§ The House in Committee of Ways and Means,
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that the vote which he was about to put into the hands of the Chairman was one of the usual votes of the Session for the issue of Exchequer bills necessary for the public service to pay off Exchequer bills now outstanding. The vote itself would in reality occasion no discussion; but he made it the occasion of addressing the House, with the view of laying before them, at as early a period as possible, a statement of the financial prospects of the year, and of those measures which her Majesty's Ministers proposed to recommend for the consideration of Parliament. He should detain the House while he endeavoured to bring the case before them in as few words and as clearly as possible. He should first call their attention to the statements which were made by him last year, of the expectations which he had of the income and expenditure for the year. There had been some alterations after the first statement, hut hon. Gentlemen would find that the expenditure of last year had been estimated at 49,499,741l., and the income at 48,641,000l. leaving an estimated deficiency of 858,000l. It was proposed to meet that deficiency, arising from extraordinary expenses, and from taxes not coming into operation, by a vote of Exchequer bills, which was reduced to 800,000l. in consequence of the French Treaty not coming to a conclusion. Looking to the actual results of the year, which hon. Gentlemen would find in the paper he had just put before them, it would appear that the actual expenditure and income were asfollow:—
Tills was a deficiency much larger than had been estimated. The House would recollect that 800,000l. of the deficiency was proposed to be met by a vote of Exchequer bills. This left one million deficiency beyond what was apprehended. Perhaps it would be advisable that he should state the actual expenditure and income, as compared with the estimated expenditure and income. They were as follow:—
Actual expenditure £49,285,396 Actual revenue 47,443,399 Deficiency 1,841,997
1296 Hon. Gentlemen would recollect that the actual issues of the year did not precisely correspond with what was the expenditure for the service of the year, and they would find, with regard to the navy, that although the sums issued appeared less than the estimate, the expenditure did in fact exceed it. The income, as compared with the estimate, was as follows:—
Estimated expenditure £49,499,741 Actual expenditure, as appeared from the returns 49,285,396 Showing an amount of expenditure below the estimate of 214,345
It was a natural question—from what arose the great deficiency in reference to the estimates laid on the Table of the House? He thought he should be able to show the House that it had not arisen from the additional taxation which had been laid on, or from the manner in which it was laid on, but from a falling off in the revenue, which would have taken place although that additional taxation had not been imposed. The House would recollect that the estimate of the Customs and Excise added five per cent, to the amount of the former year; and, undoubtedly, when they came to look at the first two quarters of the year 1840, the returns would be found to bear him out in the estimate he had formed. The increase on these two quarters appeared to be as follows:—
Estimate £48,641,000 Actual 47,443,399 £1,197,601
|Quarter ended 5th April, 1839,||£4,411,569|
|Quarter ended 5th April, 1840,||4,572,623|
|Quarter ended 5th July, 1839,||£4,871,333|
|Quarter ended 5th July, 1840,||5,137,934|
|Quarter ended 5th April, 1839,||£1,841,511|
|Quarter ended 5th April,1840,||1,929,996|
|Quarter ended 5th July, 1839,||£2,570,311|
|Quarter ended 5th July, 1840,||2,711,951|
§ Therefore, so far as regarded the early part of the year, the expectations he had entertained of the revenue were equalled if not exceeded by the result. He wished to state some of the particular articles in I order that the House might see where the falling off had taken place. He had directed 1297 returns to be made of the last year—not the last financial year—of articles in which there had been an increase or a falling off. That return was as follows:—
§ (Comparison of years, 1839–1840, as to gross receipts.)
§ Articles in which there has been an increase, both in quantity and amount of duty:
|Increase of quantities.||Inc. in amt. of Duties.|
|Butter||35,724 cwts.||£ 44,295|
|Olive Oil||173,900 gals.||2,410|
|Silk (raw and thrown)||427,482 lbs.||12,657|
|Cotton Wool||175,430,954 lbs.||233,590|
§ Articles in which there has been a decrease in quantity, and an increase of duty:—
|Decrease in quantity.||Inc. in amt. of Duty.|
|Deals, & c. from British America||782 gt. hds.||19,911|
§ He wished more particularly to call the attention of the Committee to those articles on which there had been a decrease both in quantity and amount of duty, because he was sure, with regard to the principal ones, that hon. Members would at once observe the grounds of decrease, and see, that they were not unnatural:—
§ Articles in which there has been a decrease both in quantity and amount of duties;
|Decrease in quantity.||Dec in amt. of duties.|
|Currants||6,130 cwts.||£ 811|
|Sheep's Wool||3,412,166 lbs.||14,631|
|Deals (European)||1,664 gt. hds.||8,378|
§ He need not explain to the Committee, that the falling off in the two articles of molasses and sugar did not arise from any unwillingness in the country to consume such articles, but from the prices they bore in the market. For the falling off in the imports of French spirits there was an obvious reason in the French commercial treaty. The other main article in which there was a falling off was tea; and he need not suggest to the committee, that the cause was in the state of our relations with China, and the rise in the price of the article thereby occasioned. In the Excise, the falling off was in Ireland. The in 1298 crease and decrease in England and Ireland had been as follow:—
|EXCISE REVENUE.—EXCHEQUER PAYMENTS.|
|Year ended 5th April, 1840||£12,040,000|
|Year ended 5th April, 1841||12,530,000|
|Year ended 5th April, 1840||£1,497,000|
|Year ended 5th April, 1841||1,143,000|
|Of this deficit—Spirits||£305,000|
|Of this deficit—Malt||45,000|
§ Thus there was a decrease in the Excise in Ireland of 354,000l. If that had arisen from the smuggler having driven the legitimate trader out of the market, he should look upon it with the deepest regret; but from all he could learn from the uniform opinions of Gentlemen connected with Ireland, and from the statements of revenue officers, who were best able to give official information, he felt assured, that the deficiency had arisen from increased habits of temperance in the people. He owned, therefore, that however inconvenient it might be to make the statement he was now to make, he should be ashamed of himself, if he did not make the announcement with the greatest and most sincere pleasure. He might mention, that in the accounts of the last quarter, there appeared an increase on the articles of tea, coffee, and sugar, in Ireland, though not equivalent to the falling off in the article of spirits. With respect to other articles, he should just mention, the increase which had taken place, in order to show, that the falling off in the Excise, showed no material defalcation in the resources of the country. With this view he had had a paper drawn up which showed the percentage increase and decrease on all exciseable articles compared with the average of the last three years. It was as follows:—
§ Increase, per Cent, in the Quantities of Exciseable Articles charged with Duty, in the Year ended 5th January, 1841, compared with the Average of the three preceding Years.
|THE UNITED KINGDOM.|
|Bricks||Increase||13 per cent.|
|Glass||Flint||Increase||4⅔ per cent.|
|Paper||Increase||4 1–6 per cent.|
|Post Horse Licenses||Increase||3per cent.|
|Soap||Hard||Increase||5⅓ per cent.|
|soft||Increase||1 per cent.|
|Vinegar||Increase||12 per cent.|
§ Decrease.—The quantities of the following articles charged with duty have decreased:—
|Glass, Crown||Decrease||1-20 per cent.|
|Hops||Decrease||81 per cent.|
|Licences||Decrease||2⅓ per cent.|
|Post Horses||Decrease||10½ per cent.|
|Spirits||Decrease||13¾ per cent.|
§ The diminution in licences, was partly the result of the decreased consumption of spirits in Ireland, and partly the consequence of the bill passed last year with respect to the sale of beer. The articles of stamps and taxes had both produced more than the estimate. Postage had been estimated beyond the actual produce by 116,000l.; but this had not arisen from any mistake in the calculations of his noble Friend, the Postmaster-General, as to the increase of letters, but from in. creased expenditure to carry on the augmented business of the department. The large additional assistance which had been required from the greater number of letters, from the changes in connexion with railways, from the spreading of double posts, and the accommodation afforded to the public in registering money letters, had rendered necessary an increase of the Post-office establishment beyond what his noble Friend, the Postmaster-General, had contemplated. The calculation of the increase of letters had not been erroneous, but the net revenue had been diminished by the increased charges. He had now stated to the House the amount of the actual income and expenditure of last year, the amount of the deficiency which appeared, and laid before them such information, without overwhelming them with details, as might enable them to see the sources of the falling off which had taken place. It was next his duty to lay before them the expectations which he entertained of the revenue and expenditure for the ensuing year. He calculated the interest on the debt would be 29,420,000l., the other charges on the consolidated fund 2,400,000l. The whole charge on the consolidated fund would be 31,820,000l. The expense of the army was 6,587,614l., and the navy (inclusive of 191,199l. debt of a former year) 6,805,351l. The Ordnance was 2,075,803l. The next item was the miscellaneous estimates, that included sums which were actually on the Table of the House, and also sums that should be laid on the Table of the House in a short time. The miscellaneous would amount to 2,935,008l. There were, moreover, two estimates which referred to the expenses of 1300 Canada, and also the expenses for China. The estimate for Canada was 108,000l. Now, as to that estimate, he was not prepared to state, that in the course of the present year he should be able to lay it before the House in detail, as he would wish; but he should make the endeavour for the future to avoid a course that he thought had lasted long enough, and that he admitted was very objectionable; for he thought that it was necessary that Parliament should have the sums it was called upon to grant voted more specifically than hitherto had been the practice. This estimate, as it referred to Canada, included the sums necessary to be expended. As to China, the House had before it already such information as he was able to give, and they were apprised that the charge made by the East India Company against the Government was 475,000l., which was, according to the estimate as made up to tomorrow, the 1st of May, 1841, the termination of the East India Company's financial year. That, however, was the whole of its claim, remaining due up to that day, amounting to 475,000l. as claimed by them; but of course the House was aware that there might be differences as to the details between the East India Company and the Government. He apprehended, then, that if he made provision for the 400,000l., and left the remaining 75,000l. still to be provided for, he might in point of fact, satisfy the East India Company. He had not made up the calculation from any supposition that the expenditure would terminate earlier than had been first supposed; but he took it that the 75,000l., if due, was not to be paid until the account was entirely wound up. If, then, Gentlemen had followed him in his figures, they would find, as to the expenditure, that the total of the charges on the consolidated fund were 31,820,000l. The items altogether were,
|Army, commissariat, and militia||£6,587,614|
|Navy, inclusive of 291,199l. of debt||6,805,351|
§ He now proposed to state to the committee the estimate which he should make of the coming revenue; and in so doing he would plainly state, that although last year, as he had mentioned, he was prepared to take a favourable view of their prospects for the 1301 year, yet he endeavoured in the present year, finding that the difficulties which he had hoped would have passed over last year were still continuing, he had endeavoured by communications with those in his department—with those officers in the Treasury who were best able to assist him by their experience—he had endeavoured to take an estimate which he could tell the House was one of a very sober character. He thought he should be able to show Gentlemen that what he was stating would turn out to be correct. Last year the Customs were 21,701,595l. Every one knew that it was not a favourable Customs' year: when, on the other hand, they were aware that the increase of 5 per cent, did not touch the duties for full six weeks. He estimated the income of the Customs for next year at 22,000,000l. Then as to the Excise. The actual produce of the Excise for the last year was 13,673,088: of the increase caused by the 5 per cent, upon the Customs, it was impossible to tell how far it operated; but it was not so with respect to the Excise duties With regard to the Excise, they had this advantage, that, in many things, as in the malt duty, which being for a long time not available, or already charged; they were, therefore, able exactly to tell what the amount would be. The Excise, for the last year was 13,673,088l. He was assured that it would be 14,000,000l. for the next year. It was calculated that it would be about 2,0002. less; but he stated in round numbers as 14,000,000l. The stamps in the last year produced 7,183,390l. He put them down for the next year at 7,130,000l. The taxes last year produced 3,989,432l., and he had put them down for next year at 4,300,000lo. The Post-office last year was 414,000l. He took it for the next at 450,000l. The Crown lands last year were 160,000l., he took them for the next at 180,000l. He took some other items of the revenue, last year producing 311,894l., as making next year 250,000l. Out of these sums he made a total income of 48,310,000l. The expenditure, as he had stated, was 50,731,776l. As to the income, he thought he could satisfy the House that it was not exaggerated. He thought he had a right to rely upon it from the figures he had stated, that their total income for the next year would be 48,310,000l., leaving a deficiency of about 2,421,000l. Of their expenditure, the House would observe that China formed a sum of 400,000l., while the navy debt of 1302 last year formed another sum of 191,000l., making together a total of 591,000l. Now, this did not form a part of the permanent expenses for which it would become necessary to make a permanent provision. As far as regarded the permanent expenditure for China, he thought that they had every prospect that they should not be called upon to provide anything like the sum he had stated in a future year. Therefore, it was that, deducting from their expenditure these two items, which he would say in round numbers was 600,000l., there would be left in round numbers 50,100,000l. to be provided for; not deducting from it the Canada expenditure, because he did not rely upon bringing it down so immediately as he would wish. This, then, would be leaving 1,800,000l. to be provided for. Looking, then, at the state of the expenditure of the country, it was the opinion of her majesty's Government that it was impossible for them, with regard to the due and fair security, and to the stability of the finances of the country, to leave the revenue in the position in which it now stood, and not to make some increase to the income of the country. And, taking the whole matter into his consideration, he felt bound to say, that it would be necessary to make up the permanent revenue to 50,000,000l, by such means as Parliament might be pleased to adopt. To make up the revenue to that amount, they had a sum of 1,700,000l. to provide for. It had been his fortune, last year, when he addressed them upon a similar occasion—it had been his fortune, at that time, to call upon the House, and to call upon the country, for additional taxes, for the purpose of placing the revenue in such a position as to make up the deficiency then; and if it became necessary for him again to undertake that duty, he should not shrink from the performance of it, by laying before the House his proposition for any system of taxation, however unpopular it might be. In his opinion, there could not be anything so inconvenient or so injurious that could be for a moment weighed against the great inconvenience and the very great calamity of a permanently disordered financial state. It was with these views, the House might be assured, that her Majesty's Government had taken into their most anxious consideration, and given their utmost attention, as to the course which it was their bounden duty to pursue. It became then necessary for them either to fall back upon some of these taxes, which not long ago 1303 they had themselves repealed—either the house-tax or the tax upon cowls, or any one of those taxes which they had put an end to as injurious to the public welfare. He would observe to the House, that the sum was so large, that it was absolutely necessary that they must look at the deficiency with some degree of boldness, for it was impossible for them, by any mitigating or small measure, to deal with it. They had either to return then on the one hand to those old taxes, which they had repealed upon due consideration, and because they pressed severely upon the trade, the commerce, and the convenience of the country; or, on the other hand, they must introduce into their taxation those parties who had hitherto been exempted, for instance, as had been proposed by the hon. Member for Kilkenny last year, they must include, under the legacy duty, real property, and make it pay legacy duty, or they must take away some exemptions, that peculiar classes in the country benefitted by, such as taxes on agricultural horses, and some other exemptions, that would add considerably to the revenue; or they, if neither of these courses were to be taken, might lay a tax upon those new agents of production—on gas and upon steam, which, as being new born in the world, had now come under that system of taxation, which during a long war had been applied to every other article: or, lastly, they must take up that which he now found to be so popular, though he was old enough to remember that it had been the object of the bitterest attacks and execration—he meant an extensive property tax. He saw no other choice. If they intended to have taxation.—But before having recourse to additional taxation it was their duty to consider whether, by some arrangement of the taxes laid on the people, they might not be able to obtain the necessary supplies for the public service, without adding to the burdens of the country. He apprehended that they would have already judged that the two articles that he proposed to deal with in the budget were the two articles of timber and sugar. The House would recollect, that the duty upon colonial timber was 10s. a load, while the duty laid upon Baltic timber was 55s. a load. Throwing aside the addition of 1s. 6d. per load made last year. Thus they saw that there was 10s. on the colonial, 55s. upon the Baltic timber, leaving a protecting duty of 450 per cent, upon colonial timber. This was a subject that had been 1304 repeatedly before different administrations. His noble Friend, Lord Spencer, had proposed an adjustment of the duty, by diminishing the protecting duty, which had been 45s., to a protecting duty of 30s. He saw a right hon. Friend opposite who was connected with office at the time, and could support the accuracy of his statement. Lord Spencer proposed to deal with this subject by raising the colonial timber duty from 10s. to 20s., and by reducing the Baltic from 55s. to 50s. Subsequent to that, a committee of this House patiently went into the subject, and saw all the parties connected with all that were interested. They made a report, in which they not only gave their opinions in favour of a change, but also collected much valuable and important information. They confirmed the propriety of the suggestion of his noble Friend as to the protecting duties, and stated that the protection ought to be reduced by the exact sum that he had proposed; by a difference of 30s., though applied in a different way. They recommended, that no taxation at all should be laid on; and, if the revenue could bear it, he took it for granted that it would be beneficial to the trade; but, as far as the revenue was at present concerned, it was impossible to act upon such a suggestion. He proposed to adopt the original proposition of his noble Friend, as he felt perfectly satisfied that, by such an arrangement, the consumer in this country would be clearly benefitted, and the revenue of the country would receive a considerable addition. The report, he conceived, was right in saying, that some alteration should be made in the protecting duties. He should propose, also, the adoption of certain other regulations suggested in the report, so far as they were practicable. They had recommended that the duty on deals should be arranged in a more equitable and fair manner and they also recommended that there should be certain accommodation to the trade by the amendment of different regulations. His noble Friend had stated that he had satisfied himself that they would derive a revenue of 750,000l. from the change, but he would take it at only 600,000l. which he thought he could safely guarantee. He felt satisfied, after the calculations that he had made, and having consulted with gentlemen conversant with the matter, that that sum would certainly be received. [Sir R. Peel: What are the present duties?] The present duty, exclusive of the 5 per cent., was 10s. on colonial timber, and 55s. on Baltic. 