History of the City of London coal duties

Unpopularity of the duties


The coal duties had always been unpopular and there are a large number of pamphlets and articles in periodicals attacking them (For example: Telltruth (1815), Remarks on the coal trade ... (1830), McCulloch (1830), City coal dues (1853), Kintrea (1859), Colwell (1861), and the speeches in Parliament on the Abolition Bill (Times 23rd May, 20th June, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 9th July 1889)). The grounds of attack include such general principles as Free Trade and the fact that, like any indirect tax, the duties bore more heavily on the poor -- though when the duties were abolished no benefit seems to have been passed on to the consumer (See the correspondence column of the Times 15th October 1889 p 5; 9th December 1889 p 12).

Criticism was also made of the way in which a duty originally quite specific both as to application and area of collection had been in both respects extended to an almost unrecognisable degree. Objection was also taken to both the anomaly of any duty which applied only to London and to the greater anomaly that the London which benefited from them -- the area of the Metropolitan Board of Works, at most (roughly the old London County Council area) -- was a lot smaller than that over which the duties were levied. For example see the doubts expressed on this score in 1812 by the Select Committee on the Orphans Fund, and the speech of Sir J Pease on the second reading of the Abolition Bill, in which he pointed out that the 9d duty "was collected over 700 square miles to be spent over 120 square miles, while the City had had the advantage of 4d a ton collected over 700 square miles to be spent over one square mile." (Times 23rd May 1889 p3).

The duties had, of course, their defenders, for example: Select Committee on Metropolis Improvements (1836), Thwaites (1859), and Reasons for the continuance ... (1887). The select committee, for example, thought that "it is difficult to suggest a duty upon which so large a sum of money can be raised by so small an amount of charge as the duty on coal, and at so little expense in the collection; its operation is scarcely felt except by the very large consumers, who are few in number, while the poor are affected by it in a very trifling degree." (Report p4.)

However, the Select Committee on the State of the Coal Trade, ironically sitting at the same time, expressed the hope "that no new charge may be imposed to render a continuance of the City Coal Duty necessary" (Report p 27).

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