§ Mr. Cobbett
said, he proposed to submit to the House—as that, he believed, was the proper time for so doing—certain Resolutions which he had prepared respecting the grievances of the people, more especially relating to the undue pressure of taxation upon them. He would not attempt to tell them of what their ancestors did to obtain a redress of grievances before they granted supplies—he would not enter upon that—it was antiquated, and it was out of the question just then; but it was his duty, aye, he said it was his duty not to suffer that House of Commons to grant any supplies until he had been permitted to state certain grievances under which the people of this 855 kingdom laboured, and until he had been permitted to show, as he would very clearly show, that the nobility, and clergy, and landed gentry of England, Scotland, and Ireland, were the most unjust body of men that ever lived on the face of the earth.—[Laughter and partial cheers.] They might laugh; oh yes, they might laugh; it was very well to laugh with the people's money in their pockets. "Laugh (said he), while you may: and laugh, when I have done, if you can." They might laugh for a time, if they only permitted him to state, and he would do it very shortly, a little part of the grievances of the people; and if when he had done they could feel satisfied, they might laugh still. In order that he might not be mistaken in his statements—for it was very necessary, indeed, not to be guilty of errors in such important matters, and in order that they might be more impressed upon hon. Members of that House—he had been very particular in preparing his facts, and had put them down on paper. He should not occupy them with trifling matters. The chief points on which he intended to engage their attention were comprised in two Acts of Parliament—the Stamp Duties' Act and the Auction Duties' Act. If ever partiality, injustice, and cruelty had been exercised towards any people, greater than was visible in those Acts, he would be content to forfeit any pretensions he might have to the possession of common sense. The 55th George 3rd, repealing other Acts previously enacted, made certain provisions, and fixed certain duties—exactions on stamps—and they would find, if they attended to his statement, that the nobility, clergy, and landed proprietors had taken care every where to be almost wholly excused from the burthen which fell with a most heavy hand on the middle and working classes, increasing in proportion as it reached the poorest. Men might laugh—let them laugh—but was that the way to conciliate the people? The hon. Secretary for Ireland said, the other night, that the Government must be feared before it was loved. That was his philosophy; but it was different from the philosophy of some men, and very different from his (Mr. Cobbett's). Hatred generally accompanied fear, except with regard to certain objects; and the experience of all told them the love always preceded the fear. His Majesty's Ministers, 856 however, did not approve of that philosophy, and so acted in opposition to it; they wished to be feared before they were loved, and they would soon see how it would end. However, he was going to lay a statement before them which was not much calculated to excite the love of the middle and working classes towards those who called themselves the higher orders. What he referred to was cap. 184 of the 55th of Geo. 3rd, which was passed on the 11th of July, 1815, for the purpose of imposing certain duties on stamps, amounting annually, in the aggregate, to 7,000,000l. and upwards, and, including the cost of collection, to about 8,000,000l., of which the nobility, clergy, and gentry paid hardly anything. The utmost care was taken in preparing the Act, that the higher classes, as they were insolently styled, should have to contribute but a very small share; and it had been managed so as to make the tax heavier and heavier, as the payer became more and more poor and needy, on the poor and needy; so that the rate per cent of the duty charged upon the respective sums increased in accordance with the decreasing amount of the property. If it had been made out for the express purpose of degrading the industrious and working people—if it had been prepared with the specific intention of ruining the small proprietors—if it had begun, "Whereas, it is expedient, that the number of persons most deeply interested in the welfare of the kingdom should be diminished—that the little proprietors should be ruined or made to detest the larger ones, be it therefore enacted," &c. &c., it could not have been more efficiently framed for the purpose; and it had fully answered its purpose; for, in this whole world, there was not a body of men more cordially detested. Again, he said it was well for them to laugh—oh, it was very well, for they had the money in their pockets. Now by this Act various duties on legacies and on property coming by intestate succession were imposed, beginning at one per cent, and going on to ten per cent, but all freehold property was wholly exempted; and, therefore, from this tax, which was on an average three per cent on all other property in the kingdom, the estates of the nobility and landed gentry were free, while, if the father, the mother, the child of the fundholder, the tradesman, farmer, or other person bequeathed 857 property, that property, if by will, bore a legacy duty of from one to ten per cent. Thus a brother, who had a thousand pounds left him by a brother, had thirty pounds to pay, and a distant relation of the deceased had, on a legacy of the same amount, to pay 100l. This