§ MR. H. B. SHERIDAN
begged to move for leave to introduce a Bill to reduce the duty on Fire Insurance. He intended to confine himself to a simple statement involving the leading arguments on the question, and rely on them for the support of his Motion. The proposal he now had to make differed materially from those which he had had the honour of submitting on former occasions. He now proposed to reduce the duty from 3s. to 2s., and at the expiration of five years to reduce the duty another shilling, so that ultimately 2s. would be taken off the 3s. duty now chargeable on Fire Insurance. The duty at present collected was in round numbers £1,500,000. His proposition would affect only premiums below 6s. per cent. He calculated that insurances above 6s. per cent amounted to one-third of the sum at present received—namely £500,000. He had to deal then with the remaining £1,000,000, on which the reduction of 1s. from the 3s. duty would be one-third of a million, or £330,000. Supposing that proposition adopted, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have in his hands the whole of the present revenue except 382 £330,000. In addition to that sum he would have a certain amount which would represent the annual increase which took ! place in the tax. In 1859 the revenue received was £1,300,000, and in 1860 it: was £1,500,000, showing an increase of £200,000. The duty must increase with the increase of the national property. The increase derivable from that source might be fairly estimated at £100,000. The relaxation of the duty would also let loose a large amount of insurance which did not now find its way to insurance offices. This mightbeestimatedat£50,000. There would thus be £150,000 to be deducted from the: estimated loss of £330,000 of the present revenue. Taking these figures as the basis of his proposition, he calculated that the loss to the revenue the first year would be £180,000—no more; and if the £50,000 of increase on which he calculated should not accrue to the revenue, the loss would be £230,000. His second proposition was that on the expiration of five years a farther reduction of 1s. should take place. Now, if his calculations were worth anything—and if the returns made to the House could be relied on, they were entitled some consideration—in the course of five years the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have received £750,000 towards the deficiency which would then be made by the second reduction. But the House would have a better chance of understanding the character of the measure he now submitted if the right hon. Gentleman would permit the Bill to be introduced and printed, so that it might be fairly and quietly considered. This would be but a small concession, he thought, to the views: which had been expressed in so many petitions from all parts of the country. His argument was that the reductions would be made up. The duty was an increasing one, even under the present disadvantageous circumstances. He did not depend entirely upon his own opinion. This was the opinion of the fire insurance companies. He cited a passage from the journal of the Statistical Society, which set out in full the petitions of the fire insurance companies urging the reduction of the duty, and showing that the present high rates operated as a bounty to leave property uninsured. This was also the opinion of the merchants and others connected with the city of London who had petitioned the House on the subject. They stated that three-fifths of the property of the country was unprotected by insurance, chiefly 383 owing to the high. duty. Mr. Samuel Browne, the well-known actuary of the Guardian Office, was of the same opinion. Another eminent authority on the subject, Mr. Leone Levi, said that the present high rate of duty encouraged the practice of not insuring at all, and that that practice appeared to be gaining ground. The agents of insurance companies had promoted petitions against the duty, and he had a number of letters from agents, showing the result of the duty in preventing parties insuring. He had it on the authority of the agent of an extensive fire insurance office in Dublin, that many persons had actually agreed to effect insurances for large amounts, and lodged deposits, who, when they subsequently came to understand that besides the Is. stamp on each policy the Government exacted a duty of 3s. per. cent, a sum much exceeding the amount of the premiums themselves, preferred to forfeit their deposits to paying a rate of duty which they considered disproportionate and excessive. Instances of a similar nature were of daily occurrence, and many such could be found in support of his Motion. Many persons, owing to the present high rate of duty, became their own insurers, and formed a joint stock fund, out of which they were paid their losses. He might cite the petitions of numerous corporate bodies and chambers of commerce in all parts of the kingdom to show the excessive rate of the duty and its strong claims to reduction. The Times newspaper in an article published in 1860, had summed up the question in a very effective way, pointing out the discouragement given to prudence by this impost, and the other objectionable qualities which sufficed so thoroughly to condemn it. Mr. Newmarch, a very high authority, stated, as a proof of its injurious operation, that 80 per cent of the insurable property in the metropolis