said, he held in his hand a petition from a number of Inhabitant householders of the parish of St. Anne's, Westminster, praying for a repeal of the whole, or such part as relate to the Window duties, of the assessed taxes. This petition was from a portion of the great body of petitioners who petitioned that House in the beginning of the year 1822. He had an opportunity of knowing, that if it had not been strongly reported that it was the intention of the chancellor of the Exchequer to propose the remission of a large portion of the assessed taxes, and especially the window tax, petitions similar to the present would ere this have been presented from the whole of the city of Westminster; and meetings were at present convoked of the whole of the parishes of Westminster, for the purpose of petitioning the House not to carry into effect the plan which the chancellor of the Exchequer had proposed. The petition which he had now the honour to present was signed by nine hundred householders of the parish of St. Anne's; and he begged the House particularly to remark, that it proceeded from persons of every kind and denomination of political opinion. He was quite sure, that when the House was told, that the first paragraph stated the sense which the petitioners entertained of "the firm, wise, and enlightened policy of that honourable House," they would not believe that the petition was "got up," as it was termed, 653 by those who usually prepared petitions from the city of Westminster. The petitioners stated, that they entertained the most confident hopes that this odious window tax would be repealed by parliament. Nothing prevented the petition from having been signed by a much larger body of individuals but want of time. As it was, it was signed by the members of the select vestry, even by the collectors of the king's taxes, and by a number of other persons, who, on other occasions, differed very materially from those who were called reformers in politics.
The Petition was then read, setting forth,
"That the Petitioners have seen a statement purporting to be an account (laid before the House on the 12th of February, 1824) of the public income and expenditure of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, for the year ended the 5th of January, 1824, whereby it appears, that a surplus had been paid into his majesty's Exchequer of 6,700,000l. and upwards, arising, in the opinion of the petitioners, from the firm, wise, and enlightened policy of the House, a continuation of which the petitioners feel confident will tend essentially to maintain the prosperity of the United Kingdom, and the good faith of all his majesty's subjects; that by the remission of a portion of the window and other taxes during the last session of parliament, the petitioners were relieved from a portion of the burthens of taxation under which they had previously laboured, and they were anxiously led to anticipate a repeal of the whole of the house and window duties in the present session; that the petitioners conceive those taxes, even as now reduced, to be not only grievous and insupportable burthens, but also unjust in their operation, inasmuch as by the present scale of taxation the windows of all houses are subject to the same duty, without reference to local situation; that a considerable proportion of the inhabitants of that parish are tradesmen in a small way of business, upon whom the assessed taxes have a most injurious and oppressive effect, as it not unfrequently happens that many have been compelled to dispose of property to their great loss and disadvantage, in order to prevent their goods being seized by the collectors for payment thereof; that the petitioners humbly submit that the repeal of 654 the laws imposing a tax on windows would not operate as a total loss to the revenue, as the use and consumption of glass would in consequence of such repeal be greatly extended, and the duty on that article thereby increased; the petitioners therefore humbly pray, That the House will take the allegations aforesaid into consideration, and pass an act for the repeal of all the laws relating to the assessed taxes, or such parts thereof as impose the tax in respect of windows and lights, as to the House shall seem meet."
next presented a petition from the inhabitants of the parish of St. Mary, Lambeth, in the county of Surrey; setting forth,
"That the petitioners are greatly oppressed by the taxation they are compelled to endure, and by the rigorous mode in which these taxes are collected; that the petitioners are more particularly-oppressed by the taxes known by the name of assessed taxes, which in their very nature are equally partial and unjust; that the taxes levied on houses and windows, are not only partial and unjust, but are also injurious to the health, and destructive of moral habits among the people; that the very principle of all just taxation is in these taxes reversed, those who are least able to pay, being charged at a much heavier rate than those who are most able to bear the burthen; that the truth of these assertions is proved in the following table:—
That from the above table it appears, that the first four houses pay from 9s. to 14s. 6d. in the pound, on an average, 58 per cent, and that the other four houses pay from 6s. 7d. to 8s. 10d. in the pound, or 36 per cent; that the higher the rents, the greater the decrease of the rate of duties, and that consequently the middling housekeepers, who are the least able to pay, are burthened the most; that, owing to the great decay of trade during the last six years, and also the decrease of profits, the mass of the middle class of housekeepers are continually thrust down 655 lower and lower, until they are destroyed, to the great impoverishment of the body of the people; that ministers have made it a boast, that they have been able to impose upon the people five millions of taxes more than are sufficient to supply their wasteful system of misgoverning the country, which, at a time when distress stalks over the land, is evidence of both folly and hard-heartedness; that ministers ought not to be trusted with any surplus, but, on the contrary, they ought to be compelled to retrench their profligate system of corruption, and return to a just, wholesome, and economical mode of administering the affairs of the nation; the petitioners are fully convinced that it will be for the advantage of every person in the nation that the assessed taxes should be wholly repealed, and they therefore pray, That the House will cause a repeal thereof to be made forthwith.
House and Window Tax. Rent. Windows. Duties 1797. Duties 1817. Addition per Cent. £. £. s. d. £. s. d. On a House of 50 25 9 0 0 22 10 2 150 On a House of 50 30 10 0 0 20 14 2 167 On a House of 50 35 11 0 0 30 18 2 180 On a House of 50 40 12 0 0 35 10 2 200 On a House of 100 25 11 10 0 29 11 10 157 On a House of 100 30 12 10 0 33 15 10 172 On a House of 100 35 13 10 0 37 10 10 181 On a House of 100 40 14 10 0 43 0 10 196
§ Ordered to lie on the table.
then rose to make the motion of which he had given notice. He began by observing, that he was quite sensible, that on the present occasion he should stand in need of the whole of that indulgence which the House had been in the habit of being kind enough to give him, on the various occasions on which he had felt it his duty to trouble them. These were not mere words of course; they were prompted by a sentiment which he unfeignedly felt, and which he was sure every body would be aware he must feel, when he was about to handle so vitally important a subject as the taxation of the country; and when it was his intention, he would not say to follow, because that would be irregular, but to allude to the recent speech of the right hon. the chancellor of the Exchequer, who had enlightened even his political enemies by some of the sound views of commercial policy which he had opened. If the right hon. gentleman followed up those views, and carried them into practice, he would acquire, he would not say that noisy quality fame, but he would acquire that high and lasting character, which ought to be the first object of the ambition of every man who aspired to a share in the government of a country. At the same time, although in the commercial course which the right hon. gentleman was pursuing, he was actuated by the most correct principles—principles from which no man, who had at all considered 656 the subject, could express the slightest dissent—yet the right hon. gentleman had far from satisfied the just expectations of the country, with respect to the reduction of taxation. It ought to be recollected, that for some time, even before the right hon. gentleman's accession to office, the country had been led to expect a considerable alleviation of its burthens. The present government appeared to have departed from the ruinous and ridiculous principle, that the true riches of a country consisted in the wealth of the Treasury, and not in the wealth of the people. They appeared to have, in a great measure, departed from that system which, had burthened the nation with the most oppressive and grievous taxation which had ever been imposed—not upon a nation calling itself free, but upon a nation living under the most absolute despotism. He should have been glad to have seen, on the present occasion, a perseverance in the reduction of taxation. Under other circumstances—had we exerted ourselves in the cause of liberty in other countries—it would have been a different question. But, as the temple of Janus was shut, as it appeared for ever; as we had made no honourable efforts to maintain the cause of independence in Europe, and to sustain our own character in the world; the sacrifices which could have been justified only by being called for from such motives, ought not to be required after the deliberate adoption of a policy of so opposite a nature. In his majesty's speech at the commencement of the session, it was said, that every thing in the country was prosperous; that commerce was prosperous; that agriculture was prosperous to an extent not anticipated even by the most ardent admirers of the present political system. The revenue was also stated to be highly flourishing. Why, if that were the case, was this the precise time chosen for continuing the burthens of the people?
He would take the liberty, en passant, when this boast was made of the increased prosperity of the country, to say, that he was not quite so certain of the fact. He was not quite so certain, that the improvement of agriculture did not prove the depression of other branches of the community. He found that those who had been so anxious for the improvement of agriculture, merely meant that they were anxious for a rise of prices. It was for that purpose, that they were so de- 657 sirous of the corn laws. If the agriculturists did not complain at present, he concluded it was because corn was dear. But, a rise in the price of corn must be injurious to all the other classes of the population. It was impossible that the country could go on tolerably with high prices. It was a principle which had been advocated on both sides of the House: it had been advocated by the right hon. gentleman opposite; it had been advocated by his late lamented friend (Mr. Ricardo), that no benefit could possibly be expected from high prices. But, though from high prices it had been proved we could expect nothing, still less was any benefit to be derived from fluctuating prices. As long however as the present corn-bill lasted, those fluctuations must continue. Either the consumer would be buying at too high a rate, or the producer would be selling at too low a rate. Petitions would thus keep pouring into the House, from the one party or from the other. One class would appeal to government for aid against the other; and government having only a choice of evils, would be unable to adopt that line of policy which true wisdom would suggest. It seemed to be forgotten by the agriculturists, that a change even now appeared to be approaching. If the present prices continued, we should soon have the bonded wheat in the market; and what would the agriculturists say then? If the average should prove to be beyond 70s. (and it had occasionally been even 74s.) in would come the bonded wheat; and should we then bear the right hon. gentleman talk of the prosperity of agriculture? He believed not. He recollected that, on the first day of the session, the hon. gentleman who moved the Address, attributed the flourishing state of the country to a superior being. He imagined the hon. gentleman did not mean any one of his majesty's ministers, although he supposed they were considered superior beings. What the hon. gentleman meant, he supposed, was, that the prosperity was not owing to natural causes. The right hon. the chancellor of the Exchequer, in his speech the other night, gave the credit of the improvement elsewhere. The right hon. gentleman had introduced two topics into his speech, which certainly did not bear very closely on the question. He went a little out of his way to defend two calumniated characters—the emperor Francis, and the 658 House of Commons. With respect to the emperor Francis, he had certainly had something to do with the prosperity of the country; for he had transmitted to us two millions five hundred thousand pounds, in full payment for a debt, the amount of which, principal and interest, was stated, in a speech made two sessions ago by the hon. member for Buckinghamshire, to be twenty-one millions and a half. With respect to the other calumniated character, of course in the situation in which he was placed, he could not speak as he felt of that House which at present existed—for he could not suppose that it would "sit attentive to its own applause." Not that House of Commons, therefore, but the House of Commons—a House of Commons in which the right right hon. gentleman himself had sat—had actually sanctioned the imposition on the country, of every part of that system which the right hon. gentleman now proposed to abrogate and annul. And yet the right hon. gentleman had gone out of his way to declare, that the people were under great obligations to the House of Commons for getting them out of their difficulties. The merit, after all, was very trifling. For what was it. After the people of England, with a patience, a long suffering, and an endurance, which no nation had ever before exhibited under such circumstances, had allowed themselves to be taxed, not in their luxuries merely—not in their comforts merely—but to the very destruction of existence (for many of our fellow-countrymen had died under the infliction), the chancellor of the Exchequer came forward and said—"we will not continue the pressure; we will not, after the nation has been at peace for nine years, tax you as if we had been at war for nine years; and we have no hesitation in making such a proposition to that kind, paternal parliament, to whom you are so deeply indebted for relief from your difficulties." He would take the liberty to say, that he had heard the right hon. gentleman assign a much more rational cause for the prosperity of the country, not in the present, but during the last year. His words were, "that the increase of commerce abroad, and the increase of commerce at home, were principally owing to the increasing ease and comfort of the people." True; they were so. But, could the right hon. gentleman honestly, and with the high character which he maintained, 659 and no doubt always would maintain, say that the ease and comfort of the people were attributable to parliament? [The chancellor of the Exchequer nodded in the affirmative.] The right hon. gentleman thought that they were. He (Mr. H.) thought that they were not. Let the right hon. gentleman produce his proofs: let him bring into detailed examination the whole course of the national burthens and taxation; and where the right hon. gentleman could trace one benefit enjoyed by the people to parliament, he pledged himself that he would 'trace two or more to the people themselves. The fact was that, owing to the acquiescence of parliament, government had for so many years had their hands in the pockets of the people, that they quite forgot to whom the property which they were taking actually belonged; so that when a remission of taxation took place, they talked of it as if it were a boon to the country, and as if they were making a free gift to the people, as a reward for their good, decent, kind, orderly, complaisant conduct; and not as if they were merely abstaining from taking that which was the undoubted property of the people themselves [hear hear]. The late lord Londonderry had more than once declared in that House, that the reduction of further taxation was impossible; and that if any further taxes were taken off, he would resign. The late chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Vansittart, had said, on a motion for a repeal of agricultural horse tax, that that motion was the commencement of an assault on the finances of the country, and that