HC Deb 05 March 1821 vol 4 cc1081-4
Mr. Curwen,

in rising to submit the motion of which he had given notice, would not shrink from saying, that he did so with the view of calling the attention of the House to the propriety of imposing a duty on the Transfer of Stock. He contended that the right and foundation of all government rested on the principle, that every man should pay for the protection of his property. If that were a general law which could not be disputed, then he maintained, that any exemption in favour of a portion of the community was a fraud upon the public. There was, however, at the present moment exempted from all direct share of the public burthens, a property equal in amount to the whole real property of the united empire. If this exemption had hitherto existed, lie was prepared to contend that circumstances might now exist to warrant the removal of that exemption. But he was not without very great authority when he stated his opinion to be, that this property was not legally exempted from a share of the public burthens; for he thought he was justified in saying that it had been ruled by the late chief justice of the court of King's-bench, that funded property was available for the support of the poor, under the 43rd of Elizabeth: and if liable to be taxed for the support of the poor, it ought surely to be taxed for the support of the public credit. [The hon. gentleman was here rendered inaudible by the coughing of members.] He begged pardon of the House for detaining them so long; but surely it was due to an individual who had been accused of making a proposition little short of robbery, to be allowed to explain himself. If the whole country was at present borne down with the public burthens, was it unfair to ask the fund-holder to take a share? He would ask hon. members to compare the present state of this country, with that of France at the commencement of the disturbances there, and to say if those disturbances did not arise from-the exemptions claimed by the clergy, the nobles, and other privileged orders. He would move, "That there be laid before this House, an account of all Stock transferred at the Bank of England for the ten years ending the 31st Dec. 1820, excepting only stock transferred to the commissioners for reduction of the National Debt; showing the total amount of each kind of stock, and also the total amount of all stock transferred in each year respectively."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he would, at once, meet the principle of the motion, and he could not but observe, that although he was far from charging the hon. member with intending to bring down destruction upon public faith, and ruin upon individuals, the measure proposed would certainly have that effect, and therefore deserved every reprobation. The hon. member appeared to confound two principles entirely different in their application and effect: he confounded that burthen which the stockholder was bound to bear in conjunction with the rest of the community, with the imposition of a specific tax on the stockholder peculiarly. From the common burthen the stockholder claimed no exemption; for twenty years he had submitted to the property tax without complaint; but to a specific tax he did, and fairly did, object. It was said, that the stockholder bad in fact bought in considerable sums under a depreciated currency, which he now claimed to be repaid in gold. Certainly, during those years of depreciated currency nearly one-fourth of the present debt had been contracted; but how was it possible to separate that particular portion from the whole mass, or to distinguish the individuals who had profited by that temporary state of the circulating medium? Even if such a line could be drawn, what possible justification could the fact in question afford for an attack upon the public creditor? It would be just as reasonable to release and unbind every private bargain which had been made and entered into at the same date. He knew there was a feeling in the country, that the rich stockholder ought to contribute largely towards the public expenditure. To contribute certainly; but not to contribute specifically. Let the House recollect that funded property was not difficult of removal; it might easily be transferred to other countries; and it would be so, but that the security of England was preferred. Once let a breach of faith be suspected, and that preference was at an end; sauve qui peut would be the feeling; and while an immense mass of stock flung suddenly into the market hampered every public opera- tion, an immense capital, for which no employ could be found, would produce the most distressing effects upon the commercial interests of the country. The slightest breach of faith with the public creditor would place England at the mercy of any enemy whom she might be attacked.

The motion was negatived.