Is Mr. Gladstone's proposal to repeal the tax on paper were ever in danger of rejection, the Commissioners of Inland Revenue have given the coup de grace to its opponents. In the face of the pow- erful résumé of its inequalities and the difficulty of collecting it, few Members can have the hardihood to stand up and advocate its retention either as a fair tax, or as one that can easily be got together. The only argument left to the friends of the Paper- duty Is, that the moment is inopportune for its repeal ; an argu- ment always available at any moment against the repeal of any tax whatsoever, in a country whose expenditure ranges so high as our own. If this be an inopportune moment, when will an op- portune moment arrive ? When shall we have a surplus so large as to enable the Chancellor of the Exchequer to dispense with the Paper-duty? If such a moment is at present far out of sight, wherein consists the advantage of waiting until we arrive abreast with it. for no other purpose than that we may repeal the Paper- duty solely because we do not need the fund accruing to the Ex- chequer? The same reasoning would hold good for the retention of every tax until a surplus proves that it is not needed, and under such conditions, no Chancellor would be able to frame any scheme of finance intended to take off the burden from the springs of commerce and industry, or sweep away small protective duties. The case is so plain, that we shall be greatly surprised if the House of Commons should decide against Mr. Gladstone, and vote for the retention of the duty. Many people are apt to regard the repeal of the paper-tax as a
mere newspaper question, as if paper were used for no other than newspaper and bookmaking purposes. This view is quite erro- neous. The rallying cry of a party—Repeal the Taxes on Know- ledge—has in some measure led to this ; but the true source of the error is to be found in the fact that people did not remember what a vast mass of useful material, guiltless of the impression of type, comes under the Excise survey and pays the duty. The tax on paper used by newspaper proprietors and booksellers is only an item in the great amount. This has been often insisted on, but the public still persist in thinking that the demand for repeal alone arises from newspaper proprietors and the advocates of a cheap press. The Commissioners of Inland Revenue, in their letter to the Treasury of March 1, effectually dispose ofthis error.
Take the case of cardboard versus pasteboard. Under the pre-
sent law, cardboard is exempt from survey and of course duty ; while pasteboard is subjected to the survey and pays the duty. Yet "the distinction between the articles produced by the two trades is merely nominal ; " so that the tax actually operates as a protective duty in favour of cardboard. Poor pasteboard is even worse off. Cardboard is not its only rival. He has a " na- tural rival in scaleboard," and weighted by the tax, pasteboard yields the field to his enemy.
" Boxes, for instance, of various kinds, and especially hat-boxes, were
originally made of pasteboard, a more suitable material for the purpose than acaleboard. Since the duty has been levied on the former, and not on the latter, a trade which entirely supported a large manufactory near Oxford has ceased to exist; and it is asked, not without reason, whether it is just to select arbitrarily for taxation one of two articles so similar in their nature and in the purposes to which they are applicable."
The duty on pasteboard inflicts evil in many other directions.
The Commissioners, we prefer to speak on their authority, tell us that British merchants are obliged to import German boxes of an ornamental kind intended to contain fancy goods, because it is cheaper to do so than to buy the home-made article:— "The duty, therefore, on pasteboard boxes, and on slips of pasteboard on
which certain goods are wound, or to which they are attached, is a burden from which our manufacturers cannot be relieved so long as the paper-duty is maintained, and is no doubt as alleged by them an impediment in the close competition which they encounter in the foreign and colonial markets. Their endeavour to escape from this difficulty by importing foreign boxes, (subject at the Customhouse to an ad valorem duty, which is not an equiva- lent to that of the Excise,) while it affords but an imperfect remedy to the exporters, is an additional cause of complaint against the unequal operation of the revenue laws from the makers of paper and pasteboard in our own wintry."
Here we have the duty inflicting a double injury, first on the manufacturer, and next on the merchant. Envelopes have given . the Commissioners much trouble. Drawback was allowed on the
cuttings of envelopes, and forthwith demands for drawback upon cuttings of writing paper showered in. Cuttings from envelopes made at the mill are exempt from duty, because they are re- converted into pulp before the duty is charged ; but similar cut- tings from envelopes made by stationers cannot be exempted be- cause they have already paid duty ; another protective duty on mill-made envelopes. The Commissioners mournfully record how they have been obliged to suppress a "new and ingenious pro- duction" artificial parchment. The process of destruction was this. Parchment is free. But because artificial parchment is made in the same manner as paper is made, and because to give up the duty on artificial parchment would be to give it up on pa- per, therefore the Commissioners with heavy hearth were actually compelled to burke an extremely useful invention by loading it with burthens from which its ovine rival was free I Well may the Commissioners piteously remark :- " We cannot conceive a more untenable position for the heads of a Re- venue Department than that in which we are placed when, in answer to
complaints from persons whose trade is annihilated by our exaction of a duty from which their competitors are exempt, we can only say that such is 1
the necessary consequence of the existence of the tax.", We have cited these authentic eases of grievance to show that the repeal of the Paper-duty is not a mere newspaper question. Indeed, as the Commissioners admit, it has far wider bearings ; since paper forms, and free from taxation may still more largely form, one of the most essential elements of. comfort, convenience, ornament, and utility. It enters into every department of civili- zed life, imposes a tax on the hangings of our walls, on the price of our tea, sugar, butter, on all descriptions of goods wrapped in paper, enclosed in paper, cased in paper ; so that the duty is not only a nuisance to Mr. Pressly and his colleagues, not only a hindrance to trade, not only unjust in its incidence, but one of the most universal, as it is one of the most unequal, of taxes ; and we shall be well rid of it. The letter of the Inland Revenue Commissioners will, we should imagine, quite extinguish the little life it still retains