§ Mr. Buckingham
said, that in drawing the attention of the House to the subject of his Motion, he was fully aware of the disadvantages under which he laboured, in having to address so small a number of Members (there being about 100 only present), more especially as expectations had been raised that another subject—that of triennial Parliaments, would have been presented to them; and their disappointment at its necessary postponement, might, in some degree, indispose them to hear any other topic with equal readiness or attention. Notwithstanding this, he hoped that before he resumed his seat, he should be able to convince them that there was no subject of greater importance to the whole community, than that to which he would immediately address himself: and that there was no time more favourable than the present for entering on its consideration. He asked only their patient attention for a reasonable portion of time; and he would evince his sense of its value, by 5 not wasting a single moment of it on idle declamation or rhetorical display; but proceed at once to the object in view. His Motion embraced two distinct propositions, which he should have preferred treating separately, had there been time; but having been obliged, from the impossibility of commanding two separate occasions on which to effect this, to treat them together, he would keep them as distinct from each other as he could, showing, however, at the same time, the connection which, notwithstanding, existed between them. His first proposition was, to diminish progressively, and ultimately extinguish altogether the burthen of the National Debt: and the next was, to raise a tax upon property or income, or both, to form a surplus fund, which should enable the Parliament progressively to repeal those imposts that bear most heavily at present on the various interests of the country, and more especially on the laborious and industrious poor. He would begin, then, by drawing the attention of the House to the singular position in which Great Britain stood at the present moment. She had achieved extensive conquests in either hemisphere, and spread her extended dominions over every quarter of the globe; yet all her conquests and her acquisitions had proved to be only sources of difficulty and embarrassment on every side. Our empire in the East had been so ruinous, that while it impoverished those over whom our sway was exercised, it encumbered with debt those by whom the ruling power was enjoyed. Our possessions in the West had been so unproductive of benefit, that declining cultivation, diminished population, and decaying fortunes, were their characteristics: and we were now on the point of passing judgment on both, by an entire change of system for their management. Our position was, indeed, one of marked contrasts. We were the strongest of nations in our long established reputation; we were among the weakest, in actual power, and strength: so much so, indeed, that though we once gave the law to Europe, and dictated treaties to her crowned heads, we were now unable to assist the most oppressed among other nations, or even to maintain the dignity of our own, from the utter helplessness to which our embarrassments had reduced us. We were overwhelmed, it was said, by some, with increased and increasing wealth, to such an 6 extent, as that capital was represented as lying idle for want of employment. We were at the same time witnessing around us, a daily increase of misery and suffering, arising from the abject poverty into which thousands were plunged. There was a superabundance of the means of enjoyment in the hands of the wealthier classes, and a deficiency of the means of subsistence among the poorer, and unhappily, the larger, section of the community. These were the painful and the fatal extremes which generally preceded the decline of nations; and he could not but feel alarmed at this melancholy precursor of that social dissolution which was fast hastening on to its consummation in England, and which nothing but some prompt and timely remedy could avert. He would contend, then, that this remedy lay, in a more general diffusion of the existing wealth of the country, which he believed to be fully adequate to the supply of all our wants. Independently of the pleasure which every good and wise Legislator must feel in increasing the happiness of those subject to his rule, as a mere matter of state policy, it was desirable to promote such diffusion; for, undoubtedly, the competent enjoyments of the necessaries and comforts of life, had been always found to be the best security for order and peace; while, on the other hand, want and misery were the certain incitements to lawless outrage and reckless violence: and so long as self-preservation should be held to be the first law of nature, so long would hunger, thirst, and nakedness, drive men to acts of desperation, to obtain by force what they could not command by other and more peaceable means. Among the causes that had been assigned for the distress which almost all parties now admitted to exist, the one most generally admitted was that of surplus production—and the other, which followed immediately in its train, was surplus population. He believed it was neither; but that a far more intelligible cause might be found in unequal distribution. The production was not greater than the existing population could consume, if they could but get it into their possession. The population was not greater than could be fed, clothed, or lodged, most fully and comfortably, if they had but the means of purchase. For, what was the fact? If any human being suffered hunger, was it because there was an actual deficiency of food in the coun- 7 try? Was any man destitute of raiment, because there was a deficiency of clothing? Or, was any family without a home or a shelter, because there were no unoccupied dwellings for their use? Was it not notorious, that while the people of Ireland were feeding on sea-weed, the golden harvests of her fertile fields, and the fattened cattle of her richest pastures, were sending away from that country, to be sold for the benefit of the already over-gorged and luxurious landlord? And was it not a fact equally well established, that while the warehouses of Leeds and Manchester were piled up with the materials of clothing for export to other countries, and while in every town and village, innumerable dwellings were without occupants, there were thousands of industrious and virtuous men, women, and children, without a sufficiency of food, raiment, or shelter? He conceived, then, that though there might be more goods produced than men could buy, it was not a superabundance of produce, but a deficiency of the means of purchase, that should be corrected; and though there might be more people than could find employment, it was not a superabundance of population, but a deficiency of the means, which a better distribution of the existing wealth of the country would give to them, that required to be remedied. How, then, it might be asked, did he propose to effect this object? He should answer—By a complete revision of our system of Finance; first, by diminishing the burthen of the debt—next, by reducing every other burthen of the State within the narrowest limits—and, above all, by raising the amount of the revenue, which might be deemed indispensable for the fulfilment of our engagements, and the maintenance of our institutions, in the way that should occasion the least injustice in its proportionate pressure, and be the least wasteful in its collection and its expenditure. To show that, next to a reduction in the actual amount of the public burthens, the mode by which that indispensable amount should be raised, was of the highest importance, he would read for the information of the House, an extract from the speech of the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade, the member for Manchester (Mr. Poulett Thomson), whom he was sorry he did not see in his place, delivered on the 25th of March, 1830, in this House. [The hon. Member read a passage; for 8 which see Hansard (new series) xxiii. p. 863–864]. Now, the chief argument that had been brought forward in the House of Commons, when any extensive reduction had been proposed, was this:—" It may seem very easy to reduce the amount of our charges, and to retrench something from an expenditure of fifty millions; but, in reality, the amount on which we have to effect reductions of any kind is so small, as not to admit of very extensive operations. The interest of the national debt alone is thirty millions, or more than half the gross revenue. The dead weight of half-pay, and pensions, the Civil List, and other fixed charges, cut largely into the remaining portion; and neither of these can be touched without a breach of faith, and violation of the public honour; and the fourteen or fifteen millions that remain, is the only portion of the whole annual expenditure that we can by possibility even touch in the way of reduction." This was, indeed, a melancholy picture. For what was the certain consequence? It was this, that while our superiority over other nations consisted almost entirely in our greater manufacturing skill, which alone enabled us to bear up against the pressure of this debt, those other nations were making daily nearer and nearer approaches to us, in that which constituted our superiority, while they, happily for themselves, made no advances towards our state of debt; so that when they became our equals in the one respect, (as soon they would) they would be greatly our superiors in the other; and the same exemption from the burthens that bear us down, which enabled them to overtake us in the race, would also enable them to pass by us, with an accelerated rapidity of career, that would leave us far and far behind: our relative conditions being, that while we were laden with burthens that altogether impeded our progress, they, having no such burthens, would soon leave us at an immeasurable distance behind; and this advanced position being once attained by them, we could never hope again to overtake them in their career. The reduction of the public burthens was the only real cure for the evils that threatened us; and, as the interest of the National Debt was by far the largest item in our expenditure, that should undoubtedly be first placed in the way of a speedy and effectual reduction. And lest the parties interested in maintaining the permanency 9 of that debt should begin to be alarmed at any invasion of their interests by the step proposed, he (Mr. Buckingham) would briefly state to them the dangers which now endangered the security of their property, should not steps be taken to remove them. There was now spreading, far and wide, a continually increasing objection to the payment of the debt in full, and grounded on the following reasons:— 1. That it was originally contracted by an irresponsible Legislature—the loans being authorised by a House of Commons filled by the nominees of the Aristocracy, and neither representing the interests nor feelings, nor responsible to the judgment or opinions, of the people of England.