§ [FIFTH NIGHT.]
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 1.
§ MR. BYRNE (Essex, Walthamstow)
said, that in the absence of the hon. 315 Member for York (Mr. Butcher) he proposed to move the Amendment standing in his name—an Amendment which was very similar to one of which he had himself given notice. He was content to accept the form of his hon. and learned Friend—namely, to omit the words "settled or not settled," and to substitute for them "to be ascertained as hereafter provided," because the result would be to leave the matter open for discussion on Clause 2. Did the Chancellor of the Exchequer accept that, or did he prefer to have the matter cleared up at the earlier stage?
§ MR. BYRNE
said, he thought the words "settled or not settled" should be omitted, otherwise when they came to Clause 2 it might be settled that Clause 1 by those words fixed the principle. The words were, in fact, unnecessary unless it was intended by them to decide the question of principle in the 1st clause. It was clear that property passing on death would include, if properly defined, property whether settled or unsettled, so that the words were not required. The question was involved as to whether all settlements which were strictly transactions between living persons were to involve the payment of Estate Duty without regard to who was the settlor or who were the beneficiaries. When he came to look at Clause 2 he found a Delphic Sub-section (c) which, save by reference to various tesselations, he had not been able to find the meaning of. It had taken two or three years and decisions in the Divisional Court to ascertain the meaning of these tesselations; indeed, there was an appeal now pending on the subject. There were settlements made partaking of the nature of wills, such as voluntary dispositions of property under which a man during his lifetime received benefit for himself, but upon his death the benefit passed to other persons. The law had already recognised that in some degree such a settlement should be taxed, but in these words "settled or not settled" they had something much larger; because it was quite clear that, if duty was to be paid upon all settlements of every kind by whomsoever made and irrespective of the persons upon whom benefit was con- 316 ferred, they were putting an enormous burden that did not now exist on a class of settlement that he felt sure the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not mean to burden to that extent. He would be doing it all at one blow in the 1st clause without leaving anything open for subsequent discussion. With reference to settlements—speaking generally—it would be right and proper to levy such duty as was meant to be levied upon them in the form of a Probate Duty by means of an ad valorem stamp on the settlement. In this way the amount of the duty would be ascertained as soon as possible—and that was essential unless dealings in property, whether land or personalty, were to be prevented. Under the Bill they were going to impose a duty on settlements, the amount of which could not be ascertained until some property passed under the settlement. He would give a short illustration which would show the result of the Government proposal. Suppose a man, upon his marriage, settled a sum of £10,000 on himself for life, with remainder to his wife for life, with remainder to the children of the marriage equally. The wife died during the lifetime of the settlor, leaving two children. "A" married again, and had two children by his second marriage. By his will he gave a second sum of –10,000 to his widow for life, with remainder to the children of the second marriage. As matters stood, upon his death, the children of the first marriage became entitled to £10,000 under the settlement, and the widow and children of the second marriage would become entitled to another sum of £10,000. Now, the Estate Duty payable by those taking under the settlement would be 5 per cent., so that the amount payable would be £500. But suppose the testator left £100,000 to his widow and the children of the second marriage. Then those who took the £10,000 under the settlement would have to pay 7 instead of 5 per cent.—£700 instead of £500, taking precisely the same benefit. It did not matter one pin to them whether he died worth a million or nothing at all. Did there seem to be reason or justice in taxation upon such principles as that? He (Mr. Byrne) submitted that this matter had been overlooked in framing the Bill, and if they passed the first clause with the 317 words "settled or unsettled" remaining in it without due consideration they might be told, at a later stage, when they desired to raise the point, that the question had already been settled. Let the Committee think of the burden it was proposed to impose. The 5 per cent, on a small settlement of £10,000 on one's children meant about two years' income at the modern rate of trustees' investments. For two years the children were to be left unprovided for in order to pay this duty. Could this be meant? It was against all the principles of legislation that had been adopted in foreign countries or in our own country. They had exempted from Income Tax a large proportion of premiums payable on insurance for lives. Why? Because it was a provident thing for a man to do in moderation—to make provision for his children. But here the Government were going to impose a tax which would offer a direct inducement to a man not to make a settlement unless it could be made so large that it would easily be able to bear the large burden imposed on it. Under the Government scheme the amount of the duty payable in regard to these settlements could not be ascertained until the man's own death. At the present moment a person who was possessed of a reversionary interest in a sum of £10,000 could mortgage it or sell it at any time during the lifetime of the parents. Over and over again reversionary interests were mortgaged for the purpose of setting young people up in business. But under the present scheme who would lend money on a reversionary interest, or who would purchase it? No one, unless the holder of it could scrape together a sufficient sum of money to cover the utmost duty which could become payable on the settlor's death. By their scheme the Government would be putting a stop to reasonable, ordinary, every-day transactions by means of which young men often got that start in life which they could not otherwise secure. Of recent years an enormous automatic increase had taken place in duties payable in reference to these family provisions. Twenty-five years ago if a man wanted to provide an income of £300 a year for his life, and then to leave the capital producing that amount to his children, he would have been enabled to invest in good securities sufficient to produce that 318 amount for a comparatively small sum. But where in railway stock or Government securities or foreign bonds they could have obtained 5 per cent, or 4¾ it was only possible now to get at the utmost 3 per cent. But all that time the State had been getting in Probate Duty the advantage of the increase in value, because the Probate Duty was levied principally on capital value. On a property producing, say, £200 a year, the Government received 25 per cent, more than it did 25 years ago. Let the Committee note how difficult it would be for the struggling professional man to make provision for his family. To provide a small sum of £200 or £300 a year for those who were to come after him he had to put by 25 per cent, more than he would have had to do 25 years ago. He (Mr. Byrne) would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give some attention to this matter when he was considering what settlements were to be included. He should give encouragement to people to make reasonable provision for their families. He (Mr. Byrne) was not pleading for the very wealthy, but for struggling business and professional men who scraped together £10,000 or £15,000—a class who were as worthy of consideration as any in the Kingdom. If the clause were left as it was he was afraid it would be said when they came to a later portion of the Bill that these questions could not be reopened. Let them take another illustration—to show the extraordinary increase of taxation which would be brought about by the Bill in connection with family settlements. Take the case of a settlement made by a man on his daughter's marriage—which was also a very prudent thing for a man to do. Suppose he settled £10,000 on himself for his life, then his daughter for life, then his daughter's husband for life, and then to his daughter's children absolutely. That would be a simple, ordinary provident provision which a prudent father would make on the marriage of his daughter. What was the duty payable? Under the law as it now stood Succession Duty had to be paid at the rate of 1½ per cent, in respect of the daughter's, the husband's, and the children's succession. That amounted to £150. It was payable out of the corpus once for all, and it 319 covered the whole of the settlement. On the death of the settlor the whole settlement had to pay £150, to which might be fairly added the 5s. per cent. Stamp Duty payable on personalty, which would give another £25, making in all £175. That was the amount which had to be paid to the estate at the present moment for a settlement of the kind he had described. But under the Bill a Succestion Duty of 1 per cent, would be payable, or £100, an Estate Duty at a graduated rate which could not be less than 3 per cent.—it might be anything up to 8 per cent, according to the wealth of the settlor at the time of death—call it £400, a further Estate Duty of 1 per cent., or £100, and a 5s. Stamp Duty, making £625 in all. If the settlor after making the settlement became wealthy and left all his property in a fit of generosity to a charitable institution or to some other member of his family, another £400 would be added to the duty payable. Clause 2 defined property passing on the death of the settlor, but only by saying what it should be deemed to include. That, undoubtedly, would not be equivalent to saying "shall be deemed to mean the property." All settlements not mentioned in Clause 2 which they had not discussed would be included under the words "settled or not settled," under the 1st section. Inasmuch as these words were not required really for the purposes of Section I, it would be better now to drop them out, leaving the question as to what settlements were to be included to be discussed under Section 2.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 19, to leave out the words "settled or not settled," and insert the words "to be ascertained as hereinafter provided."—(Mr. Byrne.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
It is quite true that on this clause the Government desire to raise the question whether settled property, as a general rule, is to be put upon the same footing as all other property. Let there be no mistake about that. It is one of the main and cardinal objects of the Bill. In my Budget speech I quoted from the right hon. Member for St. George's the statement that in his 320 opinion settlements were a fraud upon the Revenue—
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I said it was an exaggerated phrase, and that the whole context of my statement showed that it was a general remark, and not to be taken as the policy of the Government.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I will read the right hon. Gentleman's words again before the Report. He said an additional tax should be put upon settlements in consequence of the extent to which they were used to evade the demands of the Revenue. No one would deny that.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Then I will get the right hon. Gentleman's words. I will send for them now, and have them read over. It is one of the main objects of the Bill that settled property should be put upon the same footing as property that is not settled in regard to its contribution to the Revenue. The hon. Member raises that question directly. The more convenient course for him would have been to ruse the question on Clause 2, upon which details might have been gone into. As the hon. Member has said, the retention of these words "settled or unsettled" will conclude the whole question. [Cries of "No, no!"] Then, he has no occasion to deal with it now. The question properly arises on Sub-section (c) of Clause 2, where any desired limitation can be imposed upon settlements. That is the main provision of the Bill with reference to settlements; and then there is the Interpretation Clause—Clause 18—stating what is meant by settled property. These I venture to say are the proper places for the hon. Gentleman to propose alterations. It is open to the hon. Gentleman to engraft on Clause 2 any limitation he thinks he can recommend to the House on settlements, but we are now upon the general question of whether settled property shall or shall not be dealt with, and put in a fairer position with reference to taxation than it occupies at present. Settlements, as a rule, are 321 the resources of the wealthier classes. All we are asking here is that property disposed of in all cases mentioned by the hon. and learned Member shall, so far as taxation is concerned, take the form of disposition of property common to classes who are not able to indulge in the luxury of conveyancers and solicitors, whose ingenuity enables them to evade taxation. The Amendment would make a larger hole by which persons would be able to escape it. The hon. Member cannot expect the Government to accept that. We have been assured by the hon. Member for Surrey that when Parliament imposes this tax everyone concerned will endeavour to evade it.
§ MR. BRODRICK (Surrey, Guildford)
I said I knew of a case in which a man in a large business had already transferred his business to his son and had taken a life interest himself.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I am sorry to hear that a business man should take that view when they are called on by Parliament to make their contribution to the defences of the Empire. They tell us that their first object will be to evade taxation, and that landed estates will be conveyed at once with that design. If that is so, it is the business of Parliament to defeat them. It is absolutely necessary to lay down that no property placed under settlement shall have any advantage over other property. That is a fundamental principle of the Bill; that is why it was put in the forefront of the Bill, in order that the opinion of the House may be taken upon the principle. It had been a scandal, the manner in which the Revenue had been robbed for generations under settlements. I have now the words of the right hon. Member for St. George's, Hanover Square—The whole theory of the Death Duties is that the State claims a share of all property passing on death. I hold, if I may use a phrase of legitimate exaggeration, that the operation of the Death Duties is practically evaded by settlements.The Government say that the Death Duties in future shall not be evaded by settlements. The right hon. Gentleman added—And I say that from my point of view every settlement, if not a fraud upon the Death Duties, at all events makes a serious inroad on what I may term the rights of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.322 The rights of the Chancellor of the Exchequer are the rights of the Revenue of this country, and is the right hon. Gentleman to-night going to vote against a proposal the object of which is to prevent a serious inroad on the rights of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? As long as I occupy the position I have at present the honour to hold I shall stand up to resist these serious inroads upon the rights, of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and in defence of the Revenue of this country. If hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite wish to have an issue on the words "settled" or "unsettled," the Government are perfectly willing to take it. The hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of putting the duty upon stamps, but why more than upon wills? That is another of the roads which the hon. and learned Gentleman is anxious to provide for his friends the landed interest to escape the valuation, and it is necessary, therefore, to look very narrowly at proposals intended to-effect that object. It is obvious that the proposal of the hon. and learned Gentleman would defeat both aggregation and graduation, and it cannot be expected that the Government can accept an insidious proposal the object of which is to defeat the whole plan of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman can, on Clause 2, make any definite proposal he chooses to limit the character of settlements which are to be affected by the Bill, but he challenges me upon the general principle, as it is stated in Clause 2, as to whether settled property shall or shall not be included in the general principle of the Bill for the purpose of aggregation.
§ SIR M. HICKS-BEACH (Bristo, W.)
For the purpose of duty. This is a very important point, and I would ask your opinion, Mr. Chairman, as to whether the question of aggregation does not arise on Clause 3? The decision on the word "settled" or "unsettled" property is whether one or other shall be liable to duty in some form or another.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I am quite willing to take it on that footing. I was only referring to the argument used by the hon. and learned Gentleman with reference to the proposal to put a duty upon stamps. I consider this Amendment raises the question whether, as a general principle, settled property as well as unsettled property shall be subject to 323 Estate Duty. That is the real issue which we are upon now, and as to which we are perfectly prepared to take the decision of the Committee.
§ MR. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square)
I should wish I could have abstained from interposing on this particular Amendment, but the right hon. Gentleman cannot speak without trailing his coat. My hon. and learned Friend behind me made a most clear, definite, and detailed speech, and we might have expected that the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his reply would have replied to some of the questions raised by the Amendment. No; the landed interest must be dragged in again. My hon. and learned Friend does not represent the landed interest, and not by one single word did he deal with the landed interest. On the contrary, the right hon. Gentleman must remember that he dealt with personalty almost the whole time? What has the right hon. Gentleman got to say to that? He has utterly mistaken and he has misrepresented my hon. and learned Friend. He has misrepresented the whole tendency of the Amendment, and he has endeavoured, as he too often does, to create odium again by pointing out that an Amendment which has nothing to do with the landed interest more than with the rest of the community has been brought in simply for their benefit. If the right hon. Gentleman could refrain from this kind of attack how much more rapid would our progress be! We might then have had to discuss the single point whether this question should be dealt with on Clause 1 or Clause 2, or on both. When the right hon. Gentleman introduces subjects of this kind and makes these broad general assertions—which, I suppose, he means for consumption out of doors—he naturally stimulates hon. Members on this side of the House to reply; because I have told him before, and I will tell him again—I hope good-humouredly—that if he throws out a challenge it will be accepted, if he makes misrepresentations they will be corrected, and if he attacks persons they will defend themselves. I point out to hon. Members that they must not complain if these Debates are more protracted than they would be otherwise, this being due to the pugnacity of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Why does he quote for the fourth time a sentence out of one 324 of my speeches? Cannot the right hon. Gentleman confine himself to a general discussion of his own propositions without endeavouring to fasten on political opponent's views, in a manner which entirely misrepresents those views? It seems that neither the Prime Minister nor the Chancellor of the Exchequer can quote properly from political opponents?
