rose to move, pursuant to notice,That a Select Committee be appointed, to inquire into the present mode of assessing, levying, and collecting the Window Duties in Great Britain, and to report their opinion thereupon to the House.He said, he was fully aware of the difficulties of the situation in which he was placed. He stood there an untried, unpractised debater, but, at the same time, when he reflected that he stood there as the Representative of a large constituency—a constituency which, next to London and Liverpool, contributed the largest amount to the window tax of any town in the kingdom—he felt that he had some right to claim the attention of the House whilst he endeavoured to the utmost of his humble ability to do justice to the subject which he had undertaken to bring before them. He brought forward the Motion with no ambition on his part to excite party feelings, and no wish to harass or embarrass Her Ma- 1055 jesty's Government. He introduced it to the notice of the House solely from a strong conviction of the injustice, inequality, and impolicy of the tax, and with an ardent hope that, even should his Motion have no other good result, it might, at least, direct public inquiry to the matter, and thus lead, either sooner or later, to a redress of some of the crying grievances of which at present he felt he had just cause to complain. It was with surprise that he had heard a remark which fell from the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government, on the occasion of his introducing his financial measures at the early part of the present Session, that while there were 3,400,000 houses in Great Britain which would be benefited by a repeal of the glass duty, only 450,000 houses out of that number contributed to the window tax. From this statement it would appear that there were 3,000,000 houses exempt from the window tax, and that this number would be benefited by the repeal of the glass duty beyond the proportion which would obtain any benefit from a repeal of the window duties. But what were the facts? Why were such a number of houses exempted from the window tax? Some were exempt because they were occupied by tenants who paid less than 200l. a year, and which houses were therefore the property of wealthy proprietors; some where the edifices were used as warehouses by wealthy merchants; and others because various plans were adopted for evading the tax. Many of the exempted houses, too, were old edifices inhabited by the poorer classes, who evaded payment of the tax by building up the windows necessary for the purposes of light and ventilation. This was not his opinion alone, but it was the opinion of Mr. Biers, the President of the Carpenters' Society of London. That gentleman, in a letter addressed to him (Lord Duncan), made the following remarks:—I beg to inform you that in almost all the poorer description of houses in the metropolis and large towns, owing to the window tax, there are sure to be some of the appurtenances left unlighted and unventilated. These appurtenances are, for the most part, the privies and; the wash-houses, the very places most requiring air and ventilation. In every old street in London, built before the tax was heavy, it will invariably be found there are a much larger number of windows than in the new ones, which have been built with a view to evade the tax. In every one of the houses that I have built since the re-survey in 1840 and 1841, I have, most reluctantly, been forced to give up three out of every four of the apertures for ventilation which ought to be placed, as a 1056 matter of course, in the outbuildings of every dwelling-house.He had also received a letter on the same subject from Dr. Southwood Smith, which he would beg leave to read to the House:—
§ "My Lord — In reference to any plan for improving the dwellings of the poor, it is the more necessary to call the attention of the Government to the importance of a remission of the window duties, as this is the only point of consequence omitted in the remedial measures recommended by the Commissioners on the Health of Towns, in their admirable Report just laid on the Table of the House. Their evidence is full and complete as to the influence of air and light on the health of the people; but the effect of the present window tax is to exclude these blessings to a great extent from the abodes of the poor. In many hundreds of their houses which I have visited, I have had to grope my way in total darkness, one story after the other, from the blocking up of the windows to avoid the window tax.
§ "S. SMITH.
§ "Finsbury-square, Feb. 15, 1845."
He would call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer more especially to the town which he had the honour to represent, and in one street in that town he found the following instances of the ruinous consequences of this tax. At No. 10, Galloway's Buildings, Bath, there were upwards of twenty windows shut up in a house in which twenty-seven families are at present living in partial darkness. Again, at No. 9, in the same street, there were twelve windows out of thirty-one stopped up, in consequence of which the house is no longer let to respectable tenants, but to the most depraved characters; and at No. 22, which contained originally twenty-two windows, several, including the water-closet window, had been stopped up within the last few months. Now, what he wished to know was, how such cases as these were to be met by a repeal of the duty on glass? He could not see how a remission of the glass duty would benefit the houses already erected, though, of course, it would be a great advantage in the case of houses that were building or that were to be hereafter erected. The right hon. Baronet had referred to the antiquity of the glass duty; but on that point he would be ready to meet the right hon. Gentleman, as the window tax not only went back to the time of the American war, but it dated as far back as the hearth-money itself. The latter was not so odious to Englishmen on account of the amount collected, as on account of the vexatious mode
of collecting it. The Act of Charles II., chap. 13 and 14, was the last Statute by which it was imposed. In the reign of William and Mary, in 1689, an Act was passed, from which he would read the following passage to the House;—
Whereas, hearth-money is not only a great oppression to the poorer sort, but a badge of slavery to the whole people, exposing every man's house to be entered into and searched at pleasure by persons wholly unknown to him; therefore, to erect a lasting monument of their Majesties goodness, the odious duty of hearth-money is hereby taken away and abolished.
Blackstone says, the prospect of this monument of goodness was speedily darkened, as only eight years later, in 1696, an Act was passed, imposing a duty of 2s. on all dwelling-houses in the kingdom; 4s. additional on all dwellings with ten windows, and 8s. additional on all dwellings with twenty windows. In Queen Anne's reign these last duties were raised to 20s. and; 30s. In George the Second's reign, in 1747, Pelham first separated the window duties from the house tax. During the eighteenth century, fourteen Acts were passed by fourteen different Chancellors of the Exchequer, each adding to the window duties; in 1797 Pitt trebled the assessed taxes and window duties; and in 1808, Mr. Percival, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, added 30 per cent. to these duties, and passed the Act 48th George III., chap. 55, under which the window duties and assessed taxes were at present levied. Since the passing of that Act another Act was passed, in 1812, adding 10 per cent. to the window duties. In 1823, an Act was passed by Mr. Robinson, reducing the duty on windows one-half. In 1825, Mr. Robinson exempted houses under seven windows, and also interior windows deriving light from exterior windows, farm-houses occupied by agricultural labourers, and houses used for the purposes of trade, &c. The 3rd and 4th William IV., chap. 39, 1834, passed by Lord Althorp, repealed the house tax, and left the window duties untouched. Then came the Act of 3rd and 4th William IV., chap. 55, 1834, which professed to relieve persons who were duly assessed, or who had compounded at the time of the passing of the Act, provided they had made no alterations in their houses, and had not changed their residence. The Act of
4th and 5th William IV., chap. 73, exempted the houses of agricultural tenants under 200l. per annum; and finally they had the Act of Her present Majesty, passed in 1840 (Baring's Act), imposing an additional 10 per cent. on windows. The result of all these enactments collectively, and not of any one of them in particular, was the establishing of a sliding scale of the following rates:—
|Thus increasing gradually up to thirty-nine windows, at which number|
|It reached its maximum charge of||7||8.|
|The scale then declined, all five numbers the same;—|
|Number of Windows.||Window Tax.||Per Window.||Valued Rent to Property-tax Returns.||Pays Window-tax percentage on rental.|
|Apsley House, Duke of Wellington||129||37||5||1||5||11½||2,000||2¾|
|Earl of Chesterfield||160||47||5||3||5||8½||2,000||4½|
|Duke of Beaufort,||162||47||5||3||5||8½||2,000||4½|
|223, Regent-st.||15||3||17||0||3||10||140||not 2 pr. ct.|
|Lancashire court, Francis Beazley, plasterer||20||6||3||5||6||2¼||32||20 per cent.|
|Little Stanhope-street, G. H. Hazlewood||24||8||0||3||6||8||50||16 per cent.|
|Chapel-court Westminster, John Weston plasterer||21||6||12||6||6||3¾||40||15 per cent.|
|5, Pollen-street Wm. Lee, publican||19||5||14||1||6||0||35||15 per cent.|
|1, Peter-street, St. James'||27||9||8||1||6||11¾||35||26½ per ct.|
|1826, Year after the duty reduced half||1,146,417||15,464,000|
|1837, Year after the last exemptions.||1,254,325||16,500,000||.. ..||107,908|
|1839, Year before the new survey||1,298,662||10,000,000||44,297|
|1840, Year (1st) of the new survey||1,404,642||18,500,000||106,020|
|1841, Year (2) of the new survey||1,664,053||365,431 (on 2 yrs.)|
|1842, Year after the survey||1,569,344||Near 19,000,000 to 20,000,000||94,709|
|1843, Two years after the survey||1,545,281||24,063|
|1845.||Houses Assessed.||Decrease. 1845–1843|
|There are at present in England only||409,235||38,185|
|There were, in 1843||447,420|
|Of these houses there were under 12 windows.||Paying.|
|232,864||more than ½||£317,451|
|Under 20 windows||369,149||more than two-thirds||£836,181 (more than half the tax)|
|Under 40 windows||429,723||more than ¾|
