HC Deb 20 June 1833 vol 18 cc1019-24
Colonel Evans

presented a Petition from the inhabitant householders and other persons of the parish of St. Ann, Westminster, for the Repeal of the House and Window Taxes. Seeing a Member of his Majesty's Government present, he would state his conviction, that if the House did not immediately pass a measure for the repeal of these obnoxious taxes, which fell so heavily on the great mass of the industrious inhabitants of the metropolis, the want of confidence, and the breach between the people and their representatives, would become as great as it was now supposed to be between two branches of the Legislature. The petition, he believed, represented the sentiments not only of the parish from which it came, but of the whole population of London. He had the highest authority for saying the Assessed- taxes were most obnoxious; the noble Lord opposite having himself voted for the repeal of them when out of office.

Lord Althorp

said, he had voted against them, but not advocated the repeal of these taxes.

Colonel Evans

found the name of the noble Lord in several lists.

Lord Althorp

I believe not—the gallant Officer must be mistaken.

Colonel Evans

Whatever might be the noble Lord's opinion, the taxes always would be obnoxious while the industrious part of the metropolis groaned under the oppression of their inequality. For instance, Northumberland-house was rated at 1,500l. and paid 4½d. per square foot, while Lord Burlington's, which occupied about the same space of ground, was rated at 1,300l. and paid only 2½d. the square foot. Lord Londonderry paid 2s. 6d. per foot, and Mr. Baring only 1s. 3d.; and he was sure Mr. Baring was as well able to pay his share of taxation as the noble Marquess; and although he was a Tory, it was very hard to make him pay so much more than he ought. Again, the proprietors of new theatres were made to pay for the same space of ground which had been previously occupied by private houses. He could not conceive on what principle this system of inequality was carried on; to him it appeared the most absurd thing on the face of the earth. He now came to the Bank of England, which was rated at 1,673l. a-year; Drummond's banking-house being rated at 800l. Indeed, the more humble the dwelling, he found they were rated the higher. He found that all the banking-houses were rated at about 300,000l. or 400,000l. [Lord Althorp: Half a million.] Perhaps it was as much as half a million. There was a very moderately-sized house at the corner of Cockspur-street, that was occupied as a shop by Messrs. Hailing, Pearce, and Stone, which was rated at one-half of Northumberland-house—viz. 750l a-year. He found that the rates fell most unequally on innkeepers, who were certainly not in a flourishing condition, and were moreover put to a very heavy expense. While Northumberland-house was rated at only 1,500l. a-year, Morley's Hotel, which was a small house on the opposite side of the way, only about twenty yards in extent, was rated at 600l. A small shop at the corner of the Lowther-arcade, was rated at 7s. per foot, while Northumberland- house paid but 4½d. Again, next door to Northumberland-house was a grocer's shop which was charged at 7s. per foot. He asked, with these instances of inequality before them, was it possible for the people to submit to the House-tax? He did not wish the great mansions to be charged at any excessive rate; but if they were Charged equally, in proportion with the humbler tenements, Burlington and Northumberland houses would be rated at 20,000l. or 30,000l. He wished for no disparity; but if there were to be any, let it be in favour of the poor, and not of the rich. He had already mentioned the peculiar hardship with which these taxes fell upon tavern-keepers; and in reference to that part of the subject, he would add that the mansion of the Duke of Norfolk, in St. James's-square was rated at 1,000l., being precisely the amount at which the London Tavern was assessed. Then, with respect to the country, at Brighton a moderate-sized linen draper's shop was rated at 160l., whereas the fine mansion of a noble Duke, at that place, was assessed at only 200l. a-year; notwithstanding which, the value of the former house was not more than 5,000l., whereas that of the Duke's was 20,000l. The Albion Hotel, at Brighton, was rated at 1,000l, while the house of a noble Marquess near it was assessed at only 410l. There seemed indeed to be a great delicacy observed towards the rich in the scheme of these capricious assessments. He would mention a still more marked instance of inequality, for which no possible justification could be assigned. There was a grocer's shop at Brighton rated at 160l., while the mansion of Lord Chichester, four miles from the town, was rated at only 60l. He contended that these unequal assessments ought not to be submitted to. Then with respect to surcharges: promises were held out by the noble Lord which led the people to expect that a great reduction would be made in the House-tax; and that the question of surcharges would be strictly examined into. In the very zenith of the hopes of reduction, all the surcharges were persisted in. The mode, too, of surcharging was most oppressive and injurious. In St. Paul's, Covent-garden, for instance, there were but 500 ratepayers, out of whom no less a number than 374 had been surcharged, and more than 100 of them compelled to seek redress in the Court of King's Bench. He would remind the House and the Government, that this was not a temporary clamour, but had been earnestly pressed for the last twenty years. Certainly so many demands had not been made upon the attention of the House recently, because the people had been told by their representatives to wait, for a Reformed House of Commons to redress their grievances; and that, when a Reform in Parliament had taken place, the repeal of these taxes would speedily follow. But the country was not so easily to be deluded, for be could inform the House, that this was a subject on which men's minds had long been made up. Many of the newspapers had expressed a great deal of concern for the existence of the present Ministry, and had said that the country would be threatened with a revolution if the Whig Ministry was defeated in another place upon the Irish Church Bill; but he believed, if Government would not relax some of these burthens upon the people, the people would rather see them go out; and he could assure the Tories, that if they were willing to pledge themselves to a repeal of some of the most odious taxes, they might take the reins of government with perfect safety. The returns of the assessment of 100 houses in the metropolis, and of 100 in the country, were not so made as to give the information desired by him at the time he moved for them. The question was not, as had been assumed, one of contest, between the town and the country; for, from the information he had received, the interest was nearly as great in the country as in the town. He knew a professional man in the country, who, by extreme exertion, made 1,000l. a-year; he was rated for a merely comfortable house at 100l. per annum, while several splendid mansions in the same neighbourhood were rated at only 200l. a-year each: two or three of them occupied by gentlemen possessed of incomes of 10,000l. per annum. The return of country houses had been made up to a large extent for houses in large towns, instead of those in the country. By presenting the petition, he hoped still more to direct the attention of Government to the necessity of repealing these taxes, and of pausing before they came to any final determination to the contrary.