if it were carried, it would be impossible for him to keep his place. Thus, the king's ministers had always declared that' nothing could be done in the way of repealing taxes. Fortunately, however, it was found, that some relief to the people could be afforded in the way of repealing taxes. Nay, he was one of those who thought that much further relief might, in the same manner, be afforded, It had been said, that the country was recovering from its difficulties. If the fact were so, was it to the ministers that the amendment was to be ascribed? No. To the native health and vigour of the nation was the recovery to be ascribed. It was a piece of shameful presumption on the part of ministers, to take credit to themselves for that recovery, to apply the praise which was due to the patient to those who had caused his disease. The statement of the 660 right hon. the chancellor of the Exchequer was not the bringing forward of the budget for the year; it went further; it was in the nature of a scheme of the finances of the country, to be acted upon up to the year 1827; from which this fact was clearly to be inferred, that during that period at least no further reduction of taxes was to be expected. He was glad to find that the right hon. gentleman, had in some degree, altered part of our commercial regulations. The right hon. gentleman seemed to see that it was impossible for this country to disconnect herself from the rest of Europe. The right hon. gentleman in very beautiful and poetic language, had talked of the cords which bound down the commerce of the country. By whom, he would ask, were those cords twisted together, where, but in that House? The right hon. gentleman had, in the same strain, alluded to the golden idol of prejudice. But, where was that idol most devoutly worshipped? By whom were its altars endowed? Where did it find so many worshippers as in that House? The right hon. gentleman found his admirers and his supporters in that House, as did all his predecessors. Of that idol it might be said, as of other idols—Of whatsoe'er descent the godhead be,A stock, a stone, or homely pedigree,In his defence his servants are as boldAs if he had been formed of beaten gold.He hoped the right hon. gentleman would recollect, that it was not in that House alone that his conduct was to be judged of. He should recollect, that although there was one dark spot in the country—he meant that House—yet that outside its doors a beam of light had shone around; that the people were able to judge of public transactions and of public men; and that they were not likely to submit in silence to the future mal-administration of their affairs. The chancellor of the Exchequer had estimated a surplus of 4,135,099l. at the end of his five years' computation: but the Austrian loan, which became available in a small repayment, was to be diverted from any channel of relief for the people. The taxes, also, which the government had consented to reduce, were not considered as the most pressing by the people at large. For instance, they had heard that night, that petitions were numerously preparing in Yorkshire against the repeal of the wool-tax. They had also a notice from 661 the hon. member for Coventry, that he would have a quantity of petitions to present against the reduction of the silk duty. It was odd that these attempts at relief created nothing but dissatisfaction the country did not seem sensible of the intended favour. The taxes which the right hon. gentleman proposed to repeal would not give relief to the great body of the people. He would take, for instance, the repeal of the duty on silk. How few of the great body of the people would gain by the repeal of those duties. The reduction might operate on the higher orders; it might benefit them, but on the lower class, who ought to be the natural objects of relief, it would scarcely have any effect. It might indeed, and would, in reference to our commercial system, have, at a future time, a good effect; but it would produce on the great body of the people, no present benefit. The plan of the right hon. gentleman for years, at least, was intended to be permanent. If the House, therefore, intended to make a stand for the reduction of taxes, now was the time. If the House did not make a stand at that critical moment, they could afterwards have little hope of effecting so desirable an object. The right hon. gentleman had stated to the House, that in 1827 he would have a surplus of4,135,099l. It did not appear that that sum was to be disposed of by government, to effect an object so vulgar as the repeal of taxes: He entirely concurred in the principle of the improved commercial policy, from which these reductions emanated; but still he contended that there were other and better reductions, more suited to the actual wants and expectations of the country. He must repeat his dislike to the announced application of so large a part of the Austrian repayment, for what the minister might call a little agreeable, pleasing scheme of architectural improvement. It looked as if the right hon. gentleman thought that the people were too rich to be offered this portion of their money which they had lent—that they were too religious, too monarchical, too grateful to church and state, to forego this opportunity of building new churches, and repairing ancient palaces—that they wished any thing to be done with the cash which had been called a God send; rather than that it should be forced back into their ownpockets. This was well enough imagined of a people who had paid, according to a calcula- 662 tion which baffled credibility and bewildered the imagination, during the last thirty years, in taxes and loans, the enormous sum of two millions of millions of pounds. A part of the surplus was it seemed, intended to be laid out in building churches. But, did the people want churches? He was ready to agree with the chancellor of the Exchequer, that if places of worship were wanted, it was the duty of government to find them. An hon. member of that House (Mr. John Smith) had said in a former evening, that as long as one man in the country was oppressed with taxes, he would not consent to the appropriation of any sum of money to the building of churches. He concurred with the hon. member: he considered the appropriation of the public money to such an object a profligate expenditure. Religious as he really believed the people of England to be, he yet hoped, that they would not elect any gentleman who should vote for so profligate a grant of their money. The right hon. gentleman had certainly been very unfortunate in the time he had selected for the appropriation of the money of the people to the uses of the church. The church did not want it. There was, unfortunately, a feeling abroad, that, by some accident or other, the interests of the church did not go hand in hand with the interests of the people. To show how little had been gained by the building of new churches, he would state what he had heard, on the authority of a friend of his who had a pew at Mary-la-bonne church. His friend had assured him, that, since the building of the new church at Mary-la-bonne, the pews in the old church had doubled and even trebled in point of price, and the parish rates had increased 25 per cent; and all this, after the expenditure of so much of the public money in the building of churches!—Reverting to the Austrian loan, he begged to remind the House of a declaration made by Mr. Pitt, in his place in that House. Mr. Pitt had said, that the Emperor of Austria might be sued in his own courts for the amount of that loan, and that mortgage bonds to the amount of four millions had been lodged in the bank of England to the credit of that loan. It was not until the year 1818, that the discovery was made, that this loan was not to be considered as in the nature of a debt. At all events, the repayment ought to go in the reduction of taxes. Let the House see what would 663 be the situation of the country in the year 1827. They would have, according to the present scale, to raise 54,577,654l. out of the pockets of the people. In his opinion, that was a sum that ought not be taken from the people; it was more than was necessary; it was more than they could afford to pay. It was considered necessary by ministers to keep up the sinking fund—he thought most unwisely. If they would do away with that fund, they could instantly apply the amount in reducing the taxes. The taxes which in his judgment ought to be reduced above all others, were the assessed taxes, because they were most felt by the people. Out of the fifty five millions of taxes which were raised, fifty millions were raised without observation; but the remaining five millions created perpetual harassing and discontent by means of the surcharges. After the diminution of the tax of the last year, it would be recollected, that those surcharges bad created a great sensation throughout the country. They were of a nature so vexatious as to make it impossible for the people to submit to them. He held in his hand a pamphlet written by a gentleman who was himself a commissioner of taxes, who had stated, that he had often sat as commissioner, and seen decisions made by a very small majority, and departed from in a few days after by the very same commissioners. Such were the uncertain, the inconsistent, the harassing consequences of that tax; and such consequences were likely to take place as long as the government continued to preserve the system. The question was, whether the inhabitants of this country were to be well or ill lodged—not only at this moment, but from the beginning to the end of their existence? In many instances 100 per cent on the rent was actually paid in the house and window tax. In some cases it was even more. There was a whole street in Bath, where the houses let for 32l. per annum, and where the king's taxes amounted to no less than 34l. per annum. It was to be observed, that this duty had been originally given as a commutation for others—such as the tax upon tea; but it was not a little remarkable, that the tea-tax had been renewed, continued, and enormously increased; for it had been since raised from 12 per cent, to 100 per cent, and not one shilling of he house and window duty had, on that account, been relinquished. In the year 664 1798, when there was a triple assessment and when Mr. Pitt told the House, that unless it consented to that measure the nation must succumb to France—the house and window tax amounted to 1,478,000l—little more than the sum at present collected. There was another objection which he had to make to this tax, even in its present state; namely, that it was always inexpedient to retain any part of a tax, the whole of which might be done away with. It was keeping up the scaffolding, and preparing for any thing that might follow. What struggles had occurred regarding the salt duties; and it seemed almost as if they were to be continued, for the chancellor of the Exchequer was still anxious to cling to the last relic of the impost. A great many objections might be reasonably urged to the house and window tax. It was not only inquisitorial, but it deprived the labouring classes of those main sources of health and strength—the light and air. True it was that a reduction, or a supposed reduction, had been made in 1823; but the people had received little benefit therefrom; for such had been the vigilance of the surchargers, urged on by the premium held out to them in the Treasury minute, that it was a fact, that, in Westminster, some of his constituents actually now paid more than they did before. This effect had been produced by the surchargers finding out some back windows that before had escaped attention, and by compelling the tenants to pay for miserable lights belonging to cellars, or more properly subterranean dungeons, and which were only just sufficient to exhibit the squalid wretchedness of the inhabitants. The chancellor of the Exchequer had said, that to make the advantages of his reduction more generally felt, the basement stories of houses, used as shops, should not be charged; but his intention in this respect had been frustrated, for the surchargers, whenever they could find a window at the back of such shops, or which was not actually used for the purpose of displaying goods for sale, never failed to charge for it. He might, he thought, fairly ask for the repeal of the whole of the assessed taxes; but he knew there were a great number of individuals who had a respect for what they called the sinking fund (but which he believed to be a fallacy), and who would not concur in a project which they fancied might 665 affect the public credit. He should therefore only go for a reduction of 1,205,000l. Not but that he thought, from the right hon. gentleman's own statement with respect to the house-tax, that it also might be taken off. There had already been an increase in the revenue. There could be no doubt that the impulse which the reduction of this tax would give to building, would add to this increase; and when it was considered, how large a portion of the sums spent in building was paid in taxes, he could not doubt that the revenue would be benefitted by the proposed measure. He was quite willing that the repeal proposed by the right hon. gentleman of the duties on rum, silk, and coals, should be tried by way of experiment; but he could see no reason for that on wool. Even the hon. member for Yorkshire, who represented a great wool county, had said, that the people could wait for this: he (Mr. H.) also said, let them wait, and let objects of more general importance precede it. Against the proposed reduction of the duty on coals, his only objection was, that it was insufficient. So small was it, that the right hon. gentleman had no right to call it a relief of the public burthens. Its total amount was 100,000l.; and this saving was not to come to the public, until after it had passed through the hands of all the dealers, wholesale and retails—But, to return to the subject of the reduction which he had to propose. The total repeal of the window-tax which he proposed would amount to 1,205,000l.; the duties proposed to be repealed by the right hon. gentleman, and to which he (Mr. H.) had no objection, were 712,000l., making a total of 1,917,000l. This he thought was a very moderate demand from one who thought the whole of the assessed taxes might and ought to be repealed. According to the statement of the chancellor of the Exchequer, 700,000l. of the money received on account of the Austrian loan, was to be devoted to the estimates of 1823, and the balance was to be spread over the three ensuing years. But why, lie asked, was not the whole to be applied to the expenditure of the next year? It was quite a new thing in the country system of finance, that the budget should be made for three years. Why should not that which the right hon. gentleman calleda "God-send" the sum with—which the emperor of Austria had paid a dividend of 2s. 6d. in the pound upon his 666 debt to this country—be applied at once to the reduction of the taxes? A part of this money was destined for the repairs said to be necessary at Windsor Castle. If his majesty wished to embark in the repairs of this palace, to which no one had any objection, why were not such palaces as those of Kew and Richmond, to which every body objected, pulled down? But it appeared that a committee was to be appointed, under whose direction these repairs were to be performed. He knew that if a proposal had been made on his side of the House to prevent his majesty from playing the he would not say what, it would at least have been thought, by the gentlemen on the other side, a very scurvy one. But how long would these repairs take? Would they be completed before the arrival of that period, at which the country might be deprived of the services of his majesty in governing it? They would at least take five or six years [a laugh]. He really had no wish to treat this subject indecorously, but he could not help making these observations, because it had been whispered that the sole object in commencing the repairs at Windsor Castle was, that such was his majesty's wish; and it was said moreover, although be did not pretend to know anything of the secrets of the cabinet, that if it had not been for the proposed alterations of this palace, we should have had more churches. Surely, the public money ought not to be thus wantonly expended at a time when the people had a right to expect a diminution of their burthens! Adding then 150,000l. as the estimate for the repairs of Windsor Castle, there would still be needed a further sum to complete the whole reduction of 1,205,000l.; and for this he would propose the adoption of the plan of the hon. member for Abingdon; namely, the taking off the tax upon beer, and putting it upon malt, by which there would be a gain to the country of 280,000l. Those, therefore, who were the most strongly in favour of the sinking fund might safely support his project; for he wished to do nothing that would touch it.
