§ (1.) The duty of Customs now payable on tea shall continue to he charged, levied, and paid, on and after the first day of August one thousand eight hundred and ninety-six until the first day of August One thousand eight hundred and ninety-seven on the importation thereof into Great Britain or Ireland (that is to say)—Tea, the pound, 4d.
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)
, on behalf of Mr. LLOYDGEOKGE, asked that the latter might withdraw an Amendment standing in his name, excepting from the payment of Customs duty "tea grown in any of Her Majesty's dominions."
MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
said he did not know with what object the Amendment was proposed. He accepted it as a serious proposal submitted to the judgment of the House of Commons, and in this spirit he should briefly treat it. The principle involved in the Amendment was one of enormous importance. It involved the differential treatment of goods imported into this 936 country from within the limits of the Empire. That was a subject which deserved rather more than the somewhat casual consideration which appeared to have been bestowed upon it. He himself had on the Paper an Amendment which raised in another form the same principle as that involved. It would be in order to raise the question of principle upon every dutiable article mentioned in the Bill, but it would be more convenient to discuss the question as it affected them all upon the present Amendment.
*THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS
said he had no power to allow a general discussion upon this or any Amendment. The discussion on this Amendment must be confined to tea.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
said he was afraid that adherence to that rule would involve the Committee in some inconvenience; but, for the present, he would confine his remarks to the article of tea mentioned in the clause and the Amendment. The subject deserved careful attention now. There was a time when it might have been said that the question of giving a preferential advantage to British-grown tea was a question outside the range of practical politics, but that could not be said now after the Resolution passed by the Colonial Conference at Ottawa, after the representations made to Her Majesty's Government by the responsible authorities of self-governing colonies, and after the recent statesmanlike utterances of the Secretary for the Colonies on cognate questions, while the Leader of the Opposition, as well as the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, had admitted the difficulty of meeting the financial needs of the country with our present fiscal system. At present 12 per cent. of our tea came from foreign countries, and 88 per cent. from within the limits of the British Empire; and he would suggest, not the abolition of the duty on British tea, but the reduction of the duty from 4d. to 3d. For a means of making up the deficit, he would point to the 1s. duty on imported corn imprudently cast to the winds by Mr. Lowe. Another profligate abandonment of revenue was made by Sir Stafford Northcote in dealing with the Sugar Duties. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, in distinguishing 937 between direct and indirect taxation, spoke of the consuming and the propertied classes, but excisable articles were largely consumed by what were thus designated the propertied classes. The payers of Income Tax contributed, roundly speaking, half the revenue, and the class who did not pay Income Tax—assisted in an extremely large manner by the Income Tax payers—paid the other half. The whole of the Wine Duties, for instance, were paid by the Income Tax payers.
*THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS
Order, order! The right hon. Gentleman is dealing with a matter that could properly be raised on the Second Reading of the Bill, but which is not applicable to this particular Amendment.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
said there was one thing which he thought was strictly within the scope of the Amendment before the Committee, and to which he felt bound to refer. The existing finance system revolved upon the pivot of the Tea Duties. [Laughter.] His right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin, in his recent speech before the Cobden Club, referred with pride to the fact that we received so much of our indirect taxation from articles we did not produce in this country. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to consider the levying of duty upon tea which we did not produce was more meritorious than raising revenue by duties on our own products. But he would not enter upon the subject from that point of view. He desired to approach it from the point of view of revenue rather than from the point of view of the indirect advantages which would be derived by following another course. It was to be regretted that Members like himself, who wished to place their views before the House were open to the attack that they shirked discussion. The right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Monmouthshire, stated in the last Parliament that he (Mr. James Lowther) was fond of laying his views before partisan audiences in the country, but that did not give the House the opportunity of judging of the merits or demerits of his proposals. On the contrary, he put down an Amendment to the Address which had been ruled out of order. [Laughter.] His hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield (Sir Howard Vincent) put down a Resolution in the 938 same sense, but the Government took all the days of private Members, and that Resolution fell to the ground; and now, when he was endeavouring to lay his views before the Committee, the Chairman very properly made a ruling under which he could only touch the fringe of the subject. [Laughter.] Therefore, he hoped he and his Friends would not be charged with shirking the raising of the issue in the House. He wished to say that this question of raising duty on tea, of making tea the basis of indirect taxation, was repudiated by every other nation under the sun. His right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin, in the speech to which he had already referred, had to administer, not for the first time, a douche of cold water to some of his political Friends. [Laughter.] His right hon. Friend, as a man of courage and of a just and impartial mind, was unable to console his Friends with the assurance that the Tea Duty was the acme of wisdom.
*THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS
Order, order! The whole question of the Tea Duty is not raised by this Amendment. [Laughter.] The only question is whether any differentiation should be made between tea from Her Majesty's dominions and tea from foreign countries, and I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to confine himself to that question. [Laughter.]
