HC Deb 11 May 1871 vol 206 cc631-6

Order for Committee read.


said, three questions had arisen on that Bill, all of them entirely independent of the merits of the measure. The first question had reference to the Bill having been read the second time before it was circulated among Members, his right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) having previously stated—what he believed to be the fact at the time—that the Bill was a mere formula, and contained no new matter. That statement was correct in substance, but not quite correct in words, because the measure contained a clause regulating the manner in which the inhabited house duty was to be collected, together with the income tax duty. On the other hand, it was not a substantial deviation from the fact, because the right hon. Gentleman was not aware of those clauses. That principle was laid down and established by the Act of last year, which transferred the duty of collecting the house duty to the Commissioners of Income Tax. Still, complaint had been made that hon. Members had lost an opportunity of taking objections to the measure in consequence of his right hon. Friend's statement. In the second place, a doubt had been expressed, which he thought there might be some foundation for, whether it was right to introduce those clauses about the inhabited house duty into the Bill without a previous Resolution in Committee. There seemed to be considerable colour for doing it, because that was merely adding financial clauses to it. And, thirdly, it had been questioned whether it was proper, even with a Resolution to found it upon, to introduce the usual annual tea duty into that Bill. On that point they were certain that they were correct. Now, in regard to all these questions, it was not desirable to occupy time in arguing on the one side or the other points of order and of form which were only collateral, and had nothing to do with the merits of the Bill, when it would be easy, by a little sacrifice, to obviate the difficulty and set the matter right. The Government, therefore, upon consideration, thought the best course to adopt under the circumstances would be to withdraw the Bill altogether, and introduce a new one, and so cure any defects. He had, therefore, to move that the Order for going into Committee on the Bill be discharged.


said, he thought the Government had exercised a very wise and sound discretion in taking that course. They had alluded to three different points which it would have been his (Mr. Hunt's) duty to advert to had not that course been adopted. He was not the least surprised to hear that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government was not aware of the contents of the Bill when he stated that it was only an income tax formula, because he (Mr. Hunt) thought it would not come under the right hon. Gentleman's personal attention; but he was considerably surprised that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not acquainted with the contents of his own Bill, and very much surprised that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not given attention to it, and that the Secretary of the Treasury had not. But he was still more astonished to-night to know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, even now, did not know the contents of the Bill, and that he had stated that it was only a matter of regulation as regarded the house duty; whereas there was a most important change made with regard to the assessment of the house duty that was entirely new; for whereas the inhabited house duty was assessed by independent assessors up to this time, it was now proposed to transfer the duty to Government officers—a proposition which had excited opposition at different times in that House. He would not discuss the expediency of that change; but it was made for the first time by that Bill. It was fortunate that the Bill was to be withdrawn, because the Rules of the House ought to be observed, more especially in matters of taxation. The Bill had been introduced as an Income Tax Bill founded upon a Resolution agreed to in Committee of Ways and Means; its title was that of an Income Tax Bill, and, as such, it passed its first and second reading, and then, on going into Committee upon it, the measure appeared for the first time as an Income Tax and Inhabited House Duties Bill. To say the least of it, this was an irregularity, it not being competent for the Government to enlarge the scope of the Bill at such a stage by the means that had been adopted in the present instance. It was upon these grounds that he should have appealed to the Speaker to order the Bill to be struck out of the Orders of the Day, had not the right hon. Gentleman proposed to withdraw it. Then there was another point, to which the right hon. Gentleman opposite appeared to attach but slight importance, but to which he felt compelled to draw the attention of the House—namely, that this Bill, which purported to be an Income Tax Bill, contained clauses re-imposing the duties upon tea. It was extraordinary that the right hon. Gentleman should have overlooked the fact that the tea duties expired in August next, and it was not until the eve of the introduction of the Budget he discovered that circumstance was likely to occur. Much allowance ought, doubtless, to be made to the right hon. Gentleman in consequence of the extraordinary financial circumstances of the year; but, nevertheless, the duties upon tea ought not to have been imposed by a Bill purporting to be an Income Tax Bill. No doubt there was a precedent to be found for such a course, which occurred in the year 1813, when a tax upon French wines was introduced into a Bill for imposing a tax upon tobacco and snuff upon its second reading; but even that was not exactly upon all-fours with the present case, inasmuch as the duty then imposed was an Excise duty, and the Bill was a Bill for the imposition of duties of a similar nature. In his opinion, however, the precedent so afforded was one which ought not to have been followed, because it was contrary to the Rule laid down by that House, that no Bill imposing a tax could be introduced into that House unless it was founded upon a Resolution agreed to in Committee of Ways and Means, so that the House might have an ample opportunity of discussing the tax not only in Committee of Ways and Means, but also on the occasions of the first and second reading of the Bill before it got into Committee, as well as in its subsequent stages. If, however, a clause were to be introduced into a Bill in Committee at 1 o'clock in the morning, by which a tax was imposed of a totally different nature from those originally proposed to be imposed by the Bill as it originally stood, the House would be deprived of the opportunities for discussing the merits of the fresh tax which were secured to them by their rules. The question involved was, in his estimation, no light one; and therefore he trusted that for the future recourse would not be had to a precedent which he must characterize as being an unfortunate one, but that the House would be afforded full opportunity for discussing every Bill imposing a tax on all its stages in accordance with their Rules. He rejoiced that the right hon. Gentleman had spared the House the trouble of discussing this question at further length; but he must repeat the hope he had expressed the other night, that greater attention and care would be given in future to the financial legislation of the Government.


