§ MR. J. WILSON
* Mr. Speaker, Sir, it will be remembered, that about three years ago a most unhappy controversy arose between the Customs Department and two the large London Dock Companies. In consequence of that controversy, a Parliamentary Committee was moved for by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridport (Mr. Mitchell), which Committee sat for two years, for the purpose of inquiring into the whole system of Customs management, with a view to recommend to the House such alterations as seemed desirable. The Committee presented at the close of the last Session their report to the House, and that report was very soon afterwards, by the Government of the day, referred to the Customs Commissioners for their observations thereon. Those observations were forwarded to the Treasury in October last; 166 and upon the present Government coming into office in December, they found the matter in this stage. A few weeks ago a most respectable and influential body of City gentlemen waited upon my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon this subject—a subject in which they naturally take a most lively interest. On that occasion my right hon. Friend promised to the deputation that a Bill should be prepared in the course of the present Session: first, for the purpose of consolidating all the existing Acts of Customs; and, secondly, for the purpose of introducing into the one Consolidated Act the whole of the improvements which Her Majesty's Government are prepared to recommend to the adoption of this House. My right hon. Friend assured the deputation that every opportunity should be afforded to the commercial community throughout the whole country to consider those recommendations and new provisions before the Act was passed. He promised that the Bill should, at a very early period, be laid upon the table for the purpose of enabling every person interested in this important question to consider the whole of the improvements and alterations which the Government proposed; and he promised that ample time should be afforded for the country to express their opinion upon the subject before any actual legislation took place. The preparation of that Bill must undoubtedly require a considerable period; but as we have now prepared, after great care, a Treasury Minute, which contains all the essential points which we recommend should be included in the Bill, both of addition and improvement, we have thought that the best way to carry out the pledge of my right hon. Friend to the deputation would be, that I should, on the part of the Government, state to the House and to the public the alterations and amendments which we propose to make in the Customs regulations, in pursuance of the recommendations of the Committee which sat thereon. The report which the Committee presented to this House was divided into fourteen several heads; and I hope the House will agree with me, that on a subject of so much importance and so much interest I may safely appeal to them for a quiet and patient hearing, while I go through that great variety of topics, in order to explain the views of the Government on matters so intricate, and involving so much detail. I may say, in the first place, with regard to the unhappy contro- 167 versy between the Customs Department and the Docks—to which I have referred—that, having been settled during the inquiry before the Committee, the Committee thought it consistent with their duty not to express any opinion thereon. I think in that they followed a wise course; and, therefore, in the observations which I shall make, I shall carefully avoid any remarks which can in any way tend to revive that controversy, which I am too happy to believe has been allayed, I hope, never to be revived again. The first head of the Committee's report refers to the constitution of the Board of Customs; but as that does not form any part of the Bill about to be introduced, the Government do not intend to deal with it on the present occasion, and it is not included in the Minute which I shall have the honour to lay on the table to-night. Notwithstanding this, I can assure the House the subject is under consideration of the Government, and no long time will be allowed to pass before a second Minute will be made, which shall settle, or, at least, which shall attempt to settle, that important question. I will, therefore, on the present occasion, only state on this head, that if, in the meantime, any vacancy should occur in the present Board of Commissioners, it will not be filled up until the whole question has been considered, and a determination come to with reference to it. The next point is one of great interest to a very large number of persons in this country—that with regard to the appointments and promotions of the various officers of the Customs Department. I am extremely glad to find that the Committee thought right to take that subject into their consideration; because I feel that whatever reforms we may attempt to introduce into the Customs, the success of those reforms must be dependent in a great measure on the condition and constitution of the officers who have to carry them into effect. Therefore, I cannot express too strongly the feeling I entertain that the condition of that body of men ought to be made as encouraging and advantageous as it is possible under the circumstances of the case to make it. The observation which the Committee made on this important topic refers chiefly to the exclusion of certain classes of Custom-house officers from promotion from one class to another. In the Customs establishment there are no fewer than 10,800 persons employed, of which number 1,000 are weighers, and 1,750 tidewaiters. The Committee ani- 168 madvert on the fact of those particular officers—amounting in number to as many as 2,720—being confined to promotion in the particular classes in which they are respectively placed, and under no circumstances being permitted to pass a certain line of promotion in the service. No doubt it is the case that the different departments in the Customs require of persons entering them a very different description of ability and of examination; but the Government are of opinion that, notwithstanding the different qualifications required, it is not inconsistent with their duty to permit those who enter and are qualified for the lower positions, to rise into the higher class of Customs promotions. In the evidence taken before this Committee, very much hesitation is expressed as to the prudence of such a step; but I think, on consulting with the authorities of the Customs, I am authorised to say that many of those officers, who have risen from the lower grade of duties by successive steps, until from first being weighers they have become superintendent lockers, have acquired so much experience, and are in every respect such deserving officers, that they may fairly be recommended to higher appointments. The Government are therefore quite willing, and have instructed the Commissioners of Customs to carry out the proposition, that when a person has been three years a superintendent locker, or a tide-surveyor, he shall be entitled to demand an examination, and, if he undergoes the examination satisfactorily, to have a certificate, which certificate is to be forwarded to the Treasury, and his name enrolled as eligible for higher service. The Government are disposed to go further, and to give the Commissioners of Customs the right to nominate to the Treasury one in every five vacancies, as a reward for special and meritorious services. In making this change, the Government feel that nothing, perhaps, in this country, is more contrary to the feelings of the great mass of the people than that there should be distinctions of classes—that there should be lines beyond which men cannot advance; and when we see in the greatest professions which adorn the country, men rise from the lowest to the highest station, we think it important that the Customs should not be an exception. We think there is nothing more repulsive to the general feelings of Englishmen, than a system which actually prescribes that men, however me- 169 ritorious, find a line in their path, beyond which they cannot pass. Such a regulation seems to us to savour more of the spirit of Eastern castes, than of that English freedom which, in every profession whatever, holds out the highest prizes as the fair object of the ambition of its humblest members. It may be that few attain the prizes, but that is no measure of the stimulus that is afforded in order to deserve them. We also think, in remodelling the Customs Establishment, we can do much, by holding out the fair expectation that promotion will follow merit, to secure a better class of servants, to cultivate a better feeling between them and the commercial community, and to introduce a better tone into that service, whereby we shall be able to effect a number of reforms, with greater confidence in their final success. The next topic is "Fines and Satisfactions." I am quite ready to admit, that nothing can be more unsatisfactory than the present state of the law, and the position which the Custom-house officers bear towards the commercial community, with regard to the fines and satisfactions they receive in the discharge of their ordinary duty. The Committee complain that, in consequence of the Custom-house officers sharing one-half the fines and one-half the profit on goods seized in case of sale, an impression exists that they are rather actuated by speculative views as to their own interests, than influenced by a regard for the interests of the Crown. However little such may be the fact, I am quite willing to admit, that on the face of the present arrangement, there is a considerable degree of reason for such a suspicion. I am quite sure, however, the. House will see the suspicion is not well founded, when they know that these amounts give only about 2l. a year to officers of the highest character, receiving 400l., 500l., and 600l. a year; but the very smallness of the sum is one reason why the principle should no longer be continued, especially when the consequence is, they are supposed to consider their own interest before that of the public. The nature of the seizures and stoppages to which these fines apply, may be divided into two classes. The first includes nominal detention for improper description and non-compliance with regulations through inadvertence. It is the practice when, for any of these minor or nominal offences, goods are seized, upon application to the Commissioners of Customs, to deliver them 170 up to the owners on payment of a small fine. It is very properly argued that the Government would be wrong to cease to levy those fines, because, although undoubtedly many mistakes are made through inadvertence, a relaxation of the rule would encourage attempts to commit extensive frauds. The Government have determined not altogether to remit those fines; but to give greater facilities for remedying any errors which may be inadvertently committed, by giving to the officer in attendance a discretion in certain cases to amend entries without the delay of an application to the Commissioners. The second class includes cases of under-valuation for ad valorem duties and seizures for smuggling and fraud. The House will see there is a great distinction between these two classes. In the second class it may be, and usually is, the case that fraud is intended; but not so in the first. While, therefore, we have thought it necessary, in order to remove as much as possible the inconvenience which has arisen from the frequent seizure and stoppage of goods, in consequence of under-valuation for ad valorem duties—while on this account, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained a few nights since, we have thought it our duty to remove every article from the list of those subject to ad valorem duties as far as we can; as regards some articles it is impossible to transfer them into any other list; and the same system which has hitherto prevailed, must so far still prevail, but with this exception—that the officers who bring before the Commissioners of Customs these cases, shall have no interest whatever in the profit derived from the sale of the goods seized. In regard to the fines, as well as the profit which may be derived from the sale of undervalued goods, the officers in future will have no direct or individual interest whatever. They will, as is the case with the Board of Inland Revenue, be converted into one fund, and that fund will be disposed of either in the improvement of the condition of the officers generally, or as rewards for special merit. Under the Board of Inland Revenue the practice was discontinued, because it was considered that the same weight was not attached to the evidence of the officers by juries, as would be the case if they were not interested parties. Now, although the same reason does not apply to the Custom-house officers, I have no doubt the removal of any pecuniary interest will introduce be- 171 tween them and the commercial community, with whom they daily come in con-tact, a better spirit, and bring about a more confidential tone in the management of business. But there is one department in which we do not propose to make any alteration, and that is the Coast Guard service. In their case, the Government agree with the Committee, that it is not wise to weaken, in the slightest degree, the inducements which those officers have to incur personal risk and encounter great danger in the discharge of their arduous duties. Therefore, as far as regards the Coast Guard, and those engaged in the direct seizure of vessels and goods for smuggling, the whole advantage now possessed will be retained. With that exception, it is the intention of the Government to withdraw any interest the Customs officers may have in fines and satisfactions, or in the profits of the sale of goods seized for under-valuation for ad valorem duties; and, while doing so, I have no doubt those officers who will be affected by the new arrangement, will feel that, by other arrangements as regards promotion, a more wholesome and better stimulus is supplied than that derived from the uncertain, precarious, and at all times invidious benefit which they received from those sources. The next head upon which the Committee have reported is with regard to ad valorem duties. As this matter was fully treated by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Monday evening, it will not be necessary for me to enlarge upon it. The House must have seen that the object of the Government, in the arrangements which my right hon. Friend proposed, to do away with ad valorem duties, is chiefly to get rid of the great difficulties which are involved in the entries of such goods, and their valuation for Customs duties; and the report of the Committee bears me out in the belief that this is by far the most fruitful source of contention between the commercial community and the Government. The object of the importer is to introduce articles of the very highest quality, at the lowest rate of duty, and in proportion to the amount of duty is the temptation to declare articles below their value. When the duties were reduced to small and moderate rates, the number of disputes was greatly lessened; and with the same view the Government propose, as my right hon. Friend stated on Monday, to repeal all ad valorem duties as far as possible, for the purpose of mak- 172 ing the articles on which they are levied altogether free, or putting them in a list chargeable with fixed rates. With the same view we have selected all the articles we could find which now come in as not enumerated, and, as such, necessarily charged with ad valorem duties, and have either placed them in the free list, or attached to them fixed duties, at rates somewhat lower than the ad valorem duties, to which they have heretofore been subject. It has been a question with the Government whether