§ On the Motion that Mr. Speaker leave the Chair, in order to go into Committee upon this Bill,
§ SIR. H. WILLOUGHBY
said, he found in the amended Bill that copyhold estates and customary estates and memorials were included, and that they had not existed in the original Bill, or in the schedule which had passed through the Committee of the whole House, He wished to inquire, whether it was competent to the House to deal with any new heads introduced into a Bill of this nature, with the view of increasing the taxation of the country, without submitting them to a Committee of the whole House?
§ MR. SPEAKER
stated, that if the duties were entirely new it would be necessary for them to go through a Committee of the whole House; but if they were merely reductions of old duties, it would not be necessary.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
was anxious to make a very short statement in order to remove any misapprehensions which might exist with regard to this Bill, because it was extremely in convenient that any discussion should take place upon the question of the Speaker leaving the chair, as almost all the points that could be raised must be upon the schedule of the Bill. There had, however, been so much misapprehension on the subject that he might state that in the altered Bill now before the House there was no increase whatever—no additional tax had been laid on; but there was a considerable number of reductions. He and the Chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue had received many suggestions with regard to this Bill, the whole of which had been considered and digested. Interviews had been had with many of the parties, and he believed he might say generally, that 99 of 301 the objections out of 100 had been removed by the alterations which had been made in the Bill. He had stated, when he introduced the Bill, that he endeavoured to proceed upon the ad valorem principle. Whether that was a right principle was a question for the House to decide; but upon it he had proceeded as nearly as he could. That was the principle that he had carried out; but what he wished to state now generally (because it was probable it might remove some apprehension) was the effect of the alterations. The great object was taken that words had been introduced which created doubts of raising money for short loans on deposit of deeds and other securities. He had struck them out altogether—all objections on that ground had been removed. Objections was taken to the charge on mortgages. That had been reduced. The duty on copyholds appeared to be of a higher amount than that of freeholds; that had been reduced. The duty on surrender and assignment of leases had been reduced. Settlements in pursuance of articles had been exempted. The reductions would be more conveniently taken on the schedules, or on the Bill as the matters arose in Committee.
§ MR. GOULBURN
was unwilling to prevent the House going into Committee; but he trusted he might be excused whilst he pointed out what appeared to him to be a grave defect in the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had attempted to introduce a mode of levying stamp duties which had never been adopted in any previous Act, namely, the principle of levying an equal percentage on all transactions requiring a stamp. This had never before been acted upon, and for this simple reason—that, if you took an amount of duty in the lower part of the scale sufficient to produce the adequate revenue, it operated on the higher part of the scale with such extreme oppression that it would prove either ruinous to the party paying the duty, or be from evasion utterly inoperative as a measure of revenue. The right hon. Gentleman, therefore, had got himself into a difficulty, and if he proposed to make an ad valorem scale of duties on stamps for all the different subjects stated in the present Bill, it should have been made rather with reference to what would be to be paid on the higher amounts than on the lower. It appeared to him that that was the only manner by which they could give effect to a graduated scale without producing 302 inconvenient consequences. To take one example, look at the case of mortgages. The right hon. Gentleman introduced this measure as a relief to what was supposed to be a suffering part of the community—the landed interest of this country; and he stated that it was his object to give relief in the case of minor conveyances and in that of the borrowing of money on land, and thus facilitate transactions of that nature. Transactions by way of mortgage, whether upon land or other property, were carried on to a very large amount indeed, and when they talked of 20,000l., 30,000l., or 50,000l. lent upon mortgage, they talked only of an every-day occurrence, in which the parties were so far in difficulty as not to be competent to pay immensely for the advantages they received; whether the necessity of mortgaging arose from circumstances of personal distress, or with the view of laying the foundation of a future fortune. Yet, see how enormously the duty upon these transactions was augmented by the present measure. Take a mortgage of 50,000l.; the duty, which was previously 25l., would now be 250l., and, going up to 150,000l., the duty would be 750l., instead of 25l. The necessary consequence of this arrangement would be, either that the ingenuity of mankind would devise some means of obtaining advances of money without the expense of a mortgage, and thus the revenue would not be obtained, or the exaction would operate in a ruinous manner upon those who were compelled to embark in such transactions. Again, observe how such a change of duty would operate upon private as well as public interests, suppose that upon a mortgage of 150,000l. a person was paying at present 5 per cent interest. As the funds rose—as he hoped they would under the management of the right hon. Gentleman opposite—nearly to par, he went to his creditor, and asked to be allowed a reduction of the interest. Under ordinary circumstances, at present there would be no hesitation in acceding to such a proposal; but the case would be very different if this Bill should pass, for the creditor would say, "No, the Government imposes on you a penalty of 750l., and I will not reduce the interest to the market rate," because I know you cannot pay that penalty. The heavy penalty imposed in the shape of a tax upon the mortgage, thus gave to the lender the power of maintaining a high rate of interest, 303 and a high rate of interest is not beneficial to a commercial community. It was well known, that in times of prosperity many of the great mills and manufactories that were built were upon loans borrowed upon mortgage of the building about to be erected; and he remembered in that wild period of prosperity which occurred some time back, that the practice of mortgaging was carried to such an extent that each story of a manufactory was mortgaged as the building advanced. If the House imposed this tremendously heavy charge upon mortgages, they would defeat the endeavours of persons who wished to embark in such transactions. The House must bear in mind also that there were other items in the stamp schedule that proceeded upon the principle of graduated duties, and were not included in the present Bill. The right hon. Gentleman left bills of exchange perfectly open, and he was at a loss to understand upon what principle it was that the same rule was not applied to them; for if the right hon. Gentleman retained the present scale of bill duties, did he not imagine that persons who wanted to borrow money would resort to the bill-market rather than pay the enormous duties to which he had alluded; or, if he altered the present rate of bill stamps, and imposed a duty of 20l. or 30l. upon the drawing of a large commercial bill, in order to satisfy the principle of an ad valorem duty, what would be the feelings of the mercantile community? With respect to equitable mortgages, the right hon. Gentleman had exempted them from the heavy duty which the Bill originally proposed, and so far, no doubt, he had given an advantage to those who dealt with money on loans for short periods. The objection which he had to the principle, as far as mortgages were concerned, applied even in a stronger degree to settlements. If they made the duty so excessively heavy on the larger sums, in the case of marriage settlements, and imposed, as this Bill imposed, a duty not heretofore levied on contingent annuities, they obliged parties to resort to other modes of effecting their object; and he must say, that, in his opinion, such a provision was contrary to sound policy. He had been anxious thus briefly to state this outline of his objections previous to the Bill going into Committee, in order that the right hon. Gentleman might, if he thought it desirable, take them into his consideration, and repair 304 what he looked upon as an error in judgment in framing that scale of duties—an error which he believed would lead to one of the two consequences to which he had before referred—either to a general evasion of the duty as regarded the higher amounts, or to an oppressive exaction upon parties who were compelled to embark in such transactions, ruinous to them, and injurious to the general interests of the country. He wished further to ask why in one particular item the right hon. Gentleman had made the duty on mortgages double the amount of the duty on conveyances? In conveyances the man making a conveyance must be supposed to have something; but in the other case he would not be supposed to be so abundantly provided with available property. He should conclude by observing that, in his opinion, these were matters of considerable importance, and well worthy of serious consideration.
