HC Deb 16 August 1871 vol 208 cc1747-53

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed; "That the Bill be now read the third time."


, in moving that the Bill be re-committed with the view of inserting the following 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, said, he did not intend to occupy the time of the House with any remarks on the subject of the exemption, but he wished to point out that on the previous night, with all the power of the Government against it, the clause was lost only by a majority of 1 in a House of 83 Members, and he believed that if Ministers had acted as they did in the case of the Ballot Bill when the question of election expenses was discussed, and said—"Let hon. Gentlemen vote as they think right," his proposal would have been carried by a very large majority. [Mr. KINNAIRD: Hear, hear!] He mentioned that fact as a justification for his bringing the matter again under the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he now begged to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it was wise to carry what was substantially a new tax against the general feeling of the Scotch people; and, lastly, whether it was worth his while to make the present Government the most unpopular which Scotland had seen for the last 40 years, by putting, as it would be, that tax into operation.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the words "Bill be" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "re-committed in respect of a new Clause," — (Mr. M'Laren,) — instead thereof.


said, he thought it would be a great hardship if an exemption did not exist in a case where a farmer had a weakly or invalid member of his family who could not go to church except by a conveyance. He must take that opportunity of observing that his vote yesterday in favour of the Motion was a sentimental one; but in point of principle he thought the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was right. Whilst the right hon. Gentleman was just he ought to be generous, and to avoid bringing his Government into discredit with the agricultural classes, he (Mr. H. E. Brand) would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the best way to get rid of the difficulty would be to abolish the tax altogether as soon as possible. He trusted the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) would not divide on the present occasion, but would be satisfied with the decision of the previous night.


said, he earnestly supported the Motion of the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren), for not only in Scotland, but in England, that tax was felt as a great hardship. He invariably found that when anyone desired to promote anything savouring of a feeling of benevolence or common justice a cry was raised that it was illogical and against the doctrines of political economy. He felt the justice of this clause very strongly, and no should consider it was a great hardship if the exemption was not given. It was very hard that a horse used by a farmer in an agricultural employment should not also be used in taking an invalid member of the family to church on Sundays.


trusted that the clause would be pressed. He had come down to the House on purpose to support the Amendment.


felt himself called upon to make an appeal to the Prime Minister, and to ask him if he had not had sufficient testimony as to the feeling of injustice created by the refusal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consent to the exemption which was asked for. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that this was merely a Scotch complaint. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: I did not say so.] He would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the united feeling of England, Scotland, and Wales was against the tax. It was a practical grievance, and if the right hon. Gentleman did not concede what they asked for, they would remember it, and take other steps for remedying the grievance.


hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer now perceived that the grievance was not exclusively Scotch, and that he would not give again an answer such as he had given to the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Sussex (Mr. Dodson)—namely, that it was easy to know from his speech what constituency he represented. If hon. Members were sent to that House for anything, it was to represent the nature of the grievances under which their constituencies laboured. They might regard themselves in some sense as advocates in such a case and the House as the judge. He believed they had a good case, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give a reply with respect to two points. First, could he deny that this was a new tax, and the abolition of an old exemption? and, secondly, would he affirm that it was the intention of Parliament, when the Bill passed, to take away the exemption? The case of those who supported the clause was, that this exemption with regard to horses employed on the seventh day, on a different duty from that in which they had been engaged during the other six, was an old exemption, and ought not to have been taken away without express permission of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman was familiar with the political philosophers of antiquity, and would remember the advice not to be always changing laws, because the force of a law depended very much on its antiquity and custom. This was especially true of taxation, and where they had old taxes adjusted to the shoulders of the people it was a great mistake wantonly to alter them for new ones. The same philosopher told how a fox, covered with leeches, declined to have them removed on the ground that fresh ones would take their place, and he preferred the old ones; and it was pretty much the same with taxes. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would distinctly answer the two questions which he had put to him.


said, that the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Kinnaird) talked about the practical nature of the claim. He thought its practical character was exemplified by a Question on the Paper that morning, asking if the right hon. Gentleman would grant the exemption on wet days. Well, but some hon. Gentlemen might ask for the exemption for a hot day, and others again would request it for a cold day. In fact, the nature of the claim would depend upon the temperament of the hon. Gentleman who asked the Question. He agreed that that was purely a sentimental grievance, and he hoped the exemption would not be granted.


said, he was averse to all exemptions as a rule, but the Board of Inland Revenue in this case told the farmer that he might go to tea meetings, or have a day in the country in his cart without being taxed, but that if he went to church in it he must pay the tax. This was a new tax which was felt as much by the trading body as by the agriculturists.


