§ Mr. Fielden
said, before going into Committee of Supply, he wished to bring forward a Motion of which he had given notice, relative to the treatment he and others had received under the Income Tax Act. He did intend to state the case he was going into on the Report of the Vote of 15,000l. granted by the House to defray the expenses of sheriffs and of officers of the Court of Exchequer; but the Report was brought up at near two o'clock in the morning, and that he thought a sufficient apology for not availing himself of the opportunity. He wished to know something about that Court of Exchequer—whether persons against whom its process issued were allowed to be heard in their defence or not, for until lately he did not know that an Englishman could be drawn into a court, and his goods seized by its order, without having an opportunity of stating to the court in some way his reason why the seizure should not take place. He thought he was justified in putting this question to the First Lord of the Treasury; for it so happened that in the year 1844 three processes had been issued against himself and his brothers out of that 1202 Court of Exchequer for the recovery of Income Tax for profits on trade for the years 1839, 1840, and 1841, and for the years 1840, 1841, and 1842, when, so far from having realized a profit on the average of either the first three years or the second three years, they had incurred a heavy loss in both periods. They had submitted proofs of that to the Income Tax Commissioners at Rochdale, the truth of which was not denied; but they confirmed their assessments, and his goods were seized and sold by the sheriff—goods were taken and sold to an amount exceeding the demand, and no account had been rendered to him and his brothers. He and his brothers had, it would seem, therefore, been sued by the Income Tax officers in the Court of Exchequer, and a judgment had been obtained, and his goods taken, all without his having an opportunity of appearing before the Court to prove the injustice of the demand. He did not understand such law as that; and when the House was asked to vote a sum of money to sustain that Court or its officers, he thought it was a fitting opportunity to state to the House the complaint he had to make against the Court, its officers, and all those who were executing the extraordinary powers of the new and hateful law of taxation under which we were living. He (Mr. Fielden) knew that, in his own case, the conduct of those who were executing that act was most arbitrary and unjust; and, as he feared very cruel acts of injustice were perpetrated on others, perhaps less able to bear up against the grievance, and less able to make their wrongs known, he brought his case forward in order to call the attention of the House and the Ministers to the subject. He knew that injustice had been done in his own case, and he wished to have an opportunity of proving it somewhere before a Committee of that House. A notice of another process being issued against himself and brothers had been received by them, dated the 9th of July instant, and it ran thus;—
§ "Office for Stamps and Taxes,
§ Somerset House, London, July 9.
§ "Gentlemen — Her Majesty's Commissioners of Stamps and Taxes having directed immediate process to be issued for your arrears of taxes returned into the Exchequer, I beg to inform you that, in order to save the expenses of a levy by the sheriff, the amount 1203 must be paid to Mr. Peter Ormerod, of Todmorden, the collector, before the 19th instant.—I am, Gentlemen, your obedient servant,
§ "J. TIMM,
§ "Solicitor for Stamps and Taxes.
§ "Arrears due 10th of October, 1844—Property Tax, 175l.
§ "Messrs. Fielden, Brothers."
§ To this communication they (Mr. Fielden and his brothers) replied as follows:—
§ "Todmorden, July 10.
§ "Sir—We have this day received yours of the 9th instant, which informs us that the Commissioners of Stamps and Taxes have directed immediate process to be issued for our arrears of taxes, due on the 10th of October last. As we had written a letter to Mr. Gibbs, of Bury, and posted it to-day, on the subject to which your letter refers, we herewith enclose you a copy thereof, and request you to lay the same before the Commissioners for their consideration, and acquaint us with their decision thereon.—We are, Sir, your obedient servants,
§ FIELDEN, BROTHERS.
§ "J. Timm, Esq. Solicitor for Stamps and Taxes, Somerset House, London."
§ The following was the letter enclosed:—
§ "Todmorden, July 10.
