HC Deb 11 March 1831 vol 3 cc367-73
Lord Althorp

moved, the Order of the Day for the House to resolve itself into a Committee of Ways and Means.

On the question that the Speaker do leave the Chair.

Mr. Attwood

said, he was anxious to take this opportunity of saying a few words on a subject of great importance to the country. It was now nearly a month since the noble Lord had brought forward his plan for making several great changes in the duties affecting some important branches of the commerce of the country. On that occasion he submitted certain intended changes in the amount of duties, particularly those on timber. The plan had no sooner been submitted to the House, than it created a very great sensation in the commercial world. It was then suspended; and though the public were most anxious to ascertain the decision of Parliament with respect to it, the noble Lord now intimated that the measure was to be further postponed for a fortnight. Such delay as this, on a matter where such extensive commercial interests were depending, was most ruinous in its effects on large capitals embarked in the trade which was to be affected by the proposed change in the duties. He alluded now to the proposed changes in the duties on timber. Not less than 9,000 tons of shipping, ready to sail for the Canadas in this trade, with cargoes exceeding 100,000l., were delayed by this suspense. This, he must say, was not treating the House or the country fairly. Ministers ought to be ready to come forward with the measures which they opened to the country, as soon after as possible, to prevent that uncertainty, than which nothing was more injurious in matters of extensive trade. An hon. friend of his had a petition to present from a large body of merchants interested in this trade, and he had waited day after day to hear the farther details of their plan from Ministers; but now, as these were to be further postponed, the discussion must come on on the petition—a course most inconvenient to those concerned, who as yet knew only a part of the plan that was to be brought forward. If the petitions of the people were not to receive more attention than this, the best Reform which Ministers could introduce, would be that by which greater attention might be paid to the grievances of the people. It would be more effectual than that plan by which so much of the time of the House had been already occupied. The grievances of the people ought to be attended to before any supplies were voted; and if his hon. friend who had the petition to which he had alluded would now move, as an amendment to the Motion before the House, that this petition be read and discussed, instead of going into the Committee, he (Mr. Attwood) would readily second it. The petitions of the people had the first claim on the attention of Parliament. Already had 2,000 of them, complaining of and praying for redress of grievances, been presented, and he thought Ministers would have been much more usefully employed in reading and classifying them, and seeing what it was for which they prayed, than in bringing forward a measure of Reform, as it was called, in which no one grievance of the people was redressed. But a noble Lord had asked, if that House occupied itself in reading the petitions of the people, what time would there be for passing Acts of Parliament? He would answer, that if fewer Acts of Parliament were passed, it would be so much the better for the country. There were already a host of Acts passed for bettering the condition of the poor, and yet that condition was every day becoming worse. The noble Lord, the Under Secretary for the Colonies, proposed to add to these Acts one for bettering the condition of the poor, one promoting emigration; but if he examined before he legislated, he would find that six Acts had already been passed on the subject, each of which seemed to leave the condition of the poor worse than before. He must again repeat, that the plan of Reform brought forward did not propose to redress any grievance of which the people complained; while that and other measures relative to the finances of the country proposed by Government, would tend to the ruin of all classes. The Ministers had failed in showing that they were men of practical knowledge as statesmen and political economists, they had delayed proceeding with their plans, on which, if the House had been earlier called to decide, it would have become necessary to have a different set of men as advisers of the Crown.

Lord Althorp

admitted that delay in matters affecting commerce would be injurious; but the parties interested in the timber trade could not, with justice, complain of any inconvenience from the delay to which the hon. Member alluded, because, at the very opening of the plan, it was stated that the new duties were not to take effect before the 10th of October; so that all the tons of shipping which the hon. Gentleman had mentioned would have full time to go to Canada and return to this country before that period. The changes with respect to the other duties would not be delayed, for they were proceeding with them as rapidly as the other business of Parliament would permit. As to the petitions of the people, he should be glad if the business of the house would admit of having them more fully read and discussed, but the arrangement for not bringing forward petitions after five o'clock was made before he and his friends came into office. He did not find fault with that arrangement, as he thought that some arrangement of the kind was unavoidable; for it must be obvious, that if the House occupied itself in reading and discussing all the petitions which came before it, it would have no time for discussing measures to redress those grievances of which the petitioners complained. The hon. Member had introduced the subject of Reform, but that had so recently undergone a full discussion, that the House would excuse him if he refrained at that time from following the hon. Member into it.

