§ House in Committee.
§ MR. HERRIES
did not think it was understood that any votes that might be proposed were to be taken without discussion in Committee of Supply, merely because another Committee was to be appointed. He held that whatever vote they were called upon to pass in the extremely disastrous circumstances of the country at the present moment, the House was hound to consider most seriously; and that House would be abandoning the most important of its duties if it passed one vote without bestowing upon it the utmost attention that it was capable of giving. He must say that the word "secret," in reference to the Committee to be appointed, had rather indisposed him to meet the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The use of the word "select" alone would have been much better than those employed, namely, "secret and select;" and he could not help saying that he had a great repugnance to such a Committee. If their object was to withdraw from public notice all those votes that formed part of the naval and military estimates of this year, they might be sure that that course would not lessen the difficulties staring them in the face; and he hoped the Members of that House would pause before they gave their consent to such a Committee. He had heard nothing to reconcile him to the proposition made of referring these votes to a Secret and Select Committee, though no doubt that subject would more properly fall to be discussed when the proposal was formally before the House.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that it would be highly improper to take any whole vote on the present occa- 1000 sion, and that no such vote should be proposed without the fullest information being given as to its nature and objects. The first vote that had now been asked for was one that could not be reasonably objected to, seeing that it was a vote for the payment of past expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman must he aware that it was not necessary in such a vote to give a complete statement, especially as a full explanation would be given when the whole vote was taken.
§ MR. BANKES
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he would state whether this was or was not a vote with relation to which there had been a controversy between the Treasury and the Admiralty; the Treasury finding fault with the Admiralty for the way in which the amount had been incurred, alleging that it had been done in an irregular manner? If such was the case, the sooner an explanation was given the better; for it sounded rather unpleasant to hear that two departments of the State were at variance the one with the other. With regard to the vote, he hardly knew what effect it might have upon the public mind; for it was already fonnd that the House of Commons was no sufficient check between the Minister and the public, as the amount which they voted was frequently not the whole amount expended, as the excess of expenditure showed. He thought the vote ought not to pass without a very full explanation, as a question not only between the two departments who had come into collision, but also as a question between them and the public and the Government. As to the question of a Secret Committee, would the Chancellor of the Exchequer allow him also to ask in what respect there was a difference between a Select and a Secret Committee? Were the Members of the House not selected to sit on that Committee to know how persons voted who sat upon it? With regard to other Committees, it was well known that the way in which parties voted was made public; was the same course to be adopted with reference to this Committee? and, if so, would it be got immediately, so as to enable the House to give its judgment upon any decision they might arrive at?
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, this was a vote on which a correspondence, such as he had alluded to, had taken place. The hon. Gentleman was aware that, in old times, the balance of former votes was handed over to the particular departments in which they oc- 1001 curred, and that those departments had the power of applying and sometimes misapplying the sums thus put into their hands. An Act was passed, however, in 1832, with reference to the Admiralty, and another Act was passed last year with regard to the Army, which did away with this practice, so liable to abuse. Those departments could no longer hold a balance; after the 5th of April in each year they were bound to pay over all unappropriated balances into the Exchequer, and therefore it was necessary to have a vote of that House to defray the excess of expenditure which might be incurred. The object of taking that vote now, was to have it brought at the earliest possible moment before Parliament; and he need not tell the hon. Gentleman, what he must know perfectly well, that it was impossible in all cases to keep the expenditure within the estimates. With regard to the point as respected the Admiralty, they had not done what they ought to do according to the Act. The hon. Gentleman had asked a question as to what constituted the difference between a Select and Secret Committee, A Select Committee was, in his estimation, one that was open to the whole world, and therefore could have nothing secret about its composition; a Secret Committee was one to which the whole world had not the right of admission. The only Secret Committee on which he ever sat was one in 1840 and 1841, on the subject of banks of issue; and, at the termination of their sittings, the result was laid before the House. A Secret Committee sat also, he believed, in 1828. He believed that a good deal depended on what came before Secret Committees, whether, on the whole, they deemed it expedient to publish the result of their proceedings, or the grounds on which any decision they might come to was founded.
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
was completely opposed to this Secret Committee, which was no doubt to be proposed by the Government to suit their own particular purposes. The evidence taken before it, whatever it might be, was to be kept entirely from the public; and they would know nothing about the matter till perhaps a garbled and unsatisfactory statement was laid by somebody or other before the House. This he thought a very 1002 dangerous mode of proceeding; and he had hoped that the hon. Member for Montrose would not have consented to wave his important Motion for any such proposal. He trusted that the House would firmly refuse to vote the estimates till they had a full and satisfactory explanation. He wanted all Committees to be before the House and the public, and that gallery, so that a report of everything might reach the world through that excellent organ, the press. He was sorry to say the House of Commons was not disposed to serve the public, but to back up a Ministry which did not deserve the confidence of the public.
