§ Mr. Harvey
had a Petition to present on the subject of the Abolition of the Newspaper Stamp Duties, but could not consign it to that ignominious bourne from which no petition returns, without adverting to a rumour which had reached him that all these petitions, which were for a "total repeal" of the stamp duty, were to be thrown away. He had been told, for he had not attended the Downing-street Parliament, that the Government had resolved upon disregarding these petitions, by reducing, and not abolishing, the stamp duties. Such a conclusion, he apprehended, could only have been arrived at in the absence of all knowledge of public opinion upon this subject, and he, therefore, trusted, that after such a manifestation as had just been made, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be prepared to defer the consideration of this subject until he could bestow upon these petitions the attention to which they were entitled.
§ Mr. Wakley
said, that in moving that the House do resolve itself into a Committee on the Stamp Bill, he should take the opportunity of expressing his perfect concurrence in what had fallen from his hon. Friend, and his hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would, upon a little deliberation, be induced to do justice to the public, and consent not to take off a portion, but to abolish the entire of the stamp duty. Should the right hon. Gentleman, however, not do so, he should feel it his duty to press the House to a division. He would then move, that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House on the Stamp Acts.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
suggested that it might be the most convenient course if the hon. Member for Finsbury would consent to allow him (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) to state what were the intentions of the Government, and then take the discussion on his own motion when the subject of the Stamp Duty on Newspapers was regularly brought forward in the financial statement of the year. This he thought, would be a much more convenient course than that proposed by the hon. Member.
§ The House resolved itself into a Committee.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said he would proceed to explain his views. He wished, however, the Committee to understand, that, although the proposition he was about to bring forward embraced the subject of the stamp-duties on newspapers, yet it was by no means confined to that one object. His proposition was of a much more enlarged kind, and, without wishing to undervalue the question as connected with the public press and with newspapers, he thought his proposition would be found to be deserving of the consideration of Parliament, even if there had not been any stamp-duties on newspapers at all. During the period which had elapsed since the close of the war, there had been very few proceedings of that House which had been more satisfactory than the steps which under various Governments had been taken for the simplification and consolidation of the laws, and there was a duty incumbent on the House, and which in times of peace and tranquillity it behoved the House to perform—it was, to make the laws clear and 336 intelligible, and the more especially when those laws involved questions of interference with trade and commerce, restrictions on property, and penalties on the commission and omission of certain acts. The criminal law had already been consolidated to a very great extent. This most useful task had been undertaken by the right hon. Baronet, (not then in his place) the Member for Tamworth, and his example had since been zealously followed by others. He thought, that when he described to the House the state and condition in which the Stamp Acts stood, the House would agree with him, that they ought not to be allowed to remain without alteration and improvement. The laws relating to stamps existing on the Statute Book were 150 in number, some of them related only to England, others only to Scotland, some only to Ireland, and others to Great Britain, or to the empire at large. They were dispersed through the Statute Book, forming a complete farrago of legislation, and such contradictory provisions, that even the most subtle lawyers found themselves entangled in coming to decisions on them, and individuals became the victims subjected to penalties never intended to be inflicted on them. From the earliest statutes imposing Stamp Duties, passed in the reign of Charles 2nd to the present time, the legislation in respect to each had been such as greatly to add to the confusion he had adverted to, for it was necessary now to look not only to Acts professedly applying to Stamp Duties, but to others of a different class, but which contained enactments concerning this branch of revenue; and accordingly, he had found in the third Clause of an Enclosure Act a provision subjecting parties to penalties for an offence against the Stamp Acts. Indeed, one of the earliest of those statutes, the 10th of Queen Anne, was strangely characteristic of the style of legislation in those days. It imposed Stamp Duties and duties on coffee and candles, it afforded relief to a certain lady of the name of Barnwell, and regulated the duty on cocoa nuts brought from America. It would require some ingenuity now to account for the connexion. But there were at least 120 other statutes equally anomalous in their provisions. It was, therefore, his intention to propose, in the room of these existing statutes, one single statute, which should contain the whole of the Stamp Laws of 337 the country, with two slight exceptions (for reasons he would hereafter state), namely, the laws relating to stage coaches, which had been consolidated within the last few years, and the law relating to hawkers and pedlars' licences, which had also been consolidated. With these two exceptions, he should repeal all the other Stamp Acts, and propose in their stead the Bill which the Government were inclined to recommend. The Bill he sought to introduce would, he was sorry to say, be very long, comprising no less than 330 sections, but those sections would be found in connexion one with the other, and with no contradiction amongst them. He must state at once that the reason he did not propose to interfere at present, with the existing law as to post-horse duties was at the request of the very respectable class of persons, the innkeepers engaged in the trade, and, moreover, he had it in contemplation this Session to put an end to the system of farming post-horse duties, that remnant of barbarism in legislation. The Stamp Duties formed a very difficult subject for consolidation, as the duties were in themselves extremely complicated, as hon. Members knew, and was indeed evident from the revenue they produced. The gross Stamp revenues for the year 1833 were 7,414,000l., and in 1834, 7,461,000l.; and when hon. Members looked, under the present scale of duty, at the variety of matters from which this revenue arose,—from letters of administration, probates of wills, admission of attornies, and to offices, advertisements, affidavits, agreements, appraisements, apprenticeships, bankers' notes, bills of exchange, bills of lading, bonds, commission, gold and silver plate, licences to newspapers, protests, and the remainder of the list, they must see that the task of consolidation in this case, imposed on any individual, was one of great perplexity and difficulty. Many hon. Members had already shown, either by their votes or speeches, that upon a number of those duties there existed a difference of opinion, and all that he would ask was, that the progress in the work of consolidation should not be impeded by the discussion of those separate questions. He did not ask hon. Members to abandon their opinions, but only to suspend them until the whole laws were brought into one statute; because it was evident, that in an Act of Parliament, which would contain 330 sec- 338 