HC Deb 21 April 1853 vol 126 cc161-5

Order for Committee read.


Sir, I wish to make an inquiry from Her Majesty's Government respecting the course of public business, which, from what has occurred, I regret to say, is rather perplexing and unsatisfactory to those who are sitting on this side of the House. It is about ten days ago, I think, since the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer placed some very important Resolutions upon the table respecting the reduction of interest upon South Sea and other annuities, and affecting also a much larger amount of revenue. Those Resolutions, in their corrected and complete form, were not put into our hands up to five o'clock on the day they were moved; and I understood subsequently that a day would be appointed for their consideration. After the Resolutions had been moved, a somewhat desultory conversation took place; about ten o'clock I rose to ask the right hon. Gentleman to name the day when they would be taken into consideration, and the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell)—I will not say in a somewhat captious spirit, because the noble Lord shows so much courtesy on all occasions—but certainly the noble Lord found great fault with the discussion having taken place. He said that, the discussion having taken place, he would not fix a period for the due consideration of them. I was not inclined to avail myself of the means at my disposal to oppose the Government, having, as I hope I always have, a sincere desire to facilitate the course of public business. I know how burdensome it is for a person in the position of the noble Lord to carry on affairs in this House; but, certainly, there was a declaration, a very formal declaration, on the part of the noble Lord, that by the House agreeing to the Resolutions that night, the House was not pledged to them in any way; that if the House would permit the Chancellor of the Exchequer to bring in the Bill, there would be a legitimate occasion, upon the Motion for the second reading, to go into the discussion of that which I may fairly describe as one of the most important questions of finance ever brought under the consideration of this House. To my great surprise, however, I found upon the night of the Budget, after the able and learned statement of the right hon. Gentleman, which did not terminate until nearly half-past ten o'clock, when it was quite impossible we could, after such an important revelation from the Government, enter into the consideration of the Bill for dealing with the interest upon South Sea Annuities, and possibly with interest of a much greater amount—I say, to my great surprise, having myself left the House at past eleven o'clock for a few moments, white the House was rising and in great confusion, I understood that the Bill founded upon the Resolutions which had been passed in a manner so unprecedented, had been read the second time without any discussion whatever. I do not think, so far as the Government is concerned—no doubt unintentionally, and from some misapprehension on the part of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer—that the House has been fairly treated on this subject. I do not think we have had an opportunity of discussing the principles and the general character of those Resolutions—an opportunity which we ought to have enjoyed when the Resolutions were first introduced. Now I find that we are called upon to go into Committee upon the South Sea and other Annuities Commutation Bill to-night, without, as I have said, our having had the usual opportunity of discussing either the Resolutions or the second reading of the Bill. Under these circumstances I wish to ask the noble Lord whether he proposes to ask the House to go into Committee on the South Sea and other Annuities Commutation Bill to-night? I trust he will not. There is also another point respecting the course of public business upon which it is important that there should be a clear understanding. Upon this side of the House there is an anxious desire, I am certain, to assist the Government, so far as they can, generally in the carrying out of public business; but that good understanding entirely depends on the kind of proceedings taken on the part of the Government. I come now to the consideration of the Resolutions of the right hon. Gentleman when he introduced the Budget. I asked the right hon. Gentleman the other night to name the day when he proposed we should take them into consideration. He named an early day—a day much earlier than most of my friends expected; hut, animated by the feelings to which I have referred, I would not complain, and they are appointed for next Monday. The right hon. Gentleman then told us the course would be this—first, he would take the income and property tax; secondly, the legacy duties; and thirdly, the Customs duties—


I said the spirit duties.


Very well, the spirit duties. That does not at all interfere with the conclusion. At any rate it justifies my appeal to the Government; and I shall be glad to hear now if the arrangement announced by the right hon. Gentleman is to be observed.


