§ MR. LAING
rose to move—That, in the opinion of this House, Taxes on the means of Locomotion are opposed to public policy, and should be repealed at the earliest opportunity.In bringing forward this subject he desired, in the first place, to defend himself from the charge of bringing forward an abstract resolution with the mere view of obtaining popular applause. In moving for the repeal of any tax the Mover was bound to show either that there was a surplus or else that there was an available substitute for the tax sought to be repealed. The object of his Motion was precise and definite; it was to repeal taxes, which in the aggregate amounted to about £1,500,000 sterling per annum. Taxes on locomotion consisted—first, of that on railway passengers, which amounted in the year 1872 to£527,560; secondly, the licence duty on horses, £451,143; and thirdly, the duty on carriages, £524,593, making a total of £1,503,704. The question which had at the outset to be considered was whether the reduction of £1,500,000 in the taxation of the country was within the reach of the present state of the finances without the necessity of imposing some substitute. Upon that point there could be no doubt whatever. The Revenue accounts for the past financial year showed a surplus of £5,000,000 Assuming that the same taxes were to be collected during the ensuing year as had been collected in the past year, there would be a surplus of £5,000,000 for the ensuing year, that would show a surplus of ordinary revenue over ordinary expenditure for the two financial years of £10,000,000. Deducting from this the indemnity charge for the Alabama claims with interest, set down at £3,250,000, there would remain a surplus of £6,500,000. But against that must be reckoned £2,500,000, included in the ordinary expenditure of the year in the form of terminable annuities, which was really a surplus income applied in the reduction of the National Debt, and which, in two years, would amount to £5,000,000, so that a surplus would appear of not less than £11,000,000 or £12,000,000, after deducting the payment of the Alabama indemnity. It would be entirely contrary to the precedents set by our 434 greatest financiers of modern times to apply the whole of this large sum towards the payment of the National Debt. The policy of Sir Robert Peel and of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had always been to lighten as far as possible the restrictions upon the springs of trade, and to confine the payments on account of our National Debt to moderate dimensions. At the expiration of the late terminable annuities the House made provision for the special application of £2,500,000 a-year to the reduction of the National Debt. That was a compromise between the extreme opinions of those who maintained that extraordinary efforts should be made for the reduction of the National Debt, and of those who held that to raise money by taxation for the purpose of investing it at 34 per cent, which was what they did when they reduced debt, was bad policy. He thought, therefore, that ample provision had been made towards the reduction of the Debt. Deducting the sum required to meet the Alabama Indemnity, the surplus remaining of the two years at least would be £6,500,000, while the surplus of the current year would certainly not be less than £3,000,000. The amount of taxation, therefore, the repeal of which he sought was perfectly within the reach of the ascertained surplus of the coming financial year. The appeal which he made stood in a totally different class from appeals made for the total abolition of the income tax and the malt tax. Those branches of taxation could not be repealed without an alteration of our financial policy, and the finding of fresh forms of taxation. On the other hand, this tax could be at once removed without any necessity arising for any substituted tax. He could approach the question, therefore, on its merits, unimpeded by the objections which applied to a mere abstract Resolution. As regarded locomotion generally, he asked was there anything in the history of modern civilization which had been or was of more material importance. The application of steam for the purposes of locomotion had furnished one of the greatest civilizing elements of modern times. So long as the means of locomotion were expensive it was the monopoly of the higher class; the lower class were left in the condition of serfs, being tied down to the soil on which they lived. But the 435 modern facilities of locomotion had changed this condition, and been a potent instrument for the extension of industry and wealth. To what an extent these facilities had been availed of was shown by the single fact that the passengers conveyed by railway in one year amounted to the enormous total of 360,000,000, and when he said that the average receipt from each passenger was only 1s. 6d. he thought he sufficiently proved that the means of locomotion was no longer an attribute of the wealthy. Could this taxation on locomotion be reconciled with those great principles of financial policy, which for the last 30 years had so largely prevailed in this country? In 1842, the great financial reformer, Sir Robert Peel, laid down the principle of lightening taxation upon all branches of industry—that nothing should be taxed, so to say, at its source; that there should be no tax on raw materials, on tools, or trade—no tax, in short, on that which went towards the production of wealth and the encouragement of industry. The response which followed the carrying out of that policy was immediate and remarkable. As fast as taxes were taken off the revenue was found to increase. Since 1856, £27,000,000 of taxation had been removed, and yet the revenue was now £10,000,000 greater than when the reduction of taxation began. He asked whether in