§ SUPPLY considered in Committee,
§ (In the Committee.)
§ MR. AYRTON
, in moving that a sum of £1,586,800 be granted to Her Majesty on account of those services, said, it would be desirable that he should redeem the promise given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when the hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Hunt) desired an explanation of the difference between a statement appearing in a Paper on the table of the House and that made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in reference to the amount of these Estimates. The difference appeared to be that the Paper laid on the table showed that the Civil Service Estimates for the present year exceeded those of last year by £387,000; whereas, the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that the excess was only £281,000. The difference between these two statements was £106,000. The fact was that the original Estimate had been reduced by one item of £28,250. The Committee would also see that the Paper laid on the table only contained what might be called the old Votes repeated in the present year, and several supplemental and original Votes had been omitted in the comparison, and those Votes amounted to £78,000. Therefore, adding to that sum of £78,000 the other amount of £28,250, it would be seen that together they made the sum of £ 106,000. He would now deal with the proposal to take the Vote on Account. In the first instance, it was intended to ask for a Vote on Account equal to four months' Supply; because, as there had been considerable discussion as to the best mode of conducting the business of that House in relation to the business of the other House, it was thought desirable to postpone until a late period of the Session that part of the business which the other House would not require time to dispose of, in order that hon. Members might devote themselves 523 at an early period to the consideration of the business which it was desirable to send up to the House of Lords as soon as possible. He ventured, therefore, to suggest that they should not proceed with the Civil Service Estimates until the Bills now under consideration should be disposed of; but he understood that some hon. Gentlemen thought that the Government would gain some advantage by taking a large Vote on Account. It was, however, a matter of indifference to the Government whether they took the Vote for a shorter or a longer time; for, if taken for a short time, the Government, when that period elapsed, would only have to take another Vote for a further period, though that course of proceeding might give trouble to the permanent officers of the Department. However, as some hon. Members did not wish that the Government should take a Vote for a long time, he now proposed to take a Vote for two months. In taking this Vote, the Committee must understand it was not the intention of the Government to embark under it upon any new expenditure in respect to which the Committee might desire to express any opinion of their own, and the Vote on Account merely provided for the continuation of those services and works which had been sanctioned in the past year. Therefore, the Committee in sanctioning the Vote did not pledge themselves to any new undertaking, but merely recognized the principle that the services were to be continued on the footing on which they were left by the preceding Committee of Supply in last year. His right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated to the House yesterday the leading causes which led to the increase of these Estimates, and a considerable portion of the increase was only apparent and unsubstantial. The most important item of apparent increase was that for the Diplomatic Service, which was changed from a permanent charge on the Consolidated Fund to a Vote in Supply. A Bill to carry this arrangement into effect would be laid on the table of the House as soon as the necessary details were settled. By that measure the power of the Crown to obtain money for the Diplomatic Service out of the Consolidated Fund would be taken away, so that hereafter those charges must be met by Votes in a Committee of Supply, and 524 the wish expressed by the House last Session would be carried into effect. The details of the present Vote on Account were, as might be seen, spread over almost all the items in the Civil Service Estimates. In proposing a Vote on Account it was not usual to enter upon these items in detail, the Vote being taken in a single sum. Therefore the Committee need not examine them in detail. Indeed, it would be impossible for hon. Members to do so, as the Civil Service Estimates were not yet laid on the table. He therefore presumed that the usual course would be adhered to, of taking the Vote on the understanding that hon. Members reserved to themselves the right of examining each of the items afterwards in Committee of Supply. He very much regretted that he had not been able to have the Civil Service Estimates printed and circulated by the present time; but, after keeping back the present Vote to the last moment, he now found himself compelled, in consequence of the financial year having expired, to propose it to the Committee. He might explain to such hon. Members as were not conversant with the circumstances which rendered the present Vote necessary that in former times it was the practice to apply the balances of old Votes to meet the expenses at the beginning of the year until the new Estimates should be sanctioned; but, under the system now in force, it was not lawful to apply those balances for the service of the new year without the sanction of Parliament, but they must be paid into the Exchequer. It was clear that if all the Civil Service Estimates could not be voted immediately after the commencement of the new financial year, the inevitable result must be that a portion of them must be voted as was now proposed, on account. It was equally obvious that it was impossible to proceed with the whole of the Votes at the present period of the Session, and the Committee would, therefore, he hoped, have no difficulty in assenting to the proposal of the Government, that a certain sum should be granted to meet the wants of the service.
