HC Deb 12 March 1838 vol 41 cc779-85

On the question that the Speaker do leave the chair,

Colonel Sibthorp

rose to move as an amendment for the reduction of the duty on Policies of Assurance. He hoped that he would not be opposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the miserable pretext that the finances of the country would not bear any diminution of taxation. The right hon. Gentleman should have been the person to make this motion, but he (Colonel Sibthorp) was sorry to say, that Government had, on all occasions, shown a disposition to resist it. He was happy to say, that this was so little of a party question that he could confidently look for the support of Gentlemen opposite, as even the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, and the right hon. the Secretary for the Board of Trade, had presented petitions for the remission of the tax. Government had remitted a great many taxes not near so oppressive as the one now under discussion. On looking over the paper he found that the duty on rhubarb, on human hair, on anchovies, and French wines, on balsam of copaiba, and jalap had been reduced, although these were all articles of luxury, and deserved to be taxed. He also found a reduction in the duty on playing cards. To be sure these might be an article of necessity to many hon. Members, but while these taxes on mere luxuries were remitted by wholesale the tax on Policies of Assurance, one which affected a very large portion of the community, remained as high as at any period during the war. He thought it absurd that, while the premium on fire assurance was only 1s. 6d. per cent. the duty should be 3s.—a duty which deterred many, in spite of the frequent lamentable accidents, from insuring. The effect of the present high rate of duty was to transfer a great deal of the business to foreign offices—indeed he had heard a report, for the accuracy of which be could not vouch, that previous to the late fire in the Temple, the law gentlemen residing there had met for the purpose of considering whether it would be advisable to insure that building in a French-office. [The Attorney-General: No, no.] The report might be incorrect, but a great many buildings were insured in foreign offices; this would be prevented by a reduction of the duty, which reduction would not ultimately prove any loss to the revenue. There was a strong feeling amongst the public on the subject, and it was high time that the matter should be taken into consideration. The hon. and gallant Member concluded by moving as a resolution, that it is the opinion of the House that the duty now chargeable on all insurances against fire at the rate of 3s. per cent. on each policy, shall cease, and shall henceforth be at the rate of 1s. 6d. in lieu thereof on all such policies, being a reduction of one half of the former amount.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

could not complain of the hon. and gallant Colonel's motion, nor of the manner in which it had been brought forward, but the hon. and gallant Colonel had himself anticipated the answer which he felt bound to give to the motion. He could not be expected to defend this tax or any other tax as being other than evils, although necessary evils. Undoubtedly with respect to the charge upon insurances, whether marine, fire, or life insurances, it was one which pressed heavily upon persons in all stations of life, but he was not quite sure that he entirely concurred with the hon. and gallant Colonel in thinking that the charge upon fire insurances was entitled to the very first consideration. He would state one single fact, which he hoped would be sufficient to induce the House to suspend its decision on this subject. The financial year was not yet at an end, and he had had no opportunity of laying before the House the condition of the finances of the country. In January last, however, a statement was published in the Gazette of the condition the finances were in at the last period of striking a balance. According to the balance-sheet published in January it appeared that, so far from having a surplus to dispose of, the country was in a state of deficiency. There was a deficiency of 655,000l. on the balance of the year. He could assure the gallant Colonel that if he chose to raise the question on a fitting occasion, he would show to the gallant Colonel and the country, speaking of mercantile men and men conversant with the working of the crisis like that from which we had just escaped, that no man would be bold enough to say, that any financial measure that had been done, or that had been omitted to be done, would have prevented that commercial crisis which, taking its rise in America, and acting on this country, had reacted on the general trade, and consequently on the revenues of this country. The hon. and gallant Colonel had asked him to try the proposed reduction as an experiment. He did not think, that he would be justified in trying an experiment, the result of which was very doubtful, at a time, when in point of fact, there was no surplus revenue to give away. If he had a surplus revenue he should be prepared to meet the hon. and gallant Colonel on this subject, but he must decline doing so unless the gallant Colonel accompanied his proposition with the information that he was prepared to substitute some other tax for the one he proposed to repeal. He did not think that the House or the country would say, that they were acting as reasonable or honest men if they parted with a considerable amount of revenue when there was a deficiency of income. He must also remind the House that this was an increasing and not a diminishing tax. For the three years preceding the present, the amount had been for the first 809,000l., for the second 844,000l. and for the year before the present 872,000l. It had, therefore, in a period of three years, increased by 63,000l. Under these circumstances he hoped the House would not entertain the proposition of the hon. and gallant Colonel, and would not take this opportunity of diminishing a tax which stood pledged for the maintenance of the public credit, and which was necessary in order to enable the Ministers to carry on the Government of the country.

Sir George Sinclair

entreated his hon. and gallant Friend to withdraw his motion, and not take the sense of the House; because, if he did so, after the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he should feel himself under the disagreeable necessity of voting against the motion.

