HC Deb 09 February 1821 vol 4 cc563-74

The House having resolved itself into a Committee of Ways and Means,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that he had only one alteration to propose. In the year 1816, several excise duties which had been granted during the war, were continued for a term of five years and, would expire in July, 1821; and his object was, to renew these duties for one year. The duty he proposed to continue thus from year to year was that on foreign spirits, which would have the effect of raising this branch of the annual revenue from 3,000,000l. to 4,000,000l. His reason for proposing this annual continuation of the duty on foreign spirits, was, that the subject being thus brought from time to time under the consideration of parliament, they would be able to perceive the result of the measures taken to prevent smuggling. It appeared, that the consumption of foreign spirits had increased during the last two years; and whatever gentlemen might know respecting the extent to which smuggling was carried on, they had this proof, that it had not increased during that time. Under these circumstances, he had no farther explanation to offer at present, except to propose that the House would allow 5,000,000l. voted on the aids of 1820, to be applied to the service of the year 1821, the effect of which was merely to allow the treasury to apply the produce of the taxes of one year either to the service of that or the succeeding year, as might appear most beneficial to the interests of the country. He concluded by moving a resolution for the continuation of the duty of 1s. per bushel on malt, imposed by an act of last session until the 5th July, 1821.

Mr. Creevey

said, he had come down to the House with the intention of opposing any supply, had it been proposed by the right Hon. gentleman. He had not opposed the Speaker's leaving the chair, because he did not suspect that any vote of public money was intended; but seeing now the drift of the right hon. gentleman's resolution, he should propose, as an amendment to it, that the chairman report progress, and ask leave to sit again. The House would recollect the grievances which had been stated last night from all quarters of the country, particularly from the great and formerly flourishing town of Birmingham. In the conversation which that petition had produced, opinions had been elicited which had never before been heard in that House. A most honourable and respectable country gentleman had proposed to deprive the fundholder of part of his rights, calling him "a devouring monster of consumption." Another hon. friend of his had hailed with joy this attack on the fundholder, and had expressed his anxiety to be at it. The chancellor of the exchequer might laugh at this, but what would Mr. Pitt have said, if he had heard such opinions respecting the propriety of setting one part of the community at war with another? Every gentleman who spoke last night on this subject had pressed on the House the necessity of retrenchment, but nothing in the way of relief was even hinted at by government—they heard no plan for the amelioration of distress—night after night they had before them the old story of committees of supply and ways and means; but they heard not one word about reform—not one word upon the necessity of retrenchment. Under such circumstances, he would not consent to grant a single farthing of the public money—he would divide the House upon every vote of supply, until he had some distinct pledge from those who took upon them to manage the affairs of the country, until some plan of practical reform should be submitted to that House, He would call upon the landholder and the fund-holder to unite, to unite against monsters—the monsters were not the fund-holders, the monsters were those who held places under the Crown, and sat in that House. They appeared in that House under various characters, as lay lords of the Admiralty, as puisne judges; but they showed that they were real pensioners, dependents on the bounty of the Crown; their presence in that House was useless, it was worse than useless, for there they were to vote on all occasions with the minister, never with the people. Let it not be supposed that he objected to the responsible ministers of the Crown sitting in that House; their presence was necessary, but it was a monstrous thing to see persons holding places at pleasure under the Crown, sitting and voting in that House; these formed a part of the pack which stood firm and united; it was found impossible to break in upon them. There were 72 persons in that House who held places to the amount of 120,000l. a year, yet forty members were sufficient to make a House to vote away the public money, or to invade the public liberties? Was such an abuse to be endured? Was it possible from such men to expect the introduction of any plan of economical reform? There was another body of men in that House who were called independent members: there were no greater enemies to the country than those independent members—their votes were with the ministers—their families lived upon the taxes—and did any one doubt it—could the right hon. gentleman deny it? The brothers, sons, and more distant relations of those members—would be found throughout the country, holding places in the customs, in the distribution of stamps, and in various other departments. The right hon. gentleman knew that repeated and daily applications were made to ministers from members of that House. He knew that the steps of the Treasury were daily beset by men calling for what they called their property. The fact was notorious—he knew such people, respectable persons, who very comfortably lived upon the taxes. These were the persons who effectually prevented any reform in that House. The 72 pensioners, and the "independent members," whose families were quartered upon the country, and lived upon the taxes, stood between the people and their rights. Those were the persons who composed the majorities against the people. He was not surprised' at those majorities; indeed, far from it; he was only astonished that the friends of the country were able to make so good a fight as they had made in that House. These were the grievances; and the redress of those grievances ought to go before the grant of one shilling of the public money. He regretted that he did not see his right hon. friend, the member for Knaresborough (Mr. Tierney), in his place. He hoped that that right hon. gentleman would lend his authority to a bill to prevent placemen from sitting in that House, whose presence was not necessary for the public service. By the introduction of such a bill, his right hon. friend would do a great public service. An hon. gentleman (Mr. Hume) to whom the country was greatly indebted, had submitted, during the last session, a new system for the collection of taxes. He demonstrated, that of the monstrous sum of four millions which the bare collection of the taxes cost the country, a saving of at least one million might be effected. He also proposed to take some measure to secure the remainder from coming within the rapacious grasp of members of parliament. What he had said he believed to be as true as that he stood in that place; and then, he asked, were the people, ground down as they were to the utmost extremity of distress, to be treated without the slightest sympathy or consideration? He believed that a saving of at least four millions might be effected in the collection of the revenue and in the different offices of the state. Such a reduction would lead to the most gratifying consequences. The members of that House would be a different set of men. The most happy prospects of future retrenchment would present themselves; and above all, it would lead to a union with the people, and create the surest omen of public good. He would move, that the chairman report progress, and ask leave to sit again.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

