« AnteriorContinua »
zool. a year to zoolit was equally fair that the scale should sise from 200l. upwards. The middling classes would chiefly be affected by this measure of the right hon. Gentleman's.
The Speaker told Mr. Nicholls that he was disorderly in speaking of any measure entertained by the House as the measure of an individual.
Mr. Nicholls said, he meant no disrespect to the Chancellor of the Excheqer. He concluded with repeating it as his decided opinion, that the measure gave a 'deep wound to the conftitution.
Mr. Abbot said, there were some things in the bill in its original shape which occasioned some helitation in his mind, but in the course of the alterations it had undergone, his objections were removed. It seemed now to be the decided opinion of the people of this country, almost without exception, that a great part of the supplies should be raised within the year. This principle was recognized. Last year considerable progress had been made in the application of it by the assessed tax bill. It now likewise appeared to be the general opinion that a tax upon income was the only way in which the principle could be most effectually reduced to practice, and that income fhould be taxed as it was found, without examining the sources from whence it was derived. In fact, in all direct taxes which existed in this country such had been the way. For instance this was the mode in which the poor rates were levied. The question whether there thould be an ascending scale of application according to the extent of a man's income, admitted of some doubt. There were precedents for this mode. It was an established maxim in our ancient system of taxation, that to a certain extent the poorer classes should be exempted, and there were repeated instances of an increasing rate. Such was the case in the poll tax in the reign of William III. In the present century, however, this principle of an encreaing scale had been disregarded in our financial history, and it had been laid alive for the best reasons.-In its character such a mode was of an agrarious spirit, and of a levelling tendency; and in its opesation would be a grievance to the poorer claffes, which it is intended to relieve. It would diminish consumption; it would deprive manufacturers of their spring, and the labouring classes of employment. Income was then to be taken indiscriminately, and in equal proportion. It was evident that a tax like this had great advantages in the cheapness of collection. The disinterestedness of those who could be em
ployed ployed in its execution was a consideration of no small importance both in the view of the economy of the measure, and the character of the country. He thought it extremely just not only that income from foreign polleflions should contribute, but that likewise which went to foreigners. It was fair that property which here found a safe asylum should pay for that protection which it enjoyed. It was said that this measure was unconstitutional. It was easy to assert this of any measure.. It had a popular found, and was calculated to excite alarm. He did not regret that the people of this country should be ready to take the alarm at the very idea of a measure being unconstitutional. It was fit that they should be jealous of a constitution to which they owe so much happiness. It was not so easy, however, to thew that it was an unconstitutional measure. It gave no new powers to the crown; the commissioners were named by parliament. The oath to be taken was likewise objecied to. It should be remembered, however, that the commissioners of the land tax had long had the power; afterwards an oath was not admitted. In this case an opportunity was given for a man by his oath to settle the matter, or preclude farther discussion. With respect to appeal it was a thing which existed in all modes of administering justice, and necessary for the fair application of the act. As to disclosure, which was considered such a grievance, he was of opinion that there was a good deal of prejudice on the subject of concealment. It was deeply rooted indeed, but it was neceffary to treat it with management. Conlidering the regulations to preserve fecresy, however, he thought there was not much to be apprehended on that ground. The prejudice concerning difclosure was stronger in this country than in any other in Europe. In Scotland all transactions respecting real property, and many with regard to personal property, were publicly registered. In Ireland the same practice prevailed in the case of real property. In the counties of York and Middlesex it existed to a considerable extent. In the United States of America were public registers for transactions, nor was it found in the cases where these means of avoiding concealment prevailed, that they were attended not only with no inconvenience, but with advantage, and perhaps we were too tardy in following the example. Upon the whole he highly approved of the measure. The sinking fund would gradually diminish the weight of the public debt, and measures like the present would prevent the increase of the permanent
taxes. He hoped that in the execution of the act ftill far, ther improvements in it would be made. Its effed would probably be to deter the people of this country from too rashly entering into useless wars, but when wars were necessary, it would place us in a situation to carry them on as they ought to be, with energy, vigour, and effect.
