§ MR. VERNON HARCOURT,
in rising to move—That the present rate of Public Expenditure is excessive, and that this House desires that it should be reduced, with a view to the diminution of the public burthens,said, a Paper had been presented to the House that morning which, although perhaps one of the shortest, was one of the most important Returns which had been or which were likely to be laid before Parliament this Session. It was entitled "The Public Income and Expenditure" of the English Nation for the year ended 31st December, 1872. he found it there stated that the Revenue for the year which was just ended amounted to £77,688,000, which he believed on the highest authority to be the highest revenue which had ever been raised by the English people, he would not say in times of peace, but in times of extremest war. ["No, no!"] Well, his authority was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, in 1870, in announcing the revenue as amounting to a little over £75,000,000, stated that it was the largest that had. ever been raised from the English people, except during the last three years of the French War, and that was, he (Mr. Harcourt) believed, within £77,000,000. He might be mistaken, but he thought not, and he would take the revenue for the last year for the sake of convenience at £78,000,000, so that small details and figures might be avoided. Six years ago, in 1866, the last year which was illustrated by the financial genius of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, the revenue of this country reached above £10,000,000 below that sum. These figures, no doubt, required correction. When he said that the revenue for 1872 amounted to £78,000,000, he must point out that of that sum £10,000,000 were derived from sources other than taxation, such as the Post Office, the Miscellaneous Receipts, and matters of account. But what the House had to look to was how much of the revenue was derived from taxation. He found, from the same accounts for the year ending December, 1872, that the yield of taxation was £68,000,000—a sum of money of which the history of foreign nations offered no example, and of which he ventured to 603 think the English people had no former experience. He would state the case as fairly and candidly as he could. That year did not end in December, and the year 1872 would include the proportion of 2d. on the income tax, which would come within the year ending March. But they had this fact—that in the year which was just concluded they had raised by taxation from the English people £68,000,000. Now, six years ago, taking the same method of calculation, they raised by taxation in the year 1866 a sum of £60,000,000, or £8,000,000 less than was raised during the year just concluded. Now, if this vast revenue were to yield a great surplus, he should not have had much to say about it. He should have been content to enter his protest, with that of the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett), against the system, by mistaken Estimates, of raising from the country unnecessary taxation. And if they were going to distribute the difference between this enormous revenue and, the expenditure, which was not equal to it, in remission of taxation, they might forgive the errors of the past in consideration of the advantage which they were about to derive for the future. But they had had an announcement, unless the reports of public journals were incorrect, that they were to expect no surplus, and that they must anticipate no material reduction of expenditure. He therefore applied himself to these figures by the light of the anticipated Budget. He thought that it must be considered that these matters deeply concerned the House, and it seemed to him that the time had arrived when such a state of things demanded investigation. He should not be unfair in describing the last two years, and, indeed, the year which they were just about to conclude, as years barren—he might almost say disastrous—in their financial history. In some years they had been accustomed to the splendid financial administration of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, during which they had obtained successive remissions of taxation; but during the last two complete years and the present year they had had scarcely any remission of taxation. Thus, in 1871, the country had had no remission of taxation whatever; but, on the contrary, it had to bear an additional imposition 604 of taxation amounting to £3,000,000. In 1872 the £3,000,000 so imposed in 1871 were taken off; but that could not be called a remission of taxation. In that year there certainly was a trifling —he might almost call it a paltry—remission of taxation to the amount of £500,000, which was due partly to an adjustment of the income tax, and partly to a reduction in the duty on coffee. In the present year a hint had been given to them that as there was not likely to be any considerable surplus, they were not to look for any remission of taxation. In former years taxes were taken off to a great, he might almost say a splendid, extent; and the more taxes were taken off the more the revenue increased, because the irrepressible energy and indomitable industry of the people more than replaced the vacuum made by the repression of taxation. It had been so engrained into the convictions of the people that such was the certain result of the financial system introduced by Sir Robert Peel, and so successfully developed by his successors, that they had received the intimation that no remission in taxation was to be made during the present year with astonishment and disappointment. This matter demanded at the hands of the House of Commons and especially at those of the party which occupied the benches near him investigation in the fifth year of the Parliament which was elected in a large degree on the ground that they should enforce the doctrine of public economy. He should, perhaps, be told he was taking a wrong course in reference to this question, in proceeding by abstract Resolution, and that an abstract Resolution was likely to incur the fate of the dog which had acquired a bad name. He was not aware who had had the ingenuity originally to denounce an abstract Resolution as being an improper mode of obtaining the opinion of the House of Commons upon any particular question; but those who were acquainted with the Parliamentary history of England were well aware that the most important questions had been determined by that House by abstract Resolutions. Abstract Resolutions were, in fact, the landmarks of history. In the course of last Session the hon. Member for Brighton had said that the House would be most ungrateful if it refused to proceed by abstract Resolution, because it 605 had itself been elected by an abstract Resolution of the country with regard to the abolition of the Irish Church. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government took exception to that statement at the time, because he said that that was not an abstract Resolution on the part of the country, because it had been followed by a Bill. But the Bill which was brought in had nothing whatever to do with the Resolution, because it was a mere suspensory measure, which was not brought in until after the election, and a Government was formed which was pledged in an abstract manner to abolish the Irish Church, it being left to the Government to determine the plan by which that object might be carried out. But he did not wish to press that point, and would refer to a matter more germane to the question. In the course of last year the hon. Baronet the Member for South Devon (Sir Massey Lopes) had moved a Resolution, which might be termed abstract, on the subject of local taxation, and that Resolution having been carried by a majority of 100 the Government had recognized the importance of the question and had determined in consequence of that Resolution that a measure dealing with the matter should take its place among those of first importance which they were about to introduce. But that was not all. In 1868 Members of that House had gone to the hustings upon an abstract Resolution against the expenditure of the late Government. When the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government and his Colleagues attacked the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) they did not go into detail; they did not say that this or that item was too much; they merely said—" You have increased the expenditure of the country by £3,000,000, and we will go to the country upon that point and will leave it to another Government to show how it should be diminished." During the election the walls had been covered with. placards containing abstract declarations against the increase of the expenditure under the preceding Government; and, therefore, he was quite sure that from whatever quarters the denunciation against the method of dealing with public finance might come, they would not come from those who rightly or wrongly were connected with the authorship of 606 those placards. The real objection to abstract Resolutions was not because they were not effective, but because they were too effective. That was the true reason why they would be always denounced by those who opposed the principles involved in them, and why they would be always employed by those who desired to establish those principles. But perhaps it might be said that the proper way of proceeding in this matter was to challenge the Estimates when they were brought forward. He could understand such an argument being used by an enlightened foreigner who had acquired his knowledge of the British Constitution from the pages of Blackstone or De Lolme; but how it could be put forward by any hon. Member of that House he could not comprehend. He tried a little experiment last night to see how proceeding without abstract Resolution would answer. There was an increase for stationery in a Supplemental Estimate of £51,000. He asked his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury what he thought of it. Well, his hon. Friend thought of it as he (Mr. Harcourt) did, that it was extremely excessive and ought to be reduced. "But," said his hon. Friend, "it cannot be reduced now, for although it is called an Estimate, the money has been spent." If that was the case with the Estimates, he thought it was sufficiently shown that the control of the House of Commons over the Estimates was something more than a constitutional fiction—he thought they might almost call it a Parliamentary farce. In 1868, when the expenditure of the Government of that period was severely criticized by the present Prime Minister, the right hon. Gentleman then Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Member for North Northamptonshire (Mr. Hunt), said—"You have no right to criticize our expenditure. You sat in the House for two years and did not challenge these Estimates. You were the Leader of a great party which had a nominal majority in this House, and you ought to have taken care that these Estimates were not excessive, and to turn round upon us now and charge us with having unduly increased the expenditure of the country is unfair." That, he thought, was in substance the reply of the right hon. Gentleman. Well, what was the answer of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government? He would venture to quote the 607 words of the right hon. Gentleman because he believed they contained a true doctrine. He said—When the Government, upon their own responsibility, state that certain establishments are necessary for the defence of the country—when, for instance, they propose rapid and wholesale armament, and large additions to the pay of the Army, upon the ground that, in their judgment, the increase is necessary to efficiency —it is quite obvious that such expenditure can be effectually challenged only by those who are prepared to bear the responsibility of the construction that will be put upon their resistance to the measures of the Government; and that construction is, that they propose a Vote of Want of Confidence. No Government could be worthy of its place, if it permitted its Estimates to be seriously resisted by the Opposition; and important changes can be made only under circumstances which permit of the raising of the question of a change of Government"— [3 Hansard, cxci. 1747.]In a further answer to what the late Chancellor of the Exchequer said as to the responsibility of the House in endorsing the Estimates the right hon. Gentleman said—To my astonishment the doctrine seems to have been laid down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that, when once the Estimates have been accepted by independent Members, the House is responsible for them in the same degree as the Ministers of the Crown. It is impossible too emphatically to pronounce against that opinion; it is entirely contrary to the relation in which he stands to the House. The doctrine is monstrous, and is unsupported by the authority of the predecessors of the right hon. Gentleman, whose good sense will convince him that it cannot be maintained. The Government have unlimited opportunities of investigating the Estimates for the expenditure through Departments under the supposed control of the Treasury, and how is it possible that those who have no such power, even if they agree to the Estimates, can be responsible in the same degree as the Government?"—[Ibid.1748.]They must not be told that the House was responsible for the control of the public expenditure after such an authority as that. The course which he (Mr. Harcourt) was now taking was the only one which ever had been taken or ever would be taken with reference to public expenditure by anyone who had any Parliamentary experience. It was a course which was always taken by the late Mr. Cobden, a course taken by a gentleman who had always been a great authority, and who now, being a Cabinet Minister, was of still greater authority—he meant the right hon. Gentleman the head of the Local Government Board (Mr. Stansfeld). The celebrated Resolution of that right hon. Gentleman was 608 supported, if not suggested, by his right hon. Friend the Vice President of the Council (Mr. W. E. Forster), and was seconded by his hon. Friend the Secretary of the Treasury (Mr. Baxter). That was an abstract Resolution. He thought, though he could not refer to the passage, that at a later period the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government acknowledged that Resolution had a very important effect on the subsequent reduction of expenditure. It might be said he ought to have waited till the Estimates were produced to know what expenditure was going to be increased —that he ought to have waited to know how the public accounts stood. But how could that be if they were told by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government that to attack the Estimates was to move a Vote of Want of Confidence. It was quite plain that the only manner in which anything like a substantial endeavour to reduce expenditure could be made was to request the House to give their opinion as to the expediency of reducing the expenditure before they committed themselves to the Estimates. It was for that reason he ventured at the very earliest opportunity he could obtain to ask the House to discuss this question before the Government were committed to the Estimates, and before the matter had passed into a stage in which discussion would be ineffective. Having made these remarks, he would pass to the subject of the Resolution itself. Now, the Resolution affirmed that the present expenditure was excessive. The word excessive was in itself a word of comparison, and they could only judge of magnitude by comparison. He would take for a standard the same standard which the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues took on the hustings in 1868 —namely, the standard of expenditure in 1866. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that that expenditure was only the last of a series of years of decreasing expenditure; that diminution of expenditure had not reached its extreme limits; and that the country had a right to expect that it would be further diminished. He (Mr. Harcourt) would ask the House to allow him to state very shortly the history of the recent expenditure of this country. He would not ask it to go back to those halcyon periods of expenditure with which the Duke of 609 Wellington was satisfied and Sir Robert Peel conducted the affairs of this country, but would confine himself to the period of the Administration of a Minister who was not supposed to be too parsimonious — Lord Palmerston. He would take the last 10 years, and limit himself to that decade. In 1863, when people had begun to recover from the influence of panics, the process of diminution of expenditure was commenced by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, then Chancellor of the Exchequer. That period of 10 years divided itself into four epochs. From 1863 to 1866 the expenditure progressively diminished; from 1866 to 1869 it increased; from 1869 to 1870 it diminished again; and from 1870 to 1872 it increased again. The actual figures were these:—In 1863, the expenditure of the country was, in round numbers, £69,000,000; in 1866, the expenditure, as corrected by the right hon. Gentleman, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, was a little above £65,000,000, deducting the cost of the New Zealand War; in 1868 the expenditure was about £69,000,000, deducting the cost of the Abyssinian War; in 1870 it was £69,000,000; and in 1872 it was £71,000,000, deducting the abolition of Purchase. His right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), whose acquaintance with such matters and accuracy in dealing with them were well known, had pointed out the complications of the public accounts, which, in fact, required that a man should be an ex-Secretary of the Treasury to understand them; but he (Mr. Harcourt) hoped that the paper called "Statistical Abstract" would throw some light on the subject. The expenditure of the country might be divided into four parts. First, there was the interest of the Debt, which varied very little; next, there were matters of account, which appeared on the debtor and the creditor side; then there were items of remunerative expenditure, such as the Post Office and the Telegraphs — matters with which, for his present purpose, he had nothing to do; and lastly, there remained to be provided by taxation, including Supply Services, somewhat less than £2,000,000, which was charged on the Consolidated Fund. It was to these figures that his right hon. Friend the Member for 610 Pontefract applied himself particularly; and what were the figures which he gave? He said that the charge, according to his corrections, in 1866, would be £31,500,000; in 1869, £35,000,000; and in 1872, £34,500,000. If he (Mr. Harcourt) took the year 1868, which was the year of the Election, instead of 1869, the charge would stand at £34,500,000, instead of £35,000,000. Well, but taking his right hon. Friend's own figures, how did the matter stand? It was true they were not worse off in 1872 than they were in 1868. They were nearly the same. But how did they stand with regard to the standard set up on the hustings in 1868—namely, the expenditure of 1866? They were at least £3,000,000 worse; in other words, they were worse by that exact sum of £3,000,000, which was the great password of the Election of 1868. This was the result of the figures of his right hon. Friend. No one could complain of the standard of comparison taken in 1868, which was the standard again referred to in 1872 by his right hon. Friend before the electors of Pontefract. If it were true, however, that taking it at the lowest figure of, not £3,500,000, but £3,000,000, the expenditure was higher by that amount than it was in 1866. They were much worse off, because they had added a prescription of five years to that permanent increase of the national expenditure of £3,000,000 which, on the hustings in 1868, Liberal Members were pledged to oppose. How was this expenditure characterized by those from whom they had learned everything they knew of finance? The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone), speaking in the year 1868 of this very same system of comparison, said this—In truth, I have understated the case, because I have taken for my standard of comparison the Estimates for the year 1866, whereas the House is entitled to assume that the Estimates subsequent to that year should have undergone still further reduction in place of being Increased.