too, while freehold property was exempted! Yes, they must recollect this was while the rich man was let off free. Now where was the justice of this? Could the landowners of England—could these men look the rest of the people in the face while such a law was allowed to remain on the Statute-book? On what ground was this monstrous injustice committed? Would any Gentleman tell him? Why, it was on the ground of power—the framers of this Act had the power, and, therefore, they committed this very great iniquity. And they would continue such acts as long as they had the power to try the people of this country by courts-martial. And now for the probates of wills and letters of administration. He would beg the House to mark the scandalousness of this provision. By this very wicked act, if the deceased left property above the value of twenty pounds, his successors had to pay a stamp duty of ten shillings—that was to say, at the rate of two pounds per cent on the value of the property; but if the party dying left by will any sum from 30,000l. to 500,000l., the duty was only one pound ten shillings per cent, and in this case all freehold property was again exempted. They might laugh—let them laugh. But would the nation laugh, would the people laugh? A certain hon. Baronet, not then in his place, challenged him the other night to bring forward his plans, and had challenged him to bring forward what the hon. Baronet called his (Mr. Cobbett's) magnificent plans for alleviating the miseries of the people. He must say, that he had no grand plans—he had no magnificent plans, except the magnificent one of making certain people pay up their arrears, and do justice to the country. He asked justice for the people, and for himself amongst the rest. Why, if justice had been done when that hon. Baronet came to his estates, thirty years ago, 60,000l, would have been paid by him to the country for probate and intestate succession duty; if the hon. Baronet had been taxed as he knew pretty well his children would be, that sum would long since have been 858 applied to public uses. That hon. Gentleman had charged him—and very wrongfully so—with having exaggerated; he did not exaggerate at all. These exactions—these monstrous and cruel disproportions between the rich and the poor—were intolerable, and must, in the end, be productive of fearful results. They made the people vindictive, and must finally induce them to detest their wealthier neighbours. He would proceed to conveyances. The duty upon a thing of five pounds value, and under twenty pounds, was ten shillings; and the duty on a thing of a 100,000l., or any sum above that, was a 1,000l. so that in the latter case it was less than ten shillings per cent on the value of the thing conveyed, and in the former case, if of five pounds value, it was 200s. per cent on the value of the thing conveyed. Thus the poor man paid twenty times as much tax as the rich man on precisely the same sort of property; and the weight of the duty went on increasing from ten shillings per cent to 200s. per cent, exactly in the proportion that the value became smaller and smaller in amount. Thus the poor were taxed, while the rich went scot free. They might laugh—with their pockets full of the people's money they could laugh. Who passed that Act of Parliament? They were the worthy nobility and gentry of this boasted free country. And yet they found fault with the Jacobins, as they called them, for not adoring the privileged orders. In leases, where the yearly rent was five pounds, the stamp duty was one pound, or twenty per cent; but where the yearly rent was a 1,000l., the stamp duty was ten pounds, or one per cent—and thus this tax went on from 400l. a-year rental to 5l. a-year rental, getting heavier and heavier, but increasing in the small rentals in a disproportionate degree This was a monstrous injustice! What would be said of it? Oh, 'twas not known—it was done in a hurry—late, perhaps, at night. Then they ought not to work by night—let them work by day, and do their business properly and carefully as it ought to be done. In the case of mortgages and bonds, and securities of every description, if, for instance, the amount of the mortgage were 25l., the stamp would be 1l. or 80s. percent; but if the amount of the mortgage were 20,000l., the stamp would be 20l., or 2s. per cent, the poor man thus paying forty times as much tax as the 859 rich man. The stamp in this case was no more if the amount of the mortgage were 100,000l.; which compelled the poor man to pay 200 times as much as the rich one—the tax increasing in weight as the taxed person became poor. Why! were they honest men that passed such a law as this? Were they not persons professing themselves to be gentlemen—persons of high blood—men of lofty minds as they called themselves? Was not this monstrous injustice done by those who called themselves "the education of the country?" There was magnificence—there was justice! In respect to annuities, if the annuity were for 10l. or under, the stamp was 1l.; and so, in due proportion, an annuity of 2,000l. ought to pay a stamp duty of 200l.; but, instead of that, it paid only 25l.; and if the annuity were for 10,000l. or any greater amount, it still paid 25l. only—the same shameful disproportion as before detailed being observable throughout. And yet this was passed in England—the land of charity—of justice—of benevolence! Call this charity—call this justice, indeed! Why, the clergy of England ought to have preached against it constantly and devoutly for the last seventeen years from their pulpits. That was what they ought to have done. Then