§ Report of Supply brought up.
§ Resolutions read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the said Resolutions be now read a Second Time."
Sir, in rising to discharge what I feel to be a pressing duty I shall endeavour to pay all the respect in my power to what I perceive to be the general impression of the House. I think the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty was guilty of an imprudence last night when he availed himself of his position to prevent me from addressing the House, and compelled me to postpone my observations till to-day, because it is perfectly well known that intended speeches of Members in this House do not waste by keeping, like spirits in bond, but, on the contrary, rather have a tendency to grow and augment, till the time comes when they can be delivered. I think, therefore, it is better to allow speeches to come out at the moment they are intended to be given rather than incur the risk of such augmentation and growth. However, I will not trespass on the attention of the House at any length. I will confine myself within those limits of observation that are compatible with the discharge of duty, and an earnest desire to respect the impressions as well as the conclusions of the House, even where I differ from them, as I do in this instance, and that with the deepest regret. In fact, nothing but the deep regret I feel, nothing but the thorough conviction that we are entering on a mischievous course that before any long time has elapsed we shall regret the consequences of, could have induced me in this state of the House to make any remarks on a matter of such extent and importance as the expenditure of the country.
I intend to move as an Amendment—That, in order to secure to the Country that relief from taxation which it justly expects, it is necessary, in the judgment of this House to revise and further reduce the Expenditure of the State.I do not intend, in moving this Amendment, to reopen any of the discussions that have taken place on the more extensive and important propositions which I consider to have been either directly or by implication disposed of by the House in the course of former debates. For exam- 2152 ple, I conceive that the House has given a significant intimation to the country that it does not now consider it an object of public policy to take any measures with a real and substantial view to the cessation of the income tax. The House by a positive vote declared on Friday night that it did not intend to adhere to the arrangement of 1855 with respect to taxation on tea and sugar: and if it is not bound to adhere to the arrangement with respect to those articles it is uncertain how far it may be called to travel. Again, with regard to the income tax, the House has just treated it simply as a mode of providing for the Ways and Means of the year, and it is not disposed to weigh that question in connection with the circumstances tinder which it was originally imposed—namely, with prospective and further practical reforms in our tariff and in our legislation. The hon. Baronet opposite (Sir H. Willoughby) alluded to another subject on which likewise an important change has come over the opinions of the House—I allude to the £6,000,000 of Exchequer bonds which were levied in 1854. It was then proposed by the Government that these bonds should be provided for out of revenue specifically set apart for that purpose; now, however, the House was told that they would be met by a half-year's income tax—a portion of the general revenue. If the House were willing to enter into the discussion I should ask it to appropriate a specific portion of the revenue for the purpose of redeeming the obligations we then incurred; but, as that in the meantime does not seem to be the wish of the House of Commons, I shall forbear to argue those subjects as already decided by the House, and shall confine myself to the terms of the Resolution which I have placed upon the paper. In doing so let me state why I do not pass over this matter in silence. The position of the House at this moment appears to me to be peculiar, and so far as my experience serves me, unexampled. Great exception was taken in the early part of the Session, not by one, but many Members sitting in every quarter of the House, to the amount of the Estimates now on the table. I need hardly remind those who hear me that the noble Lord the Member for the City of London expressed in the strongest terms, and in very considerable detail—even while he did not withdraw his general support from the Budget—his objections to the 2153 amount of the Estimates. I may truly say, therefore, that strong objections are entertained to the amount of the Estimates now on the table; and I feel considerable confidence that, had the deliberations of the House not been affected by the prospect of a dissolution, it would have been disposed to entertain a Motion that would have had the effect of affirming generally the principle of further reduction in the expenditure, and, in fact, of remitting the Estimates to the Government for further examination with that view. But now the position of the House is peculiar in this respect: it sometimes happens, as in 1841, that we pass Votes on account, to enable Her Majesty to dissolve Parliament, with the view of taking the opinion of the country in respect to confidence in the Government; but the Estimates of which we then sanctioned a portion were Estimates to which the House in general was ready to assent. There was no general complaint against them, or any question raised as to how far they should or should not be reduced. At present there is that disposition. But we are in this predicament, that by the Report now brought up to the table of the House we are about to commence affirming a Vote of four months to Estimates against which strong objections are entertained, and for no other reason than that these Estimates are presented to us by a Government which has been visited with what has been justly called a vote of censure by the House. The Government on that vote of censure appeals to the country; and the House, because the Government is under the vote of censure, is called on to pass, not for the year, but for four months, Estimates to the general scale and formation of which objections are extensively entertained. Now, the effect of my motion, as I understood it, would be, in a legitimate and Parliamentary sense—not to assert a mere abstract principle—not to interpose any obstacle to proceeding with Votes in Supply, but to do exactly that which it appears to me is the right thing to do—viz., to refer back these Estimates to the Government for the purpose of reconsideration, or, if not formally and technically to refer them back, yet to express in practical and indubitable terms the opinion of the House, that it is the duty of Her Majesty's advisers, in the interval that is to elapse before they meet the new Parliament, to apply themselves to the reduction of the Estimates, in order to a reduction of the public expenditure. 2154 To making Votes on account I have no objection. I have no objection to make a Vote on account—we have done so on many former occasions; but I have the greatest objection to make a Vote on account of the Estimates before us, and thereby to appear to approve, either tacitly or by direct sanction, of the plans proposed by Her Majesty's Government, either as relates to the scale or the form in which they have been made up.
