HC Deb 16 March 1869 vol 194 cc1530-4

said, he rose to move the Resolution, of which he had given notice. He urged upon the House that the adoption of this Motion would not depend upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer having a surplus to deal with. This was really a serious question, and he trusted that he would have the serious attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was a subject which had entered into the hearts of the people as one involving a grievance of great magnitude. He had that day presented fifty Petitions, signed by between 20,000 and 30,000 members of the trading classes and others, complaining of the way in which trades were assessed to the income tax. Amongst the petitioners were about 200 county magistrates, and it was reasonable to assume that in their view it was to the interest of the land—the successful cultivation of which mainly depended on the prosperity of the trading classes—that the trading and professional classes should be relieved from the intolerable burthen of the income tax. It was only fair to say that a very large proportion of the traders who had signed these Petitions did not concur in the view he took on this subject. They said it was reasonable that they should pay a special tax as long as the income tax was imposed on land and fixed property. They were willing to pay for licenses for carrying on trade, or any other tax which it was not difficult to devise, but all of them said they would no longer submit to the unjust, inquisitorial, and most injurious system of assessing and levying the income tax. He hoped the House would recognize that sentiment by at once unconditionally repealing the income tax. The Government said to a tradesman—Fix your own value on your trade. He generally gave the benefit of a doubt to himself by putting the amount of his income at a very low figure. In nine cases out of ten it was not possible for a trader to state the amount of his profit for the next year, or for the next three years, with such accuracy that it would not be open to dispute. Well, he sent in his return to the Commissioners, who generally surcharged him upon that. Such had been the anomalies of the system, and such irritation and sense of indignity and insult had been produced by it, that to his own knowledge many most respectable persons had been driven out of trade; and the general demoralization of trade was not very indirectly to be traced to the wholesale demoralization which the Government spread broadcast throughout the country, when they called upon traders to sit in judgment upon their own case, and subjected them afterwards to the ordeal of the Commissioners, who sat in judgment upon their own surcharge. The only objection to the Chancellor of the Exchequer at once acceding to the Motion was that it would be hard upon the landed property of the country that they should have to bear an addition to the present income tax sufficient to make up the deficiency arising from the repeal of the income tax under Schedule D; but he suggested that if the Resolution were carried the hon. Member (Sir Massey Lopes) would be in even in a better position than he was now for transferring a portion of the local burdens upon land to Imperial taxation, to which the trader would contribute through the indirect taxes.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it is expedient to include in the Financial arrangements of the Government for the ensuing year the unconditional repeal of the Income Tax on trade profits and personal property of all kinds; and that any deficiency be raised by an increased tax on land and fixed property."—(Mr. Whalley.)


I agree with the hon. Member for Peterborough in two things. First, I agree with him when he says this is a serious subject. Secondly, I agree with him that the question whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer has a surplus or a deficiency cannot in respect of this subject make the slightest difference in the world. On these two points I agree with him; but I have listened to the rest of his speech without being able to agree with him in anything whatever. The hon. Gentleman is certainly very fortunate in having created so high an opinion of his merits in the breasts of the 200 magistrates and others who have intrusted him with this message to the House of Commons, and who, although they do not agree with him, have selected him to plead their cause. I do not agree with him, and certainly I should not have selected him to plead my cause. But the question is very easily stated; it is this—that trade and commerce, in the opinion of the hon. Gentleman, ought to be encouraged by having the burdens imposed on their profits taken off and imposed on land—on realized property generally. I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman, if he wishes to encourage trade and commerce, whether the way to do that is to hold out to persons successful in these pursuits that when they have made a fortune that fortune shall be taxed, in order to lighten the burdens on all the rest of the community? He tells us that the object he has in view is to relieve those persons of intolerable burdens and mischief; and in the same breath he tells us they do not really pay this tax, but that it falls on the consumer. He tells us the great misery they suffer is that they have to assess themselves and be judges in their own case. I can quite understand the Chancellor of the Exchequer and those who represent the Government objecting that persons on whom the tax is imposed are from the necessity of the circumstances judges in their own case—and no doubt that is the great defect in this Schedule, and affords an argument against it; but why persons who are the judges in their own case, and who, the hon. Gentleman says, invariably give themselves the benefit of the doubt, should object to that favour- able position I cannot tell. When the hon. Gentleman talks about grievance and oppression, and tells us in the same breath that enormous frauds are committed, and that a great deal is not paid 'which ought to be paid, does he not show us that the grievance and oppression carry with them their own alleviation? I really wish to be serious. I do not want to offend the hon. Gentleman, but really it is difficult to be serious when such propositions are brought before the House; and yet, at the same time, I know that, when approaching this subject, we tread on delicate ground, for there are a great many people who do feel, and have been induced to feel by a long series of agitations, that there is great injustice in this tax. That is not my opinion. I believe, with Adam Smith, that every man should be taxed according to his ability. His ability, as Smith goes on to say, is the revenue which he derives under the protection of the State. I believe that to be sound ground. At any rate, if it is not so, we must not think we can amend the income tax, but we must give it up altogether. The notion of income is one very difficult to seize. It is like "now." In a moment it flies from you while you stop. It is the notion of a man's annual revenue abstracted altogether from the idea of the sources whence it comes and the purposes for which it goes. That is the idea of an income; and the moment you begin to say you ought to pay more on this Schedule and less on that, or abolish, as the hon. Gentleman says, a Schedule altogether, you are not amending the income tax, but destroying it, and making, instead of it, an unfair and bungling property tax. Unless you look at income without reference to the sources whence it comes or whither it goes, it is impossible to maintain an income-tax by any argument. You cannot make any difference by looking at the destination of income; and whencesoever it comes, if it is raised under the protection of the Government, it ought to contribute to the Government. The real evil of the income tax, in my judgment, is not that it is levied in a partial manner on land, or realized property, or profits of trade, but that, from the necessity of the case, persons having such income as that included in Schedule D are judges in their own cause, and that this in many instances holds out a temptation to those persons to give too favourable an interpretation of the amount of their liability. But to say that there is an objection to income tax is only to say that this tax is a tax; for the ingenuity of the human mind never did and never will devise a tax to which there are not objections more than plausible, and which would be absolutely convincing and irresistible if taxation were not a necessity. I am quite sure it is not necessary for me to take up more of the time of the House in resisting the proposition of the hon. Gentleman.


said, he fully admitted that he had not done justice to the cause that had been committed to him, and that he was an unskillful advocate; but he considered that the right hon. Gentleman was discourteous in his criticism of the gentlemen who had committed the question to him. The right hon. Gentleman had no business to be discourteous. He was young in his place. The right hon. Gentleman had exceeded all ordinary license. ["Oh, oh!"] He had not only been discourteous, but impertinent—["Order"]—in the observations he had made. He assured the House he was labouring under a very severe cold. It was very little importance to him what opinion the right hon. Gentleman might hold of Mm; but it was unfair of him to have spoken as he did of those gentlemen who had signed the Petition. Of this the right hon. Gentleman might rest assured that the matter would not rest where it was. The House must excuse him if he put them to the trouble of dividing. ["Withdraw."] His right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, he observed, wished him to withdraw his Motion. Well, at the request of his right hon. Friend he would withdraw it.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn,