§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Mr. Bernal, I have to ask the indulgence of hon. Gentlemen, for I am really not very well able to address them, and I must take this opportunity of assuring them how deeply sensible I am of the kindness and forbearance which the House has exercised towards me during my long and unavoidable absence. I have taken the earliest opportunity in my power of coming down to the House, in order to make that annual financial statement to which it naturally attaches so much importance. I must ask for the indulgence of the Committee also in another respect, for although many of my hon. Friends behind me are always anxious for a very early exposition of the budget, I must repeat what I have before stated to the House, that it is frequently impossible at an early period of the Session to form estimates which can be relied upon as correct, with the confidence which ought to be placed in all statements of this kind. In ordinary years it is the first duty of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to compare the reality of the financial year after it had closed, with the estimates which he had previously framed of it, and, guided by that experience and the knowledge of the probable state of trade for the year, which those conversant with the subject can generally form in the course of the spring, to state what he firmly believes will be the probable income of the year. Another reason for the postponement, until a later period, of any such statement is, that is necessary to vote the Navy, Army, and Ordnance excesses of the former year, if there should be any. Now, at a very early period of the Session, the accounts of two of these departments are not made up, and it is impossible to know whether there will or will not be any excess in those branches of the public service in the previous year, and, if there be such excess, what will be its amount. It is, of course, very possible to make an estimate at any time of the year. But what is valuable to the House is, that the estimates shall be certain—that the person who states them to the House may confidently say that he believes that statement to give a fair and true view of the case, and that the House may be able to rely upon the facts and figures which he lays before it. Now, last year, it would 973 have been impossible to frame anything approaching to a correct estimate, were I to have addressed the House at so early a period as the present. This year I am happy to say that the circumstances are different, and it is very desirable in present circumstances that I should, as early as possible, state the views of the Government as to the financial condition of the country, and thus enable the House to sanction or to reject the proposals which on behalf of the Government I have to lay before it. When I say this, however, I must be understood as claiming allowance for certain possible contingencies, which of course no foresight can possibly provide against to their full extent. I have indeed to lay before the Committee to-night two estimates—one of bur income and expenditure up to the 5th of April, 1850; and the other of our probable income and expenditure up to the 5th of April, 1851. In preparing these calculations I have been assisted by one of the most able public servants this country ever possessed—by a gentleman whose death I only learned this morning—and which I now deeply lament to have to announce. Those who have been my predecessors in the office which I hold, well know that no more zealous, more efficient, or more faithful, servant of the public ever existed than Mr. Brooksbank. It was only the day before yesterday that I received from him the final calculations which I am about to lay before the House. This morning, to my unaffected sorrow, I learned that he was no more. When last summer I laid before the House my estimate for the financial year now drawing to a close, I calculated the probable income at 52,262,000l. Hon. Gentlemen have had in their hands the balance-sheet made up to January last. Up to that period the income, excluding the unclaimed dividends, was 52,874,000l. The receipts, however, during this present quarter are not so high as those of the Corresponding quarter last year; so that I take the probable income of the financial year, ending the 5th of April next, at 52,785,500l. The estimated expenditure for the year was 52,157,696. The actual expenditure up to the 5th of January, was 50,853,622l., forming, as the House will perceive, a very considerable reduction upon my estimate of expenditure made in June last. The actual expenditure, however, up to the 5th of April will be still less than the amount up to January. It 974 will be, I believe, only 50,533,652l. This estimate of expenditure may, however, be affected, according as it happens that the sum taken for naval excess of last year yet to be voted, is included in the expenditure of next year or of this. Sometimes the amount falls in one and sometimes in the other year; but leaving it out of the question for the present, the surplus of income over probable expenditure will be two millions and a quarter. The probable surplus, which I anticipated last year, was only 104,000l. But the House must not be led away by the notion that this surplus arises entirely from excess of revenue over expenditure in the year, because a certain portion of the expenditure included in the estimates of this year, and properly chargeable upon the supplies of this year, was actually paid in the year ending the 5th of April last, the actual surplus of revenue over estimated expenditure being really 627,000l. The income actually received has exceeded the estimated amount by 523,000l. With regard to expenditure, the Committee will see that we have hot been unmindful either of our own professions, or regardless of the recommendation to economy which the House was good enough to give us. The expenditure has been less than I estimated it at by 1,625,000l. Of that sum I believe that 400,000l. may be put to the account of excesses paid last year, thus lightening the demands upon this; so that the actual expenditure may be estimated as being less than the estimated expenditure by 1,225,000l. In every instance in which we found it possible, we have rigidly attended to the claims of economy, and reduced the expenditure by every means in our power. Now, Sir, with regard to the estimates for the present year, I am afraid I cannot encourage the House to hope for results quite so favourable as those which I have stated as to the estimates of last year. In the first place, I am afraid we must look to a considerable falling off in the Customs revenue, mainly arising from one or two causes easy to point out. First, there is the reduction upon the duty on sugars; and there are also one or two other items on which I do not anticipate so large a consumption as we have had during the financial year now near its close. The loss upon sugar from April, 1849, to the 5th of March, 1850, amounts to 626,000l.; however, I cannot look upon that as affording any accurate test of the pro- 975 bable state of matters in this respect next year, as, owing to the delay in passing the resolutions which I moved in the year 1848, a large quantity of foreign sugar, paying high duties, was entered in that year, and has pressed upon the market till very recently, and hence the subsequent entries of foreign sugar have been diminished. Still, however, on the 5th of July last, the duties both on foreign sugar and colonial sugar were reduced. They will be again reduced on the 5th of July next; and, therefore, I cannot calculate on the same amount of receipts from sugar as in last year. The anticipations, however, I may remark, of those who thought that our colonies would be overwhelmed by an importation of foreign sugar have hitherto proved to be altogether without foundation. The increase of entries are entirely of colonial, the decrease of entries entirely of foreign sugar. I saw the other day a paper from Dutch Guiana, giving an account of the extreme state of distress existing there; and it is remarkable enough that the means recommended there in order to cheapen production is by abolishing slavery. In one or two items there has been, last year, an extraordinary increase of consumption—an increase which I do not think will be maintained. One of these articles is brandy, in respect to which there has been an increased consumption in the year ending January last over that ending at the corresponding period in 1849 of no less than 577,000 gallons, producing an increase of the revenue of 443,000l This great increase was not attended by any corresponding decrease in the consumption of other spirits—that of gin, rum, and British spirits having likewise increased. The increase, as respects brandy, is attributed to the alarm which prevailed during the presence of the late fatal epidemic, and which led to an increase in the consumption of the higher class of spirits. It is not likely, therefore, that the same consumption will be maintained. Another item which last year produced a considerable amount of revenue was the extensive import of corn; and this is also an item which I do not think at all likely to produce this year the same amount as it contributed to the Exchequer during the financial year ending April, 1850. I stated at the beginning of February the enormous decrease in importation which marked the close of the last year. There continued to be a corresponding decrease throughout 976 the month of January. I find from the weekly returns of the Custom-house, that this decrease has gone on through February; so that against 485,000 quarters of wheat imported in February, 1849, there is only an importation of 146,000 quarters in February, 1850, showing a decrease of 339,000 quarters in the month. Again, taking corn and flour of all sorts, the importation in February, 1849, was 949,786, while that of February last was 268,135 quarters; showing a decrease of more than 681,000 quarters in the corresponding periods. The fact is, that, as the present prices are not remunerative to the importer, it is not probable that importation to the extent of that of last year will go on. Taking, therefore, these facts into consideration, I think it will be prudent to reckon on a reduction in the Customs revenue. The probable receipts of Customs to the 5th of April next, may be taken as 20,500,000l.—deducting 475,000l. for the duty on corn, there will remain as the receipts from all other articles, 20,025,000l. The probable loss in sugar and brandy may be from 400,000l. to 500,000l.; and allowing for some increase in other articles, I take the probable receipts for all articles entered at the Custom-house during the next year, exclusive of corn, at 19,750,000l. Corn I will take at the same amount as I estimated it at last year, which I believe to be reasonable, namely, 250,000l.; so that the probable receipt from Customs duties for the next year may be stated at 20,000,000l. In respect to all the other items of revenue, I am happy to state that I entertain well-founded expectations of increase. The Excise last year produced 13,980,000l.: for the ensuing year the revenue which I anticipate, is 14,045,000l. The Stamps and Assessed Taxes, I take at the same amounts as they have produced this year, namely, stamps 6,860,000l. and assessed taxes 4,320,000l. The Income Tax amounted last year to 5,408,000l., and I may take it for the ensuing year at 5,410,000l. I take the Post-office at the same amount as last year, namely, 820,000l. From the Crown Lands I anticipate 160,000l. The Miscellaneous sources of income I put down at 260,000l. The sale of old stores, at what they produced last year, namely, 410,000l.; making in all a probable income of 52,285,000l. Upon the expenditure side of the account there are the interest and management of the funded debt, amounting to 977 27,700,000l.; the interest on Exchequer-bills, 405,000l.: making a total charge for debt of 28,105,000l. The civil list and other charges on the Consolidated Fund will amount to 2,620,000l. The Naval Estimates I take at the sum in the estimates, namely, 5,849,423l., and the vote for packet service at 764,236l.; making the total sum requisite for the naval service 6,613,659l. The Army Estimates I take at 6,019,347l., the Militia Estimates at 110,000l.; and the Commissariat at 500,000l.; making a total amount for the Army of 6,629,347l. The Ordnance Estimates amount to 2,434,417l.; thus the Naval and Military Service Estimates made up a grand total of 15,677,423l. The Miscellaneous Estimates of last year amounted to 3,989,000l. I will take them for this year, in round numbers, at 4,000,000l. This sum, with the debt, the charges on the Consolidated Fund, and the estimates which are already upon the table of the House, will make an expenditure for the year of 50,613,582l. That sum will not, however, cover the whole of the probable expenditure of the incoming financial year. In compliance with a wish very generally expressed in the House, an increased vote is to be proposed for the construction of the new Houses of Parliament. And if the Bill of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade in reference to merchant seamen be sanctioned by the House, it will entail an outlay of about 30,000l. At the same time, it is very desirable that we should commence some building for the safe keeping of the records of this country, and a vote will be called for if a satisfactory termination should be arrived at of arrangements now under consideration for the packet service. The Arctic expedition will call for a certain amount of expenditure; and there are also some two or three small items of expense which we may have to incur. To cover all these possible demands, I propose to take a margin of from 150,000l. to 200,000l. If I take the former sum, it will make a grand total of expenditure of 50,763,582l. The surplus would then be 1,521,418l. If I take the latter, the surplus will only be 1,471,418l.; so that the probable surplus may be taken, in round numbers, as 1,500,000l. I come now to the important question of how I am to deal with this surplus. The balance sheet in January last made known to the country the probability of there being a certain surplus 978 likely to be found in the Exchequer; and since then persons of all classes have been very anxious to save me the slightest trouble in finding out a way for its disposal. Hardly was the balance-sheet out, when my noble Friend and myself received a large deputation of gentlemen interested in the reduction of the duties on tea. They stated, and with great truth, that it would be a great advantage to the consumer of this country if the duty on tea could be reduced; that such a step would lead to a large increase of our trade with China; and that, after some time, the revenue would in all likelihood rise again to the same amount as at present. Now, I am not disposed to deny that there is a great deal of truth in these representations. Under ordinary circumstances, I believe it to be the wisest course to reduce those duties which interfere with the consumption of the articles on which they are laid. In such cases it may often happen that while the consumer is materially benefited, the revenue will speedily recover its former level. The tea duty is a fair specimen of this class of duties. But in order to attain this end in the instance of tea, it is necessary that the House should resolve not to dispose of small surpluses. The amount of duty paid upon tea last year was 5,471,000l.; and we may, in round numbers, take the probable revenue arising from the article up to the 5th of April as 5,500,000l. The duty is at present 2s. 2¼d. per pound. Now, the revenue which would be raised upon the quantity now imported, were the duty lowered to 1s. per pound, would produce only 2,500,000l., leaving, therefore, a first loss of 3,000,000l. for the revenue to recover from—a decrease which would require the importation of 10,000,000 lbs. additional to reduce the loss of revenue even to 2,500,000l. To justify such a step, them, as the reduction of the tea duties, We ought to be in possession of a surplus of at least 3,000,000l.; and unless some opportunity be afforded of realising such a surplus, I cannot see how the reduction proposed to be applied to the tea duties could be undertaken with safety to the revenue. The next proposition which I received was couched in the shape of remonstrances, to the effect that it was quite impossible that we should be sincere in our professed anxiety for sanitary reform unless we were prepared to repeal the duty on windows, bricks, and soap. The sum total of these three items 979 of revenue is 3,275,000l.