HC Deb 30 May 1870 vol 201 cc1627-36

Order for Second Reading read.


said, he wished to call attention to that portion of the measure in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed to abolish hawkers' licences. He thought that any measure which tended to increase vagrancy or give facilities for its operation was highly objectionable. He lived on one of the great roads leading to the Southern Coast, and his house was situated between two workhouses, so that he saw a good deal of vagrancy. The higher classes, however, did not suffer so much from the presence of vagrants as their poorer neighbours, who in harvest and hopping times left their cottages unprotected to go to their work, and the vagrants often obtained access to the premises, and carried off trifling articles that might be hanging or standing about the dwelling. He feared the provision in the Bill would aggravate these evils, inasmuch as vagrants would be enabled to take themselves out of the jurisdiction of the magistrates by becoming the hawkers of lucifer matches or any other small wares. He wished the right hon. Gentleman would introduce some clause which would prevent this. Another point to which he would call attention was this—great difficulty was sustained by the surveyors of highways in obtaining horses to draw materials for the repair of roads. If the farmer should let his horses for the purpose he would become liable for the duty of 10s., and therefore he refused to let them. This was a difficulty which ought to be removed in this Bill, and he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would be disposed to give relief in this direction, and thus remove one of the chief difficulties now experienced by the surveyors of highways in keeping those roads in repair.


said, he hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would see his way to make those alterations with regard to agricultural horses in Committee. He knew that the highway surveyors were put to a serious inconvenience by the strict interpretation of the law as it stood. One point he also wished to suggest as to the hawkers' licences. He took it for granted that they would have some registration or police supervision substituted for the provision of the law as it now stood. He quite understood the desire of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that hawkers who travelled about the country in carts should pay the two guineas tax, as a substitute for the house duty and other taxes paid by resident traders; but there were hawkers of a lower grade who travelled with a pony or a barrow, and he thought that a guinea was as large a sum as they ought to be called on to pay. Hon. Members had learnt from the newspapers that the whole of the clauses relating to the proposed alteration in the railway passengers' duty were to be struck out; but it would have been more seemly if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given notice of his intention to omit those clauses when he moved the second reading of the Bill. It was impossible, however, to discuss the question unless it was known whether the statements in the newspapers, to which he had referred were correct. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: They are correct.] In that case the railway interest had great reason to complain. Justice required that, as the duty upon horses and carriages had been reduced, the 5 per cent, duty upon railways should also be reduced, and he trusted that next year some reduction would be effected.


said, he wished to thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the concession which the 5th clause of this Bill contained in favour of a poor, but, he believed, industrious and honest class of the community—he referred to the families of the fishermen of the port of Brixham, in Devonshire, and other places similarly situated. Owing to the peculiarity of the fishing trade, and the uncertainty as to the exact time when the fishing vessels would return from their voyages, it was necessary to take steps for the sale of the fish immediately after its landing, in order that it might be despatched to London and other markets by the first departing train; and, in practice, it was found that this could only be done by selling it to the highest bidder, in other words, by auction; and it was held by the officers of Inland Revenue that this rendered the vendors liable to pay duty as auctioneers. The consequence was, that these poor women—for the sales were generally conducted by women who sold the fish which, probably, their own husbands or apprentices had caught—whose total income did not amount to more than £30 or, at the outside, £40 a year, were actually compelled to pay £10 a year as auction duty, being the same sum as that paid by the greatest auctioneers in the country, through whose hands property to the value of millions passed every year. When he (Mr. Bowring) found that there was no doubt that this duty was legally levied, which he hoped had not been the case, he also found that great practical difficulties existed in the way of giving the desired relief from duty, although the hardship of the case was readily admitted by the Government. He therefore rejoiced to find that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had at length, seen his way to overcome those difficulties; and, on behalf of those poor persons, into whose humble homes the provisions of this clause would carry comfort and happiness, he begged to tender to his right hon. Friend his warmest thanks.