Mr. Tierney said he could omit no opportunity of opposing the bill, though he would not disapprove of its avowed purpose, namely, the raising a considerable portion of the supplies within the year; and for no reason more did he refrain from disapproving this purpose than for that mentioned by the learned gentleman who spoke last, to wit, that it would make the people ponder and refieel before they haftened into wars of expensive magnitude. As to its tending to raise the national credit, he could see no ground for such an assertion. The national credit was neither to be raised or depressed by artificial means. The general prosperity of the country could alone have the effect of raising the national credit. Indeed all the conveniences attributed to the measure were completely counterbalanced by its inconveniences. Though therefore it might be good to raise part of the supplies within the year, this did not appear to be the best mode of doing it. The learned Gentlemen contends that there is nothing new in rhis mode of taxation. Undoubtedly his historical knowledge is great and extensive. It was therefore with diffidence that he (Mr. Tierney) dissented from him, but he must differ in opinion with him when the learned Gentleman afferts that there has existed an uniform practice in this country of examining persons upon oath with respect to their income, for this has never been attempted except by an extraordinary and violent stretch of power, as when it was had recourse to by Cardinal Wolsey, and perhaps under the reign of Henry VII. when the Bishops were sent about to extort contributions, Indeed there was not, he believed, any act to be found by which the amount of income was ascertained
upon If Gentlemen were so fond of the old system of taxation, why not adopt at once something similar to what was formerly called the Jew's Ransom ? He particularly objected to it from income being an unfair criterion, and because it proceeded on the unjust principle of taxing all income equally, whether from fixed and certain source, or from a contingent and precarious one. In trade, indeed, persons might endeavour to reimburse themselves; but those who had this advantage were only such as deal in articles of the first necessity,
coals, corn, &c. but those who traded in articles of luxury could not aim at the same advantage. The assessed tax plan of laft year was far less exceptionable. Why not have given it a fairer trial? Why not try it another year? Why look upon it as the only tax of the right hon. Gentleman that was incapable of improvement? The affeffed taxes might have raised seven millions; the other ten might be easily found elsewhere, by an additional tax, for example, upon sugar and convoys. Many were the grounds upon which this tax was objectionable; but on none more so than for the mode of collecting it. In the first place, it made an invidious distinction by exposing some to disclosure of circumstances, while it exempted others from it. Why not relieve the landed gentry froin this disclofure, as well as commercial men ; for the difclosure of his private affairs may prove as injurious to a man of landed property as to the merchant and trader. There was no disinilitude in the two cases. The bill might ftill be somewhat improved in this respect ;' and it was hard that the feelings, as well as the interests, of the people should be hurt, merely because Parliament was in a hurry to pass the bill. This improvement he would recommend to the right hon. Gentleman as well worthy of his serious consideration. There were other refpects in which the collection of the tax would bear harder on the landed gentry than on commercial men. In trade persons were elected as commissioners who had a sympathy for men engaged in trade, while the landed gentry would have to do with an ordinary officer of the town; much also was to be dreaded from the opportunity which the inspector or surveyor would have of harassing individuals, especially those whose political opinions did not chime in with men in power. There was nothing in the character of the surveyor to prevent his indulging this disposition. The fur. veyor was not obliged to have any qualification from pro, perty, nor to give a security for his good behaviour ; and what can be expected from a person who has neither character nor property, nor the esteem of those with whom he lives? Yet such is the
person by whom a man may be driven to take an oath, or else to pay more than his due proportion. The meafure would also lead to a lamentable increase of perjury, and he who is supposed to perjure himself is liable to all the penalties of perjury; but if a man be innocent, is it not a hard matter that he should be indicted for perjury? May not a bill be found against the innocent, and he may die before 3 F 2
his trial comes on, and then leave an odious stigma upon his children ; this surely must be galling to the feelings of Englishmen. It would also encrease the influence of the crown by the necessary encrease in the number of surveyors, who would have under them a legion of spies and informers; and to encrease further the influence of the crown, when it had already arrived at such a pitch, was surely dangerous in the extreme. It was also injurious to the constitution, nor would it have the effect on the enemy which had been so confidently ascribed to it. Will not the enemy see that in the thort space of a year we have changed from making voluntary contributions to be now compelled to deliver in a statement of income upon oath? Will they not see that we have got at the end of the funding fyftem, and that the affetled-tax plan has failed ? And will not these circumstances rather raife than depress their hopes? In a word, the measure now under discullion appeared to me to be calculated to break down the minds and manners of the nation, which would effectually weaken us, and do more for the enemy than the money thus raised can enable us to do against them. After a few years we may look in vain for the minds and old manners of Englishmen; they will be changed and degraded by mutual jealousy and distruít. On all these grounds he thought himself fully justified in opposing a measure that was pregnant with such various mischief.
Mr. Patten said, that he conceived more sanguine expectations even than the right hon. Gentleman, of the success of the measure which he had just heard so much reprobated; and he was sure that its operation would prove far more be-' neficial than had as yet been stated; it was a measure that sprung out of the free will and desire of the country, and was sure to bring us to a safe, honourable, and permanent peace with our most inveterate enemy, an enemny who has yet Thewed no fymptom of returning honour or justice. The bill did honour to the pride, fpirit, and liberality of the nation, and as such, should be ftri&tly guarded by the anxious solicitude of the House: It has been itated as necessary to the existence of the country, and to the preservation of our finances. But the enemy should know and feel that it was not the last effort of our dying finances, nor the last convulsive exertion of an expiring constitution, but it was the noble endeavour of a free people, that knew how to call forth its energies against its foreign focs, while it with equal success could