—2. That these loans, when so raised, were unjustly squandered in foreign wars, waged against the spread of free and liberal opinions, and in support of the despotic powers of the Continent.—3. That what was not then squandered abroad, was expended at home in the promotion of the private benefits of aristocratical families, to the aggrandisement of favoured individuals, and to the people's wrong.—4. That the debt was contracted in a currency so much inferior in value to the present, that we were now called upon to pay at least one-third more in amount than was actually due.—5. That in the large interest and other advantages received, this debt has been already in great part, if not wholly repaid.—6. That while property of every other kind had been subject to grievous imposts, the public funds had been exempted from their fair share of the public burthens.—7. That the labour of the industrious poor, and that of children yet unborn, had been unjustly pledged, or assumed to be pledged, and, therefore, assessed for the payment of its interest. From all these objections, into the soundness or unsoundness of which he would not enter, there was a continually increasing indisposition to acknowledge the liability of the public to repay this debt in full; and it was, consequently, exposed to the risk of being entirely annihilated by the first great political convulsion, or a large portion of its nominal amount can celled, by the decision of public opinion. As to a repayment of the principal, the most sanguine person now living never dreamt to see that accomplished; indeed, it might safely be pronounced to be hopeless; and even the discharge of its interest might become impossible whenever the revenue should greatly decline; as the noble Lord, 10 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, would undoubtedly admit, that the first appropriation of the revenue should be to the support of the necessary establishments of the country; and the surplus, over and above this, should be applied to the payment of the interest as far as it would go: but if taxation should have been found to be carried to its utmost limits, and the public establishments be reduced as low as was consistent with national safety, and still the surplus was insufficient to pay the interest of the debt, the holders must equitably divide among them whatever remained, to the extent of its amount, in proportion to their respective shares, and with that they must be content, as no more could be had. He would ask, then, whether, under all these circumstances, it would not be wise to adopt some plan by which these risks might be avoided: and to seize the present moment of a profound peace, and when the interest of money, from its very abundance, was extremely low, to secure its gradual reduction and final extinction, within a period not too near to create embarrassment, nor too remote to produce no benefit. The plan that he would propose for this purpose would be as follows: It was well known, that the existing stocks, of which the public funds were composed, were so varied in their nature and denominations, as to puzzle all but those initiated in their mysteries.—There were the 3 per cent. Consols, and the 3 percent. Reduced—the New 3½ per cents., and the Reduced 3½ per cents.—the 4 per cents. of 1826—and the New 5 per cents.—There were the Long Annuities—South Sea Stock—Exchequer Bills—and such a variety of denominations of principal, and different rates of interest, as to be quite confounding. The origin of this, undoubtedly, was, to promote the deceitful juggles which were continually practised in the funds, by former Chancellors of the Exchequer, whose great aim it seemed to be to make every thing as mysterious and unintelligible as possible to all parties but themselves, and thus keep the people in ignorance of the real state of the finances of the country. He remembered indeed to have once heard a reason assigned for Mr. Pitt being called "the heaven-born Minister"—which was, that no "earthly-born" person could by any possibility unravel the mysteries in which his budgets were always enveloped. He would propose, then, that all these various 11 denominations of stock should be converted into one, by a transfer of the amount held by different parties in each of the old stocks, to be taken at the fair marketable value, from thence into the new. This new stock to be called "The National Annuity Fund," and to bear interest at five per cent. per annum, at the commencement, to admit of its gradual diminution. The interest of this stock would thus be 100 shillings per cent. in the first year; and he would propose, that it should then diminish regularly by one shilling per cent. only, for 100 years in succession, when principal and interest would both become extinct together. The practical operation would then be this: that for every 100l. of the new stock so held, the possessor would receive an interest of 5l. in the first year, 4l. 19s. in the second, 4l. 18s. in the third, and so diminishing a shilling per cent. every year. In the year 1843, he would still be receiving 4l. 10s. per cent.; in the year 1853, he would be receiving 4l. per cent.; and it would not be until the year 1873, or forty years hence, that his interest would be reduced to three per cent. which might then be considered perhaps about the par of the day. The advantage of such a gradual and almost imperceptible diminution of interest as this, would be, that no party now living, could be injured to any extent by its operation. The fluctuation would not be nearly so great as that which actually took place in the value of money, and the consequent rise or fall of interest in the market, every year: while, the possessors of the stock constantly varying; and the stock perpetually changing hands, the trifling reductions from year to year would be spread over a wide surface of the whole community, and, consequently, not be felt by any class severely. Supposing the present interest of money to be four per cent., and the new stock to be opened at five—it was clear, that for the next twenty years, all the holders of that stock would be receiving an interest above par; and this circumstance alone would make the change more advantageous than the existing rate to all those to whom the gains of the next twenty years were of more consequence than the eighty years that were to follow—and that would probably embrace the largest portion of those by whom the stock would be held: as, at present, the holders were chiefly persons of small fortunes, and tolerably advanced age, to whom an increase 12 of immediate income would be of more value than any remote or contingent benefit to their successors. For the first twenty years, then, all the parties consenting to such transfer would be benefitted, by receiving an interest above par: for the next twenty years, they or their children would be still receiving what might be Considered the fair market-rate of interest at that time—from four to three, or averaging three and a-half per cent.