said:—In rising to propose any reduction of the taxation of the country, I am aware of the many objections which may be made to me, and of the many difficulties which naturally oppose any such proposition. I am aware that it is said, and undoubtedly with some reason, that nothing can be more vulgar, as nothing can be more easy, than to point to the diminution of the public burthens as the only measure that can make the nation happy and prosperous. The topic is, I must confess, sufficiently 1459 trite, and the expediency of relieving ourselves from any, demand comes so borne to every man's business and bosom, that the common declaimer may generally be sure of finding, when on that subject, a wining audience. But if this topic has become rather threadbare out of doors, I cannot but think that the opposite mode of argument has suffered as much from repetition within the walls of parliament. The writers and speakers of former times contented themselves with assuming the propriety of each man contributing something to the necessities of the state—as he thereby sacrificed a small good for the sake of great advantage. But it has been reserved for our times to hear it declared by the gravest authorities, that the alleged sacrifice is in itself no sacrifice—that it is on the contrary in itself an advantage—that the individual contributor is better even by the act of contribution—in short, that forced taxation like voluntary charity.—is twice blessed,It blesses him that gives and him that takes.But the paradox has been pushed even farther than that. We have been told even from the seat of judgment, that a great national debt is a great national blessing—that what ruins individuals is useful to a state, and consequently, that the taxation which the ignorant so much deprecate, so far from being a misery and a curse, is but an additional proof of the prosperity and happiness of the people. To such lengths has this assertion been pushed, that the impatience of any portion of the community to get rid of some of the demands made upon them on the part of the government, has been ascribed to the most unaccountable stupidity—to the most lamentable ignorance of their own happy condition, in short, to that perversity and fretfulness of temper which it requires the utmost wisdom and perseverance of parliament to control. The present session of parliament was ushered in by an express declaration of Mr. chancellor of the exchequer, that, to reduce taxation might even aggravate the distress, which distress, having been long denied, it was now necessary to allow did exist. Some subsequent explanation of that assertion has been given; but I am sure of the words—I am sure of the sense in which they seemed to be used, and in which I am confident they were taken by aft sides of the House—his majesty's 1460 ministers have, indeed, on more than one occasion, declared, that not only the state could not afford to lose any portion of its revenue, but that the people would not be benefited by paying less to the state. I repeat, sir, that if the necessity of reducing taxes has been too much dwelt upon by one class of politicians, the contrary opinion has been carried to a much more ridiculous and unheard of extent by their opponents; and in proof of this I need quote nothing but the retractions and confessions of his majesty's ministers themselves. Not only have those gentlemen confessed their error by argument but by fact—for after having repeatedly assured the House, that all reduction was not only impracticable but useless, after having staked not only their words, but, more sacred pledge, their places, upon this truth—tax after tax has been abandoned and the foolish impatient people have by this wise phlegmatic ministry been allowed to workout their own ruin their own way—damnantur votis. At the beginning of the Session of 1821, the member for Cumberland (Mr. Curwen) brought forward his repeal of the horse-tax, but withdrew it to wait for the opinion of the agricultural committee. When the repeal of the malt-tax was proposed, the first resolutions having been carried, the noble marquis opposite (Londonderry) summoned all his friends and declared "that if the House should think fit to repeal the tax, he should not wish to continue a member of the government of the country.* He said it would be "a suicidal measure" to repeal the malt-tax. These were his very words, and a complaisant majority confirmed the opinion of the noble marquis. On the renewed proposition to repeal the agricultural horse-tax, the chancellor of the exchequer said "it was the opening and the beginning of a general assault upon the finances of the country; if such an assault were successful, no minister could support the financial system of the country." [June 14.] But, what was the end of these pressing declarations? Alas, as to the horse-tax, we saw, on the same evening, that the assault was successful, we saw that the king's minister was willing to give this boon to the country, and yet that the chancellor of the exchequer was not so desperate as not to make still farther attempts to sup-* Debates, April 3.1461 port the financial system of the country. The malt-tax too—that was repealed—that suicidal measure caused no deaths, it caused no despair. So far from causing any threatened retreat from office, it served as a topic on which the minister put in his claim to national gratitude and to a still longer continuance in office.
In like manner when the noble marquis first proposed his plan of relief this session, he assured the House no farther relief than he had laid down, no farther reduction than he offered, were within the limits of possibility. Then, and on a subsequent debate, it was, that the noble marquis laid down those doctrines which, if without any other merit, have at least the charm of novelty to recommend them. I must be allowed to repeat some of these extraordinary state maxims. "There is," said he, "no distress in this country which cannot be cured by a due application of the principles of resurrection." Again: "The proposal to repeal taxes is worse than unavailing, it is delusive; for it goes to contradict the great causes of nature." In another place he said: "It is delusive and dangerous to say that distress arises from taxation, and not from the hands of Providence and the great principles of nature." And lastly he added: the result of the true nature of political economy is, therefore, this; that nature is the source of relief and hope; and that it is the course of nature which affords relief in every emergency which occurs in their condition." Now, Sir, I must say, that since I read Lucretius, I never heard so much attributed to "nature," and when I heard the noble lord talk after this sort, I could almost fancy he was opening some great discovery in the political as the great poet did in the physical world,—rerum primordia pandam,Unde omnes netura Greet res, auctet alatque,Quoveeadem rursum natura perempta resolvat.I well recollect the noble lord being once somewhat amused at finding himself in some petition compared to Oliver Cromwell. In one respect, however, the noble lord does bear no small resemblance to that great politician. I mean in his rhetoric. And recollecting the language used by the Protector in his three hours' harangues, I have never been inclined to think the noble lord's strange eloquence any sign of an inferior mind. I have always carried in mind what Mr. Hume 1462 has remarked after mentioning the conference between Oliver and the committees of parliament relative to the offer of the crown. He says: "After so singular a manner does nature distribute her talents, that in a nation abounding with sense and learning, a man who by superior merit alone had made his way to supreme power, and had even obliged the parliament to make him a tender of the crown, was yet incapable of expressing himself on this occasion but in a manner which a peasant of the most ordinary capacity would be ashamed of." Mr. Hume adds in a note, that the confusion remarked in Cromwell's language was not in the elocution: nor arose from a want of words, but a want of ideas. This I take to be true of the oratory of the noble marquis, more especially in those glorious specimens which I have just mentioned, in which "nature" is brought in to play so statesman like a part. However, the noble marquis did not quite leave nature to herself. For not two months—two little months, I cannot add "on wings of down," had passed over his head, before down he comes to this House, and lo! great conqueror of previous impossibilities, himself overcomes the difficulties he had declared to be insurmountable, and relieves the nation of 1,800,000l. of that burthen which he had before declared they must inevitably bear. Thus we find 1,500,000l. for the malt-tax, 500,000l. for the agricultural horse-tax, and 1,800,000l. of other taxes successively taken off; after taxation has been declared, if not a blessing, at least something very like it; and after the reduction of that taxation had been proclaimed fraught with ruin and degradation of every kind, and tending to the worst of all calamities—the putting out of office the noble marquis and his colleagues.
But not only by facts, but also in words, have the ministers appeared to forget this their famous and novel political axiom in favour of the blessings of taxation—For it was only the other day that I caught the noble lord making use of the expression, "that the country was groaning under the dead weight of five millions." Now I was glad that these groans had reached the ear of the noble lord at lase—gladon all accounts, but particularly so, because I recognised in that confession a complete disavowal of his farmer sentiments; and because I beheld in that confession a sort of guarantee that we should no longer be 1463 told that reduction of taxes would afford no relief but might aggravate distress. For if the country does "groan" under the payment of these five millions—to be sure taking off this weight would prevent any more groaning under that burthen at least. In fact, the noble lord now wished to impart some of the new found blessings of taxation to posterity: and having encouraged us so long to surfeit upon the fruit of this delightful tree, he now thinks it fair and generous to keep some of the produce for planting.Serit arbores quæ alteri sæculo prosint.I think, then, that the friends of reduced taxation have not to contend at present with quite such extravagant an opposition as formerly—the king's ministers have shown themselves converts, however unwillingly we need not enquire, we have precedents on our side drawn from their practice, and when we wish to remove present obstacles we have only to show how similar difficulties, declared at the time to be insurmountable, have now vanished, and the predicted consequences have been no where to be found. In truth, it is time that the ridiculous fallacies respecting taxation should no longer be heard in any deliberative assembly. It is time that we should recognise that truth which until late years was never disputed—that taxation is a positive evil in itself, although the sacrifice may be required; and that whatever general advantage in the shape of security or honour to the community that taxation may procure, the individual is a sufferer in proportion to the quantity of the sacrifice which he makes, to partake in that honour and security.
