HC Deb 21 February 1817 vol 35 cc492-5
Sir James Shaw

rose to present a petition from several merchants, traders, and shopkeepers, in the city of London, on a subject to which he begged leave to call the attention of the chancellor of the exchequer. It was respecting the new reading and new construction given to an act of par- liament by the commissioners of taxes, whereby they attempted to levy a tax on warehouses and shops, which were solely occupied as such, and were not in any respect dwelling-houses: and what rendered the case more oppressive was, that many of these tenements had been occupied by the petitioners for a period considerably exceeding five years, and no such demand was ever thought of or made before. This application would last year have been made to the House for redress, had an assurance not been given to the petitioners by the treasury, that a bill would be brought into parliament to prevent such irregularity. That assurance had not, however, been fulfilled, and the petitioners had therefore felt themselves irresistibly compelled to make this application for redress to the House, particularly because when the House was prorogued last session, advantage was taken of that circumstance, and this unlawful tax demanded, which they were forced to pay, or be exposed to the consequence of its being levied by a distress. The barons of his majesty's court of exchequer in Scotland had decided that such a tax could not be levied, and they had done so unanimously. It might therefore be reasonably expected so glaring a difference should not be allowed to exist between the two kingdoms, and that a bill to that effect would be brought into the House. The case of the petitioners was certainly oppressive in the extreme as they were obliged to pay this illegal and most oppressive tax at a moment when even that small part of the foreign market which remained open to the British trader was glutted with goods, when the warehouses at home were overstocked, and when the trader had no alternative but to resort to his capital to support his family, instead of the profits of his industry. He trusted the right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer would give this his most serious attention, aad really remember, that at a time so pressing in every point of view as the present, it was oppressive in the extreme to allow the trader to be unnecessarily and improperly harassed.

The Petition, which was then read, was as follows:—

"To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled;

"The humble Petition of the several persons whose names are here under-written, being respectively Merchants, Traders, and Shopkeepers, within the City of London.

"Sheweth—That your petitioners have lately been charged with the inhabited house duty, and the duty on windows for tenements, solely used or occupied by them either as shops, counting houses, warehouses or manufactories, and which can in no respect whatever be considered as dwelling-houses.

"That the tenements so assessed to the said duties have been in the occupation of your petitioners for various periods of time, namely from five to seventeen years, without having been before charged with the aforesaid duties, or any of them and without having been used as dwelling-houses during those periods; and that many of them would never have been taken into the occupation of your petitioners, had it not been supposed that they were clearly exempt from the duties chargeable on inhabited houses.

"That on appeal to the commissioners for assessed taxes your petitioners have not been able to obtain either redress or any satisfactory information as to the ground on which they have been so charged; and so varied are the cases of your several petitioners, that they are convinced either that the legislature did not intend they should be so charged and assessed, or that from the general and sweeping words of the act the interpretation of the law is sufficiently clear to include and charge with the said duties every building which comes under the denomination of shop, counting-house, warehouse or manufactory, although not used or occupied in any respect as a dwelling-house. Yet your petitioners have observed, not only that the said duties have been very partially levied in England, but that the right hon. the barons of the exchequer in Scotland have unanimously decided, that no shop, counting-house, warehouse, or manufactory, similar to those of your petitioners, is chargeable with the said duties, in that part of his majesty's dominions.

"That a petition similar to the present, would have been presented to this honourable House during the last session of parliament, had not an observation of the right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer led your petitioners to expect redress before its close.

"That as soon, however, as the session was ended, the commissioners proceeded to enforce the assessment, and in many instances levied the rates by distress.

"That your petitioners do not yield to any of his majesty's subjects in readiness to bear whatever amount of taxation the necessities of the state may lay upon them, equally with their fellow subjects; but they do trust and hope, that they may not henceforth be compelled to pay or submit to duties and imposts which seem to be charged and inflicted upon them with evident partiality, and apparently without justice.

"Your petitioners therefore humbly pray, that this honourable House will take their case into its early and serious consideration, and will adopt such measures for the relief of your petitioners therein, as to this honourable House may seem fit.

"And your petitioners shall ever pray. &c."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he was fully aware of the hardships of this case, as stated by the hon. baronet, and he could assure him and the House, that immediate measures would be taken to prevent its recurrence. He should certainly do every thing he possibly could to promote the benefit of all parties, and to do justice between them. He should do so without delay, and could only regret that any individual should have been put to any inconvenience.

The petition was ordered to lie on the table.