alone was uninsured. Mr. Porter, in his Progress of the Nation, spoke of its influence in checking the practice of insurance; and Mr. Risborough Sharman, in his pamphlets, bore similar testimony. In making his Motion last year he was met by the assertion that his calculations were merely speculative; but calculations supported by such evidence as he could adduce ceased to be speculative, and ought, to a certain extent, to command the confidence of the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer last year said that this measure was favoured by wealthy and powerfully or- 384 ganized companies. Now, the truth was the fire insurance companies had no direct interest in the remission of this duty; on the contrary, they had a direct interest in its retention, because they now received a large sum of money, amounting to between four and five per cent, upon the million and a half sterling per annum which they were the instruments of collecting for the public Exchequer. Their percentage, upon that million and a half Was sufficient to pay a very large proportion of their expenditure. The statement, therefore, that these companies had exhibited any great anxiety upon this subject was by no means correct. It was only last year that they began to petition for this change, and he was glad to find that they had renewed their petitions this year. That fact proved that they believed their business would be increased by the reduction of the duty in a ratio that would compensate them for the immediate loss upon their percentage. Unless the reduction of the duty was followed by such an increase of their business, they must suffer by the change; and if their business increased, the public Exchequer would also be repaid for its temporary sacrifice. A noble Lord on the Treasury bench last year asked how they knew, that if the tax were reduced, a great part of it would not go into the pockets of these companies? That noble Lord must have meant by that the companies would raise their premiums. But such an argument was too ridiculous to need serious refutation. Why, after the great fire in Tooley Street, when some of the leading insurance offices intimated an intention to raise their premiums on that class of risks, three or four new companies were immediately started, as if by magic, and four or five millions of money were subscribed with the greatest ease by the public. If such was the result of a mere threat on the part of the old companies to raise the rates of insurances, surely competition might equally be trusted to check any similar attempt consequent on the relaxation of this duty. The agents of the fire insurance companies, who were in the best position for judging as to the exact opinions of the people, had borne uniform testimony to the fact that many persons refused to insure their goods in consequence of the duty. He contended that there was a great probability of an increase in the receipts from the duty if it were reduced in amount. There were other grounds why this oppressive tax should be relaxed in its severity. 385 He had been told by some of his hon. Friends that he ought to have brought in his present Motion after the Budget. But test year, when he was asked by a Member of the Government to postpone a similar Motion until after the Budget, he was told when he brought it on that he was too late, and that the Government could not, at the request of an independent Member, alter their financial arrangements.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I did not ask the hon. Member who wished him to postpone his Motion, but what Member of the Government told him the Government could not alter their arrangements for an independent Member?
§ MR. H. B. SHERIDAN
said, he might be out of order in referring to that conversation. He had been urged by an hon. Member whom he believed to be connected with the Government to postpone his Motion until after the Budget, and he inferred that if he did so he should stand a better chance of success, but he found he took very little by his Motion. He did not wish the House to imagine that he was asking for the repeal of the whole tax. The sum by which the revenue would suffer was, indeed, so very small that the sale of a few old stores at Woolwich, or the refusal to alter some ship, would make up the amount, and the £250,000 would cease to be a deficiency in a few hours. What was this tax? If it were a property tax, why not levy it on all insurable property? Was it a tax on prudence? Was it right for a man to insure his property? If the Government replied in the affirmative, he asked "Why, then, do you punish him for the exercise of a virtue of which you approve?" One man insured his property and his next door neighbour did not. The Government fined the former, why, then, should they not also fine the latter? He might be told that there were other taxes equally oppressive, but he called upon those hon. Members who held that opinion to show him a single tax so false in its incidence, and so unjust and unequal in its operation. Suppose a rich man having £5,000 worth of property and insuring to the extent of £3,000. For that insurance he paid £4 10s. to the 386 Government and Is. for the stamp in excess of the sum charged by the fire office as an equivalent for the risk. Then, suppose five tradesmen who insured in five different offices £1,000 each. They paid 5s. for their policy stamps and £7 