the modern state of industry in this country the means of locomotion did not rank with taxes on raw materials, and whether the means of personal locomotion were not necessary and essential to the transacting of business, and therefore to the accumulating of wealth. Of the 360,000,000 passengers carried in a year, the enormous majority moved for the purpose, not of pleasure, but of business. The horse and gig took the farmer to fair and market, and were as essential a part of his stock in trade as his plough was. A vast amount of the business of the country depended on the facilities of locomotion, by which the merchant was brought in contact with the manufacturer, and the agricultural labourer from the South was enabled to seek employment in the North, or wherever else there was a demand for labour. In fact, locomotion was one of the primary and essential elements in the production of modern wealth. If he required authority in support of his 436 Motion, he could quote a high one—that of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, in his Budget speech of 1869, in taking off taxes on locomotion, said—"They have been given up by default long ago. It has always been admitted that whenever they could be reduced or remitted they ought to be." That time, he submitted, had now arrived. £1,500,000 would clear the statute book of every vestige of the tax, while a principle would be carried out which had not been merely vaguely enunciated, but had been acted upon; for the mileage duty on stage coaches and omnibuses had been reduced four times and repealed altogether in 1869. The tax he now sought to have removed was not only flagrantly unjust, but was also anomalous. Why should passengers proceeding by steamboat or omnibus from Westminster to London Bridge be carried free of duty, while if they proceeded by railway they would be subject to duty? He would proceed to deal with taxes which formed the last remnant of the burdens on locomotion. In 1832, when the tax on railway passenger traffic was imposed, there was a heavy duty on stage carriages and post-horses, and a halfpenny duty per mile was imposed for every two passengers conveyed by post-horses. Naturally, therefore, a corresponding duty was imposed upon passengers conveyed upon railways. At that time railway fares averaged more than 3d. per mile, and from London to Birmingham there was no third-class. The tax then averaged something under 4 per cent upon the gross fares. In 1842 the stage carriage duty was reduced by one-half; and the railway duty was commuted to 5 per cent upon the gross receipts from passengers—a rate at which it now remained. In 1844 the Cheap Train Act was passed, with the wise policy of inducing Railway Companies to provide cheap locomotion for the poorer classes. By that Act Railway Companies were compelled to run one cheap train a-day at 1d. per mile. The passengers by the trains were exempted from duty; and, in order to encourage the Railway Companies to extend their third class accommodation, Parliament gave a discretionary power to the Board of Trade to sanction trains upon conditions as favourable, or more favourable than the Parliamentary trains, and to exempt the 437 passengers by these trains from duty. Though no alteration had been made in the railway passenger duty since that period, the mileage duty on stage carriages and omnibuses—which were the equivalents or rather the foundation of the railway duties—had since been reduced three times, and in 1869 was repealed altogether. But what was remarkable was that within the last few years a claim had been set up by the Board of Inland Revenue to compel the payment of a duty for third-class passengers, with the exception of the compulsory Parliamentary train; though for 16 years it had been assumed that these trains were exempt from duty. Nothing could be more anomalous and absurd than that if you complied literally with the Act of 1842, stopping the train at every station and taking 24 hours in going from London to Scotland, you should be exempt from taxation, while if you afforded a third-class passenger superior accommodation, taking him to Scotland in 12 hours instead of 24, you should pay a tax amounting to 10 per cent upon the net receipts from that passenger. Railway Companies were no lovers of strikes; but if they refused some day to convey third-class passengers from London to Scotland, except in 24 hours, on account of this Government duty, no Government could withstand such a pressure as would be put upon them. It was well for the Government that they had to deal with a body who were averse from strikes, and were not likely, therefore, to resort to such an extremity. He appealed, however, to the fairness of the Government whether, because Railway Companies bore a good deal of squeezing, that therefore they should be mulcted and compelled to submit to so monstrous an injustice. Take the case of the metropolitan traffic as an instance of the unequal working of the existing system. If passengers went by tramway the amount of taxation on every £100 of gross revenue amounted on the average to 1s. 1½d. If they went by omnibus the percentage of taxation on gross revenue was 17s. 7d. If they went by steamer there was no duty. But by railway under the former construction of the law the percentage of taxation on gross revenue would be £2 13s.; and under the construction contended for by the Commissioners the 438 tax would be £5. Was it right that railway proprietors should be treated almost as outlaws—at all events, should be put in a worse position than other people—for having constructed the railway system of the United Kingdom at their own risk, and frequently at their own loss? Five per cent on the gross passenger traffic was equivalent to 10 per cent on the net traffic; and, supposing one half the revenue