tions, and would embrace all the subjects to which he had just now adverted, it would be impossible to proceed if the House should be called on to discuss every one of the points; the work of consolidation would be rendered impracticable, and no Minister could bring the matter to a satisfactory result. He therefore trusted he should not be thought unreasonable in expecting that some degree of assistance should so far be given to him by hon. Members. He should not, however, conclude hon. Members on subjects which he admitted to be important, and must be considered to have extensive relations. He would instance a matter frequently mentioned in the House by the hon. Member for Middlesex—the exemption from duties of landed property passing by will. That was a subject for discussion hereafter, and ought not to be taken as incidental to the work of consolidation. It would be competent for the hon. Member for Middlesex to bring forward that preposition in a distinct form, and he should feel that he acted most disingenuously if he held the hon. Member, by his assent to the principle of the consolidation of the law, to be precluded in any degree from having the full advantage of introducing it as a subject for separate consideration. With respect to the Stamp Duty on newspapers, he stood in a different position, because the hon. Member for Finsbury had, for the present, abandoned the motion of which he had given notice to-night that he might have an opportunity of stating his intentions on this point; and because the Petitions laid on the Table of the House to-night, proved that the subject must be discussed in the course of the present Session. He was, therefore, not at all disposed to debar the consideration of that question; but, with regard to further notices on other heads, he prayed hon. Gentlemen to forbear, pending the consolidation of the laws; because if they did not, a great public object, he was afraid, might be defeated or impeded. He could not approach the discussion of this subject without calling to mind debates which had taken place upon former occasions in this House, and he should necessarily be obliged to allude to them, because if he did not, it might be supposed that he was acting inconsistently in reference to some arguments which he had formerly advanced in reply to the arguments of the late Mr. Cobbett. That Gentleman 339 had brought forward the question of the Stamp Duties with the great ingenuity he always possessed, but with that exaggeration also in which he was prone to indulge. On that occasion, it had fallen to his (Mr. Rice's) lot to reply to the hon. Gentleman, but he was so far from advocating the law as it then existed, that he had pledged himself, on the part of the then Chancellor of the' Exchequer, to bring in a bill for the remedy of the defects complained of. Such a measure would have been introduced shortly afterwards, but for the press of public business at that period. He was now prepared to redeem the pledge then given, not by meeting the exaggerated case stated on that occasion by the hon. Member for Oldham, but by meeting the case of real grievance, the existence of which must be proved to every man without any argument whatever, but by the slightest consideration of the Stamp Acts. He should avoid, in the statement he was now about to make taking an exaggerated view of the evils of the present Stamp Laws, by looking to the extreme points of the scale, but he would only consider the mean amount of duty payable, and the mean amount of the sums upon which it was payable. This was where the great difference lay between his own statements and those of the hon. Member for Oldham. This constituted the chief distinction between the lines of reasoning followed by them on that occasion. If he could show that in the present state of the law, as concerned the payment of duties leviable, there was a gross and crying injustice and inconsistency, he would ask hon. Gentlemen to go with him in applying an immediate and efficient remedy. He trusted that the House was aware, that according to the principle on which the Stamp Laws in force at the present moment were framed, a certain amount of duty was payable upon bills, mortgages, or bonds of any description from 50l. to 100l. value; another on those from 100l. to 200l.; another on those from 500l. to 1,000l., and so on by a fixed scale; thus applying the scale of duties to the scale of mean payments, and working out the computation accurately, it would be found that a lower amount of duty was charged upon bills for large sums than was payable on those of small value—that the smaller the bill the larger was the amount of per centage. On a mortgage there was a 340 larger amount of duty payable when the sum was small than when it was great; and thus, in this proportion, though not to the extent stated by the hon. Member for Oldham, a larger tax was imposed upon transactions comparatively small in value, and consequently upon the poorer classes, than upon large transactions, which in most cases affected the wealthier classes. He would take the case of conveyances. In cases where the purchase or consideration money did not amount to 20l. the mean amount of duty payable at present was 5l. per cent.; where it was from 20l. to 50l. the mean amount of duty would be 2l.. 17s. 1d. per cent. But as the scale ascended anomalies still more striking presented themselves. For instance, upon a conveyance the consideration of which was from 4,000l. to 5,000l., the same proportion of duty was payable as upon one the value of which varied from 40,000l. to 60,000l. The same duty was levied upon all conveyances from 60,000l. to 80,000l., so that the identical duty was payable upon one of the value of 60,000l. as was charged on one where the consideration was 79,900l. The duties levied upon bonds were not less oppressive and unequal. The duty payable upon one of 250l. was 14s.percent; upon one of 2,500l. 5s. 10d. per cent., and upon one of 12,500l. only 2s. 4d. per cent. The scale stopped at 20,000l. and a bond for 40,000l. was subject to no more duty than one for 20,000l. This was irreconcileable with the real principles by which taxation should be regulated, and nothing, he thought, could lead the House to continue the system he had described, except an impossibility to remedy it. The practical result was, that upon bonds of 40,000l. value there was a duty of 1s. 3d. per cent.; upon those of 4,000l. there was a duty of 4s. 2d. per cent., and upon those of 100l. there was a duty of 1l. 10s. per cent. He need scarcely enter into any further details to exemplify the principle of the present laws, because those who had attended to the subject of debate on a former occasion would see that these statements were perfectly in accordance with the whole of the arguments he had then brought forward, and because these results were derived, not from extreme views, but from a consideration of the mean amount of payments, which was the true way of viewing the subject. He would give an 341 example of what he should propose as a remedy for this in the case of conveyances. He had shown that the duties varied upon similar sums, rising sometimes as high as 2l.. 13s. per cent., and falling to 1l. 10s., while between 1,000l. and 2,000l. they fell to 16s., but the general average was 1l. He had taken the opinions of professional men on this subject, and he believed that the plan he should submit to the House would effectually remedy this inequality. He proposed one uniform scale of duties, that a tax of one per cent. should in all cases be imposed. In very few and trifling instances would this plan give the slightest additional increase to taxation. It would leave the revenue very much in the same condition as at present, while extensive relief would at once be afforded in all cases where similar conveyances were taxed unequally. An application of the ad valorem principle would run through great part of the Bill he should introduce, and