§ MR. GOSCHEN
The right hon. Gentleman first coloured my opinion and then sent out to see whether what I had said would confirm what he had put before the Committee. My words do not confirm what the right hon. Gentleman said were my views. I did use the word "exaggeration," but I put it to the fairness of the Committee whether the version given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is correct. It is perfectly clear what I meant as expressed in the words "legitimate exaggeration." I never intended to convey that there was any fraud on the Revenue, but, speaking as Chancellor of the Exchequer, I said that if you pushed the doctrine to the extreme—as the right hon. Gentleman always endeavours to push them to the extreme—then the rights of the Chancellor of the Exchequer might be invaded. The right hon. Gentleman speaks of evasion, again bringing in the landed interest. He says the landed interest is going to evade this tax because they do not choose to pay for their portion of the great expenditure that is to be involved. I have heard that evasion has been commenced. A case has been reported to me where this evasion is being practised by a very well-known Gladstonian. But although the right hon. Gentleman calls it evasion, it is not evasion to give away money in your lifetime if the taxation is so heavy that you would rather forego the use of it during lifetime than leave a much smaller property to your children at your death. I wish to put this question of evasion once for all clearly before the Committee. If you place such heavy duties as the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposes upon property that passes by death—and remember these duties are on a scale perfectly out of proportion with those that existed when I used the words which the right hon. 325 Gentleman has quoted—but if you put on duties you raise what I may call not by exaggeration at all, but by the most legitimate phrase, you raise the question in a man's breast, "What is best for the future of my children? What is best for myself? Shall I part with a portion of my property during lifetime or shall I not?" You call that evasion! From the Chancellor of the Exchequer's point of view it may be. There is a certain evasion in it, but does the right hon. Gentleman or does any hon. Member opposite pay a penny more to the Revenue than he is obliged to pay? It had been said that this will lead to donations by sires, and the right hon. Gentleman, as a social reformer, said that this would be a very good effect of the Bill. It was pointed out that the portions would be given away during the lifetime of a testator, and the right hon. Gentleman said, "a very good thing too." He forgot then his character of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but to-night he plays that part again with such considerable vigour and force that it appears to him that every donation of a sire to a son during lifetime will in future be a theft on the Exchequer and a trenching on the rights of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There are three topics that ought now to be removed. One is the quotation from my own speech, the next is the allusion to any alleged unwillingness of the landed interest to contribute their fair share of taxation, and the third is that this is a mean attempt to deprive the Chancellor of the Exchequer of what is due rather than pay 5, 6, and 7 per cent, on settlement where the amount is limited. The right hon. Gentleman did not say one word on the main point of the speech of my hon. Friend, which was—are you to have aggregation and graduation, the two operations combined in the case of a settlement where those who are entitled to the benefit of a settlement gained no benefit by the accumulations which have subsequently been made by the person who made the settlement?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I was going to deal with that question, but I was at once called to Order by the right hon. Member for Bristol for referring to aggregation.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
The right hon. Gentleman was not called to Order. The right hon. Gentleman was laying down a general principle that might afterwards have been quoted. It was done with very great skill. He said we wanted to have the general question settled here that settled property was to pay in the same way as other property in aggregation and graduation. My right hon. Friend said, "You mean really aggregation," and the right hon. Gentleman withdrew, and said that aggregation would come on in another clause. He used the word "aggregation" in connection with the 1st clause, and he might as well have given his opinion; but he was too careful to do so. With regard to the broad principle, to my mind we shall have to discuss that at whatever time we can do so which is most convenient. Meanwhile, we understand that if we pass these words "settled or unsettled" here, the question of aggregation as regards settlements will remain to be settled hereafter, together with all the reservations and conditions that may be found necessary to satisfy the Committee.
§ MR. RATHBONE (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)
said, he would make an appeal to the owners of all classes of property, and ask them if they were not making a mistake in seeking to avoid absolutely just principles as to taxation? The only principles on which taxation should be paid were, first, ability to pay, and, secondly, benefit derived; and would anybody who had really studied this question deny that every man with an income of £2,000 a year or over had up to this period paid less, in many cases far less, than he ought to have paid on either of these two principles? He had always felt that they really owed much not as a matter of generosity but as conscience money to their fellow-countrymen on these principles. The justest way of paying a fair share of taxation was a graduated Income Tax, for he, himself, would rather pay his way during his life than leave it to his executors; but if they could not adopt that plan surely they ought not to try to evade the other. There were hundreds of thousands of men in this country who, feeling the injustice with which taxation was levied on the labouring people, the small tradesmen, and the small profes- 327 sional classes, annually paid conscience money, much more in proportion than the tax the Chancellor of the Exchequer now proposed to levy, and they did so, not as a matter of charity or generosity, but of justice. Much had been said about the payments made by certain classes of property towards local taxation. Some 30 or 40 years ago he investigated the matter, calculating the contributions from his own income; and similar calculations were made at his request by others in mercantile business, large tradesmen, small tradesmen, and professional men. He found that a man in a large way in commerce only paid ½ or 5–8ths per cent, of his income towards local taxation; that the labourers in his employment paid from 2½ to 3 per cent, of their income; that the large tradesmen paid up to 10 per cent.; and that the small tradesmen and small professional man, striving to make a livelihood, paid 10, 20, 30, and even more, per cent of his income towards local taxation. The person who paid under our complicated system the heaviest taxes in proportion to income and to the benefits received, were those with incomes between £200 and £1,000 a year—those who were trying to get their heads above water. They were very properly relieved under this Bill. Those who had incomes and property beyond that amount ought to be very careful before they showed themselves unwilling to take upon themselves a fair share of these burdens—for otherwise the Democracy to whom they had given the power might not only force that upon them, but also ask for arrears. [A laugh.] This was not a laughing matter. Those who had studied the course of events in Democratic countries feared that unless the educated, leisured, and wealthy classes came forward and cheerfully took their full share of burdens in proportion to ability to pay and benefits derived, much more than justice would be done to these classes at their own expense.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
I really am at a loss to know what was the object of the discourse which the hon. Gentleman opposite has just delivered. He has lectured the critics of this Bill as, either in their own persons, or as representing others, being desirous of escaping their fair share of taxation. Now I venture to say that not one single 328 word has dropped in the course of these prolonged Debates, from any single gentleman sitting on this side of the House, which gives the slightest colour to a general charge of that character. My hon. Friend tells us that for the last 30 years he has been convinced that the rich have paid much too little, and the poor much too much towards the common burdens which ought to fall equally upon all. All that period the hon. Gentleman has been a Member of this House, and I do not know whether upon any single occasion he has taken the opportunity of giving vent to the faith that is in him, and which has been in him for 30 years, or that he has been in the habit of equalising as far as he can, by annual payments of conscience money to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the amount which he has been conscious all that time has been left in his own pocket. There is no more honourable or public-spirited man in this House than the hon. Gentleman. I have known the hon. Member ever since I have been a Member of this House, and whether I agree with him or disagree with him I am ready to acknowledge that my hon. Friend has always been consistently animated by a desire for the public good. But why he should take this occasion—not relevant to the Amendment, in no sense appropriate to the discussion with which we are concerned—to lecture those who, I can assure him, are not open to his censure, I cannot imagine. We, on this side of the House have been of opinion, rightly or wrongly, that land, owing to the historic incidence of local taxation, has been unduly burdened for public objects. We may be wrong, and if my hon. Friend has got facts to show we are wrong, there will be many opportunities, perhaps still, on which he can make that demonstration, but this Amendment' is not the proper occasion. This Amendment does not deal with that subject, does not even approach it. What this Amendment does do, as commented upon by the able gentleman who moved it, is to bring home to the Committee that under the provisions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer precisely that class whom my hon. Friend takes under his protection will be most unfairly and unduly hit by this Bill. What was the particular case brought forward by my hon. and learned Friend behind me? It was the case of a small settlement—a 329 small property of £10,000—bringing in an annual income of something under £300, exactly the class of income which pays unduly at the present time, and my lion, and learned Friend showed to demonstration that, by the peculiar provisions of this Bill, those who were entitled under a settlement to this modest income of something under £300 a year might have a very large slice taken out of the capital sum accruing to them under the settlement by the accident that the person to whom they succeeded had become possessed of very large property absolutely at his own disposal, but not one penny of which went to those who benefited by the settlement. The injustice which is done by this tax is one that will fall exactly upon the class of persons whom, according to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we ought to treat in a most indulgent spirit; and what we want is that some answer should be put forward by the right hon. Gentleman or some other Member of the Ministerial Bench. It is not enough that we should be answered in this bellicose and hoity-toity spirit. The arguments which he have put forward have not been answered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I must say that it is not the way to advance this Bill to return no answer at all to the points which have been pressed upon the attention of the Government. So far as I am concerned, I shall not repeat my case. I shall reserve it until I know what the reply of the Government is. I say that if we are to discuss this Bill in a business-like spirit, the Government ought to give proper attention to the arguments used from this side of the House, and not content themselves with uttering generalities which have not the slightest reference to the details of the Bill which we are now discussing.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I would really ask the Committee to consider what it the Amendment in point? It is to omit the words "settled or not settled" I am prepared to join issue upon that, but what I will not do is to argue this question twice over, first upon this clause and next upon Clause 2. I have said that I will take either of two courses—dispose of the matter now or upon Clause 2. Clause 2 is the place for details, and I say that the matter ought not to be discussed until we reach the details, and 330 that it is a waste of the time of the Committee to enter upon discussion of it now.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said, it would be necessary that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should discuss this matter twice, because he had put it into two different clauses. It had been already pointed out that the words were unnecessary and redundant in this clause. Since they were going to tax "all" property, the word "all" must include property settled or not settled; therefore the words "settled or not settled" were not necessary here. The right place for the insertion of the words was in Clause 2. Why could not the Chancellor of the Exchequer be amicable about these matters, and, instead of pouring out an irritant poison over those Benches, leave out these unnecessary, temporary, and redundant words, so that the discussion might take place on Clause 2. He would suggest, in the interests of peace and of the advance of public business, that the words "settled or not settled" be left out of this Clause. But no, Cæsar Augustus had issued his decree, and all the world was to be taxed, and taxed in succession. He was sure that for the purpose of shortening discussion it was better to take this Debate on Clause 2, although he was not indisposed, so far as he was concerned, to lake it upon Clause 1. Bearing in mind what the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said, he should regard him as an ally in respect of some further Amendments that he had to move. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs had invited anybody who had any property at all to give it to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The hon. Gentleman had told them that they ought to freely and generously come forward and make him a present of their money. Well, he remembered some centuries ago [a laugh]—if hon. Members did not understand a parenthesis he could not help it—there were men who laid upon others heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, but who never thought of paying conscience money themselves. They objected to the levying of those burdens altogether, and if they were levied there should be some care taken that they were laid upon the shoulders of the persons best able to bear them. With regard to the question of evasion, 331 he denied that when a man divested himself of his property during his lifetime he could be charged with evasion. In case of father and son the tax would be an incentive to the son to ruin his father during his lifetime, yet a stigma was to be placed upon the making of gifts by father to son during the father's lifetime. As he had said, he, for his part, was not unwilling to debate this question on the first clause, because so soon as this Amendment was disposed of he would have several Amendments to move which, upon his own showing, ought to have the support of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said, that foreign property would be affected by the clause. With regard to the Amendment, so long as the revenue and the expenditure, and particularly the expenditure, of the country increased, the necessary money to meet it must be got in some way or another. If there was an evasion of the Death Duty, the only other way of getting it would be to put an annual tax on property in this country, which was a mode of taxation which he would be reluctant to see introduced.
§ MR. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square)
said, the right hon. Gentleman could not leave evasion alone, but must continue to misrepresent him. As one who had been a Chancellor of the Exchequer be held that an excessive duty badly arranged would weaken and not strengthen the Exchequer. That was his answer to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If they put too heavy a tax upon anything whatever, the Exchequer would lose and not gain. The right hon. Gentleman talked of evading the tax, but he might as well talk about persons who curtailed their consumption of champagne, because the duty placed upon it was too high, evading the tax. It seemed to him that they did not evade the law—they would simply forego an enjoyment. The right hon. Gentleman might deal a heavy blow at the Revenue of the country. Upon him, at all events, the responsibility for the dislocation of the finance of the country would lie. Of course, if the right hon. Gentleman would not discuss the question now they must oblige him by discussing it on Clause 2. 332 The omission of these words would make no difference one way or the other.
§ SIR J. LUBBOCK
said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not answered his question as to whether these words covered the case of the property of foreigners abroad. The words of the clause applied to all property situated out of the United Kingdom "which might be liable to Probate or Succession Duty." Would a man be liable to pay the Estate Duty on property abroad?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said, he could not give any plainer answer. The introduction of these words did not alter the position in reference to Legacy and Succession Duty. Nowhere in this Bill was taxation placed on property which was not at present liable to Death Duty in one form or another.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said, the right hon. Gentleman was under a misapprehension in saying that this duty did not alter the chargeability of property. Property now liable to pay 1 per cent, would be charged as much as 9 per cent.