the 10 per cent on the value given to the merchant shall not be reduced to 5 per cent, to make the margin smaller within which those desirous of sailing as near the wind as possible can enter goods; but the number of articles left chargeable with ad valorem duties is so small, that we do not propose any change, and we hope no practical inconvenience will arise from that course. The next point on which the Committee report is "Seizures and stoppages, and adjudications of them." With regard to this very important subject, much angry discussion has been excited; but before the Committee made their report to us, the Board of Customs had already taken steps to remove two of the most important evils which had been complained of. First, as to Custom-house officers seizing goods and giving no statement of the cause, leaving the owner or agent in difficulty and embarrassment as to the reason why they were seized. As early as the month of August last the Commissioners of Customs published a notification on the subject, and I think it only fair to state to the House what they have done of their own accord, after the observations which have been made on those important officers. In the month of August they published this notification:—The Commissioners of Her Majesty's Customs hereby give notice that directions have been given to their officers that, whenever they seize or stop any vessel, boat, or goods, they are to furnish to the owner or agent a written notice, specifying the grounds of such detention.So far, then, as that complaint is concerned, it is entirely met by this notification, that no goods shall be seized without a written notice to the proprietor or agent of the cause of that detention. The next serious imputation under this head was, that the Board of Customs was a sort of secret tribunal—a species of small Star Chamber, where causes were decided without the knowledge of the parties interested, and no fair means allowed persons to pro- 173 test themselves and defend their property. But whatever just grounds there may have been for that imputation, I hope that another circular, which was issued by the Commissioners on the 23rd of August last, will entirely remove that objection:—The Commissioners of Her Majesty's Customs hereby give notice, that they will be prepared, in any case of seizure in London, under the Customs laws, upon application being made to them in writing, and where the owner of the goods, &c. may be desirous of such a course, to appoint one of the members of the Board to take the evidence on oath, of the merchants or other parties claiming the property on the one side, and of the detaining officers on the other, supported by that of any witnesses that may be necessary for the proper investigation of the case, and to report the same for the Board's decision, agreeably to the practice observed in cases of complaints, by merchants and others, against officers.So that now every person having goods seized or a complaint brought by an officer of Customs, may, if he think right, have the case heard in open court by one of the Commissioners, and may have the officers and his own witnesses brought face to face and examined upon oath; he therefore has all the security which he possibly can have in any court whatever. I need only say, with those two regulations the Government entirely concur. But then it may be said these regulations are inapplicable to the out ports, and that it is the duty of the Government to confer similar advantages to those conferred on the port of London. It is provided by the Minute passed by the Treasury, that a similar inquiry may take place before the collector or controller of the port where the question arises; that the merchant may have the case tried before either of those officers in open court, the same as he can in London, so that the advantage will be extended to the smallest port, and no person will have his goods seised, or an information raised against Mm, without an opportunity, if he wishes it, of having it heard in open court, of having his witnesses confronted with the Custom-house officers, and of having all examined upon oath. I should also say, upon this subject, that greater power is given to the lauding surveyors of amending the entries in all cases of small amounts, without an appeal to the Board, which creates unnecessary and considerable delay; and we have desired the Commissioners to watch the effect of this change, and, if they see no reason to the contrary, to extend it not only to London, but to all the ports in the kingdom. The next point on which the Committee report is one of 174 very great importance—the law of costs and penalties. An impression prevailed, that the Crown was not placed on an equality with the subject in regard to the prosecution and defence of Customhouse cases. The state of the law is this: with regard to civil cases, that is, where the Commissioners of Customs bring actions for the recovery of bonds which are disputed, or where any simple question of law arises, they stand exactly in the position of subject to subject; the defendant, if, successful, receives costs of the Crown, as the Crown recovers costs of the defendant; For the recovery of penalties for offences by smuggling, the rule has hitherto been, that each party pays his own costs—that is, the Customs never recover from the defendant, and the defendant has no claim against the Customs. With regard to the third class, and which includes the great majority of cases which appear as Custom-house prosecutions, where goods are seized and penalties sued for, undoubtedly the law at present entitles the Crown to demand a bond of 100. before going into court. If the defendant be successful, he has no claim against the Crown for his costs. If the Crown be successful, it has a claim against the defendant for costs, but which claim is generally confined to the bond of 100l., taken in the first in* stance. Looking at this question, involving as it does important constitutional considerations, we have come to the conclusion on the whole, having regard to the altered tone and feeling in the time we now live, that the period has arrived when the Crown should be placed in exactly the same condition as the subject—that if the Crown is right in its prosecution it shall have a claim for costs against the subject, and if wrong the subject shall have a claim for costs against the Crown. It has been suggested to us that it very frequently happens, in cases of a vessel or goods being seized, that we either have a nominal owner or no owner at all, or some person entirely incapable of bearing costs; should the action go against him. It has been suggested, that before we go into court we ought to require security for costs, if successful. That seems a very reasonable proposition; but considering, on the one hand, that I may preclude poor men who are unable to furnish security for costs from making a fair defence of themselves, and considering, on the other, that we (the Crown) are in possession of the goods seized, I think we may venture to 175 allow the law to remain as between subject and subject. Therefore, as regards costs for penalties, the Crown will now stand as subjects do towards each other—no security will be demanded in cases of seizures, and the Crown pays costs in the event of being unsuccessful. There is another most important alteration proposed with regard to these prosecutions. It has been suggested by the Committee whether a cheaper, quicker, and more economical tribunal connot be appealed to in cases involving only small amounts. I think we should show ourselves insensible of the great advantages derived from the establishment of County Courts, were we to pass over that observation of the Committee without feeling that, in certain cases, the great time and costs involved in Exchequer trials may be avoided. We therefore recommend, and the Treasury Minute authorises, the Customs Commissioners to include in their Bill a provision making it imperative on the Crown to resort, where the duties and penalties do not exceed 1001., to the County Courts, or such other tribunals as the Treasury may direct, as being most suitable to the localities where the cases arise. We have given the choice to the defendant to have his case removed into a higher court, and tried by a jury, if he think fit. We have also made provision that the Custom-house Commissioners may apply to the Treasury if they can show peculiar circumstances in any case—because it sometimes happens that in cases of small amount, large and complicated principles are involved—to remove it into a higher court, and the Treasury have the power to grant that application. But in every instance, where the interest involved does not exceed 100l., the Custom-house officer will be, as a rule, obliged to resort to the smaller courts, with power for the defendant to remove the case into a higher court to be tried before a jury, if he wishes. And further, in cases involving even larger amounts, and without any limit, if the Customs certify that from the simple nature of the case it may be left to the local tribunal, the Treasury shall authorise them to do so. There is a complaint made that if the defendant finds himself aggrieved, he can only bring an action against the officer in whose name the prosecution has been conducted. If a merchant have his goods seized, be put to great expense and enormous inconvenience, and at the end of a protracted inquiry find that he can only bring his action 176 for damages against the Custom-house officer, he is undoubtedly placed in a very awkward and disadvantageous position. But as the law stands, I believe it will be found that no Custom-house officer having made a seizure, can bring any action, except by consent of the Board of Customs or by the Attorney General—that in practice the Commissioners of Customs must be considered the real plaintiffs, although the action is brought in the name of the officer. But, however, if there is any uncertainty in the state of the law, the Treasury Minute, which we have now passed, makes it imperative that every action brought in the shape of penalties under the Customs laws shall be brought, if not nominally, yet really, by the Commissioners of Customs—that they, under all circumstances, shall be the parties to be held responsible for the acts of their officers and agents. So, in future, any action for damages brought by a merchant for wrongful seizure, for wrongful detention, or for wrongful prosecution, shall lie directly against the Commissioners of Customs, and not against the Customhouse officers. Another thing is the complaint as to the limit of time within which actions must be brought against the Commissioners of Customs or their officers. By the present law all actions must be brought within six months of the cause of action arising. It not unfrequently happens that the trial in which the person is concerned is postponed over that period, and whilst uncertain and ignorant of the result, he will not commence his action. To remedy that evil, we have directed that in future the limit shall not be six months within the cause of action arising, but that within one mouth of the final determination of the court, the defendant shall have the right to bring any action for damages against the Commissioners of Customs. We propose to go further, and to permit such actions to be brought against the Commissioners of Customs in the County Court, when the amount sued for would bring it, in ordinary cases, within that tribunal. Another complaint is, that the Government has no prescription as to time within which proceedings must be taken. I think on this head there is some mistake. The usual limitation of six years runs with regard to the Crown as with individuals in every civil case; but, with respect to actions for penalties, the Crown is prescribed to a much shorter period of time, within three years, and as to similar cases brought before magistrates, to six months. We 177 consider; therefore, there is no necessity to make any alteration: in this particular, as the Crown is placed in no better position, but in rather a worse position than the subject, with regard to it. Here again the Committee report that it is desirable that where the penalties and duties on goods seized do not amount to more than 100l., they should be brought before some cheaper tribunal than the Court of Exchequer. Now, with regard to that, as in the case to which I before alluded, we propose to direct that in all cases where the penalties and duties do not amount to more than 100l., all actions shall be brought before some cheaper and quicker tribunal, and that the case may be decided by application to the County Court, or to such other and cheaper tribunal as the Treasury may authorise. Now I come to the next recommendation of the Committee, which has reference to a most important subject—that of the transit trade. There is no department connected with the commerce of this country which so strikingly shows the prosperity of our navigation and commerce as the transit trade. It may be remembered, when we had frequent discussions on the navigation laws in this House, some three years ago, there was one great and important advantage which we anticipated from the change in those laws, that we would be able, by making up assorted cargoes to the United States, to extend materially the shipping trade of this country, and that we should induce those European countries which before sent their goods at great inconvenience and expense to themselves to various parts of the world, to use this country, if facilities were granted to them, as a depôt from whence their goods might be despatched to all parts of the world. That anticipation has been in a most remarkable degree realised. The arrangements made to give facilities to this trade have chiefly been made at the ports of London, Liverpool, Hull, Goole, Grimsby, and Southampton; and the arrangements are, that goods may be landed from the ships of foreign countries, despatched in vans on railways, unopened and unexamined, across the country to other ports, again to be embarked for other countries. Thus, for instance, goods go from Hull across the country to Liverpool, from one ship almost directly to the other, without being examined or disturbed. To this arrangement, it is true, several objections have been raised—and objections, some of them, of considerable importance—such as 178 that goods prohibited by our regulations such as books in contravention of copy right, or goods with marks in imitation of British makers, might be imported in those, that were not examined, or that there might be mixed up with them goods otherwise contravening the Custom laws. Now no doubt there is considerable force in these objections; but on consideration we have, thought that it would not be desirable to withhold the facilities to which I have referred. If people find it for their interest to counterfeit British marks on their goods, and if those goods are examined and stopped here, we shall only force them to send those goods by another route, where we shall have no control over them whatever. If we revert to the plan that was formerly in use, and compel goods to be opened before they pass, we shall only direct the trade into other channels, but we shall not in the slightest degree put an end to the practice. We have therefore resolved that goods shall be landed, put into railway vans, carried, under the superintendence of a Custom-house officer, from one port of the country to another, and so embarked and re-exported to other parts of the world, without having been opened or in the slightest degree touched. That advantage has only been partially in existence for the last two years; but its great success, the remarkable influence which it has already exercised over the trade of this country, has been too important for me to pass it over without notice. Last year the goods which passed in transitu through this country—goods which before the repeal of the Navigation Laws were altogether excluded from British ships trading with the United States, were, among others, and independent of goods entered by value, to which I shall hereafter advert:—Butter, 203 cwt.; cheese, 5,026 cwt.; corks, 15,040lbs.; grain, all kinds, 1,641 cwt.; ditto, 8,637 qrs.; glass, all kinds, 44,446 cwt.; ditto, 131,598 lbs.; spirits, all kinds, 400,852 gals.; sugar, 21,482 cwt.; wine, all kinds, 78,874 gals.; tobacco, 1,474,160 lbs. But there is another description of goods not requiring specification, but which consist of silk, leather, woollen, and cotton manufactures, watches, perfumery, confectionery, and other manufactured goods, which passed through this country during last year, amounting in value to no less a sum than 3,414,451.; and during the last month, the month of March, the value of goods that have passed through the country was 420,000l., or at the rate of 5,000,000l. 179 sterling per annum. The effect that this has had upon the shipping trade of the country has been something which, I think, is very remarkable; and I wish to call the attention of the House to the circumstance, because I wish to base upon these facts some important recommendations with regard to the Customs regulations. Now, I wish to call the attention of the House to the shipping in the port of Liverpool during the last six years—that is to say, three years before the repeal of the Navigation Laws and the granting of these new facilities, and the last three years that have elapsed since those events. I take Liverpool, because that is the port whence a large portion of goods passing in transit are exported. The table which I hold in my hand shows the shipping entered inward and outward at Liverpool in these periods, 1845, 1848, and 1852, distinguishing British from Foreign:—
