HC Deb 15 March 1866 vol 182 cc322-5

Sir, since I placed upon the Paper the notice of Motion which stands opposite my name, I have enjoyed an opportunity of calling the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the House to the nature of the information which I venture to think is necessary before this House should be invited to legislate upon the question of "Reform." And I can assure hon. Members that I have no intention of inflicting on them a repetition of the arguments which I employed on that occasion. But, while I gladly acknowledge that I received from the right hon. Gentleman a most patient and attentive hearing, I would remind him that I did not receive what, perhaps, I should have valued even more—an answer. Availing myself, therefore, of the forms of this House, I now repeat the Question which I put upon a previous day. Can the right hon. Gentleman, and, if so, will he, lay upon the table of this House a Return of the number of electors on the existing registers, who are assessed to the Property and Income Tax? Because, Sir, we know that the new voters will not pay it; and when we know how many of the present voters do not pay it, we shall see to what extent the taxing power is to be placed in the hands of those who do not pay direct taxation. In the next place, Sir, I ask the right hon. Gentleman when I may look for the production of the Returns, for which I moved five weeks ago, following the rentals in cities and boroughs upwards from £10 to £20, both figures inclusive? Because, Sir, I am confident that when this House and the country see how heavily the present constituencies are grouped at and just above £10, they will—if that be possible—be less than ever inclined to the Reform Bill of the right hon. Gentleman.


I am very sorry that through inadvertence I omitted to reply to the Question put to me by the hon. Gentleman. In his speech on a former evening, which I heard with great satisfaction, I did not catch his Question. With regard to the first of the Questions which he has just put—namely, that with respect to a Return of the electors assessed to Income and Property Tax—I am afraid that it would be extremely inconvenient to furnish that Return, It would take a considerable time, and, I am afraid, would involve great expense. I doubt very much whether its value would be at all commensurate with the time and expense which the collection of the facts would require. As regards local taxation, an important distinction may be drawn between those who pay and those who do not pay; but as regards Imperial taxation, I am not disposed to think that a very important distinction can be drawn between those who pay and those who do not. I think the hon. Gentleman's Question seems to proceed from the supposition that those classes who pay direct taxation are more heavily taxed in proportion to their income than those who do not pay direct taxation. Now, I believe that is an entirely erroneous supposition. I think that persons in humble circumstances must pay in indirect taxation—most of all in the taxation on spirits and tobacco—quite as large an amount of taxation in proportion to their income as those classes who pay direct taxation—probably, a larger proportion. I may be right, or I may be wrong. I know that an opposite opinion is held. Four years ago an article appeared in the Edinburgh Review from an able writer, to whose views I attach considerable weight. He did not carry his conclusions to the point that there was any material difference. I think he contended that the wealthy classes were more heavily taxed. My impression, however, is that he argued there was only a very small difference. But I never assented to that argument. On the contrary, I think, if anything, the difference lies the other way. The hon. Gentleman has also asked when certain Returns relating to the grouping of rentals will be laid on the table. I cannot give him an answer. Such Returns are not prepared under me, and I was not aware that they had been asked for. No doubt, the hon. Gentleman communicated with my right hon. Friend the bend of the Pool-Law Department (Mr. C. P. Villiers). They will be prepared under his superintendence. But I suggest that for all practical purposes the Returns on the table, showing as they do that a large proportion of the property of the country rests with the wealthier classes as compared with the masses, will enable hon. Gentlemen to found any argument that may be derived from that fact. It would be a matter of extreme complexity to bring out the holding of each person. I think we may push a great deal too far these inquiries into persons' means; for, after all, though the consideration of money and property is an important consideration, it is a secondary consideration. I think it a great error to assume—as is commonly assumed—that though a working man may have a wife and children, yet, because he is not blessed with any property beyond such things as his furniture and the tools he uses in his trade, he can have no interest in the welfare of the country. [Mr. Schreiber: The proposal is that taxing powers should be put in his hands.] I think there is great inconsistency in respect of this matter—primâ facie, it is not to be supposed that such a man is a revolutionary character. Though I look to property as a consideration, I do not think it is correct to consider the matter as merely one of pounds, shillings, and pence. I do not think the flesh and blood, and mind and soul of a man are to be regarded only according to the exact number of sovereigns, shillings, and pence which he may possess. It is pushing the matter rather far. I do not wish to withhold whatever we can put the House in possession of; but the hon. Gentleman will feel that there are limits to the machinery for the collection of Returns, and that too much in the shape of details may be put in papers to be laid before Parliament. With respect to the courteous remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Radnorshire (Sir John Walsh), I am glad that an opportunity now offers of making an explanation. I find that the words used by him on the occasion to which I referred were—"I say if these Estimates were doubled we should not do more than meet the exigencies of the present, year" The Estimates referred to by my hen Friend were partly for ships and partly for forces. I think a little limitation was required in such a statement; and I am glad my hon. Friend is of that opinion. All of us in speaking omit sometimes to limit our observations within the bounds to which we intend them to apply. But Veniam petimusque damutque vicissim.

Motion agreed to.