The Chancellor of the Exchequer
having moved that the House resolve itself into a Committee to consider the several Acts relating to the Excise, and the Speaker having accordingly left the Chair, the right hon. Gentleman proceeded to address the Committee as follows:—I avail myself of the opportunity afforded on the present occasion, of bringing thus early before the House the views of his Majesty's Government respecting the financial concerns of the country, and I do so, not more in deference to the wishes expressed by this House, than in compliance with my own sense of what is due in justice and in pro- 302 priety to the reasonable expectations of the people at large, holding us bound, as they do, to lay before Parliament as soon and as distinctly as possible, the course which we deem it right and expedient to pursue. In the present depressed state of the country, and when great anxiety is manifested by all classes respecting the measures which his Majesty's Government intend to propose to Parliament, it is right that the House of Commons should, as early as possible, be made acquainted with the views and intentions of the responsible advisers of the Crown. This, I say, becomes doubly necessary at a time of such general anxiety, which, on the one hand, fills people with exaggerated expectations of the measures which Parliament is likely to adopt, and of the means of relief which it is capable of affording; and on the other, calls forth so much unwillingness to give credit to the Government for feeling that sympathy which it ought and does feel towards the suffering portion of society. It therefore becomes highly desirable that the measures to be submitted to Parliament should be known immediately, in order to prove, if possible, how little ground there is, in justice and in truth, either for those exaggerated expectations on the one hand, or that unreasonable distrust which is to be found on the other. When last I had the honour of making a similar statement to the House to that I am now about to lay before it, I adverted to what was then said on the subject of depression, and I ventured to express a hope that the embarrassment of that period would not prove of long continuance. It is perfectly true, Sir, that my expectations on that point have not been realised. Different circumstances have occurred during the past year to protract the duration of those difficulties, and to increase the pressure upon the people somewhat beyond that which I had anticipated. In thus merely touching, as I do, upon this topic, I have no intention of entering into a discussion of the circumstances which have aggravated the difficulties we had to contend against, or of the causes which excite the present anxiety of the people, for I am anxious to disembarrass my statement of anything which could add to its length or interfere with its simplicity; and I am the more disposed to put this restraint upon myself, as a day has been fixed for discussing at large the state of the country. I shall, 303 certainly, Sir, by following this method, best consult my own convenience; but that I should not regard, were I not persuaded that I am, at the same time, attending to the feelings and the wishes of the House, by abstaining from any notice of that part of the public affairs which the Motion I have just alluded to will bring distinctly under the consideration of Parliament. When I put that subject aside, however, I wish, on the part of myself and my colleagues, to state, which I do, in order to prevent any misunderstanding or misrepresentation, that I put it aside—not because we feel no sympathy or commisseration with that part of the people of this country now enduring distress—far from it,—I shall, before I sit down, give the best evidence that it is in the power of any man to give, that we have exerted, and continue to exert, our best endeavours to alleviate, as far as we possibly can, the difficulties of the country, but because, as I have just said, the Motion to be brought forward by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury will afford a far more convenient opportunity for discussing it. In admitting the existence of difficulties, however, I again wish to guard against being misunderstood. Whatever difficulties we have to contend against, I think there is no cause for despondency or permanent alarm—no ground to entertain apprehensions for the stability or the resources of the country. I shall now, Sir, without further preface, enter into the question more immediately before me; but I cannot do so without, in the first instance, calling the attention of the House to the revenue and expenditure of the year which has just passed away. In doing this, I am anxious at the outset to justify the statement I formerly made to Parliament, and to show the House, from a consideration of the Revenue of the past year, the more especially when those causes are taken into the account which prevented the realization of all that I anticipated, that there are some grounds for viewing, even with satisfaction, the present resources of the country. It will be in the recollection of hon. Gentlemen that in estimating the Revenue of 1829, I took that Revenue at considerably less than the Revenue of the preceding year. A large allowance was made for the probable defalcations then anticipated, from causes which, at that time, I stated to the House, and which it therefore is not necessary 304 that I should now repeat. Having made these allowances, I expressed my belief that the revenue of the year 1829 would amount to 51,340,000l. It appears, however, as by reference to papers now on the Table of the House, hon. Members may have the means of ascertaining—that the actual produce of the Revenue of that year has fallen short of the sum I anticipated by an amount somewhere about 560,000l. Here I wish previouly to observe, that though the defalcation appears to be of that amount, it is in reality considerably short of it, in consequence of an appropriation of a part of the Revenue different from the appropriation intended to have been made and given in my statement. Thus, from the sale of the City Canal a sum of 130,000l. was realized, which was not applied as Revenue according to my former announcement, but was carried forward to the repayment of advances made by the Bank. In reality, that sum has been made available to the service of the country, but it does not appear under the head of Revenue. This would bring the real defalcation to somewhere about 430,000l. When the House comes to consider the peculiar circumstances of the country during the past year, and when hon. Members bear in mind the harvest, including all the disadvantages of the last season, thy will not be surprised that defalcations have arisen, they will not blame his Majesty's Government for what was so evidently beyond their power, they will not censure me for making an extravagant statement, which facts did not subsequently justify. Upon an examination of the financial papers, it will be seen that this defalcation arose principally in an article over which the harvest necessarily produced a very considerable effect. I estimated, last year, that the duty on the Malt, would, as compared with the year before, be deficient 600,000l.; but the deficiency turned out to be as much as 800,000l. Then the falling-off in the Beer duty amounted to 200,000l., making together 1,000,000l.; from which, if the estimated defalcation of 600,000l. be deducted, we shall have a balance of 400,000l. that being nearly the extent to which my expectations were not realized. Thus do I trust that I have succeeded in making out that one disappointment has arisen from causes which no man could have foreseen, and over which no Government could, have exercised any control, 305 Let it not be supposed that in stating these deficiencies, I mean to say there are no others, though they are nearly balanced by an unexpected increase, but I wish the House to be aware that the deficiency is nearly accounted for by the failure of Revenue in articles affected by the harvest. I will not conceal from the House that there are other defalcations, but they do not arise from causes which imply a diminished consumption. There is one article, at least, upon which reduced revenue implies nothing of diminished consumption—on tea there has been a defalcation of 130,000l., but so far from that proving a diminished consumption, the fact is, that the consumption has increased. The House must be aware that the duty on tea is an ad valorem duty; and this article having been sold, as is well known, at very reduced prices during the last year, has caused this deficiency in the amount of the duty on tea. Comparing the produce of the duty at its lowered sale with the produce of the duty in the year before, we find that the consumption of tea has not fallen off. On other articles of the Excise there are also deficiencies, but not to a considerable amount, making the whole deficiency (as compared with the preceding year) about 1,300,000l. With reference to the Customs, on which I ventured last year to lay a sort of calculation before the House, I am happy to say that I have not been disappointed; and the deficiency of the Excise has been in some degree compensated by an unexpected augmentation in the amount received from the Customs. The Estimate for this branch of the Revenue, which I laid last year before the House, amounted to 17,000,000l., while I am happy to be able to state that the actual amount received has been 17,200,000l., which surplus we have a right to set against the defalcation in the Excise. Thus the actual deficiency of the year's revenue, as compared with the Revenue of 1828, was 1,100,000l. With respect to the Customs, however, I feel it to be but fair and right to state to the House that a considerable proportion of the Revenue in the present year (and to which the increase I have just mentioned is mainly to be attributed) is owing to, the large augmentation under the head of duties received upon foreign corn; and I state this the rather, because it is not my intention, in future statements, to make any allowance for this variation. I find, on an 306 examination of the last year and of the present, compared with the preceding one that the amount received on account of the duty on corn fluctuated between the Excise and the Customs in proportion as the harvest of the year in this country had been abundant, or the contrary; therefore, although this year the scanty harvest has operated as a means of increase to the Customs, should the harvest next year be abundant the increase will be in the Excise. This being the case, though I have thought it right to state the amount of the increase on the corn-duty this year, it will be seen that I do not intend to place any particular reliance upon it. But if (setting this on one side) we look at what, in the course of the last year, has been effected by the produce of the Revenue, I think we shall see in it sufficient circumstances to afford matter of consolation, if not of congratulation. On an examination of these circumstances, it will appear, that during that period, there has been applied to the purpose of reducing the Debt no less a sum than a surplus of Revenue to the amount of 2,400,000l.; nor is that, be it understood, an imaginary surplus, but a surplus actually and really applicable to the reduction of the Debt, after making every payment for the year to which the country was justly liable. I advert to this circumstance more particularly, because this being the first year since Parliament came to the determination to devote to the payment of the Debt only the surplus revenue, I am anxious to call its attention to the result of that determination; and also because it affords me an opportunity of calling the attention of the House to some other measures which received its sanction in the course of the Session before the last. This House, Sir, in the year 1828, gave its sanction to a measure which had for its object the conversion of permanent annuities into annuities terminating with the lives of the holders. When I proposed this measure to the House, I did it more in anticipation of its proving convenient to the public, than in the expectation of its extinguishing any very large portion of the national burthens; but, in this latter point of view, I am happy to say, that I somewhat miscalculated, for I find by referring, to certain papers now lying on the table, that while the surplus revenue has paid off 2,400,000l. permanent annuities to the extent of 2,700,000l. have been con- 307 verted into terminable annuities, which will, in the course of thirty years, relieve the country from a portion of its debt to that amount. With these observations, Sir, I purpose to leave the affairs of the year that is past; and I now have to enter on a labour of a more arduous character. What I now have to do is to lay before the House a consideration of the course proper to be pursued in the year that is before us; and here it is that I have to crave the indulgence of the House in respect to the difficulties in which I am placed. It must be obvious to them that the difficulty of every calculation which I have to make as to the Revenue of the coming year is materially enhanced by the early period at which I have to make my statement; and though in what I have to offer I can assure the House that I have spared neither pains nor labour to come to a just conclusion on all topics, yet I trust that, if it shall be found that I have formed any wrong estimates, I shall receive from the House that indulgence and consideration to which those difficulties I have alluded to may justly entitle me. But, however, before I enter upon that topic, I may be permitted to allude to the circumstances under which I am called upon to make my present statement to the House. Sir, Parliament was informed in the Speech from the Throne at the commencement of the Session, of the existence of difficulties and distress among the agricultural and manufacturing classes in some parts of the kingdom. The knowledge and consideration of this distress have ever been present to the minds of his Majesty's Ministers. Their attention could not be otherwise than directed to the condition of the people, and it has been kept steady to that point by petitions presented to this House from all parts of the country. Addresses too have been agreed to—and debates on the subject have continually taken place within the walls of Parliament. To these petitions, and to every petition of the people presented to this House, it is the bounden duty of his Majesty's Government to pay the most serious attention, so that they may be enabled, should it unfortunately be unable to comply with the prayer of these petitions, to refuse compliance from a sense of the impossibility or the inexpediency of granting it; or, if they concede, to make that concession in the