HC Deb 20 April 1815 vol 30 cc710-176

The Chancellor of the Exchequer having moved the order of the day, Mr. Brogden reported from the committee of ways and means, the following resolution; viz. "That it is the opinion of this committee, that towards raising the supply granted to his Majesty, the respective duties on the profits of all property, professions, trades and offices, granted by certain acts made in the 43d, 45th, and 46th of his Majesty, and consolidated by the last-mentioned act, and which ceased after the 5th of April 1815, be revived and granted to his Majesty for the term of one year, from the said 5th of April 1815." On the motion that the resolution be read a second time,

General Gascoyne

said, that having pre- sented a petition from his constituents against the renewal of the Property-tax, he thought it incumbent on him shortly to explain why he should not oppose the present resolution. The petition was presented when we were at peace, and when there was no prospect that that peace would be endangered. It now appeared obviously necessary, whether we remained at peace, or the war was renewed, that a considerable expense must be incurred. It was on that account that he concurred in the Resolution. Nevertheless, it was with great regret that he heard the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer say, that it was not his intention to propose any modification of the measure. It would still be, as it had been, most obnoxious, unions the principle were altered of laying an equal burthen on income arising from permanent property, and on income in which the possessor had only a life interest. He called the earliest attention of Government to the necessity of some modification of the measure in this respect, and gave notice that unless they evinced a disposition to do so, he would himself propose some relief to the parties aggrieved, which would not be essentially injurious to the measure itself.

Sir J. Newport

declared, that feeling as he did that the proposed tax was inquisitorial in its nature, subversive of the best principles of our free constitution, unequal in its operation, affecting alike permanent and uncertain property, and arming Government with a power which it never ought to have, of making income and not expenditure the criterion of taxation, he would in every stage, and under every circumstance, and to the last moment of its being before them, take the sense of the House upon it. He could hardly conceive any emergency so great as to warrant the re-introduction of this measure. Had he wanted any additional inducement to oppose the proposition in limine, he should have found it in the recommendation of an hon. gentleman (Mr. Bankes), who knew so little of Ireland as not to be aware, that were his proposition adopted, it might endanger the connexion between the two countries. If the inquisitorial quality of the Bill had been found so obnoxious in England, what would it be in Ireland, where the control, which public observation and opinion had over public men, was so much weaker than in this country? He beseeched the House, therefore, if there was any intention, of propos- ing the extension of the tax to Ireland, to pause, to examine, and to reflect, before they acceded to a proposition, the consequences of which might he most fatal. He would now move as an amendment, that the Resolution be read a second time that day fortnight.

Mr. Bankes

said, that what he had stated yesterday of the expediency of extending the principle of the Property-tax to Ireland was advanced, advisedly, and that he would persevere in recommending to Parliament the adoption of such a measure. It was his intention to move, that in the first clause of the Bill the word 'Ireland' should be introduced. But perhaps it would be necessary, in the first place, to refer the subject to the consideration of a committee. If so, he would name a day for that purpose. To no place would the Property-lax, to a certain degree, be more applicable than to Ireland. Articles of consumption in that country were already toe much the subject of taxation; and resort could not be had to a better tax, than to one which was not easily evaded, which was collected at a moderate expense, and from which the lower classes were wholly exempt He hoped the right hon. baronet would not maintain, that the gentry of Ireland ought not to bear any of the burthens which the necessities of the state might render it advisable to impose. Did the right hon. baronet think, that the gentry of Ireland were the only persons that did not like to pay taxes? The English gentry did no; pay them from any feeling of pleasure in the act; but they nevertheless paid then with cheerfulness when the honour and interests of the country required that they should do so. And so, he would answer for them, would the gentry of Ireland under similar circumstances.

Mr. Grattan

observed, that the hon. gentleman's speech had consisted of a succession of assertions, from all of which he dissented, except the last, namely, that the gentry of Ireland were ready to submit to whatever taxes might be considered consistent with the good of the country and the advantage of the state. They would be ready to maintain the British empire with their property and their blood; but the Property-tax would bi infinitely more injurious to the sensation of Irishmen, than taxes much more productive to the state. But this was not the time to enter into particulars. He though the hon. gentleman had done well to give notice of his intentions; and whenever he should bring forward his motion, he pledged himself to oppose it, and to debate the question fully and candidly. He should then endeavour to prove that the tax was altogether foreign to the habits, condition, and financial situation of that country, which would prefer more productive taxes to the particular tax in question. At present he should say no more upon the subject, but merely add, that the measure now before the House had his most cordial disapprobation.

