HC Deb 19 May 1806 vol 7 cc263-70
Lord H. Petty

moved the order of the day for taking into further consideration the report of the Property Duty bill. On the reading of the amendments,

Mr. Vansittart

proposed a new clause, for the relief of persons insuring their lives, or the lives of their wives, and providing that, in all such cases, where the income of the party shall be less than 150l. per an- num, the amount of the annual premium maid on the insurance shall be deducted from the amount of income to be assessed.

Mr. Wilberforce

expressed his satisfaction to find his suggestions at all attended to, but thought that the abatement had been limited to so low a rate of income, as would render it almost nugatory. Persons whose incomes were less than 150l. a year, were least likely to effect an insurance on their lives, and according to the clause which he had himself prepared to propose, the scale of abatement would extend to persons enjoying 1000l. per annum.—Mr. Vansittart and lord II. Petty said, that the allowance was intended only to relieve those who, having small salaries, effected insurances on their lives, as the only means of providing for their families in case of their death. Persons of more considerable incomes could not need the abatement.— After a few observations from Mr. Fuller, Mr. Spencer Stanhope, Mr. Vansittart, Mr. Ellison, and Mr. Babington, the clause was agreed to.

Mr. Wilberforce

then introduced a clause for granting allowances to persons having children, and moved, that "for every child, born in wedlock, of the persons whose annual income or profits shall be under 400l., a deduction of 5l. per cent. shall be allowed for every such child; and where the income of the person shall amount to 400l. and not exceed 1000l., a deduction of 4l. per cent. for every child."

Mr. Spencer Stanhope

perfectly agreed with the hon. gent. in the necessity of the clause, and thought that it even did not go far enough. The father of a large family paid taxes in numberless ways that others were exempted from. He wore several pair of shoes a-day, whilst the nobleman, who had no children, only wore one pair, and therefore some indulgence was certainly due.

