§ Mr. Robinson
said, he was fully aware how much the attention of the House had been engrossed by other important subjects, and he could assure it that if he did not feel himself impelled by an imperative sense of public duty to submit the Motion of which he had given notice relative to taxation, he should even now, shrink from the task which he had undertaken under the discouraging circumstances which attended its performance. He begged, however, to remind the House that the subject to which he was about to call its attention was not taken up by him as an isolated individual. In 1830, it was brought under the consideration of the House by one of the present Ministers, the President of the Board of Trade; and though the Administration as a body might not be disposed to view his proposition with any great degree of favour, he must be excused for reminding them that with the exception of the noble Secretary for Foreign Affairs every one of the Ministers who had seats in the House supported the Motion submitted by the right hon. President of the Board of Trade, in 1830, which was in substance exactly similar to that with which he intended to conclude. It would be for those hon. Persons to account for any change which might have taken place in their opinions upon this subject. He begged further to say, lest it should be the opinion of any Members of this House that he was persevering pertinaciously in soliciting the attention of the House to this subject, that when, in 1833, he brought forward a similar Motion, it received the support of no less than 157 Members totally unconnected with him by party or other considerations; whilst, on the other hand, though opposed by the influence of the Government, only 220 Members voted against it. That circumstance, alone, was sufficient to Justify him in again calling the attention of the House to the important subject of the taxation of the country. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, under Lord Grey's Administration, not only supported the Motion of the right hon. President of the 736 Board of Trade, but stated in the most distinct terms that the proposition for the appointment of a Committee to consider the subject of general taxation, was entitled to the most serious attention; and that a Committee engaged in considering the principles of taxation would be productive of the most beneficial results. After the time of the House, during this and the preceding Session, had been occupied with fruitless Motions for the reduction of taxation,—and after the Chancellor of the Exchequer had declared it to be out of his power to afford any relief to the people; was not the time arrived when it was desirable to consider whether advantage could be obtained from commutation and a revision of our whole system of taxation? He wished it, to be understood that whatever his own opinions on the subject of a commutation of taxation were, the Committee which he proposed to move for would not be bound by them. The terms of the Motion merely called for the appointment of a Committee, with the view of ascertaining whether any of the existing taxes could be repealed, or whether others, less injurious in their operation, 'could be substituted for them. The purpose of the Motion was to ascertain whether there was any tax now existing which bore with peculiar and undue severity upon any portion of the Community, and if so, whether that pressure might not be removed by a more judicious adjustment of the public burdens? Could the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, entertain any doubt upon the fact? If he entertained a doubt now, why did he support the Motion of his Colleague, the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade, in 1830? (For by the mere accidental circumstance of alphabetical arrangement, the right hon. Gentleman's name was placed next to his own in the division on that question). He would say with great respect, but at the same time with equal candour, that it would require more casuistry and ingenuity than the right hon. Gentleman could command, to convince him that there was anything in the present state of this country to justify him in opposing the present Motion when he supported a corresponding one in 1830. The state of the country was such that something must be done in order to relieve the great body of the people, on whose welfare depended the future 737 prosperity of the nation. Some of those burdens which pressed them down with an almost overwhelming force must be diminished. If the House could relieve them by a reduction of those taxes which pressed upon a particular portion of the nation, in consequence of the exigency of the public service, then the only other course open was that of honestly looking into the whole question to see whether relief could* be afforded by a more judicious arrangement and distribution of the public taxes? Was it not the fact that the House complained of its inability to yield to the pressing demands for relief from the Malt-tax, the Window-duty, and other taxes? These demands could not longer be resisted without a remission of taxation; and if the public service would not allow the Chancellor of the Exchequer to do so in any particular instance, they must look into the whole question. It had been said, that there was nothing in the condition of the great body of the people to excite alarm. He had never been disposed to depict the condition of the working classes as worse than it really was. He considered the resources of this great country to be ample enough to meet all the demands of the public service; but, unless those persons who were really in a condition to pay the taxes, exercised somewhat more forbearance, public virtue, and patriotism, and took upon themselves the payment of a larger share of the public burdens than at present, some of the other classes of society would not be long able to pay without depriving themselves and families of the means of existence; and he lamented to observe, as a sign of the times which augured no good for the country, that while party and personal questions excited so much interest in the House as to fill its benches, any subject which related to the relief of the people at large was met with so much indifference and apathy, as almost discouraged any man from raising his voice in its favour. Let it not be supposed, for one moment, that he was assuming to himself a greater degree of regard for the people than any other hon. Gentleman; but he appealed to hon. Members who had heard him before, whether Motions of this kind which had been brought forward by different hon. Gentlemen, according to the views they entertained of public policy,—at one time calling for a change in the currency, and at another for 738 the repeal of the Malt-tax,—whether these Motions had not been successively resisted and evaded; and whether, when he was about to make an appeal which was at least entitled to some attention, the appearance of the House, and the indifference of the Members, did not afford a proof that this great subject, as he must call it, however unworthy he might be to advocate it, had not received that attention to which it was so fully entitled. It was the opinion of a greater man than any who had been in the House, since he had the honour of a seat in it—he meant Mr. Huskisson—it was his opinion, expressed before his death,—that, after every scheme of affording relief to the people had failed, the time for considering a general revision of the taxation of the country was come. He would read a portion of a paper which he held in his hand because it spoke his sentiments with much more clearness than he could possibly deliver them; and because it plainly shewed that if the views he entertained were visionary and erroneous, they were at least shared by that great man. Mr. Huskisson, in a Motion he made in this House on the state of the nation in 1830, after lamenting that reduction of taxation had been carried by the Government to the fullest extent which they considered compatible with the exigency of the public service, declared,—The more general considerations, to which I now claim the attention of the House, are these: first, that no other country in Europe has so large a proportion of its taxation bearing directly upon the incomes of labour and productive capital;—secondly, that in no other country of the same extent—I think I might say in none of five times the extent of this kingdom, is there so large a mass of income belonging to those classes who do not directly employ it in bringing forth the produce of labour;—thirdly, that no other country has so large a proportion of its taxation mortgaged; in proportion to the amount of that mortgage are we interested in any measure which, without injustice to the mortgagee, would tend to lessen the absolute burthen of the mortgage;— fourthly, that from no other country in the world does so large a proportion of the class not engaged in production (including many of the wealthy) spend their incomes in foreign parts. I know I may be told, that by taxing that income, you run the risk of driving them to withdraw their capital altogether. My answer is, first, that ninety-nine out of 100 of these absentees have no such command over the source of their income; secondly, that the danger is now of another and more alarming 739 description, that of the productive capitals of this country being transferred to other countries, where they would be secure of a more profitable return. The relief of industry is the remedy against that danger.*He looked, as it were, prophetically forward in the view he took; and he declared that the resources of the country were sufficient to pay the taxes under the existing currency, which has a powerful bearing on the Question. Mr. Huskisson was then out of office, but he knew what official responsibility was, and his words were deserving the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman opposite:—If at any future day a sense of public interest should induce his Majesty's Government to act upon these views, I shall be prepared to give my most cordial assistance and support towards overcoming the various difficulties which I am fully sensible must arise in carrying those views into effect, and towards conciliating the feelings of all those who might continue averse to their adoption.