HC Deb 25 June 1833 vol 18 cc1234-8

The House on the Motion of Mr. Secretary Stanley resolved itself into a Committee on the Church Temporalities (Ireland) Bill.

Mr. Secretary Stanley

on moving the first part of schedule A, fixing the yearly tax chargeable upon all benefices, observed that the schedule had been formed on the principle of a per centage, increasing according to the value of the living, and commencing at five per cent, upon livings of 200l, annual value. It had, however, been suggested by the right hon. Baronet (the member for Tamworth) by the notice of motion which he had given, that this taxation ought only to commence on livings of 300l. per annum; but by that course this inconvenience would arise—namely, that by the scale as it at present stood, a living exceeding 300l.—say, amounting to 301l. annually, would be diminished by the amount of 7l. 10s. annually, while a living worth 299l. would not be taxed at all, and subject to no deduction whatever. The principle the Government had adopted was, to increase the amount of taxation according to the increased annual revenue of each party, and to this principle he did not apprehend there could be any objection.

Sir Robert Peel

said, that he would call the particular attention of the House to the few observations, and the proposition he was about to make. He must first give his opinion as a general proposition—that this was a most unfortunate time for setting about to impose a fixed tax upon the incomes of the Church of Ireland, when there existed such peculiar uncertainty as to the amount of that income. Why, the House had, within no extended period, been under the necessity of voting two separate sums of money to the Irish Church, in order to relieve them from the necessity of going to the trouble and expense of law for the attainment of their legal rights. For all he could see, they would still labour under the same difficulties, even after November this year. Whatever might be the result of this measure, he was very sorry that the charge should be defrayed by a graduated Income-tax; and he the more particularly objected to it from the precedent which it would be establishing. It was the more extraordinary, too, after the strong manner in which the idea of a graduated Property or Income-tax had been repudiated by Ministers themselves only the other night. But the great question he wished to speak to was, whether it was right, proper, or expedient, that benefices under the value of 300l. a-year should be taxed at all? He did not believe, that the Ministers themselves were very much inclined to insist upon this point; and he felt certain that the unbiassed opinion of the House would be in accordance with his Amendment—that no benefice under 300l. a-year should be taxed. But there could really be no beneficial result from commencing the taxation upon livings exceeding 200l.; the tax upon such would not raise more than 732l. annually, or only one-fortieth part of the revenue expected to be thus raised. From this the expenses of the collection and of litigation must be deducted; and when this was done, he felt satisfied, that not more than 500l. clear would accrue from the taxation of these small livings. He, therefore, would urge his proposition on the ground of good financial policy, which was, to avoid raising such a tax in payments of 5s. or 10s. from each individual. But, apart from all financial questions, he would put it to the House whether a man of liberal education, zealously performing his spiritual duties, not very capable of managing pecuniary affairs, and having a family, with an income of 300l. a-year, was a fit subject for taxation. Such a man had also to answer the demands of charity, and the tax would draw from his means to answer them. On all these grounds he hoped the right hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Stanley) would consent to leave untouched the clergyman of 300l. per annum—an income only sufficient to support his family with decency.

Mr. Secretary Stanley

said, that the point was not one to which he really attached much importance, but was one altogether for the feeling and judgment of the House. The grounds upon which 200l. incomes had been made the minimum at which taxation should commence was because that was the maximum amount of augmentation, and, he thought, that no injustice was done by the proposed scale of taxation. The sacrifice of income by the adoption of the proposition of the right hon. Baronet was most certainly very trifling in amount, and the point was one on which each Member might exercise his own discretion; in short, it was for the House to say whether the limit for taxation should be 300l. or 200l. incomes. The sum of 200l. had been selected as the point to begin at, because that was the point where the augmentation was to stop. It was, he considered, neither unjust nor unfair that taxation should begin where augmentation ended. He admitted, that the subject was open to consideration; but he thought that the sum levied on 200l. was not unfair. The right hon. Baronet had said, that Ministers could not, upon their own principles—they having objected, and properly objected, to a graduated tax on property—consent to a graduated tax on the incomes of the clergy. But there was, in his opinion, a great difference between the property of the Church and the property of individuals. To whomsoever the property of the Church might go, it did not belong to them as individuals—it belonged to the corporation. The principle of a graduated Property-tax had a tendency to equalize property among individuals, but the tendency of a graduated scheme of taxation on the income of the clergy had no tendency to equalize property. A graduated Property-tax to equalize property, was an object at which the Legislature ought not to aim. To say, that one man had too little, and another too much, was not within the competency of Parliament, and the attempt which would carry it beyond its power would be as unjust as it would be ruinous. The Church property by being taxed on this graduated scale, was only more equally distributed among the members of the same Corporation, but for the State to take from the rich and give to the poor, was confiscation. He thought that no comparison could be instituted between the graduated tax proposed on the clergy, and a graduated Property-tax. A property-tax on the principle of graduation had a tendency to determine one rate of income for the whole community. The graduated tax on the clergy was only an equitable distribution of an allotted fund—the other was an unjust spoliation. If the House thought the rate he had mentioned too high, he was sure that his Majesty's Government would make no objection, and he should certainly make none, to adopting the more liberal proposition of the right hon. Baronet. He would leave it entirely to the House.

Mr. Warburton

said, though that was not the time to discuss the principle of a graduated Property-tax, he was prepared to show, upon a first rate authority, that such a tax was most equitable. The question had been discussed by La Place in his "Theory of Probabilities," and whenever the subject should be discussed he should be prepared to support his views by that authority.

Sir Robert Peel

would readily bow to the authority of La Place on a question of pure mathematics, but on the question of a graduated Property-tax, there were two other elements to be taken into consideration besides those on which La Place had reasoned. La Place supposed the incomes to be fixed, and did not consider the means of acquiring them. La Place did not estimate the influence of such a tax on industry. And he (Sir Robert Peel) was afraid that the desire to accumulate wealth would be greatly abated by a graduated Property-tax.

Mr. Heathcote

recommended the Government to acquiesce in what he thought was the universal wish of the House. The sum of 300l. seemed little enough to begin the taxation.

Mr. O'Connell

also approved of the alteration. It was not the small incomes of the lower clergy, but the large incomes of the Archbishops and Bishops which ought to he reduced.

Mr. Sheil

asked if the whole sum would remain as it was before the proposed alteration?

Mr. Secretary Stanley

replied, that the scale would remain the same, except cutting off the lower part of it.

Mr. Hume

was glad that the right hon. Baronet had not fixed the amount at 500l. instead of 300l. as the Gentlemen opposite would have been ready to grant it. The great point, however, was to take care that no man got 300l. who did nothing for it.

The suggestion of Sir Robert Peel was agreed to, and the schedule as amended was ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Bill to be reported.

The House resumed, the Report brought up, read, and to be taken into further consideration.