HC Deb 02 May 1850 vol 110 cc1102-6

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [26th February], "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to repeal the Attornies' and Solicitors' annual Certificate Duty."

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.


said, he felt great pleasure in expressing his acknowledgments to the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex by whom the Bill had been introduced, for the great and disinterested exertions which he had long made to relieve the solicitors from a tax which pressed so heavily on them. He would not have come forward to support the Motion of the noble Lord, if he did not feel that justice imperatively required that these taxes should be abolished. The tax was 12l. in London, and 8l. in the country; and if the solicitor did not pay it, he was prohibited from practising. The amount realised by the tax was about 90,000l. a year. He complained of this tax as partial, and therefore unjust, a single class being singled out for assessment. He had boon anxious, it being an important element in the consideration of the case, to ascertain the reasons which had been urged for its original imposition. He found that it was first imposed in 1795, at a time when the Minister was extremely anxious to procure money for the expenses of a lengthened and calamitous war. Mr. Pitt said, that all the previous sources being preoccupied, he felt obliged to propose a general tax on shops. His proposal was objected to, and one Member, a Mr. Alderman Thompson, proposed as a substitute a tax on attornies' licenses, stating that at 30l. each it would produce a total of 150,000l. a year. The result proved how dangerous it was for individual Members to suggest taxes to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as before the end of the year both taxes were imposed. A different fate, however, subsequently awaited them. With respect to the shop tax, Mr. Fox never ceased until he procured its removal; but nobody was found to do battle for the attornies. Instead of having any one to procure relief for them, the tax was increased every year until it had attained its present heavy amount. It might be urged that so long a silence was a proof that its operation was not oppressive; but prescription was no defence of injustice; and, moreover, as class legislation was now so generally repudiated, there could not he a better time selected for its removal. The higher branch of the legal profession was exempt; why, then, tax the attornies? It might be urged that bankers, pawnbrokers, horsedealers, and others, were obliged to take out licenses; but there were many reasons why it should be necessary in their case which did not apply to the legal profession. The House was not perhaps aware of the enormous amount of tax imposed on attornies. In the first place there was a 120l. stamp on the articles, whereas if the tax were ad valorem as in other cases, it would not he more than 6l., the usual premium for articled clerks being about 200l. But that was not all. The attorney was not permitted to practise until he had paid 25l. more, being about 145l. in all before he could enter upon the active practice of his profession. Now he (Sir F. Thesiger) maintained that this was an enormous levy of itself; but in addition they were annually obliged to pay license amounting to about 4 per cent of their average incomes. There were some peculiarities in this tax which made it fall on the parties concerned with peculiar hardship. The attorney was obliged to take out his certificate before the 16th Decem- ber in each year; and the House would perhaps be surprised to learn that in 1849, 595 failed at the appointed time, and 190 failed altogether. It might, perhaps, be said, "So much the better, so many attornies the less;" but it could hardly be contended that they should thus, for missing one annual payment, he obliged to forfeit all the capital they had invested in the first instance. He trusted he had now said sufficient, in addition to what had already been said by the noble Lord opposite in a former debate, to induce the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer to devote a portion of his surplus to the remission of this most objectionable tax.


was sorry to say he must oppose the remission asked for, solely on the ground that the amount could not be spared from the revenue. He did not feel hound to give any further reason for opposing the remission of a tax, that task more properly belonging to the proposal of a new one. It was sufficient for him to state that it was an existing tax, and that it would not he convenient to the revenue to remove it. He had stated on a former evening what would be the probable amount of the surplus, and how he intended to appropriate it; and he could assure the House that no thing had occurred to alter his intentions, although his plans might require some modification in the details. There might be justice in this claim for remission; but it should be remembered that there were thirty other callings in which licenses were required, all of whom might petition with equal justice. There was a license, for instance, on horsedealers. Why not grant remission to them? Why not to all? But that all would amount to one million a year. No one in the House would surely expect him to give up that amount. The hon. and learned Member for Abingdon had understated the amount to which the revenue would suffer by the proposed remission, for he had merely stated the amount levied in England, whereas it would be necessary, if remission were made, that it should extend to the three kingdoms. The amount in that case lost to the revenue would be 117,000l. a year. He had now stated the grounds on which no remission could be made in the current year, abstaining from going into the merits or demerits of the particular case, as he did not wish to prejudge it, or to prejudice its discussion in a future year. He called upon the House to reject this Motion—not on any ground peculiar to the proposal itself, but simply because he did not think it right to call on the Government to give up so much of the public revenue. The hon. and learned Gentleman had urged that the effect of this tax had been to induce many to give up a lucrative and honourable profession; but, on looking at the list, he found that if 700 attorneys had retired during the last five years, 700 new ones had been added to the list, so that on the whole the country had not been much the loser. Under all the circumstances, he trusted the House would refuse the remission of the tax.


said, he thought the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex ought to be extremely well satisfied with the statement of the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had given the persons interested in this question every reason to hope that at a future period their claims would be favourably entertained. At the same time, he thought it right to say, on behalf of his countrymen who were subjected to this tax, that they were compelled to expend a large sum of money upon their education, and that they were far superior to the class to whom the Chancellor of the Exchequer had compared them—that of horsedealers.


explained that what he had stated was, that horsedealers had to pay for a license, and that it was a legitimate argument that the imposition of that tax was as great an injustice upon them as the certificate duty was upon attorneys. It was far from his intention to say anything that could be regarded as derogatory to gentlemen who followed the profession of attornies—a profession which he regarded as highly honourable.


