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Excise Duties

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EXCISE DUTIES, the name given to taxes or duties levied upon articles of consumption which are produced within the kingdom. This description, which has usually been given of excise duties, is more strictly applicable now than it was formerly, when the commissioners of ex cise revenue were also charged with the collection of duties upon various articles imported from foreign countries. Among these foreign articles were wine, spirits, tobacco, glass, and tea. The last named of these was the last that was withdrawn from the management of the Excise and transferred to the Board a Customs. There are still, it is true, certain• duties to which the name of excise is applied which can hardly be called duties upon consumption, such as the sums charged for licenses to permit persons to carry on eertain trades, the post-horse duties, and the duty on sales by auction abolished in 1845.

Excise duties are said to have had their origin in this country in the reign of Charles I., when a tax was laid upon beer, cider, and perry, of home produc tion. The act by which these duties were authorised was passed by the long parliament in 1643. This act contains also a list of foreign articles, and among others tobacco, wine, raisins, currants and loaf sugar, upon which excise duties were imposed in addition to duties of customs already chargeable. This act was adopted and enforced under the pro tectorate of Oliver Cromwell ; and by the statute 12 Charles II. c. 24, the du ties of excise were granted to the crown as part of its revenue.

For a long time this class of duties was viewed with particular dislike by the people, on account of its inquisitorial in terference with various industrial pur suits ; and it certainly forms a very strong ground of objection against excise duties, that the security of the revenue is held to be incompatible with the perfect free dom of the manufacturer as to the pro cesses which he may apply in his works. In every highly-taxed country where consumption duties form part of the pub lic revenue, it would seem however to be hardly possible to avoid the adoption of this class of duties. In France

there is, for example, a customs duty upon foreign-made sugar ; and it is clearly necessary tbr the protection of the reve nue that an excise duty should be im posed upon sugar produced at home from beet-root, otherwise the producer of indi genous sugar would charge the consumer nearly as much as he would pay to the importer of foreign sugar, and would for a time pocket the amount of the duty. By such means a branch of industry would be fostered, unprofitable to the country at large, and profitable only to the few persons by whom the indigenous sugar is produced, but whose profits would not long continue greater than the usual profits upon the employment of stock obtainable in the same country from branches of industry. In this coun try sugar manufactured from beet-root or potatoes is subjected to an excise duty. For the same reason it would be unfair to permit malt to be imported without im posing on it a duty corresponding in amount to the excise duty. There are consequently "countervailing duties" on the importation of articles subject to ex cise duty ; and a drawback is allowed on the exportation of domestic articles which are subject to excise duty.

Excise duties are liable to this among other very serious objections, that the regulations under which they are col lected interfere with processes of ma nufacture, so as to prevent the adoption of improvements. Upon the same pre mises, with the same capital, and the same amount of labour, double the quan tity of cloths has been printed which could have been printed previous to the repeal of the duty and the consequent abolition of the excise regulations. The abolition of the excise duty on glass was avowedly made with the object of facilitating im provements in the manufacture. The excise regulations respecting the manu facture of soap have prevented our soap manufacturers from entering into compe tition with the manufacturers of other countries.

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