§ The House having resolved itself into a Committee of Ways and Means,
§ Mr. Brogden
;— If, sir, I do not, upon the present occasion, ask any peculiar indulgence from the House, it is not that I do not feel how much I stand in need of it; but it is because I feel, that, having voluntarily undertaken to discharge the duties of the office which I now hold, I am necessarily bound at the same time to incur all the responsibility that may belong to it. I trust, however, that I may venture to ask for a patient and a candid hearing; patient, because I fear I must detain the committee for a considerable time; and candid, on account of the great importance of the subjects upon which it will be my duty to enlarge. And I own that I am the more anxious to request that attention from the committee, because it is impossible that I should not feel under what disadvantage I address the House upon a subject of this nature, when I recollect that I stand in the place of one, whose many talents,—whose long experience,—whose amiable character, and whose unsullied integrity, claimed for him and obtained for so many years the respect and esteem of the House. I confess, however, that I make my appeal with some confidence, because I must acknowledge with gratitude, that whenever, upon former occasions, it has been my lot to address myself to the House, I have always experienced the kindest and most encouraging reception. The best return that I can make for the attention which I may now receive, is by being as brief and intelligible as possible. Brevity is always desirable in opening any large and varied question to the House; and there is no subject upon which a minister is more bound to be clear, explicit, and intelligi-*From the original edition printed for J. Hatchard and Son, Piccadilly.195 ble, than when he is called upon to explain to parliament the state of the finances of the country. If, indeed, I could be so dishonest as to wish to involve any part of the subject in mystery and obscurity, it would be an attempt as useless as absurd; for I well know that there are many persons in the House, whose duty it would be to watch my statements with scrupulous vigilance, and who are abundantly capable both of detecting fallacy and of dissipating obscurity. Whether, therefore, I look to my own personal interest, or to my paramount duty to the public, I must be anxious to render myself as intelligible as possible.
With this view, sir, it is my intention to lay before the committee, 1st, The actual revenue, expenditure, and surplus of last year;—2ndly, The estimated revenue, expenditure, and surplus of the present year;—and, 3rdly, The mode in which his majesty's government would recommend to parliament to deal with that surplus. Having stated to the House these propositions, without argument or comment in the first instance, I shall proceed to give such explanations and make such observations as appear to me to be material to elucidate and to enforce the view which I take of these important questions. First, then, as to the revenue of last year. The account of this is to be found in a paper which has already been laid before the House, and I therefore need do no more than refer gentlemen to that paper, and recapitulate the general items of which it is composed.
With respect to the revenue and expenditure for the present year, my estimate is (and I shall by-and-by explain the grounds upon which it is formed), that the revenue, after deducting the loss which it may be expected to sustain by the full operation of the reduction of taxes effected in the last session, will produce from the same sources as were available last year, not less, and perhaps somewhat more, that 52,200,000l. To this will to be added 4,800,000l., to be received from the trustees of half-pay and pensions. The total therefore will be about 57,000,000l. I calculate the expenditure at 49,852,786l., which will be oc- 196 casioned by the following charges: viz.—
It appears, from that return, that the total revenue amounted to 54,414,650 The total expenditure to 49,499,130 The surplus to £.4,915,520
The next point which I have to state, is the mode in which his majesty's government think this surplus would be most advantageously applied; and what I mean to propose is, that the larger proportion of it, amounting to 5,000,000l., should be applied to the reduction of debt, and the remainder to the remission of taxes. That remission will be upon the assessed taxes; and I shall presently explain in detail the manner in which I propose to apportion the reduction which I contemplate.
Total charge of funded unredeemed debt, including interest, long annuities, and management £.28,124,786 Other charges on the consolidated fund, such as civil-list, pensions by act of parliament, and various items of that description 2,050,000 Annuity to trustees for half-pay and pensions 2,800,000 Army 7,362,000 Navy 5,442,000 Ordnance 1,380,000 Miscellaneous 1,494,000 Interest of exchequer bills 1,200,000 £.49,852,786 The result, then, is this, that taking the revenue at 57,000,000 The expenditure at 49,852,786 The surplus will be £.7,147,214
Having thus stated, in, general terms, the revenue and the surplus of last year—the estimated revenue, expenditure, and surplus of the present—and the intended application of the surplus, it is now my duty to bring under the consideration of the committee such observations as appear to me to arise out of that statement.
In the first place, I must call to the recollection of the committee that part of the Speech from the throne, in which his majesty told us, that the revenue of the last year had exceeded his majesty's expectations; and I trust that I shall be able to prove to the committee, in the most satisfactory manner, that the government were fully justified in introducing those words into his majesty's Speech. For, although 197 it appears, from the papers which are before the House, that the actual surplus of last year's revenue did not quite reach the amount of 5,000,000l., it is nevertheless essential to consider what that revenue and surplus would have been, if, in the course of the year, there had not been carried into effect certain most important financial operations, which, whilst, on the one hand, they occasioned a material and immediate defalcation in the revenue, could not be accompanied by a contemporaneous diminution of expense. At the commencement of last session, an estimate of the revenue and expenditure of 1822 was laid upon the table, by which it appeared, that a surplus might be expected of 5,260,000l. This estimate was founded upon the supposition, that the rate of taxation and its nett produce during the year, would continue the same as it had been during that which had just elapsed; but it will be recollected, that not long after that paper had been laid before parliament, a noble lord (to whom I never can allude without feelings, which, in this place, and in the discharge of my present duty, I ought perhaps to repress, though I could not eradicate) informed the House, that his majesty's government had devised a mode by which they proposed (and they flattered themselves that they could propose it successfully), to effect a considerable reduction in the annual expenditure of the state, and to enable parliament at the same time to give to the people a corresponding reduction of their burthens:—I allude to the plan for reducing the 5 per cents to 4. It was calculated that the saving of charge by this operation, would amount to 1,400,000l., which would be fully sufficient to balance the loss to be incurred by the revenue from the accompanying diminution of the malt tax. It is obvious, however, that the two operations could not be exactly contemporaneous. The reduction of the malt tax became immediately necessary, so soon as the intention of affecting it was announced, and it actually commenced from the 5th of April. But the diminution of the interest upon the old 5 per cents could not possibly take place during any part of that year, because it was necessary to the efficacy of the plan, to leave to the holders of that stock their full interest for the half yearly payment, which became due in the month of July. The loss which the revenue sustained from this circumstance upon malt 198 alone, was not less than 1,400,000l., including nearly 300,000l. repaid upon the stock in hand. The subsequent reduction of taxes, which took place at a later period of the session, upon salt, leather, hearth, and window tax in Ireland, and upon the tonnage of ships, contributed still further to curtail the total amount of the revenue. In short, I may venture to state, that the total of this curtailment, including all the items which I have just mentioned, was not less than 1,700,000l. And since it is obvious that, during so short a period as three quarters of a year, the other branches of the revenue could not have begun to derive any material increase from the beneficial effect of these reductions, it follows, as a necessary consequence, that if no reduction of taxes had taken place, the surplus or last year, instead of being under 5,000,000l., would have exceeded 6,500,000l. Donot let it he supposed, that in showing how much larger the surplus would thus have been, I mean to regret, in the slightest degree, the relief which parliament gave to the people;—I am far from entertaining any such feeling; on the contrary, I consider the granting of that relief to have been wise and salutary, and I am satisfied of the propriety of carrying it as mach further as possible. I only mention the circumstance for the purpose of showing that his majesty's government were justified, in strictness of fact, in advising their sovereign to inform parliament, at the opening of the session, that the amount of last year's revenue had considerably exceeded his majesty's expectations.