of railways to accrue from passengers and one half from goods, the duty would amount to 5 per cent on the total net income of a railway. But the whole of this tax fell upon ordinary shareholders, whereas half the railway capital consisted of debenture and loan capital, so that again raised the duty to one of 10 per cent upon the income derived from their investments by ordinary shareholders. Nor was this all, because railway proprietors paid not only this excessive amount of Imperial taxation, but an excessive amount of local taxation. They paid 2s in the pound for Imperial taxation and 3s. in the pound for local taxation, though railways imposed no burden on the poor rates, but gave employment and so relieved the rates. This, however, was another question affecting railways. The duty pressed with peculiar hardship upon a great many Railway Companies which were in a comparatively poor condition. The Metropolitan Railway Company, and many other Railway Companies in the neighbourhood of London, which were carrying large masses of the people at low rates, were, owing to exceptional circumstances, in comparatively poor circumstances, and were paying to their shareholders miserable dividends, or no dividends at all. It was entirely untrue, and a most narrow view of the case, to suppose that Railway shareholders were alone interested in this question. He contended that the public had an immediate interest in this question, as well as Railway proprietors. He believed that all Railway Companies had the power of adding the Government duty to the passenger fare. In some cases they did so. A repeal of the duty would therefore be of immediate advantage to the public. The shareholders in a great number of Railway Companies were carrying on an agitation for an increase of fares in consequence of the enormous increase of the working expenses to which they were 439 subjected. All experience showed that the public would get the full benefit of any prosperity which might befall the Railways; indeed, he thought that the public had already had the lion's share of the advantage which had resulted. When this duty was first imposed the average charge per mile to passengers throughout the kingdom was about 3d.; it was now little more than 1d. At that time third-class passengers were almost unknown, and when the directors were compelled to run a single train at 1d. per mile daily this was looked upon almost as an innovation which would ruin the railways; but now the trains which did not carry third-class passengers were an exception to the rule, and in a great many cases third-class passengers were carried at a rate very much lower than 1d. per mile. Only the other day, Mr. Knight, the General Manager of the Brighton Railway, with which he (Mr. Laing) was connected, said that if the Passenger Duty were abolished he would recommend the Board of that Company to have only two classes of carriages—that was to say, to make the third-class into second-class, and the second-class into first, with regard to accommodation; but to make a downward move as regarded the fares—that is, to reduce the fares of the first-class to the level of the second class, and the fares of the second-class to the level of the third. If changes of this character were doubtful, nothing could be easier than to make them conditions of the removal of the duty, so as to secure these and similar advantages to the public. He did not make the Motion in the interest principally of Railways, but for the general public. His experience had satisfied him that the interests of the two were identical, and if the Railway Companies obtained this boon and did not fully share it with the public they would be defeating their own objects; but he believed that if this duty were abolished, not more than six months would elapse before reductions of that sort would be made by the majority of the Railway Companies. The next important branch of the subject related to the tax on horses. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had admitted that the horse was the very life and soul of locomotion. It was essential to the carrying on of the work of a farmer. The tax upon horses was unjustifiable, like the tax upon passenger 440 traffic. It prevented the rearing of horses as much as the malt tax limited the growth of barley. While we were groaning over the deficient supply of horses, and wondering whether in the event of a war we should be able to obtain a sufficient number of horses for our cavalry or our artillery, we were laying a tax upon horses which amounted to 10 per cent upon their value. The other, and last branch of taxation on locomotion, was that of wheeled carriages. Four-wheeled carriages were subject to a duty two guineas, and two-wheeled carriages and a certain class of small four-wheeled carriages were subject to a tax of 15s. The total produce from this source amounted to £524,993. A large number of these vehicles constituted what might be termed the daily necessaries of a large class of the community. Farmers, tradesmen, clerks, and others in business could not pursue their vocations without the use of gigs, carts, cabs, and omnibuses; and women of the middle, the lower middle, and the working classes, were almost entirely dependent on flys and omnibuses in getting from one part of a large town to another. Thus it would be seen that thousands of our population were obliged to avail themselves of the cheap mode of travelling afforded by these vehicles. One great anomaly of this tax was that it did not extend to Ireland. The principle of our present system of finance was to assimilate, as far as possible, the taxation of the two countries, and he warned all Irish Members that unless they assisted him to repeal this tax for England it would before very long be extended to Ireland. It was a striking instance