§ Mr. Robinson
claimed the kind indulgence of the House while he submitted to its consideration not any preconceived principles of his own merely, but which were also entertained by some Members of the House whose opinions were entitled to the highest respect. Though his right hon. friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer might think he (Mr. Robinson) was interfering with the duties which properly belonged to his office, yet he (Mr. Robinson) begged to 553 state, that the principles which were embodied in the resolutions of which it was his intention to move the adoption, had received the support of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues when they were, in the year 1830, brought forward by the present President of the Board of Trade. The question then was, as now, to make the pressure of the present system of taxation less unequal, and to relieve the labouring classes from the burdens they now unjustly sustained. He hoped, therefore, the Government would admit that this was a fit and proper subject for the consideration of the House. In bringing it forward, he should trespass on the time of the House the shortest possible period, and he believed the best course he could pursue in furtherance of that object would be to read the resolutions he meant to propose one by one, and make upon each of them such remarks as to him appeared necessary. The first resolution was as follows:—"That the public income is now raised by taxes imposed during the exigencies of war, or under circumstances so inapplicable to the present state of the country, that a revision of our financial system, with a view to improvement, would be highly beneficial to the nation at large." Now, would anybody deny that such a revision was likely to be attended with advantage to the country? The speech of the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, in 1830, on bringing forward his motion for a Committee of Inquiry, was in direct corroboration of the correctness of the opinions he (Mr. Robinson) entertained. The right hon. Gentleman had, on that occasion, then sitting at that (the Opposition) side of the House, received the support of 79 hon. Members, and when he (Mr. Robinson) had brought forward the same subject on the assembling of the first Reformed Parliament, the House would remember that in a House constituted of 380 members, his motion had, on the division, been supported by 157, and that the force and power properly exercised by the Government brought to their aid 223 supporters, thus giving them a majority of 66 votes. This was, in his judgment, a virtually pronounced opinion that the present system of taxation was unfitted to the present state of the country, and that a revision of it would be advantageous to the country. He knew that his right hon. Friend might say he was actively occupied in endeavour- 554 ing to ascertain how the system of taxation could be improved, and he (Mr. Robinson) should be wanting in candour if he did not admit that recently considerable improvements had been effected. He, however, objected to leave to his right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, this subject, because, even if a particular tax was admitted to operate injuriously, the proposition for its repeal would be answered by the announcement that there was not such a surplus revenue as would justify its repeal. He (Mr. Robinson) was rejoiced even to see the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade in his place, because he wished to remind him of his own words used in support of a motion precisely similar in its nature to the present. The right hon. Gentleman had then 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 leave you at last to ruin and poverty."* In that sentiment he (Mr. Robinson) concurred, and he would maintain that, of all the reforms of which so much was now heard, none was more important, or better calculated to render greater benefits to the whole community, than a reform in the financial system of the country. Of such a reform, however, little was scarcely ever heard. The people looked for it; for though comparatively but few petitions had been presented expressly in support of his motion, yet he claimed the numerous petitions for a reduction of taxation as applying to it, inasmuch as without a revision no reduction or removal of pressure could take place. If the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer complained of this motion as an intrusion upon the functions of the office he filled, he (Mr. Robinson) would answer that, despite of the Government, it was the duty of every Member of that House to look to the pressure of taxation upon his constituents. With that view he sought a declaration from the House, by the adoption of his motion, that the present system of taxation was injudicious, that its operation was unjust, and that by revision it was susceptible of improvement. To this proposition he could not anticipate any opposition. He was happy to learn, notwithstanding the gloomy predictions as to the amount* Hansard, vol. xxiii (New Series) p. 863,555 of each succeeding year's revenue in this great country, and in which he had participated, that those revenues continued to improve. He, however, could not hope for a judicious revision of the system of taxation (while even a surplus revenue existed) at the hands of the Government, inasmuch as they were obliged to yield to the pressure from without. This was admitted by Lord Althorp when Chancellor of the Exchequer in reference to the house-tax. That noble Lord had declared that he had been obliged to give up his own judgment in consequence of the pressure. Perhaps he was not warranted in stating that the right hon. Gentleman was about to give up a considerable portion of revenue derived from Newspaper stamps, for the same cause; but he might be permitted to state that, judging from the opinions which the right hon. Gentleman expressed last year, the last thing which he should have expected from the right hon. Gentleman was his volunteering to reduce that particular duty. Let it not be supposed from anything which he had said, that he was sorry the Stamp Duty on Newspapers was to be reduced; on the contrary, he was glad of it, because he had always advocated the repeal of every tax which had a tendency to limit the diffusion of knowledge. It had frequently occurred to him, that the continuance of the present system of taxation would furnish the advocate of universal suffrage with a very powerful argument in support of his theory. Could it, for a single moment, be supposed, that if the great mass of the people had a direct control over the deliberations of this Assembly, they would permit such a principle of taxation as now prevailed to exist for a single year? No; it could exist only under a system of partial representation. When Parliament, two years ago, made an important alteration in the poor-laws, the effect of which was to prevent the poor man from leaning for support upon his more affluent fellow-subjects, he thought that measure ought to have been preceded by a remission and commutation of taxes; and, he believed, that if such had been the case, the new system would have worked more advantageously. He would nest proceed to his second resolution; but before proceeding further, he would state that he would take the sense of the House upon the first resolution, but he would not trouble the House to divide upon the others, contenting himself with having them placed upon record. The second resolution which he 556 intended to move was to the following effect:—"That taxation was chiefly levied on articles of necessary consumption, by which the burdens of the people were enormously increased, and their comforts diminished, without any corresponding benefit to the State; the trader and retail dealer being obliged to charge a profit both upon the duty and