HC Deb 20 March 1848 vol 97 cc770-5

Report on the Income-tax brought up.

On the question that it be read a Second Time,


said, that after the very distinct manner in which the House had pronounced its approbation of the income-tax being continued for three years, it was not his intention to offer any further objection to it at present. He hoped, however, that he should be allowed to suggest that the Bill to be brought in to carry the resolutions into effect would be referred to a Committee upstairs, in order, if possible, to remove the gross irregularities of its present operation. He did not make this proposal to the House with the view of throwing any impediment in the way of the measure; but he did so, because he thought it was of the utmost importance—if they were to continue a tax so objectionable in many points—that some efforts should be made to render it free from the inequalities which were at present so much and so justly complained of. It was the opinion of many persons that no difficulty would be found in making such alterations in the Bill in Committee as would meet many, at least, of those inequalities. Whether he should make the Motion when leave was asked to bring in the Bill, he did not yet know; but he should be prepared, either then or at some future stage of the Bill, to make a Motion to that effect, and submit his reasons for it, should any objection be made to it.


was desirous, also, to have some opportunity (he did not care when) of calling the attention of the House to a question to which he had already, on more than one occasion, asked their attention—namely, the expediency of begining the application of the income-tax at a given sum, and never going below it.


said, that as one of those who had voted for the continuance of the income-tax under the present exigencies of the country, he ventured to implore the Government to give ear to the request of the hon. Member for Montrose, and try whether, after due time, and after due consideration, some plan could not be adopted—he would not say to make it exactly fair, for that might be impossible—but to improve the measure so far as to meet the wishes of the great body of Her Majesty's subjects. At the same time he spoke with great hesitation on the subject, when he remembered that those who were best acquainted with it, on both sides of the House, had stated that it would be extremely difficult to remove the present anomalies without introducing others as great in their place; but still he believed it was not impossible, and he certainly did wish to see such an improvement, or an approach to improvement made, as would content the great body of Her Majesty's subjects. He said this the more earnestly, because he believed the tax to be just on principle.


could not resist joining in the entreaties of the hon. Members for Montrose and Shrewsbury, and which were coming from all parts of the country to Her Majesty Government, that they would endeavour to devise some plan of modifying this tax, and rendering it more fair and equal in its operation. He had the honour to represent a large constituency around that House, and though he had not hitherto given any opinion on the subject in that House, he begged now to say that his constituents were perfectly willing to pay their fair share of taxes, and that though their incomes were principally derived from trade and professions, they were not opposed in principle to the income-tax; but they had the deep and strong feeling that the proprietary body in the country had in some degree intimidated Her Majesty's Government from attempting any modification of the tax.


, after the observation just made by the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster, might be permitted to say a single word. He begged to say, of his own knowledge, and he was quite sure he might say the same of every other Member of Her Majesty's Government, that they been in no respect intimidated on this question. He could only add that, for his own part, he had given his best attention to the proposals for a modification of this tax, and that, however plausible it seemed at the outset, the further he had inquired into it the less able he had found himself to devise or adopt any plan which would not make the inequalities still more gross and apparent than they existed under the present mode of levying the income-tax. He assured the House that it was from no want of consideration that he had come to this conclusion. On the contrary, the further he had inquired, the more he had become convinced it was impossible to do otherwise than they had done. At the same time, he should be exceedingly sorry to preclude himself from any further consideration of the subject. He was perfectly ready to consider any plan which any Gentleman might bring forward; but certainly no plan had yet come under the consideration of Government which was not in their opinion more objectionable than the plan which had invariably existed at all times and in all countries where the income-tax had ever been imposed.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman had not answered the question of his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose. The right hon. Gentleman had merely stated that no plan that had yet been suggested was preferable to the present state of things. There was an almost universal feeling throughout the country, however, that the measure must undergo a modification—so much so that unless a great modification were introduced, he believed it would be impossible to collect the tax without such an amount of resistance as would prove very annoying to the public functionaries. He thought the request of his hon. Friend a very reasonable one, and one which ought to be acceded to. It would indicate, at all events, a desire on the part of the Government to defer to the wishes of the great majority of the people out of doors if a Committee were appointed to inquire whether some modification could not be introduced.


