§ Mr. Speaker
; In rising to call your attention to the important paragraph in his majesty's most gracious Speech, which the clerk has just read, I am sure the House will believe me when I unfeignedly declare, that on no occasion of my public life have I ever experienced more anxious feelings than at the present moment; because, among the many measures of great public importance, which it has been my duty to propose to the consideration of parliament, I sincerely believe, that it has never fallen to my lot to open to them a question, embracing topics of greater difficulty and complexity, or one which has excited stronger anxiety both within and without these walls; more or less involved as the interests of every individual in the community are, in the decision of parliament on this subject. This being the nature of the question, the House must be aware that I feel very anxious as to the possibility of adequately discharging the duty which I have undertaken; labouring as I do, on the one hand, under the desire not unnecessarily to occupy the time of the House, but to compress into as small a compass as possible the information which I have to communicate; and, on the other hand, convinced as I am, that I should not be warranted, from consideration for their convenience or my own feelings, in abstaining from the statement of* From the original edition, printed for Hatchard and Son, Piccadilly.351 any fact which may be necessary to the elucidation of this important subject.
If, in the course of the statements and observations which I am about to submit to the House, I should, for the purpose of economising their time, occasionally assume, this night, certain propositions, rather than prove them, and quote the results of calculations without immediately showing the process by which I have arrived at those results, I must entreat, that they will have the goodness, for the present, to take those propositions and calculations as data, which they will, hereafter, have ample opportunity of examining and verifying; for I shall be perfectly prepared, at a future period, to state to the House in detail, all the grounds and reasons which have led to those conclusions. With whatever industry I may have applied myself to the details of this interesting and important question; how valuable soever the aid which, from my situation in his majesty's government, I may have received from several of the public offices; and whatever access I may have had to the best sources of information, some error may nevertheless have crept into a statement of such length —yet I beg the House to believe, that it is my earnest desire not to colour any part of this statement, or to make a single assertion which I do not believe to be well-founded, and which I shall not be prepared at the proper time to establish.
Sir, in entering on the consideration of this important subject, it is to me a gratifying circumstance that I feel myself enabled to start from the same point as the hon. and learned gentleman who addressed the House the other evening. For, although I will not disguise from that hon. and learned gentleman, that in the vast and almost interminable field over which it is necessary to travel, I shall feel myself compelled to diverge very widely from his track, and that I shall separate from him on points of no small practical importance, still it is some satisfaction to me that we set out from the same position. I assume as the basis of my argument, the basis assumed by the hon. and learned gentleman—namely, that such is the situation of the country at the present moment, and such is the aspect which its various interests present, that there is no kind or degree of retrenchment which can be pointed out, and which shall be founded on sound and rational principles of political economy, and calculated to relieve 352 the people from the pressure of taxation under which they labour, that it is not the bounden duty of parliament immediately to adopt. Economy and retrenchment are indeed the duty of parliament in any situation of the country; but they become our primary and paramount duty, when the interests of those whom we are called upon to protect are suffering under great pressure; and when the nation, but lately emerged from such an arduous struggle as that in which Great Britain has been engaged, must sensibly feel the effects of those exertions, until the reviving prosperity of the country shall take those new dimensions, which may render her existing burthens comparatively easy to be sustained; the more especially when we consider that this pressure has been seriously aggravated by the great difficulties attendant on returning from a relaxed standard of currency, to that standard which ought at all times, if possible, to govern the transactions of the country. Under all these circumstances, therefore, every one who hears me must feel, that it is our duty to relieve, as far as it is possible for parliament to relieve them, the distresses of those classes which are most pressed upon by the common difficulties. So far, therefore, the hon. and learned gentleman and I start from the same point. We may differ very essentially as to the nature of the relief to be granted, and as to the mode to be adopted in communicating that relief; but, on the principle of the expediency of economy, and of affording the earliest practicable relief, the hon. and learned gentleman cannot be more earnest or solicitous than myself.
With regard to the existing state of the country, I will not detain the House long in explaining the distinction between the hon. and learned gentleman's views of its actual position and my own. Indeed, I can assure the hon. and learned gentleman and the House, that so little am I disposed to indulge in controversy to-night, that I would not even have touched on this subject, were it not with the view of showing the wonderful susceptibility the country possesses of recovering rapidly from depression, and returning to a state of prosperity. If the House has read with as patient an attention as I have (and every thing which proceeds from the hon. and learned gentleman is worthy of attention) the speeches which the hon. and learned gentleman made in 1816 and 1817,on bringing the manufacturing and commer- 353 cial state of the country under the consideration of parliament; and if they have remarked, as in that case they must have remarked, the striking contrast between those speeches and the speech which the hon. and learned gentleman delivered the last time he addressed the House, I might with great propriety compress what I have to say on that chapter of the subject into a very small compass; for certainly nothing can be more remarkably opposite than the hon. and learned gentleman's two descriptions of the state of the country. We certainly did not hear the other night any of those very distressing statements which are to be found in the speeches made by the hon. and learned gentleman at those periods. The hon. and learned gentleman then described the general population of the country in such a condition of suffering, and pressed down by such severe privations, that they were obliged to retire to rest before sunset, in order to economise at once their physical strength and the scanty means of subsistence, light, and firing which they possessed. Sir, whatever may be the difficulties with which the country has yet to contend, it certainly cannot now be said that it is a starving nation. It may in some of its transactions be embarrassed; it may in some of its interests severely suffer: some classes of the community may be pressed almost to ruin; but at least it is consolatory to know, that this nation is not what the hon. and learned gentleman once described it to be,—a starving nation.
Sir, before I begin to speak of the existing agricultural distresses, I wish to trouble the House with a few observations, in order to put the manufacturing and commercial interests of the country in the light in which I think they ought to be regarded. The hon. and learned gentleman, in his speech on a former evening, represented the manufacturing and commercial interests as involved in the prevailing distress, although, with the exception of the iron trade, he pointed out no branch of manufactures or commerce that suffered under any particular pressure. I will not now delay the House by any circumstantial explanation of the causes which have exposed that most important branch of our manufactures to some abatement of the rapidly progressive prosperity, which it has latterly so eminently enjoyed; but it is no little consolation, after having heard the florid descriptions of distress contained in the hon. and 354 learned gentleman's speeches in this and the preceding sessions,—after having heard of the misery to which the unhappy manufacturers were reduced in all parts of the kingdom—after having heard such prophetic and fearful warnings of the duration of that misery—after having heard appeals to the feelings of the manufacturers themselves, which might have as well been spared—after having heard all these things, I say, it is extremely consoling and satisfactory to observe that this great mass of distress and evil has entirely disappeared, in consequence of the agency of those natural causes which operate much more actively and beneficially than any that the head of man can devise.—Sir, I speak in the presence of many hon. gentlemen, who will correct me if I make an erroneous statement—and, God knows, nothing can be farther from my wish than to mislead the House on this subject—when I assert that the manufacturing and commercial interests of the country have undergone so favourable a change, that, taking them generally, at no period in the history of the country, have they been in a condition of more healthful, though temperate prosperity. The wages of manufacturing labour are certainly not so high as they were during the war, a circumstance perhaps the less to be regretted, as those high wages too frequently led to extravagance and idleness. But now, instead of finding a market stimulating to excessive effort, instead of seeing industry injuriously goaded on by extravagant wages, we see industry sustained and encouraged by adequate and sufficient wages; we see the manufacturer already living in great comfort, and looking forward to gradual and progressive prosperity. Upon the whole, I am not assuming too much when I say that, throughout the manufacturing districts the manufacturers are now receiving, as the fruits of their industry, the sum of twelve-pence where, during the recent period of actual distress, they receives eight-pence; and that with eight-pence they can obtain as many of the necessaries of life as would then have cost them twelve-pence; so that their condition is a hundred per cent better than it was.
This consolatory view of our situation extends to the manufacturing, the commercial, and to various other classes of the community, but I must go along with the hon. and learned gentleman, in deeply deploring the heavy pressure under which 355 the agricultural classes are labouring. I hope, Sir, that if any thing should drop I from me in the course of argument, which may have the appearance of not admitting the existence of that pressure to its full extent; or if I should deny the efficacy and policy of some of the remedies which have been suggested for the evil, the House will not suppose that it, is from want of commiseration or sympathy; or a due sense of the inconveniencies, temporary as I trust they are, which that great and important part of the population of the country are suffering. For myself, my own private interests are so bound up with those of the land, that, so far from not being sufficiently interested on that subject, if it be necessary for me to be at all watchful over the bias of my mind, it must be to guard myself rather against partiality, in whatever concerns the landed interest. But, with every disposition to admit all that is due to the other great branches of the public industry, and satisfied as I am that to their mutual connexion Britain is indebted for her resources, her greatness, her prosperity, every thing which has rendered her the admiration of the world; yet, although all the interests of the country are bound up and must stand or fall together, I must nevertheless contend, that the landed interest is that to which, if any preference can be shown, this House must always feel called upon to extend its utmost protection.