Sir, with regard to the latter part of the right hon. Gentleman's observations, I assure him there is not the slightest intention of deviating from the order announced for Monday night. The intention is to proceed—first, with the income tax, and then with the legacy duties; and if it is agreeable to the House, there can be no objection on the part of the Government to take the discussion upon the spirit duties after the others. I do not myself quite remember the order in which the Resolutions are printed, but there never was any intention of deviating from it, and, in point of fact, that respecting the property tax had been already moved, and was in the hands of the Chairman. With regard to the South Sea and other Annuities, it would certainly be a matter of extreme regret to the Government if any hon. Gentleman had not had an opportunity of discussing the Resolutions. As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, expedition in matters of this kind is of importance; but, on the other hand, expedition would be too dearly purchased if it were purchased at the expense of depriving Members of this House of the full opportunity of discussing matters of this sort. With regard to the second reading of the South Sea Annuities Commutation Bill, I think the right hon. Gentleman is in error when he says that my noble Friend (Lord J. Russell) made any reference to the discussion on the second reading when the Resolutions were passed. What he stated was, that ample opportunity would be given for discussing the Bill when it was before the House; but no mention was made of any particular stage of the Bill. With regard to the second reading of the Bill, when it was fixed for that stage, an hon. Gentleman opposite desired that it should not be read the second time that particular night, and in consequence of his observations it was fixed for Monday night. On Monday night, although it was unquestionably read the second time, the absence of the right hon. Gentleman and his friends generally, when the Order of the Day was read, was a distinct intimation that they had no wish to discuss the second reading. That was the construction I put upon their collective absence. An hon. Gentleman behind me did state the objections he entertained to a particular clause, and hoped there would be a full opportunity in Committee for discussing the objection. Under these circumstances, considering the importance of despatch, and considering there would be ample opportunity, if they thought fit, to discuss the principle of the Bill before you, Sir, left the Chair, I thought it my duty to ask the House to allow the second reading. I gather now, from what the right hon. Gentleman has said, it would not be convenient to go on with the Bill this evening. If that is so, I think the time of the House need not be lost, as there is a statement to be made with regard to the Regulations of the Customs department by my hon. Friend (Mr. Wilson), and, after that, there is an important Committee in relation to Pilotage. The course, then, which I propose to pursue is this. The House must be aware that Bills of this nature required to be drawn with the utmost care, and though the ablest assistance has been engaged upon it, yet there are several amendments of a formal character, which the solicitor to the Bank and the solicitor to the South Sea Company have recommended to be introduced. I think the introduction of these amendments during the discussion in Committee would be likely to lead to some perplexity; therefore, I propose to put the Bill through Committee pro formâ, in order to introduce the amendments, and then we will fix that the Bill shall come on the first thing to-morrow. Lest there should be any misunderstanding, I will now mention the only amendments I have to make which are not of a strictly formal character—though they are more formal than substantial. I propose to give power to the Court of Chancery, in express terms, to direct the Accountant General in certain cases to make the commutation. I propose to insert in the Bill express words by which, as is usual in Loan Acts, to provide against any imposition of taxes or charges, as they were exempt upon the old stock being commuted. Thirdly, I propose—to meet an apprehension expressed by some Gentlemen, that there will be a probable loss or inconvenience to parties in the rush expected at the Bank when names are to be entered for the privilege of priority in the commutation of stock—I propose to meet that apprehension by a prevision to this effect—that all persons who enter their names at the Bank of England or the Bank of Ireland upon that day shall share among them rateably and in proportion to the amount which each has entered, the amount of stock to be issued. The House will see that the amendments do not affect the plan of the Government. The Bill will be delivered with its amendments tomorrow morning.


said, he wished to know, if the Bill now passed through Committee pro formâ, whether hon. Members would not hereafter be disentitled from taking the sense of the House upon the principle?


, in reply, said, that as the Bill was to be recommitted, the sense of the House might then be taken on the question that the Speaker do leave the chair. The House then went into Committee pro formâ.

The House resumed.