10s. for duty. But suppose two hundred workmen insuring for £30 each. They paid £10 stamp duty, where the rich man only paid 1s. in addition to the three per cent duty. The next case he would suppose would be that of an agriculturist, the tenant of the rich man. Did he pay £4 11s. like the rich man, or £7 15s. like the tradesmen, or £15 like the poor men? No, the Chancellor of the Exchequer told him—"We will charge you 1s. for insuring your £5,000, and that is only for your stamp." Why should not the Chancellor of the Exchequer place an ad valorem stamp on all policies of insurance instead of charging a uniform rate? He believed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would get the whole amount he now raised by a more equitable assessment of the duty. Last year the right hon. Gentleman asked upon what ground of justice, reason, or policy this tax was to be taken out of the category of other imposts. He would put it to the House whether it was just to tax one class and not another. The products of industry arising from commerce were as important as those arising from agriculture, and deserved equal consideration. It was not surprising that the country protested against this tax, especially when it was in the power of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to remedy the evil and at the same time to open fresh, sources of revenue that would speedily make up any deficiency that might temporarily ensue. It was not prudent to inflict a fine upon a man for making cautious provision against loss. As a question of policy the present state of the tax was not defensible. Property lost to an individual was lost to the State; and if property was allowed to be destroyed without being replaced, it diminished the sources of national revenue, which were collected mainly upon the security of that property. He thought he had shown that upon the grounds of justice, of reason, and of policy, this tax ought to be removed, and certainly that it ought, at least, to be modified. The question was, however, met by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as one of expediency, and the reply was always "Wait until we have a surplus." There had been a sur- 387 plus on many occasions since 1815, when the tax was last increased, but no reduction had ever been made. No hope even of reduction had been held out, and the only chance was the exercise of a little gentle pressure upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which he hoped the House would be willing to exercise upon the present occasion. He would conclude by moving for leave to introduce a Bill to reduce the duty on fire insurances.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I was in hopes that those hon. Members who intend to support the views of the hon. Gentleman would have taken an opportunity of stating their opinions, because it is obviously more convenient that the person whose duty it is to speak on behalf of the Government should hear what can be said by the advocates of a Motion which it is his duty to oppose. I must, therefore, come to the conclusion that hon. Gentlemen think that this subject has—in a great degree, I am bound to say, through the ingenuity, talent, and knowledge of the hon. Member—been exhausted in former years. I shall act upon that principle, but it would not be consistent with respect entirely to pass over the matter of the hon. Gentleman's speech. He began by asserting that the proper course for the Government to pursue was to allow his Bill to be introduced. I cannot admit that view, upon consideration either of precedent or of principle. I am not aware of any instance in which the Government has been a voluntary party to the introduction of a Bill affecting taxation unless it was prepared to assent to the mode of dealing with taxation which it proposed. I hope the House will meet this proposition at once, not only because such a course will be in accordance with precedent, but also because of the obvious mischief that would arise from the Parliament and the Government playing with questions of taxation, and admitting a preliminary step which they are not prepared to follow to its consequences. We should not allow expectations to be raised and hopes to be flattered out of doors with the conviction on our minds that these hopes and expectations must ultimately be disappointed. The hon. Gentleman says he is now proposing a gross reduction of £330,000. I demur to that proposition, as I do not think the reduction would be so small. He next says, that inasmuch as 388 the fire insurance duty is increasing at the rate of £100,000 a year he is entitled to deduct that £100,000 a year from the gross loss, which would thus be reduced to £230,000. Again I demur to his proposition. Having to make the financial statement on Thursday, it has been my duty to receive estimates of the revenue for the coming year, and whatever they are we have taken credit on them for the increase that may fairly be expected from the insurance duties. Upon what principle does the hon. Gentleman venture in this cavalier method to appraise facts connected with revenue, and to assume an increase from year to year of £100,000 on these duties? I have a table of the produce of the duty for the last fourteen years.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
The hon. Gentleman has given me no reference to documents to enable me to test his assertions.
