§ Mr. Brougham
said, he rose to make a proposition to carry into effect a measure, the propriety of which was admitted, he believed, on all sides of the House; he meant the destruction of all remains of that tax on which they had long ago passed a sentence of condemnation. The principle on which the motion proceeded was so obvious, that he should not offer a word in support of it, but he should shortly state the circumstances which now rendered it necessary. About two years ago the chancellor of the exchequer had stated, that he had given directions for the destruction of the returns under the income tax. Subsequently to that, it was found that these directions had been very imperfectly complied with; that the originals or copies of these returns were bandied about, and sold every where as waste paper, and that in some places a person could hardly go into a shop without seeing the returns of some of his neighbours, or perhaps his own. When this was mentioned, it was said, that steps would be taken to destroy the returns; and about the same time a circular was issued, requiring the officers to destroy the original returns, preserving-copies, which were to be transmitted to the tax-office in London, and there to be preserved. No farther notice had been taken of the subject till within a few days, when he had received information from persons who had seen these returns scattered about, as they had formerly been, in one part of the country. It was evident there was no use in destroying the originals, if copies were left. For though the names were left out, it was manifest that if all the details were preserved, any person in the neighbourhood, not to speak of the assessor, would be able to supply the names. On what ground could it be necessary to preserve these returns at all It was said, that they were necessary to check the returns of the county rate; but for this purpose the sums total, properly authenticated, of parishes or districts, 774 would be sufficient. If it was desirable then, that the returns should be destroyed, it would be desirable that the means should be taken to produce a compliance with those orders which had been hitherto ineffectually given. The Treasury, and the Tax-office had at present no means to enforce compliance, if their directions were disobeyed. He should therefore move for a committee to inquire what steps had been taken. To this motion, he believed, no objection would be made. He was more disposed to do this, because he thought he had observed on former occasions a slowness in the Tax-office in attending to the orders of the House. It was a refractory department, though he attached no blame to his hon. and learned friend at the head of it; but there was something in the nature of the department which made them slow. If they might trust the index of the votes on the 3d of February a return had been moved for of the pensions of the late property tax inspectors, which return had not yet been made, though it might have been made in half the time. But ever since the slip the House had made two years ago, by the repeal of the Income tax, the House had been looked upon, by all concerned in the extracting money by taxation, with a jealous eye. He believed in many instances it would be found, that the names at the heads of the returns had only been altered by a stroke or two of the pen, or an attempt at erasure, which left them quite legible to eyes but half as sharp as those employed in the collection of taxes. In some of the instances he had been made acquainted with, a person had sent for goods from a chandler's shop, and with the goods were sent him a return of one of his neighbours income; and, on making inquiry, he was directed to a place where he might find the returns of any person in the neighbourhood. The collector or assessor having failed, his waste paper had been sold,, which consisted of such documents. It was a maxim of law to trust every man in his own art. If the object was to ascertain the utmost sum which could be extracted from the people, or to whip up arrears, he should be willing to trust the tax-gatherers; but when the question was to destroy the relics of a tax which was so dear to them, he distrusted their diligence. This tax had on all occasions received the praises of the chancellor of the exchequer, and he was at liberty now to repeat them; but the opinion of the House and of the country 775 was unchanged, or rather, if, out of the people, nine out of ten disapproved it at present, it was condemned by ninety-nine out of every hundred. The hon. and learned gentleman then moved, "That a committee be appointed to inquire into the steps which have been taken to destroy the Returns of Bodies Corporate and Individuals under the Income Tax acts."
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
was doubtful whether any benefit could possibly arise from the appointment of such a committee as that now proposed by the hon. and learned gentleman. With respect to the charge made against the department of the income tax, of repugnance to comply with the orders of the House in the production of such documents as the House found necessary to call for, he believed that that department was not more averse than any other department in showing due compliance to their orders. The papers which the hon. and learned gentleman had alluded to, as an instance to prove the charge of reluctance, were long ago in possession of the House, and this the hon. and learned gentleman might have easily ascertained by inquiring at the vote office. The accounts called for respecting the inspectors of the income tax had been ordered on the 3rd of February, and it appeared they were returned on the 10th of February. With respect to the property tax, it was not his intention then to enter into its general merits. He knew it was burthen some to the country, though highly necessary to carry us through the arduous struggle in which we had then been engaged. In time of peace it was objectionable, and he trusted unnecessary. The object of the hon. and learned gentleman's motion was, that all papers of the description alluded to should be destroyed indiscriminately; but this could not be done, as some of them were absolutely necessary for the recovery of certain arrears of, the property tax. Orders had been already given for the destruction of all such as were not necessary for the recovery of arrears, and the detection of fraud. All returns of commercial property, included in schedule B, were such as, from the circumstances of such property, ought certainly to be destroyed, excepting such as were necessary for the recovery of arrears. It was judged necessary to preserve copies of some of these returns, because two different acts, passed in the year 1815, referred to these papers for the purpose of 776 settling county-rates and assessments. He hoped, therefore, that the House, upon taking these circumstances into their consideration, would see no necessity for the appointment of a committee.