ߪ. We left to our successors a progressively diminishing expenditure.…. I claim no credit for the diminution of the expenditure which we effected.…. We may have been but poor performers, but it seems that there are still poorer perfumers than ourselves.—[Ibid. 1750.]Another point of view was the comparative amount of taxation taken from the people. This was not a matter of 611 account, for what was taken from the people in this way was never given back by the Treasury. He had shown that in 1866 the money taken from the people in taxation was £60,000,000. He had likewise shown that in the year ending March, 1872, it was £65,000,000; and in the year ending December, 1872, it was £68,000,000. Deducting the surplus of £1,000,000, it followed that you were raising in the first of these periods £4,000,000 more in taxation than you raised in 1866, and since then the amount was greater still. It followed, therefore, that while increasing expenditure by £3,000,000 since 1868, corresponding burdens had been laid upon the taxpayer. Sooner or later Members must give an account to their constituents on this point. The Government had redeemed honourably and nobly their pledges with regard to Ireland, and, in his opinion, never more so than by the measure of the present Session. Upon the other great question of public expenditure, however, they could not but ask themselves what they had done to redeem the pledges they had given to the country. They might fairly be told that they had done nothing. Why? There were various forms of apology for doing nothing on this question. Bentham had composed a Book of Popular Fallacies, and if somebody would compose a work entitled Popular Fallacies on the subject of Increased Expenditure it would make an admirable appendix to that work. It was extraordinary what shallow excuses people would accept for very great mischiefs. The first apology offered for non-reduction of expenditure was the apology of automatic expenditure. He did not know who enjoyed the copyright of this phrase; but believed the claim lay between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chairman of the Local Government Board. If, however, they were to have automatic expenditure, they might as well have an automatic Chancellor of the Exchequer, though, so far as he knew, the perfection of mechanical machinery had not reached that triumph. It was what he had last year called the fatalistic doctrine of the inevitable growth of public expenditure. The simple answer to the doctrine was that it was not true. In the increase of public expenditure there was no such thing as the progressive series. It was much more in the nature of a recurring 612 decimal. It ebbed and flowed like the tides. It was influenced by the varying phases of the altering moon of the Treasury Bench, and was gibbous or crescent according to whichever party happened to be in office. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer did not admit the doctrine of the progressive growth of expenditure, for, on the contrary, he diminished it; and the present Chancellor of the Exchequer did not admit it, for he began by decreasing expenditure, and he had increased it since; and, therefore, if he be an authority that could be quoted on the one side, he could be equally quoted on the other also. No doubt in many items expenditure must increase. The social wants of the country required such an increase. But then how far were they to go in meeting this state of things? On this, as on other questions, he could point to authority, and authority told them that if expenditure were increased in some directions it must be diminished in others, for otherwise they would be landed in an expenditure of illimitable extravagance. Take naval expenditure, perhaps the most important of any, for the Navy must always be our chief arm of defence. So far from admitting the doctrine of progressive expenditure in the Navy, his right hon. Friend (Mr. Childers) established a reduction in that branch of the Service—the only reduction which had stood the test of experience in the present Parliament. His right hon. Friend reduced expenditure upon sound principles, which had given to this country the most efficient Navy in the world, and yet one far more economical than in 1866; and he congratulated his right hon. Friend upon a financial policy which showed that expenditure need not be progressive, and that efficiency was consistent with economy. Unfortunately, Army expenditure stood upon a very different and less satisfactory footing. He did not wish to go into that particularly. He was a little disappointed that, with a policy of arbitration, the Government should still think it necessary to keep up enormous armaments; because if they were to have, on the one hand, increased military expenditure in order that they might fight the world, and were also to pay millions of money, according to a doctrine recently promul 613 gated, in order to induce the world not to fight us, they would be landed in an expenditure outgrowing that of any other nation. It seemed like the policy of a gentleman who kept a coach and six that he might walk on foot, and that was all he would say upon a policy of enormous armaments combined with a policy of arbitration. He might be told that armaments cost a great deal more than they did, and that expenditure must therefore be increased. That was, however, not necessarily established. In 1866, deducting the cost of the New Zealand War, the Estimates for the Army were a little above £13,000,000, whilst in 1870 it was £12,900,000, or less in 1870 than it was in 1866; whilst in 1872 the expenditure, as stated in the Appropriation Act, was no less than £14,800,000, exclusive of the cost of abolishing Purchase, or an increase of about £2,000,000 upon the expenditure of the two years previous. That was the price of panic. But it was said guns and men cost more, and therefore an increase was inevitable. This doctrine, however, was not held by the Members of the present Government in 1868, when the right hon. Gentleman opposite promulgated it in justification of the Estimates of that year. The present Prime Minister, in reply to this identical argument, said—The right hon. Gentleman (the then Chancellor of the Exchequer) will say that the expenditure has been rendered necessary in order to secure the efficiency of the services. [Cheers.] Yes, that cry has cost the country a great deal of money, and it may cost it a good deal more.… The state of the expenditure is such as we should deeply deplore.The present state of expenditure, however, was exactly the same now as then. The right hon. Gentleman continued—When we came into office last, we had to contend with and check the fever of expenditure which had seized upon the country, and which had induced Parliament to spend £6,000,000 or £8,000,000 upon harbours of refuge. We did this—the Liberal party did this—while, as we think, we perfectly maintained the efficiency of the public service, at the same time regularly effecting great reductions through five or six years which we had the prospect of continuing."—[Ibid. 1752.]Another great authority upon this point was the present First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Goschen), now himself a dealer in great guns. In 1868 the right hon. Gentleman said— 614The right hon. Baronet (Sir John Pakington) had only pointed to the increase of the expenditure, and shown, what was the truth, that the cost for the armaments now was infinitely greater than it used to be. But if they were to admit that every gun would cost so many hundred pounds more than before, then they would probably think that they should want very much fewer guns." Was that the doctrine of his right hon. Friend now? The right hon. Gentleman continued—"What was 'extraordinary' one year became 'ordinary' the next. When any special expenditure had been incurred one year it would be found repeated in the next year, instead of the expenditure being reduced. Another matter he wished to point out was that, notwithstanding this enormous expenditure on the Army and Navy, which he was afraid would be increased by millions, nothing was ever found ready. If there was to be a new expedition they would have to incur an extraordinary expenditure besides."—[Ibid. 1759.]Another very able commentator upon this doctrine was the right hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), who remarked that—It had been said by more than one hon. Gentleman opposite that the proposed increases of expenditure were inevitable, and he did not dispute that from year to year it was found to he absolutely impossible to prevent the increase of some items. But it was the part of a wise Administrator, when expenditure was inevitable on some heads, to see whether it could be reduced on others.…. His right hon. Friend opposite (Sir John Pakington), for instance, stated that the gums cost more than they used to do. The question then arose, whether fewer guns might not be required. He was about to apply the principle in another direction. It was said that the maintenance of men was more costly than it used to be. The question then came, whether they could not dispense with some of the men."—[Ibid. 1769.]He wished his right hon. Friend would repeat that question to his Colleagues that evening. They had all held the same doctrine in 1868; they taught their followers to believe in it; they had deeply impressed the country by it; and it was upon the faith of their resolution to be guided by the principle contained in it that he and many sitting near him had been returned to the House. Another apology for increased expenditure was the alleged increase in the cost of the Army. But, surely, Purchase was abolished that the Army might be more efficient, and, therefore, less numerous and less costly? He had always understood that when his right hon. Colleague had succeeded in welding into one harmonious whole the Volunteers, the Militia, and the Army, the country could afford to dispense with some of its regular troops, and trust to what every- 615 body was assured would be an efficient Reserve. If the Government had any confidence in the new system, what was the meaning of the addition of 20,000 men under the colours to the regular troops? He should not imagine that the Government had that confidence which he and others had in the system which they propounded. Then take the Civil Services. Was the expenditure on them necessarily progressive? People would say "Yes;" but he ventured to say "No." In 1865, when the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, taking a review of his splendid financial career, stated the condition of the country before the General Election of that period, he took especial credit for that Parliament that it had not increased the Civil Service expenditure. He pointed out in his Budget that the Civil Service expenditure had not increased, in spite of the growing wants of the country. But then they were told that the cost of education was greater. But the Government knew in 1868 that this increased cost of education was coming. They knew that a measure for the improvement of education was going to be passed; and why did they tell the country that the expenditure should be diminished to the standard of 1866, and even below that? The way to meet the increased Education Vote was to diminish expenditure in other quarters; but no such measure had been adopted. The Vote for Works and Public Buildings had increased since 1866 by nearly £500,000, and projects were on foot which would result in a still further increase. A new Admiralty Office, a new War Office, and a new Mint were spoken of; but the new Mint was got rid of last year, and he hoped it would be got rid of again. There should be some hope of a surplus with a revenue of £77,000,000; but if the Government and Parliament continued burning the candle at both ends, and more than both—if the suggestion of a candle with more than two ends could be admitted—there would be no end to public extravagance. He would pass from the doctrine of automatic progressive expenditure to what was called the rich man's fallacy. That was an argument against which they had especial reason to be on guard in that House. With very few exceptions the majority of that House were accessible to the rich man's fallacy. It was that when 616 told the expenditure had increased he would reply, "Oh, yes; but then the country is very rich." But there were a great many people in the country to whom that argument did not extend. There was a class which was becoming more and more pressed every year, and that was the class who were dependent on fixed incomes. It was all very well for the coal-owner who, receiving 12s. a ton more for his coal, paid an additional 2s. a ton in wages and put the 10s. in his pocket, to say £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 increased national expenditure was nothing. Perhaps it would not be very much to the coal-owner if it formed the increase in his private expenditure; but it fell heavily on those who bought coal. A man recently at work in his house, earning 32s. a-week, had told him that coal now cost him 4s. 6d. a-week, instead of 2s. last year. That 2s. 6d. a-week made all the difference in the world to him; but the Government could give him no assistance by legislating to reduce the price of coal—he could be assisted only by reduced taxation; and hon. Members might rest assured the increased wealth of the country would not help them with their constituents when they returned to them. He now passed to what he might call "the doing-well fallacy." People said— "Oh, we are doing extremely well. True, the expenditure may be increasing, but we are taking off a great deal of taxation, and we have cleared off a great deal of debt." That was all very well for loose talk; but if you came to examine the thing accurately you would find you were not doing very well. In the financial history of the country for 30 years you had never been doing so ill. Compare what had been done in the last six years of the last decade with what had been done in the preceding four years. In 1863 the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he took off £4,646,000 in reduced taxation. In 1864 the right hon. Gentleman took off £3,354,000; in 1865, £5,345,000; and in 1866, £1,100,000, making a total diminution in four years of £14,500,000. He wished to state the matter quite fairly, and therefore he would admit that, at the outset, we had an income tax of 9d. But, allowing a reduction of £6,500,000 on the head of income tax, there was a reduction of about £8,000,000 617 in other taxes. That was the financial history of the first four years of the last decade. What was the financial history of the last six years? He wished to make no distinction of party in what he said. In 1867 you took off no taxes; you put on £1,500,000 to the public expenditure. In 1868 you put on £1,500,000. In 1869 you diminished the expenditure and took off £2,300,000. He did not count the reduction of the income tax which had been put on the year before. When you examined the reduction of taxation, what you put on one year and what you took off another might be taken as a matter of account He was sure his right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract would agree with him. His right hon. Friend was too accurate a financier to fall into the blunder that if you put on taxes one year and took them off another you really reduced taxation. In 1870 the Government took off £3,000,000—that was to say, 2d, of the income tax which had been before put on. Counting this 2d. on both sides of the equation, what remained? In those two years you took off £3,500,000. In 1871 you took off no taxation; you put on £3,000,000. In 1872 you took off the £3,000,000, and made a trifling reduction besides of £500,000. What was the whole financial history of this epoch, in a word? The reduction of taxation for those six years was £6,000,000. Compare that with the first four years of the decade, and in the one case the reduction, independently of the £8,000,000 remission of income tax, was at the rate of £2,000,000 a-year; in the other at the rate of £1,000,000, which was only half as good or twice as bad. But he might be told that within that period we had been reducing the Debt, and that he had not taken that circumstance into account. Well, how much had we reduced the Debt during the last six years? In 1866 the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, stated that during the last 10 years the average reduction of Debt had been £3,600,000. If we had reduced the Debt in the last six years since 1866, according to that ratio we ought to have reduced it by £21,000,000 in round numbers. It was not very easy to ascertain what the actual reduction of Debt had been, because the element of Ter- 618 minable Annuities complicated the question. But taking the figures from the Statistical Abstract which was sanctioned by the authority of the right hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), the reduction of the Debt in those six years had been £14,000,000 or £15,000,000. Therefore, our reduction of Debt during the last six years had been less by £1,000,000 a-year than the average reduction of the preceding 10 years. Therefore, if we had only done half as much in respect of remission of taxation we had done still less in respect of reduction of Debt. But then it was said there was the Abyssinian charge. Yes; but the Government was not entitled to any allowance on that account, because during the same period they had the extra income tax, which raised exactly £9,000,000 during those six years. From 1863 to 1866 the expenditure was reduced by about £4,000,000, and £14,000,000 of taxation was taken off. From 1869 to 1870 the expenditure was reduced by about £2,000,000, and £6,000,000 of taxation was taken off. How was that brought about? By that financial paradox which, like the hydrostatic paradox, was very difficult to understand until its principle was explained; it depended on "the normal growth of revenue," which the right hon. Gentleman had made us understand not only by his splendid eloquence but by his diminished expenditure. The normal growth of the revenue in 1866 was, according to the right hon. Gentleman, £1,750,000 a-year. It was now probably £2,000,000. If he was right that the normal growth of the revenue during those six years had been £12,000,000, and only £6,000,000 of taxation had been taken off, what had become of the other £6,000,000? He would tell the House. It had been muddled away in useless expenditure. He would take the lowest possible estimate. Suppose the normal growth of the revenue to have been only £1,500,000 a-year, that was £9,000,000 during those six years. Well, £6,000,000 of taxes had been taken off, what, then, had become of the other £3,000,000? Why, it too had been frittered away in idle expenditure, which he had shown to have increased. It might be said—"Oh, these are the calculations of irresponsible persons