And here, Sir, I must beg leave to correct a misstatement on the part of the hon. and learned gentleman; and I do it thus early, because I know the stress that is laid on any argument which is used to show how perniciously certain taxes bear on the agricultural interest. The hon. and learned gentleman stated as an extraordinary fact, that the country now consumed a third less malt than it did thirty years ago [Mr. Brougham, across the table, "a seventh,"]. Well; say a seventh. If the hon. and learned gentleman had merely stated that the consumption of malt had not increased with the growing population of the country, I would not have denied the fact; although I should not be disposed to draw from it the inference, which has been drawn by the hon. and learned gentleman. I should attribute the diminished consumption of malt, not to a want of means in the consumer, nor yet to the pressure of the particular tax, but to a change in the habits 356 of the population, a change which had led them to the consumption of other articles in preference, and articles more suitable to their tastes, if not to their health. The argument of the hon. and learned gentleman, if it be good for any thing, is good for this—that the alleged diminution in the consumption of the article in question, has been produced by the increase of taxation. Now, Sir, what are the facts? So far from the country consuming a seventh less malt than it did in 1792, a reference to the official accounts of the excise will show, that the consumption of the last year, and of that part of the present year which has elapsed, is greater than the consumption in 1792; and what is very remarkable, is, that it appears from these records, that least malt was consumed in those years, in which there was least taxation upon it! Now, do not let the hon. and learned gentleman and the House suppose, that I thence infer that, generally, taxation increases consumption. I merely state the fact, as it appears on the face of the official returns, as a presumptive proof that the scale of consumption depends on other circumstances than the rate of duty. Taking the consumption of malt at the average annual number of bushels consumed, calculated for successive periods of three years each, and beginning at the year 1791, it appears that the average annual consumption during the years ended the 5th July,
and that it has been, during the portion of the present year which has elapsed, at the rate of about 30,000,000 bushels. I have stated this to the House, because I know that a great impression was made by the hon. and learned gentleman's assertion of the diminished consumption of malt. In referring to the great change which has taken place in the habits of the people, who are certainly less addicted to drinking strong liquors than they were 357 formerly, it must he observed, that there are other beverages which many persons now prefer to beer. I may mention particularly tea as one of those beverages. It is clear that tea has got into more general use; and that a large class of individuals, who formerly drank beer, now drink tea: not from being too poor to command the former, but from preferring the latter, I am not going to argue tea against beer, or beer against tea; but I simply state the fact to shew that if the consumption of malt has diminished, though not positively, yet with reference to the augmented population of the country the consumption of tea has increased—and has increased with a continually increasing duty. I will take the average annual weight, calculated in periods of three years each for the last thirty years, of the tea, on which duty has been charged. In 1790, before the consolidation of the duties, the Excise duty on tea, was 7l. 10s. per cent on the sale price. The addition of the Customs duty, made it 13l. per cent. It appears, by the official returns, that the average annual weight of tea charged with duty and consumed during the years ended 24th June,
Bushels. 1791, 1792, and 1793, was 27,011,073 1794, 1795, — 1796, — 26,131,162 1797, 1798, — 1799, — 29,879,506 1800, 1801, — 1802, — 21,128,681 1803, 1804, — 1805, — 25,081,462 1806, 1807, — 1808, — 24,935,460 1809, 1810, — 1811, — 24,631,362 1812, 1813, — 1814, — 22,383,637 1815, 1816, — 1817, — 23,487,829 1818, 1819, — 1820, — 24,448,115 that the consumption in 1821 was 28,697,057
During the whole of this period of thirty years, the duty with little interruption, has been gradually increasing from 13l. until it has reached 100l. per cent. Now, it is a curious circumstance, that although the hon. and learned gentleman declares (erroneously, as I have shown,) that the consumption of malt has decreased a seventh, because the people are so distressed as to be unable to bear the tax, the very same people choosing, it seems, tea in preference to beer, consume a sixth more tea, now that tea pays a duty of 100l. per cent, than they consumed when it paid a duty of only 13l. per cent; that is, the people of this "impoverished" country voluntarily incur an annual charge 358 of three millions sterling, which they might avoid. The argument to be drawn from the consumption of various other articles, corresponds with that arising from the consumption of tea. It appears, from the Excise returns, that not only has there been an increase of comfort in the country, but an increase of cleanliness. The fabrication of bricks for the erection of dwelling houses, has, it appears, largely increased; and the consumption of soap has nearly doubled in the last eight or ten years. I might go into a statement of a similar increase in other articles of consumption; but I am sensible that the time of the House is too valuable to justify me in dwelling longer on this part of the subject. There is only one more document, therefore, to which I wish to call their attention. It speaks volumes. I do not produce it to rebut the notion of the existence of great agricultural distress; but it proves to my mind, in the most full and satisfactory manner, that that distress is not so universal and destructive, nor yet so irremediable, as the hon. and learned gentleman has endeavoured to show. And, Sir, I know no greater cruelty, when the people are suffering from causes which cannot be immediately controlled, than to preach to them the language of despair. At a time when real evils enough exist, to endeavour to create a delusive sense of despondency, an object to which all the arguments and all the doctrines of the hon. and learned gentleman but too distinctly point, is not to address the language of real frendship to the people. It tends only to aggravate distress, by generating a belief, that their situation is hopeless; or, at least, that no remedy can be efficient but one which the nature of the public service, and the necessities of the state render it impossible to apply. I repeat, that the only further document connected with this part of the subject to which I wish to call the attention of the House, is, a statement of the produce of the Excise collections of the whole kingdom (leaving out London, the produce of which collection depends upon causes peculiar to itself), for the last, as compared with the preceding year. By the working of the Excise laws, which form the great barometer of consumption, and which, with the above exception, involve the question of a revenue of above sixteen millions and a half, collected in fifty-nine districts, it appears that there has been in the course of the last year, an 359 increase in the gross receipt of those collections, amounting to 1,528,750l.; from which, if we deduct 125,230l., being the decrease in the very few collections deficient, it will show that there has been an increase of above 1,400,000l. or between nine and ten per cent on the whole of the Excise duties throughout the kingdom, exclusive of London. But what is peculiarly encouraging, in this circumstance, is, that the increase has not taken place in any particular districts, from the occurrence of an accidentally stimulated consumption, accompanied with a great falling off in other districts; but that it has been generally diffused, while the decrease has taken place only in a very few collections, and in those instances can be accounted for from local and specific causes. I do not state all this to rebut the complaints of the country, under the pressure of the distress, the existence of which I have already admitted; but I state it to show how powerful are the principles of resurrection and prosperity in the country; principles which, if the House will only support by encouraging public credit, will soon, by their natural progress, restore every thing to a satisfactory state. But, to return to the fact. In the fifty-nine collections, there are.only six which exhibit any diminution whatever in the Excise duties. In three, the defalcation is merely nominal, being Bottle more than 2,000l. or 3,000l. in each. The only three collections which exhibit a sensible diminution of duty are, Canterbury. Sussex, and Worcester; and this the failure of the hop duty at once explains.
lbs. 1790, 1791, and 1792, was 17,468,301 1793, 1794, — 1795, — 19,424,566 1796, 1797, — 1798, — 20,963,781 1799, 1800, — 1801, — 24,249,560 1802, 1803, — 1804, — 20,933,725 1805, 1806, — 1807, — 20,734,453 1808, 1809, — 1810, — 20,552,565 1811, 1812, — 1813, — 20,948,081 1814, 1815, — 1816, — 23,310,798 1817, 1818, — 1819, — 21,904,925 and that the mean of the consumption of the two years 1820, and 1821, was 22,461,592
It gives me great pleasure, Sir, to be able to relieve the House from any farther consideration of this branch of the great question before us, by simply pointing their attention, in addition to what I have already stated, to the prominent facts which I am now desirous of laying before them. In the first place, it appears, that, notwithstanding the pressure which weighs down the country, we have a rising revenue, proved by the increase of above 1,000,000l. revenue in this year, over the revenue of last year, in which year I beg leave to observe, there was also a large and important increase over the revenue of the year preceding. In the next place, the commerce of the country is largely and rapidly improving. From the returns of the official value, which, as giving the comparative quantities export- 360 ed in each year, is the fairest mode of estimating it, the British and Irish produce and manufactures exported during the last three years, it appears, amounted in the year ending Oct. 10, 1819, to 37,590,854l., in the year ending Oct. 10, 1820, to 38,272,734l., in the year ending Oct. 10, 1821, to 42,747,762l., being an increase, in the last year, of above 4,400,000l. over the preceding year, and nearly 6,000,000l. over the foregoing year. We have, therefore, the satisfaction. to see, that under all the pressure, which, I admit, exists on the agricultural and labouring classes, the revenue of the country is increasing; and, what is of the utmost importance, the commerce of the country is largely, and rapidly, and steadily improving, and with it our manufactures, the salutary effects of which cannot fail soon to be felt by the landed interest: and, as far as my observation goes, that increase and improvement are founded on solid principles, and do not flow from improvident speculation. It appears, besides, that consumption, both as to the comforts and even the luxuries of life, is advancing, not only with rapidity, but with a universality of distribution which clearly shows that the principle of prosperity subsists; and that it requires only an animating cause to produce its full and natural effects: and, certainly, as far as parliament can accelerate the operation and extension of such a principle, it ought not, and, I am persuaded, it will not be wanting in its efforts.