Nothing seems to me more absurd than the assertion so commonly made, that a tax only takes from one to give to the other; as if the transfer occasioned no misery, as if the very feeling of right to enjoy what is our own is not injured by such transfer—and as if such injury is not in itself a cause of individual misery. Hopeless, indeed, would be the condition of mankind, if such a notion were to prevail and be acted upon. Under such a supposition, there is nothing to oppose the government of a country from gradually acquiring all the wealth and means of wealth, and reducing the whole free population to become pensioners upon its bounty, or labourers for its hire. Farewell then, to your freedom. Farewell to your national glory!—The state indeed 1464 might lead her thousands of slaves to battle and perhaps to victory. She might add to her dominions—she might subdue her enemies, her throne might be incrusted with jewels, and her pageantry outrival the magnificence of eastern monarchs—but her men, the descendants of ancestors who bled for them and their rights,—her men would also degenerate into eastern slaves. Nothing appears to me more fallacious than to deduce the prosperity and happiness of a people from the extent of the revenue of the state. It is true that a great and a free nation, left to its own industry, and to the expansion of its own talents, may contribute largely and yet fairly and justly to its government; but it is no less true, that the very best proof of the poverty of the people may be the wealth of the government.—And not only of the poverty, but I may say of the misery and abject condition of the people. There are occasions indeed in which the citizens of a free state would consent to any sacrifice. To uphold the national independence no sacrifice would be to them too great, each man then would sell his coat and buy a sword. But there are also occasions on which any man who calls himself free would refuse the most trifling contribution to his government. The question is not how much we can bear, but how much we ought to bear, and there is no habit which is so sure to involve a nation in ruin and disgrace, as that of affording great facilities to taxation. This is the way to make a government careless, profligate and profuse—this is the way to qualify bold but weak and wicked men for ministers—this is the way to give rise to extravagant and unjust wars—and, finally, this is the way to arm the government of a country against ourselves, to deprive ourselves of our laws, our liberties, our rights. This is true of all nations, but more particularly so of England, which nothing but internal corruption can overcome. I know of no persuasion so fatal for a people as when a minister is convinced and boasts of their "boundless resources." And, yet, such is the conviction, at least such is the boast of the noble marquis, who, the other night, meaning to give the utmost praise to lord Sidmouth, specified as an immortal merit in his noble friend, that he had known how to raise twelve millions of new taxes in one year. Such, unfortunately, has been the way of thinking of the ministers who have for thirty years 1465 wielded the destiny of the British empire. But the persuasion grew upon them by degrees. Will any one dare to say that when Mr. Pitt found the debt of this country amounting to 232 millions, he had the least idea of the possibility of raising the enormous sums, either in taxes or on credit, with which he burthened the people and their posterity? Certainly not; but the mine, as Mr. Justice Bailey called it, of national wealth opened upon him as he worked—unhoped for treasures presented themselves to his grasp, and he seized them, at first with a trembling, but afterwards with an eager hand. Both in 1795, and in 1797, he made the king tell his parliament, that he hoped to carry on the war without fresh or at any rate any great additional burthens upon his people: but yet in five years from the beginning of that war, he had more than doubled the debt, and had tripled the taxes. This was pretty adventurous—but the gentleman who succeeded him, what did he do? He at first said, that he intended so to contrive as that "there should be no increase whatever of the public debt during the war." He was so well convinced of these boundless resources, that in one day, did he add to the debt of the country a sum not much less than equal to half of the whole debt which had been accumulating from the reign of king William to the American war. Mr. Addington funded 92 millions in one day. But even this, incredible as it may appear, was outdone by the ministers who conducted the ensuing war. In only two years of that war did these gentlemen contrive to expend more millions of money than were owing at the beginning of the French war. In two years they disbursed of the national money no less a sum than 260 millions. Indeed, the average expence of three years of the late war was 130 millions: In 1815 it was not far from 132 millions, I find the nett produce of revenue as by finance account for year ending, January 5, 1816:—
This enormous sum per year gives a weekly expence of 2,529,404l. and gives to each working day, supposing 300 such 1466 days, an expense of 438,7631. Now this daily expense of government is not far from the whole annual revenue of England; at the accesion of the House of Stuart to the throne. Let us look a little at the progress of that revenue. In 1602, the period I before alluded to, it was 500,000l. Eighty six years afterwards, when the Stuarts were expelled in 1688, the revenue was about 2,000,000l. The annual average addition during the reign of that bad family having been 17,441l. In 86 years after the Revolution, had the revenue increased only at the same rate as for the 86 before the Revolution, it would have been 3,500,000l., but thanks to the funded system, in 1775 it was near 14,000,000l. More than three millions were added from that period to the French war in 1793. From that time the revenue has been augmented in a proportion that staggers belief. I hold in my hand a table of the sums annually taken from the people in taxes in thirty years, from which it may be seen that from 1793 to 1822 inclusive, the people have paid to their government a sum of money which we can note upon paper, but which the imagination cannot grasp—which one cannot believe hardly ever had an existence in hard coin—the sum as I reckon it up, One billion, four hundred and sir millions, four hundred and thirty-six thousands, one hundred and forty eight pounds sterling.* But even, this
GREAT BRITAIN. Taxes and loans 119,570,620 Charges of management 3,663,622 IRELAND. Taxes and loans 7,455,239 Charges of management 1,039,731, Total £.131,629,111
1467 sum, inconceivable as is its amount, did not suffice for the extravagance of the government. No; in addition to these hundreds and tens of hundreds of millions, they borrowed and expended another sum of 587,493,158l. That is to say, they added that number of millions to the national debt, during the above-mentioned period of thirty years. In 1793, the funded and unfounded debt of Great Britain and Ireland, amounted to 244,064,335l. in 1822, to 831,557,493l.* The difference between these two sums gives the amount I before mentioned. If, therefore, we add the sum taken in taxes for 30 years to the sum borrowed in loans—that is, if we add 1,406,436,148l.to 587,493,158l. We shall have 1,993,929,306l. or within a very little of two billions of millions actually expended by the government of this country during the period I have before mentioned. I know very well that the country is not deprived of the interest
* Years ending 5th January. 1793 £17,658,418 4 17,170,400 5 17,308,811 6 17,858,454 7 18,737,760 8 20,654,650 9 30,202,915 1800 35,229,968 1 33,896,464 2 35,415,096 3 37,240,213 4 37,677,063 5 45,359,442 6 49,659,281 7 53,304,254 8 58,390,255 9 61,538,207 10 63,405,297 11 66,681,366 12 64,763,870 13 63,169,845 14 66,925,835 15 69,684,192 16 70,421,788 17 59,437,259 18 57,650,589 19 59,667,941
20 58,680,251 21 59,769,680 22 60,686,676* UNREDEEMED DEBT.—Total amount of the Public Debt of Great Britain and Ireland, including the Austrian and Portuguese Loans, Funded and Unfunded, for the years ending as under:—
Years ending 25th March. 1793 £244,064,335 4 251,988,783 5 267,635,345 6 326,833,921 7 371,119,039 8 398,051,408 9 432,605,789 1800 447,620,128
1468 of the 831 millions of debt. But I also know, that society is deprived of the principal. I know that 32 millions, about, of money—a sum greater than the rental of all the lands of the country—is drawn front the people to pay those whose capitals have been lent to the state—and I also know, that the receivers of that interest live upon the industry of others, instead of upon their own.
Years ending 5th January. 1801 479,046,141 2 522,228,729 3 540,668,080 4 551,368,256 5 575,310,723 6 604,535,141 7 625,130,227 8 637,738,420 9 648,024,192 10 658,360,665 11 666,665,446 12 682,805,104 13 713,357,041 14 794,326,522 15 817,633,616 16 863,031,371 17 847,206,875 18 838,767,526 19 840,738,518 20 840,313,885 21 838,607,743 22 831,557,493
I have before alluded to the strange notion of those who imagine that the national debt subtracts nothing from the nation; but, causes; nothing but a transfer wealth from one to the other part the community, in that such a manner as to prevent the whole community from being a loser by the transfer. One might have thought that such a doctrine could be hardly revived in our days. Even Mr. Hume could see the consequences of such maxims. He could deride "the loose reasonings and specious comparisons which tend to the belief that the operation of a great debt is like transferring money from the right hand to the left hand which leaves the person neither richer nor poorer than before."* He wrote what I have just repeated in 1742, when the debt was not much above fifty millions—a sum not equal to that raised annually at this time from the people.—Even Hume could foresee that which a great national debt has brought and is bringing upon us; for in another essay, On Civil Liberty—he wisely observes, "The source of degeneracy which may be remarked in free governments, consists in the practice of contracting debt and mortgaging the public revenues, by which taxes may in time become altogether intolerable, and all the property of the state be brought into the hands of the public." So said this philosopher at the early part of the last century. But did he imagine the possibility of his countrymen bearing the burthen now imposed upon them? Certainly not.—And some reasoners there are, who think, because his predictions have not hitherto been verified, that they never will be verified. They point to this vast metropolis. They point to the luxurious habits of their fellow citizens. They remark the vast increase of that class of society which, adds to the brilliancy of a great city. To be sure I know that what are denominated the higher orders, have*Essay on Public Credit.1469 been augmented in numbers, and that for one display of magnificent hospitality which occurred in the days of the American war, we have now a hundred elegant fêtes. That our streets are more crowded with carriages. That our court is more thronged—that our amusements are more frequent, and more fully attended. But if you remark how one portion of the community has been raised, I will show you how the other portion of it has been sunk. If you point to the splendid palaces, and to the parties of London, I will turn to the pauper-houses, and to the parish rates. Suppose I confess that some 500,000 individuals are now vying with those who before Were far above them in condition, I must also direct your attention to the millions of our fellow countrymen who have been driven out of the very means of subsistence into the poor-house or the jail.
