§ MR. W. FOWLER
The Resolution with which I shall close my remarks is as follows:—That, in the opinion of the House, the Law as to the Duty on the succession to Real Estate, and as to the exemption of Real Estate from Probate Duty, is anomalous and unequal, and demands the early and serious attention of the Government with a view to its amendment.I must, in the first place, Sir, say a few words as to the history of this subject, that I may make my meaning clear. It is, no doubt, well known to many hon. Members that in early times, when land was held by feudal tenure, it could not be disposed of by will. It passed from father to son without the aid of any court, save it might be the King's Court of Wards or the Court of a Manor. But in those days things "personal," or chattels, were of small account, and in very early times they could be bequeathed by will. Wills were known to the Romans, and to the Saxons, and to the Normans; and in days when none but the clergy could write it was very natural that they should have much to do with the making of wills and the administration of men's estates. But, of course, cases often occurred where men died intestate, and it was very early understood that in such a case a man's goods were divided by the Church, pro salute anima of the dead man. Thence it followed that if a man made a will, the jurisdiction of the Church was ousted, and so it became the custom that the fact of the existence of a will should be "proved," and hence the name "probate." How the spiritual courts obtained their jurisdiction—whether by mere custom, or by the authority of the Crown—is not very clear, and is not material to my present purpose. When once this jurisdiction was established, it was natural that these courts should charge fees for the work done by them, and these fees soon became burdensome. Thus in the reign of Edward III. we find in the recital of a statute that "grievous and outrageous fines" had been imposed by the "Ministers of Holy Church," in respect of the probate of wills. These were pared down by statute on several occasions, and finally, in the reign of William and Mary, a stamp was imposed on the probate. This was varied, as to amounts and as to the maximum on 587 which, duty was payable, in 1779 and subsequently, and in 1859 the present Prime Minister abolished the maximum, and made properties of all sizes pay duty. The House will thus see that land was exempt from this duty merely because it did not conic within the power of the courts spiritual. A will of land required no proof, it being merely a conveyance by statute, and it requires no "probate" now. I must refer to one other ancient distinction which affects my whole subject. I allude to that between "freehold" and "leasehold." "Freehold" meant land held by free service, but it got at last the meaning of an estate in land of inheritance or for life, these being considered of more importance and more dignified; but an estate for years, however long, was regarded as a chattel, and so was part of a man's personal estate, though forming part of the land, just as much as an estate for life, or in fee. Being part of the land, leasehold estate paid all rates as land, but, being personal estate, it paid probate and legacy duty. Let me now refer to the history of the legacy duty apart from the probate duty. Legacy duty took its rise with the Romans, who made a. man's estate pay 5 per cent duty. In our country there has, in feudal times, an "inquisitio post-mortem," and very heavy charges were payable to the King, or other Lord, by the heir. But legacy duty was first imposed by the law of England in 1780 by a stamp charged on receipts given for legacies. This Act was repealed by the famous Act of 1796, brought in by Mr. Pitt. He wished to tax real estate and personal estate alike; but, knowing there was a doubt as to getting Parliament to tax the former, be brought in two Bills, and passed the Bill as to personal estate, but was compelled to abandon the other, after it had been read a third time, by the casting vote of the Speaker. I will read to the House Lord Russell's account of this transaction—Mr. Fox objected to the tax, but he objected also to the tax on personal property in the first instance in the very strongest manner. His principle of opposition to both was the same, and it was based on the principle that he desired to give no additional means for carrying on the war. Mr. Pitt was intent upon increasing the means of carrying on that war. Mr. Fox, opposed to that war, was equally intent upon depriving him of those means. But Mr. Fox, who had entirely failed in opposing the tax upon personal property, was successful when he joined in the opposition to 588 the tax on real property. And let me ask what was the cause of that success? It was that Mr. Pitt bad failed in the earlier period of his life in. carrying that reform of Parliament of which he had been the advocate. And I have no doubt that if the commercial and manufacturing interests had been duly represented in this House in 1795, that he would have carried the two taxes together."—[3 Hansard, cxxviii. 