HC Deb 13 July 1860 vol 159 cc1859-62

said, he wished to call the attention of the House to the Excise Duty on Paper, and in reference thereto, to ask Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Whether it is his intention to enforce the payment of that Duty? He had no desire to reopen questions that had been already fully discussed, or to add to the excitement which existed, or which might be expected to arise; but, on the contrary, he wished to point out a simple and obvious mode of allaying such excitement, and what ought to be still more the object of this House and the Government—to afford satisfaction to that conscientious alarm and anxiety which had been so fully expressed in petitions, and which he and others so earnestly felt. That course was to abstain from enforcing the payment of the paper duty until the question could be again brought forward in connection with the financial arrangements of next year. There appeared to him to be unanswerable arguments in favour of that course. In the first place, the honour of the Crown, represented in that House by the Minister, was pledged to repeal the paper duty, and this wholly apart from any question about the power of the House of Lords to reject the Bill sent up to them for that purpose; and not only so, but the Crown, with whom alone that House had to deal in the matter, had received the consideration for such repeal in the penny increase to the income tax. That was the distinct proposal made by the Government when the Budget was introduced, and it was further ratified in the most express terms on the discussion of the Motion of the hon. Member for Somersetshire. The words of the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, representing the Government and the Crown, believed and acted upon by him (Mr. Whalley), in his vote on that occasion, were as follows:—Speaking of the income tax, the right hon. Gentleman said— It has many vices, but it has one great virtue, which is this—that in the main, without any injustice in its general scope, without any of those idle dreams of plunder and confiscation which we have heard of to-night, it does make the property of the country subservient to the uses of the State, within limits which are safe, and for purposes which are beneficial. The position of the Government then, with respect to the paper duties, is this,—we think it part of our public duty, part of the pledge we gave to the country which has given such a general and warm support to our financial measures, that we should redeem the pledge which we gave a month ago—namely, that under the existing circumstances of the present year, we should ask for such a repeal of indirect taxation as should not exceed two millions of money. We desire the House to exercise an impartial judgment on the question, 'What is the best mode of applying that sum?" But for all the reasons I have stated, we submit that the wisest and most prudent choice we can make is to determine to repeal the paper duty, and to give freedom to a great branch of industry. Now, what could be more clear and explicit, and how would it be possible ever again to rely upon anything that emanated from the responsible advisers of the Crown, if this pledge, so distinctly reiterated, were to be now set at nought, and the paper duty exacted in addition to the penny income tax, which was given in consequence of that pledge? He was not surprised to hear that the Earl of Derby, when he resolved upon a course which thus involved a sacrifice of a pledge given in the name of the Crown, knew nothing of such pledge having been given; but he knew it then, and it could not be doubted that if time were allowed to retrace his course, his Lordship would, on that ground alone, if on no other, relieve, not that House, not the people of the country, but the Crown itself, from the extraordinary and altogether unprecedented position in which by his act it was placed. What he (Mr. Whalley) asked was that the Government should, to the extent of their discretion—and he would even appeal to their patriotism—keep faith with the House by not collecting, for the present year, at all events, this tax. There was, however, no difficulty or risk in adopting such a course. Nothing was more common than to allow Excise duties to remain uncollected, taking some security for the future payment if demanded. That was the invariable course when disputes or litigation arose; and they might rely upon it such litigation would arise, in a manner that would not admit of being trifled with—the momentous question of the right of the House of Lords to retain a tax which the Crown and the House of Commons had repudiated. It was to prevent such discussions, agitation, and excitement by an ordinary exercise of discretion on the part of the Government that he now appealed to them. There could be no greater mistake than to suppose that the reluctance of the people to enter into political agitation on the matter arose from in- difference. The right hon. Member for Bucks had told them, and that truly, that the House had surrendered its privileges as to that £50,000,000 or £60,000,000 still raised from the trade and labour, as distinguished from the property of the country, and that not a shilling would be remitted without the consent of the House of Lords. Such was, beyond all doubt, the fact, and when the full consequences of that state of matters became understood, the remedies might as much exceed the present bounds of the constitution, as did the past and unrecognized surrender to this enormous extent, of the revenue of the country to the control of the House of Lords. His object was to avoid such questions—to deal simply with the fact which every one would understand, and which no one could question, that the honour of the Crown, the good faith of the Government, and the character of the House of Commons, all imperatively demanded that no more Excise duty on paper should be collected. And, as if to aid them in getting out of the difficulty, it appeared that, in fact, it was a duty that could not be collected under the law as it stood at present. That he regarded as a most fortunate circumstance, and one that he hoped the Government would take advantage of to avert the spread of irritation and excitement on this question. On the same occasion to which he had before referred, the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer told the House that it could not be collected under the existing law. He said— There must be a new set of laws for enforcing this Excise, with a new set of restrictions on trade, and a new set of penalties to enforce them. All this must be done to enforce a duty which has been condemned two years ago by the unanimous vote of the House of Commons, and I want to know of my hon. Friend whether, as a practical and sensible man, he thinks it very likely any Government can be found to propose to carry such laws through the House of Commons? He (Mr. Whalley) had brought the matter forward with a view to find a way out of the difficulty, and to ascertain whether the Government might think fit to make on that occasion any declaration of their intentions. He entertained full confidence that the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer would sustain, by the course that he would take in the matter, the high, and, he might say, unparalleled reputation he had acquired, and justify the confidence which the country reposed in him.


The hon. Member for Peterborough, in calling attention to the Excise duty on paper, has asked whether it is the intention of the Government to enforce the payment of the duty. The question was grounded on the difficulties which the hon. Member thinks attend the execution of the law arising from the legal definition of "paper." All I can say is, that this is a very important matter for the consideration of the Legislature with respect to the duty on paper; but I do not imagine that, on account of any apprehended difficulties in the execution of the law, the Government, whatever may be their opinion on the policy of retaining the paper duty, would be justified in pursuing any other course in collecting it than that adopted in collecting other Excise duties.