HC Deb 02 July 1823 vol 9 cc1412-22

The House having resolved itself into a committee on the 14,700,000l. Exchequer Bills bill,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he felt on every account the propriety of compressing the observations which he had to make on the present occasion into as narrow a compass as possible. He knew how much the House had been fatigued within the last two weeks, and I he might himself say that, individually, he had experienced the full effects of that fatigue. He should, therefore, proceed without further preface to lay his statement before the committee. As, at an early period, of the session, he had explained the situation in which the Finances of the country stood, and the course of measures which his, majesty's government intended to recommend, to parliament for adoption, and as he had since been enabled by the House to carry those measures into effect, he should not at present repeat any of the observations which he then made. At that time he had stated what was the aggregate amount of the revenue, and also the aggregate amount of the expenses of the nation. Now, however, he should take a more limited view of our situation, and confine himself to a recapitulation of the Votes of Supply which had been come to in the course of the session, and the Ways and Means which parliament had provided to meet that supply.—He had stated, at the commencement of the session, that the total amount of the supply would be about 16,600,000l. Gentlemen, however, would now find, from the papers laid before them, that the supply exceeded the above sum by 2 or 300,000l. He should, he trusted, be able to account satisfactorily for that excess. It did not occur in consequence of any increase in the estimates for the Army or Navy or the Ordnance, but the whole had arisen under the head Miscellaneous Expenses, and the items which caused it were such as had not entered into his contemplation when he before addressed the House on the present subject. One of these items was a vote of nearly 60,000l. for the Stationery Office. This vote was in consequence of arrangements which had been lately made for supplying the public departments with stationery, and which, though attended with an extra charge at present, would afterwards conduce to great economy. Formerly, each department provided itself with whatever stationery it thought necessary; but an alteration had been made, by which no stationery was to be furnished but according to particular samples approved of by the Stationery Office, and by that means the total expense (which antecedently was divided among the different public departments) would come under one head. Although, therefore, an increase appeared at present in the expense of the Stationery Office, there would be a corresponding saving in the expenses of all the departments under, the head of contingencies. The full advantages of this alteration would not be felt this year, on account of the navy and military departments having provided themselves with stationery before the new arrangement took place; but next year the public would derive considerable benefit from it. Another item which he had not anticipated at the commencement of the session was, the grant for his majesty's library. There was also 40,000l. for the harbour of Dunleary; and 15,000l. for facilitating emigration from Ireland, which not being contemplated at the commencement of the session, had the effect of increasing the amount of the supply, by the sum already stated. It was, however, satisfactory for him to be able to inform the committee, that although there was such an increase in the supply, there was more than a corresponding increase in the amount of the Ways and Means. The whole of the supply now amounted to 16,976,743l. The way in which these expenses were met, was by three millions of what in the printed papers were, by mistake, termed annual Malt Taxes, but which were, in reality, duties on sugar and other articles. Then there was the lottery 200,000l. and 126,873l. repayment by Exchequer-bill loan commissioners. Next was the amount of naval and military pensions, 4,800,000l., and 90,000l. to be paid by the East India Company, on account of half-pay and pensions. This item he wished shortly to explain, and in doing so he had great pleasure in stating, that the East India Company acquiesced in the arrangement, as one perfectly equitable. It appeared to them perfectly reasonable, that as they had a large portion of the British army employed in protecting their territory, they should become liable to some part of the half-pay and pensions with which the country was chargeable on account of the army. There was some difficulty in fixing the fair proportion which the Company ought to pay, because many of those who were pensioned, or put on half pay, while their regiments were in the East Indies, might have become entitled to those pensions, or to half-pay, before they had gone to that part of the world. He thought, however, he might safely say that the arrangement ultimately concluded was both just as it regarded the public, and liberal as it regarded the East India Company. They had agreed to pay 60,000l. a year, which at present he had taken credit for in the Ways and Means, but whether another disposition of that sum should not hereafter be made as, for instance, whether like the amount received for old stores, it should not be deducted from the expense of the army only—he had not yet decided. The sum which under this head he had now to apply as Ways and Means, was 90,000l. in consequence of the East India Company having consented to commence their payments from May, 1822. The next item was a surplus of Ways and Means of 469,047l. not called for by the expenses of past years. There was also a surplus on the Consolidated Fund of 8,760,000l. It was a long time since a Chancellor of the Exchequer had had it in his power to include a surplus of the Consolidated Fund in his Ways and Means; and certainly it was very agreeable to him that, in the commencement of his official career, that duty had devolved on him, particularly when the surplus amounted to so large a sum. The circumstance to which it was owing that so large a surplus of the Consolidated Fund now existed, was the arrangement lately made with respect to the Sinking Fund, by which the charge on that fund was reduced to its proper amount. In the early part of the session he had stated, that the annual income of the Consolidated Fund might be taken at 46,000,000l., and the expenses at 38,000,000l.—28,000,000l. of the latter sum was for the charge of the Funded Debt, 2,000,000, for the expenses of the Civil list and other charges, 2,800,000l. for the payment of the half-pay and pension annuities, and 5,000,000l. of Sinking Fund, which, with a few small items amounted in the whole to 38,500,000l. A surplus thus remained of about eight millions, and he had the satisfaction to say that, in making this statement, he bad not taken as a criterion the receipts either of last year or of this year, but the probable receipts of next year, after deducting the amount of taxes repealed during the present session. The result of the whole was, that the Ways and Means for this year amounted to 17,385,920l., and by deducting; from that sum the totals amount of the Supply, which was, 16,976,743l., no less a surplus than 409,177l. would remain unappropriated, but 244,150l. of which, it was intended to apply the decrease of the unfounded debt. He thought it a very satisfactory circumstance, that he was enabled to make such to statement to the committee, It appeared to him extremely desirable, that something unappropriated should always remain in hand to meet unforeseen emergencies, and that the revenue should not be paired down exactly to the expenses of the country. He might also observe, that owing to the late alterations in the distillery, he had in the foregoing statement, calculated on a loss of revenue from spirits; he, however, had no doubt but that deficiency would be soon compensated by the operation of the measures alluded to.—He was happy to say, that besides this a surplus existed to meet the passing contingencies of the country. A large sum of assessed taxes had been lost to the revenue. They were now nearly two quarters in arrear, and three quarters would soon be received and added to the sum now stated, which would leave an additional surplus. He said this for the purpose of shewing the House, that there was no reason to fear a defalcation in the amount of the approaching quarter.