—and it would be only the generation yet unborn upon whom the latter portion of the loss would fall; and even they would have a large countervailing benefit, arising from this very diminution, by their coming into existence in a nation, which, having thus freed itself from the incumbrance of its 800,000,000l. of debt, would be relieved of its greatest burthen, and be able to run an equal race with every other country in the World. In this proposition, let it be remarked, there was no confiscation—no spoliation—the national honour and the public faith would be as essentially maintained, as if the whole of the 800,000,000l. were to be repaid in full: as the principle of sinking a fixed sum in capital, to receive an annuity for a prescribed term, or the conversion of a perpetual into a life annuity, was recognized as perfectly honest and honourable, and acted upon in every country of Europe, as well as in America, every day. It would be a bargain made by two consenting parties, each interested in its success:—and affording, as it would, an annual diminution of the amount of interest, and an annual extinction of a portion of the principal, it would render the Debt, thus gradually diminishing in its amount and pressure, far less liable to those objections, or to those risks, already enumerated, by the cheerfulness with which all men consent to bear a reasonable and decreasing burthen, when they see a clear prospect of relief from it before them. The next consideration then was, what would be the increased amount of interest necessary to be paid for the conversion, and from what sources of taxation ought the fund for such increased payment to be drawn. It would of course be a matter of consideration for the Committee which he asked to be appointed, and for the accountants whom they might find it necessary to consult, to settle the exact rates at which certain sums held in existing stocks should be transferred to the new. But the object being a commutation 13 or compromise between the holders of stock and the nation, he would take the proposed rate of interest to be paid by the Government as the highest, and the actual rate of interest for which money could now be had as the lowest, and thus strike the average between three-and-a-half and five, which would be four-and-a-quarter per cent. It would be fair to make the transfer at such a rate, as that whatever principal sum would yield 4l. 5s. of interest, in either of the existing stocks, should be transferred into the new annuity fund as 100l. of principal, bearing interest at five per cent. and diminishing one shilling per cent for 100 years, as before described. This then would require an addition of about 5,000,000l. of increased interest, calculated upon this data, that the present amount of interest paid is 28,000,000l.; and that on every 4l. 5s. of interest now paid, an addition would have to be made of 15s., to make it up to 5l. the interest of the 100l. principal in the new national annuity fund. For the payment of this additional 5,000,000l. of interest, he considered that the property of the kingdom should be assessed. Indeed, there were many who held an opinion, and he confessed he was one of this number, that the property of the country, and that alone, should be made to pay the entire interest of the debt: for it was said, and said truly, that it was to protect the property then in existence, that the debt was contracted, and those whose property had thereby been saved, ought undoubtedly to bear the burthen. He thought he could illustrate the justice of this position by a familiar comparison. Let it be supposed, for instance, that a large factory in Manchester was either attacked or threatened by a mob from without, and the presence of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Phillips, of Manchester) who was seated immediately behind the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had suggested to him the idea of this illustration, which was the passing thought of the moment; suppose for instance such a factory attacked, the owner is desirous of protecting it from the violence of its assailers; but his existing means being exhausted, he borrows money to pay the protecting force that he employs for its defence: and he pledges or mortgages the property itself, thus saved from destruction, for the perpetual payment of the interest. Now that this property, so protected, should be made to pay the cost 14 of its own protection, into whose hands soever it might fall, would be perfectly just. But what would be said of the master who should tax all the labour of every man, woman, and child, who hereafter might work in that factory, for the payment of such interest, for the protection of a property in which they had no share, and which possibly was thus burthened with debt, before they were brought into existence. And yet this was precisely the case of England,—her debt, its mortgaged securities, and the payers of its interest. It was to protect the property then existing that the debt was contracted,—the property alone should bear the charge of its interest: and it was most unjust to tax, as was now done, the industry and the labour of the people then unborn, for the payment of a debt contracted to protect a property in which they had no share, and in which they were denied all participation. He conceived, therefore, that nothing could be more just than that this additional interest of 5,000,000l., to be paid as the price of the proposed conversion of the fixed debt into terminable annuities, should be raised by a tax on the property of the kingdom; and out of the annual saving occasioned by the gradual diminution of that amount, which would be the one-hundredth part of the whole sum of 33,000,000l., (the conjoint amount of the present 28,000,000l., and the future 5,000,000l. to be added) or 330,000l. per annum, the taxes bearing-most heavily on the agricultural, commercial, and shipping interests of the country might be progressively abolished, so as to relieve each in their turn, and all ultimately, from one common source. He would not, however, disguise the fact, that over and above the immediate benefit, which he believed would result from the conversion proposed, he wished to show that a Property or Income-tax was the fairest as well as the easiest levied of all taxes, and having once proved its superiority to every other, by its adoption for this specific purpose of lightening the burthen of the debt, he should hope that it would be ultimately adopted, as the only tax, from which to raise the entire revenue, to the gradual abolition and ultimate extinction of every other tax, duty, impost, or burthen whatever. He was quite aware that this would be conceived an ultra doctrine of finance, by the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Exche- 15 quer, and by many of those, who in this, as well as in other matters, could only venture on a "bit-by-bit reform." But he had not taken up this subject hastily; he had given to it deep thought, and severe investigation; and was more and more convinced, by every reflection made upon the subject, that it was not by taking off a little of the pressure here, and putting on a little there, that the weight of the burthen was to be alleviated. The only effectual remedy, was a total change and an entire revision of the whole system of taxation, on principles the very opposite of those that were now acted on. He was aware that this was a bold assertion, but if the House would still indulge him with their patient attention, he thought he could prove this to their entire satisfaction, by laying before them the series of considerations which had progressively established him in the convictions that he now entertained. He would begin then, by stating what he considered to be the leading principles of just and equitable taxation. They were these,—1. That the smallest amount possible should be taken from the people: because, whatever is left in their possession may contribute to their enjoyment, or be made the nucleus of future increase.—2. That the nature of the tax should be simple and intelligible: because, a cheerful assent to the justice of an impost is essential to its ready payment: and this cannot be given unless it is clearly understood.—3. That it should be economical in its collection: because all waste in that operation is equally lost, both to payer and receiver.—4. That it should be favorable to consumption: because, labour is the only source of wealth which the great mass of every community possesses: and the more consumption is increased, the more that labour is called into demand, and the higher are its rewards. 5. That it should bear a strict relation to the means of individuals to pay it: because, by this alone can content or justice, be maintained.—6. That it should be difficult of avoidance: because, all shrinking from a common duty is fraudulent and cowardly: and because all should be compelled to bear their fair share of the burthens of the state. Now, if these principles were sound,—and from the token of assent by which they were hailed, he was encouraged to hope that their accuracy was not disputed,—then he should be prepared to show that nothing could be 16 more unsound than the existing system of taxation, in England, which violated every one of these principles in succession: as would be seen by comparing the results with the principles, according to their numerical order.—1. Much more was taken from the people by the existing system than was either necessary or useful; their comforts were abridged, and their means of accumulation stinted, from mere excess of taxation alone.—2. The existing taxes were now so multifarious and unintelligible, that not only were they not to be understood or remembered by ordinary men, from whom the payment was exacted: but he thought it might be true to say that even the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary of the Treasury, (Mr. Spring Rice) who, he was sorry to see, had just left his place, that even he, whose especial business it was to understand thoroughly the whole of the taxes, might be asked what was the existing duty per ton, or hundred, or foot, or pound, on a variety of articles that might be named to him, and he would be utterly unable to answer, without reference to voluminous tables and schedules, or a conference with some clerk of the department in which such information might be found.—3. Its expense of collection was enormous: and he had never been more forcibly struck with this, than when recently looking over some papers connected with his researches into the evils of impressment, he had found that the collection of the merchant seamen's tribute of 6d. per month per man, for the support of the Greenwich Hospital, cost twenty-and-a-half percent, and it was thought to be a great reform to reduce it down to eighteen. What, then, with all costly machinery of Customs and Excise, blockade services, revenue vessels, surveyors and clerks, the expense was altogether most extravagant, and under a simple system of taxation would be wholly unnecessary.