†What did Mr. Huskisson mean by that? He most clearly meant, that the time was arrived when a large portion of the public burthens ought to be laid upon the possessors of property. He knew well the difficulty there was in effecting such a change in taxation—he knew the disinclination of persons to pay in proportion to their property; and he said, that if Government should undertake any measure to produce what appeared to him to be a necessary change of taxation, they should have his support in endeavouring to carry it through the House. The right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, was not in attendance, or he might hear what were his own sentiments when he was on the Opposition Benches, and was out-voted upon a Motion which he introduced. He would read them, and then ask the House, how they could reconcile his absence with the sentiments he then expressed, and with the opposition which he was prepared to give to his Motion. The right hon. Gentleman when he introduced his Motion in 1830, which first obtained for him the celebrity he now enjoys, made use of these words; and if there be any Gentleman present who considered his views erroneous and extravagant, let him learn that they were the views of no less a personage than the President of the Board of Trade. Mr. Poulett Thomson in 18303 used these words:—Hansard, vol. xxiii. (new series) p. 604.Ibid, p. 606.740In proposing that the whole taxation of the country be taken into consideration by a Select Committee, I protest that I am not actuated by any want of confidence in his Majesty's advisers. My object, Sir, is far different.— it is to arm them with greater power of doing good, and to assist them in the praiseworthy object which they have already commenced— that of reducing the burthens which press upon the people. My object, in short, is to give them that power which they cannot exercise effectually, as I conceive, without the assistance of a Committee.*And then, anticipating an objection which was made by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Gentleman used these further expressions:—If you grant this inquiry you prove to the people, that you are anxious to alleviate their distress, by affording them the articles most necessary for their subsistence and comfort at a cheap rate to the country, that you desire to afford this relief, but at the same time to meet the claims of the national creditor, and to preserve inviolable the public faith.†These were the words of a Gentleman now filling one of the highest situations in his Majesty's Government, which show that the subject had occupied his attentive consideration. But where was his attentive consideration now? Did he merely make use of these words to succeed in his object, and then throw them away as no longer worthy his attention. The public at large was not disposed to treat the matter so lightly. The right hon. Gentleman said further—"If you refuse this inquiry," he would add, "if you evade it," for he saw no distinction,If you refuse the inquiry it can only be for reasons which I can scarcely conceive. You can only do so under the notion that Parliament is incompetent to conduct it, and allow me to say, that in doing so you will abandon the highest and most important part of your duty, and send the people discontented and dissatisfied away.‡These were the words of the President of the Board of Trade in 1830, when that right hon. Gentleman took precisely the same view he now took of the subject, that the difficulties under which we laboured did not so much consist of the want of means to fulfil the public engagements, as a want of the proper application of the public resources. We had contracted a large debt —our establishments were overgrown and expensive to the last degree—and he was convinced that the burdens of the people* Hansard, vol. xxiii. (new series) p. 894.† Ibid. p. 896. ‡ Ibid. p. 898.741 were nearly doubled by the operation of Sir Robert Peel's Bill of 1819—but he still contended, that under all these disadvantages, there were such resources in this great and mighty empire, if they were properly applied by the Government, assisted by the wealthy class, without whom it could not be done—the landholders, the fundholers, and merchants, that they were equal to those engagements. He said, too, that if the wealthy classes shrank from the performance of this duty, the evil would only accumulate with tenfold force, and that if they now turned round and persisted in continuing to levy the taxes on the suffering people, and would not come forward and contribute their reasonable portion to the public burdens, a great public sacrifice would at length be demanded. He knew that the difficulties of the country were exceedingly great, and he was afraid that without assistance, the chance of extricating it from these difficulties was exceedingly small. He should be sorry to entertain a bad opinion of the wealthy and aristocratic classes of the country. He believed it only wanted a little decision and firmness on the part of the Government, and a little honesty of purpose on the part of those Members who coincided with him in opinion, to speak out in such language as they ought to assume, and he had no doubt the wealthy classes would have public virtue enough to keep them from shrinking from their due share of responsibility. Mr. Thomson said:—It is not of the amount of revenue that I complain; it is not of the extent of taxation; it is not the sum of money which passes into your Treasury, it is the manner in which you raise it which checks your industry, destroys your energy, and must lead you, at last, to ruin and poverty.*These were the opinions of the right hon. Gentleman in 1830; and could he suppose that he was willing now that he is in office to leave the country with its energies impaired and destroyed, rather than render his powerful assistance in support of such a Motion as this? He had, at least, shown that his opinion was one entertained by greater men than himself. It he had not found this the case, no consideration should have induced him to come forward on this occasion. Let the House look at the condition of the agricultural population, coming for-* ansard, vol. xxiii. (new series) p. 863.742 ward night after night with petitions, declaring that the land of the country was about to pass away from the hands of its ancient possessors into the hands of other parties; the farmers declaring that they were no longer able to pay their rents without which the landlord said he could no longer fulfil his engagements; and the labourer declared that all the labour which he had at his disposal could no longer obtain for him such a miserable pittance as would be enough to support his family. He would not deny that, comparatively speaking, there was a great degree of activity in the manufactories; yet he would contend, in the face of this House, that the condition of many of the operatives was so bad, and the wages were so extremely low, that it was the imperative duty of the House —to endeavour, at least, to find the means of improving it. When they were taught to admire the greatness to which the country had attained, above all others in the world, —the pride of the English, and the envy of the foreigner,—let him ask upon what it was, the country must depend for the maintenance of this greatness and power, but the ease and comfort of the labouring population? If they became degraded, and their morals depraved—if crimes increased with the frightful rapidity they had done—if the gaols were filled, and the country overspread with workhouses to maintain people who could not find employment out of them—what was the prospect of the future condition of the country? The fact of the case was, that the poorer classes could not afford to pay the taxes; and he was afraid the rich would not, unless they were obliged. Was any hon. Gentleman disposed to deny that there was a gross inequality in levying the amount of taxation? If so, allow him to state to him the facts given in evidence before the Hand-Loom Weavers' Committee last year. There were many hon. Gentlemen present cognizant of the fact that it was there stated the amount of the wages of the labourer amounted to 8s. per week, or 20l. a-year; and that out of this 20l. a-year he contributed, in indirect taxation, not less than 8s. to the State. Now, if the labourer had this 8l. to spare, perhaps it would not be complained of; but when, in many instances, to give it up deprived him and his family of food and raiment, and rereduced them to so deplorable a condition that he could scarcely feel any interest in society; how could the House, in justice, refuse to institute such an inquiry as that 743 which he moved for? Hon. Gentlemen who had passed through a contested election would recollect the questions which were put to them by their constituents as to their disposition to relieve the weight of taxation now pressing on the country. Did they recollect the promises they then gave; and did they think that the people would be satisfied by the display they made on the Question of the Malt-tax, and the still more abortive attempts to reduce the Window-duty? Did they think that these things would satisfy the people? No, they required something more; and it was only, as he said, by the House taking the question fully into consideration, they could ever expect to overcome the evil. What could be a greater argument in favour of such a commutation of taxation as would relieve the labouring classes by taking some of the duties off the articles of consumption, and placing them on those which will affect the wealthier classes of society, than the fact that there was an immense excess of capital in the country, co-existing with a want of employment, That alone superseded the necessity of using any other argument to show that the industry of the country was over-taxed. He would advert to a strong argument to induce the landowners to consent to a levy of tax upon the property of the country. They complained, and with truth, that their estates were already deeply mortgaged and encumbered with engagements; and that a direct tax in the shape of a Property-tax, or an Income-tax, would be their entire ruin; but such a tax would not bear upon them to a greater extent than the income of which they were in actual receipt, and the weight of it would fall upon those who were in the enjoyment of the mortgage of their estates. It was only by some general levy of tax upon property that funded property could be subject to tax, because in many cases it was now exempt by law. It was a curious fact that whilst we complained that the means of taxation were exhausted, funded property was exempt; not because the fundholders could not afford to pay, for they profited by the change in the currency, but through a fear that if the funded property was taxed, other property, in common justice to the country, must be taxed also. That argument was used on a former occasion, to induce the House to let such matters alone; it was