—twice the amount of the surplus on which we can calculate. Then, I have had various propositions for the repeal of taxes of smaller amount. Among these were the paper duties, amounting to 745,000l.; the advertisement duty, coming to 157,000l.; and the stamps on attorneys' certificates, amounting to 120,000l. Now, I do not mean to say that there are not good arguments to be used in favour of the reductions of these duties; but this I do say, looking as we ought to do at the interests of the great body of the people, that I do not think that these duties have the first claim for consideration. Then there was a proposition made for a reduction of the duty upon timber used for building ships—though looking to the probable amount of revenue derived from this source, I certainly was not prepared to find so much importance attached to it, believing, at the same time, as I do, that our ships are the cheapest built vessels in the world. I admit, however, that the vote of the House of Commons has put this question in a different position. I have not, however, unfortunately, had an opportunity of communicating with the parties interested, so as to ascertain precisely their views. There is, I am afraid, only one mode of attaining the object sought, and that is, in many respects, a most objectionable one—by moans of a drawback. It must be remembered that the subject is beset with difficulties. The difficulty Varies very much, whether it is confined to timber used for building ships, or if it extends to that used for repairing them, or to that used for boat building. Other claims for similar indulgence have also been made, and there is the greatest difficulty of exercising an efficient check as to the purpose for which the timber is introduced, I can only say, however, that I will carefully consider the various proposals—that I will do so without loss of time; and I have only to beg that the Gentlemen who are interested will not press me for a decision until I shall have fully communicated with those parties on whose judgment I can best rely as to whether it is possible, consistently with a due regard to all these circumstances, to attain the object in view. Sir, an hon. Friend of mine—I do not know whether he is in his place—has given notice of a Motion for the total repeal of the malt tax. That tax produces a sum of 5,225,000l.; and it must be ob- 980 vious to the hon. Gentleman that, without providing some substitute, it would be quite impossible for a Chancellor of the Exchequer to part with revenue to so great an amount. I shall not add one word more upon the subject, however, as the matter stands for future discussion, excepting to repeat that it is impossible for me, under existing circumstances, to accede to the proposition, if I pay any regard to the public faith and the public credit. Well, Sir, the next proposition made, came from an hon. Gentleman whose absence I am sorry to observe. That hon. Gentleman proposes to transfer to the Consolidated Fund a very large annual charge now defrayed by local taxation. I cannot estimate the amount of the charge which he proposed to transfer to the general revenue at less than between 2,000,0000l. and 3,000,000l.; I may put it at 2,500,000l.; and let it not be forgotten that when this scheme was broached, we were distinctly warned that it was but the first of a series of similar propositions, and that the ultimate object of its supporters was to restore the protective system, to the repeal of which they attribute the distress of which they now complain. But take the proposal as it was actually made. It was one which I was sorry to see supported by such numbers, and such names; because, looking at the matter dispassionately, more so perhaps than those can who took part in the debate, I can see it in no other light than the first decided step towards the reversal of a policy which has now been pursued for the last twenty years. I have stated the probable surplus as about 1,500,000l. Now, if we place upon the Consolidated Fund a burden of 2,500,000l., there will be at least 1,000,000l. of additional taxation to be imposed. What are these taxes to be? The noble Lord, long the most prominent Member of the party opposite, uniformly advocated a system of duties levied upon all imports. And the hon. Gentleman who has succeeded that noble Lord in the position which he occupied, has stated publicly his adherence, and, as I understood him, that of his party, to the same line of policy. Will they, amongst their import duties, omit one upon corn? Not so at least the gallant Member for Christchurch, who proposed the other night a duty of 5s. per quarter on foreign wheat. But the imposition of a duty on corn, and upon the great articles of national consumption, would be the re- 981 versal of the policy which has prevailed in this country during the last twenty years. Now, I have been in the House long enough to remember a very remarkable speech delivered by Mr. Huskisson in 1830. After referring to various circumstances in proof of the accumulated and accumulating wealth of the richer classes of this country, and contrasting it with the state of the lower orders—classes which he contended were improving, but not in the same proportion as those above them—Mr. Huskisson pointed to the irresistible conclusion of the propriety and the justice of removing from the poorer classes some of the weight of that taxation which they bore, and transferring it to the richer portions of the community. From that time to this the carrying out of this principle has been the ruling guide of the commercial policy of the country. We have repealed the duties and restrictions imposed to favour one particular interest—the most burdensome of all taxes, imposed not for the benefit of the Exchequer, but for that of a class. We have likewise repealed or reduced many duties imposed upon articles of general consumption, and upon the raw material, which furnishes employment to the great masses of the community. These changes have been carried to an extent which some hon. Gentlemen seem hardly to be aware of. Between the year 1840 and the period of the retirement from office of the right hon. Baronet opposite, there have been repealed, or reduced, duties of the class in question, amounting to not less than 7,600,000l. Since the latter period, the same line of policy has been pursued. I have reduced the duties payable on copper and one or two other articles to the extent perhaps of 50,000l., while the amount of our reductions of the duties on sugar, colonial and foreign, by the Operation Of the Act of 1848, including the reduction of this year, cannot fall short of 1,050,000l. Thus a sum of 8,650,000l. may be stated as having been removed from the price of articles of general consumption since 1840. It is difficult to give an idea of the extent to which the removal of the duties upon foreign sugar by the Act of 1846 has operated. The removal of a prohibitory duty gives no data to calculate consumption from; but taking the reduction as being from 63s. to 24s., that is, as being almost 2l. per cwt., and estimating that sum as saved upon the average consumption of foreign sugar imported during the last three years, the result 982 cannot be less than about 1,600,000l. How am I to estimate the relief to the consumer afforded by the repeal of the corn laws? How am I to estimate the relief indirectly, but as certainly, afforded by the removal of various restrictions? I have stated in figures relief to the amount of 10,000,000l.; but if I took a sum including several millions more—as the amount of relief afforded since 1840 upon raw material, or articles of general consumption, for the benefit of the community at large, I should, I think, take a low estimate of the effects of our commercial policy. The latter part of Mr. Huskisson's views was carried out by the imposition of the property tax in 1841, now producing 5,400,000l. And again, let me remind the House that all these measures for the remission of taxation have been successively approved of by large majorities in Parliament. But will it be contended that the state of matters pointed out by Mr. Huskisson has materially changed since his day? Mr. Huskisson referred to various proofs of the accumulated capital of the country. But are not these proofs still to be found in the yet rapidly increasing size of our large towns, especially of this great metropolis, and in many other indications of our national growth? Since Mr. Huskisson lost his life at the opening of the first of our great railways, we have invested upwards of 220,000,000l. in railway construction; and of this sum, the amount which has been so invested within the last five years—years which are generally spoken of as having been fraught with great loss to the trade, commerce, and capital of the country—has been 148,000,000l. I do not think I need refer to more conclusive proofs of the accumulated wealth and capital of this country. But I am afraid that in the position of the working man I can present no proofs of an improved condition that are at all to be compared with these. It is, I think, the distinguishing mark of the present day—and a very creditable one it is—the attention that is now so generaly paid to the condition of the poorer classes, and of the labouring man. But looking at the reports made by the Factory Commission, the Tithes Commission, the Sanitary Commission—looking at almost the last report that has been laid upon the table of this House by the Gentlemen who have been appointed to inquire into the working of the law of settlement—I am afraid we must confess that the richer have improved 983 in a far greater degree than the poorer classes. The argument which Mr. Huskisson used is of as great—I should say of much greater—force now than it was at the time he employed it. And yet, in the face of all this, a proposition very recently received the support of more than 250 Gentlemen in this House, which went to relieve property from taxation, and to impose it upon articles of consumption, or on the materials that are employed in manufactures. And it is remarkable enough also that the effect of the proposal made avowedly only for the purpose of relieving the agricultural classes, would have been to relieve a still greater amount, in the proportion of 11 to 9 of that description of property, the owners of which have no claim to relief whatever, and have not even asked for it. I must say, that if many of those hon. Gentlemen who voted for that proposition had fairly considered, I will not say its distant, but its immediate, effects, they would, I think, have hesitated before they gave that vote; for it is my firm conviction, that the great majority of this House have no intention of reversing that line of policy which we have of late years pursued. My belief is, that this policy is just and right, and that though, during the last three or four years, adverse circumstances have prevailed—the famine in Ireland, the commercial distress in this country, and the universal interruption which has occurred to the ordinary course of trade on the Continent—yet, now, I hope, we have begun to reap the fruits of the policy we have adopted. I believe that we now see its good effects in the state of general well-being prevailing throughout the country; and that this will react throughout, and will lift from its temporary depression that interest which is at present alone suffering. Whilst I think that the measures proposed for the relief of that interest were not wise in themselves, or calculated to benefit the country at large, yet I am not ignorant of, nor insensible to, that depression which exists. I confess that I still think that the complaints which were made throughout the country during last autumn were a little premature, and a little exaggerated, yet I am ready to admit that the price of corn is lower than I anticipated it would be, and that this low price has continued for a time beyond what was expected, even by those who took the least sanguine view of affairs. But it is clear that the present low prices are hardly to be attributed to 984 the repeal of the corn laws. I referred on a former occasion, and I repeat to-night, that the importations of foreign corn have fallen off to an enormous extent; and I also stated before, that the fall of prices in France, a country whose corn laws have not been altered, where they have had the benefit of our demand, in addition to their own, has been far greater than in this country; and I saw only yesterday, a report which has been presented to the President of the Republic from the general commission on agriculture, manufactures, and commerce, in which they speak of the state of the agriculture of the country in terms as desponding as any that have been used at our county meetings. They state that agriculture is subjected to a severe trial in consequence of the low price of grain, and all the products of the soil, and they go on to speak of the intense privations endured by the agriculturists of that country. Now, it is obvious that the low price of corn in that country is not to be attributed to the importations of foreign corn. The consumption of other articles in ordinary use was much increased, and I presume that the consumption of bread and meat cannot have diminished. I believe, therefore, that the low prices which prevail in both countries must be attributed to some common cause. I believe that the solution of the question is exceedingly simple. There, as here, the harvest has been unusually abundant; and though no doubt the price in this country may have been lowered during last year to some extent by the importation, I think that the great diminution of imports for the last five months shows that this cause can hardly be now in operation, and that, at anything like present prices, that large importation cannot be continued. It is to be observed that the importations we have received to so great an extent beyond what was anticipated, have been from the countries in our immediate neighbourhood, which are not usually exporters of corn. If I look to what the prices in these countries were, I find that in France the average price of wheat per quarter, for the eight years ending 1845, was 48s. 1¾d.; in Belgium, the average price for the seven years ending in 1845, was 49s. 5d.; at Amsterdam, the average price for six years, ending in 1845, was 48s. 10d., and two-thirds of a penny. I have excluded the years following 1845, which may be called the famine years. I have taken those only which ended be- 985 fore the extraordinary demand for corn arose, and in those years we find that the average price in those neighbouring countries whence we are at present deriving so large a supply was not under 48s. per quarter. I fully admit that the recent change in the law has enforced upon all classes connected with agriculture the necessity of making great exertions to maintain their position. I believe that it will require the united energy and exertions of all classes to meet those changes. I am firmly convinced that the energy of the British agriculturist will finally surmount those difficulties; but I do not deny—I do not think anybody can deny—that in this great struggle there are many who will fall. I never have denied that such was my opinion. I said before, and I repeat, that I know of no great improvements—I may say, no improvement in any department whatever—certainly of none in the trade or commerce of this country—which is not accompanied with loss and distress to many classes. It is notorious that such is the case in carrying out any improvement whatever. To take a very familiar example, is it not notorious that the railways have displaced a great number of persons who formerly gained an honest livelihood by their exertions? Are not we, who live at a distance from London, acquainted with large establishments, on all the great lines of road, which have been broken up in consequence of the change in the mode of travelling? We find inns shut up on all those lines of road; capital displaced, and numbers of persons deprived of their former mode of gaining a livelihood. But would anybody condemn railways on that account? It is matter of deep regret that anybody should suffer on account of a general improvement; but nobody would think of putting a stop to improvements on that account. Those who suffered by the change were no doubt entitled to all our sympathy, and those who are engaged in the struggle are entitled to all the encouragement which can be afforded them consistent with the general good and well-being of the community. I will not say more upon the various propositions which have been made by other parties as to the disposal of the surplus. I will now proceed to state the views of the Government. I thought it necessary, however, thus far to refer to the propositions which have been made, because no doubt some of thorn may be made again in this House, and I thought it better that I should at once state our 986 views upon them, in the hope that if the House should approve of the propositions which I am about to make, it might save future discussions upon some of them. The surplus, I have already stated, is 1,500,000l., and I confess that, looking back to what has taken place during the last two years, the first object I had in view was, that we should effect some reduction of the debt. I do not mean now to refer to the great question of reducing a large amount of the debt. Hon. Gentlemen are aware, that by means of the terminable annuities considerable relief will be afforded to the country in the course of the next fifteen or twenty years; and it may be worth while, in ordinary times, to consider whether any further steps in the same direction cannot be taken. But, at present, I confine myself to the debt of recent times, and I will not go so far back as to the proclamation of the general peace, because during some years after that time measures were necessary to wind up the accounts of the expenditure incurred by that great war. Hon. Gentlemen need only refer to the last twenty years, and in what has happened in those years, I think that they will see ground enough why we should not be indifferent to the debt. In order to simplify the matter, I shall omit all reference to the falling in of annuities, or charges in the description of our debt. I propose simply to state the money that has been borrowed on the one hand, and the money that has been applied out of surplus income on the other, to the reduction of the debt. There was borrowed in 1833–34. 