§ Order for Committee of Supply read; Motion made and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
said, he would refer to two authorities in support of the Motion he now brought forward, namely, the Report of a Committee which sat in 1838, and a statement made in 1840 by the right hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir F. Baring) when Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman then said'—He also proposed a very small relief to a class of persons who, from no fault of their own, but from circumstances by which every other class of persons was benefited, were placed in a situation of considerable difficulty and distress—he meant the postmasters. They had represented to him that they were obliged to keep postchaises and carriages, on which they paid a heavy tax, but from which they derived little remuneration, and suggested, that if they were at liberty to keep different classes of carriages at a reduced rate of duty, they might, by opening fresh lines of trade, receive some compensation for the injuries they had sustained. The tax now upon hack chaises 396 was 4l. 5s., upon pair-horse carriages, 5l. 5s. upon four-wheeled carriages, 4l. 10s.; and upon two-wheeled carriages, 3l. 5s., all of which he proposed to reduce to 3l." —[3 Hansard, liv. 129.]In consequence of some blunder in the Act of Parliament whereby this reduction was to take place, the tax, instead of being reduced, was positively aggravated; and the postmasters, instead of paying five guineas, as heretofore, or 3l., as proposed by the right hon. Member for Portsmouth, paid at this moment 6l. 12s. They thought the case a hard one, and asked the House to rectify the blunder committed in 1840. He had a letter from the postmaster who kept the Hen and Chickens, at Manchester, complaining that he had been greatly injured by the operation of the Act. He (Mr. T. Duncombe) had waited with a deputation on the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had heard their statement very kindly. The Budget had since been brought forward, but no relief was proposed in it, and the postmasters asked whether a short Bill could not be introduced to give them relief. There was another thing of which the postmasters, who numbered at present about 14,000, complained, namely, the cost of the espionage on the part of the Excise. They proposed that an annual duty of 10l. should be paid for annual licences to be granted them. The present amount of tax levied on them produced from 160,000l. to 170,000l.; while the duty of 10l. would yield 140,000l. or 150,000l.; thus there would be a deficit of only about 20,000l. That would be a concession and a compromise into which all parties might readily enter. He wished briefly to refer to the case of Mr. Shillibeer, who had been twice in conflict with the late Government in consequence of informations laid by the Excise. The hon. and learned Attorney General stated that the Crown never received or paid costs. On the first occasion Mr. Shillibeer defeated the prosecution. He paid his own costs, and the Crown paid theirs. On the second occasion twenty informations were laid against Mr. Shillibeer for certain omissions in his return, and for an alleged false return. The jury found for the Crown only on the last charge. The Crown sent in a Bill of costs amounting to 600l., which were reduced by 165l.; but it would give great satisfaction to Mr. Shillibeer to hear the statement of the Attorney General on the subject; and as the hon. and learned Gentleman had stated 397 that the Crown neither received or paid costs, probably he would put Mr. Shillibeer in the way of obtaining repayment, though it was not very easy to make the Crown refund. He (Mr. T. Duncombe) would ask the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer whether it would not be advisable to adopt the proposition of a 10l. duty, or at least to repair the blunder in the Act of his (Mr. T. Duncombe's) right hon. Friend? This was not a metropolitan question at all. It affected rural districts fully more; and about 300 petitions had been sent by postmasters and persons who let carnages for hire in favour of measures for their relief.
To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'this House do resolve itself into a Committee on the Post Horse Duty and Tax on Carriages let for hire, with a view to a modification of the same;' instead thereof.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, it was very true that he had the honour of receiving a deputation from the postmasters of the country in the presence of the hon. Member for Finsbury, who did full justice to the interests of his constituents. That was a deputation that did not merely profess to represent the postmasters of the metropolis, but professed to represent the general trade throughout the country. He must admit, that with very great ability they had brought forward the scheme of finance by which they sought to get relief; they declared that no material injury would thereby be done to the revenue; but his (the Chancellor's) opinion was, that in all schemes of that kind which were devised by a suffering interest, the relief was more certain than the security to the revenue. There was one point which the hon. Gentleman had forgotten—namely, the main ground on which those individuals had applied to him. The main ground on which the appeal for relief was founded, was the common opinion that was prevalent, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was in possession of a very large surplus. There was supposed to be a surplus of more than 2,000,000l., and the postmasters thought they were consequently entitled to get relief. Unfortunately it was not in his power, at the time they had waited upon him, to tell them the exact state of the case; but he had said nothing to induce them to believe he would give them relief; and being men of sense, and a class pecu- 398 liarly interested in maintaining the national credit, they must see, after the financial statement had been made, that they had no claim, so far as a great surplus was concerned, to the relief they sought. They might have a claim for that relief, of course, on abstract grounds. The hon. Gentleman had brought forward a scheme, which was, in fact, a financial proposition, that would no doubt affect their existing arrangements; and under these circumstances, and remembering the period of the year, and that the state of the finances were now known to the country, the hon. Gentleman could scarcely ask the House to come to a decision upon the subject, He would say to him now what he bad said to the deputation of postmasters— that he would examine their case, and if he thought there was any great inequality or injustice in the tax, he should see if it could be remedied. He was willing to admit there was one cause of complaint— namely, with respect to the tax upon carriages let out for hire. It appeared to him that was a case which, when opportunity offered, should be considered. At the present period it would be extremely inconvenient to pass any resolution of this kind; but if it were his fortune again to bring forward the financial statement of the country, he should give every claim that was brought forward impartial consideration.