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
said he was about, in conclusion, to refer to the strong feeling in the colonies in favour of the adoption of some such course as that proposed by the Amendment. The Colonial Conference at Ottawa, which was composed of representatives of all the Colonies within the Empire—adopted a resolution declaring the advisability of a Customs arrangement between Great Britain and the Colonies, by which trade within the Empire might be placed on a more favourable footing than trade outside the Empire. That, substantially, was the proposal now before the Committee. But if the hon. Gentleman who moved it had not by deputy suggested its withdrawal, he himself would have advised him not to press it to a Division, because the Government had not, he was happy to say, shown themselves insensible to the importance of the question raised by the Amendment. It was true that the late Government turned 939 a cold shoulder to the unanimous representations of the Colonial Conference at Ottawa. The late Government did not appear to think that colonial tea ought to be permitted to enter the Kingdom on preferential terms compared with tea from China, but the present Government had adopted a different line of conduct, as the recent speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies showed, and for that reason he certainly could not advise the Committee to divide upon the Amendment. The idea seemed to prevail that whenever we wished to admit colonial tea on terms of preference, the colonies would always be very happy to accept our proposals. Undoubtedly, this offer of preferential treatment on the part of the colonies was open at the present time, but hon. Members who thought that opportunity would be always at our command made a mistake. Already, many of the colonies were considering the advisability of entering into exceptional arrangements with other countries if we did not rise to the occasion. He was glad to know that the matter was being considered in a statesmanlike manner by the present Government. Any candidate for office in France or the United States who came forward only with the Tea Duties as his remedy, would stand a poor chance of election. But if he came forward as a determined opponent of our fiscal system, he would have every chance of finding himself Prime Minister or President Elect. He hoped the Committee would consider the advice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider this question seriously. The right hon. Gentleman had asked where he would stand if he had only the Tea Duties to rely upon on an emergency, when direct taxation had reached the point beyond which it could not be pushed. He hoped the mass of the people would support the statesmanlike views of the Colonial Secretary.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said that no one would charge his right hon. Friend with any want of courage in ventilating his views, or with not bringing them forward in season and out of season—["Hear, hear!" and laughter]—but he must make some complaint of his right hon. Friend's action on the present occasion. The Amendment raised the question of a 940 differential rate in respect of tea; but no sooner was the Committee stage begun than the hon. Member intimated his intention of withdrawing the Amendment; and the right hon. Gentleman, who did not intend to support the Amendment or press it to a Division, had occupied an hour in discussing it. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)
said that he did not think they ought to part with the right hon. Member for Thanet at once. [Laughter.] It was some satisfaction to him to know that his right hon. Friend, who had had such a long experience, had succeeded in making a Second Reading speech. [Laughter.] The right hon. Gentleman had said a great deal about the statesmanlike views of Her Majesty's Government on the subject of differential duties. He could not be alluding to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and therefore they were led to ask, why is the Statesman not here? [Cheers and laughter.] Some doubts had been expressed as to the unity of the Unionist Party; but, as to fiscal policy, it was possible to look forward to the day when the right hon. Gentleman and the Colonial Secretary would tell together at the Table in favour of differential duties. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] As to the statesmanlike view of the present Government, he wished to know exactly what it was. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Ottawa Conference, but he did not allude to the much more important conference which took place the other day in London when the Colonial Secretary, no doubt after due deliberation with the Cabinet, announced his adhesion to the principle of the Zollverein. [Cheers and laughter.] The hon. Member for the Central. Division of Sheffield—who, together with the Colonial Secretary and the right hon. Member for Thanet, made up the trio who were to reform our fiscal system—[laughter]—was present at that Conference. The Amendment contained the policy of the Zollverein, and if the hon. Gentleman who moved it wished to withdraw the Amendment, and the right hon. Member for Thanet did not feel disposed to press it, why did not the Colonial Secretary take it up? [Cheers and laughter.] The right hon. Gentleman said it was not necessary to talk about Crown Colonies in this matter, 941 because they were not represented at Ottawa; but he did not observe that it was only in the Crown Colonies that tea was grown. [Laughter.] At the Ottawa conference there was proposed a differential duty on everything produced in the British Empire and even in India, for the Government could not suppress the voice of India unless it was in military matters. [Cheers and laughter.] Every great commercial body in England pronounced against that proposal; and at the Zollverein Conference, the Montreal Resolution fell to the ground because it received no support. In every Australian colony Her Majesty's Government's grand scheme of a Zollverein was laughed at and repudiated. ["Hear, hear!"] It involved the doctrine of reciprocity, and the Australian colonies were not prepared to take in our goods free. In India, on the other hand, there was already Free Trade. He characterised that policy as the most absurd ever propounded; it received no support anywhere; and he should certainly vote against an Amendment which embodied it. [Cheers.]
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said that in a fit of generosity to the British colonies, the hon. Member for Carnarvon had put down this Amendment when he read in the papers a speech of the Colonial Secretary showing that he was in favour of the principle of the Amendment. [Laughter.] Then the hon. Member had withdrawn his Amendment in order to allow his Leader to make the speech to which the Committee had just listened against the Colonial Secretary. [Laughter.] The main effect of the Amendment would be a reduction in the Customs Duties, and he thought it was high time that such a reduction should be made. Tea would be a good thing to begin on. Of course he did not think it proper to discuss this question of differential duties now, but he felt that one of these days the House would have to discuss it in the fullest detail. ["Hear, hear!"] They would have to take into account that their colonies and dependencies not only produced, but sent to us a considerable portion of the six or seven great articles of import—corn, cotton, wool, wood, sugar, tea, and meat alive and dead. The principle of the differential duties might have to be applied to corn and other articles, 942 as well as to tea. They must remember that though they claimed to be the only Free Trade country in Europe they levied at their ports a larger amount of Customs Duties than any other country in Europe.