20,000,000l. on account of the West Indian Slave Emancipation Act. There was borrowed to defray the successive deficiencies of the years ending in 1841 the sum of 5,000,000l. I was obliged, by the necessities of the sister country, to borrow the sum of 8,000,000l. in 1847, and when the House refused to increase the income tax in 1848, I borrowed, in order to defray an expenditure which, though extraordinary for one year, yet was not extraordinary in a series of years, the sum of 2,000,000l.; making, in all, up to last year, the sum of 35,000,000l. borrowed. I find, on the other hand, that all the money applied out of surplus to the reduction of the debt during the last twenty years, amounts to 8,000,000l., leaving an increase in the debt of no less a sum than 27,000,000l. I say that this state of things ought to make us careful 987 what we do, as regards the reduction of taxation. In the year 1848, when the House refused the proposition we made to them to increase the income tax for a period of two years, I certainly was in hopes that they would not, the moment there came a surplus, instantly urge upon us that the whole surplus should be devoted to the reduction of taxation. What should we think of the conduct of a private man who, whenever he found his income fall short of his expenditure, borrowed, but who never thought of paying off his debt, when, by some fortunate turn of affairs, his income happened to exceed his expenditure? I must say that if we hope to maintain the character as a nation, which we consider indispensable in an individual, we ought, at least in a time of profound peace, to keep down our debt, and not go on, year after year, expending all our surplus. Now I may just refer to a proposition which was made the other day to the effect that it would be utterly absurd to apply a surplus of 2,000,000l. to the reduction of debt. If there were a surplus of 10,000,000l. then it might be worth while to make a reduction; but with 2,000,000l. it would be altogether useless to attempt anything of the kind. Well, but if these arguments are to prevail, how are we ever to reduce the debt? I believe it is impossible that we should ever be able to reduce to the full extent of 10,000,000l.: but admitting for the sake of argument that this reduction might be made, it is quite impossible that it could be done in any single year. I will assume then that it might be done in successive years. I will say in five years, at the rate of 2,000,000l per aunum. But, according to this proposal, each successive surplus of 2,000,000l. would be altogether applied to reduction of taxation, and the hoped-for surplus of 10,000,000l., which alone is to be applied to reduction of debt, never could arise. My hon. Friend the Member for the West Riding will forgive me for saying, that I fear his scheme for diminishing the debt, however honestly proposed, would be only as illusory as others have been. There is another consideration that deserves the attention of the House, and that is, that in the course of the ensuing year, the important question will be brought before the House as to the renewal of the income tax. In what disposition Gentlemen may find themselves next year with regard to the income tax, it is not for me to say; 988 but it must be obvious to those who object to that tax, or to any part of it—it must be obvious to them, that if in the case of every surplus there is to be a corresponding reduction of taxation, they must make up their minds to the continuation of this tax. There is another, though a minor consideration, in favour of maintaining a considerable surplus, and which has been alluded to by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire—I mean the advantage to be derived by the agricultural classes from the maintenance of a high state of the public credit. He stated, that to that interest it was of importance that there should be abundant available capital in the country, and a high state of credit. Whether they were engaged in the sale of an estate, or in borrowing money for the purpose of improving it, the state of general credit was an important element, and the state of credit was affected by the existence of a surplus in the public exchequer. I am sure hon. Gentlemen from Ireland will remember how important it is to that country that capital should be abundant. I remember perfectly well that in the course of a debate in 1845, an honourable Member, the late Colonel Conolly, stated of his own knowledge that the high state of credit produced by the income tax, and the other measures proposed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite in 1842, had been, of the utmost benefit in enabling gentlemen in that country to relieve their estates from encumbrances, and to employ labourers on their land. He stated that he was acquainted with several persons, his own personal friends, who by the reduction in the rate of interest consequent upon those measures, had relieved their estates from embarrassment, and had been enabled to engage in extensive improvements. I believe it is notorious that in 1847, when the rate of interest rose so high, more than one estate was brought to the hammer by the enhancement of the rate of interest on the encumbrances on the property. I agree, therefore, with the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, that it is for the advantage of the landed interest that a high state of credit should be maintained, that capital should be abundant; and he stated very truly that these objects are very much furthered by the existence of a surplus in the exchequer. I shall state a further reason by and by, but I do think it is most essential, for the reason I have given, that a considerable surplus should 989 be maintained. Nevertheless, I am not prepared to say that it would be proper at the present time that we should retain the whole amount of the surplus. I feel that there are peculiar circumstances existing which demand that some relief from taxation should be given, and that if possible measures should be adopted which would to some extent relieve those who are most in want of it at this moment. The first measure which I shall propose is one which I hope will be of some benefit to those who have been represented, and I believe truly so, as parties who are not the least distressed—I mean the small owners of land. I cannot recognise the identity—at least as regards the measures required for their relief—that has been claimed for all parties connected with the land—the owners, occupiers, and labourers. I stated last year, and I believe truly, that as far as the occupiers of land are concerned, a reduction in the rates would not be of permanent benefit to them. I believe that any benefit of that kind would eventually go to the owner, who would at any rate make a smaller reduction of rent, if reduction was necessary, exactly in proportion to the relief which his tenant had obtained by the reduction of the rates which he had to pay. Any benefit to the occupier of land must arise either from a reduction in his rent, or, what I believe would be of still more advantage, an improvement in the condition of his land by his landlord. That I believe would be by far the wisest course. So, again, with regard to the labourer. He has got the benefit of cheap food—what he requires now is constant employment. I stated at an early period of the Session, that taking England throughout, I believed employment was more general then than it was at the corresponding period of last year. I have no reason whatever to think that circumstances have altered since then. I believe, on the contrary, that employment is upon the whole—I speak of the agricultural districts, and taking England throughout—that employment is more general now than it was at the corresponding period of last year. I am disposed to think that the improvement in cultivation will materially increase the employment of the labourer, and still more so if that be done which it is not only the duty but the interest of the owner of land to do, that he should take measures for so improving the cultivation of the land, as to cheapen and increase the production of the land, on which his own welfare and the welfare of 990 the country depends. Of course this can only be obtained by an outlay of capital on the part of the owner; and as the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire well explained it, that capital can only be raised by parties who have no adequate means of their own, either by selling a portion of their estate, or by borrowing. I concur with all that was stated by the hon. Member on that subject. I believe that the smaller landowners are quite as much in debt as their richer neighbours; quite as much under the necessity of borrowing or selling, for the purpose of raising the means of improving their property. But an obstacle exists in their case, which does not apply to larger transactions. This subject was referred to in the report of the Lords' Committee which sat on the subject of the burdens on land in 1846. I find that they attributed considerable importance to the obstacle which the Stamp Act interposed to persons making a transfer of small portions of land. They referred to important evidence given before them, from which it appeared that the stamp on the sale of a portion of land worth 50l. amounted to 12½ per cent; on a piece of land worth 100l. to 5 per cent; on 300l. to 2½ per cent; on 500l to 1l. 14s. 3d. per cent; and to all portions above that sum to one per cent. It is obvious that this arrangement is unjust to the small owner, and that an obstacle exists in his case which does not exist in the case of his richer neighbour; and that it is only fair now to place him on an equality with his rich neighbour, that he may be enabled to sell or borrow without the obstacle which the present stamp duties impose. Hon. Gentlemen will remember the repeated Motions that have boon made for the exemption of sales of land from the stamp duties. I remember that a Motion was recently made to exempt the sale of small portions of land in Ireland from these duties, and that the hon. Member for Oxfordshire then observed that it would never do to apply such a measure to one portion of the kingdom—that it ought to be applied over the whole country. I entirely concur in this view, and the first proposition I have to make to the House is, that there should be a considerable reduction in the stamp duties on the transfer of property up to 1,000l., and that for the transfer of properties above that sum there should be an approach as far as possible to an equitable scale of duty. I propose that a similar course should be taken with regard to 991 mortgages and bonds—that there should be a reduction in the stamp duties on bonds and mortgages of all properties under 1,000l.; and that there should to some extent be a proportionate increase on the upper sums, these being levied in an exceedingly unjust manner. I propose that there should be as nearly as possible an uniform ad valorem rate of duties substituted for the present system—not, indeed, an ad valorem increase for every pound additional that a property may be worth, for that would give rise to great inconvenience, but a duty rising with every additional 25l. on the smaller accounts, and with every additional 100l. on the larger. Some persons attach great importance, much more, certainly, than I do myself to granting leases. There are cases, however in which the benefit of a lease is unquestionable. Where a landlord is not disposed to lay out his capital on improvements, the tenant may be induced to do so on receiving a better tenure of the land than he has hitherto held; and in order to facilitate the granting of leases, I propose to reduce the stamp duties upon these instruments, which are at present very unequal, to nearly an uniform rate of ½ per cent. I have already stated that I was anxious, also, to improve the condition of the labouring classes; and I know no manner in which we can benefit them more than by improving the condition of their dwellings. I must refer again to that document to which I have already alluded—the report of the commissioners appointed to inquire into the operation of the law of settlement—as setting forth not only the mischievous effect produced upon the condition and the morals of the labouring classes by the present law of settlement, that is not the question which I wish now to go into, but pointing out the deteriorating effect produced upon his character and morals, and upon those of his family, by the condition of the dwellings of the poor. I was never more struck than by the account of the mischief arising from this cause contained in this document, confirmed, as I am sorry to say it is, by the testimony of all those who are acquainted with the general state of the labourers' dwellings. I have paid a good deal of attention to this subject, and I am satisfied that it is nearly impossible to build good cottages for the poor at a rate that shall afford adequate remuneration. Landlords may, and I know that many of them have, expended money to a consider- 992 able extent in building cottages for the benefit of their labourers, and without hope of remuneration. They may, and I believe do, derive advantage from the improved moral condition of the peasantry; but it is impossible to expect that measures of this kind can be general unless a remunerating rate of interest can be obtained for the outlay of capital. Whether this can be accomplished under any circumstances there may be some doubt; but I think that, at any rate, we ought not to impose any legislative obstacle in the way. My hon. Friend the Member for Montrose has moved for a drawback on the duty on bricks employed in the building of labourers' cottages. Now, I need not say that there are great objections to a drawback in general, and certainly in the mode in which he proposes it, I believe that it would be utterly impossible to carry it out. But with a view to increase the comfort of the cottages of the poor, and with a view to the general health of the country, I am prepared to propose the total repeal of the duty on bricks. I find that this subject, too, has occupied the attention of the Lords' Committee on the burdens of land, and they state that their opinion is, that such a measure would not only tend to the rapid improvement of real property, but further—and as a measure to which they attach great importance, as I do myself—that it would materially add to the comfort of the poorer classes by the improvement of their dwellings. I believe that, independently of this object which I consider to be of paramount importance, it will be of no inconsiderable importance in promoting agricultural improvement. It is a tax which is unjust, because it is not one which is universal in its application. In many parts of the country—in the part where I live myself—all the buildings are constructed of stone. But there are many parts of the country, especially those districts where, I apprehend, most distress exists—the counties where the soil chiefly consists of clay, and also the eastern counties of England—where the buildings are universally constructed of brick; in which I apprehend that the measure will be of the greatest value to the owners of land, and will very much facilitate their agricultural improvements. I know not whether the hon. Member for Surrey is right in his notion, that it will be necessary to diminish the size of farms, and to increase the number of farmhouses, or whether, on the other hand, it may be advantageous to enlarge farms, and to add 993 to existing farmsteads, but in either case there will be a necessity for increasing farm buildings, and the repeal of this duty, therefore, is calculated, as far as it goes, to advance agricultural improvements. The amount of the loss which I anticipate to the revenue from these two proposals, will be, on stamps a little under 300,000l., and on bricks about 455,000l., making altogether a loss of 750,000l. Hon. Gentlemen will observe, that this amounts to half the sum which I anticipate as the probable surplus of the year. I really was not aware, when I came to the conclusion that it was desirable to reduce the duty on conveyances and on bricks, that I was about to divide the surplus equally between the reduction of these duties and the reduction of the debt; but still I think it is a very fair proposal to make, and therefore it is my intention to propose that half of the probable surplus be appropriated towards the reduction of the debt, and that half of it shall be applied to the reduction of the duties which I have mentioned. But hon. Gentlemen must not suppose that this is the only relief from taxation which the country will receive in the course of the year, because by the operation of the existing Sugar Act the duties on foreign and colonial sugar will be reduced on the 5th of July next to the extent of 350,000l., and therefore the actual relief from taxation which the people of this country will receive during the current year will amount, not to 750,000l., but to 1,100,000l Now, I have another measure to propose to the House, and one which I believe is calculated to promote that which I hold to be an object of paramount importance, and that object is the outlay of capital upon land. I believe that outlay to be deeply important, not only to the agricultural but to the national interests of this country. It is of essential importance that food in this country should be cheap, and it is better that this cheap food should be grown at home than abroad, and therefore I believe that by an increased application of skill and capital to the land, and the consequent increase and cheapening of production, not only the interests of the agriculturists will be promoted, but the interests of the whole people of this country. The proposal which I intend to make to the House, therefore, is to do that which was done in the year 1846, and to make further advances for the purposes of drainage and of land improvements. We had the most satisfactory accounts of the amount of employment given 994 to the population in consequence of these advances having been made; and not only so, but of the profitable return which the improved condition of the land afforded for the outlay upon it. I might read letter after letter to the House from different parts of Great Britain as well as of Ireland, stating how beneficial they have found the employment of money on estates, but I will not do so, as I believe that the advantage is confessed on all hands. I propose, therefore, to make further advances for this purpose; and I believe that the effect of this measure will not be confined simply to the advances made by the Government. Other parties, I understand, are willing to make advances; and the knowledge that the Government will advance money, will probably tend to reduce the rate of interest demanded. I remember that when, two years ago, the Government proposed to make advances in the Mauritius, to further the shipment of sugar, the merchants came forward and raised the money that was wanted themselves, and we had not to advance a single sixpence. I have received many proposals for extending the purposes to which the money may be applied. I entertain great doubts about this myself, but it will be open to the Committee on the Bill, after full discussion, to determine the objects to which the money is to be applied. The last advances made to England and Scotland, amounted to 2,000,000l.; and certainly the gentlemen who live on the other side of the Tweed showed their readiness to avail themselves of the advantages offered by the Government; for out of the 2,000,000l. appropriated to England and Scotland, the Scotch, in consequence of priority of application, obtained no less than 1,600,000l. A sum of 372,000l. was appropriated to England, and a small sum was reserved for contingencies. Applications were afterwards made for advances to the amount of 500,000l., but on its being made known that no further sums would be advanced, the applications ceased altogether. I propose, therefore, to advance a sum not exceeding 2,000,000l. to England and Scotland; but on this occasion, I think, we ought to give to the English landowners an opportunity of setting themselves square with the sister country, and therefore it will be perfectly fair to give them a priority in receiving three-fourths of the sum advanced, which, taken in conjunction with the sums received from the last advances, will put England and 995 Scotland on a perfect footing of equality. With regard to Ireland, I propose making advances to that country also, though not quite for the same purposes. The sum which I propose should be applied to that country is 1,000,000l. At the same time, I do not intend to advance the whole of that sum for land improvements. By the Bill of 1847, 1,500,000l. was advanced to Ireland for the improvement of the land, and by the Bill of 1849 a sum of 300,000l. more, making 1,800,000l.; and to this I propose to add 200,000l., which will make in all 2,000,000l. advanced within four years for the improvement of the land. But there is another matter the prosecution of which I consider of essential importance to Ireland, and that is arterial drainage. I believe everybody who has been in Ireland has borne testimony to the vast improvements effected by the works for the arterial drainage of the land. To complete the work already in course of execution, a sum of 868,000l. would be required. It was intended that the funds