HC Deb 24 June 1811 vol 20 cc747-9
Sir Thomas Turton

rose in pursuance of the motion of which he had given notice. He thought it was most evident, that the Property-tax, as it was called, was very unequal in its operation, and very oppressive on many classes of society. A person who had 200l. per annum by way of annuity, which would expire with his the, was called upon to contribute his 20l. as well as the man who had his 200l. per annum from land that would sell at thirty years' purchase, although the one man would have property to the value of 6,000l. to leave to his family, and the other would have nothing. This was in the highest degree unequal and unfair. It was very hard upon poor excisemen, whose salaries were but 70l. or 80l. a year, that they should be obliged to pay income-tax. It was extremely hard on those whose incomes are not 60l. per annum. It was also extremely oppressive on the small stock-holder whose dividend amounted to forty-shillings a year. If it could be proved that the tax was unequal and unjust, it ought to be equalised and set right, even although the revenue might lose by such alteration. After some farther observations the hon. baronet concluded by moving "That this House will, early in the next session of parliament, take into its consideration so much of the Property Tax as relates to the Contributions and Exemptions."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

was always averse to the House giving such pledges unless there was something very particular in the nature and urgency of the measure proposed, as without such a pledge it was competent to any member of parliament to bring the subject forward as early as he pleased in the next session; and the giving the pledge, while it did not really bind the House to adopt any particular motion, would yet appear to the public like pronouncing an opinion upon the subject, and holding out some sort of promise, that an alteration was to be made.,. Now, when a former administration thought proper to raise the income tax to ten percent, he thought they had acted wisely and manfully; and although he did not agree with them in the argument, that it would be pleasanter to pay ten per cent. at once, yet he approved of the increase of the tax. If he thought it necessary at that time, the public expenditure was certainly not diminished since that time, and therefore he must oppose a material diminution of the revenue. The hon. baronet had himself been aware, that the alterations he intended to propose would produce a material diminution in the revenue, and there would be no way of supplying it but by laying taxes on some of the necessaries of life, which would press as strongly upon the poorer classes, as the tax from which it was proposed to relieve them. As for laying a higher income-lax upon the richer classes, that would be a complete subversion of all the principles of justice, by which the property of all men should be equally protected by the law. As to what the hon. baronet had said of the war being carried on from a sanguinary motive, he could not agree with him; he did not think the people of this country were actuated by any such principle, and he was certain the war had never been continued by ministers on any other ground than from a thorough conviction of its absolute necessity.

Mr. W. Smith

admitted that the tax as it stood was free from many of the objections which attached to it in its original state. It had been matter of astonishment to him that, as it first stood, any minister should have ventured to propose such a tax for the endurance of a free people, or that it could have been pressed down their throats without military force. The rigid inquisition into the private fortunes of individuals had been even more offensive than its inequality; now, however, it was certainly less objectionable. In its original Slate it was almost exactly the tax, which the revolutionary tribunal proposed to impose in London, provided they conquered it, as had been shewn in one of the daily prints at that time. But even to the tax as it existed at present, he thought the hon. baronet's objections well founded. The right hon. gentleman had said, that the notion of a tax upon capital would lead to a levelling principle, if pushed to an extreme; but suppose the principle of the tax on income, which it was at present, were pushed to an extreme; a person having 60l. a-year was liable to pay a 10th part of it. Now, there were persons with families who could not, by any economy, live on less than 60l. a year, and consequently, without some adventitious aid, if the tax was paid some of the family must starve. This, however, he acknowledged to be a subject of great difficulty, and nothing but an approximation to equality could be expected. But the principle ought to be to leave with persons of small income the means of decent living in the first place, and then to tax incomes beyond this in nearly an equal degree. The war might vet last a long time, and though he himself might, upon the plan which he suggested, be liable to pay more than he now paid, yet if the poorer classes were in some measure relieved, by removing the burthen to the higher classes, he believed the country would be better satisfied. He therefore wished that a pledge should be given this session that the House would reconsider the principle of this tax, allowing, at the same time, that it was impossible to relieve the lower classes in any way that would not produce a defalcation in the amount of this particular tax.

Sir T. Turton

shortly replied. He never had an idea of taking the whole tax off the lower classes, and placing it on the higher; but he thought a medium of approximation might be hit upon; and it was on the principle of contributing according to ability, that he wished to advocate the measure, if ever there was a period in which there was necessity for ministers to consider how far the people could contribute from inability, the present was unquestionably that period. Every thing that could be done by courage and noble exertion he was confident would be effected, but the struggle he was convinced would be long, and it would be highly necessary to husband our means of carrying on the war. It was impossible we could hold out otherwise against the superior population of Prance, because for every 5,000 men we lost, they could afford to lose 20,000. This motion had engaged his serious attention for a great length of time, and he thought it so important, that even if he should now fail in it, he would certainly bring it forward in the course of the next session.

The motion was then negatived without a division.