had reason to hope, that in the estimates of this year there would be at least a reduction of 1,000,000l. compared with those of the former year. To endanger the deficiency of the revenue by a small reduction in the expense of collecting it, would be the worst policy that could be adopted; but he was warranted to say, that a saving, of 130,000l. a-year, had already been brought into effect in the collection of the revenue.

Colonel Davies

said, he would not vote for any supplies until every possible economy had been resorted to, and till proper estimates were laid on the table. He now gave notice, that when the votes for the army should be proposed, he would not agree to them unless full estimates were previously laid before the House.

Mr. Lockhart

thought that, in the present distressed state of the country, the House ought not to vote one shilling of the public money without the estimates. If it were true that the country was to receive no relief either from an alteration of the present system of the currency, or from a change in the distribution of the taxes, he would ask from what source relief could come, but from the most rigid economy on the part of ministers? He was one of those who could not see why one part of the community should be drained and exhausted merely in order to pay another part. This was a system which might go on for some time; but, far from enduring for ever, they would soon find that not only would the capital of the country be ruined, but her spirit be exhausted. He lamented to hear the wild language which had been thrown out last night, when an hon. member had declared, that the taxes paid to the fund-holder were a mortgage on all the land, on the church establishment, and on all the property of the country; and that they were to pay to the last shilling, to show whether they were honest men or not. As if it was possible, in any society, that so strange an alteration could take place with common consent, that every one who was well-born, well-bred and educated, and who filled a station in the institutions of the country, should give up the whole of their property, in order to fulfil an engagement, which finally would be ruinous even to the fund-holder. These things startled him, when they came from gentlemen who were so well versed in the theories of economics. It was manifest that these opinions, though logical deductions from certain premises, could not be applied to the actual concerns of empires. They had traces in history of a state of society similar to our own, when the Roman commonalty oppressed with usury, or with excessive taxation, withdrew to one of the mounts near the city, and had refused to continue to be the productive members of a society from which they reaped no benefit. He wished the people instead of busying themselves with projects which he would not then mention—instead of meditating the forms of constitution—swould endeavour to impress upon the government the absolute necessity of conforming their expenditure to circumstances, and not of attempting in vain to suit circumstances to their expenditure. If prices had fallen 20 or 30 per cent, the revenue should be lessened in a nearly similar proportion.

