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N the House of Commons, in a Committee of Ways and Means, on the 15th of March,
of Parliament, and for the Arctic Expedition, about 150,000l., which would leave a surplus of, in round numbers, 1,500,000l. There had been, he observed, an obliging anxiety on the part of many to relieve him of the trouble of disposing of this surplus. Some had recommended him to get rid of the duty on tea, which produced 5,471,000l.; others urged the repeal of the duties on windows, bricks, and soap, which yielded 3,275,000l., twice the amount of the surplus; a third party remonstrated against the duty on attorneys' certificates, producing 157,000l.; a fourth proposition, which it would be his duty to consider without loss of time, was to repeal the duty upon timber used in the building of ships; a fifth party would abolish the malt duty, amounting to 5,225,000l. ; whilst Mr. Disraeli and his friends had proposed to transfer about 2,500,000l. of local burdens to the Consolidated Fund. Sir C. Wood then reminded the House of what had been the scope of our policy for the last twenty years, the principle of which, as expounded by Mr. Huskisson, was to relieve the weight of taxation which pressed upon the poorer classes; and in pursuance of that policy, taxes to the amount of 8,650,000l., on articles of consumption, had been repealed, the result of which had been most beneficial. The many millions invested in railways furnished a proof that the accumulated capital of the country had been vastly augmented; but the condition of the working classes denoted that the ratio of improvement had been greater amongst the rich than amongst the poor. After some observations upon the condition and prospects of the
The Chancellor of the Exchequer made his financial statement for the year. He began by bespeaking indulgence, first, on account of indisposition, and secondly, because of the impossibility, at so early a period of the year, of making his statement accurate in every particular. In the estimate he had laid before Parliament last summer he had assumed the income for the year to be 52,262,000l. Up to January last it amounted to 52,874,000l., but the amount for the financial year, to the 5th of April next, he did not expect would be so large; he believed, however, that it would not be less than 52,785,000l. The expenditure up to January had been 50,853,6221., considerably below his estimate, and the amount for the financial year would be less still, namely, 50,533,657., showing a surplus of 2,252,000l. in the past year. With regard to the current year, he was afraid he could not promise quite so favourable a result. He estimated that there would be a falling off in the Customs, from causes which he explained, to the extent of between 400,000l. and 500,000l., the probable revenue from the Customs being 19,720,000l., or with the corn duties, 20,000,000l. In the Excise he expected there would be an increase, from 13,908,000l. to 14,045,000l., and taking the other heads of revenue at their amount in the last year, the probable aggregate income of the year 1850-51 would be 52,285,000l. The amount of the expenditure would be 50,613,5827., to which he proposed to add, on account of a further vote for the new Houses
landed interest, Sir Charles proceeded to declare his intentions with regard to the surplus of 1,500,000l. The first object, he said, should be to reduce our debt. During the last twenty years we had borrowed no less than 35,000,000l., whereas the surplus income applied to the reduction of the debt had been only 8,000,000l.; so that, during twenty years of profound peace, we had increased the principal of the debt by no less than 27,000,000l. Upon a principle of common honesty, therefore, some part of the surplus should be applied towards the extinction of this obligation; and he did not partake in Mr. Cobden's contempt for a surplus of 2,000,000l. It was most desirable that a considerable surplus revenue should be maintained; nevertheless, he felt that all practicable relief should be afforded from taxation. His first measure was intended to benefit small owners of land. An improved system of cultivation would enable occupiers to furnish employment to labourers; but this required an outlay of capital which small landowners and occupiers could raise only by sale or borrow ing. He proposed, therefore, that there should be a considerable reduction of the stamp duties upon the transfer of landed property and upon mortgages under 1000l., and that within the same limit the stamp duty upon leases should be an uniform half per cent. His next proposal, the objects of which were to increase the comforts of the labouring classes, by improving their dwellings, and to facilitate agricultural improvements, was to repeal the duty on bricks. The loss of revenue by these two remissions would be 750,000l., half the expected surplus. The other
half he proposed to apply to a reduction of the debt. Concurrently with this relief from taxation, he had another measure in view calculated to promote the outlay of capital upon land - namely, to make further advances for drainage and land improvements, the benefits of which had been seusibly felt. He proposed to advance for these purposes 2,000,000Z. for England and Scotland, and 1,000,000l. for Ireland; 800,000%. of this latter sum to be appropriated to arterial drainage. These advances could be made, in the present state of the Exchequer, without any addition to the public debt, and the repayments would be available for the reduction of the national debt. He proposed to apply 250,000l. immediately to the extinction of a part of that debt, by discharging the Equivalent Fund in Scotland, and he hoped the House would suffer him to retain the surplus of 500,000l. remaining. Sir Charles then moved a vote of 9,200,000l. towards supply, to be raised by Exchequer bills.
Mr. Hume expressed his chagrin that this was the only relief the country was to have, and protested against the large establishments, the reduction of which would have left a larger margin for diminution of taxation.
Mr. Frewen and Mr. Hodges were disappointed at the article of hops having escaped the Chancellor's attention.
The Marquess of Granby disputed the accuracy of the right hon. Baronet's views in respect to the agricultural interest, and insisted that effectual relief to the country could only be obtained by reverting to that commercial system under which all interests had prospered.
Mr. Muntz doubted whether there would be any real surplus, and thought Sir Charles Wood would have done better had he taken off no taxes.
Mr. Sandars gave some details respecting the prices of foreign corn, in refutation of what he alleged to be misstatements of Mr. J. Wilson, to which the latter gentleman replied,
Mr. Bankes pictured the deep distress of agriculture, and gave warning that large reductions of expenditure would be required by the landed interest; Mr. M'Gregor reproached that interest with ingratitude, since all the remissions of taxes were in its favour; and Colonel Dunne put forward the distress of Irish agriculture, which was left out of the scope of the proposed boon.