110.]So the law remained until the year 1853, when the present Prime Minister passed the Act imposing a duty on successions, both to real and personal estate. Under this Act settled property paid duty which it did not pay previously, and leaseholds no longer paid as ordinary personal estate, but as land. Under this Act a distinction is made between land and personalty. A person coming into land pays only on the value of his life interest, even though he takes the fee in the land; but the law as to personalty is unchanged, and a person taking it pays on the whole value. Now, Sir, in speaking of this Act, I wish to acknowledge the courage of the Prime Minister in proposing and carrying such a measure in the House which then existed. He did the best he could at the time. Sir James Graham said it was the greatest legislative feat which had ever' come under his notice. The House will see that under this Act the man who succeeds to a fee pays no more than the man who succeeds to a life estate, and this is my first objection to the Act. I would observe, in passing, that the results of the Act have been disappointing. Nor is this surprising, seeing that owners in fee only pay about one-half of the full duty. The present proceeds of the succession duty, as distinguished from legacy duty, are about £600,000 a year; whereas the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone), in 1853, distinctly stated that he expected to receive £2,000,000 a year from this duty. The legacy duty, on the other hand—though leaseholds are excluded from it—is remarkably expansive. In 1853 it produced £1,200,000; and in 1868. £1,900,000. I have said that I object to the Act, in the first place, because the tenant for life pays the same as the tenant in fee. In bringing in the Bill the right hon. Gentleman argued that the owner of the life estate in a large property gets nearly all the advantage of the estate; he is in possession of the land; he is the great man on the estate; and, in fact, enjoys the practical benefit of the estate which 589 descends to his children, and so there is very little difference between him and an owner in fee simple. Now I altogether dispute this proposition, and I maintain that it is a very different thing to he tenant for life and tenant in fee. We must remember that we have to deal with moderate and small properties, as well as with large estates. Take the case of two men, to each of whom land worth £10,000 is left, but to the one for life and the other in fee. The man who has the fee can do as he likes with it. He can sell it, and invest the proceeds in securities which yield a better interest; or he can improve it, and get the full benefit of his improvement; but the man who has the life estate can merely keep it, and take the very moderate interest on its value. But the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that, if the law should be as I propose, the duty would fall more often on small estates than on large, because large estates are generally settled. This is true; but I would observe that no pity is shown to the legatees of small portions of personalty; they have to pay to the very last farthing. A man wrote to me the other day, stating that he lately received a little over £100 from his step-mother, and had to pay £13 to the Government as duty. Then the right hon. Gentleman said that if the full duty was charged on the fee, people would more often settle the land, in order to escape the duty. Now, I believe that settlements are made in general for family reasons, and not upon such small considerations as the duty; but, even if this were otherwise, that is not a matter for the House to consider. The Legislature ought to do what is right and just, and leave the results. Certainly, I am the last man to encourage settlements of land; I should greatly prefer to see much less land settled than is now settled. I believe that the settlement of so much land is very injurious to the State, because it prevents a great mass of capital which ought to be applied to the land, from being so used. At the same time, we ought not to make an unjust law in order to discourage settlements. The right hon. Gentleman added that the imposition of the duty where a man came into an embarrassed estate, might compel him to sell it. If so, I should say, so much the better, because such a man had better sell the estate to a man 590 of capital, who could do justice to the land. I am convinced that we have far too many embarrassed owners in this country, and I would gladly see their number diminished. And now, Sir, I come to my second objection to the working of this famous Act—namely, that I think, as a matter of common justice, the owner of the fee in land ought to pay the same duty as the owner of the absolute interest in personal estate. The right hon. Gentleman says that land, including leaseholds, is rateable: and, therefore, he imposes on it a less duty, while personalty is invisible and not rated; and therefore he charges it with a higher duty—that is—the full legacy duty. That was the substance of the argument of the right hon. Gentleman; but I regard it as unsound, however plausible it may be. Now I maintain, in the first place, that land is far more staple in value than personalty. That value increases as the nation increases in wealth and power. The area of the laud is limited; but population and wealth increase rapidly, and with them the demand for the produce of the soil. It has been often observed by Mr. Mill and others, that the owner of land sits still, and his property goes on improving; whereas, the man of business has to work hard, and incur much risk and pains to obtain the improvement of his property and the increase of his estate. Now, without laying too much stress on this, I would observe that it cannot be denied that the value of any given amount of personal property is exceedingly fluctuating and uncertain. Take the Funds—in the last six years they have varied about 8 per cent, merely from commercial causes. A Member of this House told me that he gained 2 per cent last week on the sale of a large