they would have been of some use. Then the good people of Rochdale would not have petitioned, as they had that night, for the total abolition of the Protestant hierarchy. With regard to promissory notes and bills of exchange. If not exceeding two months after date, and for the sum of 40l. or not exceeding five guineas, the stamp was Is.; and in the same proportion the stamp on 3,000l. ought to be 28l. 11s; but it paid only 15s. whilst for any higher sum the stamp was no more than 1l. 5s., instead of being, on 10,000l. 95l 4s. Thus, in the former case, the poor man paid nearly 1l. per cent, and the rich man 3d. per cent, and so on. In bills of a longer date than two months, the partiality was still greater, weighing still more heavily on the needy man. It is curious to observe here, what a fellow-feeling these high-blooded lawgivers have everywhere had for the rich; for the bulky Jews, or pretended Christians like Jews—no matter how blasphemous; no matter how base the origin; no matter how infamous the means by which they have raked the money together; if they have but great heaps of money, they are 860 sure to be favoured by this aristocracy. How could such monstrous injustice be enacted? At first he was disposed to put it to the account of night-work—of inebriety—for he could hardly think, that noblemen and gentlemen would be guilty of such unworthy leaning to their own interests. In the case of insurance of lives, where the sum insured amounted to less than 500l., the stamp was 1l.; if to 500l., to 2l.; if to 5,000l. or upwards, 5l.—so that the man who insured 10,000l. paid only 1s. per cent, while he who insured for less than 500l. paid 6s. 6d. per cent—the man of scanty means paying nearly seven times as much as the man of wealth. As to receipts. If the sum were for 2l. the stamp was 2d., if for a 1,000l., 10s., when in due proportion it ought to be 8l. 6s. 8d. The poor man here paid more than sixteen times as much tax as the rich man, and if the sum went on to a 100,000l., or a 1,000,000l., the stamp was still only 10s. For any sum, too, expressed to be in full of all demands, whether for 2l. or a 1,000,000l. the stamp was always 10s. So that it might be fairly said, that the poor man in such a case paid a thousand times as much as the rich one. Next came the subject of appraisements. Here those who had the insolence to call themselves the higher orders had again the advantage, and they knew well how to keep it. No people surpassed them in that; and it appeared to him that this high-blooded nobility and their clergy surpassed even the Jews in greediness and low cunning. The stamps on appraisements offered them another advantage. They could not miss that. The stamp on an appraisement not amounting to 50l., was 2s. 6d. If the things appraised amounted to 500l. in value, the stamp duty was 15s.; but if they amounted to more than 500l., as they frequently did to 5,000l. and sometimes even to 500,000l.,—nay, if they exceeded that—though the amount was a 1,000,000l. of money or more—the stamp duty was but 1l. They heard that, and could they know that such had been the fact? He hoped that they who had heard this statement had not participated in making the law, and he hoped they would not participate in keeping it in force. What! make the poor tradesman pay, as in this instance he did, nearly forty times as much on the sale of his furniture, as the nobleman did on the sale of 861 his estate?—while the tax on corn, too, was kept up to maintain the high value of his estate at the same time. He now came to another part of the subject. He did intend—and his hon. colleague knew that such had been his intention—to make this representation privately to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If he had seen any marks of an intention on the part of the Government to do anything for the people, he should not have moved this resolution. But he saw no such intention. On the contrary, he saw an intention to keep in force all the bad measures, and not to take off one farthing of the taxes; and therefore it was, that he made this exhibition of these crying wrongs, inflicted on the people by this unjust and mean nobility, clergy, and landed gentry. He saw in the Ministry a resolution—a determination—to carry through and enforce every measure, even at the point of the bayonet; and therefore he brought this matter under the consideration of the House. He now came to a part of this abominable Act—and, till he did come to it, he almost believed that a great part of those who passed it did not know what they were doing. He saw an hon. Gentleman take up the book, to see if his Statements were correct. The hon. Gentleman would find nothing in it contrary to what he had stated. But, however, as it was terribly wicked to be out one word in quoting an Act of Parliament, he would read the part. Till he came to that part of the Act, he thought they had overlooked the nature of the Act they were passing; yet still it was very strange that, by accident, they should make laws for the rich, and against the poor in every instance. He was glad, however, to say, that there was one part where they were perfectly impartial. In that part, the taxation went on decreasing in degree, from the rich down to the poor. What was that part? It was in the duty upon indentures—on apprentices' indentures, in which case all the parties were tradesmen—there were no sons of noblemen, nor sons of baronets, nor of ministers of State, nor of parsons, who were apprentices. "Oh! certainly; do take care not to let the poor pay as much as the rich." That was in apprenticeships where the