§ MR. LEES KNOWLES (Salford, W.)
said, he wished to point out a danger to which this clause might lead. He held in his hand a letter from one of the principals of a well-known firm of London solicitors, in which it was stated that an old lady consulted him about her testamentary affairs, and without any suggestion from him said—These Death Duties will take much more of my ready money than I anticipated, and therefore I want you to make a codicil revoking all my charitable bequests.These bequests amounted to about £1,000. The writer of the letter gave it as his belief that that was likely to happen in a large number of cases. It was taking the cream off the milk, and charitable bequests would naturally be the first to suffer.
§ Amendment by leave, withdrawn.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
moved to insert, after "not settled," the words—or the proceeds of sale thereof or any money or investment for the time being representing the proceeds of sale.It appeared to him that it was desirable for the convenience of the persons who 333 would have to pay the tax that all the kinds of property upon which it could be charged should be contained in this clause. This was the charging clause of the Bill, and ought to contain everything. If it was necessary, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer argued, to inquire what was and what was not settled, it was still more necessary to inquire as to proceeds of the sale of property. It was clear that it was the intention of the framers of the Bill that all proceeds of sale were to be liable, for these very words were in Clause 18 of the Bill. That being so, it was not right that persons upon whom the charges were to be enforced should be sent dancing up and down the Bill so as to find out what was the property upon which the tax was to be levied.
Amendment proposed, to insert, after the words "not settled," the words—
or the proceeds of sale thereof or any money or investment for the time being representing the proceeds of sale."—(Mr. Gibson Bowles.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
SIR W. HAECOURT
said, he could not consent to the Amendment. These matters would come up for consideration later.
§ Question put, and negatived.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
moved to insert in the clause after the word "which" in line 19,by virtue of any testamentary or other instrument executed by such person.That would, he said, include settlements, and would come within the category of Clause 2, which brought in settlements. This matter seemed to him to raise the question of the predecessor. Where property had belonged to a man, and where he disposed of it either by will or settlement in such a manner that the benefit passed upon his death, it was perfectly reasonable that the Death Duty or Succession Duty or Legacy Duty should be levied, although in the case of a person who had not been a party to the instruction under which the passing took place there was no reason why the duty should be charged. They might have a wealthy man entitled to a certain life interest, and failing the exercise of his power of appointment the property might pass to a poor relative; and if the testator refrained from using the power of appointment under the 334 settlement, in order that his poor nephews might come into benefit, the mere fact that he had been a wicked millionaire, and of the money having passed through him, would impose a very high charge upon his poor nephews and nieces. The point, therefore, was not without importance as to whether the Death Duty, in an instance of this kind, should not be confined to the case of property which had been really dealt with by the deceased and had not merely passed through him.
SIR W. HAECOURT
said, that if this Amendment were adopted it would practically amount to the abolition of the Probate Duty or to what corresponded to it. He must resist the Amendment.
Amendment proposed, in line 19, after the word "which," to insert the words—
by virtue of any testamentary or other instrument executed by such person."—(Mr. Gibson Howies.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ Question put, and negatived.
MR. GRANT LAWSON (York, N. R., Thirsk)
said, he had an Amendment to move which would exempt from the operation of the Estate Duty property derived under settlements dated before the commencement of the Act. If it was a duty on the lines of the Probate Duty it certainly ought not to be levied on property which passed before the operation of the Act. He wished to point out to the Committee how moderate was his Amendment. It was possible to say that the Bill should not apply to wills which had been made by a person who was not competent to alter his testamentary disposition by reason of his having become insane or for any other reason. He would not object to the alteration of the wording of his Amendment by the substitution of "executed" for "dated" if lawyers thought the former would be the better word. He had no desire to see the Bill evaded by means of ante dating, but that those whose position was fixed by instruments and proceedings which were irrevocable should not by this ex post facto legislation have their positions very materially altered. He thought that the Government themselves must have had 335 some inkling that retrospective action would not be quite fair, because under the head of savings in Clause 17 it was provided that Estate Duty—Should not be payable on the death of a deceased person "—which was a very beautiful expression—in respect of personal property settled by will or disposition by a person dying before the commencement of this Act,"&c.The Amendment did not deal exclusively with real property, but with both realty and personalty. He knew that the very mention of realty stirred up feelings of indignation on the other side of the House which were either real or imaginary or were perhaps purely personal. He wished to call the attention of the Committee to the injury which would be done by the proposal of the Government to the purchasers of reversions, who were frequently Insurance Companies. If an Insurance Company which was liable to pay an Insurance on the death of A could secure that on A's death they should come into a reversion of property left by A, they had of course a good form of hedging. Reversionary interests were bought and sold on a careful calculation made on certain tables showing what amount would be taken by the State when the reversionary interest fell in. They were bought and sold subject to the existing Death Duties. The purchasers took the burdens into calculation on the assumption that those burdens could not be increased, but must remain as they were for all time. All he asked for was that the Death Duties should not be raised until the transactions which had taken place under existing settlements had been worked out. As to the future transactions of the kind, those who entered into them would have had notice of this new departure in legislation, and they would know well enough that under this Bill the purchase of reversionary interests, instead of being a legitimate business as it was now, would be a mere gamble. The Government proposed so to alter the position of those who had purchased such interests that what might have been a profitable bargain to them might become a very unprofitable bargain indeed. Some sense of the injustice that would be done seemed to have reached the minds of some hon. Members opposite, because on the 10th of May a question was put by the hon. 336 Member for Ross-shire (Mr. Weir) as to whether the purchase of reversionary interests was affected by the Bill, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer replied that purchasers of reversions to a property which had paid Probate or Account Duty were not affected by the Bill, and that if they purchased them out of other property they would be no worse off than under the Succession Duty or other Acts which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. Well, if those reversions were purchased out of settled property they would not pay Probate Duty at all, so that the reference made by the right hon. Gentleman to Probate Duty had nothing to do with the case. As regarded the Account Duty, it was only paid in the case of voluntary settlements. The practice with regard to reversions was that the Account Duty was not paid until they fell into possession, and that every purchaser of a reversion who was still waiting for the property, without having paid Probate Duty, would not be protected by the first part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's answer. As to purchasers being no worse off than they were under the Succession Duty and other Acts, it was quite true that the Succession Duty Act and another Act which was passed by the late Government last year did a wrong to purchasers of reversions. Two blacks, however, did not make a white, and the fact that purchasers of reversions had been wronged twice previously was no reason why they should be wronged a third time. Besides, the injury that was done to purchasers of reversions by the Succession Duty Act was very small and insignificant when compared with that which would be inflicted upon them if this Bill were made retrospective. He believed that 80 per cent. of the purchase of reversions were made from lineals. The Companies who bought reversions had a right to calculate that the duty imposed upon lineals would never be largely increased, as it had always been the policy of the House not to place heavy burdens upon the children. He turned now to the other part of his case—namely, that which related to younger children's portions. There was not the slightest doubt that the Estate Duty would fall upon younger children's portions. Under Clause 9— 337A rateable part of the Estate Duty on an estate in proportion to the value of any property which does not pass to the executor as such shall be a first charge on the property liable to the duty.In the case of realty, as a general rule the eldest son took the property, and the younger children's portion became a charge upon the property, the eldest son paying the duty and recovering the younger children's portions from their shares. In Clause 12 occurred the words, "not containing any express provision to the contrary." If the settlement were made before the Act was passed, how could there be any express provision to the contrary in it? If the Bill were made retrospective this condition of things would be created: that those who got portions under settlements already made would be in a worse position than those who got portions under future settlements, because it would be impossible for the settlors in the first-named case to make special provision for them. The Government had made savings for a certain number of existing settlements, because the proper duties, in accordance with the law as it stood when the settlements were made, had been paid. All existing settlements, however, had paid the existing Stamp Duty. As example was better than precept, he would give one or two illustrations. He would take an ordinary marriage settlement, letting A represent the bridegroom, B the bride, and C the child. The ordinary form would be where each party had a settlement of £20,000 and there was no other property, that the income of £20,000 should go to A for the joint lives and then to the survivor for life, and that the same should go to B. On the death of the survivor the capital would go the children as A and B jointly by deed or the survivor by will appointed. In default of appointment the capital would be divided equally amongst the children. This was the commonest form of marriage settlement, and would fit any figures. How, then, would the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer work out? He (Mr. Grant Lawson) might say that he cared nothing for the millionaire. He would make the right hon. Gentleman a present of the millionaire and leave him to the right hon. Gentleman's tender mercy. He would take a case in which £40,000 was 338 settled. B, the wife, would have a life interest in the £40,000. A and B had jointly apportioned one-tenth to the child C, and the rest to the other children. On B's death C would get under the present law £4,000 less 1½ per cent., and the State would take £60. If the Bill passed and were made retrospective C would get £4,000 less 4½ per cent., and the State would take £180 instead of £60. Supposing a company had purchased reversion on a careful calculation of its value, they would suddenly find that, instead of having to pay £60 on coming into the reversion, they would have to pay £180. If this were multiplied by 50 or 60 or 100 cases—and many companies held hundreds of reversions—it would be seen that some large concerns might be reduced to a very poor condition indeed. If A died after the passage of the Bill and had no other property his £20,000 would pass to his widow, who would now have to pay no duty at all, but who under the Bill would have to pay 4 per cent, plus 1 per cent., or£1,000. Then B died, and on£20,000, being part of the £40,000, the State would take 4½ per cent.—namely, £900. C would get one-tenth of £40,000 less the £1,900, which the State had already seized upon—namely, £3,810 only. It seemed to him that the system of taxation proposed under the Bill would do gross injury to those who had made purchases and bargains in respect of life interests on the faith of the existing law. It had been asked whether the duty was going to fall on the residuary legatee or the individual legatee. It did not matter which view of the case was taken. If the Government made the Bill retrospective in regard to settlements, they would be doing an injustice which could not be rectified or readjusted. A man could alter his will but not his settlement. They had been told that in this matter the State could not afford to be just, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer wanted the money and must get it, even at the expense of what was just. If that were so, he could only say that their Chancellors of the Exchequer had brought them to a very sorry plight. Granted that it was the duty of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to raise the Revenue, it was equally the duty of hon. Members to see that the Revenue was so raised as not to inflict an injustice on any persons. Could it be right 339 or just that when arrangements under settlement had been made, and when under those arrangements bargains and sales, ordinary commercial transactions, had taken place Parliament should now, by ex post facto legislation, take from those companies that which might have been a profitable investment, and perhaps convert it into a dead loss? He hoped his Amendment, which was of a nonparty and non-political character, would be supported by Members on both sides of the House.
Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 20, after the word "person," to insert the words—
Under any disposition other than a settlement, dated before the commencement of this Part of this Act, or on the intestacy of the deceased."—(Mr. Grant Lawson.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I hope the hon. and learned Member will forgive me for not travelling over a great many of the different topics he has dealt with as to the results of the Bill in regard to settlements. The question is a general one, and must be disposed of on general grounds. The demand made by the hon. Member is that the Estate Duty shall not apply to existing settlements. That would be the ruin of the Revenue, because there are many settlements which extend over one, two, or three generations. I have been myself personally concerned in a settlement which lasted for 70 years, and I know of a settlement which has continued for more than 80 years. Therefore, to say that the duty should not apply to settlements that have already lasted for 30, 40, or 50 years is altogether out of the question. I do not condemn settlements in all cases; but if a person chooses to tie up his estate for one or two generations, he must take the consequences, however inconvenient they may turn out to be. If a man disposes of his property by will, he can to the very last day of his life accommodate that will to circumstances; but if he chooses to make an irrevocable settlement, he must take the consequences, which may sometimes be very inconvenient. You may wish quite apart from anything in this Bill to alter the arrangements under settlement, but you cannot do it, and that is the great evil of settlements. That is the reason why 340 the Government are determined under the Bill to give no fiscal advantage to settlements. I do not say that settlements may not lead to arrangements which will be beneficial under certain circumstances, but there has been a great deal more harm than good done in the world by settlements, and to my personal knowledge a great many more families have been ruined by settlements than have been saved by them. What does a settlement do? It gives to the person who has a right to the succession the right to do as he pleases with a certain amount of property at an age when he is relatively inexperienced in the world. How many settlements have been mortgaged and sold to the ruin of families? When Amendments like this are brought forward for the protection of moneylenders I would point out that the proper place in which to deal with them is in Clause 6, Sub-section 4. Our principle is clear—namely, that no property under settlement shall have any fiscal advantage over any other property. It is proposed now that property shall escape this duty for generations. I do not dispute that there may be these difficulties arising under existing circumstances. There may be inconvenience and injustice, but that is the fault of the system of settlement. There is no reason why property under settlement should not pay to the State exactly as much as if it was not under settlement. For generations property under settlement has escaped its proper contribution to the interests of the State. I should be very glad if there were any means of redressing this social injustice. Such a system must have its consequences. You cannot have your cake and eat it. The result of the hon. Member's Amendment would be to exempt all property under such circumstances from equal contribution to the State. As a rule, settlements are used as instruments for keeping together great wealth, and the proposal of the Amendment is to give to property of that description fiscal exemptions to which it is not entitled, and which it has enjoyed too long. The Government cannot accept the Amendment, which strikes at the root of, perhaps, the most necessary reform contained in the Bill.
§ SIR M. HICKS-BEACH (Bristol, W.)
Sir, I have no intention of following the right hon. Gentleman into 341 the merits or demerits of the system of settlement. It is quite sufficient for me that that system has for generations been recognised by our law, that it has been and is popular in this country with those who have either realty or personalty to leave to their families, and that people have availed themselves of it without any previous knowledge of the provisions of the Bill. I admit that there is great practical force in the objections from the point of view of the Revenue which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has raised to the proposal of my hon. Friend, but I wish to impress on the Committee that the right hon. Gentleman himself has admitted that the Bill is almost certain to work inconvenience and injustice in cases of settlements.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I forgot entirely to mention that, so far as past settlements are concerned—though I cannot admit that past settlements should be exempted from any new taxes—I think that the special increase of the duty of 1 per cent, upon settlements ought not to apply, and I shall be prepared in the Bill to make exception in the case of existing settlements with reference to this 1 per cent.