—4. The existing taxes impeded consumption in every class of life: for the duties being placed on commodities, every increase to their price must lessen their use, and consequently labour being thereby less in demand for the preparation of the smaller quantity thus consumed, every man whose labour was his only wealth, was injured to a great extent, by the market for his labour being narrowed, by the imposts lessening the sale of the article on which his labour is employed.—5. Instead of its being in proportion 17 to men's means of payment, it was just the reverse: for it had been proved, by careful investigation, that while the very wealthiest, who could spare the largest share, were not taxed at a rate of more than five per cent on their gross incomes, the very poorest classes were taxed at a rate of more than twenty-five per cent on the amount of their scanty earnings.—6. The avoidance of the existing taxes was easy, common, and scarcely deemed objectionable; and between smugglers, who directly cheated the revenue, in open defiance of the laws,—and absentees, who by spending their fortunes abroad, contributed nothing to the revenue at all,—and misers, who, while hoarding their gold, are withholding their fair share of contributions to the duties on commodities which they abstained from consuming, the state was defrauded, and the honest portion of the tax-paying public surcharged to a great extent every year. In addition to all this, there was the great injustice, and he might even add, immorality, of many of the existing taxes, of which he would mention but a few, for the catalogue was too long and too melancholy to be given in full. 1. There were taxes on justice, in the shape of stamps and fines, in almost every stage of legal proceedings.—2. Taxes on knowledge, by the imposts on newspapers, and the duty on paper used for written correspondence and printed books.—3. Taxes on distress, by licences and other duties on all sales by auction of estates, houses, furniture, and goods,—whether seized by a Sheriff in execution, or a landlord for rent.—4. Taxes on prudence, in the duties on insurance by land and by sea.—5. Taxes on inventions, discoveries, and announcements, by the fees for patents, duties on advertisements and other similar imposts. 6. and lastly, taxes even on improvements, so ingeniously contrived, as to impede the very progress in those arts and manufactures by which we maintained our superiority over all other countries, and by which alone we could hope to continue that pre-eminence which we now enjoyed. This was really as absurd, as if an individual, perceiving that his great superiority over his fellow-men consisted in his muscular power, his vigorous activity, and commanding strength—should bind his limbs with cords and ligatures, on purpose to deprive himself of that very superiority which constituted his chief excellence and his honest pride. To 18 show that he was not overstating this self-injury and self-injustice, he would read a passage from a deservedly high authority on all matters of taxation and finance, both in that House and elsewhere—he meant the right hon. Baronet, the member for Dundee, Sir Henry Parnell. In his excellent work on "Financial Reform," when speaking of the injurious operation of the Excise-laws on our processes of manufacture, he said:—'By prescribing the processes of fabrication, the manufacturer is not allowed to manage his trade in the way his skill and experience point out as the best; but he is compelled to conform to such methods of pursuing his art as he finds taught in Acts of Parliament. Thus the unseen injury arising from excise taxation, by its interference with the free course of manufacture, is much greater than is suspected by the public. The consequence of the activity and invention of the manufacturer being repressed is, that the consumers of their goods pay increased prices not only for the duties imposed on them, but for the additional expense incurred by absurd and vexatious regulations; and, in addition to this, goods are generally very inferior to what they would be if no duties existed.' The consequences, then, of this state of taxation, were those of unmixed evil. By its varied operations on the various classes of society, it continually arrayed one class or interest against another; and accordingly, whether a new tax was to be imposed, or an old one taken off, some party or another was sure to be dissatisfied. He appealed, indeed, to the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, whether he had ever yet conferred a boon, as it was called, on any one class, by lightening their burthens, without having at the same time dissatisfied four or five other classes, because the preference had not been shown to each of them before the other. In short, it was some thing like the exercise of patronage, where, though one person was sure to be pleased with receiving the appointment, half-a-dozen at least would be dissatisfied at their not having received the fortunate distinction; a consideration which would induce him, if he should ever be made Governor General of India, an event of all others in the world the least likely to happen, to depute the dispensation of the patronage to any one, rather than exercise it himself; as, in proportion to its extent, 19 and to the rigid justice with which it should be exercised, would be sure to be the number of the dissatisfied who were excluded from its benefits. By this fatal system of taxation in duties, bounties, drawbacks, prohibitions, and all their endless machinery of vexation, every interest was arrayed against all other interests. When the agriculturist clamoured for relief, the manufacturer insisted on its being first due to him, and next to the land-proprietor; while the ship-owner came in between, and declared himself entitled to the preference over both: and all this ended in neither being relieved. In addition to the conflicts between contending parties at home, the system excluded foreigners almost wholly from our markets, and gave such a degree of uncertainty to all our commercial speculations, that it was never safe to undertake a speculation extending over a very long period of time, lest, in the interval between its commencement and its close, some legislative changes should take place, which might entirely change the issue of the whole affair. What then, it would be asked, was his remedy for all this evil? He would state it, and state it frankly and without disguise. He remembered well that when the hon. member for Worcester (Mr. Robinson) moved for a Committee to consider the proposition of a Property-tax, as a substitute for a portion of the duties drawn from other sources, he was met by an observation, that he had no specific plan, and that it was not fair to complain of an evil without being ready to propose a remedy at the same time. For his own part, he (Mr. Buckingham) wholly dissented from this view. As well might it be said, that no patient should complain of suffering, unless he could at the same time suggest a cure; but surely that was the business of the physician. So, in our own case, it was our duty who suffered, to describe the symptoms—and, to use a common but expressive phrase, to "say where the shoe pinched." But it was the business of the Government to prescribe the remedy. The Ministers of the Crown were selected for their office on the ground of their superior fitness for their duties; they were handsomely paid for their labours; and it was their especial business to apply their whole time and attention to the correction of the abuses and evils of the State. But he would not shrink from offering the 20 remedy, as well as complaining of the disease; and he contended, that this was to be found, in a just and equitable Property and Income-tax, graduated according to the respective fortunes of those on whom it should be imposed. He said a Property and Income-tax, for they were in reality inseparable; and although, when speaking of this subject in private, he had not conjured not to let the words "Income-tax" escape from his lips in Parliament, as it would terrify a large majority from even listening to him afterwards, he had always answered, that it was useless to disguise unpalatable truths in honeyed words, and that his only consideration ought to be, whether the principle of an Income-tax was sound, and whether the graduations of its scale were just. If so, he should avow it, though every Member in the House should vote against it; if not, no earthly consideration should induce him to bring it forward. He would now, then, say that, in his opinion, to tax the fixed or realized property of those who had been prudent enough to accumulate, and not to tax the incomes of those who spent what they earned as fast as they acquired it, would be to give a premium to extravagance, inflict a penalty on carefulness, and commit a grievous and intolerable wrong. He conceived it to be perfectly just that incomes derived from fixed and permanent sources should bear a heavier rate of impost than incomes derived from fluctuating or precarious sources; and this upon the ground of the certainty, which gave a higher value to the former—and the uncertainty, which diminished the full value of the latter; but further than that, he thought no exemption of either should be permitted, except, indeed, that a minimum might be fixed, below which all incomes, from whatever source derived, should be left free. It must be clear, however, that it should be income and not property, that should be the test of assessment; as the value of the property itself was entirely dependent on the income it produced. A thousand acres of granite mountain, or barren heath in Scotland, was surely not of the same value as a thousand acres of rich arable land in