HC Deb 25 March 1828 vol 18 cc1344-7

On the order of the day for the third reading of this bill,

Lord Althorpe

wished to offer a very few words upon this bill, because he thought that, in the discussion which had taken place last night, Mr. Finlayson had been rather hardly dealt with. All the statement about the country losing 100,000l. a-week was a great exaggeration of Mr. Finlayson's reckoning; and he therefore wished to explain the principle upon which Mr. Finlayson's calculation had proceeded. Mr. Finlayson, on looking to the annuities which were outstanding on the 5th Jan., 1827, and the 5th of Jan., 1828, conceived, upon a comparison of the two periods, that the public would lose about 95,000l. per annum, which sum would be equivalent to a loss of about 8,000l. per month. Now, the mode in which this gentleman arrived at his deductions was this:—He assumed the amount of the existing annuities, and calculated that the whole amount of them would not be extinguished until about sixty years from the present time; that is, that the last or longest life would, in all probability, subsist for sixty years to come. His calculation, therefore, respected the final result of this financial operation at the end of such period of sixty years. He assumed the average duration of each life to be so many years, and the interest of money at four and a half per cent. Working his calculation upon these data, from the 5th of January, Mr. Finlayson assumed that at the end of sixty years there would be redeemed 32,000,000l. less of the national debt, through the operation of this measure for granting life annuities, than would have been redeemed if all the stock which had been given for effecting this measure had been accumulating during the whole of the same period under the working of the Sinking-fund. Upon a similar calculation, as to the 5th of April, he reckoned that in sixty years from that day the public would be still the worse by 95,000l.; that is to say, that there would be 95,000l. less redeemed of annuities; that an aggregate sum of 32,000,000l. plus this 95,000l. would be redeemed less at the close of that period, than would have been redeemed by the Sinking-fund. With regard to another point which supplied a sort of test of the degree of accuracy with which this calculation had been made; namely, what had been the result of the first year in which these life annuities had been granted, an hon. friend of his had charged Mr. Finlayson, last night, with having omitted to give credit for the interest on the accumulation of the stock. Now, in this respect, his hon. friend must have misunderstood Mr. Finlayson; for Mr. Finlayson had taken into calculation the whole of the interest on the accumulations of stock, which had taken place during the last two years, and he found that a sum equal to 10,579l. three and a half per cents was the amount of the diminution of the debt beyond that which this operation would effect.

Mr. Hudson Gurney

said, it was quite apparent, from the statement of the noble lord, that Mr. Finlayson, like all other calculators, assumed something which experience taught us never happened, and which, in the end, invariably proved, that all their calculations were not worth a straw; and the greatest of all their assumptions had perpetually been, that by tricks with figures, they could reduce a debt which had gone on constantly increasing, and which, it was idle to hope, would ever be redeemed.

Mr. Herries

said, that no person could purchase an annuity who was under thirty-five years of age. It had been insinuated, that he had attacked the professional character of Mr. Finlayson; but he had done no such thing. On the contrary, he had borne his humble testimony to the merits of Mr. Finlayson. There was one important point connected with this subject, which was worthy the attention of the House. He alluded to the fact, that a very material and gratifying change had taken place in this country, with respect to the average duration of human life. The tables published by order of the House exhibited this in a remarkable degree. These tables proved the extraordinary fact, that, in the course of the last forty years, such a change had taken place in the condition of the people, that the decrease of mortality in Great Britain was from one in forty to one in fifty-six. This was one of the strongest proofs that could be adduced to show the improvement in the state of the country. No proposition to which statesmen or philosophers could have recourse could more decidedly manifest progressive improvement than an increase of the population, and a decrease of human mortality. He thought it right to bring this under the consideration of the House, because it was connected intimately with the formation of tables to which allusion had been made. The increased longevity of the people, so far as these annuities went, might in some degree interfere with the public interest, but still it must be a source of gratification to all who took a correct view of the subject. It might also be proper to observe, that, from all the data which had been examined, for the purpose of ascertaining the difference between the value of male and female life, it was found to be one-tenth in favour of female life.

Mr. Hume

said, it was true that a change had taken place in the duration of life during the last thirty years; but the right hon. gentleman seemed to have forgotten, that much of that was owing to the introduction of vaccination, and other modern improvements in medicine. But if they looked back to the forty years that preceded 1790, they would find, that there had always been some epidemic or other. In the year 1782, an epidemic had occurred, which spread itself throughout Europe, and had been felt most severely. For the last thirty years they had been free from such scourges; but that was no reason why such an event should not occur again. He hoped ministers would not allow much time to intervene without reviewing the tables upon which this, bill was founded. With the assistance of proper tables, the annuities' system would be a most effective mode of reducing a national debt.

Sir J. Newport

deprecated the system of annuities, as acted upon up to the present time, and called the attention of the House to the Irish Tontine of 1773, 1775, and 1777; of which, owing to the bad system pursued, not one class was yet extinct; which shewed how guarded government ought to be in taking a step of this kind.

Mr. Monck

said, that the chief error of the government in granting those annuities had been in following the Northampton tables; which certainly were those used by the Equitable Insurance office, but for a very different purpose from that in which they were employed by the state. That office used them for granting payments at the end of life, while the government used them for granting annuities during life; it therefore was clear, that whatever was gain to the Insurance office was loss to the country. He agreed, that it was quite necessary that new tables should be calculated; but at the same time trusted that the annuity system would not be abandoned.

The bill was read a third time.