§ "Sir—A schedule has been delivered to us by Mr. P. Ormerod, assessor for Todmorden and Walsden, requiring a return of your profits on trade for the year 1845, ending the 5th of April, 1846. It is impossible before the year has expired to make such a return. The returns we have made for each of the last three years have been altogether set aside by the Commissioners at Rochdale, who have assessed us in such amount for each year as they thought fit, giving us notice thereof, and of the days of appeal. We appealed against each assessment. On our appeal against the assessment for the first year, Mr. J. Fielden was, as required, first sworn, then examined, then told by the chairman that the Commissioners were invested with extraordinary powers of inquiry, and then had a precept given to him to be filled up and returned within seven days, requiring a debtor and creditor account of our gross and net profits for the year, which account was to be very full and particular. We returned the precept within the seven days, and stated the only way in which we could make out a debtor and creditor account in the manner the precept appeared to us to require. To this communication we have received no answer from the Commissioners, neither did they in the year of assessment make known to us the result of our appeal, although instructions how to act in our case were sent to them from the Office of Stamps 1204 and Taxes, Somerset House, which instructions were not obeyed. To prove the truth of our return for the second year, 1843, ending the 5th of April, 1844, Mr. John Fielden attended the Commissioners on the appeal day, and offered to produce our books, if required. They said they did not want to see them, and that they did not disbelieve his statement; but they confirmed their assessment, subject, however, to a revision, if, on the 5th day of April following, we could satisfy the Commissioners that our profits on the current year did not amount to the sum they had assessed us at. The chairman, on announcing the decision of the Board, said that 'they had been instructed by the officials present how to act.' In making our return for the third year, 1844, ending the 5th of April, 1845, we adopted a form sent to us by the receiving inspector, Mr. Walker, who, in a letter accompanying it, said, 'As promised on the appeal day, I beg to send you a skeleton account of income tax, and which, I suppose, will be satisfactory to the Commissioners if made out in this way.' Our account, however, made out in that way did not satisfy the Commissioners, but they reduced their assessment from 24,000l. to 12,000l. Our returns as to profit on our trade have all been 'nothing,' taking the average of the three years respectively, in conformity with rule 1, section 100, of the Income Tax Act. The first three years embraced 1839, 1840, and 1841; the second three years embraced 1840, 1841, and 1842; the third three years embraced 1841, 1842, and 1843; all which years, with the exception of the last, were notoriously years of bad trade and falling prices, causing heavy losses to the holders of large stocks of manufactured cotton fabrics, which was our case. Said four years, 1839, to 1842, was a period, too, in which bad debts to an enormous amount were made by ourselves and others, all which facts we stated again and again to the Commissioners on appeal; but neither our oath, the offer of our books, written debtor and creditor accounts, such as we gave in (the last of which was in the form suggested at the Board), nor any statements we have made, or examinations before the Commissioners, have secured us what is right and fair. Instead of which, our goods have been seized and sold at auction three times to satisfy unjust demands. Goods of more value than the demand have been seized and sold on each occasion, and no return has been made to us of either the proceeds of sales or of any surplus. The duty on the third year's assessment has been demanded of us; but we shall not pay it, because our business, taking the average of the three years embraced in our return, was a losing one, no interest whatever being charged during that period for the capital employed in it. Any return, therefore, by us for the present year, will be made to the Office of Stamps and Taxes, Somersethouse. 1205 Please own receipt of this by return of post, and oblige, Sir, your obedient servants,
§ "FIELDEN, BROTHERS.
§ "G. J. Gibbs, Esq., Surveyor of Taxes, Bury."
§ To the note addressed to the Commissioners on the 10th of July, the hon. Member said, that he received the following answer:—
§ "Stamps and Taxes, London, July 15.