way most advantageous to the petitioners and the country. But these petitions 308 have not only brought under the consideration of Government the difficulties and distress of the individuals from whom they have emanated, they have also prayed for that which it is not unnatural in times like the present that they should pray for—relief from taxation: and it was, therefore, incumbent on those to whom the affairs of the country have been intrusted, to endeavour, by a laborious investigation into the whole circumstances of the case, to ascertain in what manner they could best afford relief to those who suffer the most without injuring the general interests. I know it is supposed that the individual who holds the situation which I now have the honour to fill, has an inherent, an inborn apprehension at the idea of reducing taxes. I know not whether it is just to impute such a feeling to any person, but I am sure it cannot be fairly charged against me. Although, like my predecessors, I may have been forward in resisting the removal of taxation when the exigencies of the country demanded its continuance, yet no man was ever more ready than I have been to relax the public burthens when it could be done without injury to the service of the State. Taxes are, I admit, an evil never to be imposed or continued unless the service of the State absolutely requires them. In considering the state of the country, however, in conjunction with the state of the Revenue (the latter of which is as well known to any hon. Member who attends to his public duties as it can be to his Majesty's Ministers), the question of the mode in which relief can best be afforded becomes most important. In this consideration two courses present themselves:—the one is, to make the relief absolute to that extent to which it is practicable to afford relief; the other is to impose a new tax on that portion of the community which is supposed to have suffered the least, for the purpose of relieving those who have suffered the most. I need not conceal from the House that, among the many projects which are afloat—among the many schemes which have been offered to the consideration of his Majesty's Government, a Property-tax has been suggested as one which might be satisfactorily imposed for the purpose of relieving the Industry of the country from more burthensome taxation. It is also useless to conceal from the House, that that subject has received the fullest and most 309 complete consideration from his Majesty's Ministers, and that they have weighed well the advantages of such a measure against the disadvantages which the circumstances of the time at which the scheme has been proposed present: and the result is (with reference to other great financial measures which it has been thought expedient to adopt) that it is deemed more advisable to have recourse to the other mode of proceeding, without, however, pronouncing any opinion, either for or against the abstract principle of a Property-tax; and they have come to this conclusion, from the consideration that such a course would be preferable to transferring the charge from the shoulders of one party to those of another. In considering, then, in what mode it would be most advisable to afford relief to the people, we have continually borne in mind two great principles—the one to afford the utmost relief within our power to the lower orders of the agricultural and manufacturing classes, because we sincerely believe, that on them, of all classes of the community, the pressure most severely weighs, without bearing more heavily than at present on any other class; the other to give them relief by laying a heavier tax on the more opulent classes of the community. I am happy to announce, Sir, that his Majesty's Ministers have resolved to act on the former principle. They are of opinion that no equivalent benefit would result to the poorer classes from laying heavier burthens on their opulent employers. I know that in this feeling I shall have (and, indeed, the cheers of the House already assure me that I have) the concurrence of all who hear me; and I say this the more confidently, because I am sure that there is no assembly, in any country, that has more sympathy for the lower orders of the community than that which I now have the honour to address; and however much it may be contended that we do not represent the wishes of the people, I am sure that no measure, which may tend to their relief, can be proposed without meeting with favour [cheers]. When his Majesty's Ministers came to a resolution to reduce taxation, the next principle for consideration—and not an unimportant one either—was to act on the plan of reducing those taxes which, while they gave the greatest relief to the people, produced, by their removal, the least loss to the revenue of the country; for in taxation 310 the degrees in which the revenue is productive, and pressure inflicted, are extremely different. In some taxes the amount received by the Exchequer equals that taken from the people; in others, the amount falls short; and occasionally, taxes have been imposed which have taken a great deal from the people, and brought nothing into the Exchequer. Taking, then, these principles for my guide, the tax which appears to me to call most for remission is the tax upon Beer. Beer, I am sorry to say, of latter years, has become almost a luxury to the poor. There was a time when beer was reckoned one of the necessaries of life, and when the enjoyment of that beverage was looked upon—not as reserved for holidays and feast days, but as a refreshment always to be found at the peasant's table. I hope the measure which I this evening have to propose may be the means of restoring to the working classes that enjoyment which they long possessed, and with that enjoyment I hope those habits of order and sobriety may return, which, by the introduction of other beverages, have been almost destroyed. Beer, at present, is most heavily taxed for the purposes of Government. On each quart of beer of that strength which is usually the standard in London, the duty paid to the State, independently of the malt-tax, is not much less than three-farthings a quart; and when we consider, in the ordinary consumption of a family in the lower ranks of life, how much of this beverage enters into its annual expenditure, any Gentleman, with a moderate knowledge of arithmetic, will be able to ascertain the extent of taxation under this head. But it is not only the tax which is paid to Government that Beer has to encounter: like all other taxes which are raised for the service of the State, the steps which are requisite for its collection necessarily subject the manufacturer to various restrictions which operate to enhance the price. Among other restrictions may be instanced, that while a man may brew one species of beer, he may not brew another. So he is prohibited from varying its strength to meet the palates of his customers, except in certain degrees, besides other circumstances to which I need not now revert, which in themselves impose upon the article of Beer an amount of duty not to be estimated in money, but represented by the degree of inconvenience and restriction to which the 311 whole combined give rise. But there is a still heavier duty on Beer, which I have yet to mention; and that is, the system under which it is permitted to be retailed to the public. That system gives to certain parties only, the right of supply, and establishes a monopoly for them. It would be difficult for me to estimate the amount which is thus added to the Government duty; but I believe that it will be found to be very considerable. I am not afraid to estimate the effect of these restrictions as equal, at the very least, to one-third of the whole amount of duty paid to the State; and therefore we may assume, that, if we repeal the whole Beer duty of three millions, we shall give to the country a relief little short of four millions and a half from the measure. In considering the mode in which relief may be given to the public in the charge upon this article, three courses present themselves by which we may proceed. We may either remove the whole duty on Beer, which is what I propose to do, in the present case, or we may remove the whole duty on Malt, leaving the Beer as it now stands; or we may make a compromise between the two, by taking half off the one, and half off the other. I have preferred to adopt the first of those three modes. And I have done it on the firm conviction, that by so doing I shall best afford relief to that class which I am most anxious to relieve, and that I shall not injure those to whom the other mode of proceeding might be supposed to have been more advantageous. Among the causes which have induced me to make this election is the evident inequality of the tax. The man who can brew for himself is altogether exempt from its influence. If he be wealthy enough to possess the requisite machinery, he is able to drink beer at a price lower than the peasant who has to purchase the beverage itself. And I think, therefore, that this is a circumstance which, under the present difficulties of the country, should recommend the course that I propose. In the next place, by taking off the whole of one tax, instead of a portion of two, we shall be able to save the whole of that superincumbent weight which the restriction, while existing, imposes upon the country; so that, in this way, we shall have the means of making a still further saving, as it will enable us to make some reduction in the establishments. If half the Malt and half 312 the Beer duties had been taken off, the establishments now necessary for levying the whole duties must have been preserved. I think also that the House will perceive, that, taking Beer at the standard of strength at which it is ordinarily drank, the remission of the duty on Beer will afford a relief far larger than a similar reduction on Malt. In the case of London porter, or beer of a corresponding strength, every million of Beer duty removed takes from the price of a quart one farthing, while a million of the Malt duty removed will only lower the price one-twelfth of a penny. That which most tends to lower the price of the article most tends to increase the consumption of it; on this principle the remission of the Beer duty is preferable to remitting an equal amount of the duty on Malt. Even to those who are disposed to press the remission of the Malt-tax in preference to that on Beer, I think that I can afford some satisfaction; for the very repeal of this duty will secure to the maltsters of the country an advantage equal to, if not greater than, that which would accrue from the reduction of the Malt-tax. Can any one doubt that the great object to which the maltsters ought naturally to look is—not the difference of a shilling, or any thing of that sort on the duty—but the increased demand which is likely to arise from the reduction of prices. The consumption of that commodity will necessarily be extensive, in proportion to the reduction in the price; and, if the price be reduced in a large proportion, by taking off the Beer duty, then, by removing the Malt duty, we shall be doing more towards increasing the consumption of Malt than by adopting the other course, and attempting to take a portion from one and a portion from the other, so as to meet the claims of all classes. When I mention the remission of the Beer duty, I must say that this will necessarily be followed by the free sale of Beer. From all that I have seen of the proceedings of the committee which is now sitting, I am confident that a freer sale of that article will be considered by it as essential; and still more certain is it, that if this tax be repealed, it will be essential for the health and comfort of the lower classes that the trade should be opened. At present, while the tax exists, in the vigilance of the Excise, and the activity of its officers, there is some sort of security against the adulteration of Beer; 313 but if this safeguard is removed, and the monopoly be still suffered to exist, there will no longer be any protection against the use of drugs noxious to the health of those who use it. I propose, therefore, to repeal the whole of the Beer tax, from the 10th of next October. I will explain to the House my reason for proposing this delay. In the first instance, the House will remember that, having in our own minds determined that the repeal of this duty should take place in conjunction with an opening of the trade, we found that it was not practicable to bring these two measures into joint operation till the period for renewing the licenses of public-houses should arrive. If we were to repeal the duty at the present moment, in what a situation should we place those who, not apprehensive of any such reduction, have paid their duty on large stocks. We cannot give them relief without repaying an enormous bounty on those stocks; and though I do not, in this, mean to insinuate anything disrespectful of the persons connected with the Beer trade, we generally find, that when repayments are made on account of duties already received by the public, they amount to a sum far beyond anything that had been calculated upon. Besides these considerations, one great object will be obtained by delaying these measures till October—for it is to be observed, that although the tax on Beer will not cease till that period, there will be an indirect operation in favour of the maltster immediately. Those who are engaged in the manufacture of this article must necessarily anticipate what I myself have anticipated—that is to say, that there will be an increased demand for beer, which cannot fail to infuse into their proceedings a considerable increased alacrity. In this manner the maltster will be immediately benefitted. Among other advantages which attend the repeal of this particular tax, is one which, though not calculated to be generally felt, will, no doubt, be appreciated in some quarters; for, in addition to the removal of the tax upon Beer, I shall be able to take oft' that upon Cider. That duty amounts to from 25.000l. to 30,000l.; but though the amount is small, it is collected under circumstances of difficulty and occasional oppression; a great number of oaths have to be taken, and a vast number of vexatious proceedings are adopted, Distinctions are made between cider for 314 sale and for home consumption—between cider made from purchased fruit, and fruit grown on a man's own grounds; all of which tend to involve the parties in endless difficulties, and to give encouragement to all sorts of fraud. The interests of that part of the population by whom cider is principally drank,—I mean the peasantry of several inland counties,—are not less deserving of the serious consideration of Parliament than any other class of the community, and I am anxious to extend every possible comfort to them.
