HC Deb 07 July 1851 vol 118 cc286-96

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee; Mr. Bernal in the Chair.

Clause 1.


moved to insert at the end of Clause 1 the following words:— And be it enacted, That stories of buildings (as in the case of model lodging-houses, or of flats, as in Scotland), or parts thereof, occupied as separate dwellings, and assessed separately to the poor-rate, shall be held to be inhabited dwelling-houses under this Act, and shall be subject to the same liabilities and exemptions as are, with regard to inhabited dwelling-houses, in this Act, and the schedule thereto annexed, provided. It was unjust to make a distinction, as was done by this Bill, between those apartments of the poor which were built horizontally, and those that were built vertically. If a society for improving the dwellings of the working classes should lay out their money upon houses for the poor that were of less value than 20l. per annum, they would be exempt from the house tax; but if they built them apartments in which stories rose above stories, although the rent of each set of apartments was under 20l. per annum, they would be liable. About 2,000 persons were lodged in the houses of the societies for improving the dwellings of the labouring classes in London, and he was glad to hear that model lodging houses were about to be built at Ramsgate and Brighton. At Birkenhead 350 persons were lodged in this manner, and these houses would come under the operation of the duty, which would operate very prejudicially to those establishments.


thought the principle of the house tax much preferable to that of the window tax, which was greatly objectionable on account of its many exemptions. The exemption, however, of houses under 20l. rent from the proposed operation of the Inhabited House Duty Bill, was in his opinion most unjust, and would open the way to every species of evasion. He had a notice on the paper to extend the tax over all houses down to 40s. rent, but he found he could not submit that proposition in the Committee on the Bill, but must ask the House, at some other time, to resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House to consider the proposal. He hoped that the Government would have learnt enough to adopt his principle. The house tax was a tax upon property, and should be made as general as possible, no exemptions being allowed. It was a tax which they could raise or lower without altering the machinery of collection, which was a great advantage. He thought the time was coming when taxation and representation ought to be joined together more closely than they had been. He could not divine what improvement in the franchise was to take place next year, unless it were an extension to a considerable degree, founded on some basis of taxation such as they set an example of in the Bill of last year for Ireland.


said, that the plan for carrying out the project of better houses for the humbler people in the great towns in these realms, was only just in its infancy, but they had every reason to hope it would go on increasing. The difficulty hitherto had been that no man could subscribe to or take shares in these undertakings without being liable to his last shilling for the expense. The ground upon which there should be exemptions in respect of the dwellings of the humbler classes was, that a man with 50l. a year paid more towards the taxation of the country in proportion than a man of 250l.; and so a man with 250l. a year more than one with 500l.; and he therefore hoped the right hon. Gentleman would, if possible, relieve from the burden of this tax that class of dwellings to which the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Ewart) had referred, and which he trusted would very much increase in number in a few years.


had taken the trouble to ascertain the effect of the measure upon the city with which he was connected, and he found in Glasgow alone that there were upwards of 3,000 persons who did not contribute to the window tax, but who would have to pay the Inhabited House Duty. He was quite satisfied that in every other borough in Scotland a similar state of things would be found to exist; and so far from the measure affording relief to that country, it would materially increase the taxation of many districts within it. If the tax were made a universal one, that would be a different matter; but he hoped that if the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer meant to maintain it on the footing proposed, he would accede to the Motion.


said, he would not go into the much larger question alluded to by the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume). He quite agreed with him that exemptions of any kind invariably led to great frauds and evasions; and if he had been imposing a house tax for the first time, and not as a commutation for the window tax, he should have felt disposed to adhere to the principle which the hon. Gentleman had laid down. With reference to the extension of the franchise, he would also state that, without committing any body else, his opinion was very much the same as animated the hon. Gentleman, namely, that the payment of this tax was the best mode of regulating it that could be applied. He considered that it was advisable to resist exemptions now, because if they were once granted, it would be impossible to repeal them; while, on the other hand, if the exemptions were found to he necessary, they might afterwards he introduced, and the propriety of introducing them might be considered in another year. His hon. Friend (Mr. Ewart) must be aware that if the flats were different properties, they were exempt; but they were liable if they belonged to one proprietor. Applying his hon. Friend's argument about horizontal and vertical divisions of a house, it was obvious that the latter had as much right to be excused as the former; and so if a person rented two or three times one above the other, they too must be exempted. If they once gave up the principle that a house was a house, they would soon find few in which some portion would not let as lodgings, and so they would escape the tax altogether. If the clause as it stood on the paper was objectionable, that actually proposed was much more so, for it exempted all portions of houses that claimed to be rated; and if that were agreed to, he might just as well bid good-bye to his tax at once. The plan he had adopted was, he was convinced, a sound one, namely, to take a low rate of duty, and allow no exemptions whatever; and he hoped that if the House maintained the tax as it was, it would lead to no very serious frauds. For the information of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. Hastie), who did not think that Scotland would derive much benefit from the alteration, he could state in conclusion that the amount which the window duty in Scotland yielded was about 130,000l., whereas the estimated produce of the house duty was 50,000l., showing a saving to Scotland of 80,000l.