the favourite doctrine of particular individuals, and of some financial Gentlemen, but it would not bear inquiry. It was said, that the 744 revenue increased. Undoubtedly, it had a tendency to increase, owing to the increase of population, and to the ingenious manner in which the taxes were levied, so that it was impossible for any person to escape them; they were so nicely levied that even paupers and criminals paid them; and it was no wonder that the revenue had a tendency to increase. But was it not at the expense of the lower classes? How was it that persons with a great property were entitled to exemption from taxation, while the poor man paid? He had stated, that a man who only earned 20l. a-year, contributed 8l. out of that 20l. to the burthens of the State; but there were many persons possessing 10,000l., who, if they lived in a parsimonious manner, and did not keep up an establishment corresponding to their property, might pay, not in proportion to their property, but to their expenditure, and the rest of their property, protected by the State, escaped taxation. If a man was an absentee, he paid no taxes at all, and left his property in safety at home, spending the interest among foreigners, and not contributing a farthing to the burthens of the State. He protested against this in a country where almost every source of taxation had been exhausted. He remembered the declarations which were made during the last war, when the most enormous engagements were sanctioned, particularly by many of the landed gentlemen, who were profiting by the high war-prices—they declared their devotion to the service, and their determination to sacrifice their lives and fortunes in support of the "Heaven-born Minister" of the day, in prosecuting the righteous war in which he was engaged; but when peace came, and with it not that plenty which ought to be the consequence of peace, but when, on the contrary, this country was placed in a most critical situation by it; what was the first step taken by the landed interest? They called upon Parliament to pass the Corn-law for their own exclusive protection which had the effect of raising the price of food to the consumer. By that war, certainly the country reaped a rich harvest of glory, and the pages of our national history were adorned with the narration of some of the most brilliant, naval, and military achievements, to be found in the annals of any country, but the future historian would have to record the consequences of it in the miserable condition of the people, and in engagements contracted during the war, 745 which the nation in the time of peace, was not in a condition to meet, without the imposition of taxes bearing unequally upon one particular class of the community. An additional reason why the House should attend to the claims of the labouring class of the community was, that they enjoyed no direct representation in the House; and if the House was not prepared to meet their claims in the extension of the suffrage, at least show them, that while they were denied a direct representation, the fair and reasonable protection which they ought to have was given them. The reduction in taxation which had taken place within the last few years, had been alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) on a former occasion, who was undoubtedly correct in stating, that in 1812 the amount of taxation was 71,000,000l. At the present time it was 48,000,000l., but in 1812, 13,500,000 quarters of wheat paid the whole amount of the tax of 71,000,000l., while now it took 24,500,000 quarters to pay the reduced amount of 48,000,000l. of taxation. In 1812, manufactured goods of the official value of 51,000,000l., paid the 71,000,000l. of taxation; while now it took goods equal to 100,000,000l. to pay the reduced 48,000,000l. These were circumstances which the right hon. Gentleman ought not to forget when he showed the arithmetical reductions in taxation which had taken place since the war. The complaint was not now so much of the amount of the taxes, as of their pressure upon particular classes, in consequence of the enhanced value of money. That was the difficulty in which the country was involved. Now, though he had never supported any Motion for the adjustment of the Currency, it was not because he did not admit the force of the arguments of hon. Gentlemen, who complained of the oppression of Sir Robert Peel's Bill of 1819, but because he thought the means they proposed would not be sufficient for the object in view; and that it would be unjust to pay those debts and engagements, which had been contracted with a view to a metallic currency, in any other. At length, however, a state of things had arrived when it was incumbent upon the Government to consider in what way the financial difficulties of the country could be relieved by a better distribution of the public burthens. Adam Smith said, that the fundamental maxim on which financial policy ought to rest, was, that every person should con- 746 tribute towards the assistance of the State, according to his means; but the complaint now was, that our system absolutely reversed that wise maxim, and placed the burthens of the State principally upon the shoulders of those least able to bear them. These might appear to some Gentlemen, to be mere truisms, but they were the gravamen of the whole subject. Whether the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) whose habits of industry, official knowledge, and financial experience, no man was more disposed to admit than he was, and to acknowledge his peculiar fitness for the office which he was called upon, under great difficulties, to fulfil, whether he admitted his arguments or not, he must tell that right hon. Gentleman, that the great difficulty with which he would in future have to contend, would be, to maintain the revenues of the country —if he were disposed to uphold them upon the present system, without breaking down and impairing those resources upon which he must depend for the continuance of the revenues. What was the cause of the altered condition of the country, as respects the labouring classes, but the continuance of those onerous taxes which bore upon them at a time when there was a superabundance of labour caused by machinery. He was not now going to enter into the complicated Question, as to whether the extension of machinery was likely to be eventually beneficial or prejudicial to the labouring classes; but he entertained a deep conviction, that, at least for the present, the effect of machinery was to interfere with and lessen the value of human labour, and to lower the rate of wages throughout the country: —and he very much feared that the extension of that system in foreign countries, which were gradually adopting our improvements, and by that means rivalling us in foreign markets, would at length supersede our labour for they were drawing to themselves the advantages of British industry and ingenuity. It became, therefore, the most important duty of a Government, which pretended to enjoy the confidence of the people, not lightly to gloss over the operation now going forward, and which was so likely to affect the future condition of the working people of this country. It was said, too, that agriculture was rapidly declining; if so, and if the manufactures of this country were likely to be materially affected by the progress which foreign countries were making in manufactures, what was the future condition 747 of the labouring classes likely to be? He could not look upon the prospect without alarm, and he saw no other way of providing against it, but in taking our system of taxation under revision, and removing the burdens from industry, and laying them on realized wealth and property, so that every man should pay less in proportion to what he did than to his means. One of the objects he proposed in moving the appointment of the Committee was a reduction of the expense to which the collection of the revenue put the country under the present system. The right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Dundee, in his able work upon Financial Reform, estimated the cost of collection at no less than 4,000,000l., which appeared to him to be a low estimate; but he was satisfied, that by a revision of the mode of collecting the taxes, this enormous cost might be considerably lessened. To show the baneful effects of the amount of indirect taxation, he begged leave to state, and it could be demonstrated, that while the Malt-tax brought to the coffers of the nation 5,100,000l. a-year, the imposition upon the consumer of beer amounted to no less than 12,000,000l. annually. And if Gentlemen would look at the amount of other taxes, they would see that though, in many cases, there might not be quite so great an augmentation, the complaints of the labouring classes were not without foundation, suffering, as they were, from the enormous additional price the retail dealer was obliged to put on every article of consumption, in order to pay the taxes, in addition to the first cost. These taxes were raised now upon malt, hops, spirits, sugar, tobacco, soap, tallow, butter, cheese, meat, and other articles of consumption, which materially affected the poor, articles which ought to be rendered to them as cheap as possible. It was cruel to allow the great the weight of taxation to be levied upon the labouring classes, especially at a time when the rate of labour was reduced, and when the more wealthy classes were not taxed in a fair proportion. The whole system of taxation was one of the grossest injustice and inequality; and if he were to enter into detail, he could prove that the taxes were levied in an unfair and an unequal manner, and in a proportion directly inverse to the means of paying them. Take, for example, the stamp, the legacy, and probate duty, and see the proportion in which it bore upon a man who had only 100l. or 200l. to leave to his family, compared to 748 the manner in which it was escaped by the nobleman who left a million of money at his death to his heir. He would next advert to the objections entertained against a Property-tax. He made no direct allusion to a Property-tax in the motion he had to submit to the House, because he wished to keep out of the way as many obstacles to the appointment of the Committee as possible. The right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, when the question of a Property-tax was, on a previous occasion, before the House, had declared that one great objection to such a tax was its unpopularity. On referring, however, to the time when the demand for the repeal of the Property-tax was loudest, when it was said there was a