§ The House then resolved itself into Committee; Mr. Bernal in the chair.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that, although by the resolution he was about to place in the Chairman's hands, he proposed at present to deal with only that class of stamp duties which related either to the transfer of property on mortgages or bonds, he was by no means prepared to say that there were not other branches of the stamp duties which required consideration; but it would be remembered that the subject of a general revision of the stamp duties had been under consideration for many years past. In the time of Lord Althorp a scheme was actually prepared and laid before the House. A similar scheme was entertained by is right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty; and he rather thought that the right hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for Cambridge had also had a scheme for that purpose under his consideration. But, upon all those occasions, the amount of the details and the difficulty of carrying them at once had deterred all his predecessors from undertaking such revision; and the consequence was, that although fifteen years had elapsed since such scheme was first prepared, little had been done until he had himself taken a step in that direction in the course of last year. He thought it right, therefore, rather to take up the matter piecemeal, to see how much they could carry out. The class of stamp duties with which he meant now to deal was that which related to conveyances, transfers, mortgages, bonds, and leases; and the general tenor of the proposal he had to make was, instead of the present exceedingly unequal and unjust rates, to adopt, as nearly as might be, the principle of an ad valorem duty, though to carry it out strictly would be utterly impossible. Whereas at present there were jumps in very large sums from 1,000l. to 2,000l., 3,000l., and so on, he proposed to adopt a much more minute scale, beginning with as small a sum as 25l., then going to 50l., 100l., and so up-wards. The result of that would be very nearly an ad valorem duty, and as nearly so as could be carried out, and it would 1058 effect a considerable reduction in the stamp duty on transactions under 1,000l. as regarded conveyances and mortgages. It might perhaps be convenient, with a view of showing what he proposed to do, if he gave a few instances to the House, and he would take first the case of mortgages and bonds, because they were the most general transactions:—Where the money to be secured did not exceed 50l. the present duty was 20s., and he proposed 5s.; exceeding 50l., and not exceeding 100l., present duty, 30s., proposed, 10s.; exceeding 100l. and not exceeding 200l., present, 40s., proposed. 20s.; exceeding 500l., and not exceeding 1,000l., present, 5l.;—exceeding 500l., and not exceeding 600l., proposed, 3l.; exceeding 600l., and not exceeding 700l., proposed, 3l. 10s.; exceeding 700l., and not exceeding 800l., proposed, 4l.; exceeding 800l., and not exceeding 900l., proposed, 4l. 10s.; exceeding 900l., and not exceeding 1,000l., proposed 5l.;—exceeding 1,000l., and not exceeding 2,000l., present, 6l.; exceeding 1,000l., and not exceeding 1,100l., proposed, 5l. 10s.; exceeding 1,100l., and not exceeding 1,200l., proposed, 6l.; and then higher than at present 10s. per cent rising on each additional sum of 100l. On the higher amounts of mortgages there was at present no increase beyond a certain amount. He did not think that fair. He did not see why an ad valorem duty should not be carried up the scale, and he proposed, therefore, by the mode he had stated to the House, to carry out an ad valorem duty of ½ per cent on mortgages and bonds. Conveyances and transfers were rather more complicated; and, in the first place, he proposed to adopt the phraseology of "not exceeding" instead of the present words "and under." He quoted the other night the report of the Committee of the House of Lords on the burdens affecting land, and pointed out from that how heavily the present rates fell upon small properties, and that was confirmed by the evidence stated in that report. The most important part of the evidence was given by a gentleman named Baxter; and, if it were any consolation for hon. Gentlemen opposite, he would state that this gentleman was the Conservative agent for the West Riding, and a very able and intelligent man. He said—There is one suggestion that I would make with reference to the expense of" the conveyance of property of small value; that is, that the stamps upon the sale of land should not stand, 1059 as they do now, higher upon the smaller amounts of property, but he regulated by a per centage. I find that at present the stamp upon a 50l. sale, calculating a certain length of conveyance, would amount to 12½ per cent. That the stamp upon a 100l. sale would amount to 5l. per cent, and upon a 300l. sale would amount to 2l. 10s. per cent; upon a 500l. sale to 1l. 14s. 3d. per cent; and then above that only 1 per cent. This is not effected by saying in so many words that a buyer to the amount of 50l. shall pay 12l. 10s. per cent, which is the amount that he does pay; but it is in consequence of burdening the transfer of property with a second conveyance, which we call a lease for a year. It was a principle of law that you were obliged to have a lease for a year, and a release, in a transfer of property, so that you had two distinct stamps and two distinct deeds. An Act was passed about a twelvemonth ago, relieving you of the necessity of having two deeds, but continuing