§ MR. HUNT
Sir, I will not allude to the first observations of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken as to the discrepancy between the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Papers which have been placed in 525 our hands, because there will be an opportunity afforded of discussing that point when the House comes to deal with the full Estimates in Committee of Supply. I must, however, say that the original proposition made by the Government to take Votes on Account for a period of four months seems to me to require some comment. The hon. Gentleman has stated that it was of no importance to the Government whether they took Supply for four months or for two. I cannot think that that is altogether the case. At all events that was not the view of the matter which was taken by those who sit on the Ministerial Benches, when in Opposition last year. Last year the late Government proposed to adopt the usual course, and to take a Vote on Account for a period of three months, but we received an intimation from those who then sat upon these Benches that they would object to the granting of Supply for more than six weeks. We, desiring to have no controversy on the point, consented to take Votes for only six weeks, but we found from the Papers presented to the House, a few days ago, that the Government, many of whose Members were opposed to our taking Supply for three months, proposed to take Votes for four months. Now, the practical consequence of voting money for so long a period must be, as the hon. Gentleman knows, that the Estimates would be hurried through the House at the fag end of the Session, when many Members would be reduced to such a state of lassitude that they would be unwilling to stay in London, and when, practically, the Government would have very much their own way. It is quite right that the Government should have supplies to go on with, but then they should not be allowed, in my opinion, to have them for so long a time as to leave the discussion of the Estimates practically in the hands of official Members. Certainly the Opposition of last year took a very stringent view of their rights in this matter, and I was, therefore, all the more unprepared for the course they have taken now they are in power. We, of the Opposition, made a suggestion to the Government; the consequence of which was that another Paper was placed in our hands, with a little slip pasted on it, with the statement, "It is requested that this may be substituted for the Pa- 526 per issued on the 5th instant." It is not, I may add, usual to raise discussions on Votes on Account, and I should on this occasion follow that which is the usual course had it not been for peculiar circumstances connected with two items in these Estimates. The two items to which I allude are those on the second page of the Paper which I hold in my hands. No. 10, the Vote for the Charity Commission, and No. 12, that for the Copyhold, Inclosure, and Tithe Commission. Certain proceedings occurred last year in connection with those Votes to which I wish to call the attention of the Committee. On the 24th of April, 1868, my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Goldney) moved a Resolution as an Amendment to the Motion for going into Committee of Supply, in the following terms:—To leave out the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'in the opinion of this House the expenses of the Copyhold, Inclosure, and Tithe Commission, Inclosure and Drainage Acts, and Charity Commission ought not to be borne by the public.There was on that occasion a division, the "Ayes" in favour of the words proposed to be left out standing part of the question being 104. and the "Noes" 105. The consequence was that the next question put that the words of the Resolution should be added to the word "that," and the numbers were—"Ayes" 106; "Noes," 105. It fell to my lot to take part in that debate, and I stated, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham, that the Government were altogether in favour of the principle of his Motion, but that they thought its terms required some qualification. I added that, while concurring with him in the opinion that the proceedings for the greater part in those cases ought to be carried out at the expense of the parties interested, yet we looked upon the measure which he proposed as so sweeping that there would be considerable difficulty in giving it effect. I therefore suggested that the word "entirely" should be inserted in his Resolution before the word "borne." thus binding the Government to the view that the expense ought not i to be entirely borne by the public. My hon. Friend, however, at the instigation of the present First Lord of the Admiralty, the President of the Poor Law Board, and others who now sit on the 527 Ministerial side of the House, declined to accede to my proposal, and the House divided, with the result I have just mentioned. We voted for the insertion of the word "entirely" because we did not see our way to providing the expenses of those Commissions without having recourse to some extent to the aid of public funds. We thought that the public were interested in some of the proceedings of those Commissions, and that to that extent there ought to be some charge on the public funds, while we entirely concurred in the principle of the Resolution that the general expense ought not to be defrayed from that source. My hon. Friend, however, who perhaps now may perceive that he was ill-advised in the matter, refused to accept the slight qualification of his Motion which I suggested, went to a division, and triumphed by a majority of 1. I was rather curious to see who supported him on that occasion, and I found that no less than fourteen Members of the present Government, and four Members of the present Cabinet, went into the Lobby in favour of his Motion. He was supported, not only by the vote, but by the speech of the present First Lord of the Treasury, while he was assisted in telling the result of the division by the present First Lord of the Admiralty. Now one would have thought that that circumstance would have decided the course of action of the present Government in the matter. But the question does not rest here, because the Prime Minister made a very notable progress during the Recess. He then made a great number of speeches, which occupied a great number of columns in the different newspapers. So profuse were his utterances, indeed, that I almost despaired of getting through so vast a mass of words. I must, however, confess that I paid the right hon. Gentleman the compliment of reading the greater portion of those speeches, and felt much encouraged by those prolix effusions with which he relieved his mind. One of the chief topics on which he dwelt was the extraordinary extravagance of the late Government, and their great desire to squander the public money. I had some consolation in reading what the right hon. Gentleman said on this subject, because my conscience was very easy on the matter, for I felt that a great deal of the public money which 528 we spent was expended in consequence of the neglect of our predecessors in Office, in not keeping up the public service in a proper state of efficiency. I can quite understand that the ignorant audience whom the right hon. Gentleman was addressing—["Oh. oh!"]