HC Deb 24 March 1868 vol 191 cc187-96

Acts relating thereto read—


said, that in proposing a large reduction in these taxes on locomotion, and that a great change should be made in the mode of charging, and in the manner of collecting these duties, he was aware that he was considered by some to be infringing to a certain extent upon the prerogative of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, doubts having been expressed whether any Member who was not a Minister of the Crown was competent to move such a Resolution. He could assure the House, however, that he should confine his Motion within Parliamentary rules and regulations. The taxes to which his Motion referred were levied most unfairly and unequally; were collected at great expense to the Revenue, and involved a considerable loss of time, labour, and money to the parties whom they affected; and acted as restrictions opposed to the first principles of Free Trade, being alike injurious to the trader and the public. The House, and possibly the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, might be surprised to hear that these taxes were levied in five distinct ways, formed rive distinct items of account in the statement of the public Revenue, and, more extraordinary still, were paid on thirty different occasions in each year, some at one place and some at another. For instance, if the same person were the proprietor of an omnibus, a cab, and a brougham, let for hire in London, he would have to pay five distinct duties, and to make the payments in two separate places in the metropolis at thirty different times every year. The only wonder was that the system had lasted so long, and that the business of locomotion continued to be subjected to such exceptional imposts. The stage coach and omnibus mileage duty was levied at a uniform rate of a farthing per mile throughout England, Wales, and Scotland, and in the metropolis the duty was paid monthly at Somerset House. The amount of duty was the same whether the omnibus was drawn by one horse and carried eight passengers, or was drawn by two horses and carried twenty-five passengers, or was drawn by three or four horses and carried thirty-five or forty passengers. The annual licence duty, levied on stage coaches and omnibuses, in addition to the mileage duty, presented this difference, that three guineas were charged for those drawn by two or more horses, and 10s. only on those drawn by one horse and not carrying more than eight passengers. The licence duty was paid annually in the first week in November; but the mileage duty was paid monthly, the proprietors being compelled to send in monthly returns of the licence number on each omnibus belonging to them, the number of journeys run by each on every day during the month, the number of miles of each journey, the total number of miles and the amount of duty. Hon. Members might have observed men at different corners of the streets in the metropolis taking down upon slips of paper the number on the plate of each vehicle as it passed; these slips were sent in daily or weekly to Somerset House, to check the returns of the omnibus proprietors; and the cost of the ten or fifteen stations where these men took their stand was something like £1,500 or £2,000 a year. It followed, from what he had already stated, that the omnibus proprietors or their agents in the metropolis had to attend at Somerset House and make payments thirteen times a year for the duties. Throughout the country eight payments sufficed; but the House could imagine the amount of labour involved in furnishing and checking these returns. Ireland he excepted from the calculation altogether, because the system there was not identical with that prevailing in Great Britain. The post horse and carriage licence duties were levied differently in the country and in the metropolis. Hackney carriages, cabs and flys plying for hire in the public streets were taxed under these duties in every city and town throughout Great Britain, with the single exception of London. These duties were levied on an entirely wrong principle of taxation, and one which aggravated the difference between the man of capital and the man of small means. Although an alteration was made in the scale of duties in 1866, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, which somewhat mitigated the evil, yet the evil still existed, because the larger the business carried on the less in proportion was the duty paid. For example, under the present scale of duties, the proprietor of one horse and one carriage paid £5 per annum; of twenty horses and fifteen carriages, £70 per annum; and of fifty horses and twenty-five carriages, £100 per annum. These duties were paid differently from the stagecoach and omnibus mileage duty, being paid once a quarter or four times a year in advance at the nearest district office of the Inland Revenue, each proprietor making a return of the number of horses and carriages which he employed. Then with respect to cab duties, the grievance here was still greater. The proprietor of cabs at Liverpool, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Brighton, and other places paid the post horse duty, the charge for which commenced at £5 for one carriage, and diminished on each additional carriage in proportion to the number kept. But in London the proprietor of one cab had to pay £19 5s. per annum, and the like sum for each additional cab. This was enormous. That the system should have lasted so long was most extraordinary! It was true that if he used it only six days in the week he paid only £16 13s. But compare this amount with the sum paid in other towns. In the metropolis there were proprietors who had as many as fifty cabs, and they had exacted from