§ "Gentlemen—The Board of Stamps and Taxes have had before them your letter of the 10th inst., addressed to their solicitor, upon the subject of his application for payment of the arrear of Income Tax due from you to the 10th of October last, together with the copy transmitted by you of your communication to the surveyor, Mr. Gibbs, stating the grounds on which you object to the assessment; and in reply, I am directed to inform you, that the General Commissioners of the district having on appeal decided that you were chargeable with the duty on 12,000l., the Board have no power to interfere with their decision.—I am, Gentlemen, your obedient servant,
§ "CHARLES PRESSLY.
§ "Messrs. Fielden, Brothers."
A true return, and a signed declaration that it was true, were required of him. If he had returned that he had had a profit, it would have been false; and many, he believed, had done so, hoping thereby to escape the more exorbitant assesments of the Commissioners. He had, with his brothers, resolved to make a true return, and they had done so. Now, what he wanted to know was, what evidence should satisfy the Judges or Commissioners in that case? When oaths, and books, and written debtor and creditor accounts of profit and loss were rejected, what was left to be done? What more did they want? And was this to go on? Were his goods to be again seized and sold by the sheriff under this tyrannical law? He had taken the utmost pains to convince the Commissioners his return was correct—had told them that the amounts he showed them were taken from a document signed by himself and his brothers at their annual stock taking, not prepared with any view to meet the Commissioners' eyes, but to determine each partner's share and interest in their joint property at the time, and what the representatives of any one or more, dying before the next stock taking, would be entitled to receive out of the concern. He had taken his oath to the correctness of the return of no profit in the first year,
when their assessment was 12,000l.; he had offered to show them his books in the second year, to prove that he had no profit, when their assessment was again 12,000l.; and, as if to show their daring, and how little they were guided by fact, or calculation, or evidence, they had last year assessed him at just double the amount, that was, 24,000l., and before they had decided the appeal against that assessment they demanded the duty upon it of 700l. On the hearing of that appeal the Commissioners present were — John Elliott, Chairman; James Butterworth, Charles Butterworth, Captain Butterworth, also Abraham Briarly, who refused to act. The allowance of the assessment of 24,000l., and the warrant to distrain for the duty on it, were signed by the two former of those gentlemen, Mr. John Elliott and Mr. James Butterworth, on the 12th of December, 1844, and the appeal against the assessment was decided on the 29th of March, 1845. So that the House would see that, pending the appeal, the Commissioners issued their warrant to distrain, and two of the very men who had issued that warrant in December agreed with their brother Commissioners in March following, to reduce the assessment from 24,000l. to the former sum of 12,000l. Was not this a disgraceful mode of imposing taxes? Was it anything short of a random confiscation? He firmly believed that these assessments were founded upon no belief in the Commissioners' minds that he had made such profits in trade as rendered him assessable, but that they believed he and his brothers were able to pay; and, therefore, prompted by the Government local officials, they made these round assessments. The flourishing revenue so much boasted of was made up in part of the fruits of such barefaced robbery as this of which he had been the victim. He remembered that this tax was wrung from the Government at the end of the war by the public outcry against it. It was then designated the "highwayman's tax;" he believed it had lost none of its atrocious character; and he hoped the next election would teach English Ministers that they must carry on their Government by more moral means than a highwayman's tax. When he mentioned this matter to the House in February last year, the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) said,