the prime cost." He believed that the proposition embodied in that resolution no one would have the temerity to deny. But it might be said, in defence of the present system, that it was an easy mode of raising the public revenue; but, in his opinion, the first consideration ought to be, what is the most just mode? The existing mode pressed most hardly on the poorer classes, because they were obliged to pay much more for duty, independently of the charge of collection, than ever found its way into the public Exchequer; while it afforded to the wealthy classes the means of escaping from the pressure of that due proportion of the public burdens, which their means enabled them to bear. A person having an income of 10,000l., might, if he chose, confine his expenditure to 500l. per annum, and, in that case, the amount of taxation which he would be called on to pay to the State, being measured by his annual expenditure, would bear no just proportion to the amount of his property. Or, by becoming an absentee, he might escape taxation altogether, while he would enjoy the advantage of having his large property placed under the protection of the State. This was a state of things which ought not to be allowed to continue, as great injustice was inflicted by it. Adam Smith—than whom there was no better authority on the subject—laid down two principles, which he said should govern a Legislature in imposing taxes: the first was, that every person should be taxed in proportion to his income; and the second was, that the" taxes should be so arranged as to take as little as possible out of the pockets of the people, and to bring as much as possible into the Exchequer. He did not mean to assert that, with the present amount of the public burdens, and the complicated system which existed in this country, that these principles could be carried out to a full extent, but still the public burdens might be so apportioned as to make it appear that, in this country, we did not run directly counter to those principles. He admitted that there had been a great reduction in the amount of taxation; but 557 still many taxes now fell heavily on the people which ought not to be continued. He found in a Parliamentary paper before him, that there had been a reduction of taxes to the amount of 32,000,000l. since the year 1815; but, out of this large amount, not less than 28,000,000l. were taxes which fell on the landed interests and the aristocratic classes. During the last four years, he admitted that Parliament had pursued a more just course, by directing their attention to the repeal of taxes which fell on the labouring classes, and on the productive industry of the country. It was the bounden duty of that House, as well as of the Government, to get rid of the odious Excise laws, which so largely and injuriously interfered with the manufactures of this country. He was sure that the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer would take off many of the taxes, if he could with safety. He would call upon the House to sanction his proposition, that it might appear that they were prepared to support his right hon. Friend in making such reductions when he was able to do so. He maintained that taxes which fell on articles of necessity, were taxes on property as regarded the labouring classes, and they were much more injurious than direct taxation would he. The third resolution which he had to propose, was—"That the Excise laws and regulations interfere most injuriously and oppressively with various branches of trade and manufactures, with the employment of capital and labour at home, and with the freedom and extension of foreign commerce, and that they greatly raise the cost of subsistence on the labouring classes of the community." He would instance the tax on paper as a most injurious impost; and he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman was prepared, if not to take off this duty entirely, at least greatly to modify it. There could be no doubt that, if the paper-duty were taken off, we should very largely export that article. Again, the tax on glass had tended greatly to impede the manufacture of that article; and he had no doubt if it were entirely removed, that, in a short time, we should supply the world with that article. The Excise regulations were a most inconvenient interference with the manufacturer, and tended to enhance the price of glass much beyond the amount of the duty. The tax on bricks was also a most objectionable impost. He had only just received the Report of the Commissioners appointed to 558 inquire into the Excite on this article; but they strongly recommend that it should be repealed. They state that, as far back as fifty years, Mr. Pitt declared that it was a most unequal and oppressive impost; and that it ought to be repealed without delay; and yet, at the expiration of half a century, it was continued in full vigour. The fourth resolution which he had to propose was—"That the unequal pressure of taxation is increased by the levy of an uniform duty of Customs, without reference to the value of various articles of the same denomination." He was not an advocate for ad valorem duties in all cases, because in some instances they might become oppressive. The present system, however, was most unjust, in consequence of its inequality. He would refer the House to several instances of this. In the first place, the duty on sugar was most unequal, and fell much heavier on one quality than another of that article. He might he told that they could not put an ad valorem duty on this article, in consequence of the difficulty there was in distinguishing between the different qualities of sugar. He thought that this was a mere subterfuge; but, at any rate, it was a reason for making an alteration in the present system. He thought that our fiscal system was most objectionable on this point. It appeared that the price of sugar varied between thirty and sixty shillings a hundred weight, and yet there was not an ad valorem duty, nor even an approach to one. The hon. Gentleman then proceeded to enumerate a number of other articles, which were affected in a similar manner by the present system, such as madder, tea, coffee, wine, &c. The fifth resolution was, "That the stamp, legacy, and probate duties are most unjust and partial in their operation on transfers, obligations, securities, and other instruments of small value, compared with those of larger amount; and that a considerable portion of the wealth of the nation is altogether exempt from the legacy and probate duly charged upon other descriptions of property." The changes he had intended to propose on this point had, to a considerable extent, been anticipated by his right hon. Friend a few evenings since. He was greatly delighted with the statement he then heard, but regretted his right hon. Friend was not prepared to go much further. He could not help alluding, on this subject, to what appeared to him to be an. inconsistency on the part of the right hon. 559 Gentlemen. It would be in the recollection of the House, that, about two years ago, Mr. Cobbett brought forward the subject of the Stamp-duties, and exposed many of the abuses which existed under the then system, and the right hon. Gentleman then came down to the House and strenuously resisted the motion of Mr. Cobbett. After the lapse, however, of some time, the right hon. Gentleman proposed a change nearly to the effect of that formerly proposed by Mr. Cobbett, and which the right hon. Gentleman then so strongly opposed. He could not help alluding to this as an instance of the manner in which persons in office were in the habit of supporting whatever was the existing system. He would not go into any detail on this part of the subject, as other opportunities would occur of discussing it. He felt bound, however, to state on this point that nothing would satisfy him unless