HC Deb 20 July 1853 vol 129 cc475-84

Order for Second Reading read.


having presented a number of petitions in favour of the measure, said, that under ordinary circumstances he should have contented himself with moving the second reading of the Bill; but, as a good deal had passed which had a bearing on the subject since the Bill was read a first time, and he was placed in a very peculiar situation, he requested the indulgence of the House for a short time, while he stated the course it was intended to take. The present was a dangerous moment; it was already the 20th of July—many friends of the Bill were absent; and, among other discouraging remarks made around him, it was said that the friends of the Government ought to regard the Budget as a whole, and not take exceptions to particular items; that, as larger matters had been gained, smaller ought to go unnoticed; and that gratitude was due to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the financial scheme which he had laid before the House at a moment of unusual difficulty, and when a false step in financial matters might have been attended with serious consequences. But he asked the House to recollect that he had postponed the second reading of this Bill from time to time, in order to avoid embarrassing the Government, and in the hope that something would be done for the parties he represented; and certainly, if he had been called upon at an earlier period of the Session to state whether he ought to ask for a decision of the House on the Bill, though he would still have continued to entertain a strong opinion on the question, yet he would have shrunk from the task he had undertaken. The House, however, should remember that the financial measure of the Chancellor of the Exchequer had, since he brought this question forward, been subjected to the ordeal to which all such propositions were exposed; and that since that time we had had another quarter's revenue, which showed a state of buoyancy and prosperity almost without precedent. He should have thought, then, that this was just the time for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make this concession—that this was the mollia tempora fandi—that he would have been at the present moment peculiarly open to sentiments of benevolence, and that, so far from accusing him of any want of consideration for the eminent services he had rendered to the country, the right hon. Gentleman would have thanked him for this opportunity of showing his generosity towards the class who were subjected to the special grievances involved in the payment of this tax. He regretted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have lost the opportunity of making his Budget Lotus totus teres atque rotundus, and thus have completed the satisfaction so generally felt with regard to his measures. One of the circumstances to which he must allude was the modification which his right hon. Friend proposed to make in this duty. He was afraid the Chancellor of the Exchequer would think they were very ungrateful; but the truth must be spoken, and he was bound to say that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman was most distasteful to those chiefly concerned, while at the same time it would be a loss to the revenue. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that the attorneys and solicitors had suffered much in their pecuniary interests by the recent legislation of the House, and that they ought to have some remedy. Now, the remedy he proposed was to take off one-fourth of the duty—3l. out of the 12l. paid in London, and 2l. out of the 8l. paid in the country; while he reduced the duty on the articles of clerkship one-third, the only effect of which would be to encourage greater competition for the small profits which were still left. He regretted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have persisted in retaining this remnant of taxation, which, while it was not productive in point of revenue, was a source of great oppression and annoyance; but there were some people who seemed to think they were better judges of the reality of a complaint than those who actually suffered under the grievance. But, apart from these general considerations, there were other circumstances which called for notice on the present occasion. He understood there was a tacit arrangement with the right. hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) and his friends that if they would support the Government in opposing this measure, the Government would graciously smile on their proposition for the repeal of the advertisement duty, and that, in consequence of this arrangement, those Gentlemen had endeavoured to induce his supporters to vote against his Motion, or to stay away altogether. He did not profess to know how this understanding had been come to; but he supposed it was the effect of some of those movements that resembled somewhat the mysterious electric influence which in these days was said to lead to so much turning of tables, and other extraordinary phenomena. He should have been glad to have seen a termination of the struggle in which he had been so long engaged; but he could not hope that this would be the case on the present occasion. He was quite ready to admit that if his right hon. Friend had reduced the duty one-half, though he should have still thought that a stingy way of dealing with the question, he would not have brought forward his Bill this year; but he was still open to an arrangement, and if his right hon. Friend would only say that the duty was merely kept on for revenue purposes this year, but that in deference to the opinion of the House he would take its removal into consideration next year, he would not in such circumstances go to a division. But the House would recollect that he had never urged this question except in one point of view—he had always stated that this tax was oppressive and unjust, and ought to be repealed, irrespective of all financialc onsiderations—that it was a tax unjustifiable in principle, and that on that ground alone it should be repealed; and therefore, if he could not obtain even a tacit promise from his right hon. Friend of future consideration, he must leave, as before, the decision of the question in the hands of the House. The noble Lord then moved the second reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."