Mr. Vesey Fitzgerald

said, he should defer the general observations which he should have to make upon this subject, until the hon. gentleman's motion came regularly before the House. But that his opinion might not be mistaken, and to allay the anxiety which such a proposition was calculated to excite in Ireland, he thought it right to state, that however respectable the quarter might be from which that proposition came, he had at present no intention of recommending the adoption of the Property-tax in Ireland. He wished, however, to remind the House, that the application of that tax to Great Britain was only proposed for one year, and under circumstances which would not justify him in now proposing it for the sister country, even if he were prepared to go the full length of the hon. gentleman's opinion. The hon. gentleman would recollect that even in this country, where the habits of society were so different from those of Ireland, and where the wealth was so much greater, it was a long time before that tax was made fully productive, and before the machinery which was to enforce its collection could be perfected. If great difficulties had been found in England, much greater would undoubtedly be found in Ireland. He declined, however, entering into the argument at present, and should content himself with stating, that under the present circumstances, he did not think himself justified in proposing to extend it to that country. With regard to the financial difficulties of Ireland, however he might lament them, the House and the hon. gentleman must do him the justice to acknowledge, that he had never endeavoured to skreen them from investigation. In moving for a committee some days ago, to inquire into the state of the Irish finances, he had not concealed that the people of Ireland would be called upon to make great exertions—exertions which he agreed with the hon. gentleman who spoke last, they would cheerfully make in the common cause. But it was a great mistake to suppose that great sacrifices had not been already made. Let any man look at the amount of the revenue of Ireland before the Union, and at the calculations upon which her share of the joint contributions was founded; let him at the same time look at the narrow means she possessed, and then consider the amount to which her revenue had been since raised, and he would admit, that whatever disinclination Ireland might have to this tax, she had borne her full share of the weight of the general pressure; and she would, he had no doubt, always cheerfully contribute, to the extent of her power, to the public burthens. He would not anticipate the debate, but would cheerfully meet the hon. gentleman when the day of discussion should arrive.

Mr. W. Elliot

said, he conceived a measure of the nature of that now proposed, a necessary consequence of the late Address of the House; and he should therefore give his vote in favour of the motion. He should reserve to himself the power of exercising his discretion with regard to the details of the measure in a subsequent stage; but with respect to the measure itself, he considered it as only providing the Government with the necessary means for the security of the country, whatever might be the tenour of their future conduct.

The House then divided on sir John Newport's Amendment;

For the Amendment 30
Against it 99
Majority —69

List of the Minority.
Abercrombie, hon. J. Martin, J.
Althorpe, lord Neville, hon. R.
Bewicke, C. Newport, sir J.
Foley, T. Onslow, Serj.
Fitzroy, lord J. Poulett, hon. W. V.
Grant, J. P. Philips, Geo.
Guise, sir Wm. Ponsonby, right hon, Geo.
Grattan, right hon. H.
Hamilton, lord A. Ridley, sir M. W.
Horuer, F. Ramsden, J.
Hammersley, H. Richardson, W.
Hornby, E. Smith, W.
Knox, hon. T. Tierney, right hon. G.
Latouche, R. Whitbread, S.
Lambton, J. G. TELLERS.
Milton, lord Bennet, hon. H. G.
Mackintosh, sir J. Gordon, R.

The Resolution was read a second time and agreed to. On the motion, that leave be given to bring in a Bill, pursuant to the said Resolution.

Mr. Alderman Atkins

said, that the Property-tax was a tax on industry, and was highly unequal, as being as great on the profits of one year as on property for ever. He was sure the tax, without any modification, was very uncomfortable to the country—[a laugh]—but if his right hon. friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, would agree to a committee to adopt modifications, then it might be made something more comfortable, and the country might be brought not to object to the measure.

Mr. W. Smith

was much of the same opinion with the hon. alderman, and thought that though the tax could not be made agreeable, it might be made to go down. It was not the amount of the tax so much as the inequality of its operation, to which he objected; upon the same principle he should have objected to 51. per cent, equally as much as to 10l. The tax possessed this advantage, that a great proportion came into the Exchequer at the smallest possible expense. Of the commissioners of the Property-tax with whom he had been acquainted, and he had been acquainted with many, there never was one who did not declare that his office was the most disagreeable one in which he was ever employed, from the inquisitorial powers of the tax; and there were many instances in which the commissioners and the officers of Government were at variance respecting the severe manner in which those officers exercised the powers entrusted to them.

General Gascoyne

explained, and said, that he wished the subject to be taken up as he proposed, by any other member.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

opposed the appointment of a select committee, as it would lead to delay and inconvenience, and would derange the whole, machinery of the tax, so as to prevent its being collected in due time. Had the tax been proposed for a longer term than one year, he should have thought an inquiry advisable. The ascertaining the proportions of the tax to be paid by fixed capital and industry would necessarily occasion much discussion, and protract the passing of the Bill to a late period of the session.

Mr. Alderman Atkins

thought it possible to ameliorate the severities of the Act, without rendering it inefficient, or taking up much time.

Mr. Baring

thought this tax came with a very bad grace after the vote declining to make any inquiry into the lavish expenditure of the Civil List. He thought so more especially when he considered how small the majority was, and how that majority was composed. The House was now called on to vote this tax without any information as to the extent of the sum necessary, or with respect to the situation of our external policy; for the Message of the Prince Regent calling on the House to enable preparations to be made, was not enough to induce them, without further information, to vote a tax of 14 millions. But still he should not be disposed to go into a commitee, because he rather preferred leaving the tax on the footing proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, namely, the extension of it for one year only. It was more likely to be a temporary measure, when taken in that manner, than if it were made what the hon. alderman called a comfortable thing, and which would be likely to stick by them for the remainder of their lives. He for one should for ever oppose the tax as a permanent source of revenue in time of peace. He thought, however, on the occasion of the late repeal, that had it been continued for one year longer, till the affairs of the last war were wound up, it would have been attended with great benefit to the finances of the country.

Leave was then given to bring in the Bill.