Sir, before I describe to the House what the actual financial situation of the country is, I beg to be permitted to make a few preliminary observations, which will, I persuade myself, have the effect of shortening the discussion between the hon. and learned gentleman and myself; and of narrowing the view which it will be necessary for me to take of the subject. I think the hon. and learned gentleman told the House, that the true and only remedy for the existing distress was the reduction of taxes. Of course, the hon. and learned gentleman does not reject the operations of nature in our favour; but he maintains, that, as far as the wisdom and power of parliament can operate, by no other plan can an effectual relief be found for the distresses of the country, but by pushing to its utmost extent the reduction of taxation. [Hear, hear!] I am exceedingly glad to find, from the cheers of the hon. gentlemen 361 opposite, that I have caught so correctly the views of the hon. and learned gentleman; for now I shall be able to state precisely the point on which we differ.
I again entreat the House not to suppose that I am standing here to defend the doctrine, that taxation is a blessing; or to dissuade parliament from repealing a single tax that can be repealed with real advantage to the community. I am ready to agree to the repeal of any tax which the parliament of the country, after fully and fairly considering the subject, shall be of opinion can be repealed,—preserving at the same time that religious respect for public credit, which is the foundation of national honour, and without which no nation can be, or ought to be prosperous. All that can justly and wisely be repealed, I will go along with the hon. and learned gentleman, and with his most zealous supporters, in repealing. But the question, Sir, comes to this:—whether it is in such a repeal alone, or even principally, that the specific relief of the agricultural interest is to be sought?—whether they can hope, from any immediate reduction of taxes, to experience a material reduction of distress?—or whether that relief will not be more effectual, and more speedy too, if administered with reference to those general principles which ought to govern us in all our proceedings? Here, then, is the difference between the hon. and learned gentleman and myself. The hon. and learned gentleman looks for relief to the repeal of taxation alone—I look as eagerly as he does to the repeal of taxation; but I look to it as qualified by all those principles which regulate public prosperity, and in public prosperity involve private prosperity also; and this view of the subject will be found to separate our arguments still further as I advance.
I will now proceed to explain my reasons for denying that the question of agricultural relief can be regarded as mainly dependent on the repeal of taxes, instead of on all those other circumstances which regulate the value of produce, and influence the state of the markets. An hon. member of great authority on these subjects (Mr. Ricardo), stated, in reply to the hon. and learned gentleman's speech on a former evening, that a country might be wholly exempt from taxes, and yet suffer more severely from agricultural distress than we now do. Ground- 362 ing myself upon this obvious principle, and supported by his authority, I do not hesitate to assert, that could we at once sweep away the whole mass of our taxation in a moment, our distress would still continue to press upon us—in so small a degree does that distress, in fact, originate in the operation of taxation.
I shall make myself more intelligible when I put the argument thus:—In what proportion do taxes really enter into the expenses of the farmer? I know very well we shall have a great many views submitted to us by different gentlemen on this part of the subject; and I also know that the situation and circumstances of different farmers will present different results varying in degree, but agreeing sufficiently for all purposes of reasoning. I shall proceed, however, to state what is the result of a fair calculation, made on the most general view that it is practicable to take of this subject; and I will then apply that result to the argument between the hon. and learned gentleman and myself. The result, then, of the best inquiry which I have been able to make is, that if I estimate the total amount of the taxes, direct and indirect, which can by possibility bear upon the farmer, considered in his double capacity of a cultivator and a consumer, at one-seventh of his rent, I estimate it quite as highly as the facts will warrant. However, I am ready, for argument's sake, to estimate it even at one-fifth of his rent. Now, if the taxes on the farmer bear the proportion of one-fifth of the landlord's rent, and the landlord's rent, bears the proportion of one fourth of the value of the produce of the soil, it follows that the taxes on the farmer will amount to one-twentieth of the value of the produce of the soil; or, in other words, to five per cent on the outgoings and incomings of the whole farm. It is for the hon. and learned gentleman to shew (dispose of the question of taxation as you will) how such a sum as five per cent on the value of the produce of the soil, can have the effect of occasioning or continuing the present distress. But, suppose the state could afford to sacrifice as much of its revenue as would be equivalent to five per cent on the produce of the land—a sum probably amounting to not less than seven or eight millions—it is not too much to assume, that, from the very numerous channels of intermediate profit through which such remission must pass before it could reach the actual cultivator, and in 363 which a large portion of it would be intercepted, not above half the value of the whole remission would reach the pocket of the farmer; so that instead of five per cent the cultivator would actually receive a remission of only two and a half per cent. If, then, the state is to be called upon to give the farmer five per cent on his produce, the House must, in that case be prepared to sacrifice fourteen or fifteen millions of revenue; which is so absurd a proposition, that I need not dwell upon it for a moment. Sir, I do not mean to say that a relief of five per cent would be wholly unimportant to the farmer; but I contend that it would not make such a difference in his present state, as to realise the fanciful expectations which he is encouraged to entertain, or materially to affect his general transactions for the year.
But, Sir, the proposal to repeal taxes to such an extent is worse than unavailing; it is delusive. It is in vain to suppose that any thing we can do will counteract the operations of nature, or influence essentially the state of the markets. It is not to a repeal of taxation that the farmer must look for relief. What passes in Mark Lane and in Smithfield is of much more importance to the farmer in that respect, than what passes in the House of Commons. It is in those markets for the farmer's produce that the causes are operating which alone can have an extensive or a permanent effect on his prosperity. Taxation is only a small portion of the question of relief; it is far from being, as I trust I have distinctly shewn, the main question itself. The hon. and learned gentleman asserted the other evening, that if the whole of the landlord's rent were surrendered to the farmer, still even that sacrifice would be insufficient for the farmer's relief. Is it not then an insult to the common sense of the House and the country, for the hon. and learned gentleman to contend, in the same breath, that the reduction of taxation, forming as it does but a proportion of that rent, could be effectual; or could even materially contribute to relieve the farmer? I feel that it would be a waste of the time of the House to dwell any longer on the dangerous delusion held out to the agricultural interest by those who maintain that any material change in the condition of the farmer can be expected from the remission of taxes, instead of proceeding from the hand of Providence, from the due course of nature, and from the uncontrollable opera- 364 tion of all those great laws and principles which govern the markets of the world.
The hon. and learned gentleman may say, "If not in repeal of taxes, where then is relief to "come from?" My answer is—where it never fails to come from. It will come from the operation of capital, which cannot long remain unproductive. The supply and the demand will soon adjust themselves to each other. Complicated as the question is in theory, yet every day facts are exhibiting its true character; and the reductions which are taking place in rents, and on the price of all articles used by the farmer in the cultivation of his land, will speedily carry matters to the true point of equalization. The supply will proportion itself to the demand. The remedy for the evil will be found in the unerring laws of political economy. There is the true source of the farmer's hope. It is to the operation of natural causes that he must look for effectual relief, and not to the confiscation of the revenues of the state. If the farmer were so ignorant of his true interests, of the very rudiments of political economy, and of the real causes of his present distress as to imagine he saw his own advantage in such an improvident concession as would take him out of the class of contributers to the burdens of the state, the farmer would soon find that he derived no eventual benefit from the concession, and that the laws of nature had decided that it should not fructify to his advantage. The immediate relief that he might experience would be enjoyed by him but for a very short period. The excess beyond the ordinary profit of capital would soon be taken from him, either in rent or reduction of the price of his commodity. Experience would soon convince the farmer that the benefit which he might think he had secured was imaginary. Providence has ordained that any expectation so monstrous must defeat its own purpose, and both parliament and the agriculturist would be severely punished, for having unhappily yielded to the delusive representations of those, who had held out a prospect of relief from the improvident remission of taxation; and for having entertained the fallacious hope, that the agriculturists, or any other great class of the community, could by possibility be withdrawn from the operation of those unseen, but all-powerful causes which necessarily affect and regulate the whole system of our productive industry.
365 Having thus, Sir, stated the difference between my opinions on this branch of the subject, and those of the hon, and learned gentleman, I proceed to that which is certainly the most material part of the duty I have to perform, namely, to put the House in possession, as clearly and briefly as I am able, of what the financial position of the country is at the present moment—what are the views which his majesty's ministers entertain of that position —and what are the means which, in their judgment, parliament may most wisely, apply, for the double purpose of relieving the present distress, and securing the general and permanent prosperity.
I forgot to mention, in its proper place, what it will be very satisfactory to the House to know, that, up to the latest period to which it can be calculated, the revenue appears to be increasing. By an official return it will be seen, that there is an increase in the five weeks of the present quarter, which ended on the 3rd of February, of 202,000l. as compared with the corresponding period of the last year.
Sir, I think I shall most clearly put the House in possession of the course which his majesty's government intend to propose, by first apprising them of the reductions which they have felt themselves enabled to make since the last session of parliament. I will then show what our present income and expenditure are, and what is the actual surplus which we have realised; and that will lead me to the consideration of what will be the most expedient application of the means thus obtained for the general interests of the country. For the sake of convenience, I will state the sums in round numbers, and abstain from those details which there will be frequent opportunities hereafter of examining. I shall now state the amount of the supply required by the estimates of the present year, and that which was voted in the last year; comparing the principal items, and shewing what is the proposed nett saving.