|Tl. Brit. & For.||2,819,014||…||2,924,000||…||3,785,000|
§ Thus we find entered inwards and outwards, in the port of Liverpool, in 1845, of British tonnage, 1,838,449 tons, while the total tonnage was 2,819,014 tons. In 1848, the last year of the old system, there were entered inwards and outwards, of British ships, 1,817,000 tons, and the total 2,924,000; so that between these two periods there was a slight decline of British shipping, and a slight increase of 105,000 tons on the total. But now see what was the state of matters in the course of last year. There were entered inwards and outwards, in the port of Liverpool, in 1852, instead of 1,817,000 tons of British shipping, no less than 2,185,000 tons; while the total tonnage amounted to 3,785,000; so that where during the first period of three years before the Navigation Laws were repealed there was a slight decline in the tonnage of British shipping, and only an increase of 105,000 tons upon the whole; during the last three years there has been an increase of 368,000 tons of British shipping, and of 861,000 tons upon the whole. I think these facts are most important—I do not say they 180 are to be attributed entirely to the transit trade—I know they are not; but when I show that goods to the value of five millions, have passed in transit through this country, I think I have a right to say that a large portion of the increase is to be so attributed. Well now, it is the opinion of the Government that every possible facility, consistent with a due security against fraud, should be given to this trade, We expose our ships to competition with all the world; and it is, therefore, our first and bounden duty to afford the ships of this country all the facilities that we can to make them the carriers of the world. The Treasury Minute, therefore, which we have passed provides and calls upon the Commissioners of Customs to extend these facilities to all towns where railway communications exist, and where such goods arrive. In the town of Grimsby, for instance, and other towns of importance, the arrangement we have made is this, that on the arrival of a ship the goods are immediately removed from the ship to a railway van, where they are taken under the charge of a Custom-house officer to Liverpool, and there re-shipped to the Brazils, or the United States, or any other part of the world without being disturbed; and still more, in order to give still greater facilities, whereas the law renders it necessary that each proprietor must give a bond to the Customs for the amount of the duty to which his goods are liable, we have made arrangements to take a single bond from those railway companies who are willing to give it, so that the proprietors may be altogether relieved, and we shall then hold the railway companies responsible for the safe delivery of those goods to a bonding port on the other side of the island. The Committee suggest, however, other facilities, which, I am sorry to say, we find it impossible to accede to. It has been suggested that similar facilities should be given to coasting vessels which we have already conceded to railways. I need not say to the hon. Gentleman opposite (Alderman Thompson), who is well acquainted with mercantile affairs, that the risk of sending goods by coasting vessels and by railways under the care of Custom-house officers are two very different things. It must be plain and apparent to every one, that were we to allow goods to be reshipped in coasting vessels without being examined, tobacco might be entered as flax—or, in short, that we should open the door to an extent of smuggling that would be per- 181 fectly frightful, and of which we could not tell the extent. We therefore think it impossible to concede this: advantage without danger to the revenue and danger to the fair trader, of allowing goods to be sent on by coasting vessels without being examined. But with regard to goods which have been examined, we of course have no intention to withdraw the privilege which is already enjoyed, of removing them from one bonded warehouse to another, whether by coasting vessels or any other conveyance; because, when the Customhouse officers have once examined the goods, the duty can be levied in one bonded warehouse as well as another. But we also propose to introduce another important modification, which is not recommended by the Committee. At present, as the hon. Gentleman opposite knows well, there are large transactions going on between London and Liverpool, of goods being removed in bond; and in each individual case the merchant must give a separate bond for the amount of the duty in each transaction. Until lately he was called upon to sign a bond for double the duty—he is now called upon for one-half. But we think it will add to the facility of these transactions, if we take one bond, to run for a given time, which will cover the whole amount of the transactions that are likely to occur during that time, and to cover the risk. By these means we hope to reduce to the greatest minimum the amount of trouble necessary in these transactions, while we in no way endanger the security of the revenue. I hope the great success which, I have shown, has already attended the facilities afforded to the transit of goods, will induce hon. Gentlemen to feel that the Government will be justified in extending to them still further facilities. There is only one small and comparatively unimportant part of the recommendations of the Committee which I shall notice. They say, "Your Committee see no fiscal reason why the importation of arms of all kinds, whether in transit or for home consumption, should be prohibited." Upon this I have to say, that the Government see no reason for prohibiting the importation of arms in transitu, and that arms imported from all countries may pass in transit; but with this precaution, that in each case the party importing arms shall apply to the Treasury for an order, not with any view of making it a question whether the Trea- 182 sury shall grant the order or not, but as a warrant to the Custom-house officer of the extent and character of the transaction, so that no improper use may be made of it The Treasury orders will be issued, on application, as a matter of course. They are only intended to prevent persons from importing arms for political or other purposes, that would be in contravention of the law.
§ MR. MITCHELL
here asked what were the intentions of the Government with regard to the size of packages?
§ MR. J. WILSON
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for recalling my attention to this subject. The Committee observe that the law which limits the size of packages in which goods are conveyed, and which applies to those cases where it might afford facilities for smuggling, should be altered so far as regards such goods imported for the purpose of being re-ex-ported. With regard to spirits, tobacco, and such goods, the law provides that they shall not be imported in packages below a certain size, because if they were, the facilities for smuggling would be greatly increased. I have to call the attention of my hon. Friend to the fact, that such a distinction, if attempted, would open the door to simple and easy frauds, and afford all the facility for smuggling, which the existing distinction is intended to prevent. Suppose that a ship were approaching our shores, and that the Custom-house officers, on boarding her, were to find small casks of brandy, amounting only to ten gallons; the captain might say, "Oh, these are for re-exportation;" we should have no means of knowing whether the goods were really for re-exportation or were in the ship with a view to being smuggled for home consumption, and thus all facilities would be afforded for smuggling. But I can assure my hon. Friend that the practice adopted by the Commissioners of Customs will meet his views, because there are certain specific regulations which have received the sanction of the Treasury, which will allow the importation of small packages; but security will be taken, before the permission is given, that these small packages are really to be re-exported. Brandy in fifteen gallon casks may thus be imported for re-exportation to Mexico, Peru, and Chili, and wine in small cases of from one to two dozen bottles, but with the distinct intimation to the Custom-house that it is the intention of the importer to export them, notice of 183 this fact having been given beforehand, so that there may be no excuse for evasion or fraud. But it is clear that if these regulations are to be of a general nature, you may bring in whole cargoes under pretence that they are for re-exportation by parties who may land them at various parts along the coast, who, if boarded, and if challenged as to their intentions, might say, "Oh, it is for re-exportation." That would be a facility for smuggling which we do not feel justified in conceding. The next point of the Committee's Report is with regard to fines on shipping. They say—Your Committee is of opinion that the criminal responsibility of the crews of vessels for an act of smuggling on their part, ought, in most cases, to be a sufficient security to the revenue, and that it is therefore not expedient to detain the ship, or to fine the owner, excepting when the fraud has been committed by the captain or chief mate, or when such extensive preparations for fraud have been detected as to argue great negligence on their part.Now, as far as regards this recommendation, Her Majesty's Government not only concur in it, but the practice at present is completely in accordance with it. Because I find it is enacted by Parliament that if a case of smuggling has occurred without the privity or wilful neglect of the owner or the officers, then the Commissioners of Customs are authorised and required to deliver the vessel to the owner. I have been particularly careful in making inquiry upon this subject, and, as far as I have been able to ascertain, this is really the state of the case, that it is the rarest possible thing for a vessel to be detained unless the captain or the owners have been privy to the fraud; and if that is not so, the vessel is immediately and at once released without any fine. Therefore, as far as I have been able to make out, I believe that the practice and the law are sufficient as they stand to carry out the recommendations of the Committee. They are recommendations in which we entirely concur; and if it can be shown that the present practice is not sufficient to carry out the spirit of these recommendations, we shall be ready to consider any alterations that may be suggested with that view. The next point is one of extreme interest, and of great importance—I refer to the system of bonding in warehouse. An institution of this kind, to which we owe, perhaps more than to any other commercial regulation whatever, the enormous growth of our trade, and which is identified with the industry 184 and commerce of the country, is one that well deserves the consideration of this House. It is little more than 100 years since it was first proposed by Sir Robert Walpole; but he was compelled by the rudeness of the mobs which attacked Members of Parliament on their way down to the House, by petitions from the City of London, and by a state of insubordination, amounting almost to civil disruption in the country, to abandon it. It is a curious fact, that an institution which is now regarded by us—I may say by the whole commercial world—as one that gives commerce so many advantages, and which has in this country been peculiarly fruitful of great and striking results, should first have been proposed by Sir Robert Walpole, in 1733, and then abandoned from the causes to which I have referred. He then, for the first time, proposed to the House of Commons to adopt the bonding system with regard to tobacco and wine. At that time the practice was for the merchant, on importing the goods, to pay the duty; and when he re-exported -them he received a drawback. That this system of drawbacks led to much fraud, there can be no doubt. Whether the merchants of that day were influenced by that consideration in opposing the system, it is not for me to say; but certain it is that the system was opposed by them, and that the Members for the City of London, under the direction of the Corporation, opposed it in the most strenuous manner, and the Members who supported it were mobbed in coming down to the House, so that the House passed resolutions that they would not be deterred from the discharge of their duty by the influence of mobs; but notwithstanding, after the Bill had been read a first and second time, and had passed the Committee, but before it was reported, the matter wore so serious an aspect in the country that Sir Robert called a meeting of his friends, and you will find in the Parliamentary History for 1733 this short anecdote:—On the evening before the report was to be received, Sir Robert Walpole summoned a meeting of the principal Members who had supported the Bill. The meeting was largely attended, and he reserved his own opinion till the last. Most were for persevering, and they argued that as all taxes were obnoxious, there would be an end to the functions of the Legislature if this intimidation were submitted to. Sir Robert heard them all to an end, and then he shortly addressed them, and told them that he was conscious that he meant 185 well, but that in the present temper of the country the measure could not be carried without an armed force—that there would be an end to the liberties of England if supplies were to be carried by the sword—and that if it were resolved to persist in the measure, he must beg leave to tender his resignation, for that he would not be a Minister to force taxes from the people by the sword.Accordingly the Bill was allowed to drop. It was postponed to a day on which Parliament was not likely to sit; and from 1733 the country was deprived of the advantages of this measure in consequence of mobs instigated by the merchants of London. But in 1803 we obtained the advantages of the system, and in consequence a great extension of the warehouses attached to the docks.
