HC Deb 19 May 1854 vol 133 cc626-32

Motion made, and Question proposed— That, towards raising the Supply granted to Her Majesty, there shall be charged and raised yearly, from and after the 5th day of April, 1854, in lieu of the Rates and Duties chargeable under the Act 16 & 17 Viet. c. 34, and of Rates and Duties granted in the present Session of Parliament, for and in respect of all property, profits, and gains, chargeable under the said Act, the Duty of one shilling and two pence for every twenty shillings of the annual value or amount of all such property, profits, and gains, respectively.


rose to move the Amendment of which he had given notice; upon which


said, he would appeal to the hon. Member whether he would press his Amendment in the absence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the then state of the House, and the pressing business which it was absolutely necessary should be gone through?


said, he would not do so if he saw any other opportunity than the present of bringing it forward; but he did not see how he could come before the House on such an Amendment except on the question of Ways and Means.


said, he really could not suggest to the hon. Member any other opportunity of bringing forward his Amendment; if, therefore, he was serious in his intention of pressing it forward, he had better go on with it now.


said, he considered his Amendment to be a means of raising a sum very little short of 2,000,000l., not by the imposition of any new tax, but by a just and equal levying of a tax upon the rich which was now imposed upon the rest of the community. He disclaimed having the remotest intention of throwing any impediment whatever in the way of the Chancellor of the Exchequer raising sufficient funds for carrying on the war with vigour, by which alone, in his opinion, it could be brought to a speedy termination. He entirely approved of the determination of the Government not to carry on the war by means of loans and the creation of debts, and not to follow the example of our forefathers in throwing the cost on their posterity. At the conclusion of the last war, the present generation had a legacy left them in the shape of a debt of upwards of 800,000,000l., and during forty years of peace little progress had been made in its reduction, for it now amounted to upwards of 780,000,000l. That was a sum he thought quite sufficient to bequeath to our posterity, who might in their day have to contend with Nicholases starting up in other countries, even more powerful than the Autocrat of Russia. Even if the exigencies of the war did not require additional taxation, this proposition ought to be adopted as an act of common justice and common honesty. It was monstrous that aristocratic landowners, and the holders of real property, should escape a tax levied upon every other description of property. All property, with the exception of real property, from the value of 20l. to 1,000,000l. was subject to a probate duty of from 3 per cent to 1½ per cent. He stated the largest amount first, because the smaller amount yielded the most revenue. Property of the value of 20l. paid 2½ per cent, and of a value above 80,000l. 1½ per cent. That was very unjust, but what was worse, 20l. invested, and not left by will, paid a duty of 50 per cent more than he had named, that was to say, 3¾ per cent. To show the hardship of the law, he would instance the case of a poor man dying, with 15l. invested in a savings bank, in which case the Government had the power to send a broker to his cottage to value every item of property, even wearing apparel, and if the whole amounted to 20l. to levy 2½ per cent in case of a will, or 3¾ per cent in case of no will, upon the surviving son or daughter, without even allowing the duty on the cost of the coffin and grave of the deceased person. Perhaps a still more forcible illustration of the injustice of the law was the case of the dukedom of Portland. The late Duke left behind him one of the largest estates in the country, and a vast amount of personal property. The present Duke, who inherited the estates, by the Act of last Session paid a succession duty upon property amounting to the value of millions, of one-third of 1 per cent, or 6s. 8d. for every 100l. The personal property left to the other sons paid 1½ per cent probate, and 1 per cent legacy duty. Most probably the late Duke, who was a very humane, kind-hearted man, left legacies to his old and trusty servants, and they would have to pay at least 2½ per cent probate, and 10 per cent legacy duty. The junior branches of the family would have to pay seven times, and the servants thirty-seven times, more duty than the eldest son, who inherited the real property. There was not a single despot in all the Continent of Europe, and there were plenty of them, who would allow so unjust and unequal a law to exist. Such a law did exist in France before the Revolution, and the best commentators attributed the Revolution to such injustice as that having been left unremedied. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners appointed in 1832, recommended that probate should be taken out on all real property, and the present Lord Chancellor brought in a Bill, called the Testamentary Jurisdiction Bill, which had been lately sent down to that House, containing clauses to make real property take out probate. Nothing was said in the Bill about paying probate, but the clauses were quietly withdrawn for fear the payment of probate duty should be agitated upon them. With respect to the exemption of corporate properties from the succession duty, he considered the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not the least idea of the extent and amount of that description of property. The trading companies in London, which were in the nature of corporations, nearly every one of them possessed real property, varying in amount from 10,000l. to 50,000l. a year. He should like to know why that description of property should be exempted? It was said because corporations never die. But it was easy to ascertain the average life of man and make them pay on that average, either for a term of years or an annual sum. There were 180 corporations in England and Wales, all possessing real property, and some to a very large amount —to say nothing of corporations in Ireland and Scotland. Then again the real property of the Universities and colleges was enormous, and the lands, mines, and rectorial tithes belonging to bishops and chapters were extremely large. He did not propose to levy a tax upon the working clergy. What he proposed was, that real property should pay an equal portion of probate and legacy duties with personal property. In conclusion he had only one other suggestion to make; that the succession tax should be made payable in six months instead of by eight instalments, spreading over a period of four years and a half. This could not be called unjust, because every person who received a legacy was obliged, under heavy penalty, to pay the duty on it within twenty-one days.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the proposed Resolution, in order to add the words— before the country shall be subjected to additional taxation, Real Property shall be made to pay the same Probate Duty as is now payable on Personal Property, and that Corporate, Collegiate, and Ecclesiastical Property shall pay a Duty equivalent in amount to the Probate and Legacy Duties levied on other kinds of property," instead thereof.