expressed the regret he felt at having been the means of conveying to the House the erroneous impression that the Bill in question was a mere formula. He wished, however, to say, with reference to the third point raised, by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hunt), that the subject-matter in dispute between himself and the Government had disappeared by the latter having withdrawn the measure to which he objected. He hoped, however, it would be understood that the Government was not prepared to admit that under no circumstances could a tax with perfect propriety be inserted in a Bill by Instruction of the Committee of Ways and Means on its second reading. It was not necessary to discuss the question; but he was not prepared to say that a precedent of the character they had heard of ought never to be followed, or that it ought to be, as a matter of course, renounced. He believed that even as lately as the 6th of August, 1859, a similar precedent was afforded, when a clause for the increase of the duties upon probates and letters of administration was introduced into an Inland Revenue Bill in compliance with a Resolution passed in Committee upon Ways and Means on its second reading.


observed, that all the confusion that had arisen on this matter had resulted from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer omitting to notice in his Budget speech the fact that the tea duties would lapse in August next — a circumstance that gave rise to a part of the deficit of the year, and which ought, therefore, to have been brought under the attention of the House, in order that they might have been made aware of the full amount of the deficiency for the year. Had this course been adopted the present confusion would not have arisen.


took the present opportunity of asking the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, now that the old assessed taxes had been replaced by an annual licence duty payable in advance, there was any necessity for compelling the public to fill up the old forms under which the assessments used to be made. The right hon. Gentleman shook his head; but he had been compelled to fill up one of the forms last year, and he objected to the bother of doing so when there was no necessity for his being put to so much trouble in the matter.


said, the right hon. Gentleman would not be called upon to fill up any more of the forms.


expressed his approval of the conduct of the Government in withdrawing this Bill, because on two substantial points its irregularity had been admitted, and because the House ought to be excessively jealous of any course being pursued which might tend to deprive hon. Members of those opportunities for discussing a measure involving taxation which the Rules of the House afforded them. If the withdrawal of the measure under the circumstances could have been entered on the Journals of the House, there to stand as a precedent to be referred to in future times when any irregularity of the character admitted to have occurred with reference to the present Bill was committed, a good result would have been attained. The precedent referred to by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government was rather an unfortunate one, it having occurred on the 6th of August, just before the close of the Session—a time when it was well known irregularities were often committed. In the present case the Committee of Ways and Means had passed a Resolution involving the renewal of a tax producing something like £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 per annum; it had been sought to carry that Resolution into effect, not by bringing in a Bill embodying the substance of that Resolution, but by inserting a clause in a Bill which had been introduced with a totally different object at one of its intermediate stages, and thus the House would have been deprived of some of the opportunities it should have had for discussing the merits of the tax. He trusted that for the future no attempt would be made to follow the precedent to which reference had been made.

Order discharged: Bill withdrawn.