great clamour raised against it, he found that only fourteen counties out of the fifty-two petitioned for its repeal. There was ample property in the country now to relieve the class which had most occasion for relief. To accomplish that object, then, there was only wanting a disposition on the part of the Government to levy a tax on the wealth of the country. Lord Althorp had changed his opinion no less than three times on the expediency of adopting a Property-tax. In the year 1819 he was against it; in 1830 he was in its favour, being then out of office; and in 1833, when he (Mr. Robinson) brought the subject forward, the noble Lord again declared himself hostile to a Property-tax. He did not expect the right hon. Gentleman opposite to assent, on the present occasion, to any proposition of the kind; it was enough for his purpose to state that the means existed of making a considerable improvement, if an honest Committee were appointed, in the condition of the labouring classes, without so extensive a change. Lord Althorp's objection to a Property-tax was that it was objected to by the wealthy; but if the House came to the conclusion that such a tax was necessary, such difficulties as the noble Lord described ought not to be allowed to obstruct the measure. The right hon. Gentleman knew many taxes at present interfered with the industry of the country, with the progress of manufactures, and with our exports; and these were taxes which might advantageously be revised, even should the Committee declare themselves hostile to an Income or Property-tax. The impediments to such a tax had hitherto arisen from the indisposition manifested by the wealthy classes to submit to direct taxation; but if the House arrived at the conclusion that justice required it, no 749 difficulties ought to stand in the way of its adoption, Had there been no difficulties to overcome in other questions which had been argued by the House? Were there none attendant upon the repeal of the Roman Catholic Disabilities—of the Test and Corporation Acts—upon that great measure affecting the condition of the negro population, and which laid an additional burden of 20,000,000l. upon the country for its accomplishment? But Parliament did not object to encounter these difficulties; and why should it now shrink from the imposition of any tax which will afford relief to the labouring classes of society? The right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, might think that such an inquiry would act prejudicially to the operations of trade; but he could assure the right hon. Gentleman, that any such disadvantage would be more than counterbalanced by the confidence it would give the people that Parliament was determined to look into their condition, with a view, if possible, of affording them relief. He was of opinion that a Property-tax would be found equally advantageous to the labouring, the middle, and the wealthy classes. The labouring classes it would relieve from indirect taxation; the middle classes it would relieve from the pressure and inconvenience of collection; and on the wealthy classes it would not impose an additional burden without relieving them from most of the taxes they paid at present, and without affording them a better security for their property, which altogether would be more than equivalent. He would not on the present occasion go into any detail of the subjects that he proposed to bring under the consideration of the Committee; he would, indeed, rather leave the Committee to act on their own view of what they might consider to be the best course. In conclusion he would declare that he sincerely believed this to be a question on which the security and future prosperity of the empire more depended than on any other question that could occupy the attention of the House. The hon. Member concluded by moving, "That it is expedient to refer the general taxation of the country to the investigation of a Select Committee, with a view to a repeal or reduction of such imposts as injuriously affect the interests of agriculture, trade, manufactures, and navigation, or those which may be found to press with unequal severity upon any portion of the community, especially on the working and productive classes; and, further, to consider the pro- 750 priety of substituting, if necessary, other taxes less objectionable in their operation, so as to simplify and economise the enormous cost of collection, and lighten the pressure by a more just and equitable distribution of the public burdens."
§ Mr. Richards
rose to second the Motion, and observed that no gentleman could refuse to admit that the taxation of the country had increased to an enormous extent; but if any Member did doubt that, let him reflect that in former times the country was able to export its surplus corn: why then, after the successive good seasons which they had for many years enjoyed, was it that they could not get rid of that surplus corn now? What was the reason that the market price was so low that it would not repay the costs of sowing. It was because the cost of production was greater here than in any other country; and what was the cause of that? It was owing principally to the high price of labour, and that high price was owing to the manner in which indirect taxation entered into the cost of every thing required to support life or which the labourer used. It was true that the price of labour was influenced by the supply and the demand; but the demand for labour was influenced by the funds in existence, applicable to the maintenance of labour, and also to the way in which those funds were applied to the profit of the person who employed them. By the influence of those wonderful improvements in machinery, introduced by Arkwright, Watt, and others, the country had been enabled to compete with the other nations of the world, in manufactures not merely upon equal terms, but upon terms favourable to a continual increasing demand for the manufactured goods of the country. But agriculture was very different from manufactures. Agriculture was nearly the same now as it was 1,000 years ago. Other nations had instruments similar to, if not better than those which we used. Agricultural instruments were simple contrivances, easily made and easily imitated. The application of science to agriculture had not enabled men to lessen the cost of production in such a way as to counterpoise the oppressive weight of taxation which entered into it so largely by the quantity of labourers employed, with the price of the production of wheat. The English farmers were not, therefore, able to compete with other nations in the market with regard to agricultural produce, and therefore, after success- 751 sive good seasons, they could not get rid of their surplus produce which weighed upon the market and occasioned all that distress and outcry of which the Legislature had heard so much. If the cost of production be not repaid by the price of the market, though, in the long run, it was true that the article would rise from not being produced in proportion to the demand, because the producers could produce it no longer; yet let the House look at the ruin of the fanner, the landholder, and the labourer, usually employed in agriculture, by which that diminished supply was brought about. The funds employed in agriculture being diminished or destroyed, the labourers must be thrown out of employment. That single case furnished great reasons for hon. Members not to refuse the inquiry. He agreed with his hon. Friend that there was a great disinclination to any tax on property. In 1814, he remembered being present at a county meeting in Worcester, convened for the presentation of a petition to the House against that tax: he attended that meeting, and moved as an Amendment, that an Address to that House should be agreed to, praying that the Property-tax should be continued; and after five hours debate, he succeeded in carrying that Amendment against all the aristocracy of the country, both Whig and Tory. His view of the case, in reference to manufactures, had not indeed been borne out by the event, but owing to the great improvements in machinery applied to manufactures, they had been enabled to compete successfully with the world. But he was right with regard to the other sort of manufactures, that is, that of wheat. He appealed to the state of the market for the last four years in confirmation of his views on that occasion. There was then a clear distinction between manufactures and agriculture. There was no question which could be brought forward in the House of more importance than that which had been proposed by his hon. Friend, the right hon. Baronet, (Sir W. Rae) who had brought forward the Motion last night, on the subject of the Church of Scotland. He spoke upon great authority of the great increase of crime in that country. Now, though Scotland contained many large manufacturing towns, it was upon the whole to be considered as an agricultural country, and he would ask how much of the crime, stated on such high authority, which had increased so greatly since 1811—how much of that crime was not much more reason- 752 ably to be ascribed to the want of an adequate demand for labour than to the causes to which that right hon. Baronet had ascribed it? He did not mean to argue by a side-wind against the Motion of that right hon. Baronet, which stood for Monday, he should very probably vote for him, but he merely stated his conviction as to the more probable causes of that increase in crime which the right hon. Baronet had brought under the notice of the House. In order that England might stand in her present proud position among the nations of the earth, they must have a low price of labour, and how could they have that without removing a great number of those taxes which pressed so heavily upon the resources and springs of labour; and if it were necessary to have a low price for labour, what reasonable opposition could be offered to the Motion of his hon. Friend? The right hon. Gentleman opposite, would no doubt make a most ingenious speech, and try and persuade the House from entering into the inquiry proposed, from the great inconvenience of attending to the present activity in the manufacturing districts. But he called the attention of the House to the state of the great manufacture— wheat: he had shown that that state, owing to the cost of production, which would not allow them to get rid of the surplus corn, was as bad as possible, and among other distressing consequences, such a state would eventually lead to famine. If there were, therefore, any truth in what he had stated, he called upon the House to accede to the Motion of his hon. Friend, leaving the right hon. Gentleman to enter upon the inquiry with that spirit, energy, and talent, which belonged to him, and probing to the bottom those evils to which his hon. Friend had adverted. He would say no more than that he most cordially seconded the Motion of his hon. Friend.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