said, he did not rely upon any distinction between "used" and "kept" in this matter, and the same construction was adopted, no matter which word was placed in the Act. A question was raised by that Motion which was much more important than the one agitated on the previous night, and that was whether, after a thing had been twice debated and twice decided in that House, especially at that period of the Session, when time was very valuable, the Order for the Third Reading of a Bill should be stopped in order to try over again precisely the same issue as they had already determined. The Orders of the House were framed with extreme care, so as to give every legitimate opportunity for discussion, that nothing might be carried by surprise or mistake, and it was probably right that those rules should exist; but if they were used, not for the purpose for which they were framed, but merely to raise over and over again the same question, they would become almost an intolerable impediment to business. If he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had been beaten on the last occasion when this question was brought forward it would not have occurred to him to have raised the question again now, even if he had been sure of a majority, and unless hon. Members would consent to exercise some degree of forbearance towards each other, and not to insist on every small occasion on their extreme rights, they might carry some particular points, not of much importance, which they sought to advance; but they would inflict grievous injury on the proceedings of the House, and also on the respect entertained for the House by the country. Therefore he hoped, if for no other reason, that the House would not agree to the clause, which nobody would say was of the importance or urgency to justify its introduction a third time. He would not go into the question again, but he wished to explain what he took the liberty of explaining on the previous night, when the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Dodson) accused him of saying what he probably did say—namely, that the policy of the present Government was to support this exemption. That was a lapsus linguæ. What he meant to say was, that the policy of Parliament was to grant this exemption. If the Government had a policy in the matter, it would not be in favour of the exemption, and he never intended to say otherwise. If this clause were granted it would have the effect pointed out by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) last night—it would enable persons to do what they liked with their horses and vehicles on Sunday. It would be utterly impossible for the Inland Revenue to prove that a man driving with his horse and cart was not going to church. The man was seen on the road with his horse and cart, and he having a lawful reason for going out, the Inland Revenue could not lay hold of him. The exemption, if granted, would not rest at the point indicated. It was quite clear from the speech of the hon. Member for East Sussex that they must go a great deal further, and look to the "vocation of the horse," and if it was pretty often usen in agriculture or trade they must allow it to be employed at other times in any other way. There were £450,000 a-year at stake on the horse duty, and, without being pedantic, he should be sorry to do anything that would prevent the collection of that revenue. It might become desirable at some future time to re-consider that tax altogether, but he could not do so now, and he hoped the House would refrain from interfering with the possibility of collecting it. He thought the Government acted justly with regard to this tax, because they laid down the terms of the exemption, and if those terms were complied with, they granted the exemption. He did not think it would be expedient to allow sentiment to come into the matter; and he must also say that the hon. Member for East Sussex misrepresented him when he said that he was influenced by his love of symmetry and uniformity. He would never be dissuaded from doing anything that was, upon the whole, for the good of the country by a mere abstract love of symmetry and uniformity; but when the burden was cast on some people, and others were exempted without complying with the conditions of exemption, there was more involved than a mere question of symmetry, because they were making one man pay for another. If two men dined together at a tavern and one paid for himself and left the other to pay his own share, what would be thought if the latter said to the former, "What a stickler you are for symmetry, why don't you pay for us both?"


said, that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer complained that this question had been brought before the House again, but he seemed to forget that the other night, when the Motion of the hon. Member for Penrhyn (Mr. Eastwick) on the subject of foreign decorations was fully discussed, and the Government defeated, they raised the question in a few minutes afterwards, and had the vote reversed.


said, the act was not his. He was called upon to vote by the forms of the House.


thought the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) could hardly be blamed for raising that question again, as the proposal had, in the first instance, been defeated by a very few votes indeed, and last night by a majority of only 1. As that was admittedly not a matter of abstract symmetry, nor one of any great urgency or importance, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer might gracefully yield upon it. He did not deny that successive exemptions might ultimately render a tax altogether untenable; but then if the right hon. Gentleman, instead of drawing a rigid hard-and-fast line, had only continued to work the law in the same manner and with the same elasticity as it was applied when he entered upon office, and had kept the tax as it was, all that discomfort and inconvenience to the public would have been avoided, and the present demand for exemption would not have been made. He should again vote with the hon. Member for Edinburgh.


said, he was surprised at the obstinacy of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this point, especially as the right hon. Gentleman had admitted on the previous evening that the exemption would apply to a man taking his neighbour's family to church, but not to a man taking his own family to church.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 45; Noes 29: Majority 16.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.