had understood the right hon. Gentleman to say, with some emphasis, at the close of his first remarks, that the income-tax was levied in the same way in this country as it was in all other countries. Now, a remark was made by his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow (Mr. Macgregor), in the course of his speech last week, which he (Mr. Cobden) believed was well founded, that in no other country in the world was there an income-tax at all. There was a heavy amount of direct taxation levied in France, and in other Continental States; but there was no instance in the civilised world in which they levied a tax upon profits. This was a fact which should be borne in mind, because the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that the tax was levied in the same mode here as in other countries.


said, that it had been stated by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Macgregor) himself that in South Carolina, in the United States, an income-tax was levied upon the profits of trades and professions.


understood the right hon. Gentleman to object to refer the Bill to a Committee, as proposed by the hon. Member for Montrose, because he was convinced that no plan could possibly be suggested which would not leave the inconsistencies and inequalities of the measure still more glaring than those in the plan at present in operation. Now, on this point the right hon. Gentleman was at direct issue with the public at large. He was not sure that he was not at direct issue with a majority of the House, for upon this point, as he understood, a great many Members had not as yet given any distinct rote. When he suggested his plan, the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Cardwell), for instance, said that he voted rather with reference to that place than with respect to the general question as to whether a better plan could or could not be adopted. Now, the feeling on the part of the public was so general in many districts—he might say universal—that some modification of the present system might be adopted, that he really thought, even admitting that Her Majesty's Government were right, it would be but a judicious deference of opinion to grant some Committee of Inquiry. He knew, however, some high authorities, who were of opinion that a great improvement could be made in the present system; but whether this opinion was right or wrong, he still thought that, under all the circumstances, it would be expedient that an inquiry should be instituted.


had confined himself to the States in the West when he made the statement alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman. It was undoubtedly true that a tax upon profits existed in South Carolina for local purposes. In Frankfort, also, a power was given to the Senate to impose such a tax when the ordinary revenue did not meet the expenditure; there was a similar power in existence in the free towns of Hamburgh, Bremen, and Lubeck. He concurred with the right hon. Gentleman that the difficulty of apportioning such a tax was greater almost than could be estimated, and therefore it was that he felt very sorry that the Government had not taken the tax, or even an income-tax of 5 per cent for one year, in order that the House should have had time to go fully into the whole question of taxation. He had been anxious to press his Motion upon the notice of the House, because upon a careful analysis of the expenditure upon Ireland, he found that it, up to 1846, exceeded the revenue derived from her by 166,000,000l. sterling.


had made several attempts to explain to the House the grounds upon which he had felt it his duty to vote in favour of the Government on the question of the income-tax. Upon full consideration of the question he had arrived at the conclusion that Mr. Warburton had adopted—viz., that it was correct in principle, and that in fact it in- flicted no injustice upon the owners of precarious incomes. If they were to put a tax of 100 per cent upon the incomes of lawyers or physicians, of course the weakest in those professions must go to the wall, but the tax would be paid by the consumer; in other words, the tax would be paid by the persons employing such professional men. His conduct upon the question, he was sorry to say, had not proved satisfactory to his constituents, even after he had given them the explanation of his vote which they had demanded.


would not then discuss the question of sending the Woods and Forests expenditure before a Select Committee: that question would come under consideration on a future day. But when the hon. Member for Cockermouth (Mr. Horsman) said that complaints against the inequality of the tax were almost universal, and that some proposition for a modification of it, such as he had proposed, was necessary in order to allay discontent, he must say, that, although that proposition was most skilfully worded, had it been successful, and had it been adopted by the House, many of those who would have been called upon under it to pay 8d. in the pound would have brought cases of great inequality to that House which his hon. Friend would not have found it easy to answer.

Resolution agreed to. Bill founded upon it, ordered to be brought in.