—I mean ignorant on this point—were not so well-informed with respect to it as the Members of the late House of Commons who took part in its discussions; and I am not, therefore, surprised that the statements of the right hon. Gentleman were received with a considerable amount of applause. For some of those statements, made in the excitement of an election contest, I should be inclined to make some excuse; but there were others, which may, perhaps, be brought before the House at some future day, for which there is little excuse to be found, because they were made, I think, without due inquiry into the facts of the case. The right hon. Gentleman alluded, among other things, to the debate on the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham; and one of the chief counts in his indictment against the late Government was that they had opposed that Motion. So important were the utterances of the right hon. Gentleman, that they exist not only in the shape of a newspaper report, but have been bound up together and published in a pamphlet. ["Hear, hear!"] I am not astonished to find that hon. Gentlemen opposite cheer; but the immortality of these speeches may very well be regarded from two points of view, because if they perpetuate sentiments worthy of being perpetuated in the memories of the fellow-countrymen of the right hon. Gentleman, they also preserve many rash and reckless assertions. I only deal with that portion of the speech which refers to the Vote before us. If I referred to the general statements contained in the speech, hon. Gentlemen opposite might be somewhat astonished at the assertions which were then made. The right hon. Gentleman alluded to the course which was adopted by the then Government, and said—We saw on the Notice Paper this year a Notice which would have saved the country a certain sum of money. I think some £20,000 a year, perhaps more. It was to the effect that the expenses of certain Commissions relating to Copyholds, Inclosures, and Tithes which had been charged on the Consolidated Fund should be borne not by the State but by the persons who 529 took benefit from the operation of these Commissions. This Motion, which we thought a very rational Motion, was made by Mr. Goldney. Mr. Goldney is a man of much intelligence who sits on the Government side of the House.Well, there I am as one with the right hon. Gentleman, for I quite agree that my hon. Friend is a man of much intelligence. Then the right hon. Gentleman continues—Thus we had an opportunity, because Mr. Goldney, being the Mover of the Motion, and not acting in concert with us, it was not possible to cast upon it the discredit of being a party Motion. Well, what did we do? We supported Mr. Goldney, and what happened? We carried our Motion by 1. So keen were the Government to resist this reduction of expenditure, that after being thus beaten in a division some rumour went abroad that one or two Members had come into the House that they might, if they divided again, obtain a different issue. They divided again, and again they were beaten by 1.I gather, then, that in the opinion of the present Government this £20,000 a year ought to have been saved to the country and thrown upon the persons interested; and the Members of the then Government were held up as so keen against the reduction that they took a second division. I do not think that this account of what occurred in the House quite accords with the facts; because, so far from resisting the spirit of the proposal, I stated that I entirely concurred in it, but that we thought its terms so strict as to require qualification. However, the Colleagues of the right hon. Gentleman were so determined upon effecting this economy that they refused to admit of any qualification. Well, I cannot conceive—after the right hon. Gentleman had supported the Motion, and after the grave charge brought by him against the late Government—that, coming into power with such a majority, he might not have found means to carry out the views he expressed in Opposition. My hon. Friend the late Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Sclater-Booth) brought in a Bill to enable the Inclosure Commission to levy fees, and the Commissioners will thus be able, according to their estimate, to raise a sum of £17,000 to meet the expenses of £20,000. The late Government were entirely of opinion that the expense should not be borne by the public, and they took measures accordingly. But now a word or two on the subject of the Charity Commission. The right hon. Gentleman, by his vote here and by his taunting speech at the 530 election, declared his opinion that the expense of the Charity Commission should also be saved to the country. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, in an answer to my hon. Friend (Mr. Goldney), stated, the other night, that the Inclosure Commissioners would raise £17,000 by fees—though he did not add what the late Secretary of the Treasury had done to secure this result—but confessed that the Government did not see their way to relieve the public from the charge of the Charity Commission. He declared that he himself should like to impose an income tax on charities. Now, I say that after what occurred the Government were bound to attempt to carry out the Resolution of my hon. Friend. We were taunted, when in Office, with not having the power to give effect to some of our wishes; but what is the use of having a strong Government in Office, carrying great measures by a majority of 118, if, having decided opinions on such a subject as this, and having pledged themselves as deeply as they can by Resolutions in this House and by speeches out-of-doors, the Government "do not see their way'' to carry out that which they severely censured us for not carrying out? When this sort of thing happens it ought to make Gentlemen careful of what they say in their election speeches. I think they ought not to attribute to their political opponents a desire to squander public money, and to throw upon the public charges which ought to be borne by private persons, whereas when they come into Office they themselves do nothing. At the time when the right hon. Gentleman supported the Motion of my hon. Friend he had had some experience as to the difficulties of imposing charges upon charities, and had made a proposal which he was unable to carry; yet, knowing the difficulties of the case, he refuses to qualify the terms of the Motion, and then goes down to his would-be constituents and charges the then Government with resisting the reduction of expenditure in this instance. What has happened? The right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues propose these two Votes, not having, as regards the Charity Commission, taken one single step to relieve the public.
