§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Sir, the mode in which taxes are now submitted for our consideration, although it may successfully assert the privileges of this House as regards the interference of the House of Lords, has also the effect of curtailing those privileges, and that must be my excuse 1864 for again calling the serious and earnest attention of the House to the state of our finances. This is a subject which requires some discussion before it is thoroughly understood by many hon. Members, who with regard to it have only that general acquaintance which under ordinary circumstances is quite sufficient, but who may not be always prepared to give that close attention which is required by the present state of the public finances unless discussion is sometimes repeated here. It is for this reason, that having made a few observations to the House upon the second reading of this Bill, I now wish again to call attention to the subject. The state of our finances is one which cannot engage the consideration of this House at a more fitting moment than when a Bill is submitted imposing an immense amount of taxation upon the country, and imposing it only for a year. There is also, I frankly admit, another reason why I wish to trespass upon the House for a short time this evening, because I know that some of my friends— for whom I entertain the most sincere respect— are of opinion, that with the expenditure of this country are necessarily associated the security of our shores and the maintenance of our empire. Now, I think that those objects are far above all financial considerations, and should be secured at all costs and at all hazards. But those who—perhaps through not having given all the investigation which is necessary to this subject—associate these important objects with our expenditure, should take care lest they err in so doing, and lest, in the present condition of our finances, they should sanction an expenditure which is not required for the perfect defence of our country and the complete maintenance of our empire. It is unnecessary that I should, except with extreme succinctness, remind the House of our financial position—no surplus; enormous and continuous deficits for the last two years; utter exhaustion of all extraordinary aids; and, after having experienced a relief of £2,000,000 per annum in the shape of interest paid to the public creditor, an ordinary revenue resting in a great degree upon our financial reserve, those very taxes a portion of which we are asked to pass to-night. Now, I look upon that as the most alarming feature in our financial position. Reviving trade and a good harvest may supply a deficiency, and may create a surplus; but it is difficult to see that those means can materially change 1865 a financial system in which we find our ordinary expenditure mainly depending upon sources of income which should form our financial reserve. Her Majesty's Government have told us, that this is not a wholesome state of finance. They have told us so in this House more than once. They have told us so in the country. But the most remarkable thing is, that a Government which informs the House of Commons that the state of our finances is not healthy, should take no step to bring back the salutary condition which is wanted. The only thing more surprising would be a House of Commons who, after such an announcement had been made, and after such neglect had been experienced from the Government, should think that it was not their duty to inquire into such a serious state of affairs, and should, under such circumstances, remain silent and uninterested. I wish to-night to call attention to that great branch of our public expenditure which is occasioned by our military and naval forces. The first point in such an investigation is to ascertain practically and temperately what really has been the increase of our expenditure in this respect. Generally speaking, when these subjects are brought under the consideration of the House, reference is made to the Government of the Duke of Wellington or to the Government of Sir Robert Peel; our expenditure is contrasted with that which existed under those Governments, and an abstract Resolution is moved, which, in nine cases out of ten, is defeated by an immense majority, but which is sometimes accepted by an adroit Minister, who knows that when the abstract Resolution has been accepted he will hear no more about retrenchment or reduction from the House of Commons. Who can deny that the arguments offered by a Government under such circumstances are quite irresistible? Who can deny that the circumstances of the country when the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel were in office differed from those of the present day, and that it is quite impossible to draw any practical conclusion from such a contrast? As my object in this discussion is, if possible, to load to some practical result, I will take for a starting-point a period at which we may fairly compare the naval and military expenditure with that which is now going on—a period when the expenditure was incurred under similar conditions to those which prevail at present. The Duke of Wel- 1866 lington and Sir Robert Peel were Tory statesmen, and were never unmindful of the traditions of Tory policy practised by Mr. Pitt—namely, that in a time of peace economy to a nation is a source of strength. But the practice under the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel cannot really guide us, because they had to deal with a state of affairs totally different from that of which we now have experience. I therefore propose to take a period with which every one is familiar, when the conditions under which the expenditure was incurred were, I think, perfectly similar to, indeed identical with those now existing. I propose to take the year 1858 and the five ensuing years, including the Estimates of the expenditure now on the table. In the year 1858 I was myself responsible for the administration of the finances, and I am therefore familiar, I hope, with the financial details of that year. It is my object to place a fair statement before the House. I will therefore erase from the last three years all the Votes of Credit for the China War which do not apply to the preceding years. I will also deduct from the year 1862 that sum of £730,000, an equivalent for which the Chancellor of the Exchequer, under the new arrangement, expects to receive from India. But 1 will do more than this. The House has been reminded by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the expense of wars like that in China is not merely to be measured by the Votes of Credit the House has granted for it. That war has had an indirect effect on the military Estimates, and in making any comparisons of the expenditure of the different years I will so frame them that I trust the House will admit they are made fairly. I will even go further. No doubt there has been a great increase in the expenditure of the army, occasioned by the measures adopted for improving the physical and elevating the mental and moral condition of the soldier. With respect to that expenditure, I think there cannot be two opinions in the House. From the highest motives, we should, on both sides of the House, sanction that expenditure; but 1 should support it even on the lower, but equally powerful, ground of economy. I have therefore reckoned under t[...]rious heads the increase in the Estimates that has been occasioned by these measures, and I shall at the proper period make the necessary deductions in consequence. I hope, therefore, the House will 1867 agree with me, that I have placed the case fairly before it. All I would require from it in return is, that it will give it its earnest and serious attention. Now, in stating to the House the amount of our expenditure for the army and navy in the year 1858, let me first remind it that the expense of the packet service is comprised in it. In 1860 there was a change in that respect and the packet service was then and is now voted separately. But in order to give a just account to the House, I have, in the last three years, added the amount of the packet service. The House will therefore understand that in stating the amount of the Estimates for those years the expense of the packet service is always included. Now, in the year 1858, the expenditure of the army and navy amounted to £22,297,000. I need not remind the House of the circumstances under which the Government of the Earl of Derby acceded to office at the commencement of 1858. At that time considerable irritation existed between the Governments of France and England. Steps were immediately taken which, certainly as far as France was concerned, removed the cause of that misunderstanding; and after that representations took place between the two Governments which went on for some time, the result of which was to establish between the two Governments a thoroughly good understanding; otherwise Her Majesty's Government would not have advised Her Majesty to make that visit to Cherbourg which I dare say most hon. Gentlemen can remember. We took office in the month of February, 1858, and I would allude to this to show that the disposition of the Government was not in favour of unnecessary expenditure. Early in March the Estimates were laid on the table. In those Estimates there was some—though not a considerable—reduction, amounting to £300,000 or £400,000. Shortly after that I had the honour to propose the Budget for the year. It was a peace Budget. In that year the income tax fell to 5d. in the pound, and Her Majesty's Government were of opinion it was of great importance that the amount of the rate of the tax should not be increased. They hoped that if peace were maintained, and there was an average degree of prosperity in the country, the Chancellor of the Exchequer might in 1860 be in possession of a surplus, which, with the £2,000,000 of terminable 1868 annuities then falling in, might accomplish that wise and statesmanlike measure, the extinction of the income tax, planned by the right hon. Gentleman. But in 1859 clouds arose. Europe, which had been so tranquil, was suddenly agitated. There was in Germany an excitement, that almost equalled the ferment of the revolutionary year 1848. There was a united sentiment throughout Germany, and that sentiment was directed against any Power suspected of an intention to disturb the peace of Europe. We had Austria at the head of an immense army, supposed to be in the highest state of discipline and efficiency—an army that had not, indeed, reaped any laurels in the Crimean war, but neither had it suffered any of its exhaustion. We had France undisguisedly preparing for a contemplated struggle, whether it was to arise from aggression on her part or in her own defence. Under these circumstances Her Majesty's Government had to consider what measures it was their duty to recommend to Her Majesty. It has been said that the Government at that time was under the influence of panic. But what was the condition of England at that moment in regard to its defence? It was not so complete as I am proud to recollect it afterwards became, but it was considerable. The regular army was, of course, the main source of our defensive power; and at no time when we were in office was the army in the United Kingdom less than 100,000 men. We had in addition a well-organized militia, and we had a Channel fleet. We certainly had not that great domestic arm, which I trust will be as permanent as it is effective—I mean our Volunteers; that force wee in its infancy, its organization being effectively aided by the gallant General near me (General Peel). The Volunteers were not then to be counted on as an effective means of defence. But with the regular army, at that time exceeding 100,000 men, in a perfect state of organization, with the militia and with the Channel fleet, no Ministry could have felt apprehension for the security of our shores or the safety of our homes. But what was our state generally with regard to that great arm on which the safety of our commerce, the security of our colonies, and the general maintenance of our national power depends? The navy of England was obsolete. That was not then discovered; it had engaged the attention of our 1869 predecessors, and we were endeavouring cautiously, and with a gradual expenditure, to supply what was wanting. But in this alarming state of affairs it was for us to consider