HC Deb 28 January 1818 vol 37 cc81-5
Mr. Wodehouse

brought up the report of the Address. On the motion, that it be agreed to,

Lord Milton

said, there was one part of the Speech from the throne, which he had heard with the most unfeigned satisfaction; he alluded to the recommendation to erect a greater number of places of public worship. No person could reside even for a short time in the metropolis, without witnessing the lamentable deficiency of churches. Before an application was made to the public purse for the sum requisite for the erection of additional churches, it might be proper to inquire into the state of the property of the church, to see whether means might not be devised for making some part of it available for such a purpose. He did not mean to say, however, that if it should be found, on inquiry, there was no church property that could be made applicable, he would not consent to any additional burdens for that purpose. There was one point which ought to be particularly attended to in the erection of the churches. The greatest attention ought to be paid to the accommodation of the lower orders. There was hardly a parish church in the kingdom, in which I great encroachments had not been made by persons of wealth on that part of the church which was the property of the population of the parish. They ought to guard as much as possible against the recurrence of what he considered a very great evil—the enclosure of pews from the body of the church. He had thrown out these few hints, being deeply impressed with the importance of the subject.

Mr. Curwen

said:—Deference to the feelings of the House induced me to refrain from making any observations on the Speech from the throne on a former night. The premature death of her royal highness the Princess Charlotte, whose early career was marked with such splendid virtues, has been felt by all ranks and classes as a great national misfortune. If it were possible to impute a want of respect to her memory by any thing I may now feel it my duty to offer on other parts of the address, I should be silent. Painful as it is to combat statements, which it must be the wish of all were well-founded, I cannot be a party to the exaggerated representations of the nourishing and prosperous state of the country and its finances. I have not to learn the unwillingness of mankind to listen to truths that are opposite to their wishes. I may be accused of despondency, and a design to undervalue and misrepresent the state and resources of the empire; I prefer the risk of such imputations to being silent when my duty calls me to warn the country from placing reliance on statements so opposite to the truth. My fears are not that the country is not able to extricate itself from its embarrassments if they are fairly and honestly met; my dread is, that the delusion may be kept up till the moment is gone by, and national bankruptcy becomes inevitable.—The Speech from the throne, though known to be no more than a general detail of the plans of ministers, is confounded by those at a distance, and supposed to bear the weight and authority of royalty—giving it a consequence to which it is not entitled. By impeaching its correctness I am guilty of no disrespect: if blame be imputable, it attaches solely to ministers. It may be asked, what end can such statements answer? On the prosperous state of the country alone can the enormous military establishment be defended; this affords an answer to those who call for retrenchment. Will the bare statement, which the fact but too lamentably contradicts, lull the country into a false supineness? will they become the willing dupes to their own inevitable ruin? or will they awake to a proper sense of the danger that menaces them? Nothing can impede our progress to ruin but a strong and imperious expression of public opinion. To produce retrenchment adequate to the necessities of the country the people must, from one end of the empire to the other, demand them from us. The unanimous voice of the people extinguished the income tax. Let them speak with equal energy, and ministers will no longer cling to the hopes of renewing it, as a means of supporting the present ruinous expenditure. If, happily, the country should become fully sensible of its situation, no one can doubt what would be the result. It is the self-delusion that prevents the people doing justice to themselves and their posterity.—The information of ministers must be allowed to be more ample than any individual can pretend to. This, in my mind, enhances their guilt, if misrepresentation can, in any considerable point, be imputed to them. That the state of the country is improved no one will deny; but that it has reached, much less exceeded, what might have been expected, with a reference to antecedent periods, I do positively deny. How are we to reconcile the boasted and flourishing state of our manufactories with a fact for the truth of which I appeal to the chancellor of the exchequer? Has he not recently had a deputation of the most respectable manufacturers of Lancashire representing the precarious state of the printing trade, and their fears of the total loss of the foreign market, if they are not relieved from the export duty? the amount of which I understand to be about 300,000l., and the cost of collection nearly 30,000l. This branch of trade, though in a considerable state of activity, must be considered as dependent on the will of the right hon. gentleman. That he may listen to the prayers of the manufacturers I sincerely hope. That what has been alleged is the real state of the trade is borne out by the united testimony of thousands. I appeal to the rate of wages at which the manufacturers are working;—10s. for twelve hours work for