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
was by no means satisfied either with the explanation of the noble Lord or the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He conceived it to be entirely unconstitutional to propose a Secret Committee to inquire into the state of Her Majesty's Navy. His right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had attempted to draw an analogy between a Secret Committee to inquire into the defences of the country, and a Secret Committee to inquire into a Bank Bill, or into the general credit of the country. He apprehended there was a most essential difference between an inquiry which concerned the credit and commerce of the country, and an inquiry that concerned the national defences; and unless the noble Lord was prepared to say that there were grave reasons of State for such a course, and evident peril surrounding the country, he, for one, would not consent that that House should delegate its powers to a Secret Committee. What was to take place in that Committee? What inquiries were to be made? Were they not to know the nature of the inquiry, or who and what were the witnesses to be called before it? Were they not to know whether it was to inquire into the diplomatic relations of this country, or how near or how distant was the danger of an invasion from Prance? Were they to go blindfold into the appointment of a Secret Committee without being told anything of the objects of the inquiry? Was it that perhaps the country was in imminent danger of foreign invasion, and that it was proposed to go into a Committee to inquire what were to be the defences and fortifications, and what the number of steamers or ships that were to be added to the Navy? He confessed, for one, that if it could be shown to him that there was imminent peril—that some expedition was projected, and that it was not safe for the 1003 country that the enemy should know anything of our preparations—that might be a reason for assenting to a Secret Committee; though he might then say, that the Executive Government was not fit to hold its position when it deputed the executive power and authority, which properly belonged to the Crown or the Ministers of the Crown, to a Select Committee. For these reasons, unless the noble Lord was prepared to state some better grounds than he had yet heard, he would not consent to refer the Navy Estimates to any Secret Committee.
§ LORD H. VANE
believed that a Select Committee had the power within itself to exclude the public from its sittings, as occasion might require; and that course was agreed to be taken by a Committee of which he was a Member last year. That Committee thought it expedient to come to a resolution on the subject; but he apprehended that it was at all times in the power of a Committee to exclude the public, and to prevent the publication of any part of the evidence taken before it. He quite agreed with the noble Lord in thinking that it would be inexpedient if there was to be no publication at all; and, therefore, if this Committee were appointed, reports of its proceedings should be published, leaving with the Committee, however, the liberty of excluding any portion of those proceedings which they might think it inexpedient to give to the world. He would ask the noble Lord whether his understanding of the Secret Committee was such as he had described it; or whether he intended that no publication whatever should take place of the proceedings?
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
The question has been put, why a Select and Secret Committee is to be appointed? I shall, however, not enter into the reasons why such Committee should be appointed, but rather confine myself to the apprehensions which have been expressed with respect to the consequences of such a course. The noble Lord (Lord G. Bentinck) says, the appointment of a Secret and Select Committee is unconstitutional; but, in 1788, in 1797, 1807, 1817, and 1828, and under various Ministers—such as Mr. Pitt, Lord Grenville, Lord Liverpool, and the Duke of Wellington, this House appointed Committees of Inquiry into the whole expenditure of the Army, Navy, and Ordnance. Those Committees were all not only Select but Secret Committees; that is to say, not only were the public in general excluded, 1004 but Members of the House had no right to walk into those Committees and insist on being present. Why it should be unconstitutional in 1848 to do that which was done on all these several occasions, I own passes my comprehension. I should have thought that a proceeding sanctioned by such names, though it might be considered objectionable on other grounds, could not be, at all events, characterised as essentially unconstitutional. Upon one of those occasions Mr. Pitt stated why he thought the Committee ought to be secret. He said the heads of departments might be examined, and that the statements which they might have to make before the Committee might involve facts which it was not desirable to publish to the world. That was a practical and sound reason. It was a reason which applied to the present time. Statements might be required from the heads of departments; but if every Member of Committee were to ask those persons whatever questions suggested themselves, there might be considerable inconvenience in at once publishing those statements. I hope these considerations will satisfy my noble Friend. I have to express my own conviction that it would be highly inconvenient if such a Committee were an open Committee; and if, every Member of Committee putting what questions he pleased, the examinations were given at once to the world. I shall not enter on the question whether it is convenient to appoint a Committee. My right hon. Friend has given notice of his Motion for to-morrow, when he will state the grounds on which he proposes a Committee. My own impression is, that it will be for the public advantage that such a Committee should be appointed. All we want is to obtain such a sum of money as public convenience requires. We are far from wishing to avoid discussion. On the contrary, we think that there ought to be a fair and open discussion on these estimates; and I, for myself, have only to state that, in my opinion, they are neither war estimates nor are they framed with any view to a rupture with any foreign Power. Our relations with foreign Powers are most amicable; and, in that view the estimates are framed, and I am prepared to take my share of the responsibility of those estimates.
§ MR. HERRIES
observed, that they were now discussing what was to be the nature of a Committee which had not yet been proposed. If the proper course had 1005 been taken, and the Committee been proposed in the first instance, then with great propriety might the proposition have been made that the House should vote on account such sums as the public service required. But Her Majesty's Government were resolved to refer the whole to a Select Committee. The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) had referred to various dates when Committees had been appointed. But those Committees were not of such a nature as that which it was now proposed to appoint; they were general Finance Committees, appointed to inquire with reference to all departments of the Government. Did the Government intend at present to propose a general Finance Committee before they proceeded with the votes? If so, the votes should be postponed. From what the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said, he gathered that the Committee was to inquire specifically only into those estimates for the present year. If they were to adopt the precedent to which allusion had been made, and institute an inquiry into all the financial arrangements in regard to the whole income and expenditure of the country, then the question as to the income-tax ought also to be referred to the Committee. He wished to know why they should be called upon to give votes ad interim? The noble Lord adverted to cases in which secrecy was observed by Committees. One case was mentioned as occurring in the time of Mr. Pitt. [Lord J. RUSSELL: In 1785.] It would, he believed, be found that such cases had occurred in time of war, when it would have been inconvenient to make revelations on the subjects brought before the Committees.
