HC Deb 21 April 1815 vol 30 cc783-91

The Chancellor of the Exchequer presented a Bill to revive and continue the duties and contributions on the profits arising from property, professions, trades and offices, which expired on the 5th of April 1815. On the motion, that it be read a first time,

Mr. J. P. Grant,

stated, that he had intended to oppose the Bill in every stage, and to have taken the sense of the House upon it; but in consequence of what had passed that night, he should abstain from so doing until the second reading.

Mr. Grenfell

was favourable, to the renewal of the Property-tax for another year, but he thought certain modifications were necessary. It did not appear to him to be just that a person of small income —say from 200l. to 500l. a year, should pay as much to this tax, or at least be taxed on the same scale as those whose annual incomes amounted to as many thousands. In the next place, it was not right that incomes arising from trades and professions should be taxed as high as those which were derived from freehold and other property. He thought also that the requisitorial powers of the commissioners ought to be limited. If such modifications were made, he should feel it his duty to the public to support the Bill in the present emergency.

Mr. Ellis

thought the Bill ought not to pass in its present state. He doubted if any modifications would make it what an hon. alderman conceived it might be made—a comfortable measure; but he was convinced such modifications might be introduced as would have the effect of causing it to be cheerfully borne by the people in the present circumstances of the country. A proposition which should have this effect, would, he thought, come with peculiar good grace from the hon. alderman (Atkins), and should not fail to have his support.

Mr. Gordon

cautioned those hon. gentlemen who had last spoken, against giving the Bill their support in the present instance, on the supposition that the modifications which they recommended would be subsequently adopted, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had declared himself against such an alteration of the measure. There was a determination to overpower all that might be said against it by that irresistible argument a majority, or the amendment of the hon. member for Hertford, would have been carried on a former evening, asking, as it did, only time sufficient to ascertain whether or not the measure was necessary. He thought the public were duped by ministers, seeing that they had the Treaty of Vienna in their possession, when they told the House that an alternative still existed between peace and war. He should oppose the Bill in every stage, and he hoped the House would now divide upon the first reading.

Sir John Newport

hoped the House would be divided on every stage of the Bill. He besought those who had recently presented such numerous petitions from their constituents against the Property-tax, to come forward and say whether or not they had changed the opinions which they then avowed. He, for one, had not changed his mind on the subject, and should therefore give the Bill all the opposition in his power.

Mr. Benson

noticed the call made by the right hon. baronet, for those who bad changed their minds to come forward, and said he had been much pleased with the conduct of the hon. member for Liverpool, who had stated the inhabitants of that great town to have changed their sentiments on it. He believed nine-tenths of the country had changed in the same way in its favour.

Mr. Wynn

thought the tax, whether we went to war or remained at peace, was necessary, and he did not see that the public service could be provided for in any other way. He knew of no substitute for it, which would not be more oppressive. The assessed taxes proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, though less productive, would, he thought, be found more vexatious to the people.

Mr. Baring

was of opinion that the last speaker but one would find himself mistaken if he could canvass the whole country, with respect to the sentiments of the people on the Property-tax, which was still considered a most obnoxious impost, on account of the annual disclosure of private affairs which it involved. Notwithstanding this, he felt it to be his duty to vote for it. If he saw any thing in the conduct of ministers that gave him alarm, he might not do this; but conceiving as he did that vigorous exertions on the part of this country, and on that of the Allies, gave us the best chance of being able to do without the tax altogether, he felt bound to give the Bill his support. Without it there was no chance of getting rid of it soon, and of returning to a state of peace and comfort. As it was to be enacted but for one year, he thought it would be better that the old machinery should be revived, than that new expedients should be devised; as reviving it in its former state for one year would best satisfy the public it was not intended to be a permanent measure.

Mr. Ponsonby

lamented his difference of opinion from his hon. friend, who spoke last. He retained his objections to the tax. Nothing was more erroneous than to imagine, that if it were imposed for one year, it could afterwards be immediately taken off. It was supposed by some that it would give the means of acting with vigour, and that thereby its duration would be short. Good God!—how, after the experience of twenty years, could an excellent understanding be led to believe, that the duration of a renewed income-tax and a renewed war would be short? Easy as it was to plunge into war, experience showed how difficult it was to come out of it. Let the House look at the last war with America, which it was prophesied by some would be a short one. We had no choice there: though he always considered our Orders in Council as leading to it, yet, in the immediate steps to war, he always thought America the aggressor. She should certainly have stopped when she heard of our repeal of those Orders. But that war was much longer than most people expected, and different in its results.

