HC Deb 08 May 1851 vol 116 cc726-32

Mr. HUME moved the appointment of the Select Committee of which he had given notice.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the present mode of assessing and collecting the Income and Property Tax, and to consider whether any other system of levying the same, so as to render the tax more equitable, can be adopted.


said, this was a question of the utmost importance, and it had not yet been debated by the House, at that late hour, twelve o'clock; and certainly they ought not, without great consideration, to decide whether they should appoint the Select Committee now moved for. The meaning of the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) might have been to carry, by implication, his present Motion for an inquiry, as a necessary corollary of the Motion he induced the House the other night to adopt. Still it was not included hi the former proposition, as he understood it. Many hon. Gentlemen who had voted for the limitation of the income tax for one year did so on grounds entirely distinct from those which influenced the hon. Gentleman himself; by no means committing themselves to the appointment of a Committee, but, on the contrary, highly disapproving of that step. The question, therefore, as he had said, had never yet been discussed, and he felt that there were some difficulties that lay in the way of appointing the Select Committee now proposed. But he thought there would not then be a sufficient opportunity of fully and properly discussing the merits of the question in the manner which its gravity demanded, because, independent of the subordinate difficulties of the inquiry now asked for, one great reason why they should hesitate was, because the question to be referred to the Committee might amount to, whether or not faith was to be kept with the proprietors of the public funds. [Mr. HUME: Oh, oh!] That expression of opinion, made in a not inconvenient manner by the hon. Gentleman, only confirmed what he was contending for, namely, the necessity for subjecting this question to adequate discussion, because the hon. Gentleman appeared to consider one of the reasons he (Mr. Gladstone) had urged as strange and preposterous; and yet he must allow that, if found to be correct, it would form an objection to the proposed inquiry of the gravest character. He was, therefore, disposed to move that the debate should be adjourned, with the view of fixing on a more convenient time for fully discussing whether or not a Select Committee of so serious a nature ought, on public principle, to be appointed.


was extremely sorry that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) had misconceived the effect of his Motion on Friday night; but that arose from hon. Gentlemen not being in their places during the debate. He defied any one to point out a word of his, uttered in that House during his whole public life, that warranted the charge that he wished to break faith with the public creditor. He thought the remark of the right hon. Gentleman calculated to excite a suspicion and prejudge the question he was bringing before the House. He saw no difficulty in proceeding to discuss the question now; and when he was proposing the names of the Committee, He would be glad to listen to the objections of any hon. Gentleman.


said, that having taken a part in the discussion on Friday night, perhaps he would be allowed to say a few words on the present question. Many hon. Gentlemen on Friday night, in explaining their reasons for voting with the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hume) for the limitation of the duration of the tax to one year, expressly wished to disconnect themselves from the subsequent Motion, to carry which was the object that the hon. Gentleman had in view. Therefore the vote then come to by the House was simply a vote that the tax should last for one year. The view which he (Mr. Sidney Herbert) himself took on that occasion was founded entirely on his objections to the income tax being made permanent; and he did not think that the question as to an inquiry with the view of readjusting the different schedules had at all been regularly brought under discussion, still less decided upon, by the Resolution of the House on Friday night. The mistake which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hume) said his (Mr. Sidney Herbert's) right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) had made as to the bearing of his Motion on the public creditor, showed the necessity for properly debating the question; and what he and his right hon. Friend said to the disclaimer of the hon. Gentleman was, that by his precipitancy in pursuing his object, he was creating a danger that he was himself unaware of. The idea of discussing the question when the names of the Members of the Committee were proposed was puerile and absurd, because before they nominated the Committee the principle of the proposition would have first been decided upon. But the greatest objection to appointing the Committee at present was that it would be appointed avowedly to make such modifications in the income tax as would induce the House ultimately to adopt it as one of the permanent burdens of the country. They ought to be careful, therefore, how they prematurely took the first step, and not commit themselves to a modification of the tax till they had all the reasons for and against it fairly and fully before the House. It was now a few minutes to twelve o'clock, and he therefore hoped the hon. Gentleman would consent to an adjournment, in order to give a better opportunity for properly debating the question.


said, the discussion that had just taken place reconciled him to the vote he had unwillingly given against the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hume) on Friday. It was clear hon. Gentlemen opposite had not voted for an equitable adjustment of the tax, but against the tax altogether, in order to have back protection. Did any man believe that there would have been a majority for the Motion the other night, if the question had not been viewed as a question of the continuance of the tax for one year with the view of referring the subject to a Committee? The sole object with which many hon. Members voted for the Motion was that an inquiry should take place; and he hoped, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gladstone) would not raise a discussion as to appointing a Committee.