could not help saying, that he considered that the absence of the hon. Members, to which his hon. Friend, the Member for Worcester, had referred, arose not from any disrespect to him, but wholly from the circumstances, that as Gentlemen had already considered the matter and come to a determination, they were not prepared to accompany him to those conclusions which he had urged upon the House. Before he argued the case, he hoped his hon. Friend would allow him to set himself right with him and those hon. Members who had heard his speech, as to the difference between the course which 753 he was about to adopt, and the one he took on a former occasion—he meant—the period at which his right hon. Friend, the President of the Board of Trade, brought forward his motion for a Select Committee to inquire into the expediency of a Revision of Taxes. The hon. Gentleman said—"I will read the Motion which was made upon that occasion, and the Motion which I am now about to make, which will be seen to be so similar, that I call upon those hon. Gentlemen who supported the former, and now refuse to support the present, to defend themselves, if they can, from the charge of inconsistency." Their conduct would however turn out to be no inconsistency at all—and in such a case, there being no charge, there could be no necessity for a defence. In all main respects, not only could he prove the case to be distinct, but in many points diametrically opposite to the one to which the hon. Member referred; and if the cases were dissimilar, the dissimilarity of conduct implied no want of consistency. As well might his hon. Friend charge Ministers with inconsistency, if they declined now to wear the same warm dress, or carry the protecting umbrella as at the wintry commencement of the present Session. The whole circumstances had been changed, and they were not bound to give the same vote now as they gave on that occasion. Let them see what was the state of things now, and at the period of the statements which were made by his right hon. Friend, the President of the Board of Trade, in 1830. His right hon. Friend recommended as fit objects for abolition, the duty upon hemp, which had been since reduced—the duty upon sea-borne coals, which had been repealed,—and the duty upon printed calico, which existed no longer. He also recommended that a reduction should take place in the duty upon French wines—this had been done; he called for a reduction of the duties on timber also—that no such reduction had taken place was not owing to any disinclination on the part of the Government which immediately succeeded that of the Duke of Wellington—the Government of Earl Grey; they did propose the reduction, but they were overruled by the House. From this statement the House would see that there was a material alteration in the state of things since the Motion to which his hon. Friend referred; and would it be said that no progress in the reduction of taxation had been made by the Government of Earl Grey? and had the present Government, during the short period of time it had 754 been in office, shown no disposition to reduce the taxes as far as they could, to benefit those classes whose case had been brought before the House? He was almost ashamed of wearying the House with a recapitulation of those reductions which had been made, having so often laid them before the House during the present Session; but when a charge of inconsistency was brought against the Ministers, they were called upon —as they valued character—to lay these details before the House and the country. No one year had passed since the existence of the Whig Government, in which they had not come down to the House with some proposition for the reduction of taxation, and no one year had elapsed in which they had not been able to prove by their acts their political consistency. A reduction of the duties on printed calicoes, cottons, drugs, hemp, assurances, the house-tax duties, and the assessed taxes, had taken place during the Whig Administration; the duty upon soap, one article which his right hon. Friend, in 1830, recommended to be reduced, had been reduced one-half; in short, so far from an imputation of inconsistency lying against the Ministers, they had endeavoured, while in office, to act so as to leave no ground for that charge; and, if consistency in principle be a virtue, consistency in action must be a greater one, and to that he appealed as the best proof of the sincerity of Ministers. He could not but notice the adroitness with which his hon. Friend endeavoured to escape from bringing forward the real object of his Motion— and how reluctantly and unwillingly, and with what hesitation, did he at length refer to it. If the Motion meant anything, it meant in substance that a Property-tax was the only remedy for the evils of which his hon. Friend complained. He would first deal with the proposition on the assumption that it did not necessarily include the proposition to substitute a Property-tax, and then that it did—and on both grounds he would say, that the Motion could not be entertained. On a former occasion his hon. Friend proposed the repeal of all the assessed taxes, the whole of the malt duty, the duties on soap, starch, paper, half the duties on tea and sugar, the whole of the duties on cotton goods, the stamp duties on newspapers,—and he calculated the total amount of the tax with which he proposed to deal, at no less a sum than 15,710,000l. The hon. Gentleman felt, by anticipation, the anwer he was about to make, because he knew it was the plain and obvious an- 755 swer which must be made to his proposition, and he addressed himself particularly to those hon. Members of the House of whom the Reform Bill gave an increased number—the hon. Members connected with the trading and manufacturing interests, and he asked them to contradict him if he was wrong, when he said that on some uncertain notification of the intention of Government, with regard to the alteration of a duty, the moment it became known through a visit to the Treasury, or to the Board of Trade, whether the whole of the trading interest connected with that tax were not thrown into doubt and uncertainty, and no man knew on what principle he was acting, under what circumstances he was placed, or with what competition he had to contend. No one felt more strongly than he did, that there was upon the part of official persons an urgent necessity of keeping their counsel until they came to Parliament to declare the intentions of Government. He had had many visits during the short period he had held his present office; and while many had been very urgent, others had been extremely dexterous in the questions they put to him, in order to extort from him even the shadow of an opinion, which such individuals might afterwards have turned to their own advantage; but the answer he had always given was— that the intentions of Government must be declared to the House of Commons at the time when they were about to carry those intentions into effect. If such were the state of the case with regard to official communications, he should like to know in what a position the great interests of the whole country would be placed if this inquiry were set on foot? All would be thrown into confusion for some time, at least, while the Committee was engaged in hearing evidence; and he took it upon himself to say, that there were few measures which would more influence those great interests, than the institution of such a Committee of Inquiry; and, on this ground, without even supposing that a Property-tax were to be suggested as a substitute for the present taxes, he ventured to appeal to the House, —knowing the time it would take even to inquire into one single tax, especially in this month, to support him in resisting the proposition for a Committee to inquire into the general effects of the whole taxation of the country, without laying down any definite proposition, but merely one for forming a Committee to take evidence,—and then to suspend the inquiry during the re- 756 cess, with the interests involved in it exposed to all the uncertainty and all the speculations which will be naturally produced by such an inquiry. The last proposition of the hon. Gentleman was—and he was bound to deal with that—because without it the whole matter would be a delusion—a Property-tax. In adverting to that he trusted he should not leave his cause without an additional argument in its favour. "True," said the hon. Mover, "the Property-tax was extremely unpopular during the war, and equally so in peace; and what was the hon. Gentleman's conclusion? It might be supposed that having proved the Property-tax to be unpopular both in war and in peace, his conclusion would have been rather against it than in its favour; but he declared the Property-tax to be the only remedy. The hon. Gentleman alluded to the number of petitions presented against it. It was very great; great beyond example, compared to the number usually presented in those days, for then hon. Members were not in the habit of presenting petitions, and raising debates upon them, a custom now so prevalent, though sometimes very useless. But whether the number of petitions were great or small, there never existed in the House of Parliament, or out-of-doors, any determination more strongly expressed, than was the determination against the continuance of that tax. To prove that, he need only refer to what took place on the abolition of the Property-tax. A Motion was made by Mr. (now Lord) Brougham, and carried without opposition, that all the records of this inquisitorial and grinding tax should be burnt and destroyed; and he presumed if there had been any Parliamentary precedent for such an expression, an addition might have been made both by notice, and by the hands of the common hangman. The hon. Gentleman had referred to the distress of the agricultural interests;—he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was not one to deny the existence of that distress, but of all the remedies which could be suggested for its alleviation, he would ask the House whether the hon. Gentleman could present to his constituents a "Schedule B" under the Property-tax Act? It was that Schedule B, it should be recollected, under which had been raised 2,700,000l. from the tenantry of the country; and was the re-imposition of it the remedy which the hon. Gentleman would propose for the depressed state of the agricultural interest?