Sir, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having commenced his speech with a criticism 531 upon our proceedings, as to which he possibly had something to say. We asked for a Vote for four months on account of the Miscellaneous Services. That was admitted to be unnecessary, though it was for the public convenience, and the Vote on Account was reduced to two months. The right hon. Gentleman compares with this proposal the jealousy of the Opposition of last year, who would only consent to a Vote for six weeks. But he entirely omits from his comparison that upon which the whole merits of the case turns—namely, that last year the Government had been condemned on a vital point of policy, and had been placed in a minority of more than 60 by a vote of which the head of the then Government declared that it would produce consequences more formidable than foreign conquest. Sir, I unfeignedly regret that the right hon. Gentleman has raised this question. We have other matters to transact than to rake up these old controversies—frivolous as I shall show them to be—but I am compelled to follow the right hon. Gentleman on the ground over which he drags me. That was the position of things last year, and the Opposition with singular mildness proposed, after the vote I have mentioned, that Supply should be taken for a limited period. Yet the right hon. Gentleman, while instructing others in their public duties, thinks it right to institute this comparison, omitting from it the point on which the whole case rests. However, with this portion of his speech he was comparatively successful; but he goes on to instruct me upon the mode in which election speeches should be framed, and, rising in the latter part of his speech to a height of calm philosophy, says that great inconvenience is likely to arise when Gentlemen before their constituents—or, as he, with excellent taste, remarks, their would-be constituents—become reckless in the language they use. Undoubtedly those who are unfortunate enough to number the tale of years which have passed since I became a Member of this House must feel peculiar happiness when they receive lessons of this description from Gentlemen who have entered public life some quarter of a century afterwards, and who, growing rapidly in wisdom and experience, have acquired so remarkable a capacity for lecturing their seniors. 532 Now, Sir, the question is one that, after all, it may not be useless to discuss. The right hon. Gentleman speaks of me as if I had raised the subject of the vote of the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Goldney) gratuitously before my "would-be constituents." What happened was this—I did state to my constituents—as they then were, and as I hoped they would be again, and it is to me matter of grief that they are not—I did state to my constituents that, in my opinion, a due control had not been exercised over the expenditure of the country during the two years the then Government had been in Office; and I am happy to say that it has in some manner or other happened that, when that declaration was made in the face of the country in one of those prolix speeches to which the right hon. Gentleman refers—that £3,000,000 had been added to the public expenditure in two years—the "ignorant audiences" in Lancashire, whom he has thus again the good taste to describe, were considerably impressed with the fact, and the opposing candidates immediately challenged the right hon. Gentleman on the subject—and much notice was taken throughout the country of the matter—and, singular to say, we have been recently informed by the right hon. Gentleman that about and. from that very date it became a great object of the right hon. Gentleman to reduce the current expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I am compelled to appeal to his speech last night, in which he said that about the month of September—[Mr. HUNT: I said long before, in the autumn]—the operations of the right hon. Gentleman were specially pointed to the subject—it was in the autumn, he says, he became finally convinced that the revenue would fall short of his estimates, and it was in the autumn he made, not vigorous, but renewed and extended—for I have no doubt he thinks he always made vigorous—efforts for reducing the expenditure of the country. That was the time when the dissolution was in prospect, and when, by means of these prolix speeches and otherwise, the country had become aware of the manner in which its financial affairs were regulated. I was then told that it was my duty, being in command of the majority in the last Parliament, to cut down and keep down the expenditure. I think those ac- 533 quainted with the last Parliament will be aware that any power possessed by myself or others on this Bench was of a very limited character, and I deny the proposition that we could be held responsible for that great expenditure, if we took the opportunity from time to time to make known our disapproval of, and when occasion offered endeavoured to reduce, the public charge. I then made the observation which the right hon. Gentleman has read, and which appears a most just observation—that though it was very difficult for us. engaged in political controversies of the highest moment, to be continually worrying the Government on this and that question of expenditure, which would have degraded the struggle in which we were engaged on the subject of the Irish Church into what would have appeared to be a more contest for the immediate grasp of Office; yet, when we had the opportunity offered us on the Motion of a Gentleman of so much intelligence as the Member for Chippenham, from the other side of the House, we were glad to support it. It was for that purpose I introduced the passage which the right hon. Gentleman has quoted as an instance of the rash and inconsiderate statements in my speeches; but every syllable of which I here deliberately adopt. I then pointed to the proceedings of the right hon. Gentleman. It is quite true he said he thought a part of the expense might be borne by the parties taking the benefit of these Commissions, and he wanted the House to affirm the Motion that the expense of these Commissions should not be entirely defrayed by the public. But the hon. Member for Chippenham, certainly not on my inspiration, would not agree to that Amendment, and he was quite right, for if he had adopted it the House would have declared that a portion of the expenses of those who take the benefit of these Commissions should be borne by the public. I think he was right, and I would vote with him again if the same circumstances should arise. But what I did observe, and what was the point of my criticism, related to the form of proceeding adopted by the right hon. Gentleman—for it was this—The House of Commons gave its judgment—it is true, only by a majority of 1—in favour of the reduction of the public expenditure, and to my astonishment the right hon. 534 Gentleman, instead of accepting that vote, because there was some rumour about the House that two or three Members had come into the Lobby which might change the