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Fire Insurance

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INSURANCE, FIRE. Among those associations whose object it is to secure individuals from the consequences of accidental loss, companies for assuring the owners of property from loss arising from fire are among those of most obvious utility, and have long been successfully established in this country. It might have been expected that the great advan tage to society in general of individuals providing against their ruin by means of trifling annual contributions would have been so far acknowledged on the part of the British legislature as to prevent the imposing of a tax upon the prudence of the people. Such, however, is not the fact, and a duty is levied at the rate of 3s. per cent per annum upon the amount of property insured against destruction by fire, which rate is, in most cases, equal to 200 per cent. upon the premium de manded by the insurance offices, which premium is found sufficient to cover all losses, as well as to defray the ex penses of management. and to afford an adequate return to capitalists who embark their property in the undertaking. How far the imposition of this tax prevents in surances being effected it is not possible to determine. That many persons neglect to insure against the risk of fire from being compelled to pay 4s. 6d. for each 100/. value of their property, who would not neglect such precaution if they could attain security by payment of Is. 6d. for a like amount, will be readily acknow ledged; and the propriety of repealing this tax has been frequently urged. But this tax produces to the revenue above a million sterling, and as the amount is raised without trouble and at little cost, the tax offers to the minister of the day an inducement for its continuance which it will be difficult to overcome. There is indeed no individual who can complain of special injury or grievance from the tax : it is imposed on all persons alike ; and the insurance offices, by which it is collected and paid over to the govern ment, have an advantage in its continu ance, in respect of the discount or allow ance which is made to them on the amount—an advantage, however, more specious than real, as the repeal of the tax would greatly increase the business of the offices.

During a period of distress experienced by the agriculturists, the landowners and farmers of Great Britain, acting through their representatives in parliament, ob tained in 1833 an advantage over other classes of the community by the repeal of the duty upon insurance of farm produce, farming stock, and implements of hus bandry (3 & 4 Wm. IV. c. 23).

There is no reason why the insurance of farm produce should have this advan tage over any other kind of produce ; and the total repeal of this impolitic and now unjust tax, since it no longer falls equally on all, would be loudly called for by all classes of the community, if they were aware of their true interests. It is the interest of the state that partial losses should be distributed among a large num ber of capitalists, to each of whom the loss is trifling, while by the contributions of many individuals one individual may be saved from ruin, and that capital which he is productively employing in some branch of business may not be all at once withdrawn from it. The advantage to the

individual whose property is destroyed, of having it restored to him so that he does not lose his basiness or occupation, is too obvious to need any remark. The advantage to the labourer is equally great, for in many cases the loss of the employer would throw him and others out of profitable employment ; and if his employer were not indemnified by a fire insurance, the labourer would often be ruined as well as the employer.

Cases occur in which frauds are prac tised by parties insuring for more than their property is worth ; and there are also cases in which property has been burnt by insolvent persons in order to ob tain the insurance money. The com panies sometimes consider it prudent to pay the money, though the claim might be disputed; and sometimes it is success. fully disputed. The best institutions are liable to be abused ; but institutions are useful when their object can be effected in the great majority of cases, and the exceptions must be put to the account of accident, just as it is useful to plough and sow, though accident sometimes prevents the reaping.

The amount of farming stock insured in 1843 was 60,232,9991., of which 4,598,7941. was insured in Scotch and Irish offices ; 33,628,0071. in London offices; and 22,006,1981. in English coun try offices. In 1843 the Norwich Union office insured farming stock to the amount of 9,618,3061. The Fire Offices have on some occasions refused to insure farming stock in districts where the agricultural labourers were badly off and acts of in cendiarism very frequent.

The sums insured against fire in Eng land, Scotland, and Ireland, in 1801 and 1841 were as follows:— 1801 1841 England . C219,623,954 £605,878,933 Scotland .. 3,786,146 44,655,300 Ireland .. 8,832,125 31,005,606 The total sums insured in the United Kingdom in each of the years 1801,1811, 1821, 1831, and 1841, and the increase per cent. on a comparison of each year with 1801 were as under:— Inc. per cent.

1801 232,242,225 1811 366,704,800 57.8 1821 408,037,332 75'6 1831 526,655,332 126.7 1841 681,539,839 193.4 (Porter's 'Progress of the Nation,' iii. p. 123.) The duty on fire insurances has ex ceeded a million sterling annually for the last few years. The duty in the follow ing years was:— £ £ 1837 903,311 1841 1,022,312 1838 944,984 1842 1,027,467 1839 968,476 1843 1,051,543 1840 974,610 1844 0,000,000 In one London Fire Insurance Office the duty paid in 1843 amounted to 171,692/. and in another to 125,9214, or, together, 297,613/. out of 1,051,543/. paid by all the offices in the United Kingdom. The duty paid by Scotch and Irish offices in 1843 was 115,770/. 690,446/. by Lon don offices ; and 245,3271. by country offices in England.