real property should be taxed, as regarded the probate duty, as much as other descriptions of property. As the law at present stood, a person might have landed property to the value of a million sterling without paying a shilling duty, whereas the smallest sum of personal property was heavily taxed. This tax fell too with peculiar severity on those to whom small annuities were left. He did not think that a proposition for equalizing this tax could be resisted successfully if the justice of the case were looked to. If, however, it was opposed, it would be stated that such opposition originated in the circumstance that the majority of the Members of both Houses were landowners. The next resolution was—"That by so impolitic and complicated a state of finance, the cost of collecting the public revenue is greatly enhanced, and the burthens of the people further augmented." The charge of collection in consequence of the taxes being derived from so many sources was extremely heavy. It was no less a sum than 3,582,635l. a-year, besides incidental expenses to the amount of 738,779l. making together a sum of 4,321,4l4l. He did not anticipate that his resolutions would be carried, but he wished to place them on the Journals of the House as indications of the opinions he entertained as to the unjust and oppressive financial system existing in this country. The seventh resolution which he had to propose was—"That the return to a gold standard in 1819, followed by the suppression of small notes in England and Wales, has mate- 560 rially changed the relative condition of the productive classes and of those who possess the wealth and capital of the nation." The subject of this resolution had no immediate reference to the other resolutions; but he wished to record his opinion on the question of the standard of value. He had no wish to go into the discussion of that subject at present, but he was bound to observe that in his opinion the alteration which was made in 1819 had enormously increased the value of money, and this had virtually operated to press on the industrious classes. The eighth and last resolution he intended to propose was as follows—"That for these reasons it is the bounden duty of this House, not only to repeal and reduce taxation to as great an extent as may be compatible with the maintenance of national credit and the necessary demands of the public service, but also closely to investigate the whole state of our finance, with the view to such judicious alterations as may relieve the labour and industry of the country, and comprehend within the range of contribution to the public service all property protected by the State, without distinction or exception, so that the pressure of taxation may be lightened by a more just and equal distribution of the public burthens amongst all classes of his Majesty's subjects." He did not think that it was necessary for him to trouble the House with any observations on this resolution. The first resolution recognised the principle that no extensive relief could be afforded unless all the property in the country was comprehended within the sphere of taxation. He believed that the present system of taxation operated in an inverse ratio to the means of the parties upon whom it fell. He might be told that they were involved in a dilemma, and that taxation must fall heavier on one class or the other of the community. Admitting this to be the case, the question then was whether an undue proportion did not now fall on the labouring classes. He did not say, that taxes could be raised without doing some injury or another. He did not argue necessarily in favour of a propertytax, but rather with a view to shew that too large a portion of the revenue was levied from the industry, and too small a portion from the property of the country. He wanted the House to recognise that principle; and so impose on this and every succeeding Government, the necessity of endeavouring to remedy, as far as 561 they could, the evil of such a system. The way to do so was another question; but if they once set about it in a determined spirit they must succeed. The objections to a property-tax though specious and numerous, resolve themselves into nothing more or less than a reluctance on the part of the wealthy classes of the community to put their hands into their own pockets. There was no other difficulty connected with the subject. It might be said, that attempting to establish such a tax would be too inquisitorial a proceeding; but were not the excise-laws, and assessed taxes of an inquisitorial character? Was not the former property-tax inquisitorial? With regard to that tax, it had been urged that it was of so odious a nature, that the Government was forced by public clamour to repeal it. He had attended to the history of that tax, and he could discover no symptoms of its general unpopularity. It certainly was not got rid of on the petitions of the people; for only fourteen counties out of eighty-four petitioned for its repeal, and only fifty-six towns out of 1,186 sent up similar petitions. In a House consisting of 468 Members, the repeal was carried only by a majority of thirty-seven, and the Minister of the day was forced to give up the tax against his better judgment. If the House adopted the principle of his resolutions, it would be of greater advantage to the country than the adoption of Reform upon any other subject, and would do much to conciliate the minds of the labouring classes. He should, perhaps, feel less disposed to argue this question, if he could flatter himself that the happy state of things he was anticipating was likely to be brought about, without the adoption of such principles; but without meaning to prognosticate on the subject, he certainly thought that they could not calculate upon permanent prosperity amongst the labouring classes, so long as the present system was allowed to continue. Even if they could, that circumstance would be no argument against the fair adjustment and settlement of the question of taxation. He gave every gentleman in the House credit for desiring to ameliorate the condition of every class in the community; but if their condition were good now, and could be made better by the adoption of a course which, undoubtedly would improve it, he was sure every gentleman would support such a measure. Ought not the Government also to adopt it? Would it not gain them additional 562 respect,—tend to the general improvement and contentment of the people,—and give additional stability to the Throne and the Constitution. In conclusion, he begged distinctly to state that in bringing forward this subject he had no intention to impede or embarrass the Government. He had already adverted to the opinions formerly expressed on this subject by the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade, and he would refer the House to the speech made on this subject in 1828 by the late Mr. Huskisson, a statesman for whom he entertained a sincere respect, although it was his fortune often to differ from him. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the first resolution.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
