HC Deb 24 March 1828 vol 18 cc1310-4

The House having resolved itself into a committee,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that in agreeing to the vote which he was about to propose, the committee would not pledge itself to any opinion whatsoever. The House was only called upon to vote the appropriation of money which would be paid on the 5th of April and the 6th of July next. What was to be done with the money would be matter of after-consideration, but this preliminary step was necessary. With this observation he merely proposed calling on the House to vote for the appropriation of the sum of 2,164,000l., which would be paid by the trustees of naval and military pensions on the 5th of April and the 5th of July.

Mr. Calcraft

took occasion to allude again to the slow proceedings of the Finance Committee, and expressed a wish that there was some statement laid before the House of the actual income and expenditure of the country. An hon. baronet the other evening had stated, that he did not expect much from the Finance Committee, because, although our income was above fifty millions, more than thirty millions were absorbed by the debt, so that they had not more than nineteen or twenty millions to deal with. Now, he confessed this alarmed him very much as to the results to be expected from the examination. He looked, not to the nominal amount paid into the Treasury, but at the sum drawn from the pockets of the people. That sum was nearly fifty-eight millions, but more than eight millions were spent in the collection; so that the nett amount to be applied to the public expenditure was only fifty millions. If, therefore, the difference between the nett income and the gross income was added to the sum the committee had to work upon, there would be, instead of nineteen or twenty millions, a sum of twenty-seven millions, out of which the Finance Committee was to labour in the work of reduction. He recollected hearing, some years ago, that a proposition was made to lord Liverpool, of uniting the Boards of Customs and Excise, and it was said that by this union 1,500,000l. a year would be saved. Lord Liverpool was inclined to attend to it, but lord Castlereagh put it aside, for a reason which he did not think it proper to mention then. At those two boards there were thirty-four commissioners and assistant commissioners, and he did think this an immense body of persons to transact the business of the boards, and that a very great reduction might be made.

Sir J. Yorke

wished to ask the chancellor of the Exchequer, who he knew was not like Mr. Pitt, an heaven-born minister—indeed, his right hon. friend had come into office without knowing much more than that two and two made four, or at all events knowing very little about Treasury affairs—he wished to ask his right hon. friend, whether in his opinion Mr. Finlayson, that modern Cocker, had not taken very exaggerated views on the subject of these life annuities?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that really after the compliment his gallant friend had paid him, he did not see how his gallant friend could expect him to give any opinion on the mass of figures which Mr. Finlayson had laid before the Finance Committee. To the best of his judgment, however, the system had produced a loss to the country; that was the opinion also of the Finance Committee. With respect to what had fallen from an hon. gentleman, he could assure him, that the Finance Committee had never, in the reductions they contemplated, lost sight of the charges of collecting the revenue; and that the most effectual means would be taken to lay before the public a clear and plain statement of the national accounts.

Sir J. Newport

did not know how it was possible for the Finance Committee to do more than they were doing. They sat three times a week, from twelve to four, and the sub-committee sat on the alternate days. He hoped the committee would not suffer itself to be hurried forward by the anxiety, however commendable, of individuals; and that it would abstain from making any report, until it could make one which would be satisfactory to the public.

Sir M. W. Ridley

said, that too sanguine expectations of reduction should not be held out, when it was considered that 30,000,000l. were to be paid as interest of the debt, and the charge for the army, navy, &c. amounted to 19 or 20,000,000l. He admitted that the charge of 8,000,000l. for the collection of the Revenue was one that merited the strict attention of the committee. The committee, he was sure, would gladly receive any suggestion from his hon. friend; and he should be glad if they had the benefit of his assistance.

Mr. Calcraft

observed, that the Finance Committee, would not be the worse for being reminded of particular duties as it proceeded. With reference to the measure, however, which had already emanated from it—the bill for repealing the power of granting life annuities—he did not quite agree in the course which had been pursued, and wished that Mr. Finlayson's letter should be laid before the House. As it seemed to him, the table of rates, subject to which these annuities had been granted, ought to be changed, rather than the practice of granting them discontinued.

Mr. Baring

bore testimony to the constant exertions of the Finance Committee, and particularly to those of the hon. chairman whose attention to its business was unremitting.

Mr. Hume

said, that the money named in the vote was money to be received from the Bank in the way of loan; and he entirely objected to applying borrowed money to the support of the Sinking-fund. The statement of the right hon. Home Secretary a few nights ago had shown that at most there was only a surplus of 50,000l. applicable to the redemption of the debt. He believed that there was no surplus at all, but a deficiency rather, to three times that amount; but at all events that sum was the most which could be available. He thought, therefore, that instead of applying borrowed money to sustain this Sinking-fund, it would be better to wait and see whether the Finance Committee did not pronounce the whole Sinking-fund a delusion. He was disposed to move, as an amendment, that the money in question should not be carried to the account of the consolidated fund, but used to take up part of our unfunded debt; which perhaps we might not always be able to take up upon such favourable terms as we could at present.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the suspension of the appropriation of this money would not alter the arrangement relative to the Sinking-fund; but it would deprive the government of supplies which were wanted for the purposes of immediate necessity.

Mr. Herries

said, that the hon. member had greatly under-stated the amount of surplus over expenditure, when he stated it to be only 50,000l. The amount of surplus was to be estimated not only by the amount of income, but also by that of our expenditure. Now, admitting that there was to be no increase in our income, from the estimates it would appear that there was a reduction of 1,200,000l. in our expenditure. This, therefore, gave us together with the 2,000,000l. from the Bank, if it should be appropriated to the Sinking-fund, 3,000,000l. more than the 50,000l. which the hon. member had stated to be the only sum which we could appropriate to the Sinking-fund. The committee must clearly perceive that this 2,000,000l. should go to the credit of the income of the country, however it might be appropriated. The prospect of a probable increase in the revenue would augment still further the available resources of the country,

Sir J. Wrottesley

protested against the continuance of a Sinking-fund on the principle of that now sanctioned by parliament. What could be more absurd in private life, than for a gentleman to spend the whole of his income, go into debt, borrow a sum of money to pay it, and then exclaim, "See what a job I have made of it, I have paid off a couple of thousand pounds with one hand, which I have borrowed with the other!" The question for the House to consider was, whether they would continue the absurd act which obliged them to maintain a fund for the redemption of their debt, when all their income was absorbed by their expenditure.

The resolution was agreed to.