HC Deb 07 February 1845 vol 77 cc212-5

The House then resolved itself into a Committee of Supply, Mr. Greene in the Chair.

On the Motion that Supply be granted to Her Majesty,

Mr. Hume

said, that he had no objections to the Supply being granted—that is, he would not divide the Committee upon the subject; but he thought that they ought first to have heard the Government Financial Statement. He was by no means prepared to assent to any increase in the Navy Estimates. On the contrary, he thought that the establishment ought to be decreased. He wished, in allowing the Supply to be granted, to guard himself against being understood to agree in the suggestion for the increase in these Estimates. To the general Motion for Supply being granted, he had no objection; but he was opposed to the addition to the Estimates which was intended to be made. He repeated that the financial statement should be made before public money was voted. The state of the country was such that their efforts ought to be directed to the reduction in every possible way of taxation. If he looked at the Papers laid on the Table to-day, it would appear that 59,000,000l. would have been received by the Treasury in the course of the year, an amount much larger than in former years, or than it was some ten years ago, when Europe was in an unsettled state, and the condition of America required a large establishment. But now, when every thing tended to security and peace, an increase in their establishment was asked for. He would not ask the Committee to support his opinion by pressing for a division; but he begged leave to enter his protest, for the reasons assigned, against the increase, and he should certainly like to hear from the right hon. Baronet his exposition of the plans he had in view.

Sir R. Peel

said, that with respect to the protest of the hon. Member, no great harm could ensue from his adopting such a course, inasmuch as he felt quite sure the hon. Member did not mean to intimate his desire that no supply at all should be granted to Her Majesty. He did hope that the hon. Member would not condemn the Naval Estimates until he had examined them, and ascertained the purposes which they were destined to be applied to. Had the hon. Member known what those purposes were, he would hardly have ascribed them to the sole object of increasing the naval steam force. It might be, he would just observe, that some additional expenditure would be found necessary for the construction of new docks for steam-vessels, and the increased trade with China might render some addition to the naval establishment necessary, for the purpose of affording adequate protection to the British ships employed in that commerce. He hoped, therefore, the hon. Member would postpone, or at least suspend, his judgment until the Estimates were brought regularly before the House; by so doing neither he nor any other hon. Member would stand committed to approve of them. He trusted that the Motion before the Committee, as a mere preliminary form, would be asquiesced in. He must observe, however, with respect to what had fallen from the hon. Member on the subject of the congratulations offered in Her Majesty's Speech, that the ground on which those congratulations were offered, was not that of increased taxation having produced an improved state of the revenue, but because the existing taxation had been productive of so prosperous a state of the finances as to leave a large amount of surplus; and he must confess he thought that all who viewed the matter correctly, would join cordially in the expressions of satisfaction uttered by Her Majesty in consequence of this surplus.

Mr. Hume

knew, by his experience of Chancellors of the Exchequer, and First Lords of the Treasury, that the existence of a surplus in the revenue was always a strong incentive to them to be lavish in the expenditure of the public money, and therefore he was of opinion that a surplus was a bad thing, and that the best way to control expenditure was by keeping the Chancellor short of money. He, therefore could not join in the congratulations of the Speech. The reason however, which had prompted him to rise on the present occasion was in order to express his dissent from the proposal to increase the steam vessels of the Navy.

Lord J. Russell

said, the House would no doubt be very soon in possession of the specific grounds upon which the increase in the Navy Estimates was based, and he should await the knowledge of those reasons in the full belief that they would be found valid and satisfactory. The hon. Member for Montrose had made an observation respecting the course which the right hon. Baronet proposed to pursue with regard to his financial projects. The right hon. Baronet had intimated his intention to bring forward his financial scheme at a very early period, and to state what taxes he should be prepared to reduce. He thought nothing better suited to public convenience, could have been devised or acted upon. But, at the some time, he did not understand the right hon. Baronet to intimate that he had adopted the alteration with the intention that it should be persevered in upon all future occasions. On the contrary, as he understood, it was an exception expressly adapted to the exigencies of the moment. The hon. Member for Montrose had stated that, in his opinion, the course proper to be followed with respect to finance was to settle first what the amount of the Revenue was calculated to be, and then to apportion the expenditure to that sum. The view which he and others of his own Political Colleagues took of the matter was directly contrary to that laid down by the hon. Member, for they had always maintained the necessity and expediency of settling the amount which would be required for defraying the expenses of Government, and for providing for the national defences first, and then provide, in a Committee of Ways and Means, for the mode of raising that sum. He therefore rose for the purpose of saying that, although the right hon. Baronet had adopted the course of stating what his financial views were at so early a period in the present Session, he by no means understood him to intimate that such a course would be continued in future years.

Sir R. Peel

said, he had resolved upon taking the course which he had given notice of his intention to take, in consequence solely of the special circumstances which marked the present Session, because the moment it became known or suspected that Her Majesty's Ministers were resolved upon submitting the necessity of continuing the Income Tax for another limited period to the consideration of Parliament, there had arisen many speculations in the city as to what reductions in the existing taxes were to be proposed by Government, and these uncertainties were productive of extreme inconvenience as well as of positive injury to trade and commerce, by throwing a damp upon all transactions until the intentions of Ministers were made public. It was solely on this account that he had determined on taking the course of making an early statement; and he must explicitly state that it would not be followed on any future occasion.

Mr. Hume

was sorry to hear the objections urged by the noble Lord the Member for the City of London to the continuance of the plan adopted by the Government, because he was sure such a sentiment was in direct opposition to the practice of the noble Lord with respect to his own private expenditure. Every man possessed of discretion would endeavour to ascertain as nearly as he could the amount of his income before he regulated his expenses, and he saw no reason why so wholesome and prudent a rule should not be adopted and persevered in when dealing with the public money. He was, however, glad to have the example set for one year only, and he trusted it would be found to be productive of so much benefit as to induce the right hon. Baronet to persevere in its adoption on future occasions.

Mr. S. Crawford

was extremely glad the right hon. Baronet had at length seen the propriety of adopting the course he had suggested two years ago by an amendment which he then proposed. On that occasion he had moved for the suspension of the Estimates until the amount and the sources of the Income of the year had been ascertained. The hon. Member for Montrose had seconded his Motion on that occasion, but it was rejected. He was glad, however, that the right hon. Baronet had at length taken his advice, and he was only sorry to hear that the course adopted was only for the present year.

Vote agreed to.

House resumed. Resolution reported. Committee to sit again.