§ Mr. Hall Dare
presented Petitions from Essex, signed by the occupiers of 16,000 acres of land, praying that the Corn-laws might 865 not be repealed; also from the Hundred of Rochford, same county; also from the Hundred of Denby, same county, signed by the occupiers of 9,815 acres of land; also from the owners and occupiers of land, in the parish of Asheldean, in the same county. The petitioners stated, that they laboured under the greatest possible depression, and prayed, that the House would repeal some of those taxes which pressed so heavily on agricultural industry. They also prayed, that the Malt-tax might be repealed; and some of the petitions suggested, that, if the finances of the country required any substitute, a tax should be laid upon property. After that House had echoed the language of his Majesty's Speech, in regard to the distressed state of the agricultural interests, it would be unnecessary for him to occupy any of its time in describing that distress; but he could not present these petitions without expressing a confident hope that, after the result of the Motion brought forward by the noble Lord, the member for Buckingham, on Friday night last, on the subject of agricultural distress, his Majesty's Ministers would see the necessity of making some alteration in the financial scheme announced to that House a few nights since,—an alteration not more necessary than just towards those interests, which were labouring under depression.
The Marquess of Chandos
entirely concurred in the prayer of these petitions; and expressed a hope, that the important Motion which was to come on that night would meet with the support of the House. He did not think that the Government could resist a Motion to inquire into the oppressive tax on malt.
§ Mr. Harvey
observed, that the petitions prayed for the repeal of the Malt-duty, and against the repeal of the Corn-laws; and, what, in his opinion, was a very rational prayer, they prayed for a property-tax. In this respect he trusted, that they would not be regarded as supporting this measure from factious views. While they prayed for the repeal of the Malt-tax, which would make the revenue of the country deficient, they suggested a mode by which that deficiency might be supplied. This was a very important point for consideration. He was not aware that all the petitions contained this prayer for a property-tax, but some of them contained that prayer. He took it for granted, that 866 no one in Essex wished unnecessarily to incur a new tax. He was well aware, that the greater part of his Majesty's subjects had too much good sense to entertain such a project. He would impress upon the House that these petitions advocated the repeal of a tax which would create a deficiency of 4,000,000l., when his Majesty's Government announced that they had only 1,200,000l. to deal with. Now, those who recommended that must be prepared to recognise a property-tax. If he had had the good fortune to be in the House sufficiently early to put his name down as having to present a petition, he should have had an opportunity of stating, that a considerable number of the fanners of the county of Essex had intrusted him with a petition upon the same subject. Their reasons for doing so was, as they said, that, on a recent occasion, out of the ten Members from the county of Essex, no one besides himself had voted for an inquiry into the Pension-list. They found the Members from that county most disinterestedly pressing for a repeal of the Malt-tax, with a negative feeling towards the House-tax, whilst for the continual ion of pensions they were eager and uniform advocates.
§ Sir John Tyrell
was one of those who opposed the Motion of the hon. member for Colchester upon the subject of the Pension-list. He held in his hand a petition upon the subject of agricultural distress, signed by a large number of the constituents of the hon. member for Colchester, and he would only make one remark upon this subject, which was worthy the attention of the House; these petitioners did not point cut the Pension-list as a particular object of reduction. After the Motion, the other night, for an inquiry into the Pension-list, he would give the hon. Member fair warning, that, whenever that question again came before the House, he should be ready to draw down upon himself all the indignation and unpopularity that would attach to a vote in support of the prerogatives of the Crown. His reason for not supporting the hon. member for Colchester was, because he felt that, when hon. Members now on the Treasury Bench sat on the Opposition side, they had taken a very different course with respect to the Pension-list; and he was willing to see them dragged by their own friends through the mire, as had happened on a late occasion.
§ Mr. Robinson
said, that the more the subject of the reduction of taxes came before the House, the more its importance would be seen by hon. Members. Every dispassionate observer must see, that, should any alteration of the present system of taxation take place to the extent demanded, the only alternative must be the substitution of a property, or income tax, or both. If the taxes of the country pressed so heavily on the people that they could no longer endure them, the only way left to meet this question was by a commutation of taxes. The taxes, at present, fell with unequal weight upon the lower classes of society. There were three classes of individuals affected by the taxes; first, the operative and labouring classes, who were grievously burthened by the present system of taxation; the second were the middle classes, who, if a commutation of taxes took place, would not probably be relieved to any great extent in respect to the amount of taxation; but they would be considerably convenienced by means of the new and improved machinery, which would follow any commutation of taxes. The next class were the mercantile and opulent men of this country; and his complaint against this class of persons was this, that they came down to the House to demand a repeal of the Malt-tax, without being prepared to agree to a Property-tax, or some substitution, to meet this reduction in the revenue of the country. He (Mr. Robinson) would vote for the reduction of the Malt-tax, because he was anxious that a pressure should be made on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, by which he would be forced to agree to a commutation of taxes. He wished to draw the attention of the House to what would be the probable consequence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer agreeing to the abolition of the Malt-tax, instead of the House and Window-tax. Why, considering the excitement in the public mind on the latter tax, and the part promise made by the noble Lord to remit the House-tax, that there would be such a pressure upon the Government that it would be impossible for it to go on without agreeing to a commutation of taxes. Even if the Malt-tax were repealed, such would be the pressure upon Government from without, after the promises they had already made, that they would be obliged to repeal the House-tax. They must come at last to the question of 868 commutation. Let not hon. Gentlemen deceive themselves by thinking that any great reduction of taxation could take place without commutation. He did not see any good which that House could derive from dragging the Government through a series of paltry experiments. No serious or important reduction of taxation could take place until they first came to the question of commutation; and it would be better that the wealthy classes should at once contribute their fair share to the exigences of the State, than continue to hold their property in the uncertain state in which it was at present, owing to the clamour of a reduction of taxation, or the discontent of those classes upon whom its burthens pressed most heavily.
§ Lord John Russell
considered that those who thought the adoption of a property tax, previous to the repeal of so many other taxes, would be the most just, as well as the safest, course for the House to pursue, ought to bring forward that proposition at once; for, if it were carried, it would save the Chancellor of the Exchequer a great deal of trouble.
alluding to the observations of the hon. member for Colchester, on the Pension-list said, that the uniform tenor of his conduct was sufficient testimony that, if he considered the inquiry into the Pension-list compatible with the implied contract between the State and those who enjoyed pensions, he would have voted for the Motion.
§ Petition ordered to lie on the Table.