Having thus gone through such calculations as were necessary, be called upon the House, but especially upon the country gentlemen, to give him their support, for the whole population claimed a reduction of the taxes. When their own particular interests were concerned, the 667 country gentlemen had vehemently with stood the ministers of the Crown; and they could scarcely do less when the interests of the whole community were involved. The chancellor of the Exchequer had declared that the people of England were grateful: it was true; they were grateful for real benefits conferred. They had received some benefits unquestionably; but not so many as they had expected, and as they had a right to expect. If ministers did not come forward with some more palatable proposal for lessening the weight which still pressed heavily upon all classes, they would find that they had grievously disappointed the country, and instead of the people being grateful for the benefits they had received, they would be wrathful that they had received no more. The servants of the Crown, from the tenor of the speech of the right hon. gentleman, seemed to rely upon the concurrence of the great mass of the population; but as it would soon be found that they had disappointed the people, so they, in their turn, would be disappointed in the support of the people; and opposition would be given to the measures of government, not merely from one side of the House, but from all classes throughout the kingdom. After apologising for the length of time he had occupied, the hon. gentleman moved,
- 1. "That it appears to this House, that the reduction of taxes proposed by his majesty's chancellor of the Exchequer, is not such as to satisfy the just expectations of the people.
- 2. "That the window-tax is unjust, unequal in its operation, and most oppressive to the least opulent portion of the community; and that it appears to this House that the said tax should, from the 5th of next April, be totally and immediately repealed."
rose for the purpose of submitting to the House some observations on this subject. He thought it was extremely important, because the proposal submitted to the House by the right hon. the chancellor of the Exchequer, was not for one year, but for four; and no further reduction of the public burthens could be looked for by the people during that period. He was particularly desirous to guard himself against any misconstruction, or a charge of inconstancy, with respect to what had fallen from him on a former evening, and what he should have to offer on the present occasion. When the right 668 hon. gentleman had submitted to the House his view of the state of the public finances, he (Mr. M.) had said, that he thought that view was a fair one, and that the nation's prosperity was rather under than over-rated in it. With respect to the taxes which it was then proposed to repeal, he had stated his concurrence in the general principle of reduction, but had reserved to himself the right of pronouncing upon the details when they should come in discussion before the House. With respect to the repeal of bounties, he fully concurred with the right hon. gentleman; and he thought that it was a mild and a judicious course to spread the proposed reduction over a period of ten years. Having offered thus much in explanation, he hoped he should not be deemed inconsistent in seconding the present motion, because in the former debate he had stated, that he did not think the proposed reductions adequate to the circumstances of the country, and the well-grounded expectations of the people. He was prepared to contend, that relief from taxation ought to be afforded on a much more extensive scale, and to that point he would now direct his observations. The continuance of a tax, where there existed a substitute, he had no hesitation in saying he considered a grievance to the people. When, therefore, on an evening subsequent to Monday, the 23rd ult. the House was about to resolve itself into a Committee of Supply, he had come down to his place with the intention of opposing the motion that the Speaker should leave the Chair, because he had intended to take that opportunity of stating his views upon these important subjects. The chancellor of the Exchequer, however, had not received any notice of such an intention, and as he was not then prepared to enter into the question, he requested him (Mr. M.) to postpone his statement until the present occasion. With this request he had given a ready compliance. Perhaps it was better that he had done so, for he could hardly have chosen a fitter occasion than was afforded by the present motion, for intreating the House to come to a decision upon the scheme of finance for four years. After the present night the public would be able to see upon what they might depend. He concurred entirely with the hon. member for Westminster, in the view he had taken of the particular measure to which the attention of the House had been called. The re- 669 duction of the window-tax would afford the greatest relief to the country, which had a claim for nothing less. He believed also, that the House might with the utmost safety repeal the whole of the assessed taxes. But here again, like the hon. member for Westminster, he was not disposed to push the matter so far. After what had been already said, he should not go much into detail, to shew that the window-tax was highly objectionable on various grounds; but he should refer upon this point, in the first place, to a return upon the table on the subject of surcharges. Of all modes of augmenting the revenue, this seemed the most odious and offensive, although it had been undertaken under the authority of a Treasury minute. He would venture to assert, that if the commissioners of taxes had continued to survey and to make surcharges upon the inhabitants of the houses surveyed, petitions against the course pursued would have been presented to parliament from every town in the empire. Under the orders of the Treasury, however, the commissioners had been arrested in their progress, at least as far as the window duty was concerned; but those commissioners were still at liberty to proceed with their surveys and surcharges for the house duty. In all probability, before the present year was concluded, they would proceed, and the surcharges would be continued, in the most vexatious manner.—In noticing briefly the many objections to the window-tax, he might properly begin by observing, that he was persuaded the repeal of it would bring home a great many families now residing abroad. It was well-known that house rent on the continent was much cheaper than in England; and if by the abrogation of this law, it were reduced in this country, persons now spending their fortunes abroad, would disperse their money among their own countrymen, and thus at once benefit the revenue and the public. The house and window tax occasioned a great want of comfort among the lower, and even among the middling classes of society. The compressing of so many living beings into small spaces, produced many diseases, and diseases brought with them other injurious consequences. Morality had always been a most important feature in the legislation of this kingdom; but it could not be denied that, the morals of the labouring classes were most materially injured by the effects of the taxes now under review. All who had 670 visited cottages in the country, were aware that one room often contained grown up people of both sexes; so that under such circumstances, regularity and purity could not be expected. If these imposts were removed, buildings would increase, artisans would necessarily be employed, work would be afforded to the idle, and an additional consumption occasioned of our produce and manufactures. The chancellor of the Exchequer might, perhaps, think these considerations of little or no importance; but in his (Mr. M.'s) view of the question, they ought to be contemplated, in the first instance, as the most cogent reasons for carrying the motion now before the House.—What, then, was the argument of those who supported and defended an adherence to this and to other taxes? That they were necessary for the purpose of upholding public credit. This reply had been often before made; it had been made when the marquis of Londonderry and the chancellor of the Exchequer of that day declared, that no more taxes could be repealed, and that ministers had done all that was possible in the way of alleviating the public burthens, without endangering public credit. Nevertheless, the House of Commons having expressed a decided opinion in favour of further reductions, the servants of the Crown consented to relinquish some further taxes, notwithstanding their previous declarations. These were inconsistencies that would hardly have been believed by those who had not witnessed them. Still, the ministers had managed to maintain public credit; and they would no doubt be able to do so now, after the proposed further reduction.—He would just state how far he concurred with the chancellor of the Exchequer and where he differed from him, and leave the House to decide between the two plans for the diminution of taxation. Let them look at what the right hon. gent, calculated would be the produce of the revenue, as compared with the expenditure: there would be a surplus in the ensuing four years of 4,135,000l. of which, indeed, 2,200,000l. was from the repayment of the loan from Austria. As to this sum from Austria, however, no sooner had the right hon. gentleman got it, than he seemed to be at a Joss what to do with it. The money, according to the vulger phrase, seemed "to burn in his pocket." Now, he contended that, in the state of the country—he would not 671 call it distress, for undoubtedly it was in a state of very considerable prosperity;—but after all its exertions it was necessarily a state of privation; they had not a right to take from the country a shilling more than was absolutely necessary to pay the public creditor, and to uphold the establishments which were required for the security of the country. They had no more right to take from the people money to augment the sinking fund, the principle of which they had already departed from, than they had to waste the public money for any other purpose whatever. But, besides the sinking fund there was a large amount of miscellaneous estimates The first item of these estimates was a sum of 500,000l. for building of Churches. On what grounds was this vote justified? Had they had petitions from the people for churches [hear!]? Had they had petitions for a single church? He was in the habit of attending at the time when petitions were usually presented, and he had heard of none. If the chancellor of the Exchequer should offer them any grounds (as yet he had offered none) for building these churches, why should they not, as had been suggested by a right hon. baronet, act as they had done in Ireland—lend the church the money? There might be a period in which they might afford to give money to the church, but it was not the present. He should go to the next item, which was 300,000l. for the repair of Windsor Castle. He was as well disposed as any man to see the monarch of this country lodged most magnificently; but it was worthy of consideration, whether, out of the useless palaces belonging to the Crown, the means could not be found of providing one magnificent residence, without taking the money from the pockets of the people. He had no doubt there could. The next item on which he should remark was, the sum appropriated to the Sinking Fund; which was calculated at upwards of five millions for the four next years, and which was all taken out of the pockets of the people by taxation.—He should now advert to the sums which would be saved, if, instead of raising this sum to support public credit, taxes to a corresponding amount were given up. There would be a saving, if the assessed taxes were given up, of 300,000l. in the collection of the revenue, which would be a relief to that amount, to the public, over and above the defalcation from the payments into the 672 Exchequer. But, besides this reduction, now that the finances of a country were conducted on a system—a thing never thought of by the right hon. gentleman's predecessors—he should suggest another item of saving on collection, which could be effected without any loss to the Exchequer. According to the present way in which the duties on malt and beer were collected, the collection of the tax on malt cost 140,000l., the collection of the beer-tax 240,000l. Now, by taking off the beer tax, and increasing the tax on malt in a proportion to cover the deficiency, the whole tax could be collected for 140,000l., as at present; for not one additional public servant would be required beyond those who were at present employed in the collection of the malt-duty, because the same measuring and surveying was required whether the duty was 10s. or 20s., and the only additional trouble was to write one figure instead of the other. Without, calculating, therefore, the effect which must be produced on the consumption of malt, by leaving the business of brewing free, there would be a saving of 280,000l. a year, all of which would accrue directly to the Exchequer, and there would be this additional advantage, that the tax on malt would fall equally on the poor and on the rich, while the tax on beer exonerated the rich to burthen the poor. This was contrary to every principle of justice or equity; and he did hope, that when he should have the honour of bringing this subject before the. House, they would remedy an evil so palpable; for if the revenue were to remain, even upon its present footing, it ought to be raised, as well as collected, upon proper and equitable principles. Taking the various items that had been submitted to the House altogether, he understood, that the income of the country would be such as would give ministers, for the four years in question, a power of annually reducing taxes; and the amount of this reduction might be between six and seven millions. But, to the proposition of further reduction, the resistance made by government seemed to be founded upon this determination on their part—"We will have a sinking fund." Surely, however, his majesty's ministers, before they came down to parliament and asked for a sinking fund for four years, ought to inquire, and consider whether there was no measure within their reach which might, with more advantage to the people, sustain public 673 credit—nay, which might satiate those gentlemen whose anxiety for public credit made them, at present, the warmest supporters of a sinking fund. By the measure which he would propose, they might take every Exchequer bill out of the market; whereas, in the event of a war, for instance, government would have to fund those very Exchequer bills 5 and suppose they were to be funded at 75, the loss to the country would be about seven mi lions. This measure was the sale of the land-tax [hear]. The House was aware, that in the time of Mr. Pitt, the government did, by what was perhaps then an unjust ant of parliament, assign away from the income of the country two millions of the land-tax for ever. With the motives or causes of that act, he had nothing to do. He wanted it to be now put in force, on fair and proper principles. The preamble of the act recited, that the bill was passed to sustain public credit; and he now called upon ministers; to apply it for such a space of time as might be sufficient to attain all the vast