who do not know what they are talking about." But those from whom they had learnt their lessons 619 knew very well what they were talking about, when in 1868 they told us that the expenditure should be reduced to that of 1866. And his right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract, who was a true lover of economy, in addressing his constituents lately, said that the time had come for public economy to be revived, and that we must diminish our expenditure. The Secretary to the Treasury, the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter), in a speech to his constituents in the autumn, asked whether the time had not come for a reduction of the extravagant expenditure on our armaments, for a diminution of the income tax, and a free breakfast table. The hon. Member for Montrose had been always the friend of economy, and lied never ceased to avow his convictions that our public expenditure was far too high, and ought to be considerably cut down. He (Mr. Harcourt) hoped now that the hon. Member was a responsible Minister that he would not allow his twin Secretary to induce him to vote against this Resolution. Now, although not what was generally understood as a responsible person, he (Mr. Harcourt) had still endeavoured to establish this proposition, and to have taken it from the standard which they themselves had recognised. He had to apologise to the House for the intolerable length of his address, but it was a political subject extremely difficult to deal with. He had endeavoured to state to the House candidly and fairly his views upon it. He might have fallen into mistakes; but, if so, he knew he was in the presence of persons who would be able to set him right. If his Resolution should be carried, he would ask the House to return to the policy of 1869—to a policy of diminished expenditure and reduced taxation. If it should be carried, they would then, he thought, have little trouble in finding for the Chancellor of the Exchequer an excellent surplus, although the right hon. Gentleman gave them very little hopes of being able to report one to the House. He rather feared that the opinion of the majority of the House would not be favourable to the Resolution, for, he said it with all respect, the majority of the House were seldom in favour of public economy. He had heard the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government often avow the enormous difficulties 620 which a Government had to encounter in assenting to principles of public economy —difficulties in the shape of demands for public expenditure for various projects. If that be so, if there was so much difficulty in the way of a Government in prosecuting this question, how much greater was the difficulty in the way of a private Member who had not at command the great ability and resources of the Government at his back. If the majority of the House, however, should be of opinion that the public expenditure was not excessive and could not be reduced, or the taxation diminished, had they not better state so to the country at once, and, frankly avowing that opinion, get rid of that worst of all things—the hypocrisy of professions of economy which they had no intention of carrying out? Let the House confess that their declarations in 1868 were founded on delusive ideas of the state of the public finance; that their criticisms on their opponents were unjust; and that having returned to their expenditure they would make the amende and acknowledge their policy to have been wise and just. There would be no shame in making such an avowal, and the rejection of his Resolution would virtually make it. Those, however, who adhered to the principle of 1868 asked the House to promise the Government its co-operation in reducing the expenditure, and his Resolution, having nothing of the character of an attack or censure on the Government or on either side, would express such a readiness on the part of the House, which must and ought to take its share of responsibility in the matter, to assist the Government. He believed no two men in the country were more desirous of diminishing expenditure than the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If the House of Commons went to them and said—"We think that the public expenditure is too great, and we are willing to assist you in reducing it," they might depend it would be done. But whether the supporters of this Resolution be in a minority or a majority, they at least would feel that they had only been doing their duty by asserting that principle which they sincerely believed to be right. They would have to give one day to their constituents an account of the pledges they had taken. He did not believe that any alteration of circumstances 621 could release them from the obligations they had incurred. They might form but a small band to defend the pass of retrenchment against the fortress of public extravagance. But there were reserves coming behind them. Those with fixed incomes, who were severely pinched by the growth of prices, would yet join the army of public economists. There was another body coming from the other side of the House. It had not as yet stirred, but it would come. The proprietors of the land, fortunately for themselves, had never felt the necessity of public economy; but the occupiers of land—the farmers of England—who felt the necessity of the times, would discover that they had made a great mistake in thinking that the Liberal party were not their friends, and had no sympathy with them. He ventured to think when the question of public expenditure came to be discussed on the hustings, whether in this year, in 1874, or 1875, the farmers of England would exercise their great influence, and give their votes in favour of diminished expenditure in this country. They might be right or they might be wrong, they might succeed or fail in establishing the principle which he had feebly endeavoured to assert. At all events he was sure that the House of Commons would forgive them for earnestly maintaining principles which. they sincerely believed to be for the public interests. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving his Resolution.
§ MR. JACOB BRIGHT,
in seconding the Resolution, observed that he had heard it said that Joseph Hume for 30 years had laboured fur the reduction of the Estimates with au almost infinitesimal result. He thought that Members of that House were entitled to a much broader discussion of the question than could possibly be obtained in Committee of Supply. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Harcourt) had anticipated the objections that would be made to an abstract Resolution. Such objections could not be valid, inasmuch as year after year abstract Resolutions were brought forward in that House on important occasions by influential Members. No one would deny that if there was that night a powerful vote in favour of the Resolution, the party in the Cabinet which desired economy would be much strengthened by the process. This 622 was not a party question. There were no party considerations which could prevent any man voting for the Motion of his hon. and learned Friend. He wished it was a party question, because he found that those were the questions which had the greatest force behind them. No party in that House had much anxiety on the question of public expenditure. When the House was challenged to express an opinion upon such a question, some 60 or 100 Members on that side, and it might be half-a-dozen on the other, were willing to go into the lobby to vote for an economical administration of affairs. He did not think those numbers were a correct index of the state of feeling in the country. Members of the House of Commons who voted in favour of economy came, as a general rule, from the populous districts, and if every Member of that House represented an equal number of persons out-of-doors, there would be not one in six or seven voting for economy, but two or three times that number. There was a great divergence between the opinion of people out-of-doors and the conduct of that House upon such questions, and he was not surprised that that should be the case. People generally out-of-doors were not rich; the great majority of them had to struggle hard to maintain the position in which they happened to be placed, and therefore it was not easy for them to meet demands upon them; but the majority of the Members of that House were rich, and the payment of taxation was to them a matter of small consequence. Again, the people outside were altogether taxpayers associating with taxpayers, and knowing nothing but the unfavourable aspect of the question; but Members of that House associated more or less intimately with many families who were made happy by the expenditure of public money, and they therefore saw the favourable side of the question. He believed there might be a considerable reduction of expenditure in almost every spending department of the country, without any detriment to the public service. He held that opinion because it appeared to him that the expenditure had increased of late years in an alarming manner. It might be said that the growth of expenditure should increase with the growth of the country. He did not deny that. It might also be said that 623 expenditure might reasonably grow at the same rate as the increase of population; but he could not see why if a country of 20,000,000 inhabitants were to become a country of 25,000,000, one-fourth should be added to the expense of its government. Surely, no one would maintain that the expenditure of the Government should increase in a much greater ratio than the increase of population, and yet, so far as he had been able to see, that was what had been going on. He had very few figures to lay before the House; but he wished to make a comparison with regard to the grants for Miscellaneous Services between the two years 1850 and 1872. In 1850, the grants for Public Works and Buildings amounted to £587,000, and in 1872 the amount had increased to £1,359,000. The grants for Salaries and Expenses of Public Departments were in 1850 £1,030,000, and in 1872 £1,803,000. The grants for Law and Justice were in 1850 £1,184,000, and in 1872 £3,992,000. The grants for Colonial and Consular Services were £441,000 in 1850, and £544,000 in 1872. For Superannuation Charges the grant was in 1850 £188,000, and in 1872 £525,000. He was aware that it was difficult, and sometimes even dangerous, to institute a comparison between any two years that could be named, because there were many disturbing circumstances; but in this case he had deducted from Law and Justice £550,000, in consequence of charges which, at the former date, did not appear in the Votes, and £100,000 for Colonial and Consular Services, for a similar reason. Making these deductions, and not touching the subject of education, the result was that the grants in 1850 amounted to £3,430,000, against £7,573,000 in 1872; so that, since 1850, the expenditure on these items had increased at the rate of at least 100 per cent; whereas the population in the same time had not increased beyond 20 per cent. The item of Law and Justice was the one which, to him, was the most astonishing. He did not know whether his hon. and learned Friend who moved the Resolution would agree with him when he said it was not improbable that that item had grown so greatly owing to the excessive representation of law in that House. A comparison was sometimes drawn between a Government department and a private 624 firm. In a business concern the necessity of making a profit kept down expenditure, and occasions arose when it became necessary to revise the expenditure; but a public department lived on from generation to generation, with constant accretions of every sort. It appeared to be nobody's business to look into it, and he could not discover that anyone was to any great extent responsible for it. On the subject of Military and Naval expenditure, whenever any Member from the benches below the gangway undertook to criticize those items, he was met with the commonplace charge that he was in favour of peace at any price. Well, he was in favour of peace at any price which could be honourably paid for the maintenance of peace. When any question of dispute occurred between this nation and another which admitted of arbitration, he would a thousand times rather arbitrate the question, than run the risk of war; but if any interest arose which could be justly asserted, and which clearly concerned the welfare of this country, he would have that interest maintained. Therefore he was as much in favour as any Member of the House, of an adequate expenditure for Military and Naval purposes—but that expenditure at the present time was more than adequate. The Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), Lord Derby, and many others of more or less authority, had declared most emphatically, that the money of the people was being needlessly spent, and when he found the opinions of those authorities in harmony with the opinions of the most sagacious politicians in all the great political centres, he attached to them very great weight indeed. We spent, too, more than any other nation in preparations for war. There was not a continental country which, on the average of years, in time of peace spent a sum of money equal to that which we spent. The state of the world was exceptionally favourable at this moment to our security from any kind—he could not say of war, but even of disquietude. It was even more favourable than when the declarations in favour of economy were made some few years ago. If the United States had a powerful Navy, which might be thrown into the scale against us on behalf of some continental country, he could well understand 625 why there should, under such circumstances, be alarmists who wished for an increase of expenditure; but the United States had no such Navy, and there never was a time when the military nations of Europe were more occupied with thoughts of self-preservation. If that House could by some accident have a lucid interval upon this question, and should come to a resolution that no Government in time of peace should have more than £20,000,000 for Military and Naval preparations, there would be no difficulty in finding right hon. Gentlemen to sit on the Treasury bench. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was an object of interest with several large classes in the community. There were those, for example, who told him that he should reduce the National Debt with a view to its ultimate extinctioh; but he could not help thinking there was some confusion of mind, not only on the part of those, but of other classes who assailed the right hon. Gentleman; for, although very anxious to get rid of the Debt, they did not do much in the way of an economical expenditure. Another class wished for the abolition of the malt tax, but he did not believe they were in the least degree in earnest. Some gentlemen certainly had an interest in the question; and he did not wonder at it, for the malt tax was more obnoxious than an ordinary tax, as it interfered with men in carrying on their business with freedom. But he never found these men, either in the House or out of it, doing anything to reduce the public expenditure; and he appealed to hon. Gentlemen opposite whether they believed that the malt tax would ever be abolished till the country was governed upon a lower scale of expenditure. Then there was that class which had lately made a good deal of noise on the subject of the income tax. A great meeting, recently held in London, under the presidency of the Lord Mayor, and the lately-elected Member for Tiverton (Mr. Massey) was one of the principal speakers; but he should like to see those who were getting into a state of violent agitation with regard to the income tax lifting up a finger to assist the supporters of this Resolution, in the contest in which they were engaged. Another demand which was being made upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer was for greater freedom of trade—a de- 626 mand which would grow, and which he hoped would become so powerful that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be compelled to yield to it. The time had come, or was coming, when another step ought to be made in the direction of that unfettered commercial intercourse which had been shown to be a necessary condition of prosperity for the people in every land. In 1841 Sir Robert Peel began the process of freeing the commerce of this country, and the result was that whereas the exports of English and Irish produce in 1840 amounted to 151,000,000 sterling, they had increased 20 years afterwards to £135,000,000, or, in other words, they had almost trebled the amount which, up to 1840, it had taken the whole of our commercial history to attain to. In 1870, the exports had further advanced to £19,900,000, and these results had been brought about, not by the wisdom of state-craft, but simply by letting commerce alone. Was it defensible, then, on any grounds, to maintain restrictions upon any article the consumption of which they did not desire to diminish? The hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. White) might say that if they took off the duties from coffee, sugar, and tea the working classes would be left almost untaxed; but though they would certainly be less taxed they would not be untaxed, as was shown by the consumption of tobacco, beer, and spirits. He did not want any class to be relieved from its fair share of taxation; but it was an unscientific and a senseless thing to endeavour to get taxes by any method which crippled commerce in legitimate articles. Some £6,000,000 or £7,000,000 were still derived from the tea, sugar, and coffee duties. The trade interfered with was that with distant countries of the world; but it was with those distant countries probably that the greatest increase of our future trade would have to take place. The United States and Continental countries maintained protective duties against us, and what was more, they were developing manufactures of their own. At the present moment, the machine makers of this country were, and had been for sonic time, exporting at least one-half, and he had been told three-fourths of their machinery to Europe and the United States, and thus we were likely to become more and more dependent upon distant countries for our trade, and he wanted a re- 627 duction of expenditure that we might have greater freedom of trade. There were reasons why this question of expenditure became more important now than in times past. The Government had offered to contribute to local taxation, so that there were charges coming upon the public purse which had never been calculated to come upon it, and there was the pressure upon the people from the high price of coal, which, in itself, was equal to the whole amount of the national expenditure. An election would come before very long, and whatever other question cropped up, this was sure to be very much discussed, and there were seats on that side of the House at any rate which would be lost or won according as the Government redeemed or did not redeem the emphatic pledges which had been given during the last canvas. But he would rather appeal to the House than to any party within its walls, and would say that if the House would treat this question seriously, and would undertake to find some means for revising and controlling the public expenditure, it would be entitled to a yet higher degree of respect from the country than it already enjoyed.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the present rate of Public Expenditure is excessive; and that this House desires that it should he reduced, with a view to the diminution of the public burthens."—(Mr. Vernon Harcourt.)
