HC Deb 15 August 1871 vol 208 cc1725-32

Further Proceeding on Consideration of Bill, as amended, resumed.

Question again proposed, "That the Clause (It shall not be necessary to take out a licence for any cart or horse used for the conveyance of any goods or burden in the case of trade or husbandry, although such cart or horse shall be used on Sunday for carrying the owner thereof or his family to or from any place of worship,)—(Mr. Miller,) —be now read a second time.


said, he intended to take the sense of the House again on the subject of the new clause moved by the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Miller), in favour of the exemption from taxation of horses and carts used in Scotland for conveying their owners to places of worship on Sundays. He had reason to know that many hon. Members who voted against the proposed clause did so in the belief that it involved a new exemption, and that it would have been carried if they had been fully informed on the subject. The exemption was founded on the 6th clause of the Act of 1869, which provided for the imposition of this tax on vehicles specified therein, except waggons and carts used solely for the purposes of husbandry. The whole question turned upon the word "solely." The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, this year for the first time, that if a poor man with a light cart and pony, worth, perhaps, £5 altogether, took his children to church on Sunday, that that cart and pony were not used solely for the purpose of agriculture, and that he must pay 15s. tax for the pony. It was quite true that the words in the Act of Parliament were substantially the same as before; but the interpretation now put upon them was different, and the machinery for the working of the Act was entirely changed. The Act was now carried into effect by the Excise in a most rigorous manner, and its severity was keenly felt in those places in the Highlands where persons had to go six, eight, and ten miles to Divine worship on Sunday. He held that this was practically a State tax upon attendance at public worship, and that all the arguments of the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not prove it to be just or equitable. On the subject of exemptions, he would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the carriages, horses, and servants of Irish Members of Parliament were exempt during their attendance in Parliament, and for two months before and after that period.


said, that in his belief Parliament never intended by the use of the words "solely for the purpose of husbandry," to prevent horses and carts being used for such a minor purpose as had been referred to, and which had hitherto always been allowed. The tax fell most oppressively upon many of the poor owners of a cart and horse. He thought it was a cruel thing to force payment of this tax for the occasional use of a cart employed to take the family a long distance to church on Sunday, when it was on all other occasions bonâ fide employed for the purposes of agriculture. He felt certain that no money would be got for the Exchequer by it, for the farmers would abstain from driving their families to church, but they would feel most bitterly the conduct of the Government. He would illustrate by another exemption. Officers of Mounted Yeomanry and Volunteers, very properly, were allowed to keep two horses without paying the tax; but he had never heard that if they used them for other than military purposes, the Chancellor of the Exchequer compelled payment. Then why should a farmer, who used his horse and cart bonâ fide for agricultural purposes, be prevented in those districts where the distances were long from occasionally using them to take his family to church on the Sunday?


said, he wished to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to a reply given by him on the 24th of May, 1870, on this very subject. A Question was then put with reference to Wales by the hon. Member for the Montgomery Boroughs (Mr. Hanbury-Tracy), and following upon it there was one asked by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. M. T. Bass). The hon. Member for Derby said, that in the North of Scotland great discontent had existed for some time in consequence of the mode in which this tax had been levied on horses used in carrying families to church on Sundays; that it was regarded as a tax upon church-going; and asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be good enough to state whether the Government would any longer insist upon the imposition of this tax. The right hon. Gentleman then said that the question was not whether it was church-going, but whether the use of the horses and carts was gratuitous, adding— A horse employed in carrying the owner's family to church comes, of course, within the exemption."—[3 Hansard, cci. 1274.] The right hon. Gentleman having then stated that horses and carts were to be exempted if they were employed for carrying persons to church gratuitously, he (Sir John Hay) could not understand upon what ground he could now refuse to admit the clause proposed to be inserted in the Bill, which was asked for by all Scotland.


said, he knew exactly what his right hon. Friend would say in reply. There was no use in attempting to answer him, because he was of that peculiar temperament which never gave way until compelled to do so. He hoped hon. Members would join in an effort to insert this clause, because it was monstrous to impose a tax of this kind upon poor people whose religious feeling prompted them to travel miles on Sundays to places of public worship. The right hon. Gentleman founded his objection to the clause on the ground that the Act required that the horses and carts must be used solely for agriculture; but there was no agriculture on Sundays, and therefore it was really a gross injustice on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to impose such a tax on the people of Scotland. He would frankly tell him that if that was the way he was going to conduct the finances of the country, the sooner they found another Chancellor of the Exchequer the better. The right hon. Gentleman doubtless understood figures; but he was sadly deficient in appreciation of the feelings of the people.


said, he did not always support the Government, but he intended to do so on the present occasion. He did not think there was sufficient ground for asking for this exemption—in fact, he was opposed to all exemptions. With regard to the present exemption, it was difficult to admit it, for once they attempted to draw a line, and allow people to drive to church on the Sunday, the next demand that would be made was that they might be allowed to drive to the fair on Saturday.