amount of stock. Consider, again, how fluctuating is the value of the vast amount of money which is invested in stock-in-trade. There are large masses of property of this description, the value of which is more nominal than real, and is continually undergoing depreciation. If we look at the effect of war, we shall find that at first, at any rate, it increases the value of land, while it diminishes enormously the value of personalty. Suppose, for instance, we were to engage in war with the United States, what a mass of personal property would be destroyed. Were such a ca- 591 lamity to befal us, many, whose faces are very familiar in this House, would find their position very different. I allude to this, merely to show what a fundamental distinction there is between landed property and personal estate. Accordingly, all, or nearly all, political economists, are agreed that land ought to bear more taxation than personal property. It is entirely a question of degree. But even if it could be shown that land pays more than it ought to pay, this would be no answer to my argument, because I say that it is not right to compensate one unfairness by another. I agree with Mr. Cobden, when he said that he objected to what he called the "odious principle of compensation." But I ask—is it a fact that the land pays more than it ought to pay in the shape of local taxation? Now, all of us are well aware of the magnitude of these local taxes, which are supposed to amount to between £18,000,000 or £19,000,000. This taxation has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished, and I do not say one word in its favour. I wish something could be done to lessen this heavy burden. Let us consider for a moment of what these taxes consist. We have, in the first place, the highway rates, the county rates, and the town rates, and with regard to these, I think it clear as a matter of common sense, that they should fall pretty much as they do at present. For instance, those who live in a place ought to pay for the roads which they use. But then it is said that owners of personal estate have the benefit of roads and other things, and do not pay as they ought towards keeping up the accommodation of which they have the benefit. Now, as to this, I think in the first place, that we may leave the towns out of the question. I believe that, taking the poor rates and the other local rates together, the towns pay fully one-half of the whole rates. And if there be a hardship, the hardship is greater on the owners of houses in towns than on the owners of land, because the former very often live in part from income derived from personalty, or from their own industry, and so pay both sets of taxes. But, on the other hand, they are the men who are the most able to control the local expenditure in towns, as they generally have more influence and more time at their disposal than 592 the bulk of the inhabitants. At present they have the strongest motive for keeping a vigilant watch over the expenditure, and I think it would be dangerous to diminish the force of this motive by extending the tax to the mass of the people, who would have very little power of curtailing the expenditure, however galling the burden might be. Now, it is to be observed that these large towns ask no favour in this matter. They send Liberal Members who are quite disposed to do away with all these exemptions, and to act fairly as between realty and personalty. They are very generally men who own personal as well as real estate, and anything taken off one would fall on the other. Those who complain most are the owners of land, and I admit that they are heavily taxed. I wish the burden could be made lighter. I am the last man to say that the present state of things is satisfactory. We heard last night a great deal about pauperism. On that subject I shall only say that while I fully admit it to be a grievous thing that we should have to expend so vast a sum of money in this way, I do not think the burden on the land as such is heavier than it ought to be, when all the circumstances of the country and the nature of landed property are taken into account. It is laid down, by Mr. Baxter, that in the case of land, one-fourth of this rate falls on the tenants, and in the cases of houses one-half—so that the owner of the land does not bear the whole burden. Different opinions prevail on this point, hut, however this may be, I ask, how are we to prevent the vast waste which must take place if part of the burden of the poor rate should be borne by the Imperial Exchequer? Now on this point we have a precedent; in 1849 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire proposed that half of the poor rates should be thrown on the Consolidated Fund: but in 1852, when he brought in his Budget as a responsible Minister, he gave up that idea altogether. I would further remark on this point that our present mode of payment is a bad one. The landlord does not pay with his own hand, and so does not look after the expenditure as he otherwise would do. It would be far better that half should be paid by the landlord and half by the occupier, so that the former might feel the 593 necessity of having an eye on the expenditure of the money. I have only one word more to say on this subject. I think the landlords have the matter to a great extent in their own hands. If more capital were applied to the soil, and the land were better cultivated, we should hear much less about poor rates, than we do at present. The other day I went over an estate of 3,000 acres belonging to a wealthy gentleman. There was only one cottage on it, and I believe I could have bought it for £20 an acre, whereas with proper cultivation it would soon be worth £60 or £70. I want to see less of this state of things. The truth is that the land needs more capital to be expended on it, and thus more employment would be given to the. people. I agree with what Mr. Cobden said in 1849—I believe we have no adequate conception of what the amount of production might be from a limited surface of land provided only the amount of capital were sufficient. I see no reason what ever why I should not live to see the clay when a man who lays out £1,000 on eighty acres of land will be a more independent, more prosperous, and more useful man than many farmers who now occupy 500 or 600 acres, with not one-quarter or one-tenth of the capital necessary to carry on the cultivation."