said, that there would be a great inequality in the operation of the tax in Scotland, owing to peculiar circumstances connected with property in that country, which it was difficult to explain to hon. Gentlemen unacquainted with Scotland.


agreed with the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), with respect to the non-exemption of any class of houses, for the sooner every householder had to pay the tax, the sooner would a good agitation be got up against it. He was opposed to the tax every way, and although he was not one of the metropolitan Members, who had been charged with threatening to stop the supplies, his constituents were no less interested in the total and unqualified repeal of the window tax; and, therefore, as he had undertaken to represent them, he could do no other than express his opinion decidedly against any impost whatever in lieu of that tax. The hon. Member for Montrose had recommended measures that would render unnecessary not only the house duty, but many other taxes. He begged to ask the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer how the valuation was to be made, whether upon that for the poor-rate, or on that for the income tax?


hoped that as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had expressed his concurrence in the views of the hon. Member for Montrose, and had promised to reconsider the subject next year, he would abandon this tax altogether for the present Session; for he (Mr. W. Williams) was convinced that, from the present state of the revenue, the right hon. Gentleman would find it unnecessary.


regretted that the forms of the House would not allow him to bring forward his Motion for extending the operation of the tax to houses of 10l. instead of 20l. rental; however, when the hon. Member for Montrose moved his Amendment at the bringing up of the Report, he would then introduce it.


said, he must urge the importance of doing justice to the poor; for, though the course of legislation for the last few years had been to reduce the amount of indirect taxation which they paid, they were still more heavily taxed than the rest of the community.


would wish to offer a few remarks, if the important declaration which the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. W. Williams) said was made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer had really been made—that the right hon. Baronet had really engaged to examine into the whole question of the house duty next year, and to reopen the whole matter.


I said, that the right hon. Gentleman had assented to the principle that the tax should be made general, and had intimated his intention to consider the subject next year.


These are the hon. Gentleman's words, not my own.


said, he was sorry he had not succeeded in eliciting a definite declaration from the right hon. Gentleman, as the country could not console itself in the present financial position in which it found itself, with the communication that had been announced by the hon. Member for Lambeth. If the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer had made that declaration, he (Mr. Disraeli) should not have troubled the House then or on a former evening. He considered the Bill before the House to be extremely injudicious and impolitic; and he regretted that his hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Packe) was prevented from bringing forward his Amendment, because the effect of that Amendment would have secured a revenue from the house duty at least equal to what they gave up for the window duty; and that was the right principle on which they ought to act. The great object he wished to attain in asking the House to assent to the Resolutions he moved on Friday, was to effect those alterations in the present taxation that were considered politic, at the same time that there should be no material loss to the revenue. It was on that ground that he had entertained, and still entertained, the opinion that, in adjusting the house duty, they ought to have obtained, not a partial, but complete compensation for the window duty; and he thought that of greater importance, as they would not then have been tampering with their resources, and wasting the window tax. His hon. Friend, however, was precluded by the rules of the House from bringing forward his Motion at the present time, and therefore he did not see much chance of the House taking that more salutary course which he hoped would have been adopted. But, if direct taxation was doomed to be a more important feature of their financial system than it had hitherto been, he hoped it would be understood by the country—as he believed it would be before another year—that the principle of direct taxation must be the same as the principle of indirect taxation, and that it must be general.

Amendment negatived.

Clause agreed to; as was also Clause 2.

Clause 3.


moved an Amendment to exempt certain public buildings, respecting which disputes arose in consequence of a person residing in the premises for the purpose of taking care of them.