for this purpose should be mainly provided from private sources; but in the recent difficulties of Ireland private resources have fallen lamentably short, and not only has great injury accrued to the works themselves in consequence of the delay which has been interposed, involving the necessity for incurring additional expense, but fever also has made its appearance in some districts where the drainage is uncompleted. I believe that no more beneficial application of money in Ireland can be devised than the completion of these works of drainage, but as some private money may be obtained, I do not propose to advance the whole sum required, amounting to 868,000l., but only a sum of 800,000l. The sums already advanced for this purpose have been 600,000l., and therefore the whole sum advanced for arterial drainage in Ireland will be 1,400,000l. I said that I would mention an additional reason for maintaining a considerable surplus, and that is, that it will enable me to make those advances without any addition to the debt. I hope—indeed I feel confident—that if the House will leave me an adequate surplus, I shall be able to make those advances without making any addition to the public debt, Now, although this course may prevent the immediate application of the whole surplus in successive quarters to a reduction of debt, we are preparing the means which will enable some future Chancellor of the Exchequer to make consider- 996 able reductions. I hold that the making of these advances by the public is not a system which ought to be permanently continued; and I think that we should put an end to it as soon as possible, and consequently the repayments may soon permanently, and year by year, exceed the advances. I trust, therefore, that whoever succeeds me as Chancellor of the Exchequer, will be able to apply considerable sums from these repayments, to the extinguishment of debt. These, then, are the measures which I have to submit to the Committee. With respect to the articles of stamps and bricks, the remission of taxation upon them will amount to 750,000l., and a further reduction, to the extent of 350,000l., will be gained on the article of sugar in the course of the present year. The relief from taxation will be 1,100,000l. There are then advances to the amount of 3,000,000l., which will be made for the purpose of drainage and land improvement, 2,000,000l. being for England and Scotland, and 1,000,000l. for Ireland. I propose to retain the sum of 750,000l., to be applied either in reduction of the debt, or to meet other contingencies which may arise. Now, out of this sum of 750,000l., I propose to apply, with the assent of the Committee, 250,000l. for the extinction of debt, though not in the usual way. From the time of the union with Scotland, a yearly charge of 10,600l. has been imposed on this country for what is called the "Equivalent Fund." I find that this debt may be discharged at any time, by the payment of 250,000l., and as a sum of 250,000l. would only extinguish 7,500l. a year in the ordinary purchase of stock, I think it would be more advantageously applied by extinguishing debt of 10,600l. a year. I shall propose, therefore, a vote of 250,000l. for this purpose; but though it will appear as a vote, it will be really and truly a clear application of this portion of the surplus to the extinction of a debt.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER
The Equivalent Company, the chief members of which belong to the Bank of Scotland. I have now left the sum of 500,000l., which I do not propose to touch, because I think that, in ordinary years, it is not safe or right to go on with a smaller surplus. I do not know whether, in the proposals which I have made, I have satisfied Gentlemen connected with the agricultural interest, that Her 997 Majesty's Government is not insensible to their condition. We feel bound to resist the claims which have been put forward on their part for relief by throwing their burdens on the shoulders of other classes of the community; but so far as relief can be afforded, consistently with the general welfare of the whole community, we are ready and anxious to give them relief; and believing, as I do, that the outlay of capital upon land is the most beneficial course for them or for the country at large, I have gladly come forward to assist them in procuring the capital which they require. I believe that cheap food is indispensable for our increasing millions, and it is certainly better grown at home than imported from abroad. This country has supported itself before, and I do not see why it should not, in a great measure at least, do so again. In order to attain that object, it will require a combination or skill and energy, with a considerable outlay of capital. The former, I am convinced that the British farmer will supply; the latter we are ready to assist him in obtaining. The measures, however, which we have taken are not calculated to benefit the agricultural interest alone, but to benefit other interests as well, and indeed they have long been called for by a consideration of what was required by the public interest; but I think it but fair, when relief from taxation can be afforded, that it should be given to that interest which, at the time, is supposed to be the least prosperous. With regard to the surplus I confess I cannot say how strongly I feel the necessity of keeping a balance in hand. It is no new notion that I have now taken up, because in 1845 I said that when it was in his power, a surplus of less than half a million ought not to be kept by any Chancellor of the Exchequer. During the time, however, in which I have had the honour of holding my present situation, circumstances have not been such as to place a surplus at my disposal to any considerable extent. I have been obliged to borrow, and I confess that I should not act the part of an honest man if I did not now ask the House to support me in retaining the sum of 500,000l.; and in asserting the principle of retaining a reasonable surplus for the reduction of debt. I believe it is essential to the maintenance of public credit, with which the security of all property is indissolubly bound up, to maintain an equality of income with expenditure. I do not think that those who call for the reduction of taxation 998 wish to impair the national credit, or to injure the public credit; but if we are to reduce taxation whenever there is a surplus, and borrow money whenever our expenditure exceeds our income, such a course can only lead—with a nation, as with an individual—to the melancholy result of national or individual insolvency. I confess, that when I call to mind the various claims which have been made from almost all quarters of the House for a reduction of taxation, which at present would be incompatible with the maintenance of public faith, I look, not with apprehension, but with an interest little short of anxiety, to the course which the House of Commons will pursue. I have not sought to retain any large amount of surplus; I do hope and trust that the House will show a firm determination to maintain it in its integrity, and leave untouched and unshaken the fabric of the national faith and honour. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by proposing a vote of 9,200,000l. for the service of the year, to be raised by Exchequer bills.
§ MR. HUME
said, that the very gratifying manner in which the announcement of even so small an amount of relief had been received, ought to be a lesson to those who had hitherto been parties to saddling the country with increased charges. He believed that the relief now proposed was a proper relief, but it would mainly serve those who had all along been benefited by excessive taxation. He had, however, expected that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not have dealt merely with an avowed surplus, but would have endeavoured to show the House why such large establishments were kept up, and why a much larger reduction had not been effected. He wanted to know if this was the only relief the country was to have. The reduction of the duty on bricks, and the equalisation of the stamp duty, he considered to be wise and useful measures; but he had great doubts as to the propriety of lending money to the proprietors of land, whether in England, Ireland, or Scotland. He thought it a bad principle, and one which the House ought not to sanction unless necessity required it. The right hon. Gentleman had shown no such necessity, and indeed it would be very difficult to show it, as long as money could be borrowed at 2½ per cent, which was the case at the present moment. He objected to the mode in which the loans were to be effected. Parliament ought not to inter- 999 fere with the money market except on the most urgent grounds. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth had acted in a similar way, but he did so in order to give a sort of compensation for what was supposed to be an injury to a particular interest. But for the present advance no sufficient reason had been assigned, and he hoped it would not meet with the approval of Parliament. He objected to the right hon. Gentleman keeping 750,000l. as a margin, in order to enable him to make this advance. The abolition of the window tax was a matter of much greater importance in a sanitary point of view to the people of this country, and he would be prepared to risk even a little deficiency in order to effect that object. The question which ought to be considered was, what was the amount of revenue and what was the expenditure, and could they reduce the latter so as to give relief to the several suffering interests of the country. He believed they could reduce that expenditure by 10,000,000l. He would show how this might be done. It appeared from a return of the expenditure incurred since 1828 on account of the effective and non-effective service and civil list, which he had moved for last Session, that the gross revenue in 1848 was in round numbers 57,955,816l. The charge of the public debt was 28,563,517l., leaving 29,392,299l. The expenditure for 1848, exclusive of the debt, on account of their civil and military establishments, was 30,427,219l., which, deducted from the revenue, left 27,528,597l. Now the expenses of all their civil and military establishments, exclusive of the debt, was in 1835 only 20,273,028l., or 10,154,191l. less than it was in 1848. He always maintained that their establishments had been increased unnaturally. They had risen after 1827, in consequence of the cash payments and the decrease in the value of money, when salaries and expenditure had been raised to an inordinate degree. At the very time that the expenditure had been thus raised, they were expending 50,000,000l. and 60,000,000l. a year of borrowed money. What he wanted the House to do, was to reduce their establishments to the state in which they were before that artificial state of things had taken place, when they incurred a debt of 600,000,000l. He maintained that they could do this without any great difficulty, and without affecting the public credit in any way, because the expendi- 1000 ture, which was over 30,000,000l. in 1848. was but 20,273,028l. in 1835. He wanted to know if there were any reasons existing now which did not exist in 1835, to cause this increase of expenditure. He did not want the House to go back to the period of 1792, but he was warranted in following up the proposition of his hon. Friend the Member for the West Riding for a return to the standard of 1835. There were no reasons why they should not do so, unless, indeed, like Don Quixote of old, they chose to run about the world defending all whom they thought injured, and interfering unnecessarily in the affairs of other countries. If, indeed, the Government acted on those Quixote principles which had guided them for the last ten or twelve years, he could see no limit to the forces they might require, or to the expenditure they might call for. Government would not reduce expenditure unless they were forced to do so by the House of Commons. If the establishments in the Army, Navy, Ordnance, and Civil Departments which were deemed sufficient in 1835 existed now, and the present amount of revenue was raised, there would be a surplus of 9,900,000l. to appropriate after paying the interest on the national debt and all the other permanent charges upon the country. He observed that a Bill was now before the House for the reduction of the salaries of the Chief Justices of the Queen's Bench and Common Pleas; why should not a similar measure be applied to every establishment in the country? The salaries of all were raised during the high prices which the system of paper money occasioned; why, when those prices were reduced, and cash payments had been so long renewed, were not the salaries proportionably lowered? He, however, despaired of any such measure being introduced; and therefore the only course which hon. Members could adopt who wished to reduce the public expenditure, was to urge on the repeal of tax after tax till the Government should be forced to adapt their expenditure to their income. Although he was anxious to maintain the public credit, yet he was not at the present moment disposed, while he saw so many taxes pressing upon the community, and so many useful purposes to be attained by the application of a portion of the public money, to maintain a surplus in the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He would rather repeal those taxes, and apply the surplus to promote those objects 1001 which he had mentioned. Let the House adopt his views, and they could remove the duties on hops, malt, soap, &c., without the least injury to the public creditor. In addition to the taxes now proposed to be taken off, they would be in a position also to remove the restrictions on knowledge and to extend education, and so put an end to ignorance and crime. He was not prepared to make any Motion, but he did not think the House ought to be satisfied with the present budget.
§ MR. FREWEN
must express his deep regret and disappointment at the statement of the right hon. Baronet. It was no doubt a source of much gratification to the House to see the right hon. Gentleman again in his place in restored health; but he (Mr. Frewen) must remark that much disappointment would be experienced by an important class in the country, after the numerous deputations that had waited upon the right hon. Gentleman and the noble Lord at the head of the Government, at not hearing any proposal from him to make an alteration in the hop duties. In the districts where hops were extensively grown, especially in Sussex and Kent, the people had been led to believe that it was the intention of Government to propose a considerable reduction of this tax. It was the only tax that was levied upon anything which grew out of doors. The crop itself was precarious in its nature. In one year the duty may be excessive, when the price of hops was exceedingly low; and in another year, there might be so short a crop that the whole county was reduced to a state of bankruptcy from one end to the other. The old hop duty throughout the kingdom had amounted, in 1848, to 212,000l., in 1849 it was not 80,000l. This proved how precarious was the nature of this crop. The amount spent in labour alone on the hop grounds in East Sussex was from 125,000l. to 150,000l. a year, and the same division of the county paid about 100,000l. a year in hop duty. In 1848 it was 118,000l.; it was true the payment of one half of this had been postponed till next year, but the hop planters had not yet heard that it was to be relinquished. The protecting duty, up to 1842, was 8l. 11s. the cwt.; but the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth in that year reduced it to 4l. 10s.; and, again, in 1846, it was reduced to 2l. 5s., and a large amount of foreign hops had, in consequence, been imported this winter, and, therefore, the planters contended with 1002 great justice that at least a portion of the excise duty should be removed. One half the estate of the noble Lord the Member for South Durham in that part of the county of Sussex had been thrown on his bands. When the crop was short, and the prices rose to a remunerative point, there were large foreign importations, which caused these prices to fall again. He believed that great excitement would be created throughout the country when it became known that no proposition of the kind referred to was made by the right hon. Gentleman. They complained of having to pay to the Government a heavy duty upon the article, and they had every reason to expect that their claims would have been attended to.
MR. T. L. HODGES
must also express his regret that no relief had been afforded to the hop growers. The duty was enormous, oppressive, and unjust; but the fact was, those who paid it were neither a numerous nor a clamorous class, and therefore their claims, however equitable, were overlooked. Even if there were no surplus revenue, he thought it would be the duty of the Government and of Parliament to make such reduction in the expenditure as would enable them to do an act of common justice to this suffering interest. The Government would find that the present excessive duty could not he paid much longer, for the prices of other agricultural produce was so low that the farmers who grew both hops and wheat had nothing to fall back upon. For his own part, he had come to the determination of advocating and supporting all possible measures of retrenchment, so that the hop growers might be relieved.
§ SIR H. WILLOUGHBY
said, there was a single point in the statement of the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer which required some explanation, which no doubt could be given by the hon. the Secretary for the Treasury. In one part of the hon. Gentleman's speech he assumed that 2,000,000l. would be the amount of the surplus, but in another part of his address it fell down to 1,500,000l. He observed, in the papers on the table, that there was an additional charge of 13,000l. a year to the permanent debt. He wished to know whether they were to regard this additional interest as arising from an increase in the debt. The payment of 13,000l. a year interest on the Three per Cent Consols, at present prices, would represent a capital of 400,001l. If 1003 this was the case, he considered it to be doubtful whether there would be a surplus of 1,500,000l. He would also warn the Government of the danger of their additional loans and advances to England, Scotland, and Ireland, the evils arising from which would at length prove so great as to be productive of much mischief. They were told that the Government intended to get rid of the payment of 10,000l. a year for the Equivalent Fund in Scotland by the payment of 250,000l.; he (Sir H. Willoughby) did not perceive how this and the other amounts could be raised without resorting to loans.