§ MR. HENLEY
thought they were getting very fast into a very curious position. The Government had brought forward a proposition for taxing the country. They had also expressed their formal judgment, as a Government, in regard to the expenditure which they considered necessary for the country during the coming year. Part of that estimate was printed and before hon. Gentlemen; but they could not look at the printed figures, and take into account what had been stated by the noble Lord the other night, without seeing an expenditure stated running hard upon 60,000,000l. He (Mr. Henley) should not refer to the palmy Whig days of 1835 and 1836; but, looking to 1840 and 1845, he found that there had been a periodical increase. That might be right; he ex- 1006 pressed no opinion whether it was so or not. But the fact no man could deny, that there had been a great and heavy increase. What was the remedy proposed? Was the House of Commons to look into the matter? Why, instead of standing the ventilation of the estimates as those estimates ought to be ventilated—instead of coming forward and assigning their reasons why this item and that should be allowed—the Government proposed to refer the subject to a Committee. The Navy Estimates, he ventured to say, would be found to have rapidly increased for several years: they had increased at the rate of 1,000,000l. a year. The proper course was for the Government to stand fight on the estimates in an open Committee. If Ministers thought the country would be satisfied with refering such a matter to thirteen, or fourteen, or fifteen Gentlemen, a majority of whom might be expected to adopt the views of the Government—if those estimates were approved, nobody knowing why and wherefore, by a Committee so constituted—if, in point of fact, they were not proposed on the responsibility of Government, the Government throwing its responsibility on the Committee—it seemed to him that such a course amounted as nearly as possible to an abdications of the functions of Government. He did not see what other inference he could draw, if those persons who were most conversant with all the circumstances of the country did not come forward and give an account of what they thought was proper to be expended on them: he repeated, if they did not in open fight before Parliament defend their propositions. He did not pretend to say that the Committee should not be appointed, or that the estimates were not just; but he confessed that the course now proposed had struck him with so strong a sense of the inability of Ministers to conduct the government of the country—their inability to stand upon their own measures, and justify them—that he could not abstain from adverting to so singular a state of matters. The unusual thing in the condition of the country now was, that the expenditure ran up in a year some 2,000,000l. or 3,000,000l. It was not very easy to say why the position of the country should make it necessary to expend more this year than was expended some years ago. He did not say the additional expenditure might not be justifiable, but it ought to be fairly placed before them. Many of the instances in 1007 which Secret Committees had sat occurred during the war, when the country had to spend, possibly, 100,000,000l. a year additional, and when their establishments far exceeded the rules applicable to peaceful times. It was very natural that the Government, under these circumstances, should seek to have the estimates considered in such a Committee. He knew not whether one of these was not appointed when the property-tax ceased to be paid. But what occurred on former occasions did not afford any precedent. With regard to the vote for arrears which was immediately before the House, he thought it ought to be postponed. There could, however, be no objection to going so far as might be necessary to enable the Government to bring in the Mutiny Bill.
§ SIR R. PEEL
It was my duty to move the appointment of the last Committee on public expenditure. I made that Motion in 1820, as the representative in the House of Commons of the Government of that day. In the year 1828, shortly after the Duke of Wellington was called to the Government, and in fulfilment of engagements given the preceding year by Mr. Canning, I moved the appointment of a Committee to consider the military expenditure. Ten years had then elapsed since the appointment of a Committee on finance. A Committee had been appointed at the instance of Mr. Pitt in 1786; the next was appointed in 1797; the next under the Administration of Grey and Grenville, in 1807. After an interval of ten years, another was appointed in 1817; and after the lapse of other ten years I proposed in 1828 the appointment of a Committee to consider the military expenditure of the country. I agree with the noble Lord in thinking that this is not the moment to determine whether the appointment of a Committee is fitting or not. But, in reference to the question, so far as it has been raised, as to the Committee being a secret one, I apprehend that if the precedents of former periods are to be followed, the Committee should be a Select Committee. But it will have full power to withhold from the House all information the discovery of which would be injurious to the public service; it will, therefore, be secret. This Committee, which is nominally a Select Committee, has, I apprehend, the power of conducting inquiries in secret, and of excluding from the public knowledge any evidence which it might be important to abstain from disclosing. If you turn to the report made 1008 on the Ordnance Estimates, so far from its being a Secret Committee, you will find that Sir H. Hardinge was examined for ten days, and the evidence was given almost without reserve to the public. And the course which seems expedient in such cases is, that any opinion, testimony, and information which can be given without detriment to the public service ought to be given. No Committee that may be appointed ought, therefore, to be a Secret Committee in that sense. Though the Committee to which I refer published most important evidence given by my noble Friend, then Sir H. Hardinge, who was at that time actuated by the same spirit, and pursuing the same course of conduct as has since distinguished him in India, and had led him before demitting his government to adopt measures which would effect a saving of nearly 1,000,000l. per annum on the military expenditure there—most important evidence also was given by my noble Friend, which would not have been given had the House confined itself to a general Committee on the subject. It related to military works; and the Committee felt justified in withholding it under the circumstances of the time. In their report they speak of the military defences of Canada. They state that—The documents which relate to the subject will be found in the appendix. The Committee regret that they are prevented by important prudential considerations from annexing all the evidence given to them respecting these.I hope that no Committee we may appoint will prosecute its inquiries without following the course then taken, namely, that all the information which can be given without detriment to the public service should be given; yet that the Committee, when it thinks necessary, shall conduct its proceedings in secret, and withhold what it believes would, if disclosed, be injurious to the public service. I reserve my opinion on the question whether those estimates should be referred to a Select Committee; but if they are referred to such a Committee, I have indicated the course which it appears advisable for the Committee to follow.