Sir, when the attention of the House was last called to this measure by the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex, he entered so fully and so faithfully into the great injustice of this oppressive tax, that I shall not have occasion to trouble the House with many remarks; and particularly so, as I cordially agreed with all that fell from the noble Lord. But, Sir, as upon that occasion, I presented a petition from a most respectable, talented, and highly deserving body of gentlemen, the solicitors and attornies of the city I have the honour to represent; I feel called upon to express my anxiety for the success of this Motion, by the abolition of this tax. Its inequality and injus- tice cannot be denied: unlike every other tax, it has progressively increased since its first imposition, although those labouring under its annoyance, contribute their share, with other subjects, to the exigency of the State. It is not founded upon any principle of either equity or justice; for why should this, the lower branch of the profession, be annually taxed, when the higher orders are altogether exempt? Why should they be particularly selected? If it is just, if it is reasonable, to impose a tax upon them, why should not the bar—the Church—the medical profession, equally suffer, as well as those occupations of merchants, bankers, manufacturers, tradesmen, &c.? That this tax is felt as a serious and oppressive grievance, is evident from the many petitions against it which have crowded your table—as well as from the well-known fact, that nearly 600 solicitors and attornies were last year deprived of some of the advantages of their profession, by inability to pay the demand within a given period. Being persuaded. Sir, it is never too late to do an act of justice, I trust the House will agree with me in the necessity of relieving this most respectable body of gentlemen, the attornies and solicitors of the united kingdom, from this oppressive and unjust impost, which although it has existed for more than seventy years, was never founded upon a single principle of just taxation or of right.