1305 He proposed that it should be 20s. upon colonial timber, and a duty of 50s. upon Baltic timber, making a differential duty of 30s., which was exactly Lord Spencer's; proposition. It was known to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, to whom he bad already referred, that his noble Friend had reckoned upon an increase to the revenue of 750,000l. from this source, but contented himself with taking it at 600,000l. and he felt confident that it would not produce less than 600,000l. He would now come to the other article—sugar; and here he felt assured that he need not call the attention of the House to the great inconvenience, and the more than inconvenience, that for the last two years bad been not merely experienced, but suffered by all classes, but more especially by the lower classes of the community, from the high, the exorbitant price of this article, which was almost if not an actual necessary, yet it was certainly the poor man's luxury. Looking, then, to that very circumstance, which he had alluded to in the former part of his statement, when be mentioned to the Committee the falling off that bad taken place in Ireland by the leaving off the use of spirits, and taking to coffee and tea as a substitute, if they were determined to give only to the people a high-priced sugar, they would interfere with that which every man deserving of the name of statesman, must be most anxious to see introduced—namely, sober and good habits amongst the population of Ireland. He felt assured that the committee would be anxious to adopt such a plan as that the poorer classes might through its means, be enabled to obtain a decent supply of this very necessary article. Now, in this case, he did not mean to propose the adoption of any wild, or what might be called by his noble Friend "a very philosophical proposition." He proposed still to leave a very considerable protection in favour of colonial sugar. He proposed to give a protecting duty of 50 per cent, to colonial sugar. The present duty on colonial sugar was 24s., plus 5 per cent. The duty upon foreign sugar was 63s. plus 5 per cent. It would be better for them to enact at once that there should be an actual prohibition of foreign sugar, than to have a system that apparently admitted, but virtually excluded it. He proposed to give to colonial sugar a protecting duty of 50 per cent., and to reduce the duty on foreign sugar to 36s. By his proposition the duty upon colonial sugar would 1306 remain at 24s. per cwt. plus 5 per cent. The duty upon foreign would be 36s. plus 5 per cent., being exactly a differential duty of 50 per cent. He had endeavoured to go through the calculations necessary upon this subject, and he apprehended that he might, like his noble Friend, state to the House what the probable increase would be, and he would also state what he calculated would be the addition caused by it to the revenue. He thought that it would not amount, as had been calculated, to 900,000l, but he took it at 700,000l., and persons who were very competent made a calculation on the subject and took it at a much higher sum. The sum, the committee would recollect, that was to be provided for was 50,731,770l.; the income was 48,310,000l.; the sugar duties would produce 700,000l., and the timber duties 600,000l, giving a total of 1,300,000l.; but if they reckoned it as the highest, and that was a calculation that he did not maintain, it would amount to 1,650,000l. Taking, however, the sum that he had first stated as the additional revenue, the Committee would perceive that there was still a deficiency left of above 400,000l. His noble Friend had commenced the discussion this evening by announcing to the House that it was his intention to bring before them, for their consideration, the duties that were now imposed upon corn. It was a subject of the deepest and greatest importance, and it was one which could not be well brought incidentally into discussion upon a debate of the budget. At the same time he could not overlook it, in the statement that he was about to make. He certainly admitted, that there were 400,000l. that were left unprovided for by him, feeling satisfied, that if the proposition of his noble Friend were adopted, that sum would be found sufficiently provided for, and the stability of the revenue secured. He wished to state, that it was his determination, whatever was the result of his noble Friend's proposition, to make up the revenue to the amount that he had already stated. His determination was, before the close of the year, to make a provision for the 400,000l.; and if the House did not take the course suggested by his noble Friend, he meant to propose to raise that sum by direct taxation, as the means of providing for the deficiency. He had felt some difficulty as to the mode of dealing with this subject, because he was anxious as much as possible to avoid mingling the revenue of the country with the 1307 great and important question of Corn-laws. But, at the same time, he could not conceal from himself, nor, he believed, could any Gentleman, on whichever side he might sit, that a great deal of principle was involved in the question. It was not a mere scrambling for a certain sum of money, collected from one quarter or another; the question was, whether they would deal with some of the largely protected interests, or allow the law in that respect to remain as it now stood, and impose additional burthens on the population of the country. Taking the question in that view, they must not only consider the protection given to the West-India interest and the Canadian timber grower; they must look to the protection given in principle to the corn grower. He would only refer to those points which he considered must affect the revenue of the country, leaving his right hon. Friend, the President of the Board of Trade, to submit. to the Committee such measures as he thought advisable which did not affect the revenue. He would deal with the question as one only of finance. He asked the Committee what he felt sure they would not refuse, whatever decision they might adopt; he called upon them to make proper provision, to preserve the good faith, to sustain the honour and interests of the country. It became then a question in what mode the deficiency should be made up; and before he proposed any direct taxation, whether a property tax, or some direct tax of another sort, he asked them whether they would be prepared entirely to refuse to consider the interests of their own population; or whether they would, by reducing those protecting duties, obtain what was required for the revenue, and not add to the burthens of the public. This revenue question they would have to answer by the votes which he should submit to the House. At the same time, though he treated it as a revenue question merely, he could not forbear calling the attention of the House to the position of trade, and the advisability and importance of the steps which her Majesty's Government proposed to take. He admitted that it was not now a question of mere abstract principle; it was not as if the revenue was competent to discharge all that was laid upon it, for there was at present a heavy deficiency. Even if there were no deficiency, even if it were a question they were not to decide as to the amount which they would provide, even under those circum- 1308 stances he should venture to recommend the House to adopt a more liberal policy with regard to trade. He would not ask them to adopt all the opinions they might hear from different quarters, but to look at the present state of affairs. There was the German League extending its ramifications, and every year, if he mistook not, growing more inclined to protecting duties. There was the American tariff consideration this year. There was the treaty with Brazil, which must soon be the subject of negotiation. Therefore he could not but feel that they had come to a most important crisis in the revenue, and that upon the decision which that House should give upon that proposition must depend the course of our commercial policy and prosperity for many years to come. They might negociate as they pleased, but what would be the answer given by the parties with whom they would negociate. They would tell them, that "certainly you press to have our markets thrown open to your commerce, but it has so happened, that lately you have had that question brought before yourselves, that it was a question, not whether you would make a few abstract changes upon risk, but whether you would raise one million and a-half or more by taxation, or by admitting foreign goods into your country." They will farther tell you, "we hear what you say, and see what you do." They will say, "You have written your own condemnation; you have given the answer that must be returned." It would be in vain that they would press upon them the expediency of adopting a liberal line of policy if they themselves proposed in the very same case to keep up a prohibition in the shape of protection, He admitted that he was dealing with a point that did not strictly belong to the subject, but it was one upon which he felt the greatest interest. It was one of the utmost importance to this country, and one which he sincerely trusted, if there was any intention whatever to admit the produce of foreign markets, and to proceed in a course of liberal policy, the House would feel that they ought not to delay and postpone until they had lost the markets of the world, and had nothing left but to change when it was too late, and look back with unavailing regret. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving, that towards the making good the supply granted to her Majesty, the sum of 11,000,000l., be raised by Exchequer bills, to replace bills for the service of the year 1841.1309
§ Mr. Goulburn
admitted that it was quite impossible for any hon. Member to have heard the statement of the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, without concurring with him, if not in other parts of his observations, at least in this, that we had arrived at a most important crisis. By the course and conduct which had been pursued by the Government of the country for the last five years, we had arrived at a critical moment when it would be necessary to enter into a consideration and final determination whether that course and conduct was to be continued, or whether measures should not be taken to place the revenue of the country on a footing of safety, and one properly proportioned to its expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman had divided his speech into two portions; the first related to the state of the revenue at the present moment, and the next as to the means by which it was to be maintained and provided for in future. On the measures which the right hon. Gentleman had proposed, and to which he looked forward as the means of effecting hereafter an equalisation between the revenue and expenditure of the country, he should not now proceed to enter in detail, and for this reason, that the House was not called on by the vole of to-night to express any opinion upon the measures which had been propounded. He had not had any intimation that these measures would be under discussion that evening, and, after what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, he was not prepared to express any opinion upon the matter as a question of finance. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman himself had not given any defined statement on the subject. He had told them generally that the steps he proposed taking would produce that amount of revenue which is essential to the utility of his plans; but he had avoided showing in detail the manner in which the change was to be brought about. The right hon. Gentleman proposed to reduce the duty on foreign sugar, while the duty on colonial sugar was to remain at the present rate; and he stated that this change would produce an increase to the revenue of 700,000l., but he had not shown them by what process this introduction of foreign, and displacing of colonial sugar, would produce this effect. Until the right hon. Gentleman had made out a full and plain statement on this point, he would defy any man to say in 1310 what manner it was to be viewed as a financial question. The same observation might be applied to the right hon. Gentleman's proposition respecting limber. The right hon. Gentleman expected, from the alterations to be proposed on the corn duties, to derive 400,000l. a year. But he had not told the House that out of the 22,000,000l. produced by the customs duties, a sum of 1,200,000l. has been derived from the duty on foreign corn; and therefore he (Mr. Gonlburn) was at a loss to know whether the right hon. Gentleman mean that 400,000l. would be in addition to this 1,200 000l., thus making l,600,000l. levied on corn, or whether he expected to derive only 400,000l. altogether from that source. In the absence, then, of all explanation, and not being called on by his vote this evening to express any opinion on steps which would be decided by specific resolutions hereafter, he (Mr. Goulburn) would at present decline to go at length into the several questions which the right hon. Gentleman had propounded; but he must beg to be understood as reserving his opinion how far the measure proposed were worthy of support, in a commercial and financial point of view, until he had an opportunity of making inquiry and consulting documents, in order to enable him to judge of the correctness of the right hon. Gentleman's anticipations. With respect to the state of things presented by the revenue accounts, it was even worse than he anticipated. They had not received until that morning the account of the last quarter's revenue; and it appeared that up to the end of that quarter there was a deficiency in the year that had gone by amounting to 1,850,000l.; and they were told that a million deficiency may be looked for in the ensuing year. He trusted it would not be considered irregular in him to refer for a moment to the period when the Gentlemen opposite came into the administration of the financial affairs of the country, and to inquire what they had since done. They had begun with a revenue of 46,000,000l., while the expenditure was somewhat short of 45,000,000l., leaving a surplus of above 1,000,000l. at their disposal for national purposes. They had now arrived at the fifth year of their administration, and what was the state of things? What was the result of their administration? Was there a deficiency arising from any calamities or visitations 1311 that had fallen on the empire? Was there a deficiency or diminution of the revenue arising from any such causes? No. The revenue to the period of the last account was now 47,500,000l., 1,500,000l. above that which existed five years ago, and, notwithstanding this, it appeared that such had been the rapid augmentation of expenditure, that there is now an aggregate deficiency on the five years of 5,000,000l., and for the ensuing year the deficiency was to be estimated at about two millions. This was the condition to which the hon. Gentleman had brought the revenue of the empire. It had been brought about by the pursuance of a course of proceeding against which he had for one always protested. He had all along contended that the revenue and the expenditure of the country ought to be placed in some degree on a footing of equality. If the House would permit him he would, by going back to the proceedings of Government, show how very different was the policy that had been acted on. In the year 1835, the Government had a nominal surplus of about 1,000,000l.—a real one of 600,000l. With that amount of surplus they repealed taxes to the amount of 156,000l., and, in lieu of providing for this, they added to the expenditure by 340,000l.; thus, between the new expenditure and the taxes repealed by them, almost consuming the surplus which had been at their disposal. Gentlemen who maintained the principle that there should be no surplus of revenue over the expenditure might see nothing to complain of in this. In the year 1836, they had a surplus of above 100,000l., and immediately repealed taxes to more than that amount; and, proceeding on the principle that an increased expenditure should keep pace and go hand in hand with a decreased revenue, they placed the country in debt to a large amount. In 1837 they had a deficiency of 650,000l. and they met this by an increased expenditure of 1,000,000l. Having still a deficiency, they persisted in the course of increasing the expenditure, making no efforts to keep up a corresponding income. In 1838 there was, naturally enough, another deficiency, and naturally enough, he had almost said, an increased expenditure of 780,000l. In 1839 the deficiency amounted to 1,500,000l., a larger one than any that had previously existed, and which, with the deficiency arising from previous years of more than 1,000,000l., 1312 left them more than 2,000,000l. in debt. And this was the period, and this the state of things which they selected as a fit opportunity for repealing the postage duties, thereby incurring a loss of 1,500,000l. And this year, acting for once in opposition to their usual principles, they did reduce the expenditure by about 150,000l. Thus a considerable debt was increased by the progressive reduction of the revenue and increase in the expenditure. The House was now called on to take extensive measures for putting the revenue and expenditure of the country on a proper footing with regard to each other. He did not purpose to quarrel with the estimate which the right hon. Gentleman had made with regard to the year to come. He would only remark, that there was again a considerable increase in the expenditure. But there was one new point in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. It now appeared to be admitted, for the first time, that the repeal of the Post-office duties had not answered the expectations of those by whom that measure was brought forward. He remembered that last year the right hon. Gentleman took his estimate of the revenue that would accrue from the Post-office at 530,000l. It had produced only 414,000l. What was the estimate of the income to be derived from this source in the year to come?—450,000l. It would be found that a large portion of this was derived from a charge carried to another department; another portion was derived by the abolition of official franks, and by placing a tax on Members of Parliament in the discharge of the public business, from which they were formerly exempt. It would, in short, be seen, that the actual net revenue derived from the Post-office would not be more than 240,000l. upon the most favourable calculation. The object of his making these observations was in order to caution the House, at a time when, as an operation of financial expediency, they were called on to make certain reductions and alterations in duty, not to be led away by any statements made by Government, without closely and diligently examining into the real facts of the case. While on the subject of the Post-office, he should allude to a return that had been made in answer to a call from that House, in which it was stated that the net revenue derived front the Irish Post-office amounted to 6,000l. Now, it was obvious that 1313 this could not be the fact. It was perfectly clear, by a reference to the financial account, that the Irish Post-office could not have produced any net revenue whatever to the country, because not only had its expenditure exceeded its receipts, but the postage stamps had been sent over from England, and with which the Irish Post-office should have been charged. The fact was, that the English Post-office was obliged to send over 27,000l. to enable it to go on; and yet in the return made, as to the operation of the Act, it was stated, that 6,000l. net revenue had been paid into the Exchequer by the Irish Post-office, when 27,000l. had really been sent over from this country in the present year to make up the deficiency in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman had stated, that in calculating on this 450,000l. Post-office for the next year, he did not expect it to arise from the number of letters being increased, but from a change in the number of persons who were at first required to be employed in such increased numbers, in order to carry on the business, and put the new system into operation. Now, if his memory did not deceive him, it struck him, that when the proposition for the redaction of the postage to one penny, was before the House, one of its prospective effects held out was, a reduction in the vast number of clerks and other officials employed, the abolition of a great mass of patronage, and a great consequent diminution in the expenses of the establishment. But it now appears not only that the revenue had been reduced by the change, but that it was almost eaten up by the additional officers and other expenses consequent on the alteration. He should not enter into the details of the question then, but reserve himself for the specific questions.