Oxfordshire: they were of the same extent of surface; but it was the income yielded by each that would alone form a fair test of assessment; and if the rates of such assessment were varied at long intervals, and graduated on a just and 21 equitable ascending scale, there could not, he thought, be any sound objection raised to its adoption. He held in his hand a tabular schedule, a copy of which he should be most happy to furnish to the noble Lord; and he had brought it with him in manuscript, chiefly to show that he had bestowed great attention to this subject before he ventured to propose it to the House, in which the lowest amount of income proposed to be taxed was 100l. a year, which he would propose to have assessed at 1l. per cent. On incomes derived from precarious sources, such as professions or trades; at one-third more, or 1l. 6s. 8d. per cent. if derived from annuities terminable only with life; and at one-third more, or 1l. 13s. 4d., if derived from perpetuities, such as rents of freehold houses or land, interest of money in the funds, or other property, transferable to heirs or successors after death. Pursuing out this schedule, it would be found that the rates of assessment per cent went up, from 1l. percent on incomes of 1007. a-year, by even hundreds and thousands, to 15l. per cent on incomes of 300,000l. a-year; and few persons he thought would deny, that, when the tradesman of 100l. a-year had 99l. remaining in his pocket after all his taxes were paid, and the nobleman of 300,000l. a-year, had 256,035l. left when all his taxes were paid, (and that would be the result of this scale) neither party would have reason to consider themselves aggrieved or oppressed by the operation. There were two main objections, and several minorones, which were urged to an Income-tax; the first was, that it never would produce the amount of revenue required; and the next, that it was unjust in principle, and most strongly repudiated by those who had most experience of its operation when formerly enforced: besides which there were the lesser objections to its inquisitorialness, & He would advert to each of them in their order. First, then, as to the impossibility of raising the requisite amount of revenue from this tax. It must be clear, he thought, to all parties, that whatever amount of revenue was now raised from the people, by the duties on the various articles they used or consumed, could be paid by the same people, in a direct, as easily as in an indirect form, independently of the great saving in the cost of collection. The sugar and the coffee, the indigo and the tea, imported 22 into England, did not bring with them the money to pay their own duties: the money existed in the country, and was paid by the importer in addition to the purchase-money for the articles themselves, in order to enable him to land and distribute his commodities. Surely, then, this same amount of money could be paid as easily in one sum at the end of the year, as a tax on the whole income of the person paying it, as well as in many fractional sums, on the articles in which he dealt, and from his profits, on the sale of which his income was derived. The power to pay would, in each case, be the same; and all that was wanted was, laws equitable enough to be calculated to present a strong motive for voluntary payment, as an act of justice for protection received—and powerful enough to be able to compel such payments, if not voluntarily made. The objection to the amount not being as easily raised by the one mode as by the other, was, therefore, perfectly groundless. He would quote, however, a passage from a very high authority, to show, that taxes on expenditure, from which the revenue was now raised, were far more unjust, and more objectionable than taxes on income, which it was proposed to substitute in their stead. The authority was, that of Mr. Benjamin Sayer, a gentleman well known to the financial world, who had for years been employed in the collection of the taxes—who was himself personally engaged in the management of the Income-tax of former years—who now held a distinguished place in the Tax-office—and who had recently published an admirable work, the result of all his long official experience, under the title of "An attempt to show the justice and expediency of substituting an Income or Property-tax for the existing taxes, &"—of which it was impossible to speak too highly. [The hon. Member read a passage from page 6, of that work, describing taxes on expenditure and, consumption, as unequal, because the payment depended on the will of the consumers and the rich, as in the case of absentees escaped taxation. The hon. Member also quoted Sir Henry Parnell's work to show that if taxes on Expenditure are injurious and unjust, a tax upon Income is that which the concurring opinions of the most eminent men of all parties approve and commend.] The great advantage of such a tax, he continued, would be that no one interest 23 could complain of its increase or decrease affecting them with peculiar hardship, and leaving others to go free; and if it had but this one recommendation alone, it would be sufficient to recommend its adoption. [The hon. Member again quoted Mr. Sayer's work, page 107, to show the justice of a Property and Income-tax.] The greatest stress, however, the hon. Member continued, had been laid on the alleged injustice of a graduated Income-tax. Persons who were prepared to admit, that an Income-tax of an equal per centage on all incomes would be just in principle, though not reducible to practice, objected most stoutly to a graduated scale. The noble Lord opposite (Lord Althorp) had objected to it on the ground that it had a tendency to level all men's incomes down to some prescribed standard, and to give to the State the power of saying, that no man should enjoy more than a certain amount of income for his use. This was, certainly, a most extraordinary view of the case. If the plan proposed was, that all men who had more than 500l. a-year should give up all the surplus for the use of the State, then it might be said, that the effect of such a law would be to bring all fortunes above 500l. a-year down to that common level, though it would still cease to elevate those below it to the same standard. But, if, as by the plan at present proposed, a man of 100l. a-year, at one per cent. should pay 1l.; a man of 300,000l. a-year, at fifteen per cent. should pay 43,965l. (which would be the amount,) how could any number of years or centuries contribute to bring down the remaining 266,035l., which the man of 300,000l. a-year, would have annually left untouched, when all his taxes were paid—to the 99l. per annum, which the man of 100l. a-year would have left when his taxes were discharged? The idea was altogether fallacious, and the more it should be examined, the more would persons of reflection wonder that it could ever have been entertained. The right hon. member for Tamworth objected to the graduated scale on another ground; namely, that it would take away from those subject to it, the desire for accumulation: which, he considered, to be quite as fallacious, though its error was certainly not so capable of demonstration as the former. The one was a matter of figures, the other a matter of opinion; 24 but for himself, he (Mr. Buckingham) must say, that all his experience confirmed him in the opinion, that wherever a larger portion than the half of his gains was left to the acquirer to enjoy, the love of accumulation was scarcely at all abated; and that in a scale like this, where fifteen per cent was proposed to be the highest rate of assessment, and where more than five-sixths of every man's income, assessed even at that rate, would be left in his possession, it was quite a gratuitous assertion to anticipate the cessation of the love of accumulation. The last objection urged in that House against the graduated scale, was by the hon. member for Oldham, (Mr. Cobbett) who said it was neither more nor less than "confiscation," an expression which he had more than once repeated, but for which, he must say, there was not the shadow of a foundation; and against which, therefore, it would be really a waste of time to argue. Now, although the right hon. Baronet, (Sir Robert Peel) had said the other night, in reply to an observation of the hon. member for Bridport (Mr. Warburton), who had quoted the authority of the celebrated French mathematician Laplace, as having shown, in his "Theory of Probabilities," that a graduated Income-tax was the only just tax that could be imposed—though the right hon. Baronet had said, that with every disposition to defer to so high an authority, on a question of mathematics, he did not conceive him to be infallible on a question of Finance; yet, perhaps, the right hon. Baronet would attach some importance to the authority of one of the brightest ornament of the English Church, the reverend Dr. Paley. [The hon. Member quoted the opinion of that divine to show, that a tax should be levied by what men can spare,—to be found under the article "Taxation," ch. xi. book vi. of his" Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy."] Now, it unfortunately happened, the hon. Member again went on, that this principle of graduation was recognized and acted upon in our present system, but the scale was in an inverse ratio to the means of the parties to pay. It was capable of the strictest proof—that while the largest incomes of the country, say the few of 300,000l. per annum, did not contribute five per cent on their gross amount to the revenues of the State—the smallest incomes of the country, those below 100l. 25 per annum, contributed at the least twenty-five per cent in taxation: a proportion so contrary to all ideas of right and