Now in the report of the Committee there is one complaint which is extremely just. The House will remember that the system of bonding is this:—You import goods, and instead of paying the duty at once, you get credit for it till you want your goods, and you leave the goods in the possession of the Crown, as a security for the duty. That is the theory. The original importer, the party who enters the goods in the first place, appears as liable to the Crown. The Crown knows no other owner of the goods. But the practice now is for these goods to be sold over and over again without being taken out of the bond; and it frequently happens that in the course of five, or ten, or fifteen years, the goods may have passed through six or eight, or any number of hands, from the time of the original proprietor, who is then as little cognisant of the existence of the goods as any one could be. Now it certainly is a great hardship when, on an investigation made perhaps twenty years after the goods have been entered, it is found that a large portion of them has been abstracted, that the original importer should be liable for duty to the full amount of the quantity landed. And yet it will be seen, if no other provision is made, that that would be the natural consequence. The way in which we propose to remedy this state of things is this:—The importer will at first do exactly as he does at present; he will be liable to the Crown; but if he part with the possession of the goods, he may then re-enter them in the name of the person who has purchased them, the goods being weighed, or measured, or gauged, as the case may be, so that he shall no longer be responsible for the duty, except for that part which is then deficient beyond the natural waste age which is al- 186 lowed by law; and, that small amount of duty paid, the goods will then remain at the responsibility and the risk of the new owner. Another proposition we have to make, according to the suggestion of the Committee, is, that the Customs shall be obliged every five years to take stock of the goods entrusted to their care. At first sight it may appear that this is a serious thing for the Customs to undertake; but practically I believe it will on the whole be easy, because it will not be a stock-taking at one and the same time of all the goods under their care, but the stock will be taken from day to day, of the goods which were entered on each particular day five years before. Now, the great bulk of the goods is cleared out in less than five years—wine and a few other descriptions of goods are the only exceptions as a rule. We propose that on the stock being taken, the duty shall be paid upon any deficiency, if there be any deficiency beyond that allowed by law, and that then the remainder shall be re-entered in the name of the new owner. By these measures we provide for two things: we remove the hardship to which persons are now subjected of being called on to pay the duty on goods which they parted with years before, and we prevent persons from selling goods inadvertently as being of a certain quantity, when by accident or by leakage they have been diminished below that amount. We hope by the practice of re-entering to meet these evils.
§ MR. J. WILSON
We mean that every person who has goods in bond, and who sells them, shall be at liberty—there will be no compulsion—but if he chooses he may re-enter his goods and pass them at the time he sells them to the person to whom they are sold. It will be a transfer, and he will be at liberty to transfer the responsibility with the property.
§ MR. J. WILSON
That is done with regard to all sorts of the more valuable goods sold by reweight at present. ["No, no!"] But however that may be now, it will be an arrangement between the parties themselves, and it cannot be said that the seller will then have any reason to complain. Now, with regard to taking stock, it has been suggested to me that the change will involve a great deal of trouble. All we say is this—we wish to 187 make a trial of it. If merchants find that it is inconvenient and troublesome to them, we have no reason to persist in incurring the trouble and expense. We wish to make the experiment; if it should succeed, we shall persevere; if it is proved to be onerous or inconvenient to the merchants, I do not think the Custom House will have any wish to persevere in the scheme. But it has also been suggested to me, that it may rather be a convenience than otherwise to merchants to be reminded at such intervals of odd packages of goods lying over, and perhaps forgotten and overlooked. There is another point in the warehousing system on which I wish to make one or two observations. There are, at present, three classes of bonded warehouses: first, those of special security; next, those of ordinary security, where the warehouse-keeper comes under a bond, and the merchant under none; and, third, those also of ordinary security, where the merchant gives the bond, and the warehouse-keeper none. We think that all these distinctions are absurd and unnecessary, and that there is no reason whatever why they should not all be put upon the same footing. We propose, therefore, that warehouses should be all of one class, and that in all of them the warehouse-keeper should be responsible to the Crown for any deficiency beyond that which is allowed by law, in the same way as he is responsible to his customer for the safe keeping of his goods. We think that there is a hardship and an evil in the multiplication of bonds, and as we have a bond from the warehouse-keeper, we think that it is unnecessary to trouble the merchant for a bond in each particular case.
§ MR. J. WILSON
I ought to say in regard to that, that nothing is to be removed from one floor to another without being entered in the book always kept for the purpose, and which the officer signs, and which, if not neglected, is a perfect security to the warehouse-keeper. The next subject is the interesting one of passengers' baggage, with respect to which the Committee recommend that it should be examined on board. [Mr. W. WILLIAMS: Hear, hear!] The hon. Member for Lambeth has experienced the inconvenience of the present system, like all the rest of us. I have taken a great deal of pains upon the subject, and there can be no better 188 proof of the pains I have taken than the modifications we are about to introduce. At Liverpool, the privilege is conceded to passengers by the North American steamers of having their luggage examined on board. But it must be obvious that in vessels of the size of the Liverpool steamers, with comparatively few passengers, with plenty of space on the decks, and an hour or two being of little consequence compared with the long voyage, it must be obvious that that is a very different case from the small steamers that come from short voyages up the Thames. The only place where I have found the system of having luggage examined on deck is at Antwerp, and I have no doubt that many hon. Gentlemen have, like myself, found it extremely agreeable to escape from the labours of this House, in the middle of August, and after steaming up the Scheldt, reaching Antwerp the following morning, and by the aid of having your luggage examined on deck, being able to depart by the first railway train, and catch a glimpse of the Rhine before nightfall. It certainly then seems a great contrast to the comparatively clumsy system that prevails in England. But in all sublunary matters there is unfortunately a dark as well as a bright side, and I have experienced the dark as well as the bright side of this plan; for it has more than once occurred tome, that, landing there in a soaking rain, my luggage has been exposed on the deck without the slightest shelter, and that has been productive of the greatest inconvenience, as well as loss of time. I think therefore that, upon the whole, things are better managed in this country. The difficulty in our case arises from the fact that steamers are arriving in the Thames at all hours of the four-and-twenty, and from the fact that many of them are so small as to have no convenience for the examination. Passengers arriving at four o'clock in the morning in the winter, would feel themselves greatly inconvenienced by being roused from their berths to have their lugguge examined, between Gravesend and London; but then I must say that there are constant complaints from passengers who, by the delay in their arrival, caused by the examination of their luggage, are prevented getting off by the trains and reaching their homes as soon as they wish to do. And being the more anxious to reach their homo the nearer they approach it, they naturally become impatient when they get to London Bridge, and cannot go 189 by the first train, by which they might be able to reach even Edinburgh or Dublin the same day, if not detained in order to have their luggage examined. Now, we propose to deal with this matter by a middle course—namely, that every passenger who has one or two packages, may have them examined between Gravesend and London without any detention; and all persons having a great number of packages may have a carpet-bag examined on board, provided it contains no articles liable to duty, it being necessary that such articles should go to the Custom House to be charged. That plan, I think, under all the circumstances, will be more convenient for the public, and more consistent with the safety of the revenue, than any other arrangement that could be adopted. With regard to large quantities of luggage, the warehouses now used will still be open, and the same means of examination will take place. With regard to Dover, we have made arrangements for the night train arriving from Paris to be examined on its arrival at London Bridge; and with respect to Folkestone, instructions have been given that every possible facility should be afforded by the Customs officers from time to time. The next subject to which the Committee advert is, the hours of attendance at the Custom House; and they recommend that the hours should be from seven in the morning to five in the afternoon, and for in-doors from eight till four. I must inform the House that a few years ago regulations were adopted for all parts of the kingdom with regard to the hours of attendance; but it was immediately found that so great was the variety of the circumstances under which the trade of different ports was carried on, that one uniform rule could not be applied alike to all cases, and the Commissioners were therefore obliged to adapt the rules to the convenience of the varying wants of the trade. At Hull, at the present moment, the men are at work from six in the morning to six in the evening, with an hour for breakfast and dinner; but there the men all live close to their employment. At Liverpool, and also at the port of London, on the other hand, the officers living at a great distance from their work, a different arrangement, suitable to the character of the trade, has to be adopted. Upon this' subject the Commissioners of Customs have thought it advisable to consult with the dock authorities, whose opinion they were anxious to have, whether any improvement could 190 be made with respect to the hours of attendance. He would read the reply which Mr. Powles, the Secretary of the London. Dock Company, had made to the Board of Customs on this matter. [The hon. Gentleman read the letter in question, which expressed the concurrence of the Directors of the London Dock Company in the opinion that the present hours of attendance at the Custom House were sufficiently adequate for all the purposes of business, except in extreme cases of emergency.] That was the answer of Mr. Powles; and the Commissioners of Customs are of the same opinion, because it must be obvious that at Liverpool and London, where the men live at a great distance from their dwellings, they must either resort for their refreshment to the taverns, which I think is extremely undesirable, or they must go to their homes, in which case the time they are allowed for their meals must be extended, which would cause greater interruption to business. At the same time, directions have been given that every assistance should be rendered where it is applied for, and specially where the merchants are willing to pay the officers extra for working over-hours. Arrangements have been made to enable vessels to be cleared at much later hours in the evening than they used to be, and I think that they will meet all the necessities of the case. But it is not desirable to extend the hours in the way that has been recommended, without considerably increasing the emoluments of the officers. The Customs staff—I may almost call it an army—consists of upwards of 10,000 men, who do not consider themselves at present overpaid; and it must be borne in mind that the tendency of the age is rather towards the abridgment than the prolongation of the hours of labour. Again, when it is remembered that the attendance of the men is continuous, and without any break at all, I think the House will agree with me that, with the modifications to which I have alluded, the system I have named is better than the laying down of any rigid and inflexible rule on the subject. I now come to a part of the question which is by far the most important in the whole range of topics with which I have to deal, and that is as to the simplification of the entries of free goods. Now, undoubtedly, we have been flattering ourselves—and perhaps too much—for some years past, while we have been repealing Customs duties, that we would thereby he enabled to affect great saving 191 of time and labour in transacting the business of the Customs department; but it ought not to be lost sight of that there is this wide difference between Excise and Customs duties, that when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer repeals the duty on soap, for instance, there will be no longer any use for the officers who levy that duty, any more than if the soap duty had never existed. So with the glass duty and all Excise duties; and it may be taken as a canon, that if you would touch an Excise duty you must remove it altogether if you wish to effect economy in your establishments. But with regard to the Customs the case is totally different, and if you relax in any degree the strictness with which you examine free goods, you are liable to bring the revenue into serious jeopardy. Now, what the Committee recommend with regard to free goods is this—"that the ship's manifest and the report of her consignee be the sole entry required; that a copy of them be sent to the landing-waiter as his warrant;" and that is the whole of the knowledge on which he is to act. Now, what is the manifest of a ship? It is simply a list of the cargo, and a list that necessarily and in many cases tells nothing of what the cargo is composed. You have so many packages marked so and so, from 1 to 100, and "contents unknown." What kind of information can the Customs officer derive from a manifest with "contents unknown?" And see what facilities for smuggling such a system would lead to. Suppose you have a mixed cargo of goods arriving, and there is a number of packages, as is frequently the case, consigned "to order" with a bill of lading. Those goods might be found to contain smuggled articles, and if they are detected, no person comes forward to own them—no person makes the individual entry, and the owner is unknown. The wharfinger, at whose wharf they arrive, clears them, because he wishes to get rid of the ship, or the consignee clears them; and if they pass the Customs officers, well and good—the owner comes, and presents his bill of lading, claims the goods as his, and takes them away. But suppose, on the other hand, that tobacco is found in the centre of a cask of potatoes. There is no one to own them, no entry, no agent, and there is an end of the matter. Now, in order to show the House the great danger we should incur by such a regulation as that, I must describe a few cases in which smuggling transactions of this 192 kind have been attempted on a large scale within a very recent period. A short time ago a large importation of oilcake took place into London (an article that is duty free), and it was imported in open baskets from Belgium, without the slightest apparent attempt to hide it. A piece broke off, and