I ask the support of the House to this Motion on two grounds. The first ground is that there does not appear to me to be any proposition by which an adequate provision is made for the necessities of the year. The second, and the most important, is that the expenditure of the country has not of late been kept under due control, but, on the contrary, that it has increased to a point which has become embarrassing, and which threatens to become, if due control is not applied, even alarming. With respect to the deficiency, it was shown in former debates that if we are to assume the present expenditure and the present productiveness of the taxes, there will be in 1858–59 a deficiency of £5,500,000, which deficiency three years later would probably be increased to £8,000,000, or £9,000,000. Since those debates, no doubt, material changes have taken place in the proposals of the Government with respect to the coming year—for the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made no proposal as matters now stand for the increase of the tea and sugar duties beyond 1857–58, or for any increase of the income tax beyond that year. We must, therefore, add to the deficiency which it was formerly shown would exist the deficiency that will result from this decrease. If the plan of the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been adopted, as it was proposed in the first instance, it would have made an additional provision for 1858–59 from tea and sugar of £1,400,000, and the income tax for that year would have made a further provision of £2,000,000. As the plan of the right hon. Gentleman at present stands, the duty on tea and sugar will fall to a minimum in April 1857–58, and therefore a loss of £1,400,000 as I have just stated, will accrue to the revenue as compared with the amount which my right hon. Friend calculated his original plan would realize. There is, therefore, about £3,400,000 to be added to the deficiency of permanent provision for the year 1858–59; and I am rather startled to see that, adding that sum 2155 to the deficiency of between £5,000,000 and £6,000,000 formerly shown, on the data I have supposed, there will be a deficiency of between £8,000,000 and £9,000,000. Of course, I have not taken into account any improvement of the revenue from the general prosperity of the country. I have not assumed either that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will fulfil the plan with respect to a sinking fund, because my right hon. Friend opened to himself the other day a retreat by saying that the sinking fund might be postponed. Nor have I taken into consideration any reduction of expenditure. But my object in making a statement showing the immense deficiency to be provided for in the year 1858–59 is to demonstrate how urgent and necessary it is that Parliament should begin to consider seriously, and at the present moment, the expenditure of the country, because otherwise you will be driven to this alternative—either to make loans in time of peace or to impose a large amount of new taxes. That is the case with respect to the next year. But I am bound to say I think the provision is unsatisfactory for the year immediately before us. The surplus of £890,000 has been reduced to £500,000, and against that we have to take all the charges which may arise out of the war in Persia, and out of the war in China, except only £265,000, which is included in these estimates. I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend say—my satisfaction however would be much more lively if I felt more confidence in it—that he did not anticipate any charge on account of the Chinese war. I am afraid that is almost too good to be true. I shall be delighted to see his prediction verified, but I cannot dismiss my scepticism on the subject; and if we have a charge for the Chinese war (as we know we must have for the Parisian war, over and above the trifling sum which appears in these Estimates), and our available surplus stands at only £500,000, or £520,000, I cannot consider it a satisfactory state of the balance between income and expenditure for the coming year. Therefore, it appears to me to be distinctly the duty of this House to make known the views which it may entertain in a shape which will amount to a direction to the Government to reconsider the scale of the expenditure, and to effect a direct reduction in it before they submit Estimates to a new Parliament. I feel the necessity of it for another reason. This Parliament has been doing a most 2156 popular act in remitting what is wrongly called the "war 9d." It is done in haste, and not under the pressure of necessity. There was no reason why the present Parliament should have considered it at all, because my understanding is, that the Bill which we are now passing for reducing the income tax from 16d. to 7d. will have no practical effect whatever on any payment which is made before the 1st of July; and if that be so, it is pretty plain there was time for the new Parliament to operate on that subject. However, I do not enter on the question whether it would have been better to let that matter stand over or not. A popular act is done, and perhaps it would have required some self-denial to leave the grace of that remission to another Parliament. What I do want however to put to the House is this:—If provision for the expenditure of the financial year is narrow and inadequate, and if the expenditure shows a dangerous tendency to growth, it is material that we should place on record our views on the subject. Although it is more popular to attack taxes than to attack expenditure, yet economy is the only true, real, permanent basis of any plan with respect to taxation which will give satisfaction to the country. I ask the House to come to a resolution of this kind, because the deficiency in the revenue stares us in the face, and likewise because the scale of our expenditure is already too high, and is, moreover, growing in that direction.
I wish to say a word with regard to one particular item of revenue, and that is the succession duty. We have been told during the present Session that the succession duty is at present yielding a very small sum of money. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: Half a million.] Not only is the full yield of the tax estimated much lower than it was two years ago by those who ought to have been the best judges, but it appears that the period of arriving at the maximum yield of the tax is very seriously retarded; because, while the Succession Duty Act passed in 1853, it appears that we shall not arrive until 1863 at what if called the maximum produce of the tax—namely, £1,300,000, I must express my regret that, considering the deficient yield of this tax, Her Majesty's Government have not thought fit to introduce the necessary supplement to it, announced from tin first with almost universal assent—the succession duty on corporations. Why are we to go on from year to year levying the tax on individuals, and not levying a 2157 corresponding and equivalent tax on corporations? It may be said I ought to have done that myself in 1854; but the reason for not doing it was stated at the time. The Act had only come into operation a year. It was thought it might require early amendment, and it was thought better to take the delay of a Session for the sake of presenting the subject of alterations in a combined form. But that reason does not apply with equal force to the year 1855, or the year 1856, or the year 1857, during which we have not had any intimation from Her Majesty's Government of their intention to extend the succession-tax to corporations. I am sorry, too, that no more energetic steps have been taken to strengthen the department of the Board of Inland Revenue, which is conversant with this difficult question, because I know from practical knowledge that department is grievously in arrear. I venture to state that there is at this moment an enormous amount uncollected in the possession of individuals due to the public in respect of the succession and legacy duties, particularly the legacy duty, which is not collected, because the department is not strong enough to keep abreast of its work. If the succession duty is likely to be less productive than was originally supposed, that is not a less, but even a more urgent reason for applying all the strength which can be made available to enable the department to perform its labours with promptitude and alacrity.
I wish to say a few words as to the actual excess of the military and civil service estimates. The total expenditure of the country has increased since 1853 nearly £7,000,000. Striking off a considerable item which is due to the collection of revenue—part of which is productive, while part of it, I should hope, may be got rid of—there is above £6,000,000 net increase in the expenditure since 1853. Out of that amount a very small portion is due to charges of the war. I believe there is only a net increase of £750,000 in the charges of the Funded and Unfunded Debt, taken together since 1853; and, therefore, about £5,500,000 of the total increase is represented by sheer augmentation of expenditure independently of the war—nearly £5,500,000 in the space of four years. My right hon. Friend has said it is difficult to reduce estimates immediately after a war; but this is not immediately after a war. For fifteen months, practically, we have been aware that the war 2158 is at an end. Supposing this to be the end of a financial year, for twelve months we have been absolutely at peace. For those twelve months the House has voted the amount of money asked with the same unquestioning liberality as if we had been in a state of war; for this reason, the House felt it was a year of transition, and the Government ought to have ample means to clear up the charges for the war. I wish I could believe that in the Estimates of the present year a large amount is due to the war. I confess I have heard nothing from any Member of Her Majesty's Government which tends to make good that proposition. It may be true there are some charges, perhaps not inconsiderable, amounting to some hundreds of thousands of pounds, which are arrears and leavings of the war; but I am very doubtful whether they are not more than counterbalanced by other permanent or increasing sources of outlay which are augmenting at an accelerating rate. On the whole, I look at these estimates as peace estimates; I look at these establishments as peace establishments; and, looking at them as peace estimates and as peace establishments, though it is not my intention to challenge a division, I earnestly hope this House may be disposed to record its opinion that these estimates are susceptible of reduction.