I do not intend to follow my hon. and learned Friend, who has made this Motion in a speech of great ability, extensively in the figures which he has laid before the House. I shall leave that task to be performed possibly later in the evening by others, and by my right hon. Friend (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), who is naturally more conversant with the particulars of those figures. But I wish to state in the first place how I view the general principles laid down by my hon. and learned Friend, and in the second place the practical course which the Government are inclined to pursue, and to recommend the House to adopt on this Resolution. As regards the speech of my hon. Friend, he is perfectly justified in the principles of the review he has undertaken, but whether he has been altogether just and fair in the manner in which he has conducted that review is another question. I own 628 I do not quite understand upon what political principle he has made us responsible during the whole of his argument for the operations and results of the last six years of our financial history. In the principle of that review he is perfectly right, and also in recalling to our minds, and recalling to the mind of the House and the public, the declarations made in 1868. There is no doubt that when we go to the country again these declarations will be recollected, and that by them, to a great extent, we shall be judged. I therefore have no complaint to make to my hon. and learned Friend of this view; and, moreover, I am bound to say that in all the general principles he has laid down with regard to expenditure I heartily concur. But I am almost disposed to accuse my hon. Friend the seconder of the Motion of the dangerous laxity of one part of his speech, where he admitted that it was quite natural the expenditure of the country should grow with the population of the country. That is a principle quite true to a certain extent, but I own I think it requires careful limitation, or else conclusions might be drawn from it at which my hon. Friend would stand aghast, and of which I believe he would be the first person to complain. I do not now wish to enter into that portion of the subject further than to say to my hon. and learned Friend, to the seconder of the Motion, and to the House generally, that in order to make a fair comparison between the present time and the year 1868, we should bear in mind that there are very important elements of expenditure which now weigh heavily upon us which were not in view at all during all the transactions and discussions in 1868; nor were they in existence in 1865—that other period chosen by my hon. and learned Friend as his standard of comparison. There is an increase in round numbers of about £1,000,000 upon the Education Vote, and that increase upon the Education Vote was not in view, any more than it was in existence, in 1868. There is a charge in the present year of £820,000 for the abolition of Purchase. That abolition of Purchase was also not in view, any more than in existence, in 1868. And again, without referring to the particulars or figures of the Estimates which we are about to discuss, I am sure I shall state 629 the matter moderately when I say that the high prices, to which my hon. and learned Friend has referred, will add at least £500,000 to the Naval and Military Estimates of the present year. I do not mean when I say this that these high prices will make that addition in any particular figures, but I believe the Naval and Military Estimates for the present year must be taken to be higher by £500,000 than they would have been in a normal state of the market with regard to the prices of commodities. These are only criticisms in passing on the speech of my hon. and learned Friend. I have no doubt, if it is considered in detail, we shall obtain perfect justice from the House, and I hope also from the public. I agree with my hon. and learned Friend as to the duty of the House to exercise a general review as well as particular criticism in regard to the financial proposals of the Government, and I also agree in what has been said of the ever-enduring and permanent necessity, in the interests of the people, of attention to the principles of economy. Now, the fact of large portions of the community growing rich, and of the increase of wages of a large portion of the working classes, does not absolve us in the slightest degree from the duty of paying attention to economy. At the same time, it evidently tends to a certain extent to alter the standard. Take, for example, another of those items of expenditure which did not exist in 1865. £500,000 has been added to the pay of the Army. Now, I do not think that my hon. and learned Friend will deny that that £500,000 must be taken to represent a change in the value of labour, and as far as the public service is dependent on the value of labour in the labour market the charge on the public must necessarily be liable to increase from that cause, which is a perfectly legitimate one, and which it is impossible to prevent. But I must speak chiefly to the mode which my hon. and learned Friend proposes to pursue; and here we find ourselves again landed in one of our old discussions about the character of an abstract Resolution. My hon. and learned Friend proposes that we should voteThat the present rate of Public Expenditure is excessive; and that this House desires that it should be reduced, with a view to the diminution of the public burthens.630 My hon. and learned Friend has discussed the question, "What is and what is not an abstract Resolution?" and he has said that all the good which is usually effected in regard to public economy is effected by abstract Resolutions, and that all those who have most pertinaciously pursued economy have prosecuted their task by the method of abstract Resolutions. Well, Sir, it is a little difficult to declare what is the sound and proper definition of an abstract Resolution. My hon. and learned Friend says that the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for Devonshire (Sir Massey Lopes) last year on the subject of Local Taxation was an abstract Resolution; but, at any rate, that Motion differed exceedingly from the present Motion of my hon. and learned Friend, because it pointed out exactly what it was that the hon. Baronet wanted. No one could possibly complain of it for want of definiteness as to the object the hon. Baronet had in view. I think it is very difficult to define an abstract Resolution, and I cannot at all admit that some of those to which my hon. Friend refers wore in reality abstract Resolutions. What I understand to be an abstract Resolution is this—a Resolution which does not carry within it an operative principle likely to produce within a reasonable time practical consequences. Now, what I am afraid of is that when we declare in general terms that the expenditure is excessive and that the House desires it to be reduced, there is very great risk that such a Resolution, if it were carried, might prove perfectly barren of results from want of particularity as to the objects which my hon. and learned Friend has in view or the means by which he intends to pursue them? My hon. Friend, I admit, has one very fair precedent to which he has pointed—namely, the Resolution of 1862, which may be called exceptional. That was, undoubtedly, an expression of a general character, and it was an expression which the Government were able to accede to. It was an expression which was followed by an immediate, though not an instant, reduction, to a considerable extent of the public burdens. And here, perhaps, my hon. Friend and I might not agree even on the meaning of the term "immediate" in these matters. I should say that the Resolution of 1862 was 631 followed by an immediate effect, but it was an effect on the next year's Estimates. But now my hon. and learned Friend says that he has been very careful to make this Motion to-night—that is to say, on the very first night he could obtain for the purpose during the present Session—in the hope that the Resolution may, if carried, operate on the Estimates of the present year. These Estimates are at this moment to a very large extent in type. Indeed, I am not sure they are not already struck off, and I believe that they have actually been laid upon the Table of the House, and that they will probably be in the hands of hon. Members to-morrow or Thursday. It is, therefore, I am afraid, quite impossible to meet the eager desire of my hon. and learned Friend in point of time. In 1862, when what I call an immediate effect was produced, the state of things was evidently favourable to a declaration of that kind. The Estimates of the preceding year had been largely swelled by causes which were not only entirely abnormal in themselves, but which had ceased to operate. The alarm with respect to invasion from a European country, which was prevalent in the years 1859 and 1860, had in 1862 practically passed away. And what was a still more substantive and remarkable circumstance was that a considerable expenditure of something" like £7,000,000 connected with the China War, and which had acted on the Estimates of the expenditure of 1860 and 1861, had completely passed away. Therefore, the Government were then in a position in which they might accede to a Resolution of that kind in the moral certainty of being able to carry it into effect—not only with the hope, not only with the desire, not only with the general persuasion that economy was practicable, but with a pretty clear view in their own minds of such a considerable reduction as would correspond to the magnitude of such a declaration by the House of Commons. That was a special case; but I must point out to my hon. and learned Friend—because it is material to a discussion of this kind—that I think he is not sustained in his doctrine that it is by Resolutions of this nature that public economy has been promoted. He has quoted the respected, and I may say venerated, name of Mr. Cobden, saying 632 that Mr. Cobden was in the habit of moving Resolutions of this kind in the House of Commons. Now, I am not prepared to deny that Mr. Cobden did move such Resolutions, but I am bound to say I know not what results followed from them. The fame of Cobden stands so well established that his name can bear this criticism, if criticism it be. His arguments on the great question of the Corn Law illuminated not only this country but the world, and once for all, for the first time and the last time, he gave to the arguments on that question a basis which could not be shaken. Mr. Cobden, in many other matters, too, displayed a sagacity such as I, at least, believe will cause future generations to regard him as a man endowed with much of what may be called in politics prophetic instinct. But I certainly should not quote his Resolutions in Parliament with respect to public economy as having been propositions on which his future reputation will rest. I think that at one time, about the year 1848 or 1850, Mr. Cobden moved a Resolution to the effect that it was desirable to return to the scale of expenditure which prevailed in the year 1835. However, I am not aware that that Resolution produced even the slightest result; and I am bound to say that, unless made under peculiar circumstances, these general declarations ought to be avoided. They make great promises in the face of the country, and, as a rule, it is extremely difficult to insure their fulfilment. There is another great name in matters connected with the question of public expenditure which I will quote against my hon. and learned Friend, and I am sure we shall not differ about the public merits of the man to whom I refer—namely, Mr. Hume. I believe I have stated the expectation I entertain respecting Mr. Cobden; and in like manner I believe that Mr. Hume has earned for himself an honourable and a prominent place in the history of this country—not by endeavouring to pledge Parliament to abstract Resolutions or general declarations on the subject of economy, but by an indefatigable and unwearied devotion, by the labour of a life, to obtain a complete mastery of all the details of public expenditure, and by tracking, and I would almost say hunting, the Minister in every Depart- 633 ment through all these details with a knowledge equal or superior to his own. In this manner I do not scruple to say Mr. Hume did more, not merely to reduce the public expenditure as a matter of figures, but to introduce principles of economy into the management of the administration of public money, than all the men who have lived in our time put together. This is the kind of labour which, above all things, we want. I do not know whether my hon. and learned Friend, considering his distinguished career in his profession, is free to devote himself to the public service in the same way as Mr. Hume did. If, however, he is free to do so, I would say to him—"By all means apply yourself to this vocation. You will find it extremely disagreeable. You will find that during your lifetime very little distinction is to be gained in it, but in the impartiality of history and of posterity you will be judged very severely in the scales of absolute justice as regards the merits of public men, and you will then obtain your reward." Although I am not one of those who think the work of economy is ended, or from its nature in any way can be ended, yet my Colleagues and myself have asked ourselves what course we can safely recommend the House to pursue. The practice of Parliament has been, as we all know, to review annually the proposals of the Government for the year; but over and above that practice it has from time to time thought it wise to institute inquiries—inquiries in one sense more particular, and in another sense more comprehensive—into the general course and movement of the public expenditure. This practice is, I must say, a salutary one. It receives ample countenance from the high authority of Mr. Pitt, who in the best and most distinguished period of his life—namely, that preceding the Revolutionary War in the year 1786—either moved or acceded to a Motion for appointing a Committee of this House with reference to a review of the course of public expenditure. In 1791 the same thing was done; in 1797 that operation was repeated; in 1807, shortly after Mr. Pitt's death, it again occurred; in 1817, shortly after the Peace, it received the sanction of the Government of Lord Liverpool; in 1828 the precedent was followed by the Government of the Duke of Wellington—a Government which de- 634 serves, perhaps, as much credit for economy which it carried into the affairs of the country as any modern Government; and, again, for the last time, in 1838, when the present Lord Halifax was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Government of Lord Russell, a similar course was pursued. When Mr. Pitt made his proposal in 1786 the whole scale of the expenditure of this country was very moderate indeed; and, in fact, Mr. Hume was in the habit of referring to this period as the Golden Age, and on that occasion Mr. Pitt applied himself to this question, not, however, in the endeavour to commit the House authoritatively to any general recommendation on the subject. At that time the expenditure of the country was fairly within the possible diligence of a committee, and the scope of its labours; but since that time the expenditure has increased between four and five fold. There are other reasons which I think make it expedient to attempt to appoint a Committee which should be charged with the business of covering this enormous expenditure. The expenditure