benefits that he was sure might be derived from it. If the right hon. gentleman would only make some slight alteration in the act; if he would put a fair and proper price upon the redemption of the tax; it would be sold to the extent of about forty millions. There could be no doubt that it would be sold to that amount; and if by such a measure government were enabled to take forty millions of stock oat of the market, could any one doubt how immensely such an operation must raise public credit? Must it not do so upon that very principle which had of late been so strenuously contended for within those walls—that the supply and the demand always bore in the market a relative and exact proportion to each other? It was clear, therefore, that public credit would rise, in the same ratio that the aggregate amount of government-stock decreased. The measure he spoke of would give to the right hon. gentleman the uncontrolled power of selling the land-tax to this enormous extent, and to a still greater extent, if they were to add to it, as a fair inducement to the purchaser, all those rights and privileges which would increase, of necessity, the value of the purchase; namely, the rights accompanying land itself and its possession; such as those of returning members to parliament, killing game, eligibility to the magistracy. The 674 tax so redeemed, would increase in value, in proportion as there might be added to it the benefit of those additional privileges to the holder which would attach to the land. It did appear to him, that if the sale of the land-tax should be thus effected, public credit (and he put it to the right hon. gentleman himself whether this was not evident) would be sufficiently sustained without any sinking fund. There could not be the objection to this plan, that there would be too great a hazard to the revenue. But if this objection was felt, let ministers, he would say, carry the sale of this tax before they proceeded to any reduction of the others. If this sale could be effected, let the taxes be reduced subsequently, when the result of the sale should be known. He could assure the right hon. gentleman, that if he would give to this subject that careful attention which he was so capable of bestowing he would find that he would speedily be able to come down to the House and propose a reduction of taxation. If the right hon. gentleman, meanwhile, would only pledge himself to consider the matter with that care which it demanded, he would not press him to make such reduction, until after the measure of selling this tax should have been effected. He could not think that he was pressing the right hon. gentleman unfairly; but if the right hon. gentleman thought so, at least let the proposition go to a committee. Surety, however, he had no right to leave the proposal altogether untried, and the act altogether inoperative, while the people were taxed to the amount of five millions a year to support the sinking fund. He did think that his proposition in its results, would cause the people to enjoy a much greater share of happiness, and public credit to be much better sustained, than any other plan that had yet been submitted to parliament. It would also make his majesty's ministers. he would here observe, more popular. At the same time, he admitted that the reduction of taxes already made had been an honest one, as far as it went; for it had proceeded upon principle. The government might have gone further, however, and have reduced more of the assessed taxes. Still as they had acted upon principle, he should feel bound to give them his warmest support in the several details of their plan. Convinced he was, that by following the plan w hi eh he now suggested, the ministry would render themselves 675 the most popular government that ever existed in this country—popular, not in the sense of catching at fictitious applause, but as being secure in the rational and well-grounded approbation of all classes. Until, however, some pledge should be given for the consideration of the plan which he had suggested, he should feel himself bound to support the motion.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, he could not but regret to find that he was that evening placed in rather a peculiar situation; for it had become his duty, not only to defend the propositions which he had on a former night submitted to the House, but also to assign the grounds upon which he could not acquiesce in either of the two plans that had been brought forward by the hon. members for Westminster and Abingdon. He trusted, however, that what he should have to observe upon this occasion would justify the ground he had taken on a former evening, and satisfy the House, that no reasons had been shewn why he should accede to the suggestions submitted by those honourable gentlemen. The question now was, not whether taxes should increase, or whether existing taxes should be maintained, but whether one of two particular modes of proceeding should be adopted, by way of giving relief to the people—it being admitted upon all hands, that a certain amount of taxes should be repealed. It was obvious that this statement narrowed the question between himself and the two hon. gentlemen opposite very considerably. But, before he proceeded to answer the hon. member for Westminster, it might be convenient that he should reply to the speech of the hon. member who had just sat down. From that hon. gentleman's speech he did not very clearly collect, whether he meant to support the motion of the hon. member for Westminster or not. The hon. gentleman had, however, admitted his belief, that the propositions which he (the chancellor of the Exchequer) had submitted to the House a week ago, were right in themselves, and he was obliged to that hon. gentleman for the justice that he had done him. But then the hon. gentleman wished to superinduce upon those propositions, an additional reduction of taxes, in the way and by the means that he had just stated to the House; such additional reduction, therefore, being contingent and dependent upon the result of a certain plan—namely, a plan for facilitating the operation of the sale 676 of the land-tax. The hon. gentleman had said, that if his majesty's government would undertake to look thoroughly into this subject (the practicability of giving greater efficacy to the bill for the redemption of the land-tax), they would find his plan an efficient one; and that if it succeeded, they would be enabled to raise public credit, and relieve the people very considerably. Now, it appeared to him that, upon the hon. gentleman's own plan, he could not consistently support the motion of the hon. member for Westminster; because he could not foresee the precise operation of his own plan, upon which the reduction of taxes was to be dependent. Nor would the House forget that this plan of reducing taxation by the sale of the land-tax was last year submitted to the House in great detail by the hon. gentleman, who was not fortunate enough then to meet with much support. The hon. gentleman, therefore, was building on a very slender foundation indeed, if he thought he could now persuade the House to believe, not merely in the practicability, but also in the efficacy of his plan. For aught that he knew, the hon. member's plan might be a very good one in itself. It seemed intended to infuse more life into the provisions of the statute adverted to, and to give more activity to their operation. He was not prepared to say, that some reasonable measure of this kind should not be resorted to; or that, taken by itself, a plan might not be a very proper one, that was intended to give efficacy to the law respecting the redemption of the land-tax. But, what he hoped was, that the House would not be persuaded, that to give greater efficacy to it would necessarily lead to the consequences which the hon. gentleman anticipated; for, the circumstances under which the operation of the act was now going on—going on at a very slow rate, certainly—were diametrically opposite to those under which it had begun. At that time the price of stock was low, and that of land improving; and he could easily understand that then a party could raise money upon his land with so much facility that he would willingly transfer stock in order to redeem his land-tax. But, the state of things was now different; for although agriculture had of late considerably recovered, there was no such inducement to tempt parties to make that exchange of property at present, which existed 677 when the law was framed. It was not very clear to him, therefore, that any inducement could now be easily held out to the people, that would have the effect of giving an accelerated motion to the operation of the land-tax act. The hon. gentleman had estimated, that by the operation of his own scheme, thirty or forty millions of stock might be withdrawn from the market. But, if this effect should not take place, then the result anticipated by the hon. gentleman as to a large reduction of taxes would be destroyed. He was therefore not prepared to assent to the hon. gentleman's reasoning upon this matter; and as little to the hon. member for Westminster's reasoning upon the same subject of reducing taxes, to which latter, he would now address himself. The horn gentleman had prefaced his motion with a great number of remarks, some of which did not appear to be strictly applicable. That hon. member thought, that when he (the chancellor of the Exchequer) was expressing an opinion (which he most sincerely felt), that it must be to parliament a most gratifying circumstance to look round upon the state of the country, and witness the improvement that had lately manifested itself in the affairs of this nation, he had been guilty of a great omission. The improvement in our condition, to be sure, was beyond the most sanguine expectations of gentlemen, and he must be allowed to say, beyond those in particular of the hon. member for Westminster himself; for although that hon. member had frequently dilated on the miseries of the country, he had never been heard to say, that they might look forward to the moment when the country should be relieved; or at least he had never anticipated any such relief, except through certain measures which he seemed to look to, with other hon. gentlemen, as the sovereign panacea for all the evils with which the kingdom might be afflicted. But that hon. member conceived, that because he (the chancellor of the Exchequer) had ventured to pay a just compliment to the conduct and wisdom of parliament, he had therefore overlooked all the merit due to the people, for the patience which they had shown under suffering—the energy they had displayed in action—and the firmness and manly virtues which for ages had characterised the people of England. He hoped, however, that he should never be so ungrateful to that people, or so unmindful of the 678 sacrifices they had made, as not to offer to them every acknowledgment, which he was ready at all times humbly to tender them, for those vast exertions, without which the unassisted power of parliament could never have attained its objects. He had frequently expressed this sentiment before; and in an especial manner in the very speech to which the hon. gentleman had alluded, who had that night argued upon the disappointment which the speech in question had produced throughout the country; saying, that much more was expected; that it was so framed as to hold out to the public nothing better than the melancholy prospect of the government not being able to calculate upon any further reduction of taxes during the next four years. He was himself aware, that the propositions submitted by him on a former night might not prove what was generally termed popular; but he could never deem it to be consistent with the duty of a minister holding the situation which he filled, to overlook those great principles by which our commerce and our finances were to be governed, merely for the sake of obtaining a popularity that would confer upon him no solid credit, and produce to the country no lasting good. He was also entitled to assume, from the very fact of the unpopularity of those propositions—(a fact, indeed, of which he felt by no means assured)—that his majesty's ministers could have had no other object, in the course they had taken, but that of carrying into practice, according to the best information to be derived from research and experience, sound and enlightened principles of government and commerce, which every man who had reflected or observed upon the subject, on the one side of the House or on the other, in that House or out of it, in England or in any other country, had admitted to be most essential to the interest and the welfare of nations: The hon. member for Westminster, having done justice to his motives, had argued, that his propositions were not calculated to gratify the just expectations of the people. If this had been the first moment in which the remission of taxes had been proposed, he (the chancellor of the Exchequer) should not have been surprised if it had been thought that in their scheme of relief, government were beginning at the wrong end. But the hon. gentleman must surely have forgotten what had been already done under this very head of the assessed 679 taxes—that within the last three years, parliament had repealed three millions, including the whole of the assessed taxes of Ireland. It must have been forgotten, also, that in respect of other branches of the revenue, arising from taxes that bore most oppressively on the poor—the salt and malt, and leather taxes, for example-parliament had repealed upwards of three millions. The hon. gentleman seemed likewise to forget, that during the last session, parliament had sacrificed, in consideration of the distresses of the country, 800,000l. duties on the distillation of spirits in Ireland. Every thing could not be done at once; or if it were, every thing would soon be thrown into confusion. If, in respect to the salt, and malt, and leather duties, parliament had shown a disposition—(and whether that disposition was voluntary or forced upon them, was not necessary to this discussion)—to relieve the most pressing wants of the people, it was too much that they should be charged with an indifference to them or to their wishes. If, at some future moment, government should come down to the House, and wishing to effect a still further reduction of taxation, should say to parliament. Aid us to accomplish this measure, it it would be found, that a firm and steady adherence to the same principles that had hitherto guided their conduct, would enable parliament—and he would venture to say at no distant period—to effect such further reduction in the taxes now paid by the people. It was because he thought that by adopting the course which they were about to pursue, parliament had ascended the first step in the ladder that would lead to the desired result; he now expressed his earnest hope, that gentlemen would not allow themselves to be run away with by any proposition like that of the hon. member for Westminster, for the sake of becoming popular among their constituents: he hoped they would take a wider range in their political conduct.