HC Deb 07 February 1822 vol 6 cc102-4
Mr. Robert Clive

appeared at the bar, with the report of the Address on the King's Speech. On the motion that it be brought up,

Mr. Curwen

said, that although it might be held in the House, that no member was at all pledged by the contents of the address, yet, as that sort of doctrine was not well understood in the country, he wished to make a few remarks, lest by silence it might be inferred that he for one placed any confidence in his majesty's ministers. In his conscience he believed that ministers were not fully apprised of the extent of the distresses of the agriculturists. Little, therefore, could be expected from them; and what had entitled any man to hope any thing, or at least any thing adequate to the existing evil, from that House, he could not determine. Great sacrifices had been and must be made by individuals; and he had been much disappointed by the Speech, when he found that it contained nothing to lead to the supposition that the Crown would be ready to follow, though not to set such an example. He was glad, therefore, that notice of a motion had been given, the object of which was, to compel the Crown to diminish its expenditure. Ministers had required, that the vote for the Address should be unanimous; but were they in a situation to expect unanimity? They differed amongst themselves most importantly; at least, what had fallen from the Secretary of the Treasury did not at all accord with the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on a former night. The House had distinctly understood the latter to assert, that nothing could be more injurious than to reduce the amount of taxation. Did he still retain that opinion, or, within the last eight and forty hours, had he seen reason to alter it? It seemed quite clear, either that the currency must be altered, or the taxes be reduced; and in his own view, after the important change in the circulating medium recently effected, the abandonment of it was highly to be deprecated. He did not ask that agriculture should be preserved at the expense of manufactures; and he admitted, that to raise the price of grain by artificial means at the present moment would be injurious to the improved commercial condition. He required only such a reduction of taxes affecting the farmer, as would put him on a level with other classes of the community. Every word that fell from ministers on this vital subject flew like lightning from one end of the kingdom to the other. Accordingly, their proposed loan of five millions of Exchequer bills was known by this time in the remotest corners of the empire. Did they mean to advance them upon no security? Probably not; and if upon the security of land, what man would be now mad enough to spend fresh capital on land, which never could give him the means of repaying the loan? This remedy surpassed what he fancied even the present ministers to be capable of. He admitted that public credit ought to be supported, if possible; but would it be preserved by persevering in taxes that could never be collected? The Speech from the throne was fallacious: the revenues were not flourishing: he could not stultify himself by believing that they were so, when he saw that men were living upon their capitals—not upon their incomes. The supposed improvement, he was persuaded, arose only from accidental and temporary causes, and ought rather to excite alarm for the future, than joy for the present. He maintained, that in some way or other the assistance of the fund-holder must be called in: he was for equal taxation, and in no other way could the country be saved. It might be said that there was an act of parliament to the contrary; but let those who produced it beware of what had happened to the French nobility and clergy, after they insisted on their exemption from taxes. Had they been less obstinate, they might still have been in possession of their estates. Was no danger to be apprehended from a want of employment? If no relief were given to the agricultural interest, a great part of the lands of the country must be left uncultivated. He hoped what had fallen from the hon. member for Kent would have due weight with ministers. This great subject ought to be discussed with no mixture of party feeling; and though he was one of the firmest friends of parliamentary reform, he did not think the present the fit time for introducing that subject. The sentiment throughout the kingdom was so strong, so irresistible, that the warmest supporters of government must here desert them; and when once free from the influence of place and power, this question might itself be the first step towards a reform in the House of Commons. The want of employment must lead to internal commotions: it had been the cause of them in Ireland, and would be the cause of them here. If no religious or political feeling operated in Ireland, to what but the deepest distress could the lawless proceedings there be attributed? Did ministers wish such bloody scenes to be performed in England. If they did, they could not pursue a better course than that which they had begun.

The report was then brought up and agreed to.