Another subject to which I have now to call the attention of the House is, the remission of a tax which is not, in its operation, limited to any particular class; it refers to an article, which, though not so obviously apparent as that which is under consumption daily, yet appears to me to deserve the attention of the House, both as regards the pressure it causes on the people, and the burthen it imposes, as compared with the amount of revenue derived from it. The tax is one which has frequently been the object of discussion in this House. The tax to which I am now alluding is the tax on Leather. The present amount of revenue derived from that tax is about 400,000l.—which is heavily felt by the agricultural population. In one of the long-contested debates on the subject in this House, it was asserted by a noble friend of mine—if I may be allowed to call him so (Lord Althorp) that the greater the distress experienced among the labouring agriculturists, the more heavily did the tax fall upon them. In removing this tax, therefore, Sir, I shall remove a tax which is now felt to press with a peculiar severity on a large class of the people. Moreover, Sir, by abolishing the tax altogether, and then doing away the restrictions that are now laid on the manufacture of the article, which compel the manufacturer to manage the business differently from what he otherwise would, which compel one man to be a tanner, and another to be a dresser of leather; in removing the restrictions, we shall give a relief to the people as well as by the reduction of the duty. At present these restrictions affect the manufacturers injuriously, and are useless to the Revenue; and in doing away with them, I calculate that we shall give additional relief to the public equal to the amount of the tax. It is to attain 315 this object that I propose the abolition of the whole tax. What would the public gain by taking off one half? While the Government would lose some revenue, the price of the article would scarcely be reduced, and little or no relief would be given. A portion of the tax has been already remitted, but the price of the articles was not lowered in consequence. It is for this reason that I do not propose the reduction, but the total abolition, of these taxes. If I had remitted only part of these taxes, the restrictions must have been continued on the trade—an establishment must have been kept up for collecting the tax—and reducing the duty one half would have appeared like doing nothing. In acting on this principle, I wish the Committee to remark, that the Government has not looked to keeping up a large establishment, and it has deferred to what has been considered necessary by the House. I propose, therefore, that from and after the 5th of July next, the tax on leather shall cease, and the reasons why I postpone the abolition of the duty to that period are nearly the same as those which induced me to postpone the remission of the Beer duty—there will then be no claim for a drawback on any stock on hand. The amount of the three duties which I thus propose to repeal will be on Beer, 3,000,000l.; on Leather, from 340,000l. to 350,000l.; and on Cider, 25,000l., making together a sum, speaking in round numbers, of three million four hundred thousand pounds. According, Sir, to my calculations, this reduction will give positive relief to the people, amounting, at least, to 3,400,000l., and it will moreover, if the view I take be correct, give them relief indirectly to a considerable amount: so that in fact we shall give the people, on the whole, relief which cannot be estimated at less than 5,000,000l. a-year. We shall not throw away revenue, Sir, to this amount with the prodigality of a spendthrift, careless of every thing, but that he may get rid of his money. We shall not give up any thing to speculation and chance, but as it appears to me, we shall prudently apply the resources of the country to the relief of those particular classes—the agricultural and the manufacturing, classes which labour under the most distress, and have the strongest claim to the sympathy of Parliament, and we shall adopt the most decisive and efficacious 316 method of giving them relief that is in our power.—I have now stated, Sir, the amount of taxation which it is proposed to reduce; and I now come, Sir, to consider the estimated revenue of the present year, curtailed as that will be by the amount of relief I have thought it my duty to afford the people. I calculate that the diminution of the Revenue during the present year, arising from the loss of the Beer duties, during one quarter, will be 750,000l.; and I calculate it at this, because, though I am aware that there will be some diminution of the trade in the meantime, in expectation of the reduction of the duty, yet, if I do not miscalculate, there will be a great increase in the operations of the maltster, which will be a compensation for the loss on the Beer duty. Taken at a fair calculation, then, I conclude that the loss of the revenue from the abolition of the tax on Beer will be about 750,000l. I shall take the loss arising from the abolition of the duty on Leather, which will begin in July, at 200,000l., making, with the duty on Cider, a diminution in the revenue for the present year of 970,000l. This, Sir, is the amount of the reduction for which, after giving the subject the most attentive consideration possible, it appears to me Parliament will have to provide. In making those abatements of taxation which are necessary to give relief to the country, I must, however, add for the information of those who think his Majesty's Ministers ought to have done more, that taxation has been reduced to the greatest extent we think possible, with a view of giving relief to the people. In doing so much, indeed, some Gentlemen may, perhaps, consider that we have overstepped the bounds of prudence, and that we do wrong in trusting so much to our future resources; but when the House hears the grounds on which I rest my hopes of our future revenue, and on which I recommend the course to be adopted, it will not think that our determination to afford relief, after attention had been called to the subject, has been carried too far. Sir, I calculate the revenue of the present year by the account of the revenue of the year which has passed. In the first place, I propose to take the amount of the Customs according to the amount of the last year. I do this, Sir, after examining the subject in all its bearings, and after giving it the best consideration in my power. Looking at the 317 stocks on hand last year, and comparing them with the stocks on hand at present; and seeing that the diminution of almost all articles is very considerable, as compared to last year, I am led to believe that there will be a considerable importation and demand for various commodities, which will make the amount of Customs at least equal to last year. I am bound also to observe, that in this Estimate I make allowance for a considerable saving in the expense of the establishment of the Customs, and in various branches of that department of the public service, in consequence of several reductions which have been lately made. What may be the exact amount of the reduction, though of confined extent, I am not able precisely to say, but I estimate it at 60,000l., which, though not a great sum, is not to be overlooked in our present difficulties. Moreover, during the present year, there will be a termination of some bounties, which will give additional relief to the amount of 50,000l. Taking all these circumstances into consideration, I cannot estimate the probable amount of the Customs for the next year at less than during the last, or speaking in round numbers, 17,200,000l. The Excise I do not propose to take at as great an amount as last year. I feel I might be justified even in taking the amount at as large a sum, for I have been assured by those on whose authority I can rely, and who are well conversant with all the details of the Excise, and who are likely to form a correct opinion, that it will not be much less; but I prefer being on the safe side, and therefore, for the produce of the Excise during the next year, I propose, as compared with the produce of last year, to make a reduction of 240,000l. According to the view of many able and skilful men conversant with the Revenue, I might estimate it higher; but I prefer the lower estimate, in order that I may not disappoint myself nor disappoint others. I know, Sir, according to the returns on the Tables of the House, that there appears to be a considerable diminution in the revenues of the Excise; but, Sir, I also know, that according to those returns, the great diminution took place in consequence of the eight weeks' severe weather at the close of 1829, and beginning of 1830, which caused a diminution in that quarter, as compared to the corresponding quarter last year, of 340,000l. That severe weather prevented many of the operations which 318 were necessary to the completion of the articles on which duties were paid: but since the weather has become milder, those operations have been renewed, as I am informed with increased activity and vigour, and a corresponding augmentation has taken place in the Excise duties. I see in these facts no cause for any alarm as to the future produce of this branch of the Revenue, and I think, therefore, that we may take the amount of the Excise for the next year at 19,300,000l., making, with the Customs, 36,500,000l. The Stamp revenues I calculate this year at the same amount as last year. There is no appearance of defalcation in this branch of the Revenue; it reached, during the last year to within 1,000l. of my expectations, which were formed on its produce the year before. I see no cause to expect a diminution in the ensuing year; and therefore, I propose to estimate the Stamp Duties at the same amount as last year, or 7,100,000l. The Assessed Taxes have suffered little or no variation for two consecutive years, though the amount has rather increased than diminished; and in particular, there is rather an increase of duty on articles of luxury, notwithstanding the difficulties of the times. I propose, therefore, to take the Assessed Taxes nearly at the same amount as last year, or 4,900,000l. With respect to the Post Office, I expect the revenue will be more productive, and I am confident that arrangements now in progress will diminish the charge, and increase the revenue. I propose to estimate the Post Office Revenue, therefore, at 1,500,000l. being 20,000l. more than last year. The small branches of the Revenue are subject to little variation, and they may be taken the same as last year, at 200,000l. The miscellaneous branches of the Revenue may also be taken at nearly the same amount as last year, and I calculate them at somewhat less, as there was last year a sum of 70,000l. paid into that account, being the amount of fees impounded in the Court of Exchequer in Ireland; and I therefore take the estimate of these miscellaneous branches at 280,000l. The whole estimate, then, of the receipts for the present year, will be 50,480,000l. I will now proceed to state the probable amount of the Expenditure during the same period for which I have mentioned the Revenue. The first head of our expenditure is that 319 which concerns the National Debt, for which the country is responsible, and which she cannot get rid of with the least regard to honour and honesty. The charge for the interest and management of the National Debt, during the present year, will be 25,670,425l., or say in round numbers, 25,670,000l. Some Gentlemen may be surprised that the amount should be very little different from the expense of the antecedent year, but that is the result of an operation of last year, by which a considerable amount of Exchequer Bills was funded and added to the permanent debt, making a considerable reduction in the Unfunded Debt. There will also be an additional charge on account of Annuities terminable, and Life Annuities. The former are annuities to which we can assign the period of the extinction, and the latter we can look forward to their becoming extinct, in consequence of the deaths of the holders. The charge for these annuities will be 2,629,000l. We must add to this the interest on Exchequer Bills, 750,000l., making the total charge for the interest and management of the National Debt somewhat; more than 29,000,000l. The next head of the expenditure of the country is the Pensions, Superannuations, Salaries, and Allowances charged on the Civil List. I will take it at somewhat less than last year, and say that it will be 2,180,000l. On a previous occasion I have stated to the House the several items on which I propose to make reductions, and having already explained in detail the grounds of the reductions made, I shall not now again enter into that matter. It appears on the face of the Estimates that are on the Table of the House, that the proposed reductions to be made this year, compared with last year, amount to 1,048,743l. The sum, therefore, of 16,580,000l. for the year 1830, will cover the different charges for the Army, the Navy, the Ordnance, and the Miscellaneous Expenditure. The total amount of the public charge for the present year, for which the House will have to provide, will be 47,812,000l. leaving a clear surplus of 2,667,000l. In estimating the surplus of former years, it was taken as clogged with the payments of annuities transferred to the Consolidated Fund; but this year it is to be considered for the first time as free from that encumbrance, and a real surplus to be appropriated to the payment of debt; considering the act 320 of last Session, however, which passed with the entire approbation of the House, and which had for its object the maintenance of a real Sinking Fund, it is necessary that this surplus should be as great as it is after defraying all charges; and I shall, in order to keep up the Revenue, have to submit two measures to the House—one is a Resolution which I shall have to place, Sir, in your hands this evening, and the other I shall bring before the House in a different shape. The House must be aware that arrangements have long been contemplated to consolidate all the laws relative to the Stamp Duties. It is part of that plan to have them levied on one system throughout the whole empire, and a measure was prepared during the last summer to consolidate all these laws, which is now ready to be presented to Parliament. It will be my duty, on an early day, to submit this measure to the House, and explain its details; at present I shall only say, that it has for its object to assimilate the laws relating to the Stamp Duties in the different parts of the empire, to place the management of the whole of that branch of the Revenue under the Stamp-office in England, and make similar articles everywhere subject to the same Stamp Duties. Although this measure involves no augmentation of taxation, yet, in consequence of some Stamps being now lower in Ireland than in England, its effects will be to increase the Revenue. On the people of that country the same Stamp Duties will be imposed as are imposed here, and a uniformity established throughout the empire. The House will not expect me now to enter into the details of this measure; I will only say that it will enable us to dispense with a separate establishment, and otherwise reduce the expense of collecting the Stamp Duties. From the effects of consolidating the laws, and the reductions I have mentioned, I expect that the increase of Revenue this year will be, under this head, 110,000l. The Resolution, Sir, which I shall put into your hands applies to the regulation of a subject of another kind, though from it I expect no very considerable increase of revenue—it is a Resolution relative to Spirits of all kinds made in this country, on which I propose to levy an additional duty. The House will bear in mind that the great reduction of the duty on Spirits formerly carried into effect, was intended to put an end to an 321 extensive system of smuggling, which seriously affected the Revenue, at the same time that it corrupted the morals of the people. In reference to imposing a lower rate of duty in Ireland and Scotland than in England, the House will recollect that it was supposed to be necessary, in order to put an end to illicit distillation, which was both an opprobrium and a mischief to the country. Those who proposed that reduction, as well as the committee which recommended it, had it in contemplation, when they lowered the duty, as soon as the establishments for illicit distillation should be broken up, again gradually to raise the duty on Spirits, but not to such a degree as to endanger the return of smuggling. I propose at present the augmentation of the duty on Spirits, but not to such an extent as to risk the return of the evil which we have now happily got rid of. If I were to propose such an augmentation of duty as would risk calling back into existence that extensive system of illicit distillation and smuggling which, for a long time, was attended, both in Scotland and Ireland, with contests little short of civil war, I should be deserving of reprobation, as doing no good to the Revenue, while I should be sure to injure the morality of the lower orders. What I propose, therefore, is, that the duty on Spirits made in Ireland and Scotland, which is now 2s. 10d. a gallon, shall only be raised to 3s. On the best information which I have been able to collect, I am inclined to believe that this small increase will give no encouragement to illicit distillation, and that the increase of the duty will give us a corresponding increase of revenue, without any corresponding evil. If the House should concur with me, I have no doubt that the operation will be beneficial, tending, perhaps, to change the taste of the people, and make them use, in preference, the article which it is one object of my present proposition to reduce in price. With respect to England, in which the danger from illicit distillation is not so great, and in which it has never been practised to the same extent as in Ireland and Scotland, I propose to raise the duty on Corn Spirits to a much higher degree. The proposition I shall make to the House will be, to augment the duty on English spirits 1s. per gallon, making the duty 8s. per gallon instead of 7s.