HC Deb 12 April 1853 vol 125 cc1032-41

said, he begged to move for leave to introduce a Bill to alter the scale of Duties on Carriages. He appeared on that occasion as the representative of a large class of artisans, whose interests were materially affected by the present incidence of the tax. Before he proceeded to state what the objections to the existing duties were, he would first place before the House the proposal which he meant to substitute in their place. The present duties were divided into twenty-six different classes, and the rates ranged from 1l. 5s. to 9l. 1s. 5d. He proposed that these twenty-six classes of duties should be reduced to three—namely, a duty of 3l. on four-wheeled carriages drawn by two horses, of 2l. on four-wheeled carriages drawn by one horse, and of 1l. on two-wheeled carriages. He believed that this plan would entail no loss whatever on the revenue, if, indeed, it would not be a gain, because there could be no doubt that it would give a great impetus to the coach-making trade, and bring a larger number of carriages into immediate use. But he did not anticipate any loss to the revenue, even if the number of carriages remained as at present. And now for the objections to the tax. He asserted that, if there was any part of our fiscal code which called for modification, it was that part of it which related to this particular tax. The number of carriages paying duty had been rapidly diminishing during the last ten or twelve years. In 1849 the number of four-wheeled carriages drawn by two horses paying duty amounted to 25,447. In 1852 the number was reduced to 23,778, being a reduction of 1,669, chiefly of gentlemen's carriages, within the last three years, and causing a diminution of duty amounting to near 10,000l. In 1849 the number of one-horse four-wheeled car- riages was 41,671; and, in 1852, the number was reduced to 38,883, being a reduction of 2,788. In 1849 the number of two-wheeled carriages was 28,474; in 1852 the number was reduced to 24,591, being a reduction of 3,883. It should be remembered, that during the same period the population and wealth of the country had been increasing; so that when, along with increasing wealth and numbers, they found that there was a diminution of revenue arising from the carriages used by the public, it was conclusive, he thought, that the tax was altogether objectionable in its present form. It was an important fact, too, that during the last ten years, upwards of fifty coachmakers had either become bankrupt, or had been obliged to retire from business. But there was another strong objection he had to urge against the tax, and that was the numerous frauds and evasions which were occasioned by the variety of exemptions allowed under the Act. They had all heard of dog-carts, for instance, which were exempt from duty, and which many noblemen, right hon. Gentlemen, and even prelates, he believed, were in the habit of using for the purpose of availing themselves of the exemption. For dog-carts were exempted if they contained the name of the owner on the back, and did not cost more than 21l. He could not but consider this as a palpable evasion of the tax, for it could never have been intended that the class of persons to whom he had referred should be exempted from the tax. Then, again, carriages with wheels of less than thirty inches in diameter were exempted; and any one who looked at the advertising columns of the Times, during a period of fine weather, would find a condemnation of this exemption in a variety of advertisements in that paper about "fashionable and brilliant" under-tax equipages, in utter defiance of the provisions of the law, and of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right which was extended to parties to compound for the tax, likewise led to numerous frauds. A person, for instance, who had been in the habit of using five, six, or seven carriages, would cease to use more than two for a few months, and then, having compounded with the taxgatherer for two, he could forthwith resume his five, six, or seven carriages. He hoped no hon. Gentleman in that House had acted in this manner; but if they had, he claimed their support on the present occasion. He had had the honour of waiting on more than one Chancellor of the Exchequer on the subject. He regretted to say that he found the last Chancellor but one (Sir C. Wood) very obdurate upon this, as well as upon other subjects. He admired that right hon. Gentleman in many respects; but it was well known that they had to screw the window-tax out of him; and, perhaps, if he had been in office still, they might have been reduced to resort to a similar unseemly process in regard to carriage duties. He (Sir De L. Evans) was also one of those that waited upon the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), who received the deputation in a most kind and gracious manner, made several acute observations no the subject, and seemed altogether exceedingly favourable—so much so that the deputation came away with the full conviction that the modification of the tax "loomed," not in the distance, but close at hand; but when the Budget appeared, he was sorry to say, there was not a word about duties carriages in it. He was inclined, however, to excuse the right hon. Gentleman, as he believed he had only too many reasons for occupying himself exclusively with the agricultural classes, and had no time to bestow his thoughts upon the poor artisans of the towns. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, had already proved that he was able and ready to grapple with even far greater questions than this, and had shown at once great industry, courage, and high talent in doing so. And he (Sir De L. Evans) only wished he would devote a portion of these admirable qualities to the consideration of the proposition which he now brought before the House, and earnestly submitted for the favourable attention of the right hon. Gentleman.