Mr. Hume

thought that some misunderstanding existed as to the speeches which were delivered last night by two hon. friends of his. He would shortly state the reason why he should most certainly support his hon. friend in the call which he proposed to make for a division of the House. He had himself, in common with many other members, presented he knew not how many petitions to that House, praying for a reduction of some of the present taxes. With how little effect those petitions had been introduced, it was but too unnecessary for him to state. He had understood to-night, from the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he meant to continue the tax on spirits only. If, however, he had since understood the hon. chairman rightly, the proposition appeared to be to continue the tax on malt also. The proceeding of the right hon. gentleman, therefore, he could hardly consider as fair. That tax upon malt was agreed to be imposed by the House, upon the faith that in twelve months after the cessation of the war the tax should cease. He did think, that with so many petitions for the reduction of taxation before them, they ought not to grant the continuation of a single tax, until ministers explicitly stated what it was they intended to do. The chancellor of the exchequer, when asked by him some evenings ago what reduction it was proposed to make, did not think it worth while to give him any answer. He should therefore persist in opposing the resolution, seeing it was quite clear, that when the right hon. gentleman had got his business done, it was in vain to complain, for there was no redress. By the report of the committee of finance of 1817 (which report was drawn up, as he believed, by the right hon. gentleman himself) the expenditure of the country, in the year last past, it is said, would be reduced to 17,000,000l., that sum including the total charge of the army, the navy, and a variety of miscellaneous expenses. In that report, the right hon. gentleman took great credit to himself for being enabled to make such a statement; and the House was called upon to grant the required supplies, because the expenses of the country were thus reduced by the sum of 1,000,000l. less than those of the preceding year. Instead, however, of all this what had followed? Why, that the expenses of the last year, notwithstanding this pledge, were 19,000,000l. This circumstance ought to satisfy the committee that they ought not to grant one single shilling of additional taxes. The House would recollect, that upon the 12th of July, 1819, he did submit a proposition for an address to his majesty, praying that he would be pleased to give directions that successors should not be appointed to certain offices which might become vacant, till it had been ascertained what reductions it was possible to effect in every department of government, and in the salaries and emoluments of such offices.—The hon. gentleman then complained of the increase in the salaries annexed to certain offices under the government. He did not mean to include in this class his majesty's ministers, whose salaries had certainly received no augmentation throughout the continuance of the war. But let the House look to the army, and observe what an enormous staff was maintained; what extravagant charges were incurred; and particularly what was the enormous charge of the Ordnance, which had alone increased by three times the sum at which it was estimated, at a time when the prices of corn, and provisions were nearly the same they were now. As to the collection of the revenue, that was one of the vilest jobs that ever existed. In Ireland and Scotland it was, if possible, a job still worse than in England. In a few days, he should have an opportunity of showing to the House the gross neglect and profusion which existed in the stamp department in Scotland. The stamp department, among other things, had continued several persons in office, although they had been returned. "incapable," merely in order to maintain the extensive influence of government patronage. Such was the expensive system kept up by that government, who proceeded in the same career of extravagance year after year, that even if he should divide alone with his hon. friend, he should think it his duty to go to a division. He lamented that the hon. gentlemen opposite should persist in desiring to continue a war-tax upon a people over-taxed already. The only way to oppose them in this case was, for the House to support his hon. friend. Give the ministers money, and they would never reduce one item of expense. If the House had thought proper to continue the income tax until the present moment, they would have had the expenditure equal to the amount notwithstanding. The only way to procure some attention to the objects of economy was, to deny ministers the means of a lavish expenditure. The act which made this a war-tax provided that it should endure for a short time only after the war; yet we were in the sixth year of peace. In conclusion, he was determined not to aid, in any manner, the granting of one shilling to ministers, till they came forward with offers of economy and reduction.

Mr. R. Ward

begged to observe, that in the Ordnance department, the salaries and allowances of all the higher offices had been reduced. His own, for instance, had been reduced to about 600l. per annum. Others had been reduced from 200l. to 150l. each. The only additions that had been made to the charge of the department, were allowances for the long services of individuals.

Mr. Hume

said, that the storekeeper at Dover, whose salary during the war was 100l. a-year, had lately retired upon an allowance of 500l. a-year.

Mr. Ward

said, that no such thing had occurred. The storekeeper at Dover had not 500l. a-year, and had not retired at all.

Mr. Huskisson

said, that the proposition before them was simply this—to grant the annual malt-tax for one year in the same way as it ever had been granted since the reign of queen Anne. As a supply was granted, to withhold the ways and means could only tend to plunge the government into confusion. He thought it highly proper to inquire at the proper time into the causes of the distress which he acknowledged existed in some degree, though he thought it had been exaggerated.

Sir J. Newport

was glad to hear from the right hon. gentleman opposite that the distress complained of was exaggerated. He hoped the right hon. gentleman would take an opportunity of stating what were the districts which enjoyed prosperity. With respect to the estimates, he was willing to allow that in time of war, they could not be got ready by the opening of parliament. But now that we were at peace, he saw no reasonable objection to pursuing such a course. They ought to be taken into consideration before the session, if ministers had any view to retrenchment, without being driven to it by parliament. He strongly objected to the manner in which the business of the House was transacted. It was not uncommon to see forty or fifty bills go through the different stages at the end of a session, when there were scarcely any members present. The consequence was, that the bills passed in so defective a state that they were obliged to be corrected in the next session. He recollected a bill having passed both Houses to impose a duty upon madder; in which it was afterwards discovered that the word "madder" had been entirely left out. An hon. friend near him reminded him of another case, in which a bill had passed confirming the sentence of a man who was to be imprisoned for six months.—"The half of which," it stated, "was to go to the King." The other branch of the legislature had complained that bills were sent up to them so late, that, as they had not time to examine them, they refused to pass them at all. Such facts as these must tend to disgrace the House in the eyes of the country. He hoped this subject would be taken into consideration without reference to the party from whence it came, as he disclaimed all feeling of hostility in pressing it upon the attention of gentlemen opposite.