For a century before the French revolution war our poor-rates had risen only one million. From that period to the present day, five millions of pounds have been added to the rates. But nothing is more equivocal than that very splendour which is often taken as the certain sign of prosperity. Loans and taxes create a destruction of capital—a destruction of capital very often causes, for the time, a show of prosperity much greater than would arise from the employment merely of the interest of that capital, and from the retention of that capital for future production. I beg to quote the very apposite Words of a celebrated economist of our own times, I mean Mr. Say. He writes thus:—"Those who are not accustomed to discriminate between realities and appearances, are sometimes deceived by the show, and the bustle, and the splendour of luxury. They believe there is prosperity where they behold there is ostentation. Let them not deceive themselves. A declining country alway displays for some time the image of opulence. So does the house of a spendthrift running to ruin. But this fictitious splendor is not durable; and as it drys up the sources of reproduction is inevitably followed by a state of lassitude and political decline, which admits of recovery only by degrees, and by means just the contrary to those which have brought on the decay."
I say, then, after such an unheard-of expenditure of resources after an exhaustion which it might have been thought 1470 no state could bear and live, how can any one doubt either of the cause or of the mode of cure of the national distress? I attribute to taxation the great portion of the misery with which either one or the other class of the community for rears past been always contending.
That such a wonderful operation as that of raising the mighty sums upon the people before-mentioned, should go on, and produce no effect is impossible, that it should not produce a great effect is impossible. Either good or evil it roust inevitably produce, and that to a great extent. Can we hesitate, when we have a great and acknowledged distress in the country, to attribute it to that, which, without such an ascribed effect, must be said to have produced no effect at all? For no one can be wild enough to lay it has produced good.
I am well aware, that an objector thy say, how can you attribute this distress to high taxes; when, although high taxes naturally produce high prices, yet you have now low prices, and those low prices are the immediate cause of the distress that affects the agriculturists at least? This may be true and yet not affect the general argument. In looking at any political phenomenon, we should be cautious not to mistake the exception for the rule. I am convinced that the present low prices are to be chiefly ascribed to the cause assigned by the member for Portarlington, and the member for Chichester. I mean to an overabundant supply of the market, and that consequently when that market ceases to be so well supplied, we shall have higher prices. It seems to me inevitable, that, generally speaking, the prices of farm produce must be regulated by the laws made to prevent the competition of the foreign grower of corn. The protection granted to agriculture, kept up the prices from 1815 to 1820, to an average of 80s. Farming continued to be so good a trade, that additional capital was applied to that trade; waste land was brought into cultivation; and the old lands had more capital laid out upon them. The farmer had not a competitor from abroad, but: be had a competitor at home; the supply now became greater than the demand; the corn producers undersold each other; the prices went down; and we began to hear of agricultural distress. But as the poor lands shall go out of cultivation and as the better lands shall have capital with- 1471 drawn from them, supply must diminish, and prices rise; there being no foreign corn to keep down those prices. That the high prices were partly effected by the depreciation of the currency, and that the low prices were also partly effected by the return to a metallic currency, cannot, I think, be denied. But I see no efficient primary cause for either high or low prices in the nature of the currency. The fluctuations in price would have taken place in any currency, where regulating laws gave such a protection to agriculture, as to afford an artificial stimulus to the growers of farm produce. I repeat, that in spite of high taxes, even, which must have a general tendency to create high prices, the injudicious regulations made respecting this necessary of life, can, of themselves, account for the low prices now so complained of; and it appears to me, that, as an excess of supply has caused these low prices, so a gradual diminution of supply will restore prices to the amount at which importation is allowed, and perhaps something above it. I am willing to own, and, indeed, it exactly tallies with my demand for a diminished taxation, that before prices are raised to this pitch, a great deal of distress must occur; farmers must be thrown out of employ; landlords must be ruined. To relieve such distress, you have but one means within the control of parliament; namely, to diminish taxation. But, when even high prices shall return, you will then have another portion of the community suffering; namely, the consumers of the landlord's commodity. To relieve these consumers, and enable them to pay high prices, you have but one resource; to diminish taxation. I feel great diffidence in speaking on this intricate question; but the present view which I venture to take, is, that the community at large labours under taxation of two kinds; namely, that which is charged to it by makers of, and profiters by corn laws, and that which is charged to it by the collector of the revenues of the church, and the poor, and the state. As the influence of the landowner is so great in this House and in the country, as not to permit a reduction of the first kind of taxation; as the moment prices become low by the increase of supply, the landlord insists upon some regulation to raise them; so I see no other way of diminishing the public burthens, than by reducing the other sort of taxation; namely, that which is paid to the state.
1472 I presume it will hardly be necessary to show at length how the tax payer is injured by the high price of farm produce. Shortly, then, he is injured in two ways,—1st, by the increase of the price of farm produce compelling him to give higher wagers to workmen, and secondly by the profits he gets purchasing less of commodities of all kinds, since commodities of all kinds are raise in price by that rise of wages which is the inevitable consequence of the high prices of farm produce. That the tax payer would be able to purchase more of the comforts of life if the comforts of life were not taxed I need not now contend; of taxation on the different classes of the community, except so far as respects the particular tax which I shall propose to repeal. I leave such a task to him, who has shown himself so well qualified for it. I trust that since his last publication my hon. friend, the member for Portarlington, can no longer be reckoned and advocate for taxation. I shall, therefore, content myself in this place with reciting the first resolution as declaratory of that which I imagine every unprejudiced man must pronounce to be the true disease under which the country labours. The words in which I would wish that declaration, are as follows: "That it appears to this House, that the present amount of taxation is so burthensome and oppressive as to make it the duty of this House to adopt every means by which, without detriment to the state, that taxation may be reduced." I am aware that there are always objections to be made to the period at which a repeal of taxes is propose. If the proposition for such repeal is made in time of war, then, to be sure, all the commonplaces of glory and vigour, and of sacrifices to be made of a part in order to save the whole are certain be employed. If, on the contrary, the attempt be made in time of place, others, but not less taking topics are resorted to. It is true you are not at war now; but you know not how soon your may be. You should be prepared; or as the learned under colonial secretary said the other day, "si vis pacem para bellum" Now, that we have been seven years at peace, and that there seems no prospect of war, one might think this recommendation rather out of place. Whether it be or, not, I must be allowed to remark, that nothing seems to me so absurd as to keep the resources of 1473 the country always at their full stretch. Repose is necessary for the community as well as for the individual. The man who should always hold forth his arms in the posture of self-defence would soon become too weary either to give or to ward a blow: and yet we perpetually hear of the necessity of large establishments and consequently of high taxation during peace, in order to provide for war. In case, however, this argument should be a little too hacknied or too paradoxical, the ministers of the day have now conjured up another delusion in order to deter us from remission of taxes. The phantom—(for it is only a phantom and they would dismiss it to the kingdom of shadows as readily as they have raised it, if it served their turn)—this phantom they call "public credit." Of this they make use in order to scare us from our senses, and to blind us from seeing the only relief of which the distress of the country is capable. In order to maintain this public credit they allege it to be necessary to raise a sinking fund by taxing the nation over and above the amount required for the government expenditure and the payment of the interest of the debt.
As I have no doubt but that the necessity of maintaining this sinking fund will be the main argument resorted to this day against my proposed repeal of taxes, perhaps I may be pardoned a word or two on that subject. The days of delusion respecting Mr. Pitt's sinking fund, are I think gone by. The farthing of Dr. Price has ceased to bewilder us with hopes of its magical operations. The days when we were "afraid of waking" as the right hon. member for Liverpool said, "without a debt to our backs," are gone by never to return. No one I believe now doubts that the general result of the famous compound interest scheme is, that we have added a great many millions to the capital of our debt since 1792, and about 1,500,000l. to the annual charge upon the public. As to the character of the old sinking fund, we want no other proof than the declarations of the present chancellor of the exchequer in 1819, when he laid on 3,200,000l. of new taxes, in order to have, as he said, a real sinking fund of 5,000,000l. Now, at this very time there was, according to the fictitious account in the Exchequer books, a sinking fund of sixteen millions; which fund was, by implication, therefore acknowledge to be a sham, a fraud, nothing 1474 more. No one now is wild enough to say, that there is any other sinking fund than an excess of income over expenditure. But there are still people who imagine that it is possible and likely that this excess should be allowed to accumulate at compound interest. That such never can be the case appears to me clear. The surplus must be lent somewhere, in order to accumulate. The borrowers must be individuals, or must be foreign states. If individuals they must give landed security, and in this way the government would soon possess all the land in the country. But even in this case the borrowers would be unable to repay the money lent, therefore the debt could not be so paid off. As for foreign states, what security could the government have for the repayment of such enormously accumulating sums as would be advanced to them? and what government would lend to another sums which might arm an enemy against itself? If we have a large surplus we may pay off annually a certain portion of that debt to the public creditor as has been the case in America, where, since 1815, 67 millions of dollars have been so paid off. But a sinking fund accumulating at compound interest, we never had and we never can have.