|Above 40 windows||17,697||less than 20th part.||£267,920|
William Davies, of Corrys, was surcharged by the surveyor for a window in his garret, and in his appeal he stated that it had been opened, not for the purpose of giving light, but for the purpose of admitting air for drying skins. A poor old woman, named Lewis, was surcharged by the surveyor for two windows in her wash-house, with wooden shutters and unglazed. The Rev. Richard Jones was surcharged for a hole in the wall of his wash-house without glass. In all these cases the Judges decided, on appeal, that the persons were all liable under the Act of Parliament. Thomas Marshall, of Spondon, county of Derby, was surcharged for an aperture into his cellar, grated with iron bats, which did not admit light enough to preclude the necessity of using a candle. Mrs. Jane Evans, of Dinas, tollgate-keeper, stated that she was a widow, and so poor that she was exempt from poor's rates, had opened two additional windows, making nine windows in all. The Commissioners relieved her, but the Judges decided against her. Professor Scholefield, 1062 of Cambridge, was declared by the Judges to be properly surcharged for a window; such window being a hole in his coal-cellar used for shooting coals through. Mr. John Hatch, of Soham, Newmarket, declared to be properly surcharged for a hole in his coal-cellar, as a window. Mr. John Wilmer, of Aylesbury, found liable to pay window duty for two windows stopped up with lath and plaster, whereas the outside of his house was built of brick. Mr. George Sowter, of Derby, surcharged for a window, said window being an opening in his cellar grated with iron bars. Mr. Robert Pritchard, in Wales, surcharged for windows which he had stopped up fifteen, years previously with wood, his outside walls being of stone. Mr. Richard Deller, Andover, surcharged for a hole in his cellar with wooden bars in it, and no glass. Mr. Hickson states in the second volume of the Sanatory Report;—'I spoke but lately to a man in humble circumstances, who had put into his privy a single pane of glass. It was discovered by the assessor, and money being an object, the pane of glass was removed, and the opening bricked up.' Mr. John Gould, of Frame, appealed against a surcharge for eight windows. Mr. Gould stated he had blocked up three windows which were not in the house in which he resided, but in one which communicated with it, with loose stones and paper. The assessor stated that the paper had been torn by the wind, and light admitted through the crevices of the stones. The Commissioner decided in favour of Mr. Gould, but the Judges ruled against him.There were many other cases equally strong which he had then before him, but he would not waste time by referring to them. The House might perhaps consider that the cases were ridiculous and trivial; but he could assure them that the subject was one which created a very strong feeling out of doors. It had been also decided that perforated plates of zinc fixed in external walls for the purpose of ventilation, would be surcharged as windows. A deputation waited upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the subject, and the right hon. Gentleman on the 22d May, 1844, stated "that perforated plates of zinc, although fixed in an external wall, would not be chargeable with the window duties;" but since then Mr. Pressley, the Surveyor of Taxes, gave it as his opinion that every hole made in these perforated plates could be separately charged for. He would like to bear what explanation the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer would give upon this subject. The importance of proper light and ventilation in ensuring health was fully borne out by the Report of the Sanatory Commission. 1063 In the second volume of that Report he found the following evidence bearing upon this point:—
Dr. J. Hickson stated that 'houses having seven windows are exempt; but the window taxes are not therefore inoperative as regards the working classes who live in large towns. In London the poor do not live in cottages. One more window would possibly let a little sunshine into a sick room. But the landlord says, 'No, the house would then have eight windows, and I should have to pay 18s. 6d. per annum.' And again, 'the window duties operate as a premium on defective construction. The majority of the houses of the second and third classes will never be constructed so as to be healthful dwellings as long as the window duties exist.'Mr. Hugh Biers said that—
The assessors can charge the window duty if there is an opening in an external wall, even if constructed to let off impure air.Mr. Corbett, architect, of Manchester, also bore testimony to the injurious effects of darkness and imperfect ventilation. Mr. Little, builder, said, "sickness was the greatest evil a working man has to contend with;" and Drs. Arnott, Joynbee, and Dr. Guy, all concurred in ascribing much of the illness that prevailed in the country to bad ventilation. Nathaniel Bradshaw Ward gave it as his opinion that solar light and air were necessaries of life. He also stated, that in the dark side of Petersburgh barracks, uniformly the deaths for many years have been in the proportion of three to one. Mr. Ward added, "If I were on my oath, I should say that light was a remedy." Dr. Southwood Smith said,—
It is remarkable that the seats of disease are the seat of crime. There is evidence that the working classes lose the manly spirit natural to the English race, from living in dark abodes. The operation of causes of death are steady, unceasing, sure. The annual slaughter in England and Wales, from preventable causes of typhus fever alone, which attacks persons in the vigour of life, is double the amount of what was suffered by the allied armies at the battle of Waterloo.Were they the Representatives of that people, and would they suffer such a state of things as that to continue? Were they, who regarded themselves as the Representatives of the most civilised, the most enlightened, and the greatest commercial people on the face of the globe, to allow that people to endure such destructive oppression? Were they to forget that, under Divine Providence, it was the manly spirit 1064 of the working classes of England that raised their country to her present proud preeminence? Were they to forget—and was he, of all men, to forget—the glories of the last war, and the debt that was due to the people by whose bravery their navies swept the seas, until their own manly spirit was raised up to oppose them in the American navy? Were they to forget the great commercial and manufacturing warfare that was now waging in every corner of the globe; in which, in despite of Zollvoreins in the Eastern and of hostile Tariffs in the Western hemisphere, England was still maintaining her wonted superiority in every part of the globe? Foreigners might borrow the machinery of England—they might borrow the capital of England; but they found they must also borrow the manly spirit of her workmen before they could succeed in competing with her. And were they — the Representatives of the English people—to sit there debating, in halls ventilated at the public expense whether the manly spirit of that people was to be broken and destroyed by a tax on ventilation and light? No; he must appeal to the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government—to one who, as a private man, had not shown himself indifferent to the comforts of the working classes in his native town—he must appeal to that Minister who had granted the Sanatory Commission from whose Report he had quoted; who had called attention to that Report in the Speech from the Throne; and who had recently granted a charter to a society framed for improving the dwellings of the working classes in the metropolis. He appealed from him to the Chancellor of the Exchequer—to him whose heart, as a man's, shrunk from fulfilling the duties which his office imposed upon him, when those duties pressed upon the health and comfort of the people, and who endeavoured, as it were, by a sort of side wind, to give them leave to ventilate their dwellings. He called on that right hon. Gentleman to act up to the professions which he had so eloquently explained a few evenings ago, and to grant that Committee which would ultimately enable him to take off a tax from two of the necessaries of life, light and air. He did not ask the right hon. Gentleman to give him the 300,000l. which he proposed to remit in auction duties, though that sum would enable them to take off the tax from all houses having less than twelve windows, the window duty on these houses amounting in the aggregate 1065 to just 317,000l. All he asked for was a Committee of Inquiry. He wanted that Committee to learn how it was that 836,000l. out of the million and a half which the tax produced was paid by houses having less than twenty windows each, and that 1,843,000l. of the entire sum was paid by houses having under forty windows each, leaving only an insignificant amount to be levied off the mansions of the wealthy. He wished for a Committee to know why the tax should press more heavily on the towns than on the agricultural population. He asked for an inquiry why the tax pressed so much more heavily on the poor than on the wealthy. Why it was that Englishmen were dragged up and punished for not obeying old laws, which, even if they had read, they would probably be unable to understand. He did not ask for a remission of the tax, but he asked whether the right hon. Gentleman could not find some less objectionable mode of collecting the amount which he received from it? Whether, for instance, he might not make up the million and a half by a small per centage on the rental of the kingdom under the Property Tax Returns? The people of England were just, and were always anxious to pay their taxes, and he did not think, therefore, that the remedy which he suggested would be thought oppressive or unfair. The window tax was one, he could assure the right hon. Gentleman, that never would be paid with willingness by the constituency which he represented; for they could not understand why other towns, with treble their wealth and double their population should be paying a less amount of tax than they did. For these reasons he begged leave to move, in the words of his Motion, that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the present mode of assessing, levying, and collecting the Window Duties in Great Britain, and to report their opinion thereupon to the House.