justice, as to need only to be stated, to obtain the deserved denunciation of all just or benevolent minds. He might afford abundant illustrations of this position from the duties on tea, sugar, coffee, bread, beer, &c, which were paid in almost as large a proportion by the poor as by the rich, man for man, and not income for income; as it was the quantity consumed by each individual that regulated the amount of the tax: and, he could show also, that the Government itself had made this principle of graduation a merit in their Irish Church Bill, and in the House and Window Tax: but, as he was anxious to adhere to his pledge, and not to waste a single moment of the time of the House or the country, but to confine himself within the narrowest limits of rendering his subject clear and intelligible—he would pass this by, and proceed to consider the last objection raised to the imposition of an Income-tax—namely, its inquisitorial nature. [The hon. Member again quoted Mr. Sayer's work to show that no inquisition could be worse than that which was practised under the present system.] He then proceeded:—. In point of fact, however, the exact incomes of all who have their property in landed estates, in houses, or in the funds, as well as those who are employed in the public service, can be known with very little trouble or difficulty: and the honest and honourable tradesman need no more be afraid to state his actual income, within even hundreds, and at given periods, lest he should make too open a display of his circumstances—than he need be afraid to retrench or extend his expenditure for fear of being misrepresented by his neighbours. The fraudulent trader, and adventurer upon fictitious capital, would, no doubt, find it inconvenient: but if an Income-tax exposed their false position only, this would be a strong argument for its adoption. He would conclude, then, by saying, that an Income-tax, being substituted for every other, by the progressive removal of all existing imposts, and the ultimate absorption of every other tax in this single one, would be in perfect harmony with every one of the, principles that he had laid down at the commencement of his address: and if these principles Were sound, (and he invited their scrutiny 26 or refutation) then must his plan be sound also—for these principles were the basis on which it was grounded—1. An Income-tax would take from the people the smallest amount consistent with the safety of the State.—2. It would be so simple and intelligible, that every child in the kingdom would understand it.—3. It would be more economical in its collection than any tax ever imposed.—4. It would be most favourable to consumption, as it would leave all commodities untaxed, and give an increased impetus to the demand for labour,—5. It would bear a strict relation to the means of payment, as by this alone would it be regulated.—6. It would be far more difficult to be evaded, with proper regulations, than taxes now are—as men cannot be smuggled like commodities; and by a proper organisation it might be made the interest of men to disclose rather than conceal the average amount of their income, after it had been realised, and actually come into their possession. On the expense of collection, he would make one short quotation from Mr. Sayer's work. All parties were aware of the great advantage to the Government of having the duties on tea collected in one large sum from the East-India Company, almost without cost to the Exchequer: and if an Income-tax were established, he could show that its collection might be effected in almost as cheap a manner: but he would not go into its detail at the present moment: he would give, however, the opinion of Mr. Sayer, who said, p. 75: 'It is estimated, that if the whole revenue had been raised by that tax from the commencement of the late war to the present time, the amount of saving in the expense of collection, or rather of taxation (as so much less taxation would have been necessary) might have accumulated by this time to nearly 100,000,000l., equal to about one-fifth part of the debt created within that period.' That was a consideration of sufficient weight to cast the balance in favour of an Income-tax over every other. But there was another, of scarcely less importance, and that was, the saving of time, expense, uncertainty, and litigation, which it would occasion, and of which the present system was so fruitfully productive. Not a Session passed, but there were new Acts to repeal old ones; duties taken off from one thing, and laid on another; Acts 27 passed to amend Acts; others to explain the Acts thus amended; and such an interminable array of endless legislation, that no man, for three months together, could be sure of the law not being altered with respect to duties, imposts, and burthens of various kinds, imposed for the purpose of revenue, Let the House then, hear from Mr. Sayer the testimony which he gives, as to the simplicity of legislation for an Income-tax, as a contrast to its present proceedings. [The hon. Member again quoted from that gentleman's work at pages 57 and 52, to show that the legislation required for a Property-tax would be simple, and that many frauds were committed under the present system.] He then continued: He had now, he hoped, said enough to show the principles on which he advocated the change proposed; and all that remained for him to do, was to add, to the high authorities he had already quoted, and to the names of Huskisson, Parnell, Paley, Laplace, and other able professors of science as well as of legislation, the authority of the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, (Lord Althorp) himself, who, in a speech delivered by him in the House of Commons, on the 25th of March 1830, on the occasion of Mr. Poulett Thomson's motion for a Select Committee to inquire into the expediency of making a revision of the existing system of taxation, was reported to express an opinion favourable to a Property-tax. [The hon. Member quoted a passage from Hansard, (new series) XXIII p. 908.] Here then he would conclude, by conjuring the House not to deny him that inquiry, which was all he asked. The lateness of the Session might be pleaded as an excuse for the refusal of other Committees—but a fortnight or a month at most, would conclude the labours of such a one as this, as but little evidence and few details would be required. All he asked was inquiry; so that if his positions were sound, they might be confirmed by the authority of the Committee; and if unsound, it would be to him and to the country a benefit, to be set right by their refutation. He would make another quotation, and it should be the last. It was in the language of the right hon. the Vice President of the Board of Trade, and the member for Manchester (Mr. Poulett Thomson), whom he was sorry not to have seen 28 during any part of the evening in his place, and who, when moving for his Committee, on the occasion already referred to, concluded in these remarkable words. [The hon. Member again quoted Hansard (new series) XXIII p. 896.] The people of the country were at present under an impression that it was useless for any of their Representatives to propose to the House a tax upon Property or Income; as the class from which the Members were usually drawn being mostly persons of large property or incomes themselves, were unwilling to tax their own class for the benefit of their inferiors. For himself, indeed, he could not be in that class, because, he had been almost disposed to say, he had neither property nor income; but, without some portion of the latter, a man could not exist; he had, however, about as moderate an income as any man could well be content with; and beyond that, he had no property whatever; he was, perhaps, on that very account, the less open to the charge of advocating his own peculiar interest; for if he studied his own exemption only, he should have advocated a tax on fixed property alone; but though he himself had only an income derivable chiefly from the labour of his own hands, he should, nevertheless, advocate a tax upon income alone; distinguishing, as before observed, between those de-rived from permanent, and those from fluctuating sources; but taxing all in fair and just proportions. Let the House consider then, whether it would give countenance to the impression, that they were too selfish to admit of any system which should fix heavier burthens on themselves, and relieve the suffering poor. At the present moment, the feelings of the humbler classes were estranged from their superiors, because of this belief; but let the rich do them but common justice, and they would be only too happy to evince their gratitude. Every act of kindness done by them would have its full measure of reward; and every concession would be rated at far more than the standard of its real worth. He implored the House, therefore, not to disappoint their hopes; but to grant the Committee for which he asked, in the full assurance that no evil could by possibility ensue from its appointment, while great good might be its ultimate result. The hon. Member concluded by moving the following Resolution:—"That a Select Committee be ap- 29 pointed to consider the practicability of progressively reducing the National Debt, by its conversion into Terminable Annuities, at gradually diminishing rates of interest, so as to lessen its burthen every year; and to determine the best mode of assessing the property and income of the kingdom, to meet the expense of such conversion; and to form, at the same time, a surplus revenue fund, which shall enable the Parliament progressively to repeal those imposts which bear most heavily on the Agricultural, Manufacturing, and Shipping interests of the country."