—He had now to advert to that part of the hon. member's speech, in which government was said to have excluded from the public every chance of a further reduction of taxation. He (the chancellor of the Exchequer) had proceeded upon the view that he had taken, extending as it did over a period of four years, because he did not wish that they should go too fast; for, if they did, they would be driven back from their object; they would be doing mischief instead of good. He, 680 therefore, had not calculated too far, but had proceeded upon the inevitable consequences that he deduced from the improvement in the state of the country, aided as it was by the reduction which bad taken place in taxes. He admitted—and no man did so more readily than himself—that to reduce taxes was to do a positive good; and by increasing the property of the country, perhaps to prevent their future imposition. But, no one who exercised the foresight which a minister ought to possess, could calculate on the benefits to arise from such a reduction being so immediately consequent on the act as the hon. gentleman seemed to suppose. Now, as to the reduction of the taxes last year, it was hardly to be doubted that the effect would be, to increase the revenue; but, on mere vain conjecture, he could assign no fixed definite period at which that increase would take place; and therefore he had explained on a former night, that his view of the state of the finances of the country at the end of four years was conditional on this—namely, in case the revenues of the country did not increase, and the expenditure should not be diminished; but he could not be understood as saying, that our revenue had not increased, or our expenditure had not diminished. The hon. gentleman had mistaken the way in which he had explained the surplus the country was likely to possess, and had thought he was wrong in his view of that surplus, because he had taken into consideration that portion of the money received from Austria which was not appropriated. But, if they did not make the receipt of that money available for any purpose of expenditure, it was clear that it must go to the surplus revenue. He had stated to the House, that nothing would be deducted from it, except the grants for repairing Windsor Castle, for building churches, and for purchasing certain pictures; and he could not, of course, leave out of his consideration the remaining 1,500,000l. which did form part of the surplus revenue. If this money had not been received from Austria, he should, in the first instance, have been obliged to call on the House for the three sums which had been subtracted from it; and, in the second place, the surplus would have been reduced by 1,500,000l. Therefore, he had a right to lay it before the House as part of the surplus revenue.—He would take that opportunity of ad- 681 verting to a subject which he certainly did feel to be of very great importance. It was introduced, in the course of the last discussion on this question, by the hon. member for Midhurst (Mr. J. Smith). He (the chancellor of the Exchequer) alluded to the duties on law proceedings. He never was insensible to the evils arising from those duties. He did not mean to say, that when he formed his financial statement, he was so strongly impressed with the evils which did, and must result from the operation of duties of this nature, as he afterwards was. It was a fault, he admitted, that the repeal of those duties did not enter into the plan which he had laid before the House. He was now, however, so deeply impressed with the infinite evils—(that word he thought was not too strong)—which arose from those duties, that he had endeavoured, by all the means in his power, to find a way by which they might be reduced. And it was with the greatest possible satisfaction he could now state to the House, that those duties might be reduced, and that too, without in the slightest degree infringing on the financial calculation which he had already laid before parliament. He knew that by this statement, he exposed himself to the reproach of not having considered the subject sooner. [Hear, hear, from both sides of the House.] He was extremely happy to find that this was not the case, and he felt most grateful to the House for the manner in which it had received his intimation. He repeated that those duties were productive of infinite evil. He knew they were very old, that they had been in force considerably more than a century—but that was no argument in their favour. The only assertion he had ever heard made in their support was, that they had a tendency to prevent litigation. Perhaps it might be so; but this he knew, that whatever good they might produce indirectly in that way, was ten thousand times less than the evil they must create, if they had the effect of denying justice to the people. Before he proceeded further, he should state, that he was really much surprised and gratified when, on examination, he found that the amount of those duties, in England, did not exceed 180,000l. He had no means at present of calculating their amount in Ireland; but he took it at 20,000l., which he believed was a fair estimate. Consequently, all they had to meet was the difficulty of making up a 682 deficit of 200,000l. which would be lost by the repeal. He had cast about for the possible way to find the necessary means, and he would now state where he could get them. There were two modes in which it was practicable to effect a reduction of taxation, One was, by finding other resources; the second, by the reduction of expenditure. Now, let not gentlemen suppose, that when he spoke of other resources, he meant to impose a new tax. He would not make this a matter of composition; but the fact was, that in the calculation he had formed of the resources of the country, he had omitted to include a very important source of revenue, and one which, though of late years it had been unproductive, was likely in future to supply a very large annual sum; he meant the Crown-lands. Gentlemen were aware, that the care of this property was, under the provisions of the civil-list act, confided to certain commissioners, and that the profits arising from it were applicable to the public revenue. It was one branch of the royal property, which, since the settlement of the civil list, was assigned over to the public, like an expired revenue of the Crown. This property had always excited the vigilance and jealousy of parliament. Many objects of great importance, such as the preservation of the royal forests—and the supply of timber for the royal navy, were connected with it. From the improvements, particularly in London, the produce of the Crown-lands had considerably increased; but that increase had been more than absorbed by the expense attending the formation of the new street, under the act of parliament. Not only all the surplus produce had been devoted to that object but, 500,000l. had been borrowed at an interest of 5 per cent, which had since been reduced to 4 per. cent These expense had, however ceased; and the revenue would be available for public purposes. During the last few years only 900l. or 1,000l.had been paid into the Exchequer, on account of the Crown-lands. That sum arose from certain alum mines in Cornwall, which were not included in the disposition of the other Crown-lands, under the civil list act. There would however, be payable, in the course of the year 1825 a considerable sum of surplus revenue, which, in the succeeding years, 1826 and 1827, would be still further increased; and, in the latter of the years he had mentioned, he bad no doubt but that there 683 would be 100,000l.applicable to the service of the country. Thus, this new resource met one half of the loss which the revenue would sustain by repealing the stamp duties on law proceedings. The other half would be found in the saving caused by the regulations now in progress (and which would be carried into effect as soon as was consistent with a due regard to the efficiency of the public service) with respect to the collection of the public revenue. On this subject he had had some communication with his right hon. friend who was at the head of that commission (Mr. Wallace); and he was empowered to say, that from what they had done, and from what they proposed should be done, he might safely calculate on at least an additional 100,000l.from that resource. When he had aid his financial statement before the House, he had calculated on an improvement of 50,000l.in the Customs; but he had not taken credit for any saving in other departments. Now, however, he could confidently reckon upon 100,000l. arrising out of the regulations to which he had alluded, which with 100,000l., from the Crown-lands, would makeup the deficit caused by the repeal of those law duties. He would not follow the hon. gentleman through all the observations he had offered on the proposed grant for new churches. He had however, made one admission, and a very important one it was. He had said, that he would be the last man to object to a grant of this kind, if its necessity could be shown. Now, he could assure the House that he should not have demanded it, unless he felt perfectly confident that he could prove, not only that there was a necessity for it, but that the money already granted had been properly applied, and that beneficial effects had resulted from it. But, after he had spoken the other night at such extreme length, he did not think he would have done that which would have been agreeable to the House, if he had gone into a detailed statement of all that had been done as to the building of churches; and he had therefore detailed to the House generally the principles on which he thought the grant ought to be asked for. He should on this occasion content himself by saying, that it would not be in the least degree difficult for him to show the House very cogent grounds for this grant. With respect to the diminution of taxes which the hon. gentleman called for, he would 684 not discuss the point on this occasion; because, whatever might or might not be the effect of the votes to which the hon. gentleman objected, the great question between him and the hon. gentleman turned on another point. The hon. gentleman appeared to have fallen into a radical error on this subject; because he assumed, that government could afford not only the million which he proposed to take away, but also 700,000l. of that which he (the chancellor of the Exchequer) intended to remove. The hon. gentleman wished to accomplish his object by the application of the 500,000l. intended for churches, and of the 300,000l. intended for Windsor-Castle. [Mr. Hobhouse said, "That sum taken from the Austrian loan, would do for this year."] Yes, it would do very well for this year; but where would be the provision for the next year? If he took that sum, and said nothing about the prospect of next year, then he did not entertain so business-like a view of the subject as he ought. Therefore, when the money demanded for building churches was taken into the hon. gentleman's view in discussing this subject, the question came ultimately to this, whether the House would super add the right hon. gentleman's plan to a considerable proportion of that plan which he (the chancellor of the Exchequer) had already proposed to parliament. He did not object to the arguments which had been adduced as to the weight of the assessed taxes. They pressed heavily on the people: they pressed with peculiar severity on some classes. But it should be recollected, that since the year 1821, a reduction of those taxes, to the amount of 2,500,000l.for England and Ireland, had been effected. It was not, therefore, because he denied the pressure of those taxes that he could not agree to the proposition of the hon. gentleman, but because he wished to begin at the right end, by adopting measures that would ultimately lead to the hon. gentleman's own view, or to some other that would prove equally beneficial to the people. The hon. gentleman had blamed the government for a step which had been taken last year, with respect to the collection of the house and window tax; and he had referred to a circular letter which had been sent by the Treasury to the different tax-collectors, directing them to resurvey certain houses, and, where it appeared necessary, to make a surcharge; as it was clear 685 if those surcharges were brought to bear, something considerable would be gained. He was glad of this opportunity to give the House some explanation of what the government intended by that letter; what reason guided him in sanctioning the survey; and why he afterwards directed, that none of the surcharges which had been made should be enforced. It appeared to him, as the subject had been brought under his view, that in the country a great inequality prevailed in the mode in which houses were assessed: some, indeed, were not assessed at all; whilst many houses, in the same relative situation as to site, convenience, and value with others in the same neighbourhood, were assessed at different rates. It was not unusual to find houses assessed at a much higher rate than other dwellings in the neighbourhood which paid the same rent. Now, the essence of a tax of this kind was equality and justice; and if an evasion was effected by one set of persons, those who paid the whole tax were actually robbed of that portion of money which they paid over and above the sum paid by their neighbours. He therefore thought that government ought at all events to examine, whether this alleged inequality did exist; and if it did, it then became their duty to see that it was levied fairly and equally on all. He was led to believe, that the inequality prevailed to such an extent, that if it were removed and all were obliged to pay alike, the produce of the tax would be raised considerably above the average of the last year; but he never contemplated screwing this money, at the existing rate, out' of the pockets of those who were subject to the tax. He thought if the full tax was gathered from all those who were bound to pay it, and if, in consequence, the amount was greater than in the preceding year, he would then be bound, in justice, consistency, and fair dealing, to come down to the House, and reduce the rate in proportion to the increased productiveness of the tax over the preceding year. But his object had been misunderstood; and when he found that clamour and misrepresentation had gone abroad, he directed that those surcharges should not be enforced. He, however, felt it necessary to say, that this system of equality would still be pursued, and that the survey should be continued: because it was most unfair that one man should escape the operation of ft tax at the expense of 686 another. But, if the result should be a collection of duty to a greater amount than formerly, that would furnish a very good reason for lessening the rate of the tax. He did not think it necessary now to re-argue the question of the sinking fund, which the hon. gentleman thought useless. The House had decided otherwise: and it was not his duty to weary them with arguments which he had used before, and which had been considered perfectly satisfactory by parliament. Assuming as he did; that the House was not disposed to depart from the principle which had been adopted on a former occasion, or to rescind the law of the last session (and they could not concur in the hon. gentleman's proposition without repealing that law), and thinking his own plan was, under all the circumstances, the best, he would leave the question most confidently to the House. He would leave it in their hands; conscious that he could not be justly reproached with indifference to the wants, the wishes, or the feelings of the people—conscious that his only desire was to discharge his duty on sound, just, and rational principles.
