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so much as in the particular distribution upon the inhabitants in every subdivision.
“ Suppose, for example, the proportion of the general sum for a particular district to be £10,000 at four shillings in the pound, how is this to be levied as the law stands ? Instead of books of valuation, which shew at least the proportion of every man's property, if not the real value of it, assessors are constantly called in, who examine the rents of all the lands according to the last leases of them. If they have been improved and let at a higher rent than formerly, the proportion of the tax is augmented. If they have not been let, but remain in the possession of him who improved them, the tax is not augmented. If the tax be found to fall too heavy upon the lands and houses, then personal estates are made to contribute, as is the case in London. All questions or disputes about the repartition of the tax, are determined, without appeal to the courts of law, by the commissioners appointed for laying on the tax; as in France, (under the old Government,) they were determined by the Intendant.”* And, indeed, without this regulation (as Sir James Steuart himself acknowledges) all would run into confusion.
In proof of this opinion he observes, that “any proprietor of lands is entitled, from the words of the Statute, to insist that the whole personal estates of those of the district shall enter into computation of the total value upon which the sum imposed is to be assessed. Were such questions,” he continues, “to come before a court of law, where the judges are obliged to determine almost according to the letter of it, no land-tax could possibly be levied in this kingdom. But manners, not laws, govern mankind. The spirit of the English nation is such as to be incompatible with anything that savours of oppression: hence the few complaints against the assessors, or those who judge between parties. And as the Land-tax is levied without any complaints, except as to the total amount, while that remains the case, the fewer innovations that are made on it the better." +
* (Political Economy, Book V. chap. xi.; Works, Vol. IV. pp. 279-282.) + [Ibid. p. 282.)
• In other respects, the English land-tax possesses important advantages.-1. The time of payment for the tax being the same as that for the rent, is as convenient as it can be to the landlord, who is plainly, in all cases, the contributor ; the tenant only advancing the tax, and being entitled to deduct it in the payment of the rent.—2. This tax is levied by a much smaller number of officers than any other which affords nearly the same revenue.-3. As the tax does not rise in proportion to the rise of the rent, the sovereign does not share in the profits of the landlord's improvements, and, therefore, does not operate (like a variable land-tax) “as a bounty on bad husbandry, and a penal law against improvement.”
Notwithstanding, however, these considerations, which so strongly recommend this species of taxation, it is justly remarked by Mr. Smith,* that the advantage which the landlord has derived from the invariable constancy by which the lands are rated to the land-tax, has been principally owing to circumstances altogether extraneous to the nature of the tax, and which, if they had happened accidentally to be different, might have rendered this invariable constancy a source of much inconveniency, either to the contributors or to the commonwealth. 1. Since the time when this valuation was first established, the rents of almost all the estates of Great Britain have been continually rising, and scarce any of them have fallen. The landlords, therefore, have gained the difference between the tax which they would have paid, according to the present rent of their estates, and that which they actually pay. Had rents been gradually falling, the landlords would have lost this difference, and the sovereign would have gained it.—2. Since the establishment of this valuation, the value of silver has been pretty uniform, and there has been no alteration in the standard of the coin. And, therefore, (as it is in money that the valuation of the land is expressed, and also that the tax is payable,) things have remained nearly (at least as far as money is concerned,) in their original estate, both for sovereign and subject. 1 Eden's Letters, p. 102. * Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. ii. ; Vol. III. p. 261, seq., tenth edition.)
Had silver risen, it would have proved very oppressive to the landlord : had it fallen, it would have reduced the revenue of the sovereign. Had any considerable alteration been made in the standard of the money, it would have hurt the revenue either of the one or of the other. “In the course of ages, however,” adds Mr. Smith, “such circumstances must, at some time or other, happen, and a constitution intended to be permanent, ought to be convenient, not in certain circumstances only, but in all circumstances; or, in other words, ought to be suited, not to those circumstances which are accidental, but to such as are necessary, and, therefore, always the same."*
In what has been hitherto said on the subject of the landtax, I have taken no notice of Scotland, as the greater part of the general principles which have been stated are equally applicable to both parts of the island. Some important differences, however, exist both in the proportions and in the mode in which the two kingdoms contribute to this branch of revenue; and of these it may be satisfactory to give some account before concluding the present article.