—[3 Hansard, ciii. 845.]And now I wish to observe that however heavy the burdens on land now arc, they are not, relatively, so heavy as they were formerly. During the present Session the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board has told us that, in 1815, the land rated to the poor was assessed at £37,000,000, while the other property so rated was assessed at £16,000,000; but, in 1868, the land was assessed at £46,000,000, and the other property at £84,000,000. I will only mention one other set of figures. In 1842–3, the farmers of Great Britain were assessed for Schedule B of the Income Tax on a rental of £22,800,000; but, in 1866, they were assessed on a rental of £32,500,000; so that the rents had risen 50 per cent in that interval. It is, at any rate, satisfactory to feel that, there is an increasing fund on which the burden is to fall. I should like just to mention that in America land pays on its value and not on its income, so that here it has a great advantage as compared with other property, inasmuch as the income from laud is only a small per centage on its saleable value. And now, Sir, whatever 594 may be thought of what I have so far said, there can be no doubt that the law is grossly inconsistent in this matter of rating, as I shall proceed to show. Let me take, in the first place, the case of the farmer. We hear much of the landed interest and its unity, and yet the farmer pays legacy duty on the full value of his lease, and all his stock-in-trade and effects, while his landlord pays only on the value of his life interest in the estate. This seems harsh and unequal. But my second case is far stronger. The railway companies of this country pay £900,000 in local rates of all kinds, and about £500,000 for carriage duty, and yet railway stock, being regarded by the laws as personalty, pays probate and legacy duty in full. I will read to the House a statement I have received from the Secretary of the North Eastern Railway Company—Railway companies are liable to all Kinds of rates—namely, poor, highway, district, borough, watching and lighting, improvement, paving and watering, new streets, sewers, and, in fact, all which are imposed by any local board or authority.You will be aware. I presume, that by the local Government Act (21 &. 22 Vic., c. 98) railways and other Kinds of property are assessed at one-Fourth of the 'nett annual value,' for 'general district rates.'The North Eastern Company paid for rates within a trifle of £80,000 in 1868. this is 2½ per cent on our gross receipts, nearly 4 per cent on nett receipts, and 9½ per cent on amount paid to the ordinary shareholders!I cannot conceive anything more unfair than this state of things. Nor is this all. In rating a banking house, you do not take into account the profits of the bank; but in rating a railway company, you, do take into account the profits made or supposed to be made by the company, and I believe it will be found that these companies are assessed for a far larger amount than that which they really divide. Now this is a very large matter. The amount of the ordinary stock of railways is about £250,000,000, to say nothing of an equal amount of debentures and preference stocks. I say, therefore, that it is high time this state of things was considered and amended. Before I pass from this part of my subject I wish for a moment to refer to the state of the law as to burdens on land in other countries. Speaking in 1849 Lord Halifax said that—There is hardly a country in Europe in which a larger proportion of the national taxation is not paid by real property and land than in England.595 I am glad to be able to confirm this statement as to France in the words of M. de Lavergue, one of the first of French economists. Writing a few days since he says—In France all local taxes come under the name of centimes additionels, because in addition to the four direct contributions to the State—namely, (1)la contribution foncière; (2) les contributions personelle et mobilière; (3) the tax on windows and doors; (4) the tax on licenses, moveable property pays duties on successions and transfers, but much lighter than those which fall on immoveable property. You may affirm that immoveable property bears in France three-quarters of the general taxation directly contributed to the State, and almost the whole of the departmental and communal taxation.Now this shows clearly that, as compared with other countries, the landowners of this country have no cause to complain. I am not arguing that the French system is good, but the comparison is certainly interesting. Before I conclude I must say a few words as to the probate duty. What I have said as to the legacy duty applies to this, with this distinction, that the exemption of real estate in this case