HC Deb 31 March 1860 vol 157 cc1701-8

Order for Third Reading read.

THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER moved the Third Reading of the Stamp Duties Bill.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."


I wish, Sir, to draw your attention to a question which arises on the proceedings connected with this Bill in relation to the forms of the House, which I think it important should not be overlooked. I would ask whether there is not an irregularity in the Bill which strikes at one of the most important privileges of this House. We know very well that no tax can be imposed on the subject unless founded on Resolutions of the whole House in Committee. One tax proposed by this Bill is on contracts for the sale of stock. Now, there was a Resolution of the House in Committee upon that subject, but that was a Resolution to this effect,—that, provided the Act which is called Sir John Barnard's Act be repealed, there should be imposed on contracts for the sale of stock a certain duty. That Resolution having passed a Committee of the whole House, involving a condition precedent—namely, the repeal of Sir John Barnard's Act—a Bill was introduced containing a clause proposing to repeal the Act; and by the same Bill it was proposed to impose the duty on contracts for the sale of stock. We had last night a discussion on that clause, the result of which was that it has been withdrawn, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given notice of the introduction of a Bill to repeal Sir John Barnard's Act. The matter, therefore, stands thus:—That Bill has not yet been introduced; Sir John Barnard's Act has not been repealed. The course that Parliament may take with respect to the repeal cannot be certainly known, and in this Bill, which imposes a stamp on contracts for the sale of stock, there is no condition precedent; it is a positive imposition of a stamp duty on all persons who deal in stock, the condition precedent not having been complied with. The question I would submit to you, Sir, with great respect, is this, whether the Bill, so far as it proposes to impose a tax on the sale of stock, is warranted by the Resolution of the House, I respectfully submit that it is not. I contend that until Sir John Barnard's Act be repealed it is not competent to the House, under this Resolution, to impose a tax upon these contract notes; and I therefore submit that the proper course for the Government to pursue is to strike out of this Bill the words which refer to contracts for the sale of stock, and to deal with that subject hereafter either in another Bill or in that by which it is proposed to repeal Sir John Barnard's Act. If that Act be repealed the Resolution of the House will warrant the imposition of this tax.


On referring to the Resolution I find that it was a provisional and conditional one. The terms are, "Provided that the Act passed in the seventh year of the reign of King George H. shall be repealed," and so on.


said, he wished to know whether a stamped form would be provided for certified extracts from the registers of baptisms, marriages, and burials.


The Commissioners of Inland Revenue will be required to provide both impressed and adhesive stamps for such documents; but I am not aware that we have any power to compel the use of a particular form of words. I am much obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir H. Cairns), who is, I think, quite correct in his statement, that a condition was inserted in the Resolution which, owing to the omissission of the clause repealing Sir J. Barnard's Act, is not now followed in the Bill. When we last night came to the conclusion that, in deference to the privileges of the House of Lords, it would be better to deal separately with the subject of that clause, I did not observe that an Amendment would consequently be required in the schedule. The hon. and learned Gentleman has pointed out that necessity at the most seasonable time, and I shall propose to withdraw the Motion for the third reading of the Bill, and to recommit it, in order to insert in the schedule words which will affix to the imposition of the tax the same condition as was originally specified in the Resolution. [Sir H. CAIRNS: Contingent taxation! You can't do that.] I do not know that. It appears to me to be clearly within the powers of the House, and I am not prepared to admit that a tax which is to accrue upon a certain contingency is a novelty in any sense. I shall, therefore, propose to go through the necessary form of recommitting the Bill, with the view—if that, Sir, meet your approval as a matter of order—of bringing the schedule into exact conformity with the Resolution.


As to the matter of form, there have been many occasions upon which a similar course has been pursued. The order must he discharged, and the Bill be recommitted. As to the matter of substance, it does not come within my province to give any decision.


said, he would then move that the Order for the third reading of the Bill should be discharged.