amount of duty went on regularly increasing with the amount of the premium, till it reached 1,000l., and they supposed, of course, that there would not be any premium above 1,000l. They 862 were just in that case, and he had to thank them for being so. But why did they not observe the same rule in other cases, where they themselves were concerned? They did not, in cases where they were to be affected, as the owners of estates. They showed there, at least, that they understood something about Cocker, as an hon. Baronet had told his fellow-parishioners. An hon. Gentleman, in presenting a petition from Wolverhampton against the Assessed-taxes, had called that a tax of wicked partiality. They had shown that partiality in this Act. At last, after laying taxes on every body else, there was one matter of relationship which they had not forgotten, which they had put at the end of the Act, and which was a total exemption from the operation of the Act, upon all bonds contracts, mortgages, conveyances, deeds, and instruments whatever, exempted from the Stamp-duty. "And for what, think you? Why, for building, repairing, or purchasing, houses or other buildings. And for whom, think you? Why, for the beneficed clergy!" Would the Reformed Parliament sanction that? Would they? Would they? Then, if they did, let them go afterwards, if they dared, and look their constituents in the face. He should now go to another part of the Act, and there he should show them the ingenuity used in framing it. It was said, that the country Gentlemen were lubberly jolterhead fellows; but see how careful they were here! They looked after the timber and underwood—their lands and tenements—so closely, that one might think they were tied to the trade of a grazier, or butcher, or timber dealer. An auction duty of 7d. in the pound was imposed on the amount of the sale of any "freehold, customary copyhold, or leasehold lands, tenements, houses, or hereditaments, and any shares in the capital or joint stock of any corporation, or chartered company, and of any annuity or sums of money chartered thereon; and of any ships or vessels, and of any reversionary interest in the public funds, and of any plate or jewels." Tradesmen had no plate and jewels; and so plate and jewels were to pay 7d. in the pound on their value; but, in all other things, tradesmen and farmers, reduced by poverty to Sell their furniture—these people, who could least afford it, were to pay 1s. in the pound; while the "careless and generous" nobleman who made the laws, was to 863 pay, if he sold his property, 7d. in the pound—all the rest of the people were to pay 1s. But was that all? Far from it. There was a duty of only 2d, in the pound (value) on wool sold at any auction, provided it was so sold for the benefit of the growers or first purchasers; but if it came from Hampshire to London, and sold, or was carried thence down to Yorkshire, and then sold, it became liable to an auction duty of 1s. in the pound. Every thing was thus basely partial in this law—everything in it was mean and dirty! And was this the work of the high-blooded nobility? That was not all; no, nor half; for there was, besides what he had already mentioned, a total exemption from auction duty of several other things, which he should now mention—" all goods distrained for rent, or for non-payment of tithes." Aye, aye, goods so distrained belonged to the lord or the parson; the tax must not touch them. There might be a tax on the farmer, who was obliged to sell his stock; but not on the lord, when the lord took that stock for rent. In the next place, he called on them to mark the atrocity of this—yes, the atrocity—for it was impossible to use words strong enough to characterize it. All sales by auction for letting of lands and tenements, for lives or years, to be created by the person on whose account such auction should be held, were exempted from the auction duty. So were all sales of woods, coppices, produce of mines or quarries, or materials for working the same; or on the sale of any cattle, and live or dead stock, or unmanufactured produce of land, so long as such sale of woods, coppices, produce of mines or quarries, cattle, corn, stock, or produce of land be made, whilst they continue on the lands producing the same, and are sold for the benefit of the owner of such lands, or proprietor of such mines, or their agent. Did they mean to sit there, and represent that such laws ought still to continue in force? Were they the friends of the people, if they could bring themselves to declare that they would not look into this matter? Such were the facts of the case. Comment or advert on them he should not; for it would be impossible to make any observations stronger than were the facts themselves. What ought the House to do, then, if this state of facts were true? Hon. Gentlemen would have time to look into these acts, and see whether he was not right. There 864 ought to be a Committee of the House to take into consideration these grievances—they ought to tell the people that at least they would look into these grievances. Let them tell the people so now. He would try them now. He should conclude with moving a series of resolutions, of which this was the last—" That on the 1st of March, this House will take into consideration the nature, tendency, and effect of the several Acts of Parliament which impose taxes on stamps, and on things sold by auction." All he asked, then, was to take these things into consideration. He would divide the House On the Motion—he certainly would do that and let the people see how many there were who were for taking these