hon. Members would perceive how very convenient this would practically be to men of business. There would no longer be room for doubt on any point. There could be no conflicting opinions, every one would instantly know how the case really stood, and could carry in his hand a simple formula, that would enable him at once to solve any question that could arise. This would apply also to the question of probates. He would call the attention of the House to the very great alteration he meant to propose in this part of the law. By the law as it stood, in cases of property passing by descent, the duty was calculated upon the gross value of that property. This subjected individuals to very considerable hardship and inconvenience, because the law was, that although they were charged upon the gross amount of the property, they were afterwards entitled to reclaim from Government a proportion of the duties they paid. This was a very complicated process, and a very unjust one on the part of the state, unless it were actually necessary to secure that which was the right of the state—the duty upon the net proceeds. The administrator or executor was required to advance the duty, as if the estate was altogether clear of incumbrance. Individuals, rather than go through the necessary forms and technicalities requisite to claim the whole amount of duty they would be entitled to from the Stamp- 342 office, desisted from making their claim, and the consequence was, that the revenue received much to which it was not entitled. He would propose an alteration in the law in this respect, which, after communication with individuals most competent to give him advice on the subject, he believed he might say would afford considerable relief. Individuals would be required to pay the duty, not on the gross, but on the net amount of the estate. No one subject had been brought forward more prominently than this in all the discussions both at the Stamp-office and the Treasury. His right hon. Friend opposite, whom he saw taking notes, knew that no subject had given rise to more application than this, and that no part of the law bore harder upon the public generally. The tendency of it was to bring into the Exchequer a mass of property which the state was not entitled to receive, and he was bound to make an alteration in this state of things, if the evil could be remedied without introducing inconveniences still more formidable. With respect to another important branch of the law, he proposed to make a considerable change—he meant the duties upon bill stamps. The duties upon bills as they now existed might be divided into two classes—the duties on what might be termed foreign bills, and those on home or domestic bills. In the duty on foreign bills he would make no change. With regard to the duty generally on home bills, it appeared to him to bear with great injustice on bills drawn for small sums. He did not think it would be desirable to give undue encouragement to bills drawn for smaller sums as compared with those of a larger amount, but neither was it just that they should reverse the ordinary principles of fiscal regulation, and subject them to double and treble duty. All that he should propose would be, to adjust the bill scale as fairly as he could in reference to the amount, and to carry out the ad valorem principle as far as possible. Of late years there had existed a practice which, however reluctantly, he could not but characterize as an evasion of the duty upon bills. A custom had arisen of drawing, in place of bills, letters of credit, which were passed from hand to hand, and sometimes even negotiated by endorsement, though others, more prudent, refused to endorse such documents. The letters of credit, even 343 quite unendorsed, bad been often made to supply the place of bills. Unquestionably this practice was an evasion of the law, but he believed that one cause of it was the high rate of duty charged on bill stamps. Hon. Gentlemen would observe that these letters of credit could never be employed for the purposes of bills of a long date, or of great amount. They could not be used to any great extent as a means of postponing payment of a sum, or of obtaining an advance of capital. It was his intention now to introduce a scale of duties on bills drawn at a period not exceeding seven days from the date, calculated not to admit postponement of payment, nor to allow the raising of money upon them. On this class of bills he meant to propose a very slight duty—scarcely more than a nominal rate. He could not but regard the negotiation of letters of credit as a practice of very questionable legality, and it would be rendered still more so by the proposition he should make. In point of fact, the convenience of a bill of exchange payable to order, valid in point of law, would be of the greatest possible advantage to the commercial interests and the public generally, and would be used largely as a substitute for the present system of letters of credit. He had had much intercourse with parties who were well acquainted with that system, and their opinion was that his proposition would give great facility in mercantile transactions. He knew how very dull and uninteresting these details were, but he trusted that the House would bear with him if he ventured still further to solicit its attention; and they might be regarded as less necessary, as the House was not now to be called on to agree to these measures; but he should not have done justice to the Government nor to himself, if he had caused the schedules to be printed without offering some explanations to the House. There were several other alterations which he intended to propose, and among these one very much called for by the humbler classes of the community—the reduction of the tax leviable upon apprentices' indentures. He meant to propose a large reduction in this tax. At present, where there was no premium, or where it was under 10l., a duty was imposed of 20s. He was not called on then to discuss the policy of the laws relating to apprenticeship, but as long as they remained on the statute book 344 it was unjust by fiscal regulations to deprive parties of the means of executing contracts into which they were willing to enter. He proposed to reduce this tax from 20s. to 10s. upon the lowest class of indentures. The tax on bills of lading he proposed to reduce from 3s. to 6d., and to reduce that on charter parties from 35s. to 5s. With regard to leases, he meant to propose a great alteration, which he hoped would be felt as a very considerable relief by the agricultural interest in the northern and western parts of England, in which chiefly the leasing system existed. The present rate of duty upon leases was felt to be extremely oppressive. Where the rent was 20l. or under, the duty was now 20s. He would propose that this should be reduced to 2s. 6d.. Where the rent was 300l., and the duty now levied 3l., he should propose a reduction to 1l. Where the rent was 600l. he should propose a reduction of duty from 4l. to 3l. He anticipated that the loss of revenue from this reduction would be amply compensated by putting an end to the exemptions from the duty at present existing, in favour of leases for the term of three lives and ecclesiastical leases. These cases would come under the general provisions of the law, subject to the reductions he should propose, and the ad valorem principle would come into operation as regarded them. In several additional instances, he proposed to carry reduction still further. On administration-bonds under 1,000l., the duty was 20s.