§ Mr. Hume
said, there was much in the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer which had given him satisfaction, though there was much also which had caused him great regret. With regard to the reductions which were proposed to be made, it was an instalment of that which the people of England had long expected, and which the welfare of the whole empire required. But there was not one word of the right hon. Gentleman's speech of that night with respect to what appeared to him to be the first point for the House to consider, viz., 1314 whether there was to be any reduction in the heavy expenditure which created that excess. He could not help expressing his deep regret that in the present state of things, that point had not been taken into consideration. He would make a few observations upon what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. He quite agreed with that right hon. Gentleman, that the great excess which had occurred in the expenditure above the revenue within the last six years was much to be deplored, and that the Government ought not to have suffered these defalcations to have taken place. But he would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he, or any one on his side of the House—there might indeed be a solitary exception—had any right to taunt the Treasury. He might do it, but they had no right. He had endeavoured to lessen that expenditure. He had pointed out to the House what would be the result of those extravagant and increasing estimates from year to year, and he had called on the right hon. Gentleman near him not to listen to the voice from the opposite side, which would hurry him on into increased expenditure. If any individual was entitled to make the speech which they had just heard, it was not the right hon. Gentleman, for he challenged him to point out any one instance in which he had proposed to reduce the great and increasing expenditure. For the last three years there had been additional taxes to the amount of 3½ millions laid on, and there had been a falling off for the last four years of 5¼ millions, making a total of nine millions increase in the expenditure of the country. That arose from the neglect of the House arid its utter disregard of the reduction of the public expenditure. He might add, that on the several divisions he had taken on questions of reduction in the expenditure of the country, the number who voted. with him seldom exceeded seven or ten. He was gratified to think that the right hon. Gentleman had been compelled, by the increasing burdens of the people, to look about and devise another mode of increasing the resources of the country. It was now clear, that although last year the right hon. Gentleman had laid on taxes to the amount of 2,340,000l., so far from its producing any increase, it had caused a decrease of 300,000l. on the last as compared with the previous year. Consequently, the scheme of the right hon. 1315 Gentleman had failed. The revenue, which was 47,843,000l. for the year ending in April, 1840, was for the year ending April, 1841, with the 5 percent, additional taxes and customs, and the 10 per cent, increase upon the assessed taxes, only 47,433,000l., being an actual reduction of 400,000l. upon the receipts of the previous year. It appeared that the right hon. Gentleman bad miscalculated to the amount of 2,800,000l. upon the year. He had cautioned the right hon. Gentleman last year against laying on additional taxes upon the necessaries of life, because he might be assured that they were only trampling upon the interests of labour, and depriving the mass of the people of employment, by which they were incapacitated from purchasing the ordinary supply of excisable articles. It appeared to him, that they should have laid a tax upon the landed property of the country, and that it should he placed on the same footing as personal property, by which a million and a half might be obtained annually. He did not think, that the right hon. Gentleman had anything to boast of with regard to his estimate—on the contrary, he might take the result as a lesson for the lime to come. He did think, the right hon. Gentleman had acted right on the present occasion. He did think, that the Government, looking at the failure in the necessaries of life with which the country was afflicted, and looking at the privations which a large portion of the community—the industrious classes—were subject to now, while they were willing to work, but unable to obtain employment, anxious to pay taxes if they could, but incapable of doing so, in consequence of the monopolies which Parliament had kept up, and the gradual murder—he could call it by no other name—of a certain portion of the people, he did think, that under these circumstances the Government had taken the wisest course. Tens of thousands had been deprived of the means of subsistence in consequence of our provision laws, which had ruined the people. The right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, could not find one individual, who had looked to the state of the country, who would not advise him not to lay any further taxes on the necessaries of life. The right hon. Gentleman was, therefore, perfectly right in making his present proposition, and he thought, that the result would meet the right hon. Gentleman's expectations. He 1316 hoped, that the right hon. Gentleman would lay before the House for its information all those statements which he had read that evening. If he rightly understood the plan of the Government it was this, that they were about to remodel the Corn-laws. That this was the first measure; and that they were also to change the duty on wheat, timber and sugar, the most important articles. He thought that the right hon. Gentleman had thus taken the best means to keep up the revenue—he thought the right hon. Gentleman would do well, under the circumstances to leave it to the President of the Board of Trade to supply the deficiencies of the country. He was persuaded, that the contemplated changes would be productive of benefit to the consumer beyond any measure brought forward in his time; while they would not only not decrease the revenue, but greatly add to it, and the working men would thus have the means of earning for themselves a livelihood, and need not be dependent for their subsistence on the Poor-law, or any other source. And let him tell the noble Lord, who had charge of the Poor-law in that House, that many of the complaints which had been brought forward against the bill, would never have been heard if her Majesty's Government, two or three years ago, or at the time of its introduction, had brought in such a measure as that which they now proposed to introduce. After the intended change and similar changes on the same principle, had been effected, they might safely leave the working classes to their own resources, because they would throw open to them the markets of the world, and thus enable them to earn a subsistence, free from the trammels of a workhouse. He hailed the proposed change as a good beginning, and hoped yet to see his fellow-countrymen happy and comfortable, despising the Poor-law, because it would be a dead letter; he hoped yet to see the time when labour would be amply rewarded, for no man was willing to labour so hard as an Englishman, whenever it was possible for him to procure work. Was it fair, was it honest, was it merciful for that House, to maintain laws which pressed so hardly, and proved so destructive to those who could not help themselves? He hailed the measure as a means of putting an end to the sufferings of the poor, of creating a permanent revenue, and of benefiting all classes in the community. He hoped, be- 1317 fore the discussion closed, to hear the right hon. Member for Tamworth repeat, that he had no objection to the consideration of the Corn-laws. Two years ago, he objected to go into the consideration of those laws, without, at the same time, taking into consideration the duties upon every other article of produce. Now, he did hope, that the right hon. Baronet would give that satisfaction to the country by saying, that in his opinion, laws should be made for the benefit of all, to forward the interests of all classes, and that, if any class should be favoured above all others, it should be the poor man, who lived under laws, in the making of which he had no voice. He rejoiced at the change which was about to take place, and if it could be carried out it would work the regeneration of the country. He would ask what would be the state of the landed interest of the country? What would it be worth, if the country were to become a land of beggars in consequence of the operation of bad laws? Could that be considered a satisfactory state of the country, when every meeting was obliged to be held under the protection of policemen? How could the rich men of the country enjoy their comforts when they knew that they were surrounded by others of their countrymen who were starving? How could they enjoy anything when they knew that by their monopolies they were pauperizing the working classes? For the sake of the landed interest themselves—for the general interest and security of Englishmen, they must have equal legislation, and there must be an end put to the monopoly of the landed interest. On that ground he congratulated the country on the prospect before them. Instead of endless debates on party questions, and on Poor-laws, they now saw the prospect of attending to legislation, by which means would be placed within the reach of every Englishman of earning his subsistence. The workman in England had not hitherto had the means—his had been a hard fate, placed in the midst of the rich, and tantalized by their enjoyment of luxuries which had been obtained by an infamous system, which had trampled the poor man under foot, and rendered him a miserable slave. He hoped they might now look forward to a better system, and one which, considering the manufacturing capabilities of the country, held out the brightest prospect. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had al- 1318 luded to the German League to which another state had lately been added, to the United States, and to the Brazils. With regard to the Brazils at the present moment, the country took from four to five millions annually of our manufactures, and we did not take above 500,000l. annually of their produce. They were now about to alter the tariff and exclude us. Let British manufactures be excluded from that market and from the United States, as they assuredly would be, and what, he would ask the landed proprietors, would their possessions be worth? They would have millions in a state of starvation, and how could they enjoy their possessions when the people of England had been driven to distress through their monopolies? He felt obliged to the Government for the manner in which they had brought forward the question. It was not a party, but a national question. And he should be sorry to make use of a single phrase that would have the effect of making it a party one. With regard to the Post-office revenue, they would find, that in the year in which the reduction had been made, the total revenue of the country was greater than in the year preceding it. In 1838, the revenue was 46,000,000l. In 1839,47,833,000l, and in the year 1840, 47,843,000l. But that system would never work well under its present management. The Postmaster-General, from his habits and station as a Peer of the realm, was unfit to be the head of that department; and as a proof of the inefficiency of the present system, he would merely refer to the speech of Mr. Spring Rice on the subject. A noble Lord (Lord Lowther) was as fully convinced as he was of the necessity of Post-office reform, and the defective management would continue until the reforms should be effected. He thought also, that the Government should require every letter to be pre-paid. The number now paid for was exceedingly small, and the principle trouble and expense were incurred by letters which were unpaid. On the whole, although nothing had been said about lessening the expenditure of the country, he was pleased at the spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had opened his budget. He entirely concurred in the sentiments which had been expressed, and he was sure that they would be echoed by the country at large.
§ Mr. Christopher
did not wish to make 1319 any observations that could lead to a general debate on the question of the Corn-laws; but as the representative of a large agricultural constituency, he had a right to complain of the manner in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had stated the arrangements which affected that particular interest. The right hon. Gentleman had stated fully the extent of the reduction which he proposed in the duties upon foreign timber and sugar; but after calculating the revenue which he anticipated from those reductions, he merely said that 450,000l. remained, which he proposed to make up by some modification of the Corn-laws. If it were intended, however, again to bring the subject under the attention of Parliament, notwithstanding that this House had of late years more than once declared it would not entertain the question at all, at the same time he was glad that if it were to be brought on at all, it was this time to be brought forward in the form of a Government measure. He was glad that the Members of her Majesty's Government, who had heretofore been so uncertain and divided on the subject, had now resolved on taking the more manly course of coming forward as an united cabinet to state their views on this question; and in so doing to give the country an opportunity of knowing their views, and of declaring whether that cabinet enjoyed its confidence, which a Government ought to enjoy, or not. But the agricultural interest was entitled to a fuller explanation of their intentions. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had carefully concealed the extent of the modification which was proposed, and unless some satisfaction were given on that subject, the announcement would be regarded as a clap-trap thrown out by the Government for the purpose of conciliating the support of a section of their supporters, who, it was apprehended, were inclined to desert them. He had felt it necessary to urge this complaint, as neither of the two hon. Members for Lincolnshire, who were present, had thought fit to do so.
§ Mr. Handley
could assure the hon. Member, who had assumed to be the representative of all Lincolnshire, that he should not neglect his duty to his constituents and the country when the question of the Corn-laws, come from whatever quarter it might, was brought before the House.
§ Mr. Goulburn
said, he might be permitted, perhaps, to question the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon a point which was not very clear to him. The right hon. Gentleman had informed the Committee, that there was a deficiency upon the last year of 1,800,000l. and that he anticipated a similar deficiency of about 2,000,000l. on the ensuing year. The right hon. Gentleman had explained the way in which he intended to provide for the anticipated deficiency on the future year; but he had not, as he was aware, explained how he intended to meet the deficiency of 1,800,000l. on the past year.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that with a view to meeting this deficiency, he had moved a vote of Exchequer Bills, to the amount of 800,000l., leaving still a deficiency of 1,000,000l., of which it was intended to pay off (as we understood) 750,000l. out of the funds of the savings banks.
§ Mr. W. E. Gladstone
wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman a few questions on the subject of the proposed alterations in the sugar duties. The right hon. Gentleman had announced, that he intended to reduce the duty on foreign sugars from 63s. to 36s., and that he expected to make 700,000l. by that change. This was the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would have no objection to state to the Committee some of the facts and reasonings upon which he based that expectation. He would beg, therefore, to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer two questions:—1st. Whether he had calculated the amount of sugar from the West Indies, the East Indies, and the Mauritius, which might be expected to be imported during the year? 2dly. Whether he had calculated what would be the probable consumption of sugar during the ensuing year? And to these he would beg to add a third question, namely, when this subject might be expected to be brought on for discussion? He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would take as early an opportunity as possible of taking the definitive opinion of the House on this subject; for he could assure the right hon. Gentleman, that nothing could be more distressing than the state both of those who held sugars and of those who wished to purchase them, from the uncertainty which prevailed on this subject.
§ Mr. Goulburn
said, he must beg to be allowed to say one word before the Chancellor of the Exchequer answered the question which had just been put to him by the hon. Member for Newark; for he did not think that the right hon. Gentle man had been quite correct in the answer which he had given to the question which he (Mr. Goulburn) had recently put to him. The right hon. Gentleman said, that he intended to provide for 800,000l. of the last year's deficiency by Exchequer Bills, and that the remaining million he intended to meet out of the savings' banks, funds. Now, what he wished to know was, whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer had sold out the funds of the savings' banks, and if so, whether an additional credit would not be required to meet the deficiency so occasioned?
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that this was no new transaction; the same thing had taken place several times before. In the statement on the table of the House the right hon. Gentleman would observe, that Ways and Means Bills had been taken out of the savings' banks' funds on former occasions; and the same course was intended to be followed now.
§ Mr. Goulburn
said, that he still thought some new credit would be required to meet the deficiency so occasioned.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that the right hon. Gentleman did not appear exactly to understand the real nature of the case, and the distinction between paying Ways and Means Bills and Supply Bills out of funds of this description. The case which the right hon. Gentleman put referred to Supply Bills, and not to Ways and Means Bills, which were in question at present.
§ Mr. Gladstone
hoped the right hon. Gentleman would now answer the questions which he had taken the liberty of putting to him.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that he should request the hon. Gentle-tleman's indulgence for a few moments, he was making out from his papers a calculation, in order to answer the hon. Member's questions, when he was interrupted by another question from the right hon. Member for Cambridge.
§ Mr. H. G. Ward
expressed the great satisfaction which he felt at the reference which had been made to the subject of the Corn-laws by the right hon. Gentleman; and he trusted that when the House 1322 came to treat of this important question, they would adjust it upon a broad and fair basis, doing justice alike to the manufacturing and the landed interests. As the representative of a manufacturing community, he should feel that he was wanting in his duty if he did not express the satisfaction with which he had this evening heard great truths uttered in high places—truths which, if worked out in the spirit in which they appeared to have been uttered, must meet with a corresponding support from the country. It was time now for Parliament to understand that the mere act of increasing taxes and duties would not always increase the revenue in proportion, and that the true means of securing an adequate public revenue was to encourage and call into operation the energies of the country, and to throw open the portals of commerce to its bursting resources. He concurred generally in the statements of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and thought the right hon. Gentleman might disregard the comments which had been made upon them by the light hon. Member for Cambridge. One very material fact appeared to have been overlooked by the right hon. Gentleman, which he would beg to point out. That fact was, that the present Government had paid the expenses of all the wars which it had undertaken; the wars were not so extensive as those which had taken place in former times, but still the fact was so, that her Majesty's Government had been enabled to pay them as they went on, and, at the same time, to keep paying the interest of the debts incurred on account of the wars undertaken by their predecessors.
§ Lord F. Egerton
would not attempt to enter into the details of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech; but must be allowed to express his great and unmitigated astonishment, not that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have announced that the Corn-laws were intended to be brought under consideration—for he was not surprised at that announcement, although made by a Government at the head of which was a noble Lord who had made some very strong observations upon this very subject; he had lived too long in the world to be surprised at such conduct as this; but he could not help expressing his surprise, on behalf of himself and of his constituents, who, he could assure his hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, look us deep an interest in this 1323 subject as the hon. Gentleman's constituents at Sheffield, that the discussion of this momentous question should have been put off for five mortal weeks—hung up as it were to agitate the country during all that period. He should have thought that, considering the importance of this subject, it was one of all others upon which the Members of her Majesty's Government could not have failed to have made up their minds as to what they would do. He could not believe, that any Government about to introduce a measure of such vital importance to the peace of the country, and so intimately connected with every transaction relating to land—he could not believe, he repeated, that any Government holding the reins of power, or tolerated in office for a day, could have delayed in declaring their views. It was not his intention to express any approbation or disapprobation of the Corn-laws. He was not called on to do so. He had a right to hold himself perfectly clear on that subject; but he must declare his unmitigated astonishment that the noble Lord should for the first time have announced this day at five o'clock, that he was about to take the unlooked-for course which he now proclaimed it his intention to pursue. He could draw on his imagination for something which tended to illustrate the noble Lord's conduct, and to induce him to take this sudden and unexpected step. The least the noble Lord could now do, in deference to the views and feelings of the country, so strongly excited on this question, was to fix an early day for its discussion; and "God defend the right." No man was more ready than he to approach the discussion of that question, with as little reference to party considerations as possible. The country, however, would best judge whether the peculiar course of her Majesty's ministers was altogether free from the imputation of party tactics.