§ Mr. J. Smith
rose to express his gratitude to the right hon. gentleman, for having attended to the suggestion he had thrown out on a former night relative to the removal of the duty on law proceedings. That, however, was only one grievance. There was another, which he would mention, though it was not now before the House, he meant the great expense attendant on such proceedings. He did not think that the taxes which had been taken off, ought to satisfy the people. After the miseries they had so patiently endured, they had an irresistible claim to every possible relaxation from the burthen of taxation, and he hoped the increasing prosperity of the country would allow an efficient reduction to be granted to them. Notwithstanding all that had been done, a large portion of the people were still heavily oppressed by taxes. How, then, could gentlemen reconcile it to their minds, after what the country had gone through, to expend the sum of 800,000l.in any other way than in that of relieving the people by the reduction of taxation? He would suppose that a gentleman had mortgaged his estate for three fourths of its value, and that he happened to receive 10,000l.as a "God send." If he applied to a friend to know what he ought to do with it, what would 687 that friend say? He would tell him to pay his debts as the best thing he could do. But the applicant might say, "Oh! my creditors are not very pressing; besides, this sum will not pay but a small part of my debts; so I will e'en make myself comfortable with it." What then would his friend say? He would ask, "Are your rents exorbitant? Have not your tenants the greatest difficulty to exist? Lower your rents, then, and don't live extravagantly. The first duty is, to make those happy who live under you; the next is, to pay your debts." The country was thus situated; and she could only uphold her high character by adopting the principle which he recommended. He very well knew the odium and misrepresentation to which those persons were exposed who objected to the building of churches. He, however, was one of those unfortunate persons who, on principle, opposed that project; for he saw no reason on earth to justify him, as a member of that House, in voting away 500,000l.for any such purpose. He could assure gentlemen that places of worship devoted to the religion of the church of England would multiply as fast as dissenters' chapels, if it were not for a principle of opposition which prevented their erection. He recollected a very pretty church being built near the town of Nottingham, which was not opened on account of a dispute respecting the right of presentation. After a great deal of difficulty, the archbishop of York settled the controversy. He recollected another instance, where a church having been built, the bishop of the diocese refused his consent; and it remained shut. If this system of bickering were done away with, churches would rise as fast as chapels did now, and there would be no necessity for appropriating a shilling of the public money to such a purpose. He knew the obloquy which attended those who resisted such a grant, but he was old enough not to be deterred by clamour. He was ready to meet any argument on the subject; and he would repeat that 500,000l. was not wanted for any such object. Neither were parliament justified in giving 300,000l. towards the repairs of Windsor Castle, while the people were thus oppressed by taxation. He thought the plan suggested by his hon. friend, as a substitute for a sinking fund entitled to serious consideration; but It was perhaps doubtful, whether so powerful a resource as that which would be 688 furnished by the redemption of the land-tax, ought not to be reserved for future contingencies, in case we should be engaged in hostilities with other countries.
§ Mr. Gipps
referred to the report of the commissioners for building churches, in order to show, that 500,000l. was wanted for the erection of places of worship. The commissioners had annexed to their report a list of applications from different quarter-sessions for assistance to further this object, which assistance they had been under the necessity of rejecting.
expressed his decided approbation of the financial statement which had been laid before the House by the right hon. gentleman: it did equal honour to the right hon. gentleman and to the country. He was sure the country would feel grateful to the right hon. gentleman for the principles which he had propounded, when they should, at no distant period, be sensible of the beneficial effects which would result from them. If he felt any regret, it was because the right hon. gentleman had not carried the excellent principles which he had advocated to the extent to which they might be carried. The House would perhaps anticipate, that he alluded to the question which he had last session the honour of bringing under their notice, namely, the trade in corn. It was impossible that ministers could take into consideration a question more deeply affecting the interests of the people than that trade. If gentlemen would examine into the present system, and ascertain its evils, they would be convinced that justice and good policy demanded that it should be abolished. With respect to the motion before the House, he must declare that he did not feel disposed to vote in its favour. He thought the chancellor of the Exchequer had gone as far as he possibly could go at present, in the way of reduction of taxation. He could not proceed further, consistently with the policy which ministers had pursued, and in which he fully concurred, of maintaining a considerable surplus of income over expenditure. Much as he regretted the being placed in a situation in which it was necessary for him to vote for the continuance of a tax, he could not avoid it on the present occasion. A sense of duty compelled him to vote in opposition to his feelings, but in accordance to his judgment.
§ Lord Althorp
rose to declare the reasons which would induce him to vote for 689 the motion which had been introduced by the hon. member for Westminster. He would, however, first take the opportunity of stating, that he agreed entirely with his right hon. friend, the chancellor of the Exchequer, with respect to the propriety of the resolutions which he had adopted with regard to silk and wool, but he differed with him respecting the proposed alteration of the tax on coals; because, although the remission of the tax applied to that part of the country where the tax pressed most heavily, yet it was where the tax was most capable of being paid. He had heard with great pleasure, that it was the intention of the right hon. gentleman to take off part of the tax on law proceedings. He had made some inquiries respecting the operation of that tax, and the result of those inquiries had produced a conviction in his mind, that no tax could be more oppressive or impolitic. His right hon. friend had made a kind of apology to the House for having changed his mind upon the subject. But until candour should in that House, be considered a crime, and obstinacy a virtue, no apology was necessary on such a ground. He agreed in all the propositions which ministers had made for the reduction of taxation; but he thought that they should have gone a great way further. If the House had done him the honour to attend to his conduct, they must have observed, that he had for a long time been decidedly hostile to the principle of a sinking fund. The more the experience of the last two years should be appealed to; the more the causes which had produced the reduction of the interest of money, and the present general prosperity of the country were considered, the more impolitic would it appear to apply five millions to the reduction of the debt. The national debt was in fact nothing more nor less than permanent annuities. It was the same thing whether the annuities were redeemed, or the interest reduced. The chancellor of the Exchequer proposed this year to reduce the 4 per cents to 3½ per cent; that was, to reduce the annuities. It was the same thing, whether five millions were employed in buying up the annuities or in reducing their interests to the extent of one-eighth. It appeared to him, that no person who had paid any attention to the course of events during the last two years, could attribute the reduction which had taken place in the amount 690 of the interest on money to the application of five millions to the redemption of annuities, but mainly, if not entirely, to the increase of wealth amongst the people. The amount of the annuities upon which the sinking fund was to operate, was twenty-seven millions a year, and the utmost that could be redeemed in one year was 150,000l. Could any one suppose that such an operation as that would materially influence the supply and demand in the market? If it did not, then the strongest argument which was used for the maintenance of the sinking fund, fell to the ground. On the other hand, could it be doubted, that if the five millions now composing the sinking fund were left in the pockets of the people to be employed in productive industry, it would produce an accumulation of capital which would tend to reduce the interest of money in a great degree? He therefore considered it, impolitic to maintain the system of a sinking fund. On that ground he would vote for the reduction of taxes; and that which formed the subject of his hon. friend's motion was, in his opinion, the first that ought to be taken off.