§ MR. H. B. SHERIDAN
I said the duty in 1859 was £1,300,000, and in 1861, £1,500,000, or thereabouts.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
But the hon. Gentleman gives me no means of reference to verify his facts. There are considerable variations in the amount of these duties, and you cannot argue from a particular year that the increase on that year will continue in the following and all future years. As I have said, I have had no opportunity of testing the hon. Gentleman's figures. But in an account extending from 1842 to 1856–1842 being the year from which dates the great spring of this country in wealth and prosperity—I find that during those fourteen years, instead of an annual increment of £100,000 a year, the increase of the duty is only £25,000 a year, and the hon. Member, therefore, ought only to deduct that amount instead of £100,000. However, whether the effect of the hon. Gentleman's Motion is to take away £300,000 or £500,000 from the Exchequer, my conclusion must be the same. He refers to data said to have been before supplied as to the value of the property which, in his glowing pictures, he believes will all be insured against fire if the duty is only reduced. But he is entirely wrong in assuming that those data are unquestioned. One of his allegations was, that there are 22,000,000 tons of shipping in this country, valued at £13 a ton, and in that way he made out a sum of close upon 389 £300,000,000, which also formed a part of his brilliant prospect. But I find that that fact was questioned by me on a previous occasion, and I then pointed out that, instead of 22,000,000 tons of shipping, we have not in this country, according to official returns, more than 4,600,000 tons. The hon. Gentleman says there is an identity of interest between the Treasury and the fire insurance companies. That, I must confess, is an extraordinary statement. The fire insurance companies are interested in the premiums—the Treasury in the duty. Says the hon. Gentleman, "Reduce the duty, and then you will have a common interest." I say "No ! If you want an identity of interest, the companies must reduce the premiums in the same proportion as we reduce the duty." Then your argument becomes intelligible, and you may assert that there will be a recovery of the amount sacrificed in the one ease as in the other; but there can be no common interest when the companies run no risk, and the entire risk is run by the Treasury. I know that the companies will gain by an increase of business, and the Treasury by the consequent increase of duty; but the Treasury will only gain after having made an immense sacrifice, while the companies will gain without having made any sacrifice at all. The hon. Gentleman gives us a multitude of speculative opinions, and tells us of persons who he believes would insure if it were not for the high duty. Well, of course I am not denying that a reduction of the duty would bring about an increase of insurance. That is no disputable proposition. This is in the nature of an indirect tax upon consumption, and it is hardly possible to reduce such a tax without creating an increased consumption. But the whole question of prudence and policy depends, in the first place, upon the means which you have at your command, and in the second place upon the amount of reviving and recovering power which you will bring into play by reduction. Now, we have only the bare assertion of the hon. Gentleman as to this recuperative power; but our national debt, with its annual charge, our army and navy and other public services, have very ravenous appetites, and require to be fed with very solid food, and will not be satisfied with any dreamy speculations that the property assured will be multiplied three or four fold by the reduction now demanded. Let us, then, look about us for something like 390 facts and experimental evidence. The hon. Gentleman, referring to what he calls the unjust exemption of farming stock, advises us not to remove the exemption, but to abolish the tax. Now, I do not think it is easy to defend this exemption, upon its own merits; but it is surely a singular doctrine to urge that wherever, in the case of a tax contributing a large sum to the public necessities, there is some partial exemption which is not to be defended upon its merits, we should not remove the exemption, but abolish the tax. Upon that principle the assessed taxes would disappear at once, with I do not know how many other taxes, and such a course would be destructive to the credit of our finance. But this exemption, applied to farming stock, affords the most conclusive piece of evidence which we can bring to bear upon the present question. The hon. Gentleman assumes that there will be a large increase of insurance if the duty is reduced by 33 per cent. Well, we have the means of ascertaining pretty nearly what increase there would be if the duty were abolished altogether, and one scruple, one pennyweight of evidence of this nature, outweighs all the loose and irresponsible evidence of other kinds which can be swept together. In 1834 the value of farming stock insured was £37,250,000. The duty upon farming stock was then entirely abolished, and in 1856 the value insured had risen to £62,250,000, the increase in 22 years being 67 l.5th per cent. But the question is not whether there was an increase in the amount of property insured. The question is, how much faster