believed the whole country was opposed to the income tax. He voted for the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), not because he approved of the income tax, but because he preferred having the evil for one year than for three. It was not a question of protection against free trade, but a question of direct or indirect taxation. He thought, therefore, that they ought to take a discussion on the subject. He wished to abolish the income tax altogether, because the inefficient body of men that sat on that (the Ministerial) side of the House, had no other method of meeting the financial engagements of the country but by dipping their hands into the pockets of the agricultural, the trading, and every other interest of the country. He did not like to see the House made the laughing-stock of Europe, by voting a tax for three years only, when the real object was to make it permanent. He did not want to have the tax made more equitable with a view to its being made permanent, because he was opposed to direct taxation. At all events he preferred a mixed method of direct and indirect taxation. Every one that voted for the present Motion should be prepared to establish the income tax for ever as a permanent tax. He believed that the hon. Member for Montrose was anxious for the maintenance of the national credit; but as his Motion would have a contrary effect, he (Mr. Stanford) would oppose it.


wished to know if the hon. Gentleman bonâ fide intended to limit the tax to one year, or to make it permanent?


said, it did not rest with him to decide the continuance or discontinuance of the tax. When the Committee, which he now wished to have appointed, had reported, that duty would devolve upon the House itself.


thought the diversity in the motives of those who supported the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hume) on Friday, was as great as the number of those who had comprised his majority. He felt confident that, unless this question was fairly considered, after that majority the other night, to which he did not belong, the country would think they were not fairly dealt with. It seemed proper to him to appoint a Committee for the purpose of seeing whether the tax could be made more equitable or not.


believed there were many objections to this tax on the ground of its unequal pressure, and he thought the time had arrived when its operation should be thoroughly considered. He had voted with the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) simply on the statement he made that he had in view the limiting the duration of the tax for one year, and the appointment of a Committee thoroughly to consider its operation. After that inquiry the House would be in a better condition than it was now to determine what were the principles on which the taxation of the country should be conducted.


said, what had passed to-night had only confirmed the opinion he gave on Friday night, that the House was incurring a very great inconvenience in agreeing to the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose, hon. Members who voted on that occasion having a totally different view of the steps that were to follow on that Motion. But he must say that his hon. Friend (Mr. Hume) had always clearly and distinctly stated the object he had in view in that Motion. His hon. Friend wished the tax to be limited to one year, for the purpose of having an inquiry; and he (Lord John Russell) must say, the House having agreed to limit the tax to one year, and his hon. Friend having stated his object to be inquiry, to see how far the tax could be made more equit- able, he thought the whole country would now be disappointed if that inquiry did not take place. If the House did not now agree to the Motion for a Committee, when they came next year to consider the propriety of continuing the tax, they would be in the same position in which they were at present. But if the proposed inquiry took place, objections could then be stated to the operation of the tax, and plans suggested with a view to modify what might be considered its inequalities; at least, such inquiry would give the House some means of deciding whether they would continue the tax for three years or one year, and with or without any qualification. The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), although he gave his vote in favour of the limitation of the tax to one year, thought the House could not expect that it would be done away with immediately; and if it were continued, that it was desirable it should be continued in a manner to show the country that all had been done that could be done to render the tax equitable. He (Lord John Russell) certainly gave no opinion now whether his hon. Friend (Mr. Hume) should ask for his Committee at the present time; but whenever he did move for that Committee, he (Lord John Russell) should certainly give his vote in favour of the Motion.


said, whatever might be the motive for the vote the House came to on Friday, he thought they were morally pledged to the appointment of this Committee. He very much disapproved of transferring the duties of the Government to Committees of that House; and he had shown his disapprobation of such a course on a previous occasion by calling for a division on the Salaries Committee. He thought that subsequent experience would have confirmed the House in the propriety of the course he took on that occasion. With regard to the present Committee, the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) rather misunderstood the observation which he made the other night. He (Mr. Disraeli) was aware that the general feeling of those who voted was, that although the proposition of the hon. Member for Montrose was merely to substitute one for three years as the duration of this tax, virtually it was in favour of a Committee; and as far as his (Mr. Disraeli's) vote was concerned, he should make no attempt to get rid of the Committee.


hoped that, if the House appointed a Committee, it would specially guard against giving any indulgence to persons in particular schedules. He hoped those in Schedule D, for example, would not be placed in a more favourable position than at present. If they allowed persons deriving incomes from land, profits in trade, &c., to be placed in a more favourable position than the public creditor deriving his income from the public funds, they would be guilty of a breach of the public faith. The subject was deserving of an ample discussion, and on that account he objected to the Motion being brought forward at so late an hour.


said, he did not think anybody would suppose that he was particularly favourable to the appointment of a Committee to inquire into this subject. He had stated distinctly on a former occasion that he did not see that much good was likely to result from a Committee. Having premised that, he could only say now that he thought the House was morally committed to the appointment of a Committee. He felt that a sacred duty rested with the House to take care that they kept inviolable faith with the public creditor. The Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) was for a Select Committee to inquire into the present mode of assessing and collecting the income and property tax, and to consider whether any other system of levying the same, so as to render the tax more equitable, could be adopted. There was not one word in the terms of his hon. Friend's Motion which implied the slightest breach of faith with the public creditor.

Question put, and agreed to.