§ House in Committee on the Excise Acts,
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
rose to bring forward his measure for the repeal of the Auction Duties. He said, after the full statement which had been made by his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury upon the subject, when he made his financial statement to the House, and after the explanation his right hon. Friend had given in reference to the evil consequences of those duties, which were contained in the Report of the Commissioners of Excise Inquiry, he should, under ordinary circumstances, have felt himself exempted from the necessity of troubling the House any further upon the subject; but inasmuch as his hon. Friend the Member for Dorsetshire had intimated his intention of taking the sense of the House upon the proposition, it became his duty to state to the House the reasons which had induced the Government to recommend the total 255 repeal of the auction duties. In the Report of the Excise Commission, the Commissioners stated that they thought the attention of the House ought to be first directed to the auction duties, with a view, if not of repealing them altogether, at least of amending them considerably. He need not state that the auction duties were duties of a character deemed, in a commercial country, most obnoxious. It was undesirable that a tax should be levied upon the transfer of property; it was essential to the interests of a commercial country that there should be as far as possible a repeal of taxes which affected the transfer of property. Such a tax could only be justified by necessity. This particular tax was not only objectionable as regarded the transfer of property, but it was also objectionable as regarded the partial manner in which it worked. It applied only to that particular class of property which was sold by auction, and there were reasons why this mode of transferring property was of all others the most entitled to indulgence. He need not remind the House that sales of property in this country by auction were generally forced upon the parties; and that they had no option whatever in respect to selling. He referred to what were not uncommon instances of the manner in which property was thus transferred. Two cases of this kind had recently come under his observation. Two estates had been lately sold, which nearly equalled each other in value, and for argument sake he would say in round numbers that they sold for 100,000l. each. To one of those estates an individual succeeded, whose predecessor had made it subject to a large amount of debt, which should be discharged from the proceeds of the sale. These incumbrances amounted to 90,000l. Being obliged to submit the property to auction, the consequence was, that this sum of 90,000l. was paid by the individual out of the purchase money, which only left a balance of 10,000l. He was, however, obliged to pay the auction duty upon the whole amount, being 3,000l., which left for himself only about 7,000l. The other estate was without any incumbrance; and the owner of it put it up to auction with the object merely, as he stated, of estimating its value; he, however, evaded paying the duty of 3,000l. upon it by withdrawing it from the sale, and then disposed of it by private contract for 100,000l. He gave these instances to show the partial effect which such a law produced in the transfer of property by auction. It appeared by a return which had been laid 256 on the Table of the House, that out of the whole mass of property which had been brought to auction, a very small proportion of it became subject to this duty. The property brought to auction in the course of the year amounted to forty-five millions, whilst the property that actually paid the duty amounted to something short of eight millions, showing to what an enormous extent certain species of property had been exempted from duty. The exemption arose from two causes. The first cause of exemption was the feeling of Parliament that the auction duty was an oppressive tax, and that the exemption ought to be carried to a very great extent; Parliament had therefore been in the habit, from time to time, of relieving particular interests from the operation of the duty, so that there were no less than forty-one classes of exemption introduced by Parliament, with a view to diminish the severity of the operation of this tax. The continuance of the duty upon those who were still subject to pay it was necessarily viewed by them as a hardship. We were not to suppose that because out of forty-five millions, thirty-seven millions might be exempted from the duty, the parties interested were altogether relieved from the charge and trouble of the tax. Far from it. Although the bulk of the property did not pay the duty, it was subject to those restrictions which applied to the other, in order to prevent improper evasions. The auctioneer must give the same notices, he must draw out the same catalogues, he must prepare the same accounts, he must give the same bonds to the Excise which he must give in the case of property which must ultimately pay the duty. The consequence was, that he remunerated himself by charges on those parties whose property it was not the intention of the Legislature to subject to these burdens. It necessarily followed that from exemptions the labour imposed on the Government and the expense arising from the labour, was very considerable; so that a large deduction from the total amount of duty levied must be made on account of the expense of collection. From the best information which he had been able to obtain of the 300,000l. which the auction duty produced, 50,000l. was spent in the collection; so that the House would see that this tax had the other evil of levying a much larger sum on the public than actually came into the coffer of the Treasury. But the greatest evil which attended the auction duty was the general combination amongst 257 all classes to evade it. Property was put up to ascertain its value; it was bought in, and immediately afterwards disposed of by private contract. In the majority of instances, the ingenuity exercised in evading the tax was successful. This duty operated prejudically on all classes of the community. Take a case immediately connected with trade and commerce: by the auction law, as it at present stood, the first importer, who sold the goods within a limited period after their arrival, sold them entirely free from the auction duty; but the individual who purchased them of him, sell them when he might, was subjected to the full duty. So that this case happened: the cargo arrived and was immediately sold, the seller having paid no duties to the Crown; if the buyer was engaged in trade, and wished to part with the property, he was under the necessity of paying a duty of 1s. in the pound. The first seller did not materially profit by his exemption, for he necessarily considered the restrictions to which he was subject, and would not give the importer the full price. In this way the duty affected commercial men; but the evil was not less as affecting the agricultural interest, in whose behalf the hon. Member for Dorsetshire proposed to move an Amendment to his Motion. It was perfectly true that a farmer who sold his stock upon his farm was altogether exempt from the auction duty; and it might be supposed that whatever benefit would arise from the repeal of the duty was already enjoyed by agriculturists; but the evil of the duty applied here as in other cases. It affected but little the man of property, while it pressed severely upon him who was least able to bear it. A great farmer who had a large stock, had enough to attract purchasers and such a competition as would secure to him the full value of the commodity; but a small farmer, who had but few articles to dispose of, could not command the attendance of a large number of persons, by which the advantage of a sale by auction was enhanced. In rural districts large farmers found it convenient to sell in the immediate neighbourhood of great towns, with the view of having more profitable returns; and in order to evade the duty, it had been the practice for farmers so situated to hire land in the immediate vicinity of the town where they wished to sell, and to drive the cattle to the land to be there sold, that the duty might be evaded, whilst they derived advantage from 258 the contiguity of a large population. Take the case of the sale of timber. When it was sold standing, it paid no duty whatever; but suppose the purchaser should wish to dispose of the bark, or those parts which were not valuable as timber, in order to reimburse himself for the amount he had paid for the timber, he was then subject to the whole amount of the duty, as he did not sell on the property on which the timber was grown. Thus the exemption which the farmers appeared to enjoy was in many cases rather in name than in reality. He might give other instances, but enough had been stated to show that the tax operated severely even on those on whom it was the wish of the Legislature that it should operate the least. It might possibly be said that many of these anomalies might be got rid of by a reduction of the duty and an alteration of the system under which it was collected. The attempt had been made. It had not proved successful, and it was found much better to repeal the tax altogether. It was proposed, however, to retain so much of the machinery as imposed a license on the auctioneer by whom the business was to be carried on; and it was proposed that the license duty should be 15l. on every auctioneer. The House was aware that at the present moment the ordinary license of an auctioneer amounted only to 5l.; but if he sold any article which was subject to excise duty, he was bound to pay, however small the quantity of the article which he sold, the full license for the permission to sell that particular article; and it might, and in some instances did happen, that where, in addition to the sale of ordinary property, he sold wine, beer, or spirits, in all these cases a separate license must be obtained; and there were cases in which auctioneers took out the full amount of these additional duties, and thereby incurred an annual charge of 30l., which was the amount of all these particular duties. In fixing the duty at half this amount, it appeared to him that it was not an unfair compromise of extreme rights. A party having a license for 15l. would be at liberty to sell every species of property. What would necessarily be the operation of the duty? It would be, that there being no longer any restriction of sales by auction—the more ready mode of selling property at its value—there would be a great increase of the property really put up to sale and actually disposed of by this mode of transfer. The auctioneer, therefore, would have a 259 very large increase of business throughout the country, arising from the simple circumstance, that there would be no obstacle to the disposal of property. He would also be relieved from other burdens; for in addition to the 5l. duty which he was obliged to pay, he was obliged to furnish annual bonds to the Excise, with sureties for the payment of the duties which passed through his hands. These bonds were an annual expense, independent of the expense which was always incident to requiring parties to be sureties. By the removal of the duty the auctioneer was exempted from those onerous burdens to which he was subject with a view to the prevention of fraud—he was relieved from the necessity of giving and receiving notices, and was no longer responsible to Government for large amounts—he was no longer obliged to keep complicated books of accounts, and transmit them for the satisfaction of the Excise, not merely on those sales on which the duties were levied, but those on which duties were due. Taking these circumstances into consideration, it was his firm belief that the charge of 15l. would not be so much as that which was now the ordinary duty paid by auctioneers. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving,—That it is the opinion of this Committee that all the Duties of Excise now payable in respect of Sales by Auction, and on Licenses to be taken out by Auctioneers, shall cease.
§ Mr. Hawes
asked whether the right hon. Gentleman had considered the brokers in the city of London, and other great commercial towns? These brokers belonged to houses where there were several partners. Hitherto it had been the practice for one partner to take out a license, and to sell the commodities which they sold under one single license. He understood the First Lord of the Treasury to have said that the license was to be raised from 5l., the present amount, to 15l. each. Now, if every member of these brokers' firms was to take out a separate license, the amount which they would have to pay, instead of 5l., would be 45l. He would, therefore, ask if it was the intention of the right hon. Gentleman that each member of a firm should be compelled to take out a license? If such was not the intention, an announcement of the fact would remove the apprehensions which were now entertained on this head by many parties in the city of London.
The Chanctllor of the Exchequer
said, 260 that the person taking out the license and belonging to a firm, had necessarily the right to sell; but that if two or three members of a firm were engaged in selling by auction, each of them would be obliged to take out the license. Were that not the case, what would be the consequence? There would be a combination of auctioneers in little societies, one of whom would have the license, and the others not. It was only the individual that sold by auction that was liable to pay the license.