The next point to which I wish to call the attention of the committee, is the ground upon which I estimate the revenue of the present year. I think that, under all the circumstances of our present situation, I may confidently assume, that allowing for the deduction which must take place this year, in consequence of the full operation of the diminution of taxes effected last year, the receipts of 1822 may fairly be taken as the basis of those of 1823. The customs I estimate at 10,500,000l: that branch during 1822 produced 10,662,000l.: but there must be deducted about 80,000l. of tonnage duty received in the first half of 1822 (prior to the abolition of that duty), which will no longer be levied; and in order to be completely within bounds, and to avoid an exaggerated calculation, I am contented to take the customs at the sum which 199 I have before stated. The excise of last year amounted to 27,271,668l. This branch of our revenue lost by the reductions of last year, no less a sum than 1,576,000l.; to this I must add in the present year all the additional loss arising (as in the case of the tonnage duty) from the full operation of those reductions which in 1822 applied only to a limited portion of the year: I am not therefore disposed to estimate the excise at more than 26,000,000l. The stamps I take at 6,600,000l., which is something less than last year; the post office at 1,400,000l., being less than last year by about 28,000l.; and I only admit the probability of even that diminution, because I am unwilling to overstate any thing. The assessed taxes and laud tax last year amounted to 7,217,969l.: but it will be recollected, that in the course of last session, the hearth and window taxes of Ireland were abolished, and consequently, towards the termination of that year, some loss was sustained upon that head: now, however, we must calculate upon the loss of the whole of these taxes, and I should not therefore be justified in taking the assessed taxes and land tax at more than 7,100,000l., of which the assessed taxes would be 5,900,000l., and the land tax 1,200,000l. To these larger branches of our revenue I add various miscellaneous items, which may fairly he taken at 600,000l. The result, then, which I feel myself justified in anticipating is as follows:—
The committee will have observed, that I have formed my calculation upon the receipts of last year. This might at first sight appear to be a sanguine view of the subject; but I think that I am fully justified in entertaining it when I look to the circumstances: under which that receipt has been obtained; nay more, were I disposed to build upon-mere sanguine expectations, might I not venture to go further, and anticipate not merely an equality, but even an excess? For what are the facts of the case? If we look to the extensive and populous countries 200 now opening to British commerce in almost every quarter of the globe;—if we consider the facilities which commerce in general has derived from the liberal system of policy which this country has recently adopted, by sweeping away the useless lumber of antiquated prejudices, and restrictions; if we advert to the growing disposition of other countries to follow our example and to benefit by our experience;—if we admit it to be true in theory, that no trade can be permanently beneficial to one party unless it be equally so to the other:—and if we find that in fact, foreign demand for our manufactures has kept pace with our consumption of the produce of other states, and that in all the great branches of our industry we compete successfully with all our rivals, who can say that I expect too much, when I anticipate a great and gradual increase (not the less valuable because it is gradual) in all those items which constitute our revenue of customs? And here, sir, I cannot but avail myself of this opportunity of adding my cordial concurrence in all the encomiums which have been so justly passed upon my right hon. friend near me (Mr. Wallace). Nothing, sir, in the course of my political life has given me more sincere satisfaction than to have found in him a colleague, imbued with the same principles upon all these subjects, as those which I have at all times advocated, and upon which I have endeavoured to act: from him I have received the most valuable assistance in all those commercial measures which have originated with myself; and I cannot say too much in praise of the unwearied zeal and ability with which he has framed and executed those many changes in our commercial system, which have (rained him such universal credit, and so essentially contributed to the permanent interests of the country. Looking forward, then, to the future result of this state of things, as connected with our commercial interests, I may confidently say,
Customs 10,500,000 Excise 26,000,000 Stamps 6,600,000 Post-office 1,400,000 Assessed taxes 5,900,000 Land tax 1,200,000 Miscellaneous 600,000 £.52,200,000The wide, the unbounded prospect lies before me,without being compelled to add, with the poet, thatShadows, clouds, and darkness rest upon it.We have seen the opening of a brilliant dawn, and we may anticipate without hesitation the steady and glowing splendor of a meridian sky.
Turning now from foreign commerce, 201 and the revenue consequent upon it, I trust that I shall be able to draw from the state of the excise, and the manner and degree in which it has increased, an equally flattering picture of the general ease and comfort of the great mass of the people. I lament indeed most sincerely the severe distress which still prevails in particular districts of the country, and which continues to press with so much weight upon a particular class of the community: but when I refer to the account which I hold in my hand, containing the amount of exciseable articles charged with duty during the past year, and compare it with the average of the three preceding years, I find the proof of an increased consumption of beer, bricks, candles, hides, glass, malt, paper, pepper, printed goods, salt, soap, British spirits, foreign spirits, starch, tea, tobacco; in short, of all articles essential to the support and comfort of the people. Is this no indication of ease,—is this no symptom of present improvement, no just ground of favourable anticipation of the future? I might rely upon this document alone as a proof of what I have advanced; but I appeal to further and equally decisive evidence; I call to witness all those members of the House who are acquainted with the condition of those great masses of our population which are congregated in the manufacturing districts. What was the state of that population three or four years ago, when they laboured under the severe pressure of acknowledged distress, and what is its actual condition? Where is the disquietude, the tumult, the sedition, the outrage of that period? Vanished. What have we in their place? Peace, order, content, and happiness. This circumstance is of itself an unequivocal proof of the improved condition of the people, and I confess that I look upon it with infinite satisfaction, because it clearly establishes this; that, whatever tendency to discontent—whatever actual outrages artful and designing men may excite when want of employment and attendant poverty press upon the people, there is in that people a genuine love of their country, and a deep-rooted and sincere attachment to the principles and practice of the constitution. It is this conviction of the true character of the people of England, which has always made me feel the deepest regret whenever their temporary errors and excesses have com- 202 pelled me to acknowledge the necessity of giving additional severity to the law.
But, sir, I cannot quit this part of the subject without adverting to another point, which appears to me to furnish another decisive proof of the truth of what I have stated;—I allude to the savings banks. It is perhaps a small matter in itself, when one is talking of the whole property of the country, but it is of peculiar importance in its relation to the labouring classes: and I have the satisfaction of stating, that during the last year there has been a very large addition to their accumulations, both as to the number of contributors and the amount of the deposits. I know it may be said, that much of the increase arises from the deposits of those, who, strictly speaking, ought not to be contributors to such a fund, exclusively adapted to the poor. To a certain degree this may be true; but it is not of itself sufficient to account for the great increase which has taken place; and I am satisfied that those who have any practical knowledge of the progress of these institutions, will hear me out in asserting, that by far the larger number of the contributors are in the humbler walks of life. These institutions, therefore, I deem to be amongst the greatest blessings which have ever been conferred upon the poor, and I hail their prosperous condition as the most unequivocal proof of the moral habits, the increasing ease, and the growing comfort of a large portion of the community.
Independently of these circumstances to which I have referred, as indicating a reasonable probability of a gradual increase of the revenue, I have now to call the attention of the committee to another matter, affecting that portion of the gross receipts which is in various ways diverted from its course, into the exchequer;—I mean particularly the expense of collection. I flatter myself, that by vigilant attention to this subject, it may be found practicable to effect by degrees no inconsiderable savings under this head; but in making this admission, I wish it to be distinctly understood, that much has already been done, as I trust I shall be able to show by a reference to the document before me. I should have been extremely glad, if it had been in my power to have laid upon the table an account of the expense of collection during the last year, but I have found 203 it as vet impossible to procure it in any complete form; but, in default of that account, I must rely upon one which details the items of that charge for the four preceding years. If I take as a sample of the whole, the head of customs in Great Britain (which, from obvious causes, is the most expensive branch), it appears that the expense was as follows:—
Showing a progressive diminution from 1818 downwards, of no less than 258,339l. It might undoubtedly be argued, that this reduction has been insufficient: he it so; it is a fair matter of discussion and argument: but at all events, I contend that I am entitled to assert, that what has been done in this respect, is a primâ facie proof that the government has not been neglectful of its duty, and has not overlooked the necessity of effecting all practicable savings in this important branch of our general expenditure. In claiming this merit for the government in general, I am bound in justice to say, that it is especially due to my right hon. friend, the paymaster of the forces (sir C. Long), who, in conjunction with my hon. friend near me (Mr. Herries), has applied his intelligent mind, and his extensive experience, to the particular consideration of these subjects, and who has pointed out and recommended a great variety of material alterations and improvements, which are now in a regular course of adoption, and will ultimately produce very considerable savings.
For 1818 £.1,327,621 1819 1,231,991 1820 1,097,773 1821 1,069,282
If, however, I turn from the collection of the revenue of England to that of Ireland, it is there that I believe it is expected that most may be done, and where I pledge myself that much shall be done. The committee will recollect, that about two years ago a parliamentary commission was appointed for the purpose of inquiring into this matter. The appointment of that commission was opposed by no one; but attempts were made to undervalue its importance, and to ridicule its expected labours; yet what has been the fact? May I not confidently appeal to the result? Never, I will venture to say, did commissioners go forth with a more determined resolution to probe to the bottom the complicated questions which it was their duty to investigate: never were men 204 more resolved to proceed steadily and firmly in their course, in spite of all the obstacles, political and otherwise, by which they might be encountered. What they have already done is before the country; they have thoroughly investigated all the defects which prevailed in the collection of the Irish revenue, and they have suggested a great variety of measures, calculated to remedy the evils of which they have established the existence. If such has been their conduct, let me now ask, sir, has the government been backward in performing their part? I answer distinctly—No. No sooner had the report of the commissioners been, laid upon the table of both houses of parliament, than my noble friend, at the head of the king's government, declared, that he was resolved to adopt their recommendation, and to give the fullest effect to their labours. In pursuance of this declaration, it will probably be my duty, at no distant period, to submit the necessary measures to the House; or, if it should be more correct, that the hills should originate with the commissioners themselves, I shall be found most ready and most anxious to give them my cordial support and assistance. I state this with the more earnestness, because, as these measures will necessarily involve a large diminution of official influence, I shall be happy to give this practical proof of the unfounded nature of those imputations which have been cast upon me personally, of being the special friend and advocate of ministerial patronage.