SIR F. LEWIS
thought that those who wished reduction of expenditure should hail with pleasure the appointment of such a Committee as the Government proposed to appoint. He hoped it would be made, not a Secret but a Select Committee. Unless the rules had been changed since he was formerly a Member of the 1009 House, no Member had a right to be present if the Committee were secret. If the Committee were a Select Committee, any Member had a right to be present. No one would wish to exclude Members of the House from such a Committee, and he should therefore think it unwise to appoint a Secret Committee if a Select Committee could gain the same object. A Select Committee would also be more satisfactory to the public.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
considered the only distinction between a Select and a Secret Committee was, that in the former Members of the House might attend, in the latter they might not. But the Select Committee had power to exclude when it chose; and therefore it appeared to him to be as much a Secret Committee as if it were appointed so. After what had passed on the subject of Supply, the proposal to refer those estimates to some such Committee appeared to be nothing else than putting the powers of the Government into commission. But the suddenness of the resolution of Government was the most remarkable part of the whole. The precedents of 1797 and 1817 had been quoted; but he doubted if such a precipitancy had been exhibited on those occasions as there was at present in vesting their Committees with powers, except, perhaps, in 1797; for that was the year in which cash payments were suspended. Perhaps the Chancellor of the Exchequer had some such intention on the present occasion. If he had, it would astonish some of his friends. But without some such emergency he certainly thought it was an unusual and undignified course to make an announcement on Friday, and then run away from it on Monday. His principal object in rising, however, was to ask the noble Lord whether it was his intention to ask the consent of the Committee to-night for some round sum for the current expenses which he might deem necessary, or to some specific vote? The former course he was quite sure would not be objected to by hon. Members on that (the Opposition) side of the House, though several might object to the latter.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that if it was contrary to the understanding of the House that he should take a specific vote to-night, he was ready to withdraw it. The proposed vote was one which it was essential to take on an early day; but if it was the wish of the House, he would withdraw it for the present, and ask nothing but a vote to account.
§ MR. ROBINSON
said that he, for one, would not consent to vote a single shilling, either on a specific estimate or to account, nor would he agree to the appointment of a Secret Committee, until an opportunity had been given to the public to express its opinion upon the budget of last week. In saying this he disclaimed any wish to offer any factious opposition to Government, or to obstruct the public business.
§ MR. R. C. HILDYARD
was at a loss to understand the conduct of Government on the present occasion. If they intended, as they said, to refer the estimates to a Committee, why call upon the House in the mean time for an increase of the property and income-tax? They first told the House that they had found it necessary to propose an increase of the income-tax, in order to meet the increased estimates which they were prepared to submit; and then they stated that it was their intention to submit these estimates to a Secret Committee: was that with a view of throwing upon the Committee the responsibility of the estimates, or were the Committee to be at liberty to reduce them if they should find it to be desirable? Supposing this to be the result, then, according to the course proposed by Ministers, the country would be saddled with an increased property and income-tax, which they might afterwards find they did not want. He must say, he thought that this was trifling with the country. It seemed to him, like another Committee that had been appointed, a mere farce; an expedient adopted for the simple purpose of taking from the shoulders of Government that responsibility which properly belonged to them. He would ask the noble Lord whether on Monday next he intended to call upon the House to vote an increased incometax?
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
I don't think the hon. Gentleman has properly understood the statement I made to the House the other night. What I stated was, that supposing the expenses of the country to remain the same as last year, there was an excess of expenditure already incurred which must be paid for—that, supposing we made no increase in the estimates, there would still be a deficiency of between 2,000,000l. and 3,000,000l., which we must meet by increased taxation. If I could suppose that this Committee which we intend to propose, or any other Committee of the whole House or otherwise, could diminish by upwards of 3,000,000l. the 1011 estimates we have laid on the table, I should concur with the hon. Gentleman in thinking that we might go on without any increase of the income and property-tax. But I cannot hope that any such reduction could be made. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we have no desire to get rid of a responsibility by the appointment of a Committee, On the contrary, we are quite willing to undergo any inquiry that can be made into the estimates before a Committee of the whole House, and an inquiry before a Secret Committee over and above the inquiry before the Committee of the whole House. We are quite ready to submit them to both these modes of invesgation. I repeat, however, that I cannot believe that the result of such investigation will be to reduce the estimates by 3,000,000l.; and I cannot believe, therefore, that an increased taxation will not be necessary.
