HC Deb 13 June 1879 vol 246 cc1875-82

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)


thought it was very unreasonable for the Government to proceed with this Bill at that time of the evening. He submitted that it was not fair to ask hon. Members, and especially in view of the events of that evening, the Irish Members, to stop up until that time of night to enable the Government to inflict taxation on the people of a country, of whose interests they had shown themselves so entirely unmindful that evening. He did not consider he would be justified in remaining up any longer to pass this Bill, when the conduct of the Government in relation to Ireland had been scandalous in the extreme. The Government were not entitled to the assistance of Irish Members, when they had that night added another to the long list of instances of obstruction offered by the Government to Irish Business. He moved to report Progress.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Parnell.)

The Committee divided:—Ayes 5; Noes 94: Majority 89.—(Div. List, No. 118.)

Clauses 15 to 22, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 23 (Provisions for the collection of income tax for the year 1880–81).


said, this Bill was intended to impose a tax on inhabited houses, but in reality it taxed uninhabited houses. He did not object to that, so long as all houses, whether inhabited or not, were subject to it. But last year, through the powerful influence of the Chambers of Commerce, all places of business where no one resided, except a care-taker, were freed from the tax, even although they were houses in which extremely large and profitable businesses were carried on. He proposed to place Mechanics' Institutions on the same footing. They were non-residental, except that a care-taker lived, sometimes, on the premises; the only difference between them that he could see was that whilst the houses of business belonged to the masters, these places were maintained by the men. The factory was a place for work, the Institute for culture and education. It was difficult to draw a distinction in principle between them, and most unwise to admit class exemptions, without applying the principle equally. His Amendment was not a claim for exemption from taxation, but a claim for equality in taxation. He hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not meet him with any dilatory plea about the unwisdom of limiting the area of taxation. If that were a true argument, they ought to repeal the Act of last year, which first put into this annual Bill the exemption of houses of business.

Amendment proposed, In page 9, at the end of the Clause, to add the words "Every house which is occupied as a Mechanics' Institute shall he exempted from Duties by the said Commissioners, upon proof of the fact to their satisfaction, and this exemption shall take effect although a servant or other person may dwell in such house for the protection thereof."—(Mr. Leighton.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."


said, he was sorry that he could not accept the proposed Amendment. The fact was that this house tax might be frittered away by continual exemp- tions following on exemptions. No sooner was a concession made than, instead of satisfaction being given, a new claim was immediately introduced. First of all, the tax was taken off houses occupied merely for business purposes, then it was removed from houses used merely for professional purposes, and then followed other exemptions. Every man said, "My case is as strong as my neighbour's," with the result that if that went on much longer they would have no tax at all. He could see no reason why Mechanics' Institutions should be exempted. They were, no doubt, most valuable institutions; but there was no clause exempting them which would not exempt also clubs, lecture-rooms, and all sorts of buildings of a similar character, until they got to clubs employed for social purposes, and rooms also used for artistic and social purposes. He was sorry he could not consent to this Amendment; but, to his mind, its object was to carry still further a system of exemption, which had already proceeded far too rapidly, and which they ought to try and check rather than extend.


understood that this exemption already applied to warehouses whore a servant slept all night, or, at least, that they were only charged at the value of a house, such as a person of that position might be supposed to sleep in, and not on the rate-able value of the whole premises. The grievance complained of here was, that a working man in charge of one of these Mechanics' Institutions, who, under ordinary circumstances, would live in a house of the value, say, of £10, submitted the institution, by the mere fact of his living there, to a charge on the rate-able value of the whole place, which was, perhaps, £200 or £300. Why this should be so he could not understand. They were not asking for a new exemption, or that the principle of exemption should be carried any further. They merely asked that a principle already adopted and acted upon in one case should be applied to another exactly similar, and very deserving of the attention of the Committee.


thought the case might be carried even further, though he spoke with some diffidence on the subject, because he was very imperfectly informed on the matter. If he understood the law aright, a, house occupied for purposes of science and art was ex- empt from house duty, provided it was exclusively so occupied. A case of that kind was, he remembered, tried some time ago. The Philosophic Society of Cambridge had been exempt under that rule for a very long time; but the duty was subsequently charged on the ground that the Society did not come within the scope of the exemption, because one of the rooms was used as a reading room. He understood that places used for Mechanics' Institutions were exempt, if no one lived on the premises. Further, if a person lived on business premises simply as a care-taker, he understood that the premises were exempt from duty, except as to a small amount. If I that was the case in regard to business promises, he could not see why the same exemption should not be extended to Mechanics' Institutions. It was not a question of the extension of an exemption, it was merely the application of a principle already adopted. For his part, he thought it was rather to the interest of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to encourage proposals which would place assessments on a definite, intelligible footing; because he might, by-and-bye, find this tax a strong weapon in his hands, as the tax was a much less objectionable one than the Income Tax. He wished to know if the law had been rightly interpreted; for if it had, he thought a very strong case had been made out.