In the history of England, there is no vestige, since Doomsday Book, of any regular valuation being made of all the lands of the kingdom. But in Scotland, this operation has been carried into execution (with what accuracy it is not possible now to determine) in various instances, partly for regulating the proportion of public subsidies, and partly for ascertaining the amount of non-entry and relief-duties payable to the superior.
The first general valuation is commonly supposed to have taken place towards the end of the 13th century, in the time of Alexander III. ; but it has been rendered extremely probable by Lord Hailes and by Dr. Gilbert Stuart, that long before this time similar attempts had been made and accomplished. Our lawyers, however, always refer to this period as the farthest limit to which our inquiries on this point can be carried with any certainty, distinguishing the valuation which was then made, by the title of the Old Extent.
* [Ibid. p. 262.]
p. 184.-Stuart's Public Law, &c., pp. 67, 202.-(Consult on this subject Boyd's Justice of Peace.)
1 Hailes' Annals of Scotland, Vol. I.
A revaluation of lands, it is conjectured, was made when a tax was to be imposed for the ransom of David II. ; and there is indisputable evidence of a valuation in the times of James 1.1 In consequence, however, of the progress of agriculture, and perhaps also of the heightening of the nominal value of our money, these valuations were considered as too low a standard for the superior's casualties; and, accordingly, in the reign of James III., it was ordained, that in all Services of Heirs, the jury should express in their inquiry or retour, not only the old extent of the lands of a deceased proprietor, but their exact value at the period of the investiture of the heir; (quantum nunc valent.) This transaction was deemed equivalent to a valuation ; and it obtained the appellation of the New Extent.
Whilst, however, the New Extent became the measure of assessment in adjusting the feudal casualties due by vassals to their superiors, the Old Extent continued the rule for levying public subsidies, till the usurpation of Cromwell. By two Acts of his Parliament, held at Westminster in 1656, imposing taxations on Scotland, the rates laid upon the counties are precisely fixed; and by the Act of the Convention of Estates 1667, the subsidy then granted was levied on the several counties, nearly in the same proportions that were fixed by Cromwell in 1656 ; the sums to which each county was subjected being subdivided among the individual landholders in that county, according to the valuations already settled, or that should be settled by the commissioners appointed to carry that Act into execution. For a few years after the Restoration, the land-tax had been levied according to the Old Extent; but since 1667, when Cromwell's valuations were adopted, they have continued to furnish the rules according to which the land-tax, and most of the other public burdens, have been levied. The rent fixed by these valuations is commonly called the valued rent, and is always stated in Scotch money.
"G. Stuart, (Observations concerning ? Stuart, [1.c.]-Erskine, pp. 155, 156; the Public Law of Scotland, &c., p. 68. [Institutes, Book II. Title v. sect. 35.]
In adjusting the proportional burdens of the two kingdoms at the time of the Union, the relative rates at which they were to contribute to the land-tax, were for ever ascertained as a fundamental article, in the following terms:
ART. IX.-" That whenever the sum of one million, nine hundred, ninety-seven thousand, seven hundred and sixty pounds, eight shillings and fourpence halfpenny,”—a sum which we may state, in round numbers, at two millions,—“shall be enacted by the Parliament of Great Britain to be raised in that part of the United Kingdom called England, on land and other things usually charged in Acts of Parliament there, for granting an aid to the Crown by a land-tax, that part of the United Kingdom now called Scotland, shall be charged by the same Act with a sum of forty-eight thousand pounds, free of all charges, as the quota of Scotland to such a tax, and so proportionably for any greater or lesser sum raised in England by any tax on land, and other things usually charged together with the land: And that such quota for Scotland, in the cases aforesaid, be raised and collected in the same manner as the Cess now is in Scotland ; but subject to such regulations, in the manner of collecting, as shall be made by the Parliament of Great Britain.”*
So much with respect to land taxes, imposed like that of Great Britain, according to an invariable canon.
[ii]-I now proceed to the consideration of land-taxes which vary with the variations of the rent,—that is, which rise and fall according to the improvement or decline of cultivation. The example of such a tax occurs in the Venetian territory, where all the arable lands which are let upon lease to farmers are taxed at a tenth of the rent. The leases are recorded in a public register, which is kept by the officers of revenue in each province or district. When the proprietor cultivates his own lands, they are valued according to an equitable estimation, and he is allowed a deduction of one-fifth of the tax; so that, for such lands he pays only eight instead of ten per cent. of the supposed rents.
*[Treaty of Union, &c., 1706, Scots Acts.]