HC Deb 22 May 1891 vol 353 cc944-8


Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir Herbert Maxwell.)

(10.25.) MR. M. HEALY (Cork)

This Bill appears to be of some importance, and I think we ought to have some information as to its character and purpose. The existing Stamp Duties Act, so far as I am aware, has worked very well, and the alterations since 1870 have not, I think, been of an extensive nature, and I am, therefore, somewhat at a loss to know the reason for introducing this Bill at the present time.

(10.26.) THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN,) St. George's, Hanover Square

This Bill is a consolidated one. Numerous alterations and exemptions have been made in the Stamp Duties from time to time, and considerable inconvenience has been experienced owing to those changes being scattered through various Acts. Great trouble has been taken in the preparation of the Bill, and I have reason to believe that the Law Society, and those particularly concerned—men of business and others—approve very decidedly of the step that has been taken in consolidating the law. It will be of great service to the public to have the law put on the clearest and most intelligible footing. The Bill does not include the Probate Duties, but only the ordinary Stamp Duties. It is our intention, after the Second Reading, to refer the Bill to the Standing Committee on Law.

(10.27.) MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)

No doubt it is desirable and necessary for the public and the legal profession that the law should be put into a clear and intelligible form; and if this were merely a consolidation of the existing law, no objection would be taken. But there is one clause—Clause 13—which proposes a somewhat important and startling change in the law. Under it persons appealing from Assessment Duty, and succeeding in those appeals in protection of their own pockets, are no longer to get the costs of appeals, but are to be deprived of the right of obtaining costs. The question is to be left wholly to the discretion of the Court. That is a very unreasonable provision, and it is not a proper one to be introduced in a Consolidation Bill. I would suggest that to facilitate the progress of the Bill this Clause 13 should be withdrawn, for it in no sense can be called a consolidation of the existing law. In dealing with private litigants, it is reasonable that the Court should have a large discretion in allowing costs, otherwise you may have litigiously-minded persons continuously making applications on trifling technical points of form, and not points of substance; and, though they may succeed, it does not follow that they should be allowed their costs; but as between the Crown, as represented by a great Department like the Inland Revenue, which exercises the power of taxation, it is only reasonable that a litigant, when he succeeds in an application for his own protection, and, in doing so, performs also a public service, should be allowed his costs. I hope the Bill will not be allowed to go through now without some expression of opinion from other Members and without some clear explanation of the changes it is intended to effect.

(10.30.) THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir E. CLARKE,) Plymouth

The hon. Member has called attention to the only one of the modifications made by this Bill to which objection could be taken. No doubt some difference of opinion may arise as to the discretion of the Court in regard to costs. I think it is a wise change to bring the law in these matters into harmony with the rule in almost all other cases. If hon. Members will allow the Bill to be read a second time now, the Government will look into the point the hon. Member has raised, and will certainly not press the proposed change if there is any great objection to it.

(10.32.) MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)

I think it shows want of frankness to speak of this measure as a Consolidation Bill. It is nothing of the kind. If there is any law that less requires consolidation than another it is the law relating to the Stamp Duties. There is no law more easily accessible and better understood. I am beginning to think these great Departments of State must have very little to do, because we have found them of recent years forcing upon the attention of Members who have a great deal more work than they have, and are not paid for doing it, a series of Bills for codifying laws which experts are paid to understand, whilst the laws which the public require to understand are left uncodified. My hon. Friend has taken distinct exception to Section 13 of this Bill. I think it is a very strong section, and that it is unfair to introduce it in a so-called Codification Bill.

(10.35.) MR. GOSCHEN

Of course, we should not have done it unless we had called special attention to the matter in the Memorandum attached to the Bill. We do, however, draw special attention to Clause 13 in the Memorandum, so that no charge of that kind can be brought against us.


I do not know, Mr. Speaker, that I might not draw your attention to this as a matter of order. This is a Consolidation Bill, and I do not see that a reference to the clause in the Memorandum alters the matter. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time on this day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. T. M. Healy.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

(10.37.) MR. A. O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)

I do not know whether this Bill has been founded on a Resolution in Committee; but it strikes me, as a matter of order, in as much as it repeals certain duties and imposes others, that it ought to have been so founded. Besides this, I find it stated in the Memorandum that there has been an official practice at variance in certain respects with the provisions of the existing law. It would have been only proper if the House had been informed what were the points of difference between the practice and the law. I suppose that if the Bill is not passed, the illegal proceedings of the officials will be continued indefinitely. I submit that the Government ought to have told us what are the official practices that are legal, what amount of revenue they involve, and what charge upon the subject this Bill will cause. I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, whether the Bill ought not to have been founded on a Resolution in Committee?


The Bill provides for repeal of duties, but for no imposition of fresh duties.


There is an alteration of duty.


I do not understand that there is any alteration of the existing duty.


Yes, there is an alteration of the existing duty.


At the top of page 3 there is a provision which, in my opinion, imposes a fresh charge on the taxpayers of Scotland.


No, I think it is a reduction of duty.


I find, on looking at the Bill, that there is a remission of duty, as I said before, and not an imposition of a fresh duty.

(10.40.) The House divided:—Ayes 82; Noes 23.—(Div. List, No. 244.)

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time.


I beg to move that the Bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Law.


I do not rise to oppose this proposition, but only to express the opinion that it would be reasonable if the Government gave us some indication that in Committee they will not urge the objectionable portions of the clause.


I will consider the point.

Question, "That this Bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Law," put, and agreed to.