§ MR. MULLINGS
, in stating the objections which he took to this Bill, said, that he did not see that it contained any provisions which would repeal any of the clauses of the Act passed in the reign of George IV., which regulated the transfer of mortgages. He considered that the duties on such transfers should be put in the same category as those to which this Bill referred. If they repealed the stamp duty on leases for one year, it was no longer necessary with regard to conveyances. He did not see, in such cases, that this Bill contained any provision for the production of deeds. The objections made by the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, as regarded mortgages, were well worthy of consideration. He wished, however, that the right hon. Gentleman had not confined his objections to that part of the matter which related to mortgages on land only, but had extended it to mortgages on money, railway debentures, and a variety of mortgages. Bonds and warrants of attorney were now subjected to a very large duty. With regard to these, he thought that they ought to be all put in one class, and made subject to the same duties as the others. Taxing the public for loans, to the extent proposed by the Bill, was a very pernicious principle. It was, in fact, taxing the necessities and even the distresses of the people; for it frequently happened that parties who were obliged to execute a mortgage were not in circumstances to pay the expense of the instrument. Such cases had happened in 305 his own practice. Up to sums of 1,000l. the Bill, he admitted, would afford relief, but beyond that the schedule was oppressive. For example, for 2,000l. the present stamp was 6l.; under the Bill it would be 10l. On 3,000l. the present stamp of 7l. would be increased to 15l.; on 4,000l. it would be increased from 8l. to 20l.; and on 5,000l. from 10l. to 25l. So the scale went on. He contended that these charges were monstrous. There were other objections to the Bill, which he should reserve for the Committee; but under such circumstances, he could not consider it as a measure of relief. Nothing was more monstrous than the pressure of taxation on persons wishing to make settlements of annuities to the amount of 500l. on members of their families. His only object in making these remarks was to bring the attention of hon. Members to the facts of the case, that they might know when in Committee what course they should take in the event of any amendments being proposed. He could not avoid remarking, that a reduction of the stamp duty in the matters to which he referred, would, instead of causing a decrease in the revenue of 300,000l., produce an increase to that amount.
§ MR. ROUNDELL PALMER
said, benefit societies were exempted by the existing Act from stamp duties upon their transactions; and by a subsequent measure benefit building societies were placed upon the same footing. The Court of Common Pleas, on two occasions, had recently decided that benefit building societies were exempt from stamp duties. The transactions of these societies were of a very extensive nature. Large sums of money were invested in them not only by persons of the poorest class, but by others rather above them. It was, therefore, a matter of grave consequence to these parties that the exemption should be continued; but he did not find anything in the Bill upon the subject. He therefore wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it was intended that the Bill should continue the exemption?
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, it was inconvenient to discuss the details of the measure at that particular stage, and he suggested that the House should go into Committee at once, when every question would be answered.
§ MR. HUME
had no doubt that there was a considerable aggravation of the charges upon larger sums, but the intention was 306 that the duty upon all sums under 1,000l. should be reduced to such a moderate amount as would afford relief to the smaller class of borrowers, and so be productive of advantage to the community. And then, in order to make up for the loss by this reduction, it was deemed necessary to apply an ad valorem duty to all sums above 1,000l. Such was the objection; and then the question arose whether the percentage of duty was greater upon the large sums than upon the small. Now, the great complaint in this country had been that on large sums were charged but a small duty, whilst on small sums there was a large duty; and he understood the Government were disposed to equalise it, but he was favourable to the principle of an ad valorem duty.
§ MR. HENLEY
said, that if the principle of an ad valorem duty were acted upon, it ought not to be confined to mortgages and stamps of the description referred to; it ought to be made general. But there was a hardship upon the House. They had been told that the country was about to receive a boon in the shape of a reduction of taxation to the extent of 300,000l., yet they were now asked, in the absence of all information, to apply an ad valorem scale of duties which would press with great weight upon certain interests. If the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer consented to forego 300,000l. a year by the existing duties, he ought to give the House information whether the ad valorem duty would not produce a much larger amount. Unless he did, he was desiring the House to take a jump in the dark. Before the recess he asked the hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Treasury if he could produce a return of the number of stamps issued according to their respective values, and he was told the Stamp Office could not furnish such information. It was clear then that the House were asked to proceed in the dark. All the persons he had communicated with upon the subject concurred in the opinion that the Bill was an addition to the taxation of the country. It was therefore hardly fair to ask the House to go into Committee, unless an assurance was first given that, after it had been gone through, it should be recommitted, so that the country might have time to consider it maturely. Certainly the proposed stamp upon settlements and jointures were very hard. Why should they he charged upon a contingency which might never accrue at all? 307 The woman upon whom the settlement was made might die before it accrued; and it was clearly a hardship to place a tax upon parties under such circumstances.
§ MR. SADLEIR
said, that the measure submitted to the House involved questions most difficult to determine, and comprised provisions which affected very many interests throughout the kingdom. He would ask the House to consider the circumstances under which they were now pressed to hurry into Committee on this Bill. They would well remember the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he was about to propose an alteration in the duties which would operate as a great and substantial boon to the landed interest of the kingdom. That declaration was followed by a Bill which was now, he was glad to say, a defunct abortion, and of which, seeing that it was dead, he was unwilling to speak harshly. The right hon. Gentleman had evinced some impatience that he had been troubled with a great mass of suggestions for the improvement of the Bill. He (Mr. Sadleir) was bound to admit that, notwithstanding his impatience, the right hon. Gentleman had most gracefully and sensibly yielded to nine-tenths of those suggestions, and that, consequently, the House was not now called upon to consider the first Bill at all—a Bill which, he had no hesitation in saying, would, if it had passed, have brought an amount of disaster and ruin upon the commercial and agricultural interests of the country of which it was difficult to form any just conception. But although the worst parts of that Bill had fortunately been withdrawn, he thought there was great reason to complain that after the manner in which a similar effort was scouted by Parliament and the country in 1836, the Government should have again attempted to induce the House to adopt such objectionable provisions. He regretted to say, that the second Bill was not altogether free from objections; and although it might be very convenient for the occupants of the Treasury bench to avoid entering into any explanation of the Bill, especially as they might not be very conversant with the subject, it being a mixed question of agriculture, commerce, and law, they certainly ought not to have invited the House to consider the Bill in Committee without furnishing them with some explanations as to what they were determined to insist upon, and how far they intended to yield. 