upon the paper this evening. The hon. member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Mr. Headlam) had a proposal to get rid of the duty on stamp receipts, which would be a loss to the revenue of 130,000l.; and the proposition of his hon. and gallant Friend (Sir De L. Evans) would be a sacrifice of revenue to the extent of 200,000l. at least, so that the two schemes would not cost less than between 300,000l. and 400,000l.; he hoped, therefore, the House would concur with him in giving his negative to the Motion. He agreed with his hon. and gallant Friend, that if the state of the revenue would allow of it, some modification of this tax might form a fair subject of consideration; but it would not be safe to vote away taxes in this manner which might produce a deficiency at the end of the year, or at any rate might fritter away a surplus that might be better employed. He trusted, therefore, that the House would reject this proposition, and wait till the financial statement of the year was laid before them before they proceeded to dispose of the surplus revenue.


said, he was greatly disappointed with what had fallen from the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had again advised hon. Members not to commit themselves till he brought in the Budget. So he used to tell them with regard to the window duties; but the House persevered, and they smashed the window duties, and he had no doubt that ere long they would do the same with the carriage duties. Let them look at the question in a moral and economical point of view. In the library of the House were numerous blue books, giving an account of the appeals against this tax that had been made from time to time; and it would be seen that all sorts of evasions were continually had recourse to in order to avoid the tax. And then let the House consider the expense of all the trials and appeals that were continually taking place. The right hon. Chancellor of the Exche- quer talked of the loss of revenue that he would sustain; but if he balanced that loss by the saving that would be effected in getting rid of appeals, and of the numerous staff of surveyors that were now employed to watch evasion of the law, he would see that the loss on the one side was balanced by the saving on the other.


regretted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer dealt in assertion rather than in argument. The right hon. Gentleman had asserted that the revenue would lose 200,000l. if this measure were passed, but he had not stated to the House how he arrived at that conclusion. All that the right hon. Gentleman had to do was to look at the question in a pounds, shillings, and pence point of view; but the House of Commons had a right to consider the morality of it. At present, the law on this subject was so vague and mixed up with so many legal terms, that scarcely any person could understand what his rights were under it; and, to avoid the difficulties and frauds that occurred in consequence, he thought this Bill ought to be allowed to be brought in, unless it could be clearly proved that it would occasion a diminution of the revenue. Now, he (Mr. Aglionby) believed that by the proposition of the hon. and gallant Member (Sir De L. Evans), the revenue would be greatly increased. He believed that if a 1l. tax was levied on all spring carts alike, the farmers would gladly pay it, and the revenue would be greatly benefited. [Sir DE L. EVANS: But I don't propose to tax the farmers.] He certainly understood that his hon. and gallant Friend exempted nobody—that there was to be one uniform tax on all. That, at all events, was his proposition; and he believed that farmers using spring carts to go to market would not object to pay the tax; the complaint was that those who were able to pay did not pay.


explained that he proposed in this measure to continue the exemption of all bonâ fide spring carts used by farmers and town traders.


said, the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted that the present state of the law was unsatisfactory, and his only objection to the Motion was, that the revenue would suffer. Now, the coachmakers had issued a pamphlet to show that instead of suffering, the revenue would gain by this modification. Neither did his hon. and gallant Friend (Sir De L. Evans), as he (Mr. W. Williams) understood him) wish for a reduc- tion of this tax. His hon. and gallant Friend maintained, on the contrary, that by a just equalisation of the tax, the revenue would gain. What he (Mr. W. Williams) would propose, therefore, was to allow the Bill to be brought in, and then let a Committee be appointed to inquire into the subject, and give the coachmakers an opportunity to prove their statement, that by the adoption of this measure there would be no loss to the revenue. He was aware that the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer had made some nice calculations upon the subject; but he must say that he had no faith in them, for they had been so often proved to be wrong that they appeared to be adopted very much at haphazard. But let them be tested by a Committee, and that was all he wanted.


said, he was glad to hear the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer admit that the claim of the coachmakers ought to be taken into consideration so soon as the state of the revenue would allow of it. He did not know whether his hon. and gallant Friend (Sir De L. Evans) ought to be satisfied with this declaration; but if he did proceed with the Bill, and get it into a Committee, he was afraid he would make very little progress in that way, because the Committee would feel themselves bound by the calculations of the Government, and the result would not be what he wished for. He certainly thought that this duty should be remitted, as it tended to deception and immorality. He wished that the right hon. Gentleman would agree in the maxim of his hon. Friend the Member for Cockermouth (Mr. Aglionby), that all taxes that tended to immorality should be remitted, as he thought that in that case the country would get rid of that most odious of all taxes—the Income tax. But, as all taxes were liable to the same imputation, inasmuch as some of the public would endeavour to evade them, he was afraid the maxim of his hon. Friend could not in reality be acted upon. Therefore, seeing the difficulty there was of remitting any taxes, and that the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer was as willing as any Member of the House to remit taxes whenever he could, he thought his hon. and gallant Friend would do best not to press his Motion for the present. He was satisfied that the proposition of the hon. Member for Cockermouth to lay a tax of 1l. upon all spring carts, would bem ost unpopular. His hon. Friend said that the farmers would be willing to pay for the spring carts with which they were in the habit of driving to market. Now he doubted very much whether they would be willing to pay any such tax, and he thought it would be most impolitic to impose it; for he could assure the House that a great change had taken place in the habits of the people since the exemption of those carts from taxation. Formerly all the farmers used to ride to market on horseback, or go in common carts, and he remembered when it was quite usual for a farmer to take his wife to market on a pillion behind him. But now all that was given up, the adoption of spring carts had become universal, and in the present state of agriculture it would be most unwise to subject these carts to taxation.


thought the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer had taken a correct view of the present question: first, he had no surplus to dispose of; and, second, if he had there was no good reason for removing a tax on the fact that fraudulent evasions were made to avoid it. When there should be a surplus he thought the right hon. Gentleman would find it better to take off the taxes from those who walked than from those who rode.


rose to deny that the people would be willing to have their spring carts retaxed. He believed it would be impossible to do it, and to retax the farmers, of all people. With regard to the main question, he agreed with the hon. Member for Bolton (Sir J. Walmsley), that it would be better to relieve the people at large than those who could afford carriages.


could not vote with the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster, not only for the reason stated by the hon. Member for Bolton (Sir J. Walmsley), but because he thought it was a question that ought to be taken up in connexion with another on which several meetings had already been held throughout the country, the duty levied on post horses. An hon. Member had already given notice of a Motion on that subject, and he hoped, therefore, that the hon. and gallant Gentleman would postpone his Motion till the whole question could be brought under the consideration of the House.


, in reply, said, he did not wish to impose any new tax, but to make that which at present existed fair and equal. As the only means of ob- taining an expression of opinion on the subject, he would divide the House.

Motion made, and Question put, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill for the reduction of the Duty on Carriages."

The House divided:—Ayes 24; Noes 59: Majority 35.