said, he would vote for the remission of this tax, with the view of compelling the Government to return to those duties which, in his opinion, had been very injudiciously removed.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 155; Noes 136: Majority 19.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. A. Clay, J.
Anson, Visct. Clive, H. B.
Arkwright, G. Cobbold, J. C.
Armstrong, R. B. Cockburn, A. J. E.
Bailey, J. Codrington, Sir W.
Baldock, E. H. Coles, H. B.
Bennet, P. Collins, W.
Beresford, W. Compton, H. C.
Berkeley, C. L. G. Cubitt, W.
Best, J. Deedes, W.
Blackall, S. W. Denison, E.
Blandford, Marq. of D'Eyncourt, rt. hn. C. T.
Bouverie, hon. E. P. Dickson, S.
Boyd, J. Disraeli, B.
Bremridge, R. Duckworth, Sir J. T. B.
Burrell, Sir C. M. Duff, G. S.
Cayley, E. S. Duff, J.
Chaplin, W. J. Duncombe, hon. A.
Chatterton, Col. Dunne, Col.
Edwards, H. Monsell, W.
Evans, Sir De L. Morris, D.
Evans, W. Mowatt, F.
Ewart, W. Muntz, G. F.
Fagan, W. Norreys, Lord
Fitzroy, hon. H. Norreys, Sir D. J.
Floyer, J. O'Connor, F.
Forbes, W. O'Flaherty, A.
Fordyce, A. D. Packe, C. W.
Fortescue, C. Palmer, R.
Fox, W. J. Pearson, C.
Freestun, Col. Pechell, Sir G. B.
Fuller, A. E. Pennant, hon. Col.
Galway, Visct. Perfect, R.
Gooch, E. S. Pilkington, J.
Grace, O. D. J. Plumptre, J. P.
Greenall, G. Prime, R.
Guest, Sir J. Pugh, D.
Gwyn, H. Repton, G. W. J.
Hall, Sir B. Ricardo, O.
Hamilton, G. A. Richards, R.
Hastie, A. Rushout, Capt.
Heald, J. Salwey, Col.
Henley, J. W. Sandars, G.
Henry, A. Scully, F.
Herbert, H. A. Seymer, H. K.
Hervey, Lord A. Shafto, R. D.
Heywood, J. Sheridan, R. B.
Hildyard, R. C. Sibthorp, Col.
Hodges, T. L. Sidney, Ald.
Hodgson, W. N. Smyth, J. G.
Hood, Sir A. Somerset, Capt.
Hope, H. T. Stafford, A.
Horsman, E. Stanford, J. F.
Hotham, Lord Stanley, E.
Houldsworth, T. Strickland, Sir G.
Hughes, W. B. Stuart, Lord D.
Jones, Capt. Sturt, H. G.
Keating, R. Sullivan, M.
Keogh, W. Thompson, Col.
Kershaw, J. Thornhill, G.
King, hon. P. J. L. Tollemache, hon. F. J.
Lacy, H. C. Trollope, Sir J.
Lascelles, hon. E. Verner, Sir W.
Lawless, hon. C. Villiers, hon. F. W. C.
Lennox, Lord A. G. Vyse, R. H. R. H.
Lennox, Lord H. G. Waddington, D.
Leslie, C. P. Waddington, H. S.
Long, W. Wakley, T.
Lopes, Sir R. Wall, C. B.
Lushington, C. Watkins, Col. L.
Macnaghten, Sir E. West, F. R.
Mahon, The O'Gorman Westhead, J. P. B.
Manners, Lord J. Williams, J.
Martin, J. Willoughby, Sir H.
Martin, S. Wilson, M.
Matheson, Col. Wrightson, W. B.
Maxwell, hon. J. P. TELLERS.
Miles, P. W. S. Grosvenor, Lord R.
Miles, W. Thesiger, Sir F.
List of the NOES.
Armstrong, Sir A. Berkeley, Adm.
Arundel and Surrey, Earl of Booth, Sir R. G.
Bowles, Adm.
Baillie, H. J. Bramston, T. W.
Baines, rt. hon. M. T. Bromley, R.
Baring, rt. hon. Sir F. T. Brooke, Sir A. B.
Barnard, E. G. Brotherton, J.
Bass, M. T. Burke, Sir T. J.
Beckett, W. Buxton, Sir E. N.
Bellew, R. M. Campbell, hon. W. F.
Cardwell, E. Loch, J.
Carew, W. H. P. Lockhart, A. E.
Cavendish, hon. G. H. Lygon, hon. Gen.
Christy, S. Mackinnon, W. A.
Clay, Sir W. M'Gregor, J.
Clive, hon. R. H. M'Taggart, Sir J.
Cobden, R. Mahon, Visct.
Colebrooke, Sir T. E. Melgund, Visct.
Colvile, C. R. Mitchell, T. A.
Corbally, M. E. Molesworth, Sir W.
Craig, Sir W. G. Morgan, H. K. G.
Crowder, R. B. Morison, Sir W.
Dalrymple, Capt. Mulgrave, Earl of
Davie, Sir H. R. F. Noel, hon. G. J.
Dawson, hon. T. V. O'Connell, M. J.
Denison, J. E. Ogle, S. C. H.
Dick, Q. Ord, W.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Oswald, A.
Duncombe, hon. O. Paget, Lord C.
Duncuft, J. Parker, J.
Dundas, Adra. Pelham, hon. D. A.
Dundas, rt. hon. Sir D. Pendarves, E. W. W.
Ebrington, Visct. Philips, Sir G. R.
Elliot, hon. J. E. Pusey, P.
Emlyn, Visct. Rawdon, Col.
Estcourt, J. B. B. Rice, E. R.
Euston, Earl of Rich, H.
Ferguson, Sir R. A. Romilly, Col.
FitzPatrick, rt. hn. J. W. Rumbold, C. E.
Foley, J. H. H. Russell, Lord J.
Forester, hon. G. C. W. Russell, hon. E. S.
Forster, M. Russell, F. C. H.
French, F. Rutherfurd, A.
Glyn, G. C. Scrope, G. P.
Gore, W. R. O. Seymour, Lord
Graham, rt. hon. Sir J. Shelburne, Earl of
Grenfell, C. P. Slaney, R. A.
Gronfell, C. W. Smith, rt. hon. R. V.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G. Smith, J. B.
Hamilton, Lord C. Somerville, rt. hn. Sir W.
Harris, R. Spearman, H. J.
Hastie, A. Stanton, W. H.
Hawes, B. Stuart, Lord J.
Hayter, rt. hon. W. G. Stuart, H.
Heathcote, G. J. Tenison, E. K.
Hollond, R. Thicknesse, R. A.
Howard, Lord E. Thornely, T.
Howard, hon. C. W. G. Towneley, J.
Howard, hon. E. G. G. Townshend, Capt.
Howard, P. H. Trelawny, J. S.
Hutchins, E. J. Tufnell, H.
Jermyn, Earl Vane, Lord H.
Jervis, Sir J. Vivian, J. H.
Labouchere, rt. hon. H. Wellesley, Lord C.
Lascelles, hon. W. S. Wilson, J.
Legh, G. C. Wood, rt. hon. Sir C.
Lemon, Sir G. Wyvill, M.
Lewis, rt. hon. Sir T. F. TELLERS.
Lewis, G. C. Hill, Lord M.
Littleton, hon. E. R. Grey, R. W.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Lord Robert Grosvenor and Sir Frederic Thesiger.

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