§ LORD MONTEAGLE
moved for certain returns connected with the Revenue and Taxation, and said, that, although he did not believe that they were now entering for the first time on a course of peril, yet he thought they were persevering in a course of great danger to the substantial interests of the country, and advancing in that course more rapidly by the substitution of direct for indirect taxation in raising a considerable portion of the revenue of the country. The Ministers opposite, and his noble Friend the Postmaster General in particular, would remember that this was not the first time he had raised his voice against the adoption of this system when extended by his own friends in the late Government. At the present moment there was a current running hard in favour of the imposition of direct taxation: to this the noble Lords opposite were giving their sanction; and the question with him was, whether that current were running in the right direction, and if it were likely to lead to safe consequences in a country which was so largely indebted that it was obliged to raise 28,000,000l. sterling a year to pay the dividends duo to the public creditor. He did not mean to argue, where a revenue of 52,000000l. had to be raised annually, that in no instance should direct taxation he resorted to in aid of the revenue arising from indirect taxation. In a time of crisis an income might frequently be the effectual and aggregate remedy, and when the property and income tax was proposed by the late Sir Robert Peel in the year 1842, he felt there was a full justification for the measure in the pressure of a great public exigency. At a subsequent period, too, its continuance had a strong motive, for it was reimposed for an important object, which it had realised, to the great benefit of the country: without the income tax the reform of the tariff could not have been achieved; hut, in the meantime, the system of direct taxation had developed its difficulties and dangers. The Government had not been able to induce Parliament to grant the income tax for more than one year, and at length resort was had to the most dangerous of all expedients—one-tenth part of the whole public revenue. The noble Earl had spoken of the necessity of resorting to direct taxation for the purpose of supplying the deficiency created by the repeal of indirect taxation. But had this reduction been called for by any largo 1422 class of men, whoso judgment and opinion ought to have had weight with the Government, or been binding on Parliament? Half the malt tax was to be repealed—at whose bidding? The measure had not been demanded by petitions; it had not been forced on the Administration by an adverse majority; it was simply the impolitic and gratuitous act of the Government itself. If so, the substitution of direct taxation in the odious form of the house and income tax, for the repealed malt duty, should be dealt with not as a necessity, but as the gratuitous act of the Government, and he hoped the proposition would therefore be successfully resisted by the representatives of the country. If there were any proposition capable of being reasoned to demonstration, not only on principle but on experience, it was, that the present Government were sacrificing 2,500,000l. of revenue without any excuse or palliation whatever; the reduction in the price of beer would be so small, that the consumer would get no benefit whatever from the proposal, and the benefit would be felt only by the brewer and great capitalists. This was proved by the effects of repealing the war malt tax and beer duties; and it was proved by the conclusive evidence given by Mr. Charles Barclay before their Lordships' Committee on the Burdens on Land. Why was this fatal sacrifice made? That the friends of the noble Lord on the other side might indeed be able to go to the country constituencies, and say that they had obtained the repeal of a part of the malt tax for them; when, in truth, neither the barley-grower nor the people of England would gain anything by the measure. At the same time the Government proposed to double the house tax and to increase the area of its assessment; and also to bring a lower amount of annual income within the operation of the Income Tax Bill. This be thought a dangerous course, for it was substituting for an indirect tax, borne with facility and collected with ease and economy, direct taxation of the most odious character. If the noble Earl had been a personal enemy, he could not wish him a greater evil than that of succeeding in carrying the whole of his measures through Parliament, and being represented in every tax-paying house as the author of the new property tax and the new house tax, and as the member of a Government that had wasted 2,500,000l. as an act of delusive concession to a class whom it 1423 would not even relieve. He begged to remind their Lordships that the proposals of the Government would put in jeopardy 10,000,000l. of permanent revenue, as well as above 5,000,000l. of income tax, for that was the produce of the three; and that even if the Government succeeded fully they would only leave the country with a doubtful surplus of 400,000l. Such was not the way to keep up the public credit; and he warned Her Majesty's Government to consider the effect which their measures might eventually have upon the maintenance of that credit. He was well aware that the noble Lord would triumphantly appeal to the price of the funds in proof that our credit had not been affected. But he denied the force of the argument. In the first place, was it not just possible that other propositions still more subversive of public credit had been anticipated justly, but fortunately abandoned, not to say fortunately averted? Let him take, as an example, the state of our terminable annuities; 4,425,000l. annual charge, equivalent to four-fifths of the property tax, would expire in a few years. Had it not been at one time intended to anticipate this saving, or, spendthrift-like, to discount our reversion? Was not this abandoned? Again, might