of the country divides itself into four great heads—three if we consider the Army and Navy as one. The first of these is the expenditure on account of the Debt, the second is the expenditure on account of the Army and Navy, and the third the Civil expenditure. It is obvious that the expenditure on account of the Debt affords no scope whatever for the labours of a Committee, unless it considered the policy to be pursued—an important subject, on which, of course, under some circumstances a Committee might be intrusted to make valuable recommendations. This, however, is not a matter which my hon. and learned Friend has in view. The great branch of our expenditure on account of the Debt may be taken at between £26,000,000 and £27,000,000. The second great branch of our expenditure, that for the Army and Navy, comes to about £24,000,000. Certainly we do not propose to institute a Committee on that subject, and I will show why. In the considerations of the charge for the Army and Navy, there is always mixed the question of policy together with the question of expenditure. Not only the credit of the Government, but also the whole character of the policy of the country, are attached to the Estimates of 635 the year for the Army and Navy in a sense and degree in which they are not attached to the Estimates for the collection of the Revenue or for Civil purposes. It would, I think, be very inconvenient, not only to the Government, but to the House itself, if the House should exercise the right, which it undoubtedly possesses, of appointing a Committee to consider the question of the Army and Navy expenditure at the time when the Army and Navy Estimates are just about to be discussed. It would be impossible for a Committee to enter upon the question of policy which determines the scale of the Estimates, for the House itself is the proper authority to judge of that policy, upon which it will have to pronounce its opinion in the course of the next few weeks. Again, as regards the question of expenditure—that is, of the mode in which the policy is applied throughout the details of the expenditure—it will be most inconvenient that a Committee of this House should be considering this subject at the very same time when the House itself must necessarily be also employed in considering it. If the House appoints a Committee I hold it is very desirable, as far as possible, to give that Committee a perfectly clear field; and therefore, if it should be proposed to refer Army and Navy expenditure to a Committee, that would be a matter to be considered on its own merits, and I could give no pledge at all with respect to it; it would be for the House to exercise its judgment as to concurrence or non-concurrence; but it seems to me it ought not to come into our view to-night. I now come to the question of Civil expenditure, and with respect to that many reasons would recommend the appointment of a Committee of sufficient weight and authority to examine into the general course and amount of our Civil expenditure, if the House is disposed to take that course. The first reason is its immense increase—that is to say, its immense increase in a double sense—first of all, its very large aggregate increase; and second, its increase in relation to the jurisdiction of this House. If we go back 20, 30, or 40 years, we find that the jurisdiction of this House in regard to the Civil expenditure was exercised only with reference to sums quite insignificant. I think I can recollect the time when the Miscellaneous Estimates 636 were between £1,000,000 and £2,000,000, and therefore presented a comparatively very narrow field. The Miscellaneous Estimates—what are now called the Estimates for the collection of Revenue—have now reached a sum not far short of £7,000,000. It is foolish to call them Estimates for the collection of the Revenue, since £2,500,000 is incurred in carrying on the Postal and Telegraph Services; but these are not to be considered so much as organizations for the collection of the revenue as organizations for the management of two Departments of public business which it is thought can be better transacted for the public by the Government than by private individuals. Customs and Inland Revenue cost something more than £2,600,000; the Post Office takes rather more than that; and there is a sum of £600,000 or £700,000 for the Telegraphic Service, making altogether the sum of £6,000,000 or £7,000,000. Of course, all this is under the jurisdiction of the House of Commons, and any general recommendations or considerations which it may be the duty of the House of Commons to study with regard to public economy are applicable to these large sums of money just as much as they are to any portion of the public expenditure. The total amount of Civil expenditure is rapidly approaching to rivalry with the expenditure of the Army and the Navy, and with that on the Debt it has almost reached £20,000,000, and it is made up in this way:—The Miscellaneous Estimates now amount to £11,000,000. We must not suppose the whole increase in them is increase of charge. We now introduce into them a multitude of items which were formerly paid without appearing on them—payments which were consequently wholly withdrawn from the view and observation of this House, but which now come within it. In speaking, then, of magnitude, I speak not of magnitude of taxation, but of the magnitude of the many transactions which come under the view of the House, and in regard to which the House is responsible. We have added items, including the collection of the Revenue, and, I think, the Packet Service, which must fully bring up the items to £7,000,000, so that we have a total of £18,000,000. Then again, in round numbers, we have £2,000,000 charged on the Consolidated Fund, which, at least as regards those on the Civil List, 637 are removed from our view during the life of the Sovereign. Yet, speaking generally, there is an amount of nearly £20,000,000 of Civil expenditure, with respect to which this House is responsible. 30 or 40 years ago the responsibilities of the Treasury were light indeed, compared with what they are now. At that time it had from £1,000,000 to £2,000,000 of Miscellaneous Estimates for the collection of Revenue, and of course it had a general control with respect to the Estimates of Revenue, which in those days were necessarily smaller than they are now. Since that time not only have the amounts increased, but the diversity of charges which come under the control of the Treasury has enormously increased; and while the Treasury has had this vast addition made to its responsibility it has not had, and it could not possibly have had, a corresponding addition to its strength relatively to other Departments of the Government. The control of the Treasury is very various in regard to different portions of expenditure; and I think I may say, for those by whom the ordinary business of the Treasury is now managed, its control is supreme, or, at all events, fully effective, and no Committee that examined the management of this branch of the service would have any reason to be dissatisfied with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But this control varies very much. Some portion of the expenditure—that, for instance, charged on the Consolidated Fund—is entirely out of the control of the Treasury, and comes under the review of the House. But besides the Consolidated Fund charges, there is a large amount of charges with respect to which the control of the Treasury, though it exists, is less effective than it is in what I would call more happily situated branches of the public expenditure. In many cases the money expended is under the authority of general Acts of Parliament. In many other cases other authorities require to concur with the Treasury before any charge can be determined. The duties of the Treasury are formidable enough when those other authorities which have to concur with the Treasury are only Departments of the Executive. But sometimes personages much more formidable still than any Department of the Executive Government have to be 638 consulted, and sometimes the Treasury cannot move without the consent of those exterior and far more formidable persons. Consequently, whatever the disposition and intentions of the Treasury may be—and I believe it will be found to have done its duty in the face of the vast amount of public expenditure—there are necessarily a great number of items in respect of which it is exceedingly desirable, first of all, that the Treasury should be supported by, and should receive some assistance from this House in the discharge of its difficult duties; and, secondly, that the House itself should do justice to itself by taking a more complete and comprehensive review of the Civil expenditure of this country than can possibly be done in the course of the annual Estimates. But there is a broad distinction to which I wish to draw the attention of the House between the Civil and the Naval and Military expenditure of the country. In every Session the House has the opportunity of considering the Military and Naval expenditure of the country as a whole. It is the duty of the respective Ministers to bring these Estimates forward as a whole, and the House has the opportunity of passing its judgment upon them in that aspect as well as pronouncing its opinion on their details: But with respect to the Miscellaneous Estimates and the Civil expenditure there is no such opportunity—they can only be presented and considered in detail and particularity. That being the case, I might go one step farther and point out to my hon. and learned Friend one branch of that expenditure with respect to which it is most fitting; and I should be disposed to claim my hon. and learned Friend's able assistance, because he not only appears in this House in the character of a financial reformer—and I do not care how much the Members of that class are multiplied—but he has elsewhere addressed himself to that important branch which forms, perhaps, the largest part of our Civil expenditure. I have pointed out generally those branches of the public expenditure in which the Treasury have the least degree of control, and in respect of which the greatest results might be expected to follow from the appointment of a Committee; but there is one of those branches in particular to which that observation applies, and with reference to which we should 639 hope for the special assistance of my hon. and learned Friend—that is, the branch of our legal and judicial expenditure. Of that legal and judicial expenditure, I think I am justified in saying that it is the largest branch of all our Civil expenditure, and it is certainly that branch over which, considering it as a whole, the Treasury have the smallest amount of control. I think there can be no doubt about this. A very considerable portion of it is still charged on the Consolidated Fund—I believe not less than £500,000 or £600,000 —[Mr. HARCOURT: £646,000]—and another very large portion of it is so fixed under Acts of Parliament that, although it might be usefully placed under the review of the House with a view to prospective arrangements, yet it is practically exempted from the manipulation of the Treasury in the preparation of the Estimates. That field, if it were the only field, is one on which the labours of the Committee might be usefully employed. But I am bound to make another stipulation with respect to the Committee, to which, I think I shall have no difficulty in securing the assent of my hon. and learned Friend. The Committee must be appointed in the right sense. The appointment of a Committee of late years with respect to particular branches of the public expenditure, whatever its immediate object, has not been conducive to public economy, but quite the reverse. That is easily explained by reference to the fact that in general the desire to obtain a Committee has not been suggested by the economical considerations which have moved my hon. and learned Friend tonight, but rather by the feeling of some hon. Members or section of the House who thought that a particular class of public servants were hardly treated and underpaid, consequently a Committee has been appointed to consider this or that special branch of expenditure with an animus of increase. To appoint a Committee to survey a wide field of public expenditure with an animus of increase would be a most formidable process in regard to the public interest—a proposal to which I should be very loth to accede; but on the last occasion when the House took a proceeding of this kind the terms of reference to the Committee effectually defined the purpose for which the Committee was appointed—the purpose was 640 not to see whether anybody had got a grievance, leaving anyone who thought he had a grievance to come and state it to the House—the purpose of the Committee was to see whether any and what reductions could be made in the expenditure. The last occasion of the kind was in 1848, and then the Committee on Miscellaneous expenditure were instructed to report—Whether any reductions could, in their opinion, be effected, or any improvement made in the mode of submitting this branch of the public expenditure to the consideration of Parliament.These last words had no reference to the present case, but to the state of the law and the practice at that date, when a large portion of the expenditure was either under the exclusive control of the Crown or charged on the Consolidated Fund. But if a Committee were appointed in order to lead the Motion of my hon. and learned Friend to some practical result, the proposal would be that the Committee should consider whether any and what reductions could be made in the Civil expenditure of the country. That is the suggestion I make. The effect of it, I think, would be very beneficial, and there is no matter in which it would be more advantageously employed than in that large branch of expenditure to which I have just adverted. I believe my hon. and learned Friend's own labours in such a Committee might be very advantageously employed. Having thus endeavoured to meet my hon. and learned Friend in what I hope he will consider no unfriendly spirit, we should be disposed not to cast on him the responsibility of conducting the Committee—as an independent Member we could not ask that of him—but only that he should lend his aid so far as in his power to the Government, who would, in fact, be responsible for the proceedings of the Committee. I will read the terms of the Motion which I would propose, and they will serve to embody and bring home to the hon. Members of the House clearly the views of the Government. We do not desire that the Committee should be appointed absolutely with reference to one branch of the expenditure, but that it should be appointed with special reference to those branches of the Civil expenditure where the ordinary system of control through the 641 Treasury is least effective and least applicable. I would propose—That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire whether any and what reductions can be effected in the expenditure for Civil Services (other than the National Debt and the Civil List), whether charged on the Consolidated Fund or defrayed from Votes of Parliament, with special reference to those branches thereof which are not under the direct or effectual control of the Treasury.I will not now move this as an Amendment. I would rather see whether my hon. and learned Friend is not disposed to accept the proposal as a substitute for his Resolution; but, if he is not, I reserve to myself full liberty to place it before the House at a later period.