I come now, sir, to the estimated expenditure of the present year, the total of which I have already stated, and of which the following item composed the most material part, at least that part which is most interesting to the House:—
Let us advert a little to the amount of these items, and compare them with the corresponding estimates of former years, and particularly with the estimate of the committee of finance of 1817. I am well aware, that upon these matters it is the lot of all administrations to be charged with profligate extravagance and criminal indifference to the wishes, the feelings, and the wants of the people: parliament itself is not exempt from these accusations. But surely, sir, this is most un- 205 just; surely some discretion should be left to the government in the detail of these matters; and it does not follow, that because the government are not prepared to reduce this or that particular item of expenditure upon the mere ipse dixit of any individual, that therefore they are to be loaded with the reproaches which are occasionally heaped upon them. Gentlemen ought to make some allowance for the grievous (I should rather say the awful) responsibility under which ministers necessarily act in preparing the estimates upon these heads. We are bound to watch over, and to maintain the security of the state; we are bound to look beyond the mere surface of things, and to be prepared for contingencies, which, however remote, may yet arrive. This is one of our first duties, and if it be not the duty of those who are not responsible, to look to the same objects with the same eyes, at least it ought not to be urged against us as a reproach and as a crime. But, in truth, the only just way of estimating the animus of the government in questions of this sort, is to look at them not merely in minute detail, but upon a large scale; and I wish therefore now to draw the attention of the committee to the comparison to which I have before alluded. If we compare the estimates of this year for the army, the navy, and ordnance, with the grants of 1822, we shall find that, notwithstanding the increase of the navy, the total sum is less by 470,000l.; had there been no increase of the navy, the difference would have exceeded 600,000l.—
Army £.7,362,000 Navy 5,442,000 Ordnance 1,380,000 Miscellaneous 1,494,000
The importance of this comparison will be more apparent, if I notice the other items of our annual supplies, particularly the miscellaneous grants; adding all these to the heads already stated, and comparing them with the grants of 1822, and the estimate of the finance committee of 1817, I find a total diminution as regards the former, of 971,000l., as regards the latter, of 2,671,000l. Who, then, can say with justice that we have done nothing? Who can fairly deny to us the admission, that whilst we have provided for the necessary services of the state, upon an adequate and efficient scale, we 206 have practised a substantial economy, and produced a substantial saving? Let me hen claim, both for ministers and for parliament, an exemption from the reitermed accusation of proposing on the me side, and abetting on the other, a systematic course of profligate extravagance.
As compared with 1821 it is £.1,957,000 1820 2,971,000 1819 2,156,000 1818 2,449,000 With the estimate of the Committee of Finance of 1817 1,335,000
It is under these circumstances, sir, that we find ourselves in possession of he surplus which I have already pointed out. How, then, are we to dispose of it? There are obviously three modes of acting in such a case:—1st, You may abolish it entirely, and remit taxes to its whole amount;—2adly, You may apply the whole of it to the reduction of debt;—and, 3rdly, You may act upon a combination of the two former principles. His majesty's government decidedly recommend the last mode of proceeding, which they conceive to be not merely in strict accordance with the principles already recognised by parliament, but most essential to the best interests of the country. Why should we depart from this policy? Why, above all, should we select this particular moment for effecting so great a change in our system, as to lay it down as a principle of our policy, never to attempt in peace to diminish a debt accumulated in war? Does not this principle involve in it that of an indefinite and hopeless extension of our debt? For who shall say what exertions we may be called upon to make for the preservation of our honour and our national independence? Who will assure to us that we never shall be called upon again to have recourse to that great and powerful bulwark, the credit of the country, to give us the means of self-protection? And if that necessity should arise, it is obvious that in a mere pecuniary sense we should be great losers by the additional interest which we must expect to pay, if we systematically deprive the lenders of all prospect of repayment. But, sir, it is in reference to higher objects that I deprecate this fatal policy; fatal, not merely as it regards those particular circumstances in our situation, which have been alluded to in the former part of this evening, but as it regards our general strength and power. We know how great a proportion, not less than one-half; of our present burthen, arises from the pressure of our debt; we feel and acknowledge the degree to which it weighs down the energies of the country,—we know the hostility with which it is as- 207 sailed, and the alarming doctrines which are so extensively and actively inculcated, that the people have no remedy for their distresses but some seizure of the public debt, some act of violent spoliation, some desperate attempt to relieve one class by committing a robbery upon another. I am happy to find that these sentiments appear to be congenial with the feelings of the House, for I am persuaded, that if we were to lay it down as a rule of our policy, never to attempt to reduce the debt, by the just, the legitimate, and, I am happy to say, the practicable method which is within our reach, and should thereby hold out the dreary prospect of its possibly indefinite extension, we should furnish an additional stimulus to the designs of those who have already shown their disposition to commence its destruction by plunder and by violence. Looking to the question, therefore, in this point of view, it is the deliberate conviction of the government, that as the policy which I hare described, would be at once injurious to our honour, and destructive of our vital interests, we are called upon to declare our firm and deliberate resolution, honestly to abide by the plighted faith of the country.
It does not however follow, that in adhering to this resolution, we should necessarily be bound to carry it to its utmost limits, and apply our whole surplus, whatever might be its amount, to the reduction of debt. Many circumstances might concur to render too rapid a diminution of the debt extremely detrimental; and many considerations might at the same time call for a relaxation of the public burthens. It is upon this view of the subject that parliament has acted during the two last sessions, and it is this principle that I now propose to maintain and extend, in full conformity with what has been already done, and with a full conviction of the wisdom of the course. It is, I know, often said, that the chancellor of the exchequer is, ex officio, so enamoured of taxes, that he cannot be weaned from his attachment, Or suffer them to escape from his embrace. Now, sir, I beg to say, that I have no such feeling, and am not so deeply smitten as to be anxious to retain them with too firm a grasp. On the contrary, whatever difference of opinion may prevail amongst us, either as to the actual extent of pressure produced by taxation, or the degree to which the remission of it would dimi- 208 nish that pressure, no one is more ready to admit than I am, that the remission per se a real relief to the country; and it is upon this persuasion, that the government is prepared to act.
It now remains for me to explain to the committee, in detail, the items of taxation which I propose to remit, and which I have already stated apply to the assessed taxes; were my strength more equal to the task, I might have urged many reasons for selecting objects of direct taxation, rather than those which fall upon consumption: but I think that the grounds for that selection in the present instance, are so obvious, that it is unnecessary for me to press them upon the attention of the committee.
