HC Deb 18 March 1823 vol 8 cc603-9
Mr. Maberly

rose to submit the motion of which he had given notice. He feared that the time which had elapsed since that notice, and the repeated discussions which had taken place in the interim, upon the bill of the chancellor of the exchequer, had greatly prejudiced the chance which his (Mr. M.'s) motion might possess of adoption by the House. This great question had, indeed, been prejudiced; but although the chancellor of the exchequer's bill had passed, it did not therefore follow, when he came forward to ask for the repeal of certain taxes, that he was to be denied, on account of the passing of that bill. That bill did, in fact, contain a clause, by which the House was enabled, during the present session, to alter, repeal, or amend it. It was needless for him to say, that he disapproved of that bill; but in the argument which he was about to bring forward, he should take the saving to be, as the right hon. gentleman had thought proper to put it, five millions. The chancellor of the exchequer had admitted, that it was expedient to reduce taxation to repeal, in fact, the very species of taxes which he was now about to require the House to do. The great question between himself and the right hon. gentleman was this—Whether, under all the circumstances of the case, the proposition now to be submitted to the House was more likely to benefit the country generally, to support public credit, and to maintain national honour and dignity, than the proposition of the right hon. gentleman. He confessed, that he thought the mode in which he should propose to support public credit, and enable government to reduce taxation, would have a much more beneficial effect than the plan suggested by the chancellor of the exchequer; because it would give a much greater relief to the people. Now, before he stated to the House the taxes, the repeal of which he intended to propose, he would take a short view of the financial state of the country. That would enable them to ascertain whether they could with safety, and with advantage to the country, repeal the whole of those taxes, the repeal of only part of which was proposed by the right hon. gentleman. He would first acknowledge, for the argument's sake, that the surplus disposable income was, as the right hon. gentleman had described it, 5,000,000l. He would then advert to the proposition to which he had alluded the other evening; namely, the sale of the land tax, a proposition against which he had not heard a single substantial argument. He was himself thoroughly persuaded, that no better measure could be adopted. It had been first suggested by Mr. Pitt, for the support of public credit, and the reduction of the public debt; and he was not to be diverted from the plan by the hon. member for Taunton having called it "a bubble." He must say, that he thought that a very coarse and unfair expression. If it was a bubble, it was a bubble originally proposed by. Mr. Pitt: it was a bubble which had been carried on, to a certain extent, to the present hour; and all that he desired was, to make it more efficient for the public benefit than it had hitherto been. In the first place, and for the first year, he took the surplus of income at 5,000,000l.: he supposed a sale of the land tax to the extent of another 5,000,000l., and he calculated the extra revenue arising from the reduction of 3,200,000l. taxes at 400,000l. In this last calculation he was borne out by the right hon. gentleman, who had allowed, that a repeal of taxes must necessarily improve the remaining revenue. Those three items together would make a sum of 10,400,000l. applicable either to the repeal of taxes, or to the reduction of the debt, or to both purposes. The mode in which he proposed to deal with that 10,400,000l. was to repeal assessed taxes, to the amount of 3,200,000l., and thereby, in the first year, to leave a balance of 7,200,000l. applicable to the redemption of debt. He trusted that no one would deny the practicability of such a sale of the land tax. He was convinced it was so saleable, that it would be easy, in the course of two years, to sell as much as would redeem 41,000,000l. of debt. But, he would only take 5,000,000l. for the first year. That would leave a balance of 7,200,000l. to redeem debt, after the repeal of taxes to the extent of 3,200,000l. In the second year, there would be the balance of the first year brought down, namely, 7,200,000l. In addition, he would make an extra sale of land-tax to the amount of 2,000,000l. He would also suppose, that the operation of purchasing so much stock, would enable government to reduce the 4 per cents, which would cause a saving of 750,000l. Gentlemen opposite might laugh at this; but for himself, he could see no difficulty in it. Thus it appeared that, in the second year, there would be a balance applicable to the redemption of debt of 9,950,000l. In the third year there would be this balance of 9,950,000l. to carry down. He also calculated that there would be an extra revenue from reduction of estimates and collection of revenue of 1,000,000l. more, making together the sum of 10,950,000l. applicable to the redemption of debt in the third year. In the fourth year, he would take the sum at the same amount. In the fifth year, a deficiency must be deducted of 2,000,000l. in the sale of land tax (approaching as that operation