that the Government had no more control over the matter than any individual Member of that House. In Mr. Pressly's letter, he was now told, that the Board of Stamps and Taxes had no control in the matter. His appeal, then, was to the House; and if the House answered him that it not only had no control, but no will to inquire, let it be known to the public at once, that the maxim of English law, that there is "no wrong without a remedy," is utterly false; and that, under our new law of taxation, the Income Tax Commissioners and the Court of Exchequer together, can assess and rob to any extent and with perfect impunity. He was not in the House when the Income Tax Act was renewed last March, being then confined at home by illness; but he observed, that in the debates of the House, the case of himself and his brothers had been mentioned by the hon. Member for Lambeth and the hon. Member for Finsbury; on which occasion the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) was reported to have said, "that he trusted in the case of the hon. Member for Oldham, the Treasury would be able to afford redress." And the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was reported to have said, on the same occasion, "that he should be happy to point out to him (Mr. Fielden) the mode in which he should proceed to obtain redress." He had, on that intimation, called on the right hon. Gentleman not long since; but the right hon. Gentleman had only advised him to make his return to the officer of Stamps and Taxes, and request that he might be assessed by the Special Commissioners, instead of going before the Commissioners at Rochdale; which, even if he should be fairly dealt with for the future, would be no redress for the past. His oath had been disregarded; and, as he conscientiously regarded the solemnity of an oath, and considered a man unfit to hold a seat in that House who had taken a false oath, he wished for an opportunity of showing that House that he had been grossly wronged by these Commissioners in that respect as well as others. This was a public question. He brought it forward as a public question, believing that in Lancashire the Income Tax had been exacted most unjustly and oppressively from thousands, and, in his own case, he knew it had. If he received no assurance that such wrong should end,
he should consider it his duty to bring the matter before the House in one shape or another, and time after time, till he obtained some security for himself and the public. Mr. Fielden concluded by moving for the following Returns:—
A Return of the total amount of assessments to the Income Tax under schedule D, of the 5th and 6th of Victoria, c. 35, for the township of Todmorden and Walsden, in the county of Lancaster, and in the division of Middleton, for the year commencing April 5, 1842, and ending April 5, 1843, and for the year commencing April 5, 1843, and ending April 5, 1844, and for the year commencing April 5, 1844, and ending April 5, 1845, distinguishing the amount assessed for each of the said several years; and also a return of the total amount received or demanded of those assessed in the said township for each of the said years respectively. Also a return of any correspondence that has taken place between the Board of Stamps and Taxes and Fielden, Brothers of Todmorden, relative to the assessments and demands made on them under schedule D of the Act 5th and 6th Victoria, chap. 35; also a return of any correspondence that has taken place between Mr. George J. Gibbs, of the Tax Office at Bury, in the county of Lancaster, a surveyor of taxes under the Act 5th and 6th Victoria, chap. 35, and Messrs. Fielden, Brothers, and Mr. John Fielden, of Todmorden, in the said county; also a return of any correspondence between Mr. J. Walker, of Liverpool, receiving inspector under the Act 5th and 6th Victoria, chap. 35, and Fielden, Brothers, of Todmorden, in the county of Lancaster, together with any proposed skeleton form of account for Income Tax supplied by the said J. Walker to Messrs. Fielden; and a return of any correspondence that has taken place between the Commissioners acting within and for the division of Middleton, sitting at Rochdale, in the county of Lancaster, under the Act 5th and 6th Victoria, chap. 35, and the Commissioners of the Board of Stamps and Taxes, relative to the case of Messrs. Fielden, Brothers, of Todmorden, in the said county, under the said Act.