Amendment proposed— In page 3, line 3, after the word 'That,' to insert the words 'no Church, Chapel, or place used for public worship, that no College, Museum, School House, Lecture Room, Public Library, or place set apart for educational or scientific purposes, and that no Court House, Police Office, Prison, City or County Offices.


said, he had an Amendment on the paper, after the word "that" to insert these words— No person shall be assessed, or liable to be assessed, to the said duties in respect of any lands, houses, or buildings, or parts of houses or buildings, belonging to any society instituted for purposes of science, literature, or the fine arts exclusively, either as tenant or owner, and occupied by it for the transaction of its business. He was willing, however, to lot his Amendment share the fate of the hon. Member's (Mr. Hastie's) proposition.


said, he must oppose the Amendment. Buildings not inhabited would not be liable to the duty, and if the buildings were inhabited they should be charged.

Question put, "That these words be there inserted."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 40; Noes 164: Majority 124.


then moved that after the word "that," the words "all houses not liable to be assessed to pay duty on windows shall not be assessed or liable to be assessed to the said duties." The right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer had stated that his object was to afford relief from the window tax. Now it happened that in all the large towns (and this was the case in the borough which he represented to a considerable extent) a great number of houses would become chargeable to the new house duty which had not paid to the window tax. This seemed to be contrary to the principle laid down by the right hon. Gentleman.


said, that in Edinburgh no fewer than 2,000 houses, principally inhabited by artisans and clerks, which had been free from window tax, would be liable to the house tax. He knew it might be said that this showed the unjust mode in which the former tax had been imposed; but, nevertheless, the proposal of the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer was felt by these persons to be a strange kind of relief. He thought that no sacrifice of principle would be involved if the right hon. Gentleman yielded on this point.


thought that it scarcely fell within the scope of a measure whose professed object was a commutation of taxation, to levy an impost upon a class who had, up to the present time, been totally exempt from taxation. The Bill would assuredly have this operation with respect to a very great number of tenements in the borough which he had the honour to represent.


said, that this Amendment was utterly unsupported by any principle. He had been found fault with for exempting houses paying less rent than 20l. a year; but this proposal was that houses above 20l. should be exempt, for no other reason than that because they had not hitherto paid duty. Now, he thought, however, that it would be very unjust to exempt a house that paid 30l. a year rent, and to tax one which only paid 20l. The hon. Member for the city of Edinburgh (Mr. Cowan) had brought under his notice a paper in favour of the proposed exemption, which contained, in reality, the strongest and most convincing arguments in favour of the substitution of a house tax for a window tax. It was stated that a row of houses, paying rents from 30l. to 40l. per annum, had been built without a single window in the bed-rooms, in order to avoid the window tax. He could see no reason whatever why such houses should not pay the house tax.


said, that he wondered why those who supported this Amendment did not also propose to exempt from taxation all houses hereafter to be built. Their principle, if it was sound, would go so far.


appealed to the hon. Member (Mr. W. Williams) not to press his Motion to a division. One of his (Viscount Duncan's) principal arguments when he brought forward the question of the repeal of the window tax year after year was, that architects built houses hardly fit for people to live in, because they desired to put in as few windows as possible in order to avoid the tax. Now no houses would be so much benefited by the repeal of this tax as these very houses, for he believed that in a few weeks after the Bill before the House became law, the adequate number of windows would be put into them.

Amendment negatived.

Clause agreed to; as were also the remaining Clauses.


said, he wished to move, as an Amendment, at the end of line 5 of the Schedule, after the word "person," to insert "for professional or educational purposes, or by any person." It was made a complaint against the schedule by many persons in the metropolis that they had taken houses for professional or educational purposes which were much larger than they required for their private occupation; but yet that they were rated at 9d. in the pound. They contended that their establishments ought to be placed in the same category as shops, and that they should be rated at 6d. His Amendment would include medical men with surgeries attached to their dwellings, solicitors with their offices, schoolmasters, and persons of that class.


said, that this question had been already raised and negatived. If the exemption in this direction were to be carried further than it went at present, it might become almost universal. Medical men, for example, often received their patients in their dining room; was that to exempt the whole house from the 9d. duty? It might perhaps be argued also, that a house was used for professional purposes if an old lady were to knit stockings in the drawing room.