things into consideration. He did not want them to pledge themselves now, that they would repeal, or even modify these taxes; he only wanted them to say that they would take the matter into consideration. They must be satisfied that these laws were unjust—that they were most cruelly oppressive—that the rich, the noble, the landed, had long had the benefit of these laws, to the injury of the industrious classes; and that if that had not been the case, not one half of what we were now paying in taxes would have been necessary. That was capable of proof; Cocker would tell them that. There had been a proposition by one of the Ministers to take thirty per cent from the fundholders; but there would have been no need of that, if they who had so long had the benefit of these unjust laws had been pressed to pay up their arrears of taxes. If any noble Lord or hon. Baronet had escaped paying taxes, that, in thirty years, amounted to 60,000l., the people had suffered from that; for the Government had borrowed that amount of money, which it need not have done if the taxes had been fairly levied on the noble Lord or the hon. Baronet. If an hon. Baronet made a sale of coppice and underwood to the amount of 10,000l., on which he ought to have paid a duty, as poorer people paid it on the sale of their property, and he did not pay it, why, he got money into his pocket which ought not to have been there, but which ought to have been paid into the Treasury in due time. If that had been done, there would not have been any project to take thirty per cent without indemnification from the fundholder, while pensions, places, emoluments, 865 and the whole mass of plunder remained as they were. The hon. Member concluded by moving the following resolutions:—
Resolved—That, by the Act of Parliament, passed on the 11th of July, 1815, being chapter 184 of the fifty-fifth of George 3rd, imposing certain duties on stamps, amounting annually, in the aggregate, to upwards of seven millions a-year, the utmost care has been taken to exempt the nobility and great landed proprietors from bearing any but a very small share of the burthen; and further, to make the tax heavier and heavier in proportion to the smallness of the amount of property on which it is levied; so that each tax goes on, pressing heavier and heavier, from the very rich down to the very poor, as will clearly appear by a reference to the letter of the said Act.
That, by this Act, various duties on legacies, and on property coming by intestate succession, are imposed, applicable to different degrees of relationship between the legatees and the successors, and the deceased; beginning at one per cent, and going on to ten per cent but that, from these duties all freehold property is wholly exempt, and, therefore, from this tax, which is, on an average, about three per cent, on all other property in the kingdom left by will, or coming by intestate succession; the estates of the nobility and landed gentry (including the advowsons and lay-tithes) are exempted; while the father, the mother, the child of the fund-holder, the tradesman, the farmer, or other person bequeathing personal property, has one per cent to pay on the amount of the legacy or intestate succession, while a brother who has had 1,000l. left him by a brother, has 30l. to pay on this duty, and while a distant relation of the deceased has, on a legacy of the same amount, to pay 100l.
That, in regard to probates of wills and letters of administration, if the deceased leave property above the value of 20l., his successors have to pay a stamp duty of 10s.—that is to say, at the rate of 2l. per cent on the value of the property; but that, if the party dying leave by will any sum from 30,000l. to 500,000l., the duty is only 11. 10s. per cent.; and that, in this case again, all freehold property is exempted.
That, in the case of conveyances of all sorts, the duty upon a thing of 5l., or on anything under 20l. value is 10s.; and the duty upon a thing of 200,000l. value, or any sum above that, is a 1,000l.: so that, in the latter case, it may be less than 10s. per cent on the value of the thing conveyed; and in the former case, if of 5l. value, it is 200s. per cent on the value of the thing conveyed; and thus, in this case, the poor man pays twenty times as much tax as the rich man on precisely the same sort of property, and under the same Act of Parliament; and that, as the Act will show, the weight of the duty goes on increasing from 866 10s. per cent to 200s. per cent, exactly in the proportion that the value of the property becomes smaller and smaller in amount.
That, in the case of leases of lands, tenements, &c., where the yearly rent is 5l. the, stamp duty is 1l., or twenty per cent; but where the yearly rent is 1,000l. or any sum above that, the stamp duty is 10l., or one per cent.; and that tax goes on, from 400l. a-year rental to 5l. a-year rental, getting heavier and heavier, but increasing in the small rentals in a most disproportionate degree.
That, in the case of mortgages, bonds, and securities of every description, if the amount of the mortgage, for instance, be 25l., the amount of the stamp is 1l., or 80s. per cent.; but if the amount of the mortgage be 20,000l the amount of the stamp is 20l., or 2s. per cent: that, in this case, the poor man pays forty times as much tax as the rich man; and that the stamp is no more if the amount of the mortgage be 100,000l: so that, in a case like this, the poor man pays two hundred times as much tax as the rich man; and that, in this case, also, the tax goes on increasing in weight as the taxed person becomes poor.
