HC Deb 21 April 1871 vol 205 cc1528-38

Resolution [April 20] reported. That, towards raising the Supply granted to Her Majesty, there shall be charged and paid for and upon every box or other enclosure of Lucifer Matches, Fusees, or other Matches prepared so as to be capable of being ignited by friction or otherwise than by the application of actual fire or heat (hereinafter called 'Matches'), whether manufactured in or imported into the United Kingdom, which shall be sold, or exposed to sale, or be offered or kept ready for sale, in the United Kingdom, on or after the 10th day of May 1871, a Duty of Excise as follows (that is to say):

Where the box or other enclosure contains Matches which, independently of the substance for ignition, are composed wholly of wood— £ s. d.
If the number of Matches therein contained does not exceed 100 0 0
If the number of Matches therein contained exceeds 100, then for every 100, and also for any fractional part of 100, of such number 0 0
Where the box or other enclosure contains Matches which, independently of the substance for ignition, are composed wholly or partially of a material other than wood—
If the number of Matches therein contained does not exceed 50 0 0
If the number of Matches therein contained exceeds 50, then for every 50, and also for any fractional part of 60, of such number 0 0
And the Duties upon boxes or other enclosures of Matches shall be denoted by, and collected by means of, Labels to be affixed upon such boxes or other enclosures.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the said Resolution be now read a second time."


called attention to the Resolution on which was to be based the new tax on matches. The hon. Baronet said, there were in the House, at this moment, a considerable number of hon. Members who last night had not an opportunity of expressing their opinion upon this tax. Nor did those hon. Gentlemen owe any apology for their absence last night when the Resolution passed; because he believed it had not hitherto been customary for an opposed Resolution to be taken on the night on which the Budget was introduced. Now, the tax in question possessed all the elements which could render a tax objectionable. It was a tax on a necessary of life. One of the greatest masters of taxation, Dumont, said that, when you apply direct taxation to luxuries, any person can pay as much of that taxation as he pleased; but the case was "widely different when you apply indirect taxation as regards the poor to the necessaries of life." This tax was one of those which Dumont and his translator, Sir J. Bowring, had in view when they used the words which he had quoted. It was a tax upon a necessary of life; it was a tax upon a manufacture; and upon one which gave remunerative employment to a great number of poor children. Then, as was shown last night, this tax was likely to throw the manufacture of the article into the hands of a few great capitalists. In short, the tax was shown to have all the evils of a direct and indirect tax, and to be one which it would be exceedingly easy to evade. It had been defended as something more than a tax; as something in the nature of a fine upon the abuse, the careless and wanton waste of matches, which was productive of a certain amount of destruction of property and life. But anyone who knew the homes of the poor must be aware that it was not so much in their houses as in the houses of the rich that this reckless abuse of matches, and the consequent destruction of life and property, occurred. It was those who obtained matches without paying for them—it was the servants of the rich—who were wasteful and reckless, and exercised an amount of carelessness in the use of matches which could hardly be described. The poor were singularly thrifty and careful in regard to them. There was one fact stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer which deserved some investigation. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that 605,000,000 boxes of matches, including wax-lights and fusees, were manufactured yearly in England. Anyone who compared these figures with the statistics of the population must see that anything like the whole of that number could not be consumed in this country. A very large proportion, therefore, was exported—indeed, there were figures to show that the export trade was very large. It was as clear as anything connected with taxation could be that, if this tax were imposed, one of two things must happen—either the export trade would be destroyed, or the tax would be levied under conditions which would make it singularly easy of evasion. The only thing that could be said for the tax—the only reason which could enable the House to contemplate it with equanimity, was this—that it would bring home to every cottage in the land the profligacy of Estimates, which had been prepared in view of circumstances which had now ceased to exist. He should strongly oppose the imposition of such a tax.


said, he thought the debate should be adjourned. He wondered that the Government should pass with so much haste an opposed Resolution, involving a large amount of taxation upon the community, and, what was more serious, inflicting a tax upon a very important progressive industry. The Chancellor of the Exchequer last night stated that the number of boxes of matches manufactured yearly in this country was about 605,000,000. A tax of a halfpenny and a penny upon those boxes would amount to considerably more than £1,000,000. He understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer estimated the amount of that tax at only £500,000. That proved that, in the opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the imposition of the tax would reduce the match trade to considerably less than a half. When such uncertain figures as those of the right hon. Gentleman were laid before the House, combined with the novelty of the tax, it was but fair that the country should have an opportunity of expressing its opinion upon the proposal. Otherwise, there would be excited throughout the country a feeling of great apprehension that what had been done in the case of matches might be repeated with reference to other and perhaps more important matters. He moved the Adjournment of the Debate.


The hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham. (Mr. Dixon), who moved the Adjournment of the Debate, I think, is scarcely aware of the nature of the proceedings. This Resolution commits the House and the country to nothing. It is merely a necessary Parliamentary preliminary, for the introduction of a separate Bill on this particular subject, which the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity, if so minded, of opposing in all its stages like any other Bill. Of course, it is quite right that the country should have the most ample opportunity of expressing an opinion on this subject; but it is not necessary for that purpose that this debate should be adjourned. I think the hon. Gentleman will agree with me, that if this proposition is to become law, it is better that its passing into law should be delayed as little as possible; and, for that purpose, as I pointed out last night, every day is of value. The hon. Gentleman, if he wishes to have an opportunity of expressing his opinion, can do so on the introduction of the Bill, on the second reading, in Committee, and on the third reading. I wish to explain to the House how matters stand with regard to the Division of last night, because there is a peculiarity about that Division. According to the practice of the House, I had no right to press on them the adoption of the Resolution last night. Nothing but the courtesy of the House enabled me to pass the Resolution. I asked the House to allow me to do so, because time is very essential in this matter, and nobody objected. If delay had been requested it would have been ray duty at once to have acceded to such request; but no one objected. [Mr. DIXON: I announced my intention to divide upon it, before the Division was taken.] I never heard any intimation of opposition until after the Question was put. I regret that a Division was taken, because it gave me the appearance of trying to press the Resolution upon an unwilling House, though I cannot regret the result. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham has put a question to me which I shall be very happy to answer. The fact is, there are 560,000,000 boxes of wood matches manufactured in this country. In addition to that there are 45,000,000 boxes of wax-lights and fusees, making in all 605,000,000: 135,000,000 boxes are exported, and I think 35,000,000 are imported. I took the Estimate of £550,000 for these matches not because I thought it was the full amount, but because I foresaw that during the delay which may occur before the Bill becomes law if the House shall adopt it, there would necessarily be a very large manufacture which for some time would be forestalled, and also, because I foresaw that if you increased, the price of the article there would be some diminution in the quantity manufactured. I do not wish to be held very closely to my estimate, because I have been unable to procure all the information on the subject which I could have wished to obtain. I admit that I cannot raise the sum required for the public service without doing mischief to somebody; but I think that a tax which would be so minutely distributed would be attended with less annoyance than any other which could be imagined, because it would be very fairly distributed over all classes of the community, rich as well as poor. If any hon. Gentleman will point out another tax by which the same sum can be raised with less suffering I shall be quite prepared to adopt it.


said, he believed that there was a strong public feeling against the proposed tax, and thought that more time ought to be given for its consideration. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had cited America as an example; but he well knew that the American system of finance had long been exploded in this country, and it was, therefore, no recommendation of the tax that it had been imported from America. On the contrary, he looked with suspicion at any mode of raising money which was adopted by the American Government. The present proposal would entail great suffering on the industrial classes of society. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to the great danger arising from the use of lucifer matches. No doubt there was considerable danger, and if he had proposed any measure for lessening that danger there would have been some reason in his proposition; but the present measure was not at all calculated to lessen the danger of using these matches. He opposed the tax on the broad principles of political economy, and considered that the Government were now taking a retrograde step in imposing a tax on industry, which would unduly raise the price of the commodity. A very considerable quantity of foreign matches was introduced into this country which would have to pass through the Custom House; in addition to which there would have to be a drawback, and a variety of vexatious interferences with that branch of industry. Again, the police or the Excise officers would have to be employed to check petty frauds on the Revenue by miserable creatures who should try to sell a box of matches without a Government stamp on it. He was prepared to do all he could to prevent the passing of a measure which would have such a prejudicial effect on the poorer classes, and which he considered not only ill-advised, but inconsistent with the course of recent legislation.