Mr. Alderman Atkins

was against the revival of the Property-tax, unless some modifications were introduced. He wished the Chancellor of the Exchequer would refer the subject to a committee. He did not wish to make the tax less productive, but he wished it to be so altered that it should be felt less by persons of limited and moderate incomes. The gentlemen in the landed interest, who had lately received a favour of the House, would, he hoped, step forward on this occasion, and offer to bear a portion of the burthen, which would otherwise fall on the middling and lower classes of society.

Mr. W. Smith

thought the proposition of the hon. alderman so reasonable that it ought to be acceded to; and this not being adopted, he should vote against the Bill. If it were only to be revived for one year, he should not care much about the proposed modifications, but the probability was, that it was now to be saddled on the country for ever. He referred to the commencement of the old American war, which it was said would be ended in a week or a fortnight, to prove the folly of supposing that the war now about to be commenced would be ended in a year, especially when the means which France possessed were so important, if a calculation were made only of the number of prisoners returned.

The House divided: Yeas, 79: Noes, 17: Majority, 62.—The Bill was then read a first time.

List of the Minority.
Atkins, alderman Piggott, sir A.
Grant, J. P. Prittie, hon. F.
Howorth, H. Ridley, sir M. W.
Halsey, John Romilly, sir S.
Montgomery, Sir H. Smith, Wm.
Martin, H. Western, Charles
Moore, P. Wilkins, W.
Nugent, lord TELLERS.
Newport, sir J. H. G. Bennet
Ponsonby, rt. hon. G. R. Gordon.

On re-entering the gallery,

Sir John Newport

was on his legs, pointing out to the gentlemen opposite the propriety of acceding to a motion, for the production of documents on the subject of the Property-tax, which, we understood, from what fell from him, he had made during our exclusion, and, in opposition to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had moved the previous question. The right hon. baronet, argued strongly against the House being called on to give an opinion as to the renewal of the Tax, in its old form, until proper information had been afforded, with reference to the produce derived from it, during a series of years, from the different classes of society who were subject to its operation. If information on such a necessary point were withheld—if gentlemen agreed to vote without proper data being submitted to them, on which they might form their opinions—then, he contended, they became rather the agents of the ministry, than the honest guardians of the rights of their constituents.

Alderman Atkins

argued, that the information which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had already laid before the House, was as copious as the right hon. baronet could fairly demand.

Mr. Huskisson

coincided in the sentiments of the last speaker. The information already placed on their table was, he conceived, all that could at the present moment, be expected. At the same time, he did not profess to know, on what documents, or in what manner, the right hon. baronet wished or intended to form his opinion. The worthy alderman had already said, and said very justly, that the accounts were produced up to a period, beyond which it was impossible they could at present be brought. The right bon. baronet had already information, lying on the table of the House, on which be might form his judgment. He complained, indeed, that it was too general— it did not enter sufficiently into detail; but he (Mr. Huskisson) thought it was sufficient for every necessary purpose, and, therefore, it appeared to him that no further information need be called for.

Sir John Newport

said, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had told them, he would move the second reading of the Property-tax Bill on Monday, on which day it should be remembered, the latest information which he had called for, could be laid on the table. Now, how the right hon. gentleman could suppose that any hon. member could come prepared to debate the question on Monday, when documents, connected with it, were only placed in their hands on that day, really surprised him. He had no objection to leaving the word 'districts' out of his motion; but he conceived it was right the produce of the Tax from the various 'classes' on whom it operated should be clearly understood. The House, by looking at such a document as that which he called for, would see whether the produce of the Tax had increased or diminished, during a series of years, in any of those classes that were subject to it.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, his statement merely went to this—that all the information called for by the right hon. baronet, except that relative to the last year, would be, if possible, laid on the table by Monday next. Much useful information would be derived from those documents.

Sir John Newport

said, be had, over and over again, stated, that he was not wedded to any particular mode in which the necessary information might be laid before them, so that the information was produced. All he wished for was, that the right hon. gentleman would give him, in substance, the produce of the Property-tax, with reference to certain distinct classes, up to the latest possible period. That which the right hon. gentleman appeared to think of no moment, he (sir J. Newport) conceived to be of the utmost consequence. He must, therefore, persist in calling for those documents, which he conceived to be necessary to justify the vote he should give on the renewal of the Property-tax.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

observed, it would be very difficult to produce the accounts exactly in the shape called for by the right hon. baronet.

Mr. Gordon

was unwilling to suppose, that his Majesty's ministers would press forward, with unnecessary haste, any measure which was decidedly unpopular. At the same time it appeared rather awkward, that ministers would only agree to lay the necessary information on the subject of the Property-tax before the House, in the course of a few days, and yet they would not consent to delay the farther progress of the Bill at present pending. Now, he wished to remind them, that many gentlemen were desirous of a modification of the Tax, and he hoped that ministers would not pertinaciously refuse to impart that information, which it was necessary gentlemen should possess, before they could propose a proper modification of the measure. He was astonished how the Government, almost under any circumstances, could propose this Tax to the country.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

observed, he had no objection to produce such documents, as, without greatly interfering with the progress of the measure, would afford gentlemen a basis for modifying it. For his own part, he wished they would point out a beneficial modification of the Tax.