seconded the Motion, and hoped the Government would not object to the return. He was glad his hon. Friend had brought this case of injustice and oppression before the country; fortunately for him, he was in circumstances to enable him to do so; but he (Mr. Williams) ventured to say there were thousands who had precisely the same complaint to urge, but whose circumstances and credit did not enable hem to make public this system, not of oppression only, but of absolute fraud under the law. One of his own constitu- 1209 ents had made a statement to him of a similar kind. He and his partners carried on two branches of business, on one of which the profits were nil: on the other the profit was 1,000l.; on the whole business, the profit being neutralized by the loss, there could not be said to be any profit at all, and they returned nil; but notwithstanding they were surcharged in 1,000l. a year; nor were there any means of obtaining redress. Such a state of things ought not to be allowed to exist. It was not honest; the Act itself did not warrant it, but there was no remedy; the parties who levied the tax were far from the seat of power, and assumed that infallibility always claimed by public officers; and if an appeal was made to a higher power, the answer always was that whatever the subordinate officers did must be right; that they were infallible, and no inquiry ensued. The hon. Member for Oldham ought to have justice done him; that a Gentleman so respected should have his oath doubted for the purpose of taking money out of his pocket, was not to be endured.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that the hon. Member for Oldham was quite aware, having some time ago stated his intention of moving for these Papers, that with respect to a majority of them, there was no objection to producing them; but with respect to the correspondence with the Commissioners on the subject, those documents were not of an official character, and it was not in his power to consent to their production. He wished to offer a few observations on the statement which the hon. Member had made to the House; the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Coventry had both stated that there were thousands of similar cases of oppression under this Act, but that individuals were afraid to make complaints on the subject. He must be permitted to express serious doubts on this point; he did not find there was this great unwillingness to complain on the part of persons who felt aggrieved by any tax imposed by Parliament; and he could truly say with respect to such complaints from parties with regard to the Income Tax, the Government was entirely ignorant of them. A still stronger proof that these complaints were not so general, and that there was not this general feeling of hostility to the Income Tax, was found in this fact—the House was called on to renew the Act; and if 1210 there had been this universal sense of grievance on the subject, did the hon. Gentleman suppose that those who represented populous manufacturing districts would not have come forward and stated these complaints, or that there would have been that general feeling throughout the country in favour of the renewal of the tax which was displayed at the time? He thought the hon. Gentleman must feel in his own mind that no such universal sense of oppression could have existed, or it could not have produced so little effect on the country. So much with respect to the general question. He now came to the complaint of the hon. Member himself; and he assured the hon. Member nothing could give him more pain than that he should have been subjected to any inconvenience or injury; as far as it was in his power to be of any use to the hon. Gentleman by tendering him any advice as to the course he should adopt, he should have been happy to have given him any counsel by which he might have avoided the difficulty he was placed in. But the hon. Gentleman must be sensible that when the law imposed a tax on the country, and parties to obtain redress of a complaint did not adopt the course the law prescribed, they were themselves responsible for the inconvenience they experienced. The mode in which the Property Tax was directed to be levied was this—Commissioners were appointed, who made assessments according to their view of what parties ought to pay. On this being known, those parties were called on to pay, and if they thought themselves aggrieved, they had two modes of appeal — they might either appeal to the general commissioners of the district, whose decision upon hearing the appeal was final; or, if he preferred another course, he might appeal to the Special Commissioners appointed by the Government, whose decision on the appeal was equally final. Persons might go before the Commissioners of their own district, to whom the power of hearing appeals was given; or to the officers appointed by the Government. Having made that appeal, a party must, of course, abide by the decision, as in every other case of appeal, whether in judicial or other matters. The hon. Gentleman complained of the final decision of this court of appeal, under which a levy was made upon him, which he stated to be monstrous. Why, in any case, upon the 1211 decision of the proper tribunal being pronounced, the Court of Exchequer was bound to issue its process for the levy; no imputation could be made on the justice of that Court; it had but complied with the provision of the law, which directed the levy to be issued when the money was pronounced to be due to the Crown. He was quite ready to admit the hardship on the party of the circumstances attending a levy, of his goods being seized and sold by public auction. A statement of such a proceeding was very