« السابقةمتابعة »
consequently a more serious expense. In assessing at their fair value the country mansions of the wealthy, there would not be in the present day the same difficulty that was experienced in the period of the former house-duty through the influence of the owners, or the truckling of valuers. The valuations which are now made for the house-duty, property-tax, and poorrate are likely to check and correct each other to a considerable extent. Assessments to the property-tax, of which there were none at the time that the old house-duty became fatally unpopular, have been in existence now for upwards of twenty years; and they are revised by surveyors appointed by Government, and as independent as possible of local influences. These assessments are therefore likely to show what it is intended they should-namely, the full annual or lettable value; this being, in the case of houses, the sum at which they should be assessed to the house-duty. A further check may be derived from the poor-rate valuation, in which such value should appear in the column of 'gross estimated rental.' The recent Union Assessment Act provides for the revaluation of entire unions with a view to the parochial assessments being made throughout upon a uniform scale; and the area of a poor-rate valuation is thus so greatly increased that the influence which an extensive proprietor may be able to exercise in his own parish for the underrating of his mansion is likely to be lost or counterbalanced when the valuation extends to an entire union. It is a step of some importance in the way of the equalization of the poor-rates throughout large districts, which is a measure that can be opposed by selfishness alone, and to the want of which is so greatly owing the wretched housing of the poor. eminent economist has gone to the length of suggesting that land so situated as to be speedily available for building, should be charged in anticipation with taxation somewhat proportionate to its prospective value. But so far from this being the present practice, such
estates, when actually converted to building sites, pay less towards the public burdens than any others do, because these newly-formed house properties (more particularly those in the metropolis) are commonly situated in parishes which contain so few poor that the poor-rates are almost nominal: the tenants of the houses having thus to pay only low poor-rates, are content to pay all the more money in the form of rent to the landlords. Nor is this the only advantage that is unfairly secured by the owners of new house property; for the first step taken by them towards the appropriation of the land to building sites is to avail themselves of the acts for the redemption of the land-tax-a discreditable invention of desperate finance and so to escape an increase of this tax proportionate to the increased value of their estates. Now, until the lettable value of such property is reduced as it should be by the equalization of the poor-rates in the district, it would be some satisfaction to feel that an increased house-duty charged upon the basis of these high rents would tend to their diminution.
In the belief that, for the reasons stated, all houses with the grounds annexed to them might at the present time be assessed to the houseduty with a degree of fairness that was impossible under the legislation of forty years ago, we submit that the equity of the case, as between the occupiers of large and small houses (in consequence of house-rent being a rather smaller and rather larger proportion respectively of their total expenditure), might be well met by the following proposal, which would, we think, be much preferable to the plan of a graduated rate of duty, as in the old house-tax, with the jerks and sore places inseparable from any such scale. Let the uniform deduction, which we have already arrived at, of £8 from the annual value of each house be enlarged to £12, which would be an important reduction to the occupiers of smull houses in the assumed event of the house-duty being increased so as to supplant the greater part of the
present income-tax; and we further propose that such an increase should be made in another of the assessed taxes as would extract from the occupiers of large houses an equivalent for the deficiency of such a house-duty in their case. The assessed tax to be selected for this purpose may with propriety be one that is not likely to fall upon householders having large families; and it should also be one in respect of which the persons charged would be the least likely to curtail their expenses, and so withhold the compensation sought. An increased tax upon men-servants might have this nugatory effect in some instances, and it would be attended with the further disadvantage of throwing men out of employment. An increase of the tax upon horses would become similarly nugatory, as the number of horses would be readily reduced; and this, too, is a tax which is very liable to evasion by an understatement of the greatest number' of horses kept at any time during the year. But it is not so easy for a man to understate the number of his carriages, for these are observable by all in his neighbourhood; and, as a further consequence, this is the expense in I which he will be the most unwilling to make a reduction, since it would be noticeable by all. An additional advantage of an increase in the tax upon carriages (including those let to hire, but excluding stage-carriages) is that it would be felt by persons who keep neither men-servants nor horses, but yet live in houses of a sufficient magnitude to call for some addition to the house-duty which would be charged in their case: although owning no carriage, they are in the habit of occasionally hiring flys. We propose that the present carriage-duty paid by those in Great Britain who possess or let carriages should be trebled, and that the additional tax (ie., the double instead of the treble duty) should, of course, be extended to Ireland, in which the duty is not now levied at all. The highest tax charged at the present time for a carriage is only £3 10s. per annum: an additional tax of £7 would make
£IO IOS. In this increase of the duty upon carriages owned or let to hire, a tax equal to about one-sixth of the amount of income-tax which we contemplate being supplanted would become a special charge upon persons occupying large houses, the house-duty itself being meanwhile charged, as we have said, upon the annual value of each house minus a uniform deduction of £12; so that a house worth, to rent, £16 per annum (the commencing point of the duty) would be assessed at £4, a £50 house would be assessed at £38, a £200 house at £188, and so on. The existing exemptions of £60 income, and of life-assurance premiums to be abolished, as presently stated, in the case of such income-tax as would be hereafter levied. And the assessment of the lowest class of houses in such small sums as £4 and upwards would not render the amounts to be collected insignificant, because we are, of course, contemplating a considerable increase in the rate in the pound at which the house-duty is now levied.