§ SIB M. HICKS-BEACH
I am glad to have elicited that statement, for it renders it unnecessary for me to dwell upon that part of the question to which I was about to allude. There is a very important difference between existing and future settlements. I wish to put before the Committee the ease of property in agricultural land settled 20 years ago upon a marriage to pass in the ordinary way to the eldest son, with power to trustees to raise portions for younger children and a jointure to be allowed to the widow. That settlement has been made on the calculation of the then value of the property. But since that date that value has decreased by one-half; and now the Bill imposes upon the eldest son who will succeed to that property an enormous increase in the Death Duties to be paid. That alters the whole relation between the eldest son and the others concerned under the settlement, and I would earnestly press upon the Government to take the point into consideration. It is a very serious thing to break settlements, and I would not suggest that settlements should be broken at the mere will of the indi- 342 viduals concerned, even if they all agree in breaking them. But I suggest that powers should be given, where any person concerned under a settlement is able to allege that the provisions of the new Estate Duty have materially altered the relations of the parties concerned, as between one another, to make application to the High Court to make such alterations in the settlement as the Court may think would do justice to all the parties concerned. Of course, what I have said would apply to cases where the property is personalty, the value of which has deteriorated or increased.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Mr. R. T. REID,, &c.) Dumfries
said, the suggestion of the right hon. Baronet, that something should be done with regard to conferring powers on the Court to charge settlements, raised a very serious question.
§ SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
Of course, it would have to be proved to the satisfaction of the Court that the interests of the parties are really affected by the provisions of the Bill.
§ MK. R. T. REID
said, the whole question of settlements and of the enlargement of the power of the Court to deal with them was of great importance, but it was somewhat alien to the subject of the Bill, and he could not say anything now that would commit the Government upon it.
§ SIR R. WEBSTER (Isle of Wight)
said, settlements had been made in hundreds of thousands of cases during the last 30 years, and it was not quite just of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to endeavour to throw ridicule on the subject by suggesting that the hon. Member for Thirsk had put a series of acrostics to the House. Settlements were made every day by prudent men and women on marriage of their children, yet the leader of the House thought fit to run full tilt at settlements. He wished to protest against the theory that settlements were not wise. He had known hundreds of cases where families had been ruined owing to the absence of such settlements; and it was, in his view, a monstrous thing for anyone to say that settlements had worked more harm than good. No doubt settlements had been made under which properties had been tied up for centuries during long periods of descent, but he was speaking rather of cases where 343 persons left, say, £20,000 or £30,000 settled upon their children to the amount perhaps of £3,000 or £4,000 each. It was upon moderate settlements that the Bill would work so hardly. The Chancellor of the Exchequer would not bring his great mind down to the level of seeing that he would be taxing children receiving, say, £3,000 or £4,000 a-piece, simply because some large amount happened to have accrued to the settlor. He invited the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Bristol. Existing wills could, but existing settlements could not, be altered. Surely it was a matter for the Government to consider, between this and the later stages of the Bill, whether a readjustment should not be allowed in the case of settlements upon which the Bill worked injustice. He desired to point out that the question of money-lenders had nothing in the world to do with the Amendment, which was in his view well worthy of consideration, and upon which he trusted that a Division would be taken if no satisfactory pledge were extracted from the Government.
§ MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
was perfectly aware that settlements made in the past had worked, out in a different fashion to that intended by the settlers, owing to changes having occurred which made jointures and portions for younger children bear a proportion to the whole income arising from the estate totally different from that which they bore to the whole income at the date of the settlement. The hard cases pointed out by the hon. and learned Member for Thirsk arose from the attempt of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to apportion the Estate Duty in such a way as to shift it from the natural place where it should rest in future—namely, upon the residuary estate and to place it upon the special legacy. If a settlor became, after the date of a settlement, immensely rich, it should be a matter for him and his lawyer to arrange how the extra duty should be paid, and it should not be left in any way which would not permit of previous arrangement. He would pass on to the question which was more closely before the Committee. His right hon. Friend referred to the money-lenders, but that question had very little to do with it, though he agreed with him as to the volunteers. In this 344 case they were dealing with those who had purchased for valuable consideration, and who had had no notice of this variation and graduation. But the point from which he considered it would arise would be upon Clause 17, and he mainly rose to suggest that this matter should be considered between now and the time when they reached Clause 17, and that they were not entitled to express an opinion upon it upon this Amendment, which went too far, as it covered volunteers as well as those who purchased for valuable consideration. As had been said by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir R. Webster), these matters were dealt with in commercial interests, and they were managed in the most business-like way in the City of London and the City of Edinburgh every day. Purchasers had acquired for valuable consideration these interests in a fair and legitimate way, and it was unfair to expose them to a tax of which they had no notice and no reasonable expectation of being called upon to pay. He hoped the question would be reserved until they came to Clause 17, that in the meantime the matter would be carefully considered, and that the Amendment might not be pressed to a Division now, for the reason that it raised questions much wider than was intended.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said, he was sorry he had mentioned the money-lender, but he mentioned him because he was, perhaps, the largest and most deeply interested in the question. He was aware that his right hon. Friend was the leading patron of the Insurance Companies, and he complained of what was done with reference to the Succession Duty without a murmur from gentlemen opposite. He was sorry to have to allude to his predecessor, but the right hon. Gentleman had put it in his Estate Duty, and the then Attorney General sat on the Front Bench fraternising with him. There was not one single argument put forward in support of the Amendment which did not apply with equal force to the Estate Duty of the late Government, and which affected every exising settlement. It was neither reasonable nor common-sense for men who had taken the same course themselves to get up and denounce the injustice of a proposal of which they were the originators. The Amendment 345 amounted to this: they had put property under settlement, therefore no tax which was put on for the benefit of the community should apply to this particular class of property. It was similar to the old doctrine with regard to the beneficed clergy: the property under settlement was to have the benefit of the beneficed clergy, and whatever tax was put on other property it was not to be applied to this property. There was really no common-sense in a proposition of this Kind, and he could not believe that the House of Commons would maintain a proposition of that character. Then his right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin reproached him because he had not acted strongly enough upon this principle, and said that the exemption of settlement in one portion should cover the whole settlement was a breach of the arrangement. But he had put on the 1 per cent, in order to cover that increase. If 1 per cent, was not enough, then they must put on 2 or 3 per cent, if the Revenue lost so much as that. Everyone admitted it lost a great deal, and if 1 per cent, was not enough then hereafter they must put on more. But these matters about conversion were not the principal questions, and they came up afterwards in Clause 6, Sub-section 4. The hon. and learned Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir R. Webster) thought he treated the Mover of the Amendment with disrespect. He had very great respect for the ability of the hon. Member, but he thought the Amendment did not raise the principal question they were upon, which was that when they exempted existing settlements from the operation of the Estate Duty they despoiled the Revenue.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, the right hon. Gentleman had not addressed himself to one of the hardships which they felt.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said, he would say one word upon the point the right hon. Gentleman was about to refer to. When he had spoken before he had said he should not be at all sorry if there were a power he would not say to break, but to prevent the abuse of settlements, but he was surprised at the proposal which was made by the hon. Gentlemen opposite. A more revolutionary proposal he never heard, and it almost made his hair stand on end that the Conservative Party 346 should propose a plan for breaking settlements. What would be said of it in another place where it was considered that all settlements were sacred? He would like to take time to consider the matter, which involved a very serious question. He again said he should not personally be sorry, because he was not a friend of settlements; but for the Government to come forward and make a proposal of that character without very careful consideration was far too serious a matter. [Cries of "Speak up!"] He was unable to speak to everyone at once. If he spoke in one direction he was at once called to Order for turning his back on the Chair. He was saying that to introduce a measure for breaking settlements and destroying all vested interests was far too serious a matter to be undertaken lightly.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, the right hon. Gentleman had used language of most extraordinary exaggeration. He had expressed his own views on this point on the Second Reading, and therefore he had nothing new in principle to say, but it did seem to him to be monstrously unjust. For example, he would not take the case suggested by his learned Friend in his speech, but would take another case, the case of a man, an eldest son, who had settled upon him a certain amount of property bearing income and certain property not bearing income—say, a valuable collection of pictures. That was a proper settlement for the original settler to make, who had not anticipated the advent of this Chancellor of the Exchequer, for he never imagined that the result of that would be that the two-thirds of property would be aggregated, and that his heir would be saddled with a tax upon the whole, which would have the effect of diminishing his actual income. They certainly ought to allow some power of exchanging part of the non-bearing property for securities that would bring in income. He had no intention to diminish the amount of property to be settled on the heir, but he did think they put the heir in an absolutely false position by compelling him to pay on an aggregation when only a remarkably small portion brought in an income that he could use for maintaining himself and his family. That was one case, and a hard one. But there was no idea on that side of the House of tearing up all 347 existing settlements, and letting them go by the board. No; if the thing was to be done, and it ought to be done, it must be under the supervision of the Court. The Court must take into account the new element introduced by the financial imagination of tins Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Court must attempt to realise as far as possible the position that would be taken up by the settlor had he foreseen they would be blessed with the principle of aggregation. If that were done he could not think any injustice would ensue to anyone having a vested interest under the estate. He would not even commit himself to the proposition that they ought to interfere with the case of the settlors who were dead, though he was inclined to believe that machinery might be found by which injustice in that case might be avoided. But whether right or wrong there could be no objection to allow settlors who were living to modify the settlement with the sanction of the Court. He could not help hoping that when they came to that part of the Bill in which the question was dealt with, that some agreement might be come to. Under the circumstances, he should vote for the Amendment of his hon. and learned Friend.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT,
whose remarks were delivered in a very low tone of voice, was understood to say that this was a large matter and had nothing specially to do with finance. He would suggest that the proposals made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol (Sir M. Hicks-Beach) and the Leader of the Opposition should be placed upon the Paper, and then it could be considered more conveniently.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
I do not rise to continue the discussion, but to make an appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He may not be aware of the fact, but on this side of the House we cannot hear one word, and of the speech he has just delivered I have not heard a single word. Sometimes he has said we have gone over to the other side, but I am sure he does not wish deliberately to send us over in order to hear him. I think the same remark must apply to those behind him. I know that he has very many speeches to make, and that he does not wish to raise his voice too loudly, and on the 348 other hand he does not wish to break the Rules of the House by turning his back upon the Chair, and therefore I would suggest that if he spoke at an angle he would comply with the general desire of the Committee.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 147; Noes 189.—(Division List, No. 71.)
rose to move, in page 1, line 20, after the first "duty," to insert—which shall be payable by annual instalments extending over a period of eight years from the date of the death of the person so dying by the person to whom the property passes, if such last-named person shall so long live, which duty shall be.
intimated that the Amendment was out of Order on the present clause, and should be moved on Clause 5.
