HC Deb 07 August 1807 vol 9 cc1070-2
The Chancellor of the Exchequer

rose pursuant to notice, to move for leave to bring in a bill for the better regulating the collection of the Assessed Taxes. As the bill was to lie over for consideration till the next session, he did not think it necessary to trouble the house, by entering into its details. One particular alteration in the existing practice he thought it necessary to notice. This was to divide the duties of the commissioners, and transfer them, so far as they were ministerial, to the subordinate officers. With respect to the collection of the taxes, it was intended, as no man could object to the payment of the taxes incident to the return he should give in, to authorise the collection of the taxes to that amount immediately leaving the taxes upon surcharges to abide the decisions upon the questions arising out of them. There was at present this evil, that the collection of the taxes, so far as they were certain and unquestionable, as they were on the returns made by the individuals taxed, was suspended, till the validity of the surcharges, which-were uncertain, was decided. He thought it necessary to point out this material alteration to particular attention, preparatory to the further consideration in the ensuing session.

Mr. Barham

wished a remedy could be provided for the great grievances that arose out of surcharges. The difficulty of finding redress in cases of vexatious surcharge was often very great, and sometimes it amounted to an absolute impossibility. He had himself obtained redress of such surcharges made upon him, but it was with great difficulty; and in some similar instances he knew several other persons to have totally failed.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

believed, that the commissioners of taxes did every thing in their power to a facility of decision in cases of appeals on surcharge, and redress in cases of vexatious surcharge; but if any means of greater facility on these heads could be pointed out, he should be happy to give his aid in carrying it into effect.

Mr. W Smith

was afraid that the time was fast approaching when the officers in that department would necessarily be filled by men in the pay of government. He did not throw this Out invidiously, but certainly the abuses of the present mode of estimating and collecting the property tax was liable to and might ultimately render the tax itself not only intolerable, but not fit to be borne by the people. The fact was, that the majority of those officers were ever anxious to detect deficient estimates, not for the purpose of making the tax more productive to the nation, but that they might have their own share out of the surcharge.

Mr. Huskisson

said, it was not intended to take away the powers now exercised by the commissioners; but merely to authorise the collection of the undisputed duties on the returns originally made, without awaiting the decision of the commissioners on the duties contested in the way of surcharge on appeal. It was impossible to obtain the supervision which was frequently necessary without allowing some interest to the person who detected the fraud; but when the surcharge was groundless the commissioners were always ready to afford relief, and when it was vexatious, to inflict punishment.

Mr. P. Moore

was glad to hear that the bill was to be printed, so that members might be able to peruse it before next session. He hoped, however, that while pains were taken to make people understand the law by which they were taxed, they would also find that the payment of taxes was made easier to them. Of what utility, he would ask, were those numerous reports which were laid before the house, of every kind, if they were not acted upon for the public benefit? He hoped therefore that ministers would see to these things, before next session. As the representative of a large industrious city, he could say for his constituents, that they were ready to make any sacrifices for the public good, and to support their share in its splendour; yet they expected economy in the disposition of the national money, and that their distresses might be lessened. If these economical reports were heaped on the table without use, he should find it his duty to tell ministers that he would vote smaller supplies than he otherwise might have intended, were more frugality and attention shewn.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

entirely agreed with the hon. gent. as to the necessity of economy at the present crisis, and a cautious expenditure of the public money. At the same time, he could not approve of the vague and incautious manner in which the hon. gent. had thought proper to fling out his charges. The remarks were of a nature so general and indefinite, that he did not know how to reply to them. If the hon. gent. had any thing definite to state in public or private, he should feel himself much obliged to the hon. gent. for such communi- cation. As to the reports which were said to be heaped upon the table, he wished the hon. gent. would again be more definite, and, selecting one or more from the number, state explicitly what he understood to be the existing abuse; this certainly would be much more satisfactory than dealing in loose and general observations.

Mr. P. Moore

said in explanation, that he alluded to the different reports in the various departments, civil, military, and marine, whereby it was obvious that there might be a saving by a more economical management in each, of the public money, to an amount of between five and ten millions annually.

Sir T. Turton

put it to his majesty's ministers, to consider the necessity and the means of affording a more immediate relief to the persons entitled to exemptions under the income tax: these persons were at present obliged to pay the full amount of the tax in the first instance, and they found it extremely difficult afterwards to obtain the relief allowed to them.

Mr. Whitbread

stated, that he, as well as the hon. baronet, had received complaints of very severe hardships, in the manner in which the income tax was levied on the lower classes. He was sure if his noble friend (lord H. Petty) had continued in office, the necessary relief would have been afforded to the persons so pressed. He hoped the hon. gentlemen opposite would consider of the means of affording them some alleviation.

Dr. Laurence

lamented, that in proportion as the property tax had been made more burthensome, the means of relief had been made more difficult in the cases in which no law could presume to withhold it.

Lord H. Petty

stated it to have been his desire and intention, that every real grievance under the property tax, as it had been increased and regulated by him, should be satisfactorily redressed; but he thought it, in the first instance, desirable, that the whole of the provisions should have a fair trial; for it was only such a trial that could afford proof of the reality, or the futility, of the objections which were so universally made. He was desirous, now that a fair trial had been afforded, to give all proper relief, but he could assure the house, that much difficulty would be felt, when the means of giving that relief consistently with the produce of the tax should came to be considered.—The motion for leave to bring in the bill was then agreed to.