HC Deb 26 January 1819 vol 39 cc111-5
The Chancellor of the Exchequer

having moved the order of the day for the house resolving itself into a Committee of Supply,

Sir Robert Wilson

rose, and addressed the house nearly as follows:—An imperative sense of duty could alone prevail over a variety of personal considerations, and those feelings which a new member must suffer from, who presumes to address, for the first time, a house so replete with talent. I must, therefore, throw myself on the favour of the house, and trust it will extend that indulgence to me which it has so kindly granted to others whose abilities stood so much less in need of it.—I am afraid that I shall not obtain the approbation of many of my own friends, and certainly shall incur the severe animadversion of those who, knowing the state of public credit and the dangers of our paper system, still seek to protract the evil day till they may be beyond the reach of its consequences—a conduct the more criminal, as they know the catastrophe must be augmented by the protraction.—I do not, Sir, pretend to discuss the subject of finance, as a professor of arithmetic—I am little versed in that branch of mathematics; nor do I presume to be a political economist—I have read, like most members of the house, many of the best writers on that subject, and particularly the work of a member of this house, which is stated to be, by competent judges, the most intelligent that has appeared; but, Sir, my studies have been chiefly directed to those statistical tables which represent real life—to the books of the poor-rates, lists of bankrupts, offenders, debtors, original population, and generally to that aggregate catalogue of distress, crime, and discontent which pervades this country, notwithstanding this house has been assured by ministers, that the country was enjoying "a repose of calm and peaceful joy and gladness," language which must be felt by the community to be the language of mockery. Those studies have assured me, that the people can no longer pay the taxes imposed on them for the current expenses of our establishments, and the interest of that 800,000 millions of debt which has been well said elsewhere, represented property we once had, not property we now possess: That they cannot pay that interest for which their industry has been mortgaged, and not only their industry, but that of their children's children, to the latest period of this country's existence under the present system,—a mortgage so severe, that every thirty years, above 1,300 millions must be raised from the people, without reducing the original debt one single shilling. I know it will be said, that much of that money, will return to the country, and revolve so as to afford employment and subsistence to the labourer; and so it will; bat there is a great difference between the income which flows direct from original sources through natural channels, and that which passes through the absorbing strainers of government. There are some who will say, that if the taxes be reduced, wages will fall in proportion; but our own history, and what is passing before our eyes in France and America, show that the condition of the people is improved in the proportion that taxes are lightened, and fiscal laws do not interfere with the settlement of natural prices. In one case, the body politic presents a cheerful healthy appearance, full of all the energies of life; in the other, a body weak and emaciated, with diseased and swoln limbs. Adam Smith has said, that a country was poor or rich, as the community enjoyed amusements, comforts, and the necessaries of life. How poor then must be this country, where the poor cannot, by their industry, command even subsistence, as is proved by the eight millions of annual poor-rates levied for their additional support. Another writer, who has illuminated the obscurity of the Middle Ages, by the lights of philosophy and truth, and conferred honour on the present by the spirit of freedom and benevolence which is diffused through his work, acknowledges that he is obliged to draw the painful conclusion of the actual poor being in a deteriorated condition. He ascribes partly this deterioration to an increase of population, and a disproportionate increase of the fruits of the earth; but many pretend that agriculture and population have kept due proportions, and that at all events, the effect could be but partial. Another writer, whom I have no right to panegyrize, has indeed been the true prophet. He has seen years ago through a finance telescope events which were not anticipated by others. My own conviction, then, is, that the present ministers have brought the country into that state, as not to make it an object, whether the Bank can pay or not in cash the notes which it has issued on its own account, but how the insolvency of the country can best be met without ruin to every capitalist, and danger to all the existing institutions of the country. My own belief is, that all capitalists of every description must consent to great sacrifices; but God forbid these sacrifices should be made whilst those men were administering our affairs, who brought this country into this state of calamity! Who but a madman or an idiot would pay the debts of a professed gambler or spendthrift, to prevent further embarrassment? Why, if these ministers could make more loans in consequence of re-established public credit, the whole system of profligate expenditure would be revived. We should see an armament sent to America, not to redress presumed outrages against justice, but to extirpate republican establishments,—another sent to India, not to take a single rood of ground in a country where we never showed a spirit of aggrandizement, usurpation, or avarice, but to subdue all independent states, collect all revenues, and occupy all territory between the Indus and the Caspian;—another army would be sent to France to teach a moral lesson to the French ministers for baffling the plans and rejecting the catechism of the holy alliance; and if Europe, Asia, Africa, and America did not provide employment enough for our men and money, our enterprising navigators might then have discovered some territories in the Polar Basin to be manured with our blood and treasure. But even if those honourable friends of mine were in office, who gave the splendid example of resigning place and emolument, rather than abandon or coquette with a measure of great vital interest; who, had they remained in office, would have saved the country from many annual millions of taxes, for which military glory is but a sorry compensation; for what nation, civilized or barbarous, has not had that day of glory? and which carried to excess has not been ruined by it? If those men were in office, who would have saved the country from unconstitutional alien bills lawlessly enforced, from infamous suspension bills, and no less infamous indemnity bills, from spies and informers, and the disgrace of having them eulogized in this house and acknowledged as associated partners of the government;—who, in short, would have saved it from all the acts which ministers have criminally done, and criminally left undone—not even to these hon. gentlemen would I give, or rather leave, the power of mortgaging the people's industry, by making previously great sacrifices, to restore public credit. These sacrifices should only be made when there was the security of a reformed parliament; a parliament, the duration of which should not exceed the duration of that terra prescribed by the Revolution of 1688—a parliament reconstructed by a national extension of the elective franchise; which should not present the serio-comic scene which was exhibited in this House, when the members of a certain county were summoned to the table—which should restore to Scotland the rights and advantages of the representative system, and by diminution of election expenses and other regulations, should, in the fair legal sense of the term, be a full and free representation of the people. I shall, however, vote for the proposed motion of my right hon. friend, when it is brought forward; for I think inquiry is useful, and that the public not only expects it, but have a right to demand it. I also wish as early as possible to see a remedy applied to that paper system which impoverishes the people, generates crime, and is to be as it appears maintained by pernicious examples of sanguinary punishment, notwithstanding the adverse feeling of the nation; and in which feeling I must affirm, after the letter read in this house the first clay of the session, the regent himself participated. I shall however not oppose the supplies; I have no wish to embarrass his majesty's government by that measure. I only hope some member better qualified will take up the subject I have brought to the notice of the house.

Lord Glerawley

said, he did not rise to quarrel with the hon. knight for the expression of his political sentiments, though he must dissent from his statement of what he called facts. The hon. knight asserted, the amount of the national debt to be eight hundred millions. In making this calculation he seemed entirely to have forgotten, that the redeemed part had reduced the debt to five or sis hundred millions. The hon. member wished most unfairly to throw an odium and a burthen on government which they had no right to be called upon to bear. How was it possible for them to avoid the expenditure which was complained of, when they were imperatively called upon to make those great exertions, which had ultimately established the glory of the country and the peace of the world? Had the income tax been continued a few years longer, the embarrassments now so loudly declaimed against, would have been by this time put upon a different footing.

The house then resolved itself into a Committee of Supply.