§ COMMANDER BETHELL (York, E. R., Holderness)
moved, in page 1, line 20, to leave out from second "duty" to "and," in page 2, line 1, and insert—which, save as hereinafter mentioned, shall be levied under the same conditions and at the same rates as the existing Probate and Estate Duties.He said, he thought the proposal of the Government in reference to valuation was bad in principle, and would be attended with considerable injustice in its application, and therefore he proposed to move what was practically the rejection of the principle of valuation. There were, he thought, three reasons which had been urged in support of this principle of valuation. Two of them were, no doubt, logical reasons, and to that extent could be argued, but the third was of a different nature, and the one upon which the defence of the principle mainly rested. The first of the two reasons was never seriously insisted upon—namely, that the State did for large properties more, in proportion, than for small properties. More interesting was the argument used a good deal by the senior Member for Northampton, and, he thought, approved, more or less, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the course of these discussions—namely, that the principle of valuation would probably have the effect of lessening great estates and diffusing them more, in a moderate size, among 349 the community generally, which, it was contended, was a desirable state of things to bring about. The argument of the hon. Member for Northampton was that riches were, to a considerable extent, bad for the State—that it was immoral; and it was desirable that such principles of taxation should be introduced as would have the effect of limiting the possession of wealth by individuals. Those who agreed with the hon. Member for Northampton could scarcely have considered in either of the three great branches of industry all that personal wealth had done. They could turn neither to manufactures, commerce, nor agriculture, without seeing from time to time what great benefit personal wealth, properly used, had been in the interests of these three classes of industries, and he should doubt whether it was true that great wealth was pernicious or, at any rate, not for the good of the State. He suspected that wealthy persons did more good than ill to the State, and he suspected that those who used the argument to which he had referred rather had in their minds wealth created by some exceptional and peculiar means of which they might not approve. But if that were the case it was wrong to penalise wealth because it had been accumulated by means of which they might not approve when such penalisation would affect all wealth, no matter how accumulated. He disagreed with the doctrine that large fortunes were bad for the State or immoral. Personal wealth had done more good than ill for the State, and he did not think they ought to introduce a system of taxation which would have the deliberate effect of destroying that particular form of wealth. No doubt the main argument upon which the supporters of this doctrine rested was a sentimental argument, in so far as they could not satisfy the principles of justice or morality. That argument was that persons should pay according to their capacity to bear taxation. That was to say, that a man should be taxed in accordance with his ability to pay, the idea being that rich persons ought to pay more in proportion than poor persons, because they were better able to pay it. Such an argument came extremely badly from hon. Gentlemen opposite, seeing that it might be in this Session they were producing another measure by which they proposed to prevent wealthy 350 persons from having the advantage which hitherto they had had from wealth. That was to say, while they were asserting one day that because a man was wealthy therefore he was to be taxed in a greater proportion to his wealth because it was for the good of the State, yet upon another day they were going to support a Bill to take away from the wealthy man what he had hitherto possessed in virtue of his wealth because it was not good for the State—that was to say, a vote. How they could reconcile these two views he did not know. When they said a person was to be taxed according to his ability to bear taxation, what on earth did they mean? No one had attempted to show by what means they would gauge the abilities of a person to pay this taxation, and what measure they would take he could not in the least imagine. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that already they had graduated taxation in this country. He denied that. He maintained there was a clear and distinct difference between the alleviation of taxation at one end of the scale and graduation as they proposed at the other end. The principle of their taxation was that the tax should be spread among a large number of persons so that the weight of their opinions when expressed must have their effect on the taxing authority. When they merely alleviated the tax at one end of the scale they had left inviolate this principle, but by introducing a system of graduation like that now proposed, they were violating this principle in a very material way. The proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer violated the principle always laid down, that taxation should be spread over that large body of persons that their influence might be properly felt by the taxing authority. In the Budget Bill this principle was undoubtedly very clearly violated. It appeared from the tables in the Returns presented to Parliament that with reference to personalty the additional amount which the Exchequer would gain from graduation was, roughly speaking, about £2,250,000. This £2,250,000 was levied upon 1,500 persons only. Of this £2,250,000 no less than £1,750,000 was levied upon 213 estates—that was 213 people. He should say that a very considerable sum raised from a very small number of persons gave a 351 very bad security indeed to the chances of taxation being fairly levied at some future time. It let open the door to what the Leader of the Opposition very justly called the possibility of finance more suitable to an Eastern despot than to Western principles. Suppose they took these 213 people who were to pay £1,750,000, if they multiplied that by 25 they would get about the number of persons living who, they might say, would be affected by the tax. What chances had these wretched 213 people of getting their views fairly considered by a Chancellor of the Exchequer who was hard up for money and who thought these were a convenient people from whom to extract it? It was what their former Kings did by way of benevolences, and it seemed to him that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer would have the distinction in future of having exhumed from the dead past this miserable, wretched principle of levying benevolences upon the rich in order to meet the needs of the State. It could scarcely be denied that when they levied so considerable a sum of money upon so small a number of people they did make it very possible that unfair taxation should be levied upon these few people. It became more possible when it was admitted—as it was admitted here—that there were no means by which they could measure the ability of a man to pay, except simply what the Government of the day thought they would get from him. In the course of these Debates he had heard gentlemen say they did not care about the millionaire; they did not speak for him, and they would let him speak for himself. But it seemed to him that whether they were rich or poor they had an equal claim for consideration, neither more nor less, and to him it was horribly offensive to hear people say, "Oh, So-and-So is a millionaire. I do not much care for him, and if a little bit more is extracted from him it won't hurt him, and may do the State good." He objected to that. He thought that in the House of Commons an equal measure of justice ought to be meted out to all. But by the principle of this measure they could not mete out an equal measure of justice to all. By what principle of justice or morality did they say to a man who happened to be wealthy that he was to give more to the State than his fair 352 arithmetical proportion? But along with the wealthy people who were going to be taxed there was still the consideration that persons in poorer circumstances, with moderate incomes, were also going to be taxed more heavily. Every property over £25,000 was to pay in future more than it had paid hitherto. Why on earth the man who was so fortunate as to get £26,000 should have to pay considerably more than the almost equally fortunate man who got £24,000 by way of a legacy he could not conceive. A person who got £20,000 or £30,000 could hardly be called a wealthy person from whom they might justly call for a greater proportion of taxation to the State than was estimated by arithmetical proportions. The principle of the Government would probably have these serious results. It was a temptation, in the first place, to the taxing authority to increase the amount of taxes that he placed upon wealthy persons. In the next place, it was a strong temptation to persons to remove their fortunes or evade the tax. He could conceive no stronger motive for evading a tax than to impose what was considered an unfair tax, and it appeared to him any law which, however distant, had that effect was a law tending towards the ill of the State rather than the good of the State, and towards immorality rather than morality, and these conclusions led him undoubtedly to form the judgment that the principle of graduation was unsound. The Amendment he was obliged to put on the Paper was of some length, because he understood that the Chairman would not allow the omission of the words "graduated rate" without putting in their place some other scheme to fill up the gap. He put the Amendment on the Paper really in order to raise the question whether they ought to have a graduated system of taxation or not. For his part the graduation was unfair and unjust, and ought not to be admitted.
Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 20, to leave out the words "at the graduated rates hereinafter mentioned," in order so insert the words
which, save as hereinafter mentioned, shall be levied under the same conditions and at the same rates as the existing Probate and Estate Duties."—
§ Question proposed, "That the words at the graduated rates hereinafter mentioned-stand part of the Clause."
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
The question which has been raised by my hon. and gallant Friend opposite is one upon which I ought not to give an absolutely silent vote. For the first time in the course of these discussions on the Budget the hon. and gallant Gentleman has raised what I may call the principle of graduation. We are really taking a Second Reading vote on the principle, and it is not a question any longer of the methods or the manner in which the principle may be applied, and those who vote for the Amendment must be considered to be hostile in any form to graduation applied to any tax whatsoever. I have never denied the statement which has been frequently made of late, that 10 years ago—in 1884 and 1885—I brought forward this principle very prominently before the country, and I have never seen any reason to change the opinions I then expressed. The principle, as I understand it, is justified by the belief that taxation ought to be imposed as nearly as possible to secure equality of sacrifice. I do not pretend to say that that can be accurately or absolutely obtained even by the wisest system of taxation; but graduation is one of the methods by which we can approach to that end. To that principle I adhere, and in these circumstances, if the hon. Member goes to a Division, I shall feel myself bound to support the Government. At the same time, I am not committed to any particular method. At the time I discussed the question 10 years ago I had no access to official information, and of course I never pretended that I was competent to say exactly in what way this principle should be carried out. I admit that difficulties may be stated almost to any method giving effect to the principle. Certainly, it would be impossible to state the case more strongly than has been done by my hon. and gallant Friend opposite. But there are two difficulties especially to which I must refer. In the first place, I think that the graduation ought to apply in proportion to the benefits, and therefore I am in favour of an alternative method to that proposed by the Government which would impose this graduation on the legacy and 354 not allow it to be determined by the value of the estate. But that point has already been argued, and I will not further deal with it. The other point, to which I attach great importance, and which can only be determined by experience, is the chance of evasion. When I raised the principle I was keenly alive to that difficulty. If the graduation is too severe most undoubtedly the larger estates—the estates the Chancellor of the Exchequer is particularly anxious to catch—are precisely those which will evade the proposals; and I am afraid that with the scale proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that will be the result. My hon. Friend opposite referred to moderate fortunes of £25,000 and £50,000 or £100,000. As to these fortunes, it is highly probable that the beneficiaries under a will of the persons who enjoy estates of that value will have to pay the additional tax. They have not the experience or the means or the advice to enable them to readily evade it; but I should be surprised if the millionaires, who have the best talent and the best advice at their disposal, do not find some way of evading the pressure of this duty. To a great extent they already do this, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer will no doubt agree; and I fear that under the system proposed they will attempt to evade to a larger extent. Some of the cleverest solicitors in the City of London as the right hon. Gentleman is aware, are at the present time engaged night and day in suggesting methods by which the proposals of the Budget may be evaded by the owners of large estates. [Sir W. HARCOURT: Hear, hear!] If that is so, then from the point of view of the Exchequer, to say nothing of financial morality, some anxiety must be caused to the right hon. Gentleman, because he would naturally desire that the larger estates should pay in proportion to what he has fixed. I think it only frank to say that. It does not follow that because I approve the principle that therefore I should not be ready to support modifications of the method by which an attempt has been made to give effect to that principle; but so far as the present Amendment is concerned, it would be inconsistent with what I said before, and with what is still my opinion, if I voted for the Amendment.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I am conscious that owners of large estates are occupied with all the assistance they can command in endeavouring to escape the tax. We cannot prevent that; but it will be a case of "diamond cut diamond." I have great reliance on my advisers in this matter, and it will be seen whether the owners of large estates will have greater success in evading their liabilities, or whether the Exchequer will succeed in enforcing the duty. I do not think, however, that that consideration ought to have much influence on the Committee. My right hon. Friend's view is that the graduation is too steep and too heavy. I do not think that that is the view which is taken outside the House. The view taken outside is, I believe, that this duty is too light. The general conviction is, I believe, that the duty is extremely moderate—too moderate in the view of some persons. But the difficulty I have in this case is to know who are my opponents. Quis vituperabit? Who is going to speak against this Amendment and, what is a great deal more important and interesting, who is going to support it? My right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham says he is not against the principle of graduation; and the Leader of the Opposition says he is not against the principle of graduation. I admit that this principle of graduation is a very important change in the taxation of the country, perhaps one of the most important ever made. I am sorry that in these circumstances the discussion has arisen in an empty House, for I am certain that the larger the number of Members who attend the greater will be the majority in favour of the principle of graduation. I do not doubt for a moment that every Member of the Liberal Party will vote for it, and I believe that a great many of the Conservative Party will not vote against it. The most remarkable circumstance probably in the history of these financial proposals will be the decision of the House of Commons on the general principle of graduation. No doubt it will be the turning-point in the history of the finance of this country. It is the corner-stone of this Budget; it is intended to be such, and upon that principle the Government stand or fall. But it is not necessary for me to discuss the principle of graduation upon which we are now engaged. Who is going to get 356 up from the Opposition Benches and denounce the principle of graduation? If it is a fact that the public opinion of this country—which is represented, as I believe, by a large and solid majority in the House, and is not, in my opinion, confined to one Party or the other—is going to affirm the principle of graduation as introduced by the Bill, then I believe that one of the greatest reforms in the fundamental principles of taxation will be established that has taken place during the present generation. I do not wish to mince the matter at all. My hon. and gallant Friend has asked me upon what principle I proceed, and I have no difficulty in stating it. The State requires a certain amount of money for the benefit of the community. From whom should it be taken? My principle is that it should be taken according to what has been called by some the "equality of sacrifice." I do not like the expression; it contains a false idea and is not very good English. I prefer a more homely illustration, and will say that I believe it depends on the "margin," and it is upon the margin that this taxation is to fall.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The margin is calculated on the wealth of each individual. He might use as an illustration the margin of the bookbinder. In some cases he would have only a very small margin to cut from, but it might vary in other cases up to an degree of width. So with taxation, the margin on which it is to be paid might vary from a very small sum to any degree of sumptuosity. The taxation should fall on that margin and strictly in proportion to its magnitude. A man's capacity to pay depends upon what he has in excess of the necessities for existence and comfort, and even of some of the luxuries of life.
§ COMMANDER BETHELL
That is the special point on which I invited the right hon. Gentleman to give an explanation. What is "a necessity" and how is the measure of the principle to be obtained? The right hon. Gentleman said when I was speaking that that was a point he could explain.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
It was something a good deal within a million. Gentlemen with a million are asked to 357 contribute 4 per cent, more than they contribute at present to the defence of the country. A man with a million has a good margin for that purpose, and I think any millionaire ought to be ashamed to refuse to give willingly that small additional sum towards the security of his country. You may say whatever you like, however, because you will never convince people with common-sense to take any other view of the matter. If the House of Commons tonight were to refuse to affirm the principle of graduation I am convinced that that decision would be reversed by the opinion of the country to-morrow. That is the all-important question before us. We have now a broad, clear, and plain issue before us. Graduation or no graduation, and we are perfectly prepared by a Division to take the deciding opinion of the House upon it.
§ MR. LEES KNOWLES (Salford, W.)
said, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed to tax what he was pleased to call the margin of income from landed property. The right hon. Gentleman talked about the magnitude of margins. But there were men and men and margins and margins. A margin which would suffice for one man would not suffice for another. There must be some converse to the right hon. Gentleman's phrase. The right hon. Gentleman had failed to give the hon. and gallant Member for the Holder-ness Division a definition of "necessary margin." If this Amendment were not carried, the House would be committed to the particular system of graduation put forward in the Bill, and he took it that, though when they came to Clause 14 in which the system was set out, they would be able to criticise it, they would be precluded from substituting any other system of graduation. Personally he did not object to graduation, because he thought those who could bear taxation should bear it from the top to the bottom of the scale. "Graduation" was derived from "gradus," a step, and it meant taxation step by step; but the proposal of the Bill was a proposal of taxation by leaps and bounds. Under the scheme of the Government they had taxation of 1 per cent, on £1,000, then they had a leap to £10,000 and another percentage, then another leap to £25,000 and another percentage, and so with 358 leaps of £10,000, £15,000, and £25,000. If they had these great leaps and bounds, they might have all sorts of disputes in making arrangements in connection with estates about comparatively small sums. Take a case where an estate was of the value of £50,000. By Clause 14 an estate under £50,000 would be liable to a duty of 4½ per cent., while an estate over £50,000 would be liable to 5 per cent. In the ease of an estate of £49,990—£10 under £50,000—a duty of 4½ per cent, was paid, or a sum of £2,250. In the case of the estate valued at £50,010—£10 over £50,000—a duty of 5 per cent, would be paid, or a sum of £2,505. That was to say that, although there was a difference of only £20 in the two estates, there was a difference in the duty of £255. That seemed to him to be absurd. It would suggest to testators the idea of evasion if the proposed graduated system became law. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had expressed holy horror at what he had called the ruin of the Revenue by settlements, but he (Mr. Lees Knowles) believed that the right hon. Gentleman's proposal would suggest the ruin of the Revenue by tempting to evasion. He was not without authority when he said that. He had recently seen a letter in The Standard—certainly signed anonymously—in which the writer recognised the fact that if his estate at his death was over £100,000, 6 per cent, would have to be paid, whilst a smaller sum would be charged if the estate was under £100,000. The writer declared that he must cast about to see how he could meet this injustice by a reduction of his estate in his lifetime. His hon. and gallant Friend, in moving the Amendment, said he would like some alternative system of graduation. He would suggest that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should go step by step, by placing a percentage on each £1,000 or each. £5,000, instead of going by leaps and bounds from £10,000 to £15,000 and £25,000. The right hon. Gentleman would in that way to some extent prevent the difficulties which he had suggested with regard to comparatively small sums of money, and prevent the suspended animation of large estates.
§ SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
said, the question now before the Committee was not only a novel one so far as this 359 country was concerned, but was also admitted to be one of considerable difficulty, and he thought, therefore, he could congratulate the Committee on the amicable and reasonable manner in which the subject was being considered. He thought the principle of graduation was defensible on the ground that it was a practical mode of establishing a proportion between ability and means and the rate of contribution to the necessities of the State and the community, and also because those who had large means had more for the State to protect and more for the State to enable them to enjoy; and consequently they were more under the obligation to contribute a higher proportion towards taxation which ensured that protection and that enjoyment. He did not, however, accept all the proposals in the Bill, so far, at least, as some details were concerned. He thought the taxation of the recipient, rather than the taxation of the corpus, would have been a juster and more practical mode of dealing with the matter than the mode contained in the Bill; and the ground on which he had ventured to vindicate graduation—namely, that of actual protection and actual enjoyment—applied more strongly in the case of those who had the actual possession of the legacies left to them. He also thought that the taxation of the recipient, instead of the corpus, would be perfectly consistent with the plan of the Government and with the expected revenue, and would lead to the more rapid distribution and enjoyment of estates. But he looked upon graduation, after all, as something that was not so much vindicated by abstract principles as by practical experience based upon the facts of every day life. Means must be considered as an element of taxation. No one could doubt that the burden of taxation was comparatively much heavier on small fortunes than upon large fortunes. He thought the margin which had been spoken of by the Chancellor of the Exchequer was another practical mode of viewing the question; and that margin unquestionably was comparatively much wider in the case of large fortunes than on small fortunes; as for expenditure so also for taxation. While on the one hand they saw great wealth, on the other they were faced by a great area of very slender means; and if they sought for an illustration of that state of things they had Sir 360 only to go into any of the great middle-class constituencies and see the difficulties and struggles which small tradesmen and clerks and others similarly placed had to endure in order to keep their position in life. He found that out of 638,500 total payers of Income Tax in the Kingdom no less than 545,500 were entitled to claim allowances and exemptions. Those figures indicated how large was the area of slender resources, and how comparatively small was the number of those who were in possession of greater means, and, therefore, of greater ability to endure taxation. Then, again, graduation of taxation was at the present moment in actual and practical operation in this country. There were, as he had shown, allowances on the Income Tax; there were also allowances on Probate Duty; allowances on Succession Duty, allowances on the house taxed, and allowances on the Estate Duty; and it was worthy of remark that the consideration for the great classes of whom he had spoken, which those allowances indicated, was more marked in the legislation of the Conservative Party than in the legislation of the Liberal Party. He would show that the principle of graduated taxation was, if the payments were averaged, at present actually applied to the Income Tax—the very tax to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had denied it could be applied. For the purpose of his calculation he would take the Income Tax to be 3d. in the £1. Then an income of £180 paid about a farthing in the £1, an income of £250 paid 1d. in the £1, an income of £350 paid 1½d. in the £1, and an income of £400 and over paid 3d. in the £1. That scale showed that the principle of graduation was really in operation at the present time with regard to the Income Tax. He would not pursue the question whether wealth was immoral; it was perhaps one of degree, and circumstances, and uses; but here the question was one of transmission, and while he would not controvert the right of the transmission of the vast bulk of the estate to the elder son rather than its equal distribution amongst all the children, they must sometimes feel that it was well in the interest of the Empire that there were younger sons, because were it not for their energies being developed by necessity it would be questionable whether this country and 361 its Empire would have arrived at the high position they hold amongst the nations of the world. Again, they were all agreed that the measure of this tax must be moderate, and that it would be unwise to run the risk of endangering the tendency on the part of industry to accumulate, which would have the effect not only of driving capital out of the country, but of encouraging the evasions, which, however, he did not believe would be so great as many Members seemed to think. There was a point at which men would cease to be acquisitive if there was too great a burden placed on the proceeds of their industry, and recurring to the Chancellor's illustration of a margin, he would add that they must beware lest they made the stream of industry "A rivulet of wealth running through a meadow of margin." He did not think that there was that excess which would lead one to fear such results from the application of the present scale, and therefore he would oppose the Amendment and support the principle of the Government, believing, as he did, that the best security for private rights and property was a proper and ready recognition of their liabilities and duties.
SIR R.WEBSTER (Isle of Wight)
said, that he could not give a silent vote on this Amendment, as otherwise arguments might be derived from his action which were not warrantable. He was distinctly in favour of the principle of graduation, and of persons being taxed in accordance with their wealth. But he protested against the principle of graduation which was proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as radically wrong, and because it did not place the burden on the right shoulders. He challenged the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that, if the graduation scale was properly applied to the recipients, a substantially less amount would be levied. For example, say it was proposed to raise 5 per cent, on £1,000,000. He asserted that however this sum was broken up it needed very little adjustment under the graduated scale to obtain the same amount of money out of the recipients. The system of graduation which he favoured was the taxation of excessive wealth at the excessive rate and the taxation of moderate wealth at the moderate rate. His point was that when the Chancellor of the 362 Exchequer maintained that it was impossible to so impose this graduated tax as to work justice instead of injustice the right hon. Gentleman had not been willing to apply his mind to the rudimentary view of the problem, and he contended that it was only necessary to-readjust the breaks, to made a more gradual scale, in order to secure even a larger sum of money, and without imposing such a large burden as was now proposed on the smaller amounts. Another point open to consideration was the extraordinary differences in the amounts levied from the way in which the jumps or breaks were made from one sum to another in the Schedule, with the result that the larger amounts would not pay fairly in proportion. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer had dealt with graduation in the ordinary way in which such a scale should be applied from the first £1,000 upwards, he might have avoided every one of the anomalies that his present plan involved, and have obtained more money besides. He was in favour of the principle of graduation, but it should be equitably applied. He wished to ask the Government why the Schedule had been prepared in such a way as to involve so many anomalies, and what were the figures on which it was contended that, if the component parts of any sum were taxed by graduation, they would not get even more money than would be obtained by the system proposed in the Schedule.
§ MR. COHEN (Islington, E.)
said, he did not like to give a silent vote upon this Amendment, and was all the more anxious to say a word upon the subject because if the Amendment was pressed to a Division he should feel himself most reluctantly unable to support the hon. Gentleman at his side. His regret was increased, because he found that the very reason for which he could not support him was that just given by the hon. and learned Member for the Isle of Wight why the Amendment ought to he supported. He had always been a supporter of the principle of graduation, believing that that was the only just and equitable system upon which the taxation of a country should be based. In saying that, he meant that he was in favour of a system of taxation which ensured that the burden should fall upon those best able to bear it, which 363 was the principle laid down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech. He was against the proposals of this Bill under which those who received most paid the least in regard to the property passing to them; he did not mean relatively less, but actually less. There were cases which he could quote where persons receiving large sums by way of legacy paid less money to the Exchequer as duty than those who were in the position of small and comparatively unimportant legatees. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he had examined into these matters, as no doubt he had done since the Budget was introduced, must have seen the glaring injustice of the inequalities which were introduced under this Schedule. The Committee would forgive him perhaps if he pointed out one of these injustices. That was that a man having left £240,000 to six children, each of those children would have to pay £2,600 duty, while in the case of a man leaving £50,000 to one child a duty of £2,500 would be payable. He was really most anxious to impress upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer the injustice of the bases of the Schedule. If they looked at the scale they would find that millionaires were only charged half as much again as persons of comparatively small properties.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said, if that should prove to be the case, he was quite open to amend the Bill in that respect.
§ MR. COHEN
said, he should ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to also consider favourably the case of the smaller property owners. He did not think the right hon. Gentleman could fairly charge Members of the Opposition with taking the part of the millionaires. The Amendment was one that he could not possibly support, because it appeared to him that it would absolutely forbid that system of graduation of which, as he had already said, he was in favour. The Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day charged the occupants of the Front Bench with 364 being uncertain of their opinions upon graduation. No doubt the Chancellor of the Exchequer attached very little importance to his (Mr. Cohen's) opinion one way or the other, but at all events he could not charge him with ambiguity. He repeated that he was in favour of graduation, and that what he desired was that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should graduate his tax, not inversely to the ability of the class upon whom it was imposed to bear it, but actually in accordance with the ability of the classes whom his proposals touched to pay the additional duties. He hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer might give some attention to the proposals which he had made as to the principles upon which this Schedule ought to be based.
§ MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
said, he wished to reply to the challenge of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House, especially as he differed from the views of many of his own friends on the subject. It was said that this was the most important financial reform ever introduced into the House of Commons. Whether it was or was not a reform was an open question, but he agreed at all events that it was a most important financial change. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had asked who was going to vote against his proposal. He spoke only for himself, but he might tell the right hon. Gentleman that if his hon. Friend went to a Division on the Amendment he should certainly accompany him into the Lobby. If he might do so without presumption he would like to congratulate his hon. Friend, not only upon the great ability which he displayed in his speech and the straightforward way in which he stated his argument, but upon having the courage of his convictions and daring to bring forward a proposal when for the moment, to all appearances, the current of popular opinion was against him. He could not congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on his definition of the principle of graduation. The right hon. Gentleman said a man ought to be taxed upon his margin—upon what he had in excess of what was necessary for his existence and for his comfort; and when further pressed as to how much that was, he replied, "Something less than a million." How much less than a million 365 constituted a margin? What was the standard of comfort after which a man was to be liable? Was a beefsteak and a bottle of champagne for dinner to be the standard? The truth was, the principle which the right hon. Gentleman had enunciated meant that after the standard of comfort which he had laid down had been reached he was perfectly justified in taxing the whole world until every one was reduced to the same level. By this proposal they were initiating a system of progressive taxation upon capital; and, after all, capital was only the equivalent of accumulated labour. They were, therefore, imposing a penalty upon industry and economy—upon people who had worked harder and saved more than their neighbours. These objections ought to be met and answered, for the Government were, he affirmed, introducing a principle that was vicious and unsound in the last degree. There were other objections to this proposal. In the course of years it would have the effect of cutting up and dividing all the great properties of the country. He did not stand there as the advocate of huge estates, but it was obvious to every one who had studied the subject that it was in the case of such estates that the people were best housed and best paid, and that the property was best managed. It was all very well for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to lay down a scale of graduation in the Bill, but if they once laid down the principle where were they to stop? They were entitled to an answer to these objections to a proposal which would inflict the greatest possible injustice on a portion of the community who were in so small a minority that they would be powerless to resist. He did not attach any value to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's argument that the great bulk of the Liberal Party was in favour of the proposal. He did not know of a single subject under the sun for which that Party would not vote if it were put to them under a threat of Dissolution, and he had very little doubt that when a Motion for adjourning over Derby Day was moved this adhesion on the part of those gentlemen would be displayed. At first sight it sounded not unreasonable, and it seemed very pleasant that a man who had got £1,000,000 should be called upon to pay more than a man who had £1,000 or £2,000; but, he asked, where 366 was the principle to lead to. Whether it was popular or not, it was the duty of a public man to point out the objections to any proposal that was made. He objected to this proposal on four different grounds. In the first place, because it penalised industry and economy, and was therefore, in his opinion, vicious and absolutely unsound in principle; in the second place, because it imposed an exceptional burden on a class which was necessarily limited in numbers, and would therefore be absolutely powerless to oppose it; in the third place, because it was a direct invitation to evasion, and what might be considered by some people as a resort to immoral expedients in order to defeat the plan; and, in the fourth place, because he believed that it would open the door in the future to the danger of the greatest possible injustice being inflicted on a most limited class at the behest of some needy Chancellor of the Exchequer. On all these grounds, if his hon. Friend went to a Division, he should certainly go into the Lobby with him in support of the Amendment.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I am sorry that no other gentleman has intervened between my right hon. Friend and myself, but I feel that it would be hardly fitting that this Debate should come to a conclusion without my having given the Committee reasons for the course I propose to take. The Debate on this Amendment, very unfortunately, began at a period when the House was even much emptier than at present, and the speeches of such important Members of the Committee as my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) and the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir W. Harcourt) were delivered to Benches which were absolutely empty, save for two or three friends of mine on the Bench near me. Therefore, those Members of the House who are now present have had every opportunity of knowing upon what grounds this Amendment was proposed and supported, or was resisted. I may say, in passing, that my hon. and gallant Friend (Commander Bethell) made a speech which I regretted was not delivered to a larger audience, for a speech more moderate in tone and more carefully or judiciously argued it has not yet been my lot to hear in the House of Commons. But those who listened to that speech 367 and to the speeches of the Member for West Birmingham and the Chancellor of the Exchequer must be aware that the Amendment was opposed upon grounds of the most abstract character. This proposal was not put forward as a concrete Amendment to the Bill, nor was it resisted upon the ground that, in any other particular regard, it need be so considered by a Committee whose primary occupation it is to deal with the details of the measures submitted to them. I am not sure whether this House is ever judiciously employed in discussing abstract Resolutions or fundamental principles; and I have no doubt whatever that it is very ill employed in choosing the Committee stage of a Bill to deal with such abstract Resolutions and far-reaching principles. We are now occupied, I think, not in discussing the broad principles on which the measure professes to be based, but in discussing the details of the Bill, and trying to lick them into shape; and I do not think we greatly advance our own business by interposing into the middle of these discussions debating society points which might really be decided either way without modifying the view which many of us entertain with regard to the character of this measure. I decline for my part to give any opinion whatever upon the abstract question whether it is or is not under some circumstances just or desirable to impose a graduated taxation on subjects of Her Majesty.[Ironical Ministerial cheers] Why am I to be obliged to give an opinion upon one of the most difficult questions of the philosophy of taxation when it is absolutely irrelevant, as I understand it, to the decision we have to come to with regard to this Budget? Graduated taxation may be good or it may be bad; but, whether it be good or bad, this Budget is a most absurd form in which to embody it in our fiscal system, and it appears to me that we have ample grounds for objecting to the Budget without determining abstruse questions with regard to which philosophers and political economists have disputed for generations without coming to any final conclusion. I therefore shall not trouble myself to give a vote on this question. Before I sit down I should like to consider the arguments, or rather the want of arguments, by which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has accompanied his proposals. Let it 368 be remembered that this is not the first time upon which the right hon. Gentleman has had to deal with this question. He had to deal with it, first, in that classical speech on the introduction of the Budget which is now in print, and to which he always appeals whenever any question relating to his Budget happens to be in question. He had to deal with it again upon the Resolutions which were subsequently introduced, and, in the third place, he had an opportunity of dealing with it—and he dealt with it in his own peculiar fashion—when we came to the Second Reading of the Finance Bill. And yet, Sir, in all these stages of the discussion, I never recollect a single occasion upon which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has condescended to come down to the House and argue the question upon its merits. If the right hon. Gentleman regarded it as a subject of comparatively small importance I should have understood that, but we heard from him a couple of hours ago that this was a part of his Budget upon which he specially prides himself, and that, to use his own expression, it is a turning-point in our system of taxation, and will effect a greater reform in that system than has been effected for more than a generation. Well, Sir, if the proposal of the Government has all these peculiar merits, and possesses all this importance, I should have thought that it would have been worth the while of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to have given us something in the way of an argument upon the merits of the case. The right hon. Gentleman, however, thinks it sufficient as Leader of the House and Chancellor of the Exchequer to tell us that out of doors there is a large majority in favour of his proposal, and that indoors there are not a majority of hon. Members who dare to vote against it. Well, Sir, I have not taken the trouble to gauge public opinion with the anxious accuracy which, I dare say, he has given to the consideration of the subject.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