Colonel Sibthorp

said, that the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had asked him how he would supply the supposed deficiency that would arise if this reduction were effected. In answer to the challenge, he begged to inform the right hon. Gentleman that he hoped shortly to submit to the House his motion for the reduction of official salaries; and he hoped further, that the saving thus effected, would supply the deficiency that would be caused if the present proposition were agreed to. He had discharged his duty, and he was determined to take the sense of the House.

Sir E. Knatchbull

was one of those who thought very highly of the merits of the motion of the hon. and gallant Colonel; but he hoped that the hon. and gallant Colonel would not press it to a division, the only effect of which, in the present state of the House, would be to damage the question in the eyes of the country. While he was on his legs, he begged to ask the right hon. Gentleman, the Chan- cellor of the Exchequer, when he intended to bring forward his financial statement? He was desirous of having a distinct answer, because in the last Session the right hon. Gentleman had been repeatedly pressed on this subject, and was very unwilling to give any answer. The right hon. Gentleman told the House that when the proper time came he would give ample and satisfactory reasons for the delay that had occurred. He (Sir E. Knatchbull) was present when the right hon. Gentleman made his statement, but he had vainly sought for the reasons which the right hon. Gentleman promised to give for the delay that had taken place.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

would confine himself to the question of the right hon. Gentleman, and would give it a distinct reply. The financial year would conclude on the 5th of April, and as soon as the year's accounts were made up, and put into the hands of Ministers, so as to make his statement intelligible, and this in all probability would be in the course of the month of April, he hoped to be prepared to make his financial statement.

Mr. Hume

said, that it was impossible to inquire into the subject before the House without being satisfied that many properties were uninsured in consequence of the high rate of duty. He was satisfied that if a reduction were made the revenue would not suffer, and millions would be covered with insurances which were now lost. Feeling this, he was anxious that this question should be fairly discussed, and not brought forward incidentally. Examples of former reductions might be brought forward to show that taxation had been reduced with great benefit to the people at large, and without injury to the revenue. He hoped the hon. and gallant Colonel would not press the matter to a division now, but when the proper time came to discuss this question, he would vote with the hon. and gallant Colonel, and support him by all the means in his power.

Lord Mahon

said, that under different circumstances, and at another period, he would have been happy to vote for the motion of the hon. and gallant Colonel, but if now pressed to a division he must vote against it.

The House divided on the original motion—Ayes 95; Noes 20: Majority 75.

List of the AYES.
Acheson, Viscount Marshall, W.
Acland, T. D. Masters, T. W. C.
Baring, F. T. Mildmay, P. St. J.
Barry, G. S. Miles, P. W. S.
Beamish, F. B. Morris, D.
Benett, J. Murray, rt. hon. J. A.
Berkeley, hon. H. O'Brien, W. S.
Bernal, R. O'Ferrall, R. M.
Blunt, Sir C. Palmer, C. F.
Briscoe, J. I. Palmerston, Viscount
Bryan, G. Parker, J.
Buller, E. Parnell, rt. hn. Sir H.
Busfield, W. Parrott, J.
Campbell, Sir H. Pease, J.
Campbell, Sir J. Pendarves, E. W. W.
Chichester, J. P. B. Philips, G. R.
Childers, J. W. Poulter, J. S.
Chute, W. L. W. Protheroe, E.
Clay, W. Pusey, P.
Conolly, E. Rice, rt. hn. T. S.
Craig, W. G. Rich, H.
Curry, W. Roche, D.
Darby, G. Rolfe, Sir R. M.
Divett, E. Rushout, G.
Duff, J. Russell, Lord John
Dunlop, J. Salwey, Col.
Easthope, J. Sharpe, General
Ferguson, Sir R. A. Sinclair, Sir G.
Fergusson, rt. hon. C. Stanley, E. J.
Finch, F. Stansfield, W. R. C.
French, F. Strutt, E.
Grattan, J. Style, Sir C.
Guest, J. J. Thornley, T.
Hobhouse, T. B. Troubridge, Sir E. T.
Hodges, T. L. Vere, Sir C. B.
Hodgson, R. Verney, Sir H.
Howard, P. H. Vivian, Major C.
Howick, Viscount Vivian, rt. hn. Sir R. H.
Hughes, W. B. White, L.
Hurt, F. White, S.
Hutton, R. Williams, W. A.
Johnstone, H. Winnington, T. E.
Kemble, H. Wood, C.
Langdale, hon. C. Wood, T.
Lennox, Lord G. Woulfe, Sergeant
Lockhart, A. M. Wyse, T.
Mackenzie, T. TELLERS.
Macleod, R. Maule, hon. F.
Mahon, Viscount Grey, Sir G.
List of the NOES.
Baring, H. B. Parker, R. T.
Brotherton, J. Perceval, Colonel
Collier, J. Round, J.
Ellis, J. Somerville, Sir W. M.
Fielden, J. Walker, R.
Gibson, T. Warburton, H.
Hume, J. Williams, W.
Jones, J. Wood, G. W.
Kirk, P.
Logan, H. TELLERS.
Mackenzie, W. F. Sibthorp, Colonel
Marsland, H. Forester, hon. G.

The House resolved itself into Committee of Supply.