§ Order for Second Reading, read.
§ MR. BAUMANN (Camberwell, Peckham)
I rise, Mr. Speaker, to a point of order. It is proposed by the hon. Member for the Barnard Castle Division of Durham (Sir J. Pease) to read a second time a Bill to alter the Charter rights and powers of the Corporation of London, and I wish to ask you, Sir, whether it is in accordance with the Standing Orders and practice of this 702 House to alter the powers and Charter rights of a Corporation otherwise than by a private Bill? I submit, Sir, that it is not in accordance with the Standing Orders and practice of this House to alter the powers and Charter rights of a Corporation by a public Bill. I wish, therefore, to procure your ruling, as the point is one of great importance, and may in the future be of still greater importance.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
I understand the objection of the hon. Member to be that this Bill, inasmuch as it deals with the Charters and private rights of the Corporation of London ought to be proceeded with in the form of a private Bill. Since the Bill appeared on the Paper it has been carefully examined, and I have come to the conclusion that it may be properly introduced as a public Bill. This is in accordance with precedent, the chief of which was the precedent of 1864, on the introduction of the Weighing of Grain (Metropolis) Bill, when it was ruled that the question affected so large an area and was of such great public importance that it ought to be dealt with as a public and not as a private Bill. I may remind the hon. Member that the Coal Duties have been dealt with by Parliament in various ways from time to time since the Charters were first granted, and that the Charters themselves have been renewed by Act of Parliament. It therefore appears that the subject may properly be introduced in a public Bill. If it is thought that any private rights are affected, or that the statements in the long preamble of the Bill are not well founded, it is competent, in the event of the Bill being read a second time, for any Member to move that it be referred to a Committee 703 of any kind. If the House adopts that view and is of opinion that private rights are affected, the Bill may be referred to a Committee of the House, or to such a Committee with such powers as the House may appoint. What is the proper course to take, it is not for me to decide. That is a question which is in the hands of the House, but so far as the introduction of the Bill is concerned, I have no hesitation in saying that in accordance with precedent, the Bill has been properly introduced as a public Bill.
§ * SIR J. PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)
Sir, you have been good enough to rule that the course I have taken in bringing forward this Bill as a public Bill is a correct course. I think I have some reason to complain that the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Baumann) had not the ordinary courtesy to make me acquainted with the fact that he intended to raise this objection to my mode of proceeding with this Bill. But after your ruling, Sir, I desire at once to go forward with the somewhat formidable task which I have undertaken in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. In the remarks which I propose to make upon the subject, I hope the House will bear in mind that I make no charge whatever against the manner in which the money derived from this tax has been spent by the Metropolitan Board of Works or by the City of London. That is quite outside my purview to-day, and I simply propose to treat this as a great public question, in which not only the Metropolis, but a very large surrounding area is concerned. It also concerns intimately the entire trade of the country, and especially the coal producing districts. The House will be aware that on the 5th of July next the last of a very long series of Continuation Acts, by which the sum of 1s. 1d. per ton levied upon coals coming into the Metropolitan Police area comes to an end. I am well aware that the revenue derived from this duty has been applied with the direct sanction of this House, both by the Metropolitan Board of Works and by the Corporation of the City of London to the carrying out of Metropolitan improvements, but nevertheless the object of my Bill is to prevent a renewal in any shape of this tax. There is a Bill at 704 this moment before the House to renew these duties, but as it is set down for a Second Reading on the Derby day, the 5th of June, I presume that the hon. Gentleman who has charge of it sees very little hope of passing it, and that before that day it will probably be "scratched." As that is a Bill to renew the duties as they at present stand, I have no right to discuss its provisions now, and I propose to adhere strictly to the measure which I have the honour to introduce to the House. The Bill which I ask the House to read a second time provides that on the expiration of the Continuance Act of 1868, which expires this year, and which continued the power to levy and appropriate these duties for the seven years ending 5th July, 1889, all Coal Dues on all coals coming into the Metropolitan district shall cease. It specially provides that any powers which may be vested—and I doubt myself whether all such powers as are claimed would be found to be vested in the City Corporation in the event of any legal question arising. This Bill, however, provides that the powers vested in the Corporation of London by certain old Charters and Acts of Parliament shall not be revived. It is evident that they ought not to be revived, because they are contrary to the intentions of this House to the Reports of a series of Committees, to the views of eminent statesmen, to the general views of all who have studied the question, and to a direct vote of the newly elected County Council of London. All public men who have taken an interest in the question are of opinion that these duties ought not to be revived in any shape or way. The London County Council have already decided by a large majority—I think the numbers were 76 to 34, that these duties ought not to be levied in the Metropolitan Police area, although they would undoubtedly be materially assisted in the commencement of their labours by the large sum which the tax would produce. I think the public out of this House, as well as hon. Members in the House, ought to be made fully aware of the history of these imposts, the unfairness of their incidence, the manner in which Parliament has taken the absolute control over them, the evident intention of Parliament and statesmen that they should cease at an early date; and the manner in which 705 any deficit, occasioned by the giving up of these duties, could and ought to be made up. The history of the Coal Duties is historically interesting, and I am afraid that it will be necessary to trouble the House at some length with the account which I have to give. I therefore ask for the indulgence of the House. I have gone carefully into the history of these duties. As far as my humble ability would permit I have made myself master of it, and I will endeavour to put it before the House in as few and as terse words as I can. By a Charter of James I., in the third year of his reign, 1606,—The King gave to the Mayor, Commonalty, and Citizens of London 'the office they have been accustomed to exercise,' the office of 'Measurer and Measuring' of all and singular coals, grains of every kind, and also of all kinds of salt, and all kinds of apples, pears, and plums, and other fruits whatsoever, and all eatable roots of every kind, 'and also of onions.'… brought into the Port of the said City of London, upon the said water of Thames, in every ship, boat, barge, or other vessel; and the King gave them all fees, wages, rewards, and profits belonging to the office of measurer and measuring.No price is fixed in this Charter—but it is quoted through all documents as 4d. perchaldron of 25 cwts, and as 4d. per ton, and then it is quoted as 4d. per ton. The Committee of 1861 report that up to 1785 the Corporation appointed meters who paid £80 for their office and who took 4d. per ton as their fee. The right of the citizens to this charge seems to have been established even before the Charter of James I., 1606, as Maitland in his History of London says, that the right having been contested by the Lord High Admiral was confirmed to the citizens by Queen Elizabeth, 1591. In 1614 Sir Edward Coke, the Attorney General, filed an information against the Corporation, who pleaded their prescriptive title. Coke allowed judgment to go against the Crown. The next Charter affecting this question is another of James I., in 1615 (the 12th year of his reign). This gave the Mayor, commonalty, and citizens 8d. per ton "for the weighing of every like ton of coal as afore-said, and of all other coal weighable." Like the 4d., it was confined to coals brought on to the waters of the Thames, and like it was limited to the river between Staines Bridge and Yenleete on the Medway. The next step in these duties is not by Charter, but by 706 an Act of 5th and 6th, William an Mary, which made provision to raise for the orphans and other creditors of the City of London, from and after June 24, 1694, 4d. metage "for ever, over, and above what was then lawfully paid for metage," to be paid "in like manner as the then present duty for metage was or had been accustomed to be paid." This made James I first Charter Duty of 4d. actually into 8d. for over on metage. By the same statute of William and Mary "6d. perchaldron, and for all coals sold by the ton 6d. also" was given to the Corporation, to be levied after the 29th September 1700, for 50 years, expiring in 1750. Therefore, if the coals were measured, there was to be paid to the Corporation under James's first Charter, 1606, 4d., and under William and Mary's Act, 1694, 4d., making a total of 8d.; and if the coals were weighed there was to be paid under James's second Charter, 1615, 8d., and under William and Mary's Act from 1700 to 1750, 6d. per ton, making a total of 1s. 2d. for weighing. William and Mary's 6d., which would have expired in 1750, was renewed by Acts of George II. and George III. The Act of 1829 (10 George IV., chap. 136), Clause 72, the London Bridge Approaches Act renewed it from 5th July, 1837, for 21 years to 5th July, 1858. That Act recites that the Orphan Fund named by William and Mary had been "annihilated," that other creditors of City would be paid by April, 1832—and it further continued the 6d. until it should have provided for the payment of £1,000,000 raised for new London Bridge approaches and it was calculated that this would take place in 1858. It will be noticed that the 4d. and the 6d. of William and Mary were taken from mere city purposes for a public improvement, and when that was accomplished they were to cease. That was the view of Parliament 60 years ago, in 1829, when possession was taken of it for London Bridge purposes. I come now to a still more important Act—the Act of 1831. It ordered coals to be sold by weight. It also liberated the Corporation from the duty of weighing and placed it on the sellers of coal, and it gave the Corporation a right to collect 1s. per ton on all coals brought into the port to be applied as the 4d. of James (metage) was to be applied, and as the 707 sums of 4d. and 6d. of William and Mary were applied. Clause 60 of the Act, 1831, recites that—During the term hereinafter mentioned, one Rate or Duty shall be paid to the said Mayor, and in lieu of all Rates and Duties payable to them in respect of coals, &c., except the Rates and Duties payable under this Act.It is to be observed that in that clause, after reciting the various Acts and Charters, it enacts that during seven years from the 31st December, 1831, the Corporation shall notexercise any right of measuring or weighing, and that the rate of 12d. per ton shall be collected in the manner hereinafter mentioned, and the sum of 4d. for every ton or part thereof shall be applied in the same manner as the sum in the said Charters mentioned to be payable for metage would be applicable, and the sum of 8d. for every ton residue thereof shall be applied in the same manner as the said Duties, of 4d. per chaldron, and 6d. for every chaldren or ton made payable by the said Act of Parliament (William and Mary's) would be applicable.The 8d. per ton for weighing in James I. 2nd Charter is not mentioned in the enacting portion, and forms no part of any sum collected since 31st December, 1831. This Act limited the enjoyment of the 1s. to seven years—4d. having been already allocated to London Bridge after the Orphan Fund was paid off—by the London Bridge Act of 1829, and 6d. having been also allocated to the same object by the same Act to refund £1,000,000. But the Act of 1831 contained Clause 61 and other clauses, which reserved the rights of the Corporation at the expiration of the term—or whenever the sum of 1s. should cease to be paid, and Clause 64 reserved 1s. 3d. duties paid on coals arriving by the Grand Junction and other canals. By an Act (47 Geo. III., chap. 68) 1d. per ton on coals was granted for building a new Coal Exchange in London. The 13d. of the present day is thus before us. The 4d. metage and the 6d. weighing of William and Mary (coals could not be both weighed and measured) was made into 8d. by the Act of 1831. James I. metage was continued at 4d., and in addition there was a charge of 1d. for the Coal Exchange, making 13d. altogether. This was all limited to seaborne or canal-borne coals. What have been the complaints against this tax? There are three areas. The ratable area is 700 square miles, and extends from Waltham Cross on the north to 708 Epsom on the south, from Dartford on the east to Staines on the west. From 1851 to 1861, it was still wider—extending to Hertford on the north, Gatton (near Reigate) on the south, Northfleet on the east, and Staines on the west. The 1d. 1d. is raised on the Metropolitan Police area; thus the 9d. raised on 700 square miles is spent on 120 square miles of the Board of Works area. There is also the City area of one square mile, thus 4d. raised over 700 square miles has been spent on one square mile—except in the last year when all was spent on freeing the bridges. Nothing can be more unjust and inequitable than the way in which the tax is levied. It embraces areas already incorporated, such as West Ham, where the tax is equal to 16d. in the pound in addition to all the other taxes. Whilst Parliaments have specifically allocated the Coal Dues, and enacted that any balance must be spent as Parliament may sanction, the balances have been spent and no sanction obtained. Mr. Fardell, the Chairman of the Finance Committee of the deceased Metropolitan Board, said on December 22, 1886:—"It is undoubtedly the fact that the Coal and Wine Duties have not been specifically hypothecated to the Boards since 1865." When the Board of Works died the London County Council, by 76 to 34, resolved against this tax. But the great complaints are:—1st. That it is a tax on one of the primary necessaries of life; 2ndly. That is a duty of 10 per cent on the poor man's coal, and on gas and manufacturing coal, and only 4 per cent on the rich man's coal; 3rdly. The people of the North complain of it as damaging employment in the coal fields. It is a most serious detriment to all those trades in London that consume coal. Taking it as a tax, Mr. Boulton, of the London Chamber of Commerce, in a speech the other day, gave instances of the way it increases on the ratable value of premises; in one case by 1s. 10d. in the pound, in another 2s. 6d., in a third 2s. 11d., and in his own case 4s. 4d., where for each 2s. he spends in labour he spends 1s. for coal. How do the burdens fall? Mr. Boulton says:—"A Hertford blacksmith uses 15 tons of coal, and adds 2s. in the £ to his rates." Mr. Boulton's office in the City burns 19 tons of coal, and is rated at £1664, and pays £1 in added rates. 709 The Gas Companies complain of the tax. The three Metropolitan Companies and 12 Suburban Companies in 1886 used 2,650,393 tons of coal, and paid, after receiving drawbacks, £128,000—namely, for coke £33,000, and for gas £95,000. The Gas Companies being at the limit of their dividends under the sliding scale, all savings would go one-fifth to the Companies and four-fifths to the consumers. Then, again, how does the tax affect the London sugar refiners? One says that the Coal Duties add 13s. in the £ to the ratable value of his premises, and another that they add 17s. 6d. in the £. Should the tax on 7,000,000 tons of railway coals and 5,000,000 tons of sea borne coals be repealed, the money will go into the ratepayers' pockets. In direct cheaper coals and in direct cheaper gas they will receive it; and the incidence of taxation, even if more direct rates are to be paid, will be much fairer. It is done without detriment to the poor and without injury to the manufacturer. The ratepayers will probably have to pay increased rates amounting to 2d. in the pound, to make up for the withdrawal of this duty.