said, the case was a very simple one, and might be stated in two or three words. It was the policy of the Government to tax horses and the vehicles which they drew; but they had seen fit to make an exemption in favour of agriculture for persons who strictly complied with the terms of the exemption—which were that a person should use horse and cart for the purposes of agriculture solely. Now, hon. Gentlemen came forward and said that persons were not disposed to comply with that condition, and did not simply employ their horses for the purposes of agriculture, but wished to employ them for their own convenience in going to church, or for any other good purpose. [Mr. KINNAIRD: No; church only.] Well, that was not merely for the purposes of agriculture — and yet they wished to be exempted all the same—that was to say, they wished to have the benefit of the exemption without performing the condition on which the exemption was granted. That was the single case they had to try. It was easy for hon. Gentlemen to say that it was a good thing for people to go to church and to take their families there. It was also very good for a man to take his family for an airing, which was very amusing and innocent; and it was good for a man to take his wife when sick to a neighbouring town to see a medical man. Forty or fifty such appeals could be made to people's feelings; but if they once began to break down these exemptions and to introduce merely moral and sentimental considerations in the matter of taxing, it would be almost impossible to draw the line. An exemption could only be tolerated on the ground that the condition on which it was granted was strictly observed. What the hon. Baronet (Sir John Hay) had read from Hansard as his reply, he begged to say was misreported. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) said exactly the contrary. The Government did not collect for gratuitous service—that was, for a man lending his horse to another person gratuitously; but when a man used his horse for the benefit of his own family, it was no longer gratuitously employed. He had made no change in the law—he was only administering it and carrying it out as he found it.


said, he would say a word in support of the new clause. It appeared to him that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had somewhat shifted his ground. He assumed, on former occasions, the air of injured innocence, and implied he had made no change in the law, but that he was only administering and carrying it out as he found it. The right hon. Gentleman represented himself as the victim of circumstances. He to-night, however, said that the policy of the Government was to exempt only gratuitous services.


Not the policy of the Government, but the policy of the law.


said, the right hon. Gentleman used the words "policy of the Government." The right hon. Gentleman, however, now again stated that the Government only wished to carry out the law as they found it. But the right hon. Gentleman made a considerable alteration in the law. That was the ground of the objections made against it. He converted the assessed taxes into Excise licences. He diminished the tax upon horses kept for luxury, and drew the reins of the law tighter in respect to horses kept for useful and productive purposes. The result of those changes was to throw everything into confusion, and to make every man who had a horse and cart exceedingly uncomfortable. No man knew how this newly worded law would be enforced against him. What was the common sense of the thing? The test to be applied was, not was the horse invariably used for one purpose, but what was the profession or avocation of the horse? How, in fact, did a horse earn his living? A horse did not cease to be an agricultural horse because he took the family to church on a Sunday any more than a clergyman ceased to be a clergyman because on a week-day he helped a man to make his will. The Exciseman was, no doubt, anxious to signalize his activity and zeal by discovering that a horse and cart were employed for other purposes than those of agriculture on a Sunday. The Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to be more of a practical statesman, and not take so narrow a view of those questions as the Exciseman or the officials of Somerset House. It was impossible that he could tell a man who kept a horse and cart for agricultural purposes that he should not use them for any other purposes on a Sunday. It was pushing things to an absurd strictness to say that a horse and cart, kept chiefly for agricultural purposes, were to become liable to a tax if employed on an odd Sunday for taking people to church, or other necessary purposes. The course taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and more especially the language he used were, he (Mr. Dodson) thought, calculated to create an amount of irritation in the public mind by no means commensurate with the objects he wished to obtain. The right hon. Gentleman did all this, no doubt, out of a love of symmetry of which he was so fond. A tax on horses was to be looked at either as a tax on luxury or on motive power. If the former, instead of invading the immunity justly enjoyed by agricultural horses, the Government ought to remove the tax from horses employed in trade. If the latter, the Government ought to extend it to all the motive power of great capitalists, and tax steam power, water power, and air power. He hoped the hon. Member for Edinburgh intended to divide upon his proposition.


said, he knew a case where a man used his horse and market cart to take his wife and family to church at Tavistock, a few miles distant, and was summoned to pay the tax. He (Sir Massey Lopes) applied to the Chairman of the Board of Inland Be-venue, at Somerset House, who informed him that it was the practice of the Board not to enforce payment of the tax in the case of a farmer who lent his cart and horse for holiday or occasional purposes—that it was only when the horse and cart were habitually used for other than agricultural purposes on a Sunday, as in the case of the person in question, who, it appeared, had used his cart and horse habitually to take his family to church, that the duty would be enforced. Could anything be more ridiculous than to insist upon this tax in the case of a person who went habitually to church of a Sunday by means of his horse and cart; whereas if he had only used it occasionally for this purpose, he would not have rendered himself liable?

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 41; Noes 42: Majority 1.

Colonel BARTTELOT and Mr. KINNAIRD hoped that after this decision the Government would re-consider the question.


proposed to omit words giving an exemption to Income Tax Commissioners from liability to act as jurors.

Amendment proposed, in page 13, line 10, to leave out the words "not only."—(Mr. Dickinson.)


defended the clause.


hoped the Amendment would be withdrawn. The Commissioners of Income Tax performed their duties gratuitously, and this exemption was, in fact, the only immunity that was given them.

Question, "That the words 'not only' stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to


hoped the House would allow the Bill to be read a third time at once.


would have no objection if the right hon. Gentleman would omit the tax on agricultural carts and horses used in conveying the farmers' families to church on Sundays.


said, that could only be done on having the Bill re-committed.


held that a great injustice had been done to Scotland in this matter; and he must, therefore, consider what course he would take on the third reading.


said, it was the intention of several Scotch Members to take the opinion of the House again on the subject on the third reading.