§ Mr. Bankes
felt that in offering a reply to the statement of his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer he was by no means called upon to make out that no benefit would result from the removal of the tax proposed to be remitted, because no tax or impost whatever could be removed without occasioning a benefit to some party. He trusted that he should place himself in the position he wished to occupy on that occasion, by being enabled to satisfy the House that he could propose a greater and more efficient relief, with the same sum of money, by retaining this duty as it stood, for the present at least, and by relieving those who at the present moment were suffering severely by the pressure of a heavy impost. He felt more particularly called upon at the present time to offer this substitute to the House, because with reference to those propositions which now stood before the House for its consideration, and more especially some that were proposed by his right hon. Friend at the head of the Home Office, there were burdens of the most serious nature to be imposed upon the landed interest. He adverted more particularly to those measures which stood for consideration on that day se'nnight—the Bill of his right hon. Friend, by which he proposed to regulate the Fees of Justices' Clerks, and of Clerks of the Peace, and the Parochial Settlement Bill. These measures might, perhaps, deserve, and very probably, from the support which the Government usually received in that House, would receive the sanction of the House. But it was right that they should be aware of the burdens which these measures would inevitably occasion; and he must tell his right hon. Friends that they would place the agricultural Members in rather an unfair and invidious position, if, when they proposed measures which the agricultural Members wished to support, they felt bound from circumstances to resist them on the ground of the inability of their constituents 261 to bear the burdens which those measures would lay on them. The Bill of his right hon. Friend which related to the clerks of the peace and to the justices' clerks, was one which, if it came into effect, would occasion a greatly increased degree of expense to be paid out of the county rates. The hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) had given notice that he would move that all fees now received by these officers be abolished. If these fees were abolished, what would become of the fund to which the right hon. Gentleman looked for curtailing the expense which this Bill proposed to place upon the counties? He would remind his right hon. Friend that officers of this kind to be efficient, and to sustain a proper degree of dignity, must not be ill paid, and must not be selected from an inferior station in life. The Legislature must be prepared to give these officers ample salaries—salaries worthy of the ambition of such men as the country would desire to see placed in those positions. Not only the clerks of the peace, but the clerks of petty sessions also, should be men of that degree of station and character possessed generally by those who now filled these offices, but who complained that their pay was not a sufficient remuneration for their trouble, that pay being composed of those fees and other means of scanty emolument which were now complained of. It was time that fees were done away with; but if they were done away with, there would come a new burden on the county rates. He, therefore, earnestly entreated his right hon. Friends, before they completed their financial arrangements, which disposed of the whole of their surplus revenue, to consider well the effect of this measure, which they now intended to carry; beneficial he admitted it to be in itself, but which must necessarily be attended with expense. With respect to the other measure—of which he could not speak with the same praise as he was ready to bestow upon the first—he meant the new Law of Settlement—it was one to which he looked with the greatest degree of alarm, and one to which he could not promise any degree of support. With respect to that measure, he begged leave to remind his right hon. Friend, that in addition to other serious disadvantages, a great deal of additional expense would be entailed by it upon the agricultural interest; if that measure were carried into effect, it would occasion a very considerable increase in the poor rates for if, by union settlements, instead of parochial 262 settlements, they threw all the poor into one large mass, instead of into smaller masses, such as they were now congregated in, they would take away that stimulus which now incited persons residing in separate parishes to provide, as it was their interest to do, employment for the poor, each in their own parish, instead of allowing them to go to the union workhouse. He claimed no merit to the agriculturists for determining rather to employ the poor than to allow them to go to the workhouse. He was aware that they were open to the attacks of those who were ready to say that they did so from the most selfish motives. He was ready to admit, if no better motive could be alleged for them, or if there were those who wished to impute only that motive which was least honourable, that the agriculturists acted from a selfish motive, as it was for their interest to employ the labourer rather than allow him to go to the workhouse. When the law should be altered, as his right hon. Friend proposed to alter it, that motive would cease, and the conduct which it originated on the part of the agriculturists towards the poor would cease also. There was thus another considerable burden to be apprehended, and they would find the poor rates again mounting up rapidly, as the returns would show which would be laid upon the Table. He must be allowed to tell his right hon. Friend that when he referred with so much triumph to the apparently diminished rates, he adverted to that which was in truth a very fallacious statement of the expenses with which the agriculturists were charged with reference to the relief of the poor, because the payment of those sums now paid in the way of finding employment for the poor—those sums now disbursed for labour not absolutely required, was in reality but another mode of paying to the poor rate, although such payments did not appear in the Returns which were laid upon the Table. It was, therefore, very premature for them to congratulate themselves on the apparent diminution in the amount of the poor rates. The agriculturists were paying for labour which they did not require. ["Hear!"] That they were doing so was perfectly true—they were paying for labour which they did not require, rather than that those whom they thus employed should go to the union workhouse. If the contemplated change in the law of settlement should be made, they would see the amount of the poor rates once more increase 263 —the sums now paid by the agriculturists would again appear in the shape of poor rates, instead of being paid, as at present, for the employment of labour. In a union of large extent it would be absolutely impracticable to treat the poor as the agriculturists dealt with them in their parishes. He ventured to hope, therefore, that Ministers would consider this point in their financial scheme; and that, with reference to those measures which they were now bringing before the House, with the certainty of laying additional burdens upon the agricultural interest, they would pause, at least for a time, and consent rather to retain those duties which they now designed to remit, until they well considered the consequences of those new burdens which they were about to throw more particularly on the agricultural interest. He would advert to another important matter, which he understood was now under the consideration of Government—the establishment of lunatic asylums. A measure with reference to this important object should be considered and adopted with the smallest possible delay. In the county which he had the honour to represent he was happy to say that they had anticipated the intentions of the Government. They had there voluntarily established such an asylum, which they kept up at a heavy expense, and there was none which they were more proud, more happy to pay. It was one of the results of the New Poor Law, that they must have these asylums in every county, or misery and additional evils would be visited upon those who were unfortunately so afflicted as to require such places of refuge. There was another project now proposed, which came as an additional charge upon the county rate. The hon. Member for Lymington had charge of a bill for abolishing smoke; for carrying out the provisions of which inspectors were to be appointed at the county sessions, and paid, as he presumed, out of the county purse. Museums of art were to be established; and they, in the same way, were to be paid out of the rates. When they were making these charges on the county purse, they should at least have the prudence and the kindness to take care that that purse should be decently replenished. He had adverted to those new burdens which might be anticipated; but he must also tell the House that those which already existed pressed in a very heavy manner on the persons liable to pay the county rate, who were frequently of 264 the poorest means. He could not entirely agree with his right hon. Friend (Sir James Graham), when he said that it was a matter of indifference whether these charges were paid out of the consolidated fund or out of the county rate. There was a difference between their being paid out of the consolidated fund and being defrayed by direct taxes levied for the purpose. To show the mode in which the county rate sometimes pressed upon the poorer classes, he would read to the House a letter which he had that morning received from a guardian of the Dorchester Union, to which he would particularly call the attention of his right hon. Friend Sir James Graham. The right hon. Member read the letter, as follows:—In some parishes, as for instance in a parish in this neighbourhood, the levy of poor rate, including of course, county rate, is felt as a great burden by the poor. The land in the parish being much of it in the hands of small proprietors has been used for building cottages on, and a great many dwellings for labourers and poor mechanics and tradesmen have been erected there. The parochial authorities, under the direction of the vestry, always apply to the magistrates for those poor persons inhabiting those small tenements to be excused from the poor rate if they belong to the parish; but if they belong elsewhere they do not, and the payment of the poor rates falls very heavily on some so situated. Last week, an old blacksmith, who rents one of those tenements at 5l. a year, but does not belong to the parish, applied to me (as the blacksmith in this parish is his brother) for assistance towards paying his poor rate. He only earns about 5s. a week, on which he and a daughter in bad health, have to live, and his rate amounted to between 4s. 6d. and 5s. This, of course, was a heavy demand on an income of 5s. a week; and there have been many cases before us as magistrates which (under the Act of Parliament) we could not excuse without the recommendation of the vestry, and that recommendation is generally withheld except to a settled parishioner.His right hon. Friend said that this was one of a class of cases which his new Bill would remedy. Perhaps it might; but in his opinion that Bill would produce infinitely more mischief than good. The object he had in view in reading the statement with which he had just troubled the House—and he had many others in his hand of a similar character, which he could read if they were needed as further proof — was to show that this rate pressed on the poor with great severity. For that reason, if for no other, he was induced to say that the remission of the county rates, to an amount 265 equal to that of the tax which Her Majesty's Government now proposed to remit, would occasion a much greater degree of benefit to the country, as it would be a benefit which would reach the humbler classes of the people, and would give more general satisfaction. Indeed, he should be able to show, when he came to touch upon the auction duty, that although they might relieve and benefit some by their measure, many were, nevertheless, extremely dissatisfied with what they proposed. He had but very slender grounds of hope that he should be able to effect a change of opinion on this subject in the occupants of the Ministerial Bench. With respect to the Bench opposite, he might have better grounds for hoping that he would find those who would concur with him, because it was during the existence of the Government of which the noble Lord the Member for London was a Member, that was first originated the principle of giving a degree of assistance to the county rate, in behalf of which he (Mr. Bankes) now asked for a still larger relief. The noble Lord considered it but reasonable and just that relief should be given to the agricultural interest in respect of payments and charges falling hardly upon them, which were for the benefit of the community at large. He would not speak so particularly with respect to the case of prosecutions. He might admit that it was right that the magistrates of counties, who had the superintendence of prosecutions, should have a direct interest in guarding against any extravagance, and, above all, against the effects of too great a love for prosecutions. With respect to those charges which applied to parties after conviction, when juries had found against them, it was not unreasonable — seeing that the public at large was interested in the matters which caused those charges—that the expenses attending such conviction should be shared by the community. He should