§ Lord J. Russell
The noble Lord seems exceedingly angry and indignant at the "something" that is meant in the notice which I have given; it is not that the Corn-laws should be discussed: it is not that the Corn-laws should be brought forward by the Government; it is not that the question should be fairly and impartially decided—the noble Lord is angry at none of these; but he says that something in his imagination (and the noble Lord is gifted with a very powerful ima- 1324 gination) which he supposed the Government intended, or did not intend, in the mode in which the proposition respecting the Corn-laws was brought forward, raised very horrible and gloomy forebodings in his mind as to our intention. As I cannot pretend to an imagination at all approaching that of the noble Lord's, I cannot tell what he is driving at, as being so terrific in this announcement. With regard to the lateness of the period at which the question has been brought forward, the noble Lord is right in saying that on certain days, and at five o'clock, I may ask leave to bring forward such measures as the Government think expedient; but the noble Lord has not, perhaps, attended to the importance of the questions already before the House. Why, in the first place, there are the great questions immediately connected with the budget, questions which, as the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gladstone) stated, ought, as connected with the regulations and dealings of trade, to be discussed as soon as possible. The mixing up of several of these questions in the same discussion would not be convenient, or indeed practicable. But there is another and a very important question—a question which I consider of the utmost importance; one with regard to which we went before Easter in a great part through committee; and I should think it a most inconvenient course to break off in the middle of a committee, and not proceed with that question. Now, I will not draw on my imagination like the noble Lord, and suppose that any Gentlemen on that side mean at BII to shrink from the line they have already taken as to that law. This is the imputation cast upon them by their friends and supporters, but I cannot "imagine" it has any foundation. I conceive that the House will entertain that measure as they have hitherto entertained it, and I shall proceed with it as soon as I possibly can. And, as some time will be necessarily taken up in the committee, it seems to me a very simple mode of proceeding, that having gone through a considerable part of the bill, we should settle the remainder before we took up a subject of another nature, and of great importance. This is the real and very simple explanation of what raised the noble Lord's anger and indignation, and stimulated his imagination in a way so horrible and alarming.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
said, his butler asked him, when he went home last night, whether the Ministry was dead, for he had heard a person crying about the streets, the death of the Administration; but though he knew their political execution ought to have taken place long ago, he did not think it probable, considering their charmed life. It was clear that the noble Lord, before he gave notice of his motion on the Corn-laws for a future and distant day, went to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and when they had put their heads together, said, "See what a deplorable state we are reduced to." The Chancellor of the Exchequer replied, "Let us touch upon the Corn-laws, and tell the people well take of some of their burdens." This was all very well, but the people would not forget how they had previously been pressed down by the cruel Poor-laws. This was a squib thrown up to dazzle them. What single measure for the benefit of the country had the present Government brought in? For his own part, he knew no instance of that kind; he knew of no circumstance which would save the country from the ruin which now hung over it, except that her Majesty would be graciously pleased to sign the death-warrant of one under whose counsels she ran the chance of losing the popularity which he would never wish to see hazarded. If Ministers were allowed to run on in their present course, they would render themselves hateful to the country, and the country a laughing-stock to the world. There was that which soon would make her who presided over the eoantry—and long might she preside over it—see the necessity for a change in her counsels, and no one could doubt, that whatever change might be made must be for the better.
§ Viscount Sandon
said, it was the duty of the Government to give more distinctly the materials upon which they called upon the House and the country to support them in their financial plan. The question had been very properly put by the hon. Member for Newark—what were the data upon which the Chancellor of the Exchequer founded his conclusions? To that no answer had been given; and, unless he supposed the right hon. Gentleman to proceed on mere guess as a basis for his statement, which, he was sure, could not be the case, that information ought to be given to the House. He 1326 thought he was entitled to know upon what principle the Government were acting, when they said, that certain changes in certain duties would produce such and such results. But if it were important with respect to the sugar and the timber duties to know those principles, it was surely of the utmost importance, that the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Colonies, should distinctly tell the House what the measure is which he proposes to bring in with respect to the Corn-laws. The reason he had given for not telling the House the nature of, or for not discussing at an early period, that measure, was bad indeed. What had the House next week before it? There was nothing of any importance at all. But the noble Lord had gone beyond all the forms of the House, for he had fixed five weeks hence to discuss a question which engaged all the great interests of the country. During these live weeks, there would be agitation in the country in favour of free trade without any protection, and there would be agitation against it, and yet the Government might, by naming a proper time for their proposed measure, allay this apprehension and excitement. He would put it to the noble Lord how he could excuse himself for not stating whether it would be a fluctuating or a fixed duty, or what the reduction would be which the country should expect from him. The general declaration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer might be construed into anything. That right hon. Gentleman had left the whole thing in so perfect a mystery, that it would be impossible to discuss the question until the necessary materials were furnished.
§ Lord J. Russell
I cannot see, that my noble Friend has any right to reproach me for the course which has been taken. I believe, that any other course would be altogether unusual—so far as I know, without precedent. I certainly conceive, I that when a Government has a proposition to make, although notice may be given of it for some time—very often for some weeks—it is not usual in the first instance to state particularly the nature of that proposition. And the reason is very obvious; for if the bare outline of a measure is announced, and not the reasons which can be urged in support of it, of course, those who oppose it, can urge every possible objection, before its supporters can show the grounds on which it 1327 is founded. I certainly never heard at the time of the Reform Bill, or at the time of the Act for the Emancipation of the Slaves, an objection raised on the ground, that when notice was given, the exact nature of these measures was not explained. I, therefore, do not feel myself at all open to any sort of reproach such as that uttered by the noble Lord. However, if it be thought, that the announcement of the general principle of the measure will tend in any way to prevent agitation from being directed and perverted to points not practically to be brought before the House I have no hesitation in saying, that the principle of the measure is the same as those general principles which I supported in this House and elsewhere, two, three, or four years ago—namely, the principle of a moderate fixed duty. I have stated that to be my own individual opinion in this House and elsewhere; and in bringing forward a measure founded on those principles I have alluded to, I shall bring it forward as the measure of the Government in general—of the cabinet united on this subject. And I am quite sure that my noble Friend (Viscount Melbourne) will be regardless of the taunts which the noble Lord (the Member for Lancashire) has chosen to use with respect to him this night. I shall, then, introduce a measure founded on the principles I have stated. I do not think it necessary, and I am sure the House does not expect, that I should now enter upon the details of that measure. With regard to the general principles on which the Government proposes to act, I stated, before the House adjourned for the Easter holidays, that we had made up our minds as to the change which it was necessary to effect in the regulations of trade. I do believe that, sound as those principles are, on which we mean to proceed, unanswerable as the theoretical arguments are which have been urged, by great writers and statesmen as applicable to them, this is the occasion, and the critical state has arisen in the affairs of this nation which require the application of those principles. Not only has an opportunity been presented for a prudent application of those principles; not only can you enjoy the advantage of maturely considering the laws which have hitherto prevailed on this subject, but this is the particular time that great mischiefs, not to say great perils, can be avoided by your settlement 1328 of this question. And if you determine, I will not say to adopt this proposition or the other, but if you determine to reject some such change in the duty on corn as that which I mean to submit; if you determine to make no change in the commercial policy, but to stand by the principles of monopoly and exclusion, this is the particular time that such a course will have an influence, and a most unfortunate influence, on the prosperity of this country. Thus persuaded as the Government has been, and as I stated they were, on a former occasion, it will be for my right hon. Friend (Mr. Labouchere, we suppose), to proceed with his propositions at as early a period as will be consistent with their due consideration, and for me to submit the measure on the corn-laws of which I have given notice. I trust that what I have said as to the general principles on which I mean to proceed will rather have a good than a prejudicial effect; and if I expose myself to the disadvantage of giving the effect of the measure, without urging the grounds and reasons on which it is supported, I must be content. At the request of the noble Lord (Lord Sandon), and for the public convenience, I have, I believe, gone out of the usual course.
§ Sir Robert Peel
The noble Lord anticipates that the proposal which he is about to make on the part of the Government on the subject of the Corn-laws may be prejudiced by the partial declarations which he has made, and that an interval must elapse before those declarations are fulfilled. The noble Lord has his own remedy against any such evil. The noble Lord may take the course which, I maintain, it is his bounden duty to take, to inform the country what is the proposition (principle and details) which, on the part of her Majesty's Government, he intends to submit, with respect to the Corn-laws. Of what avail, for the purpose of allaying the confusion which the noble Lord's startling announcement, on the subject of Corn-laws, must produce, is his declaration, that the change he means to submit is a moderate fixed duty, when no man is able to ascertain the amount of that fixed duty? Does not the noble Lord see, that to announce the intention of her Majesty's Government to deal with the question, and to promise the adoption of a fixed duty, without any indication of the probable amount, is to keep the country 1329 in a state of uncertainty—of wanton and unnecessary suspense? If the noble Lord had given a distinct intimation of his intention to bring the subject of the Corn-laws before the House, he might be justified in not immediately stating the effect of his measure, but he has connected the question of the Corn-laws with the budget. It was immediately preceding the introduction of the budget that the noble Lord gave his notice. The Chancellor of the Exchequer takes credit, in what he calls a budget, for the duty to be levied on the introduction of foreign corn. He gives too some sort of indication of the amount, for he says he wants a sum of 400,000l. He says, "I want a revenue of more than 50,000,000l., I shall raise 13,000l. from sugar and timber, and my noble Friend (Lord John Russell) intends, some time hence, to bring in a measure which will give 400,000l." Now, is that a fitting state to leave this country in? The right hon. Gentleman has only confused the question by his partial explanation. He calculates on a failing revenue of the customs of the present year at 22,000,000l. Last year they were but 21,700,000l. But 1,000,000l. of the 1,700,000l. of the year 1840 was derived from corn, and therefore you have left the country in the uncertainty whether the revenue you expect to derive from your moderate fixed duty shall be 400,000l. or upwards of 1,600,000l.? What a perfect state of uncertainty, then, are those left in, who are interested in the sale of estates or land in the relations between landlord and tenant, and in those manufactures connected with the price of corn? In this partial indication of the views of the Government, as a question having no immediate connection with the Corn-laws, the noble Lord must submit to general condemnation, unless he corrects the error he has committed, by at once submitting his plan to the consideration of Parliament. And if the noble Lord does not bring it forward of his own good will, I do not despair that the general sense of the country will compel him to do so. I do not despair that this House will not permit itself to be made the instrument of agitation through the country, as it will be if, after the announcement of the Government, made at such a peculiar time, and after such signal defeats, it acquiesces in the postponement of this question. It is impossible to look at the financial position of this country 1330 without great anxiety and deep apprehension. It would be most unwise, in my opinion, most unworthy of any man fit to take a comprehensive view of the affairs of this country, to permit himself to give a decisive opinion of our financial prospects. I, for one, shall take into the fullest consideration the propositions of the right hon. Gentleman respecting the commerce of the country, reserving to myself a perfect freedom of acting with regard to them as I shall deem fit; but I cannot consent to involving the House in a question of such magnitude as that intimated by the noble Lord, resting it on the most imperfect data, or in what professed to be a budget, but which was totally wanting in any calculations as to the extent of the deficiency to be supplied. This, at all events, is certain, that at the end of the next financial year there will be a deficit of 7,589,000l.; and that there has been a continued deficit for five years. I see I am alarming the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Familiar as he is with the subject, he can hardly believe the extent of the deficit under the financial administration of the Government of which he is a Member. I will, however, satisfy the right hon. Gentleman that I am not making an incorrect statement on this point. Beginning with 1838, I find that the deficit for that year was 1,428,534l.; for 1839 it was 430,325l.; for 18401,457,133l.; for 1841 1,851,997l.; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer estimates, that the deficiency for 1842 will amount to 2,421,000l.; making an aggregate of 7,589,079l. Who is responsible for this. You professed that your main object was retrenchment and economy. I look to results. I ask you for your accounts as the results of your policy as tested by the expenditure. I ask you to account for a deficit of seven millions and-a-half upon the results of your financial policy for the last five years. It may, perhaps, be supposed to arise from a failing revenue. Quite the reverse. The revenue has maintained itself. In 1836 you had a revenue of 46,270,828l., and then you reduced taxation, and, now, before your financial scheme cornea into operation, you calculate that the revenue for the year ending the 5th of April, 1842, will be 48,310,000l. Consequently, without resorting to fresh taxation, you have the large surplus of two millions, comparing the income of 1331 1836 with that of 1842. I wish to establish ray position point by point. The deficit has not been owing to a failing revenue; you have an increasing revenue; and yet the result of your policy is a deficit of 7,589,079s. The hon. Member for Kilkenny said, that we on this side of the House voted for large estimates. No doubt we did so, because we thought the position of the country absolutely required that expense should be incurred. But are we, who voted for the estimates which we thought the public exigency required, responsible for the expenditure of those who have continued to give their unabated confidence to the hon. Gentlemen by whom the deficit had been created? Would it not have been perfectly consistent in Mr. Fox to have supported the estimates for the army and navy in 1796, and yet to have condemned the policy which rendered them necessary? It was perfectly consistent for a Member to say that the exigences of the country required an augmentation of the army and navy; that Canada and the north-west of India must not be left unprotected; but, at the same time, to contend that the general scope of the policy of the Government was responsible for the creation of the exigency. Surely a Government that shows at the end of five years a deficit of 7,589,079l. labours under a primâ facie suspicion that the main objects which it professed to have in view; namely, economy and retrenchment, have not been successfully prosecuted. Suppose the case were reversed, and that by their course of policy the Government had been able to make a saving equal to the deficit, and to reduce taxation to that amount—would they not have taken credit for such a result? Let us look at our present position. The total sum required for the services of the present year, including the national debt, was 50,731,000l. The revenue, however, is not equal to this amount by the sum of 2,421,000l. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says, that the income ought to be made equal to the expenditure. I cordially agree with him on that point. I have always contended that it was a disgrace for a great country like this not to have an income on a par with its expenditure, and therefore I admit the necessity of equalising them. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says he will raise 1,700,000l, some way or other. I know not whether he will succeed in 1332 doing so, for the right hon. Gentleman has furnished us with no data by which I can form a judgment on that point. The changes in commercial policy which he proposes may be very wise; they may set a most beneficial example, but that which concerns us, at the present moment, is their financial produce; and if they disappoint the right hon. Gentleman's expectations in that respect; if they do not bring money into the coffers of the public treasury, they will, in spite of all the eulogiums which the right hon. Gentleman passed upon his schemes (though not altogether unimportant and beside the question), go a very short way towards extricating the country from its present difficulties. Suppose, however, the Chancellor of the Exchequer realises his expectations. We shall then have an income of 50,000,000l., and an expenditure of 50,731,000l.; that is to say, a deficiency, after this great financial effort, of 731,000l. From this we must deduct 591,000l. for the extraordinary expenses of the navy debt and the China expedition, which would reduce the deficit to 140,000l. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer consoles himself by thinking that extraordinary expenses are not likely to occur again. I recollect that when the Canadian rebellion broke out, you held precisely the same language. I then said, that looking to our extensive possessions, to our complicated relations in every quarter of the world, we must, if we were to look forward, be prepared for the occurrence of some similar contingency. I think my prophecies have been fulfilled, and that it will henceforth be necessary to prepare for such contingencies as the China expedition, the war in Affghanistan, and the military operations on the coast of Syria. As I said before, there will still be a deficit at the end of the year, supposing the financial schemes of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be quite as successful as he himself anticipates. I will not express any opinion with respect to the policy of those schemes; because I feel deeply the magnitude of the interests which are involved in them, and I wish to have time for consideration before I pronounce an irrevocable opinion respecting them. I observed that, when my right hon. Friend stated that he would not upon this occasion enter into the consideration of the policy of the measures 1333 proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he was met by a sort of triumphant cheer or titter, which seemed to imply that when such magnificent schemes as the present are propounded for the first time, no one ought to claim the privilege of taking even a few days to consider them, but every Member should at once be prepared to declare whether he would or would not adopt them. The cheer to which I refer shall not shake my resolution to abstain from pronouncing a hasty opinion on this question. I happen to recollect that in the course of last Session the hon. Member for Wigan, whom I see opposite, made a motion on this very subject, and before hon. Members reproach us with shrinking from expressing an opinion on the subject of the admission of sugar into this country, I beg to call to their recollection what passed upon that occasion. I refer to this matter only for the purpose of justifying myself for taking time to consider before I acquiesce in the extravagant eulogium which the Chancellor of the Exchequer passed on the merits of his scheme. The hon. Member for Wigan proposed last Session to reduce the duty on sugar from 63s. to 34s.; the Chancellor of the Exchequer's proposition is to reduce it from 63s. to 36s. Thus, there is the difference of only 2s. between the two plans. The proposition of the hon. Member for Wigan was not hastily adopted by the House. Hon. Members on the other side of the House treated it with precisely the same prudent reserve which I now exhibit with respect to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's plan. The hon. Member for Wigan's proposition was rejected by a majority of 122 to 27; and although the Chancellor of the Exchequer seems now so deeply sensible of the advantages of the commercial principles which he has eulogized so loudly, and could not help taunting us on this side of the House, by a look at least which no one was so crasse as not to perceive, I nevertheless find his name recorded as one of the majority which rejected the hon. Member for Wigan's motion. I can assure the Chancellor of the Exchequer that I do not refer to his former opposition to the measure with the view of showing that he ought not to adopt it now. If he thinks the financial condition of the country requires the adoption of the measure at this time, it would be miserable and unworthy conduct on his part not 1334 to propose it because he objected to it formerly. I merely wish to show that I am justified in withholding my assent to the right hon. Gentleman's scheme, until I have had an opportunity of maturely considering its details. When the hon. Member for Wigan's motion was under consideration, the right hon. President of the Board of Trade expressed his opinions on the question moderately and ably, and I will take the liberty of reading to the House some passages from his speech. The right hon. Gentleman said, he agreed with the hon. Member for Wigan in all his financial principles, and then proceeded as follows:—Therefore if, on looking at this question, he were to do so merely in a financial and commercial point of view—if he applied to it only the ordinary rules by which the House ought to be guided in discussing matters of this kind—rules which involved the extension of a due protection to the colonies, to the consumers of colonial produce, and to the trade of this country—he should have no hesitation in saying, that an abundant case had been made out for a reduction of the duty upon foreign sugar, to such an extent, as should admit of its importation into this country. But could they for a moment induce themselves to say, that the whole question of sugar and of the sugar trade, was one of that simple nature? Could they for a moment induce themselves to say, that this question was not one which they were bound to consider in connexion with many others? Could they bring themselves to believe, that they would be meeting the real wishes of their constituents, or that they would be doing their duty to their country, if in dealing with this question they excluded the consideration of other matters of a very important nature, which they were bound to bear in their minds when they attempted to deal with any thing affecting the interests of the sugar producing colonies……. His hon. Friend, the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Thornely) had advanced that argument, and in proof of its accuracy, had referred to the commodities of tobacco, cotton, and coffee, which were the produce of slave labour, but which were, nevertheless, imported in very large quantities into this country. He was not prepared to say, that upon this subject the course of legislation in England had been consistent, but he thought that a broad distinction was to be drawn between the importation of sugar and the importation of tobacco and cotton. It was to be borne in mind that the two latter commodities did not enter into competition with any similar articles raised by free labour in our own colonies. There was this distinction also, to be drawn with respect to coffee, that our colonies had never possessed the exclusive market of this country for the supply of it. 1335 But the question now was, whether we should this year throw into the British market a large quantity of slave-grown sugar. Without pledging himself to any abstract opinion upon the question, he must again say that he was not prepared to recommend the committee to assent to the proposal of his hon. Friend."