said, he had heard with pleasure the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, and, on the principle that half a loaf was better than no bread, he would recommend his hon. and learned Friend to accept it. He must say the assistance of his hon. and learned Friend would be most efficacious in the Committee, especially with reference to the expenses of Law and Justice, which during the last 10 years had enormously increased. He found that the annual charge for Law and Justice had, during the last 20 years, augmented by £2,500,000. That both Law and Justice were clear at the price must be inferred when we were told by the leading journal that our faith in the justice of our Common Law had been much shaken this very Term. And as to our Statute Law, was it not notorious that it was the standing butt of sarcasm for the eminent men who now presided in our Courts? Might not the obscurities, contradictions, and incoherence of recent Statute Law be attributable to the fact that we now had, in both Houses of Parliament, quite 120 members of the legal profession? The late Mr. Hume had done much in the cause of economy; but, at the end of his career, he was not himself disposed, he believed, to speak so highly as to the usefulness of his labours as they had been represented by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) that evening. For his own part, he (Mr. White) had done his utmost since he entered the House to cut down the Estimates; but he, and those who supported him, had in that respect met with no very great success. As far as he recollected, 642 during the last 17 years they had only succeeded in striking off the salary of a travelling agent of the National Gallery. Also the cost of a sinecure office in Edinburgh—which was, however, afterwards voted—and they had abolished an antiquated annual charge for roads in the Highlands. Again, after exerting themselves for many years, they knocked off an extra chaplain, or a church in the Embassy at Paris. [Mr. GLADSTONE: It was a church, which the country paid for afterwards.] Indeed, they had but effected three or four trifling reductions, the result being that a few hundred pounds only were struck off the Estimates as the reward of their persevering efforts. Now, that was a result which was by no means encouraging, and he was reminded by it of the remark made on a memorable occasion by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Stansfeld), who declared that he looked, when in Committee of Supply, on the Estimates with a feeling akin to despair. The House, when the Estimates were discussed, consisted usually of but a very scanty number of Members; and when, as was often the case, the friends of economy were able to convince those who were present of the propriety of a particular reduction, they found themselves overwhelmed by the rush of other hon. Gentlemen from the dining and smoking rooms as soon as the bell rang for a division, and the Government were thus able to have their own way. Some years ago, Sir George Bowyer had made a Motion, which he had seconded, to the effect that, when Votes were taken in Committee of Supply, those outside the House should be excluded from the divisions; but that Motion had not been accepted by the House, and there was consequently very little encouragement to pursue the course for which the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government seemed to have so great an admiration. Although he had suggested to his hon. and learned Friend near him to accept the proposal of the Government, he (Mr. White) must add that he was strongly of opinion that the time had come when the Army and the Navy Estimates ought to be previously investigated by a Committee of the House. In the case of the Senate of the United States, as well as the Representative Assemblies of France and Italy, there were times 643 when the Governments of those countries deemed it to be their duty to refer questions of policy and armaments to Select Committees, who sat in secret. He saw no reason, for instance, why, a few years ago, when under the rule of the late Emperor Napoleon things looked menacing in France, and it was deemed expedient to increase our military and naval Estimates, there could have been any objection to take some such course as he recommended, for he was sure that a Committee composed even of hon. Members sitting below the gangway would have been glad to give the Government all that they deemed to be necessary to meet the position of affairs. As to our Civil Service Estimates, there was no doubt that they had gone on rapidly increasing of late years. Irrespective of civilians in the military and naval Departments, he found they numbered now 43,569, and at an annual cost exceeding £8,000,000. He (Mr. White) believed that important economies might be easily effected in the Civil Service Department without at all impairing its efficiency. Speaking of the higher grades, or rather the better paid clerkships in the Civil Service, The Quarterly Review said—As to the clerkships in some of the public offices, they have been so multiplied and so monopolized by young men of family and connection as to constitute a new description of aristocracy.The time had arrived, too, in his opinion, when we should consider seriously the amount which we had to pay for Our Colonies. At present we paid fully £1,000,000, he believed, more than we ought to pay towards the Civil, Military, and Naval Services of flourishing self-governing colonies, such as Australia, Canada, and the Cape. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government could hardly fail to support him in that view, for when examined some years ago before a Committee of that House on Colonial Military Expenditure, he (Mr. Gladstone) said that no community which was not permanently charged with its own defence was a real community, and that the burdens and privileges of freedom were inseparably associated. To show how economies might be effected in other respects, he found to his great surprise that now 644 there were no copying presses in many of the departments, and that a vast amount of unnecessary expense was in consequence incurred in the performance of very trifling duties. If the Committee about to be appointed would only take the evidence of some Prussian official, they would learn that work of the kind was done in Prussia at a quarter the cost, and better done than in this country. In the collection of the revenue, by the utilization of the time of Custom House officers—now "eating their heads off" in idleness—in many of our outports to collect the Inland Revenue, there was a wide field for economy. On Mr. Horsfall's Committee, which sat some years ago, much evidence was given as to the facility, economy, and expediency of a consolidation of the Customs and Inland Revenue Departments. The proposed plan might be briefly described as involving the amalgamation of the two departments under one management, a fusion of their subordinate branches in all cases where the duties performed were analogous to each other, the abolition of all unnecessary offices, and a simplification of the system so as to make it intelligible and less onerous to the public generally. As a specimen of the state of things which existed in many of our outports, he might state that it appeared from a Return he (Mr. White) moved for in 1870, that the gross amount of Customs duties received at, as against the total cost of, certain stations was as follows:—Skibbereen, gross amount received, 1402; total cost of establishment, £757; Westport, received £503, cost £376; Campbeltown, received £2, cost £369; Lerwick, received £17, cost £594; Aberystwith, received nil, cost £805; Cardigan, received nil, cost £432; Wells, received £2, cost £464; Maldon, received nil, cost £844. Not to be invidious, he had selected two ports in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales respectively. In conclusion, he earnestly recommended the hon. and learned Member for Oxford to accept the offer of the Government for the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the cost of the Civil Service, because he believed much good would result from its investigations.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
wished to make an observation respecting a statement made by the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Jacob Bright), and 645 which was one that was often heard in that House—namely, that the only mode of dealing with the expenditure of the country was by a Resolution of this kind, and not by challenging the Estimates. While fully admitting the difficulty of effecting any actual reduction in the amount of the Estimates when they were under discussion, he thought the practice of challenging them when before the House was a most wholesome one, and one that was calculated to keep down the general expenditure and keep the Departments in order. The fear of being cross-questioned in respect of the Estimates was a most powerful instrument in the hands of the Treasury in dealing with the various Departments. The Government had made an appeal ad misericordiam to the hon. and learned Member for Oxford; and they suggested to him that he should accept the appointment of this Committee on the Civil Service Estimates in place of pressing forward his Resolution. Such a Committee might certainly be of much value, but only if it were appointed under two conditions. For such a Committee to be of the slightest use it must not only be initiated but it must also be directed by the whole force and power of the Government. If the Government would point out the weak places in the Civil Service Estimates the Committee might strengthen their hands most materially and much good would result. Another condition of equal importance was that the Committee should not traverse over the whole of the Civil Service Estimates, but apply itself to something practical, and should not spend too much time over its investigations. The effect of a Committee which prolonged its labours over several Sessions and heaped volumes on the Table of the House, was—instead of being useful—to bring Committees of this kind into contempt. He therefore trusted that if the appointment of this Committee were to be sanctioned its inquiries would be begun at once, and be conducted with activity to an early and speedy issue. If these two conditions were kept in view, he should be very glad of the appointment of the Committee, although the investigations of the Committee which had sat 15 years ago to consider this subject had not resulted in many economies being effected in the public service. He did not know in what light the hon. and learned Member for 646 Oxford would view the matter; but it did not appear to him that either his speech or his arguments had been met by the proposal of the Government; because by far the most effective part of his speech was that which related to the excessive increase in the Army Estimates during the past three years. It did not seem to him that either the condition of the country or the requirements of the service could justify an expenditure upon the Army of £14,800,000 in time of peace, especially as the motive which induced the House two years and a-half ago to assent to an increased Army expenditure was of such a transitory character that before Parliament met again it had entirely passed away, and also when it was recollected that sum was exclusive of the cost of the abolition of Purchase and of the expenses attendant upon the localization of the forces. Under these circumstances, unless he heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War a statement, in anticipation of his speech to be delivered on Monday next, to the effect that it was his intention to propose a large reduction in the amount of the Army Estimates for the ensuing year, it would not seem to him that a satisfactory answer had been given, and he should scarcely know how to vote in the event of this Resolution being pressed to a division. He might add that he regretted he had not followed the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) into the lobby last year when, on the Army Estimates being challenged by an hon. Member on the opposite side of the House, the right hon. Gentleman had stated his inability to support them in their swollen condition. In his opinion, if the present Government had failed—which he thought they had—to redeem the pledges they gave in 1868 to reduce the expenditure, it might partly be attributed to the fact that they had commenced their economies at the wrong end of the service. They had dealt very severely—he might almost say cruelly—with writers and clerks, and had disestablished a great number of petty officers whose grievances had since found expression in the public Press; but yet the Government had not succeeded in effecting the large and important reductions which had been looked for at their hands. The power of the Government in regard to such petty matters as he had men- 647 tioned was sufficient; and he trusted that if this Committee were to be appointed, it would direct its attention to the discovery of means of bringing under the control of the Government, and so indirectly under the control of the House, those officers of the Civil Service who now were independent of it. He could assure the hon. and learned Member for Oxford that hon. Members who sat on the Opposition Benches were by no means so indifferent as he supposed to questions affecting the national expenditure.
§ MR. AUBERON HERBERT
expressed his surprise that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government should have quoted Mr. Hume as an authority in favour of expenditure against Mr. Cobden as an authority in favour of economy; and he begged to remind the right hon. Gentleman that men like Mr. Hume did not start up in that House every day. He was glad the Government were prepared to take some steps towards economy; but he had some misgivings about the appointment of this Committee, because the object of bringing forward this abstract Resolution was to force upon the Government the fact of their responsibility in this matter. It was impossible for individual Members to attempt to reduce the expenditure of the country. It was not a question of details which had to be considered, nor of effecting a reduction in this or that item, but of large reorganizations in great Departments, for which the Government were responsible. America for years had been not simply paying her way, but, to a great extent, reducing her Debt. We had been going in an exactly opposite direction. He was certain that the country would, in a short time, insist that the Army should not be allowed to continue on its present footing. He believed it to be the most expensive institution which this country had ever set up, and that it was utterly untrustworthy and utterly unsound regarded the very end for which it was created and maintained; and he should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War expected to maintain the present system of recruiting when wages were increasing in this country. We had had rather startling accounts lately in the newspapers of men who were so anxious to leave the service that they committed crimes in order 648 to get rid of it. Was that healthy? Did it give us confidence in the Army? A rational plan ought to be adopted in this matter. Let 5,000 men, thoroughly intelligent and thoroughly respectable, be taken as our standing Army—let them be scattered throughout the whole country to teach and to train others. That should be the function of our standing Army, and he thought it would yield much better fruit than our present system, and be much more trustworthy. But the evil of existing arrangements would not be removed until business men, accustomed to the conduct of business in centres of commerce, examined the management of the Public Departments. As to the great Government Departments, in which the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken said that over who had just spoken said that over 43,000 clerks were employed, he believed the work in those Departments was done in a most extravagant manner. It was said that a gentleman the other day offered to work one of these Departments at a cost less than a third of what it at present costs the country. He (Mr. Auberon Herbert) mentioned that circumstance to one of the permanent flea heads of another of these Departments, and he said that if he were allowed he would undertake to work his Department at a third of what it now cost. He thought there was a great quantity of work in public offices which might fairly be given to women. A considerable sum of money was wasted in a number of Returns and and blue books which were printed for hon. Members. It was notorious that every hon. Member of the House in the course of a Session got three or four circulars from different dealers in the City offering to buy blue books and pay for them so much per cwt as waste paper. Was that a creditable statement? Did any hon. Member read a 50th part of the blue books which were distributed to him? It was only a small reform; but he would venture to suggest that those as blue books should be given only to those hon. Members who took the trouble of applying for them. It would be well if the Government resisted Motions for pensive Returns. He hoped also the attention of the Committee would be especially directed to the subject of abolition of pensions, for there was no reason for relieving Government servants from the prudential responsibility which fell upon other members of the community. In 649 this country there was a growing dissatisfaction in that matter. It was asked, with great fairness, why should every clerk employed in a public Department receive his pension while no pension was given to the men employed in the dockyards? He thought it would be a great public benefit if pensions were abolished. The moral effect of pensions, he believed, was not good. He shared strongly the opinion of those hon. Members who believed that the Customs of this country was an extravagant method of raising revenue. It was said that for every 2d. we raised through the Customs we had in reality to pay 3d. He believed it was impossible to over-rate the advantages of the additional stimulus which would be given to industry and enterprise of every kind if this country were made a free port to the world in every respect. In his opinion, there was no country which at the present moment could trust itself without great reserve in the hands of a large body of officials. Honesty, as regarded dealings in money, was not one of the virtues which flourished now in the world. It did not prevail in this country, nor yet in America. If there was one country in which he should have looked for honesty in this respect, it was Prussia; but he heard that very disagreeable disclosures were about to be made in that country also. The Prime Minister once said that the economy of a country was not simply the saving of so much money, but it was the measure of the morality in that country. Rigid economy on the part of the Government was the great safeguard against the growth of corruption, and it was also the one weapon in the hands of the Government for resisting the plausible projects which might otherwise be forced upon it, and for teaching the nation to rely upon its own resources and every class to look after its own interests. It was our bounden duty to abstain from expenses which were not absolutely necessary, and it was only by presenting a rigid and unswerving temper in dealing with the administration of the public money that we could make a right use of our revenues and preserve a right regard for the interests involved. He did not wish to speak disrespectfully of the Government in this matter. The great measures they had undertaken during the last few Sessions had, no doubt, prevented them from turning their atten- 650 tion fully to this matter; but he must remind them that pledges were given which had not been redeemed; that a lesson of economy was preached which had not been practised, and that sonic might feel the force of the words—
§ "Sed illos
§ Expectata segos vanis elusit aristis."