§ * SIR J. PEASE
I find that my own rates will be increased 2½d. in the pound by the extinction of the duty, but whatever the addition, the tax will be more equitable than the Coal Dues, and every man who buys coals should see that in paying for them he has the advantage of the 1s. 1d. which will be taken off. Twenty years hence, no one will believe, without reference to this history, that in London—the centre of financial ability—a tax for improvements was levied for the whole of the earlier part of the enlightened 19th Century, which fell more heavily upon the poor than on the rich ["No"] upon an article of primary domestic use and comfort, by a tax which damaged all commercial industries, and was opposed to the interests of the great staple trade of the North. Now, Sir, I desire to show how completely Parliament has kept its hand over these duties, and how it has always been in the purview of this House that at an early date these duties should 710 cease. London Bridge Act of 1829 continued the 6d. of William and Mary for 21 years (Sec. 72) and limited the appropriation of 4d. The Act of 1831 liberated the Corporation from weighing or measuring. It made William and Mary's 10d. into 8d.; it added the 4d. of James I.'s first Charter; it ignored entirely James's 8d. for weighing, and it only granted the 1s. for seven years, having already, by the London Bridge Act (10 Geo. IV., 136) charged the 6d. of William and Mary until 1858, as well as the 4d. of James. The Act of 1861 took a much stronger hold of these duties, Clause 2 authorizes the 1s. 1d. to be levied for 10 years. As regards the original 4d. of James, it specifically allocated that to the Corporation to wipe out £300,000 and £240,000 raised for the Cannon Street improvement, and after that the amount to he dealt with as Parliament may sanction. It allocated the remaining 9d. first to the London Bridge Approach Fund, then to the Thames Embankment, next to the Metropolitan Improvement Fund, and then as Parliament may determine. Therefore, Parliament strictly defined the objects to which the money was to be applied; and it went further, and said that it would keep under its own hands any balance there might remain. By Clause 10 the rights of the Corporation are again reserved, as in the Act of 1831. In this Act Parliament deals with the appropriation of the City 4d., with the balance of 9d., and reserves entire control over any balance in hand. By the Act of 1863 the dues are again continued for 10 years from 1872 to 1882, and Parliament took a still stronger hold of the reins. Ninepence was to he paid to the Commissioners of the Treasury for the Thames Embankment and Metropolitan Improvement Fund; the 4d. was to go to the Corporation for Holborn improvements or those in or adjacent to the City, and then, again, any balance was to be dealt with as Parliament may sanction. I have shown by the Act of 1861, and more especially so by the Act of 1863, that the control of Parliament has been exercised over every penny of this tax; the appropriation has been specific and the time limited. I now come to a much more important matter—the Act of 1868, which continued the levy of the dues from 1882— 711 not for 15 years as was done in 1845, or for 10 years as was provided in other Acts, but for only seven years—until, in fact, the 6th July, 1889. At that time, Sir, the subject of Metropolitan taxation was attracting great attention, and the inequality and injustice of the coal tax was complained of; I will refer for a moment to the Report of the Committee of 1866. This Committee—on the Local Government and Local Taxation of London—appointed in March, 1866, consisted of 15 Members, all of them highly respected in this House. I think every one of them has now passed away either from this House or from this earth. On the 12th April, 1866, the Committee voted on the draft Report of the Chairman, Mr. Ayrton, which condemned the Coal and Wine Dues and proposed their immediate abolition. An Amendment was moved by a nobleman of whom every one will, I am sure, speak with the greatest respect—the present Duke of Rutland—then Lord John Manners, to the effect "That the Coal and Wine Duties might beneficially be continued for a further limited period." Now, those who voted for the abolition of the duties were—Mr. Bazley, Mr. Baring, Mr. Stuart Mill, and Mr. Locke. Six voted for the Amendment—Mr. Tite, Mr. Lawrence. Sir M. W. Ridley, Mr. Sandford, Lord John Manners, and Mr. Kekewich. There were absent—Mr. Hanbury, Mr. Beecroft, Mr. Turner, and Sir W. P. Gallwey. Thus, out of 15 Members, five were for abolition, six were for a limited period, and four stayed away. Mr. Ayrton did not vote for his own paragraph. The continuance—thus carried by the majority in favour of Lord John Manners' Amendment—was not for fifteen years as in 1845, or ten years as in 1861 and 1863, but the limited period was reduced to seven years, and it was understood by all that then these duties should cease entirely. I want, Sir, to call the attention of the House to some rather curious evidence which tends to show what was the intention at the time even in the City of London. Mr. Fry, the Chairman of the Holborn Valley Improvement Committee stated to the Committee of this House:—I hope the Committee will agree with me in the absolute necessity of our receiving from Parliament a continuance of Coal Dues, or rather 712 that we should be allowed to appropriate our 4d. Coal Dues for another period of ten years, as without it the Holborn Valley Improvement will be altogether incomplete.Now, Sir, by the Act of 1866 9d. was left with the Metropolitan Board, 4d. again went to the City, and the balance in both cases was to be dealt with again as Parliament might sanction. But this House went still further in the Act of 1868. In the last year ending the 5th July, 1889, the entire toll was taken from the Corporation and from the Metropolitan Board of Works and applied by Clause 5 during that last year not to any works even within the Metropolitan Police District or in the City, but to the tolls on Kew, Kingston, Staines, Hampton Court, and Walton Bridges, and after those were disposed of, then to getting rid of the tolls on certain bridges on the Lea—namely, those at Tottenham and Chingford, and then—and here there is a curious alteration in the phraseology—the balance is to be applied not as Parliament may "sanction," but as Parliament shall direct. Now, Sir, no complaint can arise that those who, under these Acts, were to receive the tolls have not been fairly dealt with. At the time of the renewal in 1861, the 9d. produced £161,600; at the renewal in 1863 it was £168,900; in 1868, £184,396; and in 1884 it had reached £302,787, while in 1887 it was stated by the Chairman of the Finance Committee to have amounted to £325,000. It has, therefore, always been an increasing quantity in favour of those who had the use of it. Again, the City 4d. in 1861 netted £36,505; in 1863, £75,081; in 1868, £81,953; and in 1884, £134,572; no doubt it now totals £140,000 a year. Now I come more particularly to the point to which I desire to draw the attention of the House, and that is, that every claim on this tax which Parliament has laid on the Coal Dues has been specifically met and dealt with. The only question is, I think, as regards the Holborn Valley improvement. With regard to that the City of London may have some claim for consideration; at the same time, I do not see how they can levy for a much longer period a tax over 700 square miles in order to pay for that. If that were the only question under consideration, I should be very glad to make some allowance 713 to the City. Every claim has, I think, been met except that; and I do not think my hon. Friends who have distributed a whip asking the House to continue this tax for a further limited period—the latter words being a blacker type than the rest of the document—will deny that the claim is but a limited one. Nobody will say that the improvements which have been made have not been very beneficial. But I say that the money for them could he better and more fairly raised. It ought to be raised in the same way as other Corporations raise their money; it should be raised by a fair levy on the house property of the people living in the district. Now, as regards the rights of the Corporation. I have heard many eminent lawyers aver that no portion of these duties could go back to the City; that they were granted to the Corporation of London as conservators of the River Thames, and as the conservancy of the River Thames has been taken away from the Corporation under the Act of 1857, all rights to these duties pass with them. However, that is only an opinion. I would also point out that the receipt of the duties is coupled with services which can no longer be rendered. Under the Reservation Clause, of the Act of 1831, taking it in the most favourable way, the Corporation under that claim a revival of their duties, and it is to prevent any question of the revival of these duties that I ask that this Bill shall receive a Second Reading and pass into law. What rights could be revived? I believe that the right to tax railway-borne coal in the great majority of cases expires with the Continuance Acts on the 5th July, 1889. That does away with almost the whole of the duties on 7,000,000 tons of coal. But perhaps this is not quite an accurate statement. I find, after a great deal of research, that in two or three earlier private Acts of Parliament affecting the Great Western, South Western, South Eastern, Great Eastern, and the London and North Western Railways, a clause was inserted giving the City rights over these railways. I also find after legal research that the London and North Western Clause has been repealed, and therefore the levy would only be on the Great Western, South Western, South Eastern, and 714 Great Eastern, who alone could be called upon to pay the tax. The tax is at present levied under the public Act of 1845, which says that coal brought into London by any railway constructed after that Act or before the passing of it, is to bear the City Dues for 15 years, and thus the dues having been continued will expire on the 5th July next. Whether that clause embraces the other railway companies that I have named or not, I cannot say. But I must point out that if certain railway companies are to be freed from the duties, the other railway companies will be heavily handicapped, and the tax would also handicap the Mercantile Marine, especially that on the North East Coast, if you allow the continuance of an 8d. duty on sea-borne coal, and allow the railway companies, or some of them, to escape paying any Coal Duties. That is a description of competition which this House would be the last body in the world to desire to sanction. Now, the right to William and Mary's sixpence was granted till 1750, and it was renewed in various Acts until the London Bridge Act 10, George IV., cap. 136, which continued it until the 5th July, 1858. That, again, has been renewed specifically from time to time until the date of 1889 is a substitute for that of 1858. Therefore, the claim of the City for weighing can only be made by virtue of the two Charters of James I. As regards the first Charter of James I., there is power to levy 4d. for metage, and there is power to levy another 4d. for metage, under the Act of William and Mary; making eightpence together. Metage is now declared illegal in the City of London by Act of Parliament, but I am advised the Corporation of London could enforce their dues for metage if they offer to exercise the office of measurers or measuring. But then there is the eight-pence levied under the second Charter of James I. for weighing coal. That has been in abeyance from the Act of 1831 until the present day. Now, we do not want to lead to a revival of the old and obsolete mode of measuring coals, which Committees have over and over again declared is the worst possible way of dealing with coal, and there are very curious records in the Library of this House, which show how coal was often broken up small to make it measure 715 out more largely. Now, whatever rights the City may have—if they have not passed them to the Thames Conservators—it is certain that they cannot both weigh coals and measure them; their claim must consequently be confined to the eightpence for one service. Under the present law the seller is responsible for weighing the coals, and those Members who have read the London Coal Vend Acts can see how carefully they are drawn, so that no duty can possibly devolve upon the Corporation, either as measurers or weighers, and the thing is provided fur to be done in more modern and convenient ways. If we gave the City this eightpence we should have no legal control over it, as we have had during the last 30 or 40 years. It is an unreformed Corporation. Some of its accounts are, I believe, submitted to Parliament; but the Corporation would be able to do as they liked with this revenue. That is one great objection. I think I have pretty well explained the position of the City in this matter. You cannot allow all the gas supplied to all the district outside the City to be taxed for City purposes only. Sea-borne coal amounts to about five million tons, and all this will be taxed if you allow the revival of these Charter rights. I say that if these public improvements are wanted there are far better ways of raising the money than by taxing coal, which is such an essential to manufacturing industries, and such a comfort to the people of London. I want to show the House how this matter has been looked at by those wise men who have from time to time been delegated to look into the question. In 1836 there was a Select Committee on the Coal Trade, which reported that the trade in coals was evidently intended to be left free as regards the River Thames. On page 26 of their Report I find—By a statement from the Chamberlain's Office it appears that the application of the surplus of the dues continued unappropriated by the Act of 10 George IV., will pay off all the charges for public works, &c., by the 5th January, 1855, and relieve the coals from that charge, and your Committee expresses the hope that no charge may be imposed to render the continuance of the City Coal Duty necessary beyond the time stated.In 1838 the Committee went still further, and said—With regard to the duty of 8d. per ton on coals imported into the port of London, 716 applicable to public improvement, your Committee are of opinion that the said duty should cease after the monies borrowed on the duties shall have been paid off. ….. In the Act of 1 and 2 William IV., cap. 76, it is also provided that if it is suffered to expire, or repealed, the right of the City to all their former dues and privileges shall revive. Your Committee have no hesitation in saying that it should be most inexpedient to allow this to happen, as from the evidence which they have received they are satisfied that the system of selling coals by weight is better than that of selling them by measure, and likewise that the dues now exacted are less burdensome and vexatious to the public than various charges which were before levied under the authority of the City.I have already alluded to the Committee of 1866, which, by a majority of only one, adopted the clause of Lord John Manners to continue the dues for another seven years. But there is another, a Royal Commission that sat in 1854, composed of the late Mr. Labouchere, Sir G. Cornewall Lewis, and Sir John Patteson, and that Commission expressed a strong opinion entirely opposed to the continuance of the City Dues. We have during the last few years had this question continually brought under the notice of Ministers. I have here a letter from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian to Sir J. McGarel Hogg, in which he says:—You are quite right in reminding me that the time has arrived when the Metropolitan Board of Works may justly expect from the Government a definitive statement of their intentions with reference to the proposal to liberate certain bridges from toll by pledging for a further period the Coal and Wine Duties, so as to make their collection at a comparatively remote date available as a basis for a present loan. The Government has shared the desire of the Board to liberate the bridges, but has also felt more strongly than the Board that there are grave objections to the proposed method of providing the money. At the time of our former communications we took into view the possibility, though we could give no-pledge on the subject, that we would be enabled, in dealing with the subject of local taxation, to, open some new source of supply, and thus to put the Board in a position to attain its end without encountering these grave objections, and the resistance in which they might take form. But we have been obliged to abandon all hopes of the kind in reference to the present year, and if the House definitely adopts. by vote the leading propositions of the Budget, it will determine its own attitude in the same sense. I am obliged, however, to say that, reluctant as we are to postpone the consideration of a design so useful as the liberation of the bridges, we could not be parties to the proposals made by the Board, and we perceive no 717 other course that can be taken than the adjournment of the subject until means can be found for the extinction of the tolls in some manner less open to objection, and less likely to provoke resistance.Then I have another letter to Sir James McGarel Hogg, in 1875, from the late Lord Iddesleigh, then Sir Stafford Northcote, in which he says—Numerous representations have been made to us by individuals and by Corporations liable to pay the Coal and Wine Dues, but not included within the area of the Metropolitan Board, to the effect that they will derive no benefit from the contemplated expenditure; that the extension of the Coal Duty will affect them injuriously; and that, not being represented on the Board, they have no means of protecting themselves against proposals for increased taxation.In a letter in 1879, Sir Stafford Northcote said:—I regret to say that I do not find myself able to agree to the proposal, and feel still, as I felt when a similar request was made to me in 1875, that there is much objection to anticipating by so many years a decision which should be taken by the Government and the Legislature when the time of the expiry of the present term is near at hand; and I do not think now, as I did not think then, that the circumstances of the case are sufficient to obviate that objection.The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, in a speech he made in this House on the London Government Bill, said:—During that time (my earliest experiences as a Cabinet Minister) the noble scheme of the Embankment was projected, and the Government desired its execution, but they saw no means of providing the funds, except by the prolongation of the Wine and Coal Dues, and they would not take up the scheme because, in the opinion of the Conservative Government, the operation of those dues was intolerable.I hold in my hand another document which has been brought before the House, and I will only allude to it shortly. It is a Treasury Minute which has been circulated amongst Members, and it depreciates the renewal of these dues. It is signed by the Chairman of Ways and Means. Then, Sir, there is the very celebrated memorandum of the noble Lord the Member for Paddington, in which he says:—Of course you cannot deny that there are objections to a tax of this kind of a very formidable nature. It is, in the first place, a tax on a necessary of life, and not only is it a tax on a necessary of life, thereby involving principles of taxation which we in this country have long sought to get rid of, but it is a very high tax.718 Later on the noble Lord says:—I think you will agree with me that for a tax of that kind, before a responsible Government can make itself a party to asking Parliament to renew such a tax, it is necessary that you should place that Government in a position to show a case for expenditure which you mean to meet by the resources of this tax of overwhelming urgency, or you must show that the morn legitimate resources of taxation are either not available or have been exhausted.Then the noble Lord goes on to comment on the very insidious nature of the tax. He says:—You are able by means of these duties to undertake colossal enterprises, to borrow money with a right heart, to pay the interest on the money which you borrow easily, but the capital which you borrow thus easily is charged on the rates.Still further on he says:—I would point out that, without any doubt whatever, an equal rate upon property for public objects is far less objectionable for the purpose of raising money than a tax upon a necessary of life. So much less objectionable is it, that I know of no objection which can be brought against an equal rate upon property or public objects, and I know of no objection which cannot be brought against a tax on a necessary of life.I think I have made out my case. I have shown that the history of the tax is one which points very strongly to an early termination of the tax I have shown how very unequal and unjust is the incidence of the tax, and I have shown that the only Committee who, having seriously considered the question, passed a clause at all in favour of the continuance of the dues, was one in which Lord John Manners moved that the tax should only be continued for a limited period, that it was with the consent of Lord John Manners that the tax was only continued for seven years, and that the seven years should end in the year with which I have now the honour of addressing the House. The object of my Bill is to prevent the London Corporation by a side wind imposing dues of a prejudicial and obsolete character upon the industries of the Metropolis, and upon the poor of the Metropolis, in double proportion. to the rich. Whilst I am quite ready to hear anything the Corporation have to say for themselves I think the day has come when Parliament should pass this Bill, the Second Reading of which I now beg to move. 719 Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir J. Pease.)