§ SIR GEORGE PECHELL
said, he was fully aware of the hardship of the tax to which the postmasters were subjected, and his hope was, that the right hon. Gentleman would, in the next Parliament, be able to bring forward a proposition for their relief.
§ MR. SPOONER
said, he was satisfied that the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) did not wish anything but justice done. One fact was clear; the right hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir F. Baring) had intended to pass a measure for the relief of the postmasters; but that measure had unfortunately had just the reverse effect from that which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer attributed to such schemes as had been suggested by the postmasters. The relief to them had been by no means certain; the benefit to the revenue had been quite certain. If the intention of the right hon. Member for Portsmouth were carried out, the postmasters would, he thought, be satisfied. It was a strict question of justice.
§ LOUD DUDLEY STUART
said, he hoped the postmasters would obtain that amount of relief which they were on all grounds of equity and justice fairly entitled to. He thought if the proposition of the hon. Member (Mr. T. Duncombe) was adopted, the loss to the revenue would be small, and the relief to the postmasters very great. There was one point to which he wished to call the attention of the House. There was a Bill before the House called the Metropolis Burial Bill. One of the greatest difficulties experienced in introducing Burial Bills was to devise means whereby the poorer classes could have their relatives buried decently at a small expense. If anything could be done by legislation to facilitate that object, a great good would be done. A general desire existed to cheapen the cost of funerals, and that desire might be partly accomplished by taking off the duty on carriages employed at funerals.
§ MR. SLANEY
had been requested by his constituents in Shrewsbury to support the proposition of the hon. Member for Finsbury; and, after the statement of the hon. Gentleman, and the answer of the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer, he hoped the subject would be duly considered with a view to the redress of a grievance which he conceived to exist, and which might be removed without much difficulty.
§ MR. FREWEN
would suggest that all carriages carrying mails should be free from the duty to which they were liable if they carried passengers. This, he believed, would confer an advantage on the public, without decreasing the revenue, for what the Government would lose in the way of duty, the Post Office would save in the expense of carrying the mails, which cost that establishment about 10l. per mile per annum.
§ VISCOUNT EBRINGTON
begged to call the attention of the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer to the effect of the duty upon the carriages employed in funerals. It was desirable to take the dead from amongst the living, and the Government should encourage every facility that was offered for the purpose.
§ CAPTAIN SCOBELL
hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not take a partial view of the subject, but would consider it upon the broad scale of taking off the duty altogether. Its pressure was severely felt in the city he represented.
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
said, he believed his right hon. Friend opposite sincere and honest in his intentions. He had not stated that he would bring forward a proposition on the subject in November, but that in some future Budget he hoped to be able to deal with it, so that the undertaking of the right hon. Gentleman was somewhat vague, and a vote on a question of this kind would go to strengthen his hands, and the hands of any other Chancellor of the Exchequer. It might be asked what the right hon. Member for Portsmouth had to state. The silence of his right hon. Friend gave consent to all he (Mr. T. Duncombe) had said.
SIR FRANCIS BARING
said, that silence by no means gave consent. [Mr. T. DUNCOMBE: Remember your speech.] Yes! he remembered the proposal made in 1840; but he never heard a complaint that the postmasters were in a worse position than before. But there was one thing he was ready to recommend to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer—that if the parties thought they were worse than before, they should be put back as they were before.
§ MR. J. WILLIAMS
said, that the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer must know there was no class so oppressed with taxes as the licensed victuallers and postmasters.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: —Ayes 94; Noes 43: Majority 51.
§ Question again proposed.