division, declined to accept the vote and challenged it again and was beaten, If the right hon. Gentleman thinks it a right mode of proceeding towards the representatives of the people that when those who are the chosen guardians of the public purse have declared their disposition to abolish a public charge, they should be met by that kind of opposition on the part of the Executive Government, I have the misfortune to differ from him. I hold that such a mode of proceeding is not decorous, and scarcely constitutional. Had it been an attempt to force expenditure on the Government the right hon. Gentleman might have been perfectly warranted in challenging the vote; but, where the House has, by a majority, declared in favour of the abolition of a particular charge, the intimation is entitled at once to the respectful consideration of the Executive Government. So far as regards the proceedings of last April; and, if I understand rightly, the right hon. Gentleman now makes it a charge against the Government that they have not removed from the Estimates the charge of the Charity Commission. It seems that the right hon. Gentleman himself went to work and framed a plan under which a scale of fees was constructed relating to the Copyhold and Inclosure Commission, and estimated to produce £17,000. That scale was, I think, properly framed by the right hon. Gentleman, and properly adopted by my right hon. Friend near me (the Chancellor of the Exchequer). [Mr. HUNT here made an observation.] I beg pardon, the fees were authorized by Act of Parliament. But although £ 17,000, the estimated amount of these fees, was not the precise equivalent of.£20,000, there was so far a compliance with the Vote of the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman, however, appears to think that that vote was binding on the present Government in some sense in which it was not binding on the late Government. The vote of the House of Commons, once passed, was not a bit more binding on the Members of the majority than on the minority. The right hon. Gentleman has forgotten to tell us why he did not apply himself 535 to frame a scheme of fees for the Charity Commission. [Mr. HUNT: Because we had no opportunity.] The right hon. Gentleman framed a plan for the Copyhold Commission, why did he not frame a plan for the Charity Commission.? The right hon. Gentleman remained in Office nine months, under the vote of the House of Commons, which he twice raised, and which was twice carried against him; but he took no step. [Mr. HUNT made an observation.] If I am to understand that he did take any steps, I am only sorry they did not become known to my right hon. Friend near me, because I am sure my right hon. Friend would have been very glad to have availed himself of any suggestion that, by a direct method of operation, would have relieved the public of the charge of the Charity Commission. But he has given us no account whatever of any proceeding taken by him to fulfil the wishes of the House with regard to the Charity Commission. "Well, but we come into power, and he says that his disobedience to the vote of the House with respect to the Charity Commission does not excuse us. That is perfectly true. What did we do? We looked at the matter and found two methods in which effect might conceivably be given to the vote. Looking at it with reference to the direct charge, we did not see our way to get rid of it. But if the right hon. Gentleman is more anxious than we are, and able to devise a method by which we might remove that charge from the Estimates, we shall be too happy to sit at his feet and obtain the smallest contribution towards the public welfare which he may be graciously pleased to bestow on us. We have got another mode of proceeding, and it is to apply to charities the just, rational, and obvious method of prescribing by law that property which is given by persons, when they die or otherwise, not to their own flesh and blood, but to certain objects they choose to prefer, shall pay, like other property, for the protection it receives from the State. And to my perfect astonishment the right hon. Gentleman is so imprudent as to recall the fact that we have already endeavoured to establish this just principle, and says we could not do it. No, Sir, we could not do it. And why? Because the Friends of the right hon. Gentleman would not let us. Because we saw opposed to us, 536 in the Parliament dissolved in 1865, a compact party blanded together almost as one man, when parties were nearly balanced, to oppose the proposal that we made, which would not only have relieved the public from this charge but a great deal more. And that is the plan which, unless we are able to devise a more direct method, we shall desire to give effect to and carry out. But the right hon. Gentleman says—"Why not give effect to it now?" Why do not we postpone the Irish Church to introduce a charge upon charities? Does he not know, if we did introduce such a tax what would be the effect? The time may come when we may impose it, but does the right hon. Gentleman think we are such children in our business as to yield to such a suggestion? Why, we should have immediately banded together not only hon. Gentlemen opposite, but I am sorry to say there would be local agencies exercising a grievous pressure upon divers worthy and enlightened men on this side of the House, We should be compelled to consume day after day in barren and fruitless discussion of a question whether we should levy a tax of £20,000 a year upon charities, and we should be neglecting the promotion of a measure on which we think the harmony of the nation and the prosperity of the country depend. That is our answer to the right hon. Gentleman. I am sorry to be led back over the old ground, because our desire is to go onwards, yet I do not shrink from anything I said to my constituents on the subject of the financial policy of the late Government. On the contrary, I must abide by, extend, and enlarge what I then stated. And I say, on my own part, and on the part of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government, that we shall show we entertain the same opinions in regard to the Charity Commission whenever we have the opportunity. Nay, more, if the right hon. Gentleman will kindly rise in his place and give us the assurance, and without delay, that on his side, or upon the Bench on which he sits, if we propose to apply this principle of taxation to charitable among other funds, we shall receive their warm support, and that we shall not find them voting against us, or taking their flight in a mass from the House, as we have seen before to-night, but that we shall 537 have the aid of their speeches—I think, I might promise that my right hon. Friend, without a minute's delay, will be prepared to relieve the public from the expenses of the Charity Commission and a great deal more besides.