whether a great effort should not be made at once. It was our opinion that it should. It was a policy which Parliament sanctioned, which public opinion ratified, and, after all that has passed, it appears to me to have been a wise and sound policy. The consequence of adapting to sailing vessels the scientific inventions of the day was, of course, very expensive. At the time it was suggested that the expense might be defrayed by a loan; but Her Majesty's Government were of opinion that that was not a legitimate mode of providing the means. I am speaking from memory, but I believe the extra expenditure under that head was about £3,500,000. After we quitted office upon another matter there was a further increase in the military expenditure of the year, by our predecessors, but of no great amount. The result was, that the expenditure for the army and navy, which for the year 1858, when we came into office, was £22,297,000, became ultimately for the year 1859, £26,308,000, being an increase in round numbers of £4,000,000. Now, I will ask the House to consider the state of Europe at the present moment. Is it the same as it was in 1859, when Her Majesty's Government proposed this increase in our military expenditure? Is there any great agitation throughout Europe? Is there any united feeling resulting in warlike determination throughout Germany? Is Prussia about to declare war? Is Austria meditating the invasion of Italy? Is France recruiting her army, calling in her reserves, and making preparations which we know forebode a conflict? On the contrary, all the circumstances which exist are diametrically different. Germany was never more tranquil and never less united. Prussia is thinking of anything else than of declaring war. Austria has retired to her stronghold, and has oven ostentatiously declared that her future policy is to be defensive. France is reducing her armaments, and must reduce them, because the state of her finances renders it absolutely necessary. Well, Sir, the first question which I wish to ask the House is, how is it that when all the circumstances which occasioned the great expenditure of 1859 have disappeared, the Estimates still remain at the same amount? We have heard a great 1870 deal of late of "exceptional circumstances." We have had "exceptional expenditure" vindicated by Her Majesty's Government on the ground of being occasioned by "exceptional circumstances." I have always failed in obtaining from Her Majesty's Government any definition of what is meant, by "exceptional expenditure," or "exceptional circumstances." But I think all will agree with me that the circumstances which produced the expenditure of the year 1859 were exceptional. They were circumstances which suddenly arose and suddenly disappeared, and which do not at the present moment exist. It may be a fair question whether the increased expenditure which we recommended in 1859 was a wise or an unwise policy; but that docs not affect the facts before us— namely, that unquestionably that expenditure was occasioned by extraordinary and exceptional circumstances, and that those exceptional circumstances no longer existing, the expenditure does exist. I have shown that between 1858, the last starting-point, and 1859, you have an increase of your naval and military expenditure to the amount of £4,000,000. But, Sir, that is not the most remarkable or the most alarming feature in our position. The expenditure for the army and navy, which, increased by £4,000,000, was £26,308,000 in 1859, became in 1860 £29,218,000, and became in 1861 £29,443,000. But I do not wish to carry on any comparison between the increased Estimates of 1859 and those of 1860 and 1861; and I will tell the House the reason why. In the first place, there was unquestionably in those Estimates that indirect influence of the war in China to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer called our attention the other night, and justly so. There was also in 1861 the expenditure suddenly occasioned by the expedition to Canada. I am not prepared to say that these were legitimately and clearly exceptional circumstances, but, for the sake of argument, 1 will admit that to-night the question may come with even extreme fairness before the House. I will not, therefore, compare 1859 with 1860 and 1861. I will omit them from the calculation. I will take the year 1862, of which we have not the realized but the estimated expenditure given us within a few weeks by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The expenditure for the army and navy in 1859 was £26,308,000; but it became in 1862 nearly £28,000,000. Now, Sir, the increase between 1858 and 1871 1862 will be nearly £5,700,000; but from that year and 1862, the estimated expenditure of which is before us, I intend to deduct a considerable sum. I will deduct every item that has been expended on what may be called the comfort of the soldier, under the head of clothing, provision, fuel, light, civil buildings, barracks, education, &c. In 1859 the expenditure for these purposes was £3,276,000, and in 1862 the expenditure was £4,070,000, being an increase of about £793,000. I therefore intend, in addition to all other deductions, to deduct from the expenditure of the army and navy in 1862 that sum of £793,000, and then it will be found that the increase of our expenditure between 1858 and 1862 amounts to about £4,900,000. Therefore the result is that between the expenditure of the army and navy in 1858 and in 1862 there is nearly an increase of £5,000,000 after making every deduction for the indirect influence of the Chinese war, and that large and wise increase of expenditure which has been occasioned by studying the comfort of the soldier. I say that is a very grave result, and the House is bound to consider it. I certainly hoped that Her Majesty's Government would have thrown some light on this state of affairs. I hope the House now clearly apprehends what the real increase for the army and navy, after making all the omissions to which I have referred, has been in the course of five years; and, if so, I think they will be disposed to inquire what is the cause of this great increase. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will not assist us. I thought at the beginning of the Session he had an intention of that kind. He seemed pensive and disquieted. The right hon. Gentleman expressed himself now and then in ambiguous words, which gave relief to some and caused alarm to others. He unhesitatingly denounced the condition of our finances as unsound and unwholesome, both in the House and out of it. But, after all this, the Chancellor of the Exchequer returned after the holidays, threw no light whatever on the subject, but accepted his share of responsibility for the expenditure and for the policy which occasioned it, and, as far as 1 could understand, gave no further hope to the House that he should interfere in the matter. I must say the Chancellor of the Exchequer seems hardly to approve of any other person attempting to explain or investigate the circumstances of the 1872 case. If you maintain that there is no surplus, he says, the man who makes that remark must be influenced by a feeling of personal animosity. Only state, as I have been obliged to do, in the present position of our affairs, that we have had several years of continuous and enormous deficit, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer throws at your head a shower of secondhand sarcasms and stale tu quoques. But merely enlarge upon the fact that all your extraordinary aids are exhausted, and that a great reduction in the interest of the national debt still leaves you with your ordinary expenditure mainly dependent on your financial reserve, and all the Chancellor of the Exchequer tells you is, that you tried once to establish a party on the principle of Protection. Now, what I may have done has nothing to do with the present question. Indeed, the present question is of such importance that it is really beginning to be little matter what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has done. The question is, what we are to do. And as to forming parties on the principle of Protection, I certainly did not think we should hear anything more about that in this House and from such a quarter. There was once a great party formed on the principle of Protection who turned out of office the Whigs because they proposed certain moderate measures for ameliorating the tariff, and we know what was the fate of the great party who thus entered office. I should have thought that a devoted adherent and pupil of the master who, in consequence of that change, for some time ruled this country, would never have dwelt unnecessarily upon the folly of attempting to establish a party on the principle of Protection. This, however, I will say, that although the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not throw any light upon the question, the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government, with that frankness which is his characteristic, has unhesitatingly informed us what is the cause of our great expenditure. The noble Lord has told us there is no disguising the fact that France has for a long time been labouring to equal, and even to surpass, the naval power of England. Now, I agree with the noble Lord, that if France is contemplating such a result, and has been for a long time working for that end, it is a ground for armaments on the part of this country far greater even than those which we are now creating. But the noble Lord, after 1873 making this announcement, tells us in the same breath that he finds no fault with France for pursuing that policy. There I join issue with the noble Lord. If France is really attempting to rival or excel the naval power of England, I say 1 do entertain great objection to that policy. What does such a policy mean on the part of France, with whom we are in cordial relation? It means that France, which has, compared with England, a very small foreign trade, which has no transmarine possessions demanding the services of a great part of her fleet, is arming in a manner which must occasion great disquietude and distrust among us, and must of necessity seriously augment the burdens of the taxpayers of this country. Can we accept a Power which behaves in that manner as a friend and ally? Can we cherish cordial relations with her? 1 repeat, if France is acting as the noble Lord says, it is a cause of grave distrust and jealousy on the part of England—nay, more than that, it might even justify this country, pressed by increased taxation, and disquieted by these feelings, if the opportunity offered, in declaring war against France. We heard the other night something of servility to France; but what shall we say of the Minister who, believing that France is pursuing this policy, announces to the House of Commons that he sees no reason to object to it, but that, on the contrary, he has the most cordial and confidential relations with France? It is not servility which describes such conduct—it is submission. I think the question stands thus:—If France is clearly attempting to rival the naval supremacy of England, then we ought not to have an intimate alliance with France; but if, on the other hand, France is not pursuing that course, what is the necessity for our extraordinary armaments? Well, then, I ask, is France following this line of policy? That is a most important question for the House of Commons fairly to consider. In speaking of the year 1858, I referred to the communications which then took place between the Government of England and the Government of France, and which resulted, as I believe, in a mutual feeling of cordiality and friendship. At that time the policy of France with regard to her naval power was very frankly and distinctly stated. The Emperor of the French, without any impeachment on the valour of his seamen or the skill of his officers, was not satisfied with 1874 the conduct of his fleet in the Crimean war. He found that navies as then organized were in arrear of the scientific invention and skill which were developing themselves in warfare, and which have since produced such remarkable results; and he determined, to use a phrase well known in this House, to "reconstruct his navy." The Emperor formed an estimate of what he believed to be the naval power required by the country with regard to the protection of its coasts, the guardianship of its commerce, and even to those military