say, therefore, with respect to the charges of gaols, and of convictions, a much larger proportion than had as yet been allowed might reasonably be expected to the relief of the county rate. There was another class of Members in the House to which he would also venture to apply—he meant those who were proud to be ranked under the denomination of the Anti-Corn Law League. He did not despair of having their assistance on that occasion, because he was not one of those who considered that those hon. Members 266 were intentionally hostile to the agricultural interest. He believed that what they said they believed to be true—that they wished well to that interest; and when they charged them (the agriculturists) with being blind to their own interests, he would give them every credit for having no intention to molest or to injure the agriculturists as a body, although individuals sometimes fell under their censure and animadversion. He was inclined to believe that they considered that the prosperity of the agriculturist was interwoven with their own. He admitted that if the condition of the agriculturists were more prosperous, the home market for cotton would be more prosperous than it was at present. With reference to this subject he would refer to the last trades' circular of Manchester, which said,—That the condition of the market, during the early part of the last month, continued to preserve its vigour, and that full prices had been maintained—that within the last fortnight, however, a marked change had taken place, and that a dulness, with a drooping aspect as to prices, had succeeded—and that this alteration was attributable to several causes, amongst which, as respected home consumption, might be mentioned, the increased deterioration in the condition of the agricultural population.He would, therefore, urge those hon. Members, if from no higher motive than a desire for the furtherance of their own interests, to aid in removing this depression as far as lay in their power; and although it was true it was but for little he asked, that was no reason why they should refuse the good which they might, perhaps, ridicule as being too small. He was ready to meet any sneers which might be offered in regard to the amount of relief which he solicited at their hands. It was perfectly true that he might, on the same grounds as those on which he made this application, have joined the hon. and learned Member for Bath, when he proposed to fix on the property of Ireland the Income Tax which was paid by the property of England. The proposition was perfectly just and reasonable in point of principle, and would, if carried, have afforded additional means of aiding those whose distressed condition he was now bringing under their consideration. But he, for one, did not consider it right to give his support to that proposition, nor did he regret that he withheld it. Undoubtedly, if the Income Tax were to be continued as a permanent tax, the 267 extending it to Ireland would be a fit subject for future consideration. He had refrained from offering opposition to the remission of the duty on cotton wool; but he was not so sanguine as to believe that the slightest decrease of the price of cotton garments would accrue to the labourers from the duty being taken off. He had no wish, however, to interfere with any proposition which might affect the manufacturing interests; but if he had waited until the whole financial schemes of the Government had been completed, and then came forward with an abstract proposition, complaining of the county rates, he would have been met by his Friends on that side of the House, and by many of his Friends on the other side, who would ask him why he had not come forward at an earlier period with this application. He believed that his right hon. Friends were not aware of the extent of the distress in the agricultural districts, nor of the precise extent to which the burden of the county rate pressed upon the agricultural interest. That pressure was mitigated in some degree by the attention and care of the magistrates, in excusing those from paying who, they were satisfied, were unable to pay; but many of those who did pay were persons who could little afford the rate, and whom it was their desire to excuse if it were in their power. When he saw new projects to fix new burdens upon this same fund, he felt it to be his duty, before the whole of the surplus at the disposal of the Government was disposed of, at least to make his right hon. Friends acquainted with the fact, that they could not carry out their projects, some of which, he admitted, should if possible be carried out, and fix the burden of them upon the county funds, without creating a degree of distress in the agricultural districts which they were unable to bear. He was surprised to hear, on the part of the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary, the other night, an attack on the manner in which counties generally kept their accounts; and he would now request the attention of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose more particularly to what he was going to say. It was charged upon the counties that they kept their accounts; in a slovenly manner. As regarded the county with which he was connected, the very contrary was the case. He held the balance sheet of the county in his hand, and could say with confidence that there was not a shilling, not a sixpence in that balance sheet which 268 was not properly accounted for. He was satisfied that every attention was paid to this subject that the most correct financier could possibly require; and he really believed that the hon. Member for Montrose himself would approve of the mode in which the balance sheet to which he referred had been made out. He offered the House a proposition for suspending the proposed remission of the duty which was bringing at the present moment about 300,000l. a year to the Public Exchequer. He was aware that from the remission which had taken place in other duties a considerable sum had also been placed at the disposal of his right hon. Friend, who had placed a large number of the officers of Excise on half pay, and that a great many more might yet probably be so disposed of, and thus a larger sum still be left at his disposal very soon. Ministers had given relief to those who were most proud and prosperous—the manufacturers; they ought, then, to give relief also to the agriculturists—to those who were so depressed; and he did not know why relief should be refused to them. He demanded it not only because the agriculturists were distressed, but because their claims to relief were just. As to the auction duties, he could assure the Government that it was a species of remission that did not meet with universal approbation. He had received letters from country auctioneers—letters not sought for by him; but these letters, coming from different parts of the country, all expressed a hope that every resistance would be made to the farther progress of this measure, as it would be injurious to some, and ruinous to others; that is, it would drive them to some other mode of employment. There were in England about 4,000 auctioneers; about 500 of these took out the larger license, the remainder had but the 5l. license, and yet the Government proposed to make all those persons pay 15l. They could not do that; and many of them he was assured would abandon their occupation. But, then, those who should consent to pay the duty, must get an indemnity from some person—of course the duty must ultimately be paid by those who employed them; and who were to employ them? Why, the agriculturists: those who were now exempt if they sold on their own premises, the Government proposed now to make them pay—and this it was said, was a benefit to agriculturists. It was supposed by the right hon. Gentleman that it was a benefit to the farmer 269 to sell elsewhere rather than on his premises. In that the right hon. Gentleman was wrong. Farming stock sold much better on the farm than anywhere else. It had been urged as an absurdity in the present regulation of the auction duty, that when the first importer of articles sold them by auction, he was liable to no auction duty; but that the second possessor of these same articles, if desirous of selling them by auction, could not do so without incurring the amount of duty. But it was quite a mistake to suppose that any absurdity was involved in a regulation made in accordance with the plainest rule of justice. The first importer does not pay an auction duty upon those imported, because he has already paid the customs' import duty on these very articles; and it could not be considered very reasonable to charge him with two rates of duty in reference to one commercial transaction. But now what is it that is to be done? The corn and flour that is brought from abroad, having been already relieved from the greater portion of the customs' duty, is to be relieved entirely from the auction duty, if parted with by that mode of sale. And yet we are informed by the Members of the Government that this is a change which will have the effect of benefiting the agricultural interest! The foundation of this portion of the Budget was a Report prepared by Sir Henry Parnell, in furtherance of a plan of his, by which all Excise duties were to be entirely altered or abolished; a Report which had been submitted to the House some years ago, but which had never been offered for the adoption of the House, by any of the different Governments that had been in power during that period until now. And it was a fit subject for observation, that in the very outset of this Report, an erroneous impression was conveyed in regard to the origin of this tax. Any one who should give implicit credit to this Report would be induced to believe that this was a tax imposed at a time of great emergency, without consideration, or even with the consciousness of those who imposed it, that the tax was in principle a bad one; but such impressions are very far from the truth. This tax was proposed by one who, though not a very successful Minister, was yet far from being discredited on subjects of finance. Lord North thus expressed himself, when proposing the auction duty in the year 1777: "This tax (he said) was intended to answer more purposes than those of mere finance. 270 Auctions were multiplied of late years in all parts of the kingdom, to that excess, as to be very mischievous to every fair trader; and in many cases were attended with circumstances of gross fraud and imposition. But even where they were accompanied with no such circumstances, they were fair objects of taxation, and were already taxed in Holland, the country in Europe where the public burdens were most judiciously laid on. He believed it would be a very productive tax, but he should take it at 37,000l."—Such was the statement of Lord North when introducing this tax; a tax which was adopted by Mr. Pitt, and being raised in amount, produced at this day a revenue of 300,000l., without complaint from any one single individual. As to the auctioneers who were making large fortunes, he had no doubt but that the removal of this tax would be popular amongst them; and he was quite aware, that if not the authors, they were, at all events, the promoters of the scheme. The auctioneers of a humbler class, however, had a right to expect some consideration on the part of Her Majesty's Ministers. He believed that if they went through the whole body of auctioneers, they would find all except the five hundred who now pay the higher duty opposed to the change. It would gratify only those who had attained considerable eminence, and who, filling a high situation in their rank in life, did not require pecuniary aid; it would injure a very large and estimable class of country auctioneers, whose case deserved consideration; and it would confer no benefit whatever upon the agriculturists. One word with respect to the sale of landed property. His right hon. Friend said that the tax was obnoxious on account of there being so many exemptions. He did not comprehend the full force of that argument. The tax was not obnoxious to those who were exempt from its operation. If the ground upon which the alteration was proposed was the evasions practised with reference to revenue, that was a reason which he could understand. But his right hon. Friend seemed to rest the chief force of his argument on the extreme trouble which the tax caused to public officers; but he really could not consider that as a valid ground. Besides, this tax belonged rather to the Customs than to the Excise Department; and, by transferring the management of it from one to the other, all the mischiefs complained of would at once be obviated. In 271 reply to the objection that landed estates were not generally sold by auction, but were resorted to only as a mode of ascertaining their value, he might observe that practical suggestions had been made, in the very Report now before them, the adoption of which would remove that evil. It would be very easy to exempt landed estates from the auction duty, and to substitute a graduated stamp duty, which would be a security against all evasion of that nature. Admitting, then, as he did at the outset, that some persons might derive benefit from the proposed remission of duty, he thought he had shown that not a few would be greatly injured; and, striking a balance between the benefit conferred by the remission, and the benefit which, if they refrained from making this alteration, Her Majesty's Government might confer by other means, he ventured to hope that his right hon. Friends would think this matter worthy of reconsideration; and it was for the purpose of giving them the opportunity for that reconsideration that he should pursue the course of which he had given notice, by taking the sense of the House upon this subject.