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, that the right hon. Gentleman could hardly require much assistance from that (the Opposition) side of the House in his measures, but it was within his own knowledge that many hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House, himself included, agreed with the right hon. Gentleman in the spirit of the proposal which he made to the House in regard to the taxation of charities. He would venture to say that the opposition to it came in a great measure from the other side of the House. The reason why the Government last year opposed the Motion of the hon. Member for Chippenham was that he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) had made inquiry of the Inclosure and Charity Commissioners, and had foreseen and anticipated the difficulty of carrying the Motion into execution. He ascertained that it would be easy to levy a great part of the expense of the Inclosure Commissioners by means of fees, but from the Charity Commissioners he learned that it would be impossible to exact such fees as would reduce to any appreciable extent the Vote of £18,000 a year by the House. He therefore endeavoured to draw a distinction between the two, and not to put the House in the position, by affirming the Resolution, of committing itself to the levying of a property tax on charities. It was represented to him by the Charity Commissioners that it was not fair to tax the charities that applied to them for a better regulation of their affairs, while the charities that kept away were those which ought especially to be taxed. That opened up the large question of levying the income tax on charities. The answer which the Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, gave to the hon. Member (Mr. Goldney) the other night was precisely that which he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) could have given in August last. Upon the issue of that Resolution he applied to the Charity and Inclosure Commissioners, and drew their attention to the Resolution of the hon. Member for Chippenham, desiring them to place the Government in a position to give effect to the wishes of the House, and to make 538 those Boards self-supporting. The Inclosure Commissioners applied themselves to the task, and before the close of the Session he passed a Bill through the House. They estimated that fees to the amount of £17,000 might be raised, and that more might be done another year. The Inclosure Commissioners deserved, he thought, considerable credit from the House for what they had done. The Charity Commissioners did not show the same alacrity in adopting the view of the House. They were no doubt impressed by the fear lest the levying of fees should exercise a prejudicial effect by inducing the trustees of charitable funds to refrain from applying to the Commissioners. One suggestion he made was that a percentage of 1 or 2 per cent should be levied on the dividends received by them. The sums on which they received dividend amounted to not loss than £3,000,000 sterling, and a small tax on that amount would only be what any agent would charge upon the receipt of income. It appeared, however, that a great number of these charities were of so small an amount that even this moderate change would be ruinous to them, and that the trustees of these charities would not consent to pay it. If there had been a prospect of the late Government holding Office during the present Session, it would have been their duty to bring in a Bill; but the £2,000 a year which the Charity Commissioners were willing to collect amounted to so trifling a sum that it would not, in any commensurate manner, carry out the intentions of the House.
§ MR. GOLDNEY
said, that whatever the result of the discussion might be, he might congratulate the House that the great principle laid down by the present First Minister of the Crown in his magnificent speech of 1853 had been considerably advanced, and he was happy to hear it was his intention to carry out that principle now that he had a strong party at his back which would enable him to do so. For himself, the course which he took last year with the view of reducing the large expenditure of the Civil Service, which was constantly growing, he should endeavour consistently to pursue; and although on general occasions he was proud to act with his party, yet, as far as financial legislation went, he was prepared to support the doctrines laid down by the Prime Minister. One 539 of those doctrines was that it was the duty of independent Members to check the expenditure, and that attempts in that direction strengthened the hands of the Government against the endeavour of the departments to increase the expenditure. With that view he had contended that it was the duty of the parties, who derived the benefit from the labours of the several Commissions which had been referred to to bear the burden of the expenses attached to those Commissions, and that such expenses ought not to be borne by the public. He had no doubt that the late Government did its best to carry out the Resolution of the late Parliament, but the Resolutions of the House could not always be carried into effect immediately, and it was open to any hon. Member to challenge the Government of the day to carry them out. He was glad that by the carrying of his Resolution the country had already been saved £17,000; per annum; and, whether Ms own friends or the party opposite were in power, he should conceive it to be his duty whenever he saw an expenditure that could be reduced to challenge the Vote and endeavour to enforce a further saving.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Sir, I do not rise to give any instruction to the right hon. Gentleman opposite (the First Lord of the Treasury) in the art of making election speeches, for he has had as much or more experience than myself on that subject, and probably of a later complexion. But I think I may presume to give him some instruction upon making Parliamentary speeches, because I am sure he will agree in the principle I am about to lay down that a person who makes any statements in this House should, if possible, be accurate. The right hon. Gentleman says that, in consequence of a vote at which the House arrived last year, I declared that the matter was of as great importance as the conquest of this country by a foreign foe, and then he argued upon that assumed assertion on my part. Now, I never made any observation of the kind. I made a similar observation not in this House but in another place, and it referred to an issue of a totally different character. Therefore, I can hardly understand why the right hon. Gentleman should, in so needless a manner, have made a statement of this kind, unless he was at the moment influenced 540 by a degree of excitement for which I think no cause whatever was supplied by the constitutional criticisms of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Northamptonshire (Mr. Hunt). I cannot refrain, as I am on my legs, from noticing—and I do so in the interest of the House—the strange doctrine suddenly brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman, that a Minister, who has been beaten in this House by a majority so small that it may be described by a unit, is precluded from asking the opinion of the House upon another occasion, if he thinks there is