HC Deb 03 June 1822 vol 7 cc781-8

On the order of the day, "that the report of the committee on Naval and Military pensions be now brought up,"

Mr. Hume

said, he did not blame the chancellor of the exchequer for touching; the sinking fund, but he blamed him for talking one way and acting another. It was most inconsistent to buy and sell annuities at the same time. It was a roundabout way of doing that which might easily be simplified. It was better to proceed simply and honestly in the management of our finances, and to free them from complexity. He therefore moved as an amendment, "that it is expedient to take from the Sinking Fund and annual sum equal to the amount of taxation to be remitted, towards relieving the distresses of the country instead of raising money by Loan, or Annuities, as is proposed to be done by the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the payment of Military and Naval Half-pay and Pensions."

Mr. Grenfell

said, that should the amendment be rejected he intended to propose a clause similar to that proposed in 1786 by Mr. Fox. It would be a clause empowering the commissioners the reduction of the national debt to apply the monies in their hands to the purchase of these annuities.

Mr. Brougham

said, that as light alteration of words would make the plan of the right hon. gentleman and that of his hon. friend precisely the same. The right hon. gentleman proposed two sets of commissioners; one for reducing the national debt and the other for increasing it. Why not save the trouble of bringing one set of them into existence? At present here was a set ready made to their hands to grown up and in full maturity. They were precisely of the same cast as that of the set proposed to be created. The present commissioners might sit on the same day and at the same place in their united capacity, and might be empowered to deal in the stock. The plan for double commissioners was a senseless, degrading mummery; and it was merely proposed to make it be though that the right hon. gentleman was really not touching the sinking fund. He should therefore give the amendment his hearty support; as he should also the clause mentioned by his hon. friend.

Colonel Davies

could see no distinction whatever between the measure proposed and a direct invasion of the sinking fund. At all events, if the thing was to be done, let it be done in the way most advantageous to the country. Place the commissioners of the sinking fund in the shoes of the parties, who were to become purchasers; and then, at the end of the 45 years, the public would reap the benefit of the bargain.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he was inclined to acquiesce in the suggestion of the hon. member for Penryn.

Mr. Ricardo

said, that the plan was neither more nor less than sending one set of commissioners into the market to sell stock, mid another set into the market to buy stock; and even the chancellor of the exchequer now understood that fact so fully, that he was about to support a clause which would enable these two sets of commissioners to deal with one another. And here he would remind the House of an expression used by the right hon. gentleman on first bringing forth his plan. The right hon. gentleman then assured the House, that he was not so young in office, as to make a proposal to parliament unless he had good ground to believe that he could make a bargain upon the terms which he stated. And what had the right bon, gentleman done since? Why, he had been forced to tell the House, that there had been an error in his calculations—that he had never supposed that he could make a bargain with any body for 2,800,000l., but that the bargain would cost considerably more. Then look at the present situation of the country. The chancellor of the exchequer said, that the sinking fund was 5,000,000l. Yes; but he had for a long time maintained the delusion of its amounting to 16,000,000l. Now, as he had tardily acknowledged that the 16,000,000l. was a delusion, and that the real fund was only 5,000,000l., so he might hereafter acknowledge that the 5,000,000l. was a delusion, and that the fund was in reality only 3,000,000l. The plan of the hon. member for Aberdeen, was simple and easy to be effected; then why not adopt it, in place of such a complicated operation as that proposed by the chancellor of the exchequer?

The Marquis of Londonderry

said, it surely could matter very little whether the operations of the proposed scheme were carried on by a set of commissioners constituted for that purpose, or by the commissioners already in charge of the sinking fund, since neither the commissioners already existing, nor those intended to be appointed, were to receive a single shilling in the way of emolument from the public. The only real question was, whether the managing parties should go by one name or another. With respect to the proposition that the plan should be carried into effect out of the sinking funds he was opposed to that mode of doing the business; but he had no objection to the clause suggested by the hon. member for Penryn, because it merely put the new description of stock in the same situation with other stocks in the market, leaving it open to the commissioners of the sinking fund to deal in that stock or not, as they might think fit. The new stock might chance in some years to be what was called a heavy article. Now, if the trustees of the stock had power to sell, and the commissioners of the sinking fund power to buy, an additional channel for disposal would be opened, and the value of the property proportionably sustained. The noble marquis defended the chancellor of the exchequer's manner of bringing forward his plan. His right hon. friend had merely said that, if the House voted the measure, it would be carried into execution. No doubt he had had reason to expect that purchasers would be ready to treat. One great corporation; the South Sea Company, had, he believed, received sub, scriptions with a view to the bargain, but had afterwards changed their mind, the remote return being unsuited to their purposes. It could not, however, be set up as an objection to the measure, that it had failed in that or any other quarter; because, as regarded the wishes of the hon. gentlemen opposite, the manner in which it was now likely to be accomplished was precisely the manner which they themselves preferred; and therefore, he saw nothing which should induce the House now to adopt the amendment. Gentlemen argued as though there was but one sum of 5,000,000l. to work upon, while, in fact, the fund in question was a fund of 5,000,000l. independent of the sinking fund altogether.