Mr. Carew followed in the same line of argument.
Mr. Slaney contended that, by stimulating the industry of those who created capital, the weight
The vote was then agreed to and reported.
The proposition for the abolition of the brick duty was favourably received, and the Bill to effect that measure passed without any considerable discussion. About the Stamp Duties, however, the Chancellor of the Exchequer found himself involved in considerable difficulty, and was more than once compelled to withdraw his propositions for reconsideration and amendment. In Committee on the 18th of March, Sir Charles Wood explained the details of his proposed alterations in the duties, specifying the effect of the reductions in regard to mortgages, conveyances, and leases. The formal resolutions were then agreed to, but afterwards, on the 15th of April, a critical discussion, indicating much dissatisfaction with
the general tendency of the Bill, arose upon the motion that the Speaker do leave the chair.
Mr. Goulburn observed, that the new ad valorem or percentage principle had been hastily adopted. If they decided on adopting an amount in the lowest scale sufficient to produce the adequate revenue, it would operate in the higher scale with such extreme oppression as to be inoperative for revenue purposes. A mortgage of 50,000l. would now be liable to 251. duty-it was proposed to take 2501.; and if the sum amounted to 150,000l., then 7501. Ingenuity would evade such oppressive payments, especially as bills of exchange were left perfectly open.
Mr. Mullings was of opinion that the duties on mortgages, which were to be mitigated in regard to loans of 1000l., but were to be greatly increased after that amount, would produce a larger revenue than the existing one, instead of causing a loss of 300,000l., as the Chancellor of the Exchequer assumed.
Mr. Henley and Mr. Disraeli concurred in this view, and made it the basis of a charge of false pretences. The measure was originally brought forward as a boon to agriculture: 300,000l. of surplus revenue was to be abandoned to small landowners; whereas it seemed that 300,000l. more was to be taken from them. At all events, supposing there be no additional tax, the pretended remission was a juggle, for the Chancellor of the Exchequer now said that the 300,000l. benefit was to be given to the small landowners out of the pockets of the larger owners-the small duties were to be decreased, but the high duties exaggerated.
Sir Charles Wood defended his scheme with animation. He had from the first stated that the appli
cation of the ad valorem principle would be to diminish the small duties and increase the large duties. A far larger sum than the 300,000Z. would be lost to the revenue on the smaller duties. The gain on the larger duties would only reduce the loss so as to leave a net loss of 300,000l.; the last sum would therefore be given to the small owners from the pocket of the State, and not from the pockets of the larger owners.
Mr. Bright felt so puzzled by the details of the measure-he was sure not three persons in the House besides the Chancellor of the Exchequer understood them— that he was anxious for a reference of the whole question to a Commission or a Committee of the House. He felt some of the injustice alleged of levying the ad valorem duty in the same proportion on very large amounts as on ordinary ones, and joined in the doubt whether the Bill, as a whole, would not increase rather than remit taxation.
Some Members asked postponement of the measure, for further study of it; other Members urged that the ad valorem duty should commence at a much lower starting point than was proposed by the
Mr. Mitchell proposed 1-8th per
Lord John Russell refused the postponement, and objected to appointing a Commission or a Select Committee, as the ad valorem principle seemed generally approved of, and the Committee of the whole House was well suited to settle amounts. He urged practical amendments in Committee. The House went into Committee. It was stated that the measure would operate on all instruments signed after the 5th
July, 1850. Clause 6, imposing the conditions on which instruments may be post-stamped, provided that interest on the amount of the stamp not paid should be added to the existing penalty.
On coming to the details of duties, Mr. Mullings proposed a change of the duty on agreements called "the progressive duty," the duty proportioned to the length of the instrument.
The Attorney-General opposed the alteration, as a sacrifice of revenue, and as a removal of a check on prolixity; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer promised to con
Sir Charles Wood also intimated his resolution to propose a still further reduction on bonds and mortgages than he at first contemplated. The existing duty on a loan of 50l. was 17.; the schedule fixed the duties uniformly at a half per cent. He proposed 1-4th per cent. in place of the 58. marked in the schedule; for 501. of loan, he proposed to take 2s. 6d., and so on.
Several Members here renewed their strictures on the ad valorem principle, with the view of obtain ing a sufficiently low integer as
the minimum whence to rise.
sult which was received with great cheering.
Sir Charles Wood immediately stated that, in consequence of this decision, the Government would proceed with the Bill no further that night. He did not assent to the proposition implied by the vote; but not knowing what the effect out of doors of this vote might be, though he knew it would involve a serious loss of revenue, he must take time to consider before further proceeding with the
On the 22nd April, Sir Charles Wood explained the modified intentions of the Government since their defeat on Sir Henry Willoughby's motion in favour of a lower percentage than that originally proposed, viz. 1s. instead of 2s. 6d. on every 50l. of loan. If the lower rate were carried out through the whole scale, the loss of revenue would be so great that he must abandon the Bill altogether. He proposed a compromise. He would abide by the vote as to the ls. on sums under 501. After the first 50l. he proposed to increase the duty by steps of 1s. 6d. per 251. till 2001. should be reached; at that step the duty would be the same sum of 10s. that it would be under the reduced scale which Sir Charles himself proposed. After sums of 2001. he proposed to go on by his own scale to 100,000l. At that sum he would stop-relinquishing his desire to go on in an indefinite series, so that his maximum duty would be 250l. On the question of settlements and capitalized annuities he did not propose to insist; but there were some stocks now exempt which should be included in the Bill, and be called on to pay.
A few days afterwards, however, Sir Charles Wood announced the