movements which might occasionally be required. His estimate was formed both as to the amount and character of the force which he held France ought to possess, and the English Government was frankly informed of that determination. Certainly there was in it nothing, to use the language of the noble Lord, to which we could object. It seemed to me, it seemed to all of us, that the plans of the French Government were neither irrational nor extravagant, but such as the necessity of the case sanctioned. No secret was made either of the amount of force which France intended to establish, or the time which it was contemplated the work would occupy. But that communication to this country was coupled with another. The French Government said—"Although we freely acknowledge that it would be a subject of distrust, jealousy, and suspicion on the part of England, if after this communication we exceeded this force, do not suppose there will be any such feeling on our part if we find that you are greatly increasing your fleet; we do not wish to place any limit to the amount of naval power which you may possess. Looking to the position of the two countries, we conceive," said they, "that the fleet of England is to be placed in comparison with the army of France. We have an immense extent of frontier, to be counted not by hundreds but almost by thousands of miles; and we can communicate with all Europe by our armies. You have vast transmarine possessions; and as you are in an island, you must communicate with them by ships. You have an immense foreign trade, quadrupling ours, and require for its preservation a force which we have never contemplated; but as we expect no jealousy from you on account of the amount of our military force, so you will experience none from us on account of your naval force." That was a fair and temperate statement of the question. A 1875 plausible representation, some may say; but has it been acted upon? I have investigated the subject as well as I can. We have some of the documents of the French navy, and some authentic information from other sources. As far as I can form an opinion, the French Government have not yet realized the programme which was put before the Government of England in 1858, and which justified the visit of Her Majesty to Cherbourg. The French Government have not yet completed their programme. The noble Lord takes a different view of the case; but the House will agree with me that this is a question which must be decided by facts. The noble Lord gave us the other night a comparison of the forces of England and France. He said that France had four times, and might have six times, the amount of force in her country that we have in ours. I hardly need dwell upon that. France has a frontier of at least 1,500 miles, covered with fortified places, which must be filled with troops; she has a number of great cities, which all have garrisons; she has a capital, which has a colossal garrison. She has plenty to do with her troops, and I think that, as to forces at home, we are probably as well off as France; but that is a matter of which every hon. Gentleman can form his own opinion. Let us come to the navy, because that is the real question. The noble Lord says that not only has France a great military superiority over us, but that she has more iron ships than we have, and is building more. Sir, I must protest against any reference to iron ships as a practical test of the relative naval power of England and France at this moment. The building of iron ships is much too green, too much in its infancy, to be adduced as a test of the relative naval power of the two countries. But, as the noble Lord has made that statement, I will express my impression, that if our relative naval strength is to be decided by armour-plated ships, we have more armour-plated ships and better ones than the French have, that we are building more armour-plated ships than they are, and that of the class of vessels upon which, when these inventions are developed, it is probable that naval war may mainly depend — not great ships, such as the noble Lord referred to, but gunboats and floating batteries—we have a very considerable force, and France has a very small one. But I deny that that is the proper way to test this ques- 1876 tion. I will not even remind the House that we have double the number of seamen and treble the number of ships that France has. That is not the point. It is by these details that the public mind has been misled, and the real issue has been obscured and clouded. The real question for the House and the country is this: — There is no doubt that we must retain the supremacy of the sea. There is no sacrifice that we ought to hesitate to make to secure that object. There is no doubt that of every real improvement in naval warfare, of every sound application of scientific discovery that may conduce to our strength, we must without hesitation avail ourselves. But the real question, which has never been fairly put to the country, and which has always been hidden under this critical controversy as to details, is this—Are these preparations and improvements to be made by England on the assumption that France is her friend, or on the assumption that France is her enemy? On the assumption that France is our friend, these preparations will be made gradually, considerately, with due caution, and in a spirit of temperate expenditure; and you will reap the reward of such qualities —you will obtain efficiency. But on the assumption that France is your enemy, what do you have? Panic, precipitation, extravagance, wastefulness, squandering, blundering, and—inefficiency. You get the worst article at the greatest cost; and that is and must be the inevitable result of the policy of the noble Lord—a policy as regards France, as I have shown you tonight, the most inconsistent and incoherent that can animate a man or regulate the conduct of a Minister. Here is a Minister who comes and tells you, "France is our cordial ally; there are between the Governments of the two countries the most friendly and confidential relations; but France, it cannot be denied, is aiming, not only at rivalling, but at surpassing the naval power of England. France can have only one object in establishing that mighty naval power. She has no colonies, she has comparatively little trade; yet I entirely approve her policy. I see no cause of objection (to quote the noble Lord's own language) in that policy. She is our ally; she is pursuing a policy dangerous, perhaps fatal, to this country, but she is our cordial ally, and all that I will do under the influence of these feelings is as fast as I possibly can to prepare to meet her upon the ocean." Well, if we 1877 examine facts, in my opinion this is a great bugbear. It does not appear, that France has, as far as her navy is concerned, ever deviated from the policy of 1858, has ever questioned our right to have treble the naval power which she possesses, or that in the conduct of France there is anything to justify extraordinary armaments on our part. I want to know what there is in the conduct of France to justify on our own part a greater expenditure than that of 1858. That is a practical question. I have such an opinion of the noble Lord, his great experience, talents, and sense, that I cannot believe that he can be deceived upon this point. It is impossible that the noble Lord, who has had his eye upon Europe for so many years, who has had such immense experience in public affairs connected with our external relations, could be less informed upon the subject than the great majority of the Members of this House. And 1 am the more inclined to adopt this opinion, because I have always found the noble Lord pursuing this policy. I said the other night that all this is done under the name of exercising moral power. But I remember when it used to be done under another name. It used to be done under the pretext of keeping up our prestige. We all remember the case of the Chinese war. I do not suppose that there are now two opinions upon that subject in any assembly of Englishmen in the world, except perhaps among the members of the present Cabinet. In the Chinese war we expended more than £10,000,000, because the Government chose to defend the blunder of a presumptuous subordinate. That was nothing; that would only be a financial mistake, and would only contribute to the financial embarrassment from which we are now suffering. But the political blunder of the Chinese war was greater, because we enfeebled a Government which was already too weak, and which we are now obliged to recognise as the only machinery for governing in China. However, upon that question the noble Lord dissolved Parliament; and I remember that after that triumphant return, when he was at the very height of his power, a very extraordinary circumstance occurred, which I think will throw considerable light upon our naval and military expenses, and upon the necessity for the Bill the third reading of which is now under the consideration of the House. If there be an occasion in her modern his- 1878 tory in which England has especially distinguished herself, I think it was by her conduct during the Crimean war. Never was a Government supported by a people more cheerfully or with a higher spirit, and never were taxes paid by a people with greater readiness. I need not remind the House how great an amount those war taxes reached. I will, at the present moment, confine myself to one illustration, that of the income tax, which is now before us. The House will recollect that during the Russian war the income tax was raised from 7d. to l6d. in the pound. The war income tax was 9d., giving to the Government nine millions per annum as a war tax. In the Act by which that tax was imposed the Government asked that it should be levied for a year after the termination of hostilities, and the House, entirely sanctioned by the public voice, made that liberal donation to the Government. I say that it was an act of high spirit to vote such heavy taxes, and to agree to bear them for a year after the termination of hostilities. The Act by which the income tax was imposed was by a technical error so drawn that after the termination of hostilities nine millions of war income tax might have been levied for two years. When this became known, in the year 1857, there was considerable anxiety about it. The noble Lord decided upon levying that war tax for the two years. He said that he wanted the nine millions for the armament of the country; that those armaments were not in a proper state, and that he wanted the nine millions to strengthen them. The people of this country, who had during the war displayed so much spirit, were sadly soured; there was great discontent upon the subject during the autumn, and when Parliament met — on the very night on which Parliament met — I called the attention of the House of Commons to the general principles upon which the foreign policy of this country was conducted. I showed the House—at least, I adduced facts and arguments to show the House—that the noble Lord pursued a policy which, although it gave to this country peace, deprived it of the fruits of peace, deprived it of the enjoyment of peace, and that because in a time of peace the noble Lord would have war armaments. I illustrated that position in a variety of ways, and, as the practical consequence of those observations, I gave notice that on the earliest available day I should bring forward a 1879 Motion calling upon this House to declare that the nine millions of income tax for the second year after the termination of hostilities should not be levied. When the day came, the noble Lord and the Government yielded; the nine millions were not levied, and the armaments of the country remained as they were. None of those nine millions was expended upon our armaments, but we did experience a very beneficial result of another kind, for in the year 1857–8 we had a great monetary crisis in this country, which pulled down some of the leading houses; but, though it occasioned the greatest distress, the revenue never fell, because the consuming power of the country was stimulated by that very remission of £9,000,000 of taxation. The noble Lord still pursues the same policy that he did in 1857, and which I have described to the House. But then the noble Lord can say, if those are your views, why did you let the Estimates pass? Well, I think that a very futile observation. When the Civil