§ Mr. Grenfell
said, he completely concurred in opinion with his hon. and learned friend, as to the refractoriness evinced by the different offices connected with the department of taxes in complying with the orders of the House, but he could not agree with him in excepting the gentleman at the head of that department. He knew, however, that no blame could attach to the secretary of that department, whose conduct was in every respect highly creditable. He felt the greatest satisfaction in having to congratulate that House and the country on the admission then made for the first time, that the country was not again to be inflicted with the property tax. It was certainly a fair subject of congratulation to hear, that, though the right hon. gentleman considered the tax as right and proper in time of war, yet he would never recommend it in time of peace. This declaration was the more cheering, as a fear had been prevalent that a recurrence to this oppressive tax was still contemplated.
§ Mr. C. Calvert
took occasion to express a hope, that some measures would be taken to guard against the vexation to which several persons had been recently subjected under the system for collecting the assessed taxes. This vexation was, he knew, peculiarly felt in his own neighbourhood. For after the people had had their proportion of the tax fixed upon the rack rent, by a regular and respectable surveyor, an assessor appeared, who, without any previous survey, ordered an advance of the tax equal to 50, and even 100 per cent upon some premises. Such, indeed, was the grievous exaction demanded from the inhabitants of Isleworth, Twickenham, and Hampton.
§ Mr. Brougham
expressed his surprise at the language and conduct of the chancellor of the exchequer, who, after some little explanation not at all material to the question, declared his intention to vote against the motion. But what was this motion to which the right hon. gentleman professed so much objection? Why, simply for the appointment of a committee to inquire what returns or papers connected with the property tax had been destroyed, or could be destroyed without any injury to the public service. The 777 right hon. gentleman had, on a former occasion, stated, that an order had been issued from the proper office for the detraction of such papers; and was it not rather calculated to excite suspicion as to the execution of this order, to find the present motion so resolutely resisted? But there were some circumstances connected with this motion which he felt it his duty to explain to the House as they appeared to manifest much less candour than he was generally disposed to ascribe to the right hon. gentleman. The secretary of the Treasury had applied to him, in the early part of the evening, to know what motion he meant to bring forward. To this application he made a prompt and frank reply, by giving the right hon. secretary a copy of his intended motion, which copy, or a paper very much resembling it, he saw immediately afterwards put into the hands of the chancellor of the exchequer, and the secretary of the Treasury returned to him with this information, that the chancellor of the exchequer had no objection to his motion; adding, that the only difference was as to the nomination of the proposed committee. He had, therefore, concluded, that there would be no objection to the motion for the appointment of the committee to-day, provided he postponed the consideration of the names which were to compose that committee until to-morrow. Such being his conclusion, he communicated to several friends who were likely to speak upon the subject, that the business would terminate in five minutes, no division or discussion being expected. These gentlemen had accordingly left the House, and having thus brought them into a scrape through his reliance upon the chancellor of the exchequer, as that right hon. gentleman's inclination was reported to him, he had no refuge but in proposing the postponement of the discussion.
§ Mr. Lambton
expressed a hope that the chancellor of the exchequer would give some explanation as to the circumstances alluded to by his hon. and learned friend, for he could say, that his understanding with respect to the result of the negotiation was the same as that of his hon. and learned friend.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that he had no objection to the postponement of the discussion, for the accommodation of the hon. and learned gentleman and his friends. An application was no doubt made to the hon. and learned gen- 778 tleman for a copy of his motion, and such application was in conformity with the practice usually resorted to for the occasional accommodation of each side of the House. He had thus obtained a copy of the hon. and learned gentleman's motion, but, understanding that the hon. and learned gentleman insisted upon proposing himself the nomination of the committee, to which he could not assent, the treaty was broken off.
§ Mr. Brougham
assured the House, that he had treated with the ambassador of the right hon. gentleman in perfect good faith, and that he was led to think there was no objection to his motion for the appointment of the committee; but it now appeared from the language of the chancellor of the exchequer, that if he himself were allowed to name the committee, he should not oppose the motion.
§ Mr. Lambton
said, that according to his understanding the chancellor of the exchequer had expressed no objection to his hon. and learned friend's motion until he found, from seeing the names of the committee which his hon. and learned friend proposed, that the majority were not very likely to support his views.
§ The farther debate upon this subject was postponed until Tuesday next.