That, in the case of annuities, if the annuity be for 10l., or under, the amount of the stamp is 1l.; and that, in due proportion, an annuity of 2,000l. ought to pay a stamp duty of 200l.; but, instead of that, it pays a stamp duty of only 25l.; and if the annuity be for 10,000l., or any greater amount, it still pays a stamp of only 25l.; so that here the poor man pays forty or fifty times as much tax as the rich man; and that, in this case also, the tax goes on getting heavier and heavier as the parties become more and more poor.
That, in the case of promissory notes and bills of exchange, not exceeding two months after date, if the sum be 40s. or above 40s. and not exceeding 5l. 5s. the stamp is 1s.; and, in the same proportion, the stamp on 3,000l. ought to be 28l. 11s.; but that it pays only 15s.; and that for any higher sum the stamp is no more than 1l. 5s. instead of being, on 10,000l., 95l. 4s,; and that, therefore, in the former case, while the poor man pays nearly one pound per cent., the rich man pays sixpence per cent.; and, in the latter case, while the poor man pays nearly one pound per cent.; the rich man pays 3d. per cent.; and that, therefore, in the first case, the poor man pays forty times as much as the rich man; and, in the latter case, nearly eighty times as much as the rich man: and here, as in all the former cases, the tax becomes heavier and heavier, as the tax-payer becomes poorer and poorer; and that in bills of a longer date than two months, the partiality is still greater, and weighs still more heavily on the needy man.
That, in the case of insurance of lives, where the sum insured amounts to less than 500l. the stamp is 1l.: that, if it amount to 500l, 867 the stamp is 2l.; that, if it amount to 5,000l., or upwards, the stamp is 5l.; so that the man who insures 10,000l. pays only one shilling per cent.; while he who insures for less than 500l., and suppose that to be 300l. pays six shillings and eight pence per cent; and thus the man of scanty means pays nearly seven times as much as the man of wealth.
That, in the case of receipts, if the sum be 2l., the stamp is 2d., if the sum be 1,000l, the stamp is 10s; when, in due proportion, it ought to be 4l, 3s. 4d., that thus the poor man pays more than eight times as much tax as the rich man: and, if the sum go on increasing to 100,000l. or 1,000,000l. still the stamp is only 10s.; and that for any sum expressed to be in full of all demands, whether it be for 2l., or 1,000,000l., the stamp is always 10s.; so that, in this case, it may be fairly said, that the poor man pays a thousand times as much tax as the rich.
That, in the case of appraisements not exceeding the value of 50l. in the value of the thing appraised, the stamp is 2s. 6d.; that, if the thing appraised exceeds 500l. in value, though it amount to a million of money or more, the stamp is but 1l.; so that here the tax falls almost wholly on persons in the middle rank of life, and the estates of the nobility and landed gentry are all nearly exempt; that an estate of the value of 100,000l. ought to pay an appraisement stamp of 250l., instead of the 1l. which it now pays; so that here the people in the middle rank of life pay, in many cases, two hundred and fifty times as much as the rich.
That, with regard to apprenticeships, the parents of a poor boy, who give no premium at all with him, have 2l. to pay for the indentures and the counterpart; that in this case, however, where nobody but tradesmen are concerned, the stamp goes on gradually and fairly from 30l. to 1,000l.; a premium under 30l. paying 1l. stamp, and 1,000l. paying 60l. stamp; because, in this case, the nobility, clergy, and landed gentry are not concerned; and here we observe, that, while the poor boy's parents are thus taxed, the duties on settlements made by the rich pay only a 25s. stamp on 1,000l.
That there is a total exemption from this stamp-tax for all bonds, contracts, mortgages, conveyances, deeds, and instruments for making provisions for building, repairing, or purchasing houses and other buildings for the beneficed clergy on their benefices.
That, by several Acts of Parliament, ending with 55 George 3rd., chapter 142, which Acts impose duties on things sold by auction, a duty of 7d. in the pound is imposed, in Great Britain, on the amount of the sale of any interest in possession or reversion, in any freehold, customary, copyhold, or leasehold lands, tenements, houses, or hereditaments, and on any share or shares in the capital or joint stock of any corporation or chartered 868 company, and of any annuities or sums of money charged thereon, and of any ships and vessels, and of any reversionary interest in the public funds, or of any plate or jewels; but that, on all sales of furniture, fixtures, pictures, books, horses, and carriages, and all other goods and chattels whatever, there is a duty of 1s. in the pound: while on wool, sold for the benefit of the land-owner or his tenant, or the first purchaser, the duty is only 2d. in the pound; and that, from this duty, all sales of goods distrained for rent or tithes, and all sales of leases of lands or tenements, and all sales of woods, coppices, cattle, live or dead stock, and all unmanufactured produce of land, and of all produce of mines, when the sales are made on the lands or at the mines are wholly exempted, as well as all the produce of quarries, or of implements used in quarries, mines, or farms; and that thug, while every product of the hand of man has to bear this tax in almost a double degree compared with lands and tenements themselves, the produce of the land bears no part of this tax, which is thus shifted from the shoulders of the great and the rich, and made to fall almost exclusively on the middle and working classes of society.