§ MR. JOHN DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said he did not think it was treating the House of Commons fairly that the Secretary for the Colonies was not present to tell them whether he stood by the remarkable statement he recently made on the question of differential duties for the colonies. A Member of the House had characterised that speech as an epoch-marking speech. It was a great pronouncement on behalf of the Government of the country, because it was not to be believed that so prominent a Member of the Cabinet as the Secretary of State for the Colonies would deliver a great speech opening up a new chapter in the financial policy of this country, unless he spoke with some authority on behalf of his colleagues in the Cabinet. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had most carefully avoided giving his opinion on this question. That, too, was not fair dealing towards the Committee. A great financial policy had been launched upon the country, a policy which had for its object a Zollverein, to include all parts of the British Empire, and to build up a protection around it against all the other natives of the world. The present Amendment was a proposal to carry out that policy, in reference to that portion of the Empire over which this Parliament had complete control. If they wanted the Australian and the Canadian Colonies to believe that they desired to make the Empire one commercial and trading whole as against the rest of the world—and he certainly would not support that policy—then they should show that they were prepared to extend the principle to such countries as India and Ceylon, over which this Parliament had complete control. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
challenged the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say whether he would support the Amendment. If he did not, he could not say whether he gave adhesion to the Zollverein, as proposed by the Secretary for the Colonies. He supported the statement that with regard to India and Ceylon it would give them the opportunity of testing the necessity of the 943 Government proposal. The fact was, that India and Ceylon did not require anything of the kind, as their trade was mainly confined to tea. How was it that there was nothing in the Resolution about coffee or cocoa?
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)
agreed with the Member for Mayo, that if the Government wished to put the Zollverein into operation here was an opening ready to their hand in India and China. He was sorry to observe that the right hon. Member for West Birmingham was not in his place to support the proposal.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ MR. T. LOUGH moved to omit the words "or Ireland." He said the effect of his Amendment was that they would not levy the Tea Duty in Ireland. The amount collected by the Tea Duty was £460,000 a year, and this represented something like 2s. 4d. or 2s. 5d. per head of the population of Ireland. He would like that to be the commencement of a series of reliefs which the House ought to give to the taxpayer in Ireland, but he believed that on this Amendment he would not be in order in referring to anything but the question of tea. There was no question that he was more satisfied that he was doing his duty in pressing upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer as strongly as he could asking him to consider whether it would not be a very acceptable means of relieving some of the strain that had pressed upon Ireland by means of indirect taxation for many years. When they were discussing the question of financial reform, the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave them some figures which would enable the House to consider the matter very simply. The Chancellor of the Exchequer challenged him to say whether he approved of the system of direct taxation as levied in Ireland, because he had criticised in the House the statement the right hon. Gentleman himself had made as to the weight of direct and indirect taxation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed his attention to the fact that only 7s. per head was paid in direct taxation by the inhabitants of Ireland, while in indirect 944 taxation there was levied something like 31s. 6d., and the corresponding figures for England were 22s. 6d. for each form of taxation. He said at the time that he thought of the two systems of taxation direct taxation was the safer for the country to adopt, and they had this singular fact, that while the direct and indirect taxation almost exactly balanced in Great Britain, in Ireland the direct taxation was only one-fourth of the indirect taxation. He desired to move the Amendment as the first step towards approximating the system in Ireland to that which existed in Great Britain. If they were to choose which of the two systems of taxation afforded the best means of measuring the taxable capacity of the people, he thought they must admit that the justest was direct taxation. They could not levy direct taxation unless there was property, and therefore there could be no serious oppression in that form of taxation. But when indirect taxation pressed heavily on the necessities of life, and he claimed that in Ireland tea was one of the necessities of life, they might wring a quite unfair burden out of a poor, indeed, a starving people. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that he could not bring forward a question of that kind at a more inopportune time. On the only three occasions on which he had been present at a Budget discussion, he had been most anxious to take the step that he was now taking, but there were particular reasons why he did not do so. The Royal Commission on the financial relations between the two countries had now completed its labours, and although its Report had not been formally presented to the House, yet it had been published.
§ MR. LOUGH
said that it had been published in Dublin, though the right hon. Gentleman might be right in saying that on authoritative statement of the Report had not been published. There was practical unanimity that too much had been wrung out of Ireland every year, and he therefore ventured to think that the time was not now inappropriate for him to press upon the House the grievance and the burden of this tax upon the people of Ireland. He felt that human life was to a large extent 945 impossible over there because of the weight of the taxes which the House insisted upon levying upon the Irish people, and the way in which it was levied. He believed that for every £100 of indirect taxation which was levied in Ireland—and they levied £460,000 by the Tea Tax—they made human life impossible to one inhabitant, and therefore if they remitted that tax, it would enable 4,600 more people to live in Ireland than if they continued to exact the tax from them. If they accepted the standard which the Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed to when introducing the Budget, that of making the direst and indirect taxation balance each other as they did in Great Britain, why should not that be done in Ireland too? If that were done they could afford to take off the Tea Duty, and the Tobacco Duty and other duties amounting to 14s. per head in Ireland, and they could not make a better beginning in that most excellent work than by relieving them of the Tea Duty, which would give a relief of 2s. 6d. per head to every person, for tea was used in every house. It might be urged that they were not doing worse this year than last year, but the fact was that every year the burden was getting worse. This was the worst year that they had had in Ireland, for the reason that there was a larger amount of money collected in Ireland to pay the tax, and a smaller number to pay it, and the people were poorer and less able to pay it to-day than ever they were before. Within the last 15 years the burden of taxation had increased by £2,000,000, while the population diminished by 600,000. He therefore asked that something in the way of relief should be given, and nothing could be more acceptable and nothing would more carry it with certainty to every house inhabited by the Irish people, than the acceptance of this particular Amendment. In connection with that matter he wanted to point attention to one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission, agreed to by 11 out of the 13 Members.
*THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS
Order, order! The hon. Member cannot discuss a Report not yet presented to the House.