Estimates are before the House, it has the power as well as the right to investigate, to criticise, to amend, or to reduce them. The circumstances under which these Estimates are framed are as well known to Members of this House as to Her Majesty's Ministers—in some points possibly they are even better judges, and therefore they can give their opinions upon them with effect. But the Military and Naval Estimates must be voted as an act of confidence in the Government, or, if opposed, that confidence must be challenged. Now, what would have been the effect of challenging the naval and military expenditure at the meeting of Parliament? I should probably have obtained very slight support. I put out of sight the inexpediency of interfering with the Government at that particular moment. I do not wish to find refuge under any recollections of that sort. But a Motion of the nature I have adverted to ought either to fail or to succeed. If it failed, it would give a great triumph to the Government—a great triumph against those principles of reduction which the Motion would seek to establish as necessary and expedient. If it succeeded, what would have been my situation? It is not at all impossible that the vote would have been accepted by the Government as a condemnation of their policy, and they might have been so gracious as to have resigned their seats and to have recommended Her Majesty for the third time to 1880 ask a body of gentlemen to carry on the business of this House in a minority. Although I would never shrink from the responsibility of any act of my own, I do not think I am bound to seek a division of that kind unnecessarily. And the observation of the noble Lord, I repeat, is perfectly futile, that because neither the Opposition nor any Member of this House challenged the Military and Naval Estimates—that is to say, because they did not challenge the whole policy of the Government—they are thereafter, during the Session, to be debarred from giving their opinions on our financial condition, or upon the expenditure to which they object. But that is not the case, nor by any means the whole case. I admit that the naval and military expenditure of this country depends, and should depend, on political, and not financial, causes; and therefore these Estimates are framed and brought in and passed before the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivers his financial exposition. But though, in the primary instance, these Estimates depend on political reasons, and you cannot challenge them unless you think you have a chance of carrying an opposite policy, still, in a secondary sense, they must depend on your financial condition. And what was the financial state in which we found ourselves after these Estimates were passed? Although we have reason to suspect that the political causes of these Estimates were not sufficient, we have positive evidence before us that our financial condition is one which renders economy on our part—all the economy that is consistent with the great object of military and naval armaments, the defence of our country, and the maintenance of our empire—not merely a duty, but a necessity. Considering, therefore, that the noble Lord, when these Estimates were brought forward, did not take the course which he adopted in 1857, when the £9,000,000 of income tax were remitted, of bringing them forward himself and expounding his policy; and considering that they were passed almost, he will allow me to say, in silence by the Government, we find ourselves in this position, that it becomes our duty—our urgent duty—notwithstanding we may have omitted at the moment to challenge the propriety of that expenditure at the commencement of the Session, now to call the attention of the House seriously to it. In what way has attention been directed 1881 to this subject? We have not brought forward any Motion hostile to the Government. Having passed the Estimates, and being prepared, I have no doubt, to pass the Ways and Means, the Government on this occasion has a right to expect great forbearance. But it is not less the duty of the House of Commons, if they believe the expenditure is not justified, to place their views before the Government, and to appeal with confidence to the Government to reconsider its position. If the Government does not reconsider its position, it will be time enough for the House of Commons to see what is the course it should adopt. But I hope it will be a practical course. I hope these discussions—which must lead to beneficial results in time, because they are founded, I trust, on sound argument and certainly on actual facts—will be followed by practical results, and not by some abstract Resolution which, perhaps, it may be even convenient for the Government to adopt. I hope, and more than hope, that the Government, in the present position of the country, will do that which the Government has done before—reconsider its expenditure, and adapt our charge more to the state of our revenue. Before I sit down, there is only one topic on which for a moment I wish to dwell, and I do so with regret, because it is about myself. But I really do it out of respect to the House. The other night I made a statement illustrative of the relations that existed between the Governments of France and England with regard to America. I was then urging upon the House that it was inconsistent with our cordial relations with France to hear the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs inveigh against our ally; but I said I thought, at the same time, that if there were any place where France and England had a common object, and should have a common course of policy, that place was America; not withstanding which, I regretted to add, it had reached my ears that there was the same want of accord between the representatives of the two Governments there which we find in other places. I did not say much on the subject; it was a delicate one. I might have said a great deal more. But I said that there was a sort of constant management, an attempt to obtain rival influence, which, considering that they were accredited to the President of a republic, and were in direct commu- 1882 nication with the Minister of a republic, seemed to me quite out of place, and more in keeping with the intrigues round the capricious tyrant of a Divan. I said that; I could have said much more. I refer to a past debate, with the permission of the House, because this is a personal matter. The noble Lord, when he replied, contradicted me on that head in terms which, allow me to say, were neither social nor Parliamentary. The noble Lord said the statement was false. Well, I did not interfere at the moment, because, to tell the exact truth, I really was so pleased to see the noble Lord at the end of a long debate disporting himself with so much vigour, that 1 could not bring myself to interrupt him by an interference, which, though it would not have been angry, would have been serious. But I also thought probably this House would believe that one filling, however unworthily, the position which I now occupy, would not have made a random statement on such a subject. I knew the matter would keep, and therefore, being here again, I must tell the noble Lord that I believe the statement that I made was most accurate; and although, from its particular character, it is not capable at this moment of mathematical proof, before very long, perhaps, there may be even on the table of this House, but certainly in a form scarcely less authentic, sufficient proof of that statement. And, as I am speaking in the presence of a great many gentlemen who are fortunately what are called young Members of Parliament, I may be permitted to state that this is not the first time that the noble Lord has contradicted statements that I have made, in a manner equally peremptory and equally fallacious. Some years ago there was a debate in this House of a dry and diplomatic character, the merits of which depended a great deal upon the guarantees which England had given to foreign Powers. The noble Lord was then Secretary of State, and I asked him how he would meet the guarantee which England had given to Prussia for her Saxon provinces. The noble Lord, immediately interrupting me, said there was no such guarantee in existence. Well, Sir, I mentioned the treaty which contained the guarantee; and, as treaties are no longer merely manuscripts, it was thought convenient that this one should be brought into the House of Commons. Even while it was being sought for, the noble Lord more than once contradicted me; and such is the 1883 attractive audacity of the noble Lord, that his contradiction was received with cheers. But the treaty was brought in, and the guarantee was found in it. As regarded my assertion that there was such a guarantee, the matter might not have been of much importance; but it was a matter of some moment that a noble Lord who for so many years had been the Foreign Secretary of this country should not have been aware of an important guarantee, remembering that during that long period he must continually have been called on to give his advice in respect of circumstances of which he could form no just appreciation if he were not aware of the existence of that guarantee. In more modern times—I think it was in 1857—when I had occasion to refer to and criticise some proceedings at the Conference of Paris, I spoke of a secret treaty by which France had guaranteed to Austria her Italian provinces. What did the noble Lord do then? After I sat down he addressed the House in that peculiar style with which the House is so familiar. It is not wit. No one pretends to say it is wit. A Secretary of State who sat in this House once wrote an essay on humour. I defy any person to arrange the noble Lord's style under any of the heads in that essay of Mr. Addison. But I will tell you what the noble Lord's style is. It is what in the 18th century was known as "banter," but which in the 19th is described by a monosyllabic term which has not yet found its way into our Parliamentary vocabulary. What did the noble Lord say on the occasion when he thus contradicted me? He said that in the days of my youth I had been distinguished for imagination, and had written some works under the influence of that fine quality; but that I had never before invented such a romance as this treaty. The noble Lord was scoffing, gay, and airy, and described me as sauntering along the Boulevards and catching canards. And, Sir, of course there were loud cheers and laughter. All I had to do on that occasion was that which. I now do, in reference to what I said a few evenings ago —reiterate the statement, and tell the noble Lord that he was very ill served by some of those who acted under him if he were really ignorant of the existence of this guarantee. Well, after ten days—and the interval must have been a very uncomfortable one for the noble Lord to pass through—the noble Lord was obliged to come down to this House and make a 1884 recantation. I must say that he swallowed the leek with a grace peculiarly his own; for, with as much coolness as if he were merely moving the adjournment of the House, he informed us that he found there was such an instrument in existence, that it had been executed, and, in fact, that everything which he had previously stated on the subject was entirely erroneous. But this is the Minister so distinguished for his knowledge of foreign affairs ! For the possession of which invaluable speciality Reformers resign reform, and Economists relinquish retrenchment! Rightly is the noble Lord the head of the Liberal party; for their only remaining title to that once illustrious epithet is their lavish expenditure of the public money.