*I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman for his caution. On the contrary, I think the passages I have read indicate views which are worthy of deep consideration. They show that this is not a mere financial question—that it is not a mere commercial question, but that we are bound to consider it in connexion with the effect which the introduction of slave-made sugar may have in retarding the progress of the great experiment now going on as regards the production of sugar by free labour. I will not go the length which the hon. and learned Members for the Tower Hamlets and the City of Dublin did, when the hon. Member for Wigan's motion was before the House. I will not prejudice the future consideration of the question, by expressing as strongly as those hon. and learned Members did, the opinion that the inevitable effect of the measure must be to encourage slave labour; but I claim for myself to consider the subject in connection with the great principles involved in it, and its bearing on the great experiment now going on, for which this country made so great a sacrifice, as well as its probable effect in encouraging the evils of slavery in other parts of the world besides her Majesty's dominions. I hope I have now said enough to justify the course I mean to pursue in avoiding expressing any opinion at present upon the policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's plan. With respect to the main subject which has been presented to our consideration, namely, the proposed change in the Corn-laws, I can only repeat what I have already stated. You have brought that forward as a financial measure, connected with the budget, and having so connected it, it was your duty to take the same course with it as you have done with respect to timber and sugar, and to state distinctly the outline and details of your plan. That was your duty, and the only course you could have taken to avoid the dreadful animosity which I fear will arise out of this matter. The only way to prevent extravagant expectations from being formed, is for the*Hansard, vol. Iv. p. 84, 651336 Government immediately to explain what their plan is. It ought to have been explained to us to-night, but now I have no hesitation in saying, that the only way to relieve public anxiety, and to prevent excitement and distress, is for Government to take the earliest possible moment of submitting their proposition on this subject to the House.
§ Lord John Russell
I do not blame the right hon. Baronet for declining to enter into all the considerations connected with the proposition which my right hon. Friend has submitted to the House. Nothing can be more reasonable than that he should reserve his opinion for a few days, in order that he may enter into the calculations submitted by my right hon. Friend. Neither do I blame the right hon. Baronet for resorting, upon this occasion, to his usual book of consolation—Hansard. The right hon. Baronet always refers to it, and for many years it has furnished him with topics of consolation.
§ Lord J. Russell
I do not think that the right hon. Baronet has made out any case against the Government with respect to the topics to which he has adverted. The right hon. Baronet has found fault with the estimates and expenditure of late years, and showed—what is perfectly true—that, though the revenue has not failed, the expenditure has exceeded the income. One would suppose that the right hon. Baronet, like the hon. Member for Kilkenney, found fault with the expenditure. Not at all; he was obliged to admit that he approved of it. It would, indeed, have been very remarkable if the right hon. Baronet had condemned the expenditure, the chief topic of blame against the Government with the other side of the House having been that the army and the navy, but particularly the latter, was not sufficiently large, or well enough appointed. It was true, that at one period the stores in some of the dockyards were too much reduced. I heard the other day from a gallant admiral, who presides over one of those establishments, that he once thought they were fearfully low. Means were taken to supply the deficiency; that, of course, created expense, and that was one reason why the expenditure had exceeded the income, and why there is a navy debt to be provided for. When the occasion arose—when we found foreign powers 1337 were increasing their fleets—ships were fitted out in our ports, and despatched on service equal in number to those of other nations, with a degree of expedition and promptitude, and, at the same time, with an absence of ostentation and bustle, which, although it did not elicit the approbation of those who previously found fault with the state of the navy, excited the admiration of those who were conversant with such matters. [Hear, hear.] Do hon. Members on the other side find fault with the expenditure on account of the army? On the contrary, whenever we bring forward the estimates for that service, a right hon. Gentleman opposite, who once filled the office of Secretary at War, declares that the army is not sufficiently large for the wants of the empire, and that it is a hardship upon those engaged in military service not to call for more men, and, consequently, more money. But the right hon. Baronet said, that though he did not object to the estimates, he might to the policy which rendered them necessary, as was the case with Mr. Fox, in 1796. I admit it; but has the right hon. Baronet disapproved of our policy? On the contrary, with respect to all the great heads of expense, the suppression of rebellion in Canada, the attempt to obtain reparation from China for injury done to our subjects, and the policy pursued in the East, the right hon. Baronet has expressed his approval of the policy of the Government. If, then, you condemn neither the estimates themselves, nor the policy which has produced them, what right have you to find fault with the sum total, and to complain that the balance-sheet exhibits a considerable excess of expenditure as compared with that of former years? I am prepared to justify the expenditure, and the policy which caused it. If foreign powers will augment their fleets, it becomes us, a great maritime power, to do so likewise, at whatever cost, to show that we have lost none of our ancient strength, but are determined and able to maintain our character and position amongst the nations of the world. The noble Lord, after observing that the deficit on the last six years was not so large as had been stated by the right hon. Baronet, said be would sow proceed to notice what had fallen from him on the subject of the Corn-laws. The right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) thought proper upon the subject of the Corn-laws to say 1338 that he (Lord John Russell) ought immediately to bring forward the question, and that it not being brought forward, would produce agitation in the country. Now, if he (Lord John Russell) were to say, that the Government held the doctrine of a total repeal of the Corn-laws, he could imagine that that would be a doctrine that would have great popular influence, and that upon such a proposition there might be very considerable agitation. But, with regard to the proposition which he was about to make, holding to the principle of a certain fixed duty, he certainly did not expect that any such agitation could arise as the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) seemed to suppose. He believed it had been the doctrine of all those who endeavoured to make themselves popular upon this topic, that no article of food ought to be made the subject of taxation. The Government, therefore, proposing to continue a tax upon the importation of corn, the first and most important article of food, could not be said to be taking a course for the mere sake of popularity. As to the question of the corn-laws in general, every one knew that it was in discussion now, and had been in discussion every year for a long time past. He (Lord John Russell) had no doubt that commercial men would look with anxiety as to what might be the decision of Parliament in respect to the regulation of the trade in corn; but he had no conception that the lapse of time which he proposed prior to the discussion of the ques-would at all produce the excitement to which the right hon. Baronet had referred. He had stated already that there was other business before the House; and he thought it would be a most inconvenient course of proceeding to interrupt that business for the sake of bringing forward new business, unless there was an absolute necessity for doing so. For his own part, he saw no such necessity. He believed that it would be infinitely more convenient, and infinitely more proper, to go on with the measures now in progress, than to interrupt them and bring them to a stand-still by the precipitate introduction of a discussion on the question of the corn-laws. The right hon. Baronet might endeavour to evade the question by seeking to bring it to an early discussion; but the right hon. Baronet might depend upon it that the attempt was one that would not be successful. It was a matter of such great importance—of 1339 such paramount interest, that if the people of England believed that the whole question had not been fairly discussed, and that every kind of deliberation had not been bestowed upon it, so far from being satisfied with the decision that the House might come to upon it, especially if that decision were adverse to the popular view, they would instantly arouse themselves with a new spirit upon the subject of these laws, and would assume an attitude that might afterwards render the adjustment of the question a matter of greater difficulty if not of absolute danger. What he (Lord John Russell) really wished upon the subject was, that it might be discussed with all temper and fairness. He was sorry to see that there did not appear to be a disposition, on the part of the Gentlemen opposite, so to consider it. He could not think that the very great anger that had been exhibited in that quarter of the House had its rise in the simple circumstance of the question being brought forward some fortnight sooner or later. He could not but think, that the anger was attributable to the fact that the question of the modification of the corn-laws was now entertained by the Government. He was sorry that such a feeling should have any influence on any part of the House, but it would not change the course which he felt it to be his duty to pursue.
§ Mr. Wakley
must certainly confess that be for one did not participate in the exultation which was displayed on that (the ministerial) side of the House, when the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer opened his budget. He could not discover in the materials of that budget those sources of satisfaction which appeared to give so much delight to the hon. Gentlemen around him; and when he heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer state, that it was his intention to set the finances of the country upon a fixed and permanent base; when he heard the right hon. Gentleman state that it was inconsistent with the character and institutions of a great country like England, that its expenditure should continually exceed its income;—when he heard the right hon. Gentleman, in such a tone of sincerity and confidence, declare to the House what would be the plan of policy for placing the finances of the country on a more secure and honourable foundation—he must confess he felt greatly disappointed by the announcement that at last was made. The 1340 right hon. Gentleman stated, as had been correctly repeated by the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel), that for the next year there would be a deficiency of 2,400,000l. Then the right hon. Gentleman announced what was his mode of making the income exceed the expenditure. Upon that head he furnished the House with only two fixed and positive proposals—one for altering the duty now paid on the import of foreign sugar; and the other for altering the amount of duty now paid upon the import of foreign timber, from which two alterations he anticipated an increased revenue of 1,300,000l., leaving, in fact, a deficiency of 1,100,000l. But, said the right hon. Gentleman, "I will now take into calculation an actual deficiency of no more than 1,700,000l., and, having provided for 1,300,000l. of that amount by the alteration of the import duties on sugar and timber, I must refer to the question of the corn-laws," and he then gave the House plainly to understand that the remaining 400,000l. was to be supplied by some means or other through an alteration to be made in those laws. Now, if that proposition were made in a Budget brought forward by a Government which could command a majority in that House; by an administration which was capable of carrying out its proposal; by an administration which had the voice of a majority of that House and the confidence of a majority of the people of the country, he could easily understand that the proposition contained in itself something of a substantial and tangible character, and that the 400,000l. might be counted upon as the probable, if not certain, result of the calculations that had been made. But after all the protestations that had been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—after the glowing announcement that there was in future to be an income exceeding the expenditure, the House at length found that, with a certain and positive deficiency of 1,700,000l an increased revenue of only 1,300,000l. could with any certainty be counted upon, but that there was a probability—that it was not impossible, that it might so happen that an additional 400,000l. would be procured from an alteration in the Corn-laws. So that, after all, the ability of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to meet the deficiency of the ensuing year was made to depend upon a contingency. This did not appear to him 1341 (Mr. Wakley) to be a statesmanlike mode of proceeding. He did not believe that the people of the country would be satisfied with such a mode of proceeding. What the people of this country required was relief from the present enormous pressure of taxation. What the people of England required was a diminution of the national expenditure. In 1836, the expenditure of the country only by a trifle exceeded the sum of 46,000,000l. What did it amount to in 1841? According to the calculation which the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself had made, it would amount to 50,731,000l. Now, was that economy. Was that retrenchment? The hon. Gentlemen on that (the Ministerial) side of the House cheered, and rejoiced at the announcement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and appeared to be satisfied with the calculations which the right hon. Gentleman laid before them; but he said that what the country required was a diminution of expenditure, and that if there was not a diminution of expenditure the people could experience no real relief from the projects which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had made. The noble Lord the Secretary for the Colonies (Lord John Russell) had called upon the House to relieve him from the imputation of having brought forward the proposition for affecting an alteration in the Corn-laws for the purpose of agitation. The noble Lord called upon the House to absolve him from the imputation of having brought that subject forward from any improper motive. The House at once responded, and in an honourable manner, to that demand, and by its tone appeared to admit the perfect truth and sincerity of the noble Lord's intentions. Now he hoped that this liberality on the part of the House would teach the noble Lord a useful lessen, The school of adversity did often teach most useful lessons; and as the condition of the noble Lord at the present moment could not be described as the most flourishing or the most comfortable that a political leader would aspire to, he trusted that the liberality now shown towards him by the House would not be lost upon him. The noble Lord said, that the present was the particular time—the particular moment at which it would be most especially useful to the interests of the country that a proposition for an alteration of the Corn-laws should be made. 1342 Was not this a new-born idea. How old was it. Had it been born since last night. Was it one day old, or six months old, or twelve months old. What new materials had been brought to view?—what information did the present year afford that had not existed last year?—what new light had broken upon the Government to convince thorn of the necessity of taking up the question of the Corn-laws. He could not help regarding it as somewhat hard upon the Radical section of the House that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in making his proposal, had not in any way alluded to the motion last year made by the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Ewart). The fact appeared to be this, that the Exchequer being nearly empty, the Government were obliged to come to the Radical shop for protection. That being the case, was it too much to ask that they should have the candour to make an acknowledgement that they ware receiving their supplies from Radical stores. It was no discredit for them to do so, if all their own good materials were sold and disposed of. They might not be answerable for the small quantity of inferior goods that was left; but if the Radicals had the good fortune some years ago to foresee what the exigencies of the country would be, he (Mr. Wakley) must say that it would be but fair that some acknowledgement should be made of the value of their discoveries arid the accuracy of their calculations. The noble Lord (Lord John Russell) having made his proposal with regard to the Corn-laws at this particular time, was, at his own request, absolved from the imputation of any impropriety of intention; but he (Mr. Wakley) must say that if the representative of any large metropolitan district, in a moment of exigency, or of doubt, or of difficulty as regarded his seat, had brought forward such a proposition, it was very probable that he would be designated as a mischievous demagogue. As the noble Lord however, had been actuated by nothing hut the principle of pure beneficence, he was sure the noble Lard would agree with him that there might be more than one English Cato. He had always advocated an alteration of the Corn-laws. As long as he had given his attention to political subjects, he had always considered that the Corn-laws were injurious to the best interests of the country; but he had never considered that the great and mo- 1343 mentous question of their repeal or alteration was to be taken into consideration alone. It was a question affecting the whole of the interests of the empire, not only the commercial interest, but the agricultural interest: and when it was argued as a question which was only to give relief to the manufacturer, the House and the country ought not to forget that the farmer was himself a manufacturer; and that the husbandman was himself a skilled—in many instances a most highly skilled—artizan. If, therefore, a change were to be made in the Corn-laws—if the House were about to take away the protection which one class of manufacturers enjoyed—then the representatives of the other class of manufacturers who sat on that (the Ministerial) side of the House, ought to bear in mind that it would be utterly impossible that they could retain those protective duties which the agriculturists very rightly considered as operating most beneficially to the manufacturers' interests. If the manufacturers and the agriculturists, the owners of mills and the owners of farms, would meet this question in a fair, an honest, and a candid spirit, free from party views, free from the desire to obtain political triumph, free from faction and the strife of contending interests, he believed that the benefit which the country would derive from such a consideration of the question would be incalculable; but if a Corn-law agitation were to be set up if the question were not to be considered in the manner he had stated—if there were persons who intended to put it forward merely to obtain a triumph for a political party, throwing the country into a state of agitation and convulsion from one extremity to the other—if there were such men, acting with such views, then there could be no term of reproach that they would not most richly deserve. But if it were the intention of great and influential leaders in that House fairly and honestly to go into the question, then he (Mr. Wakley) was of opinion that the greatest possible good might result from such an investigation. But was it sufficient for the noble Lord to frame his motion merely to include the Corn-laws? Would such a motion answer his purpose, or be likely to receive the support of the House? No, an objection, a fatal objection, would be taken at the outset to a motion so framed. He would, herefore, entreat the noble Lord to alter or modify his motion in that respect, and to take the 1344 whole question of protective duties into consideration, not merely the protective duties with reference to corn, but the protective duties with reference to manufactures. He hoped that the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Phillipps) would not object to such a course of proceeding. If the noble Lord consented to take that course, he would soon occupy a position of extraordinary influence and power in the country: but if he simply lodged himself upon the position he had that night announced—the position of considering the Corn-laws by themselves, and merely as a matter of revenue, he would be adopting a line of proceeding that could by no possibility produce good, and in all probability would be followed by an immensity of evil.