not consols rise if all power of relieving the interest at a future time was sacrificed by a wasteful sacrifice of the income of the country? From 1846 to the present time reductions had been made, quietly and unostentatiously, to the amount of 18,845,000l. from the national debt; and, should any emergency arise requiring a loan to that amount, they might go to the country and justify their demand by the savings they had already effected. No less a sum than 7,728,000l. had been paid off in 1851, 1852, and 1853. But the measures of the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) and his Colleagues would, if carried into practice, effectually stop any such saving for the future. They proposed an extension of the house tax, but they would have to withdraw the proposition, as other Governments had done, for they seemed to forget that the strongest Government this country had perhaps ever seen—that represented by Lord Grey in their Lordships' House, and by Lord Spencer in the House of Commons—had been forced to withdraw a similar tax in deference to the wishes of the country. With regard to the extension of the income tax to Ireland, if the circumstances of the two countries 1424 were shown to be analogous, it would be only fair that Ireland should be compelled to bear her share of the impost; but if they were not so, it would be futile for any Government to attempt the extension. He trusted that, in addressing himself to these questions, he had violated no order of the House. The truth was, that when a Tax Bill came up before their Lordships, they were usually told that it was needless to go into a discussion of it, as the House had no power of suggesting alterations; and, therefore, it was all the more necessary that other opportunities should be taken of considering and discussing these important questions. The noble Lord then moved that there be laid before this House—Detailed Accounts showing the Gross and Net Amounts received of the Revenue of Excise, Stamps, and Taxes during each of the last Ten Years:Account showing the Amount applied during each of the last Ten Years in reduction of the National Debt:Account showing the Amount advanced and repaid during each of the last Ten Years by the Loan Commissioners for Public Works:Account showing the State of the National Debt as made up to January 1852, distinguishing Permanent from Terminable Debt:Account showing the several Duties and Taxes imposed and repealed during each of the last Ten Years, showing the actual or estimated Amount of each, and distinguishing the Duration of such Taxes whether temporary or permanent: And also,Account of the Average Price of Barley during each of the last Ten Years.
§ The EARL of DERBY
My Lords, certainly the course pursued by the noble Lord is not inconsistent with the orders of the House. I must, however, say, I conceive it is a course which, under all circumstances, may be generally considered inconvenient—namely, for a noble Lord, after having given notice of his intention to move for the production of certain papers to which there can be no objection, to avail himself of that opportunity to enter into a full discussion of the whole financial measures which are not even yet fully under the consideration of the other House of Parliament. If it had been the intention of the noble Lord to take that course, I must say that to have followed the precedent taken by Lord Brougham would have been the more legitimate mode of proceeding, because then noble Lords would have known what they had to expect, and would have come down prepared to enter into a discussion upon the whole merits of the question. It 1425 would be quite in course for the noble Lord to proceed by resolution, and by anticipation to condemn the whole course of policy pursued by the Government. I must say I think that the more regular course, notwithstanding the opinion expressed by the noble Lord, would have been to wait until a substantive proposition came before your Lordships' House; and it is not a sufficient answer to say, that when a Tax Bill is brought into this House, there is no opportunity of amending it. It is true that when a Tax Bill is brought up into this House—Whether it be one for the repeal or imposition of a tax—there is nothing to prevent this House from examining the whole merits of the propositions brought forward by the Government relative to the financial affairs of the country, and from deciding whether you will take all the consequences of accepting or rejecting them. That, I conceive, is a more legitimate and ordinary mode of proceeding than that taken by the noble Lord, of moving for unopposed returns for the purpose of entering upon the whole financial affairs of the country. I hope my noble Friend will not think that I am treating him with any disrespect if I abstain from following him into the discussion as to what he supposes to be the intention and the consequences of the financial policy of the Government. I will not cither enter into a discussion upon the condemnation which the noble Lord has passed on the proposition to extend the system of direct taxation. I do not quarrel with the noble Lord for adhering to that opinion, nor will I enter into a discussion as to how far it would be advisable to proceed upon the principle of direct or indirect taxation. The noble Lord himself admits it to be a question of degree. He does not deny that, to a certain extent, direct taxation must he resorted to, to make up a deficiency occasioned in the indirect taxation of the country; consequently, the only question between the noble Lord and the Government is, as to what extent the increase of direct taxation is to he carried, and what proportion it is to bear in the whole taxation of the country. I must be permitted to say, I think that the question of direct taxation is immediately and necessarily involved in the course of policy the country has determined to sanction; and, without any reference to the comparative merits of cither direct or indirect taxation, there are but two modes in which a large amount