§ On the order of the day, for the third reading of this bill,
§ Lord Bexley
said, it was intended by the bill before the House, to limit the issues to the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt to 3,000,000l. for the present year, and to that provision he had no objection; because he thought that the clear surplus of the revenue above its expenditure would not exceed that amount for the present year; and he concurred in the views of the Finance Committee, that it was only on the clear surplus that any solid system for the redemption of the national debt could be founded. Whatever nonsense had been talked on the subject of the redemption of the debt by borrowing, he was sure that Mr. Pitt had never proposed any thing so shallow. He could concur with the Finance Committee, that an attempt should be made annually to adjust the sums applicable to the redemption of the debt, by the surplus of the year. That surplus could never be ascertained until the year was closed.—The noble lord then went into a defence of the steps taken by Mr. Pitt for the establishment of a Sinking-fund, and into a detailed statement of his own financial measures, while chancellor of the Exchequer; but the noble lord spoke in a tone of voice which was so inaudible at the bar, that it was impossible to follow him with correctness. He recommended the noble duke at the head of the government to preserve the machinery of the Sinking-fund, unless he found some other plan equally secure. There were circumstances which, in his opinion, would always render it impracticable to effect the reduction of a large proportion of the debt by the application of the Sinking-fund, because it would be driving into the market a great many millions of money, to the derangement of the money transactions of the country. He therefore did not wish to see the redemption of the debt by the application of the Sinking-fund carried on, 1778 when once the three per cents had reached par. There was another method by which provision might be made for the reduction of the debt; namely, by the exchange of a part of it for temporary annuities. He was sorry to find that the committee recommended the repeal of the life annuities, and the measure by which a temporary provision was made by annuities in naval and military pensions. With respect to the life annuities, though he hoped that system would be revived when the Treasury should be provided with a set of tables on which they could depend, and though he thought the objections to the measure had been greatly exaggerated, yet he felt no objection to its suspension. With respect to the other measure, he felt no objection to its repeal; but he thought that a measure would be attended with great convenience, by which a certain annual sum of permanent debt was converted into annuities which would expire. The noble lord apologized for taking up so much of their lordships' time, and, in conclusion, expressed a hope that noble lords, before the next session of parliament, would make themselves masters of the report of the Finance Committee of the House of Commons.
§ The Duke of Wellington
merely rose to thank the noble lord for his statement. There was no doubt that that report of the Finance Committee contained more information than any that had ever been laid before parliament, and he hoped their lordships would see in that report, an ample proof of the extent and solidity of the resources of the country, and of the benefit which had resulted to the country from a perseverance, as long as it was possible, in the plan adopted by Mr. Pitt for the redemption of the debt. In drawing the attention of their lordships to this subject, he could not but particularly notice the vast resources which, by the ability of his noble friend and the disposition of parliament, were provided to support the great exertions made during the last war; and he begged their lordships to advert to the facility with which those resources were provided, in consequence of the existence of that Sinking-fund, to which his noble friend had alluded. He would not in so thin a House, point out in what manner that Sinking-fund had worked; but there was one obvious remark which he begged leave to make;—namely, that the interest paid upon all the sums borrowed, 1779 in the course of that war exceeded by little five per cent; and this fact could only be attributed to that Sinking-fund, which had been so much abused. He hoped that the discussion which had taken place there would convince parliament that the salvation of the country depended upon the establishment of an efficient Sinking-fund for the payment of the national debt. Whether that fund ought to amount to 3,000,000l. or to a larger sum, and whether that sum ought to be fixed or voted annually, were questions which he had no wish to prejudge; but, that we must have an efficient Sinking-fund, consisting of a real efficient surplus income, no man could doubt; and he must say, that that minister would not do his duty who did not urge the country to ensure such a surplus fund.
§ The bill was then read a third time.