said, he had come down to the House labouring under a profound and unalterable conviction that he was about to record his vote in favour of one of those political shams of which this Session had been so fruitful. The noble Lord the Member for Middlesex had taunted the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester with having entered into some compromise; but he would take the liberty of telling the noble Lord that if he had been half as sincere in his advocacy of the cause of that body of which he (Mr. Murrough) was a member, as the Member for Manchester was in the cause of the newspapers, no compromise could have taken place. The noble Lord allowed the Resolutions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to pass unquestioned; and, when he (Mr. Murrough) put a question on the subject, he was told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the noble Lord had arranged to take the debate on the second reading of this Bill. He thought, therefore, the noble Lord was not entitled to attack any one for the course pursued on this occasion. The Bill was now brought forward at the fag end of the Session, when there was no chance of its being carried, and when the friends of the attorneys were on circuit. It was painful to his feelings to take the course which he now did, but he was impelled to do so by a strong sense of duty.


was not one who would be suspected by the noble Lord of changing his vote without some very good reason; but he begged to say he was a better friend of the attorneys than the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, for he did not think it would promote their cause to attribute motives to Members acting to the best of their powers in the discharge of their duties. He believed the noble Lord had been perfectly sincere in his desire to procure the abolition of this duty. He (Mr. Hume) had always been of opinion that the whole system of licences should be taken into consideration. He objected entirely to every description of partial legislation, and thought it equally unjust to relieve one class, and to leave another burdened; but in that House almost every measure was a compromise, and both those who advocated particular reductions, and the Government who had to administer the public money, were called on to consider all the circumstances that might bear upon each case. He had supported throughout the general plan of the Government as exhibited in the Budget, because he thought that in the end it would lead to further relief from taxation; and if he voted for the Bill now before the House, he would be acting contrary to the understanding which he had hitherto gone upon. Whatever might have been done on other occasions with respect to this tax, the circumstances were now entirely altered. ["Hear, hear!"] Did those Gentlemen who cheered think that in an assembly like that, and in a nation circumstanced as ours was, there was to be no change of opinion on questions like these, and that because a man wished to repeal a particular tax at one time, he was always, and in all circumstances, to hold by that opinion? That would be to deprive the House and the country of all the benefits of experience on questions of this kind.