it increased as compared with the property liable to duty. Now, in 1842, the property which remained liable to the full duty paid was £483,000,000, and in 1856 it was insured to the amount of £802,000,000 showing an increase during the same 22 years of 65 5–6ths per cent, so that there was only a difference of about 1½ per cent in the rate of increase between the two kinds of property, though in the case of farming stock there was not a paltry reduction of 33 per cent but the entire abolition of the duty. Now, I want the hon. Member, when next he brings forward this question, to dispose of this fact, instead of indulging in mere speculation. The hon. Gentleman is an excellent painter. Most taxes are odious things, and he has presented us with as repulsive a picture of this tax as the most skilful artist could have 391 drawn. "If it be right," he says, "to insure, why punish the insurer?" Then the doctrine of the hon. Gentleman is, that no tax ought to be raised except from the sins and crimes of the community; that none of the operations of life ought to be subjected to taxation if they are consonant with the dictates of prudence. This moving appeal may be made on everything subjected to taxation. Can anything be more proper than that the artisan should be able to purchase sugar for his family? Then why do you punish him by making him pay a duty on it? Why do you make him pay a duty of 12s. 8d., 13s. 10d., 16s., and 18s. 4d. per cwt. on his sugar, according to the quality? Why, this doctrine with regard to taxation is one of the most alarming ever proffered to the House; and I trust the hon. Gentleman, before he deals again with this explosive and inflammatory material, will consider to what length his doctrine is likely to be accepted, and what consequences it may produce. The hon. Gentleman says we give nothing whatever in return for the duty on fire insurances. I should like to know what we give in return for any tax or duty. With the exception of the postal service, we give nothing in return for any specific tax or duty but the general protection of the law and the institutions of civilized society. That is my answer to the hon. Gentleman when he says we do nothing in return for the duty on fire insurance. The hon. Gentleman is urgent on another subject. He complains of the manner in which he has been used, and is very likely to be used again, with regard to the time at which he has brought on his Motion. On this, too, he has appealed to the feeling of his auditory. In a former year, he says, he was applied to by a Member of the Government to put off his Motion, which he intended to bring on before the Budget was proposed. My feelings were so much moved that I was very desirous to know who this Member of the Government might be, that I might visit his conduct with marked disapproval. But my efforts have failed; that Member of the Government has "melted into thin air," and no trace of him is to be found. The fact is this—it is the duty of every Government, a duty always acted on, to object to any individual and isolated proposals for the repeal of taxes before the House has within its view the general state of the revenue 392 and charges of the country. That is a ruling principle, and one not in opposition to any popular principle, on the part of the Government; on the contrary, the popular principle of government, and the control of it by the House of Commons, depend on nothing so much as this—that it should narrow into a single measure the financial operations of the year. If the Government were asked continually to repeal this tax and that tax, the consequence would be that the House of Commons would never know what it was about, and would be unable to discharge its duty to the country. I say, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman is too soon with his Motion. On Thursday night, or within forty-eight hours, the hon. Gentleman will be wiser—at least, he will know more—I do not mean it in any other sense—of the state of the revenue than he does now. That is the reason the hon. Gentleman ought not to have brought on his Motion this evening. He says, that had he brought it forward after the Budget, he would have been told that he was too late. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it is not so. He says that no Government, and no Parliament, have thought proper to apply a surplus, even when there was a surplus, to the reduction of the duty on fire insurances. This may prove either that the Parliament or the Government were too stupid to perceive its necessity, or that cases for reduction of duty were made out still stronger than that of insurances. If the hon. Gentleman will take this into his consideration it may modify his enthusiasm for the reduction of this duty. But I will show that his assumption is not correct, that the door is shut for the repeal of a duty after the Budget is proposed. On a former occasion I opposed a Motion of the hon. Member for Ashton (Mr. Milner Gibson) for the abolition of the advertisement duty. I believe the hon. Gentleman beat us before the Budget was proposed; but after it was brought forward the House of Commons adhered to its opinion that it was a case on its own merits for abolition, and the Government was compelled to accept it. Why does not the hon. Gentleman do the same? Why does he insist on proceeding in the dark? Why does he ask us to commit ourselves at once in favour of this