would approach, to its conclusion), from the balance of 10,950,000l. brought down from the fourth year, leaving a balance applicable to the redemption of debt of 8,950,000l. He now came down, in the sixth year, to that which, in his opinion, ought to be the eventual sinking fund. In the sixth year he would deduct a deficiency in the sale of land tax of 5,000,000l. from the balance of 8,950,000l, brought down from the fifth year, leaving a balance applicable to the redemption of debt of 3,950,000l., the sum at which he would fix the subsequent sinking fund. The difference between his plan and that of the right hon. gentleman was this—that while the right hon. gentleman redeemed only 5,000,000l. annually during the whole period of six years, his (Mr. M.'s) plan would, in that period, redeem 62,000,000l. of nominal capital of debt, and would also annually repeal taxes to the amount of 3,200,000l. This was not a mere fancy; it was a plan which might be easily and effectually realized. He knew not whether ministers had made up their minds to sell the land tax; but sure he was, that it could not stand upon its present footing, unless they wished to have its profits swallowed up by its expenses. Whether they would apply its profits to the reduction of taxation was another question: it did not, at all events, appear that they meant to do so during the present year.—He would now state to the House the nature of the reductions which he was about to propose, and which, he would show, could be made without the slightest danger to the state. His first resolution would apply to that portion of the window tax which remained unrepealed; for he should consider the motion of the chancellor of the exchequer for a partial reduction of the window tax as passed. That tax amounted to 1,205,000l. It was not necessary to state the reasons which induced him to select the reduction of this tax, and the house tax. Both taxes were, in a partial degree, a property tax, and extended to a much greater degree, than members might at first suppose. He could not calculate to a certainty the per centage of the window tax, but he should estimate it at 20 per cent throughout the kingdom. He was in possession of a return for one parish, and according to that, the house and window taxes, taken together, would amount to 33 per cent. He would ask the House whether these taxes could be considered in any other light than as a property tax? What an outcry would be raised, if it were attempted to impose a similar tax upon the property of the landowner or fundholder! He was furnished with positive documents to prove the per centage of the house tax, and he could state that it amounted to 11½. A more impolitic or unjust tax he could not imagine, and therefore he would move for its repeal. The next tax which he would propose to abolish, was that upon male servants, including clerks, travellers, and shopmen. It appeared to him to be a partial tax upon labour. It would be said, that the tax was paid by the master. True; but would any man say that the master would not employ more servants, if there were no tax at all? It must be admitted, then, that the tax cramped labour; which it was not worth while to do, for the trifling sum derived from the tax. He next came to the tax upon four-wheeled and two-wheeled carriages, and coachmakers' licences. The tax upon carriages he considered extremely unfair. Not only was a tax paid upon the vehicle when it came out of the hands of the manufacturer, but an annual duty was entailed upon it as long as it was continued in use. It was said of this tax, as of many others, that it was paid by the consumer; but, in his opinion, it was a heavy burthen upon the manufacturer. The total amount of the taxes which were paid upon a carriage and three horses, attended by two servants, was 36l. 5s. 6d. The tax upon carriages was defended on the ground that it was a tax upon an article of luxury; but why did not the House, upon the same principle, impose a tax upon looking-glasses, some of which cost 2 or 300l.? Surely a looking-glass was more an article of luxury than a carriage. In fact, it was impossible to consider a carriage otherwise than as an absolute necessary to families of rank in this country. The tax on horses generally, including those employed by butchers and bakers, was one which he would endeavour to repeal. Nothing could operate so materially against consumption, as the tax upon horses. If persons were allowed to keep as many horses as they pleased without paying any tax, the consumption of agricultural produce would be increased to a great extent. The last tax which he would propose to repeal was the composition for the assessed taxes, amounting to about 35,000l. a year. He had now pointed out a way by which relief might be afforded to the people, without injury to public credit. No man could be more anxious than he was to maintain public credit; and if, in the plan which he had laid before the House, there was any thing opposed to that principle, he should regret it exceedingly. He did not intend to move for the repeal of the tax upon carts; for if his resolutions were not adopted, the chancellor of the exchequer would himself have an opportunity of proposing the abolishment of that tax, which pressed so heavily upon persons in a humble rank of life. The several taxes he proposed to repeal were as follows:—