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, the first duty which, under present circumstances, I feel it incumbent on me to perform is to assure the right hon. Gentleman, that if on a former occasion I stated that the assertion which he made, not on his own authority—of course, he could know nothing about it—but upon the assertion of some one else, as of course it was—did not accord with the facts, nothing could have been further from my intention—I should be ashamed of myself if I had any such intention—than to impute to the right hon. Gentleman that he had stated anything which he did not himself believe to be perfectly true. I am surprised, in fact, he could have supposed that I meant anything of the kind, because, if my memory serves me rightly, I went on to say that the right hon. Gentleman must have been deceived by some information which he had received, and I cautioned him not to trust to the same source in future, inasmuch as that information was totally devoid of foundation. To the latter part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech I may be allowed to refer in the first instance. He stated on a former evening that Washington was the scene of intrigue between the English Minister and the French Minister. He has again stated that they are undermining each other by their intrigues, and that it is a struggle between them for influence. That assertion I denied when the right hon. Gentleman made the statement on a former evening, and I repeat the denial now. Every one who knows Lord Lyons knows that a man like him, who is a mirror of honour and frankness and straightforward dealing, would be incapable of intriguing and planning against a colleague in any country to which he is accredited. 1885 I have not the pleasure of knowing M. Mercier personally; but I have watched his progress through the many diplomatic missions which he has fulfilled, and I believe him to he a man as incapable as Lord Lyons of doing anything which a gentleman and a colleague could not manfully avow. Therefore I must again assure the right hon. Gentleman that he has been totally misinformed, with regard, to the assertion which he has made. At the same time, it is certain that there are persons who by the extreme simplicity of their character are led away—are induced to believe easily and hastily that which is told to them by individuals whom they supposed to be possessed of accurate information. Whatever the right hon. Gentleman may think of former assertions, I again assure him that he is completely mistaken as regards our Mission and the French Mission at Washington. Lord Lyons and M. Mercier, I am happy to say, are in constant and friendly communication—neither of them has done anything without communication with the other. There has been no concealment; there has been what I may call joint action. The two Ministers have worked and co-operated almost as if representing the same Government; and they have exhibited the most perfect good faith towards each other in their negotiations with the Cabinet of Washington.
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to a former assertion of his, and to a denial which he says I gave to that assertion. At this distance of time I forget what I said on the occasion in question with reference to the treaty of Vienna. I must, however, say that it was strange if I or any other gentleman forgot one of the guarantees in that treaty, because there were only two of them—one a guarantee to Prussia of her possessions in Saxony, and the other a guarantee of the integrity of the Helvetic Republic. The other statement of the right hon. Gentleman is as to a secret convention by which France had guaranteed to Austria her possessions in Italy, at, I think the right hon. Gentleman said, the special request of the British Government. The knowledge of that treaty must not have been very general, if, as the right hon. Gentleman says, it took us more than a week to find out whether it was in existence. It appears, however, that France made war with Austria, and turned her out of most of her Italian possessions; and a recollection of those 1886 circumstances is not a very complimentary one to France, according to the view of the right hon. Gentleman—that France had guaranteed to Austria territories of which she deprived Austria by war. The right hon. Gentleman takes his starting point in 1858, and says the relations established between the Government of which he was a Member and the Government of France present a striking contrast to the insecurity and suspicion now existing in the relations between the two Governments. But does the House recollect what led to the change of Government in 1858. The Government of which I had the honour to be a Member proposed a measure eminently calculated to conciliate the good-will of the Emperor of the French and of the French nation as far as they were attached to him. I mean the Conspiracy Bill. And who was the main instrument in rejecting that Bill? Certainly the right hon. Gentleman opposite. [Cries of No!] Well, when I moved for leave to bring in that Bill, I was strongly supported by Gentlemen on that side of the House, and I had every reason to suppose that they would give the Bill a steady and unflinching support. But the moment that a Motion aimed at the measure was made from below the gangway on this side of the House, they teemed to think that by throwing their weight into that scale they might strike a fatal blow at the Government; so they broke their pledges, and departed from the principles which a fortnight before they had proclaimed. They had given leave to bring in the Bill with the most cordial zeal; with unmitigated hostility they resisted the second reading. No wonder that circumstance created ill feeling on the part of France towards the Government of England. Naturally the French Government said, "Why, here is a party coming into power which took a stand upon refusing that which we think a just and fair protection to our Sovereign against murderous conspiracy in England — and they have turned out a Government which proposed a measure of protection." But what did the right hon. Gentleman say afterwards? Did he not tell us that when he came into office we were within a day, if not an hour, of war? Well, then, that was the starting-point of the friendship, cordiality, and mutual confidence of which the right hon. Gentleman boasts, and that was the position in which his Government stood with respect to the Government of 1887 France. But soon after they came in— the year after—he admits they deemed it right to increase the armaments of the country, and he instituted a comparison between the year 1859 and the present year. He admits that the excess of expenditure now, as compared with 1859, is only £1,600,000. But then, he says, there were peculiar circumstances in 1859. Well, what were those circumstances as far as they regarded this country? There was a war breaking out in Italy between France and Austria. Was it likely to involve us, through the Government of that day, in a war on the side of Austria against France? If that was at the bottom of their thoughts, then, undoubtedly, as far as England was concerned, it was an exceptional year, and the same reason for expenditure does not apply in the present state of things. We have no intention of asking the country to go to war to prevent the freedom and liberation of Italy. Well, then, Sir, where is the force of the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to our present scale of expenditure as compared with that which his Government, upon full deliberation, thought necessary at a time when England was at peace—for evidently there could be no obvious danger of war with France, unless England was the aggressor, because France was not likely to quarrel with England at a time when she was engaged in a great struggle with Austria? The difference between the expenditure of 1859 and 1862 is only £1,600,000. But are there no circumstances at present, having reference either to periods just gone by, or to the possibility of future events, which may account for this difference? Why, on a former occasion, it was stated that there was still a claim on account of the China War, that we still were incurring expenditure on account of the disturbances in New Zealand, and on account of the despatch of troops to Canada. Well, no doubt, Sir, it is quite possible to suppose that any Government, for its own sake, if not for the sake of the country, would be anxious to reduce expenditure whenever a fair opportunity arose. We have this year cut off about a million of our army and navy expenditure; and, if next year we should find that any portion of the expenditure now going on could be dispensed with, I am sure it is not taking any credit to ourselves, but only stating what any men in our situation would do, when I 1888 say we should most cheerfully avail ourselves of the circumstances to make any reduction that it was consistent with our public duty to propose. But the right hon. Gentleman says, "You ask me why, if I entertain those opinions—that your army and navy are too great, that your establishments are too large—why I did not come down and say so when the Army and Navy Estimates were before the House?" The right hon. Gentleman says, "It is a futile question." I admit it is a futile question, because the answer is sufficiently obvious. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman has given the answer himself, because he said, "Questions about museums, education, the fine arts, science, and matters of that kind are things upon which every one can form an opinion;" and certainly we have had the advantage of a variety of opinions upon these subjects. Many men think themselves as competent to judge as the Government which proposes the Vote. "But the question," he says, "as to the amount of your military and naval establishments is a question involving political considerations, considerations which must be known better to the Government of the day than to Members of this House; and therefore the House reposes a sort of confidence in the Government of the day, let that Government consist of whom it may, in not objecting to the amount of force which maybe proposed." Well, that is not an invariable rule, because we had this Session a Motion by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. White), proposing to diminish the number of the army by 10,000 men; but it did not meet with much support. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman foreseeing the fate of that Motion did not wish to be the twelfth in that division. But the right hon. Gentleman gave a very satisfactory reason why he himself made no Motion of this kind. He says, "That Motion would have been successful or it would have failed. In either case the result would have been deplorable. If it failed, it would have given strength to the Government which I oppose; if it succeeded, by displacing the Ministry it would have produced the calamitous consequence of bringing in a Government in a minority and thus necessitating an appeal to the country. Between those two evils I have had no choice but to remain silent." I quite appreciate the motives which led him to that conclusion. Of course he 1889 would have had the joy of a better division than that of the hon. Member for Brighton; but if I am not mistaken in my recollection of very recent events, I think he would not have carried with him many of those hon. Gentlemen who repose their confidence in him, and are supposed to follow him whenever any elasticity of opinion will enable them to do so. Now, Sir, with regard to the army, I have never heard those on that side of the House, more especially the right hon. and gallant Officer who was at the head of the military department (General Peel), say that the force is too large. On the contrary, he found fault with us from time to time last year for not making sufficient provision for the force which we proposed to maintain —in fact, he said our expenditure was not adequate to our wants. Well, that is not an objection which at all meets the view which the right hon. Gentleman has this evening propounded. I think, before he comes down to propose to us a diminution of our military establishments, he had better settle that question with his right hon. and gallant Friend; and then, when they agree both as to the amount of force and the amount of money requisite for that force, they will be in a better position to bring their views before the House. The right hon. Gentleman said that the military force in the United Kingdom in 1859 during the administration of the late Government was only 100,000 men. Well, our force was just about that number before we sent 8,000 men to America. Having sent 8,000 men to our Canadian Provinces, it follows that we have now in the United Kingdom a smaller force than what the right hon. Gentleman and his friends thought no more than adequate for the protection of our shores and the maintenance of our empire. The right hon. Gentleman has also adverted to our naval forces, which he thinks too great. There again is a question very difficult for the right hon. Gentleman to settle with his late colleagues; because not only