said, he wished to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether he had received any communication from the police authorities with respect to the probable effect of the repeal of the hawkers' licences upon crime in this country? The chief constable of the county with which he was connected expressed great alarm at the proposed abolition of hawkers' licences.


said, he would postpone his observations upon the question of the drawback upon sugar until the Motion came on for going into Committee upon the Bill. He wished, however, to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, why it was still necessary that the duty upon tea should remain an annual duty?


said, he thought it very hard that employers were now to be called on to return the amount they paid to those in their employ. Hitherto they had only been called on to furnish a list of persons receiving more than £100 a year; and then the recipients made their own returns. He was sorry that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not been able to see his way to make a distinction between income derived from property and income derived from professional skill or industry. Physicians, clerks, and others, whose incomes ceased on death or illness, were placed in a more critical position than those incomes which were derivable from property. He trusted that the duty of 6d. a pound on tea would be permanent; for any further reduction would only stimulate the production of a spurious article, and put money in the pocket of the Chinaman.


said, he was pleased that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had withdrawn the proposition for taxing the carriage of goods on railways. That was the first attempt to place a tax on goods carried by sea or land, and he hoped it would never be introduced again. With respect I to the tax on railways, he would like to see it swept away altogether. It was not, I however, a tax on railway proprietors, because the companies recouped themselves by making an addition to their maximum fares; and if the tax were taken off, the railways would have to reduce their fares by the extent of the tax. Licences on trades had been taken off, except with regard to the manufacture of soap and paper, and these the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed to remit. He did not see why the same course should not be taken with regard to auctioneers. There was no reason why the licence duty on auctioneers should not be abolished. As to the proposed introduction into the Bill of further inquisitive regulations with respect to the income tax, he agreed with the remarks of the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hermon). He was disappointed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not sought to remedy some of the defects which prevailed in respect of the duties on inhabited houses; and he gave the right hon. Gentleman notice that in Committee he would move to introduce a clause to this effect— That houses let out in tenements or separate holdings, where the rent on each separate tenement or holding does not exceed 7s. 8d. per week, or £20 per annum, shall be exempt from house duty.


said, he wished to add a very strong remonstrance to those already addressed to the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) against the proposed abolition of hawkers' licences. It was a very painful task to cast reflections upon any trade, more especially one which was carried on by persons in a humble station of life; and, indeed, it was not his intention to do so on the present occasion. Still great apprehension was felt in the North of England and on the Borders in consequence of the intended repeal of the hawkers' licence, because it was anticipated that great encouragement would be thereby given to vagrants to go about the country and rob people, under the pretence that they were hawkers. He wished, in particular, to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give the House some information as to any Reports he might have received from the chief constables of the Northern counties, to whom, he understood, inquiries had been addressed on this subject.


said, he desired to urge a plea on behalf of coffee, which was of more importance than tea in point of nutritive value, and in the property of being able to retain warmth in the bodies of persons exposed to cold and fatigue. The duty was at present 3d. per lb, which was a very large proportion of the actual cost, the real value of a pound being not more than 10d. or 1s. The quantity of coffee imported was 31,560,000lbs in 1867; 30,608,000lbs in 1868; and 29,109,000lbs in 1869. The duty was, therefore, becoming "small by degrees and beautifully less," a proof that the duty was too high.


said, he trusted the Chancellor of the Exchequer would consider the desirability of reducing the Excise duty on home-made sugar. In France about 300,000,000 tons of sugar were manufactured in the year 1868; whereas Ireland consumed only about 30,000 tons annually. Beet root might be successfully cultivated in Ireland, and manufactured into sugar, if there were no Excise duty.


