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of government, nor had he meant to say it was; but he should still contend, that the state of the customs and excise was, as was fairly to be inferred from the face of the resolutions on the table. Mr. Sheridan observed, that if the honorable gentleman who spoke last thought his thanks better earned by words than deeds, he did right to give them to the noble lord who had made the motion, that the chairman leave the chair. That noble lord had talked about, what by fair inference the present resolutions might be said to prove to be doing.
Here the debate ceased, and the committee agreed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's resolution.
WAYS AND MEANS.
A resolution for imposing a tax on wheels having been read by the clerk, it was opposed by Sir Philip Jennings Clerke, and Lord Mahon, as a greater check on agriculture and manufactures.
Mr. SHERIDAN replied, that in the bill which was to impose this tax, such regulations might be made as should remove many of the objections that had been stated; he was sure the noble lord who had proposed the tax would not resist any one exception in favour of the farmer, that should appear reasonable; and therefore he requested gentlemen would suspend their objections until they should see the bill, and the regulations that it contained. As to the noble lord, (Mahon) who had objected to the tax, merely because a greater tax might be ingrafted on it in future, his objection appeared to him unseasonable; it might apply well enough when such greater tax should be proposed; but if even a very heavy tax indeed should be proposed hereafter, and carried, the noble lord who had objected to it, would find an opportunity of encreasing the revenue, by taking off the taxes.
Upon a division, there appeared for the tax 47; against it 20.
RECEIPTS TO STAMP DUTIES.
A short conversation took place on the bill, subjecting receipts to stamp duties. The Lord Mayor and Mr. Sawbridge wished that it might not go into a committee so soon as Thursday next, as there were to be meetings of the common council, and of the merchants on Friday.
Mr. SHERIDAN was of opinion it would be better that the bill should be committed before these meetings should take place; and his reason was this; he knew that many of the objections now entertained against the tax, would be proved to be illfounded as soon as the bill should be read; because care had been taken so to draw it up, as to guard against the evils which afforded ground for objection; and therefore, when gentlemen should have been satisfied of this by discussion in the committee on Thursday, they would be better able to give information on the subject to the gentlemen who were to assist at the meetings that were to be held on Friday.
An order was then made for sending the bill to a committee on Thursday.
TAX ON BILLS OF EXCHANGE, &c. AND RECEIPTS.
In the course of this debate, Mr. Sheridan replied to several questions put by members as to particular bills coming within the description of the clause-The Lord Mayor observed that the tax would be particularly hard upon laborers and the poor in general; and moved that the word "five" be inserted, exempting all receipts under £5.-Upon a division, there appeared for the Lord Mayor's motion 21; against it 26.
REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE UPON THE TAX BILL.
Mr. SHERIDAN said, that the framers of the bill labored under very great disadvantages, inasmuch as they acted only from their own weak judgment; whereas the opposers of it argued against it, only because they had been instructed so to do, by persons who had never seen the bill, and were unacquainted with the various provisions it contained. He used several arguments to shew that the tax would eventually fall on the buyer, and not on the seller. He had seen a mercer, to whom this tax was odious, and yet who had no objection that a tax should be laid on wrought silks, because he could raise his price accordingly to his customers; but that the tax on receipts was obnoxious to him; for by it, the two-pence, and no more, would pass to and from his hands, without any augmentation to the public purse. For his own part, he was convinced that the tax had become odious amongst some people, only because none were to receive any benefit from it but the government, to whom it was paid. This made a great difference compared with all other taxes; for in the one, government received it all; in the others, for one shilling that was imposed by parliament, ten were imposed by the seller.
The title of the bill being read, Lord Mahon moved three clauses, to be added to the bill, by way of rider; the two first, which went to the exemption of all receipts, with the words "in full of all demands" inserted therein, though for a sum less than forty shillings, from being liable to the penalty, were readily ascented to. The third was to enact a limitation of time for prosecutions to recover the penalty to be commenced in cases where it was forfeited. To these latter Mr. Sheridan made some objection.
Mr. SHERIDAN said he was a little surprised that the noble lord was so ill informed, as not to know,
that as the law stood already, all prosecutions of a nature similar to those that would be commenced, if occasion required it, to recover the penalties of the present bill, were limited to twelve months; and could not be commenced after the lapse of that period. Mr. Sheridan took notice of the amendments with which the noble lord had been so good as to favor them the day before; and said, they were so extremely trifling, that it little mattered whether they were proposed or not.
After some further conversation, the clause was read; and the words" twelve months," introduced. Mr. Sheridan next proposed his new clauses; one of them imposing a duty of sixpence on all foreign bills of exchange, &c. which was agreed to. Colonel Norton having observed, that he objected to the tax, and he understood that Mr. Pitt said only that he consented to it on account of the public necessities.
Mr. SHERIDAN rose to contradict this, declaring, that the right honorable gentlemen had spoken with infinite candor upon the subject; but nothing he had said, warranted such a conclusion. [Mr. Pitt nodded assent to this remark.] Mr. Sheridan observed, that after all that had passed, the matter still rested on the very issue that he had placed it on the day before; namely, on the question whether the tax would be paid by the consumer, or the retail dealer. He said, notwithstanding the two very respectable authorities cited by the honorable gentleman opposite to him, (Colonel Onslow) he meant Tully and the grocer, he was firm in his opinion, that it would be paid by the consumer; and it was evident that almost every one of the gentlemen who had asserted the contrary, had expressly said, they spoke from the instructions of others;that they had been ordered not to be convinced by argument, and should vote as they had been directed by their constituents. Mr. Sheridan hoped the retail trader would honestly comply with the express letter of the bill, and throw the tax on the consumer; for if the consumer let the retail trader pay it, he was sure it would be charged to the consumer with addition in the price of the article purchased.
REPORT OF THE MALT COMMITTEE TO TAX PRIVATE BREWERS.
Under the authority of an act of parliament, persons brewing beer for their own use, and not for sale, were permitted to compound with the board of excise, at so much a head in their family, for the real duty on malt they thus consumed, in consequence of which they were freed from the visits of the Excise officer; but great frauds having arisen under this power of compounding, to the great destruction of the revenue; Lord John Cavendish moved for a committee of the whole house, to take into consideration the law which gives this power. In the committee a resolution was moved by his lordship, that this power of compounding ought to cease; the resolution was carried without opposition. The chairman afterwards reported it to the house; and Mr. Sheridan moved the house to agree with the committee in this resolution. It was opposed by Mr. Hill on the ground of being a partial, unproductive, oppressive, offensive, and a smuggled tax: -in the course of his speech he observed that an assurance had been held out by ministers that no such tax was intended, and that a member having enquired of Mr. Sheridan if it were really intended to be proposed, he assured him, that he did not know any thing of it.
Mr. SHERIDAN said, he had told the honorable gentleman that such a tax would not make part of this year's budget; and the resolution before the house was no contradiction to that assertion; for it was not to impose a new, but to regulate an old tax; and make it less unproductive, by taking away the means through which it had hitherto in a great measure been evaded.
The resolution afterwards passed.
BILL FOR THE ABOLISHING FEES.
Mr. Pitt having moved the house to resolve itself into a committee on the bill for abolishing fees, and establishing various regulations in the offices of the Treasury, Admiralty, Ordnance, Excise, and Stamps, and of several other offices therein mentioned;-and having asked if it was the intention of ministers to continue the commission of public accounts, which would expire next July. The motion