Perhaps it might not be altogether unsatisfactory for him to allude to the present state of the revenue, in order to shew that he was justified in the comparison he had made of the first half of this with the same portion of last year. The account of the receipts in the first part of the present year, began on the 5th of January, and concluded on the 28th of June, while the account for the first part of the year 1822, began oh the same day and ended on the 5th of July, by which the whole of the half year came into the account, and it was generally known that the last days of the quarter were by no means the least productive. He should satisfy the House that the revenue, instead of falling short, actually exceeded this year the produce of the same period in 1822. In the Customs the account was as follows:—

From the 5th of January to 28th June, 1823 4,026,661
In Bills and Cash 79,191
Receipt from June 28 to July 4,(16,000l. perdiem) 80,000
Half year ending July 5, 1822 4,045,987
Estimated increase to July 5, 1823 139,865

This was independent of the amount of tonnage duties, which produced last year a sum of 66,000l., and which were now repeated. In the Excise, too, a considerable improvement had taken place in many articles, while in others the account was not so satisfactory. However, on the whole, he trusted, that the improvement would not appear unimportant. The difference between the two years would appear by the following estimate of the Excise revenue for the half year ending July 5, 1823, compared with the actual receipt of the corresponding period of last year.

Payments to the 5th of July, 1822 12,125,136
Actual payments from the 5th of Jan. to the 1st of July, 1823 10,571,081
Estimated payments from the 1st to the 5th of July, 658,000
Deficiency on the half year 896,655
Actual loss on the half year upon articles on which the duties have been reduced.
Hides 135,688
Malt, including 270,000l. repayment on account of stock in hand 450,637
Salt 465,550
Actual increase 155,820
In addition to which the repayment on account of malt duty previously accounted for amounted to 270,030l., which is included in the above sum of 450,637l.; and if no such repayment bad been made, the increase of revenue 425,820

