HC Deb 22 December 1819 vol 41 cc1449-59
Mr. Maberly

, after he had moved for sundry accounts relative to the revenue, which were ordered, next moved "That there be laid before this House, an account showing how the sum of five millions, voted for the purpose of paying off debt due to the Bank of England on the 5th July 1819, has been applied, distinguishing the dates of the different payments."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the hon. gentleman had framed a series of motions calculated to produce a view of the state of the consolidated fund, and also to bring before the House an account of the progress made in the repayment of the advances of the Bank, in consequence of the measures adopted last year for a resumption of cash payments by the Bank. With regard to the first object, he had no objection to bring it in the clearest manner, and to the latest date, before the House. The justice of incredulity, as to the expectations he had held out, would be seen by the result. Rumours and surmises of every kind had been in circulation on the subject. The House was well aware that there had been a considerable falling off in the quarter ending the 10th of October last, as compared with the same quarter in the preceding year. The chief deficiency, which had occurred in the customs, amounted to above 916,587l The deficiency of the stamps was 96,728l.; and in the excise, 192,117l. There was, however, an increase in the Post-office, and on some other branches of taxes; but the difference between the deficiency and the increase, made a total deficiency of 1,151,556l. in the quarter ending the 10th, October, 1819, compared with the same quarter in 1818. The House would observe that the 916,000l. of the customs constituted a great portion of this decrease. Various circumstances might be referred to in accounting for this large deficiency of the revenue; but he should mention only two, which would of themselves be found sufficient to explain the difference between the two quarters. The first was, the time at which the new taxes began to operate. It was perfectly natural that persons who were apprehensive of an increase of duties on their stock, should have endeavoured to pay before the 5th of July last. This had caused a deficiency in the October quarter equal to all the payments that would otherwise have been made in it. The other circumstance was, that a considerable stagnation had taken place in the course of the year in our foreign trade. The export trade had, in the period referred to, diminished to the amount of 7,000,000l., and there was consequently a corresponding diminution in the export duties. But he was happy to say, that notwithstanding this falling off in the customs, there was no appearance of any material defalcation in the internal consumption of the country. The excise furnished a much better criterion of judging than the customs. It was, indeed, the best criterion of the actual state of the country, and might be referred to as the test of its prosperity. He should, therefore, endeavour to show what had been the state of several articles which came under the excise during the year ending the 10th October 1819; and that of the same articles on an average of three years, ending the 10th October 1818. The quantity of tea which had been charged with the duty, on an average of these three years, was 21,600,000 1b. The quantity which paid duty during the year ending the 10th October 1819, was 22,740,0001b. The quantity of tobacco on the average of three years was 17,590,000 1b.; the quantity last year 17,755,000 lb. The account of the quantity of malt on which the duty had been charged was not yet made up. The amount of British and Irish spirits was for the average years 5,092,000 gallons; for the last year 5,190,000, being an increase of 100,000 gallons. With regard to wine, he should include all descriptions. The average of the three years was 3,455,000 gallons; the amount of the last year 3,670,000 gallons. The right hon. gentleman then proceeded to make similar comparisons of the quantities of foreign spirits, leather, and other excisable articles on which there had been an increase. The comparison he had made, and the great general increase of the excise duties on the whole year, afforded a very favourable prospect, not only with respect to the revenue, but the general prosperity of the country. It proved that in whatever degree local distress might exist, it had by no means been so great as to affect the general consumption of the country. The decrease was only in the customs; and though the deficiency for the whole year in that branch had been considerable, it was