—[Mr. Robinson: In lieu of 757 other taxes.]—But the House ought to be cautious how it proceeded on the subject of the commutation of taxation, especially as it was sometimes said, that the public did not always get the benefit which ought to be derived from the taxes repealed, while they felt all the burden of any new taxes imposed. Besides which, notwithstanding the coincidence between the initial letters of our names, which, as the hon. Gentleman said, brought us together in the alphabetical list, in the division on the Motion of 1830, he must tell the hon. Gentleman that he differed from him, if he believed that the House was prepared, in a time of peace, to reimpose the Property-tax. The hon. Gentleman had referred to a statement made by Mr. Huskisson, but that statement was made before the period at which so great a reduction of taxation as that he had mentioned had taken place; and he took it upon himself to say, that at that time there were none who contemplated the possibility of achieving so great a reduction within such a period. The hon. Gentleman, the Member for Knaresborough, told the House of his attachment to the Property-tax in the year 1814, and his affection certainly appeared to be as warm for it now as at that time. He seemed to say, "My love is as warm as when first I wooed the engaging dame, and I will tight her battles now in the arena of St. Stephen's as I fought them at Worcester, in 1814." He certainly proved the fidelity of his attachment, but that was no proof, as might be learned from many a lover, of the correctness of his taste. Was the House prepared in a time of peace, when Ministers were making a gradual reduction of the public burdens, for Members to come forward and demand a developement of its resources. The Property-tax was a sword in the scabbard to be reserved for the greatest conflict, and not to be drawn at a time like the present, when, (although some hon. Gentlemen said there was general distress, and that the country was in a state of age and decrepitude,) he maintained that, without taking an exaggerated view of its condition, and without saying that every thing in its appearance was satisfactory, yet there had occurred a greater improvement in it than the most sanguine could have expected, and by the steady application of the powers of Parliament, with economy on the one hand, and reduction of taxation on the other, they might hope to see it still further improved. At such a time as this ought they to plunge 758 into measures which ought to be reserved for the greatest difficulties. The hon. Gentleman perhaps might dissent from the picture which he had drawn, but when the House recollected that on his former motion he referred to the decreasing deposits in the Savings' Banks, to the increasing pressure of the poor-rates, and to the various other circumstances which, in his mind, were preying upon the resources of the country,—and when they considered that many of these evils were considerably alleviated, he was entitled to say that the state of the country was much improved. The hon. Gentleman seemed to differ from him, and he was not surprised at it. Many fallacies pervaded his speeches, and some of them he had advanced this night. Amongst these was the statement he made, that the progress of machinery was one of the long list of evils which tended to render the change he proposed in the system of taxation necessary. But what would the condition of England be, if it were not for the increase of skill and intelligence in the mechanical arts? That was a most gratuitous statement, and most unfortunate, because there had been a prevailing idea out of doors among the operative classes of the country, that machinery contributed to lessen the demand for labour; but what would be the condition of the working men of this country, if it had not been for the extensive improvements made in machinery, which had enabled England to produce manufactured goods at a rate they could never have done, had they not resorted to such means? The proposition now made was inopportune,—the lateness of the Session would prevent them from carrying it to a satisfactory conclusion,—and it would injure all those great interests which are proposed to be relieved by it. His Majesty's Government could have no concern in it, inasmuch as they had already given proof that they were disposed to persevere in such a course of saving economy as would enable them to make reductions in the taxation of the country. But the hon. Gentleman had been guilty of another heresy. He could assure him that if a writ de heretico comburendo might now be issued, he was the last person on whom he should wish to see it put in force; but what was his next heresy? "O," said the hon. Gentleman, "if the Property-tax had only continued from the time of the peace till the present moment, half the national debt would have been already paid." That idea was based, upon the old heresy of the Sink 759 ing-fund, that it would be desirable to preserve an excess of income over the expenditure; therefore in that respect he was entitled to ask for the support of the hon. Gentleman, whenever called upon to resist a proposition for the reduction of taxation. He had endeavoured shortly to make a few necessary observations upon the Motion of the hon. Gentleman. He trusted the House was prepared to oppose this inquiry, in order that the Government might be left to persevere in that course of a gradual reduction of taxation which appeared to them most conducive to the public interests. He could not, however, sit down without informing his hon. Friends of his own country, who sat on his side of the House, that the proposition of the hon. Member had this additional demerit, that it would apply the Property-tax to Ireland; and whether that would reconcile them to it he could not say. He thanked the House for the patience with which they had heard him; but he could say that as long as he had the honour to fill his present office, he should persevere in the same course which was taken by his noble Friend, Lord Althorp, and trusted that the result would be the same —namely, that by a gradual development of the resources of the country, they might be able to effect the object at which the hon. Gentleman aimed, without resorting to such an inquiry as he proposed.
§ Mr. Hardy
was sorry that the statement should go forth uncontradicted to the public, that every Englishman with 20l. per annum, paid out of it 8l. for taxes. He should like to know what an effect such a statement as that would be likely to produce through the country? He admitted to the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. S. Rice) that he possessed all that astuteness, ability, and experience which had been attributed to him, but he feared he was possessed of the horror which had prevailed in the minds of his predecessors of a Property-tax, and that it would never meet with favour in his eyes till forced upon him. If it was possible for any change in the system of taxation to relieve the poor and industrious partisans of the community it was incumbent on the House to adopt that system, even though it must be necessary to resort to a Property-tax, and brave all the unpopularity connected with it. He could only say, that when he met that class of his fellow countrymen at the election hustings, and they asked what he would do for them, he could only answer that he was prepared at all times 760 to place the burthen of the country upon the shoulders of the property of the country. It was the property of the country which was protected by the social compact, and it was that which ought to bear the burthens of that compact. Let them not hear of its unpopularity among those who possessed it; or of the lower classes being relieved by the repeal of the Window-duty, or the Assessed-taxes, they would say it was no relief to them; they had no such establishments as rendered the Assessed-taxes in any way oppressive to themselves. They asked relief from those taxes which brought ruin down upon them as described by his hon. Friend, (Mr. Richards) the Member for Knares-borough. It was on that account that he desired to see the House filled, as it was, with men of property, willing to place upon that property its full share of the burthens of the State. He did not wish at once to put ten per cent. upon property, but, because they would not do that, there was no reason why they should not put two, or three, or four per cent. as must be requisite. It was the duty of the House to save, if they could by any mode of taxation, more simple, the enormous cost of collecting the taxes, and prevent the complaints now far too commonly and justly made. He did trust, therefore, that the period was not far distant when the House would feel it its duty to support a Property-tax, and when the right hon. Gentleman opposite, with the manliness becoming a Chancellor of the Exchequer, would come forward and tell gentlemen of property that they must bear their proportion of the burthens of the country, not leave them on the shoulders of the lower classes. But to put such a tax on property as would relieve the industrious poor would be an instance of self denial he hardly expected, yet without that it would not be easy to convince the lower classes that it was not owing to taxation that their sufferings were great, and the distress arising from the want of demand for labour overwhelming. They must be taught by the example of that House that they had no reason to complain of the partiality shown by property. He trusted that the principle of a Property-tax would ere long be recognized by the Government and the House. He should now vote with his hon. Friend, and on all occasions for the imposition of a Property-tax, he would most strenuously contend.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
, in explanation, begged to say, that the hon. 761 Gentleman must not imagine, because he did not allude to a circumstance mentioned by his hon. Friend (Mr. Robinson), it was to go forth as an uncontradicted statement. The hon. Gentleman, the Member for Worcester, certainly did state that a labouring man, earning only 20l. a-year, was said to contribute 8l. annually out of that sum to the taxation of the country. He did not contradict that, because it contradicted itself; and any Gentleman who would take the trouble to look at the statement, would see that it was wholly irreconcileable with the amount of our revenue, the number of our people, and the articles on which taxation was levied.
