HC Deb 06 May 1852 vol 121 cc346-54

Order for Second Reading read.


regretted that this measure should have been renewed, and hoped that the Government would give some assurance that it would not be continued beyond the year for which it was now asked. He almost looked upon it as a breach of faith on the part of the Government that they should have again exposed the country to the infliction of a tax of this kind.


said, he believed that the feeling of the people was in favour of direct taxation. He admitted that the Income Tax, as now imposed, was by no means perfect, and he hoped the basis would be extended to include all incomes.


said, he hoped and believed there was as little probability of the cessation of the Income Tax as of the restoration of the Corn Laws. The struggle was between the holders of property and the working classes, who paid at an enormously increased rate on articles of indirect taxation. An effort was made to engage the holders of temporary incomes on a false track, with the effect only of increasing the perplexities of the question. If the holders of temporary incomes knew what hurt them, they would be aware that the injustice consisted in taxing them for a limited period, as for instance three years, and taking no more from the holder of perpetual property, which, instead of three, was worth thirty years' purchase in the market. As a holder of life property himself, he had his eyes open to the injustice done him by any temporary income tax. If the tax was only perpetual as it ought to be, all would pay in due proportion; and he was not to be thrown off the scent by a fallacious cry. He felt no doubt that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, acting upon the instincts of one in his position, lived under an entire conviction that the Income Tax would be perpetual, and all that was now objected to was the effort made to misdirect public opinion on the subject. The working classes were fast coming to the knowledge that the question of the Income Tax was a struggle between them and the richer classes, to make the rich pay their just share of the whole taxation, and not throw an uncompensated portion of the indirect taxation on the poor.


considered the Income Tax essentially unequal, and he only voted for it as it now stood on the ground that if they did not continue it for another year there would be a deficiency created in the public finances. It was, in fact, "Hobson's choice;" for, under existing circumstances, there was nothing left for them, for the present, but the temporary renewal of that tax, inquisitorial and grossly unequal as it must be admitted to be. He knew many persons who by means of its operation were paying 12 or 14 per cent on their income. He believed that abroad some misconception existed upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech on the Budget, an opinion prevailing that the right hon. Gentleman was opposed to direct taxation and favourable to Customs duties as a means of raising revenue. He wished to call the attention of the Government to the lax way in which the documents connected with the Income Tax were preserved. In one town the returns had been sold to grocers, and the accounts of the chief tradesmen were sold with the articles vended in those shops. If the tax were preserved, some means should be taken to preserve the returns. If a landlord let a farm upon a lease at, say, 300l. a year, and made a reduction of 10 per cent to the tenant, he was bound to pay the Income Tax on the 300l. a year, and not upon the 270l. This was an injustice upon those landlords who, to meet the pressure of the times, had made reductions in their rents. He thought that where a bonâ fide reduction had been made, the Income Tax ought to be paid upon the income actually received, and not upon the nominal income.