of the evil of this impost, that while it was almost impossible to obtain a conveyance at many of our provincial railway stations, at every small railway station in Ireland there were always plenty of cars and other vehicles to be had. There were, however, other anomalies connected with this tax. For instance, in the County which he had the honour to represent about half the farmers lived in islands, and in attending markets they used their boats, on which no tax was levied; whereas the other half of them, who lived on the mainland, had to use horses and carts or gigs, for which they were heavily taxed. The inconvenience of the tax had been admitted when the 32 & 33 Vict. was 441 passed, which permitted the farmer to use his horse for the purpose of attending Divine service; but if horses were exempt from tax when used in conveying a man's family to a place of Divine worship, why should they not be exempt also in many other instances, such as fetching the doctor for a sick wife, or some other member of the family? It was one of the signs of a bad tax that it always bristled with exceptions and anomalies, and occasioned a great deal of vexation and annoyance in comparison with the small amount of money it brought in. The Commissioners of Inland Revenue, in their last Report, said that the licence duties, like all direct taxes, were more troublesome, both to those who collected and those who paid them, than were indirect taxes. It was quite certain that the frequent surcharges in respect of this tax rendered it exceedingly burdensome to farmers, who were continually called upon to pay fines for having unknowingly transgressed the law in the use of their horses and carts. The only objection to this part of his Motion appeared to him to be the fact that a number of persons kept horses and carriages for pleasure and amusement, but the number was so small compared with the total, and it was not worth while, for the sake of the small sum that the rich were compelled to pay in respect to their vehicles and horses, to preserve such an obnoxious tax, especially as in 1869 the Chancellor of the Exchequer abolished the distinction between horses kept for pleasure and horses kept for trade. This was now a great opportunity for the Government, which he hoped they would embrace, to perfect the great reform in our financial system which had been commenced by Sir Robert Peel in 1842, and which had been continued by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, and there appeared to be but one step more required to crown the edifice by relieving locomotion from all taxation and making it as free as the bread we eat and the air we breathe. The number of horse licences was 840,847, and that of carriage licences 422,597, while the number of railway shareholders, according to an approximate estimate, based on the number of shareholders in proportion to capital on several lines, was about 300,000. 1,500,000 persons would therefore be directly benefited by 442 this moderate remission of taxation. He did not mention this as showing, with elections in prospective, the fair popularity which would attend the measure, for in framing our financial system higher considerations than immediate popularity should be looked to. To a certain class of minds unpopularity might seem to recommend a thing, but our financiers should guard against this error, for while there was an unsound popularity to be gained by remissions made with a view to court applause, there was a sound popularity which sprang from a remission affecting a large and important section of the community. He mentioned the 1,500,000 persons, therefore, as showing how wide the area of relief would be, rather than its popularity. The principle of freeing locomotion from taxes was laid down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech of 1869, and to him, therefore, would belong the greater part of the credit if it were now accomplished. He presented himself in no spirit of antagonism to the Government, but he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be able to give him an assurance which would obviate the necessity of pressing the Motion, but, failing this, he was so confident in the soundness of the principle and in its immediate practicability, that he should do his best to carry it, feeling that he should be doing the Chancellor of the Exchequer a service in coupling, with or without his consent, the name of Lowe with free locomotion. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney (Mr. Laing) proposed by this Resolution to spirit away a considerable amount of the money which was supposed to be at the disposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and for one object only. It was generally the case that an expected surplus evoked plenty of claimants. He did not consider this an agricultural question or that the hon. Member had a right to ask for the support of the farmers on this question as one affecting their interests. The tax on horses only remotely concerned them, animals employed in agriculture being exempt, while there was no great injustice in a moderate tax on horses kept for luxury or locomotion. It was true that some 443 years ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted the principle of reducing the taxes on horses employed in locomotion and anticipated the benefits which would arise from horses being employed in the conveyance of persons to and from stations, and in drawing conveyances used by the public. But he did not think that the public had obtained cheaper or better conveyances, or that any great improvement had taken place in them so as to lead to a desire for an extension of the policy which the right hon. Gentleman had recommended. The Motion was in reality an appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in favour of railway