Sir J. Newport

said, if the right hon. gentleman really wished the Tax to be modified, he ought himself to propose some plan of modification, and not leave it to others; he ought to point out specifically what his wishes were. He (sir John) called for accounts, which he conceived vitally necessary to a just consideration of the question; and he hoped even those gentlemen who differed from him in opinion, would see the impropriety of attempting to bear down a member of that House who called for what he considered constitutional information.

Mr. Huskisson

objected to the language which had been used in the course of the discussion. He denied that Government bad any intention of pressing forward, unnecessarily, the measure which gave rise to this debate: and he equally denied, that any intention existed of bearing down a member of that House, when he was discharging his duty. He could assure the gentlemen opposite, that the bringing forward this measure was as painful to his right hon. friend, as it would be to them to give it their support—if, indeed, it were possible for them to support it. But he would never be deterred from doing his duty, with reference to this Tax, bearing hard, as it certainly must, on his colleagues, because gentlemen were pleased to assert, that it was unpopular.

Mr. H. Martin

said, the language which had been used was perfectly correct. He felt himself justified in saying, that the question was pressed through the House in an indecent manner. It was, he might assert, hurried forward in defiance of the sentiments of the people. Could the House forget the number of petitions that were presented against the renewal of the Property-tax? Could they avoid thinking of the immense numbers that would have been presented, if he had not abandoned the Tax? What was there, under these circumstances, in the conduct or the language of his right hon. friend who made the motion, that deserved censure? His right hon. friend said, "You propose to renew this Property-tax—it will, in its present state, bear hard on particular classes of society—many members wish it to be modified—therefore, that we may proceed fairly and truly in this system of modification, give us an account of the produce of the Property-tax, at different periods, with reference to the various classes whom it affects." Now, the right hon. gentleman was very liberal in his concession. According to him, this account would certainly be produced— when it was too late! He would give it, when there was no opportunity of debating on it—when no resolution, for any efficient purpose, could be founded on it. Was it not reasonable, then, that the precipitancy with which the measure was urged forward, should be reprehended? Was it not just that some remonstrance should be made on the part of those, who, it appeared, were not to be heard until the Bill has passed into a law? This was the true state of the case; and he denied that those who had placed it in its most striking light, had made use of language they were not warranted to hold.

Mr. Huskisson

said, he did not complain of the language which had been used; but he did complain of the insinuation, that ministers, in proceeding as they had done, with the renewal of the Property-tax, acted from unworthy motives. It was broadly insinuated, that the measure was pressed forward, because ministers dreaded the effects which might arise from the unpopularity of the TAX, if the consideration of it were protracted. He denied the truth of this insinuation. Ministers, in doing what they had done, looked merely to the execution of their duty.

Sir J. Newport

utterly disclaimed having ever imputed any improper motives to ministers.

Mr. Vesey Fitzgerald

said, that although the right hon. baronet had disclaimed, on his part, the having imputed any improper motives to his Majesty's ministers, yet the hon. gentleman near him (Mr. Gordon) surely could not deny, that he had accused ministers, in an indirect way, of having acted with gross indecency in pressing the measure. If, however, this censure arose from the refusal of his right hon. friend to agree to the motion for farther information, his right hon. friend, and those who agreed with him in opinion, had this, consolation, and it would enable them to support the obloquy cast upon them with philosophy, that, on a very recent occasion—the discussion of the Corn Bill—when delay was requested and was opposed, both by the hon. gentleman and the right hon. baronet, each of them declared, that he was willing to bear any imputation to which his might give rise.

Mr. Gordon

said, he certainly did conceive, when information was refused which appeared necessary before members decided on the vote they ought to give, and the measure connected with that information was still pressed forward, that it looked like a determination to hurry the measure through the House, lest the popular voice might arrest it in its progress. With respect to the case alluded to by the right hon. gentleman, it should be observed, that every information had been given on that subject; but here the complaint was, that necessary information was denied. This made the great difference between the two cases.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer then agreed to withdraw his amendment, provided sir John Newport would allow a certain modification of his original motion. The following motion was then put and carried, "That there be laid before this House, an account or estimate of the gross and net assessment of the Property-tax, for five years, ending the 5th of April 1814, distinguishing the several classes."

Sir John Newport

said, that as he could not allow a bill which imposed 14 millions of taxes on the country in a manner generally odious, without a full attendance, at least in one stage, he should give notice that he would on Monday move the call of the House for Thursday next.