308 Were they determined to stand by the present schedules? What did they propose to do with regard to the large class of deeds which were unduly stamped at the present moment? He must confess that when he first saw the title of the Bill he thought it very encouraging, because it professed not merely "to repeal certain stamp duties, and to grant others in lieu thereof," but "to amend the laws relating to the stamp duties;" and he certainly had hoped, that, after the subject had been so long before Parliament and the country, some well-considered scheme would at length have been submitted to the House for the consolidation of the Stamp Acts, which were at present so scattered; for the simplification of provisions which were at this moment so complex and equivocal; and for diminishing the sources, and removing the causes, of the disputes which were continually arising out of the imperfect nature of the stamp laws; but he had been disappointed. He thought that the right hon. Gentleman had stated that it was not proposed to impose any duty on any deed or writing which was not at present liable to duty. The right hon. Gentleman should well know that there were no laws which were so systematically evaded as the stamp laws. In the first place they dare not enforce them, because commerce and trade would be thus literally brought to a standstill. He hoped the House would be careful not to infuse into this Bill any of the objectionable principles which sealed the fate of the former Bill. It was true that the right hon. Gentleman said, that it was his intention to reduce the stamp duties on small transactions, and to increase them on large transactions. But what was the right hon. Gentleman's notion of a small and a large transaction? He regarded the sum of 1,000l. as a large transaction, and subjected all operations beyond that amount to a high and increasing rate of duty. The hon. Member for Montrose, when he sympathised with those who negotiated small transactions, should recollect that cases under 1,000l. were but a very small portion of those transactions in which the industrial classes of the country were interested. He objected to the increase of duty on every sum over 1,000l.; the stamp duties ought to be diminished up to 10,000l., and then there ought to be a gradual increase. There was one class of eases on which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to increase the duty 309 cent per cent. These were cases in which the stamp duty was now a shilling. He was of opinion that such an increase would be a great hardship. In cases of registration, with reference to leases or deeds, such an increase would be made according to the right hon. Gentleman's scale as to tempt many persons not to register at all, which was diametrically opposed to the policy of the hon. and learned Solicitor General with reference to land in Ireland, inasmuch as it was the object of the latter by recent measures to necessitate registration with reference to every transaction relating to land in that country. With regard to searches, nothing could be more objectionable than the stamp duties proposed, and showed great want of consideration and practical knowledge on the part of those who introduced this measure. With regard to the general principle he thought it exceedingly unjust that pure personalty should be charged with the same stamp duties as real property, and for this reason, that transfer in personalties occurred much more frequently than transfers of real property, and therefore the duties paid were much greater than they should be if the proportions were properly observed. Again, in matters of pure personalty, they had very heavy probate and legacy duties, an additional argument against rendering it liable to the same stamp duty as real property. He came now to the case of redeemable annuities, and he asked why were they to be charged a higher rate of stamp duty than mortgage transactions? A redeemable annuity was, in fact, a mortgage effected by a tenant for life, who, being anxious to raise money for improvements, could not adopt the usual plan of mortgage. It was, in fact, the tenant for life's mortgage, and he put it to the House whether in the present Bill an opportunity should not be taken to put both on the same footing. An omission he also regretted in the Bill was, that no attempt was made to set at rest those distressing doubts which the present state of the stamp laws created as to the rights of patentees. He objected to the plan of combining an ad valorem with a progressive scale of duties, the effect of which would be so to raise the expenses of mortgage transactions, as to drive parties to resort to practices which were making titles as voluminous as those Irish titles of which such complaints had been board of late. There were no laws so continuously evaded in this country 310 as the stamp laws, not from any disposition to commit fraud, but because the laws were in themselves so oppressive as necessarily to drive parties to every sort of shift and evasion. He regretted that no attempt bad been made in this Bill to remove all doubts as to the proper amount of duty to be charged on transfers of mortgages. They had heard many complaints as to the amount of litigation which the Irish tenure of leases for lives renewable for ever had created, but nothing could exceed the amount of litigation which had been created in this country by the uncertainty as to the proper amount of stamp duty to be charged on transfers. And yet although the matter had been a subject of general complaint for twelve or fifteen years, they were now considering a Bill for the amendment of the Stamp Duties, in which no attempt whatever was made to remove this great cause of doubt and dissatisfaction. With reference to portions for younger children, they were at present free from what was called the settlement duty, and he thought that the present Bill should be so framed as to continue that exemption. But the greatest objection he had against this Bill was its ex post facto operation, as even in its amended form it bore oppressively on deeds either wholly or in part executed. He would ask the hon. and learned Attorney General whether the Bill was not defective as regarded this point—whether, in fact, it was not without provision for the cases in which deeds may be either wholly or in part executed. This was a point which imperatively called for some distinct provisions. It was well known that there were constant conflicts as to what was the proper amount of stamp duty to be charged upon a deed. The matter was always uncertain; and from no public board or department, either in England or Ireland, could the proper information be obtained. There was not, in fact, a solicitor to a board in either country who would condescend to enlighten parties on the subject. His hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester had given notice of clauses which would to a great extent remove the difficulty, but he (Mr. Sadleir) had not thought it loss of time to explain the matter fully to the House. He thought it highly desirable that a power should be vested in the commissioners of inland revenue of determining the proper amount of stamp duty to be charged on a deed, and that their decision should be binding upon all parties. He 311 believed that his hon. Friend's plan was to refer the matter to some judge in the common law courts. He trusted that in Committee some Member of the Government would state whether, in the case of deeds wholly or in part executed, the present or the new duties would be charged in case such deeds should be found to be unduly stamped. He understood the intention of Government in proposing the present Bill was to confer a boon upon the landed interest, and therefore he wished them to introduce a clause declaring every deed stamped before the passing of this Bill to be duly and legally stamped. He urged this upon the Government, because no man could contend that a party who went to the expense of stamping a deed at all meditated fraud. The parties who evaded the law, if evasion it could be called, were the great commercial interests who effected transfers of 50,000l., 80,000l., and 100,000l. without the intervention of a stamp, and not the man who inadvertently, or through ignorance, had ratified his transaction with an improper stamp. This was done every day in this great city, transactions of vast amount being carried on plain paper by parties who knew very well that that paper ought to be stamped, but who dared the Government to enforce an absurd law, the effect of which, rigorously enforced, would be the total repression of the trade and commerce of this country. The party putting a wrong stamp on a deed meant no fraud; the defaulters were those who effected transfers on paper wholly unstamped. He asked no mercy for them, but he did claim consideration and exemption for those who, through the uncertainty of the law, had, inadvertently, put wrong stamps on their instruments. There were some exemptions with regard to shipping which were not alluded to in the new Bill, and, for that and for other reasons, he would put it to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether it would not be better to introduce a few words into the Bill, providing that all deeds exempt at present, should continue to enjoy that exemption under the new law.
