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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 14

57.—The Purchase-money of their Estates unpaid, and still owing to the State

57.—The Purchase-money of their Estates unpaid, and still owing to the State.

The foregoing argument may be recapitulated shortly thus:—The land was held on certain well defined conditions; which conditions were in the strictest sense the purchase money of that land. That purchase money may be very accurately described to have been made payable as a perpetual annuity to the State, increasing in value as the land increased in value, just as tithe is payable to the parochial clergy or copyhold profits and other rents to the landholders, with this similarity as compared with these, that the feudal profits bore a fixed proportion to the annual value at the time the payment became due. But in the year 1660 a body of individuals who were holders of a considerable portion of the land in question, calling themselves a Convention Parliament representing the whole nation, voted, at least two more than half of them voted, that they should be totally exonerated from the future payment of this perpetual annuity which was the purchase money of their estates: and that the said annuity, or purchase money, should for the future be paid by other people who had no share in the land for which they were thus made to pay. However, about 30 years after, the Parliament laid a tax upon land, which served, when first imposed, as some equivalent for the perpetual and variable annuity, the payment of which had been shifted from the shoulders of the landholders. This tax upon land, which was continued for several successive years, was a tax of 4s. in the pound upon the actual yearly value of the land at the time of assessing thereof, and was consequently, like the perpetual and variable annuity of which it may be considered as intended to be the substitute and representative, to increase with the increasing value of the land. But in the year 1697 they contrived to frame the tax (9 W. III. c. 10) in such a form page 199 that it should not be an annuity increasing with and in proportion to the increasing value of the land, but a fixed annuity that should not increase in value. The consequence of this is that the said annuity remains at the amount at which it was when the value of a large proportion of the land was only a very small fraction of what it is at present. Another consequence is great unfairness in the apportionment of the sum actually levied q. The fact that the imposition of a property and land tax, to be levied by a pound rate on the true value of property, was the first fiscal act after the Revolution—that it was annually voted and levied on that principle for several years—proves that property according to its full value was recognized by the constitution as a fit subject for taxation. It has also been shown from the practice which prevailed in Scotland, after the abolition of the feudal tenures in that country, that 4s. in the pound on the true yearly value was the minimum, and 8s. in the pound the maximum assessment during the Commonwealth. It is difficult to estimate with exactness the burden of the feudal tenure on landholders: but as it is not found that the rates of 8s. and 4s. in the pound imposed by the Commonwealth on the land rentals of the feudal landholders of Scotland were complained of, those rates may be taken to have been considered as a favourable commutation for military service and the feudal profits.

The property or land tax acts have been examined from year to year, and the attempts to defeat their bonâ fide operation have been fully explained. It has been shown that the success of those attempts prevented the assessment from being treated as a Variable Rent Charge, of which nature were the feudal profits; and that thereby the State from that time to the present has been defrauded of the growing revenue which it had precisely the same right to collect that a landholder under the laws of England had to receive an increased rent from his tenants. It has been shown by a minute examination and analysis of the property or land tax acts from the Revolution down to that under which it is now collected, and a comparison of those acts with the evidence of Mr. Wood, Chairman of the Board of Stamps and Taxes, given before the Agricultural Committee in 1836, that the principle clearly laid down in the statutes has not been acted upon, but that in fact the Commissioners, appointed from time to time for the purpose of carrying the said acts into effect, have acted in a manner not authorized by the acts under which they were appointed, nor by any law recognized in England—consequently, that they have exercised their powers in an illegal manner; and that therefore the whole of the present land tax machinery is grounded upon proceedings, not only unconstitutional, but also illegal in the strictest sense.

page 200

Table showing the proportion of Taxation borne by Land from the foundation of the Monarchy to the present time.

(a)It acoma a t least doubtful whether this was not merely a tenth of all the property (real and personal) of the Clergy. (See Com. Dig. Tenths (A), Spelm. Gloss. Docimæ Salad.)
(b)The tenth and fifteenth were originally those parts of chattels personal, as corn, cattle, and other moveable property. In 8 Edward III., 1334, every district of England was valued, and a tenth and fifteenth of the whole fixed at £29,000, which was never afterwards varied [1 Sincl. 44]. The subsidy was an aid granted by Parliament on real and personal property, occasionally at 4s. in the pound, on the income from lands, and 2s. 8d. upon goods, but the valuation of the property of districts was so low that the rate was merely nominal: a lay subsidy contributing about £70,000, and a clerical £20,000. The valuation was never varied from its first imposition in the reign of Richard II. [1 Sincl. 44]. In the reign of Henry VIII. subsidies were levied by an uniform rate of income from real property, and on the estimated value of the personal property, but as cattle, corn, hay, &c, were rated by that mode, the impost would fall principally on the land (See 5 H. VIII. c. 17; 15 H. VIII. c. 15). During the Common wealth, when Knight Service was abolished, an alteration in the mode of assessment took place. It appears to have been considered that property should contribute the greater part of the revenue, leviable by monthly assessments to be granted according to tho necessities of tho State-a twelve month's rate being fixed at £840,000, or £70,000 a month, for England; £144,000, or £12,000 a month, for Scotland; and £216,000, or £18,000 a month, for Ireland: together for tho 12 months £ 1,200,000, which was a revenue considerably greater than bad been enjoyed by Charles I. These assessments, as previously explained (29), were levied by an uniform rate on the income from real property, and on the estimated annual value of personalty, that is, £20 of personalty, or £1 the annual value thereof at 5 per cent. was rated exactly the same as £1 of income from realty.
(c)Four Parliamentary and Clerical Subsidies (averaging about £60,000 per annum) only were granted during this reign, the crown lands and feudal tenures contributing at least .60, or 3/5ths, of the ordinary revenue [1 Sine). 237, and Colquhoun,"Resources of British Empire" 52].
(d)Colquhoun, p. 157; 1 Sincl. 244, 1 Sincl. 271.
(e)8 Comm. Jour., p. 1150. From the manner in which the Government was conducted in this reign it is difficult to ascertain the real amount levied from land.
(f)Excise was at first, during the Civil War, levied on liquors only, but afterwards on other articles; and it was then solemnly declared that at the end of the war all excises should be abolished [1 Sincl. 278-9].
(g)There was granted during this reign, in addition to the ordinary revenue of £1,081,710, various assessments on real and personal estates to tho eztent of £18,414,868, of which at least £12,000,000 was contributed from real property, or £500,000 a year during the 24 years from 1660 to 1684 [1 Sincl. 302, 306].
(h)Excise taxes, which even during the Commonwealth were declared to be unconstitutional, were now imposed as a substitute for the feudal rents due by the landholders to the State.
(i)James II. only obtained an aid of £400,000 to be levied from property [1 Sincl. 823].
(k)The Crown property was nearly wholly granted among, or leased to, those connected with Government shortly after the Revolution, under the pretence of rendering the Crown depeudent on Parliament. These leases are still renewed at merely nominal fines, when, under a different management, considerable revenue would arise as the leases fell in.
(l)Tho Land and Property Tax has been granted annually since the Revolution, and the various modifications which It has undorgone, as a means to exempt property from contributing its equitable proportion towards the expenses of the State, have been fully explained. In the amounts given under the name of Land Tax there undoubtedly are included certain rates levied upon persons and peraonal property, but they were inconsiderable in amount. (See Mr. Vood's Evidence § 48.)
(m)This oum includes the Revenue of the Duchy of Cornwall, £9,869, and tho Principality of Wales, £6,857, the remainder from fines and profits of the Crown Lands (9 Sinel. 21).