HC Deb 02 June 1809 vol 14 cc862-7

—The House having resolved itself into a Committee to consider of the Third Report of the Finance Committee,

Mr. Martin

rose and observed, that it was his anxious wish to impress upon the committee the propriety of attending to the principles of economy in every department of the public expenditure. The necessity, indeed, of such attention must he thought be obvious to every man who took the trouble of looking into the subject, and felt any solicitude for the interests of the country. The amount of our annual expenditure, and of our national debt, was enormous, while the declining produce of our revenue was notorious. According to the papers on the table, the produce of our permanent taxes was only 30,190,178l. which, compared with the interests of our debt 31,3.50,000l. left a deficit of above one million. How then, in the event of peace was this deficit to be supplied and our establishment to be defined, without permanently pledging the war taxes? If peace were to be concluded to-morrow, it would be impossible to make such a reduction in our establishment as to place us in any thing like the situation in which we stood before, either with regard to expence or revenue. The consequence would be, that they would be compelled to have recourse to the Income and other war taxes, and reduced to the absolute necessity of making them a perpetual burthen upon the country. The continuance of the War-taxes in the event of peace, was a thing scarcely to be endured, even in idea; and yet he really was at a loss to divine to what other fund the country was to look for support in supplying the deficiencies of a declining revenue. He begged the committee to consider this point, upon which he was induced to dwell, with a view to urge more strongly the necessity of paying the utmost possible attention to every thing connected with economy. It was quite clear that every practicable arrangement should be made for that purpose, and with that impression upon Ins mind, he regretted much to observe that such a tardy disposition to promote the objects recommended by the Committee of Finance should have been manifested by those, who had the power of giving effect to the recommendations of that Committee. He had therefore felt it his duty to bring this business forward. Since he had given notice of it the right hon the Chancellor of the Exchequer had thought proper to propose a set of Resolutions in lieu of those which he had the honour of submitting to the house. Being anxious only for the object which his Resolutions had in view, he was not of course tenacious of terms or forms, and therefore he would interweave with his first Resolution, upon proposing which the discussion might arise, some of the words suggested by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Upon the adoption of these words he was the more determined, because in reviewing his own Resolution, he saw that it contained rather a sort of apology, for calling the attention of the house to a consideration of the principles of economy, than a direct assertion of the expediency of economising the public Expenditure in every possible case. The hon. member then proposed his first Resolution, which declared in substance, that it was peculiarly necessary in the present circumstances of the country, to attend closely to the principles of economy, and to make every practicable arrangement for the purpose of limiting the public expenditure.

This Resolution being put from the Chair,

Mr. Huskisson

rose, to correct some mis-statements with respect to the finances of the country into which the hon. gent. had fallen. He had stated that the amount of the Permanent Taxes was not equal to the discharge of the interest of the public debt. This was not the case. On the contrary, last year they had voted a surplus of between four and five million, out of the Consolidated Fund, independant of the other heavy charges to which that fund was liable.—The committee must recollect, that there had been voted for the year the sum of 3,500,000l. as the surplus of the Consolidated Fund, together with 800,000l. which remained unappropriated from the produce of that fund in the preceding year. Of course, it was quite a mistaken idea, that the permanent taxes were insufficient to defray the interest of the public debt. The hon. gent, had fallen into this mistake from his confounding the produce of the Permanent Taxes, and the Consolidated Funds.—The difference between the permanent charges, and the produce of the permanent taxes, was what was usually voted as the surplus of the consolidated fund, being an excess of produce above the charges. He need not, therefore, inform the Committee, that not only the interest of the public debt, and other permanent eharges were defrayed out of the permanent taxes, but many other items of expenditure connected with the various branches of the public service were charged upon the surplus of the consolidated fund. The permanent public charge was thirty-three millions. The supply to defray that charge amounted to thirty-seven millions. This statement could admit of no dispute, as it was proved by the returns on their table, and therefore it was impossible for the hon. gent. to say that the permanent taxes fell short of the annual expenditure. He did not deny that the produce of the revenue this year fell short of that of last year by about 300,000l. but this was owing to the peculiar circumstances of the war; some falling, too, was to be expected this year, when compared with a year of great abundance, and could not possibly be such a cause of despondency as the hon. gent.'s statements went to make it. Mr. Huskisson then went into a detail of his financial operations of last year in mortgaging one million of the duties on malt and sugar to pay off Exchequer bills; instead of allowing it to go as usual to the consolidated fund. By this means there was an apparent defalcation in the present year to that amount, which did not exist in reality, as would be found in the re- ceipt of the revenue for the year 1810. With regard to the Convoy duty, that must necessarily cease on the re-establishment of peace; but it did not follow that a considerable part of what was now raised under the head of Convoy duty might not then be continued under the denomination of Customs. There was no reason, then, for the despondency manifested by the hon. gentlemen, but this he did not state in opposition to the proposition that economy was desirable; while the burdens continued to be so great as they were, in his opinion, the house required no other incitement to alleviate them by every means in their power.