§ The House then went into Committee on the Bill; Mr. Bernal in the chair.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that in rising to address the Committee, he merely wished to state that he had never expressed any reluctance to hear objections on the Bill. When asked, 312 on a former evening, to postpone the Bill, he had refused to do so, not because he objected to discussion, but because he considered the objections started could be best disposed of in Committee. What he had objected to was, that Gentlemen should have asked him questions which, according to the forms of the House, he was not enabled to answer. Now, with regard to a great number of questions which had been raised, they referred to different clauses of the Bill, and different parts of the schedules; and he thought that the more consistent course would be to answer those questions as they arose. At the present moment he would only trouble the House with three or four general observations. It was not true that in introducing the measure he had said that he was introducing a Bill for the relief of all property—what he had said was, that the measure would be a relief in all transactions of small amount, and that he proposed to indemnify himself by raising a larger amount of duty on larger instruments. That statement seemed to have met with general approval; and he had further stated that he proposed an ad valorem duty, not a graduated scale, but an equable percentage, on the sum secured by the instrument, being one-half per cent on mortgage deeds or bonds. His right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University objected to that principle. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) could only say that he had received a great number of letters in favour of it. The question on this point was, whether a rich person who borrowed a large amount was not to pay the same proportionate duty as a poor person who borrowed a small amount. He had proposed, and he meant to abide, by an ad valorem principle, but of course must bow to whatever might be the decision of the House. He had heard it urged, that there might be a case of 100,000., lent to a great India house to prevent its failure, and that it would be hard to subject such a transaction to a proportionate stamp; but was not the case just as hard when the poor shopkeeper, borrowing a small sum to meet a pressing exigency, was made to contribute a proportionate amount to the stamp duty? It might be open to an objection to tax borrowings at all; but surely it was just that there should be the same percentage in the case of the large as of the small borrowing. He was quite aware that the amount charged on some borrowings would be very 313 large, and, therefore, having communicated with the Commissioners of Inland Revenue, he was prepared to propose an equitable reduction. The rate proposed was now one half per cent. He proposed to reduce it to one quarter; that was to say, 5s. on the 100l. It had been stated, that the Government proposition would add half a million to the revenue. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) could only say that he should be very happy if the prediction turned out correct. The hon. Member for Oxfordshire asked for returns showing what the result would actually be; but he was afraid that he could furnish no returns which would show exactly the effects of the alteration. He would, however, remind hon. Members that in these transactions, as in every other in this country, it was the mass of small transactions, and not the few large ones, that in the main produced the revenue. He had gone over the accounts carefully with the Commissioners of Inland Revenue, some of whom had been Commissioners of Stamps, and the conclusion they had come to was that the loss consequent on the introduction of the present Bill might be taken at 300,000l., or perhaps as low as 270,000l., and the proposal he had just announced, reducing the percenage to one quarter, might entail a further loss of from 30,000l. to 60,000l. He could produce no figures that would settle the exact amount. He might, as in the case of other reductions which had increased consumption, hope for increase in some cases, but to give anything like an exact idea of the probable result of the change would be utterly impossible. All he could say was this, that having desired the officers who had the best means of forming an opinion on the subject to give him I their opinion, he now stated on their authority—he could have no other—that the loss on his original proposal would be probably, in round numbers, 300,000l. Whether the multiplicity of transactions might not in a few years raise the revenue, he could not foresee; but the loss from his present proposal would be most probably from 330,000l. to 350,000l. He did not know that there were any other general observations requiring an answer, except that of the hon. Member for Car-low as to existing deeds. If that hon. Member had taken the trouble of referring to the Act, he would have found that the case of existing deeds was provided for. The hon. Member had also objected that there was considerable difficulty in ascertaining 314 how deeds ought to be stamped. The hon. Member for Cirencester had proposed a clause to remedy the difficulty. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) did not think that the hon. Member's clause would settle the matter in the most desirable way, but he would himself prepare a clause by which he thought that the difficulty could be satisfactorily arranged. He proposed to vest in the Commissioners of Stamps and Taxes a power to define the proper amount of stamp to be affixed to any instrument, and that there should be, in addition to the usual stamp, a small stamp, to be called an adjudication stamp, fixing for ever the future legality of the instrument. He did not think there were any other general observations requiring an answer; and as to questions of detail, he thought they could be much better disposed of as they arose on the clauses and schedules.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, the right hon. Gentleman had thought fit, whilst the House was in Committee, to address to them some general observations, which were however of a contradictory nature. He understood the right hon. Gentleman on a former evening to say, that he intended to bring in a measure for the advantage of the landed interest. The smaller proprietors, not the least important part of the landed interest, were to receive relief from a modification of the stamp duties that affected them. The right hon. Gentleman informed them that he could not make this beneficial change for the small proprietor, unless he, at the same time, made others which would affect the great proprietors, adopting an ad valorem system of imposts. He could not remember, when the right hon. Gentleman made his statement, that the phrase of ad valorem escaped his lips. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: Yes, it did.] The right hon. Gentleman said he was going to introduce a measure for the advantage of the small proprietors—that he anticipated that the change which he was going to make would cost the revenue from 300,000l. to 350,000l.—and that he was going to sacrifice from the surplus at his command a sum to that amount. That was an intelligible proposition; but what did the right hon. Gentleman say to-night? That he was prepared to benefit the small proprietors to the amount of 350,000l.; but that, in compensation for this, he must lay taxation to the same amount on the great proprietors. Was that consistent with the 315 original statement of the right hon. Gentleman, that he was going to devote a certain amount of his surplus revenue to the benefit of the landed interest, when it turned out that the great plan of the Government was to relieve one portion of it at the expense of the others? The right hon. Gentleman introduced a measure, the object of which was to benefit the small proprietors by devoting to their relief a portion of the surplus revenue, as the right hon. Gentleman originally stated, for he anticipated a loss; but the present measure, even if it were politic and necessary, had for its object to increase the taxation of the landed interest, or at least a considerable portion of them. But whether politic and necessary or not, one thing he must say, that a measure of this kind ought to be brought forward frankly, and not under a false pretence. The Government should not, on an occasion of such importance, come forward and announce that they were going to introduce a measure for the benefit of the landed interest, which, when it came to be discussed, turned out to be one for raising the taxation of a portion of the landed interest. But if the right hon. Gentleman insisted on a compensation by an ad valorem scale, what did he mean to do with the 350,000l. surplus in the Treasury, the application of which, in the way proposed, would not be necessary, and which probably some of his friends around him would wish to be devoted to the reduction of the duty on paper or some other article?
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, it would not be in order to refer to what had passed in a former debate; but surely the hon. Member's memory must be defective, seeing that he had put words in his (the Chancellor of the Exchequer's) mouth which he had never uttered, and—unintentionally of course—had misrepresented other words uttered not five minutes since. He appealed to the House whether, when he brought forward the stamp duties, he had not distinctly stated his project. What he had stated was, that he proposed a measure with regard to the stamp duties, the loss by which would be somewhere about 300,000l., and the removal of the brick duty at somewhere about 400,000l., both together about 750,000l. Now, the hon. Gentleman said that he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had somehow or other got 350,000l. into his pocket; he hoped it might be so, but he was wholly at a loss to 316 know from whence it was to come. When he stated that he anticipated a loss of about 300,000l., he stated also that he proposed to relieve transactions of a small amount, and to increase the duty on those of a large amount, and that on the balance of the account, he calculated that that loss would result. He had concealed nothing, neither had he deceived anybody. And with regard to the application of the ad valorem duty, when he brought forward the budget, and again on the following Monday, when he moved the resolution on the stamp duties, he stated most distinctly, and he believed nine-tenths of those who heard him would corroborate what he said—that he proposed to adopt the ad valorem principle throughout. He repeated that the hon. Gentleman entirely mistook when he said that there would be a gain on the change in the stamp duties of 350,000l.; on the contrary, there would be a loss on the whole transaction of about 300,000l. or 330,000l. In order that there might be no further mistake, he wished again to state distinctly that he proposed to adopt an ad valorem duty in all cases, but to modify it so as not to require a different priced stamp for transactions of nearly the same amount; for instance, there would be a certain stamp for transactions of 2,000l., another for those of 2,300/., another for those of 2,500l., and so on, rising by small jumps, instead of taking the exact ad valorem duty in each separate case, and that upon the change taken altogether, including mortgages and bonds, there would be a loss to the revenue of from 300,000l. to 330,000l.
§ MR. DISRAELI
The right hon. Gentleman had stated that the increase of the ad valorem duty on large transactions would be the compensation for the decrease in the small transactions. If so, what was to be done with the 350,000l. which he would thus have beyond the surplus he had calculated upon? Now, the right hon. Gentleman talked of a balance upon the whole operation. That phrase balance was a most convenient one; but upon what data was it drawn? They heard nothing of the balance when they were told about the compensation. They were now told that the revenue would lose upon the balance 300,000l.; but that was not the original idea of the budget.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
had stated distinctly that he increased the duty on the larger, and decreased it on the smaller transactions, and 317 that on the balance he should lose about 330,000l.
