HC Deb 23 July 1840 vol 55 cc931-4

The Attorney-General moved that the House resolve itself into committee on the Rating Stock in Trade Bill.

Mr. Goulburn

was obliged to make a short statement on the subject of the bill, and take the chance of a longer and more satisfactory debate on another night. He entertained strong objections to the present bill, which would alter the established principle of our law of rating that had subsisted since the time of Elizabeth. The hon. and learned Gentleman proposed to exempt from rating that description of property called stock in trade. The necessary consequence of exempting one class of property from rating was the imposition of increased burdens on another, and therefore this bill was, strictly speaking, an augmentation of taxes on every other species of property, to which no compensating advantage was given. Representations had been made to him that in most places a very heavy police rate was paid to protect the very property which the bill was intended to exempt. The printed communications from the Poor Law commissioners showed that a vast quantity of property would escape rating under the bill which ought, on every principle of justice, to pay its proportion. By removing liability to the rate from this, great injury would be inflicted on every other species of property. The principle of the law of Elizabeth was, that it should bear equally on all parties. If that principle were to be altered by such a measure as the present, Government should take care to grant Corresponding advantages to the property which would suffer from its operation. He contended that the bill would press very hardly on the owners of tithe. In their case the rate would be charged upon the full amount of the property, including the maintenance of the owner and the subsistence of servants. In the case of the owner of an estate, the rate would be charged on the sum paid to him as rent, the allowance for his own maintenance, and the subsistence of servants being exempted. Another circumstance, that the person on whom they were pressing was the only professional person whose professional income was taxed by the state, was an additional inducement why they should do nothing that would operate injuriously on the interests of the ecclesiastical tithe-owner. Various modes of relief might be adopted; the law might be left as it was, or some provision might be made as to the proportion in which ecclesiastical tithes should be rated with reference to other species of property, or allowance might be made to the ecclesiastical tithe-owner out of the tithe to be rated, adequate to the value to the public of their professional services. To adopt either of the last two courses, he was satisfied, would be an act of justice, and he trusted one of them would be adopted. If public convenience required that the rating of stock in trade should be dealt with by legislation, the House was bound to take care that the change was not made at the expense of a meritorious, and, he felt bound to say standing in the situation he did, an ill-defended class of men.

The Attorney-General

was at a loss to understand what was the intention of the right hon. Gentleman. Was he opposed to going into committee at all? Or did he really think that it would be better to let the law remain as it was? If the right hon. Gentleman thought so, he was the only man in the House, or in the country, who held that opinion. The right hon. Baronet had most forcibly pointed out the other evening the necessity for an alteration, and with some justice complained of the Government for not having sooner brought in a measure to remedy the inconvenience of the existing law. It had been found utterly impossible that a rate on stock in trade could be so modelled as to be free from legal objections. That arose from the word "inhabitants" in the 43d Elizabeth; and for the purpose of applying a remedy this bill was introduced. In fact, the law had become quite odious, and except in a very few instances, no attempt had been made to enforce it. Then the bill made that law which was at present usage. The right hon. Gentleman had not said that even the tithe-owners had reason to complain of the measure; he had only contended that one particular class, the ecclesiastical tithe-owners, would be injured. But what was the difference between tithe and land? One was just as much real property as the other. The rate on land was made on a computation of the value which a solvent tenant would pay for it, after all costs and charges were discharged. On exactly the same principle tithe was to be rated. If, then, the owner of land had no reason to complain, neither had the owner of tithe generally reason to complain; and what was the distinction between lay and ecclesiastical tithe? It might be true that the ecclesiastical tithe-owner received his tithe, in part, as a payment for his professional services, but he received it, and had done so ever since the 43d of Elizabeth, subject to a deduction for poor's rate. He should strenuously resist any alteration in the bill that at all touched the relative liability of occupiers of real property, as he should any that went to exempt coal mines, or canals, or which would extend beyond the change to be effected by omiting the word "inhabitants" from the statute he had mentioned.

Sir E. Wilmot

agreed, that either this bill, or some such bill, must pass; for we could not go on any longer as we were going on at present; for there was now no rate which could not be successfully appealed against. He wanted to know from the hon. and learned Attorney-general whether a clause might not be introduced into the bill defining what machinery was to be considered attached to the freehold, and what not? In other words, he wanted to know whether the hon. and learned Attorney-general would define in this bill the property which ought to be rated, and that which ought not?

Mr. Darby

thought that it would be better to pass a temporary bill upon this subject, and to take the whole matter into consideration early next session.

Captain Wood

agreed with the hon. Members who had preceded him, that it was absolutely necessary to pass some measure on this subject. But whence had that necessity arisen? From the circular of the Poor-law commissioners, and from nothing else. He deprecated the practice which had recently sprung up—namely, that the Poor-law commissioners should issue their mandates throughout the country, and should thereby overturn every thing which had hitherto been considered law.

House in committee.

Clauses of the bill agreed to.

House resumed.