them fifty times the charge of one cab. This was altogether a different principle from that of the post horse duty prevailing in the country. So that the proprietor of fifty cabs in London had to pay the enormous duty of £902 10s. per annum, while the proprietor of fifty cabs at Liverpool, Edinburgh, Brighton, &c., had to pay only £170 per annum. The complaint was often heard that the metropolis was not supplied with vehicles as it ought to be, and that the London cabs were not equal to those of Birmingham or Manchester and other English towns, and compared most unfavourably with those of Continental cities. But it should be remembered that in London the highest possible duty was exacted, and the lowest fare awarded, the fares being much less in London than in any other city or town. It was perfectly clear that between the two a very good article could not be supplied. The duty was originally imposed as a war duty, and hackney carriages and sedan chairs in London were taxed at the same time, when there were only 800 hackney carriages and 300 sedan chairs: it was made a security for a loan, and its duration was limited to thirty-two years; but it had not been taken off when the war had ceased, and had been allowed still to continue, to the great disadvantage of the public. The stage carriage duties and the post horse duties were originally imposed in 1779, the largest amount received from them being in the year 1836, when £524,500 was received for stage carriage duties, and £266,500 for post horse duties. The metropolis had submitted to those large taxes, because neither the public nor the cab proprietors were aware that they were paying so much in excess of what was paid in other towns, and he believed that even many Members of that House were not aware of the difference. It might be asked why were there so many cabs if they did not pay? But it was well known that they were starving the cabmen out, and it would be seen from the Returns issued at Somerset House that in April, 1867, the number of cabs in the metropolis had diminished by 304, and there had been a further diminution of 500 this year, and the number was still decreasing. It was all one trade whether cabs or omnibuses were employed, or post horses and carriages were let for hire, and why, then, was there such a difference made in the amount of duty and the mode of paying it? How did the cab proprietors pay the duty? Once a year they had to pay the licence duty of £1 for each cab, which was due on the 1st of January, and must be paid before the end of March in each year; they had to pay the remainder of the duty at Somerset House monthly. In this metropolis, there were 2,000 cab proprietors, of whom 1,400 owned only a single cab, and from the first Monday to the first Friday in each month the duty was received at Somerset House. There the men went in droves, and, although great improvements had been made in the mode of receiving the duty, yet it was well known that they were often obliged to wait one, two, or even three hours before they were able to pay it. The loss of time incurred in that way might be taken as equivalent to a loss of 2s. 6d. on each occasion, and if, from sickness or any other cause, a cab proprietor was not able to pay the duty between the first Monday of the month and the Friday following, immediately on the Saturday a summons was issued by a solicitor in Chancery Lane, and he had to go and pay that gentleman a fine of 10s. and make arrangements for paying the duty within a certain limited time. The cab proprietors were supplied with fresh licence number plates from Somerset House every three years, and an additional plate, with a different number, was affixed to each cab by the police, certifying that it was fit for public use. A saving of expense might be effected here. Now, the suggestion he would make was this—that all the present taxes should be abrogated and the restrictions removed, and in lieu thereof an annual licence duty, similar to the duty so successfully imposed upon dogs, should be levied, payable in one sum in advance. By this arrangement a great boon would be conferred upon the proprietors of public vehicles and the public, and a large saving would be effected in the heavy expenses now incurred in the collection of these taxes. He would suggest that an annual licence duty of £1 should be levied upon each horse, whether it was used to draw a cab, an omnibus, or a brougham let for hire; and that an annual licence duty of £2 should be levied upon each vehicle, whether it was a cab, an omnibus, or a brougham or other carriage let for hire, and drawn by one or more horses. The London cab proprietors required five horses for two cabs, so that the tax would amount to £4 10s. annually upon each cab, instead of the present duty of £19 5s. As to omnibuses, which required ten horses, £2 for each horse and £2 for the vehicle would give £12 for each omnibus in London, instead of the present duty of £24 per annum; and the same ratio would hold good throughout the country. As to horses and carriages charged under the post horse duty, one horse and one carriage would pay a duty of £3 per annum, instead of £5, and three horses and two carriages would pay £7 per annum, instead of £10 as at present. The Commissioners of Inland Revenue, in their tenth Report, pointed out, in reference to the post horse duty, that the circumstances of the times had complete changed since 1779, when this duty was first imposed, and that the incidence of a burthen originally borne exclusively by the wealthiest classes has been shifted to those who were formerly exempt from it. The people who are most affected by this tax are those who hire carriages, because they cannot afford to keep their own; and the