must say, he sympathised very much with the pain which the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Murrough) suffered on account of the vote he was about to give; but he would respectfully suggest to him that he might very easily spare himself that pain by not giving it. There were two motives on which men generally acted—the one was from duty, the other was from pleasure. The hon. Member, it was plain, was not going to act for the purpose of duty, for he said he was about to vote for a political sham, neither was he going to vote for the purpose of pleasure, for he said it was painful to his feelings to vote for the Motion. Perhaps he would pardon him for offering a suggestion, that, in these circumstances, he would be acting entirely in accordance with the dictates of his conscience if he removed himself from the House altogether. But he must be allowed to say he thought the hon. Member had entirely mistaken the motives and character of his noble Friend's conduct. His noble Friend, at his suggestion, agreed to take the division on the second reading of the Bill; but it was not at all true that his noble Friend by that agreement in any way put an advantage into his hands. If he had done so, the hon. Member would have had a right to complain, or at least would have had some colour of complaint; but the hon. Member was perhaps not aware, that, this being a case of reduction of duty, it was not necessary to introduce it by a preliminary Resolution at all, and that, by not opposing his (the Chancellor of the Exchequer's) Resolution, his noble Friend did not lose his right to introduce a Bill to take away the duty altogether. It was, therefore, a mere matter of courtesy that led to any arrangement between them. If it had not been for the attack just made by the hon. Member opposite, he should have been disposed to take up his noble Friend from an opposite point of view, and to compliment him for the tenacity—he would say the chivalrous tenacity—with which he had taken up the cause of this unfortunate and helpless body. His noble Friend's character as a philanthropist had been long established, otherwise no more illustrious example of it could be quoted in after times than the manner in which he had held out the right hand of succour and support to a meritorious class, entirely without organisation, not represented in that House, cut off from all the ordinary means of communication with it enjoyed by other classes; and, last of all, having their friends on circuit. But, with regard to the question at issue, it was understood that they were discussing a Bill with two objects: one to repeal the annual certificate duty paid by attorneys and solicitors; the other to amend the law with regard to their registration. The question to be taken on the second reading, however, had no relation to this last clause; and, therefore, they were going to debate the question whether they would repeal the certificate duty or not. He was sorry to find that besides the offence of refusing the repeal of the duty, he had committed another offence by introducing a plan for the reduction of the duty, that was more unacceptable than its maintenance; for his noble Friend had told them that the plan which be introduced gave satisfaction to no one, while it would be a sheer loss to the revenue. Now, all he had to say upon this point was, that if the noble Lord and his friends felt so much aggrieved by the proposal which he had made, he did not say the Government was so obstinate in their adherence to the plan as that they might not be induced, on the representation of the parties, to give it up altogether. But, most unquestionably, they would not be parties to a repeal of the certificate duty, and setting the profession free from a tax to the State which they had paid for sixty years, and which they were brought up in the expectation of paying, and at the same time leaving in its unmitigated force the enormous tax now paid upon the stamp that was required in the case of every little boy whose father wanted to put him into the profession—a tax of 120l. in the case of a boy, who might, perhaps, turn out to be unfit, or who might be prevented by circumstances from following out the vocation. The Government would be no party to levying such a burdensome tax, and repealing the other. His noble Friend said, if he would consent to put his refusal on the ground of a temporary injury to the revenue, and promise that by another year he would somewhat relent, he would be ready to take the present plan of the Government as an instalment, leave the question in the meantime in his hands, and be ready to take it up again in a future year. Of course, it was open to his noble Friend to use his own discretion in the matter; but it was open to him also to say that he hoped the House was now disposed to come to a final vote on this subject. He could give what he thought conclusive reasons from the state of the revenue of the present year why the repeal of this tax should not now be granted; and he could not give any promise conscientiously to his noble Friend that in the next year, or any future year, he could repeal this duty; for this plain reason, that, forming the most sanguine estimate of the resources of the revenue, he still felt there were other objects of legislation beneficial to the attorneys and solicitors, in common with the rest of the community, far preferable to this, and far more imperative than this, in the claims they made on the Chancellor of the Exchequer and that House. He therefore could give no pledge as to the future, because he saw a long array of claims coming in for the repeal of taxes—claims of a far higher nature than could be urged in favour of the present object. Now, with regard to revenue considerations, he would state a few words to the House. On the 18th of April, having stated to the House the changes which the Government were prepared to propose with reference to their fiscal legislation, he calculated that the result of those changes would be to leave them with a surplus of 495,000l. Since that time various changes had taken place, ant he was able to speak more positively on subjects scarcely then ripe for a conclusion, and the result had tended materially to alter the statement he had made. His noble Friend must not found his calculations upon the last quarter's revenue. The returns for the last quarter were swelled adventitiously and accidentally by a variety of causes, which he could easily point out; and he would say, looking at the present state of the country, enlarging on that view of it, and the prospect of the harvest, that if he were to go now into his department, and ask them to give him a new estimate of