did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Droitwich (Sir J. Pakington) propose, when in office, a reconstruction of the navy—an alteration necessarily accompanied with very considerable expense—not only did he begin to turn sailing vessels into screws, and then again to substitute iron ships for wooden ships, according to his own plan, but last year, somewhere about this time, the right hon. Gentleman came down and made a 1890 great flourish about information which he had received, and which he thought it a reflection on the Government not to possess. But we did know all about it all the time. The right hon. Baronet came down with information which he had derived from Admiral Elliot, showing the extensive preparations which the French were making in the construction of iron vessels, taunting us with not keeping pace with those preparations, and urging us to accelerate our movements by increasing the number of our vessels, whatever the cost might be, and placing ourselves upon a footing of equality with France. This, I am sorry to say, we have not yet quite done. The right hon. Gentleman says that when his Government were in office they had a communication with the French Government; that the French Government gave them a programme, to which they did not object, of the amount of their forces; and I understood him to say that the French Government have not even yet exceeded or even completed that programme. If the Government of the right hon. Gentleman were content with that programme, why are we to object to it? The right hon. Gentleman says, "Either you are friends of France or expect to be her enemies. If you are friends of France, you need not mind any amount of armament she is preparing. If you are enemies, you should not simply object, but should declare war to compel her to stop." That is going rather farther than some of those hon. Gentlemen who seem to concur with him are likely to agree to. It is, certainly, much farther than I am prepared to go. The right hon. Gentleman says, "You have said you have no objection to these armaments—you approve of them." I have never said anything of the kind. I never said we did not object to them. It is because we objected to them that we proposed to this country to increase our own. What I said was that we had no right to make an international objection to them, that we had no right to dictate to France the amount of naval force which it was necessary for her own purposes to maintain. France, the right hon. Gentleman says, has her own shores to defend, her own commerce to protect. Her interests are in every part of the world; and France has a right to judge what amount and what kind of naval force it suits her purpose to keep up. But we have the same right; and it does not follow, be- 1891 cause we are on good terms with France, and hope so to continue, that we should on that account allow her, exercising her own freedom of choice, to become stronger at sea than ourselves. The right hon. Gentleman says we ought to maintain our naval supremacy at any cost, and that it is our national interest to do so. He might have said much more than he did on this point, but he said enough, and he showed that whatever kind or description of naval force France may have, we are bound, without anticipating hostility, without saying that we look upon her as intending to be our enemy—it is a matter of necessity and national interest, according to his own statement—that we should be not only equal, but superior to France in naval power. There are obvious reasons why it should be so. We have possessions all over the world, our commerce floats on every sea, and we are vulnerable in hundreds of places where we can only be protected by our naval forces. It is, therefore, obvious that, whether for domestic security, the protection of our commerce, or the safety of our possessions abroad, it is essential that we should be as strong at sea as any other Power that may be at war with us. Then are we expecting that France will be our enemy? Well, no! we do not expect France to be our enemy—provided always that we are able to defend ourselves. The Government of France is on friendly relations with England, but, at the same time, Frenchmen are but men. The Government of France consists of human beings, and it is not in human nature, if you are placed in a position in which you are likely to have collisions of interest with another Power, not to take occasion of superior strength to obtain superior advantage and to coerce the weaker Power. And therefore I say, because I wish this country to remain at peace with France, and because I wish the alliance between the two countries to be lasting, for that very reason I would not tempt France or any other Power with which we wish to be on a friendly footing, by allowing them to obtain such an evident superiority, both by land and sea, as to place this country at the mercy of the forbearance of that Power.
The right hon. Gentleman seems to deride the military superiority of France. We do not pretend to rival France in her military preparations. But what is the fact? Before these 8,000 infantry and 1892 artillery went to Canada we had in this country about the force which he says existed during the time of his Government —namely, 100,000 men. What is the military force of France? On the 1st of January last France had 446,000 men, under arms. She had, in addition, 170,000 men of reserve, liable to be called back to the ranks at a fortnight's notice. Besides that, she has upwards of 200,000 National Guards. Therefore her regular forces under arms or liable to be called on at a fortnight's notice are 616,000 men to our 100,000. The French Government have since determined that towards the end of the year 31,000 of the 446,000 shall be transferred from the active army to the reserve, making no difference in the amount available, but diminishing the expense without diminishing the eventual efficiency. I should say that, besides the 616,000 men, there are 70,000 of the conscription of the present year, who might be called out at any moment if necessary. The right hon. Gentleman says the French have fortresses and garrisons. So they have. They have the garrison of Paris, and he omitted to say, but I allow, that they have a force in Algeria—all making a certain amount of diminution in their disposable force. But, allowing for all this deduction, and then assuming, first of all, that anything arose likely to cause a serious collision between England and France, and that the events of the war should be such as to give France a superiority at sea—then tell me whether France will not be likely to land a force on our shores much greater than it Would suit our army to encounter. Therefore it comes to this, that besides the limited and reasonable amount of military force which we may think proper to maintain, it is necessary for the interest and safety of the country that we should have a navy—be it of wooden ships when sailing ships were employed, be it of screws when screws were employed, or be it of iron now that iron-clad ships are most likely to be employed—it is absolutely necessary for our purposes (and I quite agree with the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich) that we should be at all events equal, and, if possible, superior to the French in our naval armament, of whatever description it may be. Well, Sir, but this cannot be done without considerable expense, and each successive improvement in nava warfare brings with it additional expense. A 1893 screw line-of-battle ship was more costly than a sailing ship. The old rule was that a 100-gun line-of-battle ship cost £100,000. When we built screw line-of-battle ships, or lengthened others and fitted them with the screw, they cost £150,000. Then, as soon as you resort to iron-clad ships the expense is increased; and as the cost of each individual ship is increased, so for the time you increase the Naval Estimates. The alternative, therefore, is between a temporary increase of expenditure or leaving yourselves in a condition in which your peace and tranquillity, and all the blessings which they bring with them, depend upon the forbearance and goodwill of a great Power that may be tempted by a hundred different causes to place you in a situation in which you will have no choice but to acquiesce in submission. Well, then, I appeal to the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Pakington) for a justification of that portion of our naval expenditure which has been necessary for the purpose of beginning the reconstruction of our navy. And what is the condition of our navy? I will talk now of iron ships. I am aware that we have a greater number of wooden line-of-battle ships than the French. But we were told not long since in this House that the days of wooden ships have gone by, and that no wooden ships would stand against such vessels as the Merrimac or the Monitor, and that war at sea hence-forward must be determined by iron ships alone. It may not be amiss to mention, in passing, that the Monitor, in its passage from New York to the scene of action, was as near going to the bottom, by the sea breaking over her and going down her tower, as was possible without actually sinking. Then, what is our relative position? The right hon. Gentleman says the French Government gave him their programme, and that it has not been fully carried out. The number of French ironclad ships either built or building—some of them launched and some going to sea— is thirty-five or thirty-six. [Lord CLARENCE PAGET: Thirty-six.] The number we have either built or building is twenty-five. So that France is already ahead of us by eleven, and their programme, according to the right hon. Gentleman, is not yet fully carried out. I do not know what that programme was. If they gave a statement to the Earl of Derby's Government, which that Government acquiesced in, it is rather too late for us to make 1894 any formal representation to France; and, moreover, I do not know, when we consider France as a great Power, having great naval interests and liable to be brought into conflict with other States—I do not know that we could reasonably say to France, "You ought to stop where you are, and wait till we get ahead of you." But, we being eleven ships behind the French, 1 think there is no ground for stating that in regard to our naval, any more than our military establishments, we are going beyond what the true interests of the country require. I shall not trouble the House with any further statement, except to say that I think the right hon. Gentleman judged wisely in abstaining from asking the House to do that which he says would have been tantamount to a vote of want of confidence—namely, to determine for itself the necessary amount either of our military establishment or of our naval establishment. We shall be ready next year, when the circumstances of the time will be patent to all mankind, and of which, with his peculiar knowledge, the right hon. Gentleman will be well able to judge, especially if he does not trust too implicitly to those sources of information of which I have already spoken—we shall then be ready to discuss with him what may be the proper amount of our naval and military establishments; and I can assure him and the House, that if by a change of circumstances it shall appear that any considerable reduction worth offering to the House can be made in our establishments, we shall be too happy to avail ourselves of that opportunity. We can have no interest in enlarging establishments and in increasing expenditure, and imposing thereby charges and burdens on the people. Nothing makes a Government more popular than diminishing burdens. Perhaps it is a wrong thing for me to say this, because the attempt made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer last year to diminish the burdens of the country by repealing taxation did not make him very popular with some classes in this House. Nevertheless, that attempt was by the country at large fully appreciated; and, not intimidated by these reproaches, nor daunted by the reception which the reductions proposed by my right hon. Friend met with from some persons in this House, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman opposite and the House that it will be our duty, as we shall feel it also a pleasure, to avail ourselves of any change of circum- 1895 stances which might enable us by reducing our establishments to diminish in any degree the burdens bearing on the people.
