HC Deb 25 February 1853 vol 124 cc692-7

Order for Second Reading read.


said, he must ask for an explanation of this Bill. The original notice was for a Bill to pay off certain charges on the Crown Lands, by virtue of an additional charge on the London Bridge Approaches Fund. That notice attracted his attention; but he was assured that the Bill would involve no further charge upon the coal duties, and that, when brought in it would show the matter quite plainly. The Bill, however, was anything but plain, and several professional Members had assured him that it was neither Queen's English nor lawyer's English. The 12th Clause ran thus: — Inasmuch as the whole of the said moneys so charged on the London Bridge Approaches Fund being directed, as aforesaid, to be paid to the account of the Consolidated Fund freed from the said moneys directed to be paid in respect of the Southwark improvements, the Commissioners of the Treasury shall, out of the Consolidated Fund, pay to the Commissioners of Works such a sum of money," &c It was not grammar. The Bill was not printed for circulation till Wednesday, and the Newcastle Coal Trade Committee had not had time to communicate their opinion upon it.


said, he hoped there would be no objection to read the Bill a Second Time, It would not in any way increase the charges upon the coal duty. The object was this: —A sum had been raised on the security of the coal duties for certain metropolitan improvements; there were balances in the Exchequer now, and the Government wished to employ part of them in paying off this debt, for which they were paying high interest. It was simply a financial trans action, to save interest, and not an additional farthing would be charged on the coal duties.


, said, that formerly the offices of Works and Land Revenues were in one department, and the head of the department being pressed to make some public improvements, and money being wanted, the land revenues were mortgaged for the purpose. The money was borrowed from the coal fund. This circumstance led to the division of the departments of Works and Land Revenues, so that such confusion should not occur again. A sum of 800,000l. had been borrowed, and the interest was paid out of the land revenues, and it came to the same thing whether it was paid out of those revenues or the Consolidated Fund; with this exception, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was enabled to raise the money at a reduced rate of interest. The Bill did not affect the coal trade in the least.


hoped the right hon. Baronet (Sir W. Molesworth) would not press the Second Reading; for the Bill was in such a state that no man could elicit any meaning whatever from either Clause I or Clause 12. The Bill presented a barbarity of expression which might safely challenge comparison with anything in the Statute-book.


said, there existed some misapprehensions in the north of England on the subject of the Bill, which he hoped might be removed on its passage through Committee.


said, he would briefly state what the object of the Bill was. Some years ago a Commission had been appointed for the purpose of executing certain improvements in the metropolis. Large sums of money had to be borrowed, and the Commissioners had applied to the Bank of England for a loan. The Bank of England had been unwilling to lend money on the security of the Commissioners, and it had been proposed to give to the Bank the security of the land revenues. Interest had then been paid for many years out of the proceeds of the land revenues, but subsequently it had been found that this was a very onerous and expensive way of raising money. The object of the present Bill was to enable the land revenues to be discharged from the obligation which they now laboured under, and that the sums borrowed should be paid out of the balances now in the Exchequer, which wore at present yielding no interest. He believed the obscurity in the language of the Bill arose from the complicated circumstances out of which they arose.


said, that considering the great talents of the present Government, he had to express his regret that this Bill had been brought forward in a manner so unsatisfactory. It appeared to be the intention of the Bill to terminate what had originally been a very improvident arrangement, by a method which, however desirable it might be in a merely financial respect, would yet result in diminishing the balances in the Exchequer. Now it was of very great importance that these balances should be maintained. He should like to know to what amount the balances in the Exchequer would be diminished by this arrangement. It was of great importance that the amount of those bal- ances should be sustained. That was a consideration which the House ought to entertain, and they must not consider that they were terminating a pressure while they were imposing a charge of a far more injurious character. It certainly appeared to him that this Bill had been drawn up in a very obscure manner, and that it was founded on a principle which the House ought to look at with very great suspicion. They ought at least to know to what extent the balances in the Exchequer would be affected.


said, that the amount for which the Exchequer balances would be appropriated was 960,000l., which, with interest, came to about 1,000,070l., and the Exchequer was in a state in which it was rather convenient that it should be charged with this sum. They had a claim on the coal duties to repay this sum to the Exchequer, and the amount of the duties for the present year was 80,000l. The charge was not to form a permanent payment from the balances in the Exchequer, but was to be paid by the balances to the Bank of England, to terminate a debt on which they now paid 4 per cent, while the Exchequer balances were lying unemployed. The Exchequer would be repaid by the coal duties till all the money advanced was made good.


said, he must appeal to the Government to admit that the Bill was drawn in such a way as to be discreditable to the legislation of the House. He thought they had received a sort of guarantee at the commencement of the Session that Bills should be clearly drawn up; but the Bill before them was drawn in such a way that not a lawyer in Westminster Hall could tell what it meant. There could not be a more vicious or involved Act on the Statute-book. He thought Government should see Bills were intelligibly drawn, so that the House could understand them.


said, his question had not been answered. He wished to know the amount which was now in the Exchequer as balances, the amount which would be drawn from the Exchequer balances for the purpose of the Bill, and the time when that amount would be repaid?


said, that the balances in the Exchequer were about 9,000,000l. sterling, which would be reduced by 1,000,000l., or thereabouts, by this measure. This sum would be repaid by the accruing duties on coals, which amounted, in the present year, to 80,000l. It was to relieve the land revenue of the Crown, which was liable at present, that the change was made. He quite admitted that the Bill was one of the most difficult to understand, but that was owing to the difficulties arising from the discreditable arrangements which had been made when the debt was formed, rather than from any want of clearness in those who drew it.


said, he quite agreed with the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Phinn), who said that this Bill was so drawn that it was impossible for anybody to understand what it provided or what it meant.


said, that under the Acts of Parliament on the subject, the coal tax was charged to the Government not only for the principal sum of the expenditure for metropolitan improvements, but also for the interest at the rate of 5 per cent; and he believed that there was now due to the Government under the Act a sum of about 900,000l. as principal, and 130,000l. more for interest.


thought it would be remembered that the Chancellor of the Exchequer (who was not now in his place), when he introduced the Bill, explained that its details were complicated and difficult to understand; and therefore he (Mr. Wal-pole) would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman who now had the charge of the measure, that it would be better to postpone the second reading till Monday, in order that the House might receive an explanation respecting the Bill, for really nobody who read it could understand it as it stood.


hoped that an explanation would be made of the security that was given for this money, as the Bill referred to other Acts, and the matter was utterly unintelligible to everybody.


said, he thought the Bill ought to be postponed, and that an inquiry should be instituted into the nature of the coal tax. He understood that the security at present rested upon the coal tax and the land revenues of the Crown conjointly, and that the moment this Bill passed the whole liability would be borne by the coal tax alone.


said, he must complain that Government was pressing forward a Bill with which no one seemed to be satisfied. He was satisfied they would be left in a minority if they went to a division.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The House divided: —Ayes 102; Noes 55: Majority 47.

Bill read 2°, and committed for Friday next.

The House adjourned at half after Eleven o'clock till Monday next.