§ Captain Rous
seconded the Motion. In doing so he had no wish to embarrass the Government in their financial arrangements for the present year. He was satisfied that a tax producing 1,700,000l., could not be at once removed in the present state of the Revenue; but still steps could be taken greatly to modify it, and get rid of much of its oppressiveness. At present it operated as a very great hardship on mechanics and artisans living in cities and towns, and it occasioned very great distress, and, therefore, it became the duty of the Representatives of such 1066 places to state the complaints of their constituents on this subject to Parliament, and endeavour to obtain redress. He was sure that his right hon. Friend at the head of the Government must, as a statesman, wish at any rate so far to modify this tax as to get rid of its vexatious hardships upon such a large number of the inhabitants of towns. This tax, when it was proposed by Mr. Pitt, was distinctly declared to be intended only as a war tax; and succeeding Administrations had repeatedly promised that it should not be continued in time of peace. Every succeeding Government, however, since the Peace, had kept it on; but each had promised that it should be greatly modified; but the only material modification that had taken place in it was one with a vengeance, namely, the additional 10 per cent., imposed by the late Government. It operated extremely oppressively in many parts of Westminster, and was levied with extreme severity on the habitations of the poorer classes. He knew some parts of Westminster where this tax was charged equivalent to 26 per cent. on the rental, while in Regent's-park it was only 2 per cent. on the rental. He found also that the charge for the window tax on the Reform and Carlton Clubs was about 2½ per cent. on the rental. It operated also most unequally on different parts of the country, and on different classes of persons. It appeared from the last census, that there were 3,600,000 houses in England and Wales, while only 444,000 were rated to this tax. It did not affect the agricultural labourers as it did the artisans and those engaged in trade and manufactures, who resided in towns. For these reasons, he only considered it to be a duty which he owed to his constituents to give his support to the Motion of the noble Lord.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that of the many duties which devolved on the individual who filled the situation which he had the honour to fill, none were more disagreeable than to be called upon to defend the continuance of a tax which gentlemen wished to have modified or repealed. It was impossible to deny that every tax in itself, however wisely apportioned, was an evil; and pictures might be drawn of the operation of any tax upon some particular class of the community, which would induce Gentlemen in that House, as well as those out of doors, to wish that such a tax should no longer 1067 exist. This applied more particularly to direct taxation, as a direct demand of money by the tax-gatherer always added to the aggravation of the tax in the minds of the parties upon whom it was levied. He could readily state reasons against the imposition of any specific tax, and among others against a window tax; but the House must consider the necessities of the country, and that a certain amount must be raised by taxation: the question will be whether this tax has larger claims than others to be repealed. The noble Lord who brought this Motion before the House, stated in detail many cases of evil arising from the operation of the tax. He had no doubt that cases of inconvenience might arise from the fair operation of the tax. Other cases of a similar character might arise from the misunderstanding, and, consequently, the misadministration of the law on the part of certain parties, and, perhaps, such cases of inconvenience were not rare. But whatever power the Government had to prevent cases of grievance in the collection of the tax would always be exercised for that purpose, and afford a remedy as far as possible. He believed that this had been the case with all Governments; but he could speak with perfect confidence as to the course pursued by the present Government. It often happened that statements were made in that House with respect to this tax, which were either not exact or greatly exaggerated. He did not wish to throw doubt as to the desire of hon. Gentlemen to state facts as correctly as possible to the House; but in particular instances parties giving information on such subjects were, from excited feelings, led into errors, which on inquiry would be admitted to the errors. In consequence of this having in some cases come to his knowledge, and in consequence of hearing some statements from the noble Lord, of cases of grievance when the subject was last before the House, he had ordered inquiry to be made into the complaints respecting some particular houses at Bath. He would now state the result of his inquiry in two of these cases, and he could state several others if it were necessary. The first case was that of No. 10, Galloway-street, with respect to which it was stated that in this house there were originally fifty-seven windows, and that so many had been closed as to reduce the number 1068 to twenty. The next was the adjoining house No. 9, in which it was alleged that a considerable number of windows had been closed also. The result of the inquiry that he had directed to be instituted respecting the former house, stated that the assessment for the window tax for the year 1843–4 was on thirty-four windows, and for the year 1844–5 was thirty-five, showing an increase of one in the number of windows in the latter year and of fifteen beyond the number stated. With respect to No. 9, Galloway-street, he was informed that it was a house of ill-fame, and, therefore, perhaps it might have been found advisable to stop up some of the windows for other reasons in cidental to the occupancy, quite irrespective of the window tax. Another grievance to which the noble Lord alluded, and which had not been mentioned then for the first time, related to a supposed breach of faith on the part of one of his predecessors deduced from some expressions which he had used. It was stated that parties had been told some years ago that if they opened additional windows they should be relieved from the tax on them, and notwithstanding this the tax had been charged. Whoever had the slightest knowledge of the noble Lord to whom allusion, was made, must be fully aware that nothing was more foreign to his nature, than even an approach to a breach of faith. But if any one would take the trouble to look into the matter, they would acquit Lord Althorp of anything of the kind. It had been said that in 1834 that noble Lord had distinctly stated that persons might open additional windows without any additional duty; and that having made this statement, in the course of the progress of the Assessed Taxes Composition Bill through the House, he inserted a clause in which it was stated that persons duly assessed should be so exempted. The breach of faith is charged upon the insertion of the words "duly assessed." The House should remember the circumstances under which this, which was now regarded as a grievance occurred: 1834 was the period at which the Act for the composition of assessed taxes for five years expired. On renewing it the noble Lord said that those who availed themselves of the composition might open new windows in their residences without additional charge. Therefore, what the noble Lord promised was 1069 personal to the individual, and was not attached to the house itself. At that time, all these houses were open to a new assessment, so that it might be seen that they were duly assessed. It had been stated, however, as the expectation of the parties, that these houses for which a composition for five years had been made, were not to be assessed under any circumstances for new windows. Could any rational man suppose, that under such circumstances there was to be a permanent relaxation, even after the tenant who had made the composition had left the house? This would be giving an additional value to the particular house, and would be a most unjust proceeding towards other holders of house property. Such was the nature of the charge against the noble Lord; and he need hardly add that there was no sense or justice in alleging that there was any breach of faith. Another objection to Lord Althorp was, that those who availed themselves of the benefits of composition, were re-assessed. Why, one of the conditions of the composition was, that the parties should be duly assessed at the time of making it. It was not for a man who had previously stated that he had ten windows, when he had twenty, to complain that he was improperly assessed. If such a case had been allowed to pass, it would have been composition indeed, not for a tax, but for an offence, and one which neither the noble Lord contemplated nor the law allowed. With respect to the Motion of the noble Lord, he did not feel that it was consistent with his duty to consent to go into a Committee to inquire into the mode of assessing and levying this tax. He knew what was the meaning of such a Committee; it was, in fact, nothing more than to express such an opinion on the part of the House on the subject that the window tax must be removed; and thus embarrass the Government, by imposing on them the necessity of raising by some other tax, an amount of money equivalent to it. The noble Lord said that the amount of this tax was about a million and a half; but was that House, in the present state of the finances of the country, able to give relief to the amount of a million and a half? The hon. Member for Montrose had suggested that it should be for the Committee to inquire whether it would not be advisable to sub- 1070 stitute a house tax for the window tax. This was not a new proposition. A few years ago the House had before it both the window and the house tax, and it determined, after considerable deliberation, that the house tax should be removed, and the window tax retained. Whether this proceeding was right or wrong was another question to determine; having to raise a million and a half, you decided that it should be raised on windows and not on the assessment of the value of houses, and it was not right to excite a feeling that you were now about to change those taxes. The change of a tax of this kind would be a very unwise proceeding. It would embarrass the proceedings of many parties who had made calculations as to the taxes they would have to pay. It would excite the hopes of those who thought that they should benefit by a change; but it would rouse the feelings of those who would have to pay an additional tax in the shape of the house tax. It was stated that out of upwards of 3,000,000 of houses in England and Wales, 444,000 only paid the window tax. In the exceptions from the payment of the tax were the habitations of the lower classes of the people. All those, however, who occupied the smaller class of houses and the lower class of farms did not pay it. His own conviction was, that the lower classes of the community were not particularly burdened by this tax. It should be remembered that this tax was only applicable to one eighth of the house-occupiers of the country, while the house tax formerly operated on one-seventh. Therefore, the substitution of one tax for another would naturally bring under assessment for the house tax not less than 27,000 more than now paid the window tax. Therefore, when a wish was expressed to relieve a particular