§ Viscount Howick
was sorry that the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tarn-worth, (Sir Robert Peel) was no longer in his place, because he was anxious to express to the right hon. Baronet, the great satisfaction with which he had listened to his eloquent description of the evils which he thought would arise from the uncertainty existing for some weeks in the public mind as to the amount of duty, that the Government would propose to remit upon the importation of foreign corn. The right hon. Baronet said, that persons would be speculating as to the amount of reduction that would be proposed, and that until that point was cleared up all transactions in the way of business would be at a stand still—all dealings between farmer and landlord, between merchant and manufacturer, would be suspended: in short, that the whole trade of the country would be thrown into a state of confusion and embarrassment. That was the description of the right hon. Baronet; but to what extent were the evils he pictured likely to be realized? His noble Friend (Lord John Russell) said, that his intention was to propose a moderate fixed duty. Then every gentleman in the country had the means of guessing within a comparatively few shillings what the amount of the reduction would be; and if an uncertainty as to a few shillings were to produce the results which the right hon. Baronet had described—if the right hon. Baronet had so strong a sense of the evils arising from an uncertainty to such an extent, then he claimed the voice of the right hon. Baronet in support of the argument which he advanced, as to the mischief resulting from the much greater uncer- 1345 tainty of the existing law. Because under the existing law the uncertainty was not as to whether a duty of 5s. or 10s. or 20s. should be levied; but whether there should be a mere nominal duty of 1s., or a duty which was absolutely and entirely prohibitory. And this uncertainty prevailed not for three or four weeks, but existed constantly, and was a part of the permanent condition of the country. Yes, the corn merchant—the merchant who exported other articles (for all were affected by the duty on corn)—the Bank of England, and all persons dealing in bullion, in short, every class and branch of industry and trade were exposed, at the present moment, under the system of fluctuating duties, to the full force of that uncertainty, the mischievous consequences of which the right hon. Baronet had so well described. At the distance of a few months, or even weeks, no man, not the wisest nor the best acquainted with trade, could say whether, under the present system, the duty on corn would be nominal or prohibitory. He thought, therefore, that the admission which the right hon. Baronet had made that evening would enable those, who looked to the substitution of a fixed for a fluctuating duty on corn, to calculate upon his support whenever the proposition for a fixed duty came under the consideration of the House. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had made some remarks as to the mode in which he thought this question of the corn-trade ought to be considered, and he confessed that he entirely concurred with the hon. Gentleman in the opinions which he had expressed upon that point. If he understood him correctly, the hon. Gentleman said, that to deal with the corn-trade as a single and isolated question, would be an act of very great imprudence, and perhaps of danger. He agreed with the hon. Gentleman that the proper mode of entering on the question was, not to deal singly with the Corn-laws, but to take into consideration the whole subject of our protective duties, with the view of ascertaining whether, in lieu of levying fresh taxes and increasing the burdens of the country, it might not be possible, by an enlightened modification of existing duties, to give a stimulus to all the great interests in the kingdom, and to secure a greatly increased revenue. He entirely concurred in the opinion that to deal successfully with the question of protective duties, it was necessary that they should be considered collectively, and not 1346 be dealt with, or attempted to be dealt with, in an insolated and separate form. And if he rightly understood his right hon. Friend (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), that was precisely the policy which the Government intended to pursue. His right hon. Friend alluded to a certain list of duties which he expected to have a principal effect in increasing the revenue but unless he greatly misapprehended what fell from his right hon. Friend, he said, that it was not only the intention of the Government to deal with those duties, but with others likewise. He trusted that that might prove to be the case; and he most earnestly entreated his right hon. Friend, in dealing with the subject in general, to consider the corn-laws as an essential part of his measure; for he was persuaded, that as part of a general system for remodelling our commercial policy, for increasing the productive power, and the wealth of the country, and for extending our trade in all directions—his right hon. Friend would not find it impossible to succeed in carrying a modification of the corn-laws. He was the more encouraged to entertain that expectation from the remarkable silence of the other side of the House, upon this great question of policy. The right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) said, that he would not undertake to pronounce an opinion upon the proposed reduction of the duty on foreign sugar, and referred to a speech last year made by the President of the Board of Trade, to show that great interests and very important considerations were involved in the question. It was very natural that the right hon. Baronet should refuse to pledge himself upon that particular question. But the right hon. Baronet, and the Gentlemen who occupied the benches opposite, could not be ignorant that this was not a question of one or two particular duties, but a general question of increasing the revenue, by a remodelling, and a modification, of obnoxious protecting duties on the one hand, and of imposing new burdens on the people on the other. He would not for a moment throw such a reflection on the distinguished Gentlemen by whom the right hon. Baronot was surrounded, as to suppose that, in the present situation of the country—in the present difficult position of financial affairs—they had not given their best and most earnest consideration to the great question of fresh taxation on the one hand, and a re-modelling of existing taxes on the other. He could not believe, that they had 1347 not given their attention to that great question; and he was convinced if they were opposed to the policy of his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer—if they were determined to insist on the imposition of new burdens—if they were not disposed favourably to consider the policy of obtaining the revenue requisite to meet the exigencies of the service, by diminishing rather than increasing existing burdens, they would that night have felt it their duty to prevent the hopes of the country from being unduly roused—would have felt it only just and fair to their political opponents, and to the country, to say at once, "We will not give in to any plan of that kind—we will look, not to the remodelling of taxes, but to the imposition of new burdens for the means of carrying on the public service." He trusted that public opinion, both in and out of that House, would be decidedly opposed to any proposition for fixing new burdens upon the people, until the wiser course pointed out by the Government had been tried. For himself, he could only state, that having had the misfortune once to differ from them in opinion, upon a point of very considerable importance, it was with very great satisfaction that he found himself upon the question of policy now under the consideration of the House, at liberty to give them his most hearty support. Representing, as he did, a large portion of the people of this country, he held it to be a duty imposed upon him by considerations against which he felt it impossible to close his eyes, not to consent to any imposition of new burdens upon the people during a period of peace. The valuable information which had, last year, been brought to view by the committee appointed upon the motion of his hon. Friend behind him (the Import Duties Committee), had produced a great impression on the public mind. He was not prepared to say, that he adopted the opinions of all the witnesses examined. It was very possible that some of them might have exaggerated the immediate benefits, though not the ultimate benefits which might result from the adoption of their views. But this he would say, that facts, resting upon the clearest and most undeniable evidence, had been brought forward—facts which it was utterly impossible to controvert; and the conclusion drawn from which it was equally impossible to shake, which, in his mind, completely proved that very much might be done by 1348 the remodelling of taxation to increase the revenue of the country. He went further than this, and would say, that what had fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that evening was, in his opinion, perfectly true, namely, that there were symptoms in the present condition of the country, whether regarded in its foreign relations or its domestic circumstances, which showed that we were on the eve of a most important crisis, and that care must be taken to improve the productive powers of the country. That productive power could only be exercised and improved as it ought to be, by facilitating the general sys-stem of exchange,—availing ourselves on the one hand of those natural advantages which we possessed, and on the other availing ourselves of the natural advantages enjoyed by our neighbours. This was the plain and simple policy which must be adopted if we would avert the most serious evils. He knew, from the information which was open to every Member of the House, and which was particularly drawn under his own consideration, when he had the honour of occupying a seat on the bench above him, that in every country of the world, as his right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had truly stated, our example, and not our reasoning) was what was looked to. Whether we were negociating with America, with France, with Spain, with Germany, it was our acts, not our words, that were regarded. He knew well how often, in negociating with Spain, it had been represented to the Government of that country'—" Your revenue is falling off. The Way to place your credit upon a stable foundation is, to modify your duties on our manufactures. This would benefit us, but it would be infinitely more beneficial to you. The only person who would suffer would be the smuggler," The same argument had been used with other countries, but all of them—finding that when we ourselves were in precisely the same situation—when we ourselves had a deficient revenue—we refused to seek an increase of revenue by a modification of import duties—declined to accept our reasoning, and persisted on acting upon our example. He most earnestly hoped that the subject would be dealt with, as the hon. Member for South Lancashire had recommended at an early part of the evening, without reference to party interests and animosities, and that all the great interests of the nation, manufacturing, commercial, and 1349 agricultural, would consider calmly and temperately, but seriously and earnestly, what was really essential to the common interests of themselves and the country. Mr. Mark Philips said, he thought the speech of the noble Lord (Lord Howick) was calculated to produce a great and good impression in the country, as to the measures proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But he did not rise to discuss the Budget. He had been personally appealed to by the hot). Member for Finsbury, and he begged to assure that hon. Gentleman, that his constituents at Manchester were not actuated by the narrow views and feelings which he had attributed to them. As an evidence of that fact, he might mention, that he had that evening presented two petitions from Manchester, which, had the hon. Member for Finsbury been in his place at the time, would have satisfied him that his apprehension were unfounded, in which the petitioners repudiated the imputation of seeking for protecting duties on any one article in the manufacture of which they were personally interested. He could not help congratulating the House and the country, that, at last, the great question of the Corn-laws was to emanate from the hands of the Government. He was himself firmly convinced, that the time had arrived when that question could no longer be postponed, if this country were to maintain its greatness, and its high and proud position with reference to other nations. Seldom had he wit-nested so great a depression in the manufacturing trade as existed at present. It had gone on increasing for the last three years, and the expectations which the manufacturers had from day to day entertained of some measures being passed for their relief had always ended in disappointment. It appeared to him, that the foreign trade of the country was getting worse and worse; and the evils, he feared, would not be remedied until some measure was adopted by which the products of the different countries could be interchanged with a greater degree of facility than they were at present. This country, from the increase of her population, and the increase of her products, had been obliged to seek a market in every part of the World; but the British manufacturer, in consequence of his not being able to take the products of the countries to which he traded, was compelled, most injuriously to 1350 his interests, to submit to long credits, leaving his capital in the hands of foreigners for six, eight, and even twelve months, which, had he been able to take their commodities in exchange, he could have employed to his own advantage at home, instead of finding the foreigner a capital on which to trade. The proposals made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that night had his cordial concurrence. He was glad that the right hon. Gentleman had come forward, and, instead of proposing to lay any new burdens on the people, sought to try whether he could not, by an expansion and alteration of the fiscal duties, relieve the industry of the country. He viewed the question as one of the deepest interest, and he looked to the result not with apprehension, but with satisfaction; for he felt quite certain, that the right hon. Gentleman, in his estimate of the future revenue from the sugar duties, which had, at least, rather underrated the amount than otherwise. He felt quite confident, that the proposal would be hailed with the greatest satisfaction by the ship-owners as well as by the manufacturers. In regard to the additional expenditure that had been incurred, he thought hon. Gentlemen opposite were not entirely free from blame in this respect. Who was it, he would ask, that, by denying the efficiency of the British navy, had led foreign countries to fancy their naval force superior to our own, and by misrepresentation had given them to understand, that the British navy was in such a state of rottenness and decay, that it might be sunk with impunity? Those who had been guilty of this indiscretion ought not to object to the increase of the expenditure in the navy estimate, for it had been caused, in a great measure, by the outcry which certain parties had raised, and which had induced foreign powers to increase their naval force, in the expectation that it would be superior to that of England. He hoped, from what had taken place, that they would be taught a lesson for the future: and for himself, be could only say, that he would never join any factious opposition, which course he believed would always be found ultimately detrimental to the interests of the country. In conclusion, he would like to hear the hon. Member for Finsbury state what course he meant to take on this question, for he thought that he had expressed his opinion somewhat equivocally. For him- 1351 self, he could only state his belief, that the manufacturers were not inclined to ask for any benefit to themselves, without at the same time looking to the general interests of the community.
§ Mr. Aaron Chapman
said, that he apprehended that the effect of the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in regard to the timber duties, would be to drive that particular trade into the hands of other nations. In this way the commercial marine of England would be destroyed, and the glory of the British navy would soon come to an end. It was quite impossible to get the necessary timber, especially masts and spars, without having recourse to Canada; and if they abolished the protecting duties, the timber trade in that country would of necessity be destroyed. The hon. Member complained that the report of the Import Duties Committee had been distributed without certain resolutions (which the committee had agreed to) being circulated along with it.