—an increase which is not likely to encourage an increase of illicit 322 distillation. The amount of increased revenue derived from this source will probably be about 330,000l., which being added to the surplus already mentioned, and compared with the whole expenditure, will leave us a surplus of somewhat more than 3,000,000l. The reduction of the Revenue by the abolition of the taxes on Beer, Leather, and Cider, will be less than one million a year, which will be in part met by the measures I propose. From that surplus we must deduct the loss of revenue occasioned by the reductions I propose, which will leave us a clear surplus of about 2,000,000l. Some honourable Members may find this surplus short of their wishes, and others may desire further reduction of taxation; but I apprehend that the surplus will be found sufficient to guard against any unfavourable consequences to the Revenue which may arise from another defective harvest; it will be sufficient, on the one hand, to secure us against any circumstances of that kind; but, on the other, it is not more than sufficient for so desirable a purpose. It will guard against any contingencies, while the reductions I propose will give the country considerable relief in its present difficulties. It is my duty to recommend Parliament to make such arrangements as will, considering the distress of the country, guard against future evils, while we remove that distress to the greatest extent possible. I should be unwilling, therefore, to recommend any measures that the present circumstances of the country would not justify, or which would diminish the two millions of surplus which I consider necessary to repair any mischiefs that may arise. Gentlemen will bear in mind that the surplus is not only desirable to reduce the National Debt, but also to support public credit. It is necessary to guard against possible defalcation. In the circumstances of the country, it is also, I believe, necessary as a caution, and as a guard against the greatest danger that can befall us in a financial point of view—the danger of borrowing under disadvantageous circumstances. There is, however, something-more than the Revenue and the Expenditure of the present year to be looked at. It must be obvious to the House, that in examining the taxes to be repealed, and what will be the operation of repealing them, we must also look to the probable effect of the reduction, not only in the 323 present year, but also in the following year, 3 831. The whole reduction of 3,400,000l. will only then come into effect. To meet this, or a great part of it, the House has many resources, some immediate, on which we may confidently rely; others placed at a distance, but which will certainly be equally available. It may look to those other resources, and rely on them with confidence to meet any future deficiency. In particular, Sir, the House has resources, by its exertions in maintaining public credit, which it may now employ very advantageously in the reduction of the interest of the National Debt. In examining attentively the present condition of the country, looking to the state of the exchanges with foreign countries, looking at the great accumulation of capital, and to the diminished rate of interest in the public markets for all public and private securities, I cannot entertain a doubt that the House has now the power, effectually and conveniently, to reduce that part of the National Debt which bears an interest of four per cent. It is, therefore, my intention, as the result of an examination of the Revenue, to look for a part of our resources for the future from a diminution in the rate of interest on the public debt. In a few days I shall have the honour to propose to the House to fix a time for giving notice, on some early day, of the terms on which it will offer to the holders of the four per cent stock a stock bearing a less annual interest. I will not now enter into details which cannot be complete and satisfactory, as I propose, on an early day, to bring the subject before the House. The country, then, possesses resources which will, I trust, enable us to meet every future difficulty; and I have such confidence in the result of the measure I now propose, and in the consequence of other measures for a diminution of expenditure which are in progress, that I do not anticipate any embarrassment in our financial calculations, or that we shall not be able to make still further reductions hereafter. It has been the fashion to assume, because the Government has this year reduced the expenditure, that it now means to lie on its oars, and rest contented with what it has done; but I will say, as the industry of the Government has been exercised to a great extent in making all practicable present reductions, that the House may rely on it to pursue the same courses 324 hereafter. Looking at what Ministers have done, and considering what they have pledged themselves to do, it is right to be content for the present, and to wait the result of the measures which are in progress; for although the reductions already made in the amount of expenditure, over which the Government has any control, have been great—and that they are great, no man I think who looks at the evidence before him can this night venture to deny; yet the same active industry, and the same thorough and anxious desire to alleviate the burthens of the people, and to diminish all unnecessary expenses, will still be continued in exercise, and I have no doubt with great additional advantage to the country. It is not, however, so much to the reductions that have already taken place, however extensive, that I look for the approbation of the House and the country, as to the reductions yet to be made. The various departments of the Government are engaged in an examination of the minutest kind into the expenditure of every branch of the public service, and I look to the result of that examination for the means of still further relieving the burthens of taxation. The Government proposes to take this examination entirely on itself, confiding it to gentlemen connected with the Government, but unconnected with the particular departments to which these inquiries are to be extended. The House knows well the benefit derived by the Government from inquiries of this kind; and this much I may say, that we are thoroughly convinced of the necessity of preparing to meet any deficiencies by every possible exertion, and that we are determined to undertake no change, and to propose no measure, which we are not prepared to justify by our conduct, with respect to the expenditure. I know the extent of the labour it imposes on the Government; but I also know that my honourable friends are determined to spare no exertion to increase the resources which may be applicable to a diminution of the expenditure. I look then, Sir, to the consolidation of various departments of the public service, to a better and more economical mode of collecting the Revenue than at present, as likely to place hereafter at the disposal of the Government a great surplus revenue, which will enable us to reduce taxation still further. In the same manner, and to the same extent, the Government proposes to empower a 325 commission to deal with the whole of the Colonial expenditure. The Government is fully aware of the 'difficulties which lie in the way of this determination. It knows that it is not easy to find men conversant with all the details of this most extensive branch of the expenditure; but the task will probably be efficiently performed by men appointed by a Government desirous of concealing no abuses, and of producing, by every practicable means, additional resources for the service of the country. It is for these reasons that the Government, relying on the beneficial results which have been generally produced by commissions of Inquiry, have determined to avail themselves of their services in reducing these branches of expenditure. And here I may perhaps be permitted to advert to a subject which came under discussion, on one of the evenings on which I had lately the misfortune to be absent from the House; I allude to the subject of Superannuation Allowances; and for my own part I can have no hesitation in saying, that a regulation has been already made on the subject. I remain of the opinion I have always professed on this question, that whatever may be done with respect to the superannuations already granted, or whatever may be the extent of our right to meddle with those allowances now, we are bound to look narrowly at the method of granting them in future. I think, however, that there will not be any disposition to charge the Government with indolence or indifference on the subject. It is needless to advert at present to the circumstances which have prevented the regulations from being carried into effect much sooner. It will perhaps be sufficient to mention, that by the terms of a Treasury Minute, passed in the course of last summer, every person hereafter accepting office under Government is required to submit to an annual reduction according to the amount of his salary, which is to be formed into a fund, out of which the superannuation allowances are to be paid; and it will be my duty, in the course of a few days, to bring in a bill to authorize the appropriation of the produce of that fund, and to regulate the method by which it may be most beneficially managed for the advantage of individuals, and the relief of the public purse. If, at the time the bill is introduced, it should appear advisable that a committee be appointed to investigate the whole of the subject, and to inquire 326 into the necessity of going even further into other branches of the public service than the Government has already proposed, I have no hesitation in saying, that I shall feel it my duty to move for that committee, and to go into any inquiry it may recommend, with a view to ascertain to what extent it may be right to proceed, keeping in mind what is just to the individual, and what is just with regard to the public. With respect, however, to the superannuation allowances of the public servants in the Civil Departments, I have no doubt that the provisions of the bill will be found effectual and satisfactory. The allusions to this subject, which is somewhat beside the question before the committee, have drawn me from the observations I was applying to the public expenditure. I have already said, that I place a great reliance on the economy of the Government as a method of supplying any deficiency which may arise from the alteration of taxation. But there is one other source on which I rely with great confidence, and which I think well calculated to supply a very considerable proportion of any probable or conceivable deficiency of revenue—I mean the augmentation which must necessarily take place in all the remaining branches of taxation, by a repeal of those taxes which have pressed on particular portions of industry and production. I think it is almost impossible to imagine that the Malt-tax should not receive a great increase from the reduction of the duty on Beer, and that the general stimulus, which generally results from the reduction of taxation, will have a most beneficial effect on every branch of industry which contributes, immediately or remotely, to the Revenue. If these calculations should prove favourable, and I have no reason to apprehend that they will not—then the application of the further surplus will be the means of adding still more to the comforts of the people; but if, on the contrary, they prove unfavourable, and a deficiency should arise from our financial arrangements, I am confident that Parliament will know how to deal with that mischance, and it will not shrink from the performance of its duty to the country in making a provision or the deficiency. For my own part, I can say, with all sincerity, that I have laboured most earnestly to select the course which I thought most conducive to the public good, and that I have endea- 327 voured, in the application of those means placed in my power, to give relief in the quarter where I knew the greatest distress to prevail; and that I have exercised the discretion reposed in me in that manner which I conceived to be most conducive to the comfort and happiness of the labouring classes of the people. If I should be disappointed in the effects I anticipate from that selection; if the Revenue, instead of being benefitted, should be injured, I shall still have the satisfaction of feeling that my intentions were good, and that I erred with an earnest desire to relieve. I do not think, however, that we shall fail; I see in the darkness that has lately surrounded us, a ray of light. I think that there is even now a prospect of our emerging from the clouds of misery and distress by which we have been enveloped, into a state approaching to something of greater happiness and prosperity; but if I shall unhappily be disappointed in that expectation, I shall deplore, but not regret, my error. I shall rejoice that I have made an attempt to relieve those classes which have been suffering so much from distress; and I shall be well content to acquiesce in the oboloquy of having made a false calculation.
§ Mr. Alexander Baring
said, that no Minister ever came down to that House to declare his intention to relieve the burthens of the people under circumstances which required such an announcement more strongly than those which attended the right hon. Gentleman, and that no Chancellor ever did so without being hailed by the applause of the House and the people. He was sorry to say, however, that he did not agree with the right hon. Gentleman in his opinion, that the distress was much diminished; and although he rejoiced, in common with the House, at the prospect of a reduction of taxation, he could not give his unqualified assent to some of the statements of the right hon. Gentleman, nor to the course which he intimated his intention to adopt with reference to the public funds. He thought that the right hon. Gentleman had not stated very clearly the supplies from which he intended to draw the means of these reductions, nor the situation of the public income on which he proposed that his reductions should operate. The right hon. Gentleman proposed reductions of taxation to the extent of 3,400,000l. His surplus was made up of 2,667,000l. 328 being the surplus of the income of the year over the expenditure, of 110,000l. which he anticipates from the Stamp Duties, and of 330,000l. from Spirits. The whole of the surplus might be taken, perhaps, in round numbers, to be 3,070,000l.; and the reduction of taxation to be 3,400,000l.; so that there remained about 330,000l., looking at the case according to figures, to be supplied in some other way. There was, in fact, a deficiency to that amount not provided for. He did not quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman for putting forth his vision of better days, and his hopes that the clouds would be dispelled which now hung over our industry and our commerce; but it was right to say, that in figures—laying aside the anticipations of fancied prosperity—there would be a deficiency to the amount he had stated, wholly unprovided for.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
hoped the Committee and the hon. Member would pardon him for offering a very few words in explanation of this part of his statement. He did not quite agree in the calculation put forth by the hon. Member for Callington as the result of his statements. When the hon. Gentleman said that he calculated the Spirit Duties at 330,000l., or perhaps 400,000l., the hon. Gentleman should recollect that he made that calculation for the portion of the present year which was still to come; and that if he had made his calculations for the whole of the year, and included the portion of the next year, to make up for that which was passed of the present, he should be more accurate if he stated the Stamps at 200,000l. and the Spirits at 450,000l. The hon. Member would also give him leave to say, that when he calculated an increase of revenue from the augmentation of the Excise Duties, although he did not state the amount, he might, as a consequent of the repeal of the Tax on Beer, have stated the increase on Malt as a positive increase, which would have been a compensation, although he had not brought it formally into the account.