class of persons paying the window tax by the substitution of another tax, the hon. Member would include with those paying that tax a set of persons who were now exempt from it. If this were the result, the House might depend upon it that they would be called upon more loudly than ever to return to the former tax. He was aware that the window tax operated on large houses let out in separate apartments as dwellings for the poor; but he was ready to maintain that this tax acted upon the landlords of these houses, and not on the individuals who occupied them. He asked what effect the taking the window tax off 1071 would have on the poor classes occupying such houses? He was ready to show that it would be attended with no remission of rent. The fact was, that the rent did not so much depend on the taxation of the house, as on the demand for houses of a particular description in particular localities. The taking off this tax would not lower the rents of apartments for which two or three shillings a week were charged. The amount of remission would go into the pockets of the landlord. It should be remembered that the Legislature, by widening and making new streets, produced an enhancement of the rent of this class of houses. Many men engaged in occupations in town had been by this means driven to Portland-town and other similar localities; but in consequence of the great distance they had to walk to their work, there was an increased demand for apartments in those large houses let out to the poorer classes. Many men consequently lived in such places rather than walk to a great distance when they could get habitations better ventilated, and with less rent. As long, therefore, as a great demand took place for lodgings in a particular locality, they might depend upon it that the remission of the window tax would not afford relief to the inhabitants of such places, but would merely add to the incomes of the landlords, whom it was not intended to benefit. He did not admit that any possible advantage could arise from going into Committee. It was no doubt the duty of the Government, as the noble Lord had stated, to look into any abuses, and their attention had been so directed, and wherever complaints were made the cases were investigated, and this would continue to be the case. To go into the Committee in question would only be exciting expectations which it would not be possible to satisfy, as it would give rise to the belief that the window tax would be repealed. He therefore felt bound to resist inquiry. There was another point adverted to by the noble Lord, namely, that the window tax affected the health of the people. If this could be proved, it would be undoubtedly an additional reason for the House to consider the subject; but he believed, and all his experience had confirmed this belief, that the poorer class of persons look more in their dwellings to warmth than to freedom of ventilation, and that they suffered more from cold than from the exclusion of air. 1072 It would be found that those employed in manufactures entertained strong prejudices against the ventilation of their dwellings, as not consistent with their health, and that they constantly closed every aperture which would increase the supplies of air. He was not disposed to give so much weight to the statement made by the noble Lord as some gave it. He found in the Report on the Health of Towns, which went into the examination of all the causes which excited fever in the metropolis and other towns, that there was not an observation in it which tended to show that the window tax in any way operated to affect the health of the inhabitants of towns. They would find it stated in that Report, that one of the chief causes of fever was the building small houses back to back, so that there could not be a free ventilation through them, and having filthy courts and open drains surrounding their dwellings. He was sure if the authors of that Report believed that the window tax was the cause of fever, they would have stated it. Much might be stated to prove the contrary. It was a fact that houses which paid no window tax were not more healthy than those which paid it. He admitted, however, that if it could be shown that the continuance of this tax affected the health of the inhabitants of towns, it would be an argument with that House to get rid of it. He believed that that could not be shown, and he, therefore, in conclusion, begged the House not to take upon itself what was the duty of the Executive Government, and excite expectations which could not be satisfied.
§ Captain Pechell
said, whatever doubt they might have as to the policy of agreeing to this Motion, there could be no doubt whatevever that it had been introduced by a most talented and excellent speech by the noble Lord. A more convincing argument he had never heard, and the facts which the noble Lord had brought forward with such diligence showed very clearly the injustice and iniquity of this tax. He thought that there could be no difference of opinion as to the manner in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had replied to it. The principal topic of the noble Lord's speech was in respect to the vexatious way in which this tax was levied and assessed. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had, however, wholly avoided grappling with that part of the subject. He should wish to refresh his 1073 memory in regard to those Papers which had been laid upon the Table of the House, and he must at the same time refer to the difficulty that existed in getting information as to those surcharges. These cases had never been reported to the public, nor had these returns ever been printed. They were told that in case of a surcharge they might go before the surveyor and look for a precedent. He did not consider it at all fair to send the aggrieved party before the prosecutor in his case. Let them look to the number of window appeals which they had had since the additional 10 per cent. was put on. It appeared that in England and Wales, out of 506 cases of appeal against the window duties, which were decided by the Judges, not one tenth of them was made to the Commissioners. In Scotland 738 cases had been decided by the Judges. They had no means of ascertaining how many cases of appeal had been brought before the Commissioners. This was the disadvantage they laboured under; for the Chancellor of the Exchequer had refused to give the Return, which would have elucidated this subject. He was, therefore, obliged to make use of those materials only which he could obtain to support the Motion of the noble Lord. It appeared that in one Welsh case alone there were forty-five other cases included, so that it was impossible to give an opinion as to the exact number of such cases. In order to clear up this discrepancy, he would consider the state of the window duties in the year 1841, compared with what they were in 1844; and he submitted that the facts which were thus disclosed would be quite sufficient to demand an inquiry. In 1842, the Judges decided against local claims in thirty cases out of sixty cases. He was bound to show that in four years, up to the year 1835, there were 532 cases of appeal, 472 of which related to the window duties. In 1840 there were 115 cases decided by the Judges on appeal from the Commissioners, on which sixty-eight were on the window duty; and in 1842 the number of appeals was 123, and sixty of these were on the window duty. Altogether there were, from 1831 to 1844, 1,138 cases of appeal decided by the Judges, 412 of which related to the window duties. These details were sufficient to justify this demand for an inquiry. Again, he would mention the fact, that the year following the imposition of the additional 1074 duties, the new assessments in the twelve principal towns of England showed a falling off in the number of assessments; which could be accounted for only by a decline in the wealth of those towns, or a determination of the people to cheat the Chancellor of the Exchequer by stopping up their windows. In Scotland, where the several floors of a house were let out to the poor, it was a gross injustice to make a poor man, who had only four or five windows, liable for the duty on the whole house. The duty was of course charged to the proprietor of the house, and, being so charged, it was clear that it was a tax upon property, and not upon light. From the Returns before the House it appeared that the number of persons imprisoned for the non-payment of the assessed taxes in the year 1844 was 216, the lowest sum being 4s. 4½d., and the duration of the imprisonment varying from one day to fifteen or eighteen months. How much longer it might be in some cases these Returns did not show. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the imprisonment would cease on the payment of the penalty, and that imprisonment also followed the non-payment of game duties. There was, however, this difference between the two cases—that no person could be imprisoned under the game laws for any sum under 5l. for a longer time than three months; but when once a man was thrown into the Exchequer, no matter how trifling the amount might be, he might remain in prison for an indefinite number of months. It was monstrous that a man should be imprisoned for months on account of a few shillings, and that the county rates should be burdened in his absence from his family with their support. There was also another injustice about it, that a man might be imprisoned through the fault of the surveyor, who was the servant of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; for nine out of every ten cases of imprisonment were found to rise from improper assessments. He thought this was a question which the agricultural Gentlemen, or, as they called themselves, the farmers' friends, would do well to inquire into. It might be said that this was not a burden peculiarly affecting land, but it was a grievance of which farmers especially had great reason to complain; and he believed the Central Protection Society would accomplish more good by sending their Members to sup- 1075 port a Motion of this kind, than by bringing forward motions which had no distinct practical object. In the evidence given before the Committee which sat on this subject, he found that a farmer had been charged for a window in his dairy, on the ground that he occasionally used it as a larder. He dared say the whole extent of its use in that way was that he had occasionally put a hare or a pheasant there. Another farmer in Wales was charged 15s. for a fox hound, which he kept for the protection of his sheep. Another farmer was charged for a man-servant, because he occasionally employed a ploughboy to clean his boots. Another farmer was charged 12l. 10s., the amount of a horse dealer's license, because he had sold the produce of his stock. He could assure hon. Members opposite that this Blue Book would furnish them with ample materials for making out a code of grievances affecting the occupiers of land, when the hon. Member for Wolverhampton brought forward his Motion on the Corn Laws. He believed that there was no justice in this tax. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had made a very good official speech in favour of the tax; but it was evident he saw that the tax could not continue. The handwriting was on the wall, and he believed that very soon the demand for the repeal of the tax would cause itself to be heard. He must, in conclusion, say that were it not for the excellent gentlemen who presided at Somerset-house, it would have long since proved a burden utterly intolerable to the people.
