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Assessed Duty On Male Servants—Errand Boys—Observations

Volume 203: debated on Friday 15 July 1870

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said, he rose to call attention to the hardship which would result to small tradesmen, errand-boys, and apprentices in consequence of the construction placed upon the Act 32 & 33 Vict. c. 14, by the authorities of Inland Revenue, who required the payment of the assessed duty of 15s. for a male servant if any domestic work were done by an errand-boy, &c. The subject appeared to be a very small one; but, from the number of communications he had received, it was one which affected a great number of the industrious subjects of Her Majesty, and about which there was very widespread dissatisfaction. The question arose upon the interpretation of the two words "male servant" in the Customs and Inland Revenue Act. Hitherto it had not been the habit to include in that category for the purposes of taxation errand-boys who were employed by tradesmen to carry messages in the conduct of their business, and who were incidentally employed also in performing trifling menial offices of a domestic character in the houses of small tradesmen. But this immunity from taxation was no longer to continue, and in the borough he represented (King's Lynn) a notice to that effect had been sent round. It was quite possible that this interpretation put upon the words by the Inland Revenue was correct; but surely this was a case in which the departmental authorities might be told that the words "male servant" were to be construed liberally; that it was not intended by Parliament that any little wretched errand-boy earning about two or three shillings a week should be taxed in the same way as a butler or groom of the chambers in a palatial establishment. He very much feared that this tax would fall upon the poor boys, and a deduction would be made from their wages equivalent to the tax. That would be a result which the House would not desire. But, even if that was not so, the tax would operate as a dis- couragement to persons to employ these boys, which was very often done from charitable motives as well as from motives of convenience. A tradesman, particularly in small towns, would take a boy into his house and keep and teach him; much good was thus done to the boy, and he was in this way started in life, and so rescued in many instances from the perils of the streets and from bad company. The practice was one which, on public grounds, ought to be encouraged, and which he thought ought to be regarded as a social and public advantage.

said, it was admitted that the boys referred to were not previously subject to taxation; and, if this were so, some explanation was required of the tax being imposed now, because it was most distinctly stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and clearly understood by the House, that whatever alterations were made in the assessed taxes last year, no new taxes were to be imposed, and no new interpretations of the law were to be introduced. It would be far better to waive any extreme rights which the Revenue Department might have to these duties, and to re-enact the law with such modifications as might seem desirable, than to create a sense of injustice among those who were called on to pay the duties.

said, that this was not the only instance in which some new interpretation had been put upon the law by the Excise Office. Tradesmen who placed on their circulars the arms of the city where they resided were charged for the duty on armorial bearings; and he had heard of the case of a farmer who lent a dozen of his horses to bring a lifeboat ashore, and who received two guineas from the society as a gratuity for the service, being surcharged for the whole of the horses on the ground that they were not exclusively used for agricultural purposes.

said, he could not undertake to say that the Government would not place any interpretation on the statute of last Session which they might be advised was proper and legal, simply on the ground that different interpretations might have been put on it in various localities. All he could say was that they would be perfectly ready to consider each case of doubtful con- struction which might arise, and they would not desire to put a pettifogging interpretation on the Act. An errand-boy was not a servant, though he became one if he performed domestic duties; but in case those duties were of a trifling and irregular description, the Department might not feel bound to impose the tax.