Mr. Calcrtyft

considered the chancellor of the exchequer to be at that moment in too pitiable a plight for any generous mind to indulge in taunts against him. "Parcere subjectis" was the characteristic of a magnanimous opponent; and he knew his hon. friends near him too well not to feel that they would act upon its influence towards the right hon. gentleman in his present helpless condition. What the noble lord meant by his two sinking funds equally operative, he professed he did not understand; but if there were two sinking funds of five millions, the result would be, however the noble marquis endeavoured to mystify the question, that one would be applied in the purchase of the other. He (Mr. C.), however, was bound to defend the chancellor of the exchequer against the defence which had been made for him by the noble marquis. The noble marquis said, that the right hon. gentleman had come down to the House with what be conceived a contract made; but, in fact, it was the noble marquis himself who had come down with the contract made; and when it was found that the contract could not be made, then it was that the chancellor of the exchequer had come down to announce the failure. Upon the whole, he was glad that the project had failed with the ominous South Sea company—he was glad, also, that it had failed with the Bank of England, and that ministers had at last been compelled to come to the right course. We had 5,000,000l. of sinking fund, and we were going to get rid of a certain quantity of our expenditure. Could any thing be more proper than to take from our surplus the 2,800,000l. that we wanted? Upon the argument, that the measure did not interfere with the sinking fund, it was unnecessary to detain the House. Was it possible for commissioners to buy in the morning and sell in the evening at one market—to create debt at twelve o'clock, and to reduce it at two; nay, to create and to extinguish at the very same hour; and yet to say that the two acts did not nullify each other? Could any man in his senses say that while this was doing a sinking fund of 5,000,000l. was maintained? He should certainly vote for the amendment; and, failing that, for the proposal of the hon. member for Penryn, which supplied as it were a sort of salvo for the honour of ministers. He congratulated the House, first, that ministers had been compelled at last to resort to that course which had been pressed upon them ever since the beginning of the session; and next, that a very large remission of taxes had been obtained, which ministers at the commencement of the session had treated as impossible.

The House divided: For the Amendment 51. Against it 81.

List of the Minority.
Abercromby, hon. J. Lethbridge, sir T.
Aubrey, sir J. Martin, J.
Barrett, S. M. Monck, J. B.
Birch, J. Mackintosh, sir J.
Benett, J. Macdonald, J.
Boughton, sir W. E. Newport, sir J.
Bennet, hon. H. G. Nugent, lord
Blake, sir F. Ord, W.
Brougham, H. Philips, G. jun.
Burdett, sir F. Palmer, C. F.
Bernal, R. Power, R.
Calvert, N. Robinson, sir G.
Crawley, Sam. Rice, S.
Crompton, S. Ricardo, D.
Calcraft, J. Rickford, W.
Creevey, T. Sebright, sir J.
Curwen, J. C. Smith, W.
Crespigny, sir W. De Smith, S.
Denman, Thos. Stanley, lord
Fergusson, sir R. C. Wood, alderman
Gipps, G. Williams, John
Grattan, J. Williams, W.
Honywood, W. Western, C. C.
Hutchinson, hon. H. White, L.
Hobhouse, J. C. Whitmore, W.
James, W. TELLERS.
Kennedy, T. F Hume, J.
Leycester, R. Davies, colonel
Latouche, R.
Mr. Hume

said, that after what had just occurred, the next thing for the House to do was, to endeavour to persuade ministers to carry the complex operation of their plan into effect as beneficially to the public as possible. He thought that this would be best done by the commissioners for the reduction of the national debt advancing the annual payments for a number of years, and afterwards repaying themselves, as the annuities to be paid decreased in amount. Such a plan would have the effect of relieving taxation at the present time, and might be carried into effect without the loss of a single penny to the country. He would therefore move to leave out all the words of the original resolution after the word "that," and to insert the following in their place: "That it is the opinion of this House, that, for the purpose of apportioning, conformably to the resolution of the 3rd of May last, the burthens of the naval and military pensions, it is expedient that the commissioners for the reduction of the national debt be authorised and required to advance from the sinking fund into the exchequer several sums [which Mr. H. specified] by four equal quarterly instalments, payable on the 15th of January, 15th April, 15th July, and 20th of Oct. in each year, the first instalment to be paid on the 20th Oct. 1822; and that after 15 years shall have expired the said commissioners shall pay from the exchequer to the sinking fund the said annual sums above specified."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

did not think it necessary to trouble the House with, any observations upon this amendment, as it was substantially the same with that which had just been negatived.