The result as to the revenue derivable from Stamps, the Post-office, and the Assessed Taxes, appeared to be equally satisfactory. While the revenue was thus improving, the ministers had also been able to effect a gradual reduction of the debt, and this reduction had been progressive from the 5th of January, 1823, on which day, the unredeemed debt amounted to 796,530,144l. The following account would show to what extent it had been reduced from the 5th of January to the 30th of June, by the commissioners for its reduction:—

By Sinking Fund England 1,834,535
Ireland 172,382
Transferred for Life Annuities 334,883
Transferred for, Land-tax, estimated 24,000
Transferred for, unclaimed 10 years 14,432
Purchased with Unclaimed Dividends 19,100
English Debt, decreased by capital transferred to the debt in Ireland 797,138
Deduct Irish Debt increased by capital transferred from England 797,138
Total redeemed £2,399,332

The amount of debt remaining unredeemed was 794,130,812l. It was necessary to observe, that whilst the reduction which he had stated was going on, no corresponding addition had been made to the debt. The reduction which had been effected was clear reduction. Besides the capital redeemed and transferred as above, there was paid to the Bank, towards the redemption of Exchequer bills, per 3 Geo 4th. cap. 66—

January 8, 1823 340,000
April 8 340,000
To be paid July 5 340,000

Thus it appeared, that there had been a clear reduction of debt to the amount of upwards of 3,000,000l. The committee was aware that it was the custom to issue deficiency bills to meet the demands on the consolidated fund. On the 5th of January, 1823, the deficiency bills amounted to 5,920,354l.; but on the 5th of April, the period when the last account was made up, they had been reduced to 3,793,291l. There was a reduction, therefore, of more than 2,000,000l. under that head. Whilst this reduction of debt had been in progress, the government had also effected a considerable reduction of taxation. Perhaps the committee would not be unwilling to hear the extent to which the reduction of taxation bad been carried during the last two years, for he would confine himself to that period. If the hon. gentlemen opposite chose to attribute the diminution of taxation to their exertions, he would not dispute with them. He would not contend for the merit of the act; it was sufficiently gratifying to him to know, that notwithstanding the government had made great sacrifices of revenue, yet nevertheless the resources of the country were so solid and substantial, that they enabled the government to provide amply for the public service, and at the same time to effect a progressive reduction of the debt. Within the 1ast two years reductions had taken place of the undermentioned taxes, to the following amout:—

Husbandry horses 480,000
Malt 1,400,000
Salt 1,295,000
Hides 300,000
Assessed taxes 2,300,000
Assessed Ireland, about 100,000
Tonnage duty 160,000
Windows—Ireland 180,000
Spirits—Ireland 380,000
Spirits—Scotland 340,400

Reductions had also been effected upon minor items of taxation, which, though unimportant in amount, were of great benefit to the parties by whom those taxes had been paid. He alluded to all the reductions to be found in the bill in progress relative to Customs. One of the most important parts of the bill was that which provided for the reduction of the duty on stone carried coastwise. He might also advert, to another circumstance which would diminish the amount of taxation—he meant the repeal of the Union duties in Ireland. It could not be denied that the repeal of those duties would be prejudicial to the interests of some persons, but it would enable the people of Ireland to obtain some articles of British produce 10 per cent below the price which they at present paid for them. If the smaller items of reduction to which he had thus briefly alluded were added to the sum which he had before stated, it would make a total of about seven millions and a half. He wished to say a few words with respect to Ireland. No one could look at the manner in which parliament had conducted itself with respect to the taxation of Ireland, without being convinced, that whatever differences of opinion might exist with respect to the moral and political Causes which operated in that country to produce misfortunes which it was painful to dwell upon, in a fiscal point of view, at least, it had given a most liberal attention to the wants of that unhappy country. Among other measures connected with the finances, he might advert to some bills which had passed through the House Without comment—a proof that their principle was approved—for uniting the boards of Customs and Excise, and assimilating their practice in both countries. The effect of those bills would be no less advantageous to merchants, than to the public in general.