§ MR. LOUGH
said he was only going to quote it as an authority for what he 946 was urging, but he would urge his point without the, authority. It was assumed that in order to adjust the system of taxation, they must have equal rates in all these duties. He thought there might be differences in the conditions of two peoples which would make an equal rate on an article like tea more oppressive to one than to the other. Tea was a greater necessity to the Irish people than to the English people, and therefore an equal tax wrung an unjust contribution out of the Irish people. He was asked why should it be a greater necessity for the Irishman? For the simple reason that the dietary of the bulk of the population of Ireland was more limited than the dietary of the people of England, and there were fewer alternative foods. Tea, therefore, occupied a much more prominent place in the dietary of the Irish than it did in the dietary of the English people. He did not see that there would be any difficulty in taking off the tax. All these burdens heaped upon Ireland had been imposed during the last 40 or 50 years, and it should be just as easy to take them off and do justice to Ireland as it was to persist in the cruel and oppressive policy that had been adopted towards that country. They had different rates of duty levied under their Customs at the present time—in the Isle of Man for instance—and therefore, some arrangement could easily be made with regard to Ireland. The Chancellor of the Exchequer might ask if this duty were taken off what were they to do for the money? His reply was that they did not want it. They were collecting this £460,000 not because they wanted it, but simply because they were collecting it in Great Britain. The necessity for the money was lessening every day in Ireland where the population was diminishing. In asking for this relief to Ireland he did not want a single burden to be laid on the English taxpayer, but what he wanted was economy in the Irish establishment. He contended that the money was not required, that there was no particular difficulty in regard to the question of Customs, that the remission of the duty would be a most welcome relief in Ireland, and a wholesome recognition of the fact that duties levied in Ireland, even although the same as those imposed in England 947 might press with most unfair incidence in the poorer country. For these reasons he moved the Amendment.
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
observed that the hon. Member estimated the loss of revenue which would be caused by the acceptance of his proposal at £460,000. In his opinion, neither the hon. Member nor any one else could really tell what the exact loss might be. It would, at any rate, be a loss of the duty of 4d. in the pound upon the tea that was drunk in Ireland. He did not quite see why the consumer of tea in Ireland should escape the duty any more than the consumer in Great Britain. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member spoke of the poverty of many consumers of tea in Ireland. He could also speak of the poverty of many consumers of tea in Great Britain, and when the hon. Member referred to the humble cottagers in the west of Ireland and the relief which this remission of duty would afford to them, he confessed he had heard very often from persons well acquainted with the condition of the peasantry in that part that it was questionable whether the modern substitution of tea and bread had really been conducive to the well being of that population as compared with their old dietary of potatoes and buttermilk. However, he did not want to go into that question. What did the hon. Member propose? What he proposed was that there should be a Custom-house between England and Ireland, in order to apply a system of differential duties to other articles besides tea, for which at present he could see no reason. If the proposal were adopted they would have to institute a Customs examination on arrivals from Ireland all round the coast of Great Britain in order to prevent tea which had been imported into Ireland without paying duty from being smuggled into England. That was an entire reversal of the commercial union between the two kingdoms, and whatever the Commission on the financial relations of the two countries might recommend, he ventured to say that such a proposal would not be found among their recommendations. He hoped the hon. Member would be content with having again raised the question, which had been previously debated on this Bill, and would not 948 think it necessary to press the Amendment. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. VESEY KNOX (Londonderry)
observed that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman did not surprise him. He was perfectly aware that every time this question of over-taxation was raised, whatever Government might be in office——
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I did not wish at all to prejudge the question as to whether In the matter of taxation Ireland deserves or requires relief as compared with Great Britain. This is a particular proposal, and I had dealt with it apart from the other question.
§ MR. KNOX
said it was the duty and the business of the right hon. Gentleman, for which he was paid, to see that he did not overtax a part of the United Kingdom. He was there to see that this tax was fairly applied and fairly levied as between the different parts of the United Kingdom in proportion to their taxable capacity. The right hon. Gentleman said he did not wish to prejudice the question, but had he no opinion about it? The somewhat humorous view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was characteristic of the view every Chancellor of the Exchequer would always take when dealing with Ireland. They laid down general principles, but when it came to doing justice in pounds, shillings and pence, the money could not be got out of them. He ventured to say that if, some day, the British Empire should be broken up, the Treasury and their spokesmen in that House, would be more responsible for such break up than any other human being. He would not go back to the preferential treatment of the Colonies. That was only one of the many questions in which the Treasury was a stumbling block that prevented anything like a fair and equitable treatment of the different parts of such as would be likely to contribute to the continued maintenance and unity of the Empire. The principle that those who supported this Amendment asked should be adopted was that there should be, to the limited extent proposed by the hon. Member for Islington, some approach to justice made in the case of the taxation of Ireland. A Commission appointed by the English Government, mainly consisting of 949 Englishmen, with some of its most experienced Members trained in the service of English Departments, had agreed to a Report——
*THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS
Order, order! It is out of order to discuss a Report that has not yet been presented to the House.