§ Sir C. Napier
would not have interfered in this debate, if he did not represent a large body of constituents who were deeply interested in this question. The noble Lord who had brought forward this question had shown great industry and ability in the statement of the case, and had clearly shown that the tax was unequal—that it pressed more heavily upon the poor than upon the rich. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had reminded the noble Lord that when persons were making inquiries as to particular measures, it often happened that the persons who furnished them with the information misled them. Now the noble Lord had stated several instances of houses being shut up in consequence of the operation of this tax; and there were only two cases in which it appeared he had been mistaken; and even in these cases, it was 1076 as likely that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been misinformed as the noble Lord. [The gallant Officer then read from a paper a statement to show the unequal pressure of the tax, from which it appeared that houses with a rent of from 35l. to 50l. a year were charged window duty about 10 per cent. on the rental, while the houses of the nobility, with rentals of from 700l. to 2,000l. a year were only charged about 2 per cent. The paper, he said, had been given him by a Commissioner, who was accustomed to make these rates; and if it was not correct, it could be contradicted.] The Chancellor of the Exchequer was quite correct in saying that all taxes were unpleasant; but the mischief of this tax was, that it pressed so severely upon the poor. Another objection to the duty was, that it was, in reality, a tax upon air and light. What was the use of a Committee upon the sanatory condition of the poor, if they were to pass an Act of Parliament excluding them from the light of heaven? The whole matter was a burlesque. Then the Chancellor of the Exchequer had made an assertion which certainly did astonish him. He said that the poor were exempt from this tax. In the country they certainly were; hat in large towns, the poor must pay. They lived several families together in large houses; and, though the tax might, in the first instance, be charged upon the proprietor, yet was it not clear that he would charge the poor with a higher rent than if there were no tax? Then the right hon. Gentleman said the poor were glad to shut up every airhole they could to exclude the cold—that in fact they preferred warmth to ventilation. If the poor did so, it was certain, according to the opinions of the ablest medical men, that that had a tendency to bring on disease. But suppose they did so for the sake of warmth in winter, still in summer they wished a little fresh air. Look at the dark holes in which their children slept, without the slightest means of ventilation; for if they made a hole large enough to let a cat in to catch a mouse they would be brought in for the window tax. Then take the case of persons when they were sick. When a rich person was unwell, he was taken to the Continent, where he could obtain not warmth merely, but air and light; but the sick among the poor had no such advantages; and, few as their privileges in this 1077 respect were, legislation made them less. In this town they seldom saw the sun, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer was doing what he could to assist the climate; for even when the sun did shine out, the poor, by the operation of this tax, were not permitted to see it.
Mr. Edward Ellice
rose to bring before the House a practical grievance which pressed hard upon the linen weavers in Scotland. Their manufacture was generally carried on in buildings adjoining to and communicating with their own houses, and in each of these places there were from one to five looms; and as each loom required a window, they were brought within the operation of the tax. Manufactories were certainly entitled to exemption; but, as these buildings communicated with the dwelling-houses, they were brought within its operation. The weavers had tried to evade the tax by opening their shops to the public road, which certainly exempted them. But it was found that, from the dust blown into their shops from the road side, it was impossible to carry on their trade with the cleanliness which was requisite, and they had therefore been obliged to stop up the communication with the highway, and were thus again brought within the operation of the tax. He was assured, from his personal knowledge, that these were the facts of the case; and he left the case in the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, satisfied that if the right hon. Gentleman would afford them relief, he would confer a great boon upon a very industrious class of persons.
§ Mr. Hume
was sorry to see the House so inattentive to a subject of such great importance. It seemed to be the opinion of some parties that the noble Lord the Member for Bath (Lord Duncan) had acted injudiciously in bringing forward this question at the present moment; but he (Mr. Hume) thought, on the contrary, that this was the very best time at which it could be brought under discussion, and for this reason—the right hon. First Lord of the Treasury was now engaged in the very laudable task of revising and altering the system of taxation in this country; and as an hon. and learned Member had last night stated in his (Mr. Hume's)opinion most correctly, that the right hon. Gentleman was carrying out alterations which would conduce most materially to the welfare of the country. Taking it for granted that the 1078 present amount of taxation must be raised, the question for their consideration was, could they render that taxation in any degree less oppressive than it was at present? To the tax now under consideration very strong and well-grounded objections seemed to him to exist. It prevented the great mass of the people from earning their bread; for, by excluding them from the enjoyment of light and air, their constitutions were debilitated, and their health and strength were impaired. It was evident, from the testimony of the very able and eminent medical men examined before the Health of Towns Commission, that the unhealthy and feeble condition of the poor was principally ocpally occasioned by the want of air and light, and by their being compelled to sleep in apartments where they could only breathe a contaminated atmosphere. He thought it was most important that the Government should inquire whether these representations were or were not correct; for if the Government would undertake such an investigation they could conduct it far more satisfactorily and efficiently than any Committee of that House. If, however, the Government refused to institute that investigation, the noble Lord (Lord Duncan) was fully justified in the course he had adopted; for the only means by which any hon. Members could press the evils of existing systems on that House was by calling for inquiry. They were distinctly told by Dr. Arnott, Dr. Guy, and other men of high talent, that by their fiscal regulations they were rendering the labouring population a feeble and debilitated class. He would ask hon. Gentlemen whether, as Englishmen, they could now look with pride on the sallow countenances and attenuated forms of the artisans and labourers they encountered in large towns? He believed it was the intention of the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) to bring forward a measure carrying out the recommendations of the Health of Towns Commission; and he might take this opportunity of reminding the right hon. Gentleman that no recommendations could be more important than those which related to the necessity of light and air, as conducing to the health of the labouring classes. The window tax was, he considered, most unequal in its operation—pressing most heavily upon those who were least able to bear such a burden—and its collection was also at- 1079 tended with great difficulties. He regarded it as a species of property tax, but levied in the most injudicious and unequal mode; for it precluded that portion of the population whose food and clothing were not of the best description from avoiding the contaminated atmosphere in which they were compelled to live, and enjoying comparatively pure and healthy air. He (Mr. Hume) considered that if it was necessary to continne the present amount of taxation, it might be levied more equally upon capital than was done under the present system. To show the inequality now existing, be might state, that the house, No. 16 Poland-street, containing 35 windows, rental 80l., paid a window duty of 16½ per cent.; while the house, No. 234 Regent-street, containing 20 windows, on a rental of 335l., was only taxed at the rate of 2 per cent.; and No. 270 Regent-street, with 112 windows, and paying a rental of 180l., paid a window tax of only l½ per cent.; the house, No. 8 Cross-street, at a rental of 45l., was charged with a window tax of 10l. 6s. 9d., or 22½ per cent.; and if he wished to prove more clearly the inequality of this impost he might refer to the Reform Club, the Carlton Club, and other public buildings. It had been said that Parliament, some years ago, removed the house tax instead of the window tax; but the intention at that time was that both those taxes should be repealed. The late hungry Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, never had any money to spare. That right hon. Gentleman spent his money in Syria, and elsewhere, in shot and shells. He found from the assessment for the Property Tax, that the rental of houses in England amounted to 35,500,000l., and in Scotland, to 3,000,000l., making a total of 38,500,000l.; and by a tax of 5 per cent., they would be able to raise 1,950,000l. It might be said, however, that if this plan were adopted, many houses which were exempted from the window duty would be exposed to taxation; but they might exempt a large portion of the smaller houses—all those, he had no doubt, which were now free from the window tax, and yet raise a revenue of 1,600,000l. He believed, that if the right hon. Baronet imposed a tax of 10d. in the pound, or 4 per cent., on the rental of houses on which the Income Tax for last year was assessed, it would raise an ample sum to compensate 1080 him for relinquishing the window tax. A witness stated before the Health of Towns Commission, that,—The window duties, as now assessed, operate as a premium upon defective construction. The Legislature now says to the builder, plan your houses with as few openings as possible; let every house be ill-ventilated by shutting out the light and air; and as a reward for your ingenuity you shall be subject to a less amount of taxation than your neighbours. The Board is, of course, aware that windows are now charged by a scale—the tax increasing at an average rate of about 8s. 3d. for every window, whether large or small. Hence the number of windows in a house becomes, to builders of second and third-class houses, a very serious consideration. Supposing a house to contain twelve rooms; if, to make these rooms cheerful and pleasant, I have put two windows in each room, and thereby insured a current of air passing from front to back, the window tax for that house amounts to 7l. 5s. 9d; but if I have put but one window to each room, the window tax is but 2l. 4s. 9d., showing a difference of 5l. 1s. per annum; and I need scarcely say, that a difference of only 10s. per annum, is quite enough to influence builders of cheap houses in trying to save such a sum.Light, alone, every one knew, produced most beneficial effects upon the health of a population; and, for this, amongst other reasons, he contended that it was very important that these matters should be looked into by Her Majesty's Government. These were the times of "changes;" and he thought that few more advantageous changes could be made than that which he had the honour of submitting to the House. He had, however, another claim for the remission of the window tax, and that was a solemn pledge, which, as he contended, had been given by Lord Althorp—a pledge which had been broken—not, indeed, by Lord Althorp, but by the right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. On July 17, 1834, he (Mr. Hume) said,—I hope there is no occasion to remind the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the pledge he gave us some time ago relative to the tax on windows. I am quite sure, that the noble Lord is desirous of rendering it as little oppressive as possible; and that if he cannot reduce its amount now, he will endeavour to do so next Session. If the noble Lord would limit the tax to its present amount, and allow every man who has paid the window rate for an entire year to continue to pay the same composition, and to open additional windows, it would be a very great relief. It is not at all uncommon in old-fashioned houses, 1081 which contain a greater number of windows than modern buildings, to see many windows bricked up for the purpose of avoiding the tax. If the noble Lord would redeem his pledge, he would confer a very great boon upon those parties.To that the noble Lord said, that he should be prepared to discuss the question when the Bill went into Committee; and then, on the 30th of July, Lord Althorp said,—I have now to beg leave to bring up a clause which was suggested to me by the hon. Member for Oxford, enabling persons to open fresh windows in houses at present existing without any additional charge. As I apprehend there will be no objection to the clause, it will be unnecessary for me to trouble the Committee with any observations upon it. I will, therefore, only say, that it cannot occasion any loss to the Revenue; its only effect is to prevent an increase of the Revenue in the case of houses already existing.The consequence of that pledge was, that those who had shut up their windows, understanding that there would be no increase in the duties if they opened them again, re-opened a great number of windows; and then, a few years afterwards, the right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer considered it to be his duly to re-assess all those windows. Hence arose very great and general dissatisfaction throughout the country—the windows were again shut up, and a large number of persons closed their houses in consequence. For all these reasons he believed that this was a tax which called for immediate remission; and he was sure that the House would submit to an uniform rate of taxation on house rent, if the Government would bring forward any plan for the purpose. He was sorry that he should not have an opportunity of proposing his Amendment; for if the Government refused an inquiry he should have no chance of carrying it; but he did hope that the right hon. Gentleman would give the subject his best consideration, and would see whether he could not incorporate his (Mr. Hume's) proposal with the measures which he intended to introduce for the improvement of the condition of the population.