is total, as the Prime Minister made no change as to probate duty when, in 1853, he subjected the land to succession duty on the value of the life interest. This exemption, as I have explained, rests on no principle, but results merely from the accident that landed estate never got within the jaws of the spiritual courts. Let us take an illustration of its effect. The leaseholders on the vast property of the Marquess of "Westminster, hard by where we are, pay heavy rates, as many hon. Gentlemen know; and these leaseholds are subject to probate duty because they are considered in law to be personal estate; but the reversioner—the Marquess—pays very little in the way of rates, and yet his reversion pays no probate duty. I say that this is a monstrous anomaly. It has sometimes been suggested that there would be a difficulty as to the valuation of land for the purposes of probate. I do not think the House need listen to any such argument, for if this matter were left to the ingenious gentlemen of the Inland Revenue Department, they would soon dispose of it without incurring any serious expense. Now, Sir, I have thus endeavoured to show that the burdens on the land are natural burdens, and that the land from the nature of the ease, enjoys peculiar advantages which enable its owners to 596 bear those burdens without undue pressure. I desire the prosperity of the landed interest, for I conceive that the prosperity of no interest is of more importance to the State. I ask them to treat this question as an Imperial question—to put aside all class distinctions and feelings, and to bear cheerfully whatever burdens rightly fall on them without claiming any unfair exemptions, and I trust that they may long enjoy the pre-eminent state and dignity which are theirs.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in the opinion of this House, the Law as to the Duty on the succession to Real Estate, and as to the exemption of Real Estate from Probate Duty, is anomalous and unequal, and demands the early and serious attention of the Government, with a view to its amendment."—(Mr. William Fowler.)
§ MR. G. GREGORY
said, he was not connected with the landed interest, and did not address the House as its champion; but having been generally brought into connection with land as a matter of business, he could speak with regard to the burdens and obligations which belonged to it. So far as he knew, the only exemption which landed property enjoyed from taxation was in respect of probate duty, and recently the succession duty had been imposed as a counterpoise to that which was charged upon personal property in another shape. He could state from personal experience that the succession duty had worked injustice in many instances. There was an element in that duty which was frequently lost sight of, but which was severely felt by those who were liable to it, and which materially tended to increase its amount, that was the mode in which the descent was traced for the purposes of the duty. With regard to personal property, there was only one descent—namely, from the deceased to his successor, and he paid according to relationship. But not so with regard to the succession duties, because they were frequently assessed with regard to that predecessor in the title who was a remote ancestor, and possibly a stranger in blood. The party who succeeded was often charged with annuities and jointures paid to persons who were strangers to him, and upon the falling in of them them he had to pay a succession duty of 10 597 per cent. Exception had been taken to the assessment of these duties on the life estate only, but he hardly saw any other principle on which the charge could be made than as on a tenant for life. Most large estates were either settled or entailed, but looking at the difficulties and the great expenses which must always attend real property, the person succeeding to it was in nine cases out of ten, for all practical purposes, tenant for life. The mode of assessment on land, too, involved a good deal of complication, the exhibition of titles, valuation, the disclosure of charges, and other liabilities on the estate, all of which added considerably to the expense of getting the succession duty assessed on real property. Personal estate paid only 1½ per cent as probate duty, but real property had to bear a number of what he called natural liabilities, such as charities, allowances to tenants, and other matters of a like kind, and above all a great demand was made upon it for local taxation, from which the greater portion of personal property was free. Then there were the stamp duties ON the alienation of real property. No man could transfer his property without paying a tax of 5s. per cent, and how, he should like to know, would the hon. Gentleman like to have personal property subject to the same tax? How would he like to have it imposed on the transfer of shares, of Consols, on time bargains, and on bills of lading? Was he prepared to go to that extent, because if equalization wore to be established at all it must be established to all intents and purposes. He submitted there were some species of personal property, as where lucrative businesses were carried on, which ought to be taxed according to the extent of the business carried on upon the premises. The good-will of a large banking house, or a flourishing mercantile business, ought to be called on to contribute; something to the taxation of the country. He denied that the Law of Entail—as it had been frequently stated in that House and elsewhere—created a dearth of land in the market, and that there was a difficulty in obtaining small holdings. He received every fortnight from the auctioneers of the metropolis, statements giving descriptions of eight or ten properties in every county in the kingdom, which were to be had at all 598 prices, some no doubt, at a fancy price, but the greater portion by far on terms constituting eligible investments. He believed, therefore, that there was no difficulty in the way of persons who desire to invest their money in landed property. In conclusion, he thanked the House for the manner in which they had listened to him.
