HC Deb 21 February 1828 vol 18 cc606-9

Mr. G. Bankes moved the order of the day for the second reading of this bill.

Mr. Curteis

wished to state some objections which he felt, not so much towards the principle of the proposed measure, as to some of its details. He thought it would tend to the ultimate success of the bill, if it were to undergo a little more consideration. The bill had been passed last year in the House of Commons, but had been lost in the other House. Upon the former occasion, the late chancellor of the Exchequer had said, "Where there's a will there's a way," an expression, the meaning of which he did not understand at the time, but which he since understood to mean that, although there was a will to pass the measure in the House of Commons, there was a way to get rid of it in the House of Lords; and so it proved. Before it passed, he should like to know, whether it was likely to be productive of serious loss to the country. If the tax, as it at present existed, operated as a hardship upon Roman Catholics in particular, he was the last man to wish for its continuance. But if the Land-tax was felt as a grievance, then the general question had better go before the finance committee. It had always been an impression upon his mind, that the hon. mover of the bill was rather hostile to the Roman Catholics; but he supposed the hon. member introduced this motion as a sort of balsam —that he intended by it to pour oil into the wounds of that body. He disclaimed all hostility to the Roman Catholics. He cared not whether a man came from Canterbury or Rome, and thought that the Roman Catholic ought not to pay a larger amount of taxation than the Protestant. So much for the policy of the bill; it was much more material to consider its justice. There was, in his opinion, no hardship whatever in the existing system; or if any, it fell almost entirely on the inhabitants of the southern counties of England; and they, in his opinion, had a stronger claim to relief than the Roman Catholics.

Mr. Fyler

said, he should be the last man in the world to object to a measure like the present, which was intended to do justice to persons whose rights appeared to have been injured; but, at the same time, as the indulgence which was now sought to be granted to the Catholics must come out of the public purse, he thought it was necessary that the House should see clearly that the persons who would receive benefit from this act were the parties really entitled to relief. With respect to the earl of Shrewsbury, lord Dormer, and the other noble personages, who had clearly suffered from this double assessment, he was willing not only to give them relief, but to remunerate them for what they had already paid.

Mr. Herries

said, he was ready to support the principle of this bill, for the same reasons which had induced him to support it in the last session. But he thought, that instead of debating the principle of the measure, on which he believed they were all agreed, they ought to let the bill go into the next stage, where they might discuss the best mode of obviating the difficulties which were anticipated to its practical operation. He agreed that, to impose a different rate of duty on different classes of the community, on account of the difference in their religious creeds, was a doctrine which no man of common sense, at the present day, would advocate.

The Attorney-General

said, he knew that the statute of William 3rd, being held a very severe measure against the Roman Catholics, had, by collusion and connivance on the part of the early commissioners, never been carried into execution against them. The difficulty, therefore, would be to ascertain the fact, whether the Roman Catholic proprietor had had a double assessment placed upon his land in the time of king William, according to its then real value. He was not satisfied with the nature of the proof which the present bill provided on that point; on the contrary, he thought that the legal advisers of the Crown should have an opportunity of bringing it under revision. There was another provision of the bill with which he was not satisfied. When Mr. Pitt made the Land-tax, perpetual, it followed as a matter of course, that no change could take place in the assessments which were then made, and not appealed against within a given time, An opportunity was then given to the Roman Catholics to get rid of their assessment of 8s. in the pound; of which, however, in some instances, they had not availed themselves. Now, since that time Protestants had bought of Catholics land subject to the double assessment, and had, in consequence of that assessment, given a less sum for it. If they were enabled by this act to get rid of the double assessment, it would not be a boon to the Catholic but to the Protestant landholder. These were the two points of difficulty which he could not get over. He concurred in those feelings of justice which induced the House to adopt this bill to a certain extent, and should be happy to offer his services in the committee, to put it into such a shape as would protect the rights of all parties.

Mr. Hurst

explained the mode in which the commissioners of Land-tax disposed of appeals against the inequality of the tax in his district. He had no great alarm, as to the sum which the revenue would lose by the passing of this measure; for he knew that there was not, in the extensive county of Sussex, a single Catholic who would have occasion to appeal under it; and he believed that the same was the case in Surrey. He was of opinion that public justice required the bill to be passed, and that the thanks of the country were due to the law officers of the Crown for not meeting it with any unnecessary opposition.

Mr. G. Bankes

said, that he did not look upon this measure as a boon to the Catholics, but as an act of tardy justice. When the act was passed, which made the Land-tax perpetual, the inequality with which it pressed upon the Roman Catholics was dwelt upon by Mr. Pitt. He used phrases which showed that he considered it to be owing to the carelessness of Protestants, that an inequality existed among them; and said, that he could not allow that inequality to be urged as a reason for delaying the passing of his bill, which it was well known was an important financial measure. Not a word further was said at that time by the Roman Catholics; for at that time, too, there was no Roman Catholic in the House to advocate their cause. He, who had always opposed the admission of Catholics into parliament, on national grounds, never supposed that it was not a hardship upon them, that they had not individuals in the House to advocate their rights, and therefore he agreed with the Attorney-general, that though it might not be hard to let the Protestants suffer for their neglect, they were bound to show greater indulgence to Roman Catholics. In cases, therefore, where Protestants paid an equal assessment with Catholics, he did not pretend, by this bill, to give any remedy. The law, however, professed to remedy the injustice which had been inflicted on Roman Catholics, and did not; and all that he now proposed to do was, to assist the law in its operation. The English Roman Catholics had not been passive under the present injustice of the law, but had sought redress for it by every legal means in their power. Lord Shrewsbury, who had six different estates in six different counties, paid on them all, with one exception, precisely the same sum as was first charged upon them fifty years ago. He got rid of the double charge upon an estate which he had in Oxfordshire, by an appeal to the commissioners tinder the act of 1794. But even that was attended with great difficulty. He had to apply to the Court of King's Bench for a mandamus, to compel the commissioners to hear his appeal. He had to take counsel down to the country to try his cause, and at last, in 1799, he got 10l. or 20l. taken off a land tax of 260l. a-year. Suppose the noble lord was right in the course which he had then adopted, he had paid on his five other estates upwards of 600l. a-year in land-tax, more than he ought; a payment which, he understood, could be traced back for sixty years, by muniments in his lordship's keeping.—He hoped he should be able to exempt by this bill, not only the lands of Catholics but also those purchased by Protestants, and which were hitherto liable to double assessments. With a generosity which did them the highest honour, the Catholics of England were desirous, in the event of the measure passing, that the exemption should be made universal. He trusted that in the committee, he should receive the assistance of the law officers of the Crown to remove whatever legal difficulties might arise.

The bill was then read a second time.