posting business in the old form has almost entirely disappeared. Jobmasters in London and in the great provincial towns, and owners of flys which ply in the streets of those towns and at the railway stations are those who are primarily charged with the tax, and if the removal of it should not cause much reduction in the cost of hired carriages, it would undoubtedly afford more accommodation to the public by an increase in the number of such conveyances — especially at small railway stations in the country. The Commissioners of Inland Revenue also state, that the reduction which had now been made in the stage carriage duty was only a step towards placing it on the same footing as the railway duty, and that the present tax of ¼d. per mile on omnibuses was nearly twice their share of taxation at the same rate as the railways. The Commissioners were of opinion that the time must come when the subject would be taken into consideration. The one great advantage of placing the duty in the form in which he (Alderman Lawrence) had recommended would be the abolition of all restrictions whatever, thus enabling the proprietors of horses and carnages to use them in any manner they pleased. It would enable a tradesman in a small town, by paying £3 a year duty, to keep a horse and a waggonette, which he might use to carry passengers to and from the nearest railway station on market days, and also to let out the vehicle for hire when required. If he were to do this at the present time, he would have to take out two separate licences and pay two different duties. He would now state what the difference would be in the receipts under the present system and those which might be expected if his plan were adopted. He had been unable to obtain from the Report of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue an exact account of the duties received in 1867; but a Return moved for by his hon. Friend the Member for Manchester (Mr. Bazley) gave the figures. For the year ended 31st of March, 1867, the hackney carriage duties and licences amounted to £113,000; the stage coach and omnibus mileage duty and licence duties, and the supplementary and occasional licences, to £74,200; the postmasters' and jobmasters' licence duties to £141,400; and the drivers' licences to £3,300—making a total of £331,900. The higher duties had not all expired in 1867. For 1868, he was obliged to make an approximate estimate; but one which, he believed, would be found tolerably accurate. He estimated that the total amount of the duties for the year ending 31st of March, 1868, would be £294,000, consisting of hackney carriage duties, £104,500; stage coach and omnibus mileage duty, and licence duties, and supplemental and occasional duties, £46,500; postmasters' and jobmasters' £140,000; drivers, £3,000. The change he suggested would cause a loss to the Revenue of about £120,000 or £125,000; but from this must be deducted the saving that would result from the reduction of the staff kept at Somerset House and throughout the country in consequence of the existing system, and also the saving arising from the abolition of the ten or fifteen stations in the metropolis for checking the omnibus duties. He was afraid that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, while not disputing his facts or denying that a change would be desirable, might plead the Abyssinian War, and the fact that other taxes were falling in amount. Now, he could not agree in the doctrine which had been laid down this evening—namely, that no re-adjustment of taxation should take place except when there was a surplus; because if that proposition were true, no burdens ought to be lightened till we had paid off the National Debt. Then, as to Abyssinia, since our expenditure, there was by millions and additional taxation had to be imposed, whether an additional sum of £100,000 had to be raised or not, could make no appreciable difference. But he (Mr. Alderman Lawrence) was able to suggest a plan by which, if the trade were thrown open, the Revenue for the year ending the 31st of March, 1869, would gain instead of lose by the change. Supposing the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer were to fix the alteration to take place on the 1st of October next (the time when the present stage coach and omnibus licences are renewable), and that the proposed annual licence duties of £1 per horse and £2 per vehicle should then become payable, he would receive before the 31st of March, 1869, the following sums:—namely, six months' duty on hackney carriages to the 1st of October, 1868, £50,000, and arrears, £4,000; six months' stage coach duty, £18,000, and arrears, £6,000; supplementary and occasional duties, £2,000; postmasters and jobmasters, £70,000, and arrears, £1,000; making a total of £151,000. The new duties payable on the 1st of October, 1868, may be estimated as follows: Hackney carriages (say 7,000), amount of duty, £31,500; stage coaches and omnibuses, £22,500; postmasters and jobmasters, £110,000; total amount of new duties, £164,000; making, with the six months' old duties of £151,000, a total amount receivable before the 31st of March, 1869, of £315,000, being a gain to the Revenue over the amount received for these duties in 1868 of £21,000. In addition to this, there would be the saving in the cost of the collection for the last six months of the year. He would not give the House the trouble of dividing; but would move that the House do resolve itself into Committee to consider the taxes on locomotion, with a view to their being revised, reduced, and equalized.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House will immediately resolve itself into a Committee to consider the said Acts."—(Mr. Alderman Lawrence.)


