HC Deb 17 February 1852 vol 119 cc695-701

said, that the Motion of which he had given notice was for the Abolition of Stamps imposed upon Receipts. He had hoped that the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer would have remitted this tax long since, in consequence of the representations that had been made to him, more especially as the reduction of other stamp duties had given great relief to the public. The chief argument which, in his opinion, was in favour of the abolition of this tax, was its systematic evasion on the part of the public. This was the greatest evil to which a tax could be exposed. The late Sir Robert Peel was so strongly of this opinion that he remitted the auction duty, although the remission at that time was neither demanded nor expected. There were few taxes which in principle were more objectionable than this, for it was a tax which almost more than any other was liable to that great moral and practical evil, the being open to continual evasion, and with impunity, on the part of all classes of society. The systematic evasion of the law with respect to receipt stamps was best shown by reference to the decrease in the duty received by the Government from this source. Notwithstanding the greatly increased number of payments which were now made, the revenue from receipt stamps was falling off every year. In the year 1848 the amount derived from receipt stamps was 162,750l.; in 1849,185,707l.; and in 1850,153,768l.; whilst in 1823, when the population was much smaller, the tax produced 185,000l. Another great objection to the tax was that the Commissioners of Inland Revenue were, under its operation, made the tools of unprincipled informers, who applied them to the purposes of the most flagitious extortion. The tax was altogether inoperative for good, since the practice had become so general of paying and receiving amounts from the smallest to the greatest, without any stamped formalities, that even to offer, much less to receive, a stamped receipt was now considered a commercial imputation, a personal insult. The opinion of the commercial world, as well as of the general public, was altogether opposed to this tax. He would, with the permission of the House, read a letter which had been sent to one of his constituents by a common informer:— London, April 24th, 1850. Sir—I have not the least doubt but you will be surprised at receiving this from me, but necessity makes men desperate. I have, in the whole, six of your unstamped bills, which if they should by chance fall into the hands of the Commissioners of Stamps and Taxes, you are aware of what will be the result. Now, the best way to obviate such a chance will be for you to remit me a Post Office order for whatever trifle you can spare in cash, just to cover my present necessity. You shall have, whatever sum it is, returned within three months, as I expect to realise a little money within that time; and I will send you, by return of post, all your unstamped bills. If you feel inclined to favour me, let me have an answer by return of post; if not, I shall not deem it necessary to take any means to prevent the said bills from falling into the Commissioners' hands, which it is very possible they may do, unless care is taken to prevent it. You will please to direct to me, 10, Wilson-court, Wilson-street, Gray's-inn-road, London. You are aware, perhaps, that I have had the misfortune to let the Stamp Office get hold of one or two lots of bills, which I hope you will endeavour to prevent in your case, by complying with my suggestion. You can make an order payable at Mr. Ogg, Money Order Office, Gray's-inn-road, for what sum you may think proper, and by return of post, as I am in great need at present, and you will much oblige me, and also prevent any ill effects arising from the aforementioned circumstances, as I am afraid the Stamp Office will ultimately get hold of all the unstamped bills which I have in my possession, which will be entirely obviated by your complying with my request, as I shall then have it in my power to remit them to you, and you can perhaps take better care of them than if they are left in my hands. P.S.—An answer, as I said, by return of post, will much oblige, as delays are dangerous, and I have enclosed one of your bills, that you may know all is right. To Mr. Daniel Oliver, Wholesale Grocer. He held in his hand a memorial from the Chamber of Commerce of Liverpool, recommending the abolition of this tax, and stating as a reason for the abolition, that it was a sound guiding principle in legislation, that duties to which the country had continued to show repugnance, and which the Government had not enforced, should be abolished. He held in his hand a document which had been laid before the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1828, where he found the same statements were made concerning the malignancy of the persons who gave information as to the evasion of this tax. It was there said, that "they always originated in malice." He had moved for a return with respect to the threepenny stamp, that being the smallest amount of the tax. He found that the sum that had been received in respect of that stamp duty in 1847–8 was 22,075l., and there had been that year 102 prosecutions, and in 1848–9 there was a sum of only 19,846l. received, while there were 119 prosecutions. They had seen the manner in which these prosecutions had been got up; and he appealed to the House whether there was any instance where so small a sum was produced by so much annoyance and litigation. He believed that by a small modification of the duty, the Chancellor of the Exchequer might, raise, at least, as large an amount of revenue as that which he now derived from it. He would mention one mode in which that might be done. They were all acquainted with the system of paying bills by means of crossed cheques. There had been great doubt thrown on the legality of that proceeding by a judgment that had recently been pronounced by Mr. Baron Parke. That judgment had only direct reference to the case of a cheque crossed with the name of a particular banker; but the reasoning whereon it was founded, applied to cheques crossed in blank. In proof of that he read the following sentence from the judgment:— The crossing a cheque with the name of a banker cannot he meant to operate as an endorsement to that banker; for it is not meant to transfer the property in it to him, and it wants the essential ingredient in endorsements, which is delivery. It cannot be supposed to be something equivalent to a direction to the drawer not to pay to the bearer, but to a particular person only, for it would then come under the operation of the stamp law, 55 Geo. III., which excepts cheques payable to hearer. He was aware that Mr. Baron Parke had thrown out some extra-judicial opinions, from which it might be inferred that I crossing a cheque in blank was valid: I but the judgment itself proceeded on a different principle, and no reliance could now be placed on the practice of crossing cheques. Now, crossed cheques were a great convenience to society; and what would be easier than to give validity to crossed cheques by the payment of a stamp duty of only one penny, which, he believed, would raise a considerable revenue. There was another mode in which an evasion of the present law might be avoided. If a cheque were drawn on a banker in London within a certain distance from London, a 50l. penalty was incurred; but cheques of that description were constantly being drawn. Let permission be given for this to be done upon payment of a duty of twopence. There were various other modes by which validity might be given to instruments upon payment of a small duty, by which means a great benefit would be done to the public. It was not for him to propose substitutes for the duties sought to be repealed; but he had suggested two, and there was no doubt that many others far less objectionable than the present might be devised. When therefore the House had to consider on the one hand the serious objections to the tax, and the facility with which the same revenue might otherwise be raised, he thought it was their duty to accede to his Resolution.