The grant for the Army, ordinaries and extraordinaries, last year, was 8,736,000l.—the proposed grant for the present year is 7,748,000l. being a saving of 988,000l. The grant for the Navy last year was 6,382,000l.—the proposed grant for the present year is 5,497,000l. being a saving of 885,000l. The grant for the Ordnance last year was 1,094,000l. the proposed grant for the present year is 1,200,000l. being an apparent exceeding of 106,000l. 366 but it must be recollected, that last year considerable aid was derived, in the Ordnance department, from the sale of old stores: when this circumstance is taken into the calculation, instead of any excess in the Ordnance of the present year, there is, in point of fact, an actual diminution of charge to the amount of above 100,000l. For the Miscellaneous services of last year, the grant was 1,890,000l.—the proposed grant for the present year is 1,700,000l. being a saving of 190,000l. The total of the supplies voted in the last year, exclusive of the interest and sinking fund upon Exchequer bills, was 18,107,000l. while the total of the supplies which it will be proposed to vote in the present year is 16,145,000l. making a clear reduction of 1,962,000l.—This is the actual reduction, exclusive of the sum of 80,000l. for coast blockade, transferred from the department of the Customs to the navy estimates, and which did not formerly belong to them. This sum ought to be added to the general reduction, and will consequently make it amount to above 2,042,000l.
I will now proceed to a comparison of the estimates of the present year with the estimates of the year 1820, and also with the prospective estimates in the report of the finance committee of 1817. The total supply voted by parliament in 1820 was 19,673,000l.—that to be proposed in the present year is, as I have already stated, 16,145,000l.—Being a reduction in the supply of the present year, as compared with the supply of the year 1820, of 3,528,000l.; and, as compared with the supply of last year, of rather more than 2,000,000l. If we compare the aggregate of the Army, Navy, Ordnance, and Miscellaneous services in the estimates of the present year, with that contained in the Report of the Finance committee of 1817, we shall find that there is a reduction of 1,904,000l.; but if we deduct 700,000l.from that sum, on account of the difference in the interest of the unfunded debt depending upon other causes than the expenses of the year, the reduction will be 1,204,000l. So that, on the whole it appears, there is, in the present year, a reduction of 1,171,000l.below the lowest estimate of our peace expenditure as set forth in the report of the finance committee; a reduction of 3,608,000l. below the estimates of 1820; and a reduction of rather more than 2,000,000l. below the estimates of last year. And here, I must beg leave to call the particular attention of the House to 367 the sum on which this amount of above 2,000,000l. has been saved. It should not be considered as saved on the gross sum of 18,107,000l. being the supplies voted last year, for from that sum there must be deducted about 5,000.000l. of dead expenditure of the Army, Navy, Ordnance, &c. applied in half-pay, pensions, and annuities over which his majesty's government have no control whatever. The actual sum, therefore, on which this saving of 2,000,000l. has been really effected is about 14,500,000l. being a saving of about one-seventh on the whole charge.
Now, Sir, although I have thought it the most satisfactory course to present to the House what the estimates of the ordinary expenditure of the present year are, in order that they may be enabled the better to compare them with the estimates of former, years, and to distinguish the amount of the savings which his majesty's ministers have been able to effect; yet, on, the other hand, I ought to state, that there are two extraordinary charges, for which parliament will be called upon to provide in the, present year, which are not likely to recur, and which must rest, for their justification, upon their own merits. I will now merely state what those extraordinary charges are; and show how it, is proposed, that they shall be covered, without prejudice to the general financial system on which his majesty's government are now acting, under the declared sense of parliament. The first is, the extraordinary expense, arising out of the disturbed state of Ireland, from the necessary employment of the veteran battalions, the yeomanry corps, &c. On this subject, it is intended to present a distinct estimate. The second extraordinary expense is a proposed grant to Greenwich Hospital. The vote intended for the extraordinary expenses growing out of the disturbed state of Ireland, will be 350,000l.; an expense which we hope may terminate even before the expiration of the year, if the measures now in progress for the restoration of public tranquillity shall happily be attended with the desired effect. The grant to Greenwich Hospital will amount to 320,000l., the necessity for which has been occasioned by the diminution of some, and the cessation of other sources of revenue, which accrued to that valuable institution during the war, from the pay of seamen, prize-money, &c. This aid, I am happy to assure the House, will not be required in another year, as 368 means are in contemplation, which will next year enable my noble friend at the head of the Admiralty, by further reductions in our naval expenditure, to include,that sum in the general estimates of the navy, taking them at their present amount.
Having thus, Sir, stated the amount of the reductions which his majesty's government are enabled to propose in the expenditure of the country, I come to consider what the state of our income is, as compared with our expenditure, and what is the actual surplus which parliament can now dispose of for the public benefit. But before I enter on this branch of the subject, I must request the Clerk to read the Resolution, founded on the report of the Finance Committee, to which the House came in June 1819.
§ [Here the Clerk read the Resolution, as follows:]
§ "That to provide for the exigencies of the public service, to make such progressive reduction of the national debt, as may adequately support public credit, and to afford to the country a prospect of future relief from a part of its present burthens: it is absolutely necessary, that there should be a clear surplus of the income of the country, beyond its expenditure, of not less than 5,000,000l.; and that, with a view to the attainment of this important object, it is expedient now to increase the income of the country by the imposition of taxes to the amount of 3,000,000l. per annum."
§ Sir, I will now call the attention of the House to the situation in which parliament and his majesty's government are placed with reference to the subject matter of the Resolution, thus wisely recorded in our Journals; and in strict conformity to the principle of which Resolution, his majesty's ministers have since acted, in all they have done, with regard to the finances of the country. The first question is—what, after comparing our income with our expenditure, is the clear surplus which we can use in furtherance of the object declared to be "absolutely necessary" in the resolution which we have just heard? The accounts which I am now about to submit to the House, are prepared on the principle of exhibiting the whole of our nett annual receipts and charges, and, the arriving at a balance, without involving the account in the details of the system of the sinking fund as at present established by law. I begin with the income; and I take the 369 revenue of last year as the basis of my calculation; assuming nothing on the prospect of its improvement, although its progress for several years, and its present progressive state, might well warrant me in so doing. But, on the whole, I think it is better to take the revenue as it stands; leaving any extraordinary improvement that may take place to meet any extraordinary charge which may occur. The actual income for 1821, was 55,997,000l. To this, however, I am entitled to add 80,000l., being the saving to the Customs by the transfer of the coast blockade to the Navy; and 150,000l.; being the saving in revenue, and other departments, by deductions proposed to be made from offices, superannuations, &c. the principle and extent of which deductions, my right hon. friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given notice of his intention, at an early day, to bring under the consideration of the House. These two sums make together 230,000l.; and if we add them to the actual revenue of 1821, namely, 55,997,000l., they will make the sum of 56,227,000l. From this sum, however, I must deduct 480,000l. lost to the revenue by the repeal of the horse tax; 300,000l. in consequence of the receipt this year under the head of French Indemnity, being less by that sum than last year; and 219,000l., the sum repaid for public works in 1821. These three sums make together 999,000l., to be deducted from 56,227,000l.; reducing the income, on which I have a right to calculate for the present year, to 55,228,000l. In adverting to the French Indemnity, I cannot but do homage to the fidelity and high honour with which France has wound up all her pecuniary transactions with the several European powers. The proportion of the French contributions which, under treaty, belonged to this country, it may be satisfactory to state, will have realized to the public not less than 700,000l. clear, after accounting with the Netherland's government, under our treaties, for 1,529,000l., and covering also the extraordinary charge of the British army of Occupation in France, beyond the rate allowed by that State for its maintenance.
§ I now proceed to the statement of the Expenditure for the present year. The charge upon the consolidated fund, exclusive of the sinking fund is divided under two heads:—29,609,000l. for the 370 dividends and management of the unredeemed funded debt, and 2,041,000l. for other permanent charges; making together 31,650,000l. The interest on Exchequer bills (including Exchequer bills on the consolidated fund, and an arrear of 200,000l. to the Bank of England, net to occur again) is 1,500,000l. The army, exclusive of the extraordinary aid required in Ireland to which I have already adverted, and of the expense of recruiting and clothing for the regiments serving in India, is 7,748,000l. The navy is 5,500,000l.; the Ordnance, 1,200,000l.; the Miscellaneous charges 1,700,000l.; and Greenwich Hospital, 320,000l.; making a total expenditure, exclusive of extra expenditure for Ireland, of 49,618,000l. If we add the estimated extra expenditure in Ireland, the amount will be 49,968,000l.; and after deducting this sum from the total amount of income, namely 55,228,000l., there will remain a clear surplus over all the expenditure of the year, extraordinary as well as ordinary, of 5.260,000l.