said, he deeply regretted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been unable to remove the differential duties upon sugar, as they entailed a large amount of unnecessary labour in our Custom Houses, and led to a lower description of sugar being imported than would otherwise be the case. While admitting that the country would gratefully accept the proposed large reduction of the sugar duties, he must take exception to some of the remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman in introducing the Budget. The right hon. Gentleman said that there was no reason why there should be further agitation for the further reduction of the duties; but he must enter his humble protest against such a doctrine. We ought not to refuse to contemplate the possibility of doing away at an early period with all import duties on this important article of consumption. The right hon. Gentleman thought we should retain our hold on this means of taxation, in order that we might raise additional revenue in the event of a war; and, he added, that by some drunken freak, a few extra glasses of wine, or some other accident, this country might be involved in war. In the first place, no drunken freak on the part of a diplomatist could get this country into war as long as prudence reigned in our councils at home; and, instead of rendering it easy to raise money in the event of a war, we ought to make it difficult to raise money, and thus endeavour to prevent the Government from going to war.


said, he was sorry to find such a demonstration against the poor hawkers. The people of his own country seemed to have taken alarm lest multitudes of hawkers should be let loose upon them. He believed there never was a more complete delusion, and that there never was a more cruel and unjust tax than the licence tax now chargeable upon hawkers. There were thousands of honest industrious people who earned a very small living in that way, and who should not be confounded with vagrants or any criminal class. When they considered that the person who went about hawking books, pamphlets, or any articles of that kind, had to pay £2 perhaps out of an income of £30 a year, it would be seen that this tax was most cruel in its operation. A large trade had sprung up latterly in connection with religious tract societies and book societies all over the country. He knew a society which employed about 50 of these licensed hawkers to sell Bibles and religious tracts, and all kinds of books having a good moral tendency; and for each of these they had to pay £2 of licence duty. He agreed that it would be very advantageous that there should be a register of these persons, by way of check; but he repeated it was a very hard and unjust thing to tax in this way industrious but very poor people. Therefore, he thanked the Chancellor of the Exchequer with his whole heart for the relief he had given these poor persons.


said, he took a view diametrically opposite to the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands) in re- gard to a uniform duty on sugar. The town he had the honour to represent (Greenock) imported and refined one-fourth of the whole imports of the United Kingdom; and he was bound to say importers, merchants, and refiners were satisfied with the scale now in operation, and to impose a uniform duty would be a gross injustice, for it was well known some qualities of sugar were not more than about one-third of others in value. He therefore hoped the right hon. Gentleman would preserve the scale. He took the opportunity of thanking the right hon. Gentleman for his declaration in I introducing his Resolutions, that he did not wish to hold out that he proposed to go on dealing with the sugar duties from year to year. That was important, as it was well known the dread of such interference had the effect of unsettling business in that article for months.