§ Mr. M. Gibson
said, that in some of the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down he, for one, perfectly coincided. His hon. Friends on that side of the House who thought with him in reference to these matters, were no less anxious to see the landlord, the farmer, and the labourer in a prosperous state than the hon. Gentleman who had introduced this discussion; but they differed from him entirely as to the means of promoting their prosperity. That hon. Gentleman had come forward seeking, as he told them, relief for the agricultural industry of the country; and his proposal had, he said, at any rate, the recommendation of being a modest one. Now, he thought he could show the hon. Gentleman that his proposal was not calculated to benefit the agricultural interest; and, further, that it was any thing but a modest proposal. Why, what was the agricultural interest? When they spoke of the landed interest, did they mean the agricultural labourer, or the farmer, or the landed proprietor? If the hon. Gentleman used the expression in reference to the agricultural labourer, he was utterly at a loss to understand how any remission of local taxation could possibly benefit persons of that class. And even if it would, he did not know why that should be the peculiar moment selected in preference to 272 other periods for dealing with the distress of the agricultural labourer. His distress was chronic; but he contended that at the present time his condition was a shade better than it had been at former periods, in consequence of the cheapness of food and the abundance of provisions. Let a Motion be brought forward for removing the permanent distress of that class, and he would unite with its proposers most cordially; but when he was told that by leaving the auction duties in their present state, by taking off certain local taxation and county rates, and by interfering in some way with lunatic asylums, they would benefit the great body of agricultural labourers in this country, he must say that he was urged to exercise a degree of faith in the hon. Gentleman's infallibility—for the appeal was not made to his reason—which in a matter of this kind it was not usual to expect. Then, with regard to the farmer, how did the county rates affect his interest? He was himself a distressed agriculturist; he was also a justice of the peace, and he knew something of the manner of dealing with county rates. When farmers had asked to have their interests represented with respect to the levying of the county rates and county expenses generally, landed proprietors themselves had said to them, "You don't pay these county rates; they come out of the rent." And they were quite right in the statement. If the hon. Gentleman opposite would take the trouble of reading the able Report on Local Taxation which had been laid on the Table of that House, he would find the Commissioners distinctly telling him that county rates, poor rates, rates for lunatic asylums, and all the local burdens which the hon. Member had mentioned, were merely portions of rent intercepted before they found their way from the pocket of the tenant into that of the owner of the land. What you take from local burdens would ultimately be added to landlord's rent. Well, then, what possible benefit could it be to the farmer, if he were the distressed party whom it was sought to relieve, to deal with local taxation? Who was the third party connected with the agricultural interest whom it was proposed to relieve? Why, the landed proprietor himself. Therefore, he maintained, that he had made out his case. When the hon. Gentleman came there to ask them not to take off a tax which pressed upon the community, but, instead of this, to put money 273 into the pockets of the landed proprietors, he thought he was entitled to say, that the proposal was at least not a modest one. He confessed, that it appeared to him to have as little of the character of modesty, and as much of what he should call cool assurance, as any proposal that had ever been made within the walls of that House. He was not using an expression which he meant to be in the slightest degree offensive to the hon. Gentleman; but he must deal with matters as he found them, and he told him at once that these propositions to benefit the tenant farmer and the agricultural labourer, merely by adding to rent, were propositions which, when once understood, must bring discredit on the landed proprietors of the whole country. Being himself connected in some degree with that class, he totally repudiated such propositions. He said that the owners of land were the parties who were bound to pay these local rates. Those rates came, as they ought to do, out of rent; and they had no right whatever to ask that rates levied for local purposes should be placed on the shoulders of any portion of the community but themselves. It should be recollected that the manufacturing towns and districts paid county rates. They did not claim to have the burden of the county rates which they paid, and justly paid, transferred to others. And neither, on the other hand, would they consent to have the portion of county-rates paid by landlords imposed upon them. He believed it could be proved, if they went into the details of this question, that, in consequence of the mode of assessment, a larger proportion of the county rates was imposed upon the population of towns than upon the owners of land; but, as that was not the question for discussion on that occasion, he would not then enter into it. He attributed this movement of the hon. Gentleman—and a most unfortunate movement it was—to a pressure from without, which he could not withstand, and which obliged him to do something. He had seen a letter in a country paper the other day, in which it was said that hon. Gentlemen opposite had let grease and lard slip through their fingers, and the question was asked, what did they mean to do next? They were not, said the writer, doing their duty to those who had sent them to Parliament. The present debate was, he supposed, an effort to recover lost favour. Such propositions, however, as that of the hon. Gentleman would not have the desired effect. 274 The tenant farmer and the agricultural labourer were too shrewd not to perceive the game which was being played; and this attempt, therefore, to restore confidence would fail. Nor did he believe that they would succeed in persuading the tenant farmers of England that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had betrayed the agricultural interest. He had never been at all inclined to that opinion. His view, in reference to this question of treachery was this—Gentlemen had chosen for election purposes, to get up a cry in reference to the agricultural interest. It was quite impossible that the Administration could carry into effect the extreme views which the farmers were told they might expect to see developed; and hon. Gentlemen were now suffering the consequences of having tampered with the county constituencies, and persuaded them that a policy would be pursued by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government which he never said would be pursued. So far from the right hon. Gentleman having held out such expectations, he recollected passages of his speeches when in opposition, which embodied the same free-trade principles which he had expounded since he had been in power. He remembered the right hon. Gentleman saying, in 1839, that the Corn Law formed no element in estimating the value of land. In the same manner, politicians in the manufacturing districts had practised on the credulity of constituents, and persuaded them that the right hon. Gentleman would go much further in the direction of free trade than he had yet been disposed to go; and upon such persons also similar consequences were being visited. Now, he would advise hon. Gentlemen opposite to endeavour to lead their tenantry to the belief that the Corn Law and the protective system could not last, instead of leading them to believe that this or that Minister would adhere to whatever policy they might choose to propound for election purposes. This proposed exemption from local taxation was entirely a landlords' question. If the people of England were to bring in their Bill against the landed interest, it would completely astound them. Nobody, without examining, could have the slightest idea of the amount of exemptions from taxation which that interest enjoyed then, and had enjoyed for a long period. A great deal was said about the National Debt, and of the public taxes raised to pay the interest of it. But the landlords never told them 275 that they themselves received the advantage of a great portion of the money which was expended in the creation of that debt. A large part of that debt was incurred in the purchase of corn, of timber, and of the necessaries of life. All these articles were purchased at high prices, owing to the war. Those high prices brought extraordinary profits into the pockets of the landed proprietors; and the landed interest, in the shape of immense profits, received a large portion of that money, the expenditure of which had caused what was called the National Debt. Mr. Deacon Hume, whose opinions were so often quoted as authority in that House, instead of speaking of the landowners as a distressed body, said that the possession of an estate of 5,000l. a year ought to imply, as a matter of course, the possession of 50,000l. consols. But what had been the course pursued by landed proprietors? Their increased incomes had been made the means of obtaining further mortgages. Instead of dealing with income as a sort of capital, they had chosen to live up to it; and, having mortgaged their property, they now called upon Parliament to persevere in a system of policy which would keep up the price of corn, and enable them to pay the interest of the large sums which they had raised through war prices. The bill of charges, if brought against the landed interest, would be perfectly awful to contemplate. It was of all rash proceedings the most rash for hon. Gentlemen to come to that House to ask on behalf of landed proprietors exemptions from taxation. Why, he contended that the local rates were no taxes at all. None of the local burdens appeared in the shape of taxes. The land was reserved in the first instance, subject to such impositions; and they could have no possible claim whatever on the community at large for compensation. They had Corn Laws and monopolies of various kinds, and they were sheltered round with a variety of privileges. The Church, for instance, was theirs. They had a great portion of the patronage of the Church; they had all the privileges of the Court; they had all the advantages of nominating Ministers, and keeping them in power; they had the whole diplomatic service at their disposal. So that their broad acres not only grew wheat, and barley, and oats, but places, and pensions, and sinecures. The possession of these acres was the great qualification for favour with the Administration; that was the certificate by which they obtained place and pen- 276 sions. He asked them to consider whether the day was not approaching when the mercantile community in this country would ask to be placed on a level with them in the social scale; whether they could now tax the credulity of the people by persuading them that they bore more than their fair share of the burdens of the State? In conclusion, he called upon hon. Gentlemen not to interrupt any longer the public business by making claims which could not be maintained. For himself, being at all times anxious to relieve the country from undue taxation, he must say that he saw no ground whatever for resisting the proposal of Her Majesty's Government.
Mr. Stafford O'Brien
The hon. Member for Manchester had given not only a slight interruption to business, but some little sketch also of the future plans and schemes of the Anti-Corn Law League; for it was evident that, having been unsuccessful for seven years in endeavouring to effect the repeal of the Corn Law, they were now going to try what they could do by attacking the Church and the Court. Wishing them success on this occasion—hon. Gentlemen too often committed the error of cheering too soon—wishing them success in their future undertaking equal to that which had attended their past exertions, he might be permitted to observe that, though the hon. Member for Manchester had announced himself as a prophet, he could not as yet declare himself to be the prophet of a fulfilled prediction. He said that the agricultural constituencies were disappointed, and wearied and disgusted with their Members. But he had not brought forward one single proof in support of the assertion. He had simply alluded to one letter in a "country newspaper." Did not the elections that took place as vacancies occurred in the country representation show distinctly whether or not those constituencies were at all inclining towards the policy or the principles of the Anti-Corn Law League? Did the elections to fill up vacancies in Kent or Wiltshire prove that the farmers were disposed to believe that the system of protection ought to be abandoned, and free trade prevail in its stead? He had come down for the purpose of opposing the Motion of his hon. Friend (Mr. Bankes), and he must say that his intention was not altered by the speech of his hon. Friend. His hon. Friend had alluded to several Bills that had not yet gone into Committee; and had taken the extraordi- 277 nary course of recommending that the proceeds of a certain tax should be appropriated to pay the expenses to which counties would be put by the operation of certain Acts, not one of which he could be answerable for. Another reason which he had for opposing his hon. Friend's proposition was, that though not quite so definite or so clear, it was in principle the very same proposition that the hon. Member for Somersetshire (Mr. Miles) had brought before the House, and to which he (Mr. O'Brien) gave his support. That question having been once decided by a large majority of the House, he did not think it would tend to forward public business, or benefit any class, again to open a discussion upon it. No man was more convinced of the importance of the question of local taxation than he was; but in entering upon its discussion now they kept the country in needless suspense; whilst introducing it merely incidentally in connexion with other subjects, they prejudiced any opinion which might exist in the country with reference to it, and failed to do justice to its merits. Therefore, because he was anxious to reserve himself for the discussion of this important question on its own merits, he should oppose the Motion of his hon. Friend. If his hon. Friend carried his proposition, the agriculturists would not be the nearer to getting the money, which would be only thrown on the floor of the House for a general scramble between hon. Gentlemen, who, his hon. Friend might be quite certain, would not be willing to let so fat and fleshy a bone be carried off by him without a struggle. For those reasons, he would give his hearty opposition to the proposition.