likely to excite popular feeling; but it should be remembered that the money had been declared due to the Crown, and if the Crown had not the power of enforcing payment of its claims by ordinary process of law, the House might as well save itself the trouble of imposing taxes at all. The taxation could never be levied if the Crown was not able to resort to the law. The hon. Gentleman seemed to think that by the course which had been pursued it was intended to cast a reflection on him, because the doubt of his return on the part of the Commissioners necessarily implied that the statement of the hon. Member was deficient in truth. He did not think such a conclusion was just or fair. The question of what were the profits of trade was one always liable to doubt, and admitting of dispute. The Act laid down certain rules by which the amount of profits should be assessed; a person without any imputation on his truth or honour, might make a return under a false idea of what was correct, which might be disputed by the Commissioners. He was the last man in the world to cast an imputation on the veracity and honour of the hon. Gentleman, and he had no doubt the Commissioners felt the same. But as persons placed in a public situation, and bound by their duty to ascertain that the return made was made according to law, if they had erred, if the General Commissioners had erred, if the Special Commissioners had erred, it was a matter of extreme regret; but the Court of Appeal to which Parliament had trusted the authority, and to which the hon. Gentleman had chosen to apply, was not empowered to give any relief. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had no means of communicating with those Commissioners; he had received no complaints from other parties; and as far as he was able to judge from extrinsic inquiries, in order to ascertain the mode of proceeding, he was ap- 1212 prehensive the hon. Member for Oldham had not complied with the necessary conditions. The Commissioners did not receive from him the answers and explanations required; they wanted further information, and the hon. Gentleman distinctly refused to give the information they wanted, but offered information of a totally different character. He was very much afraid that owing to that circumstance more than any other, if injustice had been done the hon. Gentleman, he must attribute it to himself. The hon. Gentleman had said, that on a former occasion he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had stated there was a mode by which redress might be obtained, and that he would apply to him to say what course he ought to adopt. To this he would reply, if the hon. Gentleman thought the general Commissioners prejudiced against him, he should have applied to the Special Commissioners, who were independent of the district, and could have no local bias whatever as to the merits of this particular case. He deeply regretted that the advice tendered to the hon. Gentleman two years ago was not adopted till this present year. As far as he had been able to obtain information, the main point of difference between the hon. Gentleman and the Commissioners arose upon the mode in which stock ought to be valued. The question was, whether cotton that had been purchased some years before at a higher price than it then bore in the market, and manufactured into articles, was to be taken at the loss caused by the difference between the price of that cotton when it was purchased and that which it bore in the market at the time the assessment was made. He was speaking more upon common report than any official information; but the case went before the proper tribunal; the hon. Gentleman declined to give the information wished for, and it came to a decision adverse to him. The question was this—supposing cotton to be purchased in 1838 at 7d. per lb. and made into goods in 1842, whether the difference between the prices at those two periods was to be taken as loss? From the jealousy on the part of the House of an interference on the part of the Government in private affairs, it made the Commissioners the Court of Appeal. The case in question was brought before that court. The persons who had a duty imposed on them for the public benefit called for further information, 1213 which was necessary to enable them to make up their minds on the subject; the hon. Gentleman refused to give it, and he did not know how those gentlemen were to act otherwise than by deciding against the party refusing to give that information. If anything had occurred painful to the hon. Gentleman's feelings, or anything which he thought not consistent with perfect equity, he, for one, could not see that any blame attached to the parties. The difficulty would not have arisen if he had shown a little less of that British virtue which led him to resist with more than ordinary firmness what he considered an improper intrusion on his private affairs. He understood the hon. Gentleman had at last appealed to the Special Commissioners, who were quite free from prejudice; and even should their decision be unfavourable to him, he hoped the hon. Gentleman would not be disposed to resist it.
§ Mr. Fielden
, in explanation, said, if the right hon. Gentleman had spoken from information as to what had taken place, he must tell him it was incorrect. He had answered any question put to him, he had given all the information he could, he had offered his books for examination; but the first intimation he had of the decision was the levy made on his goods. If the right hon. Gentleman would allow him to meet the Commissioners face to face, or give him a Committee, if he did not make out a case for inquiry satisfactory to every reasonable man, he would give up the question.