No, I am not going to vote against it, for the reason I have given. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman means that I object to voting in a minority.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Very well, then, let us leave that alone. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has never condescended to discuss this question. He has confined himself to an anxious estimate of votes inside and outside the House, and he appears to think it sufficient for a Chancellor of the Exchequer to come down to this House and say that, on the whole, he is convinced that he will have a majority behind him, and that when he has obtained a majority in favour of his proposal no further discussion is required. The fact is, that the right hon. Gentleman never can remember whether he is addressing us in his capacity as Chancellor of the Exchequer or in that as a wire-puller or a demagogue. I have no objection to the right hon. Gentleman's holding the office of a wire-puller and a demagogue; they may be functions which may very well be added to those of Chancellor of the Exchequer. But the right hon. Gentleman is really something more than a wire-puller and a demagogue; and when he comes down to this House to take part in a business argument he should give us something more than the purely electioneering arguments which he seems to think sufficient for himself and his friends. The right hon. Gentleman says that the professors have been against him, and that he makes it a rule to brush all the professors aside. Well, the right hon. Gentleman was himself a Professor once. I do not know whether in his capacity as Professor he ever expressed any opinions; and I do not know whether, now that he has ceased to be a Professor, he has felt it to be his duty to brush those opinions aside, but I do think that the right hon. Gentleman ought not to foul his own nest. I should admit that very commonly Professors have some arguments to put forward for the opinions they advance. What have the Professors said upon this point? As I understand the matter, very few of them have advanced the abstract proposition that by an immutable law of justice every man should be taxed in arithmetical proportion to the amount of his income. If my memory serves me right, there are some phrases in John Stuart Mill's writings which almost lend themselves to that interpretation; but I agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the 370 interpretation is one which does not bear examination. It may be a good working rule that incomes should be taxed according to their arithmetical proportion, but it cannot be asserted that justice necessarily requires that every man's property should be taxed precisely to that amount. Therefore, when my hon. Friend behind me asked the right hon. Gentleman upon what principle he justified his proposal, the right ho a. Gentleman and those who think with him must remember that some justification is required of their principle. The real argument in favour of progressive taxation appears to me to be not that taxation in arithmetical proportion to income is necessarily just, but that it is simple and intelligible, and, as long as people are agreed upon it, it is not a bad method of working the fiscal system of the country. But I am bound to say, if I am asked to assert in Debate or to emphasise my opinion by my vote in the Lobby that that is the only principle on which taxation can be levied upon the community, I could not find it in my heart to deliver as my own any such abstract doctrine. My objection to the Government proposal is not necessarily principally, or indeed at all, that it departs from the principle of abstract justice. I think that the economists who have objected to graduated taxation have found a much stronger ground when they point out that it is a dangerous system on which to embark. When my hon. Friend most ably and eloquently put that argument forward I thought he was on, firm ground. No answer has been made to that argument by the Government; on the contrary, everything that has been said by them has been calculated not to diminish but to augment the alarm with which the economists regard the proposal now before the House, for the Chancellor of the Exchequer said this was the beginning of some wonderful system of fiscal reform, and that it was not a final proposal. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not laid down these views I confess that I should not have been disposed to regard this particular proposal as of much importance one way or the other. I know that the right hon. Gentleman regards this Budget as the magnum opus of his financial career and as his title deed to the gratitude of the country. I cannot see it in that light, 371 It appears to me that the principle embodied in this Bill involves a most inequitable method of raising additional taxation. As to the method he has employed, I mean to vote against it on every possible occasion, and to modify it as far as I can. But leaving the prophecy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the future, and the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman for the present, on what principle has he to-night, for the first time in the course of these Debates, attempted to deal with the arguments of my hon. and gallant Friend and others? He does not believe in "equality of sacrifice." He thinks the phrase bad grammar—in which I am unable to follow him—and he thinks the principle embodied in this ungrammatical phrase one which ought not to be accepted. In lieu of this principle, the right hon. Gentleman has provided us with a principle of his own, and it is this, that every man should be taxed on the amount of the margin of his income. That at first sight may sound very well; but as my hon. and gallant Friend pointed out, it is no more difficult to find out the amount of a man's sacrifice than what constitutes the margin of a man's income? The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer says it varies according to the income. Well, if the margin of the income depends upon the income, we get involved in a mathematical calculation which, as yet, no mathematician has been able to bring to a conclusion. Some economist—I forget who—has devoted a good deal of attention to the question of the sum a man in health requires to live upon, and he has discovered that an able bodied man may live in health on a sum which would appear to us incredibly small. I do not venture to give the sum. He is to be clothed, of course, in fabrics of the cheapest manufacture simply calculated to keep out the cold; he is to be fed on the cheapest food which will keep body and soul together in health; and he is to be lodged in the humblest dwelling which will protect him from the weather. Are we to regard everything beyond these objects as margin? If so, I can only say there are many labourers earning 20s.or 30s. a week who have a very large margin according to the calculation of this class of economists. But if by margin you mean that part of a man's income 372 which is over and above that habitual expenditure which is imposed upon him by the particular conditions in which he finds himself, why—
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Exactly. What is that? That is just what I want to know. What is a man's margin? I give the right hon. Gentleman leave to interrupt me in order to define to me what that margin is, and I shall give him full time to explain it to the Committee.
[The right hon. Gentleman here resumed his seat, inviting a reply, but Sir W. HAECOUBT did not respond.]
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman is reluctant to explain the principles upon which he bases the equity of the tax which he suggests, and as he can give us no answer to this elementary question, I suppose I may treat his defence as not having been made, and may pass on to other points connected with this interesting question. As I have said, the difficulty which economists have felt in accepting a graduated Income Tax has for the most part not been founded upon abstract principles of justice, but upon the practical consideration that by a graduated system you levy a very large amount of money upon a very small number of people, those people having very little powers of resistance, because there is no clear line of demarcation to show what is just and what is not just, and that you open the door to a great many fiscal abuses. As my hon. and gallant Friend has pointed out with great force, by this tax you levy £1,750,000 sterling, or very nearly what 1d. in the Income Tax levied on the whole community gives you upon 215 persons in the year. Will anybody say this is not a dangerous system? I do not say that it is unjust; I do not argue that question, but is it not dangerous? The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in all his speeches appeals to the democracy of the country, but should not these facts make him pause and consider even more carefully than he would otherwise have done whether the course he is proposing is equitable or not, and whether it is not open to great abuse? The very fact that the taxation of this country is entirely de- 373 termined by the great mass of the community, and that only 215 persons out of the 37,000,000 contribute £2,000,000 to our general taxation, that fact alone should induce the Committee to remember that the plan of the Government, whether good or bad, is liable to the gravest abuse, and to believe that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who enters into it with a light heart, who refuses even to argue it, or if he does so in a single speech is incapable of supporting his argument by any tolerable explanation, is not likely to be a safe guide in our future financial deliberations. But what I felt—and what I still feel—throughout all these discussions is that if we had a scheme before us just, equitable, and practical in all its bearings, of which graduation was an essential element, then it would be necessary and desirable to make up our minds whether graduation was a principle it would be proper to introduce. But no such problem is brought before us by the Government. Their own plan does not, carry out their own objects; it does not even profess to be an exemplification of a system of graduation carried out in proportion to the means of the person who will have to pay. The whole Budget bristles with objections, with difficulties, with injustices. It is not necessary for us to go even the length of considering the abstract question on which the Government profess to base it; we may safely reject it without making up our minds on this question. That being so, it appears to me that this is neither the fitting place nor the opportunity for us to commit ourselves for or against a doctrine which is irrelevant to the issue, and on which we may have an opinion either way and yet not alter our opinion of the Budget by one iota. Therefore, knowing how anxious the Chancellor of the Exchequer is to escape from the objections to the Budget which arise out of the details of the ill-thought-out scheme laid before us, I shall not give him the advantage, which I have no doubt he expects, of being able, I will not say to argue about it, but to bluster about it upon certain general principles which in my judgment are not in the least involved in the condemnation which all of us on this side of the House are prepared to pass upon the measure he has laid before us.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
One cannot help feeling sympathy with a good man struggling with adversity. Of all positions perhaps the most unenviable is that of the Leader of a great Party who dares not go into action because he knows his troops will not follow him, and who in these circumstances has to beat a retreat. No one can make a more ingenious speech than the right hon. Gentleman in circumstances so painful. The right hon. Gentleman said that this was a matter of trifling importance and irrelevant, and yet he has been arguing about it—if one may call it arguing—for half an hour. Having laid down I find it difficult to apprehend what—having spoken for 20 minutes on the subject, ho does not mean to vote upon the Amendment. Here is a principle which is not unimportant in the taxation of the country, and the Leader of the great Conservative Party has no opinion to give upon it. It was said in old times of a procession that a particular bust was conspicuous by its absence. I do not know whether the House of Commons is going to-night to affirm the principle of graduated taxation by a unanimous vote. [Mr. J. LOWTHER: No.] Well, the right hon. Member for Thanet is staunch; if he expresses an opinion he acts upon it; but sitting beside him is a right hon. Gentleman who did not say No. We had a speech from him on the Second Reading of the Bill which I am prohibited from quoting, but there was nothing he did not say against graduation and of the peril in which the country would be involved by it; it disturbed his nights and caused him to spend his days in the study of Fabian literature; what is he going to do? Is he going to walk out when the question of graduation is put? Has the past and the future Chancellor of the Exchequer of the Unionist Party no opinion on the subject?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
It is an important matter on which we should like to be enlightened. When the Division takes place we shall know, and I will not delay that Division by another minute.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
Mr. Lowther, I have sat in the House a good many years with the right hon. Gentleman, and, although he may sometimes have had 375 reason to complain of my attitude, I do not think he ever found me running away from my opinions. He must remember that I have refused the honour of serving in the same Cabinet with himself rather than vote for opinions I did not hold. What right has he to assume that I am not going to vote? It is premature on his part. I had hoped the right hon. Gentleman would have replied to the arguments of my right hon. Friend. He with his margin, brand new, invented for the occasion—he scoffs at men who have devoted their lives to the study of taxation—calls them professors, although he has been one himself. He scoffs at Sir Louis Mallet, although men sitting on the Treasury Bench would be glad if he were living to help the Liberal Government of the day as he did the right hon. Member for Midlothian, with his great experience and financial ability. It is ridiculous to scoff at men who know infinitely more of taxation than he has been able to acquire in the few years he has occupied his present position. In this Budget we are told we have a new starting point, a new departure in finance; and it is a curious thing this new departure is coincident with the departure of the right hon. Member for Midlothian, whose common sense—this being, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer says, a question for common sense—has never led him to make this proposal. Since when has this unwonted common sense been developed by the right hon. Gentleman himself? One would think that he had been the champion of graduation during the last 30 years of his public career I am not at all sure that until the departure of the right hon. Member for Midlothian the Chancellor of the Exchequer had committed himself to this doctrine of graduation as a principle of the finance of the Liberal Party, We may be right or wrong. The right hon. Gentleman may be the financial genius of the future intended to depose the right hon. Member for Midlothian. But, at all events, I, who hold some of the views of the right hon. Member for Midlothian on this subject, do not feel my withers wrung by the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that graduation is simply a question of common sense. This is what, not the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but his more distinguished 376 predecessor, said with regard to graduation at a comparatively late date—I have never been able to observe any absolute rule by means of which that graduation is to be kept within bounds.Has the Chancellor of the Exchequer discovered any means? What is the absolute rule that he has discovered? Is it this doctrine of margin?It is quite clear that it is capable of being carried to a point at which graduation would become confiscation.The Chancellor of the Exchequer does not know that there is such a point, because he holds the other new doctrine, that the State is entitled to take all. How can a power which is entitled to take all ever approach confiscation? When an hon. Member suggested that the State should take more the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, "Yes, certainly; I am willing to go as far as the House of Commons will go in the taxing of fortunes." The right hon. Member for Midlothian continues—I shall be glad if we can be told whether there is any fixed rule which would apply to the custodians of property and proprietary interests for the purpose of distinguishing what is moderate and just from what is immoderate and unjust.It is that fixed rule which we want to know. There is none. And the right right hon. Member for Midlothian was simply expressing many of the opinions which have been uttered in the course of this Debate. The Chancellor of the Exchequer based himself on some Australian precedents. I do not know whether he believes that he is imposing taxes which are lower than the Australian scale. He gave the House to understand that in Victoria the rates were 10 per cent., while he was moderate enough to confine himself to 8 per cent. But he forgot to tell the Committee what I have since ascertained—that in the case of children and husband and wife only one-half the amount he mentioned is imposed. Is it possible that the right hon. Gentleman should have made such a mistake? I have this on the highest authority; and if my facts are correct, we may well complain that the right hon. Gentleman should propose a system of graduation, basing himself so utterly incorrectly on Australian precedents. If the right hon. Gentleman will not argue, I do not intend to inflict upon the Committee a repeti- 377 tion of the statements and arguments which I have made. But perhaps he wished to draw me on this subject. In any case I should have risen to say that I stand by every opinion I uttered on the Second Beading, and I shall take what opportunities I can to give effect to the opinions I hold. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of me as a past and possibly future Chancellor of the Exchequer. As regards my past, during the five years in which I acted with my hon. Friends behind me I may have taken many steps which did not commend themselves to their judgment. Trained as I have been there must have been times when I was liable, if not to their opposition, to their criticism. But with regard to the future, I will not commit myself, whatever the question of popularity may be, to any financial doctrines which run against all that I have learnt, sitting at the feet of some of the greatest masters of finance.