§ MR. DISRAELI
was afraid that, in their efforts to prevent an increase in the taxation of the country, they need not hope for much assistance from hon. Gentlemen below the gangway opposite, whose silence on the present occasion must be very agreeable to the Government. But he rose merely for the purpose of saying, that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed the Committee, he should be extremely obliged to him if the right hon. Gentleman would furnish the House with the precedents for the step which he recommended. He certainly could not find any precedent in the report which had been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth (Sir R. Peel). That right hon. Gentleman had appointed the Committee of 1828, which he said was a Select Committee, to examine the military estimates of the country. Such, however, was not the title of the Committee. The title of the Committee, as was well known, was a Committee to inquire into the state of the public income and expenditure. Now, that was a great difference. The object of that Committee was to see whether it were possible or not for the House of Commons, consistently with the public safety, to diminish the public expenditure; but the military estimates for the current year were not brought before the Committee. It afforded no precedent, therefore, for the present proposal; and he had every reason to suspect that the previous precedents that had been referred to would be found as little germane to the present 1012 instance as the one referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth. He begged to impress upon hon. Members the importance of this consideration. If the House were called upon to appoint a Secret Committee to investigate the military expenses of the year, no one could suppose it was for economical purposes. On the contrary, it was for considerations of a much graver character; such as whether the defences of the country were deficient or not; or whether there were not other circumstances to justify the expenditure, of which it was probable a portion of the House of Commons would be kept entirely ignorant, and which would be concealed from the knowledge of the public. At all events, it could not be said that it was identical with the Committees of 1787, 1817, or 1828, which had been already referred to. He repeated, that he feared the Government would be found steering without the light of precedent. He called upon hon. Members to recollect that if the estimates were discussed in that House, and if it should be found in the course of the discussion that they could not obtain proper information, or could not form a correct judgment of the case without the presence of the public officers, that might be a legitimate ground for referring the matter to a Secret Committee. But it did not follow that they would require the presence of the public officers any more than on previous occasions.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
could, without much trouble, satisfy the House at once on the point referred to; but to do so would be only adding to the inconvenience which had been already felt in discussing a subject not then before them. To-morrow, however, he should be prepared to lay before the House the grounds and the precedents for the proposal which he would then submit to them.
§ LORD DUDLEY STUART
said, it was evident the Government must have felt that their financial statement was highly objectionable; that it had excited dislike and reprobation on all sides of the House; and that it was absolutely necessary to do something to conciliate the opposition. And what had they done? The Chancellor of the Exchequer had come down to the House and proposed a Secret Committee. He (Lord Dudley Stuart) did not believe that the appointment of a Committee would afford any satisfaction whatsoever to the 1013 country. He did not believe that it would reconcile the people in any degree to the proposal which had issued from the Government. He did think that there never had been such a budget as this one. He believed it was generally anticipated that the income-tax might be continued; but it was supposed it would be accompanied by something which would mitigate the evil; that, at least, it would be levied upon a principle which was less unequal than at present, and therefore less objectionable. If the window-tax had been taken off, or the tea and tobacco duties reduced, or some other been of that kind given to the country, it might have been considered as some compensation for what he had always considered a great evil, viz., the income-tax. In fact, he had always marvelled how that House and the country had so quietly submitted to that tax in a time of profound peace. It had been obtained from the House, he would not say on a false pretence, but a pretence which had certainly not been fulfilled. It had been said that it was only to last for three years; then it had been extended other three; and now it was to be extended still further. He could not agree, however, with some Gentlemen on his side of the House in their view of the observations of the noble Lord in introducing the budget. He had never understood that the noble Lord had brought forward his statement as a war statement, or that he had sounded any alarm; and he was very glad that the noble Lord had that night disabused the minds of this House and the country upon that point. He admitted, however, that he thought it would be highly culpable if they suffered this country to be in a state which would offer temptation to a warlike people to come over and invade us. He firmly believed, that on both sides of the Channel it was the desire of all sensible and reflecting men to preserve the relations of peace and amity. At the same time, he considered that war was not impossible; on the contrary, he knew that there were a number of turbulent spirits in France who would be glad to go to war with this country if an opportunity should offer; and he could not feel that, if the French nation should ever be ruled by a monarch of headstrong disposition and military predilections, or by a weak monarch guided by an ambitious and unscrupulous Minister, that there would be no danger of so deplorable a contingency as war. Without, therefore, filling the coun- 1014 try with armed men, or covering it with forts, a moderate and reasonable state of defence ought to be maintained. He was much inclined to the opinion that this might be effected without any augmentation of our armaments by a more judicious distribution of them. There were squadrons in different parts of the world that were of no other use than that of creating a lavish expenditure. The squadron upon the coast of Africa cost at the very lowest estimate 300,000l. a year, and was employed in an inglorious service, in which numbers of gallant officers and men lost their lives miserably in trying to accomplish that which they could not effect. The object proposed to be attained by that squadron was undoubtedly one of the noblest, the most humane, and the most righteous that could be imagined; and he was satisfied that if it were in any degree attained, there was not a man in the country who would grudge the sacrifice of money, or even of life attendant upon it. But it was notorious that all our efforts to put down the slave trade by our cruisers had wholly failed; we did not liberate more than one out of ten of the negroes who were carried off; and by driving those engaged in this most nefarious traffic to employ smaller vessels, wholly insufficient for the number of slaves they conveyed, we caused a frightful aggravation of the horrors of the middle passage, and occasioned a much greater number to perish by a horrible death than we succeeded in liberating from captivity. He thought that Government would do well to suppress that squadron, and devote the money to a more useful purpose. He would only add, that he was glad the Government had acquiesced in the suggestion that had been made.
