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of the assessment have gradually and progressively increased from their commencement; and that it does appear to be a matter of very serious interest to the community at large, to prevent as far as possible this practice from being generally adopted-to limit the assessments as much as they can be limited, where the circumstances of particular parishes render them unavoidable, and whenever it is practicable to abandon them."
Under this impression, respecting the effect of a system, which having been in operation upwards of two centuries, has beco ne interwoven with the habits and very existence of a large class of the community, your Committee have anxiously endeavoured to devise such means as may be calculated, by their gradual operation, to revive, with habits of industry and frugality, those moral feelings in the people which are intimately connected with their selfsupport and independence; and further, to correct any such defects in the mode in which the law has been executed, as may have tended to create or aggravate the evils to which they have referred. With these views, they have felt it their duty to consider maturely every plan which has either suggested itself to your Committee, or which has at various times been proposed by the most eminent persons, who have devoted their attention and efforts to the amelioration of this part of our law; and such suggestions as may seem worthy, either of the adoption or consideration of the House, your Committee will notice as they arise, on the consi
deration of the subject in detail, as it relates to the assessment and the purposes for which it is levied.
Before your Committee proceed to these considerations, they must lament that it has yet been found impossible to reduce the returns made under the 55th of the King to the shape in which they should be presented to Parliament; even the abstract of the expenditure could only very recently be completed, from the tardiness with which the statute has been executed in no less than 854 parishes. From the want of the details of these returns, they have been deprived of a large mass of the most valuable, and for some purposes indispensable information; they have been compelled to make new and otherwise unnecessary inquiries, and they are still without the means of presenting to the House any view of the comparative increase or diminution of this expenditure in different parts of the kingdom.
What might have been the amount of the assessments for the poor during the 17th or 18th centuries, the Committee have no means of ascertaining; for although the preamble of 13th and 14th Ch. II. states "the necessity, number, and continual increase of the poor, to be very great and exceeding burthensome;" and in the year 1699, King William thus expressed himself in a speech from the throne, "the increase of the poor is become a burthen to the kingdom; and their loose and idle life does in some measure contribute to that depravation of manners which is complained of, I fear with too ·
much reason; whether the ground of this evil be from defects in the laws already made, or in the execution of them, deserves your consideration;" and though complaints appear continually to have been since made of the increasing numbers of the poor, yet it was not till the present reign, in the year 1776, that authentic accounts of this expenditure were required under the authority of the legislature. From the returns made under acts passed in that and subsequent years, it appears that in 1776, the whole sum raised was 1,720,3161. of which there was expended on the poor, 1,556,804l.; on the average of the years 1783, 1784, and .785, the sum raised was 2,167,7491. expended on the poor, 2,004,2381.; in the year 1803 the sum raised was 5,348,2051. expended on the poor, 4,267,9651.; in 1815, 7,068,9991. expended on the poor, 5,072,0281. The excess above the sum applied to the poor, was expended in church rates, county rates, highway and militia; and it appears from the evidence before your Committee, that the amount of the sums assessed is largely increased since those last returns; a part of which increase cannot fail to have arisen from the peculiar pressure and difficulty of the times, aggravated by the high prices incident to the calamity of a deficient harvest. But independent of the pressure of any temporary or accidental circumstances, and making every allowance for an increased population, the rise in the price of provisions and other necessaries of life, and a misapplication of part of these funds, it is apparent that both the number of paupers, and
the amount of money levied by assessment, are progressively increasing, while the situation of the poor appears not to have been in a corresponding degree improved; and the Committee is of opinion, that whilst the existing poor laws, and the system under which they are administered remain unchanged, there does not exist any power of arresting the progress of this increase, till it shall no longer be found possible to augment the sums raised by assessment.
For if the means could be found to distribute the burthen more equally, by rendering the interest of money and the profit of stock liable to the assessment, these funds being also in themselves limited, must finally be absorbed by the increasing and indefinite amount of the demand. It having, however, been strongly pressed upon the House and the Committee, in petitions from various quarters, to devise some better means than now exist, of bringing the income derived from personal property in aid of this assessment, which is now nearly confined in practice to the revenue arising from land and houses, and bears undoubtedly with unequal pressure on the occupier of land, the Committee have given their most attentive consideration to this subject. They find that the only enactment which regulates the description of persons and property subject to the rate, is the original clause in the 43d Eliz. which directs the churchwardens and overseers" to raise weekly or otherwise by taxation of every inhabitant, parson, vicar and others, and of every occupier of
land, houses, tithes impropriate, has alone induced the legislature proportions of tithes, coalmines, or saleable underwoods in the said parish, in such competent sum and sums of money as they shall think fit,' a convenient stock of flax, &c. to set the poor on work; and also competent sums for and towards the relief of the lame, impotent, &c. to be gathered out of the same parish, according to the ability of the same parish." Without troubling the House with the numerous, and in some instances contradictory decisions, of the courts of law upon this short enactment, it will be sufficient to state, that the intention of the statute to tax the
inhabitants of the parish for their local and visible property, as well as the occupiers of land, has been recognized as indisputable; and if in practice the burthen has been imposed almost exclusively on land and houses, it has not arisen from the taxation of personal property being either illegal or unjust, but from the insurmountable difficulty of ascertaining legally the amount, or even existence of a species of property, to which in truth the terms local and visible seem scarcely to apply. The intention of the legislature therefore to bring into equal contribution all species of income, has failed in this instance, as it has done subsequently under the original land-tax act, which was designed in its first establishment as a tax on all income, and from the same cause, namely, the difficulty of ascertaining with any reasonable precision, the amount of the contribution, without the exercise of powers which the exigency of the state in time of war
to grant. The Committee conceive therefore that the House would deem the equalization of the poor rate, if practicable, purchased too dearly at such a price. There is however one species of income derived from personal property, the dividends payable to the public creditor, which though it has been decided not to come within the existing law, as being neither local nor visible, is yet free certainly from the above difficulties, and if it presented no others, would afford a facility of assessment which has naturally suggested it as a convenient source of contribution. But without con
sidering in what proportions a sum raised by an assessment on such property should be distributed among all the parishes of England and Wales, to none of which it has any local relation, it is a far more important question for the consideration of the House, whether justice and good faith to the public creditor would permit the income derived from this one species of personal property alone to be taxed, in direct violation of the clause in every loan act, by which the payment of the dividends is secured, “free from all taxes, charges, and impositions," when almost all property of a similar description is practically exempted. In the case of the income tax, the profits of all personal property were brought into equal contribution for the general purposes of the empire; in this instance it is proposed to select one species of such property for taxation, which has been by law specially exempted, and to apply it in aid of the disbursement in
local districts, in the control and administration of which this class of contributors would alone have no share. It must be recollected also that even the general tax on income did not attach on the dividends due to a foreigner: and that the stockholders, inhabitants of Ireland and Scotland, must be considered, with reference to the poor rate, in the same light. Nor can the Committee think, that either justice or policy would permit a tax to be imposed on money lent to the state, while sums at interest on other securities remain practically exempt.