locomotion only. It was a Motion in the interest of railway companies and railway proprietors. The hon. Gentleman anticipated great benefits from its adoption, but what guarantee did he offer that there should be benefits to the public. He trusted the House would not be led away by any conversation which might have passed between the Chairman of the Brighton Company and its traffic manager, who held out certain improvements as likely to result from this remission. Traffic managers were given to large and vague statements, and had sometimes induced Parliamentary Committees to sanction schemes by the results which they had held out; but he hoped that the House would not be influenced by them. The Motion itself embodied nothing of the kind. It pledged the House to a simple repeal of the taxes on locomotion. Now, who was to have the benefit of the proposed remission? Why, in the first instance, the Railway Companies would derive the benefit. And how, he should like to know, was it to be brought out of their pockets for the benefit of the public? He admitted that railways had given great facilities to trade and commerce. But there was another side of the question. Railway proprietors complained that they did not receive that amount of remuneration to which they were entitled. But they forgot that a great deal of the money that had been laid out had been wastefully expended, that they had made lines which they ought not to have made, and entered into contests and waged war with other companies when they ought not to have done so. The late Mr. Robert Stephenson, indeed, told him during a severe contest between the Brighton and South- 444 Eastern Companies, that £500,000 had been already expended in it, and that he could have stopped all this but for the temper of three men on each side. He feared that temper accounted for much foolish expenditure, and inadequate dividends therefore formed no ground for abolishing this tax.
§ GENERAL SIR GEORGE BALFOUR
seconded the Motion on the broad ground that any measure which cheapened locomotion would confer a great advantage on the country. In support of the present proposal, he quoted the Report of a Select Committee of that House, which inquired about a third of a century ago into the subject of taxation on internal communication. That Committee pointed out the great evils of the taxation then existing on carriages and horses, showed that Ireland benefited largely by its exemption from such taxation, and suggested that England should enjoy the same advantage. The Committee therefore recommended the abolition of the taxes on horses, public conveyances, and carriages generally, observing that the immediate loss of revenue incident to such a change, would be in great measure compensated by an increased consumption of taxable commodities, while an inequality would be removed, and the comfort and prosperity of a commercial people promoted. That reasoning was equally applicable to the Motion now before the House. England, Scotland, and Wales were subject to a species of taxation from which Ireland was entirely exempt; and he maintained that all parts of the United Kingdom ought to be placed on an equality in that respect. The hon. Member observed that these taxes had been objected to by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury in his Budget Speech of 1866, and the Commissioners of Inland Revenue had, in 1872, in their 15th Report, pointed out, as explained in the excellent speech of the hon. Member for Orkney, that the whole of the taxes now known as the "Establishment Licences" were troublesome, "both to those who collect them and those who pay them." They further added that—The enormous correspondence is quite disproportionate to the amount of duty collected, and the number of prosecutions found necessary for the maintenance of a revenue of little more than one million and a quarter is 40 or 50 times greater than the number instituted in the same 445 year in the collection of nine millions and a half—the duty charged in England and Scotland on spirits.In the same Report the Commissioners pointed out the vexatious consequences of these taxes allowing of exemptions in various ways, for not taking out licences. This recent view of the Inland Board of Revenue was in accord with their 10th Report, issued in 1866, wherein the Commissioners explained that Mr. Gladstone haddwelt at some length upon the taxes on locomotion, and expressed his regret that the surplus at his disposal did not enable him to propose a larger measure of relief from these imposts in their existing form.No doubt since then changes had been made in these taxes, but they still existed, and in a way which undoubtedly prevented that free movement which so greatly benefited a country; and now that there was such a vast surplus revenue, this was the time to free the country from a kind of taxation which, however suitable for local purposes, was quite unsuitable for Imperial Revenue. And, as before said, the time was opportune to place Great Britain on the same system of taxation as Ireland was, in being exempt from all these taxes. The fact of there being a dog tax in Ireland, and which was collected, not for the Imperial Revenue but for local purposes, was a strong example in favour of the dog tax levied in Great Britain, and included amongst those known as the "Establishment Licences," being given up as an Imperial tax as well as the other licences. This change would also have a most useful effect in settling the question so troublesome to both parties, as to how to adjust the claim of aids from the Exchequer for local expenditure.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in the opinion of this House, Taxes on the means of Locomotion are opposed to public policy, and should be repealed at the earliest opportunity."—(Mr. Laing.)