Amendment negatived. Schedule agreed to.


said, he had now to move the insertion of the clause of which he had given notice. Before doing so, however, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer would state whether he intended to agree to it; because, if so, he need not trouble the Committee with any observations. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: No!] No, of course not. Then the right hon. Gentleman ought to be ashamed of himself. The right hon. Gentleman called himself a reformer; but he put it to the Committee whether a more homoeopathic dose of reform than this had ever been administered? He wished to make the Government act consistently with their former pretensions about reform. He had taken this clause verbatim from the Income Tax Act, into which it had been introduced by the late Sir Robert Peel at his suggestion. He knew he should be told that this Bill was a mere commutation of the window duty, and that all that belonged to that duty should be transferred to this proposed substitute of a house tax. But if that were so, the law ought to apply in all cases. They proposed to exempt the occupiers of houses under 20l. from the operation of this tax, and such parties would, consequently, not be required to pay this assessed tax as a qualification for voting. He should be very glad to hear from the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer some reason why a man living in a house at 19l. was not to pay this tax as a qualification for voting, while all those occupying houses from 20l. upwards would be obliged to do so. The Government were worse reformers now than they were eleven years ago. In 1840, a Bill was brought into that House by Lord Melbourne, intituled, "A Bill for the Registration of Parliamentary Electors." Clauses 24 and 26 of that Bill exempted electors from paying taxes as a condition of their registration. That measure gained the Whigs much and that they plumed themselves not a little upon it was plain, from the fact of the names of five leading Members of the Government at that time being on the back of the Bill; namely, Lord John Russell, Viscount Palmerston, Sir John Hobhouse, the Attorney General (now Lord Campbell), and the Solicitor General (now Lord Truro) He conceived that the Government could not consistently oppose this Amendment.

Clause— Provided always, and be it Enacted, That no neglect or omission to pay within any limited period, the Duties assessed under the authority of this Act, in respect of any House or other Building, shall prevent any person from being admitted or retained on the Register or List of persons entitled to vote in the Election of a Member or Members to serve in Parliament for any city or borough, or from voting at any such Election. Brought up, and read the First Time.


did not think that his opposition to the proposition of his hon. Friend would render him liable to any charge of inconsistency. He was not aware that he had ever expressed an opinion different from that which he was about to express. He thought that if people claimed the right of exercising the privilege of voting, the country had a right to call upon them to contribute directly to the expenses of the State before they were permitted to exercise that privilege. His hon. Friend proposed that no payment should he requisite in order to be entitled to he registered. To this he objected. There was no hardship in compelling the payment of a tax in respect of which a man had a right to the franchise. It was a clear principle of joint taxation and representation, that taxes must be paid previously to the enjoyment of the right of voting, under certain reasonable guards. If the right of voting depended on a taxable vote, he could see no reason why the tax should not be paid.


wanted to see household suffrage extended, because the possession of a house was to a certain extent a test of respectability, but he could see no reason why the payment of an assessed tax should form an element in the exercise of the franchise. He thought his hon. Friend was quite warranted in the course he took, by the declarations of the noble Lord at the head of the Government.


thought the noble Lord at the head of the Government ought to explain the reason why the Government now opposed the alteration he suggested. The reasons the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer gave, were the old reasons of the Tory Government, when he (Mr. T. Duncombe) proposed the repeal of the whole of the ratepaying clauses. The public required the repeal of the window tax, entirely and without alloy. He wished for none of the right hon. Gentleman's system of chicory taxation in this matter; and one of their main reasons for the unconstitutional repeal was, that this obnoxious test would thus he removed, and would no longer be a restriction upon the exercise of the franchise.


thought the proposition of his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury a perfectly reasonable one, and, if he divided the Committee, he would support him.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Clause he read a Second Time."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 60; Noes 119: Majority 59.


then moved the following Clause:— That in the case of any premises occupied with a dwelling-house, and heretofore exempt from the rate or duty in respect of the windows or lights therein, and which premises shall be assessed to the rate or duty hereby imposed, it shall be lawful for the occupier of such premises to require that the dwelling-house occupied with such premises shall be assessed at the before-mentioned rate or duty of 9d., and thereupon the said premises shall not be liable to any rate or duty. This clause would exempt manufacturers with large premises, who had been hitherto exempted from the window duty, from the operation of this tax. He thought it but fair and reasonable that such warehouses as coachbuilders, upholsterers, carpet-makers, and others of this class, should be free from the enormously heavy tax which this Bill now proposed to impose on them.


thought it only just to place the proprietors of those warehouses in the same condition in which they were under the window duty.


was of opinion that if they made any such alteration as was now proposed, they would be opening the door to much difficulty and abuse. There were already decisions of the courts of law upon this point, which was raised under the former house duty, and it would be well to avoid doing anything that would have the effect of disturbing these decisions. If these warehouses were part and parcel of a dwelling-house, he did not see how any distinction could be made in respect of them; and if they were separate, they would be exempt by the Act itself.


would not press his proposition to a division.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Preamble agreed to; House resumed; Bill reported.

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