claim, in preference to all others, without waiting till the House is in possession of full information as to the state 393 of the revenue? The truth in, this question must be judged like all other questions of finance. The hon. Gentleman save I keep a very tight hold of the keys of the public chest, and that nothing but absolute necessity will make me relax my grasp. It is refreshing to hear such a charge made in this House, because too great a readiness to part with taxes has been the most frequent charge against me. But no one is justified in voting for the hon. Gentleman's Motion unless he is ready either to reduce this duty, whether the public income can afford the reduction or not, or to reduce it in preference to every other claim that may be advanced. A vote for the Motion means no less than an assertion of these two propositions. To both these propositions I wish to obtain from the House a negative. I must lay-down what appears to be an elementary truth in such a case. The first condition for the repeal of a duty is that there will be a surplus of revenue. I am sure I shall not be asked at this time of night to anticipate the statement that I must make before forty-eight hours have elapsed. Before we can treat the proposal of the hon. Gentleman fairly, it is essential that we should ascertain whether we shall have a surplus of income. Therefore, if the hon. Gentleman chooses to press his Motion before the Budget is produced, he compels me to record my negative to it. The second proposition is, that if there should be a surplus, the fire insurance duty has a claim for reduction in preference to all others. That seems to me a very grave matter—a question that it is not easy for the House to decide without having the whole case before it. Considering that in a time of peace we are maintaining some taxes more or less associated with war—I do not refer to any minor cases, of which some are very strong indeed, but speaking of the major cases—I do not think any prudent men will be disposed to tie their hands behind their backs by going into the lobby with the hon. Gentleman. The reduction or abolition of a tax is a very excellent thing; but it is useless to indulge in vague declarations of financial benevolence. Our means and our obligations must keep pace with each other, and we must give away nothing till we are sure we have got it to give away. And when we do give it away, we ought to take care that the first case, on its merits, is placed first in order, and that what is less urgent shall be made secondary. I therefore hope that 394 the House will divide against the hon. Gentleman's Motion.
§ MR. MALINS
said, the Motion of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. H. B. Sheridan) was only for leave to bring in a Bill, and nothing, he thought would be likely to occur between that evening and Thursday that could in the slightest degree prejudice the position of the right hon. Gentleman. He was so fully alive to the necessity of maintaining the public credit, that if the right hon. Gentleman could show on Thursday night that at present we could not afford to part with any of our revenue, he was sure that all who supported the repeal of the tax on fire, insurances would at once be ready to drop all further progress with the Bill for that year at least. The tax itself was so inexpedient, so enormous in amount, and so utterly opposed to all principles of true finance, that he was surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman hold out so little hope of its extinction. Proceeding on a principle, however, which the right hon. Gentleman had always been the first to uphold, he felt bound to support the Motion. If there was a principle which the right hon. Gentleman had inculcated more often than another, it was this—that reduction of taxation always led to increased consumption. When the House heard the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman, let them remember that he was the same Chancellor of the Exchequer who came down last year, and urged upon them the abolition of the paper duties. Did the right hon. Gentleman mean now to negative the principle he then laid down? The right hon. Gentleman then assured the House that carriages, draining pipes, and he (Mr. Malins) knew not what besides, would be made out of paper, merely because the duty was to be taken off. By what argument, then, could he justify a principle upon which the insurer paid 3s. to the Government for every insurance he effected, and the Government gave nothing in exchange? The right hon. Gentleman could hardly have been serious when he intimated that he wished the office and the Government should be joint parties in those transactions; for it would be impossible that they could go hand in hand while one of them incurred all the liability and the other merely pocketed a portion of the money. There was universal willingness to pay any amount of taxation which was necessary for the secure protection of the 395 country, but it ought to be so parcelled out that no particular class should be burdened more than another, and more particularly ought it so to be arranged as not to prevent acts of prudence like insurance. The right hon. Gentleman had argued with respect to postage, to newspapers, and to wines, that if they lowered the duty, they would increase the production; and even with respect to receipt Stamps he said, lower the stamp to a penny and the