§ Mr. F. Baring
feared, after what had been said by his hon. Friend who had just sat down, that he must trouble the House with a few observations, though he had hoped that he should not have been obliged 1082 to address them. His hon. Friend had charged him with a breach of faith in not enforcing a pledge which he stated had been given by Lord Althorp. He must at once beg to deny that he had ever committed any such breach of faith. His notion of the duty of a public servant would lead him to say, that if a pledge had been given, under any circumstances, it would be his duty to redeem that pledge. He could conceive no course that could be pursued with the view of obtaining money that would be satisfactory to the country, if that money were procured by the breaking of a pledge. But he denied altogether that any pledge had been given by Lord Althorp. The hon. Gentleman had read his own speech, and then fixed Lord Althorp with it. But what was Lord Althorp's reply to the hon. Gentleman? Why, he said,—I perfectly recollect having stated that I would bring the subject before the House; but I do not recollect saying, and I am pretty sure that I did not say, that I should concur in the proposition.[Mr. Hume: That was on the 17th of July; read what he said on the 30th.] He had not got his Lordship's observations upon the 30th in his hand; but he knew that his noble Friend did bring in a clause, which clause was worded as it now stood. The hon. Gentleman seemed to imagine that his noble Friend had been deceived by the officers of the Customs; but he could assure the hon. Gentleman that no one was less likely to be deceived than his noble Friend; and that he was perfectly aware of the construction put upon the clause. The hon. Gentleman stated that that construction was never put upon it till a hungry Chancellor of the Exchequer who wanted money, for the first time did so, and applied the clause in a manner different from what it had been acted upon before. That, however, was not the case. That clause had always been construed in the same way, and acted upon in the same way. What was the construction given to the clause by the hon. Gentleman? By the old law there was a power of composition. His noble Friend put an end to composition; but in compensation he introduced a clause by which those who had paid their duties fairly might open fresh windows without additional tax. It was those only who had not been fairly assessed before who were not entitled to this privilege—persons who having twenty windows returned only fifteen, and paid only for fifteen. But the hon. Gentleman seemed to contend, if the 1083 parties had opened an additional window, and had then twenty-one instead of twenty, that they were to be quite sacred, and that no law could touch them. If they had not opened a new window they would be subject to be recharged; and it never could be contended that by such opening they should be screened from being called upon to pay their just quota. His noble Friend never had such an intention; and when he (Mr. Baring) issued his instruction for a new survey, he believed that his noble Friend never had had the intention which the hon. Gentleman had constantly imputed to him; and he believed that his noble Friend was right in saying that he had never given the pledge to which the hon. Gentleman had alluded. In 1840, when he (Mr. Baring) issued those instructions, he thought that he was fully justified in doing so, in consequence of information which he had received, that a Very large number of persons had not made fair returns of the windows in their houses; and he contended that he did right in seeing that those persons—whole streets of them—who were evading the tax, paid their fair and proper shares, before he called upon others, as he was obliged to do, to pay an additional amount. That he believed to be a just principle; and he then ordered a general and a new survey to be made. His hon. Friend was wrong in supposing that those surveys had not been going on. It was the habit to survey at different times different parts of the country. He had ordered surveys to be made through the whole country at once. This was all that was new, but as regarded the construction given to the clause, no alteration was made. He was anxious to show his hon. Friend, also, in what manner that survey had been undertaken, and the spirit which pervaded his instructions. His noble Friend (Lord Duncan), who had brought his case very fairly before the House, had moved for those instructions. For those instructions he was answerable; they had been issued in his time, and he believed that he had seen them at the time of their issue. The House would observe that those instructions were dated in May, 1840, and that in the first place the surveyor was cautioned not to charge those persons who had enjoyed any privilege of exemption under the 7th Section of the Act—the clause in question. Those instructions were of a confidential nature, and had not been prepared with the view of being brought before the House; but, to show the spirit in which they were 1084 framed, he would just read one line, which was as follows:—The Board relies upon your discrimination in not making any charges which may reasonably be considered by the public in the light of vexatious taxation.With regard, then, to the breach of faith, he would say, if the pledge had been given by any public officer, that he should have acted upon it; but knowing and believing that it never had been given, he did not feel that he was called upon to sacrifice his own opinion and belief, and to take the hon. Gentleman's construction of what Lord Althorp had said. With reference to the grievances of the tax, he knew perfectly well that there was not a tax that could be mentioned against which a list of grievances could not be made out. It was very difficult indeed to answer particular cases of grievance. It was, in fact, impossible for those not in the Government to know the details or to answer them. But he must be permitted to warn the House against trusting every case of grievance that was brought before it. He never knew the case of a grievance which was not remarkably good until the other side was heard; and he believed that many cases which had been mentioned that evening as great grievances, would bear a very different aspect if the other side were known. The tax now under discussion was a direct tax; he must say that he was greatly surprised when he heard so much said of the advantages of direct over indirect taxation; and when he considered, in addition, how productive a source of taxation this was, that his hon. Friend should be one of the first to get up and oppose it. Let them look at the house tax. His hon. Friend has suggested a house tax as an equivalent in lieu of the Window tax. He did not know whether his hon. Friend had ever made a speech on the grievances of the house tax; but he remembered that a great many grievances were stated when the question of the house tax was discussed in that House. The house tax was on the rental, and it was always argued that the rental was an unfair mode of assessment. The hon. Gentleman, whatever he had done before, however, now said, "Take the rental; tax that; nothing can be fairer;" and he said, "I'll go as low as you please, down even to the man who pays but 1l. per annum for his cottage." Why, when the house tax was in force, it was found that some of the largest houses in England contributed scarcely a fraction towards 1085 the house tax. Knowle Mouse was a notable instance of this sort. It was charged at a rental, he believed, of 50l. a-year; and that was in fact proved to be a high charge. It was too perfectly notorious that the inn of a country town paid more than the country seats of the neighbouring gentry. He was not contending that that was not fair; but he did say, that such cases produced an effect upon the public mind; and he dared to say that his hon. Friend would not be amongst the last to regard them. The house tax, at any rate, was considered at that time so unfair, a tax that it was taken off in preference to the window duty. He did not say that the window tax was a fairer tax than the house tax; but he did say, that it was one which made the rich contribute more to the Exchequer in proportion than the house tax did; and his impression was, that if the House re-imposed the house tax, and remitted the window tax, they would impose one which would make the poor contribute more in proportion than they did at present. With regard to the particular question before the House—viz., the appointment of a Select Committee, he looked upon it as his noble Friend seemed to have done when he gave the Notice of his Motion—which was for the repeal of the window tax. That was no doubt the practical effect of this Motion—that was what was aimed at, and to that his (Mr. Baring's) answer was, that he was not prepared to assist them, in the present state of the Revenue, in getting rid of that tax; and if they appointed a Committee merely for the sake of inquiry, they would be only raising expectations in the public mind which were not likely to be carried out. He was far from saying that it was not a fair subject for the consideration of the Government; and if the Government should be enabled to alter the tax by combining a modification of the old house and window tax, he believed that some of the disadvantages and grievances at present complained of might perhaps be got over, but this proposition had been more than once considered, and was very difficult to carry into practical effect. Under these circumstances, he could not support the Motion.