§ MR. KNOX
remarked that the evidence had been published and it conclusively proved that Ireland was enormously over-taxed—a view which had not been disproved by a single witness on behalf of the Treasury. That being the case what was asked by the Amendment was that some attempt should be made to do justice to Ireland in the fiscal arrangements for the coming year. The Treasury were not asked by it to disgorge what they had wrongfully taken in the past, but were only asked not to repeat the act of theft and highway robbery this year. Surely that was a moderate request to prefer. His hon. Friend took the Tea Duty as an example, and it was a good example too. Our system of taxation involved more pressure of indirect taxation upon the poor than, with the possible exception of the Corn Laws, could be devised under any other system. In other countries the greater proportion of indirect taxation was levied upon luxuries; a reference to the tariffs of Canada and the United States showed how large a part of taxation was derived from that source, but in this country indirect taxation was levied on necessaries of life. He could go through the list and show how largely this was the case. True, there were articles some persons could do without; there were those who did not take spirits, and probably among this class there was more consumption of tea, for it was matter of common observation that stimulants in some form were well nigh a necessity for the human race. There were persons who took spirits, others who took tea, and some, he was told, took quinine. Tea might not be good for all, but still it was recognised as a cheap and effective form of stimulant. It had become practically a necessity of life for a large proportion of the poorer population, and he protested against the incorporation of this part of the Budget proposals in the Bill, because, in fact, it was a proposal to raise a large proportion of the taxa- 950 tion upon articles of necessity consumed by the poorest part of the population of Ireland. It might, of course, be said that the argument applied to some extent as between the richer and poorer classes of Great Britain, but inasmuch as Ireland, in proportion to her population, contained a far larger number of the poorer classes, so was the pressure of the present fiscal system more oppressive in Ireland. The tax upon tea was felt with much greater force in Ireland than in England, and people were not prepared to accept the recommendation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and substitute butter-milk and potatoes for bread and tea. He did not know that it would be possible for them to do so, and he did think that for the Minister responsible for the fiscal system of the country to suggest that the Irish peasantry should go back to the diet of butter-milk and potatoes as being quite good enough for them, was a statement which threw some light on the question, and the amount of consideration the Irish people would be likely to secure in any rearrangement of financial relations between the two countries.
§ MR. KNOX
did not pretend to quote the actual words, but this was the natural inference from the words used. The right hon. Gentleman said it was not a beneficial change from butter-milk and potatoes to tea and bread, but everybody knew that this last had become the common diet of the poorer classes; they had advanced beyond the stage of butter-milk and potatoes, and the natural inference from the right hon. Gentleman's remarks was that the people should return to the diet of their fathers. If there was to be a rearrangement of the fiscal system with any justice as applied between the two countries, then the principle laid down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer was at least open to some modification in the interests of humanity. As his hon. Friend had argued correctly, the abolition of the Tea Duty in Ireland, while it still continued to be levied in England, should present no serious difficulty in the trading relations between the countries, there was no reason to suppose that there would be any large attempt to smuggle tea from Ireland into England. 951 Certainly there would be no more difficulty in preventing such smuggling than there was in preventing smuggling from France into Great Britain. It was a Treasury alarm without any foundation. As a matter of fact, although there was nominally a financial union between Ireland and Great Britain in 1817 or 1818, separate duties were levied down to 1853–4, and duties were not equalised until 1860, so that the present proposal was simply to revert to a system which obtained before 1860, or some 35 years ago, and not to go back to the anti-Free Trade condition of things, and at that period before 1860 Ireland formed a larger and more important part of the United Kingdom than she does now after the experience of uniform customs and excise. The proposal of his hon. Friend was perfectly practical, feasible, and just, and in some form or other there would have to be differentiation in customs and excise duties between the two countries, or there would never be justice done. If it was to be understood that it was to be laid down as a principle that whatever a Commission might report as to the proportion of taxation that should be levied in Ireland, yet to keep up the mere name of Free Trade the Chancellor of the Exchequer would resist any proposal that would make a difference in the customs and excise duties, then the outlook in this connection was hopeless. Without dealing with indirect taxation the injustice could not be remedied; it was quite impossible to do it in any other way. The whole direct taxation of Ireland might be swept away, and there would not be a remedy; the only remedy was by means of a different customs and excise duty. No matter how long the House considered the Reports of Commissions on this subject, this position must be returned to. Ireland was overtaxed. Speaking for himself, he was not in favour of continuing to levy the same duties and then returning wasteful grants in order to preserve an appearance of justice. That was bad in principle, and what he wanted was a change that would leave the hard-earned money in the cottages of the West, where it would be far more useful than if manipulated by-organising boards in Dublin, or used in developing railway systems. Because the proposal of his hon. Friend would do 952 this, he gave the Amendment his hearty support.
§ MR. HENRY LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said that for once he found himself in entire agreement with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Admitting that Ireland was over-taxed, it did not follow that they ought to meet the difficulty by raising Custom-houses between England and Ireland. That seemed a monstrous proposal. ["Hear, hear!"] It was contrary to the spirit of the age and the tendency of modern civilisation. In Austria-Hungary there were Custom-houses between Hungary and Austria, and they had been done away with, to the great advantage of the empire. He could remember when there was a Custom-house on the frontier of every State in Germany. These had been done away with and a Zollverein established. In Italy, among the nuisances and troubles were Customhouses on the frontier of every little State, which destroyed the commerce and industry of the country. The hon. Member for Islington pointed out that there were Custom-houses against the Island of Man where differential duties against England existed. Well, the sooner they did away with them the better. Fiat justitia ruat—the Island of Man. [Laughter.] His hon. Friend said that Ireland should have this exemption because it was poorer than England. How far might they not carry that principle? Because the Highlands of Scotland were poorer than the county of Middlesex was it to be said that the Tea Duty was to be levied in Middlesex and not in the Highlands of Scotland or the poorer counties of England? With all his love and respect for Ireland he must say the thing was preposterous. ["Hear, hear!"] It was said no one would smuggle tea; but he had that respect for Irishmen that he believed they would go into the smuggling business at once. [Laughter.]
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Yes; pigs. [Laughter.] Who ever heard of any one's trying to smuggle a pig? [Renewed laughter.] A pig soon gave evidence of its existence, and, if an Irishman went into the smuggling business, he would do better not to attempt to smuggle live 953 animals that squeaked. He agreed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that, if he had to choose between tea with dry bread and skimmed milk with potatoes, he should prefer the latter as more nourishing. If the Irish had not to pay duty on tea, they would not favour the abolition of the tea duties; and, therefore, in the general interests of the United Kingdom, the tea duties ought to be levied equally in all parts, in order that all who believe in Free Trade might make united efforts to do away with them.