not general with regard to every article. In some an increase had taken place, and this was the case with respect to printed calicoes, to the amount of 60,000l. He now came to the current period, of which no complete account had as yet been made up; but he was happy to inform the House, that the produce of both the customs and excise had greatly improved since the 10th of October last. It appeared, that the produce for the current quarter would be nearly equal to that of any year he remembered, though there was the sum of 150,000l. short on the general account up to Saturday last. He now felt himself called upon to explain the ground upon which he opposed the hon. gentleman's motion. It had always been held as a principle, that parliament should not inquire into any diplomatic transaction while negotiations were pending. He thought that this rule of the House ought to be extended to transactions of a pecuniary nature, and that they should refuse to inquire into them until they were completed, unless where some specific ground of charge was laid. In addition to this, such an inquiry would open a wide field for the operations of stock-jobbing. He thought it best, therefore, to confine what he should say on this subject to a very general observation. He had no objection to inform the hon. gentleman, that a large sum had already been paid to the Bank, and that means were taken for the Full payment of the 5,000,000l. in question. Funds were provided and would be applied to that purpose. As, then, no ground had been laid for inquiry, it would be better to refuse a motion which had that tendency. The objection which he had made to the present motion, applied also in some measure to another which the hon. gentleman intended to bring forward. He meant that which called for an account of the money in the exchequer. No ground had been laid for such a disclosure, and he thought that every man must be aware that the practice was to keep the money in the exchequer as low as possible, on account of the interest. With respect to the object of another motion, he could inform the hon. gentleman that no advance had, been made on the malt-tax. With respect, to the alarm created by reports of the transfer of British property to France, it might be true, that property had been so transferred, but he believed it could be only to a small extent. That no considerable sums had yet been transferred to the French funds, appeared from the state of the exchange; and there were circumstances which led him to conclude, that no very large sums were likely to be so invested. Looking at the exchange, that index of the state of money transactions, he concluded that the late remittances to France did not much exceed the average of late years. Besides, there were circumstances in the state of the French laws, which would always operate powerfully against such transfers. A person who invested property in the French funds was deprived of the power of disposing of it by will according to his pleasure; for by the law of the country, all real and personal property became liable to be equally divided among his children. This law rendered any testamentary disposition nugatory. [Mr. Brougham asked across the table, whether the right hon. gentleman meant that real and personal property were equally subject to this law.] For the truth of what he had stated he referred to the book published by M. Cottu, a French lawyer, who had lately visited this country for the purpose of inquiring into the state of British jurisprudence. Gentlemen would there find an examination of the laws of succession in France and England, and the preference given to the latter on account of the author's objection to the equal division of property in his own country. A Mr. Bristed, who had given an account of the state of America, had spoken in a similar manner of the disadvantage arising from the abolition of the law of primogeniture in the United States. Thus, two authors from opposite parts of the world concurred in preferring the British system of succession to every other. The pre-eminence which Virginia had maintained in the union of the American States Mr. Bristed chiefly attributed to the circumstance of that state having preserved the English law of primogeniture. He certainly was not disposed to reject the compliments which these writers had paid to the long established law of this country. He should only add, that from the state of the law in France, if money was transferred there, the owner, if he did not wish it to be equally divided among his children, must take care to dispose of it during his life, for a testamentary disposition would be of no use.