§ MR. WAKLEY
said, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire had expressed his astonishment at the silence of hon. Gentlemen below the gangway, and said he thought that silence must be extremely gratifying to Her Majesty's Ministers. He was very sorry that that gratification would be of very short duration. But the hon. Gentleman could not be surprised that they should be reluctant to speak upon a painful subject. He thought it was one of extreme pain. Nevertheless, as he knew it to be his duty to intimate to the Government what he had ascertained to be the opinion of great numbers of his constituents—a repugnance to the proposal that the noble Lord had submitted to 1015 the House—he should not shrink from briefly discharging that duty. The proposal of the noble Lord, in brief, he might state, had been received by them with astonishment, indignation, and disgust. He always liked to express himself in plain and intelligible terms. Why should he talk for an hour—as he was sorry to say was the practice with some persons—and at the end of the hour leave his hearers in doubt as to what the speaker intended to express? There could be no difficulty, he hoped, in understanding what he had said. The noble Lord could scarcely be aware of the feeling which his proposition had raised out of doors. The people were angry to a certain extent with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth when he proposed a tax of 3 per cent upon property and income for "the short period of three years." There was a fascination in the manner of the right hon. Gentleman which made his proposition acceptable to the House. He so paved the way—he laid the ground for it so nicely—that it was next to impossible to be angry with him. The noble Lord, he must say, resorted to no expedient of that kind. He came out in a very broad and manly way; and it was quite evident that he considered his proposition would not be unacceptable to the public. The noble Lord, however, would find that it would have been of advantage if he had used some stratagem. He thought honesty was the best policy; but honesty, upon this occasion, would bring him into a dilemma. It was his deliberately-formed opinion, that although the proposition to extend the continuation of the tax might be carried for three years, it was not in the power of the Government to increase it to 5 per cent. He might be wrong; but he was sure the public would make such representations to their representatives in the House, that those representatives would not dare to support Ministers in carrying out that proposition. Let it be continued for three years; what man was there in his senses, out of a lunatic asylum, who believed that at the end of that time, after the experience they had had, it would be abandoned? No. If it were carried for two years, it would be as perpetual as any Administration could make it. He said, then, the public were right in resisting the proposal at once, because it really involved one of the most dishonest, and, in his opinion, one of the most disgraceful species of taxes that could be tolerated by any country; and if John 1016 Bull would bear the spur, then, he said, let them give him more, and punish him for his stupidity. If the proposition were carried, he hoped that before the end of the Session it would be raised to 7½ per cent; and he should be delighted to hear that it soon became 10 per cent. It would serve John Bull right. He must be the dullest of beasts if he bore the burden quietly. Upon this occasion they had the doctors in office, holding a consultation on the state of the patient. The causes that led to his complaint were not very minutely examined; but one of the doctors said to the others, "What shall we do? what was done last time?" "Oh," was the answer, "we gave him a property and income-tax." "Then double the dose," and the dose was doubled, and bitter enough it was. But did the doctors show upon this occasion that they had applied their minds really to the condition of the patient? He could not endure drastic purges for ever—they had drained him to exhaustion already, and yet they wanted to bleed him more. He came down that evening to support the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose; he regretted that that Motion was not made. He was not in the House to hear the reasons that induced the hon. Member to withdraw it. If Ministers would make such a proposal as they had submitted to the House, let them take the responsibility of it. It was not his hon. Friend, but Ministers, who should suffer for it. Let them only reflect; it was but a few weeks back, before Christmas, that the House was called together to consider of the dreadful condition in which the commerce of this country was involved—of the sufferings of all classes of the community—of the threatened bankruptcies of merchants—of the failures of bankers—of the loss of work and wages by workpeople. Immediately after Christmas, within a few short weeks, what was the proposition? Was there any attempt to reduce the burdens of the country? No. A new proposition was made to increase the pressure upon an already impoverished people. If Ministers had applied their minds to the subject, was it not possible for them to have found that retrenchments could have been made in some of the public departments? His opinion was, that there was no difficulty whatever in bringing down the expenditure to the income of the country, as that income was at present constituted. It was all fudge to talk about war with France or any other country. Suppose war were to come, and that they 1017 were not prepared for it. How soon could they get prepared for it? But where was it to come from? Did not Ministers see that the people of foreign countries were too actively engaged in improving their own domestic institutions to desire to go abroad to destroy the institutions of other nations? War was a game at which Government would never be allowed to play if the people were wise; and, as intelligence throughout the world increased, they were getting the best security for peace, and that security was increasing. War was the merest bugbear, fudge, and nonsense possible—he knew not how to express himself in appropriate terms in regard to the folly of such a conception having entered into the heads of Ministers. There was not the remotest chance or prospect of foreign invasion; and yet, at peace with all the world, it was proposed to increase our naval and military armaments—at least our expenditure was to be increased; and how was it to be done? By increasing a tax