observed, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had intimated that he had taken a leaf out of the American book; but he wished to remind the right hon. Gentleman that it was a leaf of which all intelligent Americans were ashamed. The leading minds of that country were advocating the principle of free trade, and were anxious to abolish all restrictive duties on manufacture. Towards the close of the Civil War in America a heavy tax was put on lucifer matches, and its effect had been to deteriorate the quality of the matches there manufactured. A very bad article was produced, in order that it might be sold at as near to the old price as possible; and precisely the same thing would occur if such a tax were levied in this country. The people would still get a box for a penny, but of a far worse and more dangerous kind than before. In America fire insurance rates had been steadily on the increase during the last three or four years, the premiums on marble stores of the best description being quite double those of the ordinary brick-built stores of this country. He regretted the step taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We, who had been in advance of all other nations in regard to free trade, were taking a retrograde course, and setting a very bad example to our American friends, who were now endeavouring to emancipate themselves from the vicious system of duties on manufactures. Instead of imposing a tax of twice the value of the article affected, and which, while it must be so costly in collection, would fall heavily and almost exclusively on the humbler classes, why had not the right hon. Gentleman the boldness to come down and propose a sixpenny income tax? He should like to know how the old women of the country would be able to calculate a decimal 2.2 system. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman intended to propose a compulsory education in decimals; but he did not think that at present there were 5 per cent of the popu- lation who would be able to calculate what they were able to pay under the decimal system. He considered the present Budget and the present expenditure most vicious, and that if bad began, worse remained behind.


said, he was decidedly opposed to that novel and trumpery tax upon matches, and he thought it would have been much more manly and straightforward if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had demanded a sixpenny income tax, which would have fallen on those who could best afford it; not on those who could afford it least, and who had the smallest share of modern inventions and discoveries. It was not his desire to embarrass the Government, or to offer any obstruction to what they asked the House to pass that night, provided the House would not be committed to the principle of the proposal, and would be free to oppose it—as he desired to do—at all his future stages. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER assented to this reservation.] The proposal was most objectionable in itself and distasteful to the country, and he had really heard nothing in its favour, excepting that the right hon. Gentleman said it was "ex luce lucellum."


wished to contradict what the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) had said as to the effect of the duty on matches in America. It was not necessary that a tax should be laid on an article in America in order that that article should be deteriorated in quality. He was not aware that there was any tax in America on wooden nutmegs or on paste-board shoes. There were few articles in that country which were not adulterated; and, quite irrespective of whether it was taxed or not, it was the natural tendency of the American mind to make as much as it possibly could out of any article. With respect to fire insurance, within the last few years there had been a very considerable rise in the rate of agricultural insurances in this country, as much as from 3s. to 5s. per cent, owing in a great degree to the reckless use of lucifer matches. He denied that the poor were the most careful in the use of matches. In the agricultural districts, when a poor woman had little food to give her children to keep them quiet she would frequently give them four or five matches to play with, and in that way a wheat or a hay stack was often set on fire. He believed that by a moderate tax on matches the manufacture of the most dangerous as well as most deleterious kind of lucifers would be discouraged, and he should support the Government in their proposal.


said, he had voted with the Government last night, and supported them in what he thought was a just apportionment as between direct and indirect taxation; but he now appealed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to withdraw that tax after the expression of opinion they had had from the House. He did not, however, think the position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been sufficiently taken into account. On account of the loud demand for the abolition of purchase, and other reasons, he had a considerable deficit to make good—["No, no!" and "Hear, hear!"]—amounting to £2,800,000. Now, public opinion had insisted on the abrogation of the purchase system, and nobody had been more prominent than the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) as a denouncer of it; no one had howled, he might say, more violently for its abolition; but, if this were effected, proper compensation must be given. [Cheer.] On the other hand, it had been decided, notwithstanding the roars of the pacific ocean behind them, that the Army should be increased. To comply with these demands the Chancellor of the Exchequer had to find £2,750,000, and having had recourse on the one hand to the succession duty and income tax, as affecting the upper classes, to supply £2,250,000, it was not unreasonable in him to go to the lower classes for their proportion of the remaining £500,000. That sum, levied on the whole community, might not seem very large; but, considering the general opposition with which this proposal had been met, it would be a graceful act on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to withdraw it. He would not vote against the Government; but he hoped he should not be placed in the position of voting against what he considered to be the express opinion of those who returned him to Parliament.