§ MR. GOULBURN
did not clearly understand by what means the right hon. Gentleman arrived at that result. He should like to know on what principle he had based his calculation to arrive at the conclusion, that after settling in his own mind the amount of loss which would arise from the decrease of the duty in the smaller, and the gain which would follow from the increase in the larger transactions, there would still be a loss of 300,000l. or 330,000l. The right hon. Gentleman had taken the loss on mortgages and bonds at 60,000l. only, while the rest of the loss he (Mr. Goulburn) presumed was to result from conveyances.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
explained that the great bulk of the loss would be on conveyances, which, from the great number of the small transactions of this nature, he calculated at 230,000l.; but, in regard to bonds and mortgages, it was considered that the low amount of duty would induce parties to stamp such deeds in all cases, whereas now the duty was often evaded on small transactions.
§ MR. F. MACKENZIE
asked in what manner, after the passing of this Bill, it was intended to enforce the stamp duty on large transactions of this nature? Would it not be evaded in the same way as, according to the right hon. Gentleman's statement, it was now on deeds for small sums?
§ MR. HENLEY
wished to know on what data the right hon. Gentleman had arrived at the conclusion, that by changing the mortgage duty from 10s. to 5s. per cent, he would lose 60,000l. From what the right hon. Gentleman had said when he brought forward the budget, he (Mr. Henley) did not gather any indication of the intention to tax annuities and jointures, or that any new head of charge was to be imposed upon the landed interest. But now it appeared, instead of receiving any relief, they were to be subjected to additional taxation.
The ATTORNEY GENERAL
thought it would be more convenient to postpone the consideration of the question as to the propriety of taking annuities as consideration money, until they came to the schedule relating to that subject. With regard to the probable loss arising from the alteration 318 of the duty on mortgages, bonds, covenants, and securities, that must be a matter of estimate; but not so as to conveyances, for they could ascertain the actual proceeds of the stamps for those purposes. If hon. Gentlemen would take the comparative statement of the present and the proposed scale of duties in reference to conveyances, they would see that there would be a great saving in all transactions up to 1,000l., the stamp being at that amount a common one in both cases of somewhere about 9l. From 1,000l. up to 100,000l. the duty was much the same under the proposed and the existing system, but beyond 100,000l. there was a considerable increase in the new scale. Conveyances of property above 100,000l. in amount were, however, of rare occurrence; consequently, the results by way of compensation against the loss in the smaller transactions, arising from them would be very small. The proceeds of the several stamps of 10s., 1l., 1l. 10s., 1l. 15s., 3l. 6l., and 9l., now were 472,548l. 10s.; the equivalent stamps under the present Bill would produce only, supposing the number of transactions to remain the same, 226,229l. 4s. 6d. If they added to this the stamps on leases for a year, and the following stamps, which were also to be abolished, they could not put down the loss at less than 300,000l.; for which the only compensation would be the increase in transactions above 100,000l. There would be also a loss on mortgages, deeds, and covenants, but the amount could not be so well ascertained, and must therefore remain a matter of estimate.
§ MR. HENLEY
thought he had reason to complain, after the explanation they had just heard from the hon. and learned Attorney General, of the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. On a former occasion, he had asked for some account of the number of stamps of a particular character which had been issued, and he was told by the right hon. Gentleman that he had searched the Stamp Office, but could not obtain the information required. Now it appeared the Government had it in their hands, and the hon. and learned Attorney General, quoting it, endeavoured to show exactly what the result of the proposed change would be, so far as the stamps on conveyances were concerned.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said he was in a condition to prove what would be the loss, but not to show what would be the gain—that must remain 319 a matter of estimate. They could tell at the Stamp Office the number of stamps sold, but when sold they could not toll in what manner they were applied, whether for conveyances or mortgages; hence it was that he was unable to afford the hon. Gentleman the information he required. In the calculation he had made he had estimated that two-thirds of the stamps were taken for conveyances, and the rest for mortgages and bonds, but that must be a matter of guess.
§ MR. GOULBURN
observed, that at present the one pound stamp was applied indiscriminately to conveyances and mortgages; but the right hon. Gentleman appeared to have discovered how many were applied to conveyances.
§ MR. MULLINGS
believed that at present the 15l. stamp was not applicable to conveyances, but covered a mortgage of from 10,000l. to 15,000l., and a settlement of from 12,000l. to 15,000l.—the amount produced by this class of stamps was 4,500l. or 4,600l.; the average number of transactions which it embraced being 300. Under the new scale, averaging the transactions at 12,500l. each, and taking the same number, 300, the stamp, which would be 62l. 10s. each, would produce 18,750l., and deducting the allowance to be made for the difference between the mortgages and the settlements, they would be reduced down to a profit of 12,000l. on this item alone.
§ SIR. H. WILLOUGHBY
thought it was only due to the landed interest that they should know what new taxes it was intended to impose. Would an agreement for a lease require to be stamped? As he read the Bill, he believed it would be liable to a tax under the head of covenants.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
thought it would be more convenient for him to give the explanation demanded by the hon. Baronet when they came to the schedule. He might, however, say, that there was nothing in the Bill which could fairly be called a new tax.
§ MR. BRIGHT
thought the House was called upon to go on with the consideration of this Bill in Committee under circumstances of a most unfavourable character. He doubted if there were three Members in the House besides the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer who understood the Bill. There was a universal opinion out of doors, so far as he could gather it from the public papers, and 320 from conversing with people who were professionally interested in the question of stamps—there was a universal impression that this proposition, which was to have relieved the country from 300,000l. of taxation, would really tend to increase the taxes, supposing the same amount of transactions to take place under this Bill as took place under the existing Stamp Act. He was not a lawyer, and did not profess to be able to understand these matters very readily, but he looked over the Bill when it was first brought in, and must confess that he was much puzzled by it, and the paper which had since been presented with the name of the Secretary of the Treasury on the back of it was, to him, equally puzzling. The question, nevertheless, was an important one; and he did not know what amount of labour and attention the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer had paid to it, but it was one of those subjects which required the most careful deliberation on the part of the House. It had struck him. for two or three years past, that it would be desirable for the whole question of the stamp duties to be referred to a Commission or a Committee of that House, which beginning at the beginning, and going through the subject to the end, might not only afford information by which they might decide what deeds should be liable to these duties, and the rate at which the ad valorem duty (of the justice of which there could be no doubt, he thought) should be levied. The charge on a small transaction of 20l. or 30l. was but trifling on that system at the rate proposed, but if they followed it up to large amount, it became a heavy tax, and must interfere materially with the conveyance of landed property—a result which he should regard as most injurious, not only to the owners of property, but to the public. If, therefore, the ad valorem duty was to be persisted in, he thought it should be levied at a much lower rate than was suggested in the present measure. He had not, however, risen to discuss the merits of the Bill, for he had not made himself sufficiently master of it to do so, but to protest against its being pressed through Committee that night, seeing that much dissatisfaction existed in regard to it out of doors, and that it had but so recently been placed in the hands of Members, that they were not in a position to go fairly into the discussion of the various details involved in a manner satisfactory to the House or the public. He did not say this for the purpose of interposing 321 any objection to the course the Chancellor of the Exchequer had thought proper to pursue, but he could not consent to go into Committee, and to pass the Bill at that rapid pace at which such measures usually progressed without expressing his own opinion that their deliberations would give but little satisfaction to the country, and that the probable result would be the bringing in of another Bill to amend the defects of this. He did not believe that any reduction of taxation would result from the Bill as it now stood, and, though he approved of the principle of the ad valorem duty, he thought the rate fixed in the Bill far too high. What he asked for was that more time should be given for considering the measure before they were called upon to pass it through Committee.