§ Mr. Baring
said, they were then come to this, that, after all that had been said of a surplus of Revenue over Expenditure, in order to supply the demands of the Sinking Fund, all surplus for that purpose was now disposed of, and it was reserved for the right hon. Gentleman to undo all 329 that had been done by all his predecessors; and laying his hand on the only surplus which they had, to declare that all hopes of a surplus, to be applicable to the reduction of the public debt, were to be derived from some sanguine expectations of a future, though distant, improvement of the Revenue. He did not believe, however, that the public creditor would be affected in his sense of security by any thing which had been done. There was in the people of this country a sound sense and right feeling, and such a principle of good faith, that no acts of the Government could shake their sense of security; but he would ask at the same time, if all hopes of repaying that debt through the means of a Sinking-fund was at an end; whether they were to go on for ever without making an effort to get rid of the load which weighed down the energies of the country? If any Gentleman indulged himself with a vision of future prosperity ever enabling them to get rid of that debt, all he could say was, that he would be lamentably disappointed. He repeated that, as far as figures went, there was not any surplus, but a deficiency unprovided for; and he must say it was singularly unfortunate, that measures of finance, avowedly brought forward for the improvement of public credit, should have the contrary effect, by showing that the means which were devised to support it had failed, and that the Government, so far from possessing a surplus of revenue for the payment of the public creditor, was actually unable to meet the whole of the deficiency. He did not mean to say that this was calculated to excite the slightest feelings of apprehension in the breast of the public creditor; but this he would contend—that the means of providing for the exigencies of war by borrowing from capitalists were at an end, that the funding system was at an end, and that it would be impossible to find the means of providing for future exigencies in that way, unless by the commission of an act of the most profligate dishonesty towards the present public creditor. Mr. Pitt, at the time he proposed the establishment of the Sinking Fund, declared, "that no Minister would ever have the confidence to come down to the House and propose the repeal of a measure, the tendency of which was to relieve the people of their burthens;* he further declared, that to suffer "that Fund at any time or on any 330 pretence to be diverted from its proper object, would be to ruin, defeat, and overturn the whole of his plan. He hoped therefore, when the bill he should introduce should pass into a law, that House would hold itself solemnly pledged not to listen to a proposal for its repeal on any pretence whatever."† These were the words of Mr. Pitt; and yet they had lived to see the time when a Minister appeared in that House, and after frittering away on one pretence or other all the benefits which were hoped to be drawn from the Sinking-fund, he finally proposed to sweep away altogether the income laid by for its maintenance. He was convinced that means would and should have been found to support this fund; but if they were to adopt the policy expounded in the market-places—if they were not to look at the consequences of being compelled to go to war, but, on the contrary, to obey the recommendations, and chime in with the prejudices, and act according to the political wisdom to be heard at Penenden Heath, or in the Market-place of Chelmsford, then he would say, that the credit, the honour, the interests, and the power of this country must ultimately sink with the weakness which permitted the House to listen to such suggestions. He had always thought favourably of Mr. Pitt; he had always admired his domestic policy, whatever he might be disposed to say of his conduct with respect to our foreign relations; and when he was taunted, as he had been, with condemning the Sinking-fund of Mr. Pitt, it ought to be recollected that he did not condemn the Sinking-fund, but the abuses of the Sinking-fund. He did not find fault with the real, but the sham Sinking-fund, than which he confessed he could scarcely conceive any thing more absurd and disgraceful to the Government and the country. This was the consequence of the clause of Mr. Fox not having been acted on during the war. He had never blamed the plan of Mr. Pitt; he had always looked on it as the only means of saving the country from the consequences of its debt—and had complained, not that the system was followed up, but that it was abandoned. Mr. Pitt determined, that whenever the Sinking-fund fell short, the deficiency was to be supplied by an* Hansard's Pail, Hist, vol. xxv. p. 1309.† lb, 1322.331 increase of taxation, and he (Mr. Baring) was thoroughly satisfied, that if that plan had been strictly followed up, and if the Sinking-fund of five millions, once proposed to be inviolable, had up to that hour been maintained inviolable, the House would not at that moment be considering the propriety of a plan for reducing the interest of the four per cents or the three per cents, or any other stock, but it would have been enabled to change the whole of the debt at that moment into terminable annuities. This was his firm opinion. He thought that the proposal to reduce the four per cents came with a very bad grace from the mouth of a Minister who acknowledged that the hope of paying any portion of the debt was almost virtually abandoned; and although, if it suited him to hold property in the funds, his confidence in the good faith of the country, or the security of his debt, would not be diminished, he could not but repeat his opinion, that all financial operations in a moment of national difficulty were henceforward at an end. This was a subject which involved the interests of a great many persons. Perhaps the House was not aware of the number of the public creditors. There were 274,823 different accounts in the books of the Bank of England. In each account it might be taken that at least five persons were interested; so that there were above 1,374,000 persons interested in the stability of the public securities. These 1,374,000 persons might be considered to be the great mass of the intelligent persons of the country. Out of the holders of the 274,823 accounts, 250,000 did not receive a greater half-yearly dividend than 100l. and the number of half-yearly dividends of 500l. did not exceed 2,000. Many of the accounts also were the accounts of Savings-banks, in which numerous individuals were interested. The House should ponder over facts of that description, and he would recommend them particularly to the notice of Gentlemen who proposed what they called an equitable adjustment. The House should further recollect, that the stability of the public credit generally rested on the same basis of implicit confidence. What affected one class would naturally be felt as shaking the security of all. He asked, could any of these people ever dream that it was intended thus, without notice, to alter the value of their property? Could 332 any body contemplate that a movement like this should form a part of the deliberate policy of a legitimate government? When such measures were executed, did any man believe that the remaining creditors of the country could feel that the bit of parchment which they had been taught hitherto to consider as the representative of a principle of permanent security retained its staple value? He regretted extremely that in this instance the Chancellor of the Exchequer had permitted himself to be pressed into such a measure, by the. influence, he feared, of Gentlemen from both sides of the House. He had great confidence in the intelligence of the right hon. Gentleman, but he lamented the course which he had taken on the present occasion, from his firm persuasion that it was calculated to bring the funded system of Great Britain, which had been hitherto deemed to be fixed on a basis of security, into a hollow and unsafe position, such as, in the event of a war, would tend to impair her energies, and diminish her strength. If the stockholders did not petition Parliament to protect their rights, it was because they had relied on the entire security of their situation. By this measure that sense of security would be destroyed: and he could not help regretting a measure which must leave Government in a hopeless condition with respect to any future contracts which the service of the State might render necessary. He would recommend the right hon. Gentleman to read an able pamphlet, recently published, the writer of which proposed the conversion of the four per cents into five per cents, by giving to the holder of every 100l. stock in the former, 70l. stock in the latter; the interest of which would be three and a half per cent. By this means there would be effected a saving of 1,700,000l. of interest, and a reduction of forty or fifty millions of capital; making the five per cent stock thus created irredeemable for fifty or sixty years. It was very true that to every contract there must be two parties; and it might happen that to such a conversion as that which the pamphlet recommended the holder of four per cents would be indisposed to accede. Still he thought that it was a subject which well deserved the right hon. Gentleman's attention. He was also of opinion that it might be advisable to follow, in this respect, the example of the French government, and 333 to obtain from Parliament the power of taking any step of that kind,, during the recess, which circumstances might seem to render expedient. It would be much more beneficial for the Government to arm themselves with this power of acting when favourable moments arose, than to pledge themselves in that House to the conditions of a positive bargain. When he entered the House, he was unaware of the precise taxes which were to be reduced, but he was at the same time quite satisfied, that in the present excited feeling of the public mind it was necessary to do some-thing in the way of reduction; but he certainly was far from being prepared to expect that the permanent credit of the country was to be shaken by such a measure as the right hon. Gentleman contemplated, owing, he had no doubt, to the pressure which was upon him,—a pressure which he (Mr. Baring) was unprepared to say he could or could not have resisted. It would, however, he thought, have been much more fortunate for the reputation of the right hon. Gentleman, and more to the advantage of the country, to have paused a little, and seen whether the means of recurring prosperity were not likely to arise, before he took a step, the inevitable tendency of which was to inflict a permanent evil, calculated hereafter to augment national distress. If the Members would turn back to the debates on the financial system of the country in the time of Mr. Pitt, in 1786,* when he arranged his Sinking-fund, they could not fail to be struck with the example of the value which was placed upon that fund, by the manner in which the sentiments of Mr. Pitt were warmly re-echoed by Mr. Fox.† They would likewise see how invariably the public distress had been exaggerated, and how prone people were to precipitate measures of this kind, when by a calmer and better digested system, great eventual evils would have been averted. The income of the country was at that period (1786) estimated at 15,000,000l., and its financial condition was then thought to be almost overwhelming. Mr. Pitt's words were, "To you do the public turn their eye, justly expecting, that from the trust you hold, you will think it your duty to make the most serious efforts, in order to afford them the long-wished-for prospect of being relieved from an endless* Hansard's Parl. Hist, vol. xxv. p. 1294.† lb. p. 1315.334 accumulation of taxes, under the burthen of which they are ready to sink." ‡ This, 15,000,000l. was then deemed the insupportable weight, and it ought to be some consolation to them to know that the country speedily emerged from its desponding condition, by having its finances placed, at the time to which he referred, on a basis which ensured, from that period to the present, security to the credit of the country. Mr. Pitt,' in the debate of 1786, went on to say—"Upon the deliberation of this day do they place all their hopes of a full return of prosperity and that public security which will give confidence and vigour to those exertions in trade and commerce upon which the flourishing state of this country so much depends. Yet not only the public and this House, but other nations look to the business of this day; for by the establishment of what is now proposed, our rank will be decided among the powers of Europe. To behold the country emerging from a most unfortunate war, which added such an accumulation to sums before immense, that it was the belief of surrounding nations, and of many among ourselves, that our powers must fail us, and we should not be able to bear up under it; to behold this nation, instead of despairing at its alarming condition, looking boldly its situation in the face, and establishing upon a permanent plan the means of relieving itself from all its encumbrances, must give such an idea of our resources, and of our spirit of exertion, as would astonish the nations around us, and enable us to regain that pre-eminence to which we were on many accounts so justly entitled." § These were the words of Mr. Pitt, re-echoed, as he had already said, by Mr. Fox, who, struck with the necessity of giving increased stability to the principle of security on which the public creditor relied, seemed to stifle on this occasion the eager spirit of party feeling which at that time excited the House of Commons, and to exhibit a contrast, he regretted to say, to the degeneracy in the present times, when, within and without that House, no repugnance was shown to a total departure from those just and inflexible principles upon which Mr. Pitt mainly relied to conquer impending difficulties. He was convinced that they all desired to abate the pressure of the public distress, but he doubted if the measures then proposed‡ Ib, p. 1295. §Ib.335 would be the means to effect such an object; he believed that distress to be temporary and partial, and that, if not tampered with, before the next Session of Parliament they would hear no more about it. Indeed, such was his opinion of the national energies, that he firmly believed, if any attack were made on their interests, or their honour, all the present apprehensions of embarrassments would vanish, and the whole country would be aroused to activity and exertion to vindicate its station and character. But every compromise of the financial faith of the country would tend to weaken this national confidence, and bring ruin upon thousands who had reposed upon the permanent security of the national pledge. He deplored, that of all countries England should have set this example, and at such a moment, too, when America was almost wholly getting rid of her debt; while Russia was reducing her's, and Prussia following her example; when even Austria, who lagged behind every other European nation in her financial system, was attempting to do the same; that at such a time, Great Britain, which was held up to surrounding nations as a bright model of a rational and secure system of finance, should be the only country which was shrinking from her own principles, upon the apprehension of suffering which he believed to be exaggerated, was a source of deep lamentation to him. These were his general views of the right hon. Gentleman's suggested financial operation. As to the taxes he proposed to reduce, he did not mean to differ much from him upon the selection of the particular articles; indeed he thought he had made a most judicious selection. Some people would perhaps think the Malt-tax ought to go in preference to that on Beer; the Cider-tax was, he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman, more vexatious and inconvenient than oppressive in a pecuniary point of view; the repeal of the Leather-tax would undoubtedly give relief. The right hon. Gentleman talked of the relief which the Beer-tax repeal would give to the peasantry of the country; now he rather thought the chief advantage would be felt by artisans in towns. He knew that in his own village the farmer brewed the beer which he used among his peasantry, and therefore, to persons so placed, the repeal of the Malt-tax would be preferable. Reverting, however, to the financial topic, he thought it 336 would have been much better to have considered the propriety of improving rather than relaxing the principle of our financial system, so that in the alternation of years of peace and war, the country would proceed upon an equable plan, having for its purpose the gradual reduction of debt. The hon. Member then reiterated his objections to the proposed plan of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which was, he thought, calculated to throw suspicion and distrust upon the stability of the public securities, and prevent, in future times, capitalists from confiding, as they had hitherto done, in the faith of Government.