Sir C. Wetherell

contended that the course pursued by Ministers in opening the Budget of the year, and then suspending some of its most important parts, was unprecedented. It was too bad that an Administration should open the Financial Budget, then suspend it, to bring forward a plan of Reform, with which also they were not ready. So that there was now before the House a suspended Budget, and a suspended plan of Reform. The delay in the noble Lord's plan of duties, particularly in those intended with respect to timber, was very generally complained of amongst commercial men. He had had several representations made to him from most respectable merchants in the City, on the subject. Why they should have addressed themselves to him, — one of those rotten Members who were sought to be got rid of by the noble Paymaster's plan of Reform,—he knew not, but so it was. Those respectable parties complained that their business was at a stand, and they could not tell what course to pursue in the uncertainty as to the measures which Parliament might finally adopt with respect to those Timber Duties. The fur- ther delay now intended by the noble Lord was an aggravation of the original suspension. He did not state these things with any view to harass or impede the noble Lord (Althorp), No man was more disposed to support the Government of the noble Lord than he had been at first, and he was anxious to express to him and the right hon. Secretary for Ireland his thanks for the vigour and firmness they had displayed in carrying on the King's Government, particularly in Ireland; but when he found that among the measures proposed by the noble Lord were two,— one involving a breach of duty to the colonies, and the other a breach of national faith, — he was determined not to give his support to the noble Lord's Government any longer. On the contrary, he would support any motion which should compel the noble Lord to bring forward the plans which he had opened to the House, that the sense of the House might be taken on them.

Mr. Goulburn

said, that he did not rise to prolong this conversation, but he felt it necessary to state, that he also had had applications from many merchants, who complained strongly of the suspense in which they were kept by the delay in the measures opened to the House by the noble Lord, particularly with respect to the Timber Duties. It was true the proposed duties were not intended to come into operation before the 10th of October, and that vessels now ready would have time to go out and return home by that time; but then there was an uncertainty as to what would be the state of the trade, as far as regarded the duties, by that time. It was not and could not be known to the merchants whether Parliament would ratify the noble Lord's plan. But the delay with respect to these duties was not the only cause of anxiety. There were some who looked upon the whole proceeding with some degree of alarm, for it appeared that the sum on which the noble Lord calculated, as the produce of the new duties on Timber was 600,000l., which was to supply a part of the large amount of taxation proposed to be taken off; but it should be considered that the new duties not commencing till the 10th of October, only a very small part of the expected amount could come into the account of the present year, and when it was recollected that there was only a Small surplus revenue from the last year, the apprehension was not ill-grounded, that there might be a deranged Budget at the close of the year.

Mr. Warburton

said, that the persons engaged in the timber trade had had ample notice that the duties were not to commence before the 10th of October, and as the vessels which sailed for Canada went about this time, and could be back before that period, it could make no difference to their speculation whether the measure of the noble Lord were proceeded with now, or at a later period of the Session.

Mr. Goulburn

said, that what the merchants wanted was some guarantee for the first step.

Mr. Herries

said, that he also had had many applications from parties expressing their great anxiety as to the delay in the noble Lord's plan, which he must say was quite unprecedented. He did hope, therefore, that the noble Lord would reconsider the subject, and bring forward the Timber Duties earlier than the time he had fixed. Before he sat down, he would wish to ask the noble Lord one question with respect to the Timber Duties. He had heard that the proposed alteration was not intended to apply to Ireland. He wished to know how that was.

Lord Althorp

said, that no alteration of duties with respect to timber from the Canadas to Ireland was intended.

Mr. Hunt

said, that when he had been only a fortnight in that House, he complained that sufficient attention was not paid to the petitions of the people, and he was now glad to find that he had got two such able allies in advocating those petitions as the twin members for Borough-bridge. He admitted, that the Reform plan brought forward did not contain what the great mass of petitions presented to that House had prayed for; at the same time he must say he did not oppose the Bill. The petitions, by the way, were not as numerous as the hon. Member (Mr. Attwood) had stated. They were not. 2,000, but somewhere about 646. They complained of many grievances; they prayed, in addition to Reform—for Retrenchment — for Reduction of Salaries and Pensions, of Sinecures and Allowances—for the shortening of Parliaments, and many for the Ballot; but only two of all these—that from Exeter, and that from Bristol—prayed alone for anything which was granted; but he was bound to add, that all over the country, in every parish of the metropolis, in every town and village throughout the land, the people were running mad in favour of the Ministerial measure. He had letters every day, and sometimes twenty-five over his number, which was very expensive, giving him accounts of meetings to support Ministers. Never was there greater unanimity; but he should be a hypocrite if he did not declare, that although he would support the Bill, he should not be satisfied with it, as it did not concede any of the favourite objects of his life—neither retrenchment nor reduction of salaries, nor abolition of sinecures and pensions, nor extension of the suffrage (indeed, in many instances, the Bill operated as a curtailment of the suffrages), nor the Vote by Ballot; nor, in short, any one of the objects he had most ardently desired. He would not, therefore, hesitate to say, that even after this Bill was passed, he would go forth and endeavour, out of that House and in that House, to get a great deal more for the people.

The House went into a Committee.

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