Now, as to the general amount of the Estimates, I have a few words to say. I do not wish to go into details, and when I speak of the military estimates I shall confine myself to a rough comparison with the estimates of former years. In 1841 and 1842 the military estimates, including the whole defensive estimates of the country, amounted to £14,700,000. At that period they had been increased by several millions beyond the amount of 1835. In 1846, when very large and extensive military preparations had been made on account of the menacing state of our relations with America, the Estimates rose to £16,500,000. In 1848 they were £17,600,000. But they had then reached a point beyond the patient endurance of Parliament; and, as the noble Lord the Member for the City of London said the other night, the House gave such an undoubted indication of its determination not to entertain those estimates, that the Government withdrew them, reconsidered them, and referred them in their revised shape to a Committee, the result of all which operations was that they were reduced by an extent not far short of 2159 £3,000,000. They began to increase again, and in 1852 they stood at £16,012,000. I am inclined to take that year as the fairest year of comparison, because the charge for 1853 was affected by the cost of preparations for war. I therefore shall take the Estimates of 1852 as a fair standard of comparison—of course, not upon every point—I do not mean to discuss the cost of improvements in our establishments, in barracks, in the comforts of our soldiers—I allow for all these things:—but, on the other hand, when we come to look narrowly into the matter, we shall find the cost of these things compensated with a real diminution in our military necessities. In fact, now, under happier circumstances, under better arrangements, with a better state of the population, with a better police, with Ireland more happy, and the people better employed, the Colonies managed on a different system, you have not the same demand for soldiers which you had in former times. A small but well-paid and well-treated army ought to answer your purpose now better than a larger army in former times, which was frittered away by being employed upon duties not properly military, and which were not calculated to keep it in a high state of efficiency. Without entering upon those questions, I shall take the Estimates of 1852 for comparison. They were £16,012,000. The Estimates now presented, including the estimate of cost of the Persian war of £265,000, which, I imagine, is put down at too low a figure, and a small sum of £60,000 for an increase of the coastguard, amount to £20,573,000. Thus, in fact, upon the military estimates there is an increase of £4,500,000 over the estimates of 1852. Then, I take the civil estimates, with which, I must confess, I am not disposed to deal more lightly than with the military estimates, but rather it appears to me that we are in more danger from the civil than from the military estimates. The latter come to us in great lumps, and as the amounts are so large, we are compelled to look into them more or less, and if in any particular year any great excess in those estimates is permitted the reaction and retribution are sure to come, and most likely will appear in the shape of undue, unwise, and precipitate reductions. But that is not the case with the civil estimates. They come in 10,000 forms. They grow up by small charges here, small charges there; a little 2160 increase of expenditure in this or that Government department; a few thousands additional voted under Acts of Parliament. They are brought forward in detail, and we do not see them in the total. In my opinion, those estimates require to be rudely overhauled. I do not doubt that the Chancellor of the Exchequer does his best to keep them down. Perhaps I may be allowed to observe here that I am very sorry if on the first night of the Session I misled the House by assuming that the estimates were intended to be proposed upon a scale different to that which was really intended by the Government. If I was misled, it was by the statement of the War Minister, who had so distinctly announced what the military estimates were to be. I hope, however, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will consider those who have pestered him ab extra as his allies. I know his position is a difficult one; but it is the duty of the House of Commons to strengthen his hands. It is the duty of the House of Commons, when discussing the estimates, to strengthen the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer against all the world; against those who are petitioning for favours; against his own colleagues; against this House itself:—because, although he may hope to bring the House to a serious consideration of matters as a whole, yet when we come to the subject of charges in detail it is difficult to control the House and prevent it from encouraging additions to the public expenditure. I will just give one or two most impartial illustrations of that view. There was the immense charge which by a Vote of this House last year we incurred prospectively for the Ordnance survey. That was a charge which I think was inadequately considered. I have not the least doubt that the effect of that Vote, unless it be intercepted, will be to entail a charge of £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 upon the country. That was a most serious matter, which was decided in an hour or two, and I doubt whether a tenth part of those who voted knew the extent of the question with which they were dealing. Then I may mention another matter of expenditure, which I do the more earnestly as it is a popular description of expenditure—I mean the Votes for education. I do not scruple to say that I view with great jealousy the repeated and constant growth of these educational Votes. I do not mean to say that we have reached the proper maximum 2161 of those grants, but I have come to the conclusion that a spirit of extravagance has found its way into many departments of the State. There is an idea that it is a popular thing to announce an increase on the educational Votes. And so, no doubt it is. Some persons regard such increase as a good means of stopping the plans of the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden) and the right hon. Member for Droitwich (Sir J. Pakington), and therefore they are content to vote £500,000 last year, £600,000 this, and £800,000 next year. It is a good stopper to educational movements upon different bases. I am not a friend to the Bills of the right hon. Member for Droitwich or of the hon. Member for the West Riding; but I am not desirous of getting rid of any Bills by illegitimate means, and, although I hold it to be most desirable to assist the efforts of voluntary education, yet I think the administration of sums voted for that purpose ought to be regarded with as much strictness as the application of any other public money. I do not mean to say there has been any laxity of conduct, but it appears to me that a spirit has grown up which has led the officers of that particular department to require fresh means of expending the public money, as if the public money were something of which it was necessary to get rid of as much as possible. That spirit, I think, has led to an unnecessary waste of the public money, and to deluding the country on the subject of the nature and extent of their operations. I have been aware of that fact from the demands made by the officers of the Privy Council upon the local promoters of education for expenses of a kind which appear to be perfectly needless, and, in in some instances, almost mischievous, but all sweetened by the promise that if the promoters will find one-half of the outlay the Privy Council will find the rest. Having mentioned that, I come to another matter, which illustrates another class of instances in which I think there has been an undue tendency to extend the public expenditure; and I hope the House will not consider it disrespectful to them when I say that those charges