Mr. Ellice

was surprised that the right hon. gentleman had assigned no better reasons for refusing the motion of his hon. friend. The statements he had made by no means bore him out in his conclusions. In making his comparative statement on an average of three years, ending the 10th of October 1818, compared with the year ending 10th October, 1819, he had forgotten that the distress of the country had not acquired its greatest influence, until within the last six months. Its Operation on the revenue began, therefore, to be felt more particularly in the quarter ending on the 10th of October last. Besides, the year 1817, one of the three which the right hon. gentleman had included in his average, was one of the worst which had occurred, and therefore contributed to render the average unfair. To attribute the great defalcation of the last quarter to the payments made in the preceding, was not consistent with the view the right hon. gentleman had taken of the increase in the quantity of articles charged with duties, and the undiminished consumption of the country. He had stated that all the great exciseable articles remained unreduced. In answer to this he must say, that he was afraid the reduction of the revenue was only began. He had seen a good deal of the distress of the country, and knew it to be in a melancholy state. The right hon. gentleman had made statements to show, that the consumption of tea, spirits, and wines, was not diminished. It was probable that there might be some increase on wine, in consequence of the right hon. gentleman having included Cape and every sort of wine in his calculation. With regard to tea, a comparative statement of the quantity paying duty was fallacious, as the duty was ad valorem. He knew, from a person well informed on the subject, that the duty on high-priced tea had fallen off; the increase in quantity must therefore have taken place in the coarser kinds of tea. There was a deficiency on the September sales to the amount of 199,000l., and on the present sales it would be 350,000l.: so that there would be altogether about half a million of deficiency on that single article. The right hon. gentleman had referred to the practice of the House in refraining from inquiring into pending diplomatic negotiations, and had argued that the same rule ought to be observed in pecuniary affairs. He doubted the soundness of this reasoning. Existing negotiations were not inquired into because it was supposed possible that something might be disclosed which would give offence to the party treated with, and perhaps widen the breach. The analogy which the right hon. gentleman wished to establish would indeed be well founded, if he and the party with whom he was treating were not on good terms. If there were a want of harmony between the government and the bank, the objection of the right hon. gentleman to the motion would be reasonable. He had been very anxious last year to obtain an account of the state of the consolidated fund, and of the arrangements made for paying the bank; and from what had been stated respecting the sum of 1,200,000l. paid within the last month, that anxiety was much increased. Very extraordinary rumours were afloat respecting the manner in which that 1,200,000l. had been raised. The reports of the means which had been resorted to were certainly not creditable to the government, and he did not believe them. It had been among other things stated, that arrangements had been made for procuring assistance from abroad, and that those securities in the French funds to which government was entitled by the late treaty, were pawned to individuals to raise this money. This he could not credit. There was another point of great alarm. It had been stated that only a small portion of the new taxes would be applicable to the consolidated fund. That was saying, that three millions were still to be drawn out of the pockets of the people; and a greater sum still must be drawn from their pockets to pay the Bank. The right hon. gentleman among his reasons for refusing the account asked for, said, that it would open a field for stock-jobbing. Now, he would ask the right hon. gentleman whether the latter part of his own argument had not in it some tincture of stock-jobbing? The object was, to describe the difficulties to which persons transferring money to the French funds would be liable, by which the right hon. gentleman, no doubt, hoped to produce a favourable effect on our own. This was certainly a very laudable wish, but still the purpose was stock-jobbing. He doubted, however, the accuracy of the account given of the effect of the French law on funded property. He recollected, that about a year ago an alarm prevailed respecting the effect of the French law on the property of foreigners in their funds, and that a circular letter was published to remove the impression. If money were deposited in a banker's hands in France, he believed that banker could not say that he would withhold it from the executors of the person in this country who had deposited it, because the law required that it should be equally divided among the children. The executors, as in this country, he supposed, would be entitled to recover the money and pay debts. The law with respect to funded property, he imagined, would be the same as with respect to money lodged with a banker.

Mr. Lushington

said, that the consumption of tea had been considerably increased during the last year. It was certainly greater last quarter than during the corresponding quarter of last year: and if hon. gentlemen would look at the several quarters as compared with those of the two last years, they would still have reason to consider the revenue generally as improved. He thought it more fair and proper to take an average of two or three years, in these cases, than to refer only to a particular period. In regard to the produce of the new taxes, hon. gentlemen seemed to think that they ought to have brought more into the exchequer: they imagined that the gross sum of 3,190,000l. should come into it week by week, and month after month, in certain regular proportions. But if those gentlemen would have the goodness to refer to the papers before the House, they would find it was impossible that the taxes submitted to the House last session could be realized more quickly. This was owing to the long credit which it was necessary to allow to retail dealers, traders, and other venders of the articles taxed. In the article of malt, which was to produce 1,500,000l., not a particle of that sum could be procured till January. He trusted, therefore, that the hon. gentleman would perceive how fallacious any calculation must be, founded on an expectation that government was to receive about 800,000l. every quarter, of these taxes. To convince him of this, he would state, that of the duties last mentioned, they had received 160,000l. up to the 10th of Oct. last, which was all they could reasonably have expected in that time.

Mr. Grenfell

considered this question as involving in it, in some measure, the discussion of the measures taken by the House for the resumption of cash-payments on the part of the Bank. It was on that occasion suggested, that some regulations should be imposed upon govern- ment as to the periods in which they should repay the 5,000,000l. to the Bank. He could not forget that he had had the honour of being an ally of the right hon. gentleman in the discussions which then took place; and he could not help considering, that it would be most unwise, and unnecessary, for them now to interfere with respect to the repayment of those 5,000,000l. As to whether the whole of those repayments should be completed between the months of July last and April next, it appeared, that the repayment of a sum of 1,200,000l. had actually taken place, with which he was well satisfied; and that being the case, he should vote against the motion.