said, he should have much pleasure in seconding the Motion, because he agreed with the hon. and gallant Member in thinking that the tax in question was one which pressed heavily on a large and deserving portion of the industrious classes. There could be no doubt that the tax, as at present levied, interfered with the use of carriages, and thereby injured the trade of coach-building. It also led to numerous evasions. The coach-builders of Lancashire took the trouble to make out a return last year of the number of carriages which they built subject to the tax, and those which were not. The return from those who built both classes of carriages showed that the proportion of un- taxed to taxed carriages, was as five to one—while, taking into account the return from those whose trade was limited to untaxed carriages, it appeared that the proportion of untaxed to taxed carriages was something like ten to one. He agreed with the hon. and gallant Member in thinking that the exemptions were taken advantage of by parties whom it was never intended to favour. With respect to compositions, however, he did not agree with the hon. and gallant Member, because he thought he had lost sight of the fact that a party compounding was obliged to give in a return of the largest number of carriages he had been in the habit of using during the year preceding, so that he could not evade the tax by laying down one or two carriages for a few months, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman supposed. The practice of compounding was, in his opinion, an advantage rather than otherwise, inasmuch as it led to the use of more carriages. He was decidedly of opinion that if the tax were differently placed, it would give an impulse to the trade of coach-building, while he did not believe it would entail any loss on the revenue.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to alter the Scale of Duties on Carriages."


said, that one reason why the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be disposed to deal with this tax was, that it might be improved without any diminution of the revenue, which, under the present system, was slowly but steadily decreasing. He believed that if the duty was reduced, the revenue would be more than maintained, while great relief would be afforded to the public. The coach-builders were an unfortunate class, for they did not seem to have had any political influence, and they were not supposed to be influential at elections. The consequence was, that no Chancellor of the Exchequer had paid them any particular attention, and for many years past their trade had been in course of destruction by a sort of Exchequer garotte, which in all parts of the country had been gradually strangling this branch of industry. Some persons conceived that this duty only taxed luxuries; but he believed that it affected thousands of persons, who did not keep carriages, mainly on account of the pressure and inconvenience of the tax. Carriages were much more useful in the country than in towns, and were kept far more for use than ostentation; and he thought, therefore, that the luxury argu- ment failed. It had been stated by the hon. and gallant Member (Sir De L. Evans) that fifty coach-building firms had been discontinued in London within ten years; and he (Mr. Bright) believed there were more than fifty towns in Great Britain where the trade of coach-building was at one time carried on, but where it was now entirely unknown. In the city of Manchester there was a wealthy population of 400,000 persons, and that city was surrounded by a cluster of towns, comprising a population of about 1,000,000; but he had been told that there was only one coach-builder in Manchester who turned over more than 10,000l. a year in his trade. This fact showed, he thought, how the trade was crippled by the present system of taxation. Every gentleman who had kept a carriage knew that if he wanted to part with it he must sell it almost for nothing. A carriage which had cost 200l., after having been run for a very short time, could not be sold probably for more than 15l. or 20l. Well, the coach-builders bought such carriages, but they found this description of stock most useless and oppressive. If they let their coaches for only one day, they were liable to a tax of 6l. Some two years since he (Mr. Bright) hired a carriage in Manchester, which he ran with one horse for two or three months. The carriage might be worth about 50l., and he paid about 15l.l. for the three months' hire. The coach-maker told him that, although he might not let the carriage out again for twelve months, 6l. out of that 15l. must be paid for duty, and that if he had let the carriage only for a single week, he would still have been liable to this tax. He (Mr. Bright) would ask the House to contrast this country with Ireland with regard to the use of carriages. He had visited a gentleman in Ireland, who, although very comfortably off in the world, could not be regarded as a man likely to keep several carriages; yet he (Mr. Bright) drove out for a week in a different carriage every day. Nothing could be more comfortable than such an arrangement in a climate like this, where one day was wet and another fine, one day warm and another cold. A gentleman who lived in the south of Ireland, and who was staying at the same house, told him (Mr. Bright) that he kept no less than eight carriages. He thought these facts, with reference to Ireland, showed to what an extent the carriage duties operated to prevent the extension of carriage-building and the comfortable accommodation of families in this country. What was the reason that in Ireland a carriage could be bought for a considerably lower price than in this country? [Mr. F. FRENCH: Oh, no!] The hon. Gentleman opposite, who always contradicted everybody who said anything about Ireland, contradicted him; but he (Mr. Bright) was inclined to think he had stated the fact. He would suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that if carriages were brought into more general use in this country, there would be a considerably increased consumption of iron, timber, leather, cloth, and paint, and it was therefore evident that the question was one materially affecting the industry of the country. The revenue derived from the carriage duty had been, in 1840, 447,000l.; in 1849, 425,000l.; and in 1852, 413,000l.; so that there had been a steady diminution in the amount. It must be remembered that concurrently with this diminution of revenue there was throughout the country an accumulation of wealth going on such as had never before been known. Then, with regard to exemptions; in 1839 the exemptions of carriages with less than four wheels were 20,000, and in 1849 they were 33,000. The coach-builders proposed that the duty upon carriages should be reduced to 3l. for four-wheeled carriages drawn by two horses. He would recommend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to have nothing to do with the horses, because they were taxed in another way. He (Mr. Bright) thought the tax might be applied to all carriages working on springs, but there might be an objection to imposing taxes upon carriages used for commercial or agricultural purposes. He was not at present asking for any reduction, because if, through what he must term the folly of the press, they were to have what he considered unnecessary fortifications and things of that kind, they could not expect that taxes would be taken off as freely as they should like. But what he should recommend to the right hon. Gentleman, when he was going to make a change in this tax, would be to impose a small tax on each wheel, without descending to wheelbarrows or carts used for trade, disregarding altogether the number of horses and the size of the wheel. He thought that this would produce an increasing revenue. Suppose that a man paid 1l. for one carriage, he would have him pay 10l. if he kept ten carriages. This was a simple mode of levying the tax, and ho believed it would produce a steadily increasing amount. He hoped that his hon. and gallant Friend was not going to divide, as he supposed that his object would be gained by the discussion which he had provoked.