observed, that the noble Lord, when he stated that France had, built and building, thirty-six iron-clad ships, and that this country had only twenty-five, ought to have mentioned the size of the ships, for that was an important point. Taking the case of La Gloire and the Warrior, the latter was equal to two of the former; so that if the twenty-five iron-clad ships of this country were in like manner double the size of the thirty-six French (though he did not think that France had at this moment so many, built and building), England would have practically fifty ships to the thirty-six of France. He conceived that the noble Lord had not answered the statement of the right hon. Gentleman; for it was extraordinary that during the last three years the expenditure of this country had been increased, because it was said that France was adding to her military and naval armaments, and did not intend long to maintain her friendly relations with England. He had all along contended that France did really mean to remain on friendly terms with England, and of this intention she had given convincing proof in joining her armaments to those of England in the Crimea, China, and Mexico. Last year, too, when England got into trouble with the United States, the French Government again came forward in a friendly way, and the despatch of M. Thouvenel did quite as much, or more, than all the preparations made by the British Government to obtain the release of the persons seized on board the Trent. The right hon. Gentleman stated that he had reason to believe that this country was not on such friendly terms with France in respect to American policy as might be desired. He could confirm substantially all the right hon. Gentleman had said on that point; and the noble Lord was not justified in giving a flat denial to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. Before long, the country would find that the right hon. Gentleman's representation was substantially correct.
§ SIR HENRY WILLOUGHBY
said, that the difficulty which a preliminary exciting discussion, like the one just terminated, threw in the way of those who really desired to address the House on the subject of the Bill before it, was very great. The Bill itself was the most volu- 1896 minous tax Bill ever submitted to the House. In his opinion, the attempt to combine together in one measure various separate matters of taxation only caused great inconvenience, and rendered it almost impossible fairly to consider the subjects of taxation. He wished to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether there was any Supplemental Estimate to be brought forward, or any Vote of Credit for the expenses of the China war. If so, he should question the propriety of that proceeding, and perhaps submit a Motion on the subject. With regard to the Bill under consideration, he felt great objection to the manner in which the income tax was to be collected, but the difficulty of discussing the different points of an omnium gatherum measure like the present was almost insuperable. He also wished to direct the attention of the Government to the necessity of issuing some instructions directing the surveyors of the Inland Revenue Office to adopt a less vexatious system of collecting the income tax. The fact was, that if an income tax payer wanted to know the law, he ought to be an attorney, and a very sharp one too—so many Acts of Parliament had to be referred to. He wished also to call the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to another point. The Commissioners of Inland Revenue were, he found, empowered to appoint collectors under the Bill and to take security, but they might also make the appointments without security in the event of their not being able to find anybody to undertake the responsibility. Now, in his opinion, security ought to he required in each case, as was the case in Scotland by virtue of a special law. It was universally felt to be a great hardship that parishes should pay twice over because collectors made default; and by altering that practice a sense of being unfairly treated would be got rid of. The two evils to which he had drawn attention could, he believed, be remedied by the action of the Executive alone. He regretted that the House did not seem to pay that attention to matters referring to oppression upon the taxpayer which was their first duty. He was prepared to discuss foreign politics at the proper moment, but he thought that it was an extremely desirable opportunity for discussing those special matters that pressed upon the people in reference to taxation under this Bill.
§ MR. HUNT
said, he thought that the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) could not be at all aware of the 1897 ill-feeling that existed in the county which he (Mr. Hunt) represented on account of the overcharges which had been made. It was almost wholly an agricultural district, and it was next to impossible to get up an agitation upon any subject; but still the whole country round was in a state of ferment in consequence of the vexatious proceedings to which the taxpayers had been exposed. The subject had been brought under his (Mr. Hunt's) attention, not only by taxpayers, but by the Commissioners themselves; and having made inquiries at Somerset House, he had drawn up the form of the Return which had been laid before the House in concert with one of the heads of departments there. The right hon. Gentleman stated the other night that the Return did not give a fair statement of the operations of the surveyors, and that might be very true; but then, upon the other hand, it did not give a fair statement of the grievances of the taxpayers. His Returns, however, in fact, showed all that it was intended to show—how many persons had been brought up on appeal by the action of the surveyor, and how many had been unwarrantably brought up; and if he had moved for a Return in reference to what had been done by the local assessors, it would have shown a still greater amount of hardship. The right hon. Gentleman had told the House that 3,248 cases had been wholly omitted from charge by the local assessors; but having spent some time at the department which had the control of these matters, and pursued investigations there, he (Mr. Hunt) could say that in many of these cases the fault of the assessors was only a technical one, for many of the persons omitted from charge were people who were not liable to be taxed. He had ascertained that in 1,229 of these cases the persons were not liable to the tax. It was very true that the assessors ought to have brought them into the assessment, and then they ought to have stated their exemption; but it was very difficult to make people who were not liable understand that. He would admit that in 1,876 out of the 3,248 cases the surveyor had done his duty by bringing them under assessment. The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned that there were 2,720 cases where the surveyor had charged persons in excess of the amount charged by the assessors; but he (Mr. Hunt) had ascertained from Somerset House that 477 of these persons were not liable to be charged at all; and in the 1898 remainder there might be many cases in which the overcharge was so small that it was not thought worth while to appeal. In the three divisions of Northampton. Wellinborough, and Kettering, which fell under the supervision of one surveyor— 962 appeals had been heard against the assessments under Schedules A and B—he was not speaking of the number entered— and that out of that number the charge had in 337 instances been reduced, while in 409 it was wholly disallowed. In the district of Kettering there were most complaints. Under Schedule A there were 272 appeals against the surveyor's charges, which were confirmed in only 38 instances, they were reduced in 92, and in 142 the parties were discharged. Under Schedule B there were 185 appeals, and in only 14 were the surveyor's charges confirmed; in 46 they were reduced, and in 125 they were wholly disallowed. These circumstances, he considered, fully justified the ratepayers of Kettering in signing that declaration in which, while expressing their readiness to make all reasonable allowances for the officers in question in the discharge of their duties, they stated that they naturally felt that it was not just they should be put to the expense and inconvenience which those appeals involved. His complaint resolved itself into two heads, that of speculative overcharge made upon persons who were liable to pay something; and the other, the cases of small occupiers who had been charged, but who were not liable at all. As to the latter class, he must lay some part of the blame on the right hon. Gentleman himself; because he believed it to be an indirect consequence of his financial policy. It had hitherto been the practice, when a new assessment was made, for the surveyor to meet the parish assessors and go through the rate books; and if the assessors were satisfied that any small occupiers had not sufficient income to render them liable to the tax, the exemptions were allowed without troubling them to appeal. It was true the claims for exemption ought to be made; but it was very hard that from a technical omission persons should be put to the inconvenience of appealing. At Kettering, hundreds of persons had to attend for three days; and when their cases were heard, their appeals were at once allowed. The excuse given was, that the Act of last Session passed at so late a period, and the tax was wanted so quickly, that there was not time to consult the parish assessors. He believed that it 1899 was the present hand-to-mouth financial policy which had caused the necessity for this hurried collection, by which such great inconvenience had been caused. He also believed, that if the balances in the Exchequer were such that they could give the taxpayers more time, and if the quarter's tax had not been wanted immediately after the passing of the Act, the taxpayers need not have been put to so much inconvenience. The subject was one of importance to many persons, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would turn his attention to it.