Sir, I hope my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lincoln (Colonel Sibthorp) does not accuse the present Government of any breach of faith in having proposed the renewal, for a limited period, of the Income and Property Tax. I must say, that in the position in which we found ourselves on entering office, I know not what other course we could have pursued than that which we have thought it necessary to adopt; and I do not believe that Gentlemen on either side of this House, or that the country generally, will be disposed, after an impartial consideration of the circumstances of the case, to condemn us for having taken that which seemed to us, indeed, an inevitable course. The hon. Baronet the Member for Evesham (Sir H. Willoughby), however, has touched on another point, which at this hour I would not have ventured to obtrude on the attention of the House, but on which it would not, perhaps, after the observation of the hon. Gentleman, become me on this occasion to remain altogether silent. When I brought forward the financial statement a few nights ago, I expressed no opinions, but scrupulously confined myself to the mere presentation to the House of a full and complete view of our financial position, because it was necessary for me, on that occasion, to terminate my remarks by making a proposition of which, abstractedly, as a measure of finance, I did not approve; and I wished the country to know its actual financial position, and the proposition I had to make, and at the same time to urge the necessity of our taking- advantage of the interval between the present financial statement and that which either the present or any other Government might have to submit next year, for arriving at some conclusion as to the principles on which the revenue of this country was, for the future, to be raised. With these views I guarded myself against expressing any opinion, either for or against the policy that had been pursued, as to the reduction or repeal of Customs duties. I felt it to be my duty to place before the House, without any colouring, and in a spirit which evinced, as I hope, an anxious desire to do so impartially, our exact position, and to show the consequences of the recent reductions of Customs duties on the finances of the country. My observations were limited strictly to the influence and effect of those measures on our finances. I avoided all commercial controversy, and all discussion as to whether the benefit of the consumer had been obtained by injury to the producer—I avoided all topics of that nature, because I thought them unnecessary and not germane to the matter—thinking it simply my duty to place before the House a clear and complete view of our financial position, and not believing that duty called upon me, on that occasion, to propose any change with regard to the mode of raising the revenue of the country. With these feelings, and wishing to fulfil my duty in accordance with my conception of what that duty was, I made no reference to those classes of this country who are, to my mind, greatly suffering, and to whose sufferings it is the duty of the Legislature to apply some remedy. I certainly placed before the House a most important fact—that it would be necessary, in estimating the revenue, to make great allowances for reductions of rental and farming profits; and I should have thought, that, under the circumstances of the Government and of the country, as regarded a question of that sort, it would have been most indiscreet in me if, on that occasion, I had intruded any views of the Government as to the remedial legislation which such a state of affairs may require. After it has been said—after it has been publicly announced, and accepted by the country, that on an occasion not very distant, but now, indeed, imminent, the opinion of the constituencies is to be taken on that subject—and on that subject especially—to which I have just adverted—it would have been improper for me to trouble the House with any details of any scheme or measures for the alleviation of the sufferings of the agricultural classes. In taking the course I did on that occasion, I think I acted in accordance with the feeling of the majority of this House and of the country; but I have no hesitation in saying, after the remarks of the hon. Baronet the Member for Evesham, that, when Her Majesty has recurred to the sense of Her people, Her Majesty's Government are prepared in due season to introduce those measures which they believe are required—those remedial measures they believe are required—by justice and by regard to the permanent interests of the country. I think there can be no misunderstanding in this House, or in the country, on that subject. We are prepared to fulfil our duty, as far as lies in our power. But, strong as may be our determination, and firm as may be our convictions, I still believe, that, on the occasion on which I made to this House the financial statement for the year, I should have done what was most uncalled-for if I had intruded any expression of the policy we may feel it our duty to pursue on the attention of the House of Commons.


said, he saw nothing in the statement now made by the right hon. Gentleman to qualify what he was understood to have said in making his financial statement, that a return to protection, or the reimposition of Customs or Excise duties, was impossible.


hoped the result of the inquiry by the Committee on the Income Tax would be the readjustment of that impost on a more equitable basis,


begged to express his thanks to the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer for the statement he had made with respect to the most suffering class in the country. The statement could not fail to give satisfaction to the agriculturists.


said, he was not surprised at the alarm which seemed to have taken possession of hon. Gentlemen opposite in consequence of the able and satisfactory statement delivered by the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer in introducing his Budget. It was evident, from the scene which had been enacted that night, that hon. Gentlemen were anxious to extort from the right hon. Gentleman some declaration on which they might found a distant hope that the Members of the Government, in their Ministerial career, would act on the opinions which they maintained on the other side of the House when they led what used to be called the Protectionist party. The right hon. Gentleman had now declared, in language similar to that employed by him on former occasions, that the Government would first appeal to the country, and then bring forward the measures which they deemed necessary. But he had given them no distinct idea as to what those measures were likely to be; nor did he (Sir G. Grey) think it was very material at the present time to know. He did not think it at all necessary that they should cross-examine the right hon. Gentleman in the way some of his supporters had done, in order to get at the opinions of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman told them that he had not on Friday evening said anything whatever with respect to our commercial policy. He had been equally discreet tonight. But it was not, after all, a matter of very great consequence. They relied not on the opinions of the Government, but on the facts which the right hon. Gentleman had brought forward. They were well aware of those facts before. They had been stated over and over again in speeches in that House, and in some well-written pamphlets out of doors. The accuracy of those statements had been impugned; but now they had one of the Ministers of the Crown coming forward and declaring that those facts were irrefragable, and illustrating them with a power and eloquence seldom equalled in that House. Those facts had been appreciated by the country; and, go to the country when they might, they would find, if on the hustings they proposed to repeal or remodel the policy which of late years bad been adopted, that the people would respond with one voice that they had derived important benefits from that new policy, and that they were not disposed to give it up.


begged to ask if benefit had been conferred on the consumers by this new policy, what benefit had accrued to the producers? Look at the state of the agricultural classes, and at the state of the money market. Did that show that trade was prosperous? Though a large trade had been carried on, it had been with very small profits. He had the greatest confidence in the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman had never, since 1846, swerved from the principles he advocated; and they might depend upon it that the principles he supported in opposition, he would, as a Minister, honestly act upon.

Bill read 2°.

The House adjourned at a quarter before Two o'clock.