the revenue for 1853–4, they would not be able to give him, to say the least, a more favourable estimate than that which he laid laid before the House in April. As to the surplus he then calculated upon, it would be necessary to make one or two statements. In one item, that of the militia, there would be a gain, the expenditure un- der that head being 52,000l. less than was anticipated. The packet contract, however, would exceed the estimate by 35,000l. Then there was a sum of 56,000l. which he expected to have got from the Channel Islands harbours, but which it would not be possible to save during the present year. There was 100,000l., the probable result of the financial measures that had been taken—a sum which would be realised as a permanent saving to the country from the contracted amount of Exchequer bills, but which would not be available for the balance of the present year. There was likewise 110,000l., which he had calculated on receiving from licences; but this item was so cut down by deductions which he had found it necessary to make in order to satisfy the fair claims of parties who had made representations to him, that it was deemed better not to insist on that part of the scheme. Here was 301,000l. out of the surplus disposed of, and that left, after giving credit for the sum saved from the militia, the amount of 250,000l. Then a sum of from 150,000l. to 200,000l. would be required to meet certain charges that it would be his duty to present to the House in a supplementary estimate; so that all they had left of the surplus would be from 50,000l. to 100,000l. There was a demand made for the repeal of the advertisement duty, amounting to 80,000l., and of the attorneys' certificate duty, also amounting to 80,000l.; but if both of these duties were to be repealed, they would have to carry on the operations of the financial year, not with a surplus, but with a deficit. Something had been said about a tacit understanding with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright). Whatever understanding there had been on this subject was not tacit but outspoken; and whatever had proceeded from him, directly or indirectly, to the hon. Member for Manchester in regard to the relation between these two questions of the attorneys' and advertisement duty, was no more than had likewise proceeded from him directly to the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex one or two days ago, when the noble Lord called upon him, when he pointed out that in regard to the national accounts there was a very close relation between the two questions. They were asked to repeal two sets of duties amounting to 160,000l., and it was acknowledged that if they did so they would start, not with a surplus, but with a deficit. Now, the Government thought the prudent course would be to make neither of these reductions, and on their part he had submitted a plan to the consideration of the house. He would not speak now of the chance division taken on the advertisement duty at a late hour in the evening; but he would admit that those divisions did indicate to his mind, and to those of his colleagues, a strong feeling and desire on the part of the House that that duty should be repealed. The opinion of the Government was that it would have been more prudent not to repeal that duty. Their opinion was that they could not repeal both these duties, and they were not prepared to repeal both of them; but he had not the least hesitation in saying that if the question came to be between the one duty and the other, and if the House was disposed to press for the repeal of the advertisement duty in opposition to the views winch Government held as to what the interests of the revenue might require, and if they were called on to exercise a judgment on the question where they should take their stand, and where they should say they could not conscientiously accede to the propositions of the House, then their duty with regard to the tax on attorneys' certificates would be to declare that they were not prepared to accede to the repeal of that tax. They admitted that the House had shown a strong desire for the repeal of the advertisement duty. They placed the two questions before the House; and they frankly owned that if one of these duties were to be repealed, that one should not be the duty on attorneys' certificates. He had never said more than that. There had been no tacit understanding. He entirely declined to give any sort of pledge with reference to the future; but he had stated that, in the view of the Government, it would not be consistent with their duty to consent to the repeal of both these taxes. He would now leave the matter in the hands of the House, and express the hope that this subject was not to be made a tax in another form—a perpetual tax from year to year on the time of the House, but that it would receive some final and decisive expression of opinion, from which both the Government and the parties might have the opportunity of judging what course was to be taken, and that they might be able to apply themselves to business in future Sessions without the perpetual discussion of all the incidental accompaniments that attached to the subject of attorneys' certificates.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."

After a few words from Colonel SIBTHORP,


said, he was one of these who supported the repeal of the advertisement duty, and also the repeal of the duty on attorneys' certificates; but as he had to choose between the two duties, he could not hesitate to elect the repeal of the advertisement duty, which affected all classes of the community, believing that he should, by so doing, best discharge his duty to his constituents and the country.


was one of those who voted in the chance divisions on the Motion of the Member for Manchester, which had been alluded to; but he had not spoken on the question of the repeal of the advertisement duty, as it might have appeared that he was influenced by personal motives. If he was influenced by mere personal motives, he should now vote against the Motion of the noble Lord; but he should not do so, and he had stronger reasons than ever for taking that course since the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that the attorneys were bred up to pay this tax. But, at least, they were not bred up to pay the income tax. The recent law reforms had cut down their business and their profits, and they were, therefore, more entitled to this indulgence than before.

Question put, "That the word now ' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 102; Noes 186: Majority 84.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second Reading put off for three months.