§ MR. MACFIE
said, he could not agree that the Government had been remiss in the fulfilment of those economical pledges by which they came into power. Indeed, it appeared to him that the offer which had been made to-night by the Prime Minister ought to satisfy the country that that right hon. Gentleman's longings for economy were as great as ever they were, and that if the reductions had not been so great as expected, it was because the stars had been fighting against the Liberal party and the economists in this House. He was firmly convinced that the feeling throughout the country was that economy should be practised; but it should be economy in the right sense of the word. Reductions were not always productive of economy. What the country wanted was to get value for its money, and if they had to expend largely, it had only to be clearly shown that the expenditure was necessary and value had been returned for the money. The proposal of the Government was one which he thought the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Harcourt) would do well to accept. Some hon. Gentlemen had mentioned certain Departments in which they thought economy might be practised. Might he mention one or two others? During the Recess he heard—and he believed the country heard with something like horror—the statement made by the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Baxter) of serious charges against certain gentlemen employed by the Government. He (Mr. Macfie) had not come to the conclusion that these charges were justified in the particular cases to which they related; but there was no doubt great readiness to believe that the charges might be true. He knew from commercial experience, and on dits, that bribery, douceurs, or jobbery did take place to the detriment of the public service and to the decrease of the revenue. One principle ought therefore to be adopted, which was that in our financial arrangements no person in the employ or service 651 of the Government should receive directly or indirectly any advantage from the magnitude of contracts, or in fact from contracts at all. Another source of economy would be the consolidation of the Customs and Excise. He did not believe that Custom Houses were not of great use because their receipts were small. Custom Houses at small ports acted as guards to see that nothing was imported without paying duty, and afforded people engaged in business facilities to which they were entitled. Another small matter of economy was suggested by a Return granted on the Motion of the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren), from which it appeared that some £2,000,000 were spent in a most promiscuous and doubtful way in Ireland; whereas Scotland got a very small sum. He did not ask that Scotland should get more; but he considered that the two countries should be placed on a fairer footing as to hospitals, and the other items specified in the Return. Then there was the question of the Colonies contributing to the Imperial burdens. He believed that they would be glad to do so. As to the Army and Navy, he thought they might have come under the review of a Committee. He had recently been among his numerous constituency in Scotland, and he found that the feeling was that there should be no niggardly economy as to the defences of the country, but that the Army and Navy should be kept up in a manner to protect us, and repel any attempt at invasion. This was the feeling of most of the gentlemen in Scotland with whom he had come in contact. He was very glad the Government had proposed to appoint a Committee, and he trusted the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Harcourt) would accept the Amendment.
§ MR. G. BENTINCK,
alluding to the thin state of the House, regretted that gastronomic instincts should have so far triumphed when a subject of such vast importance was under discussion. He had listened with great attention and interest to this debate. The question was of the greatest moment to this country, and having regard to our increasing expenditure and also our increasing poverty, a subject of greater importance could not be submitted to the House. Though the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Harcourt) had made an able and ingenious speech, he did not properly meet 652 the issue of the question he himself had raised. The hon. and learned Member quoted promises of successive Governments in favour of economy, which had not been carried out. Well, after all his experience in this matter, was the hon. and learned Gentleman prepared to pin his faith to the pledges which Government might give? If so, he would show an amount of faith, it might be even said of credulity, which was surprising. He (Mr. Bentinck) wished to speak with all respect of the consistency of hon. Members opposite below the gangway; but he could not forget that their policy had always been to lay the most obnoxious burdens upon the land, and that was a policy to which he could not agree. The Resolution pledged the House to what he believed to be impossible. The hon. and learned Gentleman had fully admitted the rise in the cost of labour and of materials, and he had amused the House when he spoke of paying for arbitration and yet maintaining armaments to fight the whole world. He would agree with anything the hon. and learned Gentleman might say as to the absurdity of paying for arbitration; but so far from our having at this moment armaments with which we could cope with the whole world, it was a moot question among those most conversant with the subject whether we possessed even the means of home defence. The hon. and learned Gentleman had talked of people with limited incomes, and the labouring classes feeling so painfully the weight of taxation. No doubt taxation did press very heavily on those classes; but it pressed with undue weight, too, on real property. But why did not the hon. and learned Gentleman deal frankly with the question at once? The whole evil against which the hon. and learned Gentleman complained was found in the unfair incidence of taxation. It was true that many felt the weight of taxation now, because no Government for years past had dared to grapple with the question, and because a great deal of the property of the country escaped taxation altogether. If they allowed the enormous amount of property engaged in commercial enterprises entirely to escape taxation, and in no way to contribute to the exigencies of the State or the requirements of the country, taxation would undoubtedly press heavily on certain classes of the public. The 653 hon. and learned Gentleman would have done much better service to the country if instead of objecting to the expenditure, he had shown how it was to be met, or rather how the present onerous burden on one class might be fairly distributed. He hoped that at the proper time the question would be raised in a shape different from that in which it was put forward now, as it had been discussed in a tone which must mislead both the House and the country. The hon. and learned Gentleman must know that the expenditure could not be reduced. The hon. and learned Gentleman shook his head. Would he rise in his place and tell the House that the Army and Navy of this country were really in excess of their requirements? If the hon. Gentleman was prepared to do that, he would listen to the statement with equal regret and astonishment. It was admitted by hon. Members sitting round that we ought to have the means of defending ourselves. We had heard of "bloated armaments," but our armaments were certainly not bloated; on the contrary, they were reduced to the lowest possible point. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cardwell) had devoted much attention to the subject, but had not yet arrived at that harmonious blending of our different forces which he promised, and it was now stated that nothing could be more unsatisfactory than the position in which our Army stood. But if the hon. and learned Member still maintained that our armaments were excessive, let him, as the Prime Minister asked, point out where he would make the reduction.
§ GENERAL SIR GEORGE BALFOUR
said, he was of opinion that no more important subject than that under discussion could occupy the attention of the House of Commons. An impression prevailed among the people of the country that the national expenditure was excessive, and that considerable reduction might be effected without at all impairing the services. When he saw the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Oxford on the Paper, he expected that the Government would have yielded to a proposal that the entire expenditure of the country should be inquired into; and he therefore could not but regret that the inquiry which was promised would not embrace those two great branches of the national service—the Army and the Navy 654 —as he thought that a considerable reduction might be effected in the Army and Navy expenditure. It was, of course, the duty of a Government to decide upon their policy and to maintain it; but that Her Majesty's Government might do, and yet consent to the question, whether economy might not be effected in the Army and Navy, being thoroughly investigated. If it were, he could not but think that considerable reductions might be made. The great reforms which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) had effected in the Navy, and which he regarded with admiration, might well be the subject of inquiry; and he was sanguine that a considerable reduction might have been made in the military expenditure also. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the War Department had also made great efforts to keep down expenditure; but, unfortunately, they had been to a great extent frustrated by the abolition of the purchase system. Nevertheless, he might still have been aided by an inquiry by a Select Committee. He believed it would be made apparent on inquiry that, notwithstanding the high prices of all kinds of supplies, the cost of our Army might be greatly reduced. The right hon. Gentleman's efforts would be much aided if it were ascertained whether the organization of the Army could not be altered with advantage, and whether an alteration might not be made in the military staff maintained for the Army. He ventured to hope that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, who had done such great things for the country in his financial arrangements, would extend the inquiry of the Select Committee to the present expenditure involved in the maintenance of the Army and the Navy, and to the whole national expenditure. They could not be blind to the great danger to the commerce and manufactures of the country, which arose from the present high prices of coal and iron. Should those rates continue, they must expect a considerable diminution in the income of the country. This should be met by a diminution of expenditure, and he believed that hon. Members who did not aid in the effort to secure economy and retrenchment would, when they sought re-election at the hands of their constituents, be doomed to disappointment.
said, he was one of those who believed that the expenditure of the country was excessive; and for this reason — that in 20 years it had about doubled. He could see no good reason for that fact; therefore he was glad that the subject had been brought before the notice of the House. If they deducted the expense of collecting the revenue and other matters which were paid out of the ordinary expenditure of the country 20 years ago, they would find the present expenditure about £65,000,000; while 20 years ago it was only £50, 000,000; and if they deducted from that sum £35,000,000, the amount of the debt and other fixed charges which had nothing to do with the change in the value of money, there remained £15,000,000 which they had to deal with at that period. Now they had just £30,000,000 to deal with — deducting £35,000,000 from £65,000,000—because the charge for the public debt was pretty much now what it was 20 years ago. For his part, he could see no good reason why they were now spending £15,000,000 more than they were 20 years ago. The course which the Government proposed to take seemed to him a somewhat strange one. To use a common phrase, "they confessed and avoided." They admitted that something wanted looking into, and the way they proposed to look into it was to shift from themselves for a time—no man could tell how long or how short—all responsibility in the matter. They did more; they shifted from the House of Commons all responsibility, because, of course, if any question as to expenditure came to be discussed, the cry would always be, "Oh, that is for the Committee!" That was one way of getting rid of a troublesome thing; but there might be differences of opinion as to whether it was constitutional or not. He was glad the subject had been brought forward at a time when the country was prosperous. Englishmen when they had money in their pockets were very careless what they paid; but a different state of things might arise, and then they might witness very serious dissatisfaction in the country, if an excessive expenditure continued to go on. Were they getting sixpennyworth for every sixpence they spent? He did not think, from what had passed during the last few years, that any man could say that the great establishments of the 656 country were in a satisfactory condition. They had constantly had very awkward disputes, to say the least of it, on the subject, and not unfrequently matters had taken place in that House which could not but lead one to think that our establishments were not in a very enviable state; and, if that were so, it made our excessive or large expenditure, whichever it might be, still less satisfactory. It was impossible not to feel that there was a growing impatience of taxation in respect of a very considerable element of our revenue. Those who like himself could recollect the year 1815, knew that when the pinch came £15,000,000 of revenue was struck off at one blow. The Government of the day declared they could not do without it; but somehow they did do without it. He hoped they should not have any such pressure on the country as existed at that time through the war; but certainly, without any such pressure, there was an unpleasant feeling growing up about that same tax, which made people then say, "I will pay no more." That feeling was growing up and strongly in many directions in reference to that very tax. What course the House would take in reference to it he knew not; but this he knew—that his hon. and learned Friend had done good service in bringing the subject of national expenditure under the consideration of the House; because, if they once got into a quiet habit of excessive expenditure, they might depend upon it that the day would come when the reckoning would not be pleasant for anyone who was concerned in it. He did not blame the Government, whatever party might be in power; Far from it. He believed it was the House of Commons that was to blame. For many years past the Government had been, he might say, kicked into expenditure rather than otherwise. He would be unjust if he did not say so; because he had repeatedly seen move after move from different sides of the House, all with the object of making the Government do something; and for the Government to "do something" always meant the spending of money. As to economy, it had been for many years past absolutely visionary. There had been nothing of the sort attempted in that House. Wisely or unwisely, the Government had put the Estimates into a great dictionary, 657 and it was impossible for the House to deal with them. When there were 500 details they could not get men to agree about them, and that fact made hon. Members give up the discussion of the Estimates as a matter which was absolutely fruitless. That was the position they were in. The expenditure was, as he had said, double what it was 20 years ago, and he did not think there could be any good reason shown why it was so; therefore, he was glad the hon. and learned Member for Oxford had brought the subject before the House.