§ * SIR R. N. FOWLER (London)
I am anxious to say a few words with regard to the position which the Corporation of the City take upon this subject. I do not propose to move the rejection of the Bill, but to support the Motion which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Baumann). I do not think it is necessary to follow the hon. Baronet (Sir. J. Pease) into the history of these dues, but it is right I should point out that the Bill comes before us as a measure which is entirely supported by the colliery interest. The Bill is a Durham Bill, and it comes before the House because it will be a great advantage to that district if the Coal Dues cease. This has been shown by the petition presented by my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Wharton), the Chairman of the Durham County Council. I have, however, to look at this question as it affects the interests of the Metropolis. The Corporation have always taken one line on the subject of the dues, which they consider are of great advantage to the Metropolis, although the County Council seems to take a rather different view. The Corporation believe that the large majority of the people of the Metropolis, as represented by their Members in the House of Commons, take the same view as we do, and we are not, therefore, prepared to dissociate ourselves from those representatives. I do not think it would be disputed that there will be a large increase in the rates if the dues are abolished. Let me give some statistics to show that there has already been a rise in rates owing to the approaching cessation of the tax. I find that in the present half-year there is an increase in Bow (St. Mary, Stratford) of 2d.; Islington (St. Mary), ¾d.; Limehouse (St. Ann), 2d.; Hampstead (St. John), 3d.; Hackney (St. John), 7d.; Shoreditch (St. Leonard), 1d.; St. Pancras, 5d.; St. Giles-in-the-Fields, 6d.; St. Martins-in-the-Fields, 3d.; St. James's, Westminster, 2d.; Southwark (Christchurch), 6½d.; Putney, 8d.; Wandsworth, 9d.; Camberwell, 5d.; Newington, 1d.; St. George, Hanover Square, 4½d.; St. Luke, Middlesex, 4½d.; Whitechapel, increase not known; St. 720 Margaret and St. John, Westminster, 1d.; Lambeth, 10d.; St. John, Horsley-down, 3d.; and St. Mary, Battersea, 5½d.
§ MR. STUART
Will the right hon. Baronet say how much the increase is due to the cessation of the Coal Dues?
§ * SIR R. N. FOWLER
The hon. Member knows that the dues are about to expire, and the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Pease has stated that his own rates have been raised.
§ * SIR R. N. FOWLER
The hon. Member will have an opportunity of answering me. Now, the ratable value of the Metropolitan area, including the City, last year was nearly £31,000,000. A rate of 3¾d. on this amount—making allowance for empty houses and cost of collection—would produce £435,750. The Coal Dues produced last year £450,000 It will therefore be seen what rate would be required to make up for the loss which would be experienced by the cessation of the Coal Dues. We have heard a good many pathetic appeals with regard to the price which is paid for coal. Let us look at the case of a householder occupying a house rated at £150 a year, and burning 72,000 ft. of gas and 20 tons of coal per annum. One penny per 1,000 ft. saved on the gas amounts to 6s., and 1s. 1d. a ton on the coal amounts to £1 1s. 8d.—a total saving of £1 7s. 8d. An additional rate of 3¾d. on his house amounts to £2 6s. 10d., showing a loss to him by the abolition of the dues of 19s. 2d. A householder rated at £50 a year and consuming 25,000 ft. of gas and eight tons of coal would suffer a loss of 4s. 10½d. It is said that the abolition of the dues will bring about a reduction in the price of gas. We know that the gas companies are exceedingly anxious that the Bill should pass. Of the whole amount of the present duty the gas companies together pay about £125,000 annually, or a little over one quarter, but their payment of this duty is taken into consideration when under their different Acts their sliding scale of dividend is made to depend upon the particular scale of charges as fixed by those Acts, so that before this Bill can become law it will be necessary to revise those scales. This is a point which deserves the consideration of the House. It must be obvious 721 that a large increase of rates must follow the abolition of the dues, and hon. Members who have advocated the cessation of the tax will have that increase thrown in their faces when they come to solicit re-election. My hon. Friend freely admitted the great benefits conferred on the Metropolis in consequence of the employment, both by the Corporation of the City and the Metropolitan Board of Works, of the money acquired from these dues. Whatever may be said of some individual members of the old Board of Works — whose conduct we all very much deprecate —there can be no doubt that improvements which did great credit to the Board have been carried out by that body. The Corporation of the City have, with money derived from the dues, also carried out great improvements, including the construction of the Holborn Viaduct. The Corporation were encouraged by a former Parliament to make the improvement at Holborn, and a hope was held out that these dues might be renewed for the purpose of enabling them to make it. The Corporation have, I think, a claim to the consideration of the House if all these dues are to be suddenly cut off, if ancient rights are to be disturbed, and if we are not to be allowed to carry on great improvements in reliance upon an ancient source of revenue. We do not see why we should give up any of the rights we possess, especially considering the admirable manner in which the money derived from this source of revenue has been employed by us.
§ * MR. JOICEY (Durham, Chester-le-Street)
I think it is scarcely necessary for me to go over the ground which has been so well occupied by my hon. Friend the Member for the Bernard Castle Division of the County of Durham (Sir J. Pease). I think that his arguments are unanswerable, and I wait with great interest to hear what hon. Members who are opposed to this Bill have to say in reply to the very strong case he has presented to the House. I listened somewhat with surprise to the accusation which has been made against my hon. Friend by the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir R. Fowler)—namely, that this Bill has been promoted in the interests of the Durham coalowners. I think that, at all events, whatever 722 may be said by other representatives of the House, certainly the hon. Baronet is not the man to make a charge of that kind. Whom does he represent? He represents the City of London, which, at the present time, receives something like a third of the whole of the Coal Dues, and that one third is received entirely in the interest of one square mile out of the 700 over which the tax is collected. The right hon. Baronet said there would be an increase of taxation to the extent of 4d. in the £ if these dues wore abolished. I am rather surprised that he has not been better advised by his hon. Friends in this House and out of it who were members of the Metropolitan Board of Works, for, if I remember rightly, in the Report which was given to this House in 1886 by the Metropolitan Board of Works, it was distinctly stated that if these dues were abolished the increase of the rates over the area where they are collected would be only 2½d. in the £, and if hon. Members will take the trouble to compare the rates paid by London with those paid by other large towns, they will find that London is very much less rated than such towns as Birmingham, Newcastle, and many other large towns, which have, by means of their ordinary rating powers, made all the improvements that they thought they ought to make. We do not object in the slightest degree to the improvements which have been referred to by the hon. Baronet. We believe the improvements will not cease, but that they will continue even if these dues are abolished. What we maintain is, that the very poorest people in this Metropolis should not bear a very unfair proportion of the taxation in order to make these improvements. Then the hon. Baronet stated that we certainly had the support of the gas companies, but he is evidently not aware of the statements that have been made by those representing the gas companies. I have a letter in my possession from the Chairman of the North Metropolitan Gas Company, who ought to be no mean authority on this question, in which he says—and he made the same statement at one of the half-yearly meetings of the company—that the South Metropolitan Gas Company is prepared to give the whole advantage of the remission of this taxation to the consumers of its gas. 723 The hon. Baronet knows perfectly well that there is an arrangement in the shape of a sliding scale, and that if the gas is reduced 2d. per thousand feet the companies are empowered to pay a small additional percentage. The Chairman of the South Metropolitan Company makes it perfectly clear that they will give the whole benefit to the consumers of gas, and that they will not increase their dividend under any circumstances owing to a remission of this taxation. There is one point which I think is a strong argument in favour of this Bill which was not put by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnard Castle. We all admit that there is a great inequality in connection with this tax, but what I maintain is that if these City Dues are abolished and the old tax of eight pence per ton is substituted by the Corporation it will create even greater inequalities than exist at the present time. In the first place this tax will be paid almost entirely by the seaborne coal, and I think it is not fair that the North Country coal-producing districts should be handicapped to the extent of eightpence a ton. But there is another point worthy of consideration. At present this taxation is levied on a particular area surrounding the City of London where this coal is sold, but there is in existence a drawback which every coal merchant gets if the coal goes beyond this area. For instance, if it goes, as at present, in large quantities to such towns as Tunbridge Wells, Romford, and various other large towns surrounding the particular area, a drawback of one shilling per ton is allowed. This Bill is intended to prevent people who have no representation whatever, and yet who live beyond the area of the present taxation, from having a fresh tax of eight pence a ton inflicted upon them. Again, all the large steamship companies which coal in London have at the present time a drawback of a shilling a ton on the coals they take, but if this power is continued to the Corporation without the abolition of the dues this drawback will be withheld, and consequently all the coals which are reported, and all the coals which are used by these large steamship companies will be obliged to pay a tax of eightpence a ton more than they are accustomed-to pay. Consequently there will be an actual increase of taxation 724 if this Bill is not passed, and I for one have the very strongest objection to it. I know there are some who say that it is all in the interest of the coalowners who supply London. Anyone who knows really how the coal trade is carried on knows that a man who sells coal in London not only puts down the cost of the coal, but takes into consideration the freight and the City Dues. I should like to see the large coalowner who, in the event of this 1s. 1d. being swept away would dare to make an attempt to put on 1s. 1d. a ton and put it in his own pocket. What would be the result? The competition of his neighbours is so severe that he could never secure a contract. I know also that many say the consumers do not pay the tax. There is one very simple illustration which will put this clearly before the House; suppose a ship is being loaded, every ton that goes into that ship increases her displacement in the water. In my opinion exactly the same holds good with regard to taxation, and if you put a penny in the shape of taxation on any article which is consumed in London, I maintain that that penny will not be paid by those who have to sell, but by the actual consumer. One cannot impress too strongly on the House in dealing with this question, the disadvantages which arise to large as well as small consumers of coal. I remember being present when a deputation waited, I think, on the Chancellor of the Exchequer in regard to this question, and I was particularly struck with the statement made by one of the largest sugar refiners. He said that the tax to him represented something like £2,000 a year. When we find Gentlemen opposite going through London and urging upon Her Majesty's Government to press forward the Sugar Convention Bill, and giving as one of their great reasons for it, the competition caused by bounty-fed sugar to sugar refiners. I am rather surprised they should be found speaking in favour of continuing a tax which represents something like £2,000 per annum to one sugar refiner alone. We have seen in London one large industry after another disappear. Why? Simply because we find that the competition in other parts of the country is greater. At one time you had a large number of important shipbuilding yards upon the 725 Thames. What has become of them? They have been cut out because other yards on the Tyne and the Clyde can produce cheaper. The yards on the Thames have not only to pay an additional price in freight upon every ton of coal they consume, but you actually put a tax on their coal of 1s. 1d. additional. Undoubtedly, to look at this it is a disadvantage to the shipbuilders, but the real pinch comes upon those who are employed by the shipbuilders. It is the poor of the Metropolis who suffer from this unjust tax. [Cries of "No!"] Well, I am willing to hear a refutation from those who dispute that statement, but I think they will have some difficulty in making good their case to the satisfaction of the country, and apart from any interest such as that which the hon. Baronet (Sir R. Fowler) has in view, I am certain of this, that unless this tax is abolished a great injustice will be continued, not only upon manufacturers, but upon all those whom manufacturers employ. We are often reminded of the great amount of distress in the East End of London in consequence of their being a lack of employment; but how are you to expect that a capitalist will invest his capital in factories within an area where he has to pay an additional tax of 1s. 1d. on his coals, when he can go o the Tyne or anywhere outside the boundary of the tax and there establish his works. Of course, you cannot blame the capitalist or the manufacturer, but it tells severely against the great mass of the population at the East End who cannot find employment. These imposts are swept away elsewhere, and it is only in the Metropolis that they survive to any extent.