The amendment was negatived, and the original resolution was then agreed to; as were also the two resolutions immediately following it, without any further discussion. When the fourth resolution was read, Mr. Grenfell moved, that the following words be added to the resolution: "That it shall and may be lawful for the commissioners for the reduction of the national debt, if they shall think it expedient, to apply any of the monies which shall have been placed to their account towards the purchase of the whole, or any part of such portion, of the said annuity of 2,800,000l., terminable at the end of 45 years, as the said trustees shall find it expedient to sell in any year, or of any other terminable annuities created by the authority of parliament." The chancellor of the exchequer acquiesced, and the amendment was agreed to.

On the resolution, relative to the repeal o 13s. out of the 15s. duty on every bushel of salt, from and after the 5th of January 1823,

Sir J. Sebright

said it would be of great relief to the agricultural interest that the tax should be taken off before the autumn, because then the greatest quantity of cattle was killed and salted.

Mr. Curwen

observed, that there was another inconvenience by the mode proposed, as the poor people who laid in their salt would incur a great loss. For his part he was induced to move the taking off the whole tax [Cheers]. If it was necessary that the government should have the 250,000l. which they expected to raise by what was left of the salt tax, there were many other ways of raising that sum. He then moved as an amendment, "That from and after the 10th October 1822, all Duties on Salt shall cases and determines."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

objected to the amendment, on the ground that there could be no material alteration, in the existing financial arrangements without breaking clown the system altogether. It the whole of the salt tax were repealed, either some new tax must be imposed to supply the deficiency, or the integrity of the sinking fund must be invaded [A laugh!]. Did gentlemen mean by that laugh, that the resolution which had recently been agreed to, trenched on the sinking fund? If so, the House ought to adhere with the more pertinacity to what remained. But he denied that the resolution in question involved any incroachment on the sinking fund. If, however, this amendment was adopted, the present surplus of the income over the expenditure, on which the existing sinking fund was founded, would be diminished. With respect to the proposition, as viewed with reference to its effect on the community, he believed, that the remission of 13s. of the duty would afford to the public all the advantages that would result from the remission of the whole duty. For ail the domestic purposes to which salt was applicable, a reduction of the price of salt from 17s. or 18s. a bushel, to 4s. or 5s., would operate in such a beneficial manner, that the difference of 2s. would not be perceptible. As to the question of the duty on the salt employed in the fisheries, that might be discussed when the bill went into the committee. It was of vital importance, however, to the whole system of our finance, that this amendment should not be acceded to. By retaining the 2s. a bushel of duty on salt, parliament would retain for the public a considerable revenue. It was probable, in consequence of the increase of consumption which the diminution of duty must necessarily occasion, that the produce of the duty of 2s. a bushel, would amount to 300,000l. That sum would be immediately lost by the adoption of the amendment. Such a proposition would with more propriety be made when the particular bill should be before the House.

Mr. Brougham

congratulated the House on the great light which had broken in upon the right hon. gentleman's mind since the commencement of the session. The right hon. gentleman had then talked as, if no relief could be experienced by the country from any remission taxation. Nay, the right hon. gentleman had even gone farther than the noble lord opposite did in 1816, when he chid "the ignorant impatience" of the people on the subject of taxation [Lord Londonderry denied having used the expression]. He (Mr. B.) must have dreamt, then, that the noble lord had said so. And yet the idea was so singular, the collocation so peculiar, the whole phrase so extraordinary, that it was difficult to suppose any one could fancy such an expression had been used when it actually had not been so. The right hon. gentleman had not only characterized a remission of taxation as a most ridiculous project for the relief of the country, but had absolutely asserted, that he was not sure that such a remission would not increase the existing evil. The House and the country had, however, reason to rejoice in the new view of the subject entertained by the right hon. gentleman, who now talked very fluently, of the great relief which the taking off 13s. out of 15s. in the duty on salt would afford. Far be it from him to say, that such a diminution of the duty would not afford considerable relief;—a relief for which the country had to thank, not his majesty's government, but those who compelled them to concede the remission. The right hon. gentleman, however, refused to take off the remaining 2s. of duty. On that point he (Mr. B.) perfectly agreed with the member for Cumberland. Was it nothing, by refusing to abolish the duty, to keep up the whole expense attending its collection? Perhaps he should be told that the amount of that expense would abate with the amount of the produce of the duty. But, if he might judge from the present expense of collection in Scotland and England, no such effect would be the result. On the salt duty in England of a million and a half, the expense of collection was not none than 55,000l. whereas, on that of Scotland, which amounted only to 100,000l., the expense of collection was 21,000l. The same result might be expected here. But there was another objection to preserving the duty independent of the expense of collecting it; he meant the patronage which it gave the Crown. If a large revenue were to be raised by any particular impost which there was no means of avoiding, a certain extent of patronage in the collection Might justly be allowed to the Crown. But if the revenue so raised was trifling, it was unjust to the people on constitu- tional grounds, to keep tip a disproportionate patronage. There was a third objection to the continuance of any part of the duty. Let the House make what alterations they pleased in the salt laws, it was impossible, while any portion of the duty existed, that there should not co-exist those regulations which were the worst part of the worst laws of this country—the revenue laws. No man who had not seen the operation of those laws in our courts of justice—who had not witnessed the intolerable regulations which were brought together under this branch of our revenue system—could form any idea of the extent to which they cramped and fettered industry—of the snares which they strewed around its progress, or of the downright galling oppression that belonged to this part of our jurisprudence. Were it only for the sake of getting rid of all this odious machinery, it would be well to abandon the tax; but when, in addition to all this, they considered the undue patronage, and that all these evils were to be encountered for a sum at the utmost of 300,000l., he thought the House could not hesitate to relinquish it entirely.