have been incurred under an Act of Parliament, and therefore it is a matter which has received the sanction of this House—I refer to the Act which was passed creating the office of Vice President of the Committee of Privy Council of Education. I 2162 regarded the passing of the Act with great jealousy at the time. I now regard it with increased regret. Objections were raised to the Bill when introduced here that it was a Bill to create an office and grant a salary without defining any duties to be performed. The only answer given to those objections was that it would be more convenient to have a Vice President of the Committee of Council upon Education in this House to answer questions than to have those questions answered by another Minister. Now, I do not think it is a satisfactory mode of dealing with the public money that because three or four times in the course of a Session questions should be asked across the table respecting the subject of education, therefore you should create a State functionary expressly to answer those questions. Assuming, even, that it would be better that those questions should be answered by a Vice President of the Committee of Education, still the work could not be better done by an officer of inferior rank than by a Cabinet Minister. The other day the right hon. Member for Droitwich (Sir J. Pakington) brought in his Bill about education. If any one subject more than another should have attracted the attention of the responsible advisers of the Crown it is the subject of education; and if we had not been guilty of the extravagance of creating an officer with a salary of £2,000 a year and nothing to do, the Secretary for the Home Department—a Cabinet Minister—speaking with the authority of the whole Cabinet, would have risen to give us the views of the Government upon this most important subject. What actually took place? A most irreproachable appointment was made to this office. I have not a word to say against the right hon. Gentleman who fills the situation, but he is not a Minister of the Crown; he delivers his own views on education as an individual, and cannot speak in the name of the Cabinet. The result, therefore, of our having constituted that office is that, instead of hearing at first hand, from the most authentic source, the views of the Government on education, we have delivered, not the views of the Government, but rather the views of a gentleman worthy, it is true, of all respect and regard from this House, yet still a gentleman holding a secondary and inferior position in the Government. So much for the business in this House, because it was alleged as 2163 the reason why this office should be created, but it appears to me that we should have a little regard for the business out of the House. It is not wise, with regard to the right discharge of public business, or to the maintenance of this House in due respect among the people to constitute new offices which are entirely without duties. How does the office of Vice President of the Committee of Council on Education stand with reference to that matter? We asserted that there were no duties to perform out of this House. I am sorry to say that the statements made by myself, among other gentlemen, received an illustration in what was then taking place, and what subsequently took place, more astounding than even I had expected. At the time that this House passed an Act to appoint a Vice President of the Committee of Council on Education, in order to assist the President, the President was abroad. He had been abroad for a considerable time. I think he went in the month of June last. He remained abroad in July, in August, in September. I think he came back in October, and all this time there was neither President nor Vice President of the Committee of Council on Education. Such is the state of that office; such the duties—most important, I admit, but still not requiring the attention of officers of that kind—that while the Government had in their hands, by Act of Parliament, the power of appointing a Vice President they did not exercise that power, although the President was abroad for four months, until the very eve of the meeting of Parliament. Of course, they will not suppose that I am finding fault with the non-exercise of the power. I am grateful to them for not putting the Act into operation until Parliament met; but I should have to be still more grateful if they had withheld it from operation altogether. I am not making an attack upon the Government, but merely endeavouring to illustrate what appears to me to be the loose and inconsiderate method of performing that which I, for one, shall always hold to be the first and most essential among all the duties of Parliament—namely, the administration of public money. I illustrated it by showing that we have constituted an office without duties, for the purpose ostensibly of discharging some usually called Parliamentary functions, but functions which, when they do ascend to a character of gravity and dignity, are much better placed in the hands of a Cabinet Minister than in those 2164 of any person occupying an inferior situation in the Government.
Having spoken of the tendencies of the country and of the House of Commons in this respect, I do not feel that I shall fulfil my duty entirely unless I frankly state that I am not satisfied with the spirit of Her Majesty's Government in regard to economy in the public expenditure. It does not appear that the public money is administered by them with the fidelity and strictness which ought to be observed. Without drawing a distinction between one Government or one set of men and another—without inquiring how far it is due to men, and how far to the circumstances of the times—it seems to me that we have got quite different notions and rules with regard to the management of the public purse in small details from those which were formerly in vogue, and which had the sanction of all parties and all public men some ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago. Having stated that, I shall give an instance, because then the thing will be open to examination, and no unfairness can be practised. The instance I take is one connected with appointments of the very highest class—I mean appointments to the judicial bench. In the course of the last Session of Parliament the House was pleased to throw a burden of about £160,000 a year upon the public purse in order to alleviate the expenses of suitors in County Courts, and so far to provide for the administration of justice at the public expense. I confess I thought that a very doubtful measure, and was not disposed, without further consideration, to give it my assent. But I venture to say, at any rate, that if the public are to be subjected to so great a charge, let us inquire whether it is or is not true that nearer home—namely in Westminster Hall—the duties of the Judges are falling below and within the strength of the staff appointed to discharge them. I made the same observation at the time, and I believe I spoke in conformity with a strong public impression. There was a strong public impression that the duties of Westminster Hall were no longer such as to require the large and augmented number of fifteen Judges. I believe, also—although here I touch upon a sore subject, but public duty demands it—that similar remarks have been made with regard to some existing equity judgeships. Her Majesty's Government, by the mouth of the Home Secretary, gave a pledge that the whole subject would be inquired into during the recess, and that a report 2165 would be presented upon the question whether or not the number of Judges could be reduced. Very late in the recess a Commission was issued for that purpose; but, in the meantime, two judgeships had fallen vacant, and, instead of making any temporary provision for the discharge of essential duties pending the inquiries of the Commissioners, Her Majesty's Government at once filled up those two judgeships. Life salaries, or salaries only terminating in pensions proportioned to the salaries—sums of £5,000, or £6,000 a year—were granted to the two gentlemen who were added to the number that adorn the judicial bench, while a Commission was issued to inquire whether there were any duties which required to be performed. But that was not all. A third vacancy happened by the deeply-lamented death of Baron Alderson, and I am sorry to say that the same course was taken. I am bound, however, to state, in justice to the Government, that I think it was taken without the disapproval of this House. I remember putting a question myself to the Government upon the subject. The Government answered that the vacancy would certainly be filled up without waiting for the result of the inquiries of the Commissioners, and immediately gentlemen were found ready to laud and commend that determination of the Government. I do not mean to say, therefore, that the spirit of laxity respecting which I make my complaint is confined to the Government. My belief is that it affects us all; and if I complain of the Government I do so only because I think the executive Government ought to be among the first and most effectual cheeks for restraining that spirit of laxity in regard to the administration of the public money. As I have mentioned the name of Baron Alderson, and complained that the seat which he occupies upon the Bench should have been filled up while a Commission was inquiring into the duties of the fifteen Judges, let me render a further tribute to the memory of that lamented man, because I hold in my ham a letter which Baron Alderson himself spontaneously addressed to me in the autumn. He was abroad at the time, ant seeing that I had made a proposal to the Government, and the Government had assented to it, that the question of a possible reduction in the number of the Judges should be inquired into, with that high spirit of honour and public duty which animated him, he immediately addressed 2166 to me a letter containing his views upon the subject, and in that letter—I need note only three lines—he says, "It is indisputable that twelve Judges are sufficient for the term business." Such was the deliberate opinion expressed by Baron Alderson himself. [Mr. MALINS: He says, "for the term business."] I am no lawyer, but know that the Judges have something else besides the term business to do. Baron Alderson knew that, too, and in his letter he enters fully upon the subject of the circuit business. He is disposed to admit that there would be inconvenience in any considerable alteration of the circuits with a view to diminish the number of Judges, and he states the reasons in great detail; but he comes to the conclusion that provision might be made for discharging the circuit business, and at the same time reducing the number of Judges to twelve. I need not say that the letter of Baron Alderson, in which I entirely concur, is at the service of Her Majesty's Government or of any person who may wish to inquire into the subject. I think that what I have stated is not an unfair illustration of the mode in which we are now going to work upon questions relating to the public money. My belief is that if during the Government of Lord Melbourne a Commission had been issued to inquire into the duties of the Judges, and the Government had filled up three Judgeships while the Commission was sitting, Sir Robert Peel, as the leader of the Opposition, would have risen in his place and moved an Address to the Crown on the subject, and that Address would have been carried, not by the Opposition merely, but by a majority consisting of Members belonging to all parties in the House. In the same way, if the Government of Sir Robert Peel had ventured upon such an operation as creating three great officials with life salaries while a Commission was inquiring into the question whether there were any duties to discharge or not, Lord John Russell would have moved an adverse Resolution, and an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons would have supported him. But I feel that I am insulting both the Government of Lord Melbourne and that of Sir Robert Peel in supposing that they ever could have done such a thing, for I am satisfied that the temper, not only of the Governments themselves, but of Parliament also, would have rendered it entirely impossible.
Having thus far illustrated my meaning 2167 by particular instances, I shall not further trouble the House, but shall only say, in addition, that in the Miscellaneous Estimates and other civil services there has been since 1853 an augmentation of no less than £1,700,000. I know that we cannot now get rid of some part of that augmentation, but it is something enormous with regard to the whole sum. Within the recollection of many who now hear me—at least within the recollection of those who sat in Parliament twenty years ago—the Miscellaneous Estimates amounted to only £2,000,000 per annum, and even then they had been greatly increased. Many necessary and beneficial additions have been made to them; but that is no reason why the same strictness of rule and method should not now be applied to the consideration of every question connected with them as used to be applied for almost the whole period which is within the memory of the existing generation. I am convinced, whether it be owing to the war, which engendered a kind of extravagance in trifling sums, or to some other cause, that a very great change, an unhappy and mischievous change, has come over the spirit of Parliament; and the time will come—nay, has come—when it is necessary to make some vigorous effort to return to the wholesome rules and maxims which used to prevail some ten or fifteen years ago. Of one thing at least I feel quite certain—that you will not go on, peace continuing, for twelve months longer without some strong movement in this direction. I defy you to meet the finances of this year without opening up the whole subject of your expenditure; and what I now propose is that we should express our desire, before we go to the country, that Her Majesty's Government should, during the interval of comparative leisure and repose which they will enjoy, employ some portion of it in a careful consideration of the Estimates, which appear to me beyond what the necessities of the country require, I do believe, if the Parliament had continued, that that would have been found to be the genuine and deliberate feeling of the House. At present I only appeal to the Government and those who hear me to give this subject its due consideration, and with no intention of challenging a division. I confess I believe it is one of those subjects which are always handled better when handled early, and with respect to which, if we do what we can by a judicious and well-considered measure, we shall be the 2168 more likely to give greater satisfaction to the country, and run much less risk of coming to a precipitate conclusion than if we delayed dealing with them to the very last moment, under the pressure of public impatience, when the time for judicious retrenchment has passed away. I beg leave, Sir, to move this Amendment,—stating, at the same time, that I do not wish to interfere with Votes of Credit in the Committee of Supply:—That in order to secure to the Country that relief from taxation which it justly expects, it is necessary, in the judgment of this House, to revise and further reduce the Expenditure of the State.
MR. W. WILLIAMS
seconded the Resolution. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) had made out so clear and urgent a case of necessity for revising the extravagant expenditure of the country for the ensuing year that he could not by any observations of his own hope to strengthen it. He would only remark, reference having been made to the subject of the legacy duty, that he (Mr. Williams) had on several occasions called the attention of the House to that question, and had urged them to impose some such duty on real property as had been imposed on personal property for the last sixty years, and by which he had no doubt a sum of from £1,500,000 to £2,000,000 would be added annually to the revenue of the country.
Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in order to secure to the Country that relief from taxation which it justly expects, it is necessary, in the judgment of this House, to revise and further reduce the Expenditure of the State," instead thereof.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Mr. Speaker,—In the wide-ranging survey of the present state of the finances, both of revenue and expenditure, illustrated by his official experience and his extensive knowledge of public affairs, which my right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) has just taken, there is much in which I concur; and, with regard to that part of his address to which I cannot altogether assent, I quite admit that the subjects which he has brought under the attention of the House are fully deserving of its serious consideration. I conceive that the principal object of my right hon. Friend has been to a great extent satisfied by the statement which he has made—that he 2169 wished to bring his views on these important matters under the consideration of the House and the country—and I trust, therefore, that he will not think that I am treating him or the House with any disrespect if I do not follow him item by item through his statement. But I think it my duty to advert to some of the subjects which he has brought under our consideration. The right hon. Gentleman arranged his observations under the two heads of taxation and expenditure. With regard to the question of taxation, as involving an apprehension of a deficiency in future years, I will say at once—since I have put all years after the present out of the question, and have confined the plan I submit to the House to the present year, on account of the position of the Government and the House, it would be mere waste of time if I were to go into an investigation of the probable balance of revenue and expenditure in any year after that which commences on the 1st of April next. It will be the duty of any Government which may be at the head of public affairs in future years to propose to the House means for meeting the expenditure of the country out of the taxation of the year, and not to resort to the method of burrowing in order to defray the current expenditure in a time of peace. How that is to be effected—whether the result is to be attained by a reduction of expenditure or by the imposition of new taxes—it is not now my wish to express any opinion; but I do maintain, in the most confident manner, that in a time of peace it is not a legitimate source of revenue to resort to the credit of the country with the view of making up for insufficiency in taxation. I have now only to deal with the taxation of the present year. Let me observe that this is the first year since 1853 in which it has not been the duty of the Finance Minister to exhibit a great deficiency of revenue as compared with expenditure, and to appeal to the House to have recourse to different means of borrowing on the national credit. This is the first year since 1853 in which it has been possible to show a surplus derived exclusively from the ordinary resources of taxation. My right hon. Friend says my surplus is not a sufficient one, and that he fears, under the augmented expenses of the year, it will be found that it is not adequate to bear those charges. I can only say, judging from my present lights, and looking forward to the proba- 2170 ble revenue and expenditure of the year, that I entertain no such apprehension. It is indeed impossible to be prepared against, all contingencies; but I anticipate, as far as my present information and means of judging of the future go, no difficulty with regard to the ensuing year in meeting the expenses by legitimate means. As to the alterations in taxation which I have felt it my duty to propose—if it had not happened that the income tax was fixed for another year at the high rate at which it stood during the war, and if the Government had not felt that that rate was greater than was demanded by the probable expenditure of the year, and that probably much dissatisfaction would be created if they postponed the settlement of the question, undoubtedly they would have abstained from making the proposition which they have submitted to the House. But, believing that so large a sum was not wanted for the service of the year, and seeing what a natural amount of anxiety prevailed in the country lest the income tax should continue at 16d. for another year, they felt it their duty in this Parliament to propose the measure which has gone through Committee this evening. I cannot but think that the discretion they have exercised is a sound one, and that in the exercise of that discretion they will be confirmed by the deliberate judgment of the House and the country. With regard to the duties on tea and sugar, unless it had been deemed desirable that they should descend to the rates fixed by the previously existing law from the 1st of April next, the whole stock would have been taken out of bond before April, and it would not have been open to the new Parliament to deal with those questions when they met, as the time would then have passed for their doing so; and therefore we felt it our duty to make the proposals which we did with regard to those two taxes. Those were the reasons which influenced us in our proposals upon the subject of taxation, and I cannot think that the House will regard them as insufficient.
I now come to the subject of expenditure and of the Estimates which have been laid upon the table. My right hon. Friend says, that by granting a Vote on account, the House has expressed a "tacit" approbation of the scale on which those Estimates were framed; but I don't understand that the House has expressed any approbation, tacit or avowed, upon the subject; and I wish it to be distinctly understood, so 2171 far as the Government are concerned, that they do not consider that the House is in any degree pledged to the amount of those Estimates. I do not understand that the House has given any approbation to them; but I hold that whenever we shall reassemble, it will be competent for the new Parliament to examine the Estimates as if they were then proposed for the first time. I believe that the course will be to revote the Estimates for the whole amount, and any modification which may be then deemed desirable can at that time be made. At all events, when we propose a Vote on account, I do not see how any Member who agrees to such Supply can be said to give his approbation to the total amount. All that he says is, "I trust the Government with a sum which I believe will be sufficient to carry on the public service until the new Parliament assembles." It is utterly impossible that any other course could be adopted; the public service must be carried on during the interval between the dissolution and the reassembling of Parliament; and if any feasible course can be suggested other than that which we have adopted, I shall be quite willing to try it; but believing that no other can be suggested, all I can say is, that I shall not consider the House in any way pledged by its Votes on account. My right hon. Friend asserts in his Resolution, that "it is necessary to revise and further reduce the expenditure of the State." Now, I do not see how this Parliament, by coming to an abstract Resolution that reduction in the expenditure is necessary, can promote the object which my right him. Friend has in view. If we were about to go into a Committee of Supply, the Committee might be guided by such a Resolution, and might proceed to reduce the Estimates; but, inasmuch as this Parliament will not vote the Estimates in their final form, the new Parliament might take altogether different views upon the matter, and might decline to be bound by the Resolutions of its predecessor. I altogether approve, however, one portion of the Resolution of my right hon. Friend. Without saying how far it may be possible to reduce the Estimates for the present year—which I believe will be found to be more difficult than is supposed, because they have been very carefully examined with the view of making all practicable reductions—I nevertheless think that it is most important at the termination of a great war, when many agents of the Government 2172 being removed from immediate control, may have acquired habits of lavish expenditure, that the House should at such a period, when they are accessible to the opinion of Parliament, carefully revise the whole of the public expenditure. Whether the result of that revision will be during the present year to make any material reduction I confess I doubt, because I do not believe that the Estimates, in the form in which they are laid upon the table, are extravagant. I admit that they are high Estimates, but I do not think that they are extravagant with reference to the present year. We have reduced the Army and Navy Estimates in the present year by £17,000,000, and the House must remember, that when we deal with millions in the way of reduction, we have to experience great difficulties; so that I think, upon the whole, that when hon. Members come to an examination of the details they will be satisfied that there has been, on the part of the Government, a sincere and honest desire to bring down the war expenditure as speedily as possible to a legitimate peace footing, I do not mean to say that the careful criticism of the House may not discover further sources of economy; but I say that there has been no want of an energetic attempt by the Government to bring the Estimates to a shape which shall entitle them to the favourable consideration of the House during the present Session. If the House will examine the reduction of the expenditure which took place at the end of the last war, they will find that it was not made in one year, but that it was the result of the efforts of successive years and of close Parliamentary investigation, carried on at different times.