It is very natural that ministers should attempt to hedge round this fund with a sort of sacred fence. It serves their purpose well—it aids their funding system, and helps them to an excuse against remission of taxes. The machine requires management; and the management makes places. It serves to give confidence to those who will be deluded in spite of experience, and over whom the empire of names exercises a power, scarcely ever lost. I must remark, however, that the ministers neither in fact nor in word do hold this fund sacred themselves. It is in vain to deny that the late plan respecting the "dead weight" is nothing more or less than acting upon a principle directly opposite to the alleged principle of the sinking fund. This is too clear to require proof—but I have the noble lord's authority for breaking in upon this fund when requisite. The noble lord said the other evening, "He had never represented the sinking fund as a saving to be held sacred; but as a mode of placing a large sum at the disposal of parliament to be by them disposed of as might be thought most equitable, whether for the relief of a pressing exigency of the present day, or for the 1475 security of posterity;"—which is as much as to say, we, the ministers, will infringe this sinking fund whenever, we please.—Farewell, then, the sinking fund, or at least the sacredness of it! I contend that lithe ministers may sometimes determine as to the exigency which requires this infringement—the people may also occasionally have and speak an opinion on that point. I think the people are now against the maintenance of any sinking fund. I am not now speaking of the old sham sinking fund, I am only speaking of the new sinking fund, which may turn out to be a sham one too, but which for the present, we will take to be a real fund arising out of a surplus of annual taxes above expenditure. The learned member for Winchelsea said most truly the other night, that to pay the interest of the debt was all that by contract we were obliged to do; and I am sure that in the present state of the country we have a right to behold that exigency which may dispose of this sum for the relief of the present time. It is no breach of contract to say we will have no sinking fund; that is, no surplus of revenue over expenditure. The debt was, a great deal of it, contracted under the notion that there was such a thing as a compound interest sinking fund; but now that has been found out to be a mere delusion, can we help, or are we bound to remedy, the mistake under which the creditors laboured at that time. It is very clear that, from the very terms on which the money was borrowed, there was little or no probability that the debt would ever be paid off. The public creditor stipulated for the payment of certain annuities, and that if the debtor ever chose to pay off the capital he should do it by giving 100l. for every 60l. so borrowed. The bargain gave an option to the debtor whether be would ever pay off the debt at all. The annuity he must pay; but having raised that money, what earthly excuse is there for taking more money from him under pretext of providing a fund for paying off the capital of his debt? We cannot afford to raise more money than the annual expenditure and the interest of the debt require. The exigency of which the noble lord talks is arrived. We have a right to dispose of this fund; in other we have a right to say, this fund this surplus, shall not be raised upon the people, and that the people shall be relieved from taxes to that 1476 amount at least. Not only does the proposed scheme for contributing five millions annually to a real sinking fund injure the people by depriving them annually of so much real wealth, but it injures the people by raising the money value of the very debt which it is intended to reduce. This has been proved beyond contradiction by a late computation, of my lord Lauderdale. The application of 36,000,000l. sterling, (being the amount of the sinking fund of five annual millions for six years) to, the repurchase of three per cent consols, will, according to the ratio, of the rise in the stock, crated by similar means during six years from 1786 to 1792, have, the effect of raising the money value of the remaining unredeemed three per cent stock, by adding no less than 112,000,000l. to the money value of the remaining unredeemed consols, or in other words, at the end of six years, after 30 millions have been taken from our pockets to reduce the debt, it will, instead of 400,000,000l. of money cost the people 512,000,000l. of taxes to repurchase the unredeemed three per cent consols. In all human probability we must go to war before the whole debt is redeemed—if we do go to war we must borrow money as before by granting annuities. Now, I contend, that it would be far better that the five millions now to be annually paid to the commissioners should be locked up in ingots for future exigencies. Even so locked up and producing no interest, the effect would be more favourable than that produced by redeeming debt with it. How much more useful, then, would it be, to leave those millions in the pockets of the people, there to multiply, and to provide them with the nerves for a future struggle! We have now three sinking funds; one of sixteen millions—this every one allows to be a mere delusion—a non-existent quality;—another of five millions, apart only of which is now kept inviolate, even by the ministers; and a third of three millions, which the hon. member for Portarlington would reduce to 1,600,000l., and some other hon. members would reduce to nothing at all. Whether this fund be, from beginning to end, a gradation of delusions, as my friend behind me (Mr. Ricardo) called it; or whether there be a real surplus to the amount boasted of by ministers, signifies nothing for my argument, which only tends, to show that the people cannot be benefited 1477 by the retention of any such fund, serving as it does merely as a pretext for excessive taxation. I say, therefore, that I would not appropriate these three millions to any such fund, but reduce taxes to that amount. I say to that amount, but I might say to a greater amount, for I hold that we have a right to such a reduction of taxes as will amount to the difference caused by the change of the currency. Let us take that change at the lowest—say ten per cent. Ten per cent upon sixty millions entitles us to a reduction of six millions of taxes. To which six millions we have a right to add the whole surplus of our revenue over our expenditure, estimated at the above mentioned three millions, making in the whole nine millions. I have no hesitation in saying, that I think the people have a right to demand a diminution of at least nine millions of taxes; and I esteem my demand of only two millions and a half as too moderate for the distresses which nothing but diminished taxation can relieve. With this view of the subject; I shall propose my second resolution in the following terms:—"That the benefits supposed to be derived from the establishment of the sinking fund, are illusory, and, that to impose or continue any additional burthens on the people for the purposes of its support is highly inexpedient and unwise."
I now come to say something of what taxes I would propose to reduce. If we now had a property tax, properly so called, I should propose to repeal a portion of that tax. We have, however, a species of property tax which I believe is Mote odious and unpopular than any other impost, and to repeal which, although lit this time there have been no petitions against it, would, I am confident, be better received by the people than any other reduction of the public burthens—I mean the house and window tax. My own constituents have directed my attention to this tax, and I can safely say that the more I have examined the nature and operation of it, the more I have convinced myself that the repeal of either the whole or a part of it would be a great public benefit. It may scarcely be necessary to trouble the House with the history of this unpopular tax. That part of it called the house tax, and indeed even the window tax itself, as being a duty upon dwellings, may be derived in a right line from that impost which was esteemed 1478 one of the most odious that the people of this country had ever been called upon to endure previous to the revolution in 1688. I mean the hearth tax—which the chancellor of the exchequer told us, the other night it was part of the policy and humanity of William the 3rd to abolish in England. But the chancellor did not quote to us on that occasion, the terms in which that hearth tax was abolished and repealed in the reign of William; for he would then have shown us that the objectionable part of the imposition applied just as much to the house and window tax—in as far as it applied to the dwellings of the king's subjects.
The words of the statute, 1 W. and M. cap. 10, are "Whereas his majesty having been informed that the revenue of hearth money was grievous to the people, was pleased to agree to a regulation of it, or to the taking it wholly away as should be thought most convenient to the said Commons; and whereas upon mature deliberation the said Commons do find that the said revenue cannot be so regulated, but that it would occasion many difficulties and questions, and that it is in itself not only a great oppression to the poorer sort, but a badge of slavery to the whole people, exposing every man's house to be entered into and searched at pleasure by persons unknown to him; we your majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects the Common, being filled with a most humble and grateful sense of your majesty's unparalleled grade and favour to your people, not only by restoring their rights and liberties which have been invaded contrary to law, but in desiring to make them happy and at ease, by taking away such burthens as by law are fixed upon by which your majesty will erect a lasting monument of your goodness every house in the kingdom, do most humbly beseech your majesty that the said revenue of hearth money be wholly taken away and abolished."
Nothing surely could be more in the spirit of the Revolution, and considering that by the hearth tax, such as it was established by 13 and 14 Charles 2nd, no less a sum than 264,000l. was annually raised for the revenue, the secrifice was by no means inconsiderable. But this state of things was "too happy long to last;" for, as sir W. Blackstone says, "this prospect was somewhat darkened, 1479 when, in sis years afterwards, by statute 7 William, c. 18, a tax was laid on all houses (except cottages), of two shillings, now advanced to 3 shillings, and a tax also upon all windows if they exceeded nine in such house—which rates have been from time to time varied, being now extended to all windows exceeding six, and power is given to surveyors appointed by the crown to inspect the outsides of house, and also to pass through any house two days in the year, into any court or yard, to inspect the windows therein." [Comment, book 1, c. 8.] "Darkened" indeed! But if there were any darkness in the time of sir W. Blackstone, the tax now has brought us into the gloom of midnight. Indeed, from the very first institution of it in king William's time ministers of the Crown had found it a tax so profitable and so easily levied, and so directly affecting a large portion of property in all classes of subjects that they have disregarded the original and the continuing unpopularity of this impost, and have, from time to time, augmented the duties. The tax is in the nature of a poll tax of which Mr. Hume, in his Essay on Taxes, says, "In general all poll taxes, even when not arbitrary, which they commonly are, may be esteemed dangerous, because it is so easy for the sovereign to add a little more and a little more to the sum demanded, that these taxes are apt to become altogether oppressive and intolerable."