a Custom-house officer standing on shore, who came from the country and was a judge of oilcake, picked it up and smelt it to judge of the quality. The smell made him sneeze very much, and excited his curiosity. On examining it very closely he discovered that this oilcake was compressed snuff in the centre, with oilcake on each side. As soon as this officer found it, the agent passing the goods, fearing that he would be implicated, came forward and gave the name of the proprietor who employed him, and told the officers that he had passed a large quantity of the same article from another wharf that very morning, and which had been actually removed; but in consequence of this accidental discovery, they were followed and seized; and it came out afterwards that there was 56 cwt. of oilcake, and 52 cwt. of compressed snuff, which was liable to a duty of 1,666l. We had a similar case at Leith. A quantity of potatoes had been imported, and the bill of lading was made out in the name of Long; but no such person was known. The Customs officers had an intimation of an intention to smuggle, and on examining the goods found a large quantity of tobacco at the bottom of five casks of potatoes; but in consequence of the discovery no person claimed them; although, had the goods passed, they would doubtless have been claimed at once. Five months afterwards, however, the person to whom these goods had been consigned, finding that he had not made the sum of money which he had expected, came and asked what reward would be given to him if he afforded information of the transaction; and for some reward that was offered, he made disclosures to the Customs authorities, which led to the discovery of a very large system of fraud upon the revenue. I wish, by these instances, to show the House the necessity, whilst every facility is afforded to commerce, of taking precaution to secure the interests, not only of the revenue, but also of the fair trader. Ostend butter has now become a favourite article of consumption in London, and is largely imported. As it is fresh butter, on the steamboats arriving every morning there is great anxiety, on the part of the owners, 193 to get their goods to market, and the Customs officers afford every facility for that purpose. But what took place a short time ago? A number of cases of this butter arrived by steamer one morning, and the person to whom it belonged was in a, great hurry to get it cleared. The officer did not weigh it, being contented with counting the rolls; but, with a piece of clean wire, probed two of the rolls, and felt something hard, and it was found that each of the rolls concealed a long tin tube, one of which I hold in my hand, containing fine tobacco, the butter being in fact a kind of envelope for the tobacco, and the duty upon each case amounted to 20l. Again, at Liverpool, a short time ago, thirty-two tierces of provisions arrived from America and were landed, and the dock authorities prepared to clear them. Only one or two hogsheads are examined in such cases, but one of them happened to tumble to pieces, and out came a large quantity of tobacco. The owner never came forward, but if the tierces had passed he would have brought the bill of lading, and claimed the goods next day; but as the tierces contained a large quantity of tobacco, which rendered him liable to a heavy penalty, he never appeared. Again, at Glasgow, lately 120 barrels of rosin were landed from a ship. The rosin was run into the barrels in a liquid state, then allowed to congeal, and came here in a solid state. The officers in such cases examine about one barrel in every ten; they cut the barrel in two, and if all is right it is allowed to pass. Well, it so happened that these 120 barrels passed, by the parties having barrels of the right sort placed the most conspicuous; but from subsequent information the officers followed the goods, and on examination found that 100 of the 120 barrels contained in the centre a quantity of tobacco, the duty upon which was 500l. Again, a large steamer, the Baron Osy, arrived in the river in September last, with large casks of what was supposed to be rapeseed oil. The goods, being free goods, were passing with a slight examination, but an accident happening, one of the pieces of a cask came out, and it was discovered that there was an internal lining of tobacco all round the oil. The duty upon the tobocco thus attempted to be smuggled amounted to 1,500l. While I am upon this subject, and being anxious to put the House in full possession of the difficulties of the case, there are two other instances of smuggling to 194 which I must advert—one of which is small, but the other is of great importance, as showing the practice of the Customs with regard to the connexion between the mates and crews of ships and the owners of goods. The City of Boulogne steamer, plying between Boulogne and London, arrived in the Thames a few months ago, and in consequence of an intimation they received, the officers of the Customs having gone on board, went into the chief mate's room, and found him dressing. Pointing to a pair of boots, the officer asked the mate whose they were, and he replied that they were his. The officer, on taking hold of the boots, found that there were forty watches in them. Upon further investigation he found lying beside the mate, ready to put on, this article of dress which I hold in my hand, and which is made to go over the neck, covering the chest, and with strings to tie behind, and contains small holes for forty watches, and no doubt in half an hour the mate would have walked ashore like a well-dressed and large-chested man, with his valuable prize, had he not been detected in time. Now, I must refer to a case of a very serious nature, and I feel the more bound to refer to it, because it is one which not only has attracted a great deal of notice, but with regard to which some portion of the daily press, and some men of the highest standing in the city of London have been grossly imposed upon, and made—unwittingly, I am sure—the means of bringing the most serious charges, which were destitute of the slightest foundation, against the most deserving officers of the customs. Last year, the case of a Mr. Marchant came before the hon. Gentleman who held the office which I have the honour now to fill. Early in 1852, the Commissioners of Customs received an intimation from certain persons that a very large and extensive system of smuggling was being carried on; but the Chairman very properly said that the board could not act upon mere general information, but that it would do so if it received specific information that would lead to the detection of the parties. Two or three weeks afterwards, the same persons came back, with the distinct intimation that Mr. Marchant was engaged in these trans, actions; and although his place of business was in Red Lion Street, Holborn, they pointed to a place behind Bedford Row, called Jockey's Field, where a very large quantity of contraband goods would be 195 found. The officers of Customs were despatched thither; they knocked at the door, and were admitted by a lady of very respetable appearance, of the name of Paine, who, on being told their errand, affected the greatest possible indignation, entirely denied all knowledge of Mr. Marchant, and declared that she had never heard of him before. The officers searched the house in vain, and were about to leave, when one of them happened, rather by accident than anything else, to knock against the landing of the stair with his heel, thought it sounded rather hollow, and, on looking, found a secret recess covered by a carpet; and this led to the discovery of a trap-door, communicating with a hole, which contained eleven cases of watches, &c, of the value of 5,000l. The woman became alarmed, and a person coming to the door, the officers asked him if he was Mr. Mar-chant. The man said, "No—No," and walked off; but he was subsequently identified as Mr. Marchant. The whole of the cases were locked, and the officers asked for the keys, but they were not produced, and they said that the cases should be sealed and carried to the Custom-house; and if the woman would go there, or send any one on her behalf, they would be opened in their presence, and their contents noted down. The goods were removed to the Custom-house, and the solicitor for the party attended next day, when the goods were opened and scheduled, and everything was done that was necessary to satisfy the party that a fair account was taken of the goods seized. An inquiry began as to the proprietor of the goods, and a correspondence was seized, showing that a very extensive and organised system of smuggling was carried on—that the steamboats between the Continent and this country brought over the cases, which came from Geneva, Boulogne, and Paris. The letters also spoke of men by the name of Monday, Tuesday, &c, and indicated that great discussion had gone on with respect to the terms upon which the smuggling was conducted. Well, goods so seized, if not claimed within a certain period, would, according to the law be forfeited to the Crown; and no one appeared to own them. Mrs. Paine, who never denied, if not smuggling, at least harbouring the goods, was prosecuted, and sentenced to imprisonment. The goods were put up for sale, when Mr. Marchant came and bought a portion of 196 them in on his own account, but he had never claimed them. Several months afterwards, however, when the case had been compromised by the payment of a fine of 250l by Mrs. Paine, and the forfeiture of the goods, and there was no longer any danger, Mr. Marchant came forward with a petition, said that he been hardly dealt with, and begged that his property might be returned to him. The Board of Customs not listening to his petition, he then applied to the Treasury, and the hon. Gentleman opposite examined the case, but sent a short reply, declaring that he would adhere to the decision of the Board of Customs. Mr. Marchant, however, finding a new Government coming into office, repeated his application to the Treasury, who, having inquired into the whole of the circumstances, returned the same answer as the hon. Gentleman opposite had done before. Well, this man went with his complaints to other quarters; he wrote to Mr. Travers, an eminent merchant in the City, imposing upon that gentleman, making the most odious charges against the officers of Customs, which, I regret to say, respectable quarters have repeated, and declaring that if they would only give him his papers he would prove everything. Well, what were the facts? The goods were seized on the 10th of February; on the 12th the bill-book of the party was returned, and in the early part of March every scrap of paper was returned by the officers of the Customs to his solicitor, who gave a receipt to the Customs authorities; and yet, after giving a receipt for every one of his papers, the man comes forward and accuses the Customs authorities with withholding them, and charges the officers of Customs with a gross abuse of their trust. Now that is the basis of the whole of the accusations against the officers of the Customs, with which some portions of the press have lately abounded. At the same time, when the officers of the Customs have no longer a money interest in these seizures, they will not labour under the suspicion of being actuated by personal and interested motives, and will therefore receive a higher moral support from the community in the execution of their duty. I trust that the circumstances which I have stated, every one of which I have the papers to prove, will exculpate this body of men, who have discharged their duty faithfully and honourably, from the gross and libellous charges which have been made against them day after day by 197 the daily press and by pamphlets, which I believe have been circulated among all the Members of this House. But there is one curious thing which I ought to mention, as it connects Mr. Marchant with the mate of the City of Boulogne. Among the papers seized was a copy of the memorial which the mate himself presented to the Board of Customs; and, more than that, one of the watches, which was found in the mate's boots, was found to have been in Mr. Marchant's possession, and to have been sent to Geneva for repair. Now these cases to which I have adverted I think sufficiently show how very cautious we must be in dealing with this question of the entering of free goods. We are disposed in every possible way to extend the facilities afforded, because one of the great advantages which were anticipated from the repeal of the duties upon raw materials was, that it would reduce the expenses attendant upon the importation of this class of articles, and abridge the time necessary for their clearance. But the only way in which we think we can do this is, not by the mode suggested by the Committee, but by a plan which we hope will answer a great part of their objects. As a general rule in the introduction of free goods, time is of the greatest importance; and we have arranged that a separate room, distinct from the long room, shall be applied for the entering of goods of this description, so that on the arrival of a ship the agents may go to this separate room, that no time may be lost in effecting the proper entry, and in enabling the owner to enter them, and that the necessary papers for clearing and landing the goods may be immediately despatched to the wharf where the vessel is to be discharged. By this arrangement I believe we shall secure to the merchant as great facilities as we possibly can, without endangering the revenue; or, what is of fully equal importance—namely, without inflicting injury upon the fair trader; because I hold that it is one of the first duties of the Government which imposes duties which are necessarily some impediment to the operations of trade, to take care that those who fairly and honestly pay the duties shall not, by its laxity in enforcing its regulations, be exposed to an unequal competition with those who defraud the revenue. [Mr. MITCHELL made a remark about free goods entered outwards.] With regard to the entry of free goods outwards, the Committee recommended that, as there is 198 now no duty on manufactured goods entered outwards, it would be sufficient that every shipper should send to the agent for the ship a bill of lading, containing on the back the information required for statistical purposes, and that entries at the Custom. House should be dispensed with. Now, there was scarcely a case where a ship left this country without having on board goods of either one or both of the following descriptions—namely, goods removed out of the bonded warehouse and shipped in bond, or goods subject to drawbacks. These are the reasons that lie in the way of the adoption of the recommendation of the Committee. If there were no goods belonging to either of these two classes, vessels might be allowed to sail with only such an entry as has been suggested; but seeing that every cargo of mixed goods included both of these descriptions, it is clear that the Custom-house officers must have cognisance of everything which precedes the discharge of such ships, and the sailing of them. The next point to which the Committee refer is that of the codification of the Customs laws. Now perhaps the House is not aware that prior to the year 1825 there existed no fewer than 1,500 laws relating to this department, but in that year the number was reduced to six Acts of Parliament. These Acts included everything relating to management, regulation, smuggling, informations, registry, duty, &c, connected with the Customs department. The labour was performed by one gentleman; and I now hold in my hand a book which Mr. Huskisson exhibited to the House some twenty-five years ago as the greatest mental effort that had been made for many years. These Acts were classified by James Deacon Hume, Secretary to the Board of Trade; and I believe that no more meritorious work was ever performed by a public servant. The 1,500 Acts to which I have referred were all reduced to this small volume; and when Mr. Huskisson held it up, he did so with an air of the greatest triumph. The case of Mr. Hume furnishes a remarkable example of the impolicy of the present regulations with regard to the promotion of the officers