Motion by leave withdrawn.


said, he hoped that if the Bill had to be recommitted it would be reprinted. Amendments of an important character had, as he believed, been introduced which it was very desirable that the House should see; and as it would occasion no delay, he trusted the Chancellor of the Exchequer would, accede to his suggestion.


This is not a mere matter of form, because the principle of contingent taxation is a most important one. I am not at this moment prepared; to say that there may not be precedents for its adoption, but at the same time I have not them at hand. Taxation is always founded upon an estimate submitted by the Minister for the service of the year, and all propositions for taxation bear a relation to that estimate. Any departure from this salutary course may seriously affect the financial system of the country. If the principle of contingent taxation be admitted, we may find that our expenditure and our revenue do not balance. This is therefore not a matter of form merely, but involves a most important principle. I assume, as a matter of course, that we shall not be asked to go into Committee on the Bill to-day. Even as a matter of form, notice of the recommittal would be required; but, as a principle of great importance is involved, I take it for granted that time will be given to us to make ourselves thoroughly acquainted with the subject, so that we may bring to the Committee the result of the reflection and information which are so necessary.


I cannot understand the importance which has been given to this matter by the speeches of hon. Members opposite. There is no question of contingent taxation at issue. All that will be proposed to the House will be to adapt the schedule to the language of the Resolution. If any objection attaches to contingent taxation, it is one which applies to your own Resolution. Your own Resolution is framed in these words, "Provided the restrictions on dealings in the public funds" contained in a certain Act shall be repealed then "for and upon every note," there shall be a certain stamp. We propose now to put into the schedule precisely the same words as were adopted in the Resolution of the House,—"that, provided the restrictions in dealings in the public funds contained in the Act of so-and-so shall be repealed by any Act passed in the present Session, then from and after such repeal these duties shall attach." Therefore there is not the smallest objection in point of principle, unless that objection be carried to the extent of affirming that your own Resolution was unconstitutional and improper.


No doubt the hon. and learned Attorney General has not the least objection to that which is proposed, but there is a graver question— whether there is not an objection to it founded upon the forms of the House. I venture to say that the objection does not apply to the Resolution. A Resolution is n its nature temporary and provisional, merely to stand until a Bill is brought in and passed, and therefore the object of this Resolution being framed as it is, is to show that it is intended to introduce the Bill which is referred to as a condition precedent before you introduce the Bill imposing the tax. That which the Resolution says in effect is this:—"Let there be a Bill passed in this Session repealing Sir John Barnard's Act, and then let a Bill be brought in and passed which will impose a tax upon contract notes; and I venture to think that no precedent will be found in which a Bill has passed this House imposing a tax not directly and absolutely, but upon a certain contingency, which is a speculative contingency that Parliament will do something else by some other Bill. If there be such a precedent there may be no reason why we should not follow it, but if there be not, it would be a most inconvenient and irregular practice to introduce upon the present occasion, and one about which there will be a great deal to be said. I understand that the Motion for the recommitment of the Bill cannot be made until a future day. When we see the words which it is proposed to insert in the schedule, and the precedents which the Government, if it can find them, will then bring forward, will be the time to consider the proposition. In the meantime, I apprehend that the House would not think it advisable, without notice and without precedent, to adopt such a proposal at once.


The hon. and learned Gentleman is mistaken when he alleges that a Resolution relating to the imposition of duties is in all cases a merely temporary arrangement and provision, lasting only until a Bill is brought in. In the case both of Customs and Excise the duties are levied immediately upon the Resolution being passed. I contend that when you agreed to the Resolution in this instance you affirmed the principle of contingent taxation, if you choose so to describe it. The objections ought to have been taken at that time. I am informed that if the course which has been suggested by my right hon. Friend is not adopted, it will prolong the sitting of the other House of Parliament, and will lead to much inconvenience. I cannot see that this is anything more than a technical objection, to which an importance has been given which it does not deserve, and I hope that there will be no further opposition to the course proposed by my right hon. Friend.