As regards the general allowance for shops we do not propose that any alteration should be made in the present law, which is to charge houses having shops attached to them at two-thirds of the rate in the pound which is levied upon private dwellings. We are sensible that this is only a moderate allowance: on the average of such houses a half would much more correctly represent the portion occupied for the purposes of business. But we think that a good reason for keeping the allowance rather below the mark may be found in the circumstance that a claim might be advanced by almost every one, no matter of what station or occupation, to have a similar though smaller allowance in the assessment of the house-duty. Professional men may reasonably claim it in respect of their studios and offices. Indeed, in the case of those in extensive practice, and keeping a staff of clerks, the claim might appear as important as that of shopkeepers, until it is remembered that the space in which a professional in
come can be earned is much smaller than that occupied by the shops and show and store rooms necessary for the production of the same amount of income in trade. Even
noblemen and independent gentlemen might urge that they have their studies and libraries, and in some cases their reception-rooms, which are as much identified with the business, distinguished from the pleasures, of their station as are the offices of a lawyer or the shop of a tradesman. And, after all, the injury to shopkeepers of an overcharge (even if it be such) is fancied rather than real; since there is no class that has the power so completely in its own hands of rectifying by an increase in the price of their goods any measure which experience may prove to have resulted in imposing upon them, as a body, a really heavier taxation than that to which they were previously liable.
Among shopkeepers themselves, however, the case is different. He that is well to do, and lives in a private dwelling away from his house of business, may feel that in paying duty upon two-thirds of the rent of the latter, although nearly all occupied for trade purposes, he is at an unfair disadvantage as compared with the small tradesman who devotes only one-third of his house to business, lets off another part to lodgers, and occupies the remainder with his family.
the former may derive satisfaction from the thought that if the proportion of the shop-rate were reduced, the requisite amount of duty could only be levied by increasing the rate in the pound charged upon his separate private residence. Besides this, we may suggest that the large trader has been put to a decided advantage, as compared with his small competitor, by the last alteration of the law with regard to receipt stamps, under which a receipt, no matter for how large a sum, is legalised by a single penny stamp. This, when viewed per se, is a most unjustifiable regulation in every respect, unless we can except the expediency which the Chancellor of the Exchequer found in it.
The old law of stamps for receipts was very generally disregarded, a fate which it almost deserved; for the scale was complicated, and its pressure upon small receipts was disproportionately heavy. A far more equitable tax than the present uniform penny stamp, and one that would both be moderate, and would require no effort of memory, might have been formed thus:-For sums under £10, one penny; under £20, twopence; under £30, threepence; and so on: all amounts under £1 being free, and stamps being required at the rate of one penny for every £10, or fractional part of` £10. A uniform penny stamp would thus have covered every transaction under £10; and where sums of a larger amount are often received, and some thought (though very little) would have been required, the establishment of the payee is of such magnitude that he keeps assistants to do such thinking for him. The adhesive stamps could have been varied as in the case of postage-stamps, but perhaps bearing their respective values in conspicuous figures in lieu of the Queen's effigy; and far better so if our Queen is always to be represented as a woman of two-andtwenty-a silly falsity without precedents in former reigns, and destroying half the numismatical interest of our coins. The amounts of tax in the scale we have just indicated would have been very moderate; no scale could have been easier of recollection; the revenue yielded would have been larger; and the principle would have been fair. It is most unjust that small shopkeepers whose customers run monthly or quarterly bills should have to stamp every receipt above £2, whilst traders, builders, manufacturers, and merchants of all kinds pay no higher stamp upon their receipts of a hundred fold the value. It has been called penny wisdom that is not pound-foolishness; but it smacks too much of wisdom in one's generation. And now that the public is thoroughly confirmed in the habit of requiring stamped receipts, a change of the law will be imperatively required,
unless its continuance shall be needed as a compensation to large traders for some excessive taxation upon them such as would be the effect of the house-duty under consideration.
The proposal here made for the replacement of part of the incometax by this modified house-duty is put forward in the belief that the substitution would be fair; and if it is such, the extent to which the substitution is carried is immaterial as a point of equity, and it is not a matter of importance that we should predict exactly what rate of house-duty, levied in the manner we have suggested, would, with the contemplated increase of the carriage-duty, produce a sum equal to that raised by the income-tax.
believe, however, that if the houseduty, assessed in the mode before described, were increased in Great Britain to 38. in the pound on private dwelling-houses, and 2s. in the pound on dwelling-houses having shops; and were therefore levied in Ireland (where there is now no such duty) at 2s. 3d., and Is. 6d. respectively; the additional produce of this duty, with the assistance of the increased duty on carriages, would allow of the income-tax being reduced to 2d. or 3d. in the pound; and whatever surplus might arise in future years of peace, would be better appropriated to the reduction or repeal of objectionable portions of our indirect taxation than to the absolute extinction of the incometax, or the lessening of such a houseduty as is here proposed.