—he should propose to lower it to 5s., and he did not think, the revenue would lose anything by the change. He wished to call the attention of the House to this fact. The large amount of the Stamp-duty charged upon these transactions had the effect, not of bringing in revenue, but of prohibiting those transactions which would augment it; and when he came to think, that on the legal execution of the contract requiring a stamp, might depend property to a great amount, he was unwilling, by fiscal regulations, to deprive any individual of that which was justly his due, or to prevent him from asserting his rights. He believed, that by these reductions no very material loss to the revenue would be incurred. He expected, also, to obtain some saving to the public by remitting the amount of discounts allowed. In particular cases, as in the case of administration-bonds, discounts were allowed, which generally 345 went into the pockets of professional persons, and by putting an end to allowances of this kind, he calculated on a saving of 10,000l. or 12,000l. a-year. He intended, also, to follow out the principle which had been applied by Lord Althorpe, when Chancellor of the Exchequer. That noble Lord had lowered the Stamp-duty on insurance for farming-stock, and he meant to carry this reduction further, and apply it to farming buildings. Frequent applications had been made to him on this subject, and he saw no reason to continue the duty. He knew that, with respect to this and other trifling matters, before the reduction was carried into effect, they were the subject of great vituperation; but the very moment the concession was made, the tables were generally turned against the parties who had so freely censured it. These changes were made in good faith, and were meant to give relief to particular classes of persons; and he hoped those now proposed would not be attributed to any wish to give rise to false expectations, or excite any delusion in the minds of the people. He noticed this, because he always stood in terror of being taunted with the relief they had once given to taxed-carts and shepherds' dogs. There was no subject on which they had been more taunted than on that. The right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge had called the attention of Government to the tile duty, and had told them that this was a tax bearing in a manner practically injurious upon labour. Well, no sooner had they taken off that duty, than they were assailed with vituperation. The budget, in which these reductions were announced, was called the taxed-cart budget, the shepherd's-dog budget, and the tile budget; and a change which was effected in a good spirit and with the best intentions, was made the matter of much obloquy and reproach. But, in spite of this vituperation and ridicule, Ministers were always happy when they had an opportunity of making any reduction, however small; and if he could find out any other matters of the same kind, where an alteration would be beneficial, he would rather give the relief, and bear the censure that might follow, than suffer the hardship to continue. In the propositions he was about to make, the House need not be very much alarmed at the introduction of any new subject of taxation, 346 When they looked through the schedule, they would not find any probability of an increased taxation arising on any one head, except in so far as the arrangements of the plan now proposed would be likely to insure an increase of revenue, by the relief which they would give to many interests now labouring under depression from the weight of the duties. For instance, if the reduction of duty on leases increased the amount of revenue derived from them, he thought that neither the House nor the public had any right to quarrel with such an augmentation. The operation of the ad valorem principle might, indeed, create a temporary pressure at some parts of the scale, but the application of the principle, in a plain and intelligible manner, would be more than a compensation for the increase of charge which might thus result, while the pressure at one end would be counterbalanced by the relief at the other, where it was most wanted. He would proceed next to the question which he had touched on in the early part of his remarks—that of the Stamp-duty on Newspapers. But, before he entered on that subject, he wished to state distinctly the course he intended to pursue on the present occasion. He meant to report the schedule, with the consent of the House, to obtain leave to introduce a Bill embracing the topics which he had enumerated, to circulate that Bill, along with the schedule, among hon. Members, till a day to be fixed after Easter, and then finally to take the opinion of the House as to his proposition. Undoubtedly, this course would be open to objection, if there were in the House any hon. Gentleman disposed to move an increase of those duties; because, though it was competent for any one to move a diminution in the Committee on the Bill, he could not move an increase of the duty without recommitting the schedule. He did not imagine there would be many Gentlemen in the House anxious to move an increase; but if any hon. Member should happen to be so extremely desirous to signalize himself in this way, he was ready to enter into a compact with him, and to recommit the schedule for his special convenience. He remembered the ground he had formerly taken with reference to the motion of the hon. Member for Exeter, and from the opinion he then expressed, he was not now disposed to depart. He then said, it was just and right that the whole ques- 347 tion of the finances of this country should be considered, not bit by bit, but as a connected whole. The claims of the respective parties should be compared, and relief should not be voted to one class, whether licensed victuallers on the one hand, or gentlemen representing the great soap and tallow interests on the other, without due consideration. The House should not be called on to vote in matters of taxation in detail; but the state of the whole finances should be considered at once, and if there were a disposable surplus, then Parliament should consider how that was to be applied. He should not have introduced the subject of the Stamps upon the present occasion, but involving, as it did, the great interests of commerce and law, and all the obligations which passed under the name of contract, he felt that he should not be warranted in introducing a Bill for the consolidation of the Stamp-duties, if not only the metropolis, not only England, but Scotland and Ireland, were not to be made acquainted, in good time, with the alterations he proposed to effect. But, consistent with the principles he had followed on a former occasion, and with those arguments that had satisfied a majority of the House that his hon. Friend, the Member for Exeter, was premature in bringing forward his motion at the period he had selected, he should not ask the House to pledge itself to any principle till that time when he brought forward the budget. Upon the subject of Newspaper Stamps, therefore, it was not his intention to ask the House to pledge itself, but he thought it but fair, frank, and just, to those who advocated the opinions advanced in the petitions presented to-night to the House, and but fair to those who opposed them, candidly to state what he should propose to do in April on this subject. He did not mean to argue the question; that he should be prepared to do when he took the sense of the House upon it. He wished merely to communicate the fact, that Gentlemen might have a full opportunity of carefully weighing the project before they made up their minds. He could not hold out to the hon. Member for Finsbury, notwithstanding that respect which he bore to the petitions of the people—a respect as deep as that hon. Member's could be—any disposition or intention of moving the total repeal of these duties. He could not make such a proposition to the House, 348 and he did not think that, if he were to make it, the House would acquiesce in it. Certainly, that would be no reason why he should refrain from submitting it to the House, if it were in conformity with his own opinions. If he were bound to submit it to the House by his sense of public duty, make it he would, and let the House decide on it. But he