employed in the Customs. I think there ought to be no branch of the public service in which a man may not, sooner or later, by great efforts, look to a more prominent position. Mr. Hume entered the public service in the humble capacity of clerk in the Customs. By his 199 merit, and his merit alone, he rose through the various branches of the Customs until he was made Secretary to the Board of Trade by Mr. Huskisson; in which position, as I have said, he performed one of the greatest mental wonders ever achieved by man; and it is certainly no stretch of imagination to conceive that Mr. Hume might even have become a Minister of the Crown. If, after retiring from the Board of Trade, he had been disposed to have entered Parliament, many places would have been proud of such a Member; and if in Parliament, any Government might have been proud of such a colleague. That work having been performed, it was not difficult from time to time to codify the fresh regulations that were made; and in the years 1835 and 1836 they were again codified, under the care of Mr. Poulett Thompson. We have given instructions to the Solicitor to the Customs to reduce these six Acts into one, which shall include everything that is necessary for the management of the Customs establishment. That gentleman has undertaken the work; and, discarding altogether technical terms—using plain, simple language, that no man reading English can misunderstand—arranging the transactions relating to importation and exportation in all their various branches in the simplest order—I hope very shortly to be able to lay on the table that Act, which shall include every existing law and regulation with regard to the Customs management. And after that is done, in order that there may not exist any excuse or ground of complaint, we have instructed the Commissioners every month to publish any new regulations that may be made, so that they may be included every year in a new Act of Parliament. Every regulation adopted from time to time for the extension of commerce will thus be brought before the public from year to year, so that one single Act of Parliament shall contain the whole of the existing Customs regulations. I now come to the question of the out ports, which is again one of very great importance. When the present constitution of the Board of Customs was framed, when the present regulations were originally laid down, the commerce of the country was in a different state from the present, and in no respect more different than with regard to the relations of the out ports with the port of London. How stands the comparison between the year 1817 and the present 200 time? The following statement shows the tonnage of some of the ports at the times I have mentioned:—
|Liverpool.||700,464 tons.||3,786,000 tons.|
|London.||1,226,885 tons.||3,289,000 tons.|
|Hull||268,706 tons.||836,000 tons.|
|The Clyde.||106,542 tons.||435,000 tons.|
|Newcastle.||260,000 tons.||1,165,000 tons.|
|Southampton||43,000 tons.||299,000 tons.|
|Bristol||108,851 tons.||217,000 tons.|
§ But this is not all. Let me call the attention of the House to the remarkable extent of the export trade of Liverpool, in order to place the matter in another light. The total value of the exports of British manufactures in 1850 was 71,300,000l. Of that sum the exports from London amounted to 14,137,000l., whilst the exports from Liverpool were no less than 34,891,000l.; being more than double the exports from London. The exports from Hull in that year amounted to 10,366,000l.,—being within 4,000,000l. of London. The exports from Glasgow and the Clyde were 4,150,000l. The exports from these four ports, taken together, amount to 63,544,000l.; leaving only a balance of 7,756,000l. for the whole of the remaining out ports, about "seventy-nine in number, including 920,000l. for Newcastle, 1,859,000l. for Southampton, 366,000l. for Leith, and 362,000l. for Bristol. These facts will show the House that the time has come when there must be an entire change and reorganisation of the system. Circumstances were very different when London was almost the only place requiring Custom-house authority. I said, in the early part of my observations, that it was not the intention of the Government this evening to make any statement with regard to the reconstruction of the Board of Customs. But, at the same time, I may state that the subject is under our consideration, and before any long period shall elapse, we shall be prepared to state our views on that subject. But I think I may say this much at the present time—that, whatever reconstruction of the Board of Customs may take place, Liverpool must have some responsible functionary of its own, who shall be placed in such a position as to be able to decide from day to day, and from time to time, the all-important questions which necessarily arise between the Customs and the merchants. Whether there is to be a Board, or whatever may be done for the government of the Customs at large 201 I think I may state it as the decision at which the Government have with very little difficulty arrived, that Liverpool must, under the circumstances, be treated in that way. In the meantime, we have felt the case of Liverpool required immediate consideration, not only because Liverpool has acquired its present status, but because it is rapidly increasing, and every year showing a greater contrast with other ports; and we think we are scarcely justified in postponing for a day some measure which will enable the Liverpool merchants to obtain an immediate decision in a vast majority of cases. We have authorised the Commissioners of Customs to extend to the existing authorities at Liverpool the power of dealing in all cases where duties do not exceed 100l. They will be able to decide all ordinary cases, subject to such modifications and instructions as the Commissioners may think necessary in particular cases. But, as I have said, in all ordinary cases they will have the power of deciding up to the amount I have mentioned without appealing to the Board in London. They are to have the power to adjudicate at once, and the merchants of Liverpool will enjoy the advantage of having their cases discussed in court, and parties examined on oath, as in London. A weekly report is to be sent by the Liverpool authorities to the Commissioners in London, for the purpose of preserving uniformity of practice in all the ports of the kingdom. If that were not so, you might have one practice in Liverpool, and another in London and the other ports of the kingdom. The reports to be thus sent up will give the Commissioners the opportunity of discussing any particular case, or rectifying any discrepancy of practice which may arise. The County Court of Liverpool will also be open to those parties who may wish to apply to it. I can speak in the highest terms of the present Judge of that Court. I believe that in many cases in which very large sums are involved, the merchants of Liverpool, by consent, are in the habit of using that Court, and they will now have the opportunity of resorting to it in all cases limited to the sum I have mentioned. And we are more induced to extend these great advantages—I will not call them privileges, because in the case of Liverpool they are rights rather than privileges—we are induced to extend these advantages, because, after the facts which I have stated, I think no person can overlook the fact that Liverpool must become 202 the great commercial emporium of this country. If you take a radius of 100 miles—now only three hours' journey—at the back of Liverpool, you will find it embraces almost every locality of a productive character in this country. You have the manufacturing districts of Lancashire and Yorkshire—you have the Potteries—you have the iron districts of Staffordshire—you have Birmingham, Coventry, Nottingham, Leicester, Derby, Sheffield, and many other important districts—and it is quite clear that the geographical facilities of Liverpool must continue to render it more and more an important commercial place. Then, again, with regard to our chiefly-increasing trade—our trade with America. There is the Mersey, with her arms open to receive the commerce—almost wooing the whole of the western hemisphere. It is from these considerations that we feel justified in announcing at once, that in whatever way the Customs shall be managed—whether by Commissioners or in any other way—Liverpool, if not independent, must be put on the footing of perfect equality and co-operation with London. There is another point with regard to out ports to which I must allude, and with regard to which much dissatisfaction exists: I mean their present mode of classification;—which determines the class and salaries of the officers appointed to them. I must say that we consider the present plan very objectionable in many ways. You can find no one single test of the requirements of a port. You must take shipping, trade, and revenue collected, and come to a decision on a balance of the whole; for there is the greatest possible difference relative in these three elements of a port. I hold a statement in my hand which at one view exhibits a comparison of the shipping, the exports, and the revenue collected at some of our chief ports. Now see how little you can determine as to the importance of a port from any one of them. It is as follows:—
Here we find London with 500,000 tons less shipping, and 20,000,000l. less exports than Liverpool, yielding three times
the amount of revenue; and Bristol with one-fourth of the shipping, and one thirtieth part of the exports of Hull, giving three times the amount of revenue. Therefore a balance must be taken of all these circumstances. We mean, therefore, to abolish the present system of classification altogether, and to deal with each port on its own merits, in respect to these three considerations taken as a whole, and to frame the establishments accordingly. This will put an end to much contention and heartburning. I have now gone through the fourteen heads suggested by the Committee; but there is one small subject,. so kindred to this matter—upon which, however, the Committee do not report—on which we propose to make a change of much importance, that I trust the House will extend its indulgence to me for a few moments longer. The change to which I allude relates to the Isle of Man. When the Isle of Man became a part of the British empire, the Customs duties were much lower than those which were charged in other parts of the country. A difficulty arose with respect to smuggling; and the scheme fallen upon to check smuggling was this. It was arranged that, with regard to particular articles which are subject to high rates of duty—such as brandy, Geneva, tobacco, sugar, rum, eau-de-Cologne, &c.—licences should be issued to particular persons to import, in limited quantities, those articles; and it was thought—and, I think, fairly thought—that as these quantities would most likely be limited to the consumption of the island, no very extensive smuggling would take place. Numerous applications have recently been made to the Treasury, complaining of the present system, and I consider it a most inconvenient and prejudicial one. For to what did it lead? To a sort of monopoly. There was no competition, and the advantage of the lower duty was swallowed up by the increased profits of the importer. After consulting the Lieutenant Governor and the Commissioners of Customs, we have come to the conclusion that it will be the most wise course entirely to abolish the licensing system which has hitherto prevailed; to raise to a degree, to which the Lieutenant Governor sees no objection, the rates of duty now charged, and to admit importation to any extent whatever. We propose, by taking away the licensing system, to remove all restraint. Of course the quantity imported will always be known
to the officers of Customs, and if any improbable or unexpected quantity should be imported, additional vigilance will, of course, be exercised. There are some other minor restrictions relating to the Isle of Man which we propose to remove; but as a Bill will be introduced on the subject, I need not detain the House further on that point. Sir, I cannot conclude my observations on this subject without referring, in some degree, but very shortly, to the great blame which has been attached to the Customs authorities in London. I do not think much blame has been attached to them from the outports, but a great deal has been said in London during the time these discussions have been going on. Now let me call the attention of the House to this remarkable fact. I will first ask them to consider the onerous task which these Gentlemen have to perform to the public, to the Crown, and to the fair trader—to look at the rapidly extending character of the trade of the country during the last few years, and the pressure which has been placed on those officers, and to bear in mind the following facts. If you look back you will find that, in the year 1832, the value of the exports and imports of the country together was 82,000,000.; while in 1852 the amount had increased to 187,000,000l. Now, how does the case stand with respect to the quantity of shipping? In the year 1832 the tonnage inwards and outwards was 5,600,000. In 1852 it had increased to 16,000,000. I ask you to consider these circumstances when you look at the way in which those officers perform their duties. Now let the House look at the other side of the picture. In 1832 the number of men employed in the Customs was 10,770. In 1852 the number was 10,868. I ask you whether it is not fair to those men—looking to the enormous and rapidly-increasing trade of the country within the last few years—to consider the pressure of business which has been thrown upon them. Then, again, let me call the attention of the House to the cost of collection. In 1832 the cost of collection and management was 1,376,060l. In 1852, notwithstanding the increase in the exports and imports, from 82,000,000l. to 187,000,000l., and the increase of tonnage from 5,600,000 to 16,000,000, the actual expense of collection and management was only 1,268,000l.—being in fact upwards of 100,000l. less than in 1832. These are facts which ought to be borne in mind when you consider the case of the Customs officers. My object in laying the
papers on the table is, that the greatest possible publicity may be given to the intentions of the Government in framing the Act now in the hands of the Solicitor of Customs. I will take care that these papers shall, in proper numbers, be sent to the various outports of the kingdom; so that, from the highest to the lowest, the merchants may have the opportunity of seeing for themselves what are the proposed alterations and modifications, and of making such representations as they may think desirable; and I may fairly say that we do not consider ourselves in the slightest degree bound to any proposals I have made—that they are open to alteration—that the very purpose I have in stating them is that alterations may be suggested and fully considered. We are desirous of extending in every possible way every possible freedom to trade that we can, consistently with a due regard to the interests of the revenue and the interest of the fair dealer. At the same time, I must say, that while that has been our object in framing these regulations, I for one, and I am sure my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer yet more, would regard it as one of the highest crimes of which a public man could be guilty, if, for the sake of trimming our sails to catch public opinion on a popular breeze, we should consent to do anything with regard to a branch of the revenue amounting to 22,000,000l. a year, and covering so great an interest, which we thought would jeopardise the revenue of the country, or place the fair trader in an unfair position. I will only add, that I trust the statement which I have made will be received by the House, subject to such modifications as shall, on due consideration, be thought perfectly fair and just. I beg to move—
That a Copy of the Treasury Minute of the 17th of August, 1852, concerning the Regulations of the Customs, and of the reply of the Commissioners; and also of the Treasury Minute of the 14th of April, 1853, relating to the same subject, be laid on the Table.