the six days in the week! In many instances, rather than have any fresh hands, they work sixteen hours a day for an addition of two shillings a week. I am too well acquainted with the generosity, humanity, and justice of the gentlemen engaged in this branch of trade to believe they would remunerate their workmen with such inadequate wages if the profits of the trade would permit them to do otherwise. It is necessity, not will, that compels them to pay their men so inadequately in comparison with the necessaries of life. The gratitude and thankfulness of the workmen is a strong and undeniable proof of their opinion of the profits of the trade. I trust this will have its due weight with the chancellor of the exchequer in attending to the interests of so large and respectable a body. The meritorious conduct of manufacturers entitle them to every consideration.—The state of the agriculture of the country is undoubtedly considerably improved. This is in some degree owing to what is greatly to be regretted—defective crops. I am rather disposed to lament than to rejoice at the advanced price of the necessaries of life; which have now risen as much above as they were below what they ought to have been. That it has called more hands into activity is not to be disputed. But are there not thousands and thousands of artificers and labourers who cannot obtain a day's work; suffering, with unexampled fortitude and patience, most cruel privations? In this boasted state of the country how stand the poor-rates? will they not be higher in this year than they were in the last? It is my belief they will. From whence, then, has arisen this improved state of our finances? Here, indeed, ministers seem disposed to forego the claims to merit to which they might justly pretend. In compliance with their unceasing mandates, every expedient has been resorted to for the purpose of screwing up the assessed taxes. Every thing which industry and espionage could do, has been done. These failing, whole districts have been surcharged, in order to take the chance of fastening some burden on some of the individuals. The personal inconvenience, expense, and trouble to the parties, have been totally disregarded. Appeals have multiplied to such a degree, that treble the time has been occupied in hearing and deciding them than heretofore; and, if I am rightly informed, weeks will be occupied in this metropolis and other great towns. Is this no hardship to the country? Is this a feature of prosperity? or is such conduct calculated to augment the affection and loyalty of the people? Is there a village in the kingdom that has not felt and complained of this hardship? I would then ask, is it likely to answer the expectations of ministers? After every oppressive expedient has been practised, will it materially augment the amount of the assessed taxes?—I doubt it much. As you augment the tax individuals defeat it by a sacrifice both of comforts and luxuries. How many windows have been and are now blocking up; by which the health of the parties are endangered. The fair inference to be drawn from this attempt to advance taxation is, that you have carried it to that point when you can force nothing more from the pockets of the people. If it operates this conviction on his majesty's ministers, it may prevent farther evils. Taxation is the cause that has paralyzed the industry of the country. If such be the state of Great Britain, how stands it with Ireland? Not many days will probably elapse before the sad and deplorable state of that country will be brought under the consideration of the House. It becomes not me to treat on a subject that will come with so much greater force from others. The House will not long be left in doubt of the inability of Ireland to pay her quota of taxation. Was the expendi- ture in Ireland last year less than twelve millions, whilst the total amount of taxation was under six? The chancellor of the exchequer shakes his head. Heartily do I wish he may be able to confute this statement. How then, Sir, stands our own resources? Did the whole amount of taxes reach within eight millions of the expenditure. The unfunded debt I do not take into the account: this at some time or other will be to be funded: supposing it eight millions, there will be an addition of between two and three millions to the interest of the national debt. If the sinking fund is to be considered as any thing more than borrowing with one hand and paying with the Other, and thereby entailing an additional expense on the country, thirteen millions and a half must be added—making a total deficiency of little short of thirty millions! How does this agree with the flourishing state of the empire as declared from the throne? If I am wrong, it is from the right hon. gentleman's figures I have drawn my information. Is there any man in the kingdom, unconnected with ministerial influence, who will maintain that the present expenditure can be continued without ruin? Vain and delusive is the hope of bolstering up the national credit by fresh taxation.—Retrenchment is the only resource, and past experience shows that it is the last thing ministers will resort to. Short lived will be our prosperity, if the expenditure be not speedily cut down to meet our income! Instead of grasping at augmented burthens, if the happiness and prosperity of the country be what this House has honestly at heart, the people must be exonerated from some of those taxes which bear hardest upon its industry. This language may be unpalatable to many ears—but it is not therefore less true. Whatever odium may attend the speaking plain truths, there is one consolation—I have discharged a very painful duty to the country and my constituents.

The Address was then agreed to.