§ MR. COWAN
said, he intended to have put a question to the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the subject of savings banks, but had been prevented doing so. It was with great regret he heard the explanation of the right hon. Baronet, that he intended to defer his explanation of the intentions of the Government as regarded savings banks until after Easter, as there was a very strong feeling on the subject in Scotland, and great anxiety was manifested as to what was intended to be done. He would venture to express a hope that if the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer was, from the state of his health, unable to describe the course proposed to be pursued, that the noble Lord at the head of the Government would promise that it should be laid before the House before Easter.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
said, that his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer would state what were the proposals of the Government on the subject of savings banks as soon as possible after Easter.
§ SIR DE L. EVANS
wished to make an observation in allusion to the proposed change in the stamp duties. He feared his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not paid attention to the stamp duty on receipts for small sums. The threepenny stamp duty was found to be very oppressive to small traders all over the country, and its continuance was regarded by them as a hardship.
The MARQUESS of GRANBY
Sir, I had no great hope of the financial exposition of the Government, and the chief pleasure I derived was, to see my right hon. Friend able to make it. I was also glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman had, profiting by his experience of last year, brought forward the budget at an earlier period of the Session. I was not 1004 surprised to hear him state that the returns for the month of February in this year showed a decline in the revenue as compared with those of February, 1849. Neither was I surprised that my right hon. Friend should have expressed anxiety at the cry recently raised throughout the country for the reduction of taxation and expenditure. That cry is indeed one of which it behoves the Legislature to take notice, and which deeply affects the maintenance of public credit in this country. The right hon. Gentleman states that memorials and petitions have been forwarded to the Government and to the House for the reduction of the duties upon teas, upon the window tax, upon bricks, upon soap, upon legacy duty, upon paper, upon advertisements, upon the malt tax, indeed upon all the sources of revenue, and those memorials and petitions have proceeded from members of every class and every party. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right. The mass of the population are impatient of taxation, for they can no longer endure it. Now, I think that it would be most erroneous to suppose that the chief danger arises from the indisposition of the people to endure this taxation, and that those who are of that opinion take a most superficial view. The real danger which now impends over the kingdom is, not the cry for the reduction of taxation, but in the causes which operate in producing that cry and that feeling. Those who look only to the cry, resemble the child who was frightened at the sound of the thunder, but had no fear of the flash of lightning which preceded it. I am one of those who think it the best economy to maintain our establishments upon an efficient footing; but whilst I think so, I am also of opinion that, though there may be great danger in reduced and inefficient establishments—establishments inadequate to the maintenance of the safety and honour of this country, yet I believe there is far greater cause of alarm lest the real strength of the country may be sapped and deteriorated. The right hon. Gentleman stated, that since 1836 there had been no less than 8,000,000l. of taxation reduced; and he further stated, that Mr. Huskisson then said that the great capitalists of the country were amassing wealth, while the poor and middle classes of society were not progressing. He (the Marquess of Granby) did certainly expect when the right hon. Gentleman insisted upon a revision of taxation, that he was going to show 1005 that that which Mr. Huskisson had stated in 1836 had been remedied by the legislation of late years. [Mr. B. OSBORNE: It was in 1826 Mr. Huskisson made those observations—he was killed in 1830.] Looking at the blue books, looking at the reports of factory inspectors, looking at the papers furnished by the Poor Law Commissioners, looking at the documents furnished from the mining districts—looking, in short, at the various sources of authentic information, I must confess, that the condition of at least the poorer classes has not been bettered since the time Mr. Huskisson spoke, although the capitalists have since then continued to add to their already enormous wealth. Mr. Norman asks how it is that, in 1850, we bear with reluctance a tax of 52,000,000l, whilst at the close of the war the people of this country bore a taxation of no less than 81,000,000l. He points to the increase of population, to the increase of capital, and the corollary to his statement is the declaration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There may have been an increase of capital—there has been an increase of population, but that there has been anything like a corresponding increase of comforts among the working classes is what I very much doubt. The drones of the hive may be better off, but that the industrious bees are the gainers is most questionable. My right hon. Friend admitted the painful fact that great distress exists in the agricultural districts. I was glad to hear him make that admission. He said the owners and occupiers of land, and the labourers, were in a state of distress. It is but too true. I sincerely hope that, as the fact is no longer denied, we may speedily have some remedy. But, my right hon. Friend added, the low prices the agriculturists are now suffering from is the result of a large home supply, not of the introduction of foreign grain. But if the right hon. Gentleman were now in his place, I would ask him how ten millions of foreign grain could be brought into our market in one year, and not materially have reduced the price of corn in this country? It is altogether impossible to suppose that such should not have been the case. Well, but the taxation on the farmers continues much the same as it was. With diminished ability, the burden is as great. Suppose the prices of corn to be reduced by one-third, and suppose that the taxes which the farmer would be enabled to pay with six quarters of corn formerly, he would not now be enabled to pay with less than nine, 1006 would not this be a hard case? But this is the case; and, further, there is not only a diminished price of produce, but an actual diminution of the quantity of the produce. My right hon. Friend said, that in the great struggle about to be conmenced, many must fall. I look upon that as a lamentable admission, coming, as it does, from a strenuous supporter of what is called a great policy. I suppose that one of the remedies that my right hon. Friend proposes for the relief of that deeply-suffering class is the repeal of the stamp duty on the transference of land. His object is, no doubt, to allow that unfortunate class, the small owners of land, to sell their property and get out of so disastrous an occupation. My right hon. Friend's prophecy with respect to the future prices of corn and the quantity of foreign grain to be imported into this country, has failed. He made that prophecy last year, and events have so entirely negatived it that he must excuse me for not placing any faith in his present predictions. What did my right hon. Friend say last year? Why, he said that the whole amount of foreign corn would not produce a duty of more than 250,000l., whereas the fact is that it produced a duty of 475,000l. I will now take the liberty of making a few observations on the relief proposed to be afforded to the agricultural interest. In accordance with the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth, and of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon, the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposes to repeal the duty on bricks. I do not deny that the repeal of that duty may confer great benefit on the lower classes in this country, but as far as regards the landed interest I cannot see that it will be productive of much advantage to them. As to the building of cottages, its effect will be extremely partial. I believe that there is no such thing as a brick-built cottage in Ireland. The cabins are mostly composed of mud; and even in this country and in Scotland they are chiefly built of clay or stone. With respect to the advances proposed to be made to England, Scotland, and Ireland, I agree with the hon. Member for Montrose, that they cannot be productive of very much benefit, seeing that the interest of money is only 2½ per cent. I am pleased, however, at the altered tone of my right hon. Friend with respect to the condition of the agricultural classes; and I believe that, month by month, and year by year, he will per- 1007 ceive the advantages of growing corn as far as possible in our own country and not trusting to foreigners for a supply of the prime necessary of life. He will be obliged to acknowledge that something must be done to relieve the distress amongst the growers of grain. Lamenting that the Government has not done more to relieve them; believing that no relief—no efficient relief—could now be afforded with safety to this country in the shape of a mere reduction of taxation, that no such reduction could compensate the agricultural interest for the withdrawal of 91,000,000l. sterling—which is the sum which the hon. Member for Wolverhampton said, on the first night of the Session, was saved upon the price of food; believing that the only real and effectual remedy is the return to that commercial system under which all interests proposed, that no other effectual mode of relief can be devised, and that day by day the cry for a reduction of taxation will increase—I feel a sanguine hope that the period is not far distant when you will return to that policy which obtained from foreigners, instead of from our own population, a portion at least of the means of supporting the national burdens. The noble Lord at the head of the Government animadverted upon those who appeared to think that low prices meant low establishments and low wages. I fear that low prices do make low wages. The noble Lord spoke of the low views of those persons; but I fear that, however lofty his own views may be, and those of his colleagues, if they do not soon retrace their steps, their loftiness of sentiment will be of no avail.
§ MR. EWART
did not think that the repeal of the duty on bricks would be productive of very great advantage. He felt that if they would not reduce their expenditure they must continue taxation. It was impossible that they could repeal duties which acted oppressively on trade—such, for instance, as the soap duty—if they did not contract their expenditure. He was glad to find that the principles laid down by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer were the principles advocated by all sound practical reformers. For his own part, he had a great objection to those taxes which affected the transfer of property, and he would be glad to see the advertisement duty repealed. If the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer thought it right and prudent to lay by a sum for the reduc- 1008 tion of the national debt, he would make no objection to the right hon. Gentleman's proposition, for he thought that such a course would be a wise one; but he would remind the right hon. Gentleman that, in order to effect this, there must be a saving, not only of one year, but of consecutive years. He would support the right hon. Gentleman in the principal part of his speech. He hoped to see the soap duties and the excise duties which pressed heavily on agriculture speedily removed.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that if Mr. Huskisson could be restored to that House, he believed no one would be more astonished than he would at the use which those who called themselves his disciples, made of his authority. He was well aware that Mr. Huskisson maintained liberal and sound views with respect to the removal of unnecessary restrictions upon commerce; but he had yet to learn that for the purpose of favouring an abstract notion he would have consented to sacrifice the great interests of this country to unrestricted importation, or have endangered their naval supremacy by the repeal of the navigation laws. They had in the admissions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer the proof that their free-trade policy had not been beneficial to this country; for looking to the years which he had referred to, he must say that he could not possibly state anything worse respecting it than that, as the system of free trade had been more largely acted upon, it had tended to degrade the working classes and to impoverish the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman, though he had practically admitted that there was distress in the agricultural districts, still went on prepetuating the illusion that the falling prices of this country were not attributable to the free imports of agricultural produce that had taken place. In 1847 they had been told that in consequence of the high prices the importations were unprecedented; but last year the imports exceeded those of 1847, though the difference in price was nearly 30 per cent. And when the right hon. Gentleman talked of the prices of wheat during the last eight years in Holland, and Belgium, and France, under a corn law, he asked what precedent the prices in those countries with corn laws could afford for those which would prevail in this country without a corn law? Now, he would quote prices from ports from which they must look for supplies. These returns he had from authentic sources, and thought them worthy the attention of 1009 the House. Hon. Members had only to consult a document with respect to the prices of wheat in Denmark, which had been compiled from returns made by our own Consuls, and was presented to the House on the 7th of April, 1843, and they would find that the average price of wheat from 1815 to 1839 inclusive had been in Denmark, 29s. per quarter; and he spoke under correction by the hon. Member for Wakefield, who was largely concerned in the corn trade, when he said that wheat could be laid down in London from Denmark at 5s. per quarter for freight and charges, or at 34s. to 35s. per quarter. The hon. Member for Westbury had on a former occasion stated that the average price of what at Hamburgh from 1839 to 1846 was 43s. Ad., whereas, according to the statistical archives, it was 27s. 3d. The hon. Gentleman had cited the authority of the Prussian Government, and he (Mr. Newdegate) held in his hands the official documents—the statistical archives published by the Board of Trade at Berlin—contradicting such a statement. He would now give the average prices as set forth in the statistical archives between 1837 and 1846. In Hamburgh it was 26s. 3d.; in Lubeck, 29s. 4d.; in Dantzic, 25s.; in Stettin, 23s. 8d. For some years he had been studying this question, and he must say that when he looked at the information upon which public men relied, he could not be surprised at their mistakes. Now, he had taken some pains to collect information, and to ascertain what the results of this experiment would be; and he had taken the prices for the ten years from 1837 to 1846 inclusive, because these were to be taken as the natural prices that prevailed at those ports before they had been disturbed by the opening of the ports of this country. Since the abolishing of the warehousing system in this country, the warehouses for this country were practically removed to Hamburgh, Dantzic, and the other ports he had mentioned, and the prices there now were ruled by our open markets, and formed no criterion of the natural cost of wheat in the countries to which those ports belong; and the proof of this was, that the circulars of those places were printed, not in the language of those countries, but were printed in English. Much had been said by the right hon. Member for Tamworth, and by the hon. Secretary for the Board of Control, on a former occasion, and by the Chancellor of the Exchequer 1010 on the present occasion, of the prices of wheat in France, and of the exports of wheat from thence to this country last year. It was quite true that from unusual circumstances there had been exports. There bad before now been exportations from Ireland—when Ireland was in great distress, and the exports were, in fact, only the consequence of the poverty of Ireland. It was from the poverty of Prance they derived exportations of food, which under better circumstances would have been used by the people there. He turned then to the United States, where he had been some years ago, and he had taken some trouble to ascertain what were the prices at which corn might be exported. The average price of wheat in New Orleans from Sept. 1, 1843, to the end of 1845, was 24s. 8d. the quarter. The expense to this country was about 10s., giving an average of 35s. Now his firm belief was that the corn grown in Europe would undersell that coming from America, and both combined would tend to reduce the price in this country. He trusted that the House would excuse him for entering into these details, but he believed his information to be authentic, and he considered it most important to dispel the delusions that prevailed respecting this subject. It was, too, he thought, lamentable that a Gentleman in the official position of the hon. Member for Westbury should fall into mistakes—mistakes, too, to be found in the returns of the board, and which were, in too many instances, contradictory to each other. He would not now enter more largely into this point, but he referred to the statement that the average cost of importing flour from New York was 11s. the barrel—which was given in last annual Trade and Navigation accounts that had been presented in full, those for 1847—when other returns referred to and relied upon, and that were before the House, said two barrels could be transmitted for that price. This was a mistake of 50 per cent. The right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer had, on a former occasion, alluded to the disturbances on the Continent, and had attributed the lamentable state of our trade in 1848 and the beginning of 1849 to that cause; and on a former occasion had made an appeal to him to retract his statement that the continental disturbances had not been injurious to this country. Now his answer to such an appeal was this—he did believe that the conti- 1011 nental troubles had not injured the trade of the country to the extent represented. He believed that by driving numbers home of those who habitually spent their incomes abroad, and sending bullion to be invested here, and stopping the drain of gold, had tended to restore the condition of this country, from what otherwise would have been, to use the American phrase, "a fix." To show this, he referred to the circular of Gibson and Co., themselves free-traders, and who declared that the foreign disturbances had rather aided than injured our trade, and that, in fact, their experience of the last two years proved that nothing but a general war could injure the commerce of this country. He must conclude by lamenting that, after the frank admission of the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the distressed state of agriculture, he could find nothing in the way of remission of taxes but that which did not amount to one per cent on the calculation of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, lost to the agriculturists of this country by the fall of prices, amounting to 91,000,000 annually. The agriculturists were too powerful a party to submit to the present state of things. He regretted their being driven to resort to agitation, and he deprecated the division that might by it be created between classes; but he, for one, would never rest satisfied to see the greatest interest in the country sacrificed at the shrine of a dogma which was rapidly falling into contempt.