did not think it would be just on financial grounds. The House was aware that the duty now amounted to 4d. minus the discount; in return for this, the State undertook the duty of conveying the newspaper by post; and thus a certain proportion of this duty was rather to be regarded in the light of a payment for a service performed, than in the light of a tax for which no service whatever was rendered. Indeed, this part of the subject had impressed itself so deeply on the attention of some Gentlemen, that many were disposed to recommend the substitution of a postage duty of 1d. instead of the present tax. He believed, after the fullest consideration he had been able to give the proposal, that it had one slight objection, that of being totally and entirely impracticable. He believed, that if the burden of levying the whole of this duty as a postage were to be thrown on the Post-office, there would be great difficulty in carrying on the ordinary duties of the office, and the general correspondence of the empire. He viewed the duty partly as a payment to the state for services, and partly as a tax. The postage scheme would operate most unjustly. Why should they adopt a principle in itself so unequal? They wished to diffuse knowledge in the remote parts of the empire; but the imposition of a postage would make the possession of it much dearer to the population of those counties, than to that of the metropolis and the adjacent country. The proposition which he should be disposed to make to the House hereafter, would be the substitution of a tax of 1d. for the tax now levied. He should be prepared to argue this question—to argue it financially, politically, and in all its bearings, both against those who wished that nothing should be done in the matter, and those who wished that a great deal more should be done. He should make the best case he could against these extreme views of the subject, and he trusted the House would go with him in applying a practical remedy to that which he admitted to be a considerable grievance. 349 He could not help adverting to what had fallen from his hon. Friend on the present state of the law, as bearing upon personal liberty. He had stated last year to the House, that so long as the law remained in its present condition, no effort of his should be neglected for its administration, and for the protection of those persons who had invested their property in this particular department. The hon. Member for Finsbury had said, that he, for one, would never support, either in the House or out of it, the violation of the law as it stood. It was his bounden duty, and it was his determination to enforce the law, and to prevent loss or detriment to any individual by transgressing it. He had already been, in consequence of that determination, exposed to frequent abuse; but he was convinced, that so long as they let the present high duty remain, the violation of the law would be continued, and that it could not be put down until the cause of it was removed. His hon. Friend, the Member for Lincoln, had, last Session, brought forward the proposition he now submitted to the House. He had then urged, that in the existing state of the finances, it would not be prudent to make so large a reduction. If he could show the House, in April, that, adhering to the opinions he then held, they were now in a condition to make that reduction without any very great sacrifice, he would, under those circumstances, ask them to support him in his proposition. He would say a few words more with respect to the Stamp-duties. Having stated, generally, that no new duties would be introduced, there was one which he could not suffer to be voted, even pro formâ, in Committee, without calling the attention of the House to it. The right hon. Gentleman near him had just asked if the ad valorem principle would be applied to probates and legacies. Undoubtedly it would; but the great relief on this point, he considered, would be the payment of the duty, not on the gross, but on the net proceeds of the estate. He would revert to the subject from which the question of the right hon. Gentleman had diverted him. By the law, as it stood, an ad valorem duty was chargeable on the amount of consideration for the transfer of shares in Joint-stock Companies—such as railroad, canal, and banking shares. With this he did not mean to meddle, but he intended to superadd a small tax upon the first issue 350 of those shares. It was far from him to wish to interfere with or discourage the application of capital to great national objects, and therefore the amount proposed would be very small indeed. It would not, in the slightest degree, operate to the disadvantage of any bonâ fide undertaking, but it would check transactions of a different kind—insecure and dangerous speculations, the very worst species of gambling. It would also operate beneficially in this way, that Government would know the project in which the shares originated, and the number brought into the market. A kind of registry of them would thus be formed, as had been proposed some years since, with reference to the Joint-stock Companies then created. He wished not to fetter, but to preserve and secure capital, and he could not see why, when there was a tax on the transfer of shares, a duty on the original issue should be considered objectionable. With regard to the Stamp-duties in Ireland, he could scarcely give an explanation without going into the whole subject; but he should not be acting candidly if he did not say, that generally they were very much lower than in England. The English Stamp-duties were, in proportion, nearly double the Stamp-duties in Ireland, and he proposed in the application of the Bill to Ireland, to adhere strictly to this proportion throughout, except in the case of the Newspaper Stamps, where one uniform duty would be established. He could not close this address without thanking the House for their indulgence. He knew that the exposition made was necessarily imperfect, and he should have felt it his duty to go with more fulness and precision into the whole question, if he had not known that he should have another opportunity of recurring to it. He should forget his duty if he did not acknowledge the obligations he was under to Gentlemen opposite, who had preceded him in that department of administration confided to him, and to the memorials left in the Treasury by the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge. He was also much indebted for the assistance rendered by the gentlemen of the Stamp-office, and especially to Mr. Tyrwhitt, for the industry and ability which he had brought to assist him. It had fallen to him to make this experiment; he was well aware of the complicated difficulties that surrounded 351 it, and of the various conflicting interests he should have to appease; but he trusted that the measure would prove satisfactory to the public, and afford, on many minor points, considerable relief. He could not sit down without expressing his gratitude to a gentleman near him (the hon. Member for Newport), a personal friend, for the efficient assistance he had rendered in completing the details of this measure when he was much engrossed with other matters, and unable to give them that they demanded. His hon. Friend had directed his attention to the subject with great credit to himself and advantage to the country. He owed it to the hon. Member for Newport to say how much he was indebted to him for the completion of the measure. He hoped the House would put him in a condition to have the Bill circulated, that the country might obtain the fullest information with respect to it. He wished that it should stand over, and the discussion taken hereafter. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the first Resolution, "That the several Stamp-duties, Allowances, and Drawbacks now in force, be repealed, and that, in lieu thereof, the several Stamp-duties hereinafter mentioned be enacted."