§ Mr. F. T. Baring
did not agree with his hon. Friend the Member for Manchester (Mr. M. Gibson) that the discussion of the present question was an unnecessary interruption of the public business; on the contrary, he thought it was most proper that they should consider a little the vote they were about to give. This was not to be looked upon as an agricultural debate; but the question to be considered was, whether the particular tax which the Government proposed to take off was, under all circumstances, the best to be remitted? Now what were the circumstances with which they had to deal? To meet a financial necessity, the House had imposed on the country a tax which—whatever opinion hon. Gentlemen might hold of it in preference to other taxes—must be admitted to be a harsh, a heavy, and an unequal tax. From 278 the imposition of that tax a certain surplus revenue had arisen; and the House having disposed of the greater portion of that surplus in the remission of other taxes, were now called upon to consider what he believed was the last proposition of the Government—viz. to apply what still remained of the surplus so created to the remission of the auction duty, and to say whether that was the best mode of dealing with it. He thought the House was bound, in justice to the community on whom they had imposed a heavy and oppressive tax, not to look upon it as an improper and unnecessary interruption of public business if hon. Members entered into the consideration of the question whether the Government had in this case proposed that remission of taxation which—and this he believed, after all, was the object of hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House—would give the greatest amount of relief to the poorer classes of the people. That was the view which he took of the Motion, and that was the question to which he should address himself. Hon. Gentlemen would forgive him if he did not enter into the domestic squabbles between the agricultural interest and the manufacturers, (which in modern times took the place of the old party contests and debates, and entered more or less into the consideration of almost every question that came before the House,) but confined himself wholly to the question of whether or not this was the best tax to take off, and, therefore, the best application of the remaining surplus with which the Government had to deal. They must not misunderstand the case. Those hon. Gentlemen who thought there were other modes of applying this surplus, which would confer a greater amount of public advantage than to remit the auction duty, must recollect that if the present Resolution were affirmed to-night, orders would be sent out to-morrow to the Excise, and the tax would be taken off. The right hon. Gentleman had not left them a very large surplus to play with; and this tax being once taken off, it would be in vain to propose to repeal or reduce any other tax which they might consider pressed more heavily and unequally upon the people, especially the poorer classes, than this tax upon auctions. For his own part, he must at once say he did not think this the best tax to remit; and though he had no doubt that the Resolution would be supported by a majority in that House, out of the House the general question was—how on earth could they have thrown 279 away 250,000l. in the reduction of the auction duty? The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had referred to the inconveniences of this particular tax. No doubt there were inconveniences attending it; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer was of all men in the world the one who from his office best knew that every tax was inevitably accompanied by inconveniences; and he was surprised at the right hon. Gentleman not having made out a stronger case of inconvenience against this tax. He knew of no single tax against which a case might not be made out on the same ground. Then as to the harshness and inequality of the tax—why, all taxes were harsh and unequal. Next to the discovery of the philosopher's stone, there was nothing so impossible as to find out a tax which should be free from those objections. Harshness, inconvenience, and inequality were necessary evils in all taxation. But the question must be considered in reference to the whole system of taxation—in reference to the many taxes still existing that oppressed the subject—and it must be considered whether this was the tax the remission of which was best adapted to give relief to the people; or whether, with this sum of 250,000l., they might not, by repealing or reducing other taxes, give a much greater amount of relief to that class of the community by whom it was most required? He would ask hon. Gentlemen on that side who advocated the repeal of the duties on butter, on cheese, and on tallow, whether they would propose and vote for the remission of those taxes? ["Hear?"] Very good; but would they in the first place take away the surplus, and having done so propose to bring the finances of the country again into a state of deficiency by reducing the duties on those articles? There were other taxes the remission of which he should prefer to this; and he should consequently vote against the Resolution. He should vote against this remission in order that he might not be misunderstood, in order that he might have a fund in hand to remit taxes more advisable to be taken off. The right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had spoken of the number of exceptions in the case of this duty. Now he was aware that there was no defending a tax of itself; but so far from the number of exceptions being a proof of the hardships and inequalities of the tax as existing, he believed in most cases they proved just the 280 contrary—they proved that the tax did not work severely; for by those exceptions the hardships and inequality which would otherwise exist were prevented or mitigated. The exceptions, then, were not of themselves grounds sufficiently strong for the removal of this tax. He next came to consider this tax with reference to other taxes, which he thought presented claims for remission. Generally speaking, when a tax was proposed for remission, one ground brought forward for its removal was, that it was so harsh and severe in its application that the complaints against it were loud and general; but in this case not only had no complaints been made, but the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had distinctly told the House that the Government had come to the determination of proposing the repeal of this tax without any pressure from without—that he had heard of no complaints against it; but that it was selected because they thought it the best tax to take off. It was true, the opinion of the Government in the matter might be, in some degree, an advantage; but he thought that, to a certain extent, the absence of complaint showed that it was not the most fitting tax to abolish. Then, again, this was not a tax the revenue from which was diminishing. The average annual produce of the auction duties in the three years 1830, 1831, and 1832, was 233,000l.; and the average for the three years 1842, 1843, and 1844, was 294,000l. Seeing, then, that it was an increasing tax in regard to revenue, he thought they might fairly conclude that it was not so oppressive to those who had to pay it as to justify its remission in preference to other taxes. Take the taxes upon all other things, and leave it to any twelve gentlemen as a jury, and he would venture to say their verdict would be, that there was no tax you could find that had not quite as good a case for remission as this auction duty. Take the tax upon assurances—a subject which the hon. and gallant Member for Lincoln had taken under his care—and on that account he would not enter into detail, or trespass on the province of the gallant Gentleman; but—could any man say that that did not present as strong a case for remission? But take the case of some other tax respecting which no notice had been given, and which was therefore free ground. Take the duty on soap, and compare the claims which it had for abolition to those presented by the duty on auctions. In the case of auctions, it was said there were ex- 281 ceptions: was it not so in that of soap? The total amount received from the soap duty was 1,100,000l.; of this not less than a quarter of a million was paid back in the shape of drawbacks and other allowances. Then it was urged the auction duty was often evaded, and frauds were committed on the Revenue. Were there no frauds on the Revenue in regard to soap? If the matter were inquired into, it would be found that there was quite as much fraud in soap as in auctions. Again, with regard to the public advantage—he believed, as he had said before, that after all, the great object of hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, in taking off duties, was to relieve as much as possible the poorer classes. But would any man tell him that the removal of the auction duty would affect the poorer classes beneficially to the same extent as would the abolition of the soap duty? In the Report published in 1843 by the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the employment of children in agriculture, the Commissioners gave a statement of the average expenditure of the labouring classes in various articles in four different places:—in Yorkshire, in Norfolk, in Gloucestershire, and in Wiltshire; and in each of those counties it appeared that the cost to the poor of this item, soap, amounted to two per cent. upon their whole expenditure. This was a very large proportion. Then, what was the effect of the duty on the price of the article? An hon. Gentleman near him had furnished him with an account in reference to this part of the subject, from which it appeared that the price of a ton of soap, such as was generally used by the poorer classes, was about 47l. The duty was 14l. 14s., being an increase in the price of 33 per cent. for the purposes of revenue; but was that all? The auction duty, it was true, took money from the pockets of the parties; but it did not control the manufacturer, or interfere with the mode in which he carried on his business; but in the case of the soap duty, it was just the reverse. In that case, the control of the Excise officer was such, and necessarily such, over the manufacture, that it interfered with every improvement of science, and every effort of the manufacturer to make the article cheaper and better. Therefore, while they took 33 per cent. as the increase of price which the duty occasioned, they must take a large increase to that sum added by the control of the Excise, and the fetters that control imposed on the manufacturer. There were various other duties besides that on soap, which he believed it would be more generally 282 advantageous to repeal than that on auctions. They had reduced the duty on sugar, of which he believed the higher classes paid a much greater proportion than they did of the soap duty. He found the consumption per head of soap was about 7lbs. and a fraction; and by a statement which had been prepared by the Board of Trade, it appeared that the lowest consumption of sugar in the worst years was about 15lbs. per head. Now with regard to soap, he found from the accounts of the expenditure of the poor he had before quoted, that the consumption of the poor—that was, the lowest class of the labouring population — was about 3½lbs. annually; that was in regard to the average consumption in the proportion of about 3½lbs. to 7½lbs.; but in regard to sugar it was 3½lbs. to 15½lbs., 15½lbs. being the average consumption. This calculation would give the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer the means of judging how much larger was the proportion paid by the poor of the soap duty than of the sugar duty. Not that he meant to object to the reduction of the sugar duty—on the contrary, he believed the measure was a wise one—not as to the mode and means by which the alteration was effected, but as taking sugar as an object of reduction of taxation. But he contended that a more immediate benefit would have been conferred on the poor if they had taken off the soap duty; and that having reduced the duty on sugar, and having a surplus with which to deal, they should prefer the soap duty for remission to that on auctions. Then he came to the question of authority. He wished to say nothing against the Excise Commissioners; on the contrary, he believed that they had performed their duties to the satisfaction of all parties, and much to the benefit of the country; and he believed that very great improvements had resulted from their inquiries. But were they satisfied with the soap duty as it stood? On the contrary, they proposed a reduction of a halfpenny a pound—the present charge being 1½d. a pound—and that recommendation they accompanied with a statement that they believed the reduction would, after a short time, occasion no loss to the Revenue, while it would tend materially to prevent smuggling. Now, 250,000l. would enable the Government to adopt that recommendation, and confer that which he believed would be a great benefit to the poor. So much for the authority of the Excise Commissioners. He would now quote a still higher authority—that of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. 283 [Hear, hear.] He saw the right hon. Gentleman was aware of the case to which he was about to allude. In the year 1837, his noble Friend the then Chancellor of the Exchequer (Lord Monteagle) was enabled, by the state of the public finances, to take off some duties; and one of the duties which he proposed to reduce was that on newspapers—a duty which was generally looked upon and complained of as a tax upon knowledge, and it was a duty also that had not been altered for a long time. On that occasion the hon. Member for Northamptonshire moved as an Amendment, that instead of reducing the duties on newspapers, the duty on soap should be reduced; and the right hon. Gentleman the present Chancellor of the Exchequer supported that Motion in a speech the most conclusive as against the continuance of the soap duties he had ever heard. He regretted he could not read that speech to the Committee. That Motion was brought forward, too, he remembered, as one likely to benefit the agricultural interest; and his noble Friend the Member for Liverpool supported it on that ground. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he remembered, did not advocate the repeal of the soap duty on the ground of benefit to agriculture, but on the ground of benefit to the poor. Under these circumstances, he could not understand how it was that the right hon. Gentleman should now pass over the soap duty, against which he had himself made out so strong a case, and propose the abolition of the auction duty, against which, comparatively, there was no case at all. Admitting that the auction duty was a bad duty—for every duty was had, more or less—but comparing it with other duties which the Government now had it in their power to reduce or repeal, not for the benefit of the agricultural interest especially, but, on the other hand, not with a view of shutting out that interest from that fair consideration of its case to which it was as much entitled as any other—and taking a general view of the interests of the country—he believed they might make a much better use of this 250,000l. than would result from the proposition of the Government; and upon these considerations he should meet the proposal of the Government with a negative.