The window tax £1,205,000
The house tax 1,256,000
Male servants 159,500
Clerks, shopmen, travellers, &c. 98,050
Four-wheeled carriages 145,000
Two-wheeled carriages 98,000
Coachmakers' licences 3,000
Horses, riding and drawing 324,000
Ponies 9,100
Bailiffs' horses 1,050
Butchers' horses 4,400
Horses and mules, at a lower rate of duty 72,500
The assessed taxes composition 35,000
Total £3,410,600

The hon. gentleman then moved his first resolution, "That all duties on Windows imposed by 48th Geo. 3rd, and subsequent acts, should cease and determine."

Sir W. De Crespigny,

in seconding it, mentioned the fact of an old lady having been frightened into fits at the sight of the window tax gatherer.

Mr. Herries

said, that his right hon. friend, the chancellor of the exchequer, had so fully and so eloquently explained the nature of his plans, that it would be unnecessary for him, even were he competent to the task, to enter into a detail of those plans. The question now to be considered was, not what was the partial pressure of any tax, but whether, under all the circumstances of the, case, we could afford to make any further reductions than those which had been already proposed. The hon. member opposite admitted the necessity of supporting a sinking fund, "but," said that hon. member, "if you will adopt my plan, you will have a more effective sinking fund than the one proposed by the, chancellar of the exchequer." This he (Mr. H.) denied. On the contrary, he maintained, that the hon. member's plan would leave no sinking fund at all. If we saw in the country signs of distress—if we found a diminution in the consumption of articles of taxation—then we might begin to look about, and consider whether taxes so oppressive ought, or ought not to be continued. But we had not arrived at that state. Every view which we took of the state of the country, gave ground for a contrary opinion. He did not mean to deny, that amongst some classes distress prevailed; but he contended, that the general state of the country was by no means such as could justify them in forsaking that system, which, he considered necessary for the maintenance of the public credit. The hon. gentleman talked of the distress that prevailed. But what was the fact? Why, there was a considerable increase since the year 1817, of carriages, servants, &c. There was also an increased consumption of most articles. He, therefore, did not conceive that the House would be at all justified in adopting the proposition of hon. member.

Sir F. Blake

regretted that the National Debt Reduction bill should have passed the House. It appeared to him a singular inconsistency, that, after having admitted the true principle of a sinking fund to rest in a surplus of revenue, and after the admission that the present surplus did not exceed three millions, the House should have sanctioned a bill, which went upon the assumption, that we had a sinking fund of five millions. If he were asked he would do with he would do with the surplus revenue, he would say, let it be applied to the relief of the people from a part of their grievous burthens, and to the restoration of that word which was now almost obsolete in the English language—"comfort." It was said, "Why trouble ourselves about the debt: let it alone; it will last our time." He, for one, did not think it would; but that some terrible convulsion would be brought about, if a timely remedy were not applied. He would say what that remedy was—and what it was not. It was not a fallacious sinking-fund, such as was now proposed; but it was a coming forward with a portion of our property, to preserve the remainder.

The House divided: Ayes, 48; Noes, 94. The other resolutions were negatived without a division.

List of the Minority.
Abercromby, hon. J. Hume, J.
Althorp, visc. Hurst, R.
Belgrave, visc. James, W.
Benett, J. Johnstone, col.
Bennet, hon. H. G. Knight, R.
Bernal, R. Keck, G. A. L.
Birch, J. Lambton, J. G.
Blake, sir F. Lethbridge, sir T.
Boughey, sir J. Maberly, W. L.
Bright, H. Monck, J. B.
Burdett, sir F. Moore, P.
Calvert, C. Poyntz, hon. W. S.
Creevey, T. Price, R.
Curwen, J. C. Ricardo, D.
Davenport, D. Robinson, sir G.
Davies, T. H. Scott, J.
De Crespigny, sir W. Smith, W.
Denison, W. J. Sykes, D.
Dundas, C. Webb, E.
Farrand, R. Wharton, J.
Fergusson, sir R. Whitbread, W. H.
Folkestone, visc. Williams, Owen.
Guise, sir W. Wyvill, M.
Hamilton, lord A.
Hobhouse, J. C. TELLER.
Hughes, W. L. Maberly, J.