§ Mr. Hawes
hoped the discouragement the Chancellor of the Exchequer had attempted to cast on the "British virtue" of offering a decided opposition to an arbitrary measure, would not prevent any person who felt injured by the Income Tax from stating his case, and offering it all the opposition in his power. He had always opposed the tax; he thought it a dangerous basis for a large amount of taxation—one founded on a most unjust principle, which could not be carried out into practice without causing complaints. The right hon. Gentleman said, there was not much public opposition to it when imposed; but he left out of consideration the fact that when it was proposed, it was accompanied by certain other offers. He knew the value of the admission; those offers were accepted by certain great interests; they took the Income 1214 Tax and accepted the repeal of duties on the importation of certain raw materials. A bargain was struck; large and important interests accepted the Income Tax; he did not; many others did not. The only point the right hon. Gentleman had made in reply to the hon. Member for Oldham was, that he ought to have appealed to the Special Commissioners; the hon. Member had so appealed, and he did not believe they would do anything but confirm the decision come to by the other Commissioners. They had ample power to act on any appeal brought before them; but this House could not call them to account. If it could, the facts the inquiry would elicit, would oblige them to give up the tax. The course the Commissioners had taken had inflicted great hardship on the hon. Gentleman, and at last it seemed that they altered the assessment from 24,000l. to 12,000l. without stating any reason for such a monstrous reduction. The hon. Gentleman refused to return any profit, and offered to produce the balance-sheet of the concern, by which the profits were divided between his partners and himself. They assessed him at 24,000l. a year, and then, at their own will and pleasure, reduced it to 12,000l. That he thought a case for inquiry. What ground had they for giving up 12,000l. a year? If the assessment of 24,000l. was right, they were bound to adhere to it. He admitted the right hon. Gentleman was always ready to give advice, but he could do nothing to give any relief. They were bound by the Act of Parliament, giving the most arbitrary powers of interfering with the profits of trade. The right hon. Gentleman said, the difference arose as to the mode in which the profits of trade should be computed. That difference would exist in every concern in the kingdom. In all cases it was difficult to say what should be carried to the account as profit. All the hon. Member said, was, that his loss should be deducted from the profit, and if they did not allow this, the Act was more iniquitous than he thought it was. They were bound to take the Act itself into consideration; it gave private individuals an arbitrary power, and it required many Amendments. The Boards of Commissioners ought to be constituted in a different manner; it never could be endured that individuals should sit in judgment on the pecuniary affairs of their neighbours. Let the power be 1215 given to some known and responsible authority. His hon. Friend did not care whether his affairs were made public or not; but others had not the same credit. His hon. Friend offered his books for inspection: why did not the Commissioners examine them? They refused to ascertain from his books what his profits were; they refused to take the balance-sheet which settled the amount of profits between the parties; it was an unquestionable document, and they were bound to receive it. If his hon. Friend was wrong, the public had a right to the tax on 12,000l. more. The hon. gentleman's case had been thought important enough to be introduced by a recent writer on political economy into his work, as an illustration of his argument on this system of taxation. It was a case of deep, individual, and public interest, and it had received no answer, except a general sermon on the necessity of obeying the law, and a sneer at what the right hon. Gentleman called British virtue.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, he had not entered into the details of what passed before the Commissioners. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had no more power to call for particular returns from the Commissioners than the hon. Gentleman himself.
had understood the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer on a former occasion to state that some mode of relief would be afforded the hon. Member. He did not complain of any breach of promise; but that was the impression left on his mind by that discussion. The hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) at the time the tax was proposed had foreseen this difficulty, and proposed a clause giving some department of the Government a jurisdiction in such cases. At present there were two courts of appeal—the local Board and the Board at Somerset House. His hon. Friend had appealed to the local Board; he might have been to blame in doing that, when it was composed of persons among whom he had taken a very decided part in politics. If they wished to diminish the unpopularity of the tax, they must take some means of meeting such cases. The measure was hurried through the House; the 1216 clause proposed by his hon. Friend (Mr. Hume) was rejected, all Amendments were disregarded, and now it was highly necessary the Act should be reconsidered. They would have an opportunity of doing so during the recess, and he hoped the Government would avail themselves of it. They should appoint some permanent Board with power to do something to mitigate such evils as those stated in the case of which the hon. Member for Oldham had so properly and justly complained.