§ MR. MITCHELL
said, he considered the statement of the hon. Gentleman, except in one important respect, exceedingly satisfactory. He thought the hon. Gentleman had met the just claims of the mercantile interest in a fair and liberal manner. He wished, however, to make a few suggestions on some of the subjects which had been brought under the consideration of the House. And, first, with regard to the appointment and promotion of officers. He did not exactly understand whether the 206 hon. Gentleman confined his promotion to the office of landing waiter, to superintending lockers, and the class of lockers. The hon. Gentleman was aware that there were other classes, such as gaugers, weighers, and tidewaiters. Were they to be excluded in the same rigid manner as they were at present?
§ MR. J. WILSON
was understood to say that there would be no exclusion whatever, but that the offices would be open to every one.
§ MR. MITCHELL
He considered the statement of the hon. Gentleman with respect to fines-and satisfactions was perfectly satisfactory. He did not think, however, that the hon. Gentleman had done justice to the amount received by the officers, for in one year they received as their share of fines and penalties the sum of 10,890l. 7s. 7d. That was a large sum, and Sir Thomas Fremantle, in his evidence before the Committee, admitted it had a great effect in making the officers perhaps too strict in the exercise of their duty. He was of opinion that except in the case of the coast guard service, where life was occasionally risked, some material alteration should be made. He should like to know whether, in the case of goods seized for undervaluation, and subsequently sold, the Crown was to get both profit and loss in all cases. Supposing there should be a balance of profit, that ought not to go to the fund of the officers. He thought the fund ought to be constituted from fines and satisfactions, and not from goods sold on account of the Crown. With respect to the ad valorem duties, he had not had time to examine the Schedule, which he received only yesterday. He trusted they were fixed on one basis, namely, a duty somewhat under the average duty. There were two articles with respect to which he thought the regulations objectionable—clocks and watches. It was proposed that where they exceeded a certain value, the duty should be different. Now, that was an ad valorem duty over again. Now, one of the most experienced officers examined before the Committee stated that, in his opinion, there should be a fixed duty of 10s. on gold watches, and 5s. on silver watches, without distinction as to value. With regard to seizures and stoppages, he understood that parties would be allowed to proceed in the County Court where the amount of duty and penalties did not exceed 100l. Now that would render the concession almost wholly nugatory; for 207 there was hardly a case in which the duty and penalty together did not exceed that sum; and he would suggest that in all cases a cheaper tribunal should be resorted to where that amount of duty was involved, without reference to penalty. He trusted that the landing surveyors would have the power of deciding a great many cases on the spot. In the course of one year not less than 10,000 applications had been made to the Board of Customs, and this could not fail to involve a great loss of time. With respect to the transit system, he trusted that in the case of spirits full latitude would be given, because it had been proved that the restriction in the size of the packages was injurious to the transit trade. He thought the hon. Gentleman mistaken with reference to fines, and cases would be brought before him showing that owners of vessels had been fined where there had been no imputation upon them either of neglect or connivance. He now came to the bonding system, and on that point he did not agree with the proposal of the hon. Gentleman. He objected to its being made compulsory on each party transferring the goods to re-enter them. Such a course of proceeding would involve the trouble and expense of making a fresh entry, and of reweighing or remeasuring the goods. In London, in nine cases out of ten, the goods were sold at the landing weights, and he thought the plan proposed would be a great bar to the ready transfer. The plan suggested by the Committee was much more simple—namely, to make the warehouseman give a bond to the Government. That would effectually prevent the possibility of fraud. Now with regard to the hours of attendance. The hon. Gentleman had referred to the secretary of one of the dock companies, but it was not their interest to despatch goods with great rapidity, because they gained by goods remaining. He believed there was a break of half an hour every day, so that the merchant had not the full eight hours for the delivery of his goods. In suggesting that the hours should be from seven to five in summer, and from eight to four in winter, he might mention that twenty or thirty years ago, when despatch was not of so much consequence, the officers attended from six to six. He did not know whether the hon. Gentleman was aware of the serious tax levied on the mercantile community by the necessity of making entries of free goods. The average sum paid for each entry in London was 7s., and as the 208 entries in 1851 amounted to some 76,000, the charge was upwards of 25,000l. a year, while for practical or statistical purposes it was perfectly useless. The hon. Gentleman stated that smuggling might increase if importers were not bound to enter their goods; but he had not stated whether in any cases the Crown had ordered a prosecution of the parties. Among the cases of smuggling mentioned by the hon. Gen-Gentleman was that of Marchant, concerning whom he might state that his own opinion was very similar to that of the hon. Gentleman. But as regarded Mr. Travers, to whom the hon. Gentleman had alluded, he thought that there was a slight misconception. Mr. Travers did not say to Marchant, "You have been treated very shamefully." What he said was, "If what you say is true, then you have been treated very shamefully." But Mr. Travers did not identify himself with Marchant. He did not know any other point in the scheme of the hon. Gentleman to which he need allude; but before he sat down he must observe that the hon. Gentleman had left out of his Bill the first recommendation of the Committee, that the constitution of the Board of Customs should be changed. On that he wished to observe that he considered that the Board of Customs, as it now stood, did not possess the confidence of the public. He would have been very glad to have avoided this topic; but he did not see how he could, more especially when on a previous occasion, in reply to the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. W. Williams), the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that he saw no objection to giving extended powers to such men as Sir Thomas Fremantle and Mr. John Wood. He, however, should most decidedly object. Surely the House did not forget that it was under the administration of Sir Thomas Fremantle that proceedings were commenced, totally unparalleled in this country—proceedings against two dock companies, possessing 5,000,000l. of capital, and representing the first merchants in London. Those proceedings were based on the hypothesis that these gentlemen deliberately robbed their customers; and it was not to be forgotten that ninety-four informations were brought against them, and that fifty-five of their servants were bribed by the Customs—an outrage on all the usages of society which he hoped would never again be perpetrated. It would be remembered, too, that ten of 209 these informations were brought to trial in a manner calculated to prove most vexations and troublesome to the dock companies, the Customs refusing till the very-last moment to state which actions would be tried; refusing also, until compelled by a Judge, even to inform the dock companies what goods were included, thus compelling them to be prepared with evidence to all the ninety-four informations, and putting one of the dock companies to an expense of 12,000l.; then going into a Court of Law, getting a verdict on two boxes of sugar, and finally obtaining a penalty of 100l., but leaving the whole matter of law where it was. It would also be in the recollection of the House, too, that eight individuals were taken up on a charge of smuggling, involving penalties of 90,000l., one of them the chief officer of the dock company, all of them persons of the best character; that three others were arrested on a charge of felony for stealing molasses, and six more on another charge. Not only were these proceedings taken, but they were kept hanging over the heads of these people for fifteen months without their being brought to trial. They were never brought to trial at all. At the end of fifteen months the notices of action were simply withdrawn, directly the dock companies had been intimidated into compromising their civil actions. In speaking thus he spoke for the whole commercial world, and he said on their behalf that the Customs Board did not possess the confidence of the country; that no reform would be satisfactory as long as that Board remained constituted as at present. He must add that the adviser, and probably the instigator of these proceedings, was the solicitor to the Board, and that this solicitor, Mr. Hamel, was a few years before an obscure attorney at the inland town of Tamworth, where he could not possibly have acquired any knowledge of commercial affairs. Mr. Hamel was first appointed assistant solicitor; but three years after, by the compulsory retirement or superannuation of the solicitor, he was appointed. From that hour commenced these proceedings. Here was an ignorant and vain man, who, having said to himself, "I will distinguish myself; I will show by my conduct that I have the talents to justify my appointment," had, on receiving informations from officers who had a personal interest in laying them, induced the Board to take these unconstitutional and almost illegal proceedings. 210 So long, then, as that gentleman remained solicitor to the Board of Customs, no mers cantile firm was safe, no house of business secure. He was sorry to have to say this? but, after the tribute paid to "eminent officers," he could not sit down without stating that those whose sentiments ha spoke could not acquiesce in the present Board. It remained to see what change in that Board the Government would make. None, certainly, could be for the worse. For his part, he thought they required mercantile men at the Board, one gentleman at least who had experience of mercantile pursuits. For the present Chairman of the Board, personally, he had the greatest respect; but, speaking in a public capacity, he could not avoid making the remarks he had made.
§ MR. TURNER
said, he rose merely for the purpose of thanking the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Wilson) for the great boon he had conferred on the people and trade of Liverpool in giving them, what they had long asked for, power to decide in those very numerous cases which had hitherto been referred to London with very great delay, and to the serious injury of the merchant. He did not intend to enter into any details, but could not allow the discussion to pass over without thanking the hon. Gentleman for this, and also for allowing them to decide questions up to 100l. in their County Court, which was presided over by a Judge in whom all there had the greatest confidence, and whom they would be glad to see deciding, not only in cases of 100l. but also in cases of much greater amount.
§ MR. W. WILLIAMS
said, he quite agreed that, however good the regulations might be, they never would be carried out satisfactorily until the Board of Customs was thoroughly changed. Above all things, he hoped that the Government would insist that one member of the Board should be a Member of that House. It would be recollected how beneficial this had been in the case of the Poor Law Commission; that as soon as it had a Member of the Commission in that House, they never had any complaint, or ground of complaint, brought before them. With the statement, on the whole, however, he was very much gratified.
§ MR. G. A. HAMILTON
said, he felt bound to express his satisfaction at the measure introduced by the hon. Gentleman opposite. The subject had been under the consideration of the late Government; and 211 he knew that many of the suggestions of the hon. Gentleman, which had been entertained by them, were calculated to facilitate business, and to produce the greatest benefit to the trading community. With reference to the complaints of Mr. Marchant, he was at the Treasury at the time they were originally made, and, having given the subject full consideration, he must say it had appeared to him to be about as atrocious a case of smuggling as had ever existed; and he was surprised that it had imposed upon the respectable gentlemen who appeared to have taken it up. Upon the subject of the admission of free goods, great care had to be taken lest in facilitating the operations of trade, the Board of Customs encouraged smuggling, to the detriment of the revenue, and the injury of the fair trader. With reference to the Commissioners of Customs, he was sure that every one who had to do with them, and especially with Sir Thomas Fremantle, must bear testimony to the great intelligence and the great energy of that most estimable public officer, and the great zeal which he displayed on every occasion to facilitate the operations of trade as far as was consistent with a due regard to the public revenue.
said, he complained that no drawbacks were allowed to yachtsmen for wines, spirits, and things of that sort, which they wished to take out of the country, the consequence of which was, that they went abroad to buy those articles, and that to that extent the trade of this country was a loser. He should be glad to find that some portion of the zeal and ability which the hon. Gentleman had devoted to the subject generally, would be paid to this small matter. With reference to the charges which had been brought against the dock companies, he thought that whatever there was to be regretted in that transaction, arose from the nature of the service, and was not owing to the gentlemen who administered the Customs department.