There is no good reason for objecting that a disproportionate cost would be necessarily incurred for the collection of the income-tax if reduced to so small an amount by the substitution of an increased house-duty. As a matter of fact, the trouble of both the income-tax collectors and the collectors of houseduty in making applications for payments and in writing receipts, would be neither more nor less than at the present time (excepting that the house-duty would be levied down to houses worth £16 per annum instead of only to those worth £20). The present system of
paying collectors of income-tax is foolishly wrong, for they are paid, not so much in proportion to their trouble as to the rate in the pound at which the tax happens to be levied in the particular year. We have seen this to vary from 5d. to IS. 4d.; their trouble in both instances has been really the same, and yet their pay in the one has been three times as much as in the other. It would be far more reasonable if the remuneration for the collection of both house-duty and income-tax were made proportionate to the amount of assessment, rather than to the amount of tax raised in the year. It is upon the former that the trouble of the collector mainly depends; the fluctuations in the rate of tax do not alter the amount of his labour. The two taxes under consideration are indeed collected for the most part by the same persons; the question therefore does not arise in their case, because what they would lose upon the incometax collection they would gain upon that of the house-duty. And where the two collections are distinct, a rearrangement of the commission upon the basis just indicated would prevent the total cost of collection of the two taxes being increased to any noticeable extent. A saving of expense might on the other hand be attained by allowing fresh incometax assessments to be made at somewhat wider intervals of time than now, so long as the tax remains at the low rate which we have contemplated for times of ordinary peace.
The reduction of the income-tax to 20. or 3d. in the pound would also bring with it the great advantage that the abatements (commonly involving repayments) to persons having less than £200 a year, and to those who assure their lives, would be reduced to such insignificant amounts that they might be abolished, and great expense be thereby saved. Keeping this in view, we have proposed such an increase in the carriage-duty, and such modifications in the house-tax, as are fully liberal towards the owners of small incomes. And when, in case of war, the rate of income-tax would
have to be increased, an equivalent for the non-revival of those abatements of income-tax could be made by not imposing to so great an extent as hitherto the extra taxation usually raised in time of war from articles of general consumption, and more particularly tea and sugar. The returning of tax-money is most unbusinesslike and most wasteful, and it affords another opportunity for the fraud which characterizes the income-tax. The first committee upon this tax received the strongest official evidence that under the remission clauses a vast amount of cheating is successfully effected by persons whose incomes are really too large to entitle them to the abatement. On the other hand, we would withdraw from the rich and successful the unfair advantage which they now obtain by the system of compositions. It is not too much to say that this has the effect of legalising fraud, for none will compound but those who have every confidence of such an increase in their gains as shall much more than compensate them for the trifling sum at which the assessment is made in excess of their late income; and thus men who might shrink from making a false return for their own advantage are enabled under cover of the law, to obtain this advantage at the expense of their poorer countrymen. Mr. Hyde, an official of long standing, represented to the committee just referred to that the State loses considerably by the system of compositions, and that, of a great number of cases which he had examined, he ascertained that in nine out of ten, the parties who compounded had found it a profitable investment.
Above all, by this reduction of the rate of income-tax, its full strength will be reserved for the event of serious wars. Again, as the conscience under Schedule D, which is prostrated by a ninepenny tax may bear up against one of threepence, its successful exertions in time of peace may be used to sustain its vitality under the pressure of a war rate; so that by reserving the tax for war we shall gain the further advantage that every penny of its
rate will then be more productive than would be the case if the present high rate were continued in time of peace. In the exceptional period of serious war, men's incomes from trades and professions are for the most part reduced, and this circumstance commends the relying in such a time on a tax upon their incomes as near as we can get at them. An increased house-duty, on the other hand, is properly a peacetax; it would not be a fitting resource during war, for this would be to tax men according to the most stationary part of their expenditure at a time when their means have become much curtailed. But it happens that this same circumstance of curtailment of income during war just minimizes at such a time the extra pressure of the income-tax upon the industrial classes, because, their incomes being cramped, their savings are diminished, and (as before explained) it is in the double taxation of these savings that the pressure of the income-tax upon these classes consists. When, therefore, in the direst of extremitieswar-we resort to the worst of direct taxes, we shall find, if we have only kept it down to a low rate in time of peace, that its power will be fully available, its present costly system of repayments will be saved, the frauds committed under it will be less difficult of correction, and it will be in itself more equitable.
But beyond the advantages which may be thus secured for the incometax through its partial replacement by a modified house-duty, this duty has every characteristic that can recommend it as a permanent source of revenue. Reasonable in theory, it can be put into practice without either inquisitorial proceedings or arbitrary surcharges; and it is less liable to evasion, and less troublesome in its levy than any other impost. The legacy-duty may be evaded, the succession-duty may be shirked; under the customs-duties the coast-guard must be employed to prevent smuggling, and we have to take precautions against illicit practices for cheating the excise. But in a house-duty all is open, all is notorious; there is no temptation