§ Mr. Labouchere
did not rise for the purpose of addressing any lengthened observations to the House on either of those great questions which his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had announced for discussion, because there would be other opportunities for discussing those questions with the deliberation which each of them required, being three of the most important questions connected with the trade and revenue of the country. Some remarks had been made in the course of the debate which rendered him desirous to ask the indulgence of the committee for a few moments. His noble Friend the Member for Northumberland had asked whether the Government had brought forward the question of the corn-laws as an isolated question, or as a question depending on some general principles which they were disposed to recommend for the general adoption of that House and the country. He had no difficulty in giving a decided answer to that question. He thought, indeed, that his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had stated that the Government, in proposing to the House to revise the duties on corn, did not do so in reference to that one question only, inasmuch as they had come to the conclusion that it was necessary for the great interests of the country to revise the other branches of the commercial system. They thought, however, that it would be impossible to do so with- 1352 out, in the first instance, making an attempt to grapple with the difficulties of that question, which was the greatest of them all in a commercial point of view—the question of the corn 'duties. If Government, while they were prepared to recommend measures for the relief of the manufacturing classes had shrunk from those connected with the other interests of the community, he thought their conduct might have been liable to the reproach of the House and of the country. His right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been accused of making the corn-laws a budget question. He did not think his hon. Friend had done so. His hon. Friend, while dealing with the other great commercial questions, had thought it right, also, to consider the question of the corn-laws, inasmuch as he could not ask the House to impose taxes which he thought he might he able to procure from these sources. He had said, that he thought it desirable to carry the same principle into effect in all the three questions adverted to. He would not say, that it could be done all at once in a hurried and precipitate manner. On the contrary, looking to the vast interests involved, he thought that it was not a thing to be done without due care, caution, and deliberation. Having arrived not only at a great financial, but also at a great commercial crisis, he hoped the House would show to the country that they were disposed to act in the right direction, and that with all the care and deliberation which the circumstances required. Some hon. Members had alluded to the report of the import duties committee, and seemed to suppose that the agitation on the subject had been caused by the distribution of that report. The hon. Baronet the Member for Stamford seemed to be of opinion that all the outcry and agitation had sprung out of the report. Now he had opportunities of judging, and he must say, that he never recollected any feeling so general, so intense, yet at the same time less clamorous than that which existed on this subject. The agitation had not been got up, or the flames raised, by the misrepresentations and exaggerations of public orators. He appealed to those Gentlemen on both sides of the House, who were engaged in manufactures, for the correctness of his statement, when he said that the excitement in the country, on this subject, was not of a party colour. All party feeling was merged—their differences were as nothing compared with the question on which the extension of the 1353 mercantile prosperity of the country depended. It was absurd to suppose that the distribution of the report of the committee of the House of Commons could all at once change the opinions of the mercantile part of the community, or create a violent desire for measures for which they had previously no wish. He knew perfectly well what statements had been made by the committee, but it was the figures which had produced the greatest effect. [" hear, hear."] The noble Lord (the Member for Liverpool) said "hear." No doubt there were many of their calculations a litttle wild, and some of their statements not a little exaggerated; but did the noble Lord suppose that the merchants were so ignorant as not to be able to judge for themselves of the accuracy of these statements, and to say what part of the report was practicable and what impracticable? This was not a question of mere party. The interest involved in it far outweighed all party considerations. He would only refer to the petition which was presented to the House the other night from the City of London as a proof of this. Had hon. Gentlemen looked at the names attached to that petition? If they had, would they say, were they prepared to say, that the request made by those petitioners was not deserving of the most attentive consideration? The petitioners stated, that they were of opinion that the Customs duties were burdensome and highly detrimental, not only to the general trade of the country, but also to the revenue of the state; that the effect of them was to enhance the price of articles of home production by excluding articles of foreign growth, and thereby laying a heavy tax upon the community. Without contradiction he might say, that in a commercial sense, a more important petition had not been presented to the House of Commons since the time when the present Lord Ashburton presented a petition at the time Mr. Huskisson introduced his great measure of commercial reform. No petition had ever borne the signatures of men of greater wealth, experience and intelligence. The very first name was that of a person standing in the highest rank of British merchants, Mr. Horsley Palmer; and his signature was followed by the names of men forming the great leading firms in this metropolis. This, he conceived, would at once show the House that the views put forth upon the subject of commercial duties were not the mere visionary speculations of men unacquainted with practical affairs, or by a 1354 committee of theorists, but that they were the result of experience, and that the strong feelings excited upon the subject arose from an intimate knowledge of the mischievous working of the system of monopoly and restriction, which the existing laws fostered and encouraged. He believed, that there never was a time when the merchants and manufacturers were more united in the conviction that it was necessary to make an alteration in the present system of duties. With regard to the opinions of the manufacturers of the country, he could only say, that he had met at the Board of Trade deputations from Lancashire and various parts of the country, composed of men of every description of politics, and he never saw evinced stronger, more earnest, and intense feelings than they showed of the absolute necessity of the Legislature inquiring into this question, with a view to give relief to the commerce of the country by an alteration of the tariff. He was so convinced of the earnestness of this feeling that prevailed among the great body of the manufacturers of the country, that he should feel he was not discharging his duty if he did not stand up in his place and make this solemn declaration. He hoped that hon. Gentlemen, in making up their minds upon this question, would not leave out of view those topics which had been alluded to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer: he meant the present posture of our Commercial relations with the United States, and the Brazils. It was well known that the United States took a greater quantity of British manufactures than any other foreign country, and that they were the best consumers at this moment of British cotton manufactured goods. It was a fact, also, not to be overlooked, that the United States were in a situation somewhat similar to that of ourselves, and that their expenditure exceeded the amount of their revenue, which would make it desirable they should seek to increase their income by additional taxation; and he really believed that the conduct which this country pursued with respect to the duties on importations, would greatly influence the decisions of Congress on the subject of the American tariff. Our treaty with the Brazils would expire shortly, and he feared that our pursuing our present system would prevent us from receiving any equivalent advantage in return for the articles we took from them. He had no doubt, that if the present position were adhered to, the merchants and manufacturers 1355 of this country would have to make up their minds to lose a great market; whereas it was his conviction, that if they pursued a wise and liberal policy, they would be able to establish commercial relations with that country which would be of the greatest benefit to both nations. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had twitted him for the language he had used last year in speaking of the sugar duties, although he had fairly admitted, that nothing which he had then said, precluded him from adopting a different course upon this subject in the present Session. All he could say was, that he had endeavoured to consider the question in all its bearings, colonial, commercial, and manufacturing; and it was his most sincere conviction, that it was the duty of the Government, he would not say to do away with altogether, the protection now afforded to our colonies, in this respect, but to reduce that protection to a moderate and reasonable rate, which should not give to our possessions a monopoly, which was not only most burdensome to the trade of this country, but which he was prepared to contend was not less injurious to the colonies themselves. He believed that a moderate and reasonable protection would be found to be better in the long run than a monopoly, inasmuch as it gave an advantage in the home market, an advantage in price; whereas monopolies encouraged an excess of cultivation, that for a time enjoyed a high price in the home market, and then came a glut, with all the vacillations with which an uncertainty of trade was invariably attended. This, at all events, he knew, that whatever might be the opinions entertained on this subject within the walls of that House, these things out of the walls of the House would not be considered as partaking of a party nature. They would be considered as a great national question, unaffected by party considerations, which unfortunately was the great evil and bane of too many of the most important subjects that came under the consideration of that House. Some hon. Gentlemen seemed to consider that this measure was introduced by Government with reference to some party advantage. He did not know what notions of advantage others might entertain in propounding questions of this description, he doubted whether any political party would ever gain any present advantage, by opposing powerful class interests, for the benefit of the public at large. He could only say that he himself, warm partisan as he 1356 was, and attached as he ever had been to the friends with whom he acted, entertained too deep a sense of the importance of this question, and of the consequences of the decision which the House might come to respecting it, to feel anything like a party sentiment upon this occasion; and he could, with the greatest sincerity, lay his hand on his heart, and say, that he should heartily rejoice to see the Gentlemen who occupied now the Opposition Benches take their seats on the Ministerial side of the House, if they would afford him the pleasure and satisfaction of supporting measures of this description, proposed and advocated by themselves.
Mr. Hodgson Hinde
had observed, that whenever Ministers proposed any great financial measure, it was always subsequent to some great and signal discomfiture. Such was the ease with respect to the penny postage question of last year. It was true that many members of the Government had always supported opinions in accordance with the resolutions before the House, but that was not the case with all the Members of the Cabinet. With regard to the subject of the Corn-laws, he only knew that last year the opinion of the noble Lord at the head of the Government was totally at variance with the moderate duty proposed to that House. They all knew it was so last year, and he should like to know whether any Member of the Cabinet would stand up and tell him that it was not so last week? Although the noble Lord thought this to be the most appropriate time for bringing forward the subject, to his (Mr. Hinde's) apprehension, a more unfortunate time could not have been selected. They were now making a great experiment in Canada, and what, he would ask, was likely to be the feeling excited in that country when the news of the present discussion should be read there? It was still more peculiarly unfortunate that the measure should be propounded at the moment when a nobleman was at the head of the government of that colony, whose opinions, before he left this country, were known to be strongly in favour of an alteration in the laws regarding the importation of corn, and who had ever been a most distinguished advocate for a modification of the Corn-laws. He was perfectly sure that the proposition would be received with anything but favour by the shipowners. It was precisely the same proposition that was brought forward by 1357 Lord Althorp in 1830, and which at that time was received so unfavourably.
§ Mr. Herries
said, that notwithstanding what had fallen from the noble Lord, the Member for Northumberland, he should not, on the present occasion, enter into the consideration of the general principles of commercial policy alluded to by him, but confine himself strictly to the question of the budget. There were two propositions made in that budget which in some measure involved that consideration, but they were introduced on their special merits; and in dealing with these even he should adhere to the rule which had been laid down by those who had preceded him on that side of the House, of not entering into a detailed consideration of these two subjects, but leave the discussion of them to a future occasion, when they should be brought before the committee, in the shape of resolutions, and the subsequent stages of their progress, From, what he had said, the committee; would gather that he was not at present prepared to offer any decided opposition to them, but reserved to himself the full right on a future occasion. As to the third proposition, as it had just been described by the President of the Board of Trade, it did not form an essential part of the budget. But it seemed thus far au essential part of it, that it was relied upon as the means of raising the money. He would only express his hope with respect to that question that this House would not so far forget its duty to the country, nor so far forget the confidence which the country reposed in it, as to allow a Minister of the Crown five weeks, or perhaps ten weeks, hence to propose au alteration in the Corn-laws as a means of raising a revenue, and until that five weeks elapsed allow itself to remain in ignorance as to what alteration was to be proposed. As he understood what a budget ought to be, the Chancellor of the Exchequer should declare to the House what the expenditure of the current year was to be, and what the ways and means. Now, on this point, that House was at present totally uninformed. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, after stating some parts of the revenue and expenditure as likely to contract or expand as he saw fit, concluded by anticipating a deficiency of 2,400,000l. To provide for that he anticipated from timber and sugar 1,300,000l., from corn be expected to derive 400,000l., making 1358 1,700,000l., and there he stopped. But what, he should like to know here, became of the remaining 700,000l.? On that subject the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not tell them one word. It used to be customary on these occasions to balance the ways and means with the expenditure, and that was the object of the budget; and, had that practice been adhered to, perhaps the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have thought it worth while to tell them how he supplied that deficiency. He trusted, and he wished particularly to call the attention of the committee to the point, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not intend to supply it by recurring to what he must call the most unconstitutional course of reverting to the savings' banks for the purpose. Against such a course he must protest as unconstitutional. Neither his right hon. Friend (whom he did not see at that moment) who brought in the Savings' Bunks Bill, nor himself, ever contemplated in the framing of that act the application of those funds for any such purpose. He did not now bring this forward as a matter of blame, but as matter of inquiry. If he understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer right he had supplied the deficiency of the last four years partly by funding Exchequer bills, partly by the diminution of the balances; but there was still left a portion unaccounted for; and, if he understood right, the right hon. Gentleman had found means to meet that deficiency through the savings' banks, not by adding to the funded debt. Now, he said, that was not acting within the spirit and meaning of that act. It never was intended by that act to grant to any Minister so unconstitutional a power as that of allowing him to provide for any unexpected surplus of expenditure, not by applying to Parliament, but by increasing the funded debt of the country, and availing himself of the funds of the savings' banks. To that point he wished to draw the attention of the committee; and he asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer, first, how he meant to provide in the present year for the 2,400,000l. which he wanted? and next, whether he intended to supply that deficiency by having recourse to funding, through the savings' banks—an act which, perhaps, technically speaking, he might legally, but not constitutionally, resort to. If the answer were in the affirmative, 1359 then, if the hon. Member for Kilkenny, did not persist in an inquiry into the subject, as he had already stated, he should. Though he would not enter into the general question as to the two first propositions respecting timber and sugar, yet, after what he had heard from the President of the Board of Trade, he thought, he went very nearly with him. As he understood that Gentleman, his object was not to bring forward any sweeping or general measure of alteration in our commercial code. He did not embrace the views of the import duties committee—he did not say, there should be no protection; but he had endeavoured to arrive—whether he had or not was a question for future discussion—at that point which afforded the requisite degree of protection, consulting at the same time the interests of the consumer. And he could assure the right hon. Gentleman that when he brought forward single cases in this way, as any demand for relief might arise, and founded on such principles, he would find no one more willing to give such propositions a fair and impartial consideration than himself.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
could not remain silent, after the personal reference made to him by the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. He could assure the House that he did not wish any hon. Member to give a definitive opinion upon matters of detail which must hereafter be carefully examined, and he thought, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman had taken exactly the proper line. All he had understood him to say was, that he was not so hostile to the proposed change as to object to consider its expediency. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) cared little whether the statement he had made earlier in the evening were or were not termed a budget. Right hon. Gentlemen on the other side might indulge their ingenuity and invention in finding a new name for it, the name was of little importance, but the real practical question arising out of it was, whether the House would raise the admitted deficiency by additional taxation, or by the means he had suggested? He was gratified to find that the individual who had more practical experience than any other Member, was not prepared to say, that he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was wrong. It was somewhat extraordinary that the right hon. Member for Tamworth bad not dropped 1360 one word on the principle of the budget—an old Chancellor of the Exchequer. [Sir R. Peel: for a very short time.] True, and that probably was the reason why he had complained that the budget of this year had no figures in it. A little longer practice in his office would have made him aware that nothing could be more easy than to exhibit an array of figures, derived from statistical statements; but few figures were necessary for any practical purpose, while a multiplication of them only tended to entangle and confuse a subject. He took it, therefore, as no ill compliment when it was said that his budget was deficient in figures; but while the right hon. Baronet made that complaint, he gave no opinion as to the mode in which the deficiency, so long the subject of complaint and alarm, was proposed to be supplied. Thus, two right hon. Gentlemen, each of whom had been Chancellor of the Exchequer, had cautiously avoided saying one word upon the great principles by which the finances of the country were to be regulated. So silent had they been on the point, that it might almost have been supposed that they had been shut up together, in the enjoyment only of the society of each other, for the last three or four months, without the slightest knowledge of what in that interval had been going on in the commercial world, and now heard for the first time of the imports committee and amendment of the tariff. The right hon. Gentleman said, that the budget had not made the national income and expenditure balance, and that something had been omitted. That was very possible, though he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) thought that he had given the House information upon the point in question. Perhaps he had not stated the deficit was to be made good by an issue of Exchequer bills, but he did not suppose that there could be any doubt about it. [Mr. Herries. To what amount?] A covering amount, but it was not usual to state precisely what that amount would be. The mode in which he intended to proceed was nothing new on his part; and he admitted, with the hon. Member for Kilkenny, that there was a way of funding Exchequer bills, and thereby increasing the debt, without the necessity of resort to Parliament. That way had been taken several times, and had been made a matter of discussion, but it had never been prohibited. He admitted at once that this was a power it would be better for a Minister not to possess and not to employ. It was objectionable for various 1361 reasons, and among those reasons was this, that it produced laxity in the management of the finances of the country. But as long as that power was given, so king would he employ it. He would not shrink from the responsibility of doing that which circumstances rendered convenient and expedient. But if they asked him the constitutional question, he was ready to state the opinion he had always entertained, that the power of adding to the debt through the Savings' Banks Act was not a power which a Minister of the Crown ought to be allowed to exercise. He was asked how he had arrived at the conclusion that he should gain 700,000l. upon sugar. In 1825 the total amount of sugar retained for home consumption was 3,079,848 cwt., and the; average price was 38s. 6d. In 1826 it had increased to 3,573,990 cwt., and the average price had fallen to 30s. Id. In 1836 the quantity retained for home consumption was 3,488,399 cwt, and the average price had risen to 40s. 10d.; and in 1837 it advanced to 3,954,810 cwt., with an average price of 34s. 7d. Thus the consumption had increased as the price had diminished; now, by the scale of duty he proposed, he secured a price considerably below the average of last year, and calculating for the future year, upon an increased consumption in proportion to the diminution of the price, it would be found that he was fully warranted in calculating upon obtaining 700,000l. from this source. This point he hoped he had satisfactorily established.