§ LORD R. GROSVENOR
would not enter into a contest with the hon. Member who had just sat down on the question of the corn laws, but would make a few remarks on the financial statement of his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He confessed some portions of the right hon. Gentleman's speech caused him regret, although he would admit that, if the system of taxation pursued in former times were to be pursued now, his right hon. Friend had done all in his power with the surplus which remained. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that he had thought it right to remove those duties which interfered with consumption, and as an instance of this, mentioned the tea duties, the removal of which would be a great boon to the consuming classes; but then the right hon. Gentleman had added that the present state of the revenue would not permit this reduction, and in making this statement he had held out no prospect of the duty being removed at any future period. 1012 He was in hope that the right hon. Gentleman would have entered into a statement as to the future policy of the Government with respect to the taxation of the country. There were many taxes which were unjustifiable in principle and injurious in their mode of operation, and he had expected that when the surplus came to be dealt with, the hon. Gentleman would have proposed some more courageous measures than those which were now before the Committee. It was his duty a short time ago to signalise one tax which acted most oppressively. He referred to the duty on attorneys' certificates. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen might laugh, but it was his opinion that no tax was more unjustifiable in its principle. It was one producing the smallest revenue of any which the Government were asked to repeal, and he trusted that it would be removed after Easter. This was not the only tax which deserved a similar fate. There were taxes, for instance, which were war taxes—or taxes imposed in consequence of the war, which, after a peace of thirty-five years, with the additional advantage of all the financial talents of successive Chancellors of the Exchequer, should have been abolished. He thought some might be removed with safety to the revenue. There was no indisposition on the part of the House to impose new taxes based upon fairer principles for the creation of the revenue, in lieu of those which were objected to. Let him call the attention of the House to the taxation of this country. They kept up an expensive force around all England to guard the Customs, because on some articles they had imposed so exorbitant a duty that the successful run of one cargo out of seven or eight would remunerate the parties engaged. He would relate a curious result from this system. There was a person in London who sold an article which was one of great consumption, not only in this country, but also abroad. On his asking this individual how he was able to undersell the foreigner, the reply was, "The principal ingredient of my manufacture pays a moderate duty abroad, which they pay; but here there is a high duty imposed, and therefore I do not pay it." [An Hon. MEMBER: What is the article?] He did not think it would be right to allude to the matter more specifically, for he might thus draw the attention of the custom-house officers to the subject. He was glad to find the duty upon bricks was to be removed, as it 1013 would certainly tend to improve the habitations of the poor. He would now refer to another tax, the window tax, which, though stigmatised by the Sanitary Commissioners, had not only not been repealed, but not even modified, but no hope of its removal was even hold out. The house tax had been removed, and yet although the window tax was more injurious it was unrepealed. He thought his right hon. Friend (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) would confer very little benefit from his proposal for the alteration of the stamp duties, payable by small purchasers, unless there was an alteration in the law of conveyancing by the establishment of a general registrar. His right hon. Friend had observed that if they made any large reduction in taxes—the tea duties and window tax for instance—they would rivet the income tax for ever. Now, it was his (Lord R. Grosvenor's) opinion that they could not get rid of the income tax, and that it was riveted for over, to which, as a direct tax, he had no objection at all.
§ MR. PETO
would not have risen in this debate had it not been for the observation of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, that the free-trade policy had tended to the degradation of the working classes. From very extensive knowledge of the working classes, he was able to say they felt a debt of gratitude was due from them for their cheap supplies of food—a benefit that future generations would appreciate, though at the present moment it might not be perceived. He thanked Her Majesty's Government very sincerely for the remission of the brick duties. ["Hear, hear!"] It might be thought he was interested in this question, but he assured the House he was not, only as it affected the comfort and well-being of the working classes. He knew of no duty of similar amount the repeal of which would tend so much to improve the habitations of the poorer classes, for brickmakers having hitherto paid the duty upon the raw material, before it was burnt, were not able to afford the loss of it, and the consequence had been that the cottages of the poor were almost uniformly built with refuse materials that could not be used in better erections. On these several accounts Her Majesty's Government deserved thanks for what they proposed; and he trusted they would hereafter be induced to substitute a house duty for the window tax. The window tax was the most unpopular duty in the empire, besides being most injurious to the social 1014 well-being of the working part of the community.
was grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer for what he had held out; and if he had any cause of complaint against him, it was that he had not made his present speech last year, in answer to a Motion that he (Mr. Drummond) submitted to the House. All those, he found, who were in the habit of quoting Adam Smith, enlarged upon the advantages of foreign markets. But if there was one point in which Adam Smith was stronger than in another it was this, that the value of the home market was far beyond the value of the foreign; yet, from the days of Mr. Huskisson down to this very hour, preference had been given to the foreign market till now, when he had heard for the first time in that House a recognition of its value. But his right hon. Friend ought not, he thought, to have descanted so much upon the value of a system which had been to create, or rather to persist in the creation of, capital at the expense of labour. This was the very point he urged last year when he was told he was verging upon Socialism; and his right hon. Friend said nothing could be more absurd than the plan which he (Mr. Drummond) proposed. Moreover, when he urged his right hon. Friend to do something towards the reduction of the debt, he was told such efforts would be perfectly trivial, and that they would only tend to raise the value of stock in the market. But it now appeared that he was right. The right hon. Gentleman had mentioned the property tax, and it had been subsequently spoken of as being rather an advantage. His right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth knew we should always have to pay the property tax; and he (Mr. Drummond), so far from dissenting from him, desired, if he could thereby put an end to the excise upon malt, even to increase the property tax. He dared say hon. Gentlemen opposite hardly knew the taste of malt. He wanted to shift the tax from the beer drinker to the champagne drinker, and to leave that which was a necessary of life to the labourer as free as corn. [Mr. BROTHERTON: No, no!] Oh, yes, hon. Gentlemen might talk about temperance to a man who had nothing else to do but to waddle out of his Committee-room into that House—it signified nothing what he drank, whether water or nothing at all; but did they observe what Major Edwardes said to his friends 1015 when they remarked that he looked rather worn?—"Yes," he replied, "but your good Shropshire ale will soon fatten me." That was what he looked at, and not at temperance societies. He had no wish to deny the importance of repealing the duty upon bricks; still it did not set labour upon land free in the same way as manufacturing labour was free. He would ask any manufacturer of cotton whether he would consider that he had free trade in the cotton manufacture if there was a prohibition or a very high duty upon cotton? Yet there was precisely the same thing with regard to the farmers so long as the malt tax was continued. Let it be observed that the fanner was not upon a par with the manufacturer. The farmer could not mix peas and beans in his wheat, but the miller could and did. The farmer could not mix potatoes and bone-dust with his flour to make bread, but the baker did. There were a thousand things of this sort. The farmer, for instance, could not mix cotton with his wool, but the stocking-maker and the flannel manufacturer could. The farmer could not sell oak bark for Jesuits' bark to the hospitals, but the druggists could. The farmer could not sell quassia for hops, nor put honey into his ale, as they did in Scotland, but the brewer could. In no one of these instances was the farmer upon a par with the manufacturer, not that he was a bit the more honest than the manufacturer, but he could not do as the manufacturer did. The farmer, therefore, was not upon a par with the rest of the community. There was another of the many circumstances from which the farmer had a right to expect more consideration than other interests. The manufacturer the moment the raw material was in his possession, was the master of it, it was altogether in his power. Not so with the farmer. The farmer, from the moment he put his corn into the ground, until he sold it in the market, was liable to all the vicissitudes of climate, of season, of vermin, and all sorts of things over which he had no possible control. There was, consequently, a greater variation in the pursuits of agriculture than of commerce, a circumstance that ought to be taken into consideration. He was very glad, however, of what they had got; and he should be glad to get more when he could, but for the present he supposed they must be content.
§ MR. FRENCH
said, he did not think the measures of relief would to any effect advantage Ireland. In Ireland they had 1016 no bricks, and as to the stamp duty, he did not think the remission would be very beneficial. Nor did he think that the other propositions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be received with much favour. Of two most important measures for the relief of Ireland, one was emigration for the relief of the population, where there was a congestion, and a check of emigration where men of capital were leaving the country. The other was a measure brought forward by a noble Lord, now unfortunately no more, for the assistance of companies already in existence in Ireland, for the formation of railways. And then he did not think that a more unfortunate selection of the parties through whom the money was to be advanced could have been made than that which had been made. The Board of Works, with the expense of its staff, had never in any instance given more than half the value of the works which they had charged for. And so far from the landowners of Ireland being anxious for advances of money for works, there were at this moment many works which were unfinished. It would have been far better to have advanced money to railroad companies, who could have given good security for it.
§ LORD J. MANNERS
commenced by quoting the following lines:—'Tis when we suffer, gentlest thoughtsWithin our bosom spring,And who shall say that pain is notA most 'enlightening' thing?He was sure that every Member of the House must be of opinion, that had the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer been able to be present during the whole of the debates of this Session, they would not have had a speech so remarkable for its calmness and candour as they had heard from him that evening. As had already been observed, it was the first speech in which an admission of agricultural distress had been fully and frankly made by Her Majesty's Government. There was a time when they qualified that distress; and the only point on which he differed from them in this respect was in relation to that system of prophecy, which he thought the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon had for ever exploded. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had endeavoured to cheer the depressed spirits of the agricultural classes, by telling them that low prices were merely temporary, although he was obliged to admit that all his previous 1017 prophecies had been falsified. His (Lord J. Manners') hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire had shown the data upon which the right hon. Gentleman rested his conclusions to be entirely erroneous; and, as an additional proof, he (Lord J. Manners) could add another fact to the catalogue. He had only the other day received a circular from Alexandria, dated the 8th of last month, when the price of corn there was 16s. a quarter. The freight to Liverpool was about 7s., and to London 6s. 3d.; and wheat was being shipped there to be laid down at the port of London at 28s. Precisely the same state of things existed in America; and during the last three months wheat-flour had been shipped from New York to Liverpool at the price of 1s. 1d. per barrel. Under these circumstances there was no reason to expect a permanent rise in the price of corn; and he did not believe, and could not hope, that the persuasions of the right hon. Gentleman would have the slightest effect in inducing people to invest their capital in the cultivation of the soil. His noble Friend the Member for Middlesex had described the effect of extravagant import duties in stimulating smuggling. Why were those extravagant import duties maintained? Why did the Chancellor of the Exchequer maintain the duties upon tobacco and tea? Because the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not reduce them, because he refused to accept duty on American corn and Holstein heifers. And, after all, but two sources of relief had been proposed to the agricultural interest, neither of which could be seriously offered as a satisfactory settlement of the great impending question. With reference to the duty on bricks, he would only remind the right hon. Gentleman that it was open to the objection urged by the Government against the proposition of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire. When his hon. Friend brought forward his measure of relief for the suffering agricultural interest, he was told that it was not a real relief to that suffering interest, because it would also benefit the towns. Well, he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman, when he introduced his Bill for repealing the brick duty, would show the benefit which the agricultural and urban population would respectively derive from the abolition of the duty. Of course he (Lord J. Manners) did not object to it, because he believed it would confer some benefit upon the agricultural interest; but when it was put forward 1018 as a special boon for an interest that was suffering, whilst every other was in a state of prosperity, as it was said, he must observe it was a boon not confined to it exclusively. The truth was, however it might be disguised in that House, that the other great interests were not in that condition of prosperity which had been represented. Take the shipping interest—that was suffering and distressed; and he would meet the challenge of his noble Friend the Member for Middlesex to produce a tax so objectionable as the duty on attorneys' certificates, by instancing a tax which pressed exclusively on the shipping interest. It had been his good fortune to procure a unanimous admission from the House, that of all the objectionable taxes of which the removal was wished for, that on marine insurances was the worst. It was not of very large amount, but it pressed heavily on the shipping interest. He thought, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman might, without any serious diminution of revenue, have abandoned the stamp duty on marine insurances, and thereby shown the shipping interest that he was more or less alive to the justice of their claims. He should be very sorry that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or any other Member of the Government, should be led into the belief that those puny remissions he announced could be accepted as a satisfactory settlement of the great question which was now agitating the country, and which he did not doubt would continue to agitate it until Ministers carried out the policy to which the right hon. Gentleman pointed in the course of his speech, repeating several times his conviction of the great importance of raising the larger part of the food necessary for man in our own country.