So easy, indeed, did the levying of this impost appear to some politicians, that in 1744, sir Matthew Decker in his celebrated pamphlet called "Serious Considerations on the several high duties which the nation labours under," proposed a plan for levying the whole revenue by a single duty on houses. This was never attempted, but the duties were increased attempted, but the duties were increased on houses and windows by successive acts of parliament during the reign of queen Anne and each of her successors. It is not worth while to notice the various acts by which the increase took place, until we come to the celebrated Commutation act. Never was a more gross fraud practiced on the people than on that occasion; a committee had sat in the year 1779 to enquire into the illicit practices used in defrauding therevenue—that darling revenue, to which, as Mr. Windham once said, "every thing is to be sacrificed, the citizen to be oppressed, the constitution to be violated,"—this committee then suggested that 1480 the revenue suffered chiefly from the smuggling of tea, and that it would be convenient to find some means of forcing the consumer of tea to pay the duties which he contrived to evade, by putting duties upon some article which he could not smuggle.
It was very convenient for Mr. Pitt to flatter the East India Company in 1784, so that he consented to repeal some high duties on tea, and to substitute a low ad valorem duty—provided he might be permitted to augment considerably the duties on house and windows. The argument was this—"every man who drinks tea probably has a house—he contrives to evade the duties on tea—so let us put the duties on his house which he cannot smuggle." Thus were tea and windows, mixed in one bill, though, as Mr. Fox observed at the time, "tea had no more to do with windows than with bricks or hats or horses," and though, as the same great man also observed, "the bill took of a tax on a luxury, to lay it one of the necessaries of life, it took off a tax from the rich, to lay it on the poor." Vain were all the arguments used by Mr. Fox, Mr. Eden and many others against this proposed tax—vain was the outcry raised in the country against the measure—the Commutation act passed, and although, as far as it regarded tea, the measure was for the time good, and added to the revenue, yet the effects of the augmented duties on windows began to be visible over the whole country. A writer of memoirs at that period observes, "to the Commutation act, a numerous class of society, that struggles hard to reach a few of the comforts of life, may ascribe one privation the more. It has spread gloom, and introduced disease into many an airy and healthy country habitation. In small towns and villages where houses are constructed with ranges of windows, commanding the offices contiguous to the dwelling, its miserable effects are fully apparent in the multitude of lights stopt up." [Belsham's Mem. George 3rd.] I must be permitted to add, that the lesson afforded by this Commutation act should never be lost upon the nation.—True, the tea was relieved for a time, but not ten years had elapsed before the house and window-tax was again raised, and tea was actually charged the enormous duty of 100l. per cent. The facilities of this species of taxation were found so convenient, that the year after the Commutation act, Mr. 1481 Pitt proposed the famous shop-tax. This tax created an universal clamour, and after being frequently debated in 1785 and 1786, and after petitions being presented against it, from the metropolis and almost all the great towns of the empire, Mr. Pitt consented to modify the tax considerably, and afterwards to give it up. I do not think it necessary to allude to this struggle, except so far as to call to mind that in the debates on that occasion it was allowed or at least asserted without contradiction by Mr. Fox, and Mr. Windham, and many others, that the house-tax, had operated as a shop tax, inasmuch as shopkeepers, and particularly the shop-keepers in the metropolis, paid by far the highest rent of any other occupiers in the kingdom. Mr. Pitt's argument was, that the consumer was made to pay the tax finally—but evidence was examined at the bar to this effect, and from that evidence as well as from arguments apparently conclusive, Mr. Fox and Mr. Windham particularly defied Mr. Pitt to show that the consumer paid it—and they asserted that it was to all intents and purposes a personal tax, operating like the house tax with the greatest inequality. This inequality applies indeed most particularly to the house tax as I shall take upon me to remark presently. In fact few of the objections made to this shop tax will not apply to the house and window tax, for it is particularly the shop-keeper that is affected, and the retail shop-keeper most, by these duties. This fact was very properly stated by Mr. Alderman Combe and others, when they opposed the augmented window tax, in 1802. The shop tax now exists no more, except so far as it is merged in the augmented window and house tax, and yet, if the one be Unjust and impolitic so are the others.
But, though partially defeated in the shop tax, Mr. Pitt ventured upon the great augmentation of the house and window duties which took place in 1797 and 1798. I mean the triple assessment bill. There must be many gentlemen present, who recollect the debates on that occasion, and those who do, will remember that all the arguments used by the ministers of the day, and their supporters, were deduced from the necessity, from the absolute emergency of the case. Mr. Pitt said, "that the shop-keeper had better loose some, than all his commerce—that he had better resign some of his property than give up all law and all property, to 1482 a haughty and elated for." A great life and fortune gentleman of the day—I mean Mr. Yorke—said, "that France must be resisted, and that he would spend his last shilling, and lose the last drop of his blood." Had the worthy teller of the exchequer said, he would spend our last shilling, and lose the last drop of our blood, he would have been more candid, but such were the topics of the day; and I mention them to show that these highly augmented duties show that these highly augmented duties were considered much as war taxes, and justified only by the occasion, and to be dropped when the occasion was gone by. Such was the terror of the French and the effect of this sort of talk, that Mr. Fox made in vain one of those glorious speeches which will perpetuate his name and give a luster to his character that no time shall efface. But I doubt whether even Mr. Fox himself, with all his sagacity, with all his foresight, could then imagine that these taxes were more than a temporary expedient, or would be fixed apparently for ever upon his overburthened country. Some of the friends of ministry did, indeed, push their paradoxes so far as to defend the tax, upon the principle of a house being a luxury; to this Mr. Fox replied, "you call this in another point of view a luxury, is a house a luxury? In case of a multitude of my constituents in neither is nor can be so considered." I should here mention that as houses had been attacked in 1784 under the pretext of spearing tea, so this species of property was assailed again in 1797, and under the pretext of doing something for clocks and watches. The consequences of the triple assessed bill were seen as those of the Commutation act had been—owners both in town and country began to disfigure their houses, and block up their windows, and in some instances houses were advertised to be let rent free, and yet Mr. Pitt made several exceptions and modifications in 1797, which diminished the hardship of the tax, but which were not admitted in subsequent acts. Notwithstanding the notoriety of the tax being a was tax—nothwithstanding its great and increasing impropriety—an additional duty was laid on houses and windows in 1802, and this too was done by way of commutation for the Income tax. So that it appears this devoted property was always to be assailed in order to spare some other tax. But the change was not proposed at the same time with the repeal of the Income tax, 1483 for members in this House said, "that had they known of the intended duties, they would have preferred the continuance of the Income tax, to an impost which bore so heavily, and so unequally, upon the lower, and retail shop-keeper." As if, however, the subjects of this country did not already pay enough for the light of day, the duties were again increased and regulated in 1804, and also in 1808. What the increase has been in the amount of the duties on houses and windows, will be seen by the parliamentary returns which I moved for some time ago, and from which it appears—That the amount of the House tax in Great Britain, in 1792, was 170,115l. The amount of the Window tax in Great Britain, in 1792, was 959,593l. Whereas, the amount of the House tax in Great Britain, in 1820 equals 1,253,062l. The amount of the Window tax in Great Britain equals 2,565,207l. Those who look at the different acts of parliament will observe how enormously the amount of taxes has increased since 1797. For instance, in 1797, the duties on houses were at 6d. 9d. and 1s. in the pound, according to the rent. Now, those three rates are increased to 1s. 6d. 2s. 3d. and 2s. 10d. in the pound. But the increase on houses and windows, too, has been enormous. Gentlemen know that the House tax is levied upon the rental, and the Window tax according to a scale or schedule given in the act of parliament. I hold in my hand a table which will show how this tax operates, as well as how it has been augmented.
I shall remark by-and-by, on the inequality of these duties, at present I would show from the table that they have been raised during the war, in the proportion of from 150 to 200 per cent, I ought before to have mentioned, that the Window tax has been raised imperceptibly by one of those tricks which are supposed to do so much honour to finances, because the people are robbed unawares, a per-centage has been added to the tax, from time to time, and those per-centages have been afterwards consolidated into a new tax. Thus, by degrees, was this species of pro- 1484 perty taxed to an amount which few persons are acquainted with; for I find that in 1815, the rental of houses liable to be assessed to these two duties was equal to 8,571,693l. and that the duties amounted to 3,710,618l. In other words, that the owners of this property paid 36 pee cent on this 1one tax alone.—I am not aware that any change has taken place since that period. If it has, the change is in diminution of rental, but not in proportional diminution of tax—for the window-tax is not affected by rental—so that the rate must be now higher than 36 per cent. The house duty is a remnant of the property-tax; for the tenant was not charged with that duty on his house; but when both landlord and tenant were relieved from the property-tax, the house duty received no modification; which ought to have been the case if all classes were meant to be relieved at coffee from this direct impost. I call this a direct impost, and I might have called it, as I before said, a poll-tax. It does not, indeed, affect every individual; but it affects, generally speaking, all heads of families, of the most valuable part of the community. It is a direct tax from which no one can altogether escape, without in some degree changing his condition in life. When first imposed in the triple assessment, and at the Commutation act, it had the effect of driving many of the community from their homes—the homes of their ancestors, and thus loosening one of the dearest ties which binds the citizen to the state. Nor does it cease to operate in that way even now; for, at any extraordinary pressure upon certain classes of the community, the means of subsistence become smaller for other classes, and as the-demand for the direct tax continues the same, individuals are unable to resist any longer, and thus they sink in the scale of life—they leave the dwelling where themselves and their fathers perhaps were born, and which is dear to them by every local attachment and even local advantage. And what, perhaps, is the con sequence of their removal? Not always mere sinking in one or two degrees, but absolute ruin. In the case of tradesmen this is very natural; for their customers are found amongst their own neighbours, and their trade follows them with great difficulty to a new spot. In the case of householders, not tradesmen and not letters of lodgings, and who consequently have no consumer to depend upon, the 1485 tax, falls without any alleviation, and they necessarily must be driven, and are driven, from their homes. This has served to depopulate the country and drive the inhabitants of it to the towns, an effect which, however, it may be regarded by the financier, cannot fail to be prejudicial to the morals and to the happiness and the character of the people. The owners of houses built before the great augmentation of the taxes commenced, many of them pay to the assessment a duty equal to half the amount of the annual rent—the expense of making alterations prevents the number of windows being lessened, and perhaps the honest pride of the possessor induces him not to block up his windows. The commissioners in such cases, however wishing it, have no power of diminishing assessments; after a struggle, the householder finds no resource but in an abandonment of his dwelling. Those who have travelled much in England, and left the high roads, must have seen innumerable instances of this relinquishment of ancient, and respectable houses, every one of which must indicate the decay of some ancient and respectable family. There cam be no doubt but that the tax operates as I have described both in the country and the town—the country householder is driven to the town, the town householder is driven to a smaller dwelling. It is true, that, in the latter case, there is almost always a successor to the abandoned dwelling. This is consolatory for the taxing minister, but it does not diminish the human misery which is the necessary consequence of such a change of condition. Nothing can so grievously—nothing so perpetually—affect the mind as a change of habitation, especially when from a more spacious to a more confined dwelling; and if we were to wish to paint in a few words the worst effects of tyrannical taxation, one would wish for no other description than this which is literally true of this tax, that it drives our people from their houses and homes. I need not enlarge in this place on the necessary consequences, on the spirit and habits of a people, of direct taxation; and particularly of a tax so levied and directed. It is true that the tax has many charms for the chancellor of the exchequer; it is easily levied, and amounts to a large sum. Of the pressure of the tax on this species of property gentlemen must have a conception when they heard the calculation, that it amount- 1486 ed to nearly 36 per cent on the rental. It may be said that the chief hardship falls on the occupier, not on the landlord or beneficial lessee; but this does not appear, for the occupier gives less to the owner in proportion as he has more taxes to pay. When a person hires a house, he looks to the number of windows, and of course is induced to give the landlord less in proportion as there is more light—the average duty on each window being about fifteen shillings. Thus, it appears, that the more a house builder lays out, the less he receives. To obviate this hardship he has recourse to a contrivance, which is in itself another of the evils of the window tax. Architects are directed to provide against the revenue officer—a single large window, disproportioned and unsightly, is made to serve for two-light is excluded from stair—cases and cellars. The exclusion of light, besides excluding the air, and thus being prejudicial to the health of the inhabitants, causes the damp and dry-rot in buildings, and thus destroys the property which it has first disfigured and diminished. I would mention here a striking instance of the destruction of property by this tax. An elegant mansion-house at Tenbury, in Worcestershire, was let for only 35l. per annum, because having 60 windows the tax made the renter liable to great demands. The tax was increased the house was untenanted—windows were stopped up—but still no one took the house. The house having been robbed, a person was put into it—the window-tax was charged at once—the owner had no other resource than to pull the house down. This he did, and sold the materials for 800l., although those materials had but a little before been valued at 2,500l. The cruelty, as well as improvidence of a tax so operating, need not be commented upon.
Rent. Windows. Duties 1797 Duties 1820. Addition per cent. Houses of £.50 25 9 0 £ 22 10 2 150 50 30 10 0 26 14 2 167 50 35 11 0 30 18 2 180 50 40 12 0 35 19 2 200 100 25 11 10 29 11 10 157 100 30 12 10 33 15 10 172 100 35 13 10 37 19 10 181 100 40 14 10 43 0 10 196
What I have just mentioned, applies more particularly to the window tax, which I confess to be by far the most objectionable of the two. And this is particularly true, when we come to consider the inequality and partiality of these duties. Mr. Pitt, in moving the triple assessed taxes, in 1797, said, "It so happened that these taxes pressed much harder upon people of the same class in the metropolis, and large towns, than in the country, and he had been recently informed, that on account of local situation—a residence in a street, and certain peculiarities of trade—there was a grievous in- 1487 equality." He therefore, proposed a modification should apply to the general amount of the house tax and the window tax, and a farther abatement of the duty, "in certain cases, to those housekeepers who keep shops." This modification, and this abatement, have, however, as usual, disappeared, as the chancellor of the exchequer wanted increased revenues, and the full grievance of inequality is now felt by the payers of these duties.—The house tax being paid on rental, of course affects the houses in towns and in the metropolis, where rent is higher, than those in other situations. Add to this, the tax falls unequally on different trades; many persons carry on trades in large buildings, with less profits than those who carry them on in small country houses—yet, the former 'contributes a larger proportion to these duties than the latter; there are particular trades that require glass in quantities, for the exposure of the goods—on these, the window tax acts with an unjust pressure;—a window is by this tax always considered the same object of revenue, let it be where it will—thus, twenty Windows in Tothill Street, pay as much as twenty windows in Lombard Street—the one inhabited by small tradesmen, the other by those who transact the great banking concerns of Europe—the one house rented at 10l., the other at 100l.—one set of inhabitants having 50l. per annum, the other 2,000l.; so that the one would pay one 17th of their income, the other a 700th part. This was urged in the debate in 1784. It is true now. It occurs that if two houses next to each other, the one of much less dimensions, and at less rent and cost in the building than the other, shall, from having more windows in it, pay a greater proportion of taxes than the larger house. Those, who with difficulty make a poor subsistence in a low rented house in an obscure court, pay as much for windows, as gentlemen living in a square. What is the natural consequence? The wretched artisan lets lodgings in Order to pay his taxes, and squeezes himself and family into some dark and dirty chamber at the back of his house—thus, disease and premature death are another of the blessings attendant upon these taxes.
But, if the window duty operates to diminish the comforts of life, it of course operates to prevent the increase of those comforts. For example—a tenant 1488 occupies a house of six rooms, with one window in each, he wishes to build a wash-house, or contiguous chamber, which would cost 10l., but he now pays only 8s. window tax, and if he built the proposed chamber, be would pay 20s. Thus, it appears, that it would take more money to purchase the window tax on this building, than to purchase the fee simple on the building itself, and the tenant refuses himself this permanent comfort, from fear of the tax-gatherer. It may thus be seen, how unequally the tax presses on the lower classes, to whom the difference of a few shillings in expenditure, is a consideration not to be overlooked. With what dreadful inequality this tax on windows presses on the lower portion of the community, will be also seen, by referring to the table I before recited. Referring again to that table, I see that the four first houses on the list, pay from 9s. to 14s. and 4d. in the pound, duties, or on the average 58 per cent; and the other four houses pay from 6s. and 7d., to 8s. and 10d. in the pound, duties, or on the average thirty-six per cent. What is the inference? Why, that the higher the rents are, the less in proportion is the duty; and that the lower order of housekeepers, by the present scale of duties, are burthened more than those in better circumstances: The small retail shop-keeper, is, I repeat, unjustly affected by those duties. It is the fashion to say, that after all, it is the consumer of commodities that pays the tax of the seller; but, these sellers are themselves consumers of the commodities of other dealers, and suffer by the taxation of those dealers. Besides, what Mr. Fox observed of the shop tax in 1785, applied to the house tax:—"It would be impracticable," he observed, "for the retail shop-keeper to distribute this tax upon the articles of consumption—because, twenty, or even thirty per cent would be better afforded to be given away, as it were, by the large shopkeeper, whose returns were quick, and to a large amount, than the petty shopkeeper could afford to pay the small tax; and if the petty shop-keeper attempted to distribute the tax on several articles, inevitable ruin must ensue, because, undoubtedly, the public would not buy at the petty shop where the articles were all sold at an advanced price, but at the capital shop where they were sold cheaper."
