HC Deb 04 December 1908 vol 197 cc1761-2

To ask the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he is aware that for many years the Ceylon tea planters have been paying, at their own request, a tax collected by the Government for pushing the sale of Ceylon teas in new markets, especially in America; that at the instigation of a few people or a very small minority, that is, 4 against 70 tea planters, Lord Elgin gave notice that the cess must cease; that this decision created consternation among the people connected with the planting enterprise; whether he is aware that three years ago the Indian tea planters, realising the benefits accruing to Ceylon by this cess or self-imposed taxation, started one of a similar character, and its collection has been allowed for five years more, viz., to 1913; whether, seeing that His Excellency the Governor of Ceylon has written a despatch urging His Majesty's Government to allow the Ceylon planters to continue the payment of this taxation, in view of the benefits derived therefrom, he will say what answer has the Secretary of State given to the appeal of the Governor; and whether he has any objection to lay the correspondence upon the Table of the Home.

(Answered by Colonel Seely.) Lord Elgin decided in October, 1906, that the collection of the tea-cess by the Government must cease at the end of 1908. This decision was taken on the ground that a substantial minority of the persons interested in the tea industry objected to the tax, and that it was difficult to defend a law which at the wish of the majority of a class taxed a dissenting minority for purposes essentially in the nature of private enterprise. The Secretary of State sees no sufficient cause for reversing his predecessor's decision. It will, of course, be open to the majority to raise the funds which they think necessary without the intervention of the Government. I may observe that the vote of 70 against 4 to which the hon. Member refers was apparently a vote of the Ceylon Planters' Association in February last, whereas Lord Elgin's decision was taken in October, 1906, as I have already explained, and was prompted by the objections of a considerable number of persons and companies interested in the tea industry, of whom many are not resident in Ceylon, and therefore do not vote at meetings of the Planters' Association. It is not proposed to lay Papers upon the subject.