The SOLICITOR GENERAL
did not think the hon. Gentleman had done justice to himself or the other Members of the House, when he said they found a difficulty in understanding the Bill. All matters of figures were, to a certain extent, complicated; but all the provisions of the Bill were plain and capable of ready explanation; and the hon. Gentleman would find, if he would allow them to go into Committee, that any matters of difficulty which might occur to him or other hon. Gentlemen would be fully explained. If, after going through Committee, hon. Gentlemen should find themselves unable to understand any part of the measure, or the amount of relief it was intended to give, then the objection to further progress would come with some weight; but he had always found that the elucidation of Bills of this nature was much assisted by the discussion in Committee, and the explanations then given, and that in this respect a Committee of the whole House was far more useful than a Committee upstairs. If the measure was referred to a Select Committee, as the hon. Member for Manchester had suggested, a considerable time would be consumed in hearing long statements from one side and the other, and in preparing a report in the shape of a large blue book; but the result would be that at the close of the inquiry they would be much in the same position as they were now. Besides, as he was informed, the forms of the House would not allow of such a proceeding being taken in the present case. With regard to the principle of the Bill, the hon. Member for Manchester, and the country also, he believed, approved of it. No doubt that principle was distasteful 322 at first sight to those who were not conversant with the wants of the small proprietors who would be relieved by it, and who were staggered by the idea that in some very rare transactions, involving perhaps a million of money—which occurred but very rarely indeed—there would be an increase in the stamp duty. He believed there was not more than one transaction in the year, on the average, amounting to 100,000l.; and on all below that, down to 1,000l., the duty was nearly the same under the new as under the present scale, while on all below that amount there was a very considerable reduction. As to the manner in which the proposition would affect the revenue, that must remain for the present a matter of calculation; but those on whose judgment the Government could depend, gave it as their opinion that there would be a loss of 300,000l. Supposing this to be correct, and that the upper class of proprietors should be taxed by it to the extent of 300,000l. more than they were at present, it was clear that the result would be a relief to the amount of 600,000l. a year to the lower class. This would be a considerable advantage, not only to the smaller, but to the large porprietors, for that must necessarily be beneficial to them which facilitated the sale of property in small quantities, and so subdivided it amongst a larger class of proprietors. Believing that by allowing the Bill to go into Committee at once, it was more likely to receive emendation than by deferring it, he hoped no further objection would be offered.
§ MR. MITCHELL
did not think it would be just to apply the ad valorem principle to mortgages unless the amount of the duty was exceedingly small. The fallacy was that in taxing mortgages, while they supposed they were taxing property, they were taxing debt. Take the case of two men, each having an estate of 50,000l., the one requiring to borrow 10,000l., the other 20,000l., to pay up railway calls) or for any other purpose; the man who required the larger loan, and was, consequently, the poorer man, would have to pay double the amount of duty which would be charged on the one who required to borrow only the 10,000l. He thought, if they adopted the ad valorem system, if they took it at one-eighth per cent, it would be as far as they could in fairness go.
§ MR. SADLEIR
thought it very alarming to hear the hon. Member for the important, 323 wealthy, and commercial constituency of Manchester express his inability to understand the provisions of a Bill so deeply affecting those whom he represented, and it certainly was in his (Mr. Sadleir's) opinion a reason for postponement; but, at the same time, it was right to tell the Government that the more closely the Bill was examined, the stronger was the opposition to it likely to become. He thought the Bill would be peculiarly injurious to Ireland. There was no part of the kingdom where land was concentrated in the hands of so small a number of persons as Ireland, while, on the other hand, there was the most extreme subdivision in regard to the occupation. They had heard of the advantage of subdivision in the ownership, and the facilities which in that respect the Bill would afford, but it was not to be expected that that result could be effected by a single operation. If such an alteration did take place at all, it would be gradual. Therefore, the Government had chosen a most unfortunate moment for making the proposed alteration—a most unfortunate moment for the creditor and incumbered owner, because the parties who intended to make purchases during the next four or five months in Dublin would calculate the ad valorem duty they would have to pay, they would deduct that amount from the purchase money, and they would thus visit an evil upon the puisne creditor. But there was another class of proprietors in Ireland—he meant that large class of proprietors who possibly might be able to preserve to themselves a portion of their properties by effecting voluntary sales without coming within the operation of the Incumbered Estates Act, and upon them this proposed alteration in the Stamp Act would likewise fall heavily; and so far as its high scale of duties extended, that scale would be severely felt. Some of the estates before the commission exceeded 100,000 acres, and one of them was more than 300,000 acres; and however such estates might be broken up, it was clear that they were not likely to be reduced to sufficiently small divisions to come under the advantages held out by this Bill. He begged to acquaint the House that it had hitherto been wholly impossible to obtain the opinions of any class of persons in Ireland with reference to the present Bill. The committee of solicitors in Dublin, who took upon themselves the onerous duty of watching measures of this nature, and who could form a practical estimate of 324 such legislation, had not given their views upon the Bill, so far as he had been able to learn. The commercial clauses in Belfast, Cork, and Limerick had been silent upon it. The landlord and tenant, the mercantile and the banking interest of Ireland, had been unable to communicate their views regarding it to any hon. Member of that House. Under such circumstances, he thought it would not be paying proper respect to Ireland to proceed with the measure; but, at all events, if it were proceeded with in the present stage, he hoped its further progress would be postponed until the Irish Members were afforded time to communicate with their constituents.
§ MR. HUME
thought that if there was any portion of the community more likely than another to be benefited by the present Bill, it was the people of Ireland. There was very little difficulty in understanding the proposal, if hon. Gentlemen would consult the printed table with which they had each been furnished, inasmuch as that table contained the cost of the stamp for every conveyance or mortgage up to 1,000l. The higher amounts were certainly not expressed, and he regretted that such an omission had taken place. He was of opinion that the Committee might proceed with great safety to consider the first, second, and third clauses of the Bill. The first repealed the old Acts; the second enacted the new scale; and the third merely stated certain exceptions. The public press, to whose exertions the community owed a great deal, had been discussing the measure, and the suggestions of the newspapers were now published. The Government had assured the House that the aggregate amount of the general taxation would be less under the new Bill than it would be under the existing law, and therefore the measure ought to be proceeded with at once. He had been making inquiry on the subject at the Stamp Office, and he was there assured that nearly 300,000l. would be the decreased amount of taxation in the aggregate. He knew the complaint was, that while the Bill would decrease the cost on small sums, it would increase it on large ones. Now when the income tax was proposed, he moved as an Amendment the reconsideration of the whole Tax Office, but he was left in a very small minority. He was, however, in favour of the present Bill, because it would more equally distribute taxation than was the case at present. He thought the cost of stamps ought 325 to increase when the amount went beyond 1,000l. or 1,300l.; and let those who sought for a less gradual increase than was proposed above that amount, bear in mind the number of years during which the lower classes had been paying unequally heavy taxes in stamps and other matters. He, therefore, hoped that no time would be lost in allowing the Bill to give that general relief which it was its design to impart.