§ Sir James Graham
concurred with the right hon. Gentleman as to the general principles on which taxation should be reduced, though he differed from him as to the conclusion at which he had arrived. 284 He rose chiefly to refer shortly to some observations that had fallen from his hon. Friend the Member for Dorset; though, having addressed the House fully when the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Somerset was under consideration, and which referred to the same subject as that of the hon. Member for Dorset, he should abstain from entering into those topics which he had then touched upon. He was convinced that, from the measures which had been brought before Parliament, much advantage might be expected from greater care in diminishing those charges to which his hon. Friend had referred. He was convinced that a great saving to the ratepayers, and to the general body of the agriculturists, who, after all, were not to be distinguished from the ratepayers, would result from the Bill he had introduced to provide for the payment of justices' clerks, and for the abolition of payment by fees. Another important measure which he had submitted for consideration in reference to the law of settlement had been alluded to—a measure that contained the important provision of substituting union for parochial settlement. With regard to that provision, he wished it to be understood, that if hon. Gentlemen should not be prepared readily to assent to it, he should not feel it to be his duty to press it adversely. This was not to be treated in the least as a party question. He was quite prepared fully and fairly to enter into the discussion of it; but he was not disposed to persist pertinaciously against what should appear to be the will of the House and the opinions of those who were most competent to form a correct opinion on the subject. His noble Friend the Member for Dorset (Lord Ashley) was understood to have it in contemplation to introduce a Bill with regard to lunatic asylums, but no such measure was as yet before the House; and to forego a reduction of taxation to the amount of near 300,000l. on the possibility that some proposition might be brought forward, at some future time, in which that surplus might properly be employed, was a proposal, he thought, scarcely tenable. His hon. Friend had commented on some observations of his (Sir James Graham's), made on a previous occasion, upon the subject of county rates. It certainly was his opinion that, with more care and supervision, a very great saving might be effected in that charge, without any alteration of the law. A more rigid economy in the management of the gaols, and the more effective auditing of the county 285 accounts, especially under the head of miscellaneous charges, in which he believed very considerable reductions might be made, would tend materially to reduce this burthen, which now bore heavily upon the land. Another matter had been referred to—the cotton duty. The argument on that question was, that the remission of the duty on a raw material, the staple of a considerable manufacture in this country, would so operate on the demand, and on the cost of the manufacture, as materially to increase the general prosperity of the manufacture itself, and improve the condition of the working classes, by stimulating the general demand for labour. He would say a word as to the speech of the right hon. Member for Portsmouth. He regarded that speech as somewhat ominous; it seemed to augur his speedy return to power. It was so much like the speech of a Chancellor of the Exchequer resisting the remission of a tax proposed by some Member of the Opposition, that it reminded him strongly of the speech of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer in resisting the remission of the window duty. With regard to some of the principal objections against the tax the Government proposed to remit, the amount of property annually charged to the tax was forty-five millions; the amount of property virtually submitted to bear the burden of the impost was only about eight millions; that was about 20 per cent. of the whole: but to levy this the whole cost of collection, as for the whole amount, remained unabated; and so great was the cost of collection, that to obtain a tax producing to the Revenue 250,000l., 50,000l. was expended in collecting it in. Then how was the tax levied? It depended in a great degree upon the integrity of the persons who were not officers of the Government, but of those who had to make the returns. The evasion of the tax was easy, the exceptions innumerable, and against frauds there was no protection; the only check being the honesty of those parties who made the returns, in which they had neither interest nor concern. Then, again, it was a most objectionable tax in this way—it was a tax upon poverty and distress. Those who were rich and had land to sell, merely put the land up to auction to ascertain its marketable value; and having done so, the sale was postponed, and ultimately effected by private contract, and no duty was paid; while, on the other hand, a person who was obliged to sell his property to the highest bidder at whatever risk, on him fell with 286 unabated force the whole of the tax. He said, therefore, it could only be regarded as a tax on poverty and distress. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Baring) had referred to the authority of the Commissioners of Excise; but he had not quoted to the House the authority of Sir H. Parnell and Mr. Wickham, the excellent and able officer who now presided over the Board of Taxes. In the Report made by them on this subject in 1835, they said,—It is true that from several quarters we have received a suggestion of a remedy for the evil, by doing away altogether, or very nearly, with the list of exemptions, and by simultaneously reducing the amount of duty. On consideration, however, we are satisfied that such a course cannot, with propriety, be recommended; and that a long list of exemptions, notwithstanding its inconvenience, must, after having been so long recognized as coeval with, and as necessarily attendant upon, this branch of taxation, be considered as an objection inherent in the system itself, and that the only remedy for the evil must be found in the total abolition of the duty.The amount of the duty on soap, which the right hon. Gentleman referred to, was 1,100,000l., but the gross amount levied by the auction duty was under 300,000l.; and the House would bear in mind the circumstances he had already stated in connexion with it. Then, what were the recommendations with regard to the remission of the duty? In the same Report to which he had referred, Sir H. Parnell and Mr. Wickham said,—Under these impressions, it is hardly necessary that we should add, as the principal result of our inquiries into this head of revenue, our recommendation that the duty on auctions should be amongst the first of the taxes to be selected for repeal, so soon as circumstances will admit of such a measure. In the mean time, however, and in case this desirable object cannot be at present conceded, we feel further bound to recommend that an immediate revision of the law relating to auctions should take place, with a view to the introduction of several alterations and improvements, which, in our opinion, in accordance with that of some of the leading members of the trade to whom we have above referred, might be adopted with a prospect of advantage both to the trade and to the revenue, so long as that branch of duty shall be permitted to continue.A large amount of taxation had been remitted since that period; but this impost still remained. The right hon. Gentleman 287 had referred to a speech that was made by his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this subject in 1836. As far as he himself personally was concerned, he might remind the House, that in that year a question was brought forward by the present Duke of Buckingham, similar to that of the hon. Member for Somersetshire, proposing that in the remission of taxation the peculiar claims of the landed interest should not be forgotten. He resisted that motion; and he trusted the House would permit him to read what he then stated:—There are many imposts which demand the attentive consideration of this House. There is one tax immediately affecting the landed interest, (and that part of it which is in the greatest degree distressed,) the revision of which is strongly recommended in the Report of the Board of Excise Commissioners, over which the Treasurer of the Navy presided, and which was adverted to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth in his speech of last year—I mean, the auction duty. The Commissioners have reported in the very strongest terms that it is a tax of the worst description, pressing hard upon the poor proprietors, who are driven to sell their land for any price it will fetch; and not at all upon the rich, who can afford to wait for a favourable opportunity of disposing of it.He still entertained the same opinion; he thought that the abolition of that tax was most desirable, and he hoped that the House would prove by its decision that it entertained a similar view.
§ Mr. Hume
observed that he was unwilling to go to a division without stating a point in respect to which he thought that the right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer was in error. The question before the Committee had nothing to do with the tax upon soap. The Motion they had to entertain was, whether the repeal of the auction duties should be refused, and the surplus applied in payment of the county rates. Yes, that was the question. The right hon. Gentleman said that the soap tax was a bad one. He quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman. In fact, he defied him to point out a good tax. But the question was this. Here was a tax proposed to be repealed—had it any one of the qualities which a tax ought to have? He defied the right hon. Gentleman to point out a worse tax—worse in any respect. Another point which he wished to urge was this. He objected to par- 288 tially repealing taxes, particularly as he had found by experience that in consequence of such reduction they never had got rid of any part of the establishments supported by taxation. Such had been the case when the candle duty was abolished, leaving the soap duty in operation; and in the same way, if they got rid of merely ½d. upon the soap duty now, no reduction could be hoped for in consequence in the expenses of the establishment. They were now in process of getting rid of a great branch of the Excise, and he hoped that others would soon follow. As for applying the proceeds of any remission of taxation specially in favour of the agricultural interest, he would remind them that the agriculturists, when asked, could never point to one tax which specially pressed upon them. On these grounds he should certainly vote for the proposition of Government.
§ Mr. Montagu Gore
was in favour of the measure as proposed by Government. The tax was one pressing heavily on the subject. It would be recollected that the duty on the sale of land principally fell upon the vendor, who was often necessitated to sell, and not upon the buyer, who was never compelled to purchase.