The repeal, then, which I propose, is partly absolute, and partly upon the principle of a per centage. The assessed taxes may be divided into four principal heads, 1st, windows;—2nd, houses;—3rd, horses, carriages, and servants;4th, dogs, armorial bearings, game certificates, and other small items of that description. Of these I propose to leave the whole of the last class as they now stand, as I do not conceive that they press with any severity, or that their diminution would be attended with any benefit; and with respect to houses also, I confess that it appears to me, that upon a fair balance of the comparative advantage of diminishing one class rather than another, that duty does not particularly call for reduction. But as one main object which I have in view, in apportioning the amount of revenue which may now be spared, is to give the utmost direct relief to those who alone can now be said to be in a state of suffering—I mean the agricultural interest,—I think that I shall do some service to that interest, if I make the reduction apply to those branches of the assessed taxes, by which it is more particularly affected. In referring, then, to what I have described as the third head of assessment,—I mean horses, carriages, and servants,—I have to state, in the first place, that I propose to repeal entirely various small items, which, whilst they are comparatively unimportant in respect to revenue, are peculiarly objectionable, not only on account of the pecuniary pressure which they bring on those who pay them, but because they are oppressive and vexatious in the collection, and lead to eternal surcharges and disputes; they produce therefore a double inconvenience 209 to the payer, and occasion a double expense in the collection. The first of these items which I have to notice, is the tax upon persons employed in trade and husbandry, who may also be occasionally employed in some other menial capacity, such as the care of a horse: that this duty may in many cases operate very heavily, can scarcely be denied: I trust that its repeal will not lead to an evasion of other duties, and I am satisfied that it will be very beneficial;—its amount is about 37,200l. There is another class of persons who are charged with a duty, who have always appeared to me particularly unfitted to be objects of taxation,—I mean occasional gardeners. This tax had doubtless been imposed under the notion that gardening was a luxury, and a mere enjoyment of the rich; but its effect has been (I know many instances of it) to deprive the poor of much casual employment, at seasons when it would be most desirable. A gentleman cannot employ a poor man to turn a walk, or to trim a flower-bed in his garden, even for a single week, without being compelled to pay a tax for him; it is true that it is only 10s. for each person; but it is irksome to be called upon to pay a tax for giving this sort of employment to the poor, and it must be acknowledged, that the disagreeable sensation which the appearance of a certain paper upon one's table produces, is not a little enhanced by feeling that one is obliged to add to its contents, by adding a list of those who may have been employed in garden work, from motives of charity. This tax produces 19,700l., and I propose to put an end to it entirely. The next item is that of the lower class of taxed carts. A petition against this tax has, I believe, been presented to the House this evening, and the hon. member for Aberdeen has given notice of a motion for some returns respecting it: he is very welcome to his returns, but I trust it will be the last time he will have occasion to call for them, as I propose its entire abolition; it amounts to 9,300l. I come next to the 3s. duty upon ponies and mules under thirteen hands high, employed by persons in trade and husbandry. It is but a trifle to be sure, but it falls upon persons whom one would not wish to tax at all, and who can ill afford even this slight burthen; let us therefore extinguish it at once, and sacrifice the; 4,480l. which it produces. The last duty of this description that I have to mention, 210 is of a similar nature; it is a duty of 3s. upon horses employed by small farmers, who are also engaged in trade. It produces only 6,500l.; and as it is paid by persons who must necessarily be poor, its continuance is by no means desirable. Upon all these items I have great pleasure in proposing an entire repeal; and with respect to all the remaining taxes upon horses, carriages, and servants, I propose a general reduction of 50 per cent. It may perhaps be objected to this proposition, that these charges are borne by persons, who, from their means, are well able to support them, and that they do not apply to those classes whom we are most anxious to relieve. But, sir, I must say, that, independently of the consideration that no diminution of taxes that gives to the more wealthy increased means of employing those who are poorer, can fail of being beneficial to the latter, I do feel that there is no class of his majesty's subjects who are at this moment more justly entitled to relief, than those who will be directly benefitted by this reduction;—I mean the landed gentry of the country; and I trust therefore that the committee will feel that my proposition in this respect is not only unobjectionable, but right. The reductions to which I am now alluding, will be as follows: viz.—
I come, lastly, to the important article of windows, and the general principle upon which I propose to proceed, is a diminution of 50 per cent. There is, however, one description of windows which I wish to relieve entirely. Gentlemen are aware, that the windows of shops and warehouses, which are detached from a house, are already exempt, and my idea is to extend this exemption to the ground-floor windows of shops, whether attached to the house or not. About two years ago this subject was investigated by a committee, who certainly considered that 211 the tax operated very severely upon the smaller class of tradesmen. These persons are necessarily obliged, in the way of their trade, to exhibit their goods in their front windows, and having to pay a duty upon those windows, are exposed to a very unequal competition with persons whose shops are moveable, and carried about in carts, and other vehicles of that description. These itinerant traders are enabled to make a very advantageous display of the wares, and to sell them to great advantage. But as it is very unreasonable that the law should give them an undue advantage over the fixed shopkeeper, I propose to give the latter the benefit of a repeal of the tax upon their shop windows. The total reduction upon the head of windows, will be 1,205,000l.; and the total reduction upon the whole of the assessed taxes about 2,200,000l.
On male servants £.159,500 Clerks and shopmen of traders 98,050 Four-wheeled carriages 145,000 Two-wheeled carriages 98,000 High taxed carts 17,650 Horses for riding or drawing 324,000 Ponies under thirteen hands high, the high duty 9,100 Bailiffs' horses 1,050 Butchers' horses 4,400 Horses and mules, lower duty in agriculture and trade jointly, and trade wholly 72,500
The committee will observe, that I have not hitherto adverted to the assessed taxes of Ireland: this is a subject of considerable importance; and when I ask myself how we should deal with them, can I say otherwise than "repeal them all?" There can be no doubt that the effect of these taxes is much more injurious in Ireland, from their influence upon the residence of the gentry, than it is in England, at least upon those who are so good as to pay them, for I fear that evasion is not considered in that country as any very heinous offence. But setting that aside, and not stopping to examine the precise extent of relief which Ireland will derive from the repeal, let us give it cordially, and let us be satisfied that the people of England will never grudge to their poor brethren of Ireland, the little advantage which they will obtain over us by the repeal of all their assessed taxes. The first loss of the revenue from this cause will be about 100,000l.; but a compensation, to a great extent at least, will be found in the equalization of the Irish custom duties with those of England, as proposed by the commissioners of inquiry.
Being upon the subject of Ireland, sir, allow me to say, that I cannot but feel a very lively interest in the concerns of that country. Whether it arises from the circumstance of my having, at one period of my life, resided there for nearly two years, from some connections which I have in that country, or from the peculiar character and circumstances of the people, I know not; but I confess that I cannot 212 contemplate without the most painful feelings, the melancholy consequences which have so long resulted to Ireland from the anomalous and defective frame of her social organization. And there is no circumstance connected with that part of the United Kingdom, which is more distressing than the nature and consequences of her distillery laws. It is well known how large a proportion of her revenue is derived from spirits; and it is but too well known how much distress, misery, and desolation, result from the mode in which those duties are levied. They cannot be raised without the intervention of an army; that army cannot he so employed without serious prejudice to its discipline and efficiency: the law under which they are raised, is inevitably severe; and it cannot be executed without compelling the gentry and the magistracy to hunt out, to prosecute, and to punish their unfortunate tenants, who, for their mutual interests; ought to look up to them for protection and support: and whilst the violation of the law by the people, thus calls for the incessant interference of the gentry and the magistracy, in order to repress and counteract the temptation to evade the law, it becomes unfortunately the interest of those very landlords to connive at, if not to encourage, that evasion. Can one conceive a more lamentable state of things? It has an influence which has an inevitable tendency to weaken all those kindly feelings which ought to unite n government and a people; and to plant distrust and hatred, where confidence and affection ought to flourish. It has nothing to bring conflicting parties together:—it has every thing to perpetuate their separation. I cannot, therefore, look at the distillery laws of Ireland, without feeling that some alteration is necessary, to remove the monstrous evils which grow out of them; and to restore to Ireland (or rather to confer upon her, for, alas! we cannot restore what never was possessed), some portion of those social blessings, which the people of England so well know how to estimate, because they have so long enjoyed them. It is my intention, therefore, to propose to parliament some remedial measure upon this subject; of which the basis will be a large reduction of the duty upon spirits. It is, perhaps, only an experiment, and God only knows whether its result will be successful or not; but I am resolved that it shall have 213 a trial. I am sanguine enough to believe, that the revenue will not, ultimately at least, be injured by the change; and I am supported in this belief by the conviction of the commission of inquiry, who will, I trust, at no distant period, lay before the House a full report, explanatory of the whole question. But I confess, sir, that I am so anxious upon this subject, that even if I thought that the revenue would risk some loss by the alteration, I nevertheless would try the experiment. I should not think myself justified if I hesitated to make the attempt, even if I were fearful that by so doing, I should defeat my own calculation, and enable gentlemen to say hereafter, "You promised us a surplus, and your promise has not been realized." I would rather incur this reproach, than voluntarily consign Ireland, without an effort, to all the evils of the existing system.
I have now, sir, gone through the statement which it has been my duty to submit to the House. The result is, that we have an increasing commerce abroad, and an increasing consumption at home—the consequence of the increasing ease and comfort of the people:—we have an increasing revenue, necessarily derivable from these two powerful causes:—we are enabled, by that unproved revenue, to establish a systematic reduction of the national debt, and to effect a systematic diminution of the public burthens; and we may hope to find in that very diminution the means of future relief. If such be the result (and I think I have not over-stated it), who can look back to the difficulties in the which we have been surrounded,—the sacrifices which we have made,—the dangers which we have surmounted, and the security which we have achieved:—who, I say, can look back upon the past, and forward to the future, without feeling increased veneration and attachment for those great and noble institutions, which, being built upon the imperishable basis of civil and religious liberty, constitute themselves the unbending support of our national prosperity and strength?—The right hon. gentleman sat down, amidst loud cheers, with moving his first resolution; viz. "That, towards raising the Supply granted to his Majesty, the sum of Twenty Millions be raised by Exchequer Bills; for the service of Great Britain, for the year 1823."