the necessity of having two stamps.He proposed, therefore, altogether to repeal the stamp duty attaching to the lease for a year. At present, on a conveyance or transfer, the duty, if the property did not amount to 20l., was, lease 10s., release 10s.; not exceeding 25l., he proposed it should be 2s. 6d.; amounting to 20l. and under 50l, the present duty was, lease 15s., release 20s., together 1l. 15s.; amounting to 50l. and under 150l., lease 20s., release 30s., together 2l. 10s.; exceeding 25l. and not exceeding 50l., he proposed 5s.; exceeding 50l. and not exceeding 75l., he proposed 7s. 6d.; exceeding 75l. and not exceeding 100l., he proposed 10s.; exceeding 100l. and not exceeding 125l., he proposed 12s. 6d.; exceeding 125l. and not exceeding 150l., he proposed 15s.; amounting to 150l. and under 300l., the present duty was, lease 35s., release 40s., together 3l. 15s.; exceeding 150l. and not exceeding 175l., he proposed 17s. 6d.; exceeding 175l. and not exceeding 200l., he proposed 20s.; exceeding 200l. and not exceeding 250l., he proposed 25s.; exceeding 250l. and not exceeding 300l., he proposed 30s.; not exceeding 500l., present 7l. 15s., he proposed 2l. 10s.; not exceeding 800l., present 10l. 15s., he proposed 6l. 15s.; not exceeding 1,000l., present 13l. 15s., he proposed 7l. 10s.; not exceeding 1,200l., present 13l. 15s., he proposed 12l.; not exceeding 1,400l., present 13l. 15s., he proposed 14l. It was at first intended to adopt an uniform scale, but the objections to it were very great, as in some cases it would have increased the amount of duty. He proposed, therefore, that it should increase ½ per cent up to 500l., ¾ between 500l. and 1,000l., after 1,000l., 1l. per cent upon all transactions up to 2,000l., 1060 and then he proposed they should vary with every 1,000l. Mr. Baxter also stated in his evidence—The consequence of that is, that that small stamp attaches to a 150l. purchase as much as it attaches to a 100,000l. purchase. It bears, therefore, peculiarly hard on small properties, and a reduction of the stamps to an equal rate of 1 per cent upon the amount of the sale would be a sensible relief, if it would not be a great loss to the revenue.He had heard no objections to the proposal he was now making, and he believed it would promote the purchase of land by poor men, who were anxious to invest the fruits of their labour in that way. He should be very sorry to see land divided into small properties, as in the case of a neighbouring country, where a large number of the landed proprietors were little better than paupers; but still he should be glad to see the hardworking labourer of this country lay out his earnings in the purchase of small quantities of land. He believed that a great number of gentlemen attached great importance to leases; but the result of the present heavy stamp duty on leases was that very few leases were given under any circumstances whatever. He proposed, therefore, to reduce the duty on leases very considerably, and to adopt the same principle of an ad valorem duty. At present leases, where the rent reserved was under 20l., the present duty was 1l.; not exceeding 25l., he proposed 2s. 6d.; amounting to 20l. and under 100l., the present duty was 1l. 10s.; amounting to 100l., and under 200l., the present duty was 2l.; amounting to 200l. and under 400l., the present duty was 3l.; exceeding 25l. and not exceeding 50l., he proposed 5s.; exceeding 50l. and not exceeding 75l., he proposed 7s. 6d.; exceeding 75l. and under 100l., he proposed 10s.; exceeding 250l. and not exceeding 300l., he proposed 1l. 10s.; exceeding 350l. and not exceeding 400l., he proposed 2l.; and so on. He wished to call the attention of hon. Members from Ireland to what he was about to say, because leases to Ireland were, to a certain extent, exempt in some cases, and were not on the same footing as leases in England. He had put them in schedule on the same footing, but he was not prepared to insist on it, if on the whole Irish Members should object to it. The proposal he made was, that leases under 50l. should pay 2s. 6d. duty, and as to all others he should considerably reduce the high amount of duty. The proposal he made was, that leases for rackrent up to 1061 25l. should pay 2s. 6d.; from 25l. to 50l., 5s. Rents, not exceeding 10l., now 10s., proposed 2s. 6d.; 10l. and not exceeding 20l., now 10s., he proposed 2s. 6d.; 20l. and not exceeding 25l., now 15s., he proposed 2s. 6d.; 25l. and not exceeding 50l., now 15s., he proposed 5s. In cases where fines were also paid, he should relieve them up to 75l. After that he should, to a certain extent, increase them. If, however, they would have the exemption, they must take it as it stood, and in that case they would not have the benefit of the reduction to a lower amount. It would be more convenient if any reduction should be made, that all discussion should be postponed at the present time. He proposed, therefore, that the resolution should be reported, and he should be very glad that the discussion should be delayed until the Committee on the Bill; for of course all transactions must necessarily be suspended until the new law came into operation, and it was therefore desirable, as fast as possible, to bring' the measure to a conclusion. He would therefore propose to move the resolution, and should be glad if the House would allow the postponement of the Bill till after Easter, and then go into the discussion of it at once. The right hon. Gentleman accordingly moved a resolution to alter the stamp duties according to the schedule attached.