The Marquis of Londonderry

said, that any stranger who had heard the learned gentleman, would really Suppose that his right hon. friend was so fond of laying on taxes, and so inimical to taking them off, that he had preached a lecture to the House on the delights and the utility of taxation. Now, he would appeal to the House, whether his right hon. friend had invariably declared, that whenever taxes could be remitted without detriment to the public credit, it would be a great relief to the country to remit them? What his right hon. friend had argued against was, the assertion of the learned gentleman, that taxes should be taken off to such an amount as immediately to remove the agricultural distress. The learned gentleman contended, that if the remission of five or six millions of taxes did not relieve that distress (which he very well knew it would not), the remission, ought to proceed farther. His right hon. friend, the contrary, maintained that the remission could not proceed so far; and à fortiori, that it could not proceed farther; without shaking public credit, and issuing in national bankruptcy; and therefore that an accordance with the learned gentleman's suggestion would be followed by additional suffering. With respect to the patronage, it was adminis- tered not by the government but by the board of Excise. In one word he would state to the House why the learned gentleman supported the amendment. Either he wished to take from his right hon. friend the merit which belonged to him, or he wished to destroy the system which parliament had sanctioned. The learned gentleman felt himself so completely beaten, that he perceived there were only two games open to him. He hoped, either that the House would listen to the insinuations in which he was always indulging in order that he might appropriate to himself the suggestions of his right hon. friend, or on the other hand, that parliament might be induced to degrade itself, by breaking down piecemeal the system which it had hitherto determined to maintain. If the learned gentleman could once get his wedge in, he knew it would be difficult to prevent him from driving it farther. Unless, therefore, the House were prepared to retread their steps, they would reject the amendment; if the House allowed the learned gentleman to do what he wished, he would not only trench on the sinking fund, but would apply himself to the appropriation of a part of the general income.

Mr. Ricardo

said, it was asserted by ministers that the annuity scheme was no infringement on the principle of the sinking fund. If so, instead of forty-five let the period of that scheme be extended to fifty or sixty years, and that would afford a sufficient sum to enable parliament to remit the whole of the salt duty.

General Gascoyne

was of opinion that the reduced duty would be much more productive than was anticipated. He was satisfied with the diminution proposed.

Mr. Benett,

of Wilts, characterized the Salt tax as the most mischievous of all imposts. He hoped it would be entirely got rid of, and that, no longer existing as a nucleus of taxation, no minister would be hardy enough to propose its revival.

Mr. Calcraft

allowed that the chancellor of the exchequer's proposition went in the first instance farther than his (Mr. C's.) had done. But it should be recollected, that his ultimate object had been the annihilation of the tax, although he was obliged to suit his primary proposition to the palate of those to whom it was made. To make the residue of the tax productive, it must, be extended to the fisheries, than which nothing could be more injurious. It would be in vain otherwise to expect an increase of consumption at the rate of 50 per cent on an article of the first necessity. It was evident that on the ground of constitutional principle, it would be better to get rid of the tax altogether. While any part of it remained, the people would suspect, that on the occurrence of any necessity for raising money, it would be restored to its present magnitude. It was well worthy of the consideration of a financial minister, that the repeal of the tax in question would afford the people the means of indulging in the consumption, of other exciseable commodities; so that, the revenue would not suffer.

The House divided: For the original motion, 111, for Mr. Curwen's amendment; 67.