HL Deb 11 May 1815 vol 31 cc241-5

On the motion for the third reading of this Bill,

The Duke of Norfolk

repeated his approbation of the principle of the Bill, and his conviction that the clamours and out-cries which had been raised against it were unfounded. The Executive Government ought not to suffer itself to be influenced improperly by such means, and the firmness which they had displayed during the outcry against the Corn-bill was much to their credit; for, whether that measure was right or not, the decision ought not to be influenced by such clamours. But while he approved of the principle of the Bill, he was aware that it required much modification in the details. There could not be a more equal and proper tax than this, if it were confined to property secured—he meant land, properly in the funds, mortgages, bonds, &c.: but income derived from trade and personal exertion, which was uncertain in its nature, ought not to be so taxed. The Bill required amendment, too, in the case of the occupiers of land, who paid according to a very uncertain and unfair criterion. He recommended it, therefore, to ministers to consider whether several very material amendments and modifications might not be made in this plan of taxation, in case it were necessary to continue it beyond the year. He considered the situation of the country to be such as to require this great financial measure, and he hoped the eventual use of the extensive powers entrusted to his Majesty's Government, would be the establishment of a secure peace upon fair and honourable terms, such as a- nation like this had a right to expect. Upon these grounds it was that he now voted for the third reading of the Bill.

The Earl of Darnley

expressed his concurrence in the general scope and tendency of the noble duke's opinions; and alluding to the particular description of persons whom he, with the noble duke, thought were so pressed upon by the Bill, he expressed his hope that justice would be afforded to a class of men always remarkable for their loyalty and exertions, and who were at all times ready to bear; their due proportion of the public burthens.

The Marquis of Douglas

thought the tax most unjust and impolitic in its principle and in its operation. It was unjust in its principle because it took a certain proportion of the whole income of the country, and when they once came to take 10 per cent, in this way, they might, on the same principle, take 99 per cent. It was unjust in its operation, because it imposed the burthen most unequally and unfairly on the different kinds of property. He considered this, therefore, as an unjust and unconstitutional tax. Articles of luxury and matters of that kind were the proper objects of taxation, because they limited themselves. He objected, also, to the tax, because he considered it as amounting to a declaration of war. He could not agree that it was to be regarded merely as the means of enabling the Government to place the country in a proper state of preparation with a view to negociations for peace, but as the means of commencing hostilities, to which he was adverse, if peace could be preserved. He was the more convinced of this when-he considered it in connexion with the Declaration of the Allies, the Treaty of Vienna, and the Declaration of the King of France. This last Declaration stated, that war was ready to be commenced to replace that King on his throne, and the Declaration of the Allies contained words which appeared very like giving a sanction to assassination. He regretted that this Declaration had been signed by the duke of Wellington, who certainly did not understand it in any such sense. The Declaration, too, was monstrously absurd, because it put all the adherents of Buonaparté out of the pale of law; and by this means outlawed thirty millions of people. If any other noble lord, wished to divide the House against the tax, he should be ready to join in giving a negative to the Bill.

The Earl of Darnley

explained, that the vote he should give on this occasion had no reference to the question of peace or war; nor would it go to imply any thing like approbation on his part of the Declaration of Vienna, or that of Louis 18; but he voted upon his conviction, that the measure was necessary, under the present circumstances, for the security of the country.

The Earl of Liverpool

said, that he considered no noble lord as pledged to support a war by agreeing to this Bill, for whether with a view to war, or an armed preparation for negociation, the sum was necessary; and it could not be raised in any other way so advantageously as by this plan. With respect to the clamours against the tax, he admitted that they were in a great degree unfounded: but it certainly had been understood by many respectable individuals, that Government was pledged not to continue this tax beyond the first month of April after the close of the war. This was certainly not intended by those who introduced the measure at the commencement of the last war; but as it had been so understood by many, and as there were words of termination in the Act which were not to be found in the other war-tax acts, Government, in order to avoid even the appearance of breach of faith, were willing to abandon the tax, if possible, because the pledge was supposed to extend to its not being continued under any modification or shape whatever. It had been introduced by a noble friend of his (viscount Sidmouth) about 11 years ago, at a rate of 5 per cent. That had been increased by Mr. Pitt to 7½ per cent, and it had been raised to 10 per cent, when the noble marquis opposite (Lansdowne) was Chancellor of the Exchequer; and he did not know that it was understood by any administration that there was a pledge for its ceasing entirely at the conclusion of the war. That no such pledge was intended when it was first introduced by Mr. Pitt, was clear to demonstration, for the tax was then partly pledged for loans, though that part had been afterwards redeemed by his noble friend (viscount Sidmouth). It was singular, too, that those on whom the tax bore least heavily—he meant the commercial classes—had been the loudest in their opposition to it. With respect to the present state of affairs, he did not think this the proper time for him to enter upon any discussion of that kind: but as to the observation of the noble marquis that the duke of Wellington had signed a declaration which appeared to have a tendency to encourage assassination, he was sure no one could imagine that the duke of Wellington would ever sign a declaration having such a tendency. Nothing could be more abhorrent to his nature. The Declaration in question had no such tendency or object, and certainly none such bad ever entered into the contemplation of the, duke of Wellington. As to the tax itself, he could only repeat what he had said on a former day, that it appeared to him the plan beat calculated to raise so large a sum with the least possible inequality; and its great recommendation was, that it reached property of every kind. The tax was, besides, only continued for one year, which was an answer to many of the objections which had been urged against it.

The Marquis of Lansdowne

stated, that it had certainly been understood by him and those with whom he acted at the period to which the noble earl alluded, that the tax was to be re-considered at the close of the war; and he BOW stated it as his opinion, that this tax was one calculated for an exigency, and ought to be re-considered on every occasion when that exigency terminated. At the close of a war, it might, perhaps, be advisable, under particular circumstances, to continue it to a certain extent and under various modifications; but it was early right and proper, that at the close of a; war, it should be re-considered for the purpose of reducing its amount, and altering as far as that might be expedient the mode of its operation. But, admitting that the sum must be raised, he could not conceive any plan by which it could be so raised in a more fair and equal way than the present. Inequality, in some respects, there must be in every method of taxation; but it was desirable, that every tax should be as equal as it could possibly be made, having a due regard-to the produce; for even additional equality might be too dearly purchased by the sacrifice of too great a proportion of the produce.

The Earl of Liverpool

fully concurred with the noble marquis, that at the close of a war the tax ought to be re-considered before it was continued in any extent, and declared that he had never intended to say any thing that could bear a contrary interpretation.

The Duke of Norfolk

said, that one great recommendation of the tax was, that it could not be evaded. When a tax was imposed on servants, persons might lawfully evade it to a certain degree by keeping but few servants: but this reached the property of those who, instead of living in a style of magnificence suited to their fortunes, and spending their money liberally and virtuously as he contended, were hoarding it up for the purpose of entails for three or four generations. A part of these hoards would, by this tax, be got for the service of the State.

Earl Stanhope

proposed, as an amendment, that schedule B, being that which related to the occupiers of land, or the tenants, and schedule D, which related to manufactures and trade, should be left out. This he did, not on account of the tenants and manufacturers, but on account of the consumers, who really paid the tax. This tax, as far as concerned the classes in the other three schedules, land-owners like himself, stock-holders, and placemen and pensioners, he thought a very proper tax, and far preferable to the assessed taxes which had been in contemplation to substitute in lieu of it.

The amendment was negatived, and the Bill read a third time, and passed.