If, therefore, it should be deemed neither practicable to provide the means for rating all personal property, nor wise or just to select one species of such property, so circumstanced, for taxation, it may be still considered, whether any other means could be devised of correcting the inequality of the assessment, in parishes in which the occupier of land now bears the principal part of the burthen. As each householder is likely to burthen the parish in proportion to the number of persons he employs in his service, it has been suggested, that it would be equitable that his contribution to the poor rate should bear some proportion to that number An obvious objection, however, to any such arrangement presents itself, in the case of the numerous persons employed by manufactures; and from the possibility of such a principle of assessment creating, in other cases alse, some discouragement to employment. But if this, or any other expedient on a similar principle could be adopted, which would bring other pro
perty in aid of the land, it would in that case become doubly necessary to provide effectually against the mischief of a practice, to which the Committee must more particularly advert hereafter, of making up the deficiency of the wages of labour out of the poor rate. While that rate is derived chiefly from land, the occupier pays, in the shape of poor rate, what should be more properly paid in wages; he still, however, throws some share of the burthen of the maintenance of his labourers on other contributors, according to the share of the rate. But if personal property were brought effectually in aid, the mischief of this practice would become of intolerable magnitude, and would produce, perhaps, more injustice than the present inequality of the rate.
In large towns little inequality in the mode of assessment might be expected to prevail; but various representations have been made to your Committee, of a large proportion of property necessarily escaping its share of contribution, from tenements being of small value, rented for short periods, and the occupiers, who alone can be rated under the existing law, either quitting their residence before the rate can be collected, or being too poor to admit of the rate being levied; while, it is represented, the proprietors find no difficulty in securing a rent, which is increased in the exact proportion of the amount of the rate which is due, but impossible to collect. In these cases the deficiences arising from this cause must be added to the suc
ceeding rate, and paid by the
more industrious class of occupiers. This complaint is not new to the House, their attention having been called to the subject by the application from the town of Birmingham, for relief from this alleged grievance; and though the House rejected a proposed Bill, for rating the owners of such tenements in that town, in default of payment by the occupiers; yet as that vote might have proceeded from the provision being proposed to be local, which, if expedient, the House might have thought should be general, the Committee feel it their duty to represent, that similar applications have been made to them from other quarters, from Bristol, Brighthelmstone, Hull, Manchester, Portsea, and Coventry, in each of which a large portion of the property of the town escapes contribution, from the poverty or transient resi. dence of the tenant; while the landlord secures on that very account an increased rent. The objection to rating the owners, instead of the occupiers, which would at once equalize the bur. then in such towns, is, that it would be introducing a new principle into this law, whereby persons would be made to contribute to the rates, who are not on the spot to control the expenditure. Such, at least, is the objection stated in the Report of the Committee, to whom the different provisions of various local acts for the management of the poor were referred in the year 1813;* who, nevertheless, were of opinion, that
* See Report ordered to be printed 26th March, 1813.
in particular instances, some departure from the general law might be expedient. But your Committee cannot wholly concur in the reasoning of that Report, because they conceive that the occupiers of such tenements are much much more likely to bring a burthen upon the parish than to control its expenditure; and they are disposed to think, that such beneficial control would most probably be produced by the owner having, in these instances, a more direct interest than at present in the disbursements of the parish. In the assessment of lands, it would undoubtedly, for obvious reasons, be far otherwise. In the case of houses, however, it seems of far more importance to preserve the principle of making all property contribute equally when it is practicable, than to adhere to the law of rating the occupier rather than the owner, by which, as in the case of Birmingham, nearly half the rental of the town, and above three-fourths of the houses, escape a burthen which it largely contributes to create. On this subject the committee can speak from experience, for the practice has been adopted with perfect success, and without a complaint, as it should seem, in the parishes of Christ Church, Spitalfields, Shadwell, Gravesend, and proba bly others which have not come within the knowledge of your committee. In such cases the landlord, no doubt, makes his agreement with his tenant accordingly, and has no reasonable ground of complaint, if he is deprived of that part of his rent which should in justice have been paid to the parish fund. If it were possible