§ Mr. Hume
was glad the case had been brought forward; he was an advocate of direct taxation, but he wished it to be levied with as little trouble to the subject as possible. When the Bill was before the House he pointed out the anomaly of giving the power to levy a taxation of 4,000,000l. or 5,000,000l. to persons who were not responsible either to the House of Commons or to the Government, and whom they would have doing as they pleased. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer said the Government had no power; there was an evil done, and there was no remedy. He implored the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) to correct the evil; in another Session there would be time to do it. He had formerly objected to the manner in which the Land Tax Commissioners were appointed; they were recommended by the county Members, and were appointed from political reasons. The constitution of the Income Tax Commissioners was also subject to great inconvenience; they elected the superior Commissioners; he asked the Government to take away this power, and make them responsible to the House. Under the representation that the Act must be passed as a whole, and that it was only for a short time, the Government rejected every Amendment, and did everything in their power to make the tax not only unpopular, but unjust. When the grossest cases of oppression occurred in the Tower Hamlets ward, and when they were complained of, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said he could not help it. But it was the Government who made the law; the Government were the parties to blame for the evils, and they ought to correct them. In the case of the hon. Member for Oldham, the Commissioners appeared to have acted with the extreme of rigour, and in a manner which could only be explained by the 1217 existence of some political grudge against him. But he hoped this discussion would be the means of effecting some modification.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, when the Income Tax was under consideration in 1842, of course the question arose who should be the parties entrusted with certain powers under the Act. The question appeared to resolve itself into one or other of two alternatives—either that the Government should have these powers, or that parties themselves interested in the just administration of the law should exercise them. As there was great jealousy of the Executive Government having a right to inquire into the affairs of individuals, which would give it a great influence, Parliament determined to act on the presumption that this power might be abused, and therefore thought it better to adhere to the principle of the former law, and gave the power of inspecting private affairs to private individuals. On the whole, Parliament affirmed that principle. Under what circumstances did the Government select the Land Tax Commissioners for the purpose of the Income Tax Act? Why, two years before, the Act appointing those Commissioners had been by the late Government renewed and altered. The present Government were asked to make a new selection of Commissioners for the purposes of the Income Tax Act, but they thought it much better to adhere to the Act as it stood, and so preclude the possibility of any suspicion as to their motives. He was ready to admit that it was objectionable that the private affairs of individuals should be made known to others who might be their rivals in trade; but in order to meet that objection, the Special Commissioners had been appointed, before whom persons could go who did not wish to go before the regular Commissioners. If the hon. Member had really reason to believe that the Commissioners were actuated by personal motives, he could have gone before the Special Commissioners, and so have avoided altogether the interference of his neighbours or of his political opponents. It would cause him very great regret to find that the hon. Member for Oldham had any just cause to complain of the operation of the Act; but at the same time be must observe that, considering the large amount that had been collected under the tax, the proportion of com- 1218 plaints had been much less than could have been expected.
§ Mr. Brotherton
complained of the manner in which the Land Tax Commissioners were nominated. As it was, if a borough Member wished to nominate one, he could not do so without the consent of the county Member, and with him he had no chance if he was of different politics. With respect to the case before the House, the reason why the firm returned "no profits," was, that their humanity would not allow them to stop their works, and the consequence was that there was a vast accumulation of stock. They had had no less than 600,000 pieces of cloth on hand which were unsaleable.
§ Captain Pechell
hoped the Government would take into consideration the cases of those persons having incomes under 150l, a year, who had been surcharged, but who had never had the excess returned to them.
§ Mr. Fielden
said, he had no wish to divide the House, but he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would grant him the correspondence between the Commissioners of the Court of Appeal and the Board of Stamps and Taxes.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that the correspondence was extra-official, and he could not produce it.
§ The other Returns were then ordered.