HC Deb 12 February 1839 vol 45 cc335-40

Mr. Wallace moved, that "no Bill affecting the trade or commerce of the country be introduced after Easter, unless on special cause being shown why it had not been brought forward sooner." In making the present Motion, he begged the right hon. Gentleman opposite would understand, that he did not intend to disparage the Motion of which he had given notice.

Mr. Hume

seconded the Motion of his hon. Friend. Although Government might see fit occasionally to introduce measures of importance towards the close of the Session, yet that could seldom be the case. The President of the Board of Trade must in general be aware of what was required to be brought forward before that period. Last Session, more bills affecting important interests had been brought forward at a late period than in any other Session. He thought that this Motion which would compel an early introduction of important measures, would prevent the public being taken by surprise.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

said, that some bills of the nature alluded to by his hon. Friend who had brought forward this Motion, could only be introduced at a late period of the Session. If hon. Gentlemen paid attention to the manner in which public business had of late pressed on the House, they must also be aware that many measures, although they might be of the utmost importance to different interests, were necessarily postponed in consequence of the number of questions and discussions relating to party differences which had unfortunately greatly increased of late. His hon. Friend who brought forward this Motion, and his hon. Friend, the Member for Kilkenny, who had seconded it, had referred chiefly to bills connected with trade and commerce. He was satisfied, even if the hon. Mover should be inclined to press the question, which be was happy to see the hon. Member was not—that he should be enabled to show that this motion was unnecessary. The House of Commons would not, at any time, allow a bill to be introduced unless grounds were shown for the necessity of its introduction. The motion, therefore, was supererogatory. The motion might be opposed also on other grounds. It would be putting a stop to the legislation of that House. All bills relating to commerce must involve revenue considerations. How was it possible to introduce bills involving revenue considerations until public accounts were made up, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer knew what money would be at his disposal. The revenue accounts were only made up to the 5th of April, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer must have made his financial statement to the House, the Budget must have been brought forward before bills could be introduced affecting articles of commerce. He would be glad, that his right hon. Friend would place at his disposal money to be disposed of in different ways; he should be happy to come down to that House on the 5th of February, and say that it was in his power to reduce duties on such and such articles; but his right hon. Friend would tell him that it was necessary that the financial accounts should be made up before he could be enabled to announce his intention to lessen or to take off a tax. Of late years, he had had the good fortune to propose and carry many ameliorations in the Customs laws; but these ameliorations required much preparation and consideration. In the first place, it was desirable to ascertain what sum of money could be spared for the reduction of duties; next, it was of importance to know on what particular articles these reductions would tell most for the public advantage; in order to ascertain this, it was necessary to consult different individuals, and to listen to the claims put forward by different interests. Hon. Members were not to imagine that because discussion did not take place within these walls, that therefore none took place at all; a vast deal of discussion took place without these walls. Different interests were heard, and such an adjustment of those interests took place as might best conduce to the interests of trade in general. He would refer to a reduction which had recently taken place, of the duty on fruits. Constant and frequent consultations had been had with persons connected with every branch of that trade before it was settled in what manner that reduction should take place. He would mention also another instance; the reduction of the duties on dyes, which for a long time previously had been the subject of daily consultations. He mentioned these circumstances to show the House the necessity there was of consulting the different interests in such cases as those which he had adduced. The effect of the hon. Member's motion would be to retard all this business. On no subject was more care taken to inform the public mind than upon the subject of financial measures, which had to go through more forms than ordinary bills. If more had not been done within the last few years for commercial improvement, it had been the fault of that House, and not the fault of the Board of Trade. He had done all that he thought the House would permit him to do, to improve the commercial legislation of this country. He appealed with confidence to the various articles (not of very great importance), to the number of between 300 and 400, in which he had effected a reduction of duty, and the result of which, in most cases, had been an advantage to the revenue by an increase of consumption. The restrictive duties upon those great articles, corn and timber, from which duties he believed the commerce of this country was suffering—were beyond his power, and it depended upon the House whether any alteration should take place in them.