§ On the subject of the Army Estimates, I wish to observe, that therein it is assumed, that 200,000l. will be actually paid by the East India Company in the present year, for its proportion of the expenditure of the king's troops in India, as issued by his majesty's government in Europe. This sum is regularly issued by the paymaster-general, but not repaid within the year by the company. It is carried to an account current between the government and the company. And what is to be desired is, that the company should replace by quarterly issues to the paymaster-general, the payments made on account of the Indian army, in order to simplify the estimates of the year. I shall still hope, that no serious objection can be made to this course of proceeding, as the company do not dispute the charge against them on this head, and as the only question is in regard to the mode of bringing it to account. There is also another subject of negotiation between his majesty's government, and the East India company, on which we have not yet been successful, but in which, knowing, as I do, the liberality and honour of that distinguished body, I cannot persuade myself but that we shall eventually succeed; and that is, Sir, to induce the East India company to bear their fair proportion of the dead charge on the king's army in India. It surely is not an unreasonable expecta- 371 tion, when the state furnishes 20,000 men for their service, that the East India company should bear a fair proportion of the expense or such of the troops as are, in the natural course of service, pensioned and sent home. If this circumstance had not been overlooked, it must have been made a matter of stipulation on the renewal of the company's charter. It is not intended, however, to give this claim a retrospective effect; and although his majesty's government have not hitherto been successful in persuading the East India company to accede to, the proposition even as thus limited, I have no doubt that a sense of justice will ultimately induce that company to contribute their just share, in so far as this branch of the public expenditure is concerned, to the relief of the burdens of the state.
§ And now, Sir, before I enter into the measures which parliament ought to adopt, in consequence of the means which, by the surplus of the revenue over the expenditure, are placed at its disposal, I feel that I should not do justice to the House—I feel that I should not do justice to my right hon. friend, near me, if I did not sincerely congratulate them on the eminent financial position to which the country has now attained. Notwithstanding the numerous and complicated difficulties, and the severe pressure under which it has been labouring, not more than three short years have elapsed, since the passing of the Resolution which has been read by the clerk; and vet, in that time, my right hon. friend has accomplished the labour to which he was pledged by that Resolution. He has secured for the country, a clear, undisputed, available surplus revenue of 5,000,000l. The principle of finance, which my right hon. friend, in concert with my noble friend at the head of the Treasury, has pursued with so much zeal, and which fortunately met with the approbation and sanction of parliament, has been crowned with complete success; and my right hon. friend has, now that we are returned to a state of peace, the proud satisfaction, after carrying the finances of the country with triumph through a war attended with a more heavy and complicated expense than any in which we were ever before engaged, not only to have equalized the revenue with the expenditure, but to have enabled parliament to realise a solid system of public credit, founded,on the basis of a large surplus income; thus placing 372 in the hands of this House a most powerful instrument, if wisely and properly used, for rapidly promoting the regeneration of the public prosperity.
§ And this brings me, Sir, to the policy of the hon. and learned gentleman opposite, as contrasted with the policy of his majesty's government. The question for you to decide is, will the interests of the country be best consulted by sweeping away all this surplus revenue which you have been at so much pains, and have bestowed so much labour, to create; and by giving it at once le the people, under all the hazards of such an act, even to the regular payment of the dividends to the public creditor; under all the inevitable depression of public and of private credit; under the danger, or indeed the certainty, of suddenly impairing the resources of the country, public and private; for the purpose of affording what, in point of fact, would, after all, be a very limited relief to those who are now undergoing a temporary distress? Will you, for purposes so inadequate, and at the risk of evils so incalculably great, abandon at once, as the hon. and learned gentleman recommends you to do, all the great principles on which you have hitherto sustained both public and private credit? Or, will you not rather, standing on the firm vantage ground which you have created for yourselves, determine to consult the true interests and permanent prosperity of the nation (and of no part of it more than of those who are at present suffering), by resolutely maintaining your long established principles of public faith, and of public credit?
§ It must be in the recollection of the House, that from the first moment at which my right hon. friend, after the return of peace, opened the view on which his majesty's government were desirous of acting, with respect to the finances of the country, their object has invariably been to sustain and improve the public credit, in such a manner as might enable them eventually to relieve the country from a very considerable part of its pressure, by diminishing the high interest on a large portion of the public debt. To that subject I wish now to advert, lathe first place, the House are aware, that the capital of that part of the national debt which bears an. interest of five per cent, is not less than 155,000;000l.; and that the capital of that part of the national debt, which bears an interest of four per cent, 373 is not less than 75,000,000l. The interest of the former is 7,750,000l.; that of the latter 3,000,000l.; making together an annual charge of 10,750,000l. The object which his majesty's ministers have continually had in view, has been to reduce that high rate of interest. To that object their attention has hem anxiously directed; and I now call upon the House to consider what relief such reduction will afford; what effect it is likely to have on the immediate resources of the country; and what are the eventual results which may fairly be expected from the adoption of such a system of financial policy.
§ If we steadily adhere to the Resolution to which we stand pledged, a considerable reduction will annually take place in the amount of our debt, sustaining in every way the public credit of the country. accelerating the rise of the funds, and, in consequence, the lowering of the interest of money, thereby affording a substantial relief to every class in the community; the final advantage of which will be most extensive and important. Instead of breaking down public credit, and losing all the advantages thence to be derived, we shall maintain public credit, and be enabled in the management of our finances, to avail ourselves of all the favourable occurrences growing out of such an improved condition of public affairs. By pursuing the course which I have described, not only shall we be enabled to afford a present relief to the community, but we may look forward to the prospect of progressively reducing, and that at no very distant day, not only the whole of the five but also the four per cents, possibly to a three per cent stock. Such a state of things cannot immediately be expected, but the House will recollect, that it was only six years after Mr. Pitt first established a sinking fund of a million (which bore a much less proportion to the then debt, than that which the House, if they persevere in the system I recommend, will maintain), when on the basis of that security to public credit, the three per cents from being as low as 58, rose to 97 and a fraction. If the public credit, therefore, should be sustained as his majesty's government propose to sustain it, a shorter period may he required with the operation of a sinking fund of 5,000,000l., instead of 1,000,000l., to place us in a situation of similar advantage. At present, the three per cents are at 78; the interval, therefore in all probability will not be 374 long, if we are resolute in maintaining the public credit, before we may hope to see.the funds at such a price, as may enable us to reduce the interest upon the whole of the great mass both of the five and the four per cents.
§ To judge of the utmost extent of resource that may be derived from the conversion of this part of the public debt into funds bearing a lower interest, we may suppose, although the operation cannot be otherwise than progressive, the whole reduced into a three per cent stock. Taking the estimate upon this scale, a clear saving of 3,700,000l. of annual revenue would be effected. Such is the financial prosperity that will result from the principle of maintaining instead of abandoning, public credit. In the one case, we shall be enabled to reduce our expenditure in this single instance, to the amount of above three millions and a half; in the other, it is not too much to assert, that we must abandon all hope of accomplishing any considerable reduction either of the five per cents, or of the four per cents. Such a result, in truth, must be utterly hopeless, if a system, so detrimental to public credit as that of the hon. and learned gentleman, should be resorted to.
§ I am convinced, therefore, that when I say the sum of 3,700,000l. will be thus saved to the public from the reduction of interest, I am stating only the smallest item of the advantages which the country will enjoy from the support of public credit; for in my conscience I believe, that the effect on the general interests throughout the empire, will be much more extensive and important, even than the effect produced by so large a redaction of the interest on the national debt.
§ I conjure the House, therefore, as they have had the manliness to face all the difficulties hitherto opposed to them —as their sense of moral duty has induced them, in spite of every obstacle, to re-establish the true standard of our currency; which, I trust, no situation of things will ever tempt us to depart—I conjure them to be no less firm and resolute in establishing the standard of our public credit. In doing so, they will confirm the public prosperity; for, as sure as the needle is true to the pole, so sure is it that the general prosperity of the country depends substantially on the maintenance of her public credit. Standing on the strength 375 of the system which has been created—standing on the authority of the resolution to which parliament came in 1819, that "to afford to the country a prospect of future relief from a part of its present burthens, it was absolutely necessary, that there should be a clear surplus of the income of the country beyond its expenditure of not less than 5,000,000l."—I have now to communicate to the House, that it is the intention of his majesty's government, without loss of time, to enter into a negotiation for the reduction of the higher rates of interest payable to the public creditor. I am confident, that this operation will be effected with] perfect facility, so soon as parliament shall have shewn itself firm to its purpose; and when the country shall, through a conviction of this determination, be relieved from the gloomy apprehensions resulting from the hon. and learned gentleman's menaces, and from those hints of some frightful, but obscure, "necessity," which is to over-rule all our deliberations on this subject. "Necessity," Sir, "is the tyrant's plea;" and I look at it with equal alarm and jealousy, when it peeps from under the gown of a professional man, as when it comes from the mouth of a conqueror, or a despot; for, in either case, it threatens destruction to the first principles of justice, morality, and law. It is evident, that the word "necessity," as used by the hon. and learned gentleman—and I have not chosen to put so strong a construction upon the term, as my friends around me think I should have been warranted in doing, because I do not think it for the public interest to give to it such an alarming construction—it is evident, that the word "necessity," used in the obscure and ominous manner in which the hon. and learned gentleman used it, is calculated to excite apprehension in every loyal and virtuous mind, and to blight the great sources of our prosperity and power; unless parliament shall, at the very outset, boldly oppose the hon. and learned gentleman's projects, and uphold, with a strong hand, the principles to which they have been indebted for the maintenance of the national character, and of the public interests and honor.