said, he was very much afraid that if he were to assent to the repeal of this tax on the grounds which had been stated by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, he would soon have but few taxes left. They had long heard that certain taxes pressed hard on particular interests, interfered with some process of manufacture, or diminished consumption; but almost the sole ground on which his hon. Friend had proposed the repeal of this tax was, that people did not like to pay it. The House had very recently negatived the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster (Sir De L. Evans) with respect to the duty on carriages; and that Motion was based, like the present one, on the frequent practice of evasion. His hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Sir G. Strickland) had stated some time ago that if they repealed all the taxes which were evaded, there would soon be no direct, and very few indirect, taxes left. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Headlam) had said that so long ago as 1828, the giving of a stamped receipt was a reflection upon the integrity of the man who paid the money; but he could not see how that could be the case. He did not understand how the enforcing a receipt could be a reflection on the integrity of the man who paid the money. Looking over the list of taxes, he did not think this was one of those which had the first claim to repeal; and the tendency of such demands as the present one was to compel the Government to have recourse to indirect taxation. He confessed he did not much pity persons who incurred hardships by the evasion of the law; they had it in their power to protect themselves. He did not think much of a grievance which could be got rid of so cheaply; all that they had to do was to comply with the law, and then they might set all the informers in the world at defiance. Those, however, were the only grounds on which the hon. Gentleman had moved for the reduction of the tax. He hardly thought the complaints made against it were universal, for almost the only complaints which had come under his notice proceeded from the immediate neighbourhood of the borough represented by the hon. Gentleman, and from the Society of Friends. Looking at the working of this tax, and at the general scope of taxation, he thought that 120,000l. or 150,000l. a year might be much better applied to the remission or abolition of other taxes than the tax on receipt stamps. The hon. Gentleman had suggested the imposition of a small stamp duty on crossed cheques, and had expressed the opinion that a large revenue might be derived from that source. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) could not agree with the hon. Gentleman. He could not see how a revenue could be derived from the stamps to be imposed on crossed cheques, when the public, as the hon. Gentleman said, evaded the payment of the stamp on receipts. The tax on the crossed cheques could be evaded just as easily as the other. He had not yet heard any suggestion likely to act on the consciences of the public, and induce them to stamp any documents; and he was afraid if he gave up the revenue derived from the stamps on receipts, and relied on that to be derived from the small stamp on crossed cheques now proposed, he should find the public just as unwilling to pay it; and hon. Gentlemen in that House therefore, like the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, on the present occasion, moving for its reduction or abolition. He must therefore oppose the Motion, and he trusted that the House, as it had done once before in the course of the evening, would negative the proposition.


would support the Motion of the hon. Member (Mr. Headlam) not to remit, but to alter, this mode of taxation; and he trusted that the hon. Gentleman would go to a division upon the question, that the public might see who were, and who were not, in favour of this proposal. The majority would not be given to the right hon. Chanoellor of the Exchequer because of his arguments, but for another reason, which so often gave a majority to those benches. It might be true enough, that on a remission of taxation there were taxes to be selected in preference to this; but what right had the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that this Motion was for remission of taxation? [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: Have you read the notice paper?] Yes; those might be the particular terms of the Motion; but the hon. Member did not desire a remission of taxation, but contemplated rather an increase of revenue. It was not put on the ground that people did not like to pay the tax, but that they did not pay it. How often did the right hon. Gentleman evade the tax himself? What Member present gave stamped receipts in his daily transactions? It was not done once in a hundred times. But nobody would object to a uniform penny stamp, just as nobody minded paying for the postage stamp. Tradesmen would be in the habit of making out a bill upon a sheet with a penny stamp upon it; whereas now, if you asked a tradesman for a stamp receipt, he stared at you in astonishment for doubting him. The evasions were really terrific in extent.


apprehended that the Motion was to abolish receipt stamps. [Mr. AGLIONBY: The present receipt stamps.] He could not give his consent to that; but it was evident that the revenue from this source under the present system of levying it was decreasing, and he thought a uniform penny stamp would be far more productive. The amount being so trifling, a regular system would prevail, and people would carry these stamps in their pockets. There was a growing feeling in the country in favour of that plan. The present duty fell hard upon those who, like the Society of Friends, had a conscientious feeling about the matter, and who contributed more than their fair proportion to this revenue.


would say, in answer to the appeal to Members of the House, whether they were not in the habit of declining to give or take receipt stamps, that he never did such a thing in his life. It was against his interest to decline a stamp, for he put himself in the power of another to the extent of the money paid. He never knew any one refuse to give a receipt stamp if asked. There was a feeling of honour about it. Take the case of landlord and tenant, for instance; it would not be handsome to refuse. Tradesmen, in general, did not feel any objection to give a receipt stamp, which they thought a fair demand on the part of one who paid a debt—a thing that was more than everybody was in the habit of doing.


expressed his hope that the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer would direct his attention to the suggestion of a uniform receipt stamp. The introduction of such a measure would be just to all parties, and would give general satisfaction.

Motion made, and Question put— That, in the opinion of this House, the present Stamps imposed upon Receipts should be abolished.

The House divided:—Ayes 28; Noes 61: Majority 33.