did not quarrel with his hon. Friend for having brought this subject under consideration, though, no doubt, the House would have wished that it might be postponed. As it was, he was glad that the speech of his hon. Friend had been listened to with so much attention, and he would briefly endeavour to touch on the various points to which the hon. Member for Worcester had referred in the observations he had made; and he trusted he should be able to show that it would not be expedient to give the sanction of the House to the propositions of his hon. Friend. One great fallacy pervaded the whole of his remarks. He attempted, by the exclusion of facts of the greatest possible importance, to lead the House to judge upon a partial view of the case, and to draw inferences unsustainable on sound reason and argument. In the first resolution the hon. Gentleman stated, that the public income was made up from taxes imposed during the exigencies of the war. Now, a certain portion of it was undoubtedly so raised, but the hon. Gentleman excluded from his resolutions all mention of the large proportion of the war taxes which had been repealed since the peace; he did not say one word on the subject, and any person unacquainted with what had been done by successive Governments would suppose, that for a peace establishment and a peace expenditure the nation was called on to pay taxes imposed during war, in which no deduction or remission had taken place. It was most material to bear in mind that the war expenditure was not entirely defrayed by taxation, but was to a great extent supplied by loans, the interest of which had now to be provided for; so that to the regular peace expenditure was to 563 be added the amount of interest on the whole debt contracted during the war. The hon. Gentleman urged that a revision of our financial system was necessary. What was the House and the Government doing every day? Every time that a proposition was brought forward for the repeal of a tax, they were practically reducing the national expenditure, and the question was, whether it was wiser to continue that course, and to apply the surplus revenue of the country in the best way they could for the relief of the public, or not to inquire into the subject, as the hon. Gentleman had formerly proposed, but to leap at once to an absolute conclusion, that the whole system of our taxation required revision and alteration. He had objected, on a former occasion, to the hon. Member's motion for a Committee, and he objected still more decidedly to the propositions contained in the resolutions now submitted to the House. His hon. Friend seemed to think he had got some claim on the support both of himself and his right hon. Friend (Mr. Poulett Thomson), because in 1830 they had supported a motion for an inquiry into the taxation of the country. This would be an extremely good argument if the circumstances of the country were now the same as they had been; but, in referring to the statement of his right hon. Friend, the hon. Gentleman had taken great pains to allude to the general propositions involved in it, but specially omitted what was more essential—the practical recommendations on which his right hon. Friend proceeded. These would show the House how utterly inapplicable to the present state of our finances such an inquiry as he had referred to would be. His right hon. Friend recommended in 1830 that the duties on barilla, on coals, on glass, on paper, and on printed cottons, should be reduced, and also those on soap, on French wines, on tea and sugar, on marine policies, on fire insurances, on newspapers, and advertisements. The reduction of the duty on soap and French wines had already been effected: the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge, when he was in office, had reduced that on sugar; an alteration in the tea duties had taken place; that on marine policies had been reduced to a certain extent, and the subject was still under consideration. The duty on fire insurances had been considerably reduced, as well as that on advertisements, and the hon. Gentleman, who had quarrelled with him for 564 not following the precedent of 1830, quarrelled with him now for filling up the outlines of the plan then recommended, and submitting to the consideration of the House a proposal for the reduction of the stamp duty on newspapers. He was glad the authorities of 1830 stood so high in the estimation of the hon. Member, as on that occasion his hon. Friend was not quite satisfied with the propositions of his right hon. Friend, and had very severely censured his recommendation with regard to French wines. Yet, though the hon. Member had opposed the motion at that time, when it was quite called for, he brought it forward again now, when the circumstances of the country were such as to render it no longer applicable. He said then, that his right hon. Friend and himself had discharged their duty to the House and the public, according to the opinions and conduct they had adopted in 1830. He entertained great objections to any commutation of taxation, as causing, in general, a disturbance of capital, and tending to injure existing interests, and he should proceed to show that the specific commutation recommended by the hon. Member was not an exception to this rule, and would be pregnant with evils of the most serious kind. He hoped that hon. Gentlemen had read the paper which had been delivered to them that morning, showing that the gross amount of taxation remitted since the commencement of the session of 1831 was 8,092,000l., less by an amount of 600,000l. of new taxes imposed since that time. If Parliament had been sluggishly inattentive to the general interests of the country,—if it had been contending for a large sinking fund, then, indeed, the hon. Gentleman would have had some fair cause for complaint; but the paper to which he had alluded showed a reduction of taxation greater than was ever made before in the same period; and the hon. Gentleman must be over sanguine if he expected as much from his particular principle as had been practically accomplished by the course now pursued. Former Governments had pursued a similar course. The right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge had remitted taxes to the extent of 3,000,000l. before the formation of Lord Grey's Ministry. The great object aimed at by Parliament in all these cases had been, not to favour the aristocratic classes, but to give relief to the productive industry of the country.. It was not true, as the hon. Member op- 565 posite declared in one of the resolutions, that the revenue of the country was chiefly levied on articles of necessary consumption. If he would take the trouble to look through the paper he had mentioned, he would see that the amount of taxation could not bear that character under any possible circumstances. It was possible they might not agree on the definition of necessary supplies. He (Mr. Rice) took the taxes on spirits, on wine, on tobacco, on silk, and spirit licences, the whole of the stamp duties, the land and assessed taxes, the postage duties, with those on paper, auctions, bricks, cotton, wool, and timber. The total produce of those taxes was 31,000,000l. per annum, and none of these articles could come within the terms of the resolutions as the necessary consumption of the people. He could not conceive a better system of taxation than that to which the hon. Gentleman had raised an objection, nor a more just or equitable system. In the third resolution, the hon. Member proceeded to the question of the excise laws. His hon. Friend omitted all mention of the steps which either had been taken, or were in progress, towards the removal of many of the excise duties. As far as the complication of the law was concerned, and its interference with trade and manufactures, no one conversant with its working could deny that it required revision and amendment, but measures had been taken to remedy the evils complained of, and a Commission issued for the express purpose of giving clearness and certainty to its provisions. The labours of that Commission he believed the hon. Gentleman had himself referred to in terms of commendation. It could not be denied, then, that already a great deal had been done, but it too frequently happened, that that which had been done, and attended with beneficial results, was soon forgotten, while that which had been ineffective or injurious was carefully kept in memory, and made the subject of complaint. The first Report of the Commissioners of Excise Inquiry was respecting tea permits, and the recommendations