§ Lord John Russell
said, that his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose appeared to him to have mistaken the nature of the vote which they were about to give. He stated that they were about to record their votes with respect to a question of county rates. Now, as he understood it, there was nothing in the matter relating to county rates, nor, should the present proposition be rejected, would they in any way be pledged to take any step in reference to county rates. The question was this. The Government came forward, and, by the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, proposed the remission of certain duties. The House had agreed to several of these; they had sanctioned the remission of the duty upon cotton wool and upon glass; and it was now proposed to remit the auction duty, the abolition of which, according to the statement of the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, would reduce the surplus they had in hand to 90,000l. Such being the case, it was quite evident, as his right hon. Friend had stated, that 289 there could be no further remission of duty, supposing the Committee to agree to the proposal of Government, at least in the present Session. The question then was, whether Government had proposed the best remission of duty, or whether there might not be some other tax more worthy of reduction than the auction duties. The House had certainly shown no want of alacrity in consenting to the proposals of Government; but there were proposals which had been made to which he should wish to give assent upon another occasion. There was the proposal of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Ewart) for a reduction of the duty on butter and cheese. Now he thought a reduction upon butter would be a very excellent measure, and he did not think it would be at all less desirable were the butter to be admitted in a state fit for human food. Then, with regard to the duty upon cheese, he thought that it might very well be reduced. He understood that his hon. Friend proposed a reduction of 50 per cent. upon those articles. The amount of revenue now derivable from them was about 260,000l., and in case of the proposed reduction taking effect they could not reckon upon less than a loss of 100,000l. or 120,000l. the half of the amount at present collected. Now, with a surplus of only 90,000l. he would hardly feel himself justified in voting for such a reduction as the one in question; and they would only be in possession of this surplus were the present proposition of the Government to be carried. He recollected that they had been told by the right hon. Gentleman the late President of the Board of Trade, that the only objection to the reduction of these duties was the want of sufficient revenue. They had been told that they were excessive and absurd duties, and duties such as the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) could not defend. [Mr. Gladstone; I did not say absurd.] Well, if the right hon. Gentleman had not stated that the duties on butter and cheese were absurd, he had characterized them as such as he could not defend. The natural inference then was, that when the Revenue was able to bear it, a suitable reduction should take place. Now, he wished the Revenue to be in such a condition as to enable him to vote for that reduction; and he did not think that, for the purposes of reduction, a surplus re- 290 venue of 390,000l. was too great to begin with. Indeed, after any reduction, were they to have a surplus revenue left of 300,000l., instead of what they proposed, 90,000l., it would by no means be excessive. He was one of those who would rather — seeing that we had a grievous Property and Income Tax to struggle with — he would rather see a greater surplus of revenue left than that which the right hon. Baronet opposite proposed to allow to remain. That proposed surplus might be sufficient, supposing the state of the country to be prosperous, and that of trade and commerce advancing; but in adverse circumstances he would rather have a larger margin to depend upon than the right hon. Baronet proposed to allow. Therefore, should the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer propose a reduction of the soap duties, he could not promise that he would give his vote for such a reduction, because he should hardly like to reduce the surplus to less than it was at present. He would support the proposition of his hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries; but if it were to be decided that the auction duties should be reduced, he could say nothing in their favour, and he could not give his vote for any further reduction of taxation. He had stated his reasons for the course which he should adopt—reasons which he feared would hardly satisfy the hon. Member for Dorsetshire, but the cogency of which he could not help feeling.
§ Sir R. Peel
must express his cordial concurrence with certain of the propositions laid down by the noble Lord. He agreed with him that not a word could be said in favour of the auction duties. The noble Lord seemed inclined to resist the repeal of these duties, but not a single word could he say in their favour. Now he hoped that hon. Gentlemen would keep this declaration in mind. The noble Lord was a high authority, and the admission from him was an important one. There was another position of the noble Lord, in which he also cordially concurred. He thought with the noble Lord that 90,000l. was a very small surplus; and he concurred with the noble Lord also in thinking that it would be quite impossible, with such a surplus, to consent to any further reduction of duties. He rejoiced to have heard that position from the noble Lord; and he counted upon his cordial assistance in maintaining that surplus, 291 notwithstanding the noble Lord might feel somewhat disappointed; he repeated that he counted upon the noble Lord's cordial assistance, and rejoiced to have an occasion of uniting with him in opposition to any further propositions for reduction of taxation which might be advanced during the Session. He hoped also, that hon. Gentlemen upon this side of the House would at the same time recollect what was the declared object of the noble Lord. Suppose his hon. Friend (Mr. Bankes) succeeded, he would not, perhaps, obtain any very great advantage from it. If the noble Lord and his hon. Friend in concurrence to-night should prevent the reduction of the auction duties, he did not think that his hon. Friend could still keep the 390,000l. of present surplus, and, therefore, he thought that his hon. Friend was not likely to derive so much advantage from the noble Lord's aid as he expected. Then, to those who had any interest in the continued protection of butter and cheese, he would say—let them not forget what the noble Lord declared—let them not forget his declaration that were the Government to succeed to-night in abolishing the auction ditties, he should feel himself thereby precluded from voting for the reduction of the duty on butter and cheese. Now turning to the question before the House, let them remember what this auction duty was. It was a duly operating in favour of the large proprietor of property who wished to sell, as compared with the poor man. So far as great proprietors were concerned, the tax was merely a device for enabling them to ascertain the value of their property. They were raising the tax nominally upon forty-five millions of money, and they only received it upon eight millions; and in order to levy the amount upon this sum they required an immense establishment and cumbrous machinery. Now what was the course under this law, which they found to be often adopted? A man with an estate worth 100,000l. offered it for sale; by that means he is enabled to ascertain its value, and arrangements were made whenever this was effected, to ensure its being brought in. The tax was not then levied, and the proprietor had the advantage of the law and the establishment necessary for its enforcement, without paving for one or the other. But when property was sold under circumstances of distress, the seller had no such advantage. 292 He paid the tax—paid it in spite of all the exceptions they had made. Not a word could be said in favour of the tax, but volumes could be said against it. A case which would illustrate the harsh working of the present law, had been already stated to-night. An estate of the value of 100,000l. was to be sold. The incumbrances with which it was burdened amounted to 90,000l.; the demand was pressing, there could be no delay, the sale took place. The vendor had to pay 90,000l. in order to clear the estate from incumbrances; he therefore really received 10,000l. for the property, and of that 10,000l. he had to pay 3,000l. in auction duty. Now, another man might have an estate of the same value to sell—he would advertise his intention—by means of the present law he could ascertain the amount he could count upon. He would then sell it by private bargain to the highest bidder. He would pay no auction duty, and he would be thus employing the auctioneer, and setting in work the machinery of the law, and at the same time evading the tax which the law imposed. Again, could there be anything more advantageous to a commercial and agricultural country than to have a free circulation of property, and to abolish the distinction between certain modes of sale, so that the seller should always enjoy the highest price which he could command. But above all, considering under what circumstances the property of those who were distressed was often exposed for sale, surely the system which levied a duty on such sales, but exempted from duty sales conducted by those who were under no obligation to part with their property, was a most unjust as well as unadvisable system. They were likely—society was likely—to reap great social, if not great pecuniary, advantages from the change now proposed. Indeed, he could not conceive anything more advantageous in a country like this, than that property should be exposed to sale so as to bring to the proprietor the highest attainable price. He hoped, therefore, that the House would agree with Her Majesty's Government in removing this tax; although at the same time he was free to confess that he believed that, by doing so, they would be leaving a surplus amount of revenue less than was desirable.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
recommended the abolition of the duty on fire insurances. 293 At a future period, he would take the sense of the House upon that proposition. Generally, he would be prepared to support any measure tending to the relief of the agricultural interest.
§ Mr. Cobden
The appeal of the right hon. Gentleman to the agricultural Members is certainly anything but flattering. He says, "If you vote for the Member for Dorsetshire, there will be a surplus of 300,000l., which the noble Member for London warns you may be applied to the remission of the duties on butter and cheese. Remember, you are interested in preserving these duties." Did we ever say anything so insulting to you as that? I have sometimes said at Covent Garden that there should be written over this House—"Dealers in corn and cattle, and no competition allowed with the shop over the water." Bui I never said you were cheesemongers and dealers in butter. Is it not most degrading to you to say that the wretched serfs who earn 8s. or 9s. a week, cannot purchase butter or cheese at a somewhat cheaper rate, because you are interested in keeping up the prices of these necessaries? I am not misrepresenting the right hon. Gentleman; but I must say I am surprised that he should allow his meaning to be so transparent, as that the country should be able to understand perfectly the motives by which his supporters in this House are actuated. I shall vote for the reduction of the auction duty, and also for the abolition of the duties on butler and cheese. I hope when the hon. Member for Dumfries brings the latter forward, the country will be prepared to judge of the motives of those who vote against it.
Sir T. Acland
I do not recollect my right hon. Friend attributing such motives as that supposed to the class to which I belong. [Sir R. Peel: "Hear, hear."] If he did, it escaped me. Appreciating fully all the hon. Gentleman's intelligence, and the labours in which he is doubtless sincerely engaged to amend the condition of his fellow-men—for whom, he will permit me to say, the greatest professors do not always feel the most real interest—I will not consent that he should be the exponent either of my right hon. Friend's address, or of the motives which I am surprised to find he should think any class capable of being actuated by—particularly of a body of whose sentiments he has no right to speak. I think my 294 right hon. Friend's appeal was but a pleasant turn of an argument, and not meant as a serious appeal to the self-interest of his supporters. It struck him, however, that his hon. Friend was in error when he talked of "your auctioneer"—the State having no auctioneer. It appears that the landowners are exempted from the duty when an auction takes place of certain products of their own lands. Now, though this is an advantage shared in common with persons of some other avocations, still, as it is in some degree invidious, I think the landed interest should be the last to complain of that exemption being extended. As to the supposed advantage which the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) said the landowners had in selling their estates, it amounted to this—that when an estate was not knocked down at an auction, they had the advantage of knowing the highest bidder; and if they sold the estate to him afterwards, they escaped the duty. But this was no fraud; it was an usage of the country; and the landowner often ran no slight risk; for if the estate was not knocked down, the purchaser was not bound to stick to his bargain.