of revenue can be raised—namely, one of direct taxation, af- 1426 fecting as largo a portion of the community as is capable of bearing it; and next, by a large amount of taxation to be raised on those articles which enter into the most general consumption of the people, and on which alone you can raise a large amount of taxation. Now, the principle commonly called Free Trade, upon which the country has decided, I take to be this—that upon those articles on which you have raised a largo amount of very heavy taxation— articles of general consumption by the mass of the people—the country will not now tolerate a large amount of taxation to be levied. You have laid down the principle, not as regards any one particular item, but in regard to those articles which necessarily enter into the consumption of the people. You have taken as your proposition that the food of the people must be made cheap. Be it so. But if you adopt the principle that food and the necessaries of life are to he made cheap, and are not to be subjected to the amount of taxation which is necessary to raise the required amount of the year's revenue, the alternative is plain and obvious—you must have recourse to that other system of taxation which can be equally diffused over the masses. In consistency with the principles of free trade, I will defy the noble Lord to vindicate the imposition on the articles of malt and tea— two great necessaries of life of the working classes—of duties respectively amounting to 100l. and 200l. per cent on the prime cost. We are driven, therefore, by the adoption of the principle which has been pressed upon us by the other side of the House, and which the country has sanctioned—we, acting frankly and honestly upon that principle, have felt it our duty to take that course which, in principle, I am sure, will not be condemned by the noble Lord, of reducing the heavy amount of taxation charged on the necessary articles of consumption. I will not enter into any discussion as to the probable effects of the repeal of the Malt tax, though I entertain a different opinion from that of the noble Lord upon that subject. But I think I recollect very high authorities, who are looked up to by noble Lords opposite, and constantly quoted by them, who have declared that after the final repeal of the Corn Laws it would be impossible, if not unjust, to maintain the existing amount of duty upon malt. Your Lordships have the very highest authority on such questions— namely, Sir Henry Parnell, who, upon signing the report of the Commission of 1427 Excise Inquiry in 1832, laid it down as a maxim—"If you remove the tax upon foreign barley, at least one-half of the duty upon malt must be taken off as a necessary consequence." I think also that Sir James Graham intimated his opinion strongly in regard to the repeal of the malt duties and the corn duties, that you could not with any justice repeal the one without also repealing the other. Now we did think, that in conformity with that principle, and acting upon the views of financial policy on which Parliament has entered, and which the country has sanctioned, that it was just, right, and expedient—or, if you like it better, wise, just, and beneficial—to reduce, to a very considerable extent, the amount of duties on those two great articles of consumption—namely, malt and tea. But the noble Lord says we are imposing a house tax and also a property tax—that is to say, we are continuing a property tax in the most objectionable possible form. Now, in regard to the continuance of a property tax, I have nothing to say, because I believe that as long as you persevere in the present system, the continuance of such a tax is not a matter of choice but of necessity. The question then arises whether we are really continuing it in an oppressive form. Now, so far from that, we did think that if the Committee of the House of Commons which sat last year, and which went into great details in regard to the income tax, had laid down any one proposition more than another it was this— that, although it was impossible accurately to measure the particular circumstances of each individual case, in order to frame an income tax according to the principles of abstract justice, yet there was one broad and palpable distinction to be drawn between permanent and temporary incomes. And, therefore, when the noble Lord says we are imposing this tax in a manner most objectionable to the middle classes, I beg him to observe, that for the first time, for the relief of those middle classes, we are drawing this distinction between precarious and fixed incomes; and, without increasing the amount paid by the one, we do afford to the other material relief by the reduction of the amount of the burden at present laid on them. The noble Lord talks of the strong Government of Lord Grey having been obliged to recede from a proposition which they had made in regard to the house tax. It is true that Lord Grey's Government was at the beginning a very strong one, but it was strong by the amount 1428 of agitation and excitement raised at that time on the question of reform; but from the time that question ceased, the strength of that Government palpably and visibly declined; and, in order to maintain itself, it was undoubtedly compelled to yield in many things to the demands of those of its ultra supporters who had supported it for the purpose of obtaining reform, but who certainly were desirous of pushing the Government further than some of its Members were disposed to go. I do not admit that Lord Grey's Administration, during the latter period of its existence, was strong. Its weakness was occasioned by the under-currents of its quasi supporters. But the noble Lord has omitted to recollect that there was not only then in existence a house tax, but also a window tax; and during the administration of the late Government, it became a question whether preference was to be given to the repeal of the window tax or to a house tax. It was given to the repeal of the window tax upon sanitary considerations; and at the time