contained in it had been carried into effect. Their second Report was regarding the abolition of wine permits and surveys, which had been done away with in consequence. Their third Report related to the reduction of the cost of the excise department, which had been diminished to a certain extent, and would be still further towered when that was in the power of 566 Government. Their fourth Report was on excise services, and arrangements had been made to carry out their recommendations on this head. Their fifth Report was on the reduction of duty on stone-bottles and sweets, which had been effected in compliance with that recommendation. Their sixth Report related to tobacco and foreign spirits, but he regretted that on this important branch of revenue they had not been able to take any distinct steps. Their seventh Report was on the duty on glass, which had since been reduced. Their eighth Report was on the duty on starch (we believe), and their ninth Report on vinegar. Their tenth report was on the subject of the malt-duty in Ireland and they had been on the point of adopting its recommendations, when they were obliged to retrace their steps by the advice of the Commissioners themselves, who were sensible of the necessity of making better arrangements on this point. Their eleventh Report was relative to the excise accounts, and arrangements were now accordingly in progress for reducing them to a simpler and clearer form. He asked the House, then, to allow the government to proceed in their course, and not consent to pass eight resolutions each of which required separate and distinct inquiry. The fourth resolution declared that the unequal pressure of taxation was increased by the levy of an uniform duty of customs. It might be supposed from this, by a person ignorant of the subject, that one uniform duty was levied on all articles imported, but any one who looked at our tariff might see that the great mass of our duties were on the ad valorem principle. There were some commodities—wine, for example—any attempt to impose an ad valorem duty on which would be fruitless or impracticable. Three years ago his hon. Friend, with the view of applying, if he could, that principle to tea, had established not an ad valorem duty, but a distinctive rate which imposed three different duties on different classes of tea. That experiment had failed, and they had been obliged to impose one uniform duty. A uniform duty might, in some cases, press hard on a particular class, but we could not have the advantage of an ad valorem duty without its disadvantages, nor the benefits of an uniform duty without its inconveniences. His hon. Friend had passed over lightly the question of the stamp duties, because he knew that he bad brought the subject fully before the 567 House, but his hon. Friend had not on that point done him justice. The hon. Gentleman charged him with now supporting those propositions of Mr. Cobbett with respect to the stamp duties which he had formerly opposed. There never was a greater misrepresentation than this statement. If the hon. Gentleman had been present the other night when he bad alluded to the proposal of Mr. Cobbett, he would have heard him refer to the debates on the subject in 1833. So far was he then from saying, when Mr. Cobbett brought forward his motion, that the stamp duties did not require amendment, that he had said then, as now, that they did require amendment, and that be for one was willing to bear the responsibility of undertaking an alteration in them; but his noble Friend Lord Althorp having given notice of his intention to bring in a measure on the subject he thought the best course was to wait for that measure. He had not therefore pursued an inconsistent course, and he did not deserve the censure his hon. Friend had thrown on his conduct. His hon. Friend in the sixth resolution adverted to the charge of collecting the revenues, but he excluded all consideration of the saving already effected in this branch of the public service. Between the years 1820 and 1835, there was a reduction of 677,000l. a-year in the charge of collection, and between 1817 and 1836, there was a diminution of 1,130,000l. a-year. The charge of the collection of the revenue could not, it was obvious, always be reduced in proportion as the revenue was lessened, because when a tax was only reduced it very often required as large an establishment to collect the reduced as to collect the whole tax. To so great an extent, however, had the reduction been carried, that he doubted whether, at present, they had not gone too far; but they were continuing their efforts to retrench the expenditure of this branch wherever it was possible, and he thought it would be better to do so than to adopt a resolution which would lead to no practical result. The hon. Member, in the succeeding resolution, called on the House to decide the question of the standard of value, and the 1l. notes, and other litigated questions, which he (Mr. Rice) would never shrink from discussing when brought forward in the form of distinct propositions, but which he thought it was unjust to the House and to the public to introduce into these resolutions. There 568 was one fallacy of the hon. Member which he could not suffer to pass without more lengthened notice—the allegation that the fixing of our standard of value, and the alteration made in the currency, had been to the detriment and injury of the labouring classes. Now, if ever there was a change in which the great mass of the working classes were deeply interested, and by which they were highly benefited, it was this, for the depreciation of the currency was most felt by those who lived on the wages of their labour. He protested therefore against the inference drawn by the hon. Member on this subject. He came next to the eighth resolution: as the hon. Member seemed disposed to admit, nothing could be more futile than his proposition for an investigation of the financial system of the country, unless the House was prepared to substitute a property tax in lieu of the present system of taxation, he for one was not prepared to make that substitution, and he did not think the manufacturing classes would thank the hon. Member so much for it as he was inclined to imagine. He thought that his hon. Friend himself would, upon reflection, see the evils that must result from it, and the danger to which the great interests of the country must be exposed. Its first effect would be, to interfere with the application of capital, and to encourage its transmission from this to other countries. In proportion as the amount of capital disposable for the employment of labour was reduced, the Well-being of the classes thus deprived of employment was diminished. If a tax of ten per cent. were imposed on a manufacturer in the receipt of 10,000l. a-year, his means of employing those dependent on him would be diminished by 1,000l. a-year. The hon. Member said that the country had submitted to a property-tax during the war; but no analogy could be drawn between Europe in a state of war and Europe in a state of peace. He should pity that unfortunate mortal who, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, had either to propose a property-tax or to defend it. Why had the house-tax been so odious, except because it came directly from the pockets of the people? When the tax was paid on commodities purchased, it mixed itself with the price of the article, and became more or less voluntary; but the hon. Member was mistaken if he thought that a tax pressing directly upon the means of subsistence would maintain the revenue more 569 effectually than indirect taxation. During the existence of the. former property-tax many persons in trade were compelled, by their desire to maintain their credit, to pay a larger amount of tax than they were compellable to pay by the amount of their property. He