§ MR. MUNTZ
congratulated the House and the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself on his reappearance among them. He was much pleased to see the improvement ill the right hon. Gentleman's health, but be could not congratulate him on the subject of his budget. It was most important for the House to inquire the amount of the surplus, and how it was to be obtained. The right hon. Baronet had made a comparison with one of the very worst years, and be thought it doubtful whether the right hon. Gentleman would really obtain any surplus from increased revenue. In fact, the surplus seemed to arise almost wholly from the refusal of the House to grant the supplies asked for in the first 1019 instance by the Government, which obliged them to reduce their expenditure to a greater amount than the lately boasted surplus; so that, in fact, there was no increase of revenue, but the contrary. The right hon. Baronet would have acted more wisely—when there was so much doubt about a surplus—if he had not proposed the remission of any tax; and what was very remarkable, the right hon. Gentleman, after explaining to the House the great impropriety of parting with so small a surplus, and the impossibility of ever repealing any important amount of taxes if he did so, had proceeded to fritter away nearly all that he had apparently to spare. He perfectly ageed in the hint thrown out by the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex, as to the necessity of revising our mode of taxation. If something were not done in this respect, instead of the boasted surplus, there would be a lamentable deficiency. When the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth proposed the repeal of the corn laws in 1846, he warned him that if he did so, with the present monetary system, he would be obliged to impose a property tax of, at least, 25 per cent, if he wished the interest on the public debt to be paid. He (Mr. Muntz) objected to the present unjust and vexatious income tax, but he did not object to a bonâ fide property tax. At present they were casting about for means to make both ends meet. Some proposed to abandon the colonies. Hon. Members conversant with ancient history needed not to be reminded that both Greece and Rome first began to withdraw support from their distant possessions, when affairs at home were unprosperous from the bad management of a luxurious and vicious Government, and their greatness commenced to decline. Was this country about to adopt a similar policy? He admitted that the colonies, under the present system, were not worth a farthing, and that the sooner they went, perhaps, the better; but they must leave us of their own free will—and we could not well desert them; for he considered they had a moral claim upon us for protection, after the encouragement given to emigration and colonisation. Hon. Gentlemen were fond of talking about unbearable taxation—from all sides of that House, from all parties, and from all sects, that was the universal outcry, and not without good reason. Now, he recollected a time when the taxation was nearly double what it is, yet every man was then 1020 able to get a good livelihood, and looked with horror at the workhouse. It was much less felt than now; and it seemed to be quite true that the rich were getting richer, and the poor, poorer. They had heard talk of a saving of 90,000,000l. by the reduction in the price of the necessaries of life, and he had no doubt that it amounted to, at least, 100,000,000l. But no one had explained how much the industrious classes had lost by the general reductions in the value of produce and labour during the last three years; in his opinion, that loss far exceeded the 100,000,000l. of gain. All he could say was, that, on the present principle, every reduction in prices was an additional pressure on the industry of the country. It was easy to see that taking the Government taxes at 50,000,000l, the mortgages at 50,000,000l., the rates and other fixed payments being added, that a sum greatly exceeding 100,000,000l. would be found; which, supposing prices to have been reduced from any cause 50 per cent in the last three years, would tax industry 100,000,000l., as double the produce and labour would be required to pay them. It had been said that the pressure upon agriculture, which was now admitted in all quarters, would be removed by an alteration in prices; but if prices were to advance, of what use would the repeal of the corn laws be? He had voted for the repeal of the corn laws in order to reduce prices, and with the knowledge that it would do so; and he had so stated his intention and opinion in 1846, and also then named the present average price. His present conviction was, that there could be no improvement in prices, but, on the contrary, a further reduction. The present prices were, indeed, the average prices of ninety years of the last century. And he again asked, why, with all the circumstances the same as in 1775, we should not have prices, at least, as low throughout as they were in 1775? He would caution those who expected improvement from high prices, with the present system, to recollect that the Almighty Being who made the world, made laws which regulated the value of one article relatively to another, and He would not allow either their hopes or their wishes to interfere with those laws. It was said by some that present prices were only temporary. He had this week met with one of the partners of one of the first mercantile houses in Copenhagen. In conversation, this gentleman had informed 1021 him, that, in consequence of the throwing open the ports of this country, land in Denmark, which had been hitherto uncultivated, was now brought into cultivation, and that the people were improving their previously cultivated land, with the view of raising grain for the English market. His informant further stated, that they could supply 2,000,000 quarters of corn for this country at the present moment, and in a short time 3,000,000. The present price of wheat in Denmark was 26s. a quarter, and oats, 10s, It seemed 26s. did not pay them, but they would be satisfied with 28s. This same party had chartered two vessels at Leith only last week to bring over corn from Copenhagen at 2s. 6d. a quarter, and suppose other charges of insurance, &c., amounted to 6d. a quarter—29s. a quarter would be the cost of such corn in this country. He told them these facts exactly as he heard them. Upon what principle was it, then, that they expected prices to be higher? In his opinion, if they wished to be able to carry on the Government, and to pay the interest of the debt, they must revise their mode of taxation, and make property, instead of industry, bear the burden.
MR. G. SANDARS*
Sir, I should not have risen at this late period of the evening, had it not been for the appeals made to me by my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire. My hon. Friend has stated the freight of corn, from Denmark to this country, to be but 4s. per qr.; from Dantzic, 6s. per qr.; and from New York, 2s. per barrel; and has appealed to me for the accuracy of his statement. I can assure the House the hon. Gentleman has over, rather than under, stated the freights from those countries. There is great misapprehension in the House and the country on this subject; and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westbury is, in my opinion, adding to this misapprehension by the statements which he has recently made to this House. The hon. Gentleman has said that the cost of bringing wheat from Dantzic to this country is 16s. per qr. He deducted 3s. 9d. per qr., the cost from the interior of Poland to the shipping port; but still leaves 12s. 3d. per qr., which is more than double the actual cost. The firm to which I belong is importing wheat from Dantzic at a freight of 3s. 6d. per qr.; Sound dues and insurance will not exceed 1s. 6d. per qr.; making a total of 5s.: the hon. Gentleman charged foreign corn with commission, lighterage, landing, 1022 entry and delivery, interest, &c., which equally appertain to English corn. At the present time the freights from Hamburgh, Denmark, and Antwerp are 1s. 6d. to 2s. per qr.; a sum actually less than from our own ports of Boston, Wisbech, &c., to the London market. The hon. Gentleman has also told the House that Odessa wheat could not be had under 32s. per qr. on board. I hold in my hand a letter of the 15th of February last, giving the extreme quotation of the finest qualities at 32s.; but my correspondent adds, contracts are making, of the finest quality of Polish Odessa, at 26s., to be delivered there in May or June. The hon. Gentleman has also taken the average of wheat, in Prussia, for the last ten years, and tells the House it amounts to 37s. 6d. per qr.; and though he may be correct in his statement, yet I would ask the House is it fair to argue, under such entirely different circumstances, that the continental prices will be as high during the next ten years as the last ten; when in the one period we had protection and high prices, and in the other, free trade and low prices? No! they are not at all parallel cases: free trade has given an impetus to foreign production, which will, for the future, produce a very different range of prices; besides, under the restrictive system we had periods of high prices here, and consequently high prices abroad, as in 1847, when the average advanced to upwards of 100s. per qr., and thus raising the average price of foreign materially, and far beyond its usual or natural level. I am surprised at a statement made in a recent debate by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, who is justly so high an authority in this House. The right hon. Baronet alluded to the great import of wheat last year, which he said "amounted to 5,600,000 quarters of that noblest of grain—wheat." And then added the right hon. Gentleman—This is ill addition to the consumption of the usual quantity of home growth, as there has been an actual increase in consumption in 1849 as compared with 1848 of home growth, and concurrently with this increase there has been the enormous consumption of 5,600,000 quarters of foreign wheat by the poorer classes of this country. This increased consumption of wheat has taken place in consequence of the better condition of those who live by labour. You will not have millions of quarters of wheat consumed, except that millions of mouths can be found to eat them, and I want no better indication of general prosperity.Why, Sir, was there ever a more fallacious statement made to this House? The right 1023 hon. Gentleman must know, or ought to have known, that the crop of 1848 was a most deficient one. I have the authority of the hon. Member for Westbury to this fact, who admitted in this House that in many districts of the country the deficiency was from 30 to 40 per cent. [Mr. J. WILSON: Hear, hear!] Well, then, Sir, it required some 3,000,000 of quarters of wheat to make up this deficiency: then, Sir, we exported to Ireland upwards of 600,000 quarters of wheat and flour: in place of the imports from that country being some 600,000 or 700,000 quarters, they were rather over 200,000 quarters, making a difference of another million: in addition to these 3,000,000 quarters, it required at least 1,000,000 to make up for the deficiency and dearness of potatoes. Thus, Sir, the extra consumption which the right hon. Baronet boasts of as showing the improved condition of the people, in place of being 5,600,000 quarters, sinks down to the comparative insignificant amount of the odd 600,000. Sir, I do not for one moment deny the blessing it proved to the people of this country to be able to purchase at a moderate price this large amount of grain; but I do deny the right hon. Baronet's deductions that it was a proof of the improved condition of the people. Sir, there is great difference of opinion expressed in and out of this House as to the future prices of grain. The Chancellor of the Exchequer admits that prices continue lower than he expected; but (says the right hon. Gentleman) these low prices are not owing to foreign imports, but to unusual circumstances, and says that the same state of things exists in France. The hon. Member for Westbury takes the same view, and is doing his best to write up prices; but what say the hon. Members for Wolverhampton and Birmingham? They tell you honestly they always expected low prices with a repeal of the corn laws, and they consider the present rates not only warranted, but they even look for still lower. Sir, I believe that under free trade 35s. per quarter is as high a price as we can expect in usual and average seasons, and that the low prices now ruling are the consequence of free trade. Can any one doubt if foreign grain were now excluded, and we were dependent on our own produce alone, that prices would not have been some 10s. per quarter higher? The crop of 1849 is a great one, considerably above an average, and, in my judgment, equal to our consumption at fair and 1024 remunerating prices. The natural consequences, therefore, of the introduction of large supplies of foreign competing with our own produce, are to depress prices below a remunerating point—to increase consumption, if not waste, by excessively low prices, and to force prices down so ruinously low, as to shut out any further large imports from abroad. Sir, it is said that this time has already arrived, and that the foreigner cannot afford to meet our present rates. I do not mean to contend that we can expect the same import at 35s. as at 40s., but that considerable shipments will be made even as low as 35s. I do not doubt. At present, the house to which I belong has recently made considerable purchases of the best Pomeranian red wheats, equal to Norfolk and Suffolk, at such a price, including freight to this country, as to cost from 33s. to 34s. per quarter; add to this insurance, Sound dues, 1s. 6d., and the prices will stand at 35s., delivered at the ports of Hull or London. And, Sir, I believe, from information derived from various correspondents on the Prussian frontier, that at 35s. we may expect considerable imports, and that at this price it will leave the producer a profit; what other markets have they for their surplus produce? Depend upon it whether they can afford it or not, or whether we require it or not, considerable shipments will be made, thus depressing unduly and unwisely the prices of home produce. Sir, upon the debate which ensued on the budget last year, I expressed an opinion which has since been confirmed and strengthened by the opinions of others at home and abroad, connected with the corn trade, that a moderate fixed duty on the import of corn, though it would bring a large sum into the Exchequer, would not in usual seasons enhance the price to the consumer, that it would act only as a protection when prices were ruinously low, and at such periods as the hon. Member for North Northamptonshire has said, it became a question whether low prices were a blessing or a curse; it might prevent imports below 35s., it might keep prices nearer 40s. than 30s., and would prove beneficial to all classes, bring in a large sum to the revenue, and enable the Chancellor of the Exchequer to repeal taxes which press on the poorer classes, namely, those on soap, tea, sugar, and beer. The hon. Gentleman the Member for the West Riding took me to task last year for proposing, as he said, a tax on corn, for the hon. Gentleman misrepre- 1025 sented me. I do hope he now understands me, and that I do not now propose a duty of 5s. on the importation of wheat. I shall give, as I have before said, the great experiment of free trade a full and fair trial; but should the fitting time come to impose that duty, should the Chancellor of the Exchequer ever propose such a duty, it will hare, if I have the honour of a seat in this House, my most cordial support. Sir, I have the authority of the noble Lord opposite the First Minister of the Crown, that such a period may arrive. The noble Lord, in a recent speech in the House, said, that however true were the principles of free trade, circumstances might justify a moderate fixed duty on that article.
§ MR. J. WILSON
said, if the hon. Gentleman who had just resumed his seat would refer to the debate in which he (Mr. Wilson) had spoken, he would find that he (Mr. Wilson) had quoted the freight from Dantzic at 4s. only, and the hon. Gentleman had stated that the house with which he was connected was at present paying from 3s. 6d. to 4s. 6d. It was quite true that he (Mr. Wilson) had stated the total expenses of transport, including the cost of conveyance from the interior of Poland, at 16s. a quarter; and that cost was to be added to a price which the Prussian official returns stated at 37s. on the spot in the interior. It was clear that it would not have been fair to take merely the freight from Dantzic, to which port the wheat was to be brought from the inland districts of Prussia or Poland. The hon. Gentleman observed that the charges in this country for conveying wheat to market should not be forgotten in estimating the price; but, on the other hand, neither should the charge of conveying foreign wheat imported from the shipping port to the manufacturing districts where it was consumed be left out of consideration. The hon. Gentleman next said that he (Mr. Wilson) was not justified in taking the average prices of the last ten years as the criterion of the next ten years, and gave a most extraordinary reason for it, remarking that during the last ten years we had a protective duty, and overlooking entirely the fact that that duty had the effect, if it had any effect at all, of reducing the price of corn available for importation into this country. If there was one thing more certain than another, it was that the opening of a large market to the continental growers must have the 1026 effect of increasing, not of diminishing, their prices. The hon. Gentleman observed that we had a very deficient harvest in 1848, and, therefore, it was not matter of surprise that the large importation of 1849 should have been consumed; was it not clear then that the people of this country must have derived the greatest possible benefits from that importation? With a defective harvest, instead of the price rising to 72s. or upwards, as under the sliding scale, it might have done, we had an immense quantity imported from abroad, and a moderate range of prices. The hon. Gentleman asked what was the lowest price to which they (the free-traders) thought it desirable that prices should come. He would reply that it was very obvious that a low price of wheat or any other article was only desirable so long as it could be profitably produced at that price. It was clear that it was not for the permanent advantage of the consumer that the price of any article should be pressed down below the average cost of production, because a corresponding reaction must ensue. Again, the hon. Gentleman said that a fixed duty would not raise the price of wheat to the consumer; but if so, it need only be asked, of what possible benefit could it be to the agriculturists?