§ In looking at what may he the immediate relief to the country from a reduction of the five per cents, I shall take the four per cents at the price at which they were a day or, two ago when I made my calculation, namely 97. It is intended, in the 376 first instance, to convert the five per cent into a four per cent stock. The House will see that as the three per cents bear in the market a higher relative price than the three and a half per cents, and as the three and a half per cents also bear a higher relative price than the four per cents, a larger immediate saving might be obtained from the reduction of the five into a three per cent fund, than will be obtained by its reduction into a four per cent fund; but this would not be sufficient to compensate for the loss of the saving which will hereafter arise from the reduction of the four per cent stock into a three per cent stock, when the price of the funds may render such a measure desirable. As an operation of policy, therefore, and of ultimate profit, it is much more expedient that the five per cents should, in the first instance, be reduced to a four per cent fund, by which only a small addition will be made to the capital of the debt; and in the course of a few years the country may expect an additional saving to arise out of a reduction of the four per cents.
§ Taking, therefore, the market price of the four per cents at 97, the conversion of the 155,000,000l. of five per cent into four per cent stock, will effect an immediate saving of 1,420,000l. It may be a little more or a little less, according to the bonus to be given to the holders, and to the fluctuations of the market at the time; but the calculation is sufficiently accurate for all purposes of reasoning upon its effect. I assume, therefore, that after having applied the 5,000,000l. surplus in liquidation of debt, which parliament, by its resolution of 1819, declared to be absolutely necessary for the maintenance of public credit, we may, in the course of the present year, effect, by the reduction of the five per cent to the four per cent stock, a further clear annual saving of 1,400,000l. It is then for parliament to determine what, under the present circumstances of the country, shall be the application of that sum. When Parliament declared by its resolution, that a sinking fund of 5,000,000l. was indispensable, it reserved to itself to decide at a future period, whether any excess of the fund above that sum should be applied, at compound interest or otherwise, to accelerate the reduction of our debt,—to alleviate the public burthens by a diminution of taxation—or, partly to the one, and partly to the other of these objects. Under the present circumstances 377 of the country, I have no hesitation in saying, that, taking into consideration the pressure of the existing distress, I think we ought, at the present moment, to devote this sum of 1,400,000l. to the reduction of taxation, rather than direct it to the augmentation of the sinking fund, or divide it between these two objects; were it for no other purpose than to show the anxious desire of parliament to do what it can in the way of relief—and to prove its sympathy in the distresses of the country.
§ The question now is, assuming that the conversion of the five per cents into four per cents will place a saving of interest to the amount of 1,400,000l. at the disposal of parliament; and assuming that the House shall consider it most advisable to apply this sum to the remission of taxation (which they are fortunately enabled to do without any violation of their system), in what way can parliament effect that object, so as, under all the circumstances of the case, to afford the greatest relief to the existing distress? Perhaps, if this were simply a question of dry financial policy, and that we were merely to inquire as to the tax the remission of which could most rapidly be brought to bear in effecting the projected aid, I should have had some hesitation in fixing on that which I am about to mention to the House. But, after the most anxious and mature deliberation on the part of his majesty's government, it appears to them, that as malt is the article on which parliament last felt the necessity of imposing a tax—as that tax is one respecting which great anxiety seems to exist, as the repeal of a portion of the malt tax has been pointed out (whether on solid principles or not, I will not stay to consider) as the surest means of affording relief to the agricultural interest; and as such a measure appears to be the best pledge parliament can give of its inclination to grant relief whenever it possesses the power to do so—it is the intention of my right hon. friend, when the annual malt duty comes under the consideration of the House, to move to strike out the word "Malt;" the effect of which will be, to take off the duty of one shilling a bushel, or eight shillings a quarter; and thereby to relieve the country from the payment of between 1,100,000l. and 1,500,000l. per annum.
§ Sir, I should deeply lament if this relief were afforded by injuring the integrity of 378 the system, so essential to the public safety and welfare, or by trenching on those funds which are indispensable fort the support of that system. But that is not the case; and I have the satisfaction to add, that my right hon. friend will be able to suggest ways and means for the repayment of the duty advanced on the stock in hand; without affecting the general principle on which we have hitherto acted, and on which I trust we shall continue to act.
§ It is usual on occasions like this, to look forward a little to the probable operation of any measure beyond the present year; and perhaps I may be allowed to enter into such an anticipation. At the same time, I feel that although in what I have already stated, as to the present year, I am borne out by actual accounts, what I am about to state of the probable results in succeeding years, must be in some degree conjectural. I hope, therefore, in a matter necessarily involving so much uncertainty, the House will receive what I am about to state with indulgence. I certainly do contemplate, consistently with the integrity of that system which I hope parliament will determine on no account to impair, a possible additional remission of taxes in the next session of not less than another million sterling—of course reserving, if such remission should be decided on, until that period shall arrive, the consideration of the best way in which it can be made.—I hope the House will forgive me if I venture to travel one step further, and endeavour to present to them a slight sketch of what appears likely to be our progress, in the six years following the next year; always presuming that the House will not destroy the system which they have themselves established for the support of the public prosperity, before it has had sufficient scope for the attainment of its object.
§ The million to be remitted next year may be expected to arise in the following manner:—Greenwich hospital, 320,000l.; extra charge for Ireland, 350,000l.; arrear to Bank, 200,000l.; interest of five millions sinking fund, 180,000l.; diminution of dead expense, 80,000l.;—1,130,000l. I will not delay the House, by entering into the details of the subject, although I have the materials before me, which show the probability that there will be the means of giving a further relief, art; the year after the next, of 660,000l.;and, in the subsequent years, of about 379 510,000l. a year; if the circumstances of the country should then continue to re-quire a further remission of taxes in preference to applying the growing produce of this fund to a more rapid extinction of the public debt: and this, exclusive of the prospect of eventually reducing the four per cents. If we look forward to a series of six years' perseverance in the plan now proposed, of course, being aware that much must depend upon the nature of the events that may occur, the result will be this:—an immediate relief in the present year of 1,400,000l.; a probable additional relief in the next year of 1,000,000l.; and a further sum of about 500,0001l.in the five subsequent years; making a total of above 5,000,000l., exclusive of the contingency of the reduction of the four per cents, which. maybe taken, under favourable circumstances, as placing a sum of not less than 2,000,000l. more at our disposal, which, added to the 5,000,000l. will give us the means of remitting 7,000,000l. in annual taxation, if such disposition of the amount should be deemed by this House most fitting, in addition to the 18,000,000l. of annual taxes, which were repealed at the close of the war. In the interval, the sinking fund, continuing steadily to operate, will have applied above 30,000,000l. to the redemption of the public debt.
§ House will, I trust, receive with indulgence this statement, which of course cannot be expected to be strictly accurate, but which is sufficiently so to show the striking contrast between the system recommended by his majesty's government, and that proposed by the hon. and learned gentleman. I shall be perfectly prepared, at some future period, to explain the nature of the data on which the calculations, the general results of which I have just communicated to the House, are founded. I know that the hon. and learned gentleman may say, that some of the materials on which I calculate prospectively, are to be equally found in his system. This is true to a certain, but to a very limited extent. No doubt, the dead expense would equally fall in whichever course was pursued. The charge of Greenwich Hospital and Ireland might equally be saved; but the new sources of relief on which I rely would be wholly extinguished by the hon. and learned gentleman's suggestion. The aid to be derived from the reduction of the higher rates of interest payable on our debt, estimated at 380 about 3,500,000l. would be forfeited. The annual produce of the sinking fund, taken at 180,000l. per annum, could not exist when the fund itself was destroyed; nor do I conceive that the revenue would present an equal prospect of growth.
§ Having thus, Sir, stated to the House, the general financial position of the country, its income, expenditure, and, surplus resources; and having described the mode, in which, according to the view of his majesty's government, those resources ought now to be administered, I think I have opened to the view of parliament, largely, the means of relieving the country, and of contributing to its prosperity; not at the expense of justice and good faith, but, in a manner consonant to that proud and honourable British character, which it has always been our object to maintain. I think I have opened a progressive system of reduction in taxation, which, combined with that general prosperity which the maintenance of public credit is calculated to ensure, will bring to every subject in the realm a relief; infinitely more copious and substantial, than could result from the destructive schemes, to which the hon. and learned gentleman would have us to resort. But; sir, his majesty's government feel, that they would not have done their duty, if they had confined themselves to this view, although by far the most important, of the position of the country. They feel, that they: would not have done their duty, if they had not directed their attention to consider what other and collateral aids, founded on sound and solid principles of financial and political economy, might assist in re-animating the industry and commerce of the country, in all their branches, and accelerating the march of returning prosperity. And this brings into view a question, which has been most anxiously discussed and dwelt upon both in and out of this House for, there is scarcely a single petition, that has been presented to us, which, does not, in some manner or other, allude to that question, and which does not attribute the embarrasments of the country to something connected with the state of the circulation.