said, that, in 1861, he presided over a Committee which investigated the subject of hackney carriages. The tax on these was originally a local tax, for the repair of roads in the metropolis; but it was found so profitable that it was transferred into the national Exchequer. There it had ever since remained. After the Committee reported deputations waited right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire), who intimated that it was desirable to re-consider the whole of the taxes on locomotion. The present Prime Minister, when addressing the House on the question of finance, recognized that principle, and stated that as soon as the state of the finances of the country permitted, he would consider the matter with a view to the abrogation of the present system. He was sorry that his hon. Friend had not contented himself with urging these general views; and that he should, instead of insisting upon the total remission of these taxes, have anticipated the functions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and proposed a sort of equinal Budget. It would be a great misfortune if the Government should undertake to re-adjust these taxes on the scheme which had been suggested, instead of applying themselves to their total remission. Instead of being able to repeal taxes on horses and carriages in this country, we were driving mules and carriages in Abyssinia. He was afraid it was hopeless to ask the Government to pursue the settled policy of the House, and to re-consider the whole of the taxes on locomotion. However, at present he should oppose going into Committee on the subject.


had already touched upon this question, and had said he thought it would be highly desirable, when a convenient opportunity arose, to consider the whole question of taxes on locomotion, and he saw no reason to change this opinion. Against one remark made by the hon. Member he must enter his protest. The hon. Member said that, at a time when we were spending millions, the spending of another £100,000 did not much matter. He would rather insist that when they were compelled to spend such large sums in one direction they were all the more bound to practise economy in another. The hon. Member estimated the financial loss in this instance at only £120,000. The loss estimated by that Department was £137,000; but it was also calculated that his proposals, though in effect a relief taken broadly, would in certain cases involve a considerable additional charge. For example, in one case, the average charge for a one-horse omnibus was now £2 10s. 7d.; but it would be £3 under the plan suggested; so that the hon. Member would impose there an additional charge of 9s. 5d. The House would hardly expect him on that occasion to enter into a question which ought to be considered in all its bearings. Even if the Government were prepared to make the sacrifice recommended, they would not be able to adopt the hon. Member's scheme in its entirety. He hoped that the Motion would be withdrawn, and that the question of the alteration of the duties on locomotion would be left to the proper occasion.


said, that if relief from these taxes were delayed until our finances were in the favourable condition desired we might wait a long time. He thought the thanks of the House were due to his hon. Friend for having called attention to this question, which pressed very unequally and unjustly upon cabmen and omnibus keepers.


said, he was not surprised at the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets dissenting from any scheme he had not himself proposed. If the country was to wait for the time when the Government was prepared to remit the whole tax, he believed they would have to wait a very long time indeed. The Home Secretary was preparing a Bill to regulate the hackney carriages of the metropolis, and he could assure the right hon. Gentleman that it would be impossible to impose further restrictions upon the proprietors unless this enormous taxation were reduced. He would leave the matter in the hands of the Government, and withdraw his Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.