said, he conceived that the object of the hon. and gallant Member for Westminister (Sir De L. Evans) in bringing forward this question was rather to elicit discussion upon the most prominent points connected with the subject, than to obtain the decision of the House upon it. He thought, however, that there had been a material omission in the speeches that had been made, for no one could doubt that one of the great causes of the decline of this important trade, and of the consequent diminution of the revenae which it yielded, was to be found in the general introduction and extension of railway travelling. He was, however, far from thinking that this had been the sole cause of the decline of the trade. Without committing the Government in any manner to any course whatever, he must admit that the case of this trade was a very hard one. He had heard the representations of members of the trade, and he had endeavoured to make himself acquainted with the facts. It was plain that these duties were extremely high, that they were excessively complex in their nature, and the imposition of an augmenting charge for each carriage, as the number of carriages increased, was one which he regarded as of very questionable policy. This regulation had, indeed, been found so burdensome that a system of compositions had been introduced for the purpose of neutralising it. A still more serious evil was undoubtedly the multitude and extensive range of the exemptions. He thought both the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster and the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) had admitted that these exemptions were at the root of the whole matter. If the House was disposed at any time to deal with the duties upon carriages, they must do one of two things: if they intended to give relief to the trade, they must either make a very considerable sacrifice of revenue, to the amount of some 100,000l. or more, or they must pluck up courage enough to strike at the root of these exemptions. He was sure the hon. and gallant Member for Westminister would excuse him if he did not now enter into this question at any length. The hon. and gallant Member had spoken of objects looming in the future, more or less remote. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) might observe that his explanations upon matters of this nature now loomed in very near, and he hoped that on Monday next they would cease to loom at all, and—good, bad, or indifferent—would become matters of fact. It would then be his duty to explain the course which Her Majesty's Government intended to pursue, and he would then either be prepared to announce, with regard to this tax as well as others, some measure in the nature of relief, or else to urge what he hoped would be conclusive reasons why the Government were not in a condition to grant such relief. He had given most ready and respectful attention to the representations of persons engaged in this important trade. There could be no doubt, as he had before stated, that their case was one of great hardship, and he was sure that any one filling the position he had the honour to occupy would look forward with great satisfaction to a state of affairs which would hold out a prospect of affording them relief. He hoped, however, that the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster would not press the House to come to a decision on the question to-night.


said, the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) seemed annoyed because he questioned the hon. Member's infallibility with respect to Ireland. The hon. Member had, however, just now made a statement which he must again contradict, namely, that families in Ireland, whose position would not entitle them in this country to keep one carriage, frequently in Ireland kept eight. Even giving the hon. Member credit for wheelbarrows, he must say that this observation was not a particle more correct than information respecting Ireland in that House usually was.


said, he was content for the present with the explanations given by the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer, and had no objection, therefore, to withdraw his Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.