that was a robbery on a large class of the people. A tax to be just should be equal, and a man ought to be called upon to pay it in proportion to his means. But the income-tax pressed most heavily on the poor man, whilst the property-tax, as at present constituted, scarcely touched the rich man. In all taxation they ought to press heavily upon wealth before they touched poverty and industry; but the income-tax, as it was now constituted, was one of the vilest and most iniquitous imposts ever placed upon the industry and ability of a country. Since he had come to town that afternoon, he had received a letter from one of his constituents, who, upon this subject, made a case which the noble Lord ought to be aware of before he came forward on Monday and asked for a confirmation of the proposal contained in his budget. But the noble Lord and his Government had already given way to a very considerable extent, in making a proposal for the appointment of a Select Committee to investigate this matter, and he considered that the budget was given up. They were not to have it as an entire proposal; and he trusted that by Monday next, as the public would have sat in Committee upon the proposal before that day, the noble Lord would come down to the House with a new proposition, and would spare the House the pain of discussing this extremely disgraceful one. But this was the letter he had received, 'and he begged the attention of the House to the simple manner in which the writer put his own case:— 1018Sir—Will you allow me to say a few words to you, as one of the representatives of the borough of which I am an inhabitant as well as one of your constituents, on the subject of the income-tax, as bearing so heavily on persons in my situation, and which, from Lord J. Russell's speech last night, it is sought to augment to a fearful degree, as affecting persons so situated as myself; and to request your strenuous opposition to the re-enacting of so obnoxious a tax, particularly in its proposed altered form? I am one of a class of persons who have succeeded, after many years of exertion, in obtaining an income exceeding by a few pounds the sum which makes me liable to the payment of this impost. Its operation in my case may be taken as an illustration of hundreds of others. I have a wife and children. I have to maintain my wife and self in decent respectability, and to supply the wants of both the bodies and minds of my children; this I do, and as long as health is given me, I may hope to continue to do so. But my income is dependent entirely upon the continuance of my health; and should I die (except a small sum, to secure which I have annually further to reduce my heavily-taxed income), my wife and children would be left entirely destitute; and yet I am called upon to pay from this precarious source as much as the man who has 5,000l. in the Funds, or property to that amount, of which no contingency can deprive him, and which will remain to support his family should he die! A Government seeking to preserve people from indigence, and to enable them to maintain their independence, would encourage as much as possible the practice of saving something from their present income to provide for future wants; but this tax assumes that the future is the same with all, and that the income, a portion of which should be devoted to the demands of a future day, is as fair a subject for taxation, and should be called upon to yield up as much for the wants of the State, as the income upon which there are no provident claims—an income derived from property, which, indeed, testifies for itself that the owner is in possession for himself and posterity of a decent independence. Is this fair? Ought one to be expected to pay without discontent a tax which thus confounds appearances with facts, and makes a man with 150l. pay as much as another man with 5,000l.? These facts will probably induce you to become the advocate in the House of Commons of persons similarly situated as I am—a class of persons who perhaps are without an advocate; and, should you fall into these views, your advocacy in the House of Commons might do a great deal to open the 'mind's eye' of persons who might by their influence and example effect so desirable an object. I would just add, that during the first three years of this tax, it cost me upwards of 100l. for medical attendance, &c, all of which I have had to pay out of my small salary, as well as the income-tax, assurance of my life, assessed taxes, &c.But the noble Lord was himself an opponent of the tax; he strenuously resisted the imposition of it when it was proposed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite; and the noble Lord has not adduced one argument or reason to show that his opposition at the time was founded upon injustice, or 1019 that it was irrational. He would ask whether the House was disposed to do justice with reference to taxation? and, as a great many hon. Gentlemen opposite were attached to the principle of a sliding-scale, he would ask why they should not have a sliding-scale here, and why the people should not be taxed in proportion to their means? But, instead of that, hundreds and thousands of industrious men, with incomes derived from their own industry and exertions, were called upon to pay this tax; whilst others of a great amount of property were entirely excused. In many respects, the Government could not be aware of the manner in which this tax fell upon the poor. Take a man with 150l. a year, keeping a servant boy or girl at 42. or 5l. a year, to discharge a great deal of the household work. As soon as he found he was to lose 71. 10s. by this tax out of his income, he and his wife, calculating the manner in which they could make their expenditure meet their income, determined to discharge the servant. The poor creature is sent home to a distressed family, and thus misery is produced to two families by a single act of the Government, and that act an unjust one. He trusted that the noble Lord would be induced to reflect seriously on the nature of the proposal before Monday next, and would then propose some modification of it. He would beseech the noble Lord not to throw the country into agitation and angry discussion by persisting in raising this tax to 5 per cent; or, if the noble Lord thought it right for the public service, let him increase the tax to 5 per cent on real property only. But if the noble Lord was desirous, as a reformer, of acting upon public opinion, he would abandon his proposition on Monday, and propose some other in its place.