1489 But, supposing the consumer does pay, I repeat, that on any emergency or distress affecting the richest class of consumers, the burthen remains and the relief is withdrawn. Such is the case at this moment—I speak of the metropolis, and particularly Westminster—the tradesmen find their customers diminish daily—there is no return of which they are certain, but that of the tax-gatherer—the number of distresses for king's taxes and poors' rates, in some parishes, particularly those inhabited by the poorer people, is enormous. The distress that affects the agriculturist has already reached them; the tradesmen are turning off some of their workmen, and necessarily diminishing the wages of those that remain. The decreased price of provisions does not afford adequate relief, certainly not in the metropolis—for the sellers of these provisions are themselves the sufferers, and the discarded artisans have no means of subsistence. I know tradesmen, particularly those who deal in luxuries, such as harness and saddle-makers, who have reduced their establishments two-thirds in 18 months. The shop-keepers of this great town, who depend so much on the gentry, as long as the taxes continue as they are now, cannot afford to diminish the price of their articles, in proportion to the diminished price of provisions. The consequence is a diminished demand for every article of consumption, and then follows distress.
The House will see that the mechanic, as well as his fellow countryman, may withdraw himself from the operation of the Excise laws to some degree; but that these duties are a personal tax, which, whether as householder or lodger, he must inevitably feel. Some doubt has been entertained as to the extent to which the remission of other taxes has been of advantage to the people; but here no doubt can arise. The oppression, indeed, was so great in Ireland where the window-tax was literally a pestilence, that the ministers have thought fit to yield to the incessant clamour for its repeal. That to repeal these duties here would be a great and immediate relief to almost every householder, as well as house owner in the kingdom, there cannot be the smallest doubt; nor does it by any means follow, that the revenue would lose the whole amount of the duties; for the people, relieved from the direct tax, might spend part of their savings in the little luxuries 1490 of life, and thus increase the revenue on exciseable commodities.
I am aware, that the duties raised on houses and windows are very considerable; and being also aware that the latter are by far the most unequal and objectionable of the two, I feel inclined on the present occasion to move only for the repeal of the window-tax. That repeal will diminish the public revenue by more than two millions and a half. The hon. gentleman opposite will ask me how I would supply that deficiency. My answer is short—not at all. If you have, as you say you have, an excess of income above expenditure, amounting to 5,000,000l. take that excess. I say, the country cannot afford to pay such a surplus. I have before told to what amount I think we have a right to diminished taxation. If, you have no surplus, then I say reduce your expenditure. That there are means of so doing no one can doubt; but the particular mode need not be shown by me or by any one who proposes such a reduction—that onus lies upon you. You have no right to your large establishments-it is ridiculous to call them necessary; they cannot be necessary if the people cannot afford to pay for them. You say to the people, as the Athenian general did when he came to collect the tribute from the island of Andros—"you bring with you two gods, Force and Necessity, and we have two other gods to resist them, Want and Impossibility." You have been so long accustomed to levy enormous sums on the people that you attribute their complaints to caprice or discontent, or, at farthest, to temporary difficulties, and, having resisted them so long, you think you may resist them for ever. But it will not be so; the distresses of the people begin to assume a shape such as they have never yet taken, I would call upon you to recollect that saying of the wise monarch of the East, which lord Bacon has quoted—"Want cometh first as a wayfaring man, and next as an armed man." Ministers cannot believe that what they have done for the remission of taxes has at all satisfied the people. They cannot believe that the people will be at all satisfied as long as there is a Penny left of that real or pretended surplus of revenue arising from the monstrous imposition of three millions of new taxes in the fourth year of peace. To take off the tax, whose repeal I propose, will show the ministers in earnest, and the relief will, I repeat, be 1491 universally and instantly felt. If I wanted authority on this subject I might quote one which the hon. gentleman opposite might thing worth listening to. On the debate in this House, in April 3, 1821, a member said, that "if he thought it practicable to reduce 2,000,000l. of taxes, which he did not, and the House had expressed its opinion to be in concurrence with his own, on a motion recently made by the honourable member for Abingdon, he should propose the repeal of the window-tax in preference to that of the malt-tax." This member was noble marquis opposite (lord Londonderry). I know the noble lord will think it hard, that having repealed a tax which he was disinclined to give up, he should be called upon also to repeal a tax which he would have preferred abandoning, had he not been forced to take another line. But I have endeavoured to show, that the circumstances of the country require imperiously a greater remission of taxes. I have endeavoured to show that we have a fund, or at least that, according to ministers, we have a hind which renders such remission perfectly safe; and I only quote the noble lord's words to justify my selection of the particular tax I would wish to repeal. I shall, Sir, therefore, conclude, by moving the following Resolutions:—
- 1. "That it appears to this House, that the present amount of taxation is so burthensome and oppressive as to make it the duty a this House to adopt every means by which, without detriment to the state, that taxation may be reduced:
- 2. "That the benefits supposed to be derived from the establishment of the sinking fund are illusory, and that to impose or continue any additional burthens on the people for the purposes of its support, is highly inexpedient and unwise:
- 3. "That the tax levied on windows in Great Britain is unjust, unequal in its operation, and most oppressive to those especially who are least able to bear it; and that it appears to this House, that the said tax should be forthwith and immediately repealed."
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that the proposition went to the destruction of the sinking fund, and the annihilation of public credit. If any thing could make it more inexpedient, or more to be rejected by that House, it was, that it would be a most unjust departure from all those pledges which the House had 1492 so recently and so solemnly given to the public. Upon the question of the sinking fund the House had repeatedly and deliberately decided; and as the first resolution was merely a truism, he should meet it by the previous question. To the other two he should oppose a most decided negative. With regard to the practical part of them he would admit, that the repeal of the window tax would relieve the public, perhaps, more than the removal of any other part of the public burthens. It was one of the heaviest of those remaining, and had been greatly augmented within the last 30 years. It had recently been repealed in Ireland, where the property tax, being unknown, the repeal of it was unattended with any sensible benefit. She had never been much subject to the weight of direct taxation. The effect of the Union had been, to increase non-residence; and this was particularly felt in Dublin, where houses of a superior class were let, in consequence, to tenants of an inferior order. The impoverished inhabitants, to avoid the tax, had resorted to the expedient of stopping up the windows, and had thereby rendered the houses dark and unhealthy. But in Great Britain no such effects had been produced by the window tax, and the consequences of taxation generally had not been to lessen the enjoyments of the inhabitants, or to diminish the consumption of the country. By the Excise returns, it appeared that the consumption had increased in all but three districts, which were particularly affected by the hop duty. He contended that no farther considerable reduction of taxation ought to be looked for, and that the House lied shown every reasonable disposition to relieve the public burthens. In the present session 3½ millions of taxes had been repealed; and since the war, not less than 17 millions. The wonder was, not that so little, but that so much had been done. It was very easy to say, that the establishments should be further reduced, but it was also necessary to point out how the expense of them could be diminished. What might be done in-future sessions he could not anticipate; but in the present, it seemed to him that the House had gone far enough. To the hon. gentleman's allegation of want in the country, he would oppose the undeniable fact that, except in the peculiar case of agriculture, there was no general want in the kingdom; and to his allegation of the impossibility of paying taxes, he likewise 1493 opposed the undeniable fact, that the taxes were paid without difficulty. The house and the window tax might be said to balance each other; the latter pressed most heavily in the country, and the former most lightly; while in London and in large towns the reverse was the case. No country in Europe had profited so much as Great Britain by the return of peace; for in no other country of Europe had so large a remission of taxation been made. He did not know that the window tax in some succeeding session might not fairly come under the view of parliament; but at present he must oppose the proposition of the hon. gentleman.
denied that the opponents of ministers were constantly making attacks upon the public credit. He repelled that charge most distinctly. He and his friends were anxious to reduce taxation, but it had never been hinted, that it was to be reduced at the expense of any particular class. He said, that public credit ought to be maintained, and that if the public purse contained 60 millions annually, the public creditor was to be allowed first to put his hand into it and to take out 30 millions. What the opponents of ministers complained of was, that the other 30 millions were not properly expended. The right hon. gentleman contended that the people did not complain. How could they complain? Or if they did, of what use would it be, when that very complaint would be the signal for sending in executions for unpaid taxes? They paid only because they could not help it, and because the House turned a deaf ear to their petitions. As the public creditor would have been obliged to bear all losses, so he was entitled to enjoy all advantages; and it was not the opposition, but the ministry, who endangered public credit, by dragging from the people more than they could afford to pay. With respect to the great reductions since the peace, he must observe that the capital of the country was better able to bear 17,000,000l. additional taxes during the war, than the present burthens during peace. The capital had been greatly reduced, and, taking the empire through, he did not believe that the occupiers of the soil were at that moment making any rent: they were paying it out of their capital. He insisted that even what was called the dead weight, might be diminished. But suppose it to amount 1494 to 4½ millions, there still 17½ millions on which reductions might be made; and if a committee were appointed industriously and impartially to inquire, great savings might be effected. In 1792, the whole expense of the army, navy, ordinance, &c. was under 8 millions: allowing 4½ millions for dead weight, it would be raised to 12½ millions; and why was more to be spent at the present moment, when the price of commodities was nearly the same as in 1792? This was the real, the only way to support public credit. The right hon. gentleman had talked about a sinking fund and its effects upon public credit, but there had never bee more than a sinking fund of 4,500,000l. since 1792. It was against such a delusion as this, that the opponents of ministers protested; not against a real efficient sinking fund competent to the end in view.