§ Mr. Wakley
asked whether they were to understand the tax was to be given up? On that subject the most extraordinary silence prevailed on both sides of the House—a silence which appeared perfectly inexplicable. Was the tax aban- 1086 doned? The Chancellor of the Exchequer had made the lamest defence of it that it was possible for any man to make. Two speeches had been made on the Ministerial side—one strongly in favour of it; and upon the other side there had been five speeches, four of which were strongly against it, whilst the ex-Chancellor as strongly supported the tax. Ex-Chancellors usually spoke in the same way as Chancellors. It appeared to be their invariable rule—"If you will support me when I am in, I will support you when I am out." The window tax was universally condemned. Everybody admitted it to be assessed most unequally, and that the poorer portions of society who paid to it paid much heavier, in proportion to the rents of their houses, than the richer. It was also admitted to be injurious to health, opposed to comfort, and pregnant with nothing but mischief; yet the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the House it was not to be given up, and that there was no hope of its relinquishment. If the proposition of the noble Lord had been to get rid of the tax at once, he could not have voted for it, because, the Budget of the right hon. Baronet and his financial statement having been affirmed by the House, it would be preposterous and most unjust to vote for its immediate repeal. And if all the evils of the tax were admitted by Her Majesty's Government, there was no necessity for the Committee. The hon. Member for Montrose had asked whether, if Ministers held out no prospect that it should be repealed, they would consent to take the matter into serious consideration. He did not know what Government was disposed to do; but, having observed the silence on that side of the House, there appeared to him no hope that it could be sustained by reason or argument; and he was inclined to believe that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury Was prepared to abandon it in another year, and that its remission would be included in one of those great schemes of relief. In a few years there would be a general election; and, whether the Government took up the matter in the mean time, he entreated the electors to do so. An Anti-Window-Tax League should be formed. Its remission, he knew, would not be made willingly by Chancellors of the Exchequer; but if the electors took the question into their hands, it would be 1087 settled at the next election, because it was a tax upon property, which be assured the Government they did not like. It was an unjust tax, and its operation was unequal. In every way it was injurious. No tax was more injurious to health and comfort. Darkness was the parent of crime, vice, filth, and pestilential disease. By shutting out the light from the people, you absolutely deprived them of the means of ventilation. Only yesterday, in his own parish of Marylebone, in his official capacity, he had to go into a very curious place, which he entered by a high staircase, into which no window whatever opened; then a room-door was opened, and there was plenty of light in the room, but a human being lay upon the floor denuded of any covering. There was neither a chair nor a table in the room, nor any article of furniture worth sixpence, the body having no covering upon it of any kind: it was that of an unfortunate woman, 78 years of age, who had died in this wretched condition. Her husband, he understood, was once the captain of a man-of-war. In these dark abodes, what was going on upon one floor of the habitation was entirely unknown to the persons who inhabited another; they were as much strangers to each other as if they lived twenty or thirty miles apart. But he ventured to say, if that and every House were lighted and ventilated as they ought to be, it was next to impossible that such scenes as this could occur. He trusted, therefore, that upon the other side there would be no attempt to sustain this tax by argument. If there was a division, he should divide with the noble Lord; but if Her Majesty's Government would allow the House to infer from their silence that they were not opposed in sentiment to the remission of the tax, he sincerely hoped the noble Lord would not divide.
§ Sir R. Peel
said: I consider, Sir, it is the duty of every Government, before coming down to this House to propose the remission or alteration of any particular tax, to take a general view of the bearing of the whole system of taxation, and upon that to submit to the House those measures which it appears to them that the circumstances of the country require. That is the course we have pursued during the present year, and we have every reason to believe that that course has been satisfactory to the people. 1088 We did not come down to this House to propose the scheme of finance which I had the honour to submit, without revising the window tax most carefully—we did not do so without revising all the other taxes—and we determined, on the whole, that, under the present circumstances of the country, the remissions we proposed would confer the greatest advantage on the community. But it is quite consistent in us to take the course which we have done, and also to admit that there are other taxes, the nature and operation of which are objectionable and injurious. And if the noble Lord the Member for Bath should succeed in his Motion, and if another hon. Member should come forward, cheered by his success and say, "I will state such circumstances to the House as will justify me in moving the repeal of the soap tax," I have no doubt he would be able to show that tax to be a grievous evil; and then some other hon. Gentleman would find another impost equally injurious, and the removal of which is equally desirable. I have no doubt, in all these cases, and in many more, hon. Members might by their arguments and statements make a very great impression upon the House. And then an hon. Member gets up and says, is this tax to be remitted—what means this silence on the part of the Government—will they give us an intimation that our silence may be inferred as signifying our intention to give up the window tax? Why, exactly that course might—and I have very little doubt would—be pursued in respect to the other taxes against which a case should be made out. I say again, what I have frequently said before in this House, that I do not think it is consistent with the duty of the Government of this country to give any specific pledge as to what taxes are to be repealed—or are likely to be repealed—until the proper time arrives at which they can actually be taken off. It is the duty of the First Lord of the Treasury, and of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to propose a reduction of no tax whatever but under the circumstances I have previously named; and then to make their proposal at once to the House to carry it into effect without any delay whatever that can properly be avoided. But it would be a most unjust and improper course on our part to allow a year before the proper time any inference to be drawn as to the remission 1089 of a tax, in order to escape from the inconveniences of a Committee. Now, I must be permitted to say to those who have introduced and supported this Motion for a Committee, that I am not defending any portion of the window tax. I am only contending that, under the circumstances of the country, it would be most inexpedient and unwarrantable in me to give any pledges as to our future intentions. And, let me tell you, you are making the remission of taxation a much more difficult task by asking the Government for those pledges you now seek. Now I will just say one word as to the proposition before the House. I must say the proposition of the hon. Member for Montrose, bad as it is, is better than that of the noble Lord the Member for Bath, for he goes at once to excite the hope of a certain reduction of taxation to the amount of 1,700,000l. [Lord Duncan: No; I ask for a Committee to inquire into the feasibility of such reduction.] Which Committee would only end in disappointment. I do not believe a Committee of the House of Commons is a good tribunal for the purpose of suggesting the means of relieving the community from any particular burden it may desire relief from. Well, but the hon. Member for Montrose contends that a substitute for the window tax might be advantageously found in a general house tax. Now, recollect, we have relieved incomes of 150l. a year from the operation of the Property and Income Tax, and he now proposes to apply a new tax to the very parties that this House thought—and most properly thought—should be as lightly taxed as possible. And what is the amount of this new tax that the hon. Gentleman suggests should be levied? Not 7d. in the pound, the amount of our income levy (all incomes under 150l. being exempted); but 10d., yes 10d. in the pound. And this is his substitute for the window tax. Now, from a Return I hold in my hand, and which was moved by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hume), I find the amount of the annual value of houses assessed to the Property and Income Tax in 1842—the total value of house property in Great Britain, is 38,500,000l.; and he says, impose on this a tax of 10d. in the pound, and there is at once for you the sum of 1,900,000l., and a substitute for the window tax. But now this tax is to extend to every income. It is to visit 1090 every house in every town—every house rented at 2l. a year—it is to visit every farm-house; yes, and not a few of your cottages too. It is to visit all manufactories, all shops, and all those many houses now exempt from window duty. Now, think of the House of Commons doing this just after passing the Property and Income Tax Bill, which, with maledictory words from some, and valedictory words from others—only left our House this very week for the other House. Returning, however, to the question of the window tax, I am perfectly willing to admit to the noble Lord (Lord Duncan) that there are many inequalities in its operation; but where will you find a tax without inequalities? Now, do not let me deceive the noble Lord in what I am about to say. In order to induce him not to proceed to a division, I am not going to delude him by holding out any false expectations; but this far I will go—I will assure him that this tax shall, along with other taxes, when the opportunity again arrives for the consideration of our financial schemes—I say, I will assure him that when the time for undergoing the usual revision shall have come, this tax shall have a full, a fair, and a frank consideration from us. But, I repeat, I cannot, and will not, a year before the proper time, give him any positive assurance of a remission of it. I will not do so with any tax. I am willing to do so far as I have stated, in order to induce the noble Lord to avoid the necessity of a division, and also to mark my opinion of the ability which he undoubtedly displayed in laying his case before the House. The noble Lord introduced his Motion with very great fairness, and with considerable ability. I wish him a better fate than to have to sit on a Committee which can do no good; but while I give him an assurance of this tax having, at the proper season, the fullest and fairest consideration from us, I will give no specific pledge of conduct in order to induce him not to take the sense of the House on his Motion.
