HL Deb 09 July 1821 vol 5 cc1505-8

On the order of the day, for the third reading of this bill,

The Earl of Lauderdale

said, that after the declarations recently made by the noble earl opposite of the necessity of keeping up the revenue, he was surprised to find that he had agreed to a measure by which 500,000l. of that revenue were given up. He would repeal taxes equivalent to the surplus of the sinking fund; for nothing could be more foolish under the present circumstances of the country, than for such a purpose to draw from the pockets of the people that, money, which, if left in their power to spend, would give life to trade. He believed the public would reap more benefit from a diminution of the duties on soap; candles, leather, and 6ther articles of general consumption, than from the repeal of this tax. The repeal too, would prove of little value-to those to whom the boon was given. He believed this measure was resorted to in consequence or the disappoinment created by the report of the agricultural committee, than which he never knew a more unsatisfactory production. It stated what was very true, and what well known without a committee—that no remedy could be applied, and that nothing was to be done but to wait the effect by time. Their lordships ought to inquire farther, before they proceeded with this bill. They ought to inquire into the general state of the taxation. This session the agriculturists had succeeded in removing a tax. Next year the manufacturers might come forward in the same manner. He would be glad to know what would become of that revenue, on the necessity of maintaining which the noble earl opposite had so strongly insisted, if taxes were to be repealed with the little consideration with which this had been.

The Earl of Liverpool

said, he had much rather the proposition of this bill had not come before their lordships, but since it was before them, he conceived that, under all the circumstances of the case, it was his duty to give it his support. When a committee to inquire into the agricultural distress was suggested, he objected to the proposition, on the general ground that he saw no chance of good, but much of evil, from such an investigation. He had also stated that the distress had nothing to do with the state of the revenue or taxation; and when he said that, it was plain that he could see no useful result to which such inquiries could lead. The noble lord, however, was for appointing a committee to see what taxes could be repealed. He believed that such an inquiry would have a result similar to that which had taken place respecting the agricultural distress. He never knew-a case in which seven or eight persons got together to consider how taxes to a certain amount might be removed, but each had the repeal of some particular tax in view, which he insisted ought to take precedence of all others. The noble lord had declared, that he would prefer the repeal of the duties on soap, candles, and some other articles. Now, though he did not mean to say that the agricultural horse duty would have been his first choice, he would certainly much rather repeal it than any of the taxes on those articles to which the noble lord had alluded; for, in the present state of the revenue, nothing could be more unwise than the substitution the noble lord had suggested.

The Earl of Carnarvon

expressed his dissent from the noble earl's declaration, that the distress experienced through the country had no connexion with the state of the revenue or taxation. He, on the contrary, considered the connexion to be most intimate, and was of opinion that it would not be long before it would be found to be impossible to pay the taxes at the present rate of the currency. It was plain that indirect taxation had reached its maximum; and it was now of very little importance, with a view to revenue whether a certain amount of duties were increased or reduced. It was, indeed, most probable that reduction would be found the best mode of increasing the revenue. He should be much mistaken if the great question of economy did not soon press itself in a most formidable manner on the attention of parliament. Their lordships had often been told that things would find their level; and he admitted, that in ordinary times this was to be expected; but what adjusting principle could now operate against the counteracting influence of the national debt? The great evil was, the connexion between the alterable rate of currency, and the unalterable debt. The value of money had been rashly changed; and he was convinced, if some correcting measure were not adopted, that parliament would ultimately have to come to this conclusion—that it was impossible to continue to pay the present interest of the national debt, and to support such a sinking fund as would enable the country to look forward to the possibility of opposing an enemy with vigour in any future war. Either the interest of the debt must be reduced, or the great establishments of the government cut down. It was pressing down the country, and would press it so low as to leave it no longer the means of supporting that station it ought to hold among nations. Before this time next year it would be necessary for their lordships to come to some resolution on the subject of the revenue, and to look the situation of the country fairly in the face.

The Earl of Lauderdale

said, it was the fluctuation of the currency which was to be complained of, and not its restoration to a true standard. After the currency had been brought back to its natural state, nothing would be more mischievous than any new alteration. In speaking of reductions, the establishments of 1792 had been often referred to: but it ought to be recollected that this was now a much richer country than it was at that period. Were the country prest by a foreign enemy, he should have no apprehension; for he knew its powers to be much greater than in 1792. There would, in such a case, be no fear of increasing the revenue, if the minister knew how to lay on taxes in a manner best adapted to the resources of the nation.

The bill was then read a third time.