§ Lord Althorp
said, that he felt himself called upon to make a few observations in consequence of the Motion which had just been made, and, first of all, he could not help remarking that the hon. Member himself had given a good reason why the discussion could not then take place advantageously—namely, the late period of the session. With respect to the hon. Member's Motion, as it involved principles of great importance, though dependent upon plain statements, he thought it was better fitted to be disposed of by the House than in a Select Committee. He certainly agreed in a great part of the remarks of the hon. Member with respect to the propriety of lightening, as much as possible, the burthens which press peculiarly upon the industrious classes, and the commercial interest. He concurred, too, with what the hon. Member had said about the propriety of diminishing the National Debt by converting interminable into terminable annuities, and a Bill had just been passed to enable the Government to do that with the surplus revenue. When he looked at the amazing amount of the Debt, and at the various schemes which had been devised for effecting the object in view, and when he remembered bow impossible it was to prevent the appropriation of the funds reserved for the diminution of the debt to the immediate purposes of Government, he felt convinced that it was quite useless to attempt to make any application of the principle of compound interest to effect the object which, he agreed with the hon. Member, was extremely desirable. As soon as the reserved funds had accumulated to anything considerable, experience had taught them that they were invariably diverted to different purposes from those for which the were originally intended. It was now generally admitted that the plan of paying 30 off the debt by the Government's paying interest to itself was not calculated to do any good; and to impose taxes in order to enable Government to do so, led to measures which were oppressive to the industrious classes, and were productive of no advantage whatever to the nation. He had, therefore always, been opposed to the principle of the Sinking Fund. It would be long before they could clear off a debt of 800,000,000l. by laying by 5,000,000l. a-year; and he was of opinion that they would promote the interest of the country much more effectually by taking off the burthens which weighed so heavily on all classes, the consequence of which would undoubtedly be to increase the wealth of the country and its power of bearing its remaining burthens. The effect of the hon. Member's plan would be to increase these burthens by 18,000,000l.
§ Mr. Buckingham
explained, that the adoption of his plan would create an additional charge of 5,000,000l. in the first year only; and then gradually diminish every succeeding year, a charge which would be very soon redeemed by the diminished expense of collection.
§ Lord Althorp
continued. Perhaps he misunderstood the hon. Member; but he (Lord Althorp) objected to increase the burthens of the country even by 5,000,000l. a-year. He agreed, that it was exceedingly desirable to convert perpetuities into terminable annuities; but he did not think that it ought to be done by increasing the burthens which pressed so heavily on the people. The hon. Member thought of raising 40,000,000l. by a Property-tax; but if he referred back to the time when a Property-tax was in existence, he would find that its amount had never exceeded 14,000,000l. With respect to the question of a graduated Property-tax (although he did not impute the advocacy of that to the hon. Member), he agreed with the hon. member for Oldham, that it was something like confiscation. It was fail-debatable ground, whether some portion of the taxes of this country might not be commuted for an Income-tax, but he should be very sorry to see Parliament, sanction the principle of a graduated Property-tax. Seeing, however, the manner in which direct taxes were complained of, he thought it would be unwise to rely upon an Income-tax for a large amount of revenue. He did not think it necessary to enter further into the question, which 31 he supposed the hon. Member had brought forward, rather with the intention of explaining his own views to the House, than in the hope that it would lead to any practical result.
§ Mr. Cobbett
said, it was his intention to detain the House for a few moments, in order to make some observations on two points, with respect to which his opinions had been alluded to. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Buckingham) had spoken of his observations about the obligation of posterity to pay for debts contracted by their fathers. As a child in the cradle could not be considered bound to pay the debts contracted by a father who left him nothing, so he (Mr. Cobbett) did not consider the industrious classes bound to pay debts contracted before their time, and by usurping Parliaments—Parliaments which had, in fact, no right to sit in that House. He held that they were not bound in conscience or in honour, to pay such debts so contracted. As to the other point on which he had to make some remarks—the effects of a graduated Property-tax—he was still of the same opinion. He thought, that the man who had a thousand acres of laud ought to pay a thousand times as much as the man who had only one acre; but when that was once done, he thought it enough. He considered a graduated Property-tax to be a levelling measure; and its operation in thirty or forty years would be to bring down all classes nearly to the same level. Those who had had an opportunity of seeing a community in which this species of equality of property existed, would allow, that there was no reason to believe that the working-classes were better off than in other countries. The introduction of such a tax would bring on a state of society in which a house would never be built, nor a tree planted nor preserved. His understanding of a graduated Property-tax was, that every man should pay in proportion to his income, which was very far from being the case at present. He thought that the industrious classes ought to be exempt from burthens—certainly not, that they should pay more in proportion than the higher ranks. That was very much the case at present. If a man, for instance, who had raked together 51l, and put it into the Savings' Bank, his heirs would have to pay legacy and probate duty; and if it was his widow, she would have to pay a duty upon ad- 32 ministering. In the case of a man who died in the possession of 1,000 acres of land, or even an estate worth a million of money, his widow would not have to pay a farthing. The burthens on the poor man were, in many instances, ten fold, twenty fold, fifty fold, greater than upon the rich man.
§ Mr. Harvey
said, that the moment the hon. member for Oldham had expressed his opinion that a graduated Property-tax was confiscation, the noble Chancellor of the Exchequer seized upon it, and had ever since put it forward in reply to any arguments which were used for imposing a tax upon property. To have recourse to that argument on the present occasion was not fair; but he had too often seen on the part of official Gentlemen, a disposition to steer clear of the point before the House, and, if possible, to cast incidentally some groundless imputation on their opponents. Hence, if any one spoke of reducing the Church Establishment, he was accused of wishing for spoliation; and if he hinted at a reform of the financial system, he was directly taunted with aiming at the confiscation of property. Nevertheless, he was not disposed to retreat from the opinion which he had expressed in favour of a graduated Property-tax. What was a graduated Property-tax? A system which would compel persons to contribute to the burthens of the State in a degree correspondent with their means—nothing more. He could not conceive how it was, that persons so glibly subsided into the opinion, that a tax of this description was confiscation. He would suppose that a graduated Property-tax were imposed upon this scale—a man with 100l. a-year would pay 1l.; a man with 1,000l., 100l.; a man with 10,000l., 1,000l.; and another with 50,000l., 10,000l. Now, all these persons would still retain as much of their property as remained after the tax was deducted; for instance, the man with 100l. a-year would retain 99l., and the man with 50,000l. per annum would keep 40,000l.; and yet any one who heard the statements of the noble Lord and the hon. member for Old-ham, would suppose, that if a graduated Property-tax were established, all the property in the country would at once be thrown into the crucible of spoliation. Some persons had represented, that the Reformers were desirous of applying the sponge to the national debt, and wiping it 33 out at once. He repudiated any such intention on the part of the honest Radicals. The public creditor was entitled to every shilling of his debt; and whence was he to get it? From the property of the country. It was idle to talk of the instability of the public debt: at, the present moment, there was no description of property so well secured. The amount paid for the interest of the debt was 28,000,000l. This was not a frightful charge, when one considered the security upon which it rested. The actual rental of houses and land in the country, to say nothing of intermediate kinds of property, amounted to between 40,000,000l. and 50,000,000l. a-year. This being the case, the fund-holder need never fear. The moment any one should talk of a composition to the public creditor, he would have a right to say: "Show me that your assets do not amount to 28,000,000l. a-year, and then I will listen to you. I stand in the situation of a mortgagee. You borrowed 800,000,000l. of me to gratify your freak of defending the glorious Constitution in Church and State; at that time your cry was perish all property, so that we can preserve the Church and Constitution;' I congratulate you now on the possession of both; to be sure, you have made a costly purchase; but you know it is of measureless value; and if you cannot now pay your debt, do as other mortgagors do—walk out, and give me possession." It was not the Radicals, but the great landed proprietors, who liked to hear people talking of the "sponge;" in the same way that the landlords in Ireland, and in England too, stirred up the people against tithes that they might derive benefit from the abolition of tithes, at the same time that they were not honest enough themselves to declare against that burthen. The rich landed proprietors would be delighted if they could sweep away the debt tomorrow, but he hoped that the Radicals of England would keep them to their engagement with the public creditor. The charge for the debt was a bonâ fide one on the property of the kingdom, and, as long as that endured, the public creditor had a right to payment out of it. Every day the newspapers furnished accounts of shiploads of industrious persons escaping from the horrors of poverty in their own country, and flying to distant lands, where they had reason to expect that they could, by their labour, earn a subsistence. 34 Let the Lords and landowners, if they pretend that they cannot pay the public creditor, emigrate also, and leave their domains, abbeys, and castles, for the Jews and mortgagees to take possession of. He, for one, protested against the ungenerous imputation which was thrown upon the Radicals, that they wished to get rid of the debt. As long as there was a single shilling's worth of property in the country, the fund holder was entitled to it. That was genuine loyalty. He was anxious for a Committee of Inquiry because he was anxious to enlighten the darkness of the community on the neglect of taxation, and because he was convinced, that it would soon be found necessary to change the present system of taxation for one less unjust to the poorer classes of the community.