observed, that after all the budgets which honourable members might bring in their pockets to be discussed in that House, the only question which it was necessary to consider was, whether, in the present situation of the country, a sinking fund ought, or ought not, to be retained? His noble friend had stated what was perfectly true, that the debt of this country was an annuity, and that the capital of the debt was nothing more than the limitation of the amount for which the annuity could be paid off. But the conclusion which his noble friend drew from these premises was a most extraordinary one, for he seemed to infer that it was the same thing whether the stockholder was paid off by the lowering of the interest of money according to law, or whether the same thing was effected by an arbitrary reduction of the interest of the debt. ["No, no," from lord Althorp.] He was happy to find that he had misunderstood his noble friend. He would therefore abstain from making any observation on that point, but to refer to a statement which he was perfectly sure had fallen from his noble friend; namely, that the price of stock did not depend on what was called the trifling operation of the sinking fund. On that point he totally differed from his noble friend. On 691 the contrary, he believed, that the price of stock did depend entirely on that operation. If the country were to remain at peace for ever, a sinking fund might be dispensed with, without much inconvenience. But in a country like this, whose history exhibited a constant alternation of war and peace, it was impossible to dispense with a sinking fund, because a man must be an idiot who would lend his money to government in time of war, unless he had the prospect of being repaid in time of peace. If there was not a sinking fund to be employed in making purchases in the market, men would place so little confidence in the financial system of government, that they would not touch stock even if it yielded 10 per cent. In all the countries of Europe there was abundance of capital, but no credit, in consequence of a want of confidence in the measures of the governments of those countries on financial subjects. He remembered that not many years ago the 5 per cents in France were at 50 or 60, which yielded nearly 10 per cent, whilst at the same time the direct rate of interest in Paris was only 2½ per cent. Thus, whilst a private individual could procure money at 2£ per cent, the government was compelled to pay 10 per cent for it. It was a singular circumstance that Holland, the country where people exhibited more good sense on financial matters than those of perhaps any other nation, should, at the present moment, be in precisely the same situation in which France stood at the period to which he had alluded. The interest of money in the Dutch market was under 3 per cent, whilst the government securities paid about 5 per cent. Such was always the case when the credit of a government was good for nothing. He would wish those gentlemen who proposed to abolish the sinking fund, to carry their views forward for half a century, and to consider what would be the consequence of the country engaging in a war which could only be carried on by means of loans. In his opinion, the funding system, which had been so much abused and ridiculed, had been the means of saving the country during the last war; No doubt many abuses had taken place; but if those abuses were prevented from occurring by a course of moderation, the system would be one of perfect wisdom. If English society were composed wholly of Quakers, a continuance of peace might be anticipated; and under such circum- 692 stances, the abolition of a sinking fund would not be a matter of great importance; but the hon. member for Westminster, and the friends who supported him, did not seem to be at all averse to engage in hostilities, and yet were disposed to leave the country totally unprovided with the means of meeting such an event. No system could be more wise than that which enabled a country to make an occasional hostile demonstration, by the raising of loans which were afterwards to be repaid in time of peace—He knew that to talk of the repeal of taxes was an extremely popular topic. He represented a populous town, where the right of voting was very extended. He did not affect to despise market-place popularity, and he had no doubt that he could please his constituents, by saying that he had voted for the repeal of such and such a tax; but he would prefer telling them, that he had felt it his duty to oppose any reduction of taxation, which would have the effect of endangering public credit. It was possible that a great country like this might go on borrowing upon credit even without a sinking fund, until the world found them out; but it was a speculation that could not last long. It was the duty of the government to make every possible reduction. Having done that, it was their duty to say what amount of taxation would be required, and how it could be obtained with most advantage to the people. The sinking fund had a bad name: he could wish that it had a better; for it had grown into perfect ridicule [hear, hear! from the Opposition]; but they could have no credit, no security, no respect from foreign countries without it. They had better have their navy in disorder, and their army and their ordnance in a state of derangement, than their finances. Money, however common-place the phrase might sound, was the source of great national efforts, the heart-spring of government. After the taxes which the chancellor of the Exchequer had already given up, he was willing to allow that the tax now moved for ought to be relinquished, if possible. He ought to apologise to. the House, and particularly to the chancellor of the Exchequer, for coming forward with a budget of his own, now that the minister had stated his; but he could not help thinking, that the total abolition of the salt-tax was not an object so desirable as it appeared to some persons, when com- 693 pared with the relief that might be afforded in other matters. The salt-tax, like every other tax, was in itself a nuisance; it could be regarded in no other light, and as such it was fit that the people should be relieved from it as soon as possible; but the question now was, not merely whether it should be taken off, but whether it was better to take that off than any other? In proceeding to lighten the public burthens they were bound to make the best selection, and he would confess that this choice did not come under that description, as far as he was capable of judging. In all times, and in all countries, salt was, perhaps, the first object selected for taxation. It was that which returned most into the Treasury, in proportion to the amount raised on the subject; and if they consulted the people out of doors, and even the poor, upon whom it was supposed to press most heavily, he was confident that they would find it to be one of the last taxes complained of. As to its use in agriculture, he was far from calculating on its advantages to the extent which some gentlemen had professed. He believed that a substitute had been found which answered the purposes of the agriculturist; and even if that were not the case, the small duty imposed on it at present would hardly be sufficient to prevent its use.—He was also of opinion, that after the representations which had been made to the House on the subject of the silk-tax, the right hon. gentleman could not persevere in his intention of remitting the duties on silk. Under the present circumstances, unless the whole duty were taken off silk, it would be of no advantage to the manufacturers. On the contrary, he thought the reduction of the duty would only tend to check the silk trade. If the right hon. gentleman continued the course he had pointed out, there would be no occasion to carry this part of his plan into execution. The manufacture of silk was at present in a flourishing state, and he hoped the right hon. gentleman would not persevere in taking off the duty. If he did not, the tax would continue to yield 460,000l. This, together with the remainder of the salt-tax, would make up probably 900,000l.; and having this sum, the chancellor of the Exchequer might give the people relief by taking off the assessed taxes. They were the most vexatious of all taxes; besides, it was expedient to reduce direct, in preference 694 to indirect taxes; for no man ever thought so much of that tax which he paid in the shop, as of that which he paid directly, on receiving a visit from the odious tax-gatherer. However polite these gentlemen were (and he had never met with any who were not polite), they were always unwelcome visitors.—As to the plan mentioned by his hon. friend the member for Aberdeen, for the redemption of the land-tax, he could not see at present any thing that would be added to the disposable resources by carrying that plan into execution. If it were done we should stand just as we were, and it would not add to our credit; still he would not oppose that measure; we might sell it for thirty or five and thirty years' purchase, and realize the whole amount of the tax at the rate of 3 per cent with the very best security. But, if the money were carried into the market to buy 3 per cent stock, it would do no good. He recommended the chancellor of the Exchequer to employ the money which might be so obtained, as well as from other sources, to pay off the debt due to the Bank. He owed money borrowed at par, and this he ought to pay off. It was not improbable, if the country only pursued steadily the principles and the plan laid down by the chancellor of the Exchequer,—(and, though the House might demand a change, he trusted it would not drive him out of his course)—it was not improbable that in a short time even the 3 per cents might be reduced. Of such a reduction we had an example in Holland, a country which more nearly than any other resembled this, and he could speak with confidence of Amsterdam, where money was to be had for 2½ percent. The House, he hoped, would therefore steadily pursue the course pointed out, which he considered to be consistent with the high character of the country, and with the security of public credit, and which he had no doubt would be found to be ultimately the most efficient means of obtaining a further diminution of taxation.
§ Lord Althorp,
in explanation, stated, that he had applied his remarks, not to the reduction of the stocks, but to the reduction of interest generally, by ceasing to withdraw the sinking fund from the active capital of the country.
§ Mr. W. Smith
agreed with his hon. friend who spoke last, that the sinking fund had become a nick-name for a thing 695 which had gone into general disrepute. If his hon. friend thought that fund was productive of such numerous good effects in peace, that it was worth keeping up at the expense of 5,000,000l. a-year, he (Mr. S.) thought a diminution of taxation to that amount would have at least the same beneficial effect on the resources of the country. They would then be improved by an increase, while, by the sinking fund, they were to be improved by a diminution of debt. The example of Holland, to which his hon. friend had referred, were against his own argument. The government of that country was borrowing at five per cent, when individuals were borrowing at three. This was very wrong, no doubt; but his hon. friend had explained it by saying, that the expenses of that government exceeded its revenue. It had to make loans every year; and nothing was clearer, than that, under such circumstances, capitalists would not lend to government on the same terms as they would to individuals. It was easy to see what must be the case when a country was in the state which Holland was described to be in by his hon. friend.—He agreed perfectly with the right hon. gentleman in his view as to law stamps; and he trusted that nothing would make him depart from that. This was not only a grievous tax, but a blot on the laws themselves. It was one of the excellencies of our constitution that justice should be open to all men, they were assuredly contrary to that constitution, for they prevented a large number of people from obtaining justice, and shut many of them altogether from the means of obtaining it, and, consequently, of the pale of the law. Considering this concession of the chancellor of the Exchequer as a great point gained, and giving him entire credit for the principles he had laid down, he was unwilling to push him further; he nevertheless found himself obliged to vote for the motion of his hon. friend, because, with the exception of some Excise duties, there were no taxes half so vexatious as the tax on windows. It introduced the tax-gatherer into the house, not merely to ascertain how many windows you ought to pay for, but to see that you did not possess a single hole more for the entrance of light and air, than what you actually paid for. It was not worth while to retain the half of this tax. He agreed, too, with several of his friends as to the salt tax. He should not care about it, if it 696 were not got rid of altogether. The amount of it at present was trifling, but the expense of the machinery was very great. It permitted an excise to remain on salt, which, though only of a trifling value, was still an excise. The country, he believed, did not feel the amount of the tax; but then it gave birth to surveyors and assessors, and tax-gatherers; all of whom might be better done without, than employed to levy so small a sum as the salt-tax now was. To get rid of all this machinery, he saw no reason why the house-tax might not remain. It did not require quite so close an inspection of the premises as the window-tax, and, though it might aggrieve one class of persons, a remedy, he thought, might easily be found for that; though, he would not then trouble the House with the details. He would vote for the motion of his hon. friend.
in explanation, said, it was plainly not a want of credit in the government of Holland which obliged it to give such a high rate of interest, but the want of a surplus revenue to devote to redeeming the debt.
§ Lord Milton
said, he could not agree with all the propositions which fell from his hon. friend the member for Taunton. To begin with the last, he would ask his hon. friend, if he would turn his powerful mind to the subject, and would consider the nature of the government of this country, whether he did not think that public credit rested on some other foundation than that of the sinking fund? He begged him to consider, if his own presence in that House, in the midst of the representatives of the people (for so he would still call them, however imperfectly they answered the description) was not a proof that they were a nation of freemen, governing themselves by their own will, and not subject to the arbitrary power of a despotic ruler? Was not this, he would ask, one of the sources, and the chief source, of our credit? Fond as the hon. member for Taunton was of attributing this to the sinking fund, he would ask him, whether he would not rather lend; money to the government of this country, though it had no surplus revenue whatever, than to the grand seignior, with the greatest possible sum of surplus revenue? Was it, therefore, the sinking fund, or the free and stable institutions of this country, not subject to be overthrown or changed by the caprice of any one man— 697 was it, he would ask, to the sinking fund, or to the very existence of the House of Commons, that the country was indebted for its extraordinary credit? He did not, however, rate the effect of the sinking fund, in augmenting the value of stock, quite so low as his noble friend (lord Althorp); but though he rated it higher, he must therefore object to it the more strongly, as levying a large sum on all other classes of the people, in order to keep up the value of stock. It was obvious, that if the government laid out five millions a-year in the purchase of land, that this would raise the value of land. Differing, therefore, from his noble friend, as to the value of the sinking fund to the stockholder, he must still object to it, as laying a burthen on the rest of the people for his exclusive benefit. It was an error to suppose that the debt any longer existed but as a permanent annuity; it was one of those things that were only felt by their effects, which, in this case, was the payment of an annual sum. There were two ways in which the payment of this sum might be rendered less burthensome: one was, by decreasing the amount of the annuity, and the other by augmenting the funds out of which it was to be paid; it might itself be reduced, or it might be spread over a larger quantity of capital forming a smaller percentage on the whole. The chandelier hanging before them, might serve as an illustration of what he meant. It was suspended by a counterpoising weight, and it might be made to ascend, either by diminishing its own weight, or by adding to the weight of the counterpoise. Capital was the counter-balancing weight; and if it were increased, though the debt remained actually the same, it would be proportionably lighter. The question then came to this—whether the sinking fund would be more productive as a sinking fund, or if it were allowed to remain in the pockets of the people? As a sinking fund, laid out by the commissioners, it did not nett above three per cent; but if left in the pockets of the industrious and ingenious inhabitants of this kingdom, and employed by them in their various branches of manufacture and trade, could any man doubt that it would not multiply five, six, or even ten fold? The nominal amount of the debt would remain the same, if the sinking fund were abolished; but the capabilities of the country to pay the annuities would be considerably 698 increased. He would not discuss which were the taxes the most proper to be taken off, or which were the most vexatious; but he trusted the right hon. gentleman would not, upon any consideration, be induced to abandon his plan of giving up the whole of the salt-tax; and he did not agree with the hon. member for Taunton, as to the value the people set on being relieved from the remainder of the tax. The reduction of the rate of duty on salt had been eminently advantageous, and the abolition of the tax would confer still greater benefits. He trusted also that the chancellor of the Exchequer would not swerve from his project of taking the tax off silk. He did not think, however, that the coal duties were precisely those which ought now to be taken off. It was their business to remit such taxes as pressed on every part of the people; this, however, was only a partial tax, and other parts of the country had as good a claim to relief as the city of London. On the whole, he approved of the budget, as far as the remission of taxes went, except as to the coal-tax, which, he thought, might have been allowed to remain unaltered. In the present call which was made on the House for a further remission of taxes, he did not think his hon. friend had selected the tax which it was most necessary to abolish. He would, however, vote for his motion. He would rather the tax should have been removed from malt and beer, which would have been a relief to all classes, and would have been felt by householders, as well as the removal of the window-tax.