§ MR. DILLON
said that while it might be to the advantage of the human race that Custom houses should disappear, and while the question was one which would ere long engage the attention of all nations, what he preferred immediately was that the financial injustice between Ireland and England should in some way be removed. He would greatly prefer potatoes and milk to tea and dry bread; but no one could deny that the drinking of more tea was a sign of improvement; and there was a strong case for the release of the Irish from the taxation upon tea. He admitted it was not the most convenient way in which relief could be given to the Irish people; but it was one way in which it could be given; and if the Chancellor of the Exchequer objected to the adoption of this method it rested with him to suggest another. At any rate, it was monstrous that the Irish people should be compelled from year to year to bear an undue proportion of the burdens of the British Empire. Long after the Union, through the twenties, a great number of articles paid in the Irish Custom House a different duty from that levied in the English Custom House. It was not until 1860, he believed, that the duties on all articles were equalised in the two countries; and one of the last duties to be equalised was that on spirits. Spirits, of course, lent themselves easily to smuggling; and up to the second half of this century there was a substantial difference between the Irish and the English duties on them—a difference far greater than the difference it was now proposed to create between the respective duties on teas. The difference would be accepted temporarily as an expedient pending the readjustment of the financial relations 954 between the two countries. In order tempt people to engage in the dangerous trade of smuggling there must be a good profit to be made by evading the payment of duties, but with the duties on tea one conviction might easily swallow up the possible profits of years. Although the profit would not tempt people to smuggle, the injustice was great enough to justify the people in asking for this relief unless the Chancellor of the Exchequer could offer it in another form.
§ MR. LOUGH
said there was no antagonism between his proposal and Free Trade principles, and he could support his position by the authority of Sir R. Peel, Mr. Pitt, and all the Chancellors of the Exchequer of the first half of the century. The tendency of our Budgets had been to reduce the taxation per head in Great Britain, and to raise it per head in Ireland. In 1830, in England, the Tea Duty per head was 3s. 7d., to-day it was 1s. 10d.; in Ireland, in 1830, it was 1s. 2½d., and to-day it was 2s. 2½d.: while it had fallen one-half in England, it had doubled in Ireland. In one case it had risen with the increase of the population; in the other it had doubled with the reduction of the population by one-half. There was all the difference in this question between a country and a county; the whole of Ireland was a very different entity from any English county. There was the highest authority for looking at a question from a national point of view. If hon. Members realised how much Ireland suffered under a tyrannous fiscal system, they would not treat the matter so lightly as they did. He did not think that Gentlemen on his own side were prepared to support him, and as for the Irish Members they were not present in any numbers. As he did not see any good in pushing the matter further, he would be satisfied with the discussion.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS moved, after the word "tea," to insert the words "valued over one shilling" a pound. He said his object was to lighten the burdens that fell upon the poor, whether in Great Britain or in Ireland, by continuing the Customs duties upon the higher priced teas. It 955 was stated some time ago by the hon. Member for Central Sheffield that a large quantity of tea was sold to the poorer classes in London at 6d. per lb. That meant—the duty on tea being 4d. in the lb.—that the poor paid 400 per cent. in duty, while the rich, who paid 3s. per lb. for their tea, paid only 10 per cent. The present Government had to take an interest in his proposal, because at the General Election he had heard nothing in his constituency but talk of the social legislation which the Tories were going to propose. The Government had now an excellent opportunity of carrying their pledges and promises into practice. They had the opportunity of relieving the poorer classes of an oppressive tax. The Chancellor of the Exchequer would probably say he had not the money to do it this year. But that was not the fault of the Opposition. It was the fault of the Government, who had spent the money in various objectionable ways. The money spent for the relief of landlords from agricultural rating would have been much better employed in relieving the community from a portion of this tax on tea. He ventured to put forward the Amendment as a test of the sincerity of the Government in professing to desire to pass social legislation.
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said the speech of the hon. Member showed that he believed, from such information as he had been able to obtain, that there was a very large difference between the prices of tea of different kinds sold in the wholesale market. In fact, the hon. Member suggested that some kinds of tea were sold at 3s. and 4s. per lb., while stuff not deserving the name of tea was sold at 6d. per lb. That impression was altogether erroneous, and on it was possibly based the feeling which prevailed on the part of some hon. Members in favour of an ad valorem duty on tea by which the cheaper kinds of tea, which were supposed to be bought by the poor, might pay a smaller duty than tea of higher prices. He had been able to ascertain the result of 12 months' sales of tea in the wholesale London market, and taking it month by month from May 1895, the average wholesale monthly price for tea was never more than 9¼d. per lb. and never less than 7¾d. per lb., and out of the whole amount of 956 tea sold—or the bulk of the tea sold in the kingdom—1.7 per cent. was sold at the wholesale price of over 1s. per lb. Practically the ordinary price of tea in the wholesale market was about 9d. or 10d. per lb. The differences in the price of tea were therefore so minute that it would be practically impossible to apply an ad valorem, duty, and besides such a duty would necessarily involve a good deal of inquisitorial action on the part of the Customs, which would be extremely inconvenient and distasteful to the trade. ["Hear, hear!"] The effect of the Amendment would be practically to get rid of the duty on tea altogether, for 95 per cent. of the duty on tea was derived from tea sold under a shilling per lb. The hon. Gentleman seemed to imagine also that the cheaper teas were invariably consumed by the poorer classes. But the fact was the working men, especially of the artisan class, were apt to purchase more expensive; teas than better-to-do people. ["Hear, hear!"] The effect of the hon. Member's Amendment would not, therefore, be to exempt from duty the poor man whom he desired to benefit. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said that as the effect of the Amendment would practically be the abolition of the duty on tea altogether, he suggested to his hon. Friend that he should withdraw his Amendment, and support the Amendment which stood in his name.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
said he had always strongly objected to the removal of any indirect tax whatever except a sufficient substitute for it was provided; and he had always suggested that duties might reasonably be taken off articles not produced in this country provided duties were put on articles we do produce. But what the hon. Gentleman proposed in his Amendment was that a large majority of the voters of the kingdom who were not alcoholic drinkers, and who only contributed to the revenue through the duty on tea, should be exempt altogether from taxation. That, in his opinion, was unsound finance. He should always oppose the abolition of, or any material reduction in, the Tea Duties until some substitute was provided that would insure that tea-drinkers contributed their fair share to the revenue.