Mr. Hudleston

rose and said: I am sorry the noble lord and the right hon. gent. have left it to my hon. friend to introduce a clause of this nature, as I really think their inflexibility on the point must have a direct tendency to bring into hazard the general success of the measure: that it should succeed, must be equally the wish of all; for the object of the bill is neither more nor less than the furnishing the means of protecting the country against time most serious dangers it ever had to encounter. The public are aware of these dangers, and that great efforts, and of course great expences, must be necessary to meet them. I really believe, too, that they feel an assurance that whatever can be accomplished by great talents, and equal heart and firmness, will be done to extricate us from our present difficulties, and accelerate the event which can alone relieve us from the additional burthens now so indispensably necessary. I have no doubt, therefore, that the public will cheerfully bear even this heavy addition to the Property, or Income tax, provided only they see in the distribution of it the just, fundamental principle preserved of making it, as far as practicable, fall upon every man in proportion to his ability to bear it. It is therefore with the greater concern that I observe in the present bill so manifest a departure from that principle, as the withdrawing of all abatements on account of children, which excludes from indulgence the very persons who, of all others in the community, have the most irresistible claim to it; namely, persons of small, or very moderate incomes and large families, whose contribution is raised at once to 10 per cent., and who are at the same time deprived of all the abatements which it had been thought just to allow them, even when the contribution was only 6¼ per cent. Is it possible that the noble lord and the right hon. gent. can have adverted to the serious change which these two alterations, combined with the extension of the contribution of 10 per cent. to incomes of 130l. per annum, will produce in the situations of the persons I have described? that those who have moderate families will pay twice as much; that many will pay 3 times, and some 4 or 5 times as much as they did under the former bill. In a word, sir, that this bill will operate with the greater rigour in proportion to their respective claims to indulgence. Sir, on the first discussion of this subject, some nice reasoning was employed to discriminate between feeling and justice; but in my opinion the withdrawing the abatements in question, whether it be examined on one of those principles or on the other, must be equally condemned. To me, sir, it seems that men's feelings will revolt at it, because of its injustice. I submit it to the house, as an incontrovertible position, that the man who has a wife and a large family of children, and an income of 100, or train 100 to 4 or 500l. per annum, is less able to pay this tax than a bachelor who has half that income: if this a correct position, is it just that he could be called upon to pay twice as inch? that, obliged to share that income with 10 or 12 persons, he should be placed on the same footing with him who has only himself to maintain? If the justice of such an operation of the bill can be contended for, then the principle which I set out with, namely, that this heavy additional burthen should be laid on every one in proportion to his ability to bear it, falls to the ground. Now, sir, the argument of the noble lord or refusing to admit any abatements on account of children, was to my mind by no means satisfactory: it amounted I think to this, that if, instead of a property tax, the same sum was to be raised by taxing consumption, or by the ordinary mode of taxation, it would fall as heavy on the persons in question—that no abatement would be operated for children. I wonder it should have escaped the noble lord's observation, that this argument would equally apply against the abatements which he has allowed to persons whose incomes are under 150l., and the entire exemption where the income is under 50l. per annum. It seems to me, too, that this argument overlooks two serious facts: 1st, that there must be limits to that principle or mode of taxation, beyond which we cannot go, nor wisely attempt to go; and 2dly, that we had arrived at those limits; or were rapidly approaching them, before a tax on income was resorted to; but this argument appears to me to proceed on a mistake in another view of it, and not to be borne out by fact. For, supposing no Income bill, the taxes you might impose instead of it, except in so far as they were laid on the actual necessaries of life, would not of necessity attach to the persons in question. A parent, by submitting, as thousands would, to privations for the sake of his children, might entirely avoid them. For example, the man of 150 or 200l. per annum, and 8 or 10 children, what taxes could you impose that would draw from him 15 or 201.? If you tax wine, he can resort to beer; if malt, to water; if further taxes on horses, or on men-servants, he can part with his horse and his man servant; so for every other article he can create an abatement for his children, by contracting or resigning his other enjoyments. But, it you take 15 or 20l. from his income, you leave to him no option. You neither allow him an abatement for his children, nor leave it in his power to provide one by pinching himself. But, it is admitted, that the tax should not operate upon any one so deeply as to trench upon or abridge him, or of course his children, of the necessaries of life; but in very many cases it will be both a difficult and delicate and ungracious task to define with precision the necessaries of life. That which to one person is a necessary of life, or become a comfort absolutely necessary, is to another a superfluity. But, taking the words in their strictest or most literal sense, I think the noble lord cannot be prepared to say, that he who has a wife and 8 or 10 children to maintain on 150l., can pay 15 out of it, besides all the other taxes, without trenching on the necessaries of life. An hon. bart. whom I heard with much satisfaction the other evening on this subject, pointed out the hardship the withdrawing these abatements would operate on persons of small estates in land; but how much greater will be the hardship on persons of small life incomes; and how much greater yet where the income is not only small, but is derived solely from the owner's industry or genius, and its continuance depends on the continuance of his bodily strength or mental faculties? The contrast between the latter, and the man of landed estate, under the operation of the principle of this bill, must unavoidably be very strong; but if you take away the abatements for children, you make it intolerable. The man whose estate or capital is in land, if he finds himself unable to pay the tax this year, can raise as much as he wants on the income of future years; but he whose income is earned by the sweat of his brow, who knows not that he shall have health or eye-sight to earn a farthing next year, what is he to do? If he should be straitened for the means of supplying the wants of a numerous family, who will advance, or lend him on his capital of industry or genius? Even the person who has an income for life, or an annuity for a term, and 10 or 12 children, may pay, as the bill now stands, twice as much to this tax as a person of twice his fortune or capital, and who has no child. I do not say it would be practicable to equalise the tax in this view of it, and make it strictly a tax on property, but I contend that such a case as I have just stated, ought not to be possible; and it can only be rendered possible in all its extent by withdrawing the abatements on account of children: you cannot entirely remove the inequality, but you are bound to reduce it. as far as practicable.—Sir, it seems to me that there is one single consideration which should be sufficient to prevent the withdrawing the abatements for children, at least of persons whose incomes are only for life, or derived from industry; namely, that from many this tax will in consequence take the 15 or 20l. that was before applied to the ensuring their families from want, after they shall have been taken from them, and oblige them to apply it to preserve them from the same fate in their life-time. One of the noble lord's arguments against allowing any abatements for children was, that it would operate as a tax on bachelors. Now, sir, admitting the fact to be so, the considerations of justice and feeling remain the same; but I fear this argument will not be understood; what is more obvious, and will be more felt is, that it will operate as a premium for celibacy, and as a penalty almost amounting to a prohibition against marriage. Now, sir, the only reasons I have heard for withdrawing these abatements, are, 1st, the difficulty of ascertaining and adjusting them; and, 2dly, the inconsiderable number of persons who have claimed and received these abatements. To the last, I answer, that it is a reason that should operate against withdrawing these abatements; for, does it not tend to shew, that the few who have claimed them, have done so from absolute necessity, and are persons who will not now be able to pay the tax? What, then, will be gained by taking these abatements form all indiscriminately, and making the man who has a dozen children, pay 10l. from his 100l. equally with him who has only himself to maintain? And, as to the difficulty of ascertaining or obtaining the abatements, if justice and reason require that they should be allowed, is it possible that such a plea can be admitted for a single moment? Such a method of getting rid of a difficulty, is indeed the shortest that could be devised, but it is one that would rather be expected, where there is less ability to meet difficulties, than is possessed by the noble lord. But will it meet the difficulties on the other side—the odium and discontents which the withdrawing these abatements must excite, and the disadvantageous comparisons between the noble lord's plan and that of his predecessor? I am so strongly of the opposite opinion, that I can assure the noble lord that, if I were unfriendly to the bill, and wished it not to succeed, I should think the readiest way to accomplish that object, would be to let it go out with this imperfection on its head.