That, on the first day of March next, this House will take into its consideration the nature, tendency, and effects, of the several Acts of Parliament, which impose taxes on stamps and on things sold by auction.
§ Mr. Baldwin
seconded the Motion, which he thought was practically directed to obtain an advantage for the people. He trusted that the Government would direct their attention to these matters, and use their utmost endeavours to reduce some of the taxes that pressed heavily on manufacturing industry, among the chief of which he mentioned the duty on glass.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that the cases alluded to by the hon. member for Oldham as cases of inequality in the Stamp-laws, and the duty on auctions, arose, in some measure from the Stamp-duties being divided into different classes; so that the proportion of one duty to another was not so accurately marked as it might have been. He admitted that when the property came to equal a large amount, the Stamp-duty was not so high as it would have been if the rate of increase from the lowest sums had been regularly continued. They were regular to a certain extent. The hon. Gentleman would find that, in every case of taxation, for instance, in the Assessed-taxes, when the amount became considerable, the per centage on which the taxes had been calculated 869 was diminished. As to what had been said about the duty on the transfer of freeholds, the hon. Member should recollect that the expense of conveying freehold property was greater than on the transfer of personal property. That was one of the reasons on which the amount of duty was small. Another ground was, that if the Legacy-duty on the landed property of the country was considerable, the whole of that property, in a little more than a century, would get into the hands of the Government. He was not answerable for Acts of Parliament passed in the year 1815; but he believed that what he had stated was then, and had been since, the reason given for the enactments in question. With respect to the Stamp-duties, ever since he had been in office, he had wished to bring them altogether under the consideration of Parliament. The bills on the subject were prepared; but he would leave hon. Members to guess how much was to be done, when he told them that 240 Acts required to be consolidated. There were eleven Acts to be passed; and he appealed to any hon. Member, especially if that hon. Member had had a seat in the last Parliament, whether, in the state of things that had existed within the last two years, it would have been an easy matter to pass eleven Bills through Parliament? He was not now under the same difficulties, and either himself or some other person connected with the Government would be prepared to bring the subject of the Stamp-duties under consideration. The hon. Member would then have the opportunity of discussing the difference of the scale of duties. He agreed, in some measure, with the hon. Member, that some of the duties on the lower sums were too high, and that some alteration was necessary. But he did not think, that such an alteration as the hon. Member seemed to want ought to be made; nor did he believe that the hon. Member himself, on a fuller consideration of the matter, and after hearing all that could be said, would entertain exactly his present opinions. He (Lord Althorp) should object to agreeing to the present Resolution, taking as it did the House by surprise: but he hoped and trusted that at another time, and in a more regular manner, the subject would come fairly under the consideration of the House. With respect to the matter mentioned by the hon. seconder, the 870 member for Cork, as to the taking off the Glass-duty, he had no hesitation in declaring that his wish had been, to take off the duty on that manufacture; but he was bound to say, that after the taxes which had been repealed, and considering the situation in which we now stood, he could not make any promise as to the removal of that duty. The hon. Member for Oldham had represented that the Stamp-duties pressed on the poorest classes of the people. On the poor, but not on the poorest, he admitted that they did [An Hon. Member said across the Table: Indirectly they press upon the poorest.] Why, it was impossible to invent any tax that directly or indirectly would not, press upon every class in the community. All must have that effect. He confessed, that if he had his choice there were others which bore more directly on the industry and comforts of the poor, that he should prefer seeing taken off. He did not suppose, if he went over the statement of the hon. member for Oldham, he should not find it correct as to the facts stated; but he must say, that he did not agree with that hon. Member in his inferences. It might be true, that the effect of these taxes was what the hon. Member had described it; but he could not agree that they had been imposed in an unequal manner with the view and intention of relieving the rich and pressing on the poor. If that was their effect it was most unfortunate; but he must think that the hon. Member had in some degree exaggerated the inequality and its consequences.