expressed his surprise at the position so broadly laid down by the hon. gentleman, that not a farmer in the country could pay his rent. If this were so, how happened it that when farms were to be let, there was still great competition for them, and that there was never any difficulty in finding tenants? The pressure upon agriculture was heavy, but not to the extent stated. For his own part, he had always been anxious that the establishments should be diminished, and brought as nearly as possible to the standard of 1792. The army at present was greatly below what in 1817 it had been thought possible to reduce it, with a due regard to the security of the country. The hon. gentleman asked, why were not the current expenses reduced? Did he recollect that the pay of the army had been very properly augmented since 1792; and did he wish that the public security should be hazarded, by now attempting an unjust reduction of it? True it was that the price of provisions had fallen, but it would be a considerable time before the price of other articles, and particularly the price of labour, would accommodate themselves to the price of provisions.
contended, that it was impossible the country could go on under the present system, by which posterity was to be burthened for the sake of relieving ourselves. This system began with the American war, and if continued the nation must be ruined. Was it not better to meet the difficulty boldly and manfully, and not to shuffle if off upon our successors? He looked with much ap- 1495 prehension to the consequences of some of the measures which had been adopted, and was of opinion that it was not by a farther reduction of taxation that the difficulties of the country could be overcome. He should therefore vote against the motion.
§ Mr. Hume
did not take the gloomy view of our situation which had been taken of it by the hon. gentleman who had just sat down. He believed the resources of the country were sufficient to make it rise superior to all its difficulties. Let those resources be properly managed, and this might become the happiest country in the civilized world. But with this statement he must couple the declaration, that our affairs were not so administered as t lead to such a result. The system acted upon for the last thirty years, had brought the country to its present situation. He complained of the manner in which its finances were managed. The confusion which prevailed with respect to them, was strikingly exemplified on the preceding night, when three or four gentlemen, who spoke on the budget, had all taken different views if that which ought to have been so plain that no men who had learned the common rules of arithmetic should be able to differ about it. He, however, congratulated the House that next year the chancellor of the exchequer proposed to put an end to the sham sinking fund. He and his friends had been contending, that the right hon. gentleman's sinking fund was not a Teal sinking fund; and the right hon. gentleman himself admitted, this year, that a real sinking fund could only be formed from a surplus over the expenditure. Where was this surplus?—and what had the tight hon. gentleman been doing but lending himself to as complete a humbug as ever was practiced on any set of men. He agreed with the chancellor of the exchequer that the Excise duties were generally of a voluntary description. The increase in the Excise, coupled with the fact that individuals might, if they pleased, refuse to contribute to the Excise taxes, formed a strong proof that the country in general did not feel that depreciation which affected some branches of its industry. He was anxious that the chancellor of the exchequer should leave the voluntary taxes, and repeal those tint were involuntary. The House and Window tax was one of an involuntary nature; every 1496 one, must subscribe to it more or less: and he believed the operation of that tax, drove away to foreign countries many of their countrymen whose fortunes were small. If the assessed taxes were removed, those individuals could live as cheaply in Great Britain as they now did on the continent. A very large sum was paid for house duty or window-tax, and persons must either bear the burthen or deny themselves the comfort of free ventilation. The statements from Ireland showed what ill effects the window-tax had produced there. He was glad it was repealed, and if its abolition would be beneficial to Ireland, how, be asked, could it be hurtful to England? As the English gentlemen had voted for the repeal of the Irish window-tax, the Irish members would not act generously if they did not support the removal of the tax from this country. Both the house and window-tax ought to be repealed. The following was a statement of the produce of the window and house tax, in the years 1792, 1798, 1813, and 1820:—
Now he was perfectly convinced, that if this source of revenue was given up, an equal amount could be obtained through other channels, and it would be paid the more cheerfully, when the additional happiness and comfort created by the repeal of these taxes were considered. He was afraid, however, that the chancellor of the exchequer never thought of any thing but the sum that he could squeeze out of the pockets of the people. A pretty good proof of this might be seen from the amount of revenue collected in the following years:—In 1817 it was 57,650,589l. in 1818, 59,667,94l; in 1819 58,680,252l.; in 1820, 59,769,680l.; in 1821, 60,686,075l. If they added to the latter sum 10 per cent as the increased value of the currency, and three millions of new taxes imposed in 1819, it would be found that the country was now paying 15,000,000l. more of taxes than in 1817. Economy could alone remedy this state of things. Ministers not content, with what they had done, ought to reduce the 1497 expenditure to the lowest practicable point. The agricultural interest was not the only suffering body in the state. The West Indian interest, the shipping interest, all the different interests in the country, except perhaps the manufacturing interest, were affected by the pressure of the times. He was reminded of the funded interest, which, he believed, was gaining. But he was sure when the time came, they would be as ready as any other body to use their utmost efforts for the relief of the country. He wished, by a great exertion, by a general contribution, the country could clear itself from the burthen of the debt. Before that was done, however, he wished to see an effectual check over ministers in that House, with respect to the expenditure of the public money. If a proper reform were effected in parliament, he was convinced the first step would be, provide for the debt. England would then stand in enviable situation, because her wealth and resources, which were greater than those of any other country, would be applied to useful national purposes.
Window-tax House-tax. £ s. d. £ s. d. 1792. England 927,630 12 11 163,412 18 2 Scotland 31,963 1 0 6,702 19 9 1798. Eng. 1,416,891 17 4 210,816 0 0 Scot. 61,757 4 6 9,548, 0 0 1813. Eng. 2,325,455 0 0 1,037,634 0 0 Scot. 154,550 0 0 66,494 0 0 1820. Eng. 2,417,683 0 0 1,166,343 0 0 Scot. 147,525 0 0 86,720 0 0
§ Mr. Monck
was of opinion, that the sinking fund was injurious to, the public, and not beneficial to the national creditor. Nine out of ten placed their money in the funds as a matter of mere investment; and all they wanted was, to have their interest secured. Instead of laying on fresh taxes to support a sinking fund, he would say, reduce taxation as a boon to the fund-holder, whose comforts and enjoyments must be increased in proportion as he found his income increase in value. The security of the public creditor did not depend on the sums paid into the Exchequer, but on the ease and facility with which those sums were raised and collected. If the collection of the revenue created discontent and disquiet in society, then he would say, that the situation of the fundholder was one of very great uncertainty. He should support the motion, although he could not agree that the repeal of the house and window tax would be so beneficial to the agricultural and manufacturing interest as the removal of some other taxes. He should, for instance, like the duty of 10s. per barrel on strong beer to be repealed, which amounted to nearly 3,000,000l. annually, and bore most particularly on the labouring classes of society. The great, who brewed their own beer, paid no such tax. 1498 It fell exclusively on the hard-working classes.
Mr. Dennis Browne
agreed, that the taking off the house and window tax would increase the revenue by inducing the return of absentees; but he must object to it at the present time, because the reduction of such an amount of income would go to shake the public credit.
thanked his hon. friend for having brought forward this motion in so very able a manner. It was, he was aware, a reduction of 2,700,000l., and would sensibly interfere with the sinking fund; but he was satisfied that the only means of relieving the distresses of the country was by a repeal of taxation. He was ready to maintain that this sum might at this moment be remitted, without any apprehension of shaking public credit. To maintain pubic credit, in the strongest sense of the word, was not only just but wise. Feeling this, he would contend that the reduction of taxes was the best means of improving the foundation of public credit. The same objections that were now made, had been often repeated against the repeal of the duty on salt, malt, Irish hearths, and Irish windows. If his hon. friend persevered in the sensible and moderate course, which he had taken that night, he might be assured that the whole, or a part of this odious and oppressive tax, would be repealed. From the year 1815 nothing had come spontaneously—all had been wrung from ministers. In the army and navy little could be reduced; but in the civil and colonial departments much could yet be saved.
said, that in his opinion, ministers had brought themselves and the country into great difficulty by a return to what they conceived to be a sound currency. The only way of inducing absentees to return to this country, was to take off the taxes which rendered it impossible for them to reside here. He was satisfied that the eau medicinale brought forward by the government in the shape of Peel's bill, had created the existing distress by throwing the burthen on the producer.
After a short reply from Mr. Hobhouse, the previous question was put on the first and second resolutions, and negatived. On the third resolution
§ the House divided: Ayes, 59; Noes, 146.