§ MR. BONHAM-CARTER
said, that his information to a great extent confirmed the statement of the hon. Gentleman; but he thought that much weight was due to the observation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that a great deal of the inconvenience had arisen from the fault of the local assessors. A very considerable number of the Commissioners were in favour of the assessment being more under the control of the Government; and he himself could speak from personal experience of great inconvenience being caused by there not being sufficient control over a young surveyor. He thought that considerable improvement might be effected by giving to those who had to make returns a notice which should be a little fuller and clearer.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I must take the liberty of telling the hon. Member for Northamptonshire, that I think two of the steps taken by him in this matter are very inconvenient. In the first place, he has, unfortunately caused to be laid upon the table a Return which is wholly fallacious, and which gives unjust and inaccurate expression of the case. Any one would suppose from that Return, that the surveyor had had to deal with some 900 cases, in the majority of which he had been wrong. I must again remind the House that the surveyor, in consequence of the total break-down of the local machinery, was called upon to go down and to deal with 6,000 cases. Of that number in only one in six were there appeals. In only one out of eight of those cases was the surveyor's judgment at all declared to be wrong, and in one out of fifteen only was he declared to be entirely wrong. I must again express my sincere regret that the hon. Member, in discharging the duty which it was quite right for him to have undertaken, has taken such insufficient means of bringing the truth before the House. But I must also venture to say, that nothing can be more inconvenient 1900 —not for the Government, but for the public—than to bring such cases before the House without previously making an appeal to the executive Government. The consequence of the hon. Member's mode of proceeding is, that I never heard of these cases until they were brought to my notice by the paper that has been laid upon the table. I would again suggest, that according to the usual and almost universal practice of hon. Members, in the first instance, when any complaint is made of the collection of taxes, the facts should be made known to the responsible Minister, and he then will have a full opportunity of inquiring and of forming his judgment upon the facts. If that judgment is dissented from, of course the appeal to this House still remains; but then the time of the House is only occupied in considering the real points in dispute. I have no doubt that many of the parties referred to have suffered great inconvenience, but it is only upon the most particular statement that I can take any useful step. The particulars of individual cases would enable me to judge whether there has been any excess in the conduct of the surveyor, but I cannot gather from this paper the particular facts. If the hon. Member will give me the particulars of any case which he thinks will illustrate the complaint he makes, I will examine into them, and give the proper instructions. It is impossible for us to have a staff of officers all over the country adequate to discharge their own duties and also the duties of the local officers. Their proper business is to check the local officer. If, however, the local officers fail so egregiously as in the case before us, I am afraid great inconvenience must ensue. As to the connection between these grievances and the financial policy of the Government, I may say that the financial policy of the Opposition had as much to do with it as ours, because the hon. Gentleman will recollect that the Bill was, I think, three months in this House in consequence of questions that were raised upon it. I do not wonder at his laying the blame upon us, but we say that the Opposition is equally culpable. There is no doubt that with the new assessment there was considerable pressure at the close of the year, in order to bring into the year the revenue that legitimately belonged to it. As to the points raised by the hon. Baronet (Sir H. Will-oughby), I agree that nothing can be more hard than that persons should be called 1901 upon to pay a second time on account of the default of collectors in cases where the parishes have not availed themselves of their legal remedies. In 1854 a Bill was introduced to give the Government the power of appointing collectors where proper securities had not been taken. I could not gather from the hon. Baronet the precise suggestion he makes for the improvement of that Bill; but if he will be good enough to send it to me in writing, it shall receive my best attention. The hon. Baronet asked whether there would be any Supplemental Estimates this year. It does sometimes happen, as last year, that Supplemental Estimates are necessary, and in the last Session there were two Supplemental Estimates amounting to £180,000 for expenses which were more or less in view at the time the Budget was brought forward, and which the surplus then proposed was sufficient to cover. At present we have no surplus, or nearly none; for 1 cannot speak positively as to how many persons will export hops to claim the drawback; but it would have been dishonest if, in bringing forward a budget without a surplus, I had been aware that Supplemental Estimates would be required. I refer, of course, to matters of new and considerable charge. As far as I know, no such charges are likely to be brought forward during the present year, though, of course, I cannot pretend to foresee what may occur. With respect to the Vote of Credit on account of China, that is a mere point of form. I believe it will not be necessary to ask the House for a Vote of Credit; but a sum of £500,000 must be paid on account of the China War; and if it be found that legal authority is requisite for the payment of that sum, the question will, of course, come before the House of Commons.
§ MR. WHITE
said, that the noble Viscount had alluded to his Motion for a reduction of the army by 10,000 men. He would admit that on that occasion he was not very well supported, as only eleven Members voted with him. But he had since received assurances from a number of Members expressing great regret that they had not voted with him in that division. On another occasion, when the opinion of the House would be tested again, the numbers would therefore be much more considerable. He could assure the noble Lord that, in consequence of what he had said, and of the promises of support which he (Mr. White) had received, should he have the honour of a seat in that 1902 House next Session, he should feel it his duty, if the Army Estimates were upon the same scale of magnitude as they were that year, to move a reduction not of 10,000, but of 20,000 men; and he thought he could safely prophesy that he should be supported by more than double the minority he had upon a late occasion. He might be permitted to add, that so curiously constituted was the House of Commons, that although on that occasion only eleven gentlemen went into the same lobby as himself, the House, on the very next night, affirmed an abstract Resolution which, if carried into effect, would have led to a reduction of 20,000 men, and to a diminution in the annual expenditure of £3,000,000 sterling. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire had said that abstract Resolutions, or declamatory declarations of opinion, with regard to economy and retrenchment, were of no use; and he had given evidence of the sincerity of his wish to abridge our enormous expenditure, by joining those who were opposed to spending more on the fortifications at Alderney. If the right hon. Gentleman were now in his place, he (Mr. White) should have told him, that if in the changes of parties he should happen again to come into power, he (Mr. White) and his friends would support him if he only persevered in the course now indicated. They would forget and forgive, and offer the right hon. Gentleman's Government no factious opposition if only they would keep down extravagant expenditure. He (Mr. White) and his friends might deplore the foreign policy of the right hon. Gentleman as one not consonant with their opinions, and as one which nine-tenths of the people would repudiate; but, as regarded domestic policy, the differences between the two sides were unimportant; and if the right hon. Gentleman would diminish the public expenditure, he would certainly meet with no factious opposition. At the same time, he (Mr. White) should be glad to have some test of what the right hon. Gentleman intended to do. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Rochdale had shown that the Government of this country could be carried on, without any diminution of its prestige, at a cost of £10,000,000 less than was now spent. Be that as it may, he (Mr. White) believed that a very important reduction could be made; and he had a strong opinion that at least £5,000,000 per annum might be saved without any diminution from our prestige. 1903 If the right hon. Gentleman could make such a reduction as that, he would gain a fair hold on the sympathies of the country.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that he only wished to say one word. He was one of those who had never been in love with the income tax; he considered it oppressive in its nature, and the cause of extravagance in the Government and Legislature. It should be considered rather as a subsidy than as a regular source of revenue. In anything he said he did not wish to he considered as commending the tax. He merely rose to express a hope that in any arrangement the Chancellor of the Exchequer might make with reference to the assessment of the income and property tax he would be careful to strengthen the local machinery—to assist, but not to supersede it. He had received information that alarm had been occasioned in the country by the belief that the tax would be assessed by the Government officials. It was thought that this would be a denial of appeal, as the appeal would be from the Government assessor to the Government. At present it was from the local assessor to the officer in immediate connection with the Government, and that was satisfactory. He hoped, therefore, that the local machinery—which was, perhaps, somewhat rusty —would be rendered more effective rather than be superseded by central authority.
§ Bill read 3°, and passed.