§ MR. M'LAREN
said, it had been stated that land was not unduly exempted from taxation, but he ventured to state that it was so, particularly in reference to the assessment of the income tax on farmers, and, consequently, whatever exemption they obtained was in favour of the landlords. If they took the years 1813, 1814, and 1815, when the old income tax was in existence, they would find that the income tax paid by farmers amounted to one-seventh of the whole tax. If, however, they went back for the last ten years, and took an average of ten years, and of three years, they would find the proportion paid by the farmers was one-seventeenth for the ten years; and for the last two years only one-twentieth of the total sum paid for income tax; Whilst the rest of the community had paid a far greater proportion during the last two years than they paid at the termination of the French war. The rents of farms had of late years greatly increased; and this proved that the farmers were unduly favoured by the artificial mode now adopted of computing their profits; and the benefit ultimately went to the landlords. He hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would look into the matter, and next year do an act of justice by making all persons contribute according to their real incomes to this tax.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he had some difficulty in dealing with this Motion, as he had so very recently become acquainted with it, and he might venture to remark that for the future it would be very desirable, when hon. Gentlemen intended to submit Motions of this great importance to the House, they should put them on the Paper a day or two beforehand, in order that the Government might have the benefit of considering them. The hon. Gentleman, however, had merely given notice that he should move a Resolution. He confessed that not having had any great experience of the matter he felt 599 himself at a considerable disadvantage; but he trusted that the hon. Gentleman, having; done all he desired to do in bringing the matter forward, would not press the Government to give a decision oil-hand on a subject of such vast importance. The question involved nothing Jess than the whole problem of the principle on which all property should be taxed, find how far local arrangements ought to be taken into consideration. There was one part of the hon. Gentleman's argument to which he could not subscribe—namely, where the hon. Gentleman seemed to endeavour to prove that the question of local taxation was immaterial, and might be put aside in the regulation of the taxation of land. Now although people might differ as to the weight which ought to be given to the local element, no one, he thought, could disregard it altogether. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman himself appeared to be conscious of this when he argued as to the actual incidence of local taxation. Land paid income tax on the gross amount of the income, and consequently it bore an immense burden of local taxation. On the other hand, it was equally clear that land enjoyed a great exemption in being free from probate duty, and in having the succession duty put on with a very lenient hand, to say the least of it. The interest of the tax was assessed as a life interest, and paid accordingly; but although the law could do most things, it could not give a man the enjoyment of the land for a period longer than his life. In the abstract the Problem might be difficult, but when the different elements of it were mustered together it was not difficult to show what burdens land bore and what immunities it enjoyed. Although land might yield a small income, yet it might be regarded as a sort of lottery ticket, which sometimes turned out to be a great prize, from the discovery of mines, or the establishment of manufactories upon it. These were matters of curious speculation, and if followed out would form admirable subjects for the consideration of a statistical society. But after discussing these elements we should be only on the very outskirts of the problem proposed by the hon. Gentleman, because we should still want some common measure by which we could set off one element against another and come to some definite and practical conclusion on the sub- 600 ject. To this problem he confessed himself utterly unequal. He thought he apprehended the nature of the subject, and that it was well worthy of the consideration of the House and the Government. He did not think it would be wise to pass a Resolution on this subject, which might instill in the minds of some people unfounded hopes on the one side, and unfounded fears on the other; and he therefore ventured to suggest that the hon. Gentleman, after having drawn public attention to this question, should not think it necessary on this occasion to to go to a division. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) would give his best attention to the subject, and if he could adopt any of the hon. Gentleman's views he should be exceedingly happy to do so.