a chance of its arriving at a different conclusion. And what is the extraordinary ground upon which he founds this new principle in Parliamentary practice? It is, forsooth, because the voice of the country and the opinion of the House having been once ascertained by this magnificent majority of 1, even if the Minister was aware that a considerable number of Gentlemen had entered the House at a subsequent period, he is not to take the chance of the majority being decided in his favour by that accident. Do not those Members who entered the House at a subsequent period represent the country as well as the solitary individual who composed that majority? There are instances without number in which Ministers have taken the opinion of the House on a second occasion, after having been defeated on the first; and not only upon the same subject, but on the same night. Of course the period of time cannot influence the principle. But what are we to think of the more important instances of rescinding a vote on a matter of great importance, such as a matter of taxation? Look at the case in which the vote arrived at by the House on the malt tax, I think in 1835, was rescinded. If the doctrine now laid down be the correct one, how are we to defend the conduct of Sir Robert Peel when he came down and called on the House to rescind that vote? Are we, in consequence of the views as to the management of business in this House now put forward by the right hon. Gentleman, to say that the conduct of Sit Robert Peel, when he called on the House to rescind that rash vote was unconstitutional, and that his conduct as a Minister was reprehensible? Every man must feel that it would be impossible to carry on the business of a 541 free House of Commons if views put forward by the right hon. Gentleman in a rash moment, and supported by the cheers of Gentlemen who, I suppose, are to represent the new Members, were to be adopted as a rule. But let us take a later ease than the one to which I have just alluded. Let us take the case of the vote arrived at on the sugar duties, which disturbed—I will not say entirely, but to some extent—the financial arrangements of the Government, I think in 1844. Why, the Government did not hesitate then to call on the House to rescind that vote; and though Sir Robert Peel moved the rescision, I believe the Minister whose department the vote affected was the right hon. Gentleman now at the head of the Government. I may be wrong as to his particular Office, but this I am sure of—that the right hon. Gentleman was a Member of that Government, and, of course, gave his consent to the course the Government took on that occasion. Sir, this new dogma that the Government are not to take the opinion of the House a second time on an issue on which it may once have divided, and on which a decision may have been come to by, perhaps, a majority of 1, is a dogma which I think this House will not sanction with its approbation. This, though an inexperienced House, must not take a course which was invented for the occasion by the right hon. Gentleman at an election in Lancashire, which I am willing to forget, but which appears to have excited him to a high degree of that rhetorical spleen of which he is a master. Now I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has been candid in his answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire. The case of the Inclosure Commissioners is a very strong one indeed. The right hon. Gentleman does not deny that in his agitating tour of last autumn he made a distinct charge against the late Government that they were sanctioning a profuse and unnecessary expenditure of public money, and in support of that charge instanced this case of the Inclosure Commissioners. It is perfectly clear that the right hon. Gentleman was unaware at the time that in the preceding Session of Parliament a Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Secretary of the Treasury in the late Government, attained the very results 542 which he denounced us for opposing. If the right hon. Gentleman was aware that a Bill of that kind had been introduced by my hon. Friend, and had been passed, no doubt his natural candour of mind would have prevented him from making the statements he has to-night, and the statements which he made in the autumn. With regard to the Charity Commissioners, it is now said that the Government have not time to take a course which we believe would not have occasioned them much trouble or occupied them for a very long period. They can re-construct the whole of our ancient system of taxes; they can make plans which will effect a great change in the collection of the taxes of the country; and yet they cannot give their attention to this particular subject. Sir, I think the answer of the right hon. Gentleman to my right hon. Friend has not been a candid and satisfactory one. A statement made with the clearness and total absence of acerbity which characterized the statement of my right hon. Friend ought not to be met with a torrent of taunts. That is not the way in which the business of the House can be satisfactorily conducted. The right hon. Gentleman says that, in consequence of his speeches, my right hon. Friend found it necessary to look to the finances of the country, and to make certain arrangements to secure a reduction of expenditure. I dare say the right hon. Gentleman has great confidence in the eloquence of his speeches—and he has cause for it—but I can, however, assure the right hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend was influenced in the course he took by nothing else than a sense of duty. His attention was before that period directed to the state of our finances by those official and authentic sources of information with which the right hon. Gentleman is perfectly familiar, and which are open every week on his desk in Downing Street. I think it must have been in the month of July, and long before the, right hon. Gentleman commenced his electioneering campaign, my right hon. Friend called the Cabinet together, laid before us the condition of affairs, and made those arrangements which, though unfortunately the revenue did not rally while we were in Office, had still the effect of preventing a deficit from occurring. I think it right to make that statement in support of 543 the observations of my right hon. Friend, as otherwise a very erroneous impression might pervade the House in reference to this matter. I think my right hon. Friend was perfectly justified in calling the attention of the House to the conduct of the Government with reference to matters not in reality of great importance, but of the merits of which—they having unnecessarily been made of great importance—it is desirable that the House should form a true conception. It is quite clear that when the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) made that rash and reckless accusation against the late Government with reference to the Inclosure Commissioners, he was perfectly ignorant of the fact that we ourselves had introduced and passed a Bill which entirely remedied the real grievances complained of.