concurred with his right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the advantages to be derived from pursuing that consolidation of the statutes which was begun by his right hon. Friend, the Member for Tamworth, on the subject of the Criminal Law, which was followed up by his right hon. Friend, the Member for Harwich, on the subject of the Customs and Excise, and which he had himself meditated to accomplish on this very subject of the Stamp Duties when he was in office in the year 1830. His right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had only done justice to his predecessors in office, when he said that a measure of the same kind with that which he had that night so clearly developed to the House had engaged their deep consideration. When he (Mr. Goulburn) was in office, in 1830, he had completed the consolidation of the laws relating to the stamp duties—which then were only 161 in number, though they now reached the larger sum which his right hon. Friend had mentioned—and had introduced into the House in the early part of the Session of that year a new schedule of duties upon various articles. That schedule was dif- 352 ferent, he admitted, in many respects from the schedule which had been introduced that evening by his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. His right hon. Friend, owing to the longer continuance of peace, and to the expansion which that prolonged continuance of peace had given to all the springs of productive industry, had been fortunate enough to have larger funds at his disposal than had fallen to his (Mr. Goulburn's) lot, and had, therefore, been able to make larger reductions than he could afford to the country with a due regard to public credit. Unfortunately, when he was in office, it was necessary for him to make some increase in some of the stamp duties, in order to meet the deficiency in the revenue, which he anticipated would arise from the reduction of taxes which he had proposed on some articles of general consumption. He admitted, likewise, that his plan of consolidation differed in some respects from that of his right hon. Friend, and if he (Mr. Goulburn) preferred his own plan, he hoped that the House would believe that it was not from any foolish attachment to it because it was his own, but from a deep impression on his mind that the course which he had himself struck out would be more convenient to the public than that which was recommended by his right hon. Friend. His right hon. Friend proposed to consolidate all the existing Stamp Acts into one Act, containing 330 clauses. His own intention was to have consolidated them into several Acts, classifying the duties under the several articles to which they were to apply. With a view to the simplification of the law, with a view to its being more easily understood, and with a view to its future alteration and amendment, which must be expected in laws relating to the revenue more than in any other class of laws, he thought that his course would be at once more efficient and more satisfactory. It was his intention to have brought in one general law applicable to all descriptions of stamps, and to have followed it up with ten particular statutes, each applying to a particular description of stamps. The first would have related to the stamp duties on deeds and law-proceedings in England; the second, to the stamp duties on bills of exchange and on promissory notes; the third, to the stamp duties on probates of wills and on letters of administration; the fourth, to the stamp duties on news- 353 papers; the fifth, to the duties on cards and dice; the sixth, to the duties on hawkers' and pedlars' licences; the seventh, to the duties on plate; the eighth, to the duties on stage-coaches and post horses; the ninth, to the duties on the proceedings in the courts of law and equity in Ireland; and the tenth, to the duties on game certificates. He thought that it would be easier for any person to refer to any one of those ten bills for any information which he wanted, than to wade for it through one long and voluminous statute with no less than 330 clauses. He hoped that before his right hon. Friend brought in the Bill, of which he had just stated the substance to the House, he would consider whether he would not be likely to consolidate the existing statutes better by placing the different stamp duties under different heads, than by placing them all together indiscriminately in one Bill. He thought that such a consolidation as that which his right hon. Friend was now proposing would rather serve to increase than diminish, the bulk of the laws affecting the stamp duties. It would be something like an abridgement of Blackstone's Commentaries, made by a young friend of his, on commencing the study of the law. Blackstone was in four volumes, octavo, and his friend's Abridgement extended to not more than twenty volumes, folio. He would now proceed to make a few remarks on the expediency of the course adopted by his right hon. Friend, in bringing forward this new schedule of duties on the present occasion. The House would, perhaps, recollect that, on a former evening, he had expressed great pleasure in being able to support his right hon. Friend in his opposition to the repeal of the Spirit Licences, which he had rested on this principle—that, before the House pledged itself to the repeal of any tax, it ought to have before it the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the financial condition of the country, on account of the surplus revenue which was at his disposal, and an explanation of the claims of the different interests in the community to relief. Concurring with his right hon. Friend in that principle, he thought that his right hon. Friend would have been acting more consistently if, before he introduced a new schedule of stamp duties, involving a reduction on one particular article, if not on more, he had followed the example set 354 by him (Mr. Goulburn) in 1830, and had laid before the House an account of the revenue, in which his consolidation must, of necessity, make some alteration. In May, 1830, he (Mr. Goulburn) had felt it to be his duty, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, to detail to the House the amount of our income and expenditure, and the probable surplus of income over expenditure; and after finishing that detail, he had stated the consolidation which he called upon the House to make. He contended that that was the most expedient course to take, and called the attention of the House to the great inconvenience to which his right hon. Friend had exposed himself by acting upon a contrary principle. In spite of the principle which his right hon. Friend had asserted on a former evening, that it was not expedient for the Finance Minister to pledge himself to the repeal of a tax before he was prepared to make a statement of the financial condition of the country for the year, he had pledged himself to one particular interest connected with the newspapers, to reduce the stamp duty on newspapers from 4d. deducting the discount, to 1d. Professing to keep the question of the repeal of taxation open, his right hon. Friend, whilst the House was yet ignorant of the amount of the revenue, and the surplus of that revenue over our expenditure, and of the claims of different interests to relief, had come to an understanding with certain parties that he would deal with an income of 400,000l. by reducing a duty of 3d. to 1d. He (Mr. Goulburn) did not mean to say what diminution in the revenue would be occasioned by this reduction of taxation; but he did mean to say this—that before his right hon. Friend acceded to that reduction he ought to have explained to the House the financial situation of the country. Supposing that the present stamp duties were a grievance to the proprietors of newspapers, were not the spirit licences also a grievance to the owners and occupiers of public-houses? And yet his right hon. Friend, who had refused to give a pledge to reduce the taxation of which they complained to one of those parties, had pledged himself on the same point to the other party. He thought that this was not acting with the candour which he had a right to expect from his right hon. Friend. He must say a word or two as to the alterations which his right hon. Friend proposed to make in the scale 355 of duties; and here he must remark that there was one singular deficiency in the speech of his right hon. Friend. His right hon. Friend had told the House of the great alterations which he intended to make in these duties, but he had not said one word to it respecting the probable gain or loss which the revenue would sustain in consequence of those alterations. For his own part, he must confess that where the scale of duties was altogether varied, he could