contended that nothing could be more fallacious than the apparent equality of the property-tax. If such a tax were not likely to be palatable either to the manufacturing capitalists or to those whom they employed, would it, he would ask, be palatable to the landed interest of the country? Would it be a been to offer to the landlord a tax of 10 per cent. on the rental which he had to receive, and to the tenant a tax of 7½ per cent. on the amount of rent which he had to pay? Would it be a been to the people of Ireland to offer them the introduction of a property-tax—a species of tax which up to that hour they had never been called on to pay? He was quite sure that if the hon. Member for Worcester had tenfold the power to support him that he had at present, he would not be able to convince the House of Commons that a property-tax was a fit tax to be imposed on the country in time of peace. The hon. Member had spoken of the present state of the country as highly prosperous, and he had said that we ought to be grateful for it, but that we ought not to rely too much on its prolonged continuance. He admitted the truth of that observation. We ought to be thankful, and we ought to be grateful for our present state of prosperity; but whilst we were so thankful and so grateful, and whilst our prosperity was cementing our attachment to the institutions which had created it, we had no right to look upon it as our eternal inheritance. That was the very argument which he should use as well as the hon. Member for Worcester. Formerly we were called upon to revise our system of taxation in order to relieve the distress of the country; now we were called upon to avail ourselves of our prosperity to try an experiment which might endanger its continuance, by turning our whole system of taxation up-side down. The hon. member for Worcester could not view the prosperity of the country with stronger feelings of gratitude than he did; but, to insure its continuance, he would advise the House of Commons to persevere in the means which had created it. Let them give all the relief in their power to the people—let them be economical in their expenditure—let them apply their 570 surplus revenue to the remission of taxation—but let them not blindly affirm a general principle of which no one could see the conclusion, or foretell the result. Above all, if the notion of a property-tax in time of peace was nothing better than a delusion, let them not tamper with the public credit of the country by seeking for a substitute for our present system of taxation—a substitute which could not be found, which, if found, could never last, and which, if found in the shape of a property-tax, no Parliament could ever pass in time of peace. Let it be recollected, too, that a property-tax, which remained untouched during time of peace, was a sure defence to us in time of war, and that it was calculated to prevent us from being forced into war by foreign powers, as it showed that we had for such an emergency means of which the extent was known, and of which the use was at any moment practicable. If our commerce must be protected, if our rights must be maintained, if our national honour must be vindicated, so long as the property-tax remains untouched, there is not a single power in Europe which does not know that the right arm of England is ready for the fray whenever and wherever hostilities may break forth. Again, observe the distinction between a property-tax in time of peace and a property-tax in time of war. Suppose you had a property-tax in time of peace, and that war should suddenly break out, how would you increase your revenue derived from direct taxation by the imposition of indirect taxation? No; let indirect taxation be the source of your revenue in peace, and leave direct taxation, in the shape of a property-tax, for the advent of war. He hoped that he had argued this question without asperity—for he could assure the House that he felt none—and that he had not treated the hon. member for Worcester with disrespect, for he had no such feeling towards his hon. Friend. All that he had done was to endeavour to show the House that it would not be expedient to affirm these resolutions. He objected to them altogether; but in so doing his consolation was, if he had understood the hon. Member for Worcester correctly, that the hon. Member had introduced them rather for the purpose of having them considered by the House than from any hope of having them adopted by it. If such was the hon. Member's object, it would be better answered by the discussion which the hon. 571 Member had produced, than by any division of the House, which he hoped would on this occasion be avoided, as it would be liable to misconstruction. He would conclude by saying that he opposed these resolutions, because he believed them to be adverse to the best interests of the country,—because he believed that the course which the country had hitherto followed had greatly promoted its prosperity,—because he knew that we had already given the people, in the last six years, relief from 8,000,000l. of taxation,—because he knew that derangement in our fiscal regulations was always an evil,—because he knew that it always created a double disturbance of capital,—because he felt that a property-tax was an improper tax during a period of peace, although it might be a very useful and productive tax during a period of war,—and because he was certain that the consumer would not get the benefit of the tax repealed, whilst the people would have to pay the full burden of the tax imposed. Meaning nothing but kindness towards his hon. Friend, he would, in conclusion, beg his hon. Friend to withdraw his motion. Mr. Barlow Hoy could not but express satisfaction at the greater part of what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and he hoped that the hon. Member for Worcester would consent to withdraw his resolution. He wished, however, to say one word on the subject of the Legacy and Probate Duty: much had been said of the partiality of imposing such burdens on personal property, and allowing land to enjoy exemption from them. But he (Mr. Hoy,) was of opinion, and he thought that the House would bear him out in that opinion, that the taxes borne by the land were much more than equivalent to the Legacy and Probate Duty upon personal property. He thought the hon. Member for Worcester should have put at the head of his resolution a proposition to the effect that the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer was unnecessary and ought to be abolished, because if the House should deal with the existing taxation in the manner he proposed, there would certainly be no great necessity for such office. He quite agreed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in respect of direct and indirect taxation; that nothing could be worse, and more undefeasible than direct taxation of any kind. He admitted, indeed, that there would be great saving in the collec- 572 tion of the revenue by the adoption of such a plan; but he could state that a labouring man in this country suffered more from fifteen days' want of employment than from any amount of taxation with which he was burdened: and he believed that the labouring classes generally would be sufferers to a very great extent by any disturbance of capital, which such an alteration in the mode of raising a revenue would almost inevitably produce. Gentlemen from Ireland were very fond of insisting upon equalization in the laws of the two countries: he (Mr. Hoy,) could see no reason why the landed property in that country should not be taxed to the same extent as that of England; and he called upon those hon. Members to support that equalization. In conclusion, he repeated his hope that the hon. Member would withdraw his resolution: he believed that if he went to a division he would be left in a very small minority.
