§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. DALZIEL (Kirkealdy Burghs)
desired to renew his protest against matters of such great importance being taken after midnight. This Bill raised questions of great and far-reaching importance, which ought to be discussed in the light of day, and it was not right that the Government should attempt to get it through without a word of explanation. The object of the first clause appeared to be to exempt imported molasses from duty. That in itself was an excellent proposal, but it was in strange contrast with the measure discussed yesterday, and the Government ought to explain why they proposed to tax sugar one day and to remit the tax on another class of sugar the next. The Bill also proposed to tax the spirit contained in manufactured articles. It would surely be very difficult to ascertain the exact proportion of spirit contained in the manufactured article, but no explanation of how it was proposed to be done had been given. With the work they already had in hand, and the additional duties to be imposed upon them, the life of the Customs officials would be anything but a happy one. There was also and allowance 1019 to be made on articles exported containing spirit. How was that to be tested, and who was to decide to whom the allowance should be paid? Then, too, saccharine "and all like substances" were in future to be taxed. Who was to define what "all like substances" were? Had this clause been inserted at the request of the Colonial Secretary? In future the Inland Revenue authorities were to have power to inspect warehouses in which spirit might happen to be. He would have thought they already had full powers to inspect such warehouses, and that there was no necessity for such a clause.
The Bill also announced another new departure. In the case of a company increasing its capital, the increased registration duty was to be paid within fifteen days. If it was not paid there was to be a debt charge on the shareholders as individuals. The law of limited liability was to be set aside, and a shareholder holding a £1 share in a company might, although that company had been wound up, be liable for a debt to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in regard to an increase of capital. That was an important departure, because in future the liability of a shareholder would not be limited by the amount of the shares held by him. He protested against adding any additional responsibility to a shareholder when he had discharged his full liability by paying the amount of the share at the nominal value. There was a possibility that the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to all these stamps might be making a mistake. His belief was that the severe tax put upon registration had been a source of very great loss to the Revenue, and he thought this cause was driving many registrations out of the country. His opinion was that this proposal would not recompense the right hon. Gentleman, and would not amount to the sum which would justify this important departure. Then, again, hiring agreements were to be taxed, and this was a question which deserved the serious consideration of Parliament. If a person entered into a hiring agreement for £100 and paid £80 of that amount, and could not pay the remaining £20, it was very hard that such a person should lose the money he had paid. He should like to know what evidence could be brought forward to justify this important departure. Had the right hon. 1020 Gentleman formed any estimate as to the amount of money he would get by this proposal? Then there was a proposal in regard to the insurance of ships. In future under this Bill it would be impossible to get sea insurance on any ship under construction in a dockyard or port. Then there was another proposal in regard to friendly societies, and smaller policies had to be reported as well as the larger ones. He did not wish to go into the other one hundred and one things raised by this Bill, but he contended that this was a measure which ought not to be discussed after 12 o'clock. Many of the proposals in the Bill were of an important character, and as they had had no explanation of them, he thought they were entitled to insist upon knowing exactly what they were doing and what object the Government had in view. He could not believe that the Government at this period would introduce a Bill which would go its far as this Bill went. Until they got an explanation he was not inclined to believe that all the clauses were as good as the Secretary to the Treasury believed them to be. He hoped the hon. Member would justify his policy in bringing forward this Bill at this period of the session. He begged to move "That this Bill be read a second time this day three months."
§ * SIR CHARLES DILKE
said the main objection to this Bill was that the whole of these proposals should have been in the Finance Bill. That Bill was not confined only to the new taxes of the year, but it was a measure which always Contained the general amendments of the law. Therefore he had the greatest pleasure in seconding this Motion. There were two rather strange clauses in this Bill, and one of them related to the importation of molasses. It would he a very difficult thing to distinguish molasses imported for one purpose and those imported for another purpose. Molasses was used both for feeding stuns and as food for young persons, therefore it would be very difficult to make this distinction. A more serious matter was concerned in Clause 13, which was the tenement clause. He did not wish to accuse the Chancellor of the Exchequer of specially differentiating in the case of Birmingham, but it was well known that in Birmingham there were 1021 no flats. The effect of this proposal must be to benefit by a preferential system one particular class of houses.
To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words upon this day three months.'"—(Mr. Dalziel.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question.'"