said, it seemed to him that the case had been made stronger by the observations of the noble Lord than it had been left by the statement of the hon. member for Oldham; for the statement of the noble Lord had, in effect, shown that there were other taxes in which the same inequality existed. That inequality did oppress the poor. He could not agree with the noble Lord that the poorest class were not oppressed by these taxes, for every man who wanted to rent a tenement of 5l. a-year—and wretched indeed must he be who in England did not rent a tenement as good as that—every such man was oppressed by these taxes. Every lease of such a tenement—[An Hon. Member said, that leases were never granted of such tenements]. Indeed! then, what security could such 871 tenants have, that they would not be turned out at a moment's notice? But, at least, the poorest classes were directly oppressed by another branch of the Stamp laws, to which they must contribute if they wanted time to raise a sum, or to give security for a fellow-labourer, the tax pressed on them at once and directly. He hoped that the noble Lord would consent to a Committee; for to come and tell them that there were eleven Acts of Parliament, and that they should be brought in at some other time, was not affording that practical relief which the people of England were entitled to expect. All that was wanted was, a just apportionment of these taxes, and he did not yield to the objection to increasing the taxes on property. He wished, that the Motion had been drawn up in such a shape that they could divide the House upon it. He should suggest to the hon. member for Oldham to withdraw this Resolution, and bring it forward in another shape, and upon notice, so that every Member would be fully prepared to go into the subject.
§ Mr. Harvey
could not agree with the suggestion just thrown out for the adoption of the hon. member for Oldham, without at the same time taking the opportunity of saying, that during the six years he had sat in that House he had never heard a statement, and a motion in connection with it, so straightforward and practically useful as that submitted by the hon. member for Oldham. The hon. member had gone to the root of the evil, and in plain, unpretending language, advocated the interests of that class of the community which had heretofore scarcely found an advocate in that House. All civilized society depended on this great principle—that, however unequal the condition of parties might be, there should, at least, be equal law and justice for all. The hon. Member had proved that this was not the case. His Motion would work great good amongst the people. Unless Ministers were prepared to review the whole system of taxation, they must resort to the same measures of coercion in this country which they wished to apply to Ireland. When the hon. Member's resolutions should be read in every cottage, as he trusted they would. Ministers would find it impossible to stop the current of indignation which 872 they would excite. The hon. Gentleman concluded by saying, that he was satisfied the House required a stimulus to the performance of its duty.
§ Mr. Robinson
thought it would be more easy to find objections in point of form to the Motion of the hon. member for Oldham, than to answer it in substance. He had called the attention of the House to this subject on several former occasions, and he was glad it was now again brought forward. He rose, from a sense of imperative duty, to inform the noble Lord, who was not blameable for this measure, that the species of answer given to the Motion would be anything but satisfactory to the country. In point of fact, these taxes pressed in the inverse ratio of the amount of property. The whole was founded on a most grievously unjust and impolitic system. He was surprised when he heard the noble Lord (whose acuteness he well knew) state that these taxes did not oppress the poor. He wished to suggest that, instead of having a Committee on the Stamp Acts, they should have a Committee upon the taxes generally. He asked the hon. Member for Oldham not to embarrass the proceedings of the House, by pressing his Motion to a division tonight. The reason for objecting to a Property-tax was quite evident, namely, that at present property was exempted, and those who owned it, would not, therefore, willingly consent to the impost.
§ Mr. Cobbett
observed, that he should be guided in his course by that which he thought most conducive to the good of the country, without much regard to the convenience of the House, and none to the consideration of what might be for or against his own character. That mode which seemed most likely to lead to a beneficial result he should adopt. He wished to make two or three remarks on what had fallen from the noble Lord.
§ The Speaker
intimated that the present was not the fit occasion, according to the forms of the House.
hoped that the Motion would not be withdrawn, and contended that, even though it might be tinged with irregularity, the Reformed House of Commons would not allow itself to be bound hand and foot by technicalities. He especially entreated the Solicitor General to proceed with his undertaking, the object of which was, to break up the monopoly of the law, and to restore the reign of 873 reason and common sense, in the transfer of property. He trusted that the House, in its very commencement, would take such a course as would induce the people to place confidence in a Reformed Parliament, which alone could prevent anarchy and confusion.
§ Mr. Warburton
called the attention of the hon. member for Oldham to the fact, that the House was only about to proceed pro forma, as regarded the supplies. He concurred in the principle of the Resolutions; and if they were now withdrawn, printed, and brought forward on a future day, he had no doubt they would receive fuller and more satisfactory attention than if they were now pressed to a division. By such a course many votes would be gained to them.
An Hon. Member
suggested, that they should be separated, and that the proposal for inquiry should stand by itself.
declared that, although he approved of the principle of the Resolutions, he would not thus hastily and prematurely vote for them.