said, that he had always yielded to the force of the arguments which were urged in favour of his hon. Friend's Motion, but that if he required any additional reasons in support of it, he need only look to the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman in opposition to it. It should be borne in mind that the Motion was one simply for inquiry, and that it did not involve the necessity of carrying into effect any recommendations of the Committee appointed to inquire. Many suggestions had been made by the Excise Commissioners which had not been carried into effect; the Reports containing them had been printed, and it did not appear that the interests of trade had suffered any injury in consequence of their being made public, or from their creating any uncertainty such as that of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke, and which he had so much deprecated; because it was well known that it was not a matter of necessity that the suggestions of the Commissioners should be adopted. If reference were made to the taxes which had been remitted since the close of the war, it would be found that those which had been first repealed were those which pressed upon property, and, secondly, those which pressed upon land. If a Committee of Inquiry had been appointed to examine the subject at the commencement of the peace, no recommendation would ever have been made suggesting such a preference. He would only say, in conclusion, that he had heard nothing in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) which could induce him to alter the course which he had adopted with respect to the former Motion of his hon. Friend on this subject, and he should, therefore, give his earnest support to his proposition for a Committee.
§ Mr. Cressett Pelham
thought that if the 762 lower orders of the people were to be protected, they should never consent to their being taxed so unequally as they were at present. He considered that the productive wealth as well as the productive industry of the country would be increased if those taxes were greatly reduced. He, therefore, cordially approved of the motion of his hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Poulett Thomson
would say, in answer to an observation of the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. Hawes), that little had been stated on the part of his Majesty's Government during the debate which would have the effect of changing his opinion as to the propriety of acceding to the Motion of the hon. Gentleman opposite(Mr.Robinson), that an obvious reason existed for not meeting the hon. Gentleman's Motion at greater length, namely, the concurrence of the Members of the Government in one of the objects, at least, of the hon. Member's proposition—relief to the industrious classes. If any hon. Gentleman doubted the intention of Ministers to diminish the burdens of the people, to look at the whole question of taxation with an anxious desire to adjust it in such a manner as that it should press as lightly as possible on productive industry —he would refer him to their conduct during the five years in which they had held office as a pledge of what they were anxious to effect for the future. On that ground alone, namely, the undoubted intention of the Government to effect every possible reduction of taxation, he would oppose the Motion for a Committee of Inquiry into general taxation. The hon. Member for Lambeth had said, that no difficulties would arise, and that no embarrassments in trade would take place, by the appointment of a Committee, because no such effects having resulted from the inquiries and reports of the Excise Commissioners; but he would remind those who used that argument, that the greatest difference existed between a Commission issued by Government, and acting under their directions to inquire into different branches of its revenue, and a Committee of that House carrying with its appointment the weight and authority which were necessarily attached to such a body. The chief and ostensible object of the Motion before the House appeared to be the imposition of a property-tax. He could not help expressing a regret that the hon. Mover, the Member for Worcester, had not explained to the House what he meant by the phrase Property-tax. He was de- 763 sirous that, before the House determined whether or not they should go into a Committee, it should be clearly explained what was the interpretation to be given to the terms "income or Property-tax." It was a very easy but not a very fair mode of proceeding to talk of the imposition of a Property or Income tax, while one hon. Gentleman applied a meaning to the words which differed altogether from that which they bore in the minds of others whose general support he received. Did the hon. Gentleman intend by his Motion that such an Income-tax as that which had formerly existed in this country should be re-established? If that were the case, it was unnecessary for him, in answering the arguments of the hon. Gentleman, to dwell, in the hearing of Members connected with the manufacturing and commercial interests of the country, on the system of inquisition which existed under the old Income-tax. And yet, if such an Income-tax was to be imposed, he did not see (and this might by some be considered an unpopular doctrine) how such a tax could with any fairness be visited upon persons possessing fixed incomes without at the same time levying it on those who derived their incomes from invesment of capital. But such a proposition would, he was sure, be met by the strongest and most direct opposition from the mercantile and professional classes of the community. Perhaps, the hon. Gentleman meant by his tax, one levied only on masses of capital, on rent of land, and what were termed fixed incomes from the funds,—but what could be more unfair and unjust, than to tax capital employed in one shape, and leave that invested in another free? And what would be the consequence of such a tax upon the very classes whom it was proposed to benefit? Why the inevitable effect, must be a large export of capital to those countries where the same check did not rest on its employment: and he only intreated those hon. Members who like himself, were disposed to give every possible protection and assistance to the operative classes, to say whether anything more prejudicial to their interests could by possibility be enacted than a law which must drive the capital of this country abroad, deprive labour of a portion of that sustenance on the supply of which it entirely depended, and which, by diminishing the proportion of the capital to be employed to the labour supplied to the home market, must, as a natural and necessary consequence, reduce the wages of the labourer to 764 a much lower sum than that which he at present received. It might, on the other hand, be the opinion of the hon. Member for Worcester, and one which he was anxious to have adopted by the Committee for which he moved, that there should be a general Income-tax equally levied on all incomes of whatever description. In this supposition he was confirmed by the allusion which had been made to remarks which he had expressed on this point a few years ago. He would assert now, as he had at the time alluded to by the hon. Member, that if it were possible to levy a tax on all incomes derived from every source, he should, theoretically speaking, have no objection to such a tax; and he would even go the length of expressing his conviction that its imposition would confer benefit on the country. But then he was met by this difficulty—that such a change in our system must lead to an act of great injustice to those who had invested capital in a particular manner on the pledge of the Legislature that they should not be subjected to this act of taxation. He once expressed the opinion, and he still retained that opinion, that an Income-tax, properly levied and applied, was one from which much advantage accrued; but in speaking of it, if he, indeed, really meant that, the hon. Gentlemen seemed to forget that the system under which this tax had been formerly levied was abolished—that the voice of the country was raised against the propriety of attempting to accomplish the object which it was proposed to effect; and he was not therefore, prepared to inflict upon the country the injustice which must result from a new imposition of the Property-tax. His complaint then was, that they were called upon to go into a Committee, without any defined notion of what was desired—with a conviction on his mind that of four or five plans which might be proposed, three or four were unjust, and one only which would be just, impracticable. He had one more remark to make on the unwillingness which it was asserted the Government displayed on the subject on which the Motion of the hon. Member for Worcester was founded. It was impossible for him to say any thing in addition to what had been said by his right hon. Friend (the Chancellor of the Exchequer). He would only refer to the acts of the Government for the four or five years during which they held office, to give the most convincing denial to the assertion of his hon. Friend the Member for Lambeth. [Mr. Hawes: 765 I made no such charge against the Government.] He was glad to find that he laboured under a mistaken impression, when he supposed that his hon. Friend, the Member for Lambeth, had thrown out such an insinuation against the Government. He might, however, he thought, take it for granted that it was a correct interpretation of his hon. Friend's words to say, that in those taxes which the Government had repealed, more attention was paid to those which pressed on the rich than those which weighed down the poor. Now, he would just refer to a list of some of the taxes which had been abolished, in order to show how ungrounded such an assertion must, on consideration, be held. Were the taxes on printed cottons, on slates, on candles, tiles, marine insurances, fire insurances, on farming stock, on travellers, clerks, shopmen, the house-tax, and a variety of others, besides the reduction which they had effected in the Customs' duties, to the amount of 400,000l. or 500,000l. per annum—were all these, he repeated, taxes which pressed on the rich and not on the poor. The principle on which the Government proceeded, in the reduction and abolition of taxes, was the necessity of relieving the poorer classes as much as possible from direct taxation, and of reducing, as far as was compatible with the exigencies of the State, all those taxes which pressed heavily on productive industry, the removal of which would give additional means for the employment of labour, and consequently, cause an increase of labourers' wages. All this, surely, proved that they were not indifferent to the wants or the claims of the poor; and, as far as his humble voice could go, in seconding the efforts of a noble Friend of his, no longer a Member of that House, it was uniformly exerted in seconding the adoption of those principles which he had laid down for his guidance many years ago, and an adherence to which was, he felt convinced, conducive to the best interests of the country.—It was, therefore, because he considered that all that could be done to effect one of the objects of the Motion, namely to notice the burthens of the industrious classes, would be affected by the Government, whilst the other the imposition of undefined taxes upon property or income, was either dangerous or impossible that he should oppose the appointment of a Committee, and urge the House to leave the subject in the hands of the Executive Government.