§ Mr. Hume
could not agree with those hon. Gentlemen who thought that direct taxation was the very worst mode in which taxes could be levied. He had thought that little difference of opinion existed on that subject. Even the Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted that taxation to be the best which proportionately took the least out of the pockets of the people, and returned the most into the Exchequer. With regard to what the hon. Member had said respecting the inconvenience which any portion of the labouring classes would feel at the loss of employment for fifteen days together, he considered that nothing more distressing to the labouring classes could take place. If a man who had no other means of subsistence than his daily labour was to be kept for fifteen days out of employment the consequences to him would be most grievous. But what was the best way of promoting the employment of the working classes? It was, in his mind, by not taking money out of the pockets of those who afforded them employment. He could call the attention of the House to what had occurred with respect to the repeal of the duty on salt. It would be in their recollection that at the time that they repealed the duty on salt that duty amounted to 15s. per bushel, whilst at that time the price of salt per bushel was 20s. Well, the duty having been taken off, the price of salt was reduced to 2s. a bushel. There then was a loss of three shillings to the manufacturer on the full rate—that was in the reduction 573 from five shillings to two. In the same proportion, if they looked to various articles which paid an excise duty, they would find that the fall on each article was proportioned to the reduction of taxation. He differed in opinion from the right hon. Gentleman respecting a property-tax. In the principle of such a tax he fully concurred. He did not agree in what the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said, that luckless would be the man who proposed a property-tax. In that opinion he by no means was willing to coincide. He was pleased to hear what had fallen on this subject from the hon. Gentleman who introduced the motion. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had said, that if we resorted to a property-tax at all it should be reserved for a time of war. He hoped that they never would have a time of war. But were they to be kept off from adopting a property-tax, if it should be thought expedient, until the time of war? He found there was a great objection existing in many quarters to the adoption of a property-tax. A great proportion of capital of the country, he admitted, was unwilling to bear its proper share of taxation. When the noble Lord who had given notice of a motion respecting the agricultural distress should bring that motion forward, he should be prepared to show what was the exact state of agricultural taxation. He would be prepared to show that there was no country in which the landed aristocracy bore so little taxation as in this country. He would go farther, and show the extent to which they ought to be taxed. The Chancellor of the Exchequer might, perhaps, differ from him on that point. He held in his hand a copy of a return by which it appeared that since the legacy and probate duty were laid on, the amount of personal property administered for was 826,000,000l. It appeared from this rereturn that personal property had paid into the Exchequer no less a sum than 43,737,000l., whilstlanded property during that time had not paid one farthing. He now came to the course proposed by the hon. Gentleman who had made the motion. He confessed that he had little confidence in the plan of reform which the hon. Gentleman had proposed. He could not agree in any of the principles which he had laid down, though he agreed in many of the statements he had made. In the course of the discussion which the hon. Gentleman had originated he found that two or three important principles of taxation were 574 admitted. He agreed in the observations made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer concerning the war-taxes. But let them consider what was their financial situation in 1792,—what was the comparative difference between their taxation then and now. He was not one of those who had ever been fond of drawing gloomy pictures. In the worst of times it never had been his disposition to do so, for he knew that any distress which existed arose out of causes of our own making, and which it was fully in our power to remedy. Now with respect to the reduction of taxation, and particularly as regarded the manufacturing and working classes, he was surprised to find that the hon. Member in his proposed reductions had made no mention of the corn-laws. From the hon. Member's rising until his sitting down he had not mentioned one word on the subject of the corn-laws. Could he have been serious in thinking that if the taxation of the country was revised the corn-laws were to be forgotten? With the knowledge of the effect of the corn laws on the commerce and industry of the country, he was sure that the hon. Gentleman could not have unintentionally forborne to allude to them. He could not admit the deductions of the hon. Gentleman when he had omitted to allude to such an important subject as that. The corn-laws, he would be able to prove, were injurious to the productive industry of the country to an extent that was by no means generally supposed. There were branches of industry so circumstanced that the most trifling difference of price was sufficient to influence them, and make them prosperous or otherwise. When he was last in the manufacturing parts of England he was informed that the difference of ⅛ or ¼ had been the means of removing an extensive branch of manufacturing industry from the place altogether. He complained then that in a proposal to revise our taxation the hon. Member had omitted to notice number one of the entire system. He presumed that the hon. Member would admit the importance of house-rent, and the necessity of affording comfortable accommodation to the working classes. Now, there was nothing more important in building houses for those classes than that the material should be good, and that they should be able to introduce good timber into the fabrication of such buildings, in preference to inferior timber; and for that purpose would not an alteration of the timber duties be desirable? The hon. 575 Member, however, was one of those who strenuously resisted any alteration in the timber duties. They had the corn-laws, the timber duties, the duties on gloves, silks, and other duties of that description, which were injurious, and which the hon. Member supported. The continuance of this system was too bad. He did not think that these could be much longer maintained. It was a principle of monopoly, which was the fault of all our taxation. When they spoke of the consumers they should endeavour to extend the class of consumers as much as possible by a fair and proper system of taxation—a system that would not press exclusively on one class. In one point that had been proposed, he fully agreed. He meant an ad valorem duty. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was fully aware that, both in the Committee up stairs and in the House below, he had always been an advocate for trying what they could do with an ad valorem duty. Now, with respect to tea for instance, though, perhaps, that was one of the most unfavourable they could select, he had always been of opinion that it was most unfair to call on the poor man to pay as much duty for the inferior article he consumed as they required the rich man to pay for the superior article which he consumed. In America, for a long period there had been no difficulty found with respect to collecting an ad valorem duty on tea. Now, with respect to the management of our customs duties, he would refer to the article of wines. There were, for instance, Moselle and other wines which might be purchased on the continent at 4d. a bottle. He believed that Moselle might be imported into this country at about 6d. a bottle; and was it not, then, an absurd system to subject a wine of this description to the same amount of duty as the more expensive wines, which were sold at a much higher price? There were few men that would not prefer drinking these milder and lighter wines, instead of being, as under the present system, compelled to drink the stronger and more potent wines. He did not know but this might have a greater effect upon the character of the country than they were at all prepared to think. People generally, he was sure, preferred weak wines to the stronger. He would speak from experience—for after having used light wines on the Continent for three months, he could not for some time after he returned relish the stronger wines. He admitted that he was a mere mortal, and, 576 if such was the effect on him, why was it not reasonable to suppose that others felt similarly? He was an advocate for a change in the system. There were, perhaps, many present who were the advocates of Temperance Societies, but let them, by changing this part of their system of customs duties, promote the adoption of more temperate habits. He was sure that there was no Chancellor of the Exchequer who ought not to be satisfied with a duty of 100 per cent. on the wine drunk in this country, and, if they were content with this duty, they could have excellent wine sold in this country at 1s. a bottle. He hoped that the time was conning when they would be able to effect that. Nothing, he felt, would be more satisfactory to the country than to put the excise out of every manufactory in the country. The Chancellor of the Exchequer would always find that whatever taxes he reduced returned to the Exchequer in some other way. Whatever reductions were made did not deduct more than one-half in their amount from the public revenue, for the reduction of taxation promoted consumption, and the amount of taxation reduced was returned in the consumption of luxuries and in other ways. With respect to a property-tax, he did not think in any alteration of taxation they were to be influenced by any argument respecting the non-existence of war. That was a consideration which they were by no means to look to. The question was whether they were ready to keep up a system of taxation which was particularly oppressive to a large portion of the community. It appeared to him that they were not only unjust in their system of taxation, but in their legislation as well. With respect to the alterations that had from time to time taken place in the elective franchise, its extension to the working classes had always been resisted, on the ground that they did not possess any portion of capital. It was, therefore, determined that a property qualification for the possession of the franchise should be established. He considered that nothing could be more fallacious than this. All the landed capital in the country was not equal in amount to the amount of capital possessed by the working classes. This class had, indeed, been severely taxed, as if they were the exclusive possessors of property. They had not merely been deprived of their rights as the possessors of capital, but they were subjected to an undue share of taxation. The capital of the working classes, con- 577 sisting of labour, was of as much importance as any other description of capital, and upon it, to a great extent, the prosperity of the country depended. He contended that the taxation of the country was founded altogether upon an erroneous principle. He hoped the time would come, that no Gentleman in that House would be found anxious to shrink from bearing his fair share of taxation. There was a part of the hon. Gentleman's motion which formed a fair ground for inquiry; but he was by no means prepared to affirm other points in his resolutions. If the hon. Gentleman was content merely to call the attention of the House to the principle contained in his last resolution he would be willing to give him his best assistance, otherwise he could not support him.