§ DR. BALL
said, he thought the imposition of probate duty upon land was highly objectionable. Probate duty was a tax imposed on personal property, and paid by the executor or administrator out of the general mass of the personal property and land. This was objectionable as regarded land, because the duty was paid totally irrespective of the enjoyment of the property. A person had to pay it before he could enjoy the property, and if he had no capital it became necessary for him to raise the money by mortgaging the land. Nothing, he might remark, could be worse than a system which encouraged frequent charges on landed property. Apart from the general question he expressed the opinion that probate duty was not a judicious means of taxing the land.
§ COLONEL CORBETT
observed that the land tax fell very unequally, because of its having been redeemed in some cases and not in others. He, for instance, paid 10d. in the pound for land tax. This should not be forgotten in equalizing charges upon the land.
§ MR. A. JOHNSTON
said, that as no hon. Member had risen to reply to the arguments of the hon. and learned Member for the Dublin University (Dr. Ball), he would endeavour to do so, although it must needs appear great presumption on his part to attempt to confute so good an authority; but the hon. Member's arguments were such as could not be accepted on that side of the House. The hon. Gentleman had drawn a distinction between duty paid by executors, and duty paid by devisees, but he contended 601 that it was the Property paid Itself which and which ought to pay, the probate duty, no matter by what machinery it was paid; and this was also the simple reply to the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. G. Gregory), who had enlarged on the hardship of making a tenant for life pay the same duty as one who enjoyed the fee simple. He would get over all these difficulties by charging the property itself with the duty every time it passed by death, and then the tenant for life would pay the exact duty on the interest he enjoyed, and no more. The fact was there was one argument, and one only, for the exemption at present enjoyed by landed property—namely, the way in which it is burdened with local taxation, but that argument had been, to a great extent, met by his hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. W. Fowler), who had shown that railway property and leasehold property, although as heavily burdened as any for local purposes, yet paid legacy duty to the full. There was no doubt that, in some manner, before long, personal property would be made to bear its share of local burdens. That subject had been most ably put before the House by the hon. Members for South Devon (Sir Massey Lopes) and South East Norfolk (Mr. Read), whose views must shortly prevail, and then the last rag of an argument for the exemption of real property from Imperial taxation would be gone. The Prime Minister had, he believed, more than once advanced this point as to local taxation; and he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman was, on those occasions, expressing his past mind more than his present or future mind on this question, or rather he would say, was resting on his oars after the long and successful struggle which he maintained in 1853 against a compact phalanx of Gentlemen on the other side of the House of great ability and legal knowledge, and who resisted with all their might the imposition even of succession duty. He might well think he had done enough. But now the circumstances were changed. In those days the right hon. Gentleman was greatly in advance of his party in financial science; he had to drag them after him, but he now led an enthusiastic band of followers, who, although many of them were closely connected with, and interested in landed property, desired equality and justice for all, and were 602 most anxious to sec this question settled. They had now a new Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he had listened with pleasure to what had fallen from him this evening, and he hoped that he would, before long, lead them on to abolish these inequalities, and to destroy what was really nothing more than a paltry relic of feudal privileges.
§ MR. W. FOWLER
was much obliged to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for what he had said upon the subject, and of course would not divide the House against his wish. But the question was important; it involved something like £2,000,000 a year, and he hoped that between this and the unfolding of the next Budget the right hon. Gentleman would give some attention to it.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.