§ On this subject, I entirely concur with the hon. baronet opposite, the member for Westminster, in entering a solemn and unqualified protest against shaking, in the slightest degree, that sound system of currency, which, so much to the honour of parliament and so much to the honour of the moral character of the country, has 381 been re-estabished and consecrated by the bill which was brought in by may right hon. friend near me (Mr. Peel). For although, when that measure was under discussion, I may have had shades of difference of opinion with respect to the precise period at which the resumption of cash payments might most advantageously, have been made to take place, no man could be more fully persuaded than myself, that the measure was in itself most necessary and salutary; and, having happily arrived at its accomplishment, no man can feel a stronger determination than I do that it shall never be disturbed. I, therefore, most solemnly declare, that if any thing I am going to propose could be justly considered as indicating any disposition to lay a sacrilegious hand on that measure, I would be the last man in this House to stand up and make such a proposition. But, Sir, his majesty's government, do conceive that, consistently with the preservation the present standard of our currency, much relief might arise to all the industrious classes of the community, and considerable facility might be afforded to all money operations, and to none more than those in which the landed interest are engaged by some what increasing the floating debt of the country. I beg to disclaim all inclination on the part or his majesty's government to derive any convenience from this proposition, as a government. The House know that it is of no importance to my right hon. friend, whether he borrow the sum required to complete the supplies of the year from the sinking fund, or take 4,000,000l. from the Bank of England, on Exchequer bills, and the remainder from the sinking fund. The directors of the Bank, understanding that government were about to state to parliament that it considered such a measure advisable, as one of the means of relieving the distress of the country, have consented to advance a sum, not exceeding 4,000,000l, on Exchequer bills, bearing an interest of three per cent; stipulating, at the same time, that that advance shall be repaid by instalments at short notices, so that the lank can at once, if necessary, command its funds, and be as ready to meet any demands upon them as if this advance had never been made.
§ Sir, it is no reproach to the Bank of England, when making their preparations for a return to cash payments, that they acted on a principle of extreme precaution in reducing their advances to government more perhaps than, as it now appears, was 382 absolutely necessary. It ought to be recollected, that the Bank was, on that occasion, called upon to execute a measure of great difficulty. Even the practicability of that measure was by many persons questioned. It was supposed by some that the habits of the country were not so far reconciled to the use of a paper circulation as to preclude the possibility that a demand might be made for gold, to an extent which it would not be easy to answer. Under such circumstances, the Bank felt that a heavy responsibility rested on them; and when they were asked, what amount of their advances to his majesty's government they wished to be repaid as a preparation for their return to cash payments, they, required the re-payment of 10,000;000l. Undoubtedly, his majesty's government thought the Bank, on that occasion, had pushed the principle of precaution further than was necessary; but they considered that those on whom the responsibility was imposed ought to be allowed to follow the dictates of their own judgment, and that they owed it to the Bank, about to engage in so arduous a task as the restoration of the ancient metallic standard, to afford them every means of placing themselves in a situation of complete security. It is no reproach to the Bank, now to say, when the exchanges have attained their present level, and when the great measure from which so much danger was apprehended of returning to a metallic standard has been executed without convulsion, that the precautions which they thought it prudent and right to adopt, were taken on the safe side. The disposition which the country has since manifested to continue the use of a paper currency, arising, no doubt, from the manner in which public credit has been maintained, has clearly proved, that so far from being inclined to return generally to the use of gold in their dealings, the people spew a decisive preference for bank notes; for, when gold is sent into the country, its invariable tendency is, to return.
§ Here, Sir, is a new state of things, in which, the best of all guides, experience, justifies his majesty's government and the Bank in thinking, that some addition may be advantageously made to the unfunded debt; and therefore the Bank, as I have already stated, have agreed, on the security of Exchequer bills, bearing an interest of three per cent, repayable, if called, for, by instalments, and at short notices, to place at the disposal of parliament 4,000,000l. 383 for the purpose of assisting in the relief of the present agricultural distress. "But "how," it may be asked, "is the loan thus advanced, "to have that effect?" Without going into abstruse views on the subject—without inquiring into the measures which were adopted to meet the apprehended. demand for gold—without diving into the secrets of the Bank—I may observe, that any one, looking even at the surface of things, may see, that there has been, and that there is such an abundance of gold pouring in upon us, in the present state of the exchanges, as may render such an operation, in aid of the circulation, free from all danger. Should the internal circulation of this country not require the whole of this supply, and should a portion of the gold, now to be thrown into circulation by the Bank, find its way into the general circulation of Europe, no inconvenience, but the reverse, is likely to result from such a circumstance. The demand for gold, in most of the states of Europe, arising from the policy being pursued in those countries as in our own, of bringing back their circulation to a currency more or less metallic, must have had a tendency generally to raise the price of gold, and, consequently the standard of value; for inasmuch as the pressure of returning to the use of the standard must be aggravated, from such undue elevation of the price of gold—the restoration of any portion of it to the general circulation, must have a proportionably salutary effect. So far from any pressure, therefore, being to be feared from this increase of our unfunded debt, I contend, that the effect would be very salutary. Even if the whole 4,000,000l. were to find its way into general circulation through the supplies of the year, there would be a double and highly beneficial effect: first, the circulation of the country would be thereby fed, and the credit of the country would be rendered the more available to the degree which the existing standard would justify, for it must be recollected, that the whole of the operation would still be conducted under the control and safeguard of the gold standard; and, secondly, the price of the funds would be raised, and all the money transactions of the country facilitated; including those in which his majesty's government are about to engage, with a view to the reduction of the five per cents.—I do not mean to say, that the public funds could, or ought to be raised beyond the general standard 384 value of capital, as employed in the various other modes to which it can be applied, but this aid to the circulation could not fail to give them that tendency to rise, which, influencing favourably all other money transactions, must open to the landed interest the prospect of effective relief; in the reduction of the interest now payable on mortgages; whilst it would enable both the merchant and the manufacturer to carry on their business upon cheaper rates of discount.
§ I have hitherto argued this loan from the Bank as constituting an effective relief in itself, were it simply thrown into circulation through the supplies of the year: but there is a further question for parliament to consider; and that is, whether this fund of 4,000,000l., or any part of it, could possibly receive a direction more consonant to the effectual relief of the interests which suffer, were it advanced to them under any suitable regulation, in the way of loan? The hon. and learned gentleman, in his view of the state of public affairs, laid down the broad proposition, that nothing could relieve the country but the reduction of taxation; and, in his extreme anxiety that nothing should be attempted but the repeal of taxes he protested against affording relief to the agricultural classes by means of a loan; declaring that such a proposition was wholly inconsistent with the first principles of political economy. I agree with the hon. and learned member that, generally speaking, a loan from government to the subject, to enable him to carry on his private transactions, is not consistent with those sound principles which ought to regulate the proceedings of any state; and I admit, that whenever it does take place, it must be considered as the exception, and not as the rule: but I am not so absolutely devoted to the exclusive maintenance of general principles, as not to perceive that, in some instances, and under the sanction of adequate causes, they may be advantageously relaxed.
§ If his majesty's government, at a former period of distress, found it expedient to assist the manufacturing and commercial interests of the country by a loan of 5,000,000l. in Exchequer bills, I am at a loss to perceive what should deter us from rendering similar aid to the agricultural interest; if we could see our way to the equitable and useful application of such a loan, and obtain, at the same time, 385 adequate securities for all funds advanced, and for interest upon the same, without which I could never give my sanction to the measure. But when I look at the question in this point of view, I cannot but see, and it must be equally obvious to the House, how immediately the parallel between the manufacturing and commercial interests, and the landed interest, fails. In the case of the relief granted to the manufacturing and commercial interests, there was great tangible property to be pledged, existing in comparatively few hands, which the commissioners, who were appointed to carry that measure into effect, could, in most cases, hold in deposit till the advances were repaid. It is quite different with the agricultural interest, composed as it is of the landed proprietors and the cultivators. With respect to the former of these two, the course which first presented itself for consideration was, to advance money on the security of mortgages on the land. But there is every reason to hope and believe that the state of the money-market is at present such, that no serious difficulty will be experienced in obtaining money on mortgage, by those who have good substantial landed security to offer. Now, if government were to adopt the plan of advancing money on mortgage at a reduced rate of interest, the effect of such a proceeding must be, either to favour particular proprietors, or, if the limits of the fund were not an obstacle to convert, too generally, mortgages in the hands of private individuals into government mortgages. I go along, therefore, with the hon. and learned gentleman in admitting, that any advance of money to the landed proprietor in the shape of a loan would be attended with much inconvenience, if not with insuperable difficulties. The difficulty of assisting the individual cultivators of the land would be found equally insurmountable. Any such attempt must necessarily involve so great a multiplicity and complexity of transactions, that the execution of it would become impracticable; and I should here observe, that in both the above cases, private property would be brought in a very objectionable degree under the process of the Crown. It undoubtedly has been, under the consideration of his majesty's government, whether it might not be practicable, in some degree, to relieve the farmer from the ruinous necessity of being compelled to bring his pro- 386 duce prematurely to a glutted and disadvantageous market. That necessity forms, indeed, one of the most distressing characters of the pressure under which the agriculturist now labours. For although the landed proprietors have, in most cases, diminished their rents, and shewn every desire to consult the interests of their tenants in the mode of receiving them; yet that very circumstance, and the obligation they are under of regularly paying the interest of the charges on their estates, compels them to insist more peremptorily on the regular payment of those reduced rents by their tenants, than they would otherwise do; the consequence of which is, that the farmer is obliged to take his produce to market, and to sell it at a time when the market is broken down by the immense quantity thrown upon it from all quarters. In corroboration of this statement, I need only mention the fact, that the corn brought to the principal markets in the kingdom, and especially to the London market, in the early part of the present year, has been nearly double in amount of what was ever before brought within a similar period. It has been suggested, therefore, that any plan which might enable the tenant to gain time—which might at once distribute the supply more equally over the year, so as to render the prices more uniform and steady, and save the farmer from the necessity of submitting in his sales to such ruinous sacrifices, would be desirable; and the possibility has been contemplated of lending money on the produce of land, that produce being warehoused. But, after mature consideration of the difficulties attendant upon the the execution of such a loan, his majesty's. government are not prepared to recommend its adoption, although I may have occasion, when I come to speak of the Corn laws, to advert to a measure of a more limited nature, and of a somewhat similar tendency.