said, he would not dispute with his hon. Friend the importance of the subject to which he had called the attention of the Committee. He did not, however, propose to follow him through the various arguments and facts which had been used to prove the injustice of the present law, but should very shortly ask the Committee to reject the Amendment on an entirely different ground. As he had said, he did not dispute the importance, and he did not dispute in any great degree the justice of the proposition, but he asked his hon. Friend to look at the practical effect of his Amendment. The Committee was asked to increase the income tax for the purposes of the war, and the hon. Gentleman said, "Before you do that, stop and decide all these knotty questions about probate duty or real property and succession duty on the property of cor- porations." If the hon. Gentleman could undertake to suspend the war, while the House of Commons made a just arrangement of those things, the proposal would be perfectly reasonable; but as the war could not be suspended and money must be had, and the House of Commons seemed disposed to supply money in this particular way, he imagined the hon. Member's Amendment was out of place. But in order to show that the proposal to attach probate duty to real property required some consideration, without going into any lengthened argument, he would remind his hon. Friend of what he must be well aware, that probate was a stamp duty, and that real property was subject to stamps, to which personal property was not subject. There were many modes in which real property was dealt with, where stamps were required, and modes analogous, in which personal property was dealt with, where stamps were not required; and if they made a balance between the amount of stamps used for the purpose of transferring real property and the amount of probate paid by personal property, it would, he thought, be very much against the former. He thought, for the reasons he had stated, they ought not to entertain the proposal at this particular time. With regard to the latter part of the Amendment—the extension of the succession duty to corporate property, he had the satisfaction to be able to announce that a Bill was actually in preparation for that purpose; and had it not been for the unforeseen difficulties in dealing with properties of that kind, it would now have been before the House, though he did not despair that it would be passed in the present Session. At the same time he did not pledge the Government to that. The Bill, however, was in preparation. The Government had fully carried out their promise, and he hoped, after those observations, the hon. Gentleman would not press his Motion, but allow the Committee to agree at once to the Resolution.


said, he was satisfied his hon. Friend the Member for Lambeth (Mr. W. Williams) had made out a strong case for the consideration of the Government, and he was very pleased to find, from the observations of the hon. Secretary to the Treasury, that they concurred in the injustice and inequality of the tax. He trusted the Government would before long bring forward a measure to place real property precisely on the same footing as personal property, and he said that because, having all his property in land, he wished to bear a fair proportion of taxation with his fellow-countrymen. He recommended his hon. Friend to withdraw his Amendment on the present occasion, and he was persuaded when he again brought it forward it would receive the hearty and earnest support of every Liberal Member.


said, he thought the time had been very happily chosen for bringing forward this subject. They were now at war, and having to submit to increased taxation, the opportunity should be taken to impose taxes which would equalise and render just existing burdens. Nothing would more damp the natural desire to prosecute the war with vigour than for the people to think that large sums were taken from one portion of the community, whilst another portion escaped a similar impost. The Secretary of the Treasury had to a certain extent admitted the justice of the former part of the Amendment, and candidly avowed that a Bill was in preparation with respect to the latter. He was glad to hear it, for he thought nothing was more fair than that ecclesiastical corporations should pay on their property like every one else. They were the only portion of the community, with the exception of the Quakers, who did not go forth to fight. They sat at home enjoying their property, exempt from personal risk and danger, and they were the last persons who ought to object to contribute their quota to a just and necessary war. He was glad the hon. Member had persisted in the Motion, because, much as he admired the noble Lord (Lord John Russell), and anxious as he was, when consistent with his duty, to follow him, he saw that measure after measure was thrown after the Reform Bill into chaos, and they did not know where to find them.


said, he thought that, after what had fallen from the Secretary to the Treasury, it would be better to withdraw the Amendment.


said, he looked upon the injustice of the tax to be so great as to call for an immediate remedy.


said, he re-echoed the sentiment of hon. gentlemen opposite that all classes should be equally taxed. If an account were gone into of the taxes to which real and personal property were subjected, he thought that, the land tax, stamp duties, and tithes being taken into consideration, real property would not come badly out of the comparison.


said, he would not press the Amendment to a division, feeling convinced from the conduct of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that his sense of duty would induce him to take up the question.


said, he must express his surprise that those who had assented to the war should have offered opposition to the means proposed for raising the funds by which alone that war could be carried on. He considered the objections offered to the increase of the malt tax to be altogether untenable, and dissented from the opinions which had been expressed by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Spooner) that money should have been raised by a loan. He would refer to the enormous additions which had been made to the national debt for the purpose of carrying on the last war, and to the fact brought forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his recent financial statement, that for nearly one-third of the whole amount of that debt the country had received no value. Instead of resorting to fresh loans, he would recommend them, when money could again be had at 2 per cent, to create terminable annuities, and in that way to get rid of a portion of their permanent debt every year.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the proposed Resolution," put, and agreed to.

Resolved— 4. That, towards raising the Supply granted to Her Majesty, there shall be charged and raised yearly, from and after the 5th day of April, 1854, in lieu of the Rates and Duties chargeable under the Act 16 & 17 Vic., c. 34, and of Rates and Duties granted in the present Session of Parliament, for and in respect of all property, profits, and gains, chargeable under the said Act, the Duty of one shilling and two pence for every twenty shillings of the annual value or amount of all such property, profits, and gains, respectively.