* MR. R. G. WEBSTER
I rise to a point of order—[Order, order!] The hon. Member states that in no other part of the country—[Order, order!]—
§ * MR. JOICEY
I will not say there is not a similar instance here and there, in such places as Brighton, where the duty still exists.
§ * MR. JOICEY
If there are so many, then the sooner the 200 are disposed of the better. I think you are just as much entitled to put a tax upon 726 the food consumed by the people as you are upon the coal consumed by the poor, for coal is almost as much a necessity of existence as food. The same arguments that hold good for the support of this tax would apply to a protective duty on grain, but I should like to see the hon. Gentleman who will get up and advocate a tax of that kind, however much in the agricultural interest they would be disposed to look favourably on such a suggestion. I need not detain the House further; there are others probably who will debate this question with more force. I have put one or two facts before the House in opposition to this tax, and in support of my argument that it is an unjust tax, that it is against the interest of the poor in London, that it is an unfair burden upon an industry in which Durham is interested, and the only way in which Durham is interested, is that the cheaper an article, the larger the consumption. That is the only interest the Durham coal trade has in the subject. I challenge hon. Gentlemen who are interested in the Metropolis to show how else we are affected. I am opposed to these duties as to a relic of an old time system that ought to be swept away, because it represents a burden that falls upon shoulders least capable of bearing it. How many tons of coal do myself and gentlemen in our position consume in London? We have to stay in London for a limited time. We take a house for three or four months during the Session of Parliament, when it is practically summer, and we consume little or no coal, and we save our taxes. It is the poor who always live in London who suffer most. I hope the House will distinctly say, that they, under no circumstances, will allow this duty of eightpence to be revived. I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill of my hon. Friend.
§ MR. BAUMANN (Camberwell, Peckham)
I move the Amendment of which I have given notice as a compromise between the immediate abolition and the indefinite retention of the Coal Dues, and I propose that these dues should be continued for a limited period. The effect of carrying my Amendment would undoubtedly be to defeat the Bill, and it would also bind the House, so far as the House can be bound by its own Resolution, to pass another measure this 727 Session continuing the existing dues for a limited period, and I presume, after such a declaration by the House, Her Majesty's Government would afford facilities for the passage of such a Bill. But my Amendment is so framed that even the supporters of this Bill can accept its substance. If the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Pease) or any of his friends will give us an undertaking that they will alter the date of the preamble and first clause to 1890 or 1891, and if they will agree to accept a clause for continuing the Coal Duty at thirteen pence a ton for a limited period of one or two years, then I will not press my Amendment, but otherwise I shall take the sense of the House upon it. The hon. Baronet and his friends are mistaken if they think this is merely a duty of 8d. on sea-borne coal. That is not our reading of the Charter or the Acts of 1831 and 1845. The Corporation is entitled to levy this eightpenny duty on all coals brought into the port of London by the Grand Junction Canal, and down the river, or by the Great Western or South Western or Great Eastern Railways, and this is a point the Corporation will fight if necessary in a Court of Law. But I speak rather on behalf of the Metropolis than of the Corporation, and my Amendment is necessary to afford opportunity for deliberation. It is necessary and just that this opportunity should be given, for though the abolitionists have had the opportunity of laying their views before the public, we who are in favour of continuing the duty have not had such an opportunity. Though we are within a few weeks of the cessation of an income of nearly half a million, the 61 Metropolitan representatives, have never had a fair opportunity to argue out the facts and figures. Again and again we have asked for an opportunity to introduce a Bill to continue these duties, but, with scant consideration for 61 of their own supporters, the Government have refused such facilities. Last year we were told to wait for the election of the County Council, and now that we have a County Council it has pronounced against a Continuance Bill. Yes, but they passed this hasty Resolution within a few weeks of their election in the morning flush of passion and without examining the financial position of the Metropolis, and, I be- 728 lieve that resolution is condemned by the wiser and more moderate spirits on the Council. But the County Council is not the only representative body in London. We largely represent the ratepayers, and it is the cause of the ratepayers I plead. Certainly, if we wished to pursue a Machiavellian policy towards the County Council; if we wanted to enjoy the malign and infernal satisfaction of seeing the rates go up and the County Council go down, we have nothing to do but to sit still and watch the final deliverance of our political opponents, and the vengeance of our constituents. But we have another duty towards the rate payers of London. The Coal Duty produced last year £450,000, and that is equivalent to a rate of between 3¾d. and 4d. in the £. This source of income being cut off must be made up, because it is not merely a question of stopping all public improvements in London, it is a question also of meeting debt charges amounting to over a million a year. To do the County Council justice, they do not pretend to do without it. They have boldly added to the rates; demand notes have descended upon us as described by the hon. Baronet (Sir R. Fowler).
§ MR. BAUMANN
The rate in the £, high as it is, is advancing by leaps and bounds. In the parish of Camberwell, which I represent, rates have gone up 5d. in the pound. That is a fact that neither he nor the hon. Member for Dundee can explain away. The Metropolitan Board of Works may have been corrupt, but it was cheap, and the County Council may be virtuous, but it is expensive. We have to pay a very pretty price for our municipal work. There are two statements with regard to London Coal Dues with which I should like, with the permission of the House, to deal. I have heard it stated, not only by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester-le-Street, but also on the authority of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, that, after all, London is not so highly rated as many provincial towns, and that, therefore, we might bear an addition to our rates to get rid of a tax on Coal. I have heard it said that the poor do not pay rates at all, that they are compounded for, but that they do 729 buy gas and coal, and that therefore they will not feel an increase of the rates, but will benefit by the cheapening of gas and coal. With these two statements I should like to deal. It may be true that London is not so highly rated as many provincial towns, though I think that a rate of 6s. 4d., which is the rate of Camberwell, is pretty high. Still, it may be true that other towns are more highly rated. But London is the most highly rented town in the country, and when you are asking the ratepayer to suffer an addition to his rates, you must never leave out of your calculation the amount of his rent. We know that in London the artizan and clerk pays as much as one-fifth of his income in rent. A clerk who earns £150 a year pays £30 a year for his house, and an artizan who earns from 20s. to 30s. a week pays from 4s. to 6s. a week in rent. Now, I should like to ask the House to consider the case of the man who pays £30 a year rent for his house. I want to point out what such a ratepayer will lose by the abolition of these duties. A man occupying a house rated at £30 a year and consuming five tons of coal, will save 1s. 1d. per ton or 5s. 5d. on his coal, and supposing he saves a penny per thousand feet on his gas and consumes 18,000 feet, he will save 1s. 6d. on his gas bill, or a total of 6s. 11d. But 4d. in the £ added on to his rates at £30 means 10s. a year, leaving a net loss to him of 3s. 1d. in the year. But I wish to descend to the case of the very poor, on whose behalf we heard some very eloquent pleading from the other side of the House. It is for the benefit of the very poor, we are told, that these duties are to be abolished, and the very poor are to get their gas and their coals cheaper. Unfortunately, those impetuous philanthropists who plead for the very poor do not always take the precaution to acquaint themselves with the details of the lives of these people. Now, Sir, as everybody knows in the Metropolis the very poor do not burn gas at all, but use mineral oil, and, as to coal, they have no place in which to keep any large quantity, even if they had the money to buy it, which they have not, and they consequently buy it in very small quantities. The artizan buys coal by the cwt. or half cwt., and the very poor by the pennyworth; and the benefit of 730 the abolition of the duty in their case will hardly be felt. But the poor will feel the addition to the rents of their rooms which will inevitably follow upon a rise in the rates. Again, if the whole duty of 1s. 1d. per ton is to go into the pocket of the consumer, it is a little remarkable that the coalowners and the coal merchants are so very keen about its abolition. Ex pede Herculem. We know the size of the coal merchant's foot well enough when we see it. It is an ascertained fact in economical history that when once the market price of a commodity has been established, although the imposition of a new duty invariably increases the price, the abolition of an existing duty does not diminish it; and I confidently predict that the coalowner and the coal merchant will divide this 1d. 1d. per ton between them and leave the ordinary consumer to whistle for his return. I, however, only propose that these duties shall be continued for a limited period until the County Council has found something to put in their place other than rates. The history of the application of these duties is the history of the making of modern London under the guidance and direction of this House. By means of the imperceptible burden which they entail, the bridges have been freed from tolls, the River Thames has been purified and embanked, rookeries have been cleared away, and new noble thoroughfares made, and open spaces secured for the recreation of the people. I only ask for time that the dues may be continued for one or two years until the County Council completes the valuation of London in which it is engaged. The County Council is in a difficult position, and it is a course wholly without precedent to ask for the summary abolition of the Corporation's chartered right to receive this money. I see no reason why the interests of the Metropolis should be sacrificed to those of the coalowners of Durham or to the scruples of a few financial prudes. I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name.
Amendment proposed,To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the question, in order to add the words "having regard to the increased rate which the London County Council has found it necessary to levy upon the Metropolis, it is expedient to continue the Coal Dues for a limited period, 731 until the Council has had an opportunity of thoroughly investigating the liabilities it has taken over from the Metropolitan Board of Works and the resources of the Metropolis."—(Mr. Baumann).Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question.
§ * MR. R. G. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, East)
It affords me much pleasure to second the Amendment which has been so ably proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham. I do so because I believe that if the Amendment is carried and time is afforded the County Council to look around and see in what way it can raise this sum, it will be to the advantage of the ratepayers whom I, in common with every other Metropolitan Member, represent more or less in this House. It is not my purpose to follow the hon. Baronet, who, in introducing his Bill, gave us a very lengthy, and, at the same time I must acknowledge, a very interesting and admirable history of the manner in which these dues first came to be levied, and the purpose for which they were spent. It will suffice me to say that as he brought the history of these dues up to the present day and referred to the fact that of the total amount—1s. 1d.—there is allocated, 9d. to the County Council, and 4d. to the City of London, I am fully entitled to refer to matters relating not only to the City of London, but also to the County Council of London. The hon. Baronet made a strong point that coal is now a primary necessity to all the working classes of London. I would ask the hon. Gentleman, are not dwellings—is not the occupation of houses—in a climate such as that of England, an equal necessity to that of the use of coal? In the summer months, except probably to cook his food, the working man in London has no necessity for fire at all, and I am credibly informed that in many instances seven or eight working men join together and only have one fire to cook their food. It is said that the shipbuilding trade has left London. No doubt that is so, but what is the reason that the trade has left London? It has not been on account of the Coal Dues, which only amount to 1s. or 1s. 1d. per ton, but the shipbuilding trade has gone to some extent on account of strikes, but mainly from the fact that London is not near the coal pits or the iron- 732 making districts. London can never compete with Newcastle in the shipbuilding industry from the fact that we have to pay 10s. per ton for the carriage of our coal, where they pay only 1s. or 2s. for bringing the coal to the smelting furnaces from the pit's mouth. The hon. Member appealed to the fact that the Chamber of Commerce of London decided against the Coal Dues; but hon. Gentlemen opposite whenever they have an opportunity of using it in their favour, always make the most of any resolution passed by a Chamber of Commerce, and do not like the resolutions of those bodies when they do not accord with their own views. The hon. Gentleman must be aware that large numbers of Chambers of Commerce in this country have decided that Fair Trade is a good thing, and if the hon. Gentleman accepts the one, he must accept the other. Then the hon. Member referred to the fact that the blacksmith in the country round London has to pay a large sum for his coals. No doubt that is so, and on account of the Coal and Wine Dues; but I would remind the hon. Member that there are many industries and callings besides blacksmiths in the contiguity of London. The hon. Gentleman the Member for West St. Pancras, I take it, from the way in which he received the remarks of the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London, rather denied that there has been an increase in the rates in London. Well, I will only give him one instance. In the parish of which he represents part and I represent part the present half-yearly assessment is 2s. 8d., and this time last year it was 2s. 3d.—an absolute increase of 5d. on the rates of that particular parish. Having said so much on that point, I will try for a moment to clear from extraneous matter all the arguments that have been adduced. The question is this: are we to raise a sum of about half a million of money to pay for the past, present, or future improvements in London, by means of these Coal and Wines Dues, or are we to raise it by some other means? The people of London have in the last two or three decades declared that we must have a good sewage system, embankments to our noble river (the Thames), increased open spaces, the bridges free, new thoroughfares, such as Queen 733 Victoria Street, the Holborn Viaduct, the Northumberland Avenue, the Clerkenwell Road, Shaftesbury Avenue, Charing Cross Road, and many others I could mention, many new bridges, the old bridges restored, and an efficient fire brigade. Parliament has sanctioned all these improvements, and in some instances, such as the Thames Embankment and the main drainage system, has practically initiated them. As it was manifestly unfair that one generation of ratepayers in London should pay for these improvements, it was decided by Parliament that the money should be borrowed for a term of 60 years, repayable, with interest, one-sixtieth yearly; and that has been the case since 1856. Well, whilst the cost of these great and important improvements has been £27,000,000 since 1856, the net debt taken over by the County Council amounts only to about £17,000,000, that is to say, that the value of the work done is £10,000,000 more than the amount of debt that has to be paid. But, then, in the Memorandum signed by the hon. Member for Sunderland and others, they say that the matter is completely closed and that all this work is done. No doubt the majority of these works are done. but they have not been paid for, and, as showing how the old body charged with the Government of London was thought of as administrators of the finances of the Metropolis, I would point out that whilst in 1869 the 3½ per cent loan could only get £94 14s. in the open market, in 1886 a 3 per cent loan was raised at £99 12s. 2d., and I have no doubt that, owing to the fact that money has risen in value you could raise a loan at 3 per cent for the Metropolitan improvements at about £105. I cannot but think of what has been said by Mr. Fardell, who represents Paddington on the London County Council. This Gentleman, who is a strong advocate of the renewal of the Coal and Wine Duties, states:In my opinion a mistake was made in 1865, when the proceeds of the dues were carried to revenue, and I think that the Board would have done better if it had dealt with them all along in the same manner. It no doubt practically comes to the same thing in the end, so far as the ratepayers are concerned, but it would have disabused the public mind if the belief that the dues had 734 been used to pay interest on loans raised without thought, the principal of which will fall upon the shoulders of the ratepayers if the Coal and Wine Dues are abolished. The ratepayers have had value for their money, and it must be borne in mind that large as our debt may seem, it has been incurred with the sanction of Parliament,and ratified by all the vestries of the Metropolis. I would point out that large as the debt of London is at the present time, it does not compare unfavourably, pro ratâ, with the debts incurred by other large centres in the country. Taking the Census of 1881, in the year 1885—excluding debts owed in respect of the acquisition of gas or water undertakings as in London we have not yet taken over the one or the other—I find in London the net debt was £7 17s. 3d. per head, whilst in Liverpool it was £6 8s. 7d., in Birmingham £9 3s. 9d., in Manchester £8 15s. 6d., and in Leeds £6 7s. 7d. And now I will only refer to one or two reasons why I think these Coal and Wine Dues should be renewed. These dues have been very little felt; they are equitable in their incidence. The rich man who has probably 20 or 30 fires burning in his mansion in London pays, pro ratâ, his proportion, and the poor man who has only a solitary fire pays his proportion. We are told that the poor man would have a saving in gas if these dues were abolished, but it has been already pointed out that the poor man in London, as a matter of fact, does not use gas for lighting his house, but uses paraffin oil. He buys