§ MR. CONOLLY
thought the consideration of the Bill ought to be deferred till Members were more fully masters of the subject. The readjustment of the stamp duties was a matter of great importance and difficulty.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
did not see that, if the Bill were postponed for a week, or fortnight, or three weeks, the House would be any further advanced in the consideration of the subject. The objection founded on the condition of Ireland was an objection to the consideration of the Bill at all during the Session, and a proposal to defer the Amendment of the Stamp Acts altogether. Now, the inequalities of the stamp duties upon the transfer of land, and the great hardship inflicted upon the smaller proprietors by the very heavy charge placed upon them, had for many years attracted observation, and had been pointed out in a Committee of the House of Lords; and his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had, at least for the last year, given his attention to the subject. Very early in this Session it was stated to be a subject to which the attention of Parliament would be directed; and a month ago, in making the financial statement, he pointed out the nature of the measure he meant to propose. His right hon. Friend stated that what he proposed to do was to diminish the duty on the smaller conveyances and on transactions in small properties, and to make a more equable arrangement and distribution of the duties with respect to the larger amounts of property and conveyances. Therefore the principle of the present measure had been for a month under the consideration of the House and of the public. When the resolution was proposed, and the Bill brought in, the subject attracted a great deal of attention, as a matter of course, and his right hon. Friend had received numerous communications and various persons from different parts of the country, and various suggestions had been made to him, and objections offered, which he had endeavoured to obviate 326 as far as possible. Were they to postpone the measure for months, and was there or was there not inconvenience to be expected from doing so? It was well known there was the greatest inconvenience arising from the postponement of measures of this kind, and that many transactions would be put in abeyance by it. Well, then, if there was such a general agreement as to the necessity of the measure, and if the principle was approved of, let the House go into that consideration of its details to which each particular proposal was entitled. Because at present, if one hon. Gentleman got up to speak of mortgages, another spoke of conveyances, a third took up the question of the lower scale of charges, while another hon. Member went into the higher duties. The hon. Member for Bridport made an objection to the measure, which was an objection to the stamp duties exactly as they existed at present. He said, that if two persons had estates of 50,000l. each, and that one of them raised a mortgage of 20,000l., and the other a mortgage of 10,000l., the former was a poorer man than the latter, but paid a higher duty. It was impossible for the Commissioners of Stamps and Taxes to say what was the exact estate of any person. They could tell whether he had an ad valorem duty on the amount of mortgage, but they could not make inquiry into the amount of his property. Therefore, if the hon. Member's objection was good as to the present measure, it was equally good as to the present stamp duties. For example, in the case of a mortgage exceeding 5,000l. and up to 10,000l. a stamp of 12l. was required—in the case of a mortgage exceeding 20,000l. the mortgagee must pay a stamp of 25l., or double the amount of the former, so that, though the hon. Member's objection was ingenious, it was not in fact sound. He hoped the House would go into the consideration of the measure, and consent to take the objections in Committee.
§ MR. MOWATT
thought it due to the Government to proceed with the clauses of the Bill. The Act would relieve an existing pressure upon small properties, while it would extend a more equitable principle of ad valorem duty to large properties. Its grand principle had been apparent to the country for a considerable length of time; and he thought it would be more consistent with the conduct of the hon. Member for Manchester to establish that principle at once, than to seek to retard it.
§ MR. MITCHELL
explained that his objection to the measure arose from this, that it would operate unjustly; the fact being, that even with the reduced rate of increase now proposed, a transaction which in the present state of the law would cost 25l., would by the new measure cost 50l.
§ MR. HEALD
thought the Bill would operate disadvantageously in the transfer of some descriptions of property. He was opposed to indefinite postponement; but, without a clear understanding, he would not affirm the principle of increasing the cost of stamps on property of the value of 1,000l. and upwards. This proposed increase was exciting jealousy. The country did not require it, and the House did not understand that such would be its effect when first the subject was mooted. He wished to know how much the Treasury calculated the revenue would lose by granting relief in all cases up to 1,000l.?
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that he had stated a fortnight ago what the probable effect of the Bill would be. Upon all conveyances up to 1,300l. it would afford positive relief. Upon all conveyances from 1,300l. up to 100,000l., there would be a decrease. Upon conveyances beyond 100,000l. there would be an increase. Upon mortgages up to 3,000l., there would be a decrease; beyond that there would be an increase. The loss to the revenue upon the whole of the conveyances, and upon some of the mortgages, allowing for the increase upon other mortgages, would be somewhere under 300,000l. He calculated that the loss upon the whole of the now schedule, which was with two exceptions a relief, would be from 330,000l. to 350,000l., but of course this could only be an approximation to the actual loss. Still, this was his calculation. He hoped hon. Gentlemen would urge their objections to the various parts of the Bill when the same were submitted for consideration. If the measure turned out to be so objectionable that it ought not to pass, so let it be, but it was only fair to the House and the country that the objections should be stated and met in the usual manner.
§ MR. LAW
understood that the object of the Bill was to reduce the amount of duty under 1,000l., and that the estimate of the loss to the revenue was based upon that reduction. There was every desire to reduce the stamps under 1,000l., but hon. Gentlemen on his (the protectionist) side 328 of the House did not admire the imposition of an increased burden on sums above 1,000l. Mortgages were least able to bear additional taxation, and yet it was now proposed to place a shifting burden on them toties quoties.
§ MR. SPOONER
complained that the right hon. Gentleman had not answered the question of the hon. Member for Stockport. The question was, what would the loss to the revenue be supposing there was no increase on the higher scale, while the right hon. Gentleman had told the House what was the estimated loss both upon the reductions and additions.
§ LORD D. STUART
did not know whether the Bill would or would not increase taxation. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had certainly said that it would decrease it. Whether it would be in the gross a remission of taxation or not, it would be a great remission to the poor people, and he (Lord D. Stuart) hailed the measure as a step in the right direction. He wished the poor and the rich to be taxed proportionably the same amount, and not, as had been the case, and was now the case, that the poor man should pay an infinitely larger proportion than the rich man. When Mr. Cobbett moved his famous resolutions with reference to the stamp duties in 1833, he said he would prove—and he (Lord D. Stuart) thought that Mr. Cobbett had proved—that in many eases the poor man paid forty times as much percentage as the rich man. This was an infamous state of things, to correct which the present Bill had been introduced; and the only fault to be found with it was that it did not go far enough. In 1833, Mr. Cobbett stated, on the subject of mortgages, that if the amount of mortgage was 25l. the duty was 1l.; and that if it was 2,000l., the duty was 20l. The hon. Member for Montrose said this was the law still. Shame that it should be so! By the present Bill the poor man would only pay twice as much as the rich man, and it was a great improvement that he should pay only twice as much, instead of forty times as much. The Bill was, therefore, right in principle, and its consideration ought not to be postponed. The hon. Member for Manchester took a great interest in the freehold land scheme—a scheme for enabling the poor man to acquire a freehold. Did not that hon. Gentleman think that this Bill would confer a great benefit in lessening the charges on the property which, by that 329 scheme, the poor would be able to acquire?
said, the best course would be to proceed with the Bill, for it evidently proposed a great reduction of expense to persons making transfers of property not exceeding 1,000l. He had now been a Member of the House for thirty years, and Government after Government had periodically promised to bring in a Bill to amend and consolidate the stamp tax, but till the present time no Government had been bold enough to do so. He hailed the Bill, because it was a step in the right direction, but he was not prepared to adopt the ascending scale.