§ MR. BANKES
expressed his surprise that the hon. Member for Westbury's sagacity had not led him to observe—what, indeed, was the drift of the argument of the hon. Member for Wakefield—that a removal of protection necessarily created the desire to increase the produce, and that increase of produce was what led to the decrease in the price of it. They had learnt from the remarks which had fallen from several hon. Members that evening how foreign countries were preparing their land with the view of supplying the markets of this kingdom; and that was the reason, as the hon. Member for Westbury must be aware, why, during protection, prices might, and would, be of different value from what they might and would be after protection was removed. It had been a source of satisfaction to those who sat on that (the protectionist) side of the House to hear the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, differing as it did, in one respect, from all those speeches which had proceeded of late from the Treasury benches, with regard to the tone he had taken respecting the condition of the agricultural interest. In the 1027 last debate they had had on the subject of the landed interest, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War had taken the lead in answering them on the part of the Government, and that right hon. Gentleman was very pleasant on the occasion, not admitting the distress of the agriculturists, save in a very partial degree, and at all events congratulating them on some advantages which he considered the recent changes had conferred upon thorn. They had, the right hon. Gentleman was pleased to observe, their seeds very cheap; they had, too, labour very cheap. Why, those were precisely two of the points of which they complained; and he confessed he was rather unable to account for the merriment which the right hon. Gentleman had exhibited on the occasion referred to, unless, perhaps, the reason lay in the fact of which they had just been informed by the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer, that Scotland had had three quarters of the amount of the loans which had been advanced by the Government for drainage purposes. [Laughter.] It might be very well for them to laugh whilst the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War won, and they lost; but he could assure the House that those who resided in his part of the country were animated with very different feelings from what the right hon. Gentleman meant to express, if he meant that their distress was to be treated with anything like jocularity; for the distress that prevailed gave them much cause for alarm, and it was not without painful feelings that they (the representatives of agricultural districts) found themselves under the necessity, when so much distress prevailed, of voting such large sums of money as were required for the services of the country, but which they were induced to consent to vote, though with this consideration, that, whilst they did so, they must not fail to look to other points for reductions—ay, and to find them, too, before the end of the Session; for no confidence would be given to them if they were not to show that they were impressed with a sense of the severe distress under which those they represented were labouring.
§ MR. MACGREGOR
was astonished that hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House were not satisfied with the speech of the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer; for everything in that speech had had a reference to the agricultural interest. He believed it would be found almost impossible to bring wheat 1028 from foreign countries and sell it with any advantage unless the prices in this country ranged from 40s. to 46s. per quarter. The low prices of 1849 had been principally caused by the disturbed state of Europe in 1848, and people being thrown out of employment and rendered unable to pay for the produce of their abundant harvest. The consequence was, a much greater quantity than ever could otherwise have been exported had arrived in this country. During 600 years prior to 1846, France had always imported a great quantity of breadstuffs. Upon the whole, he was satisfied with the statement of the right hon. Gentleman; he only regretted that, in the appropriation of the surplus, he had not taken off the stamp duty from marine insurances. In consequence of these stamps, marine insurance was rapidly going from this country. In 1841 the revenue from this source was 266,000l.; in 1848, 160,000l, showing a diminution of 106,000l. The amount of property risked on the seas in our commerce with all parts of the world was about 220,000,000 per annum, a great portion of which was either not insured at all, or insured in foreign countries. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman would be enabled to remit this duty; it was necessary to the full enjoyment of the benefits resulting from the change in the navigation laws.
§ COLONEL DUNNE
had observed that, of late, all mention of the state of Ireland had been carefully avoided. Since the first night of the Session, when the prosperity of the whole country was affirmed, including Ireland, there had been a gradually increasing acknowledgment that the agricultural classes were suffering; that fact had just been admitted by the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer, and every one must confess that of that suffering Ireland bore the most. There was no gainsaying the fact that the repeal of the Customs had inflicted great injury upon Ireland; the loss upon the single article of wheat being 6,500,000l. He had therefore hoped to have heard that night of something for the alleviation of Irish distress. Had Irish Members reason to be satisfied with the budget? The abolition of the duty on bricks was given as a boon to the agriculturists of this country, although hon. Members opposite did not seem to consider it an equivalent to their loss by the repeal of the corn laws. It might, however, be some boon to England, 1029 but it was none to Ireland, for they had no duty on bricks in the latter country. The proposition in respect to the stamp duties seemed to be a reduction; but in truth it was not a reduction for Ireland, it was merely a readjustment which had been promised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer long since. Indeed the amount of revenue that would be raised by the tax after this so-called reduction, would in Ireland, he believed, be greater than before. There was, then, no remission of taxation for Ireland, although at that moment they were about to withdraw the expenditure of the large sum laid out by the viceregal establishment. The advances of loans for the improvement of land was no longer a boon, for it was a fact that in Ireland the landlords were gradually giving up loans, because they found that present prices of produce did not repay them for the outlay. Arterial drainage was, no doubt, an advantage, but it could only be so locally, for in many parts of the country it would be worse than useless. The people of Ireland would contrast, as he could not help doing, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman with the statement made recently by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, who he regretted to see was still absent from his place. That hon. Member offered Ireland a tangible boon when he proposed to remove from them a portion of the poor-law establishment expenses.
§ MR. Gr. SANDARS
wished to explain two points. The hon. Member for Westbury had stated that he (Mr. Sandars) had said that the expense of freights to this country was from 11s. to 12s. On the contrary, he stated it was not half that sum; that 5s. or 6s. were the expenses and not the freights, and that the expenses included Sound dues and other incidental charges. The hon. Member had also charged him with stating that a moderate fixed duty would not enhance the price of corn to the consumer in this country. What he said was, that a moderate fixed duty would not in usual years enhance the price of corn in this country, but that it would do so in extraordinary years like the present, and that then it would act as a protection.
§ MR. CAREW
feared that the want of confidence in all agricultural investments was such that the good old system of leasing for a term of years, which had heretofore existed, would be given up. No man had sufficient confidence in land now to take a lease. There was another boon also 1030 promised to the agriculturists by the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer, which want of confidence in the land would destroy. How was it possible, when the landowners were struggling, and hardly able to get in their rents at all, for them to raise money to improve their land by fixed payments, which would weigh them down? The drainage of the land would, no doubt, be attended with beneficial results, but it was absolutely necessary that agricultural buildings should be also improved.
§ MR. SLANEY
thought the remission of the duty on bricks would be a great advantage to the humbler classes, whose interests in its remission were deeply concerned. Hon. Gentlemen on all sides of the House desired to have some mode of lightening taxation. He would ask, was there no other method by which the weight of taxation might be diminished, except that of reducing taxes? He thought there was another mode, and that was by stimulating the industry, the enterprise, and the spirit of the people, who created the capital of the country. At present the humbler classes had no facilities open to them for the safe investment of their savings. Did they desire to buy a piece of land? The cost of the conveyance and the complexity of the title were such as to operate as complete obstacles to their carrying that desire into effect. The difficulties were equally great if they wished to invest their money in mortgages, in which case they were almost sure to become the prey of some needy attorney. He asked the House and the Government to consider the justice and policy of giving these parties fair play with respect to opportunities for the investment of their small capital which they had accumulated by their industry. He thanked Her Majesty's Government for the remission of the taxes on the conveyances of small properties. At the same time he was convinced, if they investigated their taxes generally, they would find they were not imposed fairly upon all classes of the community, and that the humbler classes had to pay more than their share.
said, his remarks on a former occasion had been somewhat misunderstood. What he said on the Motion of the hon. Member for West Surrey was this—that he looked upon the Motion as one to compel the Government to a revision of taxation. By that revision of taxation, he meant a re-distribution more equal 1031 and fair to the agricultural interest, which was acknowledged by all parties to be in a state of great distress. He contemplated a tariff of customs duties upon a revenue basis, including a 5s. duty on foreign corn; which would enable the Government to reduce one-half the amount of the malt tax, and to repeal the excise duty on hops. He would also insist on the equitable assessment of personal as well as real property to local taxation. He regretted to find that the customs revenue had considerably fallen off within the last few years, for, whilst the amount in 1845 was 24,000,000l., it was now under 20,000,000l., and that notwithstanding the immense extension of capital and enterprise. He did not believe that any material reduction could be made in the expenditure without a complete revision of taxation.
§ MR. HEYWORTH
said, our mode of taxation had been exceedingly mischievous and injurious to the working classes. In his opinion, the only hope of escaping from the difficulty now pressing on the country lay in the transfer of the burdens of the country to direct taxation, by means of an income or property tax.
§ MR. F. MACKENZIE
said, the two or three observations which he had to make, were on a subject more especially affecting that part of the united kingdom with which he stood connected. He understood that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed a grant of money for the purpose of drainage in the united kingdom, that was to say, in England and Scotland conjointly. Now, he was told, that because, in regard to the last grant made by the House, Scotland had shown her prudence and foresight to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, by having secured to herself three-fourths of it, and England had found out, from Scotland taking it, the loan was a good thing, that now, in the case of a new grant, she was to be limited. That was a very poor return to them for having come forward to avail themselves so readily of the boon offered them by the House. He was sure they would agree with him that they were hardly treated, if having come forward in competition with England and her greater population, they were now to be precluded from participating in another grant, because England had found out it might be used with advantage.
§ MR. GOULBURN
would not go into the various topics touched upon during the present debate, but there was one point ad- 1032 verted to by the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, respecting which he wished to say a few words. His right hon. Friend had announced the death of Mr. Brookshank, of the Treasury, in terms of regret which were due to one of the most faithful, long tried, and valuable public servants that this country had ever produced. He knew that the services of such gentlemen as Mr. Brooksbank were little appreciated by the House, and were underrated by them; and, however ably they conducted the affairs of the country, and however necessary their services were to the Gentlemen who filled more prominent situations in the public service and in that House, yet they were all too apt to forget the labours and exertions of those to whom they owed so much. Mr. Brooksbank had occupied a situation in the public service for forty years, and during the whole of that period he had given the most unremitting attention to public business, and had acquired a fund of knowledge and information which had been of the greatest advantage to successive Chancellors of the Exchequer when they came to the discussion of those great financial questions which occupied so much of the attention of that House. He was sorry that he had not rendered this tribute to Mr. Brooks-bank's merits during his lifetime, that Mr. Brooksbank might have known how highly he (Mr. Goulburn) appreciated his services. But it would be, he trusted, satisfactory to his family to know that the House of Commons did not feel otherwise than that they owed a deep debt of obligation to his memory for the services he had rendered to the public, and that they acknowledged the merits that Mr. Brookshank had shown during the long period in which he had held his responsible situation. It would be fortunate if those who succeeded him should earn a similar title to approbation, for Mr. Brooksbank's services could not be too highly praised.
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
said, his opinion was that, instead of a surplus of 1,500,000l., there was, in fact, no surplus at all. The House had no balance-sheet before them, and, if the truth had been told, it would have appeared that the country was over head and ears in debt. All Chancellors of the Exchequer made fallacious statements, and held out promises never to be realised. They had heard that night something about the transfer of property. That, he supposed, was as much as telling them they would have to sell all their properties. No- 1033 thing would do but to keep a strict lookout for every item in the estimates, and he thought something might be done by getting quit of a useless Lord or two of the Admiralty, and by sweeping away a few officers that were of no use to the country.
§ MR. HEALD
congratulated the House and the country on the reappearance of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and said he wished to advert to one topic of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He said he could not congratulate the country at large upon the fact that the condition of the industrial classes of the community had kept pace with that of the monied interest. For twenty years that subject had made a great and painful impression upon his own mind. He had watched the progress in this country of the capitalist, the increase of productive power, and the altered condition of the operative classes, and he saw that the distance between the head and the feet of the body politic was daily on the increase; and no country could be in a satisfactory condition when that was the case. While he sympathised with the sufferings of the agricultural classes generally, still as a representative of a borough he was bound to tell the House that a large class in society, the shopkeepers, were at that moment amongst those most deeply affected by the distress of the country. Yet as the middle classes of society might be called the backbone, connecting the extremes of society together, that was not a healthy state of things they were producing, if they were weakening that connexion. He had listened with pleasure to the proposed reductions referred to by the right hon. Gentleman in his financial statement; but he would have been better satisfied if he had heard that what surplus was left on hand was to be applied to the reduction of the debt accumulated in the course of the last twenty years, of which there was yet a balance of 27,000,000l. Whatever was done, the national credit must be sustained if they would prosper. But next to that object, the other two reductions he should have wished to have made were those chosen by the right hon. Gentleman. The reduction of the stamp duty would relieve the agricultural classes on the one hand, and the reduction of the excise duty on bricks would, he believed, be a great benefit both to the manufacturing and agricultural operatives, as it would directly and extensively promote the demand for labour in 1034 districts where the want of it was much and severely felt.
§ MR. HENLEY
said, he had heard many in the course of that debate pretend to say, that an equalisation of the stamp and brick duty was a benefit to the agricultural classes. He begged leave to state it as his opinion, that it would be no such thing. That they would not benefit in proportion to their part in the community he would not deny, but he wished to remind the House that three-fourths of the brick duty were paid, not by them, but by the manufacturing towns and the large buildings of this country. As for the stamp duty, that might be of advantage to the hon. Member for the West Riding, who was engaged in founding societies for the purchase of small freeholds. Indeed, generally, there was a greater amount of small lots of household property transferred than of small pieces of land, therefore he denied that these reductions would be any special benefit to the agriculturists. But if they had been got up for the purpose of throwing dust in their eyes, after the plaintive tone in which the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged their distress, he at one repudiated any such impression in regard to them. He could understand now with what intent in that night's debate, and in debates elsewhere, so much effort had been made to impress them with the idea that whatever present prices might be—and they were only the consequences of extraneous and temporary causes—prices yet might be higher. For if the agriculturists would fake up the notion, pledge their estates, borrow money, and keep large crowds of the people employed, then down would come the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer, and point to the state of the country as a demonstration of the advantages of free trade. When the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer talked about the ruin that would befal a nation that went on borrowing, he could not help thinking it a little inconsistent to ask the landed interest to take these loans and pledge their estates, their only prospect being the price of wheat continuing at 35s. a quarter.
Resolved—That, towards making good the supply granted to Her Majesty, the sum of 9,200,000l. be raised by Exchequer Bills, for the service of the year one thousand eight hundred and fifty.
§ Committee report progress; the House resumed.