HC Deb 11 June 1835 vol 28 cc688-95
Sir Samuel Whalley

rose, pursuant to notice, for the purpose of moving a resolution declaring it to be the opinion of the House that it was expedient to repeal the Tax on Windows. In submitting the grounds upon which he brought forward the present Motion, he would begin by observing, that though there was no greater surplus expected in the present year than 250,000l., yet applications for as much as the repeal of 5,000,000l. of taxes had already been made to the House, and he saw no reason why those who were interested in getting rid of the Window-tax, should not likewise put in their claims for relief. He had not the slightest difficulty in declaring his full confidence in the good intentions of his Majesty's Government, and he was perfectly convinced that they would carry into complete and practical operation every principle of sound and useful economy, and thereby relieve the country as much as possible from the pressure of taxation; besides, he was also convinced that the strong claims of the middle classes to relief would obtain from the present advisers of the Crown a just share of consideration, and that so soon as a surplus could be realized, it would be applied for the advantage of that important portion of the community. It was most gratifying to observe how rapidly they had proceeded since the passing of the Reform Bill, and if they were now only allowed a little breathing time from political agitation—if they could only rely upon the establishment of a secure and permanent Government, there could be no doubt that their advancement would be still more striking and apparent. At no period was the country so contented, so peaceful, so wealthy, so powerful abroad, and so happy at home, as since the passing of the Reform Bill. Notwithstanding the ironical cheers of some hon. Members opposite, he would continue to affirm what he had said, and to add further, that he was sure he carried the majority of the House with him, when he said, that a great degree of contentment did prevail throughout the country, and especially amongst the middle classes, who now entertained a hope of good and economical government and in consequence of that expectation, did strenuously apply themselves to the prosecution of their individual interests, which it was their habit before occasionally to neglect for the sake of those objects which they considered themselves to have attained when the Reform Bill became the law of the land. Of all the various taxes of which the people had a right to complain, there was not one which more severely pressed upon them than did those direct taxes, amongst which the Window-tax stood prominent. It was a severe, almost an intolerable, pressure upon that which, to the middle class, formed one of the first necessaries of life. It was well known to hon. Members that the Hearth-tax was amongst the causes which led to the expulsion of the Stuarts, and one of the most popular acts of the reign of William 3rd. was when that monarch proposed its repeal to that House through his Chancellor of the Exchequer. He could scarcely call to the recollection of the House a fact which more strikingly exemplified that, than did the influence exercised upon the minds of the people, by the pressure of, or the relief from, direct taxation. It was reserved for Mr. Pitt, so distinguished for the imposition of taxes, to lay upon the community the great and grievous burthen of the Window-tax in its most oppressive form. In the year 1784, that Minister came down to the House, and entered into a calculation in which he estimated the amount of tea consumed in every class of house; he then told Parliament that the duty on tea was a most inconvenient and objectionable impost, at least to the extent to which it was then levied; that it led to smuggling, and on the whole he thought it ought to be materially diminished. He then told the House of Commons, that he proposed to make up the deficiency likely to arise from the reduction of that duty, by imposing one upon windows, in such proportion upon the several classes of houses as would be equal to the advantage they might be severally supposed to derive from the reduction of the duty upon tea. But the compact thus entered into was not adhered to, though it ought to have been most religiously observed. The feeling on the subject, at that time was unusually strong, and amongst other modes of exciting popular indignation one wag stopped up several of his windows, inscribing upon the first, "Pitt's Works, vol. I.;" on the second, "Pitt's Works, vol. II., and so on. He would remind the House of the well-known anecdote of two great men of antiquity, one of whom thought himself much greater than the other, and condescendingly inquired what he could do to oblige him—the philosopher replied, "Stand aside, and let me enjoy the sunshine." Now, the House of Commons stood between the people of England and the sunshine—they deprived them of the light and air of heaven—enjoyments almost as necessary as food and clothing. It was much to be regretted that there should continue to remain any ground for the feeling which very generally prevailed out of doors, that the effect of all fiscal regulation was to oppress the poor and middle class, and to protect persons of rank and property. Every effort should be used on the part of the Legislature to obviate the effects of such a feeling, and, if possible, to unite the whole community in one bond of kindness. The repeal of the Window-tax would only involve a sum of 1,200,000l., and that deficit he trusted could be easily made up by economy and retrenchment. The farmer had been relieved from burthens to some extent, and he would ask why should not the shopkeeper be relieved also? He wished all this to be taken gravely into consideration by the Ministers of the Crown, in whose wisdom and justice he reposed the fullest confidence. He relied upon them because he knew that a liberal Government depended altogether upon the will of the people. In that he felt assured that the present Administration was strong, for if they were not strong in some such support they could never have borne up against the formidable opposition on the other side of the House, and the incessant plottings to which they were exposed in a different quarter. The hon. Member concluded by moving a Resolution to the effect, that in the opinion of that House it was expedient to repeal the tax upon windows.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that when he considered the speech and the Motion which the House had just heard, he could not but feel that the hon. Mover came forward rather for the purpose of discharging a duty which he might conceive due to his constituents and to his own consistency, than from any expectation that that which he proposed could be agreed to, or that any sacrifice to so large an amount could, under present circumstances, be made. In the present Session any further reduction of taxation was utterly impracticable. At an early period of the present Session the right hon. Baronet, who was his predecessor in the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer, had told the House, that there was no reason to expect a surplus of more than 250,000l. Now, really, with such a prospect, it was too much to expect a reduction of 1,200,000l. He need only to call the attention of the House to that fact, for the purpose of showing that it would be impossible to give the slightest encouragement to the present application. He hoped, therefore, that the hon. Mem- ber for Mary-le-bonne would not think his Motion invidiously dealt with, if the same answer were given to it which had been used in reference to similar applications for the repeal of taxes—namely, that a compliance with such a demand greatly exceeded the powers of the Finance Minister. Applications, as the House must remember, had already been made for the repeal of the Malt-tax, the Assessed-taxes affecting agriculture, the duty on glass, the stamps on newspapers, and now the taxes on windows were to be repealed, and the additional duty on spirits. Those demands were so easily made, and they were so gratifying to constituents, that it became no matter of surprise that hon. Members should be forward in making them, but the House must be well aware that to resist the remission of any tax was always the most painful duty that a Chancellor of the Exchequer had to perform. It would be exceedingly gratifying, if it were practicable, to repeal all existing taxation. It would be impossible, however, to remit taxation to any amount at the present moment without endangering the public faith; and he was perfectly persuaded that the middle classes (to whom the hon. Member for Mary-le-bonne had principally alluded) were the last persons who would benefit from endangering the public faith. On these grounds he felt it to be his duty to ask the hon. Member for Mary-le-bonne to withdraw his Motion; otherwise he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) must oppose it. He begged the attention of the House to one or two facts which he could not doubt they would consider material in the present discussion. Considerable reductions had taken place in the Window-tax. In the year 1820 it amounted to 2,578,000l.; at present it amounted to only about 1,100,000l., being a reduction of 1,478,000l. The number of houses in Great Britain was 2,850,000. Of that number, the number in charge to the Window-duty was only 380,000; so that 2,470,000 houses were exempt from the tax. The number of houses in charge to the Window-duty in 1820 was 968,000; the number at present in charge was, as he had already stated, 380,000; so that since 1820, the number of houses relieved from the Window-tax was 588,000. To this was to be added the consideration, that in 1832, the House-duty amounted to 1,491,000l., was totally repealed. He thought, therefore, it was evident that the interests of the class on whom the taxes in question principally fell had not been wholly neglected. In considering the expediency of repealing any particular tax, it was not the interest of one class that was to be considered, but that of the community at large; such was the answer that he felt bound to give in reference to the demand for relief on behalf of the agricultural body, and that remark he conceived to apply equally to the present case. He was not disposed further to encroach upon the indulgence of the House than to observe, that he was sure if the hon. Member for Mary-le-bonne would have the goodness to repeat to his constituents the reasons then assigned for resisting the repeal of the tax, they would be themselves the first to acknowledge the unreasonableness of further pressing the Motion.