Mr. Martin

, in explanation, stated, that he quoted from the returns laid before the house as to the funds to be relied upon in the event of peace. There was at least one part of the war taxes, namely, the Convoy duty, which must inevitably cease.

Lord Folkestone

considered that a fallacy had run through the whole of the statement made by the hon. gent. (Mr. Huskisson) as in his calculations he had not stated the produce of new taxes laid on in 1808 to the amount of 1,700,000l. The noble lord was going on to point out this supposed inaccuracy, when

Mr. Huskisson

rose and corrected his misconception of the matter. He shewed, that what the noble lord intended to consider as new taxes, were only a new arrangement of the assessed taxes already in existence.

Mr. Tierney

said, he did not expect the debate would have taken the turn which it appeared to have done. He thought, however, his hon. friend who brought forward these Resolutions, had acted very right in drawing the attention of the house to economy. As, however, the hon. gent. who had just sat down had gone into figures on the occasion, he would beg leave to state a few similar facts from a paper he happened accidentally to have in his pocket, but which he never had an idea till that moment of mentioning on the present occasion. He calculated that, upon the arrival of peace, if it were to take place to-morrow, the amount of the public expenditure for the support of the army, navy, and miscellaneous charges, would, at least, be equal to 48 millions, to which add the interest upon exchequer bills, which would make it exceed 49 millions, and he would ask, how was this sum to be provided? The whole of the revenue, applicable to a peace establishment, he estimated at about 38,500,000l., and the deficit must, of course, be supplied either by new taxes, or by loans. According to his estimate the deficit would exceed 11 millions, but even according to the statement of his hon. friend, it would amount to more than 8 millions. This deficit would be to be met either by continuing the war taxes, or by a loan, or by raising new taxes; unless recourse were had to the Property Tax. Even suppose the other war taxes to be made perpetual, there must be a deficit of many millions, which must, if peace were to take place to-morrow, be provided for; and we must either make the property-tax perpetual, to the amount of live per cent, on income, or else have recourse to a loan. This statement he made with a view to demonstrate the propriety of attending to the principle of his hon. friend's Resolution.

Lord Milton

thought that the discussion was taking a turn entirely foreign from the subject of the Third Report upon Offices, and therefore suggested the propriety of proceeding to the matter in question. There would be no end to the debate, were the finances of the country to be made the subject, when the question was simply as to the necessity of economy.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

coincided in opinion with the noble lord, vet thought it but fair to say that his hon. friend (Mr. Huskisson) had not introduced the subject originally, but had only risen to correct the misstatements which had been made on the other side. As the hon. gent. (Mr. Martin) had declared his preference for his (Mr. Perceval's) first Resolution in opposition to his own, he could wish that instead of putting the committee to the necessity of previously negativing that Reselution, he would withdraw it, and suffer the other to be put in its stead. With respect to what the hon. gent, had said about comparing and contrasting the two strings of Resolutions seriatim, he could scarcely suppose that necessary, as his Resolutions were merely a new arrangement of those of the hon. gent.

Mr. Martin

withdrew his first Resolution, and that proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer was put from the chair and agreed to. The following was the Resolution: "That the utmost attention to economy in all the branches of Public Expenditure which is consistent with the interests of the Public Service, is at all times the duty of this House."

Mr. Rose

requested the attention of the committee to some observations he had to submit to their consideration. Great pains, he said, had lately been taken out of doors to make it be believed that no attention had hitherto been paid to the retrenchment of the expenditure of the public money. He begged, however, to shew that the contrary was the case.