§ Order for Third Reading read.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. A. Pellatt) had on a previous evening, in making some remarks upon the pressure of the income tax on persons of small income, mentioned a case in which he thought the Commissioners of Inland Revenue had acted with some harshness. As these very meritorious functionaries had very delicate, difficult, and not very popular duties to discharge, he hoped the House would listen to an explanation which he had received from Mr. Pressley, the Chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue, and which he would read. That statement was as follows:—On the 4th of February last Mrs. Smith attended at this office, and stated that a levy had been made upon her goods for £1 1s. due from her late husband for income tax. She represented herself to be in great distress, and, without waiting even for a report of the facts from the surveyor of the district, I gave a written direction to that officer that the levy should be immediately withdrawn without any expense to the party. To avoid any delay, this order was delivered into Mrs. Smith's own hands, with directions to carry it immediately to the surveyor of the district, and 1s. was given to her to pay her omnibus fare. The order was accordingly delivered to the surveyor, and he on the same day (the 4th of February) reported to me that he had instructed the collector to withdraw the levy; and it appears from Mrs. Smith's own letter to Mr. Apsley Pellatt, dated the 12th of February, that this was done. The surveyor, in his report on the case, stated that he believed the levy had been made with a view to the broker's own profit, and that he would take care and make a fitting representation of the facts to the Commissioners of the district. I may mention that the arrear in question arose from a return of profits made by the husband of Mrs. Smith before he died as a dealer in hats; and, as he held the situation of a letter sorter in the General Post Office up to the time of his death, at a salary of £90 a year, making, with profits of trade, upwards of £100 a year, the arrear was clearly due from him. At the same 2273 time, having died, leaving his widow in great distress, we should, upon a representation of the facts, have abstained from enforcing the tax, and we did all we could do the very moment the case was brought before us. The woman's complaint is that she was put to some expense for the man's keep while in possession. I have taken the necessary steps for ascertaining this amount, and will do my best to compel the collector, under the circumstances, to reimburse Mrs. Smith. I may mention that the collector is not an officer of this department, but appointed by the District Commissioners. "CHARLES PRESSLY." "Inland Revenue Board, March 12.He thought that after that statement the House would be of opinion that no unnecessary severity had been exercised by the Commissioners of Inland Revenue; but that, on the contrary, when the circumstances were brought to their notice they behaved towards this unfortunate widow with great consideration. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the third reading of the Bill.
§ SIR GEORGE PECHELL
said that, having had to represent the circumstances of a case somewhat similar to this at Somerset House, he could bear testimony to the courteous, zealous, and kindly disposition of Mr. Pressly, who did honour to the Government under which he served. If his example were imitated by the Commissioners for the various counties who were not under his control, there would not be nearly so many complaints of the oppressive nature of the income tax. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer would devise some mode of controlling the behaviour of these Commissioners to the persons who appealed to them, many of whom were bundled out of the room without even being heard.
§ MR. WILKINSON
said, that no doubt Mrs. Smith deserved the consideration which she had received from the Board of Inland Revenue; but, from the fact of several letters in a lawyer's handwriting having been sent to him about her case, he was disposed to think that she had fallen into the hands of some person who wished to make capital out of her grievance.
§ MR. HEYWORTH
said, that in his opinion an income and property tax was the most just and least injurious to the best interests of the country that could be devised, and he was in favour of continuing it as an important branch of direct taxation. It was true that schedule D was objectionable, but it must be remembered 2274 that the portion of the tax raised under that schedule was only as £4,000,000 to to £16,000,000. Of those £4,000,000, £2,000,000 were taken from the profits of joint-stock companies, railways, &c., in the case of which there could be no deception and no inequality, while of the remaining £2,000,000, £1,000,000 was equally protected from those evils by being levied upon the incomes of various officers whose salaries were well ascertained and well known. Surely the Government could make such arrangements with regard to the remaining £1,000,000 as to render the tax acceptable to all parties. He would earnestly request the House not to lose sight of this important mode of taxation. He regretted that the war 9d. should have been taken off, because had it been continued they might have taken off £12,000,000 of indirect taxes, and thus have relieved our trade to an extent which would have made the whole country flourishing and prosperous. If it were objected that by the abolition of indirect taxes and the substitution of an income tax the working classes would escape all taxation, his reply was that we might continue the taxes upon spirits and tobacco, the duty upon which, amounting to £10,000,000 per annum, was paid principally by the working classes, and was quite a sufficient sum to be contributed to the revenue by that portion of the community.
§ MR. MUNTZ
wished to say, as it was just possible that that might be the last time he should have the honour of addressing the House, that he did not object to an income tax per se. On the contrary, he believed that such a tax, if well regulated, was the best that could be imposed. Anybody who thought this tax would be abolished, according to the plan of 1853, at the end of three years, was hugging a pleasant delusion that would be rudely dispelled; for when 1860 came round, if they had not previously re-adjusted the impost, they would have no alternative but either to re-enact it in its present most vexatious shape, or revert to the system of taxing the necessaries of life. There could be no difficulty in mending the tax and making it equitable, and even agreeable; and nothing could be more absurd than to fold their arms and say the thing was impossible. In Boston (United States) the system prevailed of assessing every man according to his means, and if the taxpayer objected to the amount placed against his 2275 name he was put upon his oath, and the income to which he positively swore was the one for which he was charged. That system entailed no difficulty, injustice, or dissatisfaction.
§ Bill read 3°, and passed.