HL Deb 07 July 1853 vol 128 cc1362-7

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.

Moved—"That the Bill be now read a Third Time."


wished to call their Lordships' attention to some considerations of great importance, which arose on the proposition for the third reading of this measure. When the Bill was first brought into the House of Commons three months back, it formed part of a great system of finance, founded apparently on the supposition that the happy state of peace which had lasted for nearly forty years would endure for an indefinite period longer. It was proposed, therefore, as part of a peace Budget. But since that time a very great change had taken place in the position of this country. At this moment a French fleet joined to an English fleet was at the mouth of the Dardanelles; and it was to be apprehended, undoubtedly, that the officers in command of the fleets must have certain instructions for acting, under certain circumstances, in co-operation for the defence of our ally the Sultan of Turkey, and such action, if the case should ever occur, would be war. We had likewise assembled such a fleet as was perhaps never got together since the peace—though still not so large as we might need—at Spithead. That squadron was assembled for the purpose of defending the coasts of this country; for if that action took place, and there should be war at the mouth of the Dardanelles, it must be perfectly well known to their Lordships that within three weeks of that time a very much stronger Russian fleet than any which we could show, with troops on board, might be at the mouth of the Thames. He must, therefore, say that the circumstances in which we now stood were altogether different from those under which the Bill was originally proposed. It was then part of a peace Budget, and it might now probably be regarded at this time as part of a war Budget, which would have to be proposed for the purpose of meeting the new circumstances in which we were placed. He thought it most expedient, under such circumstances, that Parliament should hold its hand for a, short time. The noble Earl at the head of the Foreign Department had very prudently said that it was not expedient, and not consistent with the public interests, that they should at the present moment enter into a general discussion of our relations with Russia, and the existing position of the Eastern question. If the noble Earl could not see daylight as to the ultimate result of the negotiations in progress, and could pot look forward with certainty to a pacific solution of the question, surely that must be a reason for their Lordships to guide their course accordingly. The same reason which deterred the noble Lord from speaking on details, should deter their Lordships from reading a third time a Bill for the repeal of a tax which gave very considerable assistance to the revenue, every shilling of which they would want, if the result of the present negotiations should be unfavourable. Therefore, he should beg leave to suggest to Her Majesty's Ministers (that it would not be expedient to read this Bill a third time until the state of affairs was such as to make it possible for the Secretary of State for the Foreign Department to enter into a full explanation of all that has taken place to affect our relations with Russia.


said, he must be excused from dwelling upon some of the topics touched by his noble Friend. With regard to the suggestion his noble Friend had made for postponing the Bill before their Lordships, he could only state that it was his earnest hope that no such resources would be required to meet any such necessity as that to which he had adverted. But if, unfortunately, he should be mistaken in that hope, and if the greatest calamity that could befall this country should be imminent, why, even then, he did not think it was the duty of the House of Lords to interfere and prevent the relief afforded to the people by the repeal of these duties. If it should so happen that the House of Commons should determine that this country shall be placed in a state of war, why, the House of Commons would undoubtedly provide the means for carrying it out.