said, he hoped the House would excuse him if, taking into account the amount of business which was to be got through that evening, he replied very briefly to the various observations which had been made in the course of the discussion. He would remind the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands) that in proportion as we made it difficult for ourselves to go to war we made it easy for others to go to war with us, and that, therefore, the best way to avoid war was to be prepared for it. With respect to what had been said on the subject of sugar, he must protest against the use of the term "differential" duties as applied to the present duties on that commodity. What he understood by a differential duty was a duty, differing in amount, imposed on goods of the same quality, according to the place from which they came or were manufactured. Now, the duty on sugar was a duty of varying amount imposed upon goods of different quality—that was to say, according to the saccharine principle which they contained, and had nothing in common with differential duties properly so-called. He adhered to the opinion that it was not desirable to propose—nor did he contemplate proposing at an early date—the further reduction of the sugar duties. He, at least, should not recommend the adoption of such a course, and he might say the same thing with regard to tea. As to what had been said about horses, he would merely observe that, as notice of an Amendment had been given on the subject, he would reserve the observations which he had to make upon it until the Amendment came on for discussion. At present he would merely say that, according to his view, it was not in his power to remit the duty in those cases in which persons received money for the use of their horses. As to railways, as the portion of the Bill which related to them was to be omitted, it was not necessary that he should say anything with respect to them, beyond remarking that he did not think he was open to any grave censure for not having made an announcement to the House on the subject before, inasmuch as he had no opportunity of doing so, unless some hon. Member had thought fit to put a Question to him, when, of course, he should have been glad to have given him an answer. He was asked, he might add, whether he would not take into consideration the case of Schedule D with reference to the income tax, and his reply was that he had considered it, as might be found by reference to the Report of Mr. Hubbard's Committee in 1860, in connection with which there was a draft Report, in which he had given at great length the reasons why he thought there should be no difference in the rate of charge under Schedule D and other Schedules of the income tax. As to calling upon employers to give an account of the incomes which they gave those in their employment, the reason for doing so was obvious; for there were a great many persons who received over £100 a year in the shape of salary who escaped the income tax altogether. It was but just to those in a similar position who did pay that such persons should not escape; and it was thought that the readiest way of reaching them, following the analogy of Schedule B, was to request employers to advance the tax, and afterwards to recoup themselves out of the salaries which they paid. That was, in the case of large establishments, obviously an easy and simple method of collecting the tax; and he thought hon. Gentlemen should not grudge the Revenue Department the relief they would derive from that arrangement. With regard to beet-root, he could not assent to a proposal which would be to establish in its favour a protective duty on foreign sugar. He came now to the last topic to which he need advert, that of the hawkers. A noble Lord had written a letter to the newspapers, in which he stated that he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was not competent to give an opinion as to the morals of that class of men. Now, they might be guilty of many offences and irregularities—upon that point he left it to those who were better informed on the subject than himself to decide—but even if that were proved to be the case, all that would have been done would be to make out a case for strong police regulations and not for taxation. Hawkers were the poorest class of tradesmen in the country; they dealt with the very poorest customers; and they, therefore, in his opinion, formed bad subjects for the imposition of a tax, because the effect of taxing them must be to limit competition, and raise the price of the commodities in which they dealt to the poor, who were their customers. Considering how many large branches of industry escaped taxation altogether, it would be a great anomaly and injustice, he thought, to pick out the poorest for its imposition. He was, at the same time, prepared to admit that he had seen several letters from chief constables of counties expressing great dislike of the proposal with respect to hawkers, and speaking of them in terms of strong disapprobation. Now, he attached great weight to the opinions of chief constables as far as the character of those persons was concerned, but they were not authorities on which he was disposed to place equal reliance as to the question of taxation. He had, he might add, been in communication with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who, at his request, had been good enough to look into the subject, and who had undertaken to submit to the House a measure which would put, he thought, a far more efficient check on the abuses complained of than any tax which he could impose. What his right hon. Friend proposed to do was, in general terms, that every hawker should be required to have a licence, which should be given by the chief constable of the county, and. not at all, as a matter of course, and for which a small nominal sum should be paid. The licence, he might add, would be given only in those cases in which the person asking for it was known to be of good character. It was also pro- posed that it should be annual, and revocable on conviction for a certain class of offences. A register of hawkers would also be kept. That, he thought, would be a more effectual method of dealing with those men than screwing out of their small gains an unjust tax. He was happy to find that no more serious objection had been raised to the Bill. The question of coffee was under consideration.


said, that as an employer, he should be very unwilling to collect the income tax from those in his service. He wished for some explanation on the subject.


said, he was glad to hear the observations made by the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) with respect to the registration of hawkers. He regretted that he was not prepared to exempt owners of agricultural horses who received remuneration for the services of those horses from duty. Now he (Mr. Dodson) would suggest whether the right hon. Gentleman might not abolish the duty on horses kept for agriculture or trade, and levy a duty only on horses kept for enjoyment or luxury. It might be well to go further and abolish the duty on all horses, and, if necessary, increase the duty on carriages. Neither steam power, air power, or water power were taxed, and he had never heard any justification for taxing animal motive power.


said, he believed that, as a whole, the Budget was a good one.


said, he wished to call the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the great inconvenience that was felt in Scotland, in consequence of farmers not being allowed to give the use of their carts for carrying materials for repairing roads without being charged duty on their horses. This inconvenience was the more felt since the tolls were taken off and the assessment for maintaining the roads was thrown entirely on the land.


said, in reply to the question asked by the hon. Member (Mr. Magniac), he had to explain that the income tax on the salaries of employés would be paid only by public companies; private employers would furnish a list of the persons employed by them and the amount of the salary paid to each.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Thursday, 9th June.