Mr. D. Browne

admitted the existence of distress in this country, but observed, that in Ireland the case was infinitely worse; for there the agriculturists were reduced to the lowest state of depression; and as to manufacturers, there was now left scarcely any thing which deserved the name, except one or two branches, and they also were under the greatest embarrassments.

Mr. Gladstone

conceived that a great portion of the distress which was felt by the agriculturists arose from the excess of production above the consumption—that consumption being owing, in a great degree, to the reduction of the wages of labour. The farmer was obliged to be a seller for what, he could get, and was thus in some sort at the mercy of the consumer. He deprecated the idea going forth to the public, that the House possessed the means of applying an effectual remedy for the distresses which had been alluded to in the petition which had been presented to the House last night. The remedy must only be looked for in the gradual increase of the prosperity of the country. The accounts of a brisk demand for goods in Manchester proved that the assertion of the distresses of Birmingham being local, was not altogether incorrect. The manufacturers of Manchester raised the price of their goods in proportion to the demand; if, for instance, 100 pieces of goods were ordered, which were sold at 10s. a piece, an order for 500 would cause them to be raised to 10s. 6d. and and 1,000 to 11s. He had received a letter from Liverpool lately, which stated, that the manufacturers there were becoming saucy, and were advancing in their prices in proportion to the demand. He then remarked upon the state of the iron trade, which was depressed on account of the loss of the demand for arms which the war had created. He said, that in this trade, as in others, an extraordinary demand had created an excess of production, which was now the cause of the depression. About twenty years ago this country imported a great part of the iron which it consumed from Sweden and Russia, but now it could supply not only what it consumed itself, but export a great deal to foreign markets. There could be no relief, therefore, till some check was given to that excess of production which the great demand had created, but which demand had now ceased, while the production continued. It had been stated, that the friends of many members of parliament lived upon the taxes, and it was particularly mentioned that this was the case in Liverpool; he denied the fact. But he could see no impropriety in the relatives of members being appointed to situations of trust. It was very natural, as such places were to be filled up, that ministers should attend to the recommendations of those in whom they placed confidence. For his own part, he could say that his support to the present ministers arose from his conviction, that the system by which they had guided the counsels of his majesty was the best and safest for the country.

Mr. Western

objected to the resolution, as he was determined not to vote away any more of the public money until the agricultural distress had been fully taken into consideration. He wished to ask, whether the proposed grant was for the old annual malt tax, or whether it was a revival of the new tax. If the latter he should oppose it.

Mr. Huskisson

replied, that it was the same old tax of 1s. per bushel, which always accompanied the land tax.

Mr. Creevey

said, he should not divide the House upon the malt tax, but upon the resolution which proposed to continue some excise duties.

Sir W. De Crespigny

said, that a most iniquitous system of regulating and collecting the taxes prevailed. He should, in a short time, submit a motion to the House, on the subject. He would prove, that there were gross defalcations, and that many of the defaulters were still in the employment of government. Without a complete change of the system, it would be impossible to make the revenue equal to the expenditure.

Sir F. Blake

wished to make a few observations on the subject of the committee of supply, of which he had been a member. It had been stated to have been a farce, upon no better grounds than that few members had been in attendance. The fact he admitted, and lamented as much as the honourable member for Appleby (Mr. Creevey) himself, but it did not follow that public duty was therefore neglected, or mismanaged. There had remained members of as great integrity and independence, as any members of that House. If the proceedings of the committee had, therefore, been a farce, they had been made so by the hon. member himself (Mr. Creevey), who had divided the committee five times without any prospect of success.

The resolution was agreed to. On the resolution for the renewal of the sugar duties being put, the House divided: Ayes, 81; Noes, 48.

List of the Minority.
Allen, J. H. Honywood, W. P.
Althorp, viscount Hume, Joseph
Barham, J. F. jun. Jervoise, G. P.
Barrett, S. M. Lloyd, J. M.
Bernal, Ralph Lockhart, J. J.
Bright, Henry Martin, John
Caulfield, hon. H. Maxwell, John
Chaloner, Robert Monck, T. B.
Crespigny, sir W. de Moore, Peter
Davies, T. H. Newman, R. W.
Denison, William Nugent, lord
Duncannon, viscount Palmer, C. F.
Dundas, Hon. T. Parnell, sir Henry
Ebringtbn, viscount Ramsden, J. C.
Ellice, Edward Ricardo, David
Farrand, Robert Rice, T. S.
Fergusson, sir R. C. Robarts, George
Fitzgerald, Hon. M. Smith, hon. R.
Glenorchy, viscount Sykes, Daniel
Gordon, Robert Western, C. C.
Guise, sir Wm. Whitbread, Sam. C.
Haldimand, W. Wood, alderman
Hamilton, lord A. Wyvill, M.
Harbord, hon. E. TELLER.
Hobhouse, J. C. Creevey T.