HC Deb 11 May 1896 vol 40 cc1099-101

"The duty of Customs now payable on tea shall continue to be 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, fourpence.

MR. D. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs) moved to insert after the word "continue," the words "except in respect of tea grown in any part of Her Majesty's Dominions." The practical effect, he said, would be to except from taxation the tea of India and Ceylon and tea grown in any of our colonies. We ought, he said, to encourage industries in those parts of the Empire that were not self-governing. Those that were self-governing had taken advantage of that fact to impose duties upon goods sent from this country. India and Ceylon had no power to do so; they could impose no duties upon imports from this country without the consent of this country; and that was a ground for exempting their produce in this country from taxation. A good deal was said about a British Zollverein to encourage British trade in all parts of the world. Here was an opportunity of making a practical start. It was easy to make speeches upon questions of this character; but what was the good of doing so, now that they had the opportunity to carry out a policy of that kind? They had a great surplus, and they had the opportunity of making a fair start with a Zollverein. Let them begin by taking the duty off tea. Another reason for helping India was that taxes there were exceedingly heavy and the neglect of irrigation works might bring a large section of the people to the verge of famine. It was of the greatest importance that Indian industries, and especially an industry of this character, should be encouraged. To impose heavy duties on tea was to discourage the tea industry, to arrest its growth, and thus to deprive the people of India of profitable employment. He pointed out that the case for India was strengthened by the fact that they had heard even to-day that exceptional expenses were to be thrown on India to provide troops for Egypt—a matter which was none of theirs at all. If they were going to put exceptional expenses on the natives of India for the purpose of an expedition in which they were not concerned, surely that was an argument for doing away with a tax on their industry. He found that the existing tax was the highest tax on any commodity in the whole of the Queen's dominions. He objected to it also on the ground that it was a tax on a popular beverage. It was practically a tax upon the poor. In his Budget speech the Chancellor of the Exchequer told them that most of their tea was grown in India and Ceylon, so that if they took away that tax on Indian tea they would cheapen and encourage a popular beverage. If they took away this tax they would benefit the working classes. He begged to move his Amendment.

MR. HERBERT ROBERTS (Denbighshire W.)

seconded the Amendment and thought that the tax ought not to be suffered to remain. Not only in the interests of the poorer consuming classes, but of an industry in the island of Ceylon which deserved encouragement, they asked the House to take the duty off Ceylon tea. The present condition of India, too, did not justify the House in retaining any duty which might be prejudicial to our Indian Empire.


said, the adoption of the Amendment would destroy the duty on tea in a year when we could not afford so large a loss to the revenue, and it would put an end to the payment of any Imperial taxation by a very large number of the population. Thirdly, this proposal was remarkable as coming from the other side of the House, because it indicated the adoption by hon. Gentlemen opposite of what they had hitherto denounced as a policy of protection, or, at any rate, of a reactionary character. ["Hear, hear!"] He did not know whether this subject had been seriously raised, but if he had known that it would be raised at all, he would have postponed the clause and asked the Committee to consider the succeeding clauses which were of a purely non-contentious character. But as the subject has been raised he would not ask the Committee to proceed with the discussion to-night, but would move to report Progress.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.