§ MR. LEES KNOWLES
asked if these words, "hereinafter mentioned," were carried, would it be possible for the Committee afterwards to discuss the method of the graduation of taxation?
§ MR. WYNDHAM (Dover)
did not desire to intervene for more than a moment, but he thought that every private Member on that side of the House had a right to complain of the narrow issue presented by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Committee was asked, with a pistol at its head, to say whether it was in favour of the principle of graduation or against it. Hon. Gentlemen opposite had declared that theoretically the principle of graduation could be better and more justly embodied in the Income Tax were there not practical objections to the scheme. In the same way it was open to hon. Members to assert now that, whatever value might attach to the principle of graduation, the form in which it was presented was so unbearable as to force its condemnation.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 209; Noes 105.—(Division List, No. 72.)
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."378
§ SIR J. LUBBOCK (London University)
said, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer quoted it at some length from a document recently issued by the Imperial Federation Defence Association, and stated that one of the objects of this Bill was to compel the colonies to contribute their fair share to the defence of the Empire. He was quite as anxious as the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer that our colonies should contribute towards the general defence of the Empire, but he thought that it would be more for the honour and the dignity of our colonies that the proposal to make that contribution should emanate from them rather than from the Imperial Government. While he held very strongly to the opinion that it was the interest of all the subjects of Her Majesty at home and abroad to contribute their fair portion towards the defences of the Empire, he felt also that if the colonists were to contribute to the Army and Navy it must be with their assent and consent. If the House of Commons attempted to make the colonists pay—as the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed to make them pay—against their consent, the money that would be raised would be dearly purchased at the cost of the irritation that would likely be produced in the colonies. The Government, by the proposal in this clause, was embarking on the course that had lost us the United States, and protests against that proposal had already been made by the Governments of New Zealand and Victoria. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had said in the early part of the evening that he was not proposing in this clause to tax a single property which was not taxed now. But though it might be true that the property of colonists was liable to Probate Duty, it should be remembered that Probate Duty was a tax of a totally different character from the new Estate Duties. In the first place, Probate Duty was moderate in amount; and, in the second place, it was in the nature of payment for services rendered—namely, the transfer of the property. Under those circumstances the colonists had never thought it necessary to protest against the Probate Duty. It was now proposed to impose a tax of quite a different character. It was a graduated tax to meet the necessities of the country, and, therefore, it was of a 379 totally different character from the Pro-hate Duty. They were proposing even to impose obligations on the natives of foreign countries. It could not be pretended that they could make foreigners contribute to British expenditure. If they made foreigners contribute, foreigners could make Englishmen contribute to that in foreign countries, and they knew that for every pound sterling which a foreigner had in this country Englishmen had a thousand pounds invested in the colonies or in foreign countries. Therefore, if foreigners choosed to adopt a system of reprisals, they would be able to levy a far larger sum on British investments abroad than the Exchequer could ever hope to obtain from foreign investments at home. Already considerable sums of money had been withdrawn from the country in consequence of these purposes. The whole question was very serious, and, speaking in no degree in a Party sense, he would urge its serious consideration on the Government. He sincerely hoped that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be able to make some explanation which would allay the feeling of irritation which had been produced in the colonies by his proposals; and if the right hon. Gentleman were unable to do so it would be necessary in the interests of our great Colonial Empire to return to the subject at a later stage of the Bill.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
We have already fully discussed this question, and I must really object to go into it again. I should like, however, to say that I think my right hon. Friend suffers under an entire misapprehension as to the effect of this duty upon the colonies. There is no tax put upon the colonies at all. We treat everybody alike, and I quite fail to understand the anxiety of hon. Gentlemen opposite to relieve the colonist and the foreigner at the expense of the English subject by putting a differential duty against English investments.
§ MR. BANBURY (Peckham)
said, his experience confirmed that of the right hon. Baronet the Member for London University as to the large sums of foreign money which had been removed from London owing to the new Death Duties which the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed to impose. It was hardly fair for the right hon. Gentleman to say that 380 in protesting against those duties they were animated by a desire to serve the foreigner. What they desired was to retain the money which was being used in the City, and which was necessary to preserve the trade of the country. The Chancellor of the Exchequer hardly realised the effect his Budget would have upon the vast sums of money which had been so employed in the past. His Death Duties would cause a large amount of money to be driven away to foreign countries, because the owners of the money would object to paying Death Duties at home and abroad at the same time.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I am not aware that at this moment money is very scarce in London. I am told that the rate of interest for short money is ½ per cent., and therefore this terrible depletion of money in London due to the withdrawal of foreign capital does not alarm me. I would venture to suggest, however, that the proper time for the hon. Member to raise this question is at the end of Clause 2, which deals with foreign investments.
§ MR. BANBURY
The right hon. Gentleman asks why the rate of interest-is so low. I will tell him. The rate of interest is low because capital is afraid that under a Radical Government the produce of money invested in any enterprise would not be reserved to the owners.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
My hon. Friend who has just sat down was perfectly justified in exposing the hollow-ness of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's argument as to the present cheapness of money in the London market. It is possible that my right hon. Friend the Member for the University of London would have been well advised in reserving any Amendment on this subject to the place indicated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take pains to acquaint himself with the real difficulty of the situation which he is gratuitously creating. We all admit that it would be a very serious thing to do anything in this country which would discourage home investments and encourage foreign investments; but there is no reason why we should fall in love with a system of taxation, which, if carried to excess, would have the effect of raising an im- 381 penetrable barrier between this country and her colonies, and between this country and foreign countries, by preventing foreign money seeking investment here or English money seeking investment abroad, which would be the effect of the Budget as it stands. The effect of the Budget, especially taken in conjunction with similar proposals in the colonies, which the right hon. Gentleman has imitated and bettered, would be to put a double Death Duty on every property left here belonging to colonists and on every property left in the colonies belonging to persons here. Every such property would have to pay a double Death Duty.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
But it does not pay a very high Death Duty now. The Government have said that the best thing for the world at large is that there should be free international commerce not only of goods, but of capital, and yet they are doing more than any preceding Government to make it impossible for British subjects to invest abroad or for foreign subjects to invest in England. It is, in fact, a high tariff upon the transfer of capital, and how anybody who believes in free trade could think that such a fiscal arrangement is good for the world at large passes my understanding. However, that is a subject that will be raised again, and I hope the discussion will be reserved until we reach Clause 2.
§ SIR J. LUBBOCK
said, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had treated the matter very lightly; but, having regard to the action of the colonists in Australia, he considered that he had only done his duty in calling attention to the subject. He understood that there would be an opportunity of raising the question again on Clause 2, and as he did not want to press the Government at the present moment he was willing to withdraw the Amendment.
§ SIR J. GOLDSMID (St. Pancras, S.)
said, he himself was in favour of some system of graduated taxation, though whether the scheme proposed in the Bill was the best he would not stop to inquire. Though he thought a large additional expenditure on the Navy was necessary, he did not believe it to be 382 necessary to raise any increased taxes at all. He held the opinion, which was largely shared out of doors, that the additional charge of £3,000,000 or £3,500,000 for the Navy might very well be taken out of the Sinking Fund instead of being raised by additional taxation. The payment on account of the National Debt was £6,000,000 or £7,000,000 a year. To his mind this was a very large sum to pay off, particularly at the present moment when the country was less prosperous than it was a few years ago. These payments should be more or less regulated by the general prosperity and requirements of the country, and by the fact that a large additional expenditure for national defence was clearly required.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.
§ Clause 2.
§ MR. BYRNE
said, he wished to move to omit the words "be deemed to include," in order to insert the word "mean," go that the clause should run, "Property passing on the death of the deceased shall mean," &c. The object of the Amendment was to provide that Clause 2 should do what the marginal note suggested it was meant to do—namely, show "what property is deemed to pass." They had in the first clause determined that a certain duty was to be paid on all property, real or personal, settled or not settled, ion its passing. They now came to a clause which was to define the property passing on the death of the deceased. If the words "be deemed to include," were left in they would be leaving it open to contention that, besides the properties mentioned in Clause 2, there were other things to be included. All Acts of Parliament, and especially an Act imposing the burden of taxation, should inform the subject decisively what property was meant to be taxed. The word "mean" was one which the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General would no doubt call to mind, as that word and the word "includes" had been considered in many cases. Lord Blackburn had laid it down that, if they intended to make an exclusive definition the word "mean" must be used, for the word "include" 383 would set people to work to find out whether there was anything else included. Nothing was more important than that the subject should know what property precisely it was meant to tax. He only asked that the Committee should he told what property it was intended to tax.
§ MR. R. T. REID
said, it was quite impossible to accept the Amendment. His hon. and learned Friend asked what property they intended to tax. The answer was all property, real or personal, settled or not settled, and, of course, of a character as to which previous Acts never gave any categorical description. It was not intended that Clause 1 should cover all classes of property well known as being taxed; and Clause 2 was intended to set out more at length the principal classes of property which were subject to taxation. He would not deal further with the 2nd clause now, because it was highly technical and most complicated. The Amendment would have the effect that, unless they could show that within the scope of some particular definition in the 2nd clause a particular piece of property would be taxed, it would not be held to be included, and could not be taxed at all. General words, like those here used, had always been employed in order to prevent certain classes of property escaping owing to laxity of definition. There was no snake in the grass in this case.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 5, to leave out the words "be deemed to include," in order to insert the word "mean."—(Mr. Byrne.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words, be deemed to include,' stand part of the Clause."
§ SIR R. WEBSTER
said he trusted that in connection with clauses of this kind strict orders were not given by the Government to its representatives not to accept Amendments. He hoped something in the nature of a reason might be given for the rejection of the Amendment. If every proposal were received with a simple answer that it could not be accepted by the Government, there would be no use in attempting to amend the Bill at all. He did not agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General that in these Acts the 384 kinds of property to be taxed were not specifically laid down. He did not know any taxing Act which, after stating the property to come within its provisions, did not by a supplementary provision include everything which could be included. In Sub-section (a) the words were—Property of which the deceased was at the time of his death competent to dispose.Those words would require consideration. In his view, they would include property of every kind. This clause was not supplementary to Clause 1. The draftsmen had set to work to show all classes of property coming within the definition, "property passing on the death of the deceased." The Solicitor General now said in effect that the words in Section 2 were only put in ex abundanti cautelâ. In taxing Acts there should be left no doubt as to the kind of property to be taxed. He would press upon the Solicitor General that this clause ought to be made clear.
§ SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
said, he hoped they might hear something more from Her Majesty's Government. He confessed it was a difficult matter for a layman to understand, but speaking as a layman, it seemed to him that, if the clause was not merely a definition, it had better be left out of the Bill. What was the use of a clause which specified a certain class of property, and yet did not include all kinds of property to which the tax should apply? It did not settle the law or afford a proper definition. Clause 2 simply contained a partial definition of property included in the first clause, and he hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Byrne) would insist on the Amendment, or that the Committee might have an opportunity of striking the clause out of the Bill.
§ MR. R. T. REID
said, he should be extremely sorry to omit giving an answer to any objection and not to meet Amendments which were put forward, he had no doubt, in good faith. If the hon. and learned Gentleman and the right hon. Gentleman would look up the first legacy Act they would find that the duty was imposed upon "all property," without specifying that it was property in the United Kingdom or specifying in detail what the property was. This practice had grown up in the Inland Revenue for 385 many years, and everyone knew it was not intended to tax property except that which came under British control. In Clause 1 that model had not been completely followed. Long-winded sentences were to be avoided in Acts of Parliament. In the present Bill the sentences were short and crisp, but if they turned to the 1st clause it would be found to give a general definition. The 2nd clause was a clause which limited and explained different subjects requiring explanation. It was intended to point out certain particular classes of property which were to be included, and there were further references to other classes and property to be included. It would be impossible to strike out Clause 2 without ruining the construction of the Bill, and it would be equally wrong to say that nothing should be included in the tax except what was specifically stated in the clause. If the tax was to be imposed it certainly should not be partially imposed. Under the circumstances he could not accept the Amendment.
§ MR. MATTHEWS (Birmingham, E.)
said, he wished that the Solicitor General had given some illustration to show that Clause 2 in any sense limited Clause 1. To his mind it was as plain as daylight that Clause 2 was an extension to Clause 1. Clause 1 dealt with all sorts of property, settled or unsettled, but Clause 2 included a number of things which could not be called property in the ordinary sense of the word, and which the Courts would not regard as property. Sub-section (a) would include trust funds to which the deceased had had power of appointing, but which would not be his property in the ordinary sense of the word. Sub-section (b) included—property which the deceased or any other person had an interest ceasing on the death of the deceased.&c. Would that come under the term "real and personal property"?
§ MR. BUTCHER
said, the argument of the learned Solicitor General was really a strong one in favour of the Amendment. He was asked, "Is there any class of property you propose to tax under Clause 1 which is not included in the definition of Clause 2 "? With all 386 his ingenuity the hon. and learned Member had not been able to discover any class of property it was proposed to tax under Clause 2 that was not taxed under Clause 1. If the intention was to tax something not included in Clause 1 he would ask the Government to tell them what that was. For the first time in this Bill they were imposing a novel duty—a heavy duty of a graduated character and a heavy duty by a system of aggregation on small properties. Under the circumstances it was not unreasonable to ask who they were going to tax and what they were going to tax. It ought to be made perfectly clear in all cases under this Bill what persons and what class of property were to be taxed under the clauses referred to, so that they might not be legislating in the dark.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 150;
§ Noes 102.—(Division List,. No. 73.)
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.