country will suffer no loss. He (Mr. Malins) believed that the right hon. Gentleman was right, for no man now evaded the stamp, and he, for one, always demanded a stamp, because he thought that every man should pay his quota to the revenue of the country. But was it not a notorious fact that the amount of the tax compelled many people to under-insure themselves. He could answer for himself, and he would ask the right hon. Gentleman, if he had then to propose a tax on fire insurance, whether he would have the hardihood to advocate a rate of 200 per cent? If that were true, why then was it unreasonable to propose that it should be given up? There was no desire to interfere with the arrangements of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the present year; all that was wished was to obtain a declaration from the House, as in the case of the paper duty, that the tax was one which at the earliest possible moment ought to be repealed or reduced. He hoped the House, by its vote, would give the right hon. Gentleman a lesson in taxation, and would teach him that he was not at liberty to run away from the principles which he professed when he had a favourite tax, like the paper duty, which for some political object he wished to repeal. He could not by any means agree with the right hon. Gentleman in the deduction, that because the agricultural fire insurances, on which the duty was reduced, had only increased 67 per cent, while the house insurances had increased 65 per cent, therefore reduction did not lead to an increase in insurances. Agricultural property had remained stationary; and if the insurances on it had increased 67 per cent, how much more than 65 per cent would the house insurances have increased if the duty had been reduced? He had hoped to hear the right hon. Gentleman hold out some hope of the abolition or reduction of the duty; but, as he had refused to do so, he hoped the House would take the matter into its own hands.
MR. THOMSON HANKBY
said, he thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer would find out by the division the fallacy of his assumption that because no hon. Member rose immediately after the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Sheridan), that therefore no one intended to support the proposition of the hon. Gentleman. There were a great many Members who agreed with the views of the hon. Gentleman, and they would, no doubt, support his Motion. At the same time he confessed that he was not prepared to say that under any circumstances he should vote for the second reading of the Bill, or that because he voted with the hon. Member to-night he should feel bound to do so. He concurred with many statesmen in the opinion, that if that was not the worst possible tax, it was a very objectionable tax, and that at the earliest moment it ought to be reduced. He did not admit the argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it was unjust in the same way as every other duty. Undoubtedly all taxes were objectionable, and it would be very desirable to live without any taxation. But that tax was not levied upon equitable principles. Mr. Newmarch, who was some authority upon the subject, estimated the value of the insurable property within six miles of London at £900,000,000. The representatives of £300,000,000 only insured; and they, being prudent people, paid the whole tax, while the representatives of the £600,000,000 went scot-free. If the tax were levied on the owners of the whole £900,000,000 of property, Is. per cent would yield the same amount of revenue, and all would bear their due proportion. For these reasons he should go into the lobby with the hon. Member.
§ MR. ROGERS
said, that the returns given in the most recent statistical abstract for the United Kingdom, showed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer's argument with regard to the insurance of agricultural produce was fallacious. The value of agricultural produce had been nearly stationary since the repeal of the fire insurance duty upon it. During the same time, however, judging by the exports of the country, all other insurable property had enormously increased, and therefore it was not a fair argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say, that as the agricultural produce insured, after it was freed from the duty, only increased 67 per cent, while during the same time the property that was taxed increased 65½ per 397 cent, therefore a reduction of the duty was not likely to produce an increased; amount of insurances. The extracts he would quote from the official document which he held in his hand were conclusive upon that point. In 1846 the quantity of corn sold in the markets of England and Wales was 5,958,963 quarters, while in 1860 the quantity was only 4,623,257. In 1846 the declared value of the total exports from the United Kingdom was £57,786,876, while in 1860 it had risen to £135,842,817, being an in crease of more than 100 per cent, the corn and farm produce having at the same time decreased. In the morning papers of this very day Members had seen the anticipated returns of the state of the revenue, which showed, that although there had been a large remission of taxes last year, the income of the country had not thereby suffered. Acting, therefore, upon his own principles, he thought the Chancelor of the Exchequer ought not to object to the moderate proposition of the lion, Member for Dudley.