his coal in such very infinitesimal quantities, probably not a cwt. at a time, that he would not, in my opinion, receive any advantage from this remission of taxation. I would also point out that by means of these Coal and Wine Dues great advantage has been done to the working man in the Metropolis by the acquisition of open spaces. Only last year Resolutions were carried in favour of the extension of Hampstead Heath and the purchase of Parliament Fields. The freeing of the bridges has been of great advantage to the working man. He can take his labour to and fro from one side of the river to the other without paying a toll. And the freeing of the bridges has also been of great advantage to manufacturers and merchants in London. I sincerely trust the County Council will go on with the 735 Blackwall Tunnel, the effect of which, if ever constructed, will be to bring together populations larger than those of Birmingham, Liverpool, and Manchester combined. It will save many a poor man from the necessity of paying a toll to get ferried to and from his work. It was found amongst 7,000 or 8,000 working men engaged on the construction of the Victoria Embankment that, on an average, they only used two tons of coal a year. And if the Bill were obtained, the whole of the money would go into the pockets of the coal owners, and not into the pockets of the working men. I think it is desirable that the future improvements and embellishments of the Metropolis should be carried out as hitherto, and I venture to say that if these coal dues are not renewed, the County Council, which is opposed to them, will not be in such a position to carry out improvements as it might have otherwise been. My hon. Friends propose to substitute for the exact dues, neither more nor less than a tax in some shape or other on buildings. The hon. Member for West St. Pancras will probably refer to a tax on ground rents; but does he imagine that by any scheme he can devise, or this House can pass, the tax will not sooner or later come upon the occupier? It may be that sooner or later we will have a House Court for London, in the same way as they have Land Courts in Ireland, to fix fair rents for houses. But such a scheme would be entirely unworkable, for to interfere with the law of supply and demand would unquestionably be productive of a deal of harm, that would unsettle men's minds. The Coal and Wine Dues have been of very great benefit to London, and if they are done away with, those who will derive the benefit will be the rich coal owners, wealthy proprietors, and rich gas companies, who will make £70,000 or £80,000 a year. I received a letter from a clergyman of St. Pancras this morning, pointing out how high the rents are in London, and I maintain that if a tax is substituted for the Coal Dues it will fall sooner or later upon the occupier of the house, and even down to the lodger. The clergyman writes:—The average rent of a single room is 3s.6d.; of two rooms 5s. 6d.; and of three rooms 8s. You may take this as rather understated, as I have 736 a natural horror of overstatement. A man thinks himself decidedly lucky if he gets anything decent at that price—of course, unfurnished; and, perhaps, I may add that in giving you this average I have only brought it down as low by including all underground—that is, basement apartments back and front, tolerably good rooms, let much dearer. Thus my mission woman pays 4s. 6d. a week for a single back room. My Scripture reader pays 6s. a week for a single front room, rather larger than usual.If the working classes in London at the present time have to pay such enormous rents, it is manifestly unfair that these Coal Dues should be abolished, for the result will undoubtedly be that they will have to pay an increased rent, because the tax on ground rents would sooner or later fall upon the occupiers, and even upon the lodgers. Sir, I contend this, and though probably my hon. Friend the Member for West St. Pancras will traverse the statement—that if 2,000 individuals were taken from any part of the register for the division which he represents, and 2,000 were taken from any part of the register for the division which I represent, and those individuals were asked whether they would like the Coal Dues renewed, or whether they would prefer 3d. or 4d. extra on the rates, it would be found that three out of four would express themselves in favour of continuing the Coal Dues. The Local Authority in the borough of St. Pancras considered the question of the renewal of the Dues, and 38 voted for the renewal and eight against. I venture to say that would have been the feeling of the constituents had they been polled right throughout. I would like also to point out that these dues bring in the sum of £450,000 a year, and that their abolition would lead to very little reduction of the price of coal. In 1883 a letter was written by the then Comsioners of Her Majesty's Treasury, in which the following occurred:—My Lords cannot overlook the growing impatience of the public under an increase of rates.And the Members who now sit on the County Council will be unable in 2½ years' time to overlook the growing impatience of the inhabitants of London if the increase of rates goes on. My hon. Friend jocosely said, "Are we to have purity and high rates?" and by inference referred in the opposite sense to a non-existent body, and said we had 737 lower rates when they existed. It appears to me that if hon. Gentlemen will take the trouble to read the Report of the Commissioners in that matter, they will find that, with the exception of two men, one of whom was, by the way, on three occasions a candidate for this House in the Gladstonian interest, the whole of that Board went through the whole of that inquiry in the way honourable men should go through any inquiry. I know that hon. Gentlemen opposite are wholly in favour of direct taxation, which means taxation in some shape or other on land. But there are many districts in this country which would not pay rent at all if there were a heavy tax upon the land. I has been said that it would be best to have two forms of taxation—direct and a few words on behalf of the London indirect. The Chancellor of the Ex-chequer, in bringing in his Budget this year, referred to the fact that it was desirable to have more means of taxation, and not to have all our eggs in one basket. If that be so, why should he abolish these Coal Dues; why should adopt one form of taxation when we have two? Hon. Gentlemen are aware of the fact that there are 61 Members for the Metropolis, at least two-thirds of them have stated views in favour of the renewal of the Coal and Wine Dues, and out of the 61, I believe, I am right in saying that from 40 to 45 are opposed to the increase in rates which will undoubtedly be caused if those Coal Dues are abolished, and fail also to understand why if 200 other towns and ports in the United Kingdom are allowed to pay for their local improvements from fund s derived from this means of taxation, London should be differently placed. Why this House only (as I pointed out at the time) passed a Margate Coal Dues Bill this Session, by which that town can levy Coal Dues till 1920, whilst London is not to be allowed to have this means of raising money during the next two years, till the County Council has had time to get thoroughly into harness, and to clearly understand the duties and obligations that body will have to carry out and incur. Much as I respect the County Council which has to do good work in the future, I think their decision on this subject was arrived at hastily. They have pledged themselves to do away with the dues, but they have not 738 told the people that they will have the alternative of paying 3d. or 4d. or 5d. extra rates. I believe that a large number of the members of the Country Council had not an adequate knowledge of the scope of their duties, nor of the important works they had to carry out, and that if they had to carry out, and that if they had an opportunity of reconsidering their vote, many of them would vote differently to what they did on that occasion. In the interests of the ratepayers of London generally, and in those of the Borough of St. Pancras in particularly, I venture to trust the House will assent to the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham, and I beg to second it.
§ * MR. H. L. W. LAWSON (St. Pancras)
I would like to be allowed to say a few words on behalf of the London Liberal Members. The hon. Member for Peckham was good enough to take the County Council under his wing. He said he wished to stand between them and the wrath of the electors because they had passed by a majority of two to one a hasty resolution against a renewal of the Coal and Wine Dues. He said that the subject had not been sufficiently discussed in the Metropolis. I wonder whether he knows that at the County Council election in January last that was one of the main questions before the electors. It was thrashed out on every platform, and I, who went to many platforms in London on the occasion when I fought a contest myself, can vouch that this matter was discussed. The County Council had as guide and adviser no less distinguished man than the Chairman of the Finance Committee. Lord Lingen, as to whose character I can appeal to every Minister who has served at the Treasury for the last 35 years. They do not show the least disposition to rescind the Resolution, and if they had to vote upon the Bill now before the House they would be unanimously in its favour. But this is not a Bill for London. It only affects the City of London. It is to do away with the preposterous claim of this insignificant square mile—one square mile out of 118—to levy a tax of eightpence upon every ton of coals brought into the port of London. Well, the opposition to this Bill comes from the City and from its satellites. I am sorry to say that the Remembrancer to the 739 City has taken upon himself to issue a memorandum which is transparently dishonest, in order to persuade hon. Members to vote against this Bill saying that a rate of 3¾d. in the pound will be imposed upon the ratable value of the whole Metropolis to make up for the loss of the Coal dues; but the Circular does not explain that out of those dues 4d. falls to the City and only 9d. to the rest of the Metropolis. So that the equivalent rate for the Metropolis is only just over 2½d., and the bulk of the money will have to come from the City itself. I do think this is a very undignified whine of poverty that the hon. Baronet has allowed to come from the Corporation, considering that the Bill does not concern in the least the poor ratepayers of London, but exclusively those in the City, who can well afford to bear their just share of public burdens. I object to the course the hon. Baronet has taken as trying to deceive the inhabitants of London. The hon. Baronet (Sir R. Fowler) has grounded his argument on the supposition that the abolition of the coal dues will seriously increase the rates of the Metropolis, and I will endeavour to show that his argument is fallacious. In a demand note issued by the parish of Kensington for the information of the ratepayers, it is stated that—The total rates for the new half-year amount to 2s. 8¼d. in the pound, an abnormally large call, arising not from increased expenditure, but from the following causes:—(a) The call includes the final requisition issued in January (equal to a rate of 2¾d. in the pound), for the quarter ending 31st March, 1889, by the late Metropolitan Board of Works. The Board's previous requisition only covered the year ending 31st December, 1888; (b) It further includes the first half-yearly demand (equal to 8d in the pound) from the London County Council, who have called up seven-twelfths (instead of the usual half) of their total estimates for the year running from 1st April, 1889, to 31st March, 1890; (c) All income has ceased from the Coal and Wine Dues, and thus an additional burden of more than 2½d. in the pound per annum has been thrown on the ratepayers. But for the above causes, the first two of which will, of course, not operate next half year, the total rates would not have been more than usual.It will thus be seen that the hon. Baronet is misleading the House when he produces demand notes from a number of parishes and says: "Here is an increase of 2d. in the £, there one of 1½d.; and there, again, one of 3d." In the first place 740 the charge is uniform. Then these demand notes cover ten months. The County Council was obliged by statute to levy a rate for ten months—three for the Metropolitan Board of Works and seven for itself—instead of six, as has been the rule and practice hitherto. On the other hand, the grant from the Exchequer in respect of local taxation is £255,000; and the hon. Baronet omits the fact that the County Council will have this contribution from the License and Death Duties. Does he know that the consolidated rate of the Metropolitan Board and the county rate are spread over the whole Metropolis? For my part, I think the County Council fortunate in having this increased revenue with which to face the situation. We must remember that to make up for the revenue derived from the lapsed Coal and Wine Duties we have to receive a large sum from the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ * MR. LAWSON
Does anyone doubt this? Why there are £255,000 to come to us, and we lose £320,000, so that less than ½d. rate will meet the total loss accruing from the lapsed dues. It may be that owing to their having to meet a ten months' rate, instead of a six months' rate, the ratepayers may suffer some inconvenience; but that will pass away and they will really suffer no loss; at any rate, this is not an argument for the renewal of the Coal Duties. The latter history of these dues is that of a series renewals, and hon. Members opposing this Bill now propose that we should embark on another renewal, not for the Metropolis—for the proposal does not extend to that—but they do not tell us that the County Council has passed a Resolution against the continuance of the dues. After all we should not forget that they are charged with the ratepayers' interest, that we were elected on local and municipal and not on Imperial issues. The City opposes this Bill because it has made a terrible muddle of its finance, and the hon. Baronet opposite has tried to force the hand of Parliament by references to the works of improvement executed by the City authorities urging that because of the Holborn Viaduct the Coal Dues ought to be renewed. The fact is that the City, having failed to get rid 741 of its obligations at the proper time, finds it will be practically bankrupt if the House refuses this demand. These dues have already been six times renewed in fifty years, and we are told they amount to at least 10 per cent on the amount of coal consumed, sometimes to as much as 40 per cent. I would point out that the well-to-do dweller at the West-End gets off more cheaply than the poor man, because the first pays the tax on a ton of coal at 24s., while the latter pays the same on coal purchased at 10s. or 11s. the ton. But the impost is not only unequal in its incidence on persons; it is also unequal in its incidence on industry. Mr. S. B. Boulton, in a speech to the Chamber of Commerce, said that in his own case he had to pay 4s. 4d. in the pound on the ratable value of his premises in respect to the coal tax, and he went on to say:—This instance applied to a business using 12,000 tons of coal per annum, partly for chemical works and partly for saw mills. He had to compete with foreign countries in the production of railway sleepers, and the coal tax in his case meant that for every 2s. spent upon labour, 1s. was spent upon coal. The competition was so keen that he had been obliged to place orders with saw mills in Riga, as although our coals were cheaper, their labour was cheaper. But the incidence of the tax was not in his case the worst, for another factory paid at the rate of 4s. 5d. in the pound on its rateable value, another 5s. 4½d, and another no less than 7s. 8d. in the pound, there still remained three sugar factories—and if there was one question which tested the strongest free traders more than another, it was that of the sugar industry—one of which paid coal dues to the extent of 13s. in the pound on its assessment, and another 17s. 6d. in the pound, whilst the third had gone down beneath the wave of adversity, had had to close its gates, and the labour it had engaged had had to seek other employment.Just as this tax is unfair in its incidence on the manufacturing industry, so is it unequal in its incidence on the different localities. Up to now no proposal has been made to give any portion of the money derived from the tax to that part of the police area outside the Metropolis itself, but it is now suggested to allocate a certain amount of the duty to outside districts in proportion to rateable value. But how is this to be done? Under the Bill of the Junior Member for the City of London (Mr. Baring), in West sum, out of £25,000 the sum of £8,340 will be paid back. This is a specimen of the gross injus- 742 tice to he perpetrated under that Bill, the greatest injustice of all being that in the City they are to have the benefit of 4d.—a third of the whole tax—while the rest of London has only had 9d. The hon. Member for Peckham has said they will not be able to go on with the improvements absolutely needed in the Metropolis unless they look to other sources of revenue; but does not the hon. Gentleman see that the financial position of the Metropolis will be just as it was? As to new sources of revenue, I will not follow the hon. Member for Peckham nor the hon. Member for East St. Pancras (Mr. Webster) into their discussion of the question of rating ground rents and values. I was, however, amused to hear it put as a serious argument that the poor would not benefit by the cheapening of gas because they do not use it. Why, a large proportion of the poor are now housed in great industrial dwellings, in each of which gas is used, and has to be paid for like other charges. Beyond this it seems, if we are to judge from the action of the local bodies, that this movement for the better housing of the people will be extended, and that consequently the consumption of gas among the poorer classes will increase rather than diminish. The prophecy that there will be no reduction of price of light and fuel on account of the abolition of the duty is so puerile that it does not require serious treatment here. The hon. Member for Peckham questioned whether the reduction of duty would be of any benefit to the consumer, and asserted that no such reduction had lowered the price of commodities, instancing the case of bread and sugar. I hope that when the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Buxton) speaks, he will tell us what he thinks of this as an economical proposition. I will now only, in conclusion, impress on the House the fact that the County Council, who have to spend the money, have pronounced against the continuance of the Coal Dues. They discussed this matter with the electors before going to the Guildhall. It seems to me that the charge of confiscation of private rights is one that cannot be seriously argued, especially when we have before us the conclusions come to by the Royal 743 Commission in 1854 to the effect "that the Coal Dues which expire in 1862 should not be renewed" and "that the 4d. now levied on behalf of the City should cease at the same time," and when we remember the right hon. Member for Liskeard's letter on the subject, and that the noble Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord R. Churchill) supports the abolition of the dues, as did Sir Stafford Northcote before him, I contend that this tax is indefensible from every point of view, that it is bad in principle and obsolete in its methods, and that in its effects it is harassing and injurious to the trade and industry of the Metropolis.
§ * THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. MATTHEWS,) Birmingham, East
It appears to me that we are gradually drifting into a debate not upon the subject of the Bill, but upon the general subject of the continuance of statutory Coal Dues. Upon that question the mind of the Government has been expressed more than once. Perhaps one of the strongest philippics ever delivered against the dues was from the noble Lord the Member for Paddington, and although the Government do not associate themselves with all the arguments which the noble Lord used, they do not wish to express dissent from the economic arguments he then laid down. These economic arguments are, of course, strong and easy to be urged. Expressing my own opinion, I might say it has always struck me that the argument that the Coal Dues operate prejudicially to the colliery interests, and to the manufacturers of gas and others, is of greater force than the ad captandum argument that they operate to the prejudice of the poor man. It is obvious that the Coal Dues are paid by the consumer, but the benefit to the smaller consumer by the abolition of the dues would be very infinitesimal, and I believe that the small consumer would feel the imposition of the additional rate, if that became necessary, more severely than the tax on coal. Industry deserves consideration, and the great collieries and manufacturers of gas, and all those manufactories in which coal is an item of consumption, are entitled to urge the arguments they have urged against the dues. But the Government more than 744 once assumed the position that the maintenance or abolition of these dues is purely a local question. If the Metropolis prefers this indirect taxation, or would rather have the burden in the form of direct taxation, that is a matter for the Metropolis itself. Whatever may be the views of the Government as to which is the sound economic theory, they have no desire to depart from their position of neutrality. They are placed in a difficulty by the conflict of authority between two representative bodies — namely, the great majority of the Metropolitan Members and the London County Council—the first desiring, and the other opposing, the continuance of these dues. That makes it difficult to know what the real opinion of the Metropolis is. Possibly a little more discussion and a little more time might enable these conflicting views to be brought more closely together. The absolute theorists below the Gangway will hear of no compromize. The whole of the discussion appears to have been applied rather to the continuance or non-continuance of these statutory dues, which I agree Parliament could abolish it if it thought fit, but which, it must not be forgotten, have nothing to do with the present Bill. The Bill is on a different subject altogether, and cannot affect, one way or the other, the statutory 13d. which has been in operation since 1831. That will die a natural death—not even a violent death like the Metropolitan Board of Works — and no Bill is necessary for its extinction. What the present Bill purports to do is to take away, without injury and without compensation, those suspended rights of the City of London which have always been hitherto kept alive by Act of Parliament. The rights of the City to those old dues rest upon documents which are perfectly clear, and about the meaning of which, as they stood originally at least, there can be no doubt whatever. Those rights rest, first, on immemorial prescription confirmed by charter, and next on the statute of William and Mary. I think the right of "meting" is not of much practical value now, but the City has also an undoubted right to 8d. per weigh, which has never been touched by Parliament, and which Parliament has carefully kept alive.
§ * MR. MATTHEWS
The Act of 1851 did no more than suspend the old rights of the City, and substitute, at first for seven years only, the 13d. duty, which has been continued ever since. The operation of the clauses of that Act will cease immediately on the cessation of the passing of continuing Acts.
§ * SIR J. PEASE
May I point out that under the Coal Sellers Act, the sale has to be made by weight, and the seller must send a weighing machine with his cart?
§ * MR. MATTHEWS
The continuing Act has always found it necessary to postpone not merely the date at which the duty shall cease to be levied, but has always indicated that the clause of the original Act of 1831 shall be applicable to the duties so continued.
§ * MR. MATTHEWS
If the hon. Baronet pleases I will grant that what I have just been saying is a matter of doubt. The hon. Baronet has himself suggested some remarkable and singular doubts. He suggested doubts as to whether the old City prescriptive rights existed at all, but he did not give the House any reasons for those doubts. He said he was advised that the rights conferred by various private Acts on the City had ceased to be operative by reason of the General Statute. Either the hon. Baronet's doubts are well founded, or they are not. If they are well founded his whole Act is useless. If it is doubtful whether those rights do exist, the point the Government take up is that they decline to assent to a Bill which takes away ancient and immemorial prescriptive rights which are certainly exercised for the public benefit—I will not say without compensation, because it might be that the City would ask for compensation—but, at any rate, without ascertaining that wrong would not be done thereby to someone. There is another matter which the hon. Baronet did not touch upon in his exhaustive speech. The matter stands in this position—there is a statutory 4d. which was substituted for the old prescriptive 4d. which the City had a right to charge by Charter. That statutory 4d. has been expressly charged by the City with the Holborn Valley expendi- 746 ture. It seems to me a matter well worthy of the gravest consideration whether as a matter of law—certainly as a matter of equity—that debt does not attach to the statutory 4d. The House ought certainly to inquire, before allowing that 4d. to lapse, whether they are not injuring, not the City, but the creditors of the City, and whether the creditors would not be entitled to fall back on the original right of meting and weighing which the City has by prescription, and for which the statutory 4d. has been temporarily substituted for a period not long enough to discharge the debt for which that statutory 4d. was mortgaged. I think, too, that it must occur to everybody that the position of the City requires some consideration. The City may not always have controlled its finances in the most prudent way, but it has never been sparing in the use of its own money for the benefit not only of the City itself, but of surrounding parts. As regards the Holborn scheme, I must decline to enter into the question whether or not they have done wrong in spending more than the original estimate. They incurred in respect of those works a liability which the statutory 4d. has not been sufficient to discharge, and I am told there is still something like £700,000 due to the creditors of the City in respect of that liability. The City have incurred that heavy charge certainly in the expectation that the expenditure would be met out of the statutory 4d. That having proved insufficient, the City has a claim on the House of Commons with respect to that right, which former Parliaments have scrupulously respected, and the House should not sweep it away without even an attempt to ascertain whether the whole prescriptive right still exists, out of which the City may free itself from the burden which it has incurred for the public benefit.
§ * MR. MATTHEWS
That is extremely good. The hon. Gentleman has private property also, and if he were to incur a liability on the security of some old franchise, as, for instance, the right to collect tolls in a public market, which franchise had been confirmed by Act of Parliament, I think the hon. Member would feel it rather hard if, after he 747 had burdened himself with a debt for the public benefit, that debt should fall on his private purse. Of course the City has private property, although the hon. Gentleman himself told the House that the City without those dues was bankrupt.
§ * MR. MATTHEWS
According to the hon. Member, the City is bankrupt unless his views are accepted. I think Parliament would depart from old custom if it passed the sponge over rights which were not derived from Parliament. The claims of the City, which has incurred this debt in the course of carrying out a great public improvement, seem to me of a nature which it is impossible for Parliament to overlook. I hope nothing I have said will in any way seem to minimize what I feel as to the grave objections to reviving the old prescriptive rights of the City. I am as sensible as hon. Members that the method of collection of the old prescriptive rights would be extremely inconvenient. All that the City requires, as I understand, is a little indulgence. At any rate, the position the Government take up is that they cannot assent to a Bill which wipes out, without a word, and without compensation, ancient rights which have been respected by every Parliament up to the present time. What the Government would propose, if the forms of the House allow it, is to move that a Committee be appointed to inquire what are the powers with regard to those dues, whether any debts or liabilities have been incurred in reliance upon them, and how, with proper regard to existing rights, and the public interests, those dues ought to be dealt with. On the other hand, I hope the House will not think, from what I have said, that the Government are at all favourable to the continuance of the Coal Dues in their present shape, or still less in their old form. I am only urging that the House should not take a hasty step which entails harsh or unjust procedure.
§ * SIR J. PEASE
Am I to understand my right hon. Friend to mean that he is willing to read the Bill a second time, and make the statement he has just given to the House an instruction to the Committee?
§ * MR. BURT (Morpeth)
I am sorry to gather from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman that the Government have receded from the position taken up by several successive Governments of uncompromizing opposition to the Coal Dues. Now, my hon. Friend the Member for Barnard Castle so completely entered into a statement of the reasons in support of this Bill that I do not think it is necessary for those who agree with him to go over the ground he has covered so well. I have listened with great attention to the answers that have been given on the other side of the House to the arguments put forward by my hon. Friend, and I have only found one reason assigned for the continuance of this tax, and that is that it is a very old tax. That, I submit, is not a sufficient recommendation for the continuance, of a tax. This tax is objectionable in every way because it is on a necessary of life. It is a tax that falls with peculiar hardship upon the inferior and cheaper classes of coal, and, therefore, it injuriously affects the interests of the poorer part of the community. It was attempted to be argued on the other side of the House that because a poor man bought his coals in small quantities, therefore, the abolition of the tax would not affect him. But, Sir, it is because of their poverty that the poor purchase their coal in very small quantities, and, undoubtedly, any tax of this kind must fall with greater intensity and greater severity upon the smaller purchasers than upon the larger ones. We have been taunted more than once by Members on the other side of the House with this being a coalowners' movement, and it has been urged that the ratepayers of London ought not to be sacrificed for the benefit of the Durham and Yorkshire coalowners. I am not a coalowner; it is often my duty to oppose them. I have no direct or indirect interest in this question beyond the fact that the removal of the tax will cheapen coal to a certain extent and by increasing the consumption the coalowners and workmen may benefit. But I should like to point out to the House that this tax operates very injuriously upon inferior 749 qualities of coal because it is a most complete prohibition so far as they are concerned. Any one familiar with the coal trade will be aware that not unfrequently enormous quantities of small coal and coal of inferior quality have to be left under ground and at the pit bank to the serious injury of the country as a whole. It becomes a drug in the market, is a complete nuisance, sometimes takes fire, and not infrequently is a source of annoyance to the whole neighbourhood. There cannot be any doubt that by removing this tax the poorer classes will be enabled to purchase some of these inferior qualities of coal. The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken said that this is a question for theet Mropolis to decide. I agree with that. Though closely associated with the coal trade in the North of England, I would not for a moment contend that the mining interests should override the interests and wishes of the Metropolis. But while I notice that the right hon. Gentleman referred to the London County Council and the City Corporation, and spoke of them both as representative bodies, he did not say that they were equally representative in dealing with a question of this sort. The County Council was constructed mainly by the present Government, the Members in seeking the suffrages of the constituents, thoroughly this question; they have now decided by an overwhelming majority, in opposition to these dues, and surely, Sir, that should count for something. The right hon. Gentleman said that great obligations had been entered into in the expectation that these duties would be continued. Well, but Sir, people should not enter into obligations of a serious kind simply on expectation. What right had the Corporation of the City of London, or the Metropolitan Board of Works, to enter into obligations in expectation of the continuance of these dues, which it was known were to expire this year. They were imposed for a short period for specific objects; the period has expired, and the objects have been accomplished. The hon. Member for Peckham said he approved of indirect rather than direct taxation, and he gave a very curious reason for that preference, for he said he liked to keep disagreeable things out of the way as long 750 as possible. Sir, that would be well enough it disagreeable things could be kept out of the way altogether by a process of that kind, but they are bound to come up again, and if comparatively irresponsible and unrepresentative bodies choose to enter into these obligations without sufficient consideration I do not think that it is a good argument ot say that it was done in order to keep disagreeable things out of the way. Now, the noble Lord, the Member for Paddington, had been referred to as having administered a slap in the face to the Board of Works. I think the noble Lord put the case against these Coal Duties, perhaps as admirably, and perhaps more ably than has ever been done before or since. In the course of his speech to a deputation in November, 1886, he used words objecting to the insidious nature of the tax. His Lordship pointed out that it encouraged the maintenance of a false standard of financial economy, and he went on to say that it enabled expenditure to be incurred the amount of which the great body of ratepayers were not aware. I support this Bill because the tax on a necessary of life and a tax which falls with peculiar hardship upon the poor; because the Coal Dues have been condemned by successive Governments, by a Royal Commission, by all financial reformers, and by the vast majority of the representatives of London. On all these grounds I shall vote for the second reading of this Bill, and while I do not want to interfere with my hon. Friend's discretion, I hope he will not for a moment think of agreeing to the suggestion of the Government to refer the question to a Select Committee.
§ MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE (Lambeth, Newington)
—I should like to say a few words on this subject, because I happen to be unfortunate enough to differ apparently from the bulk of my Conservative colleagues in the representation of the Metropolis. I cannot support the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham. The arguments by which he supported his Amendment, the arguments also by which the hon. Member for East St. Pancras seconded the Amendment, would all go to show that the Coal Dues ought to be maintained, not for a year or two years, but permanently, 751 as the best possible tax that could be selected if you want money for the improvement of the Metropolis, or for any other works. But although this Amendment has been spoken of in the sense that it refers to the continuance of the Coal and Wine Dues, it seems to me—though I do not raise the point of order now—that it has no possible relevancy to the Bill before the House. This Bill does not propose to abolish the Coal and Wine Dues, because they will cease on the 5th of July next: it proposes that something else, not the Coal Dues referred to in the Amendment, but certain rights possessed under Charter by the Corporation shall not revive as they otherwise would revive after the 5th of July; and to say that it is expedient to continue something which is not touched upon at all by the Bill before us, seems hardly to be in order. But I do not propose as I have said to raise a point of order, because I desire to say one or two words as to why I should oppose in any case the continuance by this House of the Coal Dues, for that, after all, is the point to which every speech has been directed. The question of continuing the Coal and Wine Dues has been brought before the House on many occasions, but what has always been done? These dues have been renewed, but they have been renewed for shorter and shorter periods. It is clear that the intention of the House of Commons, and that the feeling of the country, is in favour of the abolition of these dues, but when the question of their prompt and immediate abolition has been raised, what has always been the answer of successive governments? Why, that the matter was one which especially concerned the Metropolis, but that the Metropolis, not having a thoroughly representative body, could not express its opinion on the subject. All Governments, Liberal as well as Tory, said they would not deal with the question until London had a properly constituted representative authority. Well, last year we passed the Local Government Bill. We knew perfectly well what we were doing. We knew we were going to set up bodies which would very likely be Radical. We tried to believe and to persuade others that this result would not follow, but we knew perfectly well it would. Having established this very body for whom we 752 have been looking for so many years, to whose opinion we have for years been deferring with regard to this very subject, are we to reverse almost the first action they take in the matter? We should stultify ourselves if we did anything of the kind. On this ground also I should oppose the Amendment of my hon. Friend. What does the Amendment do? It pledges the House of Commons to continue the Coal and Wine Dues for some period at all costs. If the dues are continued they must be continued by Act of Parliament, and for us to pledge ourselves in favour of the impost before any Bill is brought in to continue it seems a very singular course to pursue. My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham is in favour of indirect taxation. So am I with regard to the general purposes of Government, and for collecting money for carrying on the business of the country, but not where the money is to be gathered from persons who do not know what they are paying it for, and where the money is applied to purposes in which they may have no interest and over which they have no control. For all these reasons, but chiefly on the main and principal ground that we ought not, having just constituted the very body whose opinion we sought, to go counter to the opinion that body has expressed on this subject, I oppose the Amendment. At the same time there is this to be said with regard to the Bill before the House, and it has been well said by the Home Secretary already, that it proposes to abolish certain rights which are believed to exist. Whether it is right for the House of Commons to abolish monetary rights without giving compensation, without inquiry into the extent of the rights, and as what the legal right to them is, is a matter which may be a proper subject of debate. I think it is highly improper to abolish rights which are believed to exist without proper inquiry. Therefore, although I shall feel it my duty to vote against the Amendment of my hon. Friend, if put to the House, I shall also feel it my duty to vote against the Bill. [Laughter.] Surely I am acting consistently. Why should I not vote against the Bill? The measure does not propose to continue the Coal Dues so as to abolish them, and therefore if I vote against it I shall not be touching that contested point at all. I shall act, I think, simply as a just man 753 ought to act—that is to say, I shall vote against taking away rights alleged to exist without some inquiry.
§ MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
I regret, Sir, that I have not been able to attend during the greater part of this debate, having been occupied in another part of the House, as I shall again be occupied in a short time; but I hope the House will permit me to make a few remarks on the situation in which we find ourselves, because I think it extremely desirable that we should understand what we are going to do. I must pay a tribute of respect to the hon. Member for West Newington (Mr. Cooke), whose speech has gone a good way to disentangle and make clear to the House the questions which are now before us. I think he has made a good point in expressing doubt about the appropriateness of agreeing to the Amendment. The Bill does not affect to deal with the Coal and Wine Dues which have been levied in the past with respect to which the Amendment of the hon. Member of Peckham deals.
§ MR. COURTNEY
The 1s. 1d. Coal Dues. They ceased to be levied by effluxion of the Acts under which they have been levied. Then the question arises whether the duty of 4d., which has been levied under charities by the City of London, which was dealt with in the legislation that has that has been referred to, and which has been reserved in legislation over and over again since, would not survive. Then there is another doubt. Supposing it did survive, what would be the extent of its operation—whether it would extend to sea-borne coal only, or to all coal brought into the City of London? There is still another doubt as to whether any arrangement could be made with respect to coal sent out of the limited area at present subject to the Coal Dues. As to the question discussed by the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Baumann) with regard to the comparative merits of direct and indirect taxation, I am of opinion that it is most inexpedient to have this form of indirect taxation in the Metropolis. I think it is injurious and unjust in its operation, and that it affects trade injuriously. Therefore, I have no hesitation whatever in affirming the proposition that such an indirect tax ought to cease. But that is not the only question 754 involved in the Bill. If it is only applicable to sea-borne coal, that will create another anomaly. Supposing this were a different place from the City of London. Supposing this octroi were levied in any other area than London, we should not be able to proceed with the Bill as we are now doing. The question would arise whether the Bill ought not to be referred to the examiners, and other steps would have to be taken which are not in this case necessary. It is, therefore, our duty to look carefully into the matter. So far, however, as the Second Reading is concerned, and the declaration that the duty ought to cease, I, being in favour of the cessation of the duty, will vote for the Bill. But, as in the case of vote for the Bill. But, as in the case of any other Corporation a Bill like this would be regarded as affecting property which ought to be protected against any form of invasion, it behoves the House to look to the defence of the interests which may be involved in the measure. Having regard, however, to the area subject to the tax, I do not think the matter ought to be regarded as one of property. It is a very different case from the ownership of private property. The House is dealing with a public body which was endowed with this form of taxation for a public purpose, and it is within the power of Parliament to withdraw the taxation. But we must have regard to what has been done to that body. It is not a complete answer to say that warnings have been given to the Corporation. If it were shown that the City of London, beyond its own area, had undertaken works which left a permanent debt too heavy to be defrayed without the help of this duty, questions would arise with which an ordinary Committee of the House would not be competent to deal. I would suggest, therefore, that the Bill should be referred to a hybrid Committee before which counsel might appear. In that way a reconciliation of interests may be effected. The Corporation will be heard, the circumstances attending the existing debt and the methods by which revenue should be raised for the discharge of that debt will be carefully considered, and means may be found for satisfying the just claims of the City of London. In this way I think that perfect justice might be done to all parties without raising the questions which have been referred to by the 755 right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary.
§ * MR. WHITMORE (Chelsea)
I must vote against the Second Reading of this Bill because I am in favour of the continuance for a time of the Statutory and other Coal Dues to meet the requirements of the County Council. We who are in favour of the continuance of these dues are anxious that the House should give us an opportunity of discussing the whole question. That opportunity has as yet been refused to us, and, as far as I can see, this is the only chance we shall have of expressing our opinion in favour of the dues as a whole. I say this at the risk of being called a satellite of the City of London by the hon. Member opposite. But I must tell him I do not see why we London Members should not discuss this question without any partizan feeling. We all know that it is desirable that further communications should be provided below the bridges between the two sides of the Thames; and that additional open spaces should be secured for the public in the outskirts of London How is this to be done if a revenue of £450,000 be taken away? No doubt aid has been granted to local taxation by the Act of last year; but that is not a sufficient reason for deliberately refusing this £450,000, and it is certainly most impolitic that this large sum should be made good wholly out of increased rates. It is not the case that either at the General Elections of 1885 and 1886 or at the County Council Elections the question of these dues was a determining factor; though, no doubt, many of the so-called progressive candidates expressed themselves in favour of their abolition. But then they held out the hope that the loss of these dues would be made good by spoils wrung from the City and the City Companies, and by new taxation of ground values. This hope cannot be realized as yet, and so the loss can only be made good by an increase of the rates. I am most anxious that the newly-constituted County Council should be an efficient and a popular body. I am sensible of the public spirit and of the large ambitions of its members. But if, at the outset, it largely increases the rates, it will certainly become unpopular, and it will certainly diminish its power for good. An increase of rates, too, will mean for the working 756 classes—for the proper housing of whom Parliament and the country have been making such great efforts—a proportionate increase of rent. And it is the excessive rents of the houses of the poor in London, which even now is the great obstacle to their proper housing. For these reasons I am in favour of the temporary continuance of this indirect form of taxation, and I, for one, decline to ask the people of London to put their hands any deeper into their pockets than they are obliged to do at present.
§ * MR. FIRTH (Dundee)
The hon. Member who has just sat down concerned himself with the Statutory Coal Dues alone. This Bill has nothing to do with the Statutory Coal Dues, but raises the question whether we should pay these duties under a prescriptive right of the City. I think the old proverb, "let sleeping dogs lie," might very well have been applied in this case, and that the Bill might very well not have been introduced. I do not think the Corporation would have revived a prescription granted by very doubtfully-worded Charters of James I., and if they had done, we should have looked on with calm philosophy, knowing what would be the inevitable end. But now we have this Bill to discuss, let us discuss it. The claim put forward on behalf of the City is somewhat misty, as is not unfrequently the case with City claims. The claim is that by virtue of a Charter or two Charters granted, 3rd and 12th of James I., and supposed to be confirmed by a Statute 1 and 2 of William and Mary, the City is entitled to levy a toll on coal coming into London. Now, down to 1831 no coal of any account came to London, except by sea; 49–50ths came by sea, and of course this was still more likely to be the case in the earlier tunes, and it was purely towards sea-borne coal that the Corporation exercised the right of metage, which was conferred by the Charter of James I. and the Statute of William III. I have been reading, not without a certain amount of interest, a document issued by advocates of these dues, in which they speak of the inviolability of public faith as the most sacred of all matters, and I think we are justified, when we are asked to continue a right which as it is claimed dates back to the seventeenth century, in inquiring in what form this right then existed and 757 how it was obtained. In 1692 a Return was made to this House of the condition of the coal metage of the City, and it turned out that the whole proceeds of the prescriptive right, which we are now told is going to be reversed, was £1,120, and of that only £320 was allocated to the revenue of the City. Now we are asked because of the existence of that prescriptive right towards sea-borne coal then actually measured to sanction a tax upon outside London amounting to £150,000 a year, and the Home Secretary, with all that grace of diction which belongs to him, tells us of the unstability of public faith, statutes and prescriptive rights, and so forth, so that we really might suppose this was a matter at which we were to assist as in a very good work. Interwoven with this discussion there have been references to the 4d. rate granted by the Act of 1868, but it was perfectly understood, and so stated to me by our old Friend Mr. Ayrton, that in the year 1889 or 1888, as then understood, this duty was to cease. The Holborn Valley Works were expected to require an expenditure of half what has been actually incurred, but the incurring of the extra cost was a voluntary act on the part of the City, and the liability properly falls upon the City estate. I may mention, in passing, that the City took land which was not required for the Viaduct, and which was occupied by dwellings of the poor. Then stress has been laid upon the Act of 1694 by which the 8d. rate was made statutory, and to this Act, as readers of Parliamentary history is aware, curious incidents attach. For three successive years the Corporation had endeavoured in vain to secure the passing of a Bill to impose the rate as a means of relief from the heavy liabilities in which they had become involved to the extent of £747,000, and the loss of their Orphan's Fund by bad management, or, as they alleged, through public calamities. The Orphan's Bill having failed to pass, the Corporation, in their own quaint language, resolved to take means to "enable men to do for interest what they would not do for justice." They took that course, and eventually in 1694 the Bill passed, and is the Act now referred to. In reference to the principle of the inviolability of public 758 faith, a Committee of this House inquired into the circumstances under which this Bill passed, and the result was that on March 12th, 1695, the House passed a Resolution—That Sir John Trevor, Speaker of this House, for receiving a gratuity of 1,000 guineas from the City of London after the passing of the Orphan's Bill, is guilty of a high crime and misdemeanour.This was in reference to an Act we have had quoted in connection with the principal of preserving the inviolability of public faith. The Chairman of the Committee, to which the Orphan's Bill was referred, also came under the condemnation of the House of Commons. I do not think, then, that the origin of the claim, whether in the Charter of James I. or the Statute of William III. is one to look back upon with any special satisfaction. It is very doubtful, indeed, that the prescriptive right has the value which has been attributed to it, for it was attached to the Conservancy of the Thames which, as everybody knows, was taken from the City in 1857. I should have been glad if this old Charter had been left undisturbed, and left to repose, as many other Charters do, in the womb of the past—forgotten. There is another—and the only other—matter I will refer to, which is important in respect to the London Council. There is an impression which has found vent in several speeches, that the London Council have increased the rates. I apprehend it is a point upon which I ought to have some knowledge. We have lowered them because, though we have lost the proportion of the amount derived by the Board of Works from the Coal Dues, we have the advantage of the Exchequer contributions between £200,000 and £300,000 provided by the Local Government Act, and so we have lowered the rates by twopence. So it works out in the financial arrangements of the Council, and taking into account the new duties that devolve upon the Council and which were excluded from the consideration of the Metropolitan Board. For matters taken over from the Metropolitan Board the rate is 8.1 pence in the pound as compared with the Board rate of 10.1 pence.