said, that, before he adverted to the part of the subject which he 214 considered as of the greatest importance, he would offer a few remarks on the credit which the right hon. gentleman assumed to himself, for making a reduction in the estimates of the present year of between a million and a million and a half beyond the anticipation of the finance committee of 1817. He confessed he could not give the right hon. gentleman credit for this reduction; because the statement of the right hon. gentleman himself involved a complete censure on his majesty's government for not having sooner accomplished the reduction. Had government attended to the recommendations of the finance committee, ten millions would by this time have been saved to the country. Adverting to what the right hon. gentleman had said of the reduction of the expense of collecting the revenue in Great Britain, which, since the year 1818, amounted to 130,000l., and also of the reduction of the expense of collecting the revenue in Ireland, winch, since the year 1819, amounted only to 3,000l., he contended, that a reduction so small did not evince the exercise of much vigilance in the detection of abuse. With respect to several of the estimates of the right hon. gentleman, not having the official accounts, be could not speak accurately to them; but he trusted he should not be thereby precluded from any future observations. The result of the right hon. gentleman's proposition was to reduce taxation to the amount of 2,232,000l. He apprehended that the great question between the right hon. gentleman and himself related to the way in which it was advisable to support public credit. The right hon. gentleman said, that the only way to support public credit was, to employ an excess of taxation, to the amount of five millions, to the redemption of the debt. If he (Mr. M.) could show that it was possible to support public credit without taking those five millions from the pockets of the people, and that the five millions which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to apply to the liquidation of the debt might be added to the other two millions, and the whole seven applied to the reduction of taxation, he thought the House ought to adopt his view of the subject—Much stress had been laid by many persons on what was formerly called the sinking fund, as having mainly supported public credit. He had already stated in that House, that it was notorious, that the sinking fund, instead of being 215 diminished, had actually increased the debt. If the calculations of a very able man, Mr. Mushett, were to be trusted, instead of having diminished the debt, the sinking fund had created between twenty and thirty millions of debt beyond that which would have existed had it not been established. How that could be said to support public credit which had thus added to the public debt, he was at a loss to conceive. But now a new light seemed to have broken in upon the subject. After thirty rears experience, it was now, on all hands, allowed, that the only efficient sinking fund was a surplus of income over expenditure. The right hon. gentleman had not stated, whether the five millions were to go on at compound interest or not. The abandonment of the principle on which the old sinking fund had been established, had converted all the public annuities into annuities for ever. As the old sinking fund, therefore, had not reduced the debt, it was fair to conclude, that the maintenance of public credit did not require the reduction of the debt. If so, instead of applying the five millions to the support of a sinking fund, why not apply it in another manner, not new in principle nor in practice? He would call the attention of the committee to what Mr. Pitt had said of the act for the redemption of the land tax, which he passed, notwithstanding the numerous objections that were made to it in that House. It was stated by Mr. Pitt, that the principle of the bill was so simple, and its advantages so certain, that he could not conceive what objection could be made to it. Now, it would be recollected, that when Mr. Pitt passed the Land Tax Redemption bill, the amount was about two millions; subsequently, during a period of about 25 years, 700,000l. was redeemed, and there remained unredeemed about 1,300,000l. At present, the operation of the act was retarded by the high price of redemption, which occasioned a sacrifice in the first instance of 10l., and in the second of 20l. per cent. In consequence, during the last three years it had gone on so languidly, that it would take, on an average, five hundred years to redeem the tax. According to his plan, as contained in the resolution which he should have the honour of submitting to the House, about 41,300,000l. of debt would be cancelled; which would be more than could he effected, by the application of an efficient sinking fund of 216 five millions during seven years.—What, then, he would ask, could be the necessity of keeping up taxes to the amount of that five millions?—The right hon. gentleman had laboured very much, to show that the people were not distressed, but were in a comparative state of affluence and prosperity. He agreed with him, that the people generally were not so much impoverished as they were some time ago; but still he must contend, that there was a large class of the population not quite in a state of either positive or comparative affluence, whom a remission of taxes must relieve; but he did not conceive that the reduction of taxes by the application of the sinking fund for the next seven years would satisfy them. He was of opinion, that the operation of the Land Tax Redemption bill could be much facilitated by the conferring not only votes for the county, but creating qualifications for the magistracy, and holding forth other inducements to the public. He only wished to grant that which the people had a right to demand without dishonour or inconvenience to public credit, or injury to the character of the nation. He was sure that if he could show the revenue of the country would be increased, while its burthens were diminished, the House would go along with him in his proposition. He was prepared to prove to the right hon. gentleman, that the reduction of seven millions of taxes would not be productive of an equivalent loss to the state. The remission of taxes would be operative upon the population, so as to increase the number and the consumption; and he thought this would be felt to the amount at least of one million.—With respect to Ireland, he believed it to be much within the estimate, when he said, that 400,000l. could be saved in the collection of the revenue. The commissioners sent to that country, he highly respected as individuals; and he thought they had performed the duties of their appointment with fidelity and honour. At the same time, while he agreed with every word of their manly, faithful, and honest report, he must consider that it conveyed the most direct censure upon the conduct of ministers, who had taken no steps previously to alter that system, by which the revenue in that country was collected at the rate of 22 per cent—a thing not to be borne. From that source he anticipated a saving of about 400,000l. The right hon. gentleman had stated a surplus of seven mil- 217 lions, and a proportionate reduction of the assessed taxes. He had also stated, that 250,000l. might be saved in addition, in the collection of the taxes in the customs alone. But he would not consent to give up any branch of those taxes completely, because patronage was concerned in the support of the establishment. He hoped, on consideration, that such a principle would be abandoned. He was convinced that much greater savings might be made in the collection, than the right hon. gentleman had anticipated. He believed that in England and Scotland the saving in the collection of the beer duties might be 200,000l., the present rate being nine per cent. By the savings which he had stated, and others in the army and navy, and other departments, he was convinced they might go much lower; and that, at no distant period, there was a prospect of an increase of four millions in the revenue, from the sources which he had stated. There was no longer, he contended, a real necessity for calling on the people for the five millions of taxes. He never had an intention of robbing the public creditor. No man was more anxious than he was, that public credit should be supported. The public creditor had a fair claim upon the country; and he was sorry it should go abroad, that he wished to impair that claim. He came prepared to show, that seven millions of taxes might be repealed, and the public credit be as well supported as it at present was. He would now read the resolutions which it was his intention hereafter to propose:—
§ 1. "That by the resolutions voted by this House in the year 1819, it was deemed expedient that an efficient sinking fund should be created to the amount of five millions.
§ 2. "That at the time in question, it was agreed unanimously, that the only sinking fund which can be efficient, is, that which is produced by a surplus of income over expenditure.
§ 3. "That, as far as can be collected from the papers laid upon the table of the House, there actually exists a sum of about five millions, applicable to the reduction of the national debt.
§ 4. "That, in addition to these five millions, applicable to the reduction of the debt, there is at the disposition of parliament, arising from the increased productiveness of several branches of revenue, and the various plans of reform and economy in the administration of the 218 country, proposed to be carried into execution this year, a sum of about 2,200,000l.
§ 5. "That it appears, therefore, that a total sum of 7,200,000l. arising from the above-mentioned sources, is applicable to the maintenance of public credit, and to the relief of agricultural or other distress, by remission of taxation.
§ 6. "That although it was determined, that the capital stock purchased by the commissioners for the redemption of the national debt, with this efficient sinking fund, should be transferred to their account, it was nevertheless understood, that the interest payable upon stock so purchased, should either determine at the time of purchase, or be paid over and become part of the consolidated fund.
§ 7. "That taking 80l. as the price of 100l. in 3 per cent consol stock, it appears, that five millions of money annually laid out during the space of seven years, would redeem about 43,750,000l. of 3 per cent annuities; but should we remain at peace, it would redeem a much smaller sum.
§ 8. "That in the year 1798, for the support of public credit, there was passed an act for the redemption and purchase of the land tax, which act, from the exorbitant conditions attached to such redemption and purchase, has, in a great measure, failed in effecting the destined object.
§ 9. "That notwithstanding the obstacles thus created, such has been the anxiety of the public to redeem their land, and to purchase landed securities, that the sum redeemed and purchased amounts to 700,000l. and upwards.
§ 10. "That if so large a proportion of the hind tax has been redeemed and purchased, at a sacrifice in the first instance of 10l. and in the second of 20l. per cent. it is but reasonable to conclude that the remaining balance of 1,239,701l. would be similarly redeemed and purchased if no sacrifice was necessary.
§ 11. "That it appears that 1,239,701l. of land tax, thus redeemed and purchased, and paid for in 3 per cent consolidated annuities, would cancel a sum, in such annuities, of about 41,330,000l. being more than the amount that would be purchased by the regular investment of the sinking fund, in stock, for the space of 7 years, if we remain at peace.
§ 12. That it appears that-this method of reducing debt by no means differs in its substance from that which was adopted 219 by the House in the resolutions of 1819, the essential attributes of both plans being the maintenance of public credit, by the diminution of the quantity of debt.
§ 13. "That as the mode of redeeming the national debt by redemption and purchase of land tax injures no class of proprietors, and will absorb a quantity of debt nearly equal to that which would be redeemed by an efficient sinking fund of five millions, annually laid out during seven years, it is expedient to substitute it for the sinking fund adopted in the resolutions of the House of 1819.
§ 14. "That by this substitution there may he remitted to the people, in alleviation of their distress, seven millions of taxes."