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, it was proverbially easy to make out a case against any tax; and it did not require the great knowledge and financial ability of the hon. Member for Orkney to make a most plausible, and, indeed, a most true case against the taxes which remained upon locomotion. Nothing in the world was so easy as to make out a case against a particular 446 tax, but that was not the way in which the House should look at this question. In all these matters of taxation, they had only a choice of evils; and the only question was whether they would do wisely in following the advice of his hon. Friend the Member for Orkney, by abstracting their minds from any alternative proposal, and fixing them simply on the particular grievance which he had placed before them. One thing his hon. Friend had left out of sight in connection with that tax. There was a peculiarity about railways—which he agreed with the hon. Member for Sussex (Mr. Gregory) was the main question in his hon. Friend's mind—there was a peculiarity about railways which distinguished them from almost all other subjects of taxation, and that was that they possessed a qualified monopoly. The maximum limit of railway charges was so very high—so much higher than those charges actually amounted to—that it really gave the companies a large and undefined power of taxing Her Majesty's subjects. When persons were acting under the pressure of competition, they were kept within very narrow bounds as to what they did. But where that pressure was removed, and the Railway Companies were left to their own discretion, those who complained of these taxes had themselves the power of imposing them; and that not with reference to the terms on which they could afford to do the work, but with reference to the much larger powers they possessed of obtaining the sole property and dominion over portions of the country. That afforded a justification for taxing railways which did not exist in any other case, and the two things ought not to be mixed up together. Even supposing all other taxes on locomotion were removed, there would still be this broad and manifest distinction between them and the taxes on railways,—that all other carriers acted under the most unlimited competition, whereas railways had obtained, by the nature of the case and by the privileges which Parliament had given them, certain local monopolies which enabled them to exact not necessarily equal rates from persons who were similarly situated, but larger rates from some and smaller from others. There seemed to be no fairer subject of taxation, then, than that which had about it the appearance of a monopoly. His hon. Friend had 447 spoken of their relieving 1,500,000 persons by taking off that tax, but that after all was a very small number indeed. It would be very easy, however, to mention a tax the remission of which would relieve, not 1,500,000, but 30,000,000 people. If numbers were to a criterion, though he did not say they were, his hon. Friend had put forward the weak rather than the strong side of that tax. Now, he wished to see all trades and occupations as free as possible from taxation. That was a sound and right principle; but, as he had said, all these things were a choice of evils and of convenience, and it was not a question whether that particular tax was good in itself, but whether it was the one which most strongly called for remission. That was a point which he thought could hardly be decided by a discussion in which attention was necessarily confined to that tax alone, and all others were kept out of view. But there was another point that he wished to submit to the House, and it was this:—On Monday it would be his duty to state to the House the financial proposals of the Government for the coming year. It was certainly the practice and custom of the House—and wisely so, he thought—to leave these matters of difficulty and delicacy to those who were in the habit of looking at them from the position of responsibility and authority which the Members of the Government occupied by having for the time the support of the majority of that House, rather than that they should be taken up by any private Member. They were more likely to have the public interests fairly considered and legislated for by those who were personally responsible for any proposals which might be made than if proposals were brought forward by any private member, however eminent or however qualified to deal with such subjects. Now, if that diminution of taxation which his hon. Friend had urged was a point of his financial scheme on next Monday, it was quite obvious that any interposition of that House would be superfluous and useless. If it was not, it was equally obvious that the House was now asked to pass a judgment on what ought to be the financial policy of the Government without having before it, as it ought to have, the alternatives which they would have to lay before it. The House, therefore, would not now be 448 judging on the case after hearing all the circumstances, and all that could be said on both sides, but would be adopting a particular view, shutting its eyes to all other things, and insisting on taking away responsibility from those on whom the House and the Constitution of the country imposed it. He said that, whatever opinion hon. Members might have about that tax, they would not be acting in a prudent manner if they followed such a course. They would do more wisely to restrain their impatience for six days longer until they heard the proposals of the Government. If those proposals met with their approbation, they could support them. If not, it would be competent for his hon. Friend the Member for Orkney to run his horse against the Government horse. And if his hon. Friend's proposal should be one more worthy of consideration than those of the Government, it would be competent for the House to adopt it. That would be quite fair and open; but he thought it would be full of evil precedent if at a period so very close to the announcement of the financial policy of the year, when it must be understood by all that whatever they were going to do was really determined upon, and arrangements made accordingly, the House would not allow them to propound their policy, but insisted on forcing on them a Resolution like the present, without hearing what they had to say. He might point out that the pecuniary amount at stake was by no means small; it was no less than £1,500,000. That was a considerable sum to dispose of, and the House ought to consider well before they made up their minds to remit a tax which so largely affected the revenue. Although his hon. Friends knew very well that he was by no moans unfavourable to the views with regard to locomotion which they had propounded, he still could not give his assent to the proposal which had been submitted to the House. He felt he should be unworthy of the office he had the honour to hold if he were not prepared to vindicate for himself the right, not, of course, to dictate to the House, but to lay before it the best proposals he could make in connection with his financial statement. He therefore hoped that his hon. Friend would be content with the impulse he had given to the question, and that the matter would not 449 be pressed to a division, for the only effect of doing so would be greatly to embarrass the financial policy of the Government, and to set a precedent which he did not think it was desirable to establish.