§ MR. LAING
said, he was anxious that the subject should be kept out of the region of what he might call platform generalities. It was right, he thought, that an independent Member of the House who had had experience of what practical economy meant should be prepared, whether it was popular or unpopular to do so, to take his share of responsibility with the Government in opposing this sort of vague abstract Resolution. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government that Mr. Hume was a model for economists to study if they wished to do good service in this direction. It had been his fate both in public and in private life to have to cut down estimates and expenditure, and his experience was that real economy was to be arrived at by practical efforts of this kind, and not by abstract Resolutions, for he believed there could be no greater hindrance to the efforts of the real friends of economy than was furnished by general Resolutions of this description. In the first place, exaggeration always led to reaction. Charges of excessive and profligate expenditure, whereby the poor were taxed to provide sinecures for the rich, were untrue, and brought about a reaction which indisposed moderate men to look at the grievances which really existed, and to grapple with the means by which practical reduction might be effected. Such charges also placed the real friends of economy in a false position before the country, which might suppose that they were the advocates of extravagance, unless they lent themselves to the support of what they felt was a popular delusion. In this instance, he believed the charge of excessive and profligate expenditure to be exaggerated and untrue. The limits within which economy 658 was possible were comparatively narrow; and hon. Members should keep in sight the considerations of public policy which governed expenditure, and should not lend themselves to any notion out of doors that this House sat for the purpose of supporting the Treasury Bench in a profligate outlay of public money. During the last 10 years the country had increased largely in population and wealth, and no little alarm had also been felt for the public safety, so that a higher rate of insurance against danger might be looked for; but the national expenditure could not be justly described as extravagant if it was found lower now than it had been 10 years ago. On looking over the Estimates he found the expenditure was less now than it was 10 years ago, although, in consequence of recent wars, it was necessary to pay higher for the insurance afforded by the Army and Navy. In 1861 the expenditure of the country, exclusive of the cost of collecting the Revenue, and exclusive of the cost of the Chinese War, was £65,356,000. In 1862 it was £66,304,000; whereas in 1872 the total expenditure, exclusive of the cost of collection, was £64,240,000, being £800,000 less than the average expenditure on the same objects 10 years ago. This was not all. Ten years ago we were spending in Terminable Annuities, going towards reduction of National Debt, only £1,837,000 a-year, while we were now paying £4,512,000 a-year in this way. Thus we were now spending £2,675,000 more a-year than we did 10 years ago in the form of Terminable Annuities towards the reduction of Debt, such payment having been entirely optional on our part. Had we only been paying in 1871–2 the same amount of Terminable Annuities as we were paying in 1861–2, the total expenditure of the country on similar objects would have been, not £800,000, but nearly £3,500,000 less now than it was 10 years ago. This was a proof, not that economy was not desirable, or might not be possible, but that claptrap appeals such as these to ignorant prejudice out-of-doors had no real foundation. What other country in Europe could point to a similar reduction of expenditure? The hon. and learned Gentleman declared we were going to the bad because in the first five years of the last decade more taxes had 659 been taken off than were taken off in the last five years. This was quite true; but on analyzing the account you found the explanation was perfectly simple. During the five years before 1861 we had been involved in Chinese Wars, the extra expenditure on which amounted to £6,000,000. In 1861 this expenditure came to an end; and, of course, the Government were able to repeal the extra taxation which had been imposed to meet those expenses. Then there was a period of great buoyancy in our commerce and revenue, which lasted down to 1866, when the panic came, A period of stationary revenue succeeded for several years, besides which we had to meet the cost of the Abyssinian War. What could be more obvious than that Parliament was unable to repeal taxation during the last five years of the decade to the same extent as during the first five years? Moreover, hon. Members should not leave out of sight the great events which occurred in 1870. A war which then broke out in Europe on a gigantic scale, and led to the greatest surprises, brought home forcibly to the people of this country the necessity of greater preparations against sudden inroads by great military Powers, who, by means of railways and modern scientific appliances, might be able to concentrate an overwhelming force for the invasion of our shores. He believed that the country saw that war in modern times had greatly altered in aspect; that a war was often decided in about six weeks; and that, therefore, it was necessary to stand in better preparation against sudden attack. Whether right or wrong, this was the feeling which existed strongly throughout the country, and he appealed to the House whether the feeling of the country was not stronger than the feeling of the Government, and whether pressure was not put upon the Government to go even further than they did go. It was such an experience as a merchant might have who saw a warehouse next door burnt down and naturally wished in consequence to increase his insurance. This was the explanation of the increase which was subsequently made in our military Estimates. But what were we paying altogether under the head of insurance, for this was what our Army and Navy meant? In 1863 the total expenditure under this head was£27,635,000; whilst in 1872 it was £25,803,000. Thus 660 the tendency had not been towards progressive increase. On the contrary, in the Navy, thanks chiefly to the wise administration of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Childers), a substantial economy had been effected by adopting the simple and rational principle that our naval forces should not be scattered over the world, but, looking at modern conditions of warfare, should be concentrated in the Channel, where they might be available either for home defence or for distant expeditions. The secret of real economy would be found in measures of this kind. Experience had taught him that it was not by vague Motions, but by laying down plain, common-sense principles, by a close and accurate study of details, by a wise administration, and by weighing each case upon its own merits alone that we could arrive at a lasting economy. One of the maxims to be borne in mind was that the keystone of economical expenditure was a sound foreign policy. A mistaken foreign policy that involved us in war might cause an expenditure of tens or hundreds of millions before we knew where we were. Even if it stopped short of war and brought the country into a state of suspicion and hostility to our neighbours, it would of necessity involve us in very large and extravagant Estimates. A wise, conciliatory, yet firm foreign policy was worth, in point of economy, all the declamation ever heard in Hyde Park or anywhere else to the end of time in reducing expenditure. The next important element in economy was a consistent policy, which brought our establishments as far as possible into the right lines, and then tried what could be done in the way of reduction, so as, however, to secure the greatest efficiency. Changes, even if beneficial, very often caused expenditure in the first instance, and if not beneficial they were a frightful source of expense. Even the change in the Army which had recently been carried out, and which it might be right to make, was likely to involve the country, for some time at least, in considerable expense. The Government had undertaken greatly to increase our military power, and to free us from periodical panics, yet at the same time to reduce the military Estimates. He did not see, however, how the House could hope to obtain additional efficiency in our military establish- 661 ments without some increase of expenditure. If the Government accomplished such a result without a considerably increased expenditure, he, as a warm economist, should feel satisfied. Another maxim was that efficiency was the basis of all economy. There was no more fertile source of expense than the pennywise and pound foolish policy of reducing and impairing the efficiency of the Government establishments one year in order to have to undo another year what had been done, and at three times the expense. Another general rule was if they were making reductions to reduce men and establishments rather than the pay, and never to pay the men they employed below the market value of their labour. His final point, and it was the great secret of economy, was to be found in the right selection of men for the different Departments. Get the best men who were to be found, give them large powers and responsibilities, and then judge them by results. Red tape was the most expensive luxury a country could indulge in. If the Government saw any advantage in a Committee he should not object; but he would rather trust to the Ministers responsible for the Departments, who were anxious for economy, and to their permanent staff, than to any Committee of the House of Commons. The danger was that the inquiry would simply end in the Committee having to pass and endorse the Estimates, and in their relieving the Government from responsibility. He would not give much for the gleanings of economy in the Civil Service after the present Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary to the Treasury had gone over them. In his recollection of the Treasury far more had been done by permanent officers of a department, assisted by some Member of the Government, instituting an inquiry into the expenditure of some one specific branch or department. If, however, the Government thought they would like to have a Committee, he should prefer that Amendment to the adoption of any such vague and abstract Resolution as that of the hon. and learned Member for Oxford.
§ MR. VERNON HARCOURT
said, he did not think it necessary for him to reply to the criticisms of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, who had proved to be more Ministerialist than the Minister. If the hon. Gentleman 662 had made any criticism at all on his speech, he should say that he had been very severe on abstract Resolutions. What the hon. Member preferred to abstract Resolutions and general maxims, he left it to the Ministers whom he patronised to say. When he laid down the maxim of a good foreign policy without saying what a good foreign policy was, the hon. Gentleman himself must decide his own meaning; but whatever might be a good foreign policy, they could at least understand what was conveyed when the hon. Member placed English finance on as satisfactory a basis as they saw existing in the present Indian finance. With respect to abstract Resolutions they had produced, if nothing else, a Committee. He had to thank the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Laing) for kind and seasonable advice, and he had to acknowledge the kind tone in which the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government was pleased to speak of the Motion. The right hon. Gentleman said it was difficult to define an abstract Resolution. Well, there was a celebrated abstract Resolution, if possible more abstract than this, which produced a great effect on the country. It was, that the power of the Crown had increased, was increasing, and ought to be diminished. He did not mean to say that it had immediate Parliamentary operation; but it had immediate effect in changing the whole relation between the House of Commons and the Executive Government. The right hon. Gentleman, in pleasant terms, had recommended to him the example of Mr. Hume, and had held out a prospect that in time he might repeat some of the labours which that gentleman accomplished. It so happened that Mr. Hume died about the time at which he (Mr. Harcourt) began political life, and he had watched the career of Mr. Hume with great attention and admiration. Mr. Hume was not a young man in 1848. He had had a protracted Parliamentary experience, and he had perhaps become in his old age a little impatient for the reputation which posterity were about to award him; but in the year 1848—the year of the French Revolution—when perhaps questions of policy affecting public establishments were the most important that could be addressed to the House, Mr. Hume himself moved— 663That it is expedient that the Expenditure of the Country should be reduced, not only to render an increase of Taxation in this Session unnecessary, but that the Expenditure should be further reduced as speedily as possible to admit of a reduction of the present large amount of Taxation."—[3 Hansard, xcvi. 1345.]That was an abstract Resolution, and the Resolution was by the late Mr. Joseph Hume. If he were referred to the example of Mr. Hume, the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government must not complain if he preferred the later to the earlier manner. In some painters the early manner was best; in some the later manner was best. [An hon. MEMBER: What became of it?] What became of it? Why, what would most likely have become of his Motion to-night if he had pressed it to a division, which he was not going to. All Gentlemen below the gangway voted for it, and all on the Treasury bench and behind voted against it, and that was generally the fate of all Resolutions for the reduction of expenditure. What made it more important was that this Resolution was moved and decided on three days after a Committee had been granted to inquire into the public expenditure. Therefore, the fact was that Mr. Hume—who, it was said, never moved abstract Resolutions, or indulged in vague declamation about economy or reduction of the expenditure—Mr. Hume, about whom the right hon. Gentleman was pleased to lecture him, in 1848—the year of the French Revolution—actually moved the Resolution which he had just read to the House. The Prime Minister had apparently misunderstood him when he charged him with having held the Government responsible for the expenditure of the last six years. He had intended to consider the matter without regard to party, and to treat of the increased Estimates as characteristic of the epoch rather than of any particular Government. The statement of the Prime Minister that prices had risen would be no satisfactory explanation of increased Estimates to those who were most pinched by the taxes, because high prices pinched them too, and the Government could relieve them in no other way than by reducing national expenditure. He could not accept the proposal of the Government on the principle that half a loaf was better than no bread, and if he accepted it as a crumb, he must object to the limitation of the 664 inquiry. He (Mr. Harcourt) had not had time to examine the precedents to which the right hon. Gentleman had alluded, but he might state that the Committee offered by Mr. Pitt was not a Committee restricted to the Civil Service; the great Committee appointed after the War was not so restricted. The Committee of 1817, in their Report, stated that they had proceeded to investigate the principal establishments in the country, beginning with the Army. The Committee of 1828 reported that they had thought proper to commence their proceedings with an examination of the Estimates of the Army, the Navy, and the Ordnance, because they expected by taking that course to report upon each of the branches of the expenditure before the Estimates came before the House. In the instance of the Committee which was appointed on the Motion brought forward by Mr. Hume, the Chancellor of the Exchequer moved for the appointment of the Committee to inquire into the expenditure of the Navy, Army, and Ordnance, and another Committee was appointed to inquire into the miscellaneous expenditure. That was just the time when the tranquillity which had ensued on the establishment of peace in 1815 was broken up, and there never was a time when there existed more alarm of danger from abroad. Now, was it to be supposed that satisfaction would be given to the public by the proposed inquiry? Never could more suspicion exist with regard to the naval and military expenditure, for it would be said that the Government were unwilling to inquire into those two branches of the expenditure, with respect to which the country was to be kept in the dark, and the demand for reduction would be greater than ever on account of the suspicion which would be created. Still the inquiry would not be fruitless; there was much in the Civil Service expenditure to be inquired into; but with reference to the charge for the administration of justice, he reminded the House that the increase in that item had arisen in the charge for prisons and police, and should be regarded rather as an increase in the administration of the criminal and penal law than in the charge for the administration of justice. With respect to the Inquiry, it would be in the hands of the Government; and if that Amendment was moved in opposition to his 665 Resolution, it would not become him to offer any opposition to it.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "a Select Committee be appointed to inquire whether any and what reductions can be effected in the expenditure for Civil Services (other than the National Debt and the Civil List), whether charged on the Consolidated Fund or defrayed from Votes of Parliament, with special reference to those branches thereof which are not under the direct or effectual control of the Treasury,"—(Mr. Childers,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ CIVIL SERVICE EXPENDITURE.—Select Committee appointed, "to inquire whether any and what reductions can be effected in the expenditure for Civil Services (other than the National Debt and the Civil List), whether charged on the Consolidated Fund or defrayed from Votes of Parliament, with special reference to those branches thereof which are not under the direct or effectual control of the Treasury."
§ And, on February 28, Committee nominated as follows:—Sir STAFFORD NORTHCOTE, Mr. VERNON HARCOURT, Mr. SCLATER-BOOTH, Mr. KIRKMAN HODGSON, Viscount CRICHTON, Mr. WHITE, Mr. RATHBONE, Mr. WILLIAM HENRY SMITH, Mr. M'LAREN, Mr. WEST, Mr. FREDERICK STANLEY, Mr. HERMON, Mr. RYLANDS, Mr. RAIKES, Mr. CUBITT, Mr. MELLY, and Mr. CHILDERS:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Five to be the quorum.