said, he considered that the House had very imprudently agreed to the Resolution on the subject of the Stamp Duty on contract notes. The difficulty which had arisen was an instance of the evils resulting from this hurried manner of transacting the public business. The condition precedent, namely, the repeal of Sir John's Barnard's Act, had not taken place; and it was clear that the Resolution would not justify the passing of the Bill as at present framed. He hoped that the Government would accede to the suggestion which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) for reprinting the Bill with the Amendments. The present Bill contained so large a number of Amendments that its own parents would not know it. Many of these Amendments had been introduced by the Secretary of the Treasury at a late hour, without any explanation whatever, and it was most important that the House should be fully aware of their nature. The provisions of the Bill were such as to tend to fetter every transaction of commerce, and it was most unfair and unjust that the House should be called upon to pass it without knowing the nature of the Amendments which had been introduced.


stated that great interest was felt with respect to the Bill by the commercial world, and expressed a hope that the Bill would be reprinted before passing through its final stage.


said, that the Amendments which had been referred to as having been introduced late on the previous evening were only three in number, and were intended to meet objections which had been raised principally by the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone. These Amendments were of a purely technical nature, and did not affect the general operation of the Bill. The importance of passing the measure that day arose from the circumstance that the revenue to be derived under it would amount to about £1,000 a day, and thus if its becoming law were delayed until after Easter, the country would lose about £14,000.


said, be hoped that the proposal to reprint the Bill with the Amendments would be acceded to. It was a measure which concerned much the mining and the banking interests, and interfered with the transactions of all the commercial classes of the country. The objection urged against reprinting the Bill was that the delay would cause a loss of £1,000 a day to the revenue, and if not passed before the Easter recess the total loss would not be less than £14,000. But he contended that the gain of this sum would be but a poor compensation for the litigation and annoyance which might arise from passing a Bill in an incomplete or ill-considered form.


Sir, I do not accede to the doctrine of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Hugh Cairns) opposite, but, as no serious loss to the revenue will be involved, I am prepared to meet his objection by withdrawing from the Bill the part of the schedule which refers to contract notes. [Sir H. Cairns: That is what I suggested.] I did not understand that. Well, then, I will omit from the schedule the words relating to contract notes, and leave the whole question to be dealt with in a subsequent measure. With regard to the reprinting of the Bill, I may observe that the Amendments which have been made have been principally designed to remove from the Bill certain words with respect to which it was suggested that difficulties might arise. There is but a single case in which new words have been inserted in the clauses, and these simply refer to the mode of cancelling stamps on the various documents, and involve no extensive or general change in the terms of the Bill. The effect of the words introduced is to provide for cancelling stamps, by impressing as well as by writing upon them, and this alteration has been made in accordance with the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone. If the Bill is required to be reprinted, it will cause delay and consequent loss to the revenue, and I therefore hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire will not insist upon seeing the Amendments in print before the Bill passes.


said, that when he had suggested that the Bill should be reprinted he understood that it was to be recommitted on a future day, and that therefore its printing would cause no delay. As that course was not to be adopted, his observations did not apply.


complained that considerable inconvenience was frequently occasioned by communications be- ing made to the Chairman by Members of the Government in so low a tone that they did not reach the ears of the Members of the House.


The course which the Government proposes to take is this:—We propose, in conformity with precedent, to re-commit the Bill at once, in Committee to strike out the part of the schedule relating to contract notes, to report immediately to the House, to read the Bill a third time, and to pass it. That is a course which is sanctioned by precedent.


inquired whether the omission of contract notes from the operation of the Bill would affect the revenue.


Only to a limited extent.

Order for Third Reading discharged.

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee; Bill recommitted with regard to the Schedule; Considered in Committee.

House resumed; Bill reported; as amended, considered; read 3° and passed.