§ * MR. C. DARLING (Deptford)
I confess I should like, if possible, to vote 759 for this Bill, and it would be a personal gratification to me, that I do not despair of, to be accompanied into the Lobby by the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London. After the suggestion made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees I see no reason why a Member of the Corporation should not support the Bill and vote against the Amendment; that is if that suggestion is accepted. The City wants a recognition of what is due to them in connection with their liabilities and that recognition being secured, there is no reason why my hon Friend should not vote against the Amendment. For a long time it seems to me this discussion ranged over ground not legitimately open to us in connection with this Bill. We were asked to come down here by pathetic appeals from either side, and coming here I find that the Coal Dues, the Statutory Coal Dues, are dead, or will be dead, on July 5th next, and nothing we can do, if the Government resist fresh legislation, will in any way revive them. It is, therefore, immaterial whether hon. Members approve of the dues or do not approve of them, for, in either case, the Statutory Dues expire on July 5th; and the only question is, whether certain rights which the City claims are to be revived or whether they should not; whether they should revive or be killed out of hand; "killed," as the hon. Member for Dundee said, "in the womb of the past." Well, I do not feel any particular pleasure in assisting at an operation of that description, but I cannot help thinking that the City has, in the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Courtney)—a proposal that will safe guard all their rights and give them all they are legitimately entitled to. If we have from a Minister an authoritative declaration that this Bill shall be laid before a hybrid Committee who will consider how the claims of the City with respect to the £750,000—which they have rendered themselves liable for, and have pledged the credit of these dues for, by the construction of Holborn Viaduct—shall be met, then, I think, the Bill might be read a second time and we might trust the Committee to give the City all they are legitimately entitled 760 to—half the amount of the dues if it should appear a fair claim, and it appears they do not desire more. I think London Members have been under a great misapprehension. Down to the very last half-hour they thought they were divided into two camps, those who approve of the Coal Dues and those who do not. But whether they approve of the dues, or whether they do not, is in either case a fact they can keep to themselves. The only question is, how far the City is pledged to the payment of this amount of £750,000, and how, if this source of revenue ceases, these liabilities are to be discharged. There is a stronger reason that induces me to support the Bill. I want to bring the County Council of London face to face with its responsibilities. I do not agree with my hon. Friend (Mr. Baumann) that any public body should be allowed to draw money from somewhere, but as to the where and how, nobody should know precisely how they get it. We observe the way in which the County Council is going to spend their money, and I should like the people to see with precisely the same clearness how they get it. The County Council will be in a better position if this information is made public. I have listened to the hon. Members for St. Pancras (Mr. Lawson) and for Dundee (Mr. Firth), and really I do not feel certain whether the County Council are raising or lowering the rates. This is simply because all their revenue is not derived in a simple, straightforward way, but some of it in a mysterious fashion that has found favour for years in the City of London. I think if we accept the principle of the Bill, read it a second time, and then refer it to hybrid Committee, the City will have nothing to complain of, though I admit I could not assist in passing the Bill into law in its present shape.
SIR H. HAVELOCK-ALLEN (Durham, S.E.)
I do not intend to prolong the debate, but I must express my extreme regret that no willingness has been expressed on the part of the Government to accept the suggestion of the Chairman of Committees. It seems to me that it would absolutely meet the wishes of either side. It is needless for me, after the exhaustive speech of the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Pease) to enter upon the merits of the 761 case. I appreciate the jealousy with which Metropolitan Members regard the possibility of an increase of rates in London, but it has been shown by the two Members who represent the County Council that no such increase is taking place. The suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Courtney) meets all the requirements of the case, and I trust the First Lord will agree to give the Bill a Second Reading and subsequently refer it to a hybrid Committee, where I am sure no injury is likely to be done to the ratepayers of London. In my own constituency, largely engaged as the people are in the coal industry, the feeling is general, even among the supporters of Her Majesty's Government, against these charges being laid upon the produce of their collieries.
GENERAL FRASER (Lambeth, N.)
In a few but earnest words I would plead the case of my constituents. The hon. Member for Deptford said that Metropolitan Members who are in favour of the Coal Dues should keep it to themselves, but I do not purpose to do that. Among the very poor in the alleys and back streets of my constituency, just across the river, opposite this House, coal is purchased in the smallest possible quantities for a few pence, and though the dues are abolished no benefit will accrue to those poor people who buy in infinitesimal quantities. On the other hand, they freely enjoy the advantages of the improvements the duties have obtained, particularly open spaces and the abolition of bridge tolls. I do not speak of what might be the case outside my own constituency, but so far as my constituents are concerned, I feel it my duty to vote against the Bill.
* THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH, Strand, Westminster)
As the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite has appealed to me I may be allowed a few words as to the attitude of the Government towards the suggestion that fell from my right hon. Friend the Chairman of Committees. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has indicated the course the Government think they ought to adopt, and their view that the inquiry should precede legislation of this character. The Bill proposes to destroy ancient 762 rights and privileges that carry with them large revenues, but before we do that it seems to me most desirable that we should have full information as to those rights, and the charges that have been incurred relying upon them. We must have an inquiry before we deprive a Corporation or anybody else of the means of meeting public liabilities incurred. That is the general attitude of the Government towards questions of this kind. It is known to the House that there are 60 or 70 Corporations within the United Kingdom which possess powers similar to these, and which by legislation similar to that now proposed, might be deprived of the means of meeting public liabilities incurred on behalf of communities for whom they act. The Government regard action of this kind as exceedingly dangerous. But the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Courtney) has made a suggestion almost identical with the views of the Government. He proposes that, with the view of simply affirming its principle, the Bill should be read a second time, and that then the Bill should be referred to a hybrid Committee of a judicial character, with full powers to deal with all the circumstances and to insert such clauses as may be necessary to meet the exigencies of the case so far as the liabilities of the City are concerned and the interests of the Metropolis are concerned. That seems to me a compromise that might very properly be accepted. The Government have not at any time expressed an opinion in favour of a continuance of the Coal Dues. In the Metropolis we know strong feelings have been expressed in favour of a continuance, and I know that such exist in my own constituency, these dues being regarded as a most valuable means by which great public improvements may be effected, and there is an indisposition to meet such expenditure by direct taxation. We may have regard to the sentiments of our constituents, and are justified in expressing them in the House, but the ratepayers of London have had the opportunity of electing a Council, and that Council has expressed a different opinion. It would be most inconsistent on our part, having adopted the course we have taken, if we, after the elected representative Council has declared its opinion, were now, as it 763 were, to turn round upon ourselves and vote for the Amendment of my hon. Friend, however we may sympathise with his object. I have another difficulty in voting for the Amendment, that it is not directed to the particular measure before the House. I refer to dues which are not the dues dealt with in the Bill. The Bill deals with ancient rights and privileges which are alleged to exist, but which have been suspended during the operation of the coal dues that now exist under statutory provisions. Under the circumstances, I could not vote for the Amendment of my hon. Friend. I trust we shall have an assurance from the hon. Baronet that he will accede to the suggestion of the Chairman of Committees, and that the Bill will be referred to a strong hybrid Committee with instructions to provide ample security that the public interests shall be considered in every respect.
§ * SIR J. PEASE
I am quite ready to take the Second Reading on the conditions which have been suggested. After the Bill has been read a second time, I will move that it be referred to a Select Committee, which will afterwards be turned into a hybrid Committee.
§ MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
I am very glad of the testimony the right. hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury has borne to the force of the opinion of the London County Council. I rise out of curiosity to know what will be the action of the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Baumann) under the circumstances in which he is now placed. We have heard from London Members sitting opposite a defence of the Coal Dues from the point of view of a preference for such a form of tax to any direct levy, and I want to know whether now, after all their grand statements. they are going to withdraw the Amendment and allow the Second Reading of the Bill to be passed, simply because steps may be taken by the Government and by the proposer of the Bill to safeguard the rights of the City of London. Is the whole of the high theoretical basis on which they support the Amendment to vanish into thin air the moment they hear that the prescriptive rights of the City of London are to be attended to by a Select Committee?
§ MR. SEAGER HUNT (Marylebone W.)
I wish to know whether the proposed Committee will go into the whole question of the Coal Dues, or whether it will confine itself to the consideration of the 4d. due. If the latter, will the 9d. due cease in July? If so, I shall certainly ask my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham to persist in his Amendment.
§ MR. BURDETT-COUTTS (Westminster)
I hope the Amendment will be pressed to a Division, as that is the only means of taking the sense of the House on the advisibility of not continuing the Coal Dues. We who are in favour of their continuance view with great alarm the disappearance of the income of £450,000 which has been devoted during many years to great and permanent improvements in the City of London, improvements which have considerably enhanced the comfort and the health of the poor. We consider that those improvements must be continued, and if the Coal Duties disappear the cost of them will be thrown on the rates. The increase of the rates in London is becoming a burning question, and we think that any proposal to add to that increase ought to be closely scrutinized. We do not believe that manufactures are materially injured by this duty. Manufactures are prevented from developing in London by another cause—namely, the distance of London from the pit's mouth. The price of material used in manufactures in London is three times what it is at the pit's mouth, and that is the real reason why London does not develop more as a manufacturing centre. We do not want to see it develop as a manufacturing centre, because if it does it will draw into itself a still greater number of poor people from all parts of the country, and the weak and incapable will be pushed out of employment by the strong and capable, and the non-productive part of the population will consequently be increased. We do not believe that the remission of 1s. a ton will make any difference in the price of coal to those who buy in quantities of from 7 to 14 lbs. I was surprised to hear a great fallacy with regard to cheap coal put before the House by the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt), who at least must know the habits of the poor, though 765 he may not, perhaps, know them very well in London. I say that the cheap coal is not used by the poor, and I challenge anyone who knows the houses of the poor and the prices paid by them to contradict me. The poor use their coal in small quantities, and they must have it of the best description. It must give the largest amount of heat and flame for the smallest quantity consumed, and the cheap coal that has been spoken of would not burn in small quantities. I hope my hon. Friend will press his Amendment to a Division.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. RITCHIE, Tower Hamlets, St. George's)
I should not have troubled the House on this question if it had not been for the observations of the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. J. Stuart), who seemed to be under the impression that the Conservative Members for the Metropolis were agreed in a desire for the continuance of the Coal Dues.
§ MR. RITCHIE
My reason for troubling the House is that I desire to record my dissent from that proposition. I have for years past taken up an attitude of absolute opposition to the dues. I do not agree that it is undesirable that London should become a manufacturing centre, as I desire to see the opportunities of employment for the people increase. The tax falls very heavily on the inhabitants of the East-end of London. Some manufacturers in that district pay, not hundreds, but thousands a year in meeting the tax, and therefore it is in the best interests of those whom all wish to see employed that London should be freed from such a burden. The poorer classes would also benefit by the abolition of the tax, perhaps not in a reduced price of coals, but in an improved quality. One of the reasons why I object to the tax is that it is very unequal in its operation. In the City and the West-end the rateable value of the houses is so high compared with the quantity of coal burnt that the tax in those areas is practically non-existent, while the poorer classes throughout London pay to the full. My own impression is that it will be for the benefit of all classes of the community—manufacturers, employers, and the 766 working classes, generally—that this tax should cease to exist.
§ MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
I wish to correct a wrong impression which it seemed to me was conveyed by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster (Mr. Burdett-Coutts). He seemed to wish the House to infer from the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt) that this question was one which did not affect the working classes, and that the cheap coal to which my hon. Friend referred as being kept out of London by this tax was a coal which the working classes did not use and would not burn. That is not the case, the workmen in Durham and Northumberland and elsewhere, get no other class of coal to burn and we wish to bring this manufacturing coal to the working classes of the Metropolis by the removal of this tax.
§ MR. ATKINSON (Boston)
I should not have risen had not a right hon. Gentleman sitting on the Ministerial Bench endeavoured to prove, and apparently did prove to his own satisfaction, that the best quality of coal would come into London if this Bill were passed. The hon. Member who has just sat down has proved on the other hand that the worst quality would come in, and I think therefore the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman may very well be left to answer one another. We are told we shall stultify ourselves if we do not vote for this Bill, because the County Council of London has asked us to pass it. How that can be, when the Council dose not represent the majority of the people of London? If the County Council of London had been elected by the majority of the voters I could understand such an argument, but the only reason the County Council is Radical is that the members declared that politics would not come into the contest. An hon. Member on this side of the House said the Coal Dues would die a natural death if they were not interfered with. So will the present County Council die a natural death, and when it has died that natural death, you will have a Conservative County Council. That being so, we shall in my opinion stultify ourselves if we vote now at the request of the Liberal County Council. I think the Council is rather rash in rushing 767 into the discussion of questions in regard to which its members have no experience whatever, and they ought in my opinion to get a little experience before dictating to the House of Commons as to how we should vote. [Interruption.] I shall cordially support the rejection of this Bill, and I am very sorry indeed that any change of front has taken place on this side. The Home Secretary said he would not accept the Bill. [Cries of "Divide," and interruption.] In my opinion the only argument for referring the Bill to a Select Committee is that when there is a Gladstonian or Parnellite or any other Government on the side of Gentlemen opposite in power, they want to be able to argue that even when a Conservative Ministry were in they allowed the Bill to be referred to a Select Committee. I protest against giving hon. Gentlemen opposite the opportunity of using that argument to show that we thought this a good Bill. I beg to call attention to the fact that coal owners both on the Conservative and Liberal side have pronounced for this Bill, and I can state from my experience of 30 years' dealing with coal owners that it is into their pockets that this money will go if the dues are abolished.
The House divided:—Ayes 264; Noes 104.—(Div. List, No. 124.)
Main Question again proposed.
It being after half-past Five of the clock, and objection being taken to further proceeding, Mr. Speaker rose to interrupt the Business,
Whereupon Sir Joseph Pease rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time," put accordingly, and agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee."—(Sir Joseph Pease.)
Objection being taken to further proceeding, the Debate stood adjourned.
Debate to be resumed to-morrow.