§ Mr. John Maxwell
condemned the attack that had been made upon the landed interest by the hon. Member for Middlesex. He coincided in opinion with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the imposition of a property-tax would be improper. While entertaining this opinion, he could not refrain from expressing his desire that some judicious alterations could be made in the taxes upon soap, malt, and sugar, which now pressed so heavily upon the working population.
§ Mr. Forster
had but a single observation to make in reply to the remarks of the hon. Member for Middlesex, with respect to the repeal of the malt-tax. That hon. Member said, that the property-tax was repealed in 1816, by the landed interest, from a desire to be especially relieved. Now, the popular feeling was unanimously expressed against that tax; and a petition he remembered was presented from Liverpool, to which there were affixed more than 40,000 signatures. Lord Brougham, who was then a Member of that House, remarked upon a petition from Newton-Bushel, the only one presented for its continuance, that as it set itself against the rest of the country upon this subject, ha trusted it should be excepted from the benefit of its repeal. To show the pressure upon the landed interest, he would state a fact, of which he was himself a witness —he saw that day, upon an investment of 40,000l. in land, that the stamp-duty amounted to 500l., the fact being, that had the same been invested in the funds or on a rail-road no duty would be required.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
considered, that if the property-tax were again levied, the great burden of it would fall upon the labouring 578 classes, and it would be found particularly oppressive to them.
§ Mr. Baines
thought, that there was this great advantage in direct taxation, that the person upon whom it was imposed could ascertain exactly what it was he had to pay. There was another advantage too, that it was less expensive than a circuitous tax; for in the same proportion that the taxes were circuitous were they expensive. This should be remembered with respect to a property-tax, that if they had a property-tax they must have also an income-tax; and who, he would ask, would submit in the time of peace to the inquisitorial investigations of their affairs necessary with an income-tax? The property-tax was exclaimed against. As to the house-tax, which was a direct tax, the cry against it had been so loud, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was compelled to remit it. With the views that he entertained, and which were decidedly opposed to those expressed by the hon. Member for Worcester, he should vote against his resolutions. He should do so, not because he was indisposed to direct taxation, but because he was indisposed to a property-tax, accompanied as that should be by an income-tax, to be collected by means of inquisitorial investigations, and which in a state of peace would never be endured in this country.
§ Mr. Benett
had always advocated a property-tax because he considered it a fair tax, and one that could be collected with the least possible expense to the country. The landed interest, he thought, must be benefitted by a property-tax, and for his part he did not object to its inquisitorial powers. It had the additional advantage, in his opinion, that it was calculated to relieve the country from many of its burdens. It would commute 11,000,000l. of taxes upon the productive interests of the country. At a private meeting held by those who were on the Opposition benches, it was agreed to demand a commutation of 11,000,000l. of taxes then pressing upon the productive interests of the country, and the repeal of taxes to the amount of 3,000,000l., and when this proposition was made known to the Government, they immediately took off four millions and a-half of taxes. It was upon the principle of the property-tax that he should support the hon. Member for Worcester.
said, that if he had 10,000l. a year—he wished he had it—he would gladly agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give him as much of it 579 in the shape of a property tax, as should be equal to all the Chancellor of the Exchequer got out of him now by indirect taxation, on condition that all he paid in consequence of the existing taxes should be removed. And this, because he had a cheerful faith, that what was left would be worth as much to him as eleven, twelve, or 15,000l. would be now. He therefore did not see that the prospect was so very hopeless, of finding others join in wishing to exchange the present mode of taxation for a property-tax, on the same grounds. The cause of the resistance to a property-tax, was in the desire of the rich to throw a fair share of the burthen from themselves; and he believed it would never be "merry England," till the taxation was laid on the property of the rich, and not on the consumption of the poor. He must vote for all the resolutions proposed from the other side, except the seventh, on currency.
§ Mr. Robinson
stated in reply, that it was his intention to withdraw his resolutions, as he hoped the discussion which had taken place would produce an impression upon the country and the Ministry.
§ Mr. T. Attwood
protested against the resolutions being withdrawn. He came down to the House prepared to support them. He regretted that so many hours had now been wasted upon a discussion which was to terminate thus.
§ Resolutions negatived.