§ Mr. Hawes
observed, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that an inquiry would lead to no practical results, but would only raise unfounded expectations, and on that ground he refused the Committee. Now, would the right hon. Gentleman permit him to recall to his recollection instances in which Committees of inquiry had been granted, and which 1091 had been followed by great practical results? The longest ago to which he would refer was the Committee upon the timber duties, and that led to alterations of the tax. He remembered, also, the Committee on the tea duties, which led to a modification of the tax. The Committee upon the import duties likewise led to modifications. He did not hesitate to say that the window lax was one into which the House might inquire, and that the Government might derive great advantage from such an inquiry. He could refer to Committees which had led not to a repeal of taxes, but to an improved mode of levying and collecting them. He did not know that the suggestion of his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose, relative to a commutation of the window tax into a house tax, free from the evils of the old house tax, was impracticable. The fault of the old house tax was that a house was rated at its value in the market, and of course it was impossible that the country houses referred to should have a rated value in the market; but that injustice was not inseparable from a tax of that description. If the Motion had been for an immediate repeal of the tax he would have voted against it, but he should vote in favour of inquiry.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
said, that however anxious he was to vote for the remission of any tax, he did not think that in this case a Committee was desirable, as it would only tend to excite false hopes. If a proper duty could be laid by the square yard upon those enormous plate glass windows which were used only for show, and a proportionate relief given to the poor occupiers of small houses, he thought that would be the best way in which the inequalities of the tax could be remedied.
§ Mr. T. Duncombe
hoped that his noble Friend was about to divide—and on the ground upon which the question was put by Her Majesty's Ministers—namely, that the Motion was tantamount to a repeal of the window tax. It was upon that account he regretted that his noble Friend had changed his former Motion for a repeal of the tax into a Motion for an inquiry. His constituents wanted no inquiry on the subject. They had had sufficient experience of the tax already, and their wish, as expressed to him was, that it should be repealed as soon as possible: and, therefore, when he heard that this 1092 Motion was tantamount to a Motion for a repeal of the tax, it was an additional reason with him to vote for it.
knew no tax more objectionable than a tax upon light and air. There was no tax which interfered so much with the comforts and the health of the inhabitants of towns especially as the window tax. It operated most oppressively, and if a Committee were granted for inquiry into its operation, he had no doubt that cases would be made out which would induce the House to make material changes. For instance, his constituents suffered extraordinary hardships from the tax. It was imposed upon houses and buildings generally—those houses, however, which were used for manufactures being exempt from it; whereas if a manufacture were curried on in the same building which was used for a dwelling-house, all the windows in the dwelling-house as well as in the manufactory were charged. It happened that his constituents carried on an extensive trade in weaving. They required a great deal of light, and the upper part of the house was devoted to their manufacture. The consequence was, that they were liable for every window in the house. This was a great hardship and injustice, and if an inquiry were granted, he was sure the Government would be inclined to consent to the removal of such a grievance.
said, in consequence of the eagerness of the House to come to the New Zealand debate, he would only trespass upon its attention with a few words. The right hon. Baronet opposite had said he preferred the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose to his. He would only say that he (Lord Duncan) had humbly endeavoured to imitate the example of the right hon. Baronet when he sat at that side of the House: he would agree to nothing, but objected to everything. He was glad this discussion had taken place, as he thought it would do much good. As to his Motion necessarily leading to a repeal of the window tax, that was not the case; because there had been Committees upon the timber duties, tobacco, tea, and the import duties, none of which had been repealed in consequence. He could not follow the advice of the right hon. Baronet, but must take the sense of the House upon the Motion.
§ The House then divided:—Ayes 47; Noes 93; Majority 46.
|List of the AYES.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Horsman, E,|
|Ainsworth, P.||Hume, J.|
|Aldam, W.||Hutt, W.|
|Bannerman, A.||Mangles, R. D.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Marsland, H.|
|Berkeley, hon. H. F.||Mitchell, T. A.|
|Blewitt, R. J.||Morris, D.|
|Bouverie, H. E. P.||Napier, Sir C.|
|Bowring, Dr.||Paget, Col.|
|Brotherton, J.||Pattison, J.|
|Browne, hon. W.||Plumridge, Capt.|
|Buller, C.||Pulsford, R.|
|Busfeild, W.||Rous, hon. Capt.|
|Butler, hon. Col.||Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.|
|Cobden, R.||Stewart, P. M.|
|Colebrooke, Sir T. E.||Strutt, E.|
|Cowper, hon. W. F.||Tancred, H. W.|
|Craig, W. G.||Thornely, T.|
|D'Eyncourt, rt. hn. C.||Villiers, hon. C.|
|Duncan, G.||Wakley, T.|
|Duncombe, T.||Williams, W.|
|Ewart, W.||Yorke, H. R.|
|Hawes, B.||Duncan, Visct.|
|Hindley, C.||Pechell, Capt.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Acland, T. D.||Foreman, T. S.|
|Allix, J. P.||Fuller, A. E.|
|Arbuthnott, hon. H.||Gaskell, J. Milnes|
|Arkwright, G.||Gladstone, rt. hon. W. E.|
|Baird, W.||Gordon, hon. Capt|
|Baldwin, B.||Gore, M.|
|Baring, rt. hon. F. T.||Goulburn, rt. hn. H.|
|Baring, rt. hn. W. B.||Graham, rt. hon. Sir J.|
|Barrington, Visct.||Greene, T.|
|Bentinck, Lord G.||Grimsditch, T.|
|Boldero, H. G.||Hamilton, W. J.|
|Borthwick, P.||Harcourt, G. G.|
|Botfield, B.||Hepburn, Sir T. B.|
|Bowes, J.||Hinde, J. H.|
|Bowles, Adm.||Hope, hon. C.|
|Bramston, T. W.||Hope, G. W.|
|Bruce, C. L. C.||Hussey, T.|
|Bruges, W. H. L.||Ingestre, Visct.|
|Burrell, Sir C. M.||Jermyn, Earl|
|Cardwell, E.||Jocelyn, Visct.|
|Carnegie, hon. Capt.||Lennox, Lord A.|
|Clerk, rt. hn. Sir G.||Lincoln, Earl of|
|Clifton, J. T.||Lockhart, W.|
|Clive, hon. R. H.||Lowther, Sir J. H.|
|Cockburn, rt. hn. Sir G.||Mackinnon, W. A.|
|Coote, Sir C. H.||McNeill, D.|
|Copeland, Ald.||Mahon, Visct.|
|Cripps, W.||Manners, Lord C. S.|
|Darby, G.||Marsham, Visct.|
|Deedes, W.||Martin, C. W.|
|Denison, E. B.||Masterman, J.|
|Dickinson, F. H.||Milnes, R. M.|
|East, J. B.||Neville, R.|
|Eastnor, Visct.||Nicholl, rt. hon. J.|
|Escott, B.||O'Brien, A. S.|
|Fitzroy, hon. H.||Patten, J. W.|
|Forbes, W.||Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.|
|Peel, J.||Spooner, R.|
|Praed, W. T.||Stewart, J.|
|Pringle, A.||Stuart, H.|
|Round, J.||Sutton, hon. H. M.|
|Russell, Lord J.||Thesiger, Sir F.|
|Shaw, rt. hn. F.||Tomline, G.|
|Sheppard, T.||Trevor, hon. G. R.|
|Smith, rt. hon. T. B. C.||Wyndham, Col. C.|
|Somerset, Lord G.||Young, J.|
|Somes, J.||Baring, H.|