must say that he altogether differed from the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Aberdeen), in his view of the relative duties of the House of Com- mons and the House of Lords. They were not in the same position as was the House of Commons when the Bill was first laid before them; they were asked to consent to the measure as part of a general system of taxation sanctioned by the House of Commons. The noble Earl must admit that noble Lords on the Opposition side of the House, during the present Session, had given ample proof that they were not disposed to bring that House into collision with the House of Commons, or to refuse the imposition of any tax that might be demanded as requisite for the public service. But he must concur with his noble Friend near him in thinking that at a time when they were in a state of painful suspense and anxious uncertainty as to the possibility of maintaining the peace of Europe, it was their duty not to neglect the state of the finances, or to abandon lightly sources of revenue immediately available, amounting to something like 400,000l [The Earl of ABERDEEN: 1,200,000l.] That made the case of course much stronger. His noble Friend did not ask them to refuse their consent to the measure sent up to them by the House of Commons, but he asked them to be quite satisfied, before they passed it, that the circumstances were the same in which the Mouse of Commons was placed when they thought it expedient and practicable to take off this amount of taxation. The noble Earl must be well aware that there was a great difference between the imposition of a tax that might be required for the public service, and abstaining from taking off a tax until they knew whether the revenue would bear the loss. They had had a statement made of the financial position of the country, and even supposing peace to be altogether uninterrupted, and no larger expenditure to he incurred by our preparations, he would not say for war, but for averting war, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not enabled to show a surplus exceeding 280.000l., according to the last estimate. If, then, they should be compelled, not to go to war, but to make any extraordinary efforts, or to incur any extraordinary sacrifices, was it wise to surrender 1,200,000l. of revenue. Would it pot be prudent to keep that amount in hand, in order that the House of Commons might have an opportunity of judging whether under the new circumstances they could afford to dispense with this tax, without danger of having to resort to other taxes in order to meet any emergency that might arise? He was inclined to think that the wisest course would be that suggested by his noble Friend, of postponing the third reading of the Bill for a fortnight or three weeks—a course which would produce no effect whatever upon the revenue, although it might pro-duce some little uncertainty, but which un-certainty arose, in fact, not from the proposition of his noble Friend,, but from circumstances of a very important character, namely, the preservation of peace, or otherwise. Was it a prudent or a wise course in the prospect of that uncertainty to take a step that would absolutely deprive the Exchequer of more than 1,000,000l. of revenue, when they had the alternative of waiting a fortnight or three weeks to see whether the tax could. he taken off with safety to the public. It appeared to him that a short delay was the course dictated by prudence and sound sense, and that the other course was unsuited to the present circumstances of the country, and was incurring a risk which he could not but think would add seriously to the responsibility now weighing upon Her Majesty's Government.


moved that the Bill be postponed for a week.

Amendment moved, to leave put "now," and insert "on Friday the 15th of this instant July."


could not help thinking that it would he infinitely the wisest course to leave the responsibility of this case with the Government. If the Government assumed that responsibility—weighing, on the one side, the great alarm and inconvenience which the adoption of the proposition of the noble Earl would occasion to the mercantile community, and feeling, on the other side, perfect confidence that if the honour and interest of the country required us to enter into a war, there would be no difficulty whatever on the part of this rich and spirited country in finding the necessary means—he really hoped that his noble Friend would not press his Motion to a division, or that, if unfortunately he should do so, their Lordships would not concur with him.


said, he apprehended that although the noble Earl might not press his Motion to a division—supposing that the Government took upon themselves the responsibility of resisting what he considered a very wise suggestion, and supported by most sensible, clear, and rational arguments, he still must say that he was happy the Motion had been proposed, if it were only that it had elicited from the noble Earl at the head of the Government, and from the noble Earl the President of the Council, an expression of confidence that, at the shortest notice, the resources of the country would be found in such a state as to enable us to meet any emergency which might arise. Nevertheless, he thought it would be wise if for a short time they held their hand, as the noble Earl advised; and lie did not see that any interest could be injured by that course. For although it might be true that a pertain degree of alarm might be created by it, it would pot the less create a confidence in the determination of the Government to uphold the honour and interests of the country at any cost, and that confidence would place the commerce of the country on so sure ft basis that it would bear no proportion to the disadvantage which might result to the country from the repeal of the tax. If, however, the Government, feeling that they had ample resources at their command to meet any dangers or difficulties that might possibly arise, and, therefore, assumed the responsibility of refusing the assistance offered to them by the preposition of the noble Earl, he did not suppose that it would be desired to force it upon them, though he thought it would he wiser if they accepted it.


considered that the whole question rested on the responsibility of Government. If their Lordships had the assurance of Government that they were prepared to take the whole responsibility of meeting any emergency that might, occur, he thought that they ought to trust them to that extent; hut it was only on that understanding that he should accede to the proposal for passing this measure.


said, he should certainly not withdraw his Motion. On the contrary, he wished that it should appear on the Journals as an indication of his opinion of the absolute necessity, under present circumstances, of keeping all the resources they could in their hand for the public protection. At the same time, he knew it would be quite idle for him to divide the House. He certainly did not feel that he could place the same degree of reliance on the Government, as that which seemed to be placed on them. by some noble Lords who had spoken. If the responsibility of Government could fit out a fleet, he should be perfectly satisfied; but knowing, as he did, that it could do no such thing, it could not in the slightest degree be a matter of consolation to him to throw upon the Government the onus of meeting that difficulty.

On Question. That "now" stand part of the Motion,

Resolved in the Affirmative.

Bill read 3a accordingly, and passed.

House adjourned till To-morrow.