Lord Althorp

said, he had attended in consequence of the notice he had received from the hon. and gallant Colonel of his intention to present this petition. With reference to the variation existing in the amount of house-duty paid by certain houses which had been enumerated by the gallant officer, he begged to remind the House, that the principle of rating was founded upon the amount each house was supposed to be worth at a yearly rental. The surcharges alluded to were the natural consequences of an attempt to equalize the operation of the tax, which could only be effected in that way. With regard to the allusions which had been made to the circumstance of his (Lord Althorp's) votes and previously expressed opinions, it would be in the recollection of the House that he had never supported the idea of repealing the whole of these taxes at once. He had always contended that there ought not to be a surplus revenue kept up for the purposes of the State, but then, when the repeal of one tax was impracticable, he would vote for the repeal of another. He had never voted for the repeal of them altogether, but separately, and by such a course he did not think his consistency could be much injured. That a tax was extremely unpopular was certainly a strong reason for its repeal, but it was not right to allow of such repeals as would effect a serious diminution of the revenue.

Mr. Cobbett

said, that the noble Lord might have heard it stated by the hon. member for Durham that one-third of the inhabitants of that town were surcharged. The House would also recollect the case of the Duke of Newcastle. His Grace was rated at no more than 800l. for Nottingham Castle. That castle was burnt down, and he recovered, by an action in the Court of King's Bench, the value of the castle, which was then stated to be 21,000l.

An Hon. Member

, who lived in the county, said, that the rating of 800l. was on account of the castle being then uninhabited, but it was thought by a Jury that the castle could not be rebuilt for a less sum than 21,000l.

Mr. Cooper

said, he was of Tory principles, and he could assure the hon. and gallant member for Westminster, that no alarm need be apprehended of the Tories taking office under a pledge to reduce taxation in a way injurious to the public revenue.

Mr. Robinson

did not thing that any Government could effect a sufficient deduction in the taxes so as to be falt by the public, and fully to satisfy them, without a general commutation. The fault of the whole system was that those persons were the most taxed who were least able to bear it. He earnestly recommended a Committee to take the whole subject of taxation into consideration with a view to equalizing them, and declared, that if the subject was not noticed by the Government, he should give notice, before the close of the present Session, of his intention to move, early in the next Session, for a Committee to revise the whole system of taxation.

Mr. Fergus O'Connor

did not see the question in the same point of view as many other Members did; with him it appeared to be certain, that as long as the present Ministers remained in office, there was no hope for relief from taxation. The Government had come in upon the cry of Reform, and had not redeemed a single pledge they had previously made. He defied any hon. Member to show an instance to the contrary. The objection to the Duke of Wellington was, that he would not give up to popular opinion; the objection to the present Ministry was, that they conceded nothing to popular opinion; and they should always have his opposition.

Colonel Evans

submitted that the reductions in the army and navy were amply sufficient to admit of the giving up of these taxes. With respect to the surcharges, the mere per-centage in the additional charges was 5,000l. With respect to the hon. Gentleman who represented the Tory party, he hoped that the obduracy of that Gentleman on the subject of those taxes was not participated in so largely by the Tory party.

Petition to lie on the Table.

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