§ I have opened to the House all these various views which have been successively entertained by his majesty's ministers on this subject, feeling as I do that we should not have performed our duty if we had not thoroughly investigated every proposition by which it might be practicable to relieve the existing distress of the country. But, although his majesty's government do not think it advisable to propose the adoption of any of the suggestions which I have hitherto, described; 387 though we do not recommend the advance of a loan to the landed proprietor on the security of his land, or to the cultivator on the security of his produce, there is another, and a more limited measure, which his majesty's government conceive might prove materially beneficial to the country, and especially to those parts of it which are sustaining the greatest local pressure. However difficult, if not impracticable, it may be for the state to deal with the proprietors and the cultivators of land in their individual character, either by taking the land of the one, or the corn of the other, as a security; yet, if limited advances, to be repaid by instalments within a reasonable time, can be made to parishes, in those parts of the country suffering under the greatest degree of local distress, on the security, and in aid of the parochial rates, such advances, made to those parishes in their corporate character, and to be used solely for corporate purposes, may carry relief home to the distressed, without being justly liable to the objections on the score of impracticability or of favour to proprietors, which offer themselves against the other plans to which I have adverted. His majesty's government are disposed therefore, out of the 4,000,000l. to be advanced by the Bank of England, to lend, in the manner I have just described, a large proportion of the sum so borrowed, or even the whole of it, if it should appear upon further investigation, that by so doing considerable relief may be afforded to the distressed districts; and, in pursuance of this disposition, my right hon. friend near me will be prepared, on a future night, to submit to the House a proposition for authorising and enabling commissioners, upon the application of any parish assembled in vestry, to make advances on the credit of their rates; such advances to be repaid by instalments, in the course of four or five years; and not, in any case, to exceed in amount that of one year's assessment. Sir, I am quite aware of the difficulties that lie in the way even of this measure. I am quite aware that no remedy totally free from objection can be proposed on the occasion. Inconvenience may arise from the incoming and out-going of tenants. Some parties may be bound by acts to which they have not consented; and other parties may cease to be bound by acts to which they have consented. But it is obvious, that as the application for these advances 388 must proceed in every instance from the parishes themselves, assembled in vestry, the advances will not be applied for where the advantages do not outweigh such minor objections; besides, I have no doubt but that such arrangements may be made, as will, in a great degree at least, obviate the difficulties which suggest themselves to the measure at first sight. The immediate effect of this plan, in affording relief, will be obviously that of enabling the parishes to forbear during the year of immediate pressure, from levying rates; a forbearance which must materially aid all the contributors to those rates, or, in other words, all the cultivators of the soil, and thereby carry relief to every farmer's door, in the parishes that require such an aid. Sir, I do not wish at present to go into any further developement of the details of this plan. I fairly own, on the part of his majesty's government, that if we could see our way to any just and prudent measure, which would give us the means of applying any part of the 4,000,000l. to be advanced by the Bank, to the direct relief of the landed interest, without involving ourselves or the country in difficulties, we should prefer it; and for this reason, that we feel we owe it to that interest to make as earnest an effort for their immediate relief, as we did for that of the manufacturing and commercial interests, when they were in a condition of similar distress: but still the nature and character of the landed interest differ so essentially from those of the manufacturing and commercial interests that his majesty's government, after the fullest deliberation, have not hitherto felt themselves enabled to propose any other measure than that which I have now opened to the House.
§ Sir, I am happy to state that there is only one other branch of the important subject under our consideration, to which it is necessary for me to call the attention of the House: but I should think that his majesty's government had taken a very imperfect and unsatisfactory view of the agricultural interests of the country, if we had omitted to apply our minds to the important and extensive subject of the corn laws; especially after the inquiry of last year and the minute and valuable information on that great question, furnished by the investigation of the committee appointed for that purpose. I certainly did fairly avow, in the face of parliament and of the country, when the question was 389 agitated last year, and when the hon. member for suffolk moved for the appointment of an agricultural committee, that although I would not oppose the appointment of that committee, but on the contrary, would attend it closely, and use my utmost endeavours to assist in arriving at some beneficial result (a pledge which I trust I fully redeemed), yet I did not see my way to any particular remedy, with sufficient clearness to justify me in becoming, in my own person, the author of such a proceeding. I did not, on that occasion, wish to inspire a hope which I did not feel. I had the less disposition to put myself forward, because I thought that the evils complained of were not only exaggerated, but that notions of possible relief were abroad, founded on no sound and solid view of the question, but departing from all those general principles, which ought ever to be kept in view by the legislature; notions, tending to hurry the public mind into the adoption of proceedings, which I knew could terminate no otherwise than in delusion and disappointment. The labours of the agricultural committee, it they have accomplished no other object, have certainly had a most important and salutary effect on the public mind, by leading it to take more just and temperate views. I believe that the period of delusion has now, in a great measure, passed by. I believe that sounder doctrines than those which were last year promulgated, have become generally prevalent; and that the moment has arrived, when, by the removal of many prejudices, the two great classes which have so long been taught to imagine themselves opposed to each other, but the interests of which, well understood, I have always been convinced were the same—I mean the landed and manufacturing classes of the community—will find it for their interest to acquiesce in the same policy with regard to the laws which are to regulate the trade in corn. I believe, that it would be as bad policy for the farmer to inflict high prices for his produce on the manufacturer, if be could do so, as it would be for the manufacturer to break down and contract the means of the farmer. who is his best customer. It has been with this conviction on my mind, that I have always contemplated those two great classes of the community. I have always considered them as having but one and the same interest; and that 390 the only difficulty was, to satisfy them, as to the point, where the welfare of both became completely and intimately blended.
§ While I offer these remarks to the House I cannot but congratulate them on the change of sentiment which appears to have taken place since we last met. It seems to me to be a most auspicious circumstance that the tone of the public mind has improved so greatly on this question: that the prejudices and exaggerations which formerly existed with respect to it, have subsided, and that we may now look to the adoption of more calm and solid opinions, as to the future course which it may be desirable for the public good to pursue. In what I have to suggest so the House on the subject, I must begin by fairly avowing, that on the very face of it, nothing we can do can have an immediate operation advantageous to the farmer. It is evident, that no part of the difficulties under which the farmer at present labours, arises from a want of protection against the foreign grower of corn; for, the home cultivator is already, and has been since February 1819, in possession of a monopoly of the home market. He is protected against the importation of foreign corn up to eighty shillings a quarter; while the existing market price is only fifty shillings. Of course, therefore, nothing that we can do can operate immediate relief. But his majesty's government certainly feel, after the report which has been laid on the table, and after the most mature deliberation on all the difficulties of the subject, that we should fail in our duty, if we did not propose the revival of the agricultural committee, for the purpose of enabling it to re-consider, and by some practical measure, to correct the admitted defects of the existing corn laws. I have already declared, that I did not expect any immediate relief to the farmer, from any modification of the existing law. The change might, however allay in the public mind somewhat of that anxiety and alarm, which, not unnaturally, presses upon it, with respect to the possible effects of a future opening of our ports, as the law now stands to the import of foreign corn. What I wish is, to interpose a security against those inconveniences and dangers, the possibility of the occurrence of which, is admitted on all hands. I certainly think, that after the views which have been opened by the committee, and after the admissions of all parties in condemning the law as it now stands, it is desirable that 391 that law should be reconsidered, for the purpose of examining into its defects, and in order to see if it be not possible to devise some modification that would guard against those injurious consequences, which, though not felt now, may be experienced at some future period. I feel the importance of this subject so sensibly, that, however anxious I am to save the time of the House, I cannot abstain from making a few observations upon it. I have already stated that I think some modification of the existing law" desirable, and I use that expression, because I am not disposed, at this moment, to open for discussion, the abstract principles on which the corn laws are founded—principles, on which the most opposite opinions are entertained; some persons arguing in favour of a free trade in corn, while others are disposed to claim for the English farmer, an exclusive monopoly in his own market. I wish, therefore, to take the existing law as the basis of our proceedings; and, with all due regard to the various interests which ought to be considered, to endeavour to devise some modification thereof, which may sufficiently guard against the occurrence of the evils to be apprehended in its present form. Two of those evils are of such an extent and magnitude, that I am convinced parliament will not hesitate to take them into its most serious consideration. The first is, the obvious danger and mischief that might result from the sudden transition from complete and exclusive monopoly by the farmer, to unqualified and unlimited foreign supply; a transition to which, the smallest possible sum, establishing the average of eighty shillings, may at once expose us; and during which, such a quantity of foreign corn might be suddenly poured into the country that it is frightful to contemplate the probable consequences. As the law now stands, so many accidental circumstances may affect the averages