§ Vote withdrawn.
§ MR. WARD
moved the sum of 800,0002. for the wages of seamen for the ensuing year. Having heard so many animadversions made on the estimates proposed, he would state that nothing could be more gratifying to the Admiralty than to have the opportunity of submitting those estimates to the closest investigation, and every item of them to calm discussion; and, if any saving could be suggested, they would have no hesitation in adopting it. There was an addition to the estimates this year for the marines; but it arose from taking the vote for twelve months, whilst last year it was taken only for six. Every First Lord of the Admiralty for the 1020 last ten years—Lord Minto, Lord Ellen-borough, and Lord Auckland—had been of opinion that the marine force of 10,000 was not strong enough, and that it was advisable to add 3,000 men to the force. The House had last year assented to the vote of an additional 1,500 marines without comment; and the Government asked now for the other 1,500 men, He had certainly not expected the storm that had broken over their heads, for proposing a vote which it was announced last year would be required. With respect to the expenditure of 30,000l. for improving the condition of officers and petty seamen after a long term of service, it had been forced upon the Government from the other side of the House.
§ MR. B. OSBORNE
said, he did not remember what had passed last year when the Naval Estimates were before them; but the House was very neglectful of its duty as far as passing the estimates was concerned. He did not profess to be conversant with naval affairs, but he was prepared to say that a reduction of 500,000l. might be made in the Naval Estimates without injury to the service, or diminishing the number of seamen employed.
§ SIR H. WILLOUGHBY
wished to know whether the 420,0002. China ransom-money detained at the Cape was to be deducted from the l,300,000l. which represented the expenses of the Caffre war?
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, the 420,000l. China money detained at the Cape was paid into the Commissariat chest; and, not having been remitted, he was unable to draw upon the Commissariat for that amount. When the 1,300,000l. should be voted by the House for the expenses of the Caffre war, the sum of 420,000l. China money would appear as a portion of the income of this year.
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
His hon. Friend had asked whether the noble Lord had given the nation credit in his financial statement for this 424,000l. China money? He (Lord G. Bentinck) thought the noble Lord had not done so, and, if that were the case, there would be a surplus of that sum beyond what appeared in his statement. If it were not irregular he should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, when the noble Lord made his financial statement, he had taken credit for the duties on corn which would be received between the 1st of March, 1848, and the 1st of February, 1849, when the Bill of 1846 came into operation.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
With regard to the China money, credit would be given for it in the income of the present year, ending April, 1849. He expected to have received it early in the summer, and if it had arrived it would have appeared in the accounts ending the 5th of January, Credit had been taken in the estimate of 19,750,000l. for the Customs duties, by his noble Friend, for the probable receipts of corn between March 1 and the month of February in the next year.
§ Vote agreed to, as two were other votes.
§ MR. F. MAULE
moved for a part of the sum which would be necessary for the land forces. The total sum required was 3,836,000l. He proposed to take a vote for 1,800,000l. on account, leaving 2,036,000l. to be voted hereafter.
§ MR. OSBORNE
objected to so large a vote being taken, and would move that only 500,000l. be voted upon account. It was thought that the Army Estimates would not come on to-night, and that those for the Navy would alone be taken. The affairs of the Government appeared to be in a very uncertain and unsatisfactory state. There was not one single Member who appeared to know what was to happen. He was astonished to hear that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was to move for a Secret Committee to which the Navy Estimates were to be referred. If the Government would grant a Select Committee to inquire into the public expenditure of the country, some beneficial result might follow. The House would not be doing its duty to the public by voting 1,800,000l. on account for the land forces, and he would move to reduce the sum to 500,000l.
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
would vote with the hon. Member for Middlesex, if they went out alone. The House was asked to vote money before they knew where it was to come from. The Government asked for money on account, and the House was weak enough to grant it; and then when once the votes had been passed, should any explanation be required, it would be asked for in vain. He wondered that the House should submit to such treatment. He protested against the proceeding as a dangerous precedent, and it proved to him that the Government were ashamed or afraid to give the account they were bound to do before coming to the House for the votes.
§ MR. F. MAULE
said that the Govern- 1022 ment had asked for such a portion of this vote as was absolutely necessary for the public service, and no more. The sum asked for was not a moiety of the entire vote.
§ MR. HERRIES
said he had heard from the Government the assurance that it was necessary for the public service some advance should be made, and he knew that the sum now proposed fell very far short of what must be voted. Under these circumstances he could not concur in any step calculated to impede the public service.
§ MR. HORSMAN
appealed to his hon. Friend the Member for Middlesex to withdraw his Motion after the distinct statement of the Secretary at War.
§ MR. B. OSBORNE
did not wish to persist against the general impression of the House, and if the right hon. Gentleman said it was positively necessary for the public service that 1,800,000l. should be voted that night, he would give way.
§ Vote agreed to.
§ House resumed.