§ Mr. Ricardo
said, he remembered, that at the termination of the last session, he had frequently to repel the attacks which were made upon the science of political economy. He had been delighted, however, to hear the plain, sound, practical; and excellent speech, which had been delivered by the right hon. gentleman opposite; and he thought that the science of political economy had never before had so able an expositor as it had now he found in that House. He thought that there never yet had been in that House a minister filling the situation which was held by the right hon. gentleman, who had in that capacity delivered sentiments so candid, so wise, and so excellent. In all the statements which he had made, it was impossible not to follow him with the greatest ease and safety; for it was in all these quite clear, that each of them was, in fact, as the right hon. gentleman had put it. But, there was this one difference—an important one, certainly—between him and the right hon. gentleman. The right hon. gentleman had stated the surplus of our income over our expenditure at 7,000,000l. Now he (Mr. Ricardo) had contended last year, and did still contend, that the transaction respecting the commutation of the pension charge, was only a transfer from one hand to the other. This evening the right hon. gentleman had introduced into his surplus of 7,000,000l. a sum of 2,000,000l. to be received; he would like to know from whom? Could the right hon. gentleman himself tell? On the one side of the account he had put an amount of 2,800,000l. to be paid for pensions and half-pay; and on the other side, he had stated, that he was to receive 4,800,000l. from the 220 trustees, whoever they might be, who were to pay such pensions and half-pay; and of these two items, the balance was 2,000,000l. to be repaid, of course, to these trustees or commissioners themselves. Undoubtedly, therefore, from this assumed surplus of 7,000,000l. of actual income, over expenditure, there must be deducted these 2,000,000l., which the sinking fund itself was to supply. If this view of the subject was correct, the right hon. gentleman, when he should have carried his plan into effect, of giving the proposed relief to the country, would actually leave them with a clear sinking fund, not of 5,000,000l., but of 3,000,000l. This was the only difference in point of statement between him and the right hon. gentleman. But he could go along with the right hon. gentleman in every principle that he had applied to the sinking fund; as applicable to the diminution of our debt in time of peace. But, this was always in the supposition, that we did actually possess such a sinking fund, and that it could be so applied to pay off our debt. So convinced was he of the necessity, the indispensable necessity of getting rid of this tremendous debt, that he had before ventured to suggest the expediency of a general contribution from the capital of the country for that purpose. He would contribute any proportion of his own property, for the attainment of this great end, if others would do the same. If this proposition should be thought extravagant, or if it should be supposed that the contribution he should suggest was excessive, why not ask for a smaller contribution of capital for the same object? As to the other parts of the right hon. gentleman's speech, he considered that taxes raised in order to pay off debt, ought to be looked upon in a very different light, from those that were raised for the immediate services of the state. The one, we might be considered as paying to ourselves; the other was for ever lost to us. As to the plan proposed by the hon. gentleman who spoke last, he had few or no remarks to offer upon it. His scheme for the reduction of the debt, by paying off the land tax, was, as far as he (Mr. R.) understood it, quite practicable. It did exist, indeed, to some extent, at the present moment; but the hon. gentleman's plan would, perhaps, increase its facilities. The hon. gentleman, however, in his plan for the reduction of taxes, went much too far; for he seemed to consider, that the 221 clear surplus, which they had to dispose of, after allowing for the 2,200,000l. which the right hon. gentleman proposed to remit in taxes, would give a sinking fund of 5,000,000l. Now, he said, that the hon. gentleman went too far, on this ground—that we could not have such a sinking fund applicable to such a purpose. And here he would beg leave to call the attention of the House to a pamphlet which had been lately published under the auspices of ministers themselves. [Hear, hear! from the Treasury Bench.] Well, he did not know how that might be; but this he knew, that it contained arguments which were constantly in the months of ministers. In this pamphlet the sinking fund was made applicable to two or three different objects: and first of all, it was Efficient for paving off debt. If so, it was clearly efficient for no other object. If a man applied the surplus of his income to the payment of debts, he surely could not apply it to any other purpose. But the pamphlet proceeded to say, that the fund was efficient for carrying on war in case of an emergency, if allowed, in the mean time, to accumulate at compound interest. This was as if the real object of the fund was, in the event of any aggressions by an enemy, to enable us to fight that enemy, in case of a war. But if so, why did not ministers confess it? Let them at once openly avow their object. But he thought that the more constitutional course would be, in case we should be required to repel the aggressions of an enemy, for the ministers of the crown to come down to the House and acquaint it with the necessity of providing for the expenses of a war that was about to be undertaken, rather than to retain the sinking fund at its present establishment, with the view of making it available on such an emergency. He did think that there was something mysterious in this doctrine of making that which was supposed to be applicable to paying off our debts applicable to the expense of a war.
thought it impossible for any one to have given an explanation more clear or satisfactory, than that which they had heard from the chancellor of the exchequer: He concurred, however, with the hon. member for Portarlington, in doubting very much the amount or accumulation of interest which the right hon. gentleman included in his statement of the sinking fund. He concurred with his hon. friend in thinking, that we had a 222 clear sinking fund of 3,000,000l., and not of 5,000,000l. Much, indeed, was to be said as to the temporary nature of those payments, on account of which the deduction of 2,000,000l. was to be made: but, taking all the circumstances of the country into consideration, and the probability of an augmentation of the same dead charge, he could not but consider that we were, at best, relieving ourselves to burden posterity, in slipping over to them that amount of dead charge for which that right hon. gentleman now took credit. He was most pleased to see, that we had, at any rate, a permanent fund of 3,000,000l., and that we had it, consistently with a reduction of taxation, to the amount of 2,200,000l.—an amount which he confessed very much exceeded his expectations. With the hon. member for Portarlington he perfectly agreed, in thinking it was impossible for any man, possessing the least acquaintance with the nature of the government of any state, to suppose, looking to the circumstances of the country, that we could go on without—he would not say a sinking fund, as that word had lately grown into so much disrepute, but—a surplus of revenue. That without it we could hope to maintain our credit, was equally impossible. So far he went with his hon. friend; but he could not join with him in wishing to take away this sinking fund of 3,000,000l. in further remission of taxation. His hon. friend had said, that experience had shown it was impossible to maintain a sinking fund. Now, he knew nothing that should make gentlemen think it impossible, except it were this opinion of his hon. friend. Neither could he discern the difficulty of applying it to the reduction of debt in time of peace, and to the same purpose, so far as it would go, in time of war. It was one of its advantages that it was so applicable.—[The hon. member then entered into a history of the origin of this fund under Mr. Pitt, and its efficacy at the period of its origin; observing, also, that Mr. Pitt never could have calculated on a war of three and twenty years' duration.] He would rather take a sinking fund for four, three, or even two millions and a half, than one of 5,000,000l.; if he could be sure of its being a real sinking fund to such amount; and if it were applied, at compound interest, to the reduction of the debt. The argument of those who opposed the sinking fund entirely, arose from their misapprehension 223 of the principles of its original constitution. The honourable member for Aberdeen, in some resolutions appended to a speech some time since delivered by him in that House, had given more information to his (Mr. Baring's) mind on the finances of the country generally, than he had received from any other quarter. In those resolutions, the right hon. gentleman had said, that 1,000l. applied during a given number of years annually, would produce nearly the same effect on the debt, as if that 1,000l. had been applied at compound interest. He (Mr. B.) could not but suppose, that here there was some improper expression used; as the hon. gentleman must be aware, that the fact could not be so. He would prefer the operation of a sinking fund, as applicable to the reduction of debt, to the right hon. gentleman's coming down annually to the House, to remit some 600,000l. of taxes. Such remissions, however agreeable they might be to the right hon. gentleman, whose predecessors had so frequently come down for the purpose of imposing new taxes, must have some temporary effect in deranging the financial system of the country, and were constantly the object of struggle between the commercial, manufacturing, and other interests, who would naturally scramble for a boon so thrown upon the table of the House. It had been asked, what would five millions of sinking fund avail against our immense load of debt? or what progress could five millions annually make in reducing 800 millions of national debt? But, though the amount might not seem great, when compared with the whole amount of what the country had to meet, yet it was not so trifling in its operation as some imagined. It afforded a certain support to public credit; and gave to the government the means of meeting any occasional deficit arising from a sudden emergency; and it would, he had no doubt, if properly applied, enable ministers, in the course of time, to reduce the 4 per cents to 3 per cents, and place the nation in a state of independence, in the event of our being engaged in a foreign quarrel. It was absurd, then, to call such a fund a delusion upon the public. As long as its integrity was maintained, even though it should not amount to what the chancellor of the exchequer had stated, it could not fail of being a real benefit. It had been contended, that whatever of surplus revenue existed, should be applied to the 224 relief of the distress which prevailed in the country. This was, in his mind, a mistake—a delusion: for even if all the means of supporting the sinking fund were surrendered to that branch, which he admitted was suffering much, those persons would be deceived who imagined that it could afford more than a paltry relief. One effort of it would be, to transfer a great part of the floating capital of the country to other channels; and to those channels by which it would be an aggravation of, instead of a relief to, those distresses which it was supposed it would remedy.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, he had forgotten to mention, that it was his intention to propose a measure which would have the effect of simplifying the operations of the sinking fund.
contended in favour of the necessity of supporting the landed interest—an interest upon which, after all, the government must principally rely for its resources.