§ THE FINANCIAL SECRETARY TO THE TREASUR (Mr. ELLIOT, Durham)
said the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs complained that no explanation had been given of this Bill. As a matter of fact he was prepared to rise to give an explanation when the hon. Member anticipated him. The hon. Member appeared to altogether misconceive the nature of the Bill. He asked more than once what the Chancellor of the Exchequer hoped to gain by it. The object of the Bill was not to gain money for the Chancellor of the Exchequer but to relieve the public of a burden. [An HON. MEMBER: To relieve the landlords.] There was nothing in the Bill to relieve the landlords. It was partly to relieve those engaged in the agricultural interest who were anxious, for the purposes of their business, to bring in feeding stuffs. It was to enable them to carry on their trade to advantage, and to free from duty articles which came into this country practically as raw material. He did not know what there was in the clause to affect landlords or to enable the hon. Member to ask what the Chancellor of the Exchequer hoped to gain by the Bill. In regard to the taxing clause anyone who read it would understand that it was to carry out a promise given on the Second Reading of the Budget Bill by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he hoped to be able to give effect to his wishes in relieving from duties commodities which were made use of in the way stated. That was a main and most important clause of this Bill. The other clauses were framed in order to smooth matters and lighten the burden on the ordinary taxpayer of the country. He did not know that the hon. Member quite appreciated the real meaning of the spirits clause. The real meaning could be put easily and shortly. The position at present was that where articles had been manufactured by means of spirits the manufactured articles on being im- 1022 ported should be subject to duty. At present the duty was estimated by the Customs, who took into consideration how much spirits would be required in the manufacture of a particular article and then impose on the manufactured article a duty equal to what would have been on the spirits if imported into this country not as a manufactured article. What was done by this clause was to put the scale of charge exactly at the same rate as on the home-made manufactured article. The hon. Gentleman seemed to think that a considerable point was made as to saccharine. At present the Act of Parliament governing these matters gave the authorities power to prohibit the importation of saccharine, while in regard to glucose there was power given not really to prohibit but to regulate the manufacture of the article in this country. When the last Act was passed no saccharine was manufactured in this country, but nowadays it was. It was a highly sweetening matter, and might easily be made the subject of fraud, and it was proposed that the conditions applicable to glucose should be extended to saccharine. At present the law required that the housing for excise officers should be established on the premises where the distilleries were situated, but it gave no power to establish these houses beyond the actual premises used for distilling. The clause to which the hon. Member had called attention would enable premises to be extended beyond the present limit. With regard to stamps, as hon Members were aware, the amount at present was 5s. per £100 on the capital of companies. There was the same stamp duty exacted for an increase of capital. No limit was fixed as to the time for the payment of duty on increased capital, and therefore a good deal of capital escaped taxation. A clause was therefore put into the Bill to prevent evasions of the law in that respect. Then as regarded coal, when a cargo of coal was shipped, either for foreign parts or coastwise, the exporter had to enter into a bond of security for the payment of the coal duty. The bond was subject to a stamp duty, and the proposal in the Bill was to relieve the coal exporter from that stamp duty. If hon. Members were determined to stand 1023 in the way of these concessions being given they would cause inconvenience and loss to many of His Majesty's subjects.
§ MR. ELLIOT
said that so far as he understood it, the object of that clause was to make some abatement; to charge exactly the same duty on houses erected one above the other as applied to houses set side by side. That did not impose a burden, but was a relief.
§ ME. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid)
said that in view of the importance of the subject he moved the adjournment of the debate.
§ * THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. RITCHIE,) Croydon
said it was perfectly obvious that the Government could not insist on this Bill being proceeded with if there was not a desire on the part of the House to assist the Government in doing what they believed to be in the interests of the public. Many of the matters which were dealt with in the Bill had been pressed on the Exchequer for several years past, and they were all in the nature of concessions. It was evident that the Bill gave facilities for a vast amount of discussion, and he was prepared to agree to the Motion for the postponement of the debate. As the Bill was composed of a great many clauses which, on the face of them, were, perhaps, not easily understood, he thought it might facilitate matters if a memorandum were circulated amongst hon. Members explanatory of each one of the proposals. He hoped that the House would consent, after considering the memorandum for a night or two, to the Government proceeding with the Bill, which was very much wanted so far as administration was concerned.
§ MR. ALEXANDER CROSS (Glasgow, Camlachie)
said he was gratified at the very reasonable manner in which they had been met by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and he did not think that the debate should be allowed to conclude without his right hon. friend being congratulated on his action.
MACVEAGH (Down, S.)
said he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would be able to distinguish between molasses imported for food for stock and molasses imported for a different purpose, namely, for the manufacture of a very poisonous class of Scotch whisky. It would be desirable that the House should he given an assurance that this Bill would not facilitate Scotch distillers poisoning the public.
§ Motion made, and Question—"That the debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr Caldwell.)
§ Put, and agreed to.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Tuesday next.