Mr. Brotherton

said, that having a motion upon the books of the same nature as the hon. Member for Greenock, though he proposed to effect the same object by different means, he would say a word or two. He considered that his proposition, that no public bill be read a second time after a day to be fixed at the commence- ment of each Session, except for special reasons, and under urgent circumstances, was the better of the two. When he made his customary motion, that no business likely to create debate should come on after twelve o'clock at night, he was always assailed by the objection, that it would have the effect of retarding the public business, and lengthening the Sessions. But his answer to that was, that if the Session was protracted to Christmas, new bills would constantly be pouring in to the very last. As a proof of that he might state, that last Session, when there were 120 public acts passed, fifty-five new bills were introduced after the first of July, the Session closing in August. Hon. Members ought to know what business was before them when the Session opened. A limitation was already in force in regard to private bills, which could not be introduced after a certain time, and he thought it would be to the public advantage, that a similar limitation should be established with regard to public bills. If, however, the sense of the House were expressed against the motion of the hon. Member for Greenock, he would not press his.

Sir G. Clerk

objected to both motions, and would resist any attempt to place any limitation upon the House in respect to the introduction of those measures which the public interest might demand. The President of the Board of Trade had talked a great deal about the reductions he had made, and was prepared to make in duties on articles of commerce. He was glad, that the right hon. Gentleman had thus gone far to make up for a material omission in her Majesty's Speech, and he was happy, that the public had to expect reductions in those duties. He hoped, that in future the estimates would be laid on the Table of the House within the time agreed upon by the House, on the motion of Sir John Newport. He also trusted, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would find it convenient to revert back to the old system, and commence the financial system from the 5th of January, so that the balance sheet of the Government might be laid on the Table of the House one week from the meeting of Parliament. It was now brought forward, if not at the very end, at a very late period of the Session, and the President of the Board of Trade was obliged to wait until the Budget was brought forward before he could in- troduce any bill for the relief of the commerce of the country. He hoped the hon. Member would not press his motion to a division.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

would take upon himself to say, and he believed without fear of contradiction, that ever since he had the honour of filling the situation he then held, the estimates of the great interests of the country—the estimates for the navy, the army, and the ordinance, had always been laid on the Table of the House within the period limited by the motion of Sir John Newport. His hon. Friend opposite had asked him to return to the old financial year, but allow him to ask, in what condition was the House placed under the old practice? Why, in nine cases out of ten, the Ministry were carrying on the affairs of Government without any authority whatever from Parliament. The right hon. Baronet knew well enough, that such was the case with many of the Governments with which he had been connected. On the accession of the present Ministry, they were told from all parts of the House, that they ought rather to adopt the plan followed by the French Chamber, and take a vote of confidence, than proceed on the plan which had hitherto been followed. The Government, however, took a different course. They altered the financial year from January to April, and they were supported, not only by the great body of the House, but also by the people out of doors. By the plan now in practice the Government had always the sanction of Parliament; the number of men were voted; the Mutiny Bill might be progressing, and the wages of the navy would be paid, and all would go on under the sanction of the House. It would be a great departure from principle if they were to go back to the old system, unless at the same time they were also to recur to the old practice of assembling in November. If the House met, at that time, Government might make the financial year commence in January; but meeting as they did in February, it was absolutely necessary that they should adhere to the system of commencing the financial year with April. He trusted, that his hon. Friend would not divide the House, for he obtained all that he wished by getting a recognition of his principle which should be followed in all practical cases.

Mr. Warburton

said, if he understood the suggestion of the hon. Member for Greenock, it was this, not that there should be one universal rule, but that bills should be brought in in an early stage of the Session. For his own part he wished the House to recognize two classes of cases—1st. That wherever duties were to be imposed or raised, the bills should be brought in on the first day of the Session; but in the second place, when duties were to be taken off he would allow the Government to have power to introduce the Bill when they pleased. The right hon. President of the Board of Trade said, that it was the fault of the House that the duties on corn and timber remained in the same state as they had been during the last few years. That was not quite correct, because it was the duty of the right hon. Gentlemen to have brought in a bill to carry into effect the recommendation of a committee which had sat some years ago and recommended that the duty of timber should be reduced. The right hon. Gentleman, therefore, should accuse himself and not the House, because he and his Friends around him were very anxious for the reduction. When he sat on the opposite side of the House, along with the right hon. Gentleman, he had frequently brought the subject of the timber duties before the House, and had been frequently cheered by him and his Friends. Suppose that he were to introduce a bill now for that purpose would he have the cheer of the right hon. Gentleman—or would he have the cheer of the right hon. Gentleman's friends? No; they would be mute. Let the right hon. Gentleman carry out the recommendations of the Committee, and he should have his earnest support.

Mr. Wallace

did not mean to divide the House upon the question. He would merely say, that if bills had to pass through seven stages, instead of five, this would be an argument in favour of an earlier bringing in of bills. He thought the financial year ought to be closed in January. He thought, that such a course would save a vast deal of trouble to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Motion withdrawn.