§ Mr. Hume
commenced by observing, that he had never heard a statement from ministers with more pleasure than he had heard that of the right hon. gentleman opposite. Never had he heard in that House a statement more clear or more satisfactory from any chancellor of the exchequer. He could not, however, help expressing his regret, at hearing it stated, in answer to what had been said by the hon. member for Portarlington, that the sinking fund was, as it was now constituted, calculated to support public credit. He contended, that the present sinking fund only tended to encourage extravagance; by placing at the disposal of ministers, a sum of money which it was likely, if not certain, they would apply to any thing but its proper use. To prove the inefficacy of the sinking fund, he had only to state, that the late chancellor of the exchequer had, in one year, taken 8,000,000l. from that fund; and, by certain returns, it appeared, that, altogether, no less a sum than 440,000,000l. had been taken from it. Here was an immense charge of management paid by the public, without any profit being derived to the country from it. How, then, could the hon. member for Taunton say, that the House would show a want of fortitude if they gave up the sinking fund? They had seen how the sinking fund had been appropriated year after year; and, this being the case, what had the country to 225 depend upon? How could it expect, that the present or a future parliament would act more honestly than former parliaments had done? Let it be borne in mind also, that during the whole of this juggle, the country was paying heavily for what was called "the management" of the national debt.—The hon. member, adverting to what had fallen from the chancellor of the exchequer, observed, that the sinking fund to which he alluded was not an available surplus; but consisted of 2,800,000l., which was a dead weight upon the country. But the question was not, whether a sum of three millions, or of five millions, should be kept up as a sinking fund; but whether any such sum, at such a period, should be forced from the distresses of the country. He contended, that the best policy would be to give the country relief from taxation, to the amount of the sum now proposed to be kept up as a sinking fund. Let this be done, and ministers might with confidence rely upon the exertions of the country, should circumstances arise to call them forth; but let them not, by an unnecessary imposition, cripple those resources, to which it might, in a short time, be necessary to resort, in order to defend the country, in the event of a struggle in which it was not unlikely to be engaged.—The hon. member, after adverting to the inadequate relief about to be afforded to the landed and shipping interests, congratulated the House upon the progress of liberal opinions within his own recollection. In 1820, he was one of twenty members who supported a motion, made by the hon. member for the Queen's county, praying an inquiry into the distressed state of Ireland. How different was the case at present! The right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer now promised a remedy of the abuses existing in that country. He next adverted to a tax paid by sailors towards Greenwich chest; and which, while it pressed heavily on the parties subject to it, was rendered almost inoperative, as it cost at least 21 per cent in the collection. This tax was the more oppressive, as it fell solely upon the shipping interest. Alluding again to the state of Ireland, he thought it necessary to state, that, great as were the abuses in Ireland, no branch of those abuses required more immediate remedy than the distillery laws. The Irish distillery laws, as they now stood, were the cause, not only of much internal anarchy, but 226 the reason why a great portion of the standing army of that country was kept up. Let a liberal policy be pursued towards Ireland, and he saw no reason why Ireland, depressed as she had been, should not rise as rapidly to independence and freedom as Scotland had done after the Union. This he hoped would be the case; but he could not help observing, that for many years there was no European state which had been more misgoverned than Ireland. He would say, that if ministers had taken a proper view of the question, or if they had had a House to support them, that alteration which was now proposed might have taken place seven years ago. He joined with the chancellor of the exchequer in the wish to maintain the public credit. Nothing would occasion him greater regret than to find a majority of that House assenting to any proposition which would rob the public creditor of even a shilling of his demand; and he thought that his majesty's ministers deserved the thanks of the country for the firmness with which they had maintained its faith with the public creditor. The cause of the ruin of many states had been the violation of faith with their creditors, and he trusted that we should never imitate such an example. He was as anxious as any man could be, to afford relief to that branch of the community which was now so much distressed, but he could never consent to it at the expense of the public faith.
§ Mr. T. Wilson
said, that although he was connected with the shipping interest of the country, and well knew that it was labouring under considerable embarrassment, he felt that he should ill discharge his duty to his country, by giving his consent to that repeal of the duties upon shipping to which the hon. member had alluded. The repeal of those duties which pressed only on one particular class would afford nothing more than a partial relief; whilst the repeal of the taxes, which had been proposed by the chancellor of the exchequer, would afford relief at once to the mercantile, the manufacturing, and the agricultural part of the community. He trusted, however, that if the duties upon shipping should be allowed to remain in full force, the collection of them would be attended with as little expense as possible. It appeared to him, that 21 per cent was much too high a sum to be expended for such a purpose.
§ Sir H. Parnell
was anxious to say how 227 strong an obligation he felt, as he was sure every person connected with Ireland would feel, to the right hon. gentleman, for the kind terms and warm Feelings with which he had expressed himself in respect to the affairs of Ireland. As several gentlemen had borne testimony to the correctness of the statements of the right hon. gentleman, as they related to the general finances of the country, he wished to bear his testimony to the accuracy of those parts of it which belonged to the financial concerns of Ireland. It was impossible to speak in too strong terms of the merits of those gentlemen who were the commissioners for inquiring into the state of the revenue of Ireland. They had executed the trust reposed in them, in the most able manner. The difficulties they had to encounter were various, and exceedingly embarrassing; but they had oven come them all by an honest and patient perseverance in prosecuting the investigations which were necessary for fully understanding the state of the Irish revenue. He entirely agreed in all the plans which were recommended by the commissioners; and he was exceedingly glad to hear the right hon. gentleman disclose, in so warm and decided a manner, that the government would not be backward in carrying them into immediate execution. This course reflected the greatest credit upon the government; because, by surrendering all the revenue appointments to the boards, they gave up that great patronage which had hitherto been possessed by the lord lieutenant. In respect to the consolidation of the boards of revenue, he felt quite convinced, that any other measure would have wholly failed. It was only by this consolidation that the English system of revenue regulation and collection could be completely established in Ireland. This would lead to a much more productive revenue from the existing taxes. It would also he much more satisfactory to all those who had to pay taxes and duties, and, besides, it would greatly contribute to put an end to that course of depraved morals which was throughout all Ireland connected with existing systems of managing the Irish revenue. The plan of abolishing the countervailing duties and drawbacks upon the trade between England and Ireland, and thus making it as free from duties and restrictions as the trade between two parts of Great Britain, would be followed by the best results. The fa- 228 cilities attending the commercial intercourse between the two countries would cad to a great extension of it, and afford great advantages to the inhabitants of both countries. It was so essential to make the trade as Free as possible from all restrictions and duties, that he fully agreed in the proposal of connecting with the repeal of the assessed taxes, the equalizing of the custom duties. He begged leave to suggest to the right hon. gentleman the propriety of so modifying several of the English excise duties, that the same duties might, as far as circumstances would admit, be established in both countries.—The hon. baronet continued by expressing how much the public were indebted to the commissioners of inquiry for their report upon the Union protecting duties. They had sustained their opinion in favour of abolishing them in the most able arguments; and illustrated the case with so much valuable evidence, that a complete change had taken place in the mind of the public, in regard to the policy of these duties. It was now understood, that they contributed to establish monopolies and to promote combinations; that they were an unjust tax upon the consumers, and that, in place of protecting manufactures, they absolutely prevented their progress and extension. By removing them, it was now certain, that, for the first time, the possibility would exist for Ireland becoming a manufacturing country, by having the great market of England opened for the sale of the produce of her industry. As to the distilleries, the right hon. gentleman had most accurately explained all the evils which belonged to the present system of them; and he had formed the only plan of removing those evils, when he proposed to lower the duties very considerably. If this measure was connected with allowing small stills to be established, in place of the revenue being injured, he was confident a much larger revenue would be collected than ever had been derived from the distilleries. The measures which had that evening been proposed, for the improvement of Ireland, when coupled with the other measures which government intended to bring forward, would be productive of the best possible effects. By a steady perseverance in this course, and bringing forward salutary measures for remedying the evils which prevailed in Ireland, the country would become quiet and industrious, and in time improve- 229 ments in civilization and wealth, would make it a valuable acquisition in point of revenue, when they might be most wanting by this country.