§ Lord Althorp
said, he took a very different view of the subject indeed from that which had been taken by his hon. friend the Member for Callington, not thinking with him that it was necessary to devote so much of our revenue to such a sinking-fund as he had described in the greater part of his speech, and rather concurring with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his present view of the subject, which certainly did not deserve to be called a breach of faith with the public creditor. The greater part of his hon. friend's observations had been directed against the reduction of the four per cents. He was sure, however, that the stockholders generally would not be at all alarmed at what had fallen from his hon. friend; and that they would not think their property rendered in the slightest degree insecure. Their condition was not in the least degree altered by the proposed arrangement, because their property was quite as secure, and as much at their command, as before, and he was at a loss to see how his hon. friend could establish the suspicions which he had cast upon the stability of the public security. It was impossible, in this free country—it was impossible in any free country, that any breach of faith, such as that of which his hon. friend appeared to entertain some apprehensions, could be effected. He did not think, therefore, that the circumstances to which his hon. friend alluded would have the effect which he anticipated from them. With respect to the rest of the propositions of the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he (Lord Althorp) entirely approved of them as far as they went. He highly approved of the reduction of the taxes, and especially of the reduction of the tax on Beer; which was, in his opinion, a very wise proceeding. And moreover, he would say, 337 that if the right hon. Gentleman really calculated on the positive reduction of the Revenue to be as great as the apparent amount of taxes reduced, the country could not expect him to go much further than he had gone. He regretted, however, that the right hon. Gentleman had not taken a more enlarged view of the subject. He regretted that it had not occurred to him that the reduction of taxes which bore on the productive industry of the people was calculated to increase rather than to diminish the Revenue. That had been shown in various cases. There was the tax on tobacco, for instance, a tax of 400 per cent on the article. The fact that the last increase of the duty upon tobacco had not increased the revenue arising from it, was a proof that tobacco was overtaxed. He was convinced, that with due attention and consideration, much greater relief might be afforded to the people, in the shape of a reduction of taxation, without any diminution of the Revenue. On that point an hon. friend of his had given notice of a motion for Friday next, in which motion—which he had hoped might have been rendered unnecessary by the financial statement of that evening—he now trusted that his hon. friend would persevere, and that he would receive the support of the House. He was not without hope that even the right hon. Gentleman would not object to his hon. friend's motion, considering its great importance. It was most desirable, indeed essential, that a general view of our finances should be taken, to alter, if possible, the unequal burthen of taxation, and render it less onerous on those classes who were least able to bear its weight. The hon. Member for Callington had said that, in 1786, Mr. Pitt considered a taxation of fifteen millions as pregnant with ruin to the country. At various periods of our financial history, similar opinions had been entertained. For himself, he was of opinion that the present amount of taxation, if properly levied, and not permitted to press on the productive interests of the country, might be borne without difficulty. Whatever surplus there might be of income over expenditure, ought, in his opinion, to be reduced in taxation. He never approved of the application of such surplus to the reduction of the national debt. He looked at that debt, not as capital which was to be liquidated, but rather as a perpetual annuity chargeable upon the country; and 338 he was convinced, that if, as he believed, by repealing taxes, the general wealth of the country would be more increased than the debt would be diminished by their continuance, good policy dictated that the amount of the taxes should be left in the pockets of the people. The right hon. Gentleman had said that, under the present circumstances of the country, Government felt called upon to run some risk on the question of Revenue. He (Lord Al-thorp) wished that they had run further risk. He wished that they had reduced other taxes; the reduction of which he was persuaded would have benefitted rather than injured the Revenue. By reducing the taxes to which he alluded, a spring would be given to industry, that in its effect would much more than compensate to the Revenue for its diminution in the first instance. Such were the views which he entertained on the subject. He approved of the reduction as far as it went; but he regretted that it had not gone further; he regretted that more general and extensive views had not suggested to his Majesty's Ministers the expediency of looking at the subject in a more enlarged view, and of proposing a more general measure of reduction.
§ Mr. Robinson
followed; but all that we were able to collect of the hon. Gentleman's observations was, that nothing which he had heard from the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have the effect of inducing him to relinquish his intended proposition, on Friday next, to make a more extensive reduction of those taxes, such as those on Soap, Candles, and Hides, which pressed on the productive industry of the country, and to supply any deficiency which might thereby be occasioned in the Revenue by an equitable assessment on property.
§ Mr. Hume
was anxious to say a few words, after what had fallen from the hon. Member for Callington, because he thought that that hon. Gentleman had taken a very unfair view of the statement of the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and had expressed fears with respect to the injury that statement was calculated to effect on public credit, which fears existed, he believed, in no other mind but that of the hon. Gentleman. If there were any subject which less than any other he should have expected to be agitated that evening, it was the Sinking Fund; a topic which had long been dead and buried. 339 He had hardly thought to have heard any hon. Member rise that night to vindicate the principle of what had been called a Sinking Fund, which had been of late years proved to be a practical burthen instead of a relief. The hon. Member for Callington had, however, quoted the speeches of Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox, in support of a system which was now admitted on all hands to have been altogether fallacious. There was nothing in Mr. Pitt's plan which made it differ from a private gentleman's own view of his commercial affairs; and it was a complete fallacy to say, that any individual could go on paying off his debts, by dealing in this manner with his own securities. The only way in which a government could diminish debt was, by applying surplus annual revenue to its liquidation. The idea of any person's paying his debts by borrowing was now allowed by every body to be perfectly impracticable; and yet if the hon. Member for Callington did not advocate that principle, it was difficult to see how he could advocate the Sinking Fund. Last year the more enlightened principle had been fully admitted and established, that the surplus of the Revenue applied to the discharge of the debt was the only legitimate Sinking-fund. He entertained no such fears as those which had been expressed by the hon. Member for Callington, who, he thought, had been rather hard on the right hon. Gentleman, in stating that he was the first Chancellor of the Exchequer who had taken away the credit of the country. He was, on the contrary, persuaded, that if the right hon. Gentleman had gone further, and had applied the 2,000,000l. to reduce 2,000,000l. more of taxation, he would have done more to support public credit than by diminishing the debt to that amount. However, no taxes could have been more judiciously selected for the operation of reduction. The free sale of Beer would be highly advantageous to the people; and he was persuaded that the right hon. Gentleman had by no means over-estimated the benefit of that measure. The relief given to the country would, he had no doubt, greatly exceed the nominal value of the tax reduced, and instead of being estimated at 3,000,000l. would, in point of fact, be equal to 6,000,000l. of relief to the public. In the article of Leather also, great advantages would result from the repeal of the tax, It would relieve the trade from being 340 in the hands of great monopolists. The regulations of the Excise with respect to the Leather Trade were so severe that scarcely any one could escape, and the number of persons engaged in it was, therefore, very limited. The repeal of the tax would increase that number, and the public would benefit by the consequent competition. Still he thought the right hon. Gentleman might have gone a great deal farther; and he perfectly agreed with his noble friend, the Member for Northampton, that the same amount of taxation which at present existed might be imposed with a quarter of the pressure on the people if it were removed from articles of productive industry. The noble Lord had certainly misunderstood the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for the right hon. Gentleman was not averse to any change of taxes that might be beneficial. All he had said was, that the subject had not entered into his present plan. He (Mr. Hume) could not now contemplate that the right hon. Gentleman would give his assistance to the hon. Member for Dover, in his efforts to show what taxes could be reduced or repealed, and laid on other items, with a view of benefitting trade, and alleviating the burthens of the people. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had not said one word upon the important changes that might be made in this respect; but it was not to be inferred from that that he was averse from such changes. The right hon. Gentleman proposed, for the present year, to take off the duty on Beer, to the amount of 750,000l., and on Leather, to the amount of 200,000l.—making in both a relief of 950,000l.; but there was to be an additional tax put on, to the amount of 400,000l., so that the nett reduction would be 550,000l. With this relief there would be left in the Treasury a surplus of 2,170,000l. So far from applying this amount of surplus, as the hon. Member for Callington recommended, to the reduction of the three per cents, he ought to proceed, in the present state of the country, to give a relief to taxation to that extent. He held in his hand a statement of all taxation repealed since the termination of the war in 1816: but not including the 18,000,000l. repealed in 1816. Since that period, there had been repealed (deducting the 3,000,000l. added in 1819) 9,234,000l. This had been taken off between 1818 and 1825, and he would compare it to the results of receipts into 341 the Exchequer, in order to shew that there could be no fear of a deficiency of receipts in the ensuing year owing to the reductions at this moment proposed. In 1817 the amount of taxation was 57,650,000l., and 9,234,000l. had been repealed. The Revenue last year had been 55,900,000l., which, deducted from 57,650,000l., the Revenue of 1807, showed a deficiency of 1,750,000l.; and the House would thus see, that although 9,234,000l. of taxes had been repealed, it had only occasioned a deficiency of Revenue to the extent of 1,750,000l. If, therefore, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had taken off more taxes this year, he yet might have expected a sufficient receipt next year to meet the whole of his reductions. The right hon. Gentleman did not sufficiently consider the situation of the country, or he would have given a more extensive and instantaneous relief than he had proposed; and he had no difficulty in stating that he might have reduced a little more. The right hon. Gentleman ought to have taken off the Coal-tax, 832,000l. and the tax on Candles, 500,000l., and there was not a poor man in the country who would not have been benefitted by this arrangement, for coals and candles entered largely into every man's expenditure. The reduction of both would have amounted to 1,300,000l.—would have been attended with great benefit to the poorer classes—and would have left a surplus in the Treasury of 700,000l., which with the improvement in our resources that might be expected in the ensuing year, and the increased use of other articles of consumption, would have been amply sufficient to meet the whole deficit occasioned by the reductions in taxation. Our expenditure required to be lessened; the Military, Naval, Ordnance, and Miscellaneous estimates amounted to 16,500,000l;—this was half a million more than in 1821 and 1822; but they ought to be reduced at least one million below that standard. A reduction of a million ought to be effected in the expense of the collection of the Revenue. We were called upon to carry into effect a more prompt and extensive degree of relief than that now offered. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had the means of affording it within his power if he chose to exercise them. He only regretted that the right hon. Gentleman, who had gone so far, and who was entitled to approbation 342 for what he had done, had not reduced two or three taxes more, and trusted to the fair chances of the deficiency being supplied next year. He repeated, he regretted that the Government had not gone further in the way of diminution of expenditure and reduction of taxation. However, perhaps, the right hon. Gentleman had gone as far as he imagined he could with safety upon the present occasion; but he (Mr. Hume) looked forward to the prospect of much larger reductions, and trusted that even in the course of the present Session, the right hon. Gentleman might see the practicability of taking off two millions of taxation more.