He did not know that he had now any thing further to state to the committee. He did not feel justified in saying any thing with respect to the future: but he might be allowed to say, that he considered the revenue in a flourishing condition. He thought, too, that no man could doubt that the finances of the country were in a state of progressive improvement. Under these circumstances, he could not but anticipate that government might be enabled to extend the principle of reduction of taxation still further than it had been already carried. Government would do all that could be done to reduce taxation, provided it was not over-pressed. He was not ashamed to avow that in his opinion theories which every body allowed to be unobjectionable, might, when they were attempted to be carried into, practice too rapidly, with respect to such an enormous concern as the revenue of this country, be productive of the greatest mischief. If government were allowed to proceed in a moderate course, he had very little doubt that it would find in consequence of the acts of reduction which had taken place, the means of extending relief from taxation still further. He felt it to be his duty not to say any thing more specific on the subject. He was aware that many honourable members had, during the present session, directed the attention of government to several taxes of great importance, which they desired to obtain the repeal of. Some of the taxes which had thus, been alluded to were of very great importance, connected as they were with the necessity of preventing smuggling. He felt that he should be doing wrong if he were at that moment to express any opinion with respect to the repeal of those taxes. He would, therefore, content himself with the declaration of the general principle on which government was desirous of proceeding. He was glad to have, received from the House the most liberal support of the views which he and the rest of his majesty's ministers had entertained; and he trusted that the House had no reason to think that their support had been improperly bestowed. He had taken pains to ascertain the feelings of the country, with respect to the course of policy which ministers, had pursued; and he had found that the people generally were completely satisfied with it, and as long as that was the case he should also be satisfied.

Mr. Maberly

congratulated the House on the candid statement which they had just heard from the right hon. gentleman. During the whole time that he had been a member of that House, he had never heard such an open, fair, or candid statement; and, indeed, it appeared to him, that the right hon. gentleman had rather under-rated than over-rated the grounds on which he founded his report of the present increasing and flourishing state of the revenue, and of the hopes he entertained of the future diminution of public taxation. He was happy that the right hon. gentleman had been thus candid; for, by such conduct, he would secure the confidence of the country. He was also gratified at the liberal principles which ministers seemed to have adopted, with regard to public trade; for such liberal views would materially contribute to make commerce increase, and render the nation prosperous and happy. As they had begun some reduction in the public burthens, he trusted they would feel it their duty to proceed as expeditiously as possible; and he perhaps, might suggest that a reduction of the Land tax, and of the 4 and 3½ per cents would effect a considerable saving in the public expenditure. There was also the Imperial debt. He believed it was notorious that the right hon. gentleman had entered into some arrangements for a compromise of that debt, and it was said that two and a half or three millions were to be deceived by this government, as a payment of the debt. If this were true, he thought the Austrian government had acted fairly in the transaction. He expressed his concurrence with the right hon. gentleman as to his views of the future state of the revenue. When the capital of the country could fairly be employed, trade would increase, and the revenue would proportionably be benefitted; and if the reduction of public burthens could be extended to Ireland, the population there would be employed, and the great cause of complaint on that account would cease.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

merely wished to say, that the loan alluded to was in a course of negotiation which he hoped would prove successful. At present he could say nothing as to the terms of the negotiation, nor as to the probable result, but should confine himself to the statement, that every disposition existed on the part of both the governments to come to an amicable adjustment of the debt.

Mr. Hume

said, that he was somewhat satisfied with the statement which had been laid before the House. The reduction which had taken place was certainty more than had been thought possible eighteen months since. He wished the right hon. gentleman to bear in mind one thing, and that was, that if he reduced taxation by the amount of one million, he would not lose that million. It would be employed in business, or expended m pleasure, by the people in whose pockets it was suffered to remain, and would produce as much benefit to the revenue at the end of the year as if it had been levied in direct taxation. Let, then, the right hon. gentleman go on with his reductions—let him reduce four millions this year, and four millions the next year, and he would find that in the end he would not lose any thing by the reduction. The hon. member condemned the military and naval pensions, by which we had borrowed the sum of 4,800,000l. at the rate of 73l. in the hundred of the three per cents, while we were now buying at 82l. in the market. By this loan a loss of 6l. per cent had arisen, and it should be remarked, that at the time it was thus disadvantageously contracted for, the cabinet had resolved that this country should not enter into a war. The money lost by the contract would have enabled ministers to effect a total repeal of the Leather tax. Neither could he refrain from mentioning the bad effects produced by the continuation of the Sinking Fund. The House could hot have acted more unwisely than by suffering that fund to exist. By so doing, five millions had been devoted to a purpose productive of no practical benefit, which might have been applied to the reduction of taxation.

The resolutions were agreed to, and the House resumed.