§ Mr. Hume
was surprised at the statement of the hon. member for Taunton, and at the situation in which it placed gentlemen on his side of the House. He differed totally from his hon. friend, and almost from every one around him [alaugh]. He differed, he said, from most of those around him, in not considering the present question to resolve itself into the other, question—shall we, or shall we not, keep up a sinking fund? It must be admitted, that it was possible, by reducing our establishment both to keep a sinking fund, to pay off a part of the debt, and to remit taxes. We might by reducing our establishment take a large sum from the national debt, and lessen the amount of taxes. He held in his hand the balance sheet, and from that he would prove what he said. He there found, that the expense for the military and miscellaneous matters 699 amounted to sixteen millions, a sum more than equal to the whole revenue of the year 1792. If it were reduced to fifteen millions, ministers might say, as he well recollected they said three years ago, when a reduction was proposed, that then they must resign, for the business of the Government could not possibly be carried on; and yet, when the House declared there should be a reduction, before it assembled again, the noble lord, who had made this statement had agreed to reductions, amounting, as the House was informed, to a million and a half; and the business of the nation went on as well as ever, If the House should now agree to the vote of his hon. friend—and he asked their votes on this ground—he would pledge his existence, that the ministers would find means to reduce the establishment below sixteen millions. He called, therefore, on those gentlemen who were favourable to the sinking fund to vote for the reduction, and they might be assured the surplus to be devoted to them would be increased. As to the gentlemen who were not for the sinking fund, and he believed he had not above six persons near him who were for it, to them he would say, vote for the reduction, and you will have a greater sum to remit to the people. The hon. member for Taunton had asked if any body but a fool or an idiot would go on contracting debts an war and not paying them off in peace? Certainly, no honest man would do it; but honest men, before they paid off their debts, considered whether by doing it they should be ruined or destroyed, and if they found they could secure to their creditors a larger sum, and add to their own comforts and convenience, did any honest man hesitate to do it? And was it not the business of the House, in appropriating money to pay off debts, to consider if by doing so they added to the comforts, conveniences, and general wealth of the nation His hon. friend asked, where they would be in fifty years, with no mode of redeeming their debt? He (Mr. H.) liked to look to the past for his proofs, rather than to the future, and he would show the hon. member, that the sinking fund had not paid off a single shilling of the debt, but had augmented it. That money had all been bono wed at five or something more per cent; but at present money might be got at 4 or three per cent. This effect was not produced by the sinking fund; as far as that fund had opera- 700 ted, its effects had been the reverse of this. The benefits conferred by the sinking fund never amounted to a single shilling, and existed no where but in the imagination of Mr. Pitt and his followers. The great expense of the sinking fund, and the great sum borrowed since it was in existence, would prove this. Taking the 24 years subsequent to 1796, we had in that time borrowed no less a sum than 609 millions; while the real expenditure of the country had not exceeded 138 millions; so that the country had borrowed no less than 479 millions for the benefit of the sinking fund. This sum had been borrowed at the rate of 51.3s per cent, and the contractors were now buying up stock, or lending it at the rate of 4l.17s. The result was, that there was a loss of 6s. on every 100l. borrowed of the 479 millions. This was the result up to two years ago. Then ministers admitted they were wrong, for they came to the House, and said, we have heretofore had only a nominal sinking fund, now we will have a real one. And after this immense loss and this confession, they were still to be burthened with a sinking fund. The fact would hardly be believed, and he could scarcely have credited it, had he not been present and witnessed the proceedings. He was one of those who could never allow that transaction with the Bank to pass unnoticed. It was a proceeding which would stamp with disgrace any child who had ever learned the four first rules of arithmetic; and all that the present chancellor of the Exchequer could do would never wipe away that stain [cheers]. It was necessary, said the gentlemen opposite, to have a real surplus. And now did they accomplish it? They called upon the Bank to lend them five millions, and that loan they called a real surplus. This was a complete cheat passed upon the public; and he was really quite surprised that his hon. friend, the member for Taunton, who was so well acquainted with the American system of finance, of which simplicity was the leading principle, should recommend this system of a sinking fund, under such circumstances, and, more than all, that he could suppose a nominal sinking fund was necessary to maintain public credit. Then, with all the experience of the past before their eyes, let not the House of Commons be blindfolded by the Government because they had done some good.—Now, having shewn that we had no real 701 sinking fund, he should prove, if he were allowed a committee [cries of question, question, from the ministerial benches]. Oh yes, he knew that two and two did not make four when he added them together: but he also knew that if the chancellor of the Exchequer said that two and one made four he would find persons in that House to believe it [cheers]. They all remembered the famous Resolution of that House that fourteen shillings were equal to twenty. The Government had declared, that we had a surplus of five millions, whereas in fact it was all borrowed; therefore it was that he called upon the House not to keep up the delusion. Were there no persons in that House who required relief from taxation; and if not, were there no persons in the country who required some alleviation of their burthens? If the proposition which had been submitted, were adopted, and the taxes were reduced, he would be disposed to agree with his hon. friend, that it would hereafter be a matter for consideration how we could best reduce the three per cents. But, did the House suppose, that by leaving five millions untouched they could improve the credit of the country? If war should come and exigencies arise, he had no doubt, as the chancellor of the Exchequer had stated, there would be no difficulty in raising money, and, if necessary they could, at once get twelve or thirteen millions. "But, said his hon. friend, who would lend the Government, if they were to break faith with the public creditor? He was astonished to hear this from his hon. friend, who had entered into loans with the Austrian government, notwithstanding their manifest breach of faith. He did not expect to hear this from his hon. friend, with all the knowledge which he had of Austria and Russia. Upon all the grounds which he had stated, he thought the House would do wisely and honestly, to vote a further reduction of taxes, and do away with the idea of a sinking fund, altogether; and by doing this, they would give general satisfaction to the country.
§ Mr. Sykes
rose, amidst general cries of Question! He said he should gratify the impatience of the House by merely making one observation. Two propositions had been submitted to the House, and but for the late hour of the night, he should state to the House, why, of the two he should give the preference to the system of finance proposed by the chan- 702 cellor of the Exchequer. With respect to taxes, he thought those should first be repealed which would give the greatest stability to the credit of the country. On the subject of the sinking fund he was compelled to declare that upon that arrangement he placed no reliance; because he felt that, ever since the days of its first origin, in the time of sir R. Walpole, up to the present hour, its only use was, to furnish ministers with the means of extravagance.
briefly replied. He said the chancellor of the Exchequer had given no answer to the question which her had put to him, namely, whether 56 millions of taxes were to be continued to be raised on the people? He had a right to consider this burthen enormous; and he was sure, that, whatever opinion might be entertained in that House, out of doors the system would be. universally deprecated. It had been allowed by the House, and indeed by the Government, that of all the assessed taxes, the window-light tax would be the most desirable to be repealed, and therefore it was, he was anxious to press it upon the House. His hon. friend had talked of the politeness of the tax-gatherer; but he believed it would be generally found he was polite to the rich, but very much the reverse to the poor. In one of the petitions which he had presented to the House, it was stated, that the tax-gatherer had actually taken away the beds of the unfortunate people, to collect that very tax of which he now sought the repeal. He should not trouble the House further; but he trusted they were now convinced of the propriety of adopting the proposition [hear, hear!].
§ The House divided. For Mr. Hob-house's motion 88: Against it 155: Majority 67.
|List of the Minority.|
|Abercromby, hon. J.||Cavendish, H. F. C.|
|Allen, J. H.||Chaloner, R.|
|Althorp, visc.||Clifton, visc.|
|Baring, sir T.||Colborne, N. W. R.|
|Bennet, hon. H. G.||Creevey, T.|
|Bernal, R.||Davies, T.|
|Belgrave, visc.||Davenport, D.|
|Bright, H,||Denison, W. J.|
|Brougham, H.||Denman, T.|
|Burdett, sir F.||Duncannon, visc.|
|Calvert, J.||Dundas, hon. T.|
|Calvert, C.||Ellice, E.|
|Carter, J.||Gordon, R.|
|Cavendish, C. C.||Graham, S.|
|Guise, sir B. W.||Portman, E.|
|Gurney, H.||Price, R.|
|Hamilton, lord A.||Poyntz, W. S.|
|Heathcote, J. G.||Pym, F.|
|Heron, sir R.||Ramsden, J. C.|
|Honywood, W. P.||Rice, T. S.|
|Hume, J.||Robarts, A.|
|Hutchinson, hon. C. H.||Robarts, G.|
|James, W.||Robinson, sir G.|
|Jervoise, G. P.||Rowley, sir W.|
|Johnstone, W. A.||Russell, lord J.|
|Kemp, T.||Sefton, earl of|
|Kennedy, T. F.||Smith, J.|
|Keck, G. A. L.||Smith, W.|
|Leader, W.||Stewart, lord J.|
|Lennard, J. B.||Sykes, D.|
|Lethbridge, sir T.||Taylor, C. M.|
|Leycester, R.||Tennyson, C.|
|Lloyd, T. M.||Tierney, right hon. G.|
|Lockhart J. I.||Tynte, C. K.|
|Maberly, W. L.||Warre, T. A.|
|Marjoribanks, S.||Webbe, E.|
|Milton, visc.||Western, C. C.|
|Moore, P.||Whitbread, S.|
|Mildmay, P. S.||Whitbread, W.|
|Monck, J. B.||Wilson sir R.|
|Mundy, J.||Wood, M.|
|Newport, sir J.||Wrottesley, sir J.|
|Ord, W.||Wyvill, M.|
|Palmer, C.||Hobhouse, J. C.|
|Philips, G. H.||Maberly, J.|