My right hon. Friend adverted to some instances of extravagance at present existing. I do not wish to follow him in detail through the examples which he adduced, but there is one to which he referred upon which I will say a few words. I allude to the case of the Ordnance Survey of Scotland. That subject was much pressed upon me and other Members of the Government by Gentlemen connected with Scotland, and it was ultimately referred to a Select Committee. The Committee investigated the matter carefully, and they came to a resolution in favour of the survey of Scotland upon a very large scale. The matter was then debated in Committee of Supply, and the House, upon a division, came to the conclusion to support the Report of the Committee. I freely 2173 avow that my opinion did not agree with the Report of the Select Committee. I yielded my judgment, however, to others whom I thought to be better informed upon the matter than myself, and reluctantly I gave way to their recommendation. My individual opinion is, that all that the Government can be properly called upon to do in such a matter is to make an accurate survey of the country, fixing all the principal points with mathematical accuracy, and thus providing a geographical map which may be used for national purposes. I do not hold that the Government is called upon to produce a plan upon so gigantic a scale that the outline of a single county in Scotland would about cover the floor of Westminster Hall—a scale so large as to be utterly useless for all the ordinary purposes of a map, and only applicable to the objects of estate surveys. That was decided by the House, however; but I still entertain the opinion that a map upon the scale of one inch to the mile, accurately laid down, is all that the Government ought to furnish for national purposes. There is another point with reference to the recent appointment of Judges, upon which I will say a few words. That is not a subject with which I am minutely intimate; but if my right hon. Friend the Secretary for the Home Department were in his place, he would be able to give the fullest information with respect to it. The facts I believe to be these:—A Commission was issued during the recess to inquire into the possibility of diminishing the number of Judges of the Superior Courts of common law. Among the numbers of that Commission are to be found the names of very eminent men; and the issuing of that Commission at least evinces, I think, that the Government had not neglected the question, but that they were willing to entertain the idea of a reduction if it were practicable. Vacancies in the judicial bench have occurred since that Commission was appointed, and my right hon. Friend says that Lord Melbourne's Government, or Sir Robert Peel's Government, would not have been guilty of such an act as filling up those vacancies while the Commission was sitting. It must be remembered, however, that judicial duties cannot remain unperformed, that they are of vast importance to the lives and property of the country, and that this cannot be regarded as a mere question of expenditure so long as the present division of circuits exist, so long as there is a demand for winter cir- 2174 cuits, and while so much continues to be said of the importance of frequent gaol deliveries. It is necessary, in the meantime, until a reconstruction of the circuits can be effected, or until it is shown that a smaller number of Judges than at present exists can perform the duties required of them, that the judicial bench should consist of as many members as now. No temporary arrangements could have been effected in the interval previous to the Commission making their report; and it was for these reasons that the vacancies were filled up. I cannot doubt, then, when the matter shall be more closely examined, that it will be seen that the Government had no other alternative open to them than the course which they have adopted.
There is only one other point to which I will allude, and that is with reference to the increased charge for interest upon the Funded and Unfunded Debt, occasioned by the war. I think that my right hon. Friend underrated the amount—the increased charge for interest caused by the war being rather more than £1,400,000. I believe that I have now gone through the principal subjects which were adverted to by my right hon. Friend; and, although my right hon. Friend will probably not press his Motion to a division, but will be satisfied with what I have stated, I believe that the discussion which has taken place will be likely to be productive of no inconsiderable benefit hereafter.
§ MR. GLYN
confessed he was one of those who thought that by taking the Committee of Ways and Means before the Committee of Supply the House had fallen into considerable error. He was, however, certainly of opinion that with regard to the Estimates the first year of peace ought not to be taken as the criterion; but he conceived that it would be the duty of the next Parliament to take, not only the question of the Estimates, but the whole question of the public expenditure seriously into their consideration. He believed much good would result by the appointment of a Select Committee for the examination of this expenditure. He was not sure that it would not be right, immediately on the assembling of the new Parliament, to appoint such a Committee, and the Estimates for 1858–9 ought not to be voted until that Committee had reported. Then the House would probably have some certain data upon which to proceed, and would be enabled to settle the national expenditure much better than by trusting to the or- 2175 dinary discussions which took place upon the Estimates. He confessed that he had listened with considerable surprise and apprehension to some remarks which had been made as to the mode in which the probable expenditure of the country might be met. In the discussion which took place upon the tea duties, he was astonished to find the hon. Member for Wick (Mr. Laing) allude to an operation which appeared to him the very last which this House ought to sanction. The hon. Gentleman said he objected to the increase of the duties upon tea and sugar, and he hoped the Estimates might be reduced, but that if they were not reduced the House had at its command the means of meeting any excess of expenditure by renewing the obligations entered into during the war, alluding to those floating securities, Exchequer bonds. Now, it appeared to him (Mr. Glyn) that a postponement of that character was one which the House of Commons ought never to entertain. It might be all very well for railway companies to have recourse to such subterfuges, but he hoped the House of Commons would never attend to advice of that description. At the end of the great French war, when the country had to pay a greater taxation with smaller means of doing so than at present, and when therefore there was the more excuse for such a course, the Government resorted to many expedients to relieve the country from the immediate pressure of taxation—expedients from the effect of which we were suffering even at the present moment. Soon after the close of the French war, owing to what was called at that time "an ignorant impatience of taxation," the Minister of the day had recourse to the expedient of raising that which was commonly known as the "dead weight," the result being an annuity of £600,000, to which the country was at this time liable. He trusted the next Parliament would benefit by this experience, and, if the Estimates could not be reduced, would meet the expenses of the country by a proper system of taxation. There was another duty incumbent upon them. Both sides of the House should agree in deferring and in opposing Motions fur the reduction of particular burdens until the war taxes were fairly got rid of, and they were really in a position to dispense with a certain amount of revenue. If they pursued this plan, at the same time introducing as economical a system of expenditure as possible, the 2176 Chancellor of the Exchequer would soon be able to bring about those remissions of taxation which every one admitted to be so desirable.