§ Mr. Pease
amidst cries of "question" 766 supported the Motion for a Committee of Inquiry into the present system of Taxation in this country. That Motion did not suggest the adoption of either a Property or an Income-tax, and therefore it Was not necessary for him to enter into an advocacy of either of those systems of taxation. To a Property-tax, however, he was favorable, being satisfied that it might be divested of that inquisitorial character which had formerly been a ground of objection to it, and because he was convinced, that as the working classes, especially in the north of England, amongst whom knowledge was daily spreading, could now distinguish between direct and indirect taxation, to that system of taxation in order to raise the revenue the House must eventually come. He supported the Motion for inquiry from the anxiety which he felt to relieve the industry of the country from the unequal comparative burdens which pressed upon it, and under the conviction in his own mind that a saving in the expenses of collection might be effected of between 3,000,000l. and 4,000,000l. annually, by the adoption (instead of the present system) of a well-arranged Property-tax. In conclusion, he begged to deny the assertion that the Property-tax had been abandoned in obedience to the wishes of the bulk of the people of this country. At present there was a general wish for such a tax, and he was satisfied as large a tax as was necessary might be raised without difficulty or inconvenience.
§ Mr. George F. Young
confessed that he was one of those heretics to whom reference had been made by the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the course of his speech this evening. He conceived that if the motion of his hon. Friend, the Member for Worcester had in terms expressed the substitution of a Property-tax for the present system of unequal taxation, it would even then have been a fair and rational mode of settling the question by reference of its consideration to a Select Committee. The Motion contained no such terms, and was not therefore open to objection on that ground. From the quotation which had been made from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, on the 25th March, 1830, he (Mr. Young) should have supposed him to have been favorable to the principle of the adoption of a Property-tax, and though the right hon. Gentleman had qualified that speech and the expressions it contained, he would not taunt the right hon. Gentleman 767 with a change in his sentiments upon that subject. He should support the Motion of his hon. Friend, the Member for Worcester, contenting himself with observing, that the Property-tax was repealed in 1815 in consequence of the outcry raised by the payers of that tax who were the rich. By the same class the out-cry against its re-imposition was now raised, and the demand in its favour was by the poorer classes of the community, whom it was erroneous to charge as having been parties soliciting its former repeal.
did not rise to prolong the present discussion, and was only induced to offer an observation in consequence of what had just fallen from the hon. Gentleman who had last addressed the House. He must, however, first remark that he still retained the same opinion in regard to the subject of a Property-tax which he had expressed on the occasion of the discussion on the motion of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. P. Thomson) in 1830, and as he resisted such a motion as the present then, so should he resist the motion of the hon. Member for Worcester now. He stated at that time his views of the consequences that must result from acceding to such a motion as that for the appointment of a Committee so inquire into the general taxation of the country. He had then stated the strong feeling he entertained as to the confusion which must ensue from a return to the system of a Property-tax. He had then alluded to, and pointed out, the speculations which would arise, and the losses to which every class of the trading community would be subjected owing to the uncertainty as to what tax would be repealed and what continued, until the system was brought to a final settlement. He retained those sentiments still, and in conformity to them he should oppose the present Motion, as he had done that propounded in 1830 by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. It had been said that the present Motion was distinct from a Property-tax; but such clearly was not the fact, because every hon. Member who had spoken upon it dwelt on it as connected directly with a Property-tax. The hon. Member for Tynemouth had contended that when the question of the repeal of the Property-tax was under the consideration of Parliament, it was carried by the influence of the wealthy and rich portions of the community. This he denied, for he well remembered that the agitation of the question did not originate with those who were usually termed the rich aristocracy of the country, but with an individual who 768 avowed himself and was generally acknowledged to be the advocate of popular interests—he meant the late Lord Chancellor of England, Lord Brougham. He succeeded, and it was therefore erroneous to suppose that the repeal of the Property-tax was the act of the aristocracy. The hon. Member (Mr. G. Young) was not then in Parliament, and, of course, did not hear as he did, the speeches then made by the noble Lord against this tax, week after week, and month after month, The arguments employed against it were, that it threw impediments in the way of trade and commerce, and interfered most injuriously with the industry of the labouring classes. How came it to pass, then, that at that time this tax was selected as the one most desirable to be removed, notwithstanding the variety of other taxes that pressed upon industry? It certainly was not in deference to the wishes of the higher classes. He fully concurred in what was said upon the present occasion, that, if imposed again, it should apply alike to all parts of the empire, to Ireland as well as to England. He still continued of the same opinion which he expressed upon a former occasion, that the task of inquiring and determining what taxes it would be most advisable to repeal, or to alter, or to provide substitutes for, belonged to the Government, and not to a Committee. To refer such a question to a Committee would only increase the difficulties. On these grounds he should oppose the Motion.
§ The House divided:—
§ Ayes 42; Noes 105; Majority 63.
|List of the AYES.|
|Angerstein, J.||Hindley, C.|
|Attwood, T.||Ingham, R.|
|Bailey, J.||Kearsley, J. H.|
|Bainbridge, E. T.||Lewis, D.|
|Balfour, T.||Palmer, General|
|Baring, T.||Philips, M.|
|Barnard, E.G.||Pelham, Hon. C.|
|Benett, J.||Pease, J.|
|Brotherton, J.||Richards, J.|
|Brownrigg, J. S.||Rundle, J.|
|Burrell, Sir C.||Sheldon, E.|
|Chalmers, P.||Spry, Sir S.|
|Crompton, S.||Sinclair, J.|
|Dare, R. W. H.||Scholefield, J.|
|Denistoun, A.||Scott, Sir C.|
|Dillwyn, L. W.||Turner, W.|
|Duncombe, Hon. A.||Trevor, A.|
|Fielden, J.||Wakley, T.|
|Fleetwood, P. H.||Williams, W.|
|Hawes, H.||Robinson, G. R.|
|Hardy, J.||Young, G. F.|
|Mr. Maxwell.||Mr. Praed.|