§ Mr. Labouchere
I must say, the hon. Baronet has introduced a degree of heat into this discussion which does not appear to me to be warranted. I confess I understand the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Treasury exactly as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport interpreted his words. I understood him seriously and gravely to remind his supporters, (and if his meaning was jocular it was never more completely concealed,) if they voted against the remission of this duty, they would run the risk of having the protection of butter and cheese endangered. Now, that was not only one of his arguments, but it was the most powerful he used in the course of his speech. The only reason I was astonished at such an appeal was, that it contrasted strangely with the explicit declaration made by the right hon. Gentleman some time since, when he said that the taxes on butter and cheese were objectionable, and that nothing prevented his taking them off but the state of the Revenue. Such is the frail tenure on which hon. Gentlemen opposite hold their "protection." It is very easy to bring forward many and just charges against the duty on auctions, but 295 I should certainly give a preference to the abolition of the duties on cheese and butter.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 167; Noes 30: Majority 137.
|List of the AYES.|
|Acland, Sir T. D.||Egerton, Sir P.|
|Acland, T. D.||Ellice, rt. hon. E.|
|Acton, Col.||Ellis, W.|
|Adare, Visct.||Elphinstone, H.|
|Arkwright, G.||Emlyn, Visct.|
|Arundel and Surrey, Earl of||Entwisle, W.|
|Bailey, J.||Ewart, W.|
|Bailey, J. jun.||Feilden, W.|
|Baillie, Col.||Ferguson, Sir R. A.|
|Baillie, H. J.||Fitzroy, hon. H.|
|Baird, W.||Flower, Sir J.|
|Barclay, D.||Forbes, W.|
|Baring, T.||Forman, T. S.|
|Baring, rt. hon. W. B.||Forster, M.|
|Beckett, W.||Fremantle, rt. hn. Sir T.|
|Benbow, J.||Fuller, A. E.|
|Bentinck, Lord G.||Gaskell, J. Milnes|
|Bernard, Visct.||Gibson, T. M.|
|Blakemore, R.||Gisborne, T.|
|Boldero, H. G.||Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E.|
|Borthwick, P.||Gordon, hon. Capt.|
|Botfield, B.||Gore, M.|
|Bowes, J.||Goulburn, rt. hn. H.|
|Bowles, Adm.||Graham, rt. hn. Sir J.|
|Bowring, Dr.||Greenall, P.|
|Brisco, M.||Grimston, Visct.|
|Brotherton, J.||Hamilton, W. J.|
|Browne, hon. W.||Harcourt, G. G.|
|Bruce, C. L. C.||Hatton, Capt. V.|
|Bruce, Lord E.||Hayter, W. G.|
|Buckley, E.||Henley, J. W.|
|Buller, E.||Hepburn, Sir T. B.|
|Cardwell, E.||Herbert, rt. hon. S.|
|Carew, W. H. P.||Hope, hon. C.|
|Chelsea, Visct.||Hope, G. W.|
|Chute, W. L. W.||Hume, J.|
|Clerk, rt. hn. Sir G.||Humphery, Ald.|
|Clive, hon. R. H.||Hussey, A.|
|Cobden, R.||Hutt, W.|
|Cockburn, rt. hn. Sir G.||Inglis, Sir R. H.|
|Colebrooke, Sir T. E.||James, Sir W. C.|
|Collett, J.||Jermyn, Earl|
|Coote, Sir C. H.||Jocelyn, Visct.|
|Copeland, Ald.||Jones, Capt.|
|Corry, rt. hn. H.||Lambton, H.|
|Cripps, W.||Lascelles, hon. W. S.|
|Dalrymple, Capt.||Lawson, A.|
|Damer, hon. Col.||Lemon, Sir C.|
|Darby, G.||Lennox, Lord A.|
|Dickinson, F. H.||Lincoln, Earl of|
|Drummond, H. H.||Lockhart, W.|
|Duke, Sir J.||Lowther, Sir J. H.|
|Duncan, Visct.||Lyall, G.|
|Duncan, G.||Mackenzie, T.|
|Duncombe, hon. A.||Mackenzie, W. F.|
|Duncombe, hon. O.||McGeachy, F. A.|
|Dundas, D.||McNeill, D.|
|Du Pre, C. G.||Mainwaring, T.|
|Mangles, R. D.||Somes, J.|
|Masterman, J.||Spooner, R.|
|Mitcalfe, H.||Stewart, J.|
|Morgan, O.||Stuart, H.|
|Mundy, E. M.||Strutt, E.|
|Napier, Sir C.||Sutton, hon. H. M.|
|Newry, Visct.||Tancred, H. W.|
|O'Brien, A. S.||Tennent, J. E.|
|O'Conor Don||Thesiger, Sir F.|
|Patten, J. W.||Thompson, Ald.|
|Pechell, Capt.||Thornely, T.|
|Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.||Trelawny, J. S.|
|Peel, J.||Trench, Sir F. W.|
|Philips, G. R.||Tuite, H. M.|
|Plumptre, J. P.||Turner, E.|
|Plomridge, Capt.||Villiers, Visct.|
|Polhill, F.||Wakley, T.|
|Pringle, A.||Warburton, H.|
|Reid, Sir J. R.||Wawn, J. T.|
|Rice, E. R.||Wellesley, Lord C.|
|Sanderson, R.||Williams, W.|
|Sheppard, T.||Wood, Col.|
|Smith, A.||Wortley, hn. J. S.|
|Smith, J. A.|
|Smith, rt. hon. T. B. C.||TELLERS.|
|Somerset, Lord G.||Young, J.|
|Somerton, Visct.||Baring, T.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Baring, rt. hon. F. T.||Labouchere, rt. hn. H.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Long, W.|
|Baskerville, T. B. M.||Lygon, hon. Gen.|
|Bramston, T. W.||Parker, J.|
|Broadley, H.||Russell, Lord J.|
|Buck, L. W.||Rutherfurd, A.|
|Busfeild, W.||Sheridan, R. B.|
|Chetwode, Sir J.||Sibthorp, Col.|
|Denison, W. J.||Tyrell, Sir J. T.|
|Dick, Q.||Vane, Lord H.|
|Dundas, Adm.||Waddington, H. S.|
|Eaton, R. J.||Worsley, Lord|
|Ebrington, Visct.||Yorke, H. R.|
|Guest, Sir J.|
|Hobhouse, rt. hn. Sir J.||Bankes, G.|
|Howard, hon. C. W. G.||March, Earl of|
On the Question,
That there shall be raised, levied, collected, and paid, for and upon every License to be taken out by every person exercising or carrying on the trade or business of an Auctioneer in any part of the United Kingdom, the sum of 15l."—
§ Mr. Hume
objected to so large an amount. He should move, as an Amendment, that the sum required for auction licenses should be 7l. 10s. This would bring more to the Revenue, while it would save the poor auctioneer from being swallowed up by the great capitalist. The hon. Member concluded by moving the sum be 7l. 10s.
§ Mr. Hawes
seconded the Amendment. It was true that this duty would fall 297 lightly on the large auctioneers who took out a general license, for the sale of such articles as wine and plate; but it would tax 100 per cent. the small auctioneer who did not take out such license. The Commissioners of Excise recommended that the license should not be more than 10l. He believed the mercantile interest were opposed to the remission of the tax, as likely to cause mock auctions throughout the country.
§ Sir R. Peel
By raising the license to 15l., you surely take a greater security against mock auctions. When the Commissioners of Excise recommended that the license should be 10l., they also recommended a modification of the auction duties. Ministers proposed to do away with the auction duties, and as this must give a stimulus to auctions, the auctioneer would be better enabled to pay a higher license than that recommended by the Commissioners of Excise. Government proposed to abolish a number of small duties, which, as Mr. Brown, a respectable auctioneer, said in his evidence, did not increase the Revenue, while they obstructed the facility of holding auctions. Many suggested that the license should be 50l., but Government, consulting the interests of the lower class of auctioneers, determined to fix it at 15l., as that which would give the highest amount of Revenue, and the greatest scope to the holding of auctions.
§ Mr. Gisborne
thought the result of imposing a heavy duty would be, that all the auctioneers with a small business, who were gaining their livelihood by diligent industry, would be compelled to abandon their occupation. Suppose an auctioneer had one sale per week—which was more than the great majority had—his profits would amount to little more than fifty guineas a year; and most of them were obliged to eke out a living by carrying on some other trade besides. It was impossible that such a man could go on paying 7l. 15s. a year for a license. He would suggest that those who confined their auctions to one class of articles should pay the smaller duty, and that the other should be liable to the larger.
did not see why an auctioneer should be called upon to pay a license duty, any more than those classes of shopkeepers which were now exempted from it. The Government, by the measure they proposed, in fact abolished the 298 present auction duty, while they laid on one of another sort which was most unfair.
§ Mr. Warburton
said, that 10l. or 15l. might be a fair amount of duty for a London or Edinburgh auctioneer; but they must consider what would be a moderate duty for auctioneers throughout the country. The House ought to have a return showing the number of auctioneers, and the amount of duty paid by each. He hoped that Government would consent to a reduction of the duty to 10l.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
contended that it was impossible to remit the duty altogether, as the hon. Member for Coventry wished. Sale by auction was particularly liable to be abused and turned to purposes of deception. It was necessary, therefore, to have some check, as a security for the respectability of persons who were engaged in this occupation.
thought it desirable that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should consent to give the House such a return as that suggested by the hon. Member for Kendal.
§ Lord Worsley
thought the judgment of the public would be a sufficient guarantee for the honesty of auctioneers, as if they did not conduct their business with integrity they would not be employed. The duly proposed by Government would press very hardly on those engaged in the business.
§ Mr. Turner
thought that auctioneers in the country stood in a totally different position from those in London, and that their case ought to be taken into consideration.
§ Sir Robert Peel
said, he would undertake to furnish to the House all the information which was necessary to throw light on the subject. Government proposed to remit 300,000l. of auction duty; but standing there as they did to defend the Revenue, they could not at once consent to make the reduction proposed by the hon. Members opposite.
Amendment and original Resolution were withdrawn, and it was
"Resolved—That there shall be raised, levied, collected, and paid, for and upon every License to be taken out by every person exer-
cising or carrying on the trade or business of an Auctioneer in any part of the United Kingdom, the sum of 10l.
"It was also Resolved—That the duty of Excise now payable upon Sugar manufactured in the United Kingdom do cease, and that in lieu thereof there shall be charged the following Duty of Excise, that is to say, On every hundred weight, and so in proportion for any greater or lesser quantity, of all Sugar manufactured in the United Kingdom, from whatever materials made, 14s.
§ House resumed. Resolution to be reported.