HC Deb 05 March 1857 vol 144 cc1938-41

said, that having given some attention to the condition of the land tax in Great Britain, he had been induced to bring the subject before the consideration of the House, and in the few remarks that he was about to make, he trusted it would be in his power to show that this tax was unfair, partial and unjust in its operation by the manner in which it was levied. There was a tax in France which resembled the land tax here, but in France that tax was levied with perfect impartiality. After referring to the origin of the land tax in former ages, he came down to the reigns of William and Mary, about 180 years ago, when an Act was passed establishing the land tax at 4d. in the £1 on land, and 1s. on personal property, &c. In Belgium, 15,000,000f. are raised annually. For the purpose of carrying this out, a certain valuation was made and a rate established by the Commissioners of that day on the various districts throughout the kingdom, and this system continued until the year 1798. At that period Mr. Pitt, the Prime Minister, being hard pressed for money, and being desirous of lessening the National Debt, devised a scheme to allow the redemption of the land tax by the proprietors of land at a certain rate, which money was to be laid out in the purchase of 3 per cent stock, the funds being then between 50 and 60 per cent. For the purpose of effecting this operation, there was a necessity to make the land tax perpetual, and in place of making a fresh rate on the district valued by the Commissioners 180 years ago, the Act of Mr. Pitt took merely that of William and Mary, and this oversight appeared to have occasioned all the injustice and anomaly now existing in the collection of this tax. It must be evident, that if a certain parish or district was rated at a given sum for land tax—say £100—and that district became populous and wealthy, the payment of this £100 by individuals would be less in proportion as their number and wealth extended, and also the reverse would take place, that was, if a district became poor and the number of inhabitants diminished, the payment of the tax by each individual would be greater. He (Mr. Mackinnon) would show by facts that this was the case. In the Committee of 1833, and that of three years later, on Agricultural Distress, over which the right hon. Gentleman, the present Speaker, so ably presided, two witnesses were examined, Mr. John Wood, the Chairman of the Inland Revenue, and Mr. Garnett, the Secretary of the Commissioners of the Land Tax. The evidence of Mr. Wood was to the effect that some steps ought to be taken in reference to the land tax, as being unfair and partial in its collection, and the evidence of Mr. Garnett, in answer to a question put by the Chairman, was a full statement of the several districts in England where the land tax was collected, the amount paid, and the sum in the pound paid in each. From this statement it appeared, that in the great metropolis, taking the parish of St. Clement's and St. Mary's in the Strand, 3s. 2d. was paid; in St. Paul's, Covent Garden, 3s.; in the wealthy parish of Marylebone, one farthing in the £1; in Manchester, and Preston, and Salford, half a farthing in the £1; in Brighton, half a farthing in the £1; in Rye, 3s. 2d. in the £1; in short, the result of this tax was, that in a wealthy district it amounted to nearly nothing in the £1; and in a poor district to 15 or 16 per cent, which was the very reverse of all equitable taxation. He would mention one more instance of injustice. The assessment for the parish of Hicklesham, a small parish in Suffolk, amounted to £189 4s. 6d.; what was the assessment for the whole town of Liverpool? From Millon's Land Tax Report, the entire assessment is only £99, so that this little miserable parish of Hicklesham paid double the amount of land tax that was paid by the town of Liverpool, where the land tax rate was stated to be half a farthing in the £1. By these facts, the injustice of the land tax was proved. Then as to the manner in which this tax was collected. It appeared that the land tax was deducted when the income tax was paid, by which the country lost the amount of about £33,000. When the tax was collected in any district, wherever there was any sum received by the collector above the rate, but under £5, that fraction of £5 went into the collector's pocket. Assuming there was 15,000 districts in England where the poor-rate was levied, and the fraction under £5, to be only £1 6s. 8d., the loss to the revenue would be £20. Perhaps it was not necessary there to remark, that if the whole of the land tax was allowed to be redeemed at, say 4 per cent, or twenty-five years' purchase, the sum of £28,300,000 would be obtained easily, and might be made applicable either to the reduction of the National Debt or to the diminution of taxation. However, that was rather a question to be before a Committee than before that House. In asking the House to give him a Committee on the subject, he thought no harm could possibly accrue that the evidence of men well acquainted with this impost might be obtained, and by these means the anomalies and injustice of this impost might be made apparent, and also the best mode of correcting these evils, that might prove of some service to the Chancellor of the day. At present the state of the land tax resembled a field covered with weeds and rubbish; the Committee might clear away those weeds and rubbish, and prepare an open field on which the Chancellor of the Exchequer might exercise his talents and ingenuity.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That a Select Committee be appointed, to consider the expediency of allowing a further redemption of land tax, and also whether by any other means this tax might be made more beneficial to the revenue of the country, and to the reduction of the National Debt.


said, he thought the hon. Member, in seeking a further redemption of the land tax, had undertaken a more difficult task than he was perhaps aware of. But, at all events, after the announcement made earlier in the evening respecting the present state of public affairs, little benefit could be derived from now agreeing to this Motion. If the hon. Gentleman had any facts or arguments to bring forward on the subject, he was sure the House would be happy to hear him; but he thought it would be difficult to get a Committee to act just now. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had to attend the sittings of the Bank Charter Committee and Other important inquiries, and the time of his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury was equally occupied. Moreover, under the circumstances of the Session, an investigation like the one now proposed could hardly be prosecuted with advantage, and he begged therefore to suggest that the hon. Member should postpone his proposition to a more favourable occasion.


said, he quite concurred with what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the hon. Gentleman who brought forward the Motion could not expect any great success from a Committee in the present moribund state of the House. At the same time he was very glad the hon. Gentleman had brought forward the subject, for it was one of very great importance, and he hoped that at some future time it would be again brought under the consideration of the House.


said, he felt satisfied of the justice of the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he should not then press his Motion further.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Notice taken, that Forty Members were not present; House counted; and Forty Members not being present, the House was adjourned at a Quarter after Eight o'clock.