§ MR. ALDERMAN SIDNEY
bogged to ask the right hon. Gentleman if the leases, as regarded transfers of land, applied to house property, as also if it were his intention to introduce into the Bill an alteration in reference to stamps which persons taking up their freedom were obliged to pay. He begged to remind the right hon. Gentleman that by the Municipal Act of 1835, all fines on redemption were abolished by that House. There was a class of persons in the City who felt greatly grieved and annoyed at the tax, which fell very heavily on them. They did not complain so much of the amount of the tax—3l.—as that they were compelled to pay it when others were not. His two questions, then, were simply these: first, if house property were included as well as landed property; and next, if stamps affecting freedom and redemption were to be included.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that the reduction of duty applied to transfer of all property. As regarded the second question, he should say the subject had already been matter of debate in the present Session, and had 1062 been rejected. Therefore he thought it better not to encumber a measure really beneficial, with such extraneous matter.
§ MR. SCULLY
said, with respect to duty on leases in Ireland, it was of great importance that the tenants should be encouraged to take them. In certain cases, according to the Bill which it was the intention of the right hon. Gentleman to move, the rates of duty would be lowered, whilst in other cases they would be raised, as, for instance, in one case, from a shilling to 2s. 6d., which augmentation was certain to be attended with consequences not encouraging.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
should say that he proposed on the whole a considerable reduction on the duty in Ireland; and the cases in which the duty would be raised were very few indeed.
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
said, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer talked of having a surplus, but he apprehended he had no right to say that he possessed such a thing until he had paid his debts. The present measure would not confer any benefit upon him or upon his tenantry: he gave no leases, and he had no tenants who wished to have them. If they disliked each other, why they got rid of their bargain, and that was all about it. The Chancellor would have done more service to the country if he had removed, or even lessened, the duty on stamps for fire insurance, which were more than 300 per cent. The immense duty deterred a great number from insuring; and if he followed the precedent of reduction in this instance, he would increase the revenue instead of diminishing it, and he would confer a boon upon the country.
§ MR. REYNOLDS
should say that whilst the proposal to regulate the stamp duty was an improvement on the present system, he regretted the right hon. Gentleman had not extended a little more indulgence to Ireland. He begged to remind the House that by the assimilation of the law regulating the stamp duty between England and Ireland, which took place about five years ago, Ireland was forced to contribute 150,000l. annual increase to the Exchequer in consequence of that assimilation. This sum was placed upon the hack of the Irish camel because she was not charged with the income tax; the reason of which being that, he believed, there was no traceable income. He should also say he regretted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not thought fit to relieve a class 1063 of professional gentlemen—the solicitors and attorneys of Ireland—from a most un-just impost which they were obliged to pay, namely, those resident in Dublin 12l. annually, and those resident outside it 8l. annually. ["Question!"] He was addressing himself to the question as regarded Ireland. He thought a body of gentlemen who paid 120l stamp duty upon being articled, and from 20l. to 30l. in the shape of fees, should not be charged with 8l. and 12l. annually. He regretted that by the assimilation of, the stamp duty the heaviest pressure fell upon the poor; because a 6d. stamp that held good for upwards of 10l Irish before the assimilation, was raised to 1s. 6d. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke of his intention to relieve the people of England from an annual 150,000l., by abolishing the tax on bricks, the Irish Members did not cry "Question." He (Mr. Reynolds) did not grudge the English people any amount of pecuniary relief they might obtain, as he believed they were entitled to it; and he only regretted the state of the revenue did not enable the Government to relieve them from an impost which was abolished twenty years ago in Ireland, namely, the window tax; because he believed that in any civilised or well-governed country there ought not to be a tax on air or light. He was anxious to allow the question to go on without provoking discussion, because he believed there would be sufficient time for discussion when the Bill itself came before the House. Therefore, he felt bound to say that his reason for rising was to impress on the right hon. Gentleman the necessity of considering if he could not relieve the humble classes to a greater extent, as also the solicitors and attorneys of whom he had spoken.
§ MR. H. HERBERT
thought that, by the alteration proposed in the stamp duties for Ireland, a lease relating to a property of 100l. a year value would pay a higher duty than a lease of the same description in England.
The CHANCELLOR or THE EXCHEQUER
said, that his object was to assimilate the duties in both countries, and in effecting that object the duties now payable in Ireland would, in a few instances, be augmented, but in most cases they would be considerably reduced.
§ MR. FORBES
was of opinion that the scheme propounded by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Friday was ludicrous, if 1064 it was to be looked upon as a compensation to the agricultural interest for the losses they had sustained. The great hulk of the tenants in England had no leases, and when parties in Scotland entered into agreements for a term of years, they dispensed with stamps, because they knew that if it should be necessary at any time to have the agreements stamped, they could send them up to London for that purpose. The repeal of the brick duty would afford no relief to Scotland, where houses were built of stone, and it would be of little advantage to the English agriculturists, however beneficially it might operate as regarded building speculations in London, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, and other towns.
said, that the great majority of the holdings in Ireland being under 50l. in value, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, by raising the stamp on leases of that value from 1s. to 2s. 6d., was acting in opposition to his own principle of affording relief to the humbler classes.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
suggested the propriety of reserving discussion on matters of detail for another occasion.
§ Resolutions agreed to. To be reported To-morrow.
§ House resumed.