§ Mr. W. E. Gladstone
said, that nothing was further from his intention than to press the right hon. Gentleman to give an immediate answer to the questions he had put; indeed, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would take time to consider them, because he would be able to give a much more definite and full reply. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to the information he had received from parties well conversant with the sugar trade as to the probable effect of his alterations, and he had asked two questions. The first was, what the right hon. Gentleman had calculated as the supply to be obtained from the East Indies, the West Indies, and the Mauritius? and the second was, what he calculated would be the consumption of the United Kingdom? The answer which the right hon. Gentleman had given related almost exclusively to the latter 1362 question, and unless he felt any difficulty it would be satisfactory if the right hon. Gentleman would, on a future day, give a reply to the first question, and also answer more fully the second.
was only prompted to address the House from the circumstance of his having so frequently professed the principles and proposed the measure which that night were recommended to the House on the authority of Government he was anxious indeed to express his opinion on the measure, for he had really been condoled with by different Members for his occupation being gone, or for having abandoned his office to the Government, but he should honestly feel satisfied if those Members were right, for most sincerely could he say that he never had any personal object in his advocacay of that measure; and should the Government fulfil their intentions announced that evening, and indeed propose what would meet the wants and wishes of the country, he certainly would offer them no opposition, but, on the contrary, as an humble individual, would give them his best support. He thought it, however, important to state what had satisfied him in the speeches of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and of his noble Friend the Secretary of the Colonies, that the budget did lay claim to the support of the country, and it was this—that they seemed to recognise two very important principles, one with regard to revenue, and the other with regard to commerce. The first principle was, that the revenue of this country must depend upon the condition of the consumers; and the second was, that the condition of the people or consumers now depended upon freedom of commerce. Now, these were sound principles, and although now somewhat newly recognised by a Government of this country, yet he trusted they would soon be embodied in our legislation. The principle with regard to revenue was upon the present occasion the most important. It had reference to the sources of our revenue which were derived, not from property or income, but expenditure or consumption, and thus depended upon the ability of the people to consume the articles that were taxed. If taxes were chiefly collected from property or income, then, perhaps, if more taxes were required, property or income might be further taxed with effect; it was clear, however, that when the taxes were placed upon general consumption, as they were in this 1363 country, they could not tax the articles consumed without diminishing the power of the consumer, and thereby reducing the revenue collected from consumption. The great object, therefore, with the view to increase the revenue, in case of indirect taxation, was to improve the condition of the consumer. If there was doubt as to the bearing of the taxes which were levied in this country, let it be remembered that 77 per cent, of the revenue was collected from customs and excise, and chiefly levied upon articles which are almost necessarily consumed by the community at large; and if it were questioned how this worked, with regard to revenue let hon. Members refer to years when articles of necessary consumption were dear. The illustration of this principle was to be seen most complete by referring to the price of food during the last ten years, and to the tax imposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer during the last year. In the first place it would be seen that during the years 1834, 1835, and 1836, when there was what was called agricultural distress, which usually meant cheap food, the revenue was flourishing, and each year there was a greater surplus; but in the years 1838, 1839, and 1840, when food was dear (if the duty on corn was deducted, which produced l,200,000l.) but which was never relied upon, it would be seen that the revenue was declining. When hon. Members opposite condemned the Government for not imposing taxes to meet the deficiency, or blamed them for taking off any tax, they should remember that the reason the revenue declined was the high price of food occasioned by the protective duty on corn, which they all supported. This showed the great importance of the noble Lord's notice as a financial scheme, for, by reducing the price of corn, the power of consuming other articles would be increased; but perhaps the inutility of imposing a fresh tax when the revenue was declining from the inability of the people to consume, was never batter shown than by the result of the duty of five per cent, laid on last year. The people were suffering from want of employment and dear food, they were unable to consume taxed articles. What did the 5 per cent, additional tax do? Why, only further increase their difficulty to consume, and the result on the revenue precisely tallied with that view; for they found that though the amount of the tax was 2,330,000l., all that was really got by it was about 530,000l., of which above 400,000l. 1364 was obtained from the assessed taxes, the remainder only being derived from the Customs and Excise, and the additional 4 per cent, on spirits; and if 10 per cent, were put on again this year, the same failure would be apparent from the same cause. Why, how could it be otherwise? The taxes were collected from articles which the people generally consumed; but if one article necessary to life becomes scarce and dear, a great sacrifice was required to obtain it, and it was quite clear they must forego other articles, and the revenue must suffer immediately if it depended upon the consumption of them. This, then, was a most important principle to have recognised, and it was satisfactory to think that, inasmuch as what were called protective duties tended to increase the difficulty of consumption by artificially enhancing the cost, so by reducing these protective duties it was always possible to stimulate consumption, improve the revenue, and maintain the credit of the country no less than the comforts of the people. He was astonished to hear Members opposite ask what connection there was between the Corn-laws and the Budget. Why, how would it have been consistent in the noble Lord to have expected income from increased consumption, if he had not so far improved the means of the people as to take steps to lower the price of food. Most assuredly, if bread and food were cheaper, men would have more to spend on other things. If there were one proposition more valuable than another established by the evidence on the import duty committee, it was that of protection being a tax as burdensome to the consumer as any tax to the state; and not only was it true what Mr. J. Hume had said, that the protective tax on food was more than all the taxes put together paid to the state; but this was also true, that it was a tax that must be paid before the taxes to the state; for men must live, and when their living was very dear, there was less left for the state to tax. He had heard this import duty committee called one-sided and partial, and all that sort of thing, but, instead of abuse, why did not hon. Gentlemen opposite controvert the facts stated on it? Why did they not prove that protection was not a tax, and protection to the landowners not the most grievous of all taxes? Why did they not cross-examine Mr. Hume, and test his credit by their own information. [An hon. Member. They did]. The hon. Member said, that the Member for Whit by did cross-examine the witness; if then that 1365 was the fact, and the public would judge whether the credit or testimony of the witness was shaken. The book was before them; was it not singular that they had heard of no criticism—no refutation of its statement—no argument against them—and nothing but abuse of it. He agreed with the President of the Board of Trade, that the merchants, manufacturers, and trading interest were not so silly as to take all for gospel that they saw in a blue book, and go half wild about evidence affecting their interests, simply because it was published by authority of a committee, and not because it was true. He could not believe that the merchants who had signed the City petition would have said, in their last resolution, that "their opinions had been confirmed and strengthened by the valuable and important information collected by that committee," if they had not known the facts contained in it to be true. He certainly believed every word that the witnesses had stated; he did not know whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer had read the evidence or not, yet he (Mr. Villiers) was well pleased at observing the conformity of the principles of his financial arrangements with those that were illustrated by that evidence; and it was because he thought he rested the revenue upon this solid ground when he sought to improve it by bettering the condition of the consumers, and because he thought that the noble Lord had also in view, by his measure for the mitigation of the Corn-laws, the further improvement of the condition of the people, that he was disposed to join with others in expressing hope and satisfaction from the notice of the noble Lord, and the financial scheme they had propounded to the House that night. Mr. A. Chapman had not complained of the publication of the evidence, but that the Session had passed before the hon. Member for Harwich and himself had called a single witness to rebut the evidence, and that the Committee had not been re-appointed. Although the evidence was thus incomplete, the Chairman of the Committee had sent him 4,000 copies of the Spectator containing what he admitted was a fair abridgement of the evidence given.
§ Mr. Pusey
alluded to the silence that 1366 had prevailed on that (the Ministerial) side of the House with respect to the proposed change in the Corn-laws, and observed that he thought the present the best protection which could be given to the agriculturist, that it did not work harshly upon the manufacturers, and that there never was a time when the agriculturists had made such exertions to deserve the protection they enjoyed. He would not, at that inconvenient time, enter more fully into the question; but he must observe, that it was a matter of extreme inconvenience that they were not in possession of the exact terms in which the Government meant to propose their resolution. The time for sowing was not yet over, and many farmers might be influenced in the quantity of corn they would sow by the nature of the Government proposal and there were many farms to be let. Although, therefore, it might be inconvenient to take a discussion before the time announced by the noble Lord, yet he hoped that he would relieve the anxiety of the agriculturists, by stating the exact terms of his intended motion.
§ Mr. Alderman Thompson,
while admitting the ability and ingenuity of the statement of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, respecting the principle on which, as he conceived, the financial affairs of the country ought to be conducted, altogether denied the position that by cheapness of food, pro tanto, the consumer was benefitted. As to the timber duties, it should be recollected that this; trade employed 35,000 tons of shipping, and a large body of seamen, the whole of which branch of industry would be thrown out of work were the timber trade interfered with in the manner proposed. With reference to the petition from the city of London, which had been so dwelt upon, he felt quite assured that the Gentlemen, who signed it did not contemplate the extensive alterations in the colonial trade set forth by the right hon. Gentleman, And to show that this petition did not represent the entire body of the merchants of London he might state that he had in his pocket a petition from the city of London, signed by every merchant engaged in the North American trade, against a bill of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, entitled "A bill for regulating the trade with the British possessions; abroad."
§ Mr. Labouchere
said, it was due to the 1367 Gentlemen who signed the petition referred to, to rescue them from the misrepresentation of their sentiments made by the hon. Gentleman. It was quite true that they did not ask for the absolute and complete abolition of all protecting duties on colonial produce, but this they did say, "your petitioners are of opinion that the present Customs' duties and prohibitions, are detrimental both to the general trade of the country, and to the revenue. They have the effect of greatly increasing the price to the British consumer of many articles of first necessity, and of totally excluding others of foreign growth; thus giving more than a fair and reasonable protection to particular interests, and laying an unfair tax on the community. We are of opinion that by a revision of the Customs' duties the revenue would be increased, the trade and manufactures of the United Kingdom promoted, and the merchant shipping extended." The petitioners further stated, that their opinion was "strengthened by the satisfactory evidence, facts and statements produced before the Select Committee on import duties, and by the report of the said Committee." Since the petition presented by Lord Ashburton, previous to Mr. Huskisson's great alterations, such a petition as this from the merchants of London had not been presented to the House. The question was, whether they should not listen to the general voice of the trade and commerce of the country, rather than to that of particular interests, acting always with due consideration and moderation.
§ Mr. Alderman Thompson
explained, that what he said was simply this—that at the time that petition was signed by the merchants they could not have had in contemplation the great and important measures affecting our colonial interests which were now proposed. He thought the President of the Board of Trade attached more importance to that petition with regard to the immediate measures before the House than it deserved. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to the signatures of Robinson and Co., but he had a petition which was signed by Mr. Robinson, in which was an allegation that nothing could be more wise or beneficial than the existing regulations of our colonial trade. [Mr. Hawes. What's the prayer?] The prayer was, that the 4th clause of the Import Duties bill restricting 1368 the protection on British manufactures should be struck out.
§ Sir J. R. Reid
said, that he lamented deeply the deficiency of 1,800,000l. which had been announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but he could not yet discover why the West-India interest was to be sacrificed for the purpose of making it up. He did not hesitate to state, that some parties deeply interested in the West-India trade, had declared to him that, in the event of the proposed measure passing—he alluded to the reduction of the duty on foreign sugar—the result must be the total and complete ruin of the West-India interest. He still flattered himself with the hope that, considering the importance of these interests, the Government might be induced to reconsider their proposal.
§ Mr. Hawes
said, that it was no doubt true that all the merchants of London had not signed the petition which had been presented on the Import duties; probably the West-India and East-India merchants had not; but with the exception of these classes that petition did mark in a remarkable manner the opinion of the merchants generally on the import duties. He had documents which would show the conviction of many of them that a revision of the import duties was essential; he would not enter upon details then, but he had derived the greatest possible satisfaction from the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Viscount Sandon
wished to bear his testimony to the fact that the petition presented in support of the general bearing of the Import duties committee was not to be taken as evidence of a general opinion in favour of the scheme of the Government. With regard to the petition which had been presented from Liverpool, he knew that at the meeting which took place before that petition was presented it had been distinctly understood that the Corn-laws were not to be touched upon; that was one point; besides which, one of the leading persons at that meeting, the proposer of one of the resolutions, was a great West-India merchant and importer of West-India sugar, and he protested strongly against the equalization of the duties. No doubt a general approbation had been given of the abstract principles of free trade—many merchants would come forward, and express their approval of the abstract principles—yet, when it 1369 was attempted to apply them to their own trade and interest, they would strongly oppose such a step. He did not admire the magnanimity of those who, not requiring protection for their own interests, would deprive others of it.
§ Mr. C. Wood
said, his right hon. Friend had very clearly explained the apparent contradiction between the general petition, referring to general principles, and the petition having reference to a particular interest. It reminded him of the Grecian army, in which everybody put himself first, and all concurred in putting the commander second; and in this matter, there was a general approval of the principles of free trade, but everybody was anxious to preserve a little protection for himself. The worthy Alderman himself desired some protection for the shipping interest; the right hon. Baronet opposite for the sugar trade; and his hon. Friend opposite required that the Corn-laws should not be touched; and then, whilst all these protections were preserved, no relaxation could take place. The noble Lord had said, that the question of the Corn-laws had been expressly excluded from the Liverpool petition; but the hon. Member for Wigan had that night, he believed, presented a petition from Liverpool against the Corn-laws, signed by 53,000 persons. [Viscount Sandon. That was for a total abolition.] Very well; but it at all events proved, that though the Corn-laws had not been specially mentioned, they excited no inconsiderable interest in Liverpool. He could bear testimony to the fact stated by the President of the Board of Trade, that the universal feeling in the manufacturing districts as to the import duties, did not arise from agitation, and was not the result of party feeling. He had presented a petition from Halifax, signed by men of all parties, who had on this subject for the first time united to obtain a general revision of the import duties. He never recollected the trade of that district in such a state as it was in now; and they looked to the alteration of those duties to enable them to contribute their share to the revenues of the country. As a landed proprietor himself, deriving every shilling that he possessed from land, he should be ashamed of himself if, whilst he was calling upon other interests to surrender their protection, he was not ready to give up that of which he had long had the benefit. That was a feeling which 1370 would be found to extend widely amongst the landed proprietors, who, though they had strenuously contended for that protection whilst it was proposed to deal with that alone, would not object to give up the benefit of it when other interests were dealt with in the same manner. He looked to improvement in agriculture as a great means, by which, in a few years, the farmers would be able to produce corn at a much cheaper rate than at present. But this was not only a question of relieving trade from restrictions and burdens; it was a question whether they should impose additional burdens on the country, or try by means of a revision of existing duties to relieve the country from the burden under which she was suffering. How could they further tax the country? He knew not where they were to turn for a new tax. It was impossible for them to impose new burdens until they had tried this experiment of revision, and it had been found to fail. That it would fail he could not believe; but he was sure that no tax could be imposed until it had been trial.
§ Lord John Russell
wished to say one; word in answer to what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, in reference to the length of time which would elapse before he proposed to bring forward the question of Corn-laws. Like the right hon. Gentleman, he had been looking in Hansard for a precedent and found one. On the 13th December, 1826, Mr. Secretary Peel moved the adjournment of the House to the 8th of February following, and stated that, "At their next meeting it was intended to lose no time in bringing forward the most important public business of the nation. Indeed, so fixed was this determination on the part of his Majesty's Government, that his right hon. Friend had empowered him to give notice, that on the Monday following the 8th of February he intended to submit to the House a motion which would specifically introduce the great question of the Corn-laws." Of course, the country was left in a state of agitation for nearly two months on the important question of Corn-laws. With respect to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Pusey), he begged to state, that he should endeavour, in the course of next week, to state specifically, when his right hon. Friend brought forward the question of the sugar duties, 1371 the nature of the motion he intended to make.
Mr. W. Attwood
said, much weight had been attached to the petition read by the President of the Board of Trade; but by what process of reasoning had the right hon. Gentleman been led to attach so much weight to the views of those merchants who were interested in the removal of the duties, whilst he attached none to the views of those who were interested in their maintenance? The President of the Board of Trade saw very clearly the interest which the colonial merchants, the shipowners, and the landholders had, and he considered it to diminish the value of their opinion; but when he saw merchants whose interest it was that the duties should be taken off, applying to have them taken off, he thought their opinions entitled to the greatest respect. For his part he considered the opinions of the one class as much deserving attention as those of the other. He would remind the President of the Board of Trade that before the present time, measures of free trade had been adopted, and the greatest prosperity prophesied as the result, and yet it was now acknowledged that the greatest distress prevailed.
§ Mr. Brotherton
said, the principles of free trade had been a good deal talked about, but not acted upon.
§ Mr. Thornely
said, in reference to what had fallen from the noble Lord opposite (Lord Sandon) about the Liverpool petition that one of its allegations was, that duties levied on the necessaries of life were highly detrimental to the great interests of the country. There could hardly be a plainer reference to the Corn-laws,. The meeting in question was composed of the most respectable gentlemen in Liverpool. It was called by the mayor, and each resolution, he believed, Was moved by a Liberal and seconded by a Conservative.
thought the reduction of duty on foreign sugar would be a bounty on slavery and the slave trade. If they reduced the duty on East and West India sugar from 24s. to 12s. the consumption would be so great that it would not be necessary to admit foreign slave sugar.
§ In answer to Mr. Herries,1372
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, he intended to bring forward his proposition on Friday next.
§ Resolution agreed to.
§ House resumed.—Adjourned.