concurred with all that had been said by preceding speakers, regarding the luminous arrangement and the good feeling, which pervaded the speech of the chancellor of the exchequer. At the same time, he felt considerable disappointment, that the right hon. gentleman's observations did not contain a single allusion to the distress under which the agricultural interest at present laboured. Indeed, he could scarcely collect from the right hon. gentleman's speech, whether he admitted or denied the existence of that distress. One part of it almost led him to suppose, that the right hon. gentleman denied it; for he had said, that the increased productiveness of the taxes had arisen from a greater consumption of the article upon which those taxes were imposed; and had thence inferred, that the country was rapidly progressing to an increased state of prosperity. Now he (lord F.) contended, that there was no natural connexion between these two subjects. He was aware, that it had long been the fashion with chancellors of the exchequer, to come down to the House, and to congratulate members upon the great sum which had been raised by the taxes. It appeared, however, to him, that this ought to be rather a subject of condolence than of congratulation; for though a minister might, with propriety, congratulate the country, if he had a productive revenue with a light taxation, he did not see what right he could have to do so, when the productiveness of the revenue arose from the heaviness of taxation. He should contend, that as things were at present managed, the distress of the agriculturists increased in the same proportion as the revenue was abundant. It was now the fashion to cry up the necessity of maintaining the public credit unimpaired, and to cry down all those who ventured even to hint a syllable in derogation of such a doctrine. Now, he asserted, that it was not fair to push the doctrine too far. Two years ago he had stated to the House two cases, in which it would not only not be fair, but would be positively unjust, to maintain what was called public credit, with the strictness which its advocates required. Those cases he would not now repeat; though at a fit opportu- 230 nity, he should be prepared, not only to restate, but also to defend them. He was long enough a member of that House, to recollect the tune when the same ignominy was attached to the idea of touching the sinking fund, as was now attached to the idea of reducing the interest of the public debt; and yet such had been the alteration in its opinion, that it had permitted the sinking fund to be invaded repeatedly, by the financial measures of various ministers.
Mr. Grey Bennet
felt it his duty to remind the gentlemen opposite, who had talked so much about dealing honestly with the public creditor, that it was also their duty to deal honestly with the public debtor. The country, he maintained, was only bound to pay the debt which it had borrowed; and he would never allow more to be exacted from it by any shuffling trick regarding the public currency, to which parliament might have consented, by lending its aid to the government to despoil at one time the public creditor, and at another the public debtor. He would never allow time people to be stripped of the last farthing of their property by a system which had created greater misery, and inflicted greater spoliation, than had ever been inflicted upon any people by any system, invented under any form of government. The question of the currency must come again and again before the consideration of parliament. The people of England would not consent to be robbed in the manner that was now attempted. County after county would petition, and demand from the House—not spoliation, but justice; and parliament would be compelled, in the long run, in spite of itself, to come to that equitable adjustment of contracts, which he now claimed at its hands for the people of England, not as a matter of indulgence, but as a matter of right. The people of England would not allow themselves to be stripped of their last shilling by an act, which the House had enacted ignorantly, and with no intention of robbing them; but which had produced all the effects of intended spoliation upon them and their fortunes. He should have been ashamed of himself, if he had left the House that night, without making this explicit declaration of his opinions. Those opinions he should be prepared at a proper time to state more fully, and to justify, by details and facts, which would prove, even with mathematical certainty, 231 the spoliation which the people, for some years past, had been obliged to endure. He knew the difficulty of the task which he had undertaken; nor was he unaware of the obloquy with which its performance must be attended; but this he now said, and he would pledge himself to make it good hereafter,—teat spoliation, great spoliation, had been committed; and that from it was derived nine-tenths of the misery which the people of England now suffered.
§ Lord Milton
said, that it was so long since he had attended the House, that he hardly knew by whom he was supported, or to whom he was opposed. He had had two surprises that evening—the one, the speech of his hon. friend who had just sat down, and which he strongly deprecated; the other, and by far the more agreeable surprise, was the speech of the right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer. And here he could not let the opportunity pass, without offering the tribute of his praise to that right hon. gentleman, for the feelings which seemed to animate, and the spirit of enlarged policy which supported, the propositions he had that night made to the House. He contrasted with much gratification the policy by which ministers were now governed, with that on which they had formerly acted. He could not help feeling that the country had a new government—a government new in all its feelings, and in all its views on great public questions.—The right hon. gentleman, who had that night received and deserved so much praise, had advanced propositions which were sound and self-evident, but which had been denied last session by some of the most influential members of that House. The right hon. gentleman had truly said, that the diminution of taxation was the best, the only, relief for the pressing distress of the people Ministers seemed at length awake to questions over which last session they had slept. Having said so much with regard to the speech of the right hon. gentleman, he was obliged, however, to say, that he was disappointed as to the results to which the right hon. gentleman had led the House. In his opinion, the measure of relief proposed, was less than the country had a right to expect; and considerably less than what was necessary to give efficient relief. He would ask the country gentlemen who heard him, particularly those who represented Norfolk, Suffolk, Sussex, and some of the southern counties, 232 whether, under the present rate of taxation, cultivation could possibly continue? With respect to many parts of England, cultivation must cease, unless taxes attendant on cultivation were removed to a degree far greater than was contemplated by the chancellor of the exchequer. It was his opinion, that the repeal of taxes which that right hon. gentleman had in contemplation, would not go to diminish the expense of cultivation. The distress under which the agriculturists laboured, proceeded, in a great measure, from the expense of cultivation; and that expense was occasioned more by the taxes than by any other cause. The great remedy, therefore, for the distress of agriculture, was the repeal of taxes. Deprecating, as he did, the opinions expressed by his hon. friend (Mr. Bennet) with respect to the public debt, he would yet say, that the greatest security of the public creditor would be found in the diminution of taxation. His hon. friend had talked of an equitable adjustment of contracts: had that, indeed, been carried into effect in the year 1819—had an alteration of the standard been then made—it might have been made without a breach of faith; but it could not be now done without that breach. They could not now turn round on the public creditor, in order to gain an advantage for themselves. Feeling as he did the necessity of supporting the public credit, he strongly urged gentlemen connected with the land, to press for a reduction of taxation; particularly for a reduction of those taxes which bore more directly upon cultivation, as the surest and the most honourable mode of obtaining relief.
§ Sir R. Wilson
rose merely to make one observation. The chancellor of the exchequer had stated, that the reduction of taxation was the best mode of relief. He had also dwelt with satisfaction upon the tranquillity of the country. The right hon. gentleman, and those who acted with him, must feel, that to insure that tranquillity, and to promote the permanent prosperity of the state, it was necessary to bind the people to the government, and that that was only to be done by showing a regard for their liberties. He trusted, therefore, that ministers would take an early opportunity of repealing the laws called the Six Acts, and restoring to Englishmen the ancient free and constitutional laws of England.
said, at the end of the 233 last session, a pledge had been given by ministers, that they would take into consideration sonic measure for facilitating the sale of beer. He wished to know whether any result had been come to upon that consideration? He was convinced, that the more the malt duties were considered, the more readily it would be acknowledged, that, compared with other taxes, they were the most grievous of all. When the right hon. gentleman spoke of the increased consumption of malt, he should recollect, that the consumption last year, was three and a half millions of bushels less than in the year preceding, and that thirty years ago, the consumption of malt was greater than at the present day, in spite of the great increase of population. The question of the malt duties, and of the measures which could he taken for increasing the consumption of malt, was one of such extent, that the sooner it was considered the better. He could not profess himself entirely satisfied with the statement of the chancellor of the exchequer; because the landed interest was left subject to burthens to which no other interest was liable. The poor-rates amounted to within a fraction of seven millions; the highway and county rate to 1½ million; the land tax to 1½ million; so that the landed interest was subject to a burthen of about ten millions, exclusive of tithes. When they looked at their reduced rental, no one could deny, that the cause of their distress was undiminished taxation, operating upon diminished income. He should be one of the last men in the world to consent to the robbery of the fund-holder, or to listen to any plans of plunder and spoliation which might be held out as a bait to the distressed by artful and wicked demagogues. But it was impossible that, year after year, they could go on supporting a sinking fund, by taxes which were bending them down to the very earth.
§ Mr. Benett,
of Wilts, expressed his satisfaction, that 50 per cent of the window tax was to be reduced. It was a most grievous and unequal tax; because a house in the most obscure part of the country, where it was of little or no value, was rated as highly to this tax, as one in the fashionable streets of the metropolis. It was, therefore, by no means an ad valorem tax. It tended, too, to make the country gentlemen desert their ancient and spacious dwellings, and drive them to the metropolis. The house tax was a 234 fair tax, because it was charged according to the value of a dwelling. He should have been glad to have seen the window tax reduced altogether, even though the house tax had been increased. Nothing in the statement of the chancellor of the exchequer had given him greater pleasure, than the measures of relief intended for Ireland. The peace of that country was an object of first-rate importance; and what was now done for Ireland, he considered to be done for the empire at large.
The chancellor of the Exchequer
said, he rose to reply to a remark of an hon. gentleman, as to a pledge given last session. The means of facilitating the sale of beer had by no means escaped his attention; but he could at present say no more than that he was extremely anxious to find out a measure, which should give facilities to the consumption of beer; as well for the benefit of the consumer, as for the ultimate and indirect relief to the parties concerned in the production of malt.
§ The resolutions were then agreed to.