Mr. Vansittart

expressed his disapprobation of the proposed exemption, on the ground of general policy. For three years, exemptions had been tried under the former acts, and were uniformly found to defeat themselves and the operation of the tax. In some districts, the duty for 1803 was not even yet collected, nor were the assessments made; and the answer to enquiries into the cause of this delay was, that the commissioners had so many appeals to hear, so many claims of exemption to investigate, and experienced such difficulty to understand the clauses, that it was impossible to proceed faster. How extremely desirable it was, then, to simplify, by broad and general enactments, the operation of the act, would be obvious to the house. A man of 200l. a year, with 2 children, would, by the exemption proposed, be entitled to a drawback of 10l., and thus the produce of the tax would be totally defeated.

Sir H. Mildmay

argued in favour of the exemption.

Mr. W. Smith

also ably supported the clause. The 10l. which would be saved by it to the man of 200l. a year, with a family, were almost ten drops of his heart's blood. To a person without a family, it was comparatively no object. If, as was often the case, a man married, possessing what he saw would be just means enough on which to support a family, would the house, by taking any thing from him like what this tax would go to deprive him of, at once mar his calculations, and ruin his hopes? There were some improvements in the present bill, as far as it was less inquisitorial than the Income tax, which had preceded it, in not obtaining a disclosure of the whole circumstances of the subject, except in case of exemptions; but the curtailment of the allowances, particularly as far as regarded children, he thought extremely oppressive. We ought not to give up all considerations of justice and humanity, merely for the sake of making a new tax simple or productive. The hon. mover came forward as the advocate of a meritorious part of the community; but in opposing it, he considered himself the advocate of the community itself. The hon. gent. then contended, that though in theory this exemption seemed desireable, yet, as in practice not one-half of those persons entitled claimed before the commissioners, it was not of such general service as was imagined.

Mr. Bankes

supported the clause. He was sorry to hear the hon. gent. contend that the interest of the many should be set against the interest of the few. His opinion was, that they were to consider what was the most equitable mode, and that was to make the burthen press as equally as possible on all.—The house then divided. For the clause 26; Against it 73; Majority 47.

Mr. T. Jones

then made a few remarks on the frequency of surcharges, which he considered as a very great grievance; and concluded, by bringing up a clause imposing a penalty, and allowing costs to be awarded by the commissioners for vexatious surcharges.

Lord H. Petty

approved of what the hon, gent. had proposed, but begged leave to call his attention to a clause in the bill, which he read, and which made the collectors subject to a penalty, not greater than 50l. for every surcharge, on conviction in one of the courts above.

Sir H. Mildmay

supported the clause, as it was absurd, he said, to suppose that a day-labourer could have redress, if he was obliged to seek it in one of the courts at Westminster.—After a conversation between Mr. W. Smith, and Mr. Ellison, who supported the clause; and Mr. Rose, Mr. Fellowes, capt. Harvey, and Dr. Laurence, who opposed it; Mr. Jones declared, that he would not press it, and the clause was negatived without a division. The bill was then ordered to be read a 3d time on Wednesday.