said, he had always felt it his duty in that House to oppose abstract Resolutions on Questions of finance, and was of opinion that the present Resolution was calculated to place hon. Members in an unfair position. It tended to produce the taking of things separately which ought to be taken conjointly, and reminded him of the saying that every wine was good, but that some wines were better than others, for it raised the question of every tax being bad, while some taxes were worse than others. He generally felt alarm on hearing an hon. Member urge in support of his particular proposal that it would lighten the springs of industry. It reminded him of a remark made by a gentleman some time ago in reference to a person who had become generally embarrassed in circumstances—"What could you expect of a fellow who had frittered away his fortune in paying his tradesmans' bills." When, he might add, he saw countries like France and America making such efforts to pay off their debts, he did not think it creditable to us to postpone our obligations, and he had no doubt we should be recompensed in the future for any sacrifice which we might make in that direction at the present time.
§ MR. MELLY,
although he desired to support the Motion so far as it related to the passenger duty, did not think it would be desirable at the present moment to force the hand of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He might mention that the gross receipts of the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway for the year ending in December last were for passengers, £524,572; season tickets, £51,842, making a total of £576,414; from which, if the working expenses, £259,386, were deducted, it would be found that the profit of £317,028 remained. It would also be seen that the passenger duty paid for the half-year was £18,817, which was equal to an income tax on the profit of 1s. 2¼d. in the pound. He might add that from the published accounts of the Metropolitan District Railway for the past half-year it appeared that their receipts 450 for passengers were £93,629, and their working expenses £46,814, which left a profit of £46,815; their payment for passenger duty was £2,667, which was equal to an additional income tax of 1s. 1½d. in the pound. Now, as the shareholders in all the Railway Companies already paid the ordinary income tax upon their dividends, he could see no good reason why they should be called upon to pay taxes a second time upon the same income. He felt sure, therefore, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would take into his consideration the desirability of taking away, at all events, the passenger duty.
MR. ALDERMAN W. LAWRENCE
could not help complaining of the action of the Board of Inland Revenue in taking a course which tended to restrict the means of locomotion at the command of third-class passengers. He thought that every facility should be afforded for the transport of the labouring classes, whether travelling for pleasure or in pursuit of their daily labour. He could not, however, vote for the Motion because it was opposed to the policy of imposing any tax whatsoever on locomotion.
§ COLONEL BERESFORD
wished to point out that there was a tax levied on omnibuses at the same rate as on the carriages of the aristocracy, which amounted to 1¼ per cent in the case of the London General Omnibus Company. He might say nothing that had fallen from the hon. Member for the Orkneys had convinced him that the tax, of which complaint was made, was not, after all, paid by the passengers.
§ MR. PEASE
said, that the present passenger duty presented a great anomaly which would have, sooner or later, to be redressed. A third-class train which travelled from London to York in seven or eight hours, crawling along and stopping at all the stations, was exempted from duty, but if a third-class train did the same journey rapidly, running through several stations, the Company had to pay the duty. He trusted that on Monday night it would be found that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given not only consideration but favourable consideration to this question. The present system was a bar to studying the convenience of the public.
§ MR. LAING
said, that he should not feel justified, after the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in pressing 451 the Motion to a division; but if the matter should not be dealt with in the Budget, he would bring it forward again, and run his horse against that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He begged leave therefore to withdraw his Motion.
§ Question put, and negatived.