Sir, I do not rise for the purpose of continuing the controversial part of the debate, but merely because I am desirous of making some explanation with regard to a statement attributed to me by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli). The right hon. Gentleman alleges that that statement was inaccurate, and therefore it is necessary that it should be clearly understood what that statement was. It was with reference to the vote of last year, and the right hon. Gentleman says that I was inaccurate in saying that he had asserted that the declaration of this House last year with reference to the Irish Church was calculated to be more destructive than a foreign conquest. The right hon. Gentleman, however, attributes to me that which I did not say. What I did say was that I had understood that the right hon. Gentleman had declared that "the consequences" of that declaration by this House would be more mischievous than a foreign conquest. That is what I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say, and what I believe him to have said. I have further to say that I never laid down the doctrine for one moment—on the contrary, I have always most explicitly guarded myself from being understood to lay down the doctrine—that the Government is never justified in asking a second time the judgment of this House upon a question. What I did say was this—that the manner in which the Government had challenged the decision of the House on the par- 544 ticular occasion referred to with respect to a vote by which the House had refused an item of expenditure was, in my opinion, scarcely decorous and scarcely constitutional. The right hon. Gentleman calls that statement rash and ill-considered. I call it measured, true, and constitutional.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I have no desire to prolong this controversy. I only rise in answer to what I look upon as an appeal on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman says that the statement I was understood to make with reference to the vote of the House last year upon the question of the Irish Church was that it was in mischievous effects equal to a foreign conquest. Well, I most unreservedly contradict that statement. I did certainly say, or write, on one occasion—and this will probably be the origin of the error on the part of the right hon. Gentleman—I did certainly say, abstractedly speaking of England, that I believed that the severance of the Union between Church and State would be an event in its consequences as deplorable as foreign conquest; but how far the right hon. Gentleman is justified in regarding that observation, made only in reference to the possible effect of a severance between Church and State in England, as a statement having reference to the decision of this House last year upon the question of the Irish Church, I leave the House to decide.
§ MR. DILLWYN
said, he believed that hon. Members had met that evening for the purpose of business. He quite understood the necessity for this Vote on Account. His object in rising was to earnestly impress upon the Government the propriety of presenting these Estimates to the House at an earlier period of the Session in future. The House was asked to give a Vote on Account for Estimates which had not yet been placed in their hands, and he, therefore, trusted that they would have an assurance from the Secretary of the Treasury that these Estimates would be shortly placed before them.
§ Vote agreed to.
§ Resolved, That a sum, not exceeding £1,586,800, be granted to Her Majesty, on account, for or towards defraying the Charge for the following Civil Services, to the 31st day of March 1870:—545
|Furniture of Public Offices||2,000|
|Westminster Palace, Acquisition of Land||4,000|
|Houses of Parliament||8,000|
|Public Offices Site||8,000|
|New Home and Colonial Offices||5,000|
|Public Record Repository||5,000|
|Chapter House, Westminster||600|
|Probate Court and Registries||1,500|
|Sheriff Court Houses, Scotland||5,000|
|National Gallery Enlargement||9,000|
|University of London Buildings||5,000|
|Edinburgh Industrial Museum||1,500|
|Post Office and Inland Revenue Buildings||22,000|
|Harbours of Refuge||11,000|
|Metropolitan Fire Brigade||1,500|
|Rates on Government Property||5,000|
|Embassy Houses: Paris and Madrid||600|
|Embassy Houses and Consular Buildings: Constantinople, China, Japan, and Tehran||15,000|
§ House resumed.
§ Resolution to be reported upon Monday next;
§ Committee to sit again upon Monday next.