Mr. Ricardo

said, it appeared to him that the House would act very unwisely by interfering as to the arrangements entered into by government for the repayment of the 5,000,000l. of advances to the Bank. At the same time he was at a loss to conceive what danger could arise from giving any information upon the subject. It had been objected, that the production of that information would lead to extensive stock-jobbing. He thought it would have just the contrary effect; for stock-jobbing was always best assisted by secrecy—by the circumstance of some individuals possessing certain information, which the other parties, with whom they transacted their bargains, were ignorant of. Now, supposing the statement required were made known, no jobbing could take place; because every one would then know all that had occurred, as to the repayments. With regard to what had fallen from the chancellor of the exchequer, that the state of the exchanges afforded a means of knowing what capital was going out of the country, he thought very differently. Supposing he wished to invest a sum of 50,000l. in France, or any other country; might he not order his correspondent to invest the produce of the goods he had sent out (50,000l. for instance) in the public funds, or in other goods, or in lands? No alteration could take place in the exchanges, unless there was a bill negociated. The official accounts annually laid before the House, relative to our exports and imports, were such, that it was impossible to draw any correct or practical inference from them. He remembered to have heard it stated, that at the time of the union with Ireland, each of the two countries gave a relative and comparative statement of her exports and imports; when Ireland made out that she had exported the larger quantity of commodities to England, and England appeared to have exported the larger quantity to Ireland. No correct information, therefore, could be derived from such returns. He should vote for the motion of his hon. friend.

Mr. Kinnaird

believed that one of the greatest evils which lessened the confidence of the public in the resources of the country, and which gave rise to all those rumours that could not surely be of advantage to it was, the ignorance in which the public were kept with respect to the intentions of the chancellor of the exchequer. As to the manner in which the right hon. gentleman was to repay 5,000,000l. to the Bank, he was confident that the reports which had been circulated relative to that simple fact, had done more injury to the funds than any thing else, and had more encouraged stock-jobbing, against which he would ever set his face. He should vote for the motion of his hon. friend.

Mr. Maberly

begged to ask the right hon. gentleman, whether he did not consider this as a matter of finance? Whether the principle, upon which the act of parliament directed the repayment of 5,000,000l. to the Bank, was or was not conceived with a view to lessen the unfunded debt of the county, and to enable the Bank the better to pay in specie? Parliament had made provision for the repayment of one debt of 5,000,000l., only 1,000,000l. of which had been paid; and they had borrowed, in addition, other 5,000,000l. Was this a subject for inquiry or not? By borrowing 5,000,000l. upon the consolidated fund, they had, in fact, increased the debt by 1,000,000l., instead of decreasing it by 5,000,000l. The right hon. gentleman had stated, that the customs were deficient, in the quarter from July up to the 10th of October, upwards of 900,000l. The right hon. gentleman told them that they must not look at the exports and imports, but at the exports. The right hon. gentleman begged them to look at the great article of tea, and to observe the number of pounds sold. But he seemed to forget that the increased consumption of this article furnished no test of the improvement of the revenue, as the duty upon it was an ad valorem duty, and thus, following the original price, might decrease in aggregate amount with an increase of consumption. The right hon. gentleman well knew, that in the ensuing year he must look for a defalcation of 1,000,000l. in the duties on that article. Let him look to facts. Was it not known to him that the distillers did not begin to work till much later than usual this year, and that this year the brewers had brewed 100,000 barrels of beer less than they did during the last? All the great articles of excise had declined. He did not for this blame the right hon. gentleman, because he could not force a demand from customers on the continent. Certainly his majesty's ministers could not therefore be blamed: nor was it to be expected that they were to furnish people with money for the purchase of tea, tobacco, and other articles. But what the right hon. gentleman was to be blamed for was this—that he made his calculations too sanguinely, and then had to justify them; and accordingly, on a former occasion, he was more sanguine in those calculations than the committee appointed to inquire into the same subject. This was, he feared, certain—that if there was this difference between the quarters, it must go on. The right hon. gentleman could not expect to raise the same taxes out of a reduced which he had received from a large expenditure.

The motion was negatived.

Mr. Maberly

then moved for "an account of all Exchequer Bills received in payment of duties between the 1st of July and the 21st of December, 1819." The Chancellor of the Exchequer moved, by way of amendment, the insertion of the words, "10th of October," in the place of "21st of December." After a short conversation, the House divided on the motion that the "21st of December" stand part of the question: Ayes; 30; Noes, 90. The main question, as amended, was then agreed to.