§ MR. JOHN MACGREGOR
said, he thought that when it was considered that 22,000,000l. of the revenue of this country was derived from articles of import, and that the collection of this large amount was intrusted to men who were very poorly paid for the services they performed, it was a matter of astonishment, considering the temptations which prevailed, that there was not more dishonesty and fraud. In France, Prussia, Holland, and the United States, 212 simplicity was the chief characteristic of the fiscal regulations; and his own view with regard to the management of the Customs department in this country was, that we ought to adopt something like the system which existed there, and have one chief head or director, with a deputy under him, dividing the whole management of the Customs into different sections—one for foreign, another for home trade and navigation, a warehouse and dock department, and one for keeping the accounts. On the part of his constituents, and he might say of the commercial community generally, he begged to offer his thanks to the hon. Gentleman for the proposals he had made this evening to facilitate the trade of the country.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
It is in no respect necessary, Sir, for me to enter on a discussion of the numerous points of detail, very important though they are, which have been included in the statement of my hon. Friend (Mr. Wilson). There are some of them in respect of which it would be much better that hon. Gentlemen should read the Minute of the Treasury before they express an opinion with regard to them. But I wish to say something with regard to a topic which has been revived in this discussion—revived, I must say, somewhat to my regret. I do not think there is any advantage to be gained from resuscitating the feelings which were connected with the controversy between the Board of Customs and the Dock Companies. I think we have fairly passed that by, and the recollection of it will, I trust, recur to none except as an inducement to caution in the future. But I must say that I very much regret that the hon. Member for Bridport (Mr. Mitchell) should have taken this opportunity to have dealt so freely in censure upon the persons engaged in these proceedings. The hon. Member had an opportunity of bringing out all the proceedings before the Committee which entertained the matter; that Committee declined to entertain those views of the matter which the hon. Gentleman has now thought fit to lay before the House. The hon. Member for Bridport thinks that what fell from my hon. Friend (Mr. Wilson) to-night, and what fell from me on a former occasion, has been the expression of an opinion that greatly extended powers might be given to the Board of Customs. In the first place, I never mentioned the Board of Customs at all; and, in the second, though I did 213 refer in terms of condemnation to Sir Thomas Fremantle, I did not recommend giving extended powers to him. I was speaking of bringing the accounts of the Board under the supervision of this House, and what I said was that I believed the heads of the Board were possessed of a spirit of economy, and that bringing the accounts before this House would, perhaps, strengthen their hands in enforcing that economy. But I never said anything that could be intepreted to imply any such meaning as that which seems to have suggested itself to the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman also complains of the omission from the statement of my hon. Friend of what relates to the constitution of the Board of Customs. I quite agree with him in the view he takes of the importance of that subject. The constitution of the governing authority is of vital importance to the administration of the entire system; but the hon. Member for Bridport is very greatly mistaken if he supposes that that subject has been overlooked. The fact that there have been two vacancies in the Board since our accession to office, and that neither of them have been filled up, is a pretty clear proof that we are giving this point our consideration. But it is not a point to be decided in a departmental way, nor one to be decided in a day, though the hon. Gentleman seems to have very clear and decisive views upon it. He seems to think the fault of which he complains lies in the individuals who now compose the Board. Now, I am of a contrary opinion. I do not think that by changing the individuals you would have any very great hope of materially improving the system. I do not think the individuals composing the Board are to blame. But the questions whether men of mercantile experience should be members of the Board—whether the Board is to have any of its members sitting in Parliament, and how, if one does, his relations to the Chairman of the Board, who may not sit in Parliament, are to be maintained—and the further question, the very important one, raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. John Macgregor) whether there should be a Board at all, or whether you ought to concentrate the authority in the hands of a chief and deputies, and let him work through secretaries—these are most important questions, which, in my judgment (and I frankly own myself the person responsible for not 214 submitting a distinct plan to Parliament at once), are deserving of the mature consideration of the entire Government. I think it better that we should postpone them till the pressure of the heavy business now occupying the attention of the Government is over, as then we shall be able to give them our most careful and deliberate attention, with the view of adopting that system which shall most contribute to the security of the revenue and the facility of the trade of the country. I beg the hon. Gentleman to believe that this question has not been neglected, and that if it has been postponed it has been so because, being fully persuaded of its importance, we were desirous of giving it all the consideration which it deserves.
§ MR. W. BROWN
said, he was glad to hear what the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer had said about the constitution of the Board which managed the Customs. He, for his part, should like to see one individual responsible for the good management of the Customs, and should be satisfied if they gave him one so intelligent, or who lent his mind to the subject so successfully as the right hon. Gentleman. Much, of course, depended on how the details were carried out, but, looking at the scheme as it stood, he might certainly say that his constituents would be exceedingly gratified with what the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Wilson) had propounded.
MR. J. A. SMITH
begged to thank the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury for the great boon which he had conferred upon the commerce of England by this revision of the Customs regulations. He knew enough of these details, of their difficulty and intricacy, to be able to estimate properly the zeal and the labour which the hon. Gentleman must have bestowed in mastering them, as he showed he had done that evening. Some weeks ago he had been a member of a most remarkable deputation which waited on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to bring this subject under his notice, and the right hon. Gentleman had most nobly redeemed the hopes he had held out to that deputation. With reference to the constitution of the Board of Customs, and the remarks which had been made on that subject by the hon. Member for Bridport (Mr. Mitchell), he believed that hon. Gentleman had only expressed the opinions of a very large majority of the commercial community of London. They had felt most deeply upon this 215 subject, and he did not believe the hon. Member had uttered one word which would not be adopted by them.
§ MR. HENLEY
said, that the statement of the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury had, to a very great extent, fulfilled the wishes of the Committee that sat on this very important and very complex subject. The Custom laws being framed to prevent fraud, and it being very difficult among our vast commercial transactions to distinguish always where irregularity ended and fraud began, it was almost inevitable that parties of respectability should sometimes become subjects of suspicion. The hon. Gentleman had said a good deal about the advantage of local tribunals. He thought it would be a vast advantage, and contribute very much to the satisfaction of the commercial world, if the parties were heard before the Commissioner who gave the decision, instead of a report merely being sent to the Commissioners, on which they sent back their decision. There was one part of the hon. Gentleman's speech which he (Mr. Henley) had heard with great satisfaction, and that was his intention of referring disputes connected with the Customs to the County Courts; but he thought it required great consideration how far it would be wise or fair to send such cases before magistrates, who did not sit in courts of record, and who would be liable to actions arising out of their decisions. It might be said that the Crown would protect magistrates, but such a system would be open to very serious objection. He hoped that the Government would give greater facilities to the bonding system than seemed to be at present contemplated by the hon. Gentleman, and he thought it worthy of consideration, whether the Crown would not have sufficient security for the duties in the bond to be given by the warehouse keepers, and by its lien on the goods themselves. He certainly regretted to hear that increased facilities were not to be given to the coasting trade, which was at present engaged in a severe competition with railways.
MR. DIGBY SEYMOUR
said, he thought that it would have been much better if the disputes between the Customs and the dock companies had not been introduced into the subject now before the House. He regretted that any hon. Member should have gone out of his way to pass a censure upon the gentleman who held the office of Solicitor of the Customs. 216 He could bear testimony to the private respectability of that gentleman, and the great amount of ability and information which he possessed. He had been spoken of as an obscure country attorney; but it was the first time he had heard that the obscurity of a man at any period of his life should be a bar to the possession of important offices. Mr. Hamel was chosen to the office he held by the late Sir Robert Peel—whose solicitor he was—as the man best adapted for the service. It seemed hard that a meritorious public servant should be selected to bear the brunt of the observations of the hon. Member for Bridport, who had had a full opportunity of examining Mr. Hamel before the Committee.
Mr. ALDERMAN THOMPSON
said, that having sat on the Customs Committee, and taken great interest in the subject, he begged to be allowed to say a few words. He congratulated the House and the country on the change that was about to take place, for he had looked with great dissatisfaction, during the last thirty years, at the way in which the Customs department of the country had been administered. During that period the House had been frequently engaged in giving increased facilities to trade and commerce; but, as regarded the Board of Customs, matters appeared to have retrograded, and they were now actually more obstructive and stringent in their regulations than during the period of the war. He hoped he was mistaken in supposing that it was the intention of the Government that these Customs cases, such as the detention of goods, the seizure of vessels, & c, were to be heard in public, but that the Commissioners were to give their answers in private, and without any reasons being given. He was satisfied that such a course would be quite unsatisfactory. The proper way to put down smuggling was to hear every case in open court, and pronounce a public judgment upon it; let the party be brought forward, and his offence made known publicly, and let there be no secret tribunals. Let all be done openly and publicly as before a Judge or a magistrate, instead of having the matter decided secretly and privately. He did not agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the laws had bnee as well administered by the present Board of Commissioners as they would be by any others. [The CHANCELLOR 217 of the EXCHEQUER was understood to dissent.] He was glad to find that he had misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman, because he believed the selection that had been made was injudicious, and he was glad to hear that it was the intention of the Government to take the subject into their consideration. With regard to what bad been said respecting the Solicitor of the Board of Customs, he must observe that, while he admitted the great talents of Mr. Hamel, he did not think he had discharged his duty as efficiently as he might have done as regarded the public interests. Any hon. Gentleman who referred to the Report of the Customs Committee would find there the opinion that was entertained of that gentleman, and he would have received the severest censure that the Committee could have passed, but was saved from it by the vote of a single individual. He should like to see the whole of the Customs receipts paid at once into the Exchequer, and the salaries of the officers paid afterwards. He should like also to see quarterly returns of the expenditure, and the purposes for which the money had been laid out, and if that had been done, they would not have found the Solicitor to the Customs filing 127 ex-officio informations in the Court of Exchequer against two parties, the result of which evidently must be to inflict the most serious injury upon those individuals. He gave his general approval of the measures which had been proposed.
§ MR. GOULBURN
said, he hoped that before hon. Gentlemen formed any opinion respecting the person whose conduct had been impugned that evening, they would be good enough to read the evidence taken before the Committee, in which they would find that every possible variety of opinion had been expressed on the subject. He thought that disputes of this nature, when once settled, had better not be reopened; but if this matter were to be raised again, he (Mr. Goulburn) must say that he had arrived at a different opinion from that which had been expressed by the hon. Member who had last addressed the House. He could not refrain from bearing testimony to the great ability with which the Secretary of the Treasury had developed the views of the Government on the subject of the Customs; and he trusted that none of the changes which were proposed, would interfere with the due collection of the revenue.
§ MR. M. FORSTER
said, he was highly gratified with the statement which had been made on the part of the Government. Reference had been made to Mr. Hamel, and he must say that that individual left a very bad impression on his mind, and he believed on the minds of all the Committee. The hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Seymour), however, seemed to have a brotherly feeling for one of his own profession.
MR. DIGBY SEYMOUR
said, he wished to explain that in what he had said he was only influenced by a sense of duty. He might state the fact, also, that Mr. Hamel was paid by salary, and not by fees.
§ MR. J. WILSON
said, that it was not intended that Customs cases should be brought before magistrates for decision, excepting in places where there were no County Courts.
§ The Papers were then ordered to be printed.