of its repeal, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer was desirous of carrying through Parliament a house tax, which, in point of amount, would have been fully equivalent to the window tax, and would have exceeded by about 200,000l. the house tax which we now propose. If, my Lords, there is to be a house tax, I confess I am at a loss to understand on what principle of justice you can stop short at houses of the value of 20l. a year, leaving a vast majority of houses free from that which should touch every one, and yet leaving those householders in the possession of all the privileges of the elective franchise— that franchise which, according to the opinion of noble Lords opposite, and of the liberal party in the House of Commons, should be co-extensive and conterminous with taxation. But these measures, which may possibly never come under your Lordships' consideration, are now under the consideration of the other House of Parliament; and when they do come before this House I shall be prepared to vindicate the course which Her Majesty's Government have taken, and to defend each separate measure from any attack made upon it by noble Lords opposite. There is one point, however, to which the noble Baron alluded upon which I wish to make one observation —I mean his remarks upon what he called the maintenance of the public credit. My Lords, if I thought that there was anything in these measures to shake the public 1429 credit—if I saw in them any danger that the good faith of the country could in the slightest degree be shaken, or its means of meeting its obligations be any way affected—-my noble Friend may depend upon it that he would not more warmly oppose them than would myself and my Colleagues in this and the other House of Parliament. But, my Lords, I see no symptoms of any apprehension for the credit of the country. At no period of time were the funds of this country in a higher, or more prosperous, or steady condition than they are at the present moment; and therefore my noble Friend, aware of the importance of this fact, is compelled to have recourse to some excuse, and he says that if the funds are high they ought not to be, and that they would have been much higher if we had not thrown the country into a state of alarm by the measures which he supposes (I know not on what ground) Her Majesty's Government have in contemplation. My noble Friend repeated the stale joke of Sydney Smith, in vindication of his view of declining wealth —namely, that the "Three per Cents were the greatest fools in the country." I differ from my noble Friend. The great monied interest is tolerably alive to its own interest, and I still subscribe to the old-fashioned notion that the state of the funds is a tolerable barometer of the confidence, or want of confidence, reposed in a Government by that interest. I venture to state, therefore, and I do so with great respect, but at the same time with great satisfaction, that neither in the state of the funds, nor in any expression of feeling on the part of the monetary and commercial interest of the country, can I gather that the slightest apprehension has been caused by the measures of Her Majesty's present Government. But I should like to know how it is, if as my noble Friend has alleged, the funds have kept up only in consequence of being relieved from the alarm which was felt as to the measures which the Government was expected to bring forward-—how it is that the funds did not fall under the apprehension of these hyper-dangerous measures? When the present Government came into office the funds were at 96. They have ever since kept gradually creeping up, and in a few months, notwithstanding the alleged dangerous views of the Government, and the alarm they had spread, the funds touched 100; and from that time to this, despite 1430 the apprehensions of my noble Friend, they have never been below 100. I venture to assume this as a fair indication— making due allowance for all the circumstances which may tend to keep down the interest for money, and which may consequently affect the funds, and taken in connexion with, to say the least, the absence of any hostile opinion on the part of the great commercial classes—no apprehension is felt that there will be a failure of the public credit in consequence of the measures of Her Majesty's Government; and I venture also to express my conviction that the funds would be much more likely to fall from the apprehension of the consequences arising from the settlement of the present state of things, and of the dissolution of the present Government, than from the carrying of those measures which we hope (although my noble Friend says it is the worst hope which our worst enemy would utter) to see carried into effect. I do not allude to the minor details, but to the substance of those propositions which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has submitted to the other House of Parliament, and which in duo time will come before your Lordships for your decision.
§ LORD MONTEAGLE
said a few words in explanation; he was understood to say that Government ought to impose those taxes only which could be conveniently collected.
§ The EARL of DERBY
said, he must protest against the doctrine which he supposed to he peculiar to an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, that a Government need not mind the justice of a tax so long as they could procure money. He had never said that free trade necessarily contemplated the absence of all imposts; but he had contended that free trade did contemplate the absence of disproportionate import duties, more especially duties upon articles of general consumption. He did not know his noble Friend's views of proportion or disproportion, but he (the Earl of Derby) thought that 200 or 250 per cent on articles of consumption fell within the definition of disproportionate taxation. Nor did he think that those classes upon whom that duty fell could be termed a privileged class, because they complained of such disproportionate taxation.
§ On Question, agreed to.