Colonel Evans,

although he concurred in the objections to the tax which had been stated by the hon. Member for Mary-le-bonne, yet, after what had been stated by the right hon. Gentleman, hoped that he would withdraw his Motion. At the same time, he trusted, that if the right hon. Gentleman could concede any benefits, however small, to the class of householders, he would not fail to do so.

Mr. Robinson

had objected to the repeal of the House-tax, because it tended to relieve some of the wealthy classes. For the same reason he objected to the repeal proposed at present, the effect of which would be to relieve some of the wealthiest inhabitants of the parishes of St. Mary-le-bonne, St. George's, and St. James's, who at present paid much less than they ought to do.

Dr. Lushington

had endeavoured that day to present to the House a petition upon the subject then before it, in which his constituents, though favourable to the Motion, did not think it proper to press it upon Ministers in the present advanced state of the Session, and under other existing circumstances. His constituents only wished that their claims to relief should have a fair consideration with those of other classes of the community. They wished that Ministers would take off those taxes that pressed the most on national industry, and hoped that they never would be induced to invalidate the national credit.

Mr. Fector

observed, that the people would now see who their friends were. As art independent man—no man was more independent than he was—he should feel it his duty to take up this Motion if it should drop from want of zeal in those who ought to support it.

Mr. Thomas Attwood

observed, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, that he could not afford to give up the Window-duty. The right hon. Gentleman should first see if his victims could afford to pay it. He rather ought to borrow money than continue such a duty. As to national faith, he did not believe that the repeal of the duty would be inconsistent with national faith; and was not the national faith pledged to the tradesman and the farmer as well as to the fund holder? National faith!—he called it public plunder. National faith!—he called it national shame and disgrace. If justice were not done to the people on that subject by the House, the people would do it for themselves. Others besides the fund holders were entitled to the protection of the Legislature; but neither the farmer had been protected, nor the labourer. Neither had landowner been better off, although he had been deluded by one corn-law after another, which had all ended, instead of protecting him, in swindling him out of his estate. The Chancellor of the Exchequer miglt be assured that he could better afford to abandon the tax than the trades-people could afford to pay it.

Mr. Ruthven

would not leave the Government in the lurch by voting against it on this occasion; and although this tax was bad, others that might be substituted for it would be worse.

Captain Pechell

said, that although Brighton was the fifth town in the kingdom in the amount of the Window-tax it paid, he was sure his constituents had too much confidence in Ministers, and too little in their opponents, not to wait with patience for the relief which could be afforded them. He should, therefore, vote against the Motion.

Sir Samuel Whalley

thought the gratitude of the inhabitants of Mary-le-bonne would not be so warm towards the hon. Member for Dover, when they learnt the party to which he belonged, as it otherwise might have been; and, notwithstanding that hon. Member's support, he trusted he should be allowed to withdraw his Motion.

A division, however, being insisted upon, the House divided—Ayes 16; Noes 204; Majority 188.

List of the AYES.
Brabazon, Sir W. Scholefield, J.
Bulwer, H. L. Turner, W.
Fielden, J. Wakley, T.
Fleming, J. Whalley, Sir. S.
Humphery, J. Walker, J.
Halse, J. Williams, W.
Hotham, Lord
Lewis, W. Tellers
Richards, J. Attwood, T.
Rundle, J. Fector, M.