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he concurred with the hon. Member for Kendal (Mr. Glyn) in thinking that no demand for relief from special burdens should be demanded until the Estimates had been reduced to something more nearly approaching their ordinary peace rates; he hoped that the constituents to whom they were about to appeal would bear in mind that they had still to bear some of the burdens of the last war, and that they would not be led away by any promise of relief from taxation to countenance the idea that this country could hastily reduce its establishments to the point at which they were before the war. He thought, also, that a full and rigid inquiry into every item of expenditure was necessary; but he thought it would be useless to turn over the whole Miscellaneous Estimates to a Committee in a lump, for the magnitude and complexity of such an inquiry would defeat the object of it by delay, but every department in which extravagance seemed to prevail, should be submitted to a distinct Committee for investigation. By this means the House would really resume its power of controlling the lavish expenditure which he admitted to exist. He hoped that in another Parliament the right hon. Member for Oxford University would view with more favour than he had done, when Chancellor of the Exchequer, the attempts of those who sought to produce economy in the public service. At that time the hon. Member for Birmingham moved for the appointment of a Committee on the subject of providing small arms for the use of the army. In that Committee it was proved that the factory proposed to be established in 1854 at Enfield, at a cost of £100,000, was not necessary in order to ensure a supply of small arms. The Committee, after a full investigation, recommended that an enlargement of the then existing factory at Enfield should be made at a cost of £38,000, instead of erecting anew one at the cost of £100,000, and the House curtailed the Vote in the Ordnance Estimates in accordance with the recommendation of the Committee to £38,000; and that the orders, which had been withheld, should, in accordance with former practice, be issued to the arms trade of England; but the right hon. Gentleman declared that whatever might be 2177 the decision of the Committee, or of the House, he would continue the expenditure according to the original estimate for the new factory, and so he did in defiance of the Appropriation Act. After all the expense, that factory had not provided a single musket for the war. The House was, the next year, in 1855, led to believe that the trade of England could not supply the demand, and sanctioned the violation of its authority under that belief, but too late discovered, that it had been imposed upon, and had better have trusted its own Committee, for the Government officials had declared that the arms trade could not be trusted to produce £30,000 stand of arms per year, and clamoured for what they termed the only alternative, the costly new factory and the foreign orders, which the Government issued. These, however, remained totally unproductive until after the war had closed, while the much-abused arms trade had produced 227,000 stand of arms in two years, and such arms as had never been before produced. The right hon. Member for Oxford University was on that occasion instrumental in defeating the attempt to control the lavish expenditure of the Government. He (Mr. Newdegate) lamented the increase in the Miscellaneous Estimates; but if Parliament, as in the case of the County Police force, and as in multitudes of commissionerships and inspectorships continued to substitute paid service for that system of local self-government which had existed for hundreds of years in this country, they would not only be sanctioning a departure from the old constitutional practice of the country, but they would be encouraging an expenditure which they might find it difficult to meet.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I do not rise, Sir, for the purpose of entering into this discussion; and I think the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone), considering the state of the House, will exercise a wise discretion in not pressing his Motion to a division. What I wish to do is to protest against a discussion of this sort in this last stage of our existence. I think we have quite enough to do in preparing to meet our constituents, instead of carving out the work of the next Parliament. It is indeed almost arrogant for any of us to suppose that we shall be Members of the next House. I may have opinions as regard my own chances of election, and other Gentlemen may entertain opinions as to theirs, but I do not think, Sir, 2178 we ought to intrude those views upon your observation, and give notice, as some very eminent Members have done, as to what they intend to do in the next Parliament. I think that nothing could be more dangerous than the suggestion of the hon. Member for Kendal (Mr. Glyn) that the new House of Commons, which will meet, I trust, full of vigour and renovated from the embraces of the people, should commence its career by first of all proposing a plan to relieve the Government from the discharge of their duties. In extraordinary cases, when Ministers have not been able to perform their duties, the House has consented to the appointment of Finance Committees; but would it be safe to adopt the rule that the Government is to be superseded in its executive functions by a Committee of this House, and that this House should perform those duties which ought to be performed in Downing-street? If we were to adopt such a principle, we should have to consider whether our administrative organization is not on too great a scale; and I confess I hold precisely the contrary opinion, and we should place the Executive in a position which it was never intended to occupy. We might have on the Ministerial bench representatives of the poor ignorant and indolent creatures who in France, under the Merovingian dynasty, held high offices of State; and we, perhaps, might see a Secretary of State, a Chancellor of the Exchequer, or a First Lord of the Admiralty who had nothing to do with the department of which he was the head. I have only risen to protest against the principle of Committees of the House of Commons being called upon to prepare estimates which it is the duty of the Government to prepare. I trust that in the interval which will elapse before the meeting of the new Parliament, all those influences will be exerted which make men wiser, better, and perhaps sadder, and I hope that the result will be that the next House of Commons will have laid before them Estimates lower than those which have been submitted to us. But, whatever the estimates may be, let them come from the Government, and by the manner in which they are prepared and defended, let Her Majesty's Ministers show whether or not they are entitled to the confidence of Parliament. The principle that the new House of Commons, with all its crudeness and want of experience, should be called upon to discharge functions 2179 which properly belong to the Executive, is one which, in these our last days, we ought not to sanction. We ought, on the contrary, to hope that the new Parliament will hold the Government well to the performance of their duties. That is what we want. We want a Government which shall possess the confidence of the House of Commons, and which will not shrink from the performance of its duties, and not one which is content to carry on from hand to mouth, and which, whenever a difficulty occurs, is willing to be superseded by a Committee of this House. If a Government perform their duty in an efficient manner, that Government cannot fail to meet with confidence from the House; but I must protest against Parliament, whose part it is to act the critic upon the schemes of the Government, being called upon to act as the inventors and authors of their plans.
§ SIR HENRY WILLOUGHBY
reminded the House that four millions and a half of the total revenue of the coming year arose from the war income tax, which must be regarded as an extraordinary Ways and Means, which, if calculated in a future year, would leave the then Chancellor of the Exchequer in the lurch. If they did not reduce the expenditure in time, they must impose fresh taxes or there would be a deficiency.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolutions read 2o, and agreed to.