§ MR. H. LEWIS
said that in view of the difficulties in the way of the Amendment, which the Chancellor of the; Exchequer had pointed out, he would ask to withdraw it, though he was in favour of the abolition of the Tea Duty.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE moved to leave out the word "fourpence," and to insert instead thereof the word "twopence." The effect of the Amendment was to reduce the duty on tea from 4d. per lb. to 2d. per lb. He said that it was desirable that this Tea Duty should be gradually abolished, and, unlike most other taxes, a reduction in which specially benefited a small class only, the Tea Duty was an impost on all classes, and the benefit of any reduction in it was shared by almost every individual in the community. Further, the reduction would be a great boon to the industrial classes of India and Ceylon.
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said that it might be reserved for some future year to see a reduction in the Tea Duty, but he could not consent to such a reduction at present. To reduce the duty by one-half would leave him with a deficiency of about £1,800,000.
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said that the hon. Member was quite mistaken in supposing that that was the amount required for the Rating Bill in the present year. The Amendment would deprive the Exchequer, not only of £975,000, which was about the amount required for the three Rating Bills, but also of a part of the surplus which, with the almost unanimous consent of the House, had been allocated to the increase of the Navy. Moreover, the House had sanctioned the Rating Bill; it was bound to make provision for the expenditure, and it was impossible at this period of the Session to make the provision in any other way. Therefore he could not accept the hon. Member's Amendment.
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS
asked in what year the Chancellor of the Exchequer could expect to make this reduction 958 if not in the present, when he had such an enormous surplus. The reduction would benefit almost everybody in the community, and it would be an immense boon to India and Ceylon, from which countries 88 per cent. of the total amount of tea consumed in this country was imported.
§ Question put, "That the word 'four-pence' stand part of the clause."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 263; Noes, 96.—(Division List, No. 313.)
§ On the question that the clause stand part of the Bill,
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said that with regard to the increasing expenditure, he had protested against it over and over again, and so long as the country approved of the present rate of expenditure a reduction of taxation was impossible. He confessed that the prospect was of an increase, not a reduction, of expenditure. He mentioned this because he had seen in the public Press references to the result of the recent quarter, and to the large increase of revenue. The Chancellor of the Exchequer knew as well as he did that this was owing to exceptional circumstances, and that it would not be well to endeavour at this early stage of the financial year to attempt any prediction as to the revenue. The notion that the increase of revenue in the quarter which had just expired was to be taken as a test of the expectations of the revenue for the year would be an entirely erroneous conception. As long as the expenditure of the country remained on its present footing he would not feel himself justified in voting for any reduction of taxation, however desirable it might be. He only hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would resist all proposals for reducing the revenue of this year by a diminution of taxation under any head, because he was quite sure that neither he nor the country could afford it. So long as the right hon. Gentleman took the line of standing by the revenue—for he was sure he would want every penny of it, and probably a good many pennies more—he could, at all events, count upon his support.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
said the Leader of the Opposition had again addressed a timely warning to the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman had pointed out that their fiscal system, as embodied in that clause, had failed in maintaining the capacity of the country to pay its way. [Cries of "No!"] The right hon. Gentleman said so, and added that he looked forward to the time, and that no distant time, when, so far from removing taxation, the question would be whether new taxation should not be imposed.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I said that, unless the House of Commons became wiser and refused to sanction this expenditure—
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
said the right hon. Gentleman did not tell them what direction the increase of taxation was going to take, but he hoped he would, at any rate, get rid of some of his prejudices when he had that condition of things to face. He had not found the right hon. Gentleman a very strenuous advocate of retrenchment in the only direction which was practicable in this country—that of the Civil Service Estimates. Under his own auspices they rose by leaps and bounds.
*THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS
I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the only question now before the Committee is whether the duty of 4d. on tea should be reimposed or not.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
said that, so far from being a party to any reduction of the Tea Duty, he thought it should be maintained.
§ MR. T. P. WHITTAKER (York., W. R., Spen Valley)
said it was quite true that they must meet the expenditure that had been incurred, but that was no reason why they should not adjust the taxation to meet it. The surplus would have permitted a reduction in the Tea Duty, but it had been frittered away in other directions, to which some of them very strongly objected. It was, however, quite within the capacity of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to provide the money required in those directions in some other way. They would come later to a clause under which the Chancellor of the Exchequer might put another penny on the Income Tax and provide for the Rating Bill out of the classes who had done so much to 960 support it. As it was, they wanted to bring home more and more to the minds of the people that that Rating Bill involved this 2d. they were trying to get off the Tea Duty, and that if it had not been for that Bill there would have been a surplus left which would have enabled them to reduce the duty on tea. Therefore, for all practical purposes, it was this duty on tea which was required to meet the expenditure which this House was incurring to relieve the landlords.