not make a calculation on the moment as to the amount of reduction in the revenue which the variation would produce. With respect to the alteration which his right hon. Friend proposed to make in the stamp duties affecting leases, he thought that, by reducing the amount of duty on the smaller transactions, and by increasing it on the higher, the revenue must sustain a loss. For it was the duty bearing on the greatest number of transactions which created the mass of the revenue, and not the duty falling on the higher, and, therefore, the least numerous class of transactions. If, therefore, he was not mistaken, this alteration would certainly lead to a diminution of the national income. The main alteration, however, which his right hon. Friend proposed was an equal per centage on all those duties which had hitherto been levied by a graduating scale, and that the per centage was to be a lower duty than that which was in force at present. He should like to have heard from his right hon. Friend the calculation which he had made of loss or gain from this alteration upon the data before him. With respect to the stamp duties on probates of wills and letters of administration, every person who had filled the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer knew the great difficulty of regulating those duties. To calculate the duty and to enforce the payment of it upon the whole amount of the personal property belonging to the deceased, and then to remit such a portion of it as covered the amount of the debts due to him, appeared at first sight a harsh measure; but the principle on which that amount of duty was levied was nothing else but the impossibility of getting the full amount of duty in any other manner. It would have been most satisfactory to him had his right, hon. Friend stated to the House the means by which he expected to obtain the knowledge of the net amount of the testator's property—that amount which was 356 now only obtained with difficulty, by means which he had condemned as unjust. Upon that part of the subject his right hon. Friend had been perfectly silent; and yet it would have been most satisfactory had he told the House how he intended to guard against the frauds which had been so often practised to evade the revenue laws on this head. His right hon. Friend, it appeared, did not intend during this Session to impose a new tax on more than one article, and that was to be imposed on the share which any individual might have in a joint-stock transaction. Now, he contended that this was introducing a new principle altogether into our system of legislation. There had always been a duty on the transfer of shares, but that duty was not imposed upon the share because it was property, but upon the deed which made it a conveyance of property, and which, therefore, rendered it liable to the duty. But his right hon. Friend now proposed to place a duty upon the share itself. If the duty were a moderate duty, and if it were intended to facilitate our knowledge of the parties who really held shares, he saw no objection on principle to the imposition of such a duty; but if the duty were carried beyond a moderate limit, it would be an obstacle to industry and a bar to enterprise. His objection would, therefore, depend on the amount of the duty, which his right hon. Friend had plainly stated that he would not declare until a future period. There was another point to which he must advert, at the risk of exposing himself again, as he had exposed himself before, to considerable obloquy, by the expression of his opinions upon it. It would, perhaps, be remembered by the House that, when in 1830, he submitted his schedule of stamp duties to Parliament, he had proposed to make an equalization of those duties throughout the empire—in other words, to make the stamp duties in Ireland the same as in England. He had made that proposition, because he saw no reason why two parts of the United Kingdom, now that they were united, should be liable to the payment of different duties. In point of fact, there could be no reason why a great landholder in Ireland should not pay the same amount of probate duty and legacy duty, and the same amount of stamp duty on his conveyances as an English landholder; and after the discussions which they had recently heard on the propriety 357 of assimilating the laws passed for Ireland to those passed for England, he certainly did expect to hear his right hon. Friend opposite, and all those who clamoured for justice for Ireland, join in calling for that equalization. He did expect to hear them sing out in one grand chorus—"Do not degrade Ireland, by giving her a different stamp act from that which you have yourselves. We are not so poor and so wretched as to be unable to pay the same amount of duties that you pay. Assimilate your laws in both countries, and in taxation, as well as in other matters, give us the full benefit of the British constitution." But no; his right hon. Friend, and the friends of Ireland who sat around him, forgot upon this point their own principle: they did not wish the law of Ireland to be assimilated to that of England; and they were very well content that Ireland should only pay half the amount of stamp duties collected in England. If the House should be inclined to go along with his right hon. Friend in that proposition, it would undoubtedly be granting to Ireland a large and liberal relief; but before the House granted that relief, it ought to have had a statement laid before it of the revenue and expenditure of the country, and it ought to have seen whether, with a due regard to existing obligations, it could afford to give this reduction of duty to the newspapers, and to make this reduction in the amount of Irish stamps. He hoped that his right hon. Friend would follow the example which he had set him when in office, in 1830, and would lay upon the Table a statement in two parallel columns of the rates of duties now paid, and of the rates to be substituted in lieu of them by this schedule, in all the different parts of the empire. There was another topic in the plan of his right hon. Friend to which he must also briefly advert, and that was the duty which his right hon. Friend intended to propose upon bills of exchange. No man could fill the situation of Chancellor of the Exchequer without knowing how liable to evasion the law was on bills of exchange. If the alteration which his right hon. Friend intended to introduce upon this point should have a tendency to facilitate the transactions of trade, and to guard against evasions of the law, no man would be more glad of it than he should. His right hon. Friend had told them that he intended to reduce the duty 358 on the smaller bills of exchange, but he had not told them what he intended to do with respect to promissory notes. Now, if the House did not deal with promissory notes as it was now recommended to deal with bills of exchange, the bankers would be compelled to make small bills of exchange, instead of small promissory notes, which they circulated at present, and it might be worth while to consider what effect that would produce on the circulation of the country. If, then, his right hon. Friend intended to deal with small bills of exchange, he must be prepared to deal exactly in the same way with promissory notes. His right hon. Friend had also informed the House of several small remissions of taxation which he intended to make, and which he considered as likely to be highly beneficial to the classes to which they would apply. He was not unwilling to receive even a small remission of taxation from the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; on the contrary, he received it with joy and thankfulness; and that brought him to remark that his right hon. Friend had done injustice to hon. Gentlemen on his (Mr. Goulburn's) side of the House, when he taxed them with receiving his proposal to repeal the taxes on shepherds' dogs, on tiles, and on taxed carts, not with gratitude, but with ridicule and shouts of laughter. The reason why they had indulged in that laughter was, that his right hon. Friend had promulgated the repeal of those taxes as calculated to give great relief to the agricultural interest, then in a state of great distress. The ridicule was not applied to the reduction of the tax, but to the pompous and inflated style in which that reduction was proposed. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by expressing his entire concurrence in the suggestion of his right hon. Friend, that they ought not to avail themselves of their right to raise a discussion, which would be interminable, on each item in the schedule, but that they should confine themselves to the discussion of those items in which any alteration either had been made or ought to be effected.