§ Mr. Hume
was of opinion, that those who had incurred the debt ought to pay the charge arising from it, and that it ought not to be paid by those who had no hand in contracting it, many of whom were unborn at the time of its being contracted. The principal load of the debt ought to be borne by that property the owners of which were mainly instrumental in contracting it. He agreed with the hon. member for Oldham, that the labouring classes ought not to be burthened beyond their due proportion; but that the load should be borne in a greater degree by the landed property, for the protection of which the debt was contracted, although that property was now, comparatively speaking, exempted from taxation. From 39,000,000l. to 40,000,000l., out of the 50,000,000l., were raised from the industry of the country, and paid by men who earned their bread by the sweat of their brow, while the remaining 10,000,000l. only were paid by the higher classes. The poor man, who earned only 2s. or 3s. a-day, was taxed at the rate of fifty per cent. while the rich man with 10,000l. paid only fifteen or twenty per cent. That was the great grievance; and if, as was admitted, it had become absolutely necessary to relieve the industry of the country, it must be done by such an entire change in the system of taxation as would relieve the poor man from its pressure, and leave the moveable capital of the country, by which employment is furnished, unburthened. They would thus put, an end to that emigration which was daily draining the country of its industry and of its best 35 blood. He was strongly opposed to the principle of perpetuities; and if the debt had been contracted, for an annuity to continue even 100 years, there would at least have been a prospect of its gradual extinction. It was well known, that money might have been obtained on annuities terminable at the end of long periods at a rate of interest very little higher than was required for perpetual annuities. If they wished to secure the prosperity of England, they must adopt some measure of terminable annuities.
said, a great outcry was raised against a graduated Property-tax, as a measure of spoliation, because the proportion was to vary; but there was a species of tax in which a graduated scale was adopted, and which hon. Members did not appear to look upon as a measure of spoliation, he supposed, because it was graduated inversely as the property of the payers, and operated, consequently, in favour of the rich. He spoke of the Window-tax, with respect to which he had heard no cry of spoliation raised. The question of the continuance of that tax was one of great importance in London and Westminster; and since a graduated scale was considered so heinous, he hoped that consideration would operate with hon. Members in the case of the Assessed-taxes.
expressed his hope, that the noble Lord at the head of the Exchequer would review the opinion which he entertained of the superior eligibility of direct as compared with indirect taxation. Although he was favourable to the principle of the proposition of the hon. member for Sheffield, he could not vote for it, because he, thought it was much too late in the Session to entertain such a question; but he trusted that it would be brought forward again early in the next Session; and that in the meanwhile his Majesty's Ministers would consider the subject with all the attention which its importance demanded.
§ Mr. Tower
would strongly recommend a Property-tax, were it not that the agricultural interest was in such a condition as to be utterly unable to bear such an impost. There was reason to fear that it would soon be in such a state that no rents would be paid at all. He must complain of the unequal treatment of agricultural and funded property since the peace; the former had been subjected to heavy burthens from which the latter 36 was wholly free. He objected to the proposition of the hon. member for Sheffield for imposing a Property-tax, but he should like to see some plan adopted for reducing the national debt by terminable annuities.
§ Major Beauclerk
was convinced, that the burthens of the country could be effectually lightened only by an extensive and real reduction of taxation. If the House of Commons did not speedily compel such a reduction, instead of receiving the gratitude, they would incur the contempt, of the country. Every honest man in the House—every well-wisher to the public good—ought to exert himself at once to relieve the people from direct taxation; and he hoped the result of the Motion of the hon. member for Middlesex, for the Repeal of the House and Window-tax, would redeem the character of Parliament. They had now been sitting for five months; and the hon. Gentlemen who had been so lavish in their promises on the hustings, had done nothing to carry those promises into effect. He trusted, however, that, late as it was, Members would see the necessity of doing their duty.
§ The House divided—Ayes 38; Noes 57: Majority 19.
|List of the AYES.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Maxwell, Sir J.|
|Beauclerk, A. W.||O'Connor, F.|
|Butler, Colonel||O'Connell, D.|
|Chichester, J. P. B.||O'Dwyer, A. C.|
|Copeland, Alderman||Oswald, R.|
|Cobbett, W.||Pease, J.|
|Cornish, J.||Philips, M.|
|Davies, Colonel||Roche, W.|
|Evans, Colonel||Roe, J.|
|Fenton, J.||Roebuck, J. A.|
|Fitzsimon, C.||Richards, J.|
|Fryer, R.||Romilly, J.|
|Fielden, J.||Torrens, Colonel|
|Gully, J.||Williams, Colonel|
|Guest, J. J.||Wood, Alderman|
|Hume, J.||Wilks, J.|
|Hughes, H.||Young, G. F.|
|Lloyd, J. H.||Buckingham, J. S.|
|Maxwell, J.||Harvey, D. W.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Anson, Hon. G.||Buller, E.|
|Barron, H. W.||Chapman, A.|
|Barnard, G.||Crawley, S.|
|Baring, F.||Clements, Lord|
|Baldwin, Dr.||Clayton, Colonel|
|Bolling, W.||Dillwyn, L. W.|
|Bouverie, Captain.||Ewart, W.|
|Brodie, W. B.||Faithfull G.|
|Fergusson, R. C.||Rider, T.|
|Fitzsimon, N.||Sanford, E. A.|
|Gladstone, T.||Shawe, R. N.|
|Graham, Sir J.||Stanley, E. G.|
|Gronow, Captain||Stanley, E.|
|Goring, H. D.||Talbot, J.|
|James, W.||Tancred, H. W.|
|Johnstone, A.||Tracy, C. H.|
|Kerry, Lord||Trelawny, W. L. S.|
|Lamont, Captain||Tower, C.|
|Lambert, J. G.||Turner, W.|
|Leech, J.||Vyvyan, Sir R.|
|Littleton, E. J.||Walker, R.|
|Martin, T. B.||Walter, J.|
|Marjoribanks, C.||Wedgwood, J.|
|Mildmay, P. St. John||Whalley, Sir S.|
|Ord, W. H.||Wigney, J. N.|
|Pendarves, E. W.||Wood, G.|
|Plumptre, J. P.||TELLERS.|
|Potter, R.||Baring, F.|
|Price, Sir R.||Kennedy, T. F.|