§ MR. T. R. LEUTY (Leeds, E.)
said he looked upon this duty as a wicked and cruel one. He thought that when the country was in such a state of prosperity that the surplus was counted by millions, it was a cruel thing to continue to impose this duty upon what was becoming now a prime necessity among the very poorest in the land. The duty was all the more vicious because it was imposed to the same amount per pound on the tea which these people used and on the most valuable tea. Such an oppressive duty was absolutely indefensible. He could not follow the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition with regard to the duty of that House in reimposing this tax. It was a very difficult thing to get an assembly like that to select certain items of expenditure and say they would not sanction them. It was a very easy thing for permanent officials and heads of Departments to reduce expenditure, and his opinion was that they would begin to do it when that House refused the money they needed. He took it that those who had the control of the expenditure of the country would only need to exercise more reasonable care, and if they saw that that House was not prepared to follow them in imposing duties of this character, it might possibly not be so difficult to get the expenditure reduced.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said they had had plenty of evidence produced as to the noxious character of tea. The hon. Member for West Islington proved conclusively that the more per head the Irish drank tea the more the population diminished.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said the hon. Gentleman also gave figures showing that 961 the more tea per head they drank the more the population diminished, and that now the population had diminished to the lowest point they drank more per head than they ever did before. He thought it would be an unfortunate thing if they did anything which tended to encourage the consumption of tea beyond its present limits. Consider what the result would be. If they took off the whole duty upon tea they would have the country flooded with tea-drinkers, and the spirit-drinkers, who gave the Chancellor of the Exchequer £4,000,000 a year, and the wine-drinkers, who gave him £1,000,000 a year, would proportionately diminish. That might be well from the temperance point of view, but it would be very bad from the fiscal point of view. He did not suppose the Amendment was a serious one. It was an attempt to deprive the Chancellor of the Exchequer of between £3,000,000 and £4,000,000 a year without any suggestion as to the source from which he was to supply the deficiency, and that at a time when, as the Leader of the Opposition had pointed out, all the Departments were extending their demands—demands which were aggravated by further demands out-of-doors. He trusted the hon. Member would not really go to a Division.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said he really did not see why they should not go to a Division. ["Hear, hear!"] He entirely agreed with the Leader of the Opposition in his complaint about the expenditure of the country, but it appeared to him that one of the best ways to stop that expenditure was not to give Ministers the money to spend. [Laughter and cheers.] All the Estimates had not yet been voted, and if they were to cut off some of the money, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have to alter, to a certain extent, the Estimates which had not yet been passed and reduce them.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said he was not thinking of the Education Vote for a moment. He was thinking of the bloated armaments which Mr. Gladstone had justly described as wanton, reckless, and perilous. [Cheers.] Under those circumstances it appeared to him they might reasonably vote against this tax 962 on tea. He did not know of any duty more unjust and unfair. He was opposed to all indirect taxation, because he thought it weighed unfairly upon the poor as against the rich, but this tax was the most unjust of all indirect taxation, because it was not an ad valorem tax. He supposed they could get a reasonable tea for 8d. a pound.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said his hon. Friend was in the trade and, he supposed, ought to know—[laughter]—but he had seen it advertised in the shops at that price. [Laughter,] Perhaps he spent a little more himself upon his tea—["Hear, hear!" and laughter]—but he knew that for 8d. they could get tea, and upon that they paid a duty of 4d.—that was to say 50 per cent.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said his hon. Friend would perhaps say what was a fair price for a really good tea. [Laughter.] His hon. Friend said he could not sell it to a customer under 2s. a pound. [Laughter.] But still the duty was 4d. a lb., so that, whereas the poor man out of his expenditure on tea paid 40 per cent. in duty, the percentage paid by the rich man was only something like 18. Therefore the poor paid in regard to their tea twice as much as the rich. Tea was a most comforting beverage. They had only to go down to the Terrace below to see how pleased a large portion of the female population were by the cup which cheered but did not inebriate. [Laughter.] Whenever the tax on tea was brought forward hon. Members on his side of the House ought to accentuate their opposition to it by dividing against its imposition.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
observed that, though he and his hon. Friend below him had changed sides in the House, they had not changed their attitude or opinion as to this duty. When hon. Members who were now sitting on the Government Benches proposed that the tax should be repealed, he and his hon. Friend supported them by both vote and voice. They had always opposed the imposition of the Tea Duty on the ground that it bore too heavily on the poor and too lightly on the rich. If his hon. Friend wont to a Division he should be glad to support him—as he supported 963 hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House when they proposed a similar Amendment—so that they might compel the Chancellor of the Exchequer to increase the amount of revenue paid by non-earning and wealthy classes rather than by the poorer members of the community.
§ MR. J. W. LOGAN (Leicester, Harborough)
contended that the class who suffered by this most iniquitous imposition was the poorest of the poor. There were really so many means in which taxation could be raised without taxing the very poorest, that it was high time the statesmen of the country set themselves to work to see if it was not possible to allow the poor of this country to enjoy the necessaries of life—such as their cup of tea—free from taxation. The right hon. Member for Thanet had said that if the Tea Duty were abolished the bulk of the revenue of the country would have to be found by the Income Tax paying class. But who was it who enabled them to pay the Income Tax if not the working class? It was the men who worked for him (Mr. Logan) who enabled him to pay the Income Tax. The whole of the expenditure of this country, whether local or Imperial, was found by the working classes, and by no other people, and the least they could do for them, whilst so many of them were suffering from starvation, was to free their breakfast table, and to allow them to enjoy the bare necessaries of life free from taxation. Let the right hon. Gentleman substitute for this tax and the paltry sum it yielded, the taxation of land values, which would have the advantage of being a tax to which every man, woman, and child in the land must contribute.
§ Question put "That Clause 1 stand part of the Bill:"—
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 228; Noes, 87.—(Division List, No. 314.)
§ Clause 2,—