§ MR. MULLINGS
expressed his belief that the Bill was in an imperfect state, and introduced the principle of taxing transactions which had hitherto been exempt from the stamp duties.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
assured the hon. Gentleman that the Government were ready to listen to any suggestions that might be made on the subject of the Bill, and then to effect in it any changes which fairly could be considered amendments.
§ MR. G. SANDARS
said, he and his Friends on that side of the House made no objection to the remission of the duty on sums under 1,000l., but they did object to the enormous increase of the ad valorem duty above this sum; for instance, the scale of duties
ON BONDS OF £1,000 at present was £5 proposed duties £5 5,000 … 9 … 25 10,000 … 12 … 50 20,000 … 20 … 100 25,000 … 25 … 150 100,000 … 25 … 500 200,000 … 25 … 1,000
and so on, 25l. being the maximum under the present law, but increasing indefinitely under the ad valorem principle of the proposed law. If this principle were to be carried out, care must be taken to begin the scale low enough so as not to oppress any class, and deal out injustice to the nominally rich, who might require large advances of money on bond or mortgage. The right hon. Gentleman had not answered the question of the hon. Member for Stockport; and he (Mr. Sandars) again asked the right hon. Gentleman what was 330 the estimated amount—reductions under 1,000l.—of the proposed scale; he did not ask for the balance of the amount between the decrease and increase, but he asked what was the estimated loss on the decrease alone; as it was the opinion of Gentlemen around him, that the increase in the larger sums would more than balance the decrease on the smaller. Before he sat down he wished to offer a remark on the stamp duty on memorials; as the Bill now stood, this tax upon sums under 100l. amounted to a sum equal to that on the deed itself, and was most oppressive on small registries; it was also confined to the two register counties of York and Middlesex, and entailed on those counties unjustly this extra tax on conveyance and mortgages.
ON MORTGAGES. £1,000 … £5 … £5 4,000 … 8 … 20 15,000 … 15 … 75 40,000 … 25 … 200
§ MR. HUDSON
said, that there were some parts of the Bill liable to the strongest objection. He thought it would be better it should be postponed for a week. He was acquainted with many gentlemen of the legal profession, who had pointed out several parts of it that were very objectionable, and if the Committee were postponed for a week, some of these objections might be removed in the meantime.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ On Clause 2,
The ATTORNEY GENERAL
, in compliance with a request from Mr. Sadleir, stated that all instruments signed before the 5th of July, 1850, would come under the operation of the old law, both as to the stamp duties and the amount of the penalty. He further observed that the 6th clause was prospective.
§ MR. SADLEIR
said, nothing could be more unfortunate than if it should turn out that the effect of the present measure would be to increase litigation. It was the opinion of an eminent conveyancer in this metropolis, that it would be most difficult to fix the amount of stamp duty payable upon deeds executed before the passing of the Bill.
§ MR. ROUNDELL PALMER
wished to know whether the exemptions in reference to building societies were to be re-enacted?
§ Clause agreed to, as were Clauses 3 and 4.
§ On Clause 5.
§ MR. HENLEY
, speaking as to deeds executed before the passing of the Bill, wished to know what was to be done with them?
§ MR. WALPOLE
said, that by the Bill all unpaid duties would become Crown debts; and, as they would never cease to exist till they were discharged, no man could tell whether he had or had not a good title to any estate that he might have purchased.
The ATTORNEY GENERAL
replied, that if such a necessity existed under the Bill, it would be easy for the party affected by it to go the Stamp Office and ascertain the state of the facts; but, though an attorney might neglect to pay the stamp duty, that would not affect the title of the purchaser of an estate; the deficient stamp duty would be a debt to the Crown due by the attorney, supposing him to have been paid it in his bill.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that the deed would not be vitiated, or the purchaser rendered liable to any debt, in consequence of the attorney having omitted to pay the duty.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ On Clause 6,
The ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, that the reason for charging interest at the rate of five per cent upon the amount of the stamp, or of the difference between the insufficient and the proper stamp, where such stamp duty or deficiency should exceed the sum of 10l., in addition to the fixed penalty of 10l., was this: in some instances parties postponed for many years the payment of the proper duty, and, according to the present law, they were liable at any time to the payment of only a 5l. penalty. He would state one case by way of example. A gentleman purchased a very large estate, and he had either no stamp, or a very insufficient one, upon the deed. He held the estate for twenty-five years, when he sold it. The proper stamp had then to be affixed, and the duty amounted to 1,000l. He paid the penalty of 5l., and thus obtained the interest of 1,000l. for twenty-five years at the expense of 5l. It was to prevent such occurrences in future that interest was proposed to be charged until it should equal the amount of the duty or deficiency, after which no more than the full amount of the duty or deficiency, in addition to the 10l., was to be charged byway of penalty. Last year a stamp was affixed to a deed that had been executed in the year 1834.
§ MR. SADLEIR
objected to the discretion given under this clause to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue to require an oath from parties claiming to have a 332 deed or instrument stamped within twelve months after its execution, that it had not been duly stamped previously, by reason of accident, mistake, inadvertency, or urgent necessity. He thought that the present law, by which sixty days were allowed in Ireland, and forty-two days in England, within which any deed or instrument might be stamped on its mere presentation at the Stamp Office, might be allowed to remain; for experience proved, that whenever oaths might be required, they were always exacted at the Stamp Office. In fact, every possible delay was uniformly given there.
The ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, that at present, although six months were allowed in England, and, as the hon. Gentleman had stated, sixty days in Ireland, for the stamping of a deed, after the date of its execution, yet, so soon as the prescribed period had expired, the penalty was enforced. This clause was allowed twelve months, during which, upon proof, by oath or otherwise, so that it was to the satisfaction of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue, that it was through inadvertence, necessity, or otherwise, that the stamp had not been previously affixed, the duty might be paid and the stamp affixed without any penalty being exacted; or the penalty might be lowered, according to the circumstances of the case.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ On Clause 7,
§ MR. MULLINGS
objected to the last portion of this clause, which provided that the deed must not have been signed or executed by any party thereto within the united kingdom when the same was so received as aforesaid from abroad.
instanced a case where this proviso would be inconvenient. A person died leaving his property to three trustees, one of whom went to South America, and was absent fifteen years. If a deed were sent out to him, this trustee would not be likely to execute it, unless he first saw the signature of his co-trustees attached to it. Great hardship would thus be inflicted if the clause stood in its present shape, and he trusted the Government would adopt the suggestion made by his hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester, and omit this part of the clause.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ On Clause 8,333
§ MR. GOULBURN
complained that its effect would be to allow a stationer to charge any price he pleased for stamps.
The ATTORNEY GENERAL
said that, under the existing law, a stationer was allowed to charge what he chose for all stamps, except receipts. The clause merely proposed to put the latter class of stamps upon the same footing as the others.
§ MR. CARDWELL
thought that the clause, if allowed to pass, would have the effect of saddling the public with an additional burden.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that the clause was intended to give stationers sufficient inducements to sell stamps, and thus give accommodation to the public.
§ Clause struck out.
§ Clauses 9, 10, and 11 agreed to.