§ Mr. C. Barclay
rose to confirm the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the saving to be effected to the public by the reduction of the Beer-tax. He was quite satisfied that not only would the country receive the benefit of a remission of 3,000,000l., which was the amount of the tax, but that (as had been explained by the right hon. Gentleman) it would be benefitted to the amount of upwards of 4,000,000l. by the measure. He should take that opportunity to state, with respect to the revision of the licensing system, that the measure now proposed (with reference to the Beer-tax) had done away, in a great degree, with the objections which individuals in the trade had fell to it. From the examination that had taken place in the Committee, he was enabled to state, that it was the opinion of the dealers in the article, that if the duty on Beer were taken off, they would be greatly benefitted, in common with the public at large, and a revision of the licensing system might be advantageously effected. Limited as was his knowledge of the question, it was impossible for him to predict what would be the precise result of the repeal of the Beer-tax, and what the amount of benefit to the public; but he was disposed to think that the anticipations of the right hon. Gentleman would not be disappointed. He felt that this measure would place the whole of the community on an equal footing. Up to this time, two-thirds of the public paid an enormous duty on one of the necessaries of life, from which the remaining third was exempt. The effect of the removal of the duty would be to cause an increased consumption of malt liquor, and the demand for barley, which had been increasing for the last year or two, would be still 343 greater,—a circumstance that could hardly fail to satisfy the country gentlemen. The brewers were ready, fairly and manfully, to meet the right hon. Gentleman's propositions, and they had not the least objection, as brewers, to have the trade thrown entirely open.
said, that the right hon. Gentleman had stated to the House that there had been a surplus revenue of 2,700,000l, and that he would reduce it, by a repeal of taxes, to 2,000,000l.; and the question that remained was, whether he had applied himself to those taxes which it was most judicious to reduce. None certainly could be more beneficially reduced than the Beer duty. This was a wise measure—one of principle—for the Beer-tax was an unequal tax, it was an unjust tax, and therefore ought to be repealed. The next reduction was upon Leather—a tax which greatly enhanced the price of the article, and materially stood in the way of improvements in the trade. He then came to the question, whether in the subsequent year there would be the loss of revenue which the right hon. Gentleman had expected? The hon. Member for Callington seemed to think, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was in error, in leaving only 2,000,000l. as a balance, for he apprehended that next year there would be no such balance, and that, consequently, public credit would be injured. In his opinion, there was no ground for this apprehension, and the hon. Member ought to have kept out of view all those arguments about a Sinking-fund, which, whatever weight might once have been given them, were now acknowledged to be fallacious. The right hon. Gentleman's balance of 2,000,000l. would be a much larger bona fide Sinking-fund than any which had been in existence during the fifteen years that the hon. Member had supported the fallacy of the Sinking-fund; and public credit would in future be higher than when that fallacy had been kept up. The right hon. Gentleman, he thought, was perfectly right in raising the duties upon Spirits, not with standing that this increase might have the effect of encouraging smuggling, with all its demoralizing effects; for the use of Spirits by the poor was still more demoralizing, and of the two evils the point was to choose the least. With reference to the four per cents, the Government would be wrong not to adopt such a measure at the present 344 rate of interest; but the question was, whether they ought to expedite the business. If war were likely to disturb the country, it would not be fair to reduce the rates of interest; but in the absence of any such apprehension, it was perfectly fair. The right hon. Gentleman was entitled to guard himself against an unfavourable harvest; but he had not made a sufficient provision for the harvest being favourable. He was satisfied that the right hon. Gentleman's Budget was the best he had ever seen, for the right hon. Gentleman had travelled over the whole business of taxation upon principle, and his speech had conveyed to him, in very strong terms, a desire to look into every part of the expenditure during the recess, and to look into the superannuation, which of all things required the greatest attention upon the part of Government. The right hon. Gentleman had told the House to anticipate next year a reduction of estimates; but he thought that the right hon. Gentleman might have effected greater reductions in the present year. There was no pretence whatever to keep up 5,000 Marines, when it had been stated by competent authority, that 1,000 would be enough. A large proportion of the army might be reduced. With reference to the reduction of the debt, he would recommend to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to attempt the plan of Mr. Brickwood, for he was convinced that it was the best mode of reducing a debt that could be suggested. He was sorry to say that Gentlemen in that House would not vote for reductions, though they were always ready to vote for extravagant expenditure; and yet, until the estimates were reduced to a much lower scale, it was in vain to expect a larger reduction in the taxes.
could repose, he said, some confidence in the promises held out to the House by the right hon. Gentleman, because he had not, like his predecessors, attempted to mystify the subject, and he was not ashamed of acknowledging the situation of the country, when he held out the hope of affording it relief. He well knew that the right hon. Gentleman had a great many conflicting interests to satisfy, but considering all parts of the subject, he must be excused for saying, that he had expected that the right hon. Gentleman would have been able to afford some little relief to the most suffering of all interests—the West-India interests, 345 He did trust that the right hon. Gentleman would be able to relieve some of the burthens under which the colonial interests had so long suffered. With respect to the Spirit-duties, why could not the right hon. Gentleman place the British and the West-India Spirits on the same footing? The West-India interests were at the lowest ebb possible. It was true that the duty was to be raised on Irish and Scotch spirits from 2s. 10d. to 3s. a gallon, and the duty on English spirits from 7s. to 8s.; but why were they not all put upon a footing with British and West-Indian? 3s. per gallon was to be the duty upon Spirits in Scotland and Ireland, 8s. the duty on Spirits in England, whilst 8s.s. 6d. was the duty upon rum. This he thought was trenching upon justice. The West-India interests were entitled to a reduction of the duty upon sugar, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not alluded to the subject. This certainly was not the time to enter into any details concerning the British West-India interests, but the time would be soon afforded when he should have the opportunity of explaining to the House the state of the question, and he hoped to convince all who heard him that the amount of duty collected by the Government upon sugar and rum was enormous, and that at present, the state of property in the West-Indies was such that it was unable to pay the imposition, and to make any returns to the owners. If the present rate of duties were to continue the same for another year, the Revenue would surfer; for the estates, he was fully convinced, would be thrown out of cultivation. In the old colonies, such as Jamaica, it was impossible to carry on the cultivation much longer. In the new colonies where the soil was better, or less worked, it might be possible. He would make a statement to the House, which would show the necessity of the Government's attending to the subject. A West-India estate, producing one hundred and fifty hogsheads of sugar, and sixty puncheons of rum, which was the fair proportion, would pay, in duty to the Government, as he found, from calculations in his possession, 5,400l.; whilst the amount of profit derived by the proprietor, after all his outgoings, incidental to cultivation, would be only 183l. He would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if this were not a state of things demanding the attention of Government?
Mr. Alderman Thompson
agreed with the hon. Member who had just sat down, that no interest required relief more than the West-India proprietors. However, he did not see how the Chancellor of the Exchequer could well carry reduction of taxation farther than he proposed at present, consistently with maintaining our existing establishments. He concurred with the hon. Member for Aberdeen in recommending to Government and the House to consider those taxes which pressed most heavily on the labouring, agricultural, and manufacturing classes. The time was arrived when we must alter our system of taxation; and he was glad to hear that the Government had not entirely lost sight of the possibility of doing so. He was aware that many objections were entertained against a Property-tax, but believed it would be soon thought that a tax upon capital was the only effectual way of meeting the emergency. The labouring classes were the great consumers, and we must enable them to consume more largely than they did at present. The reasons why they were not able to consume more at present were obvious, they were placed in competition with the cheap labour of foreign countries, with steam and machinery. Notwithstanding the ridicule attached to the declaration of an illustrious person in another place, he must say, he connected the pressure upon the working classes in a great degree with the improvements in machinery. He knew the value of machinery practically, and was satisfied that the more we applied it the more should we increase the wealth and resources of the country; but we ought to enable the labouring classes to compete with machinery, by finding them adequate employment. The Chancellor of the Exchequer expected a considerable increase to the Revenue, in consequence of a consolidation and equalization of the Stampacts. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman would be borne out in his anticipation. He might here allude to the stamp duties on policies of marine assurances. Upon an insurance which cost 5s., say from London to Calais, there was paid to Government 2s. 6d. The same was the case as regarded insurances for Holland and other places; and the consequence of levying so disproportionate a duty upon such transactions was, to drive that branch of business out of the country. Houses for effecting insurances were established 347 in France and the Netherlands, where the same advantages were attained on the way of security as here, and no tax was imposed upon the transaction. Suppose the premium on a policy of marine insurance were a guinea, a duty of 5s. was levied; but if a vessel were going into the South Seas for three years, and the premium amounted to fifteen guineas, the duty to Government was still the same (5s.) as on a guinea insurance. This was manifestly unfair, and he fell disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman had not mentioned the subject. Again, there was a duty of 200 per cent on policies of fire insurance; if this were reduced one-half, he was satisfied that the Revenue would not lose but be augmented by the change. With respect to the reduction of the four per cents, he agreed with the hon. Member for Callington, that in consequence of there appearing to be no Sinking-fund for 1831, the effect of the reduction would be, to a certain extent, marred. There was another point worthy of consideration. The leading powers of the continent were about reducing their debts: if we deferred till a later period the reduction of our four per cents, we should have a great flow of capital from foreign countries, and could reduce them with greater advantage in another year. The hon. Member concluded by expressing a hope, that Government would pay attention to the taxes which bore most heavily upon the productive classes.