§ MR. NORRIS
said, he would suggest that the question of the introduction of the Bill should be deferred till Thursday. There were in that House a number of Gentlemen who thought the hop duty a grievous burden; there were others in favour of the repeal of the duties on tea and sugar; and others again who sympathized with those who paid income-tax upon small and precarious incomes; and all these would vote against the hon. Member for Dudley if he pressed his Motion to a division that night. He submitted, therefore, that the Bill would have a better prospect of success if postponed till after the House was in possession of the financial propositions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, before the hon. Member replies, I wish to submit one or two observations to the House. The main argument that has been used in support of the Motion of my hon. Friend has been that this tax is objectionable. I should like any hon. Member to have the kindness to mention a tax to which some objection or other cannot be applied, such as that it is offensive to those who pay, that it is not sufficiently general in its scope, or that it applies to some particular article affecting some particular class of the community. No doubt it would be an exceedingly agreeable thing if the country could go on without taxation at all. If the array would be good enough 398 to serve without pay, if the Civil Departments could be carried on and justice administered without expense, and if ships' guns and the services of seamen were gratuitously given, it would, no doubt, be exceedingly convenient for those who have to pay taxes. But, unfortunately, such a happy relief is not possible in human affairs. The country requires certain arrangements for the protection of property, for the maintenance of our Constitution, for the administration of justice, and the preservation of social order; and the expense of those arrangements must be provided for by taxation. Every tax is open to some objection or other, but the nation must submit to imposts which are inconvenient in order to obtain the inestimable advantage of having the order of society properly maintained. There are many gentlemen who could show you other taxes which, in their opinion, are still more objectionable than the one under consideration, and if the House were to be polled on the question which is most worthy of repeal I doubt whether this particular tax would obtain a majority of the suffrages. But that is a question which may be decided at any time. My great objection to the Motion of the hon. Member relates to the time at which it is brought forward. I hold that it is a principle of our constitutional system that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as the organ of the Government of the day, should have left to him the discretion of proposing to Parliament those financial arrangements for the year which, upon full consideration, he deems best adapted to the public interest. It is for the House to deal with his plan as they think fit. If the House should think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposes too great a change one way or the other, it is, no doubt, competent, and has often been the case, for hon. Members to state their objections, and propose alterations in the arrangements which the right hon. Gentleman may suggest; but there can be nothing so inconvenient as, before the Budget is proposed, and when the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made his arrangements for the year, and is on the eve of submitting them to Parliament, for the House to pick out some particular tax for reduction without knowing to what degree they may by so doing totally disarrange the arrangements which the responsible Minister of the Crown may have intended to propose, and disarrange them, perhaps, also in a manner injurious to the 399 public interest. The hon. and learned Member for Wallingford (Mr. Malins) gives the strangest of reasons for voting in favour of the Motion of the hon. Member. He says that he votes for it not at all intending to pledge himself to support it finally. He says—I vote for the introduction; but if I find, upon the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the repeal of this particular duty will interfere with other arrangements which I should prefer, I should object to the second reading.The hon. and learned Member is therefore prepared to give his vote for the introduction of the Bill, which, upon his own showing, may be a nullity, and which he may be prepared next week to refuse to read a second time. I hold that the natural course for this House to pursue is to allow the Government to propose their financial arrangements for the year, and to deal with those arrangements in the manner they may think best for the public interest; but not blindfold to interpose a particular arrangement which may or may not conflict with a better arrangement which the Government may have to propose. If the Vote for the introduction of the Bill would be a Resolution that the House would deem binding, it might be exceedingly inconvenient on some future occasion to have that Vote on record. If it is not to be binding—if it is to be a mere nullity—then I humbly suggest to the House that they would do much better to dispense with this Motion, and allow my right hon. Friend on Thursday next to state, unfettered by any previous Resolution, the arrangements which, upon the whole, the Government may think fit to propose.
§ MR. H. B. SHERIDAN
said, he would not at that hour detain the House by a reply, although he possessed ample means of confuting both Mr. Coode's facts and the right hon. Gentleman's arguments.
Motion made and Question put,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to reduce the Duty on Fire Insurance.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 127; Noes 116: Majority 11.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. HENRY B. SHERIDAN and Mr. LINDSAY.