thought some further answer was required from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He could quite understand that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was unwilling to give up any portion of his Revenue when he had a falling Revenue to deal with; but the demand now made was so modest, and so exactly on a principle laid down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, that to reply, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had done, that he was unwilling to give up the tax, was hardly sufficient. He believed these Mechanics' Institutes did much for the Revenue in another way, for they promoted in a man that feeling of respect for himself, of sobriety and uprightness, which, of course, it was the desire of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as far as possible, to promote. That being so, the very small amount given up by this proposed remission was hardly worth considering. It had been established that when a person lived in an otherwise uninhabited house of business merely for the purpose of taking care of it, he was not compelled to pay the full amount of the duty on the value of the house. That being so, some other answer, besides the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was unwilling to give up this tax, was necessary to explain why a difference was made between houses of business and Mechanics' Institutions.


said, he did not precisely know what the point was to which the hon. Baronet alluded; but there seemed to him to be a considerable difference between the case dealt with last year and that now before them. The object then was to do justice as between different classes of traders. One class lived in the house in which they carried on their business; while others lived in the suburbs, and left their business houses to care-takers. The alteration was made, therefore, to put the two cases on an equality. But in the case of Mechanics' Institutions, and other buildings more or less cognate, that argument did not apply. Of course, they might say that a certain class of building ought to be exempt; but then that could be carried on from Mechanics' Institutions to all the Clubs of London, and any other institutions which were in any way-analogous or cognate. It would be a great pity to-fritter away taxes in that way. To grant this exemption now would only pave the way for further deductions in the future, a thing which the House ought by no means to encourage. He saw no reason for making this special concession, and, therefore, could not concede it.


begged to point out that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not yet answered the Question as to what was now the state of the law with regard to Scientific Institutions. He should also like to know what was the case with schools? A care-taker resided in a great many schools; but he did not think in those cases that the tax was levied on the full rateable value.


said, the principle on which the tax was based was very plain. The tax was on inhabited houses, and the various exceptions were recited in the Preamble. First, premises occupied solely for the purposes of trade were exempt. Then came the further exemption of houses used and occupied in the greater part for the purposes of trade, but occupied also by a care-taker. Then came a further exemption of houses occupied for certain professions; and now it was sought to extend the exemption further than it had ever been carried before, and to include houses which were neither occupied for trades nor for professions. Until these Mechanics' Institutions were brought within the present law, the tax must apply. Of course, if no one lived there, they were exempt, and did not come within the purview of the tax.


asked the state of the law with regard to schools and museums?


said, they were exempt, because they were not inhabited houses.


asked if a Philosophical Society was subject to the tax where a care-taker resided on the premises? Because, if it was, then the distinction between it and the Mechanics' Institutions seemed too fine a one to be drawn. In many instances that he knew of, a Mechanics' Institute was a purely Scientific or Philosophical Society. A peculiar claim might also be made on behalf of these institutions, as they wore mainly supported by the working classes.


thought this was hardly a point to be urged; for the houses in which the labouring classes lived were below the level of the tax, and the labouring classes were also exempt from Income Tax. If Mechanics' Institutions were exempt, he did not see how they could fail from applying the principle to all other places cognate in character, though they might be in the hands of much wealthier persons.


denied that there was any connection between these places and clubs. They were entirely different in character, and it would be quite impossible to include the one with the other.


said, he agreed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Certainly, if Mechanics' Institutions were to be exempt, there could be no reason for refusing exemption to many other similar institutions.


thought the request made by the Mover of the Motion a very reasonable one, and he presumed it would not have been made if it had not represented a practical inconvenience. He presumed the hon. Member knew what the state of the law was as to these Philosophical Societies, and lie wished that he would tell them his view of it.


said, that the ground on which the alteration in favour of houses of business was made last year was that these houses were not really occupied as places of residence. It seemed to him that the Mechanics' Institutes were on exactly the same footing.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 30; Noes 55: Majority 25.—(Div. List, No. 119.)


said, he proposed to withdraw the clause, as it had been represented to him, since its introduction, that it would be exceedingly inconvenient, and would materially interfere with a great many persons. He would afterwards propose an Amendment enabling the Inland Revenue to appoint.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 24 (Appointment of collectors for income tax under Schedules (A.) and (B.) and laud tax and inhabited house duties).


asked for some explanation of Sub-section 3. It seemed rather strange to say that if in any year an office was not filled up the appointment should lapse. Would it not be much better to put it in the hands of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue once for all?


, replied, that complaints were constantly made by persons forced to serve of the hardship imposed on them, and therefore the Bill allowed the Inland Commissioners, on persons refusing to serve, to appoint collectors. At present, the collectors were appointed by the localities, and they got a percentage for collection of the duty. The Government proposed to appoint their own officers to do the work; but it would, of course, be manifestly unfair to dispossess persons who had given up their incomes to take this work. Therefore, the power of appointment would still remain in the localities; and only when they had refused to exercise it, would it revert to the Department. But when it had once done so, the localities would never again have the power of appointment; because, otherwise, Government might go to the expense of appointing a staff of officers one year, and find itself saddled with them and their pensions the next.


said, it simply came to this—that the collectors would be appointed as before; and only in the event of their refusal to serve, or not caring about the work, would the Commissioners undertake the work.


knew the task of collection to be very repulsive to many individuals who were appointed. he wished to know whether the appointments would still be compulsory?


replied, that the localities would exercise their powers just as before, but the collectors might refuse to serve; and in the event of the office not being filled up before the date mentioned, the Government would undertake the work.

Clause agreed to.

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