§ Mr. Huskisson
was not going into the subject of the state of the country at that moment, as there was a notice of motion for to-morrow which would afford a better opportunity for entering upon such a discussion, and he intended to avail himself of it. If he rose upon this occasion, it was because he could not deny himself the gratification of expressing his approbation of the statement made by his right hon. friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He admitted, however, that the gratification which he felt at that statement was not wholly unalloyed by considerations such as those alluded to by the hon. Member for Callington. Not, however, that he thought it possible for any one to doubt, under whatever circumstances of trial or difficulty which might arise, that we should be enabled to maintain the public faith and the credit of the country untarnished. He thought, under all the existing circumstances, that the 348 plan laid down by his right hon. friend was that most expedient for the country, and his statement of that evening was one which he, in common he was sure with the House at large, had heard with unmixed satisfaction. If there was any drawback on that satisfaction, it could be only a difference of opinion as to the articles which his right hon. friend had selected for a reduction of duty. He said reduction when he should have said abolition; for he was glad that his right hon. friend had resolved upon the total abolition, instead of a partial reduction, of the duties upon Beer and Leather, as otherwise the benefits of lessening the taxes on those articles would not be felt by the public. He agreed with the hon. Member for Callington as to the advantages which might arise from converting the present permanent four per cent annuities into five per cent, or perhaps something higher annuities, for a definite number of years, but he would reserve his opinion on the general merits of the hon. Member's proposition when the distress of the country, with a view to its adequate relief, was substantively before the House. With respect to what had been said about reducing the four per cents to three or three and a half per cent, he begged leave to say that he had more than once in that House advocated the principle of such a reduction, and had expressly stated, that Ministers would be guilty of a neglect of duty did they fail to take advantage of such a state of public credit as would enable them to effect a practicable diminution of the public burthens. He was sorry, however, to hear his right hon. friend associate the proposition in any way with the state of the foreign exchanges. The Chancellor of the Exchequer ought not to be regulated by exchanges depending on contingencies in contracting any loans necessary for the public service; in fact, he should not borrow from any other party, not even the Bank of England, than the public; rendering himself independent of the state of the exchange and of foreign markets. He trusted, that after all the sufferings of the country, in order to attain a solid improved currency, no measure would be sanctioned by the Government, the tendency of which would be to lock up capital in the coffers of the Bank of England, a result which would be consequent upon a reliance on foreign exchanges. With respect to what had been 349 said about putting an end to our present Sinking-fund system altogether in 1831, he thought it right to say, that he was one of those who approved of the principles of a Sinking-fund, in fact, he thought that there should be always a bona fide surplus of income over expenditure applied to the reduction of the debt. The revenue of the country was collected from so many sources of a contingent nature, that it was impossible to count on it, and the expenditure being every year in exact proportion to each other; so that an actual annual surplus of income over expenditure was necessary, not only for the purpose of reducing the debt, but also to enable us to provide for any casual deficiencies in the Revenue which might arise. The present mode of employing the surplus revenue was the very best which could have been adopted under the existing circumstances of the country; and he should therefore wish to see it carried further into operation than it had been. He wished, indeed, that we had a sufficient surplus of income over expenditure to carry into effect on a large scale the proposal of the hon. Member, to which he had before alluded; for converting, he wished he could say 100 millions, of permanent annuities into life annuities, or annuities for a term of years. He thought such a measure would be the best and most efficacious mode of reducing the amount of the debt that could be acted upon consistently with the honour of the country. By such a mode our permanent change might be changed into annuities terminating in the course of thirty or forty years, which was nothing in the history of nations. There could be no difficulty in adopting such a plan, and he trusted the House and the Government would give it a fair consideration, with a view to its being practically acted upon with as little loss of time as possible. In his anxiety to see the amount of the debt reduced he would gladly encourage the passing of such a measure, while we possessed the means of effecting it advantageously for the public. But, as he had stated, he should deliver his opinion more fully on the subject when he explained his views of the present distress of the country, of its causes and its extent, which he thought had been much exaggerated, and of other modes than those mentioned by his right hon. friend that evening, of reducing the public expenditure with a view to remedy it.
§ Sir C. Burrell
expressed himself dissatisfied with the reduction of the Beer-tax, which might benefit a few places but would give no general relief to the country. He considered that much more general benefit would accrue from a diminution of the duty on Malt, which would be equally an advantage to the agriculturist and the consumer of Beer.
§ Sir T. Acland
, on the part of the Western Counties, and of himself, begged to express entire satisfaction at one portion of the relief granted. He was happy to think that the satisfaction which he saw sparkling in the countenances of all around him would be soon shared by a large and worthy part of the community. The reduction was one fraught with comfort and convenience to a numerous class, and would occasion but small loss to the Revenue. The tax was one which, from his own knowledge, he could state, had caused much inconvenience and vexation in the western counties, and he was heartily glad it was removed. He also approved of the selection of the Beer and Leather Duties for reduction. The first had pressed very heavily on the lower classes; and the second had been a tax of the most vexatious and oppressive nature. He knew an instance in which a very worthy man was brought within the power of the Excise regulations, and put to considerable expense and inconvenience, in consequence of two labourers of his having, without his knowledge, tanned for themselves two aprons, value one shilling. It had been observed, that when half this tax upon leather was taken off', little benefit had resulted from it. There was an old proverb. "you should do nothing by halves;" on the faith of which he would venture to hope, that though the first experiment had been unsuccessful, the total removal of the duties would be attended with the best results.
§ Lord Milton
said, he agreed with the hon. Baronet, in thinking that the selection of the duties on Beer was not the most beneficial which could have been made. In his opinion, it would have been better to have reduced the duties on Malt; and that this would have been the most beneficial reduction for the land-owners and cultivators of the soil, no doubt could be entertained. The Beer-tax, it should be considered, was one affecting a particular class and particular districts. There were many districts (as for instance, the 351 part of Yorkshire in which he resided) where the people brewed for themselves, and he thought that when Government gave up a tax for the benefit of the community, it was quite unfair that any geographical section should be deprived of the advantage. He believed, too, that the reduction of this Beer-tax would drive more people to the public-house, while the reduction of the duties on Malt would induce them to brew for themselves. With respect to the other tax, he meant that upon Leather, he agreed with hon. Members, it was well selected. He also concurred with what had fallen from the hon. Member for Abingdon, touching the four per cents; but he hoped no expedient would be resorted to for the purpose of raising the Stock so as to enable Government to effect their object. The fund holders were not a rich and overgorged class, as some had described them, with a view to inducing Government to commit the most disgraceful act ever contemplated in any nation. The paper produced by the hon. Member for Callington afforded abundant proof of this. They were, on the contrary, for the most part, persons who, after the labour of years, had succeeded in making some little capital, which they deposited there, to provide for the evening of their days.
objected to the additional duty on Whiskey. He thought it would hold out an inducement to illicit distillation in the Highlands and in Ireland. It would also encourage smuggling on the borders of England and Scotland. The Government could not lay an additional shilling duty on Corn-spirits in Ireland and Scotland, and leaving, as it did, a great difference between the duties levied in the different countries, it encouraged smuggling. If the additional duty on Spirits were necessary to prevent the people drinking so much, why should it not be extended to spirits made in Scotland?
§ Lord Howick
was of the same opinion as the last speaker. He stated, that smuggled whiskey was consumed to a great amount in Northumberland and Cumberland. He thought it would be better to raise the duty in Scotland. This would, perhaps, increase in some degree illicit distillation in the Highlands, but the Revenue would still be collected in the Lowlands; so that on the whole, the mischief would not be so great as the increase of smuggling in 352 the North of England. He contended, therefore, it would be more advantageous to leave the duty as it was in this country, and to add something to the duty in Scotland.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
begged leave to say one word in explanation of a point which had been referred to by the hon. Member for Callington, and subsequently by the right hon. Member for Liverpool. The hon. Member seemed to intimate to the House, that he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) contemplated that in 1831 he should have no surplus of income over expenditure. He must have expressed himself very differently to what he had intended, if he had said any thing to warrant such an inference. His line of argument was, that though he could not predict that that surplus would be 3,000,000l., he still thought he might rationally look to—when he took the proposed reduction of the four per cents, and the other measures of economy of the Government, into account—a bona fide surplus of at least 1,500,000l.—a sum which a good harvest and improved circumstances of the country would raise still higher. He had taken particular pains to impress this view on the minds of hon. Members, and regretted that a contrary impression had been made on the hon. Member for Callington, and perhaps, on the House at large. He hoped, however, that the House was then disabused of its misconception, and that he had set it right. With respect to what had fallen from the noble Lord who spoke last, he begged leave to say, that he agreed with that noble Lord, that the subject of duty on spirit, whether with a view to its reduction or increase, was one beset with difficulties. He admitted that it was objectionable in principle that there should be one duty in one country or county, and another in one immediately adjoining it; that this difference of duty opened the door to smuggling and other frauds on the Revenue, but he contended, that he brought a new enemy, a third antagonist, into the field against those evils, in abolishing the duty on Beer, a beverage which he confidently hoped would, in time, expel ardent spirits from the use of the industrious and. poor classes, and with it, those lawless habits which an appetite for it generated. With respect to the proposal of somewhat equalizing the duties on Scotch whiskey in the two countries, he 353 was willing to admit that, so far as finance was concerned, it would be a most desirable measure; but from the facilities which the north of Scotland afforded for smuggling, and illicitly preparing that spirit, and the taste and habit of the Highlander, it was deemed expedient to adopt the present scale of duty.
§ Mr. Baring
was sorry if he had misconceived the expression of the right hon. Gentleman to the degree he had stated, and should feel much obliged to him, as he was sure would the House at large, if he would show, by way of figures, how far he was misrepresented, and how far he should be borne out in his then explanation of the drift of his meaning. Did the right hon. Gentleman found his anticipation of the amount, 1,500,000l. of his surplus in 1831,on the probable revenue of 1830? if not, what were the data of his calculations? The right hon. Gentleman said, he looked forward to the improved circumstances of the country, particularly to the beneficial effects of a good harvest; but the right hon. Gentleman strangely forgot that a good harvest, and that in the degree of its goodness, would sweep away all the revenue which he expected to derive from the importation of foreign corn, which amounted this year to 800,000l.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, the hon. Gentleman was putting the matter in a form in which it. was not fair to represent it to the House. He only chose to take the figures on one side, while he forbade him to take those on the oilier. The Estimate of the Revenue for 1831 was a matter of fair calculation, and it might be expected would yield as much, or more, than that of preceding years.
§ Mr. D. W. Harvey
begged leave, as one who was, in the best sense of the term, a representative of the people, to express on their part his satisfaction at the proposed abolition of duty on three of the articles of life which were chiefly consumed by the industrious poor. He could not augur the extensive benefits which some hon. Members seemed to expect would follow from those reductions, nor from the giving up 3,000,000l. of taxes, certainly a large concession to public opinion, which the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer had boasted about, but still he received them with applause as an index of a better system of the public expenditure. He could not, for ex- 354 ample, admit that the reduction of the tax on Beer would increase the growth of malt and hops, and therefore, could not approve of a reduction which might tend, perhaps, to deteriorate the quality of beer by increasing its quantity, without a correspondent increase of the materials. The only way in which an increase of those articles could be effected was, by a reduction of the duty on them. But little good would be effected by what Ministers proposed, and little would be done to ameliorate the condition of the people of this country, unless a free trade were allowed in corn. He gave Ministers every credit for the measure which they proposed for the reduction of the four per cents, nor did he suppose that any intention existed on their part to depart from the terms of the contract with the fund-holder. The fund-holder here, beside, had his remedy, for it. was open to him to sell out if he felt any objection to the proposed arrangement; but he thought that the terms were rather hard, as regarded the public, for the public would be obliged, under the present circumstances, to pay 100l. for only 60l. which it had originally borrowed. In private concerns, if a man borrowed 1,000l. upon an engagement to pay afterwards, whenever called upon by the lender, 2,000l. he was sure that the courts of equity in this country would relieve, that individual from such a contract, on the ground of its being usurious, and he ought to be relieved from it. He was surprised that Ministers endeavoured to keep up the price of the Stocks, they ought rather to endeavour to lower it, if they could; for it was surely more advantageous to purchase an annuity of 3l. for 70l. than for 100l. The truth was, that all our loans had been contracted on the most injurious terms. For the 3l. a-year we bound ourselves to pay for ever, we had not received more than 60l., and now we were, according to our engagements, redeeming that annuity by paying 100l., Such a transaction was any thing but honest, and had it taken place between individuals, would have been held void at law. He thought that, in order to afford substantial relief to the country, the reduction of taxation ought to be carried to 10,000,000l. or 12,000,000l., and an equitable property-tax laid on to meet whatever deficiency such a reduction might occasion. He gave Ministers every credit for economy, but their disposition was not 355 permitted to go in that way farther than theory, for in every step they were met by a counteracting influence in Parliament, which was both difficult to define, and impossible to control.
The Resolutions were then put, and agreed to; and the House having resumed the Report was ordered to be received the next day.