said, that the tax upon matches would be of no small consequence to the poor, to whom the farthing was a material coin. In poor neigh- bourhoods things were ticketed at 1¾d. just as in better shops 19s. 6d. was resorted to instead of the pound. The tax would, therefore, be felt by the poor, whom he hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer would consider as a matter of importance. The proposal relative to the income tax, too, would not only puzzle all the old women in the country, but also necessitate the employment of additional clerks in various establishments. Referring to the astonishing story of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. D. Dalrymple), he advised him to suggest to the mothers who gave their children matches to play with, that the matches should be those which ignited only on their own boxes, and very seldom on them.


said, he found from inquiries he had made, that upon every £10 worth of matches the new tax would amount to nearly £50, or a duty of 500 per cent on the cost. He did not think that hon. Members knew the amount of the tax which they were asked to impose. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer knew that this tax would be unpopular throughout the country, he (Sir James Lawrence) thought the right hon. Gentleman would at once withdraw this proposition. He had noticed that yesterday many hon. Members on the other side of the House supported this measure. By thus acting they were serving their own party, for he believed that no measure introduced by the present Government had tended to make them so unpopular as this tax upon lucifer matches. Hon. Gentlemen opposite were therefore wise in encouraging the Chancellor of the Exchequer to persevere in his course, as it was calculated to increase the unpopularity of the Government.


said, he would call attention to the fact that, although the discussion had been confined to the subject of taxing matches, the principle involved was a much larger one, and of the first importance. During the past three years £8,500,000 of taxation had been remitted, nearly all of which was in the shape of indirect taxation. As he desired to see the principle of indirect taxation once more recognized, he trusted the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not give way to the appeal made to him, because by doing so he would be sur- rendering a principle admitting graver debate than had characterized the discussion of the subject in hand.


stated, that according to the figures quoted by the hon. Member for Lambeth (Sir James Lawrence) 168 boxes of matches were made for 1s., a proportion which was almost incredible. He purposed voting with the Government because he believed the tax to be perfectly legitimate. Admitting, as the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands) so strongly argued, that it was improper to tax industry as a rule, he urged that every good rule had its exception, and instanced the tax upon spirits and malt as a tax upon industry—a tax on industry which that hon. Member would probably be the last man in the House to be willing to abolish or reduce. The ground for maintaining that tax, however, was to check abuse of the article, and in like manner he held the abuse of matches was deleterious, and might possibly be checked by the tax.


said, that by far the larger portion of the lucifer matches were sold in boxes for 2s. 6d. per gross, so that 100 gross would be £ 12 10s. A duty of a halfpenny per box would amount to exactly 6s. per gross, or £30. Therefore there would be a tax of 240 per cent upon the manufactured article. Now, the manufacturers were not for the most part men of large capital, and for every gross of boxes would require a capital of 8s. 6d., instead of 2s. 6d. Such an increase would extinguish many of these people. Again, in his part of London, a great number of families received auxiliary aid from the making of matchboxes; and if you half killed the trade—and that was the contemplated effect of the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman—you took away half the employment of these poor people. The right hon. Gentleman said—"Waste shall end" in the consumption of matches; but the match-makers were like the mustard-makers, who said—"We live more by what is wasted than by what is consumed." This was not the occasion on which to enter upon the Budget generally; but he hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not force the House to another Division, in support of a tax which would prove one of the most unpopular ever proposed. If the right hon. Gentleman pressed this tax, the appropriate device for these match-boxes, instead of the Noah's Ark, might, perhaps, be a strong-minded boy setting fire to the Cabinet.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Dixon.)

The House divided:—Ayes 50; Noes 116: Majority 66.

Original Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 113; Noes 51: Majority 62.

Resolution read a second time, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. DODSON, Mr. CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER, and Mr. BAXTER.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 116.]