§ Mr. Edward L. Bulwer
had but a few remarks to make upon the important subject under the attention of the House. He should very certainly refrain from attempting to follow the right hon. Gentleman opposite, through the details of the many wonderful things which he set forth as 359 having been within his intention to bless the nation with. Upon the right hon. Gentleman's speech he would only observe that it was quite in keeping with all the acts of his former public life, that though he had been ever opposed to the idea of giving to the Irish people an equality of British advantages, he was now most anxious to bestow upon them a full equality in British hardships. Nor was it his intention to follow the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer through the details of his admirable, eloquent, and comprehensive speech; he merely rose for the purpose of saying a few words upon a subject in which he had himself been more particularly interested. He had been much blamed out of the House, and a little in it, for not pressing the House to a division on the last occasion that he had the honour of bringing forward the subject of the stamp duties on newspapers. His decision upon that occasion had been founded upon his conviction, from the assurance then given by the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that his object would be as fully satisfied without going to a division, as if it went successfully through that or several other divisions, and in all probability more speedily. As to the proposed reduction of the newspaper stamp duties to 1d. he was still distinctly of opinion that the entire abolition of them was far more desirable than any reduction however large and liberal. But at the same time, as he knew and acknowledged that every liberal measure was the result of compromise, he should not think of rejecting the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, which, under the circumstances, he considered to be the best compromise which could be offered. He, however, should reserve to himself the full right of speaking further upon this subject, and of voting in a division as he should think fit.
Mr. William Ord
begged to offer the hon. Gentleman who spoke last his congratulations upon the near approximation which was proposed to be made to the object which that hon. Gentleman had so eloquently advocated when in a small minority upon the point. With reference to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, his proposal of placing in parallel columns the existing stamp duties and those proposed to be substituted, it would be impossible to act upon in the present case, from the nature of the sections. As to 360 the right hon. Gentleman's joke about the abridgment of Blackstone in twenty folio volumes, it applied much more aptly to the right hon. Gentleman's own consolidation schedule than to the one now proposed. The schedule now proposed contained but 330 sections, while that of the right hon. Member extended to 456 sections, being thus more bulky by 126 sections than the present one. The right hon. Gentleman complained, that his right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of Exchequer, had anticipated his budget, but the same course had been pursued on former occasions.
§ Mr. Thomas Duncombe
rose to order. He wished to ask whether this discussion was proceeding in the spirit in which it was stated by the right hon. Gentleman that it should. If the Government were to have leave to bring on the Government orders to the exclusion of motions, and long discussions were to ensue upon them, it would be impossible for Gentlemen who had motions to make ever to bring them forward. He did not say this with the least wish to press his motion on the House; he knew it would be defeated by a large majority; nevertheless he would press it to a division—but he asked the question with reference to other motions, and amongst them that of his hon. colleague, who had a motion on the paper for the total repeal of the stamp duty on newspapers. He was also favourable to the total repeal of that duty. The motion of his hon. colleague was made to give way, that the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer might make his statement, and the understanding was, that no discussion should take place. They could not prevent hon. Gentlemen opposite from discussing the question if they pleased, it was a matter of taste for their consideration, and the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for the University of Cambridge, had gone into the question in a manner that rendered it impossible the debate could be put a stop to now unless he could prove that the spirit in which the subject was entered into had been violated by the right hon. Gentleman, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and by the hon. Gentleman who was one of the Lords of the Treasury.
would save the House the trouble of debating the question of order-by resting on the statement of his right hon. Friend to answer the objections 361 which had been urged against it. He would merely beg leave to acknowledge the compliment, which in so gratifying a manner had been paid to him by his right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Hume
expressed himself satisfied with the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, as far as it went; but he still entertained a hope, that, at no very distant period, a new light would break in upon the right hon. Gentleman, and that he would become favourable to the entire repeal of the newspaper tax.
§ Mr. Wakley
was not satisfied with the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, nor would his constituents be. He should certainly take an opportunity of dividing the House on the question as to the total repeal of the newspaper stamp duty. That impost was proposed originally by the 10th of queen Anne, for the purpose of putting down publications that were obnoxious to the Government. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman, that the general impression out of doors was, that the stamp tax was imposed in order that the newspapers might not give political information. The people thought that the goings in this House were such that the tax was imposed to prevent the people from coming to a knowledge of them. The people required information, and why was it to be denied to them? The hon. Gentleman then referred to the case of Cleave, who was confined in Tothill-fields prison for an alleged infraction of the Stamp Act. He never saw a more revolting sight than he witnessed last Friday, when he went to visit Cleave in prison. The 16th George II. provided for the punishment of the "venders" of unstamped newspapers. Mr. Cleave, when he was seized, had the papers in his bag in a cab. He was asked what he had in his possession, and he replied, "newspapers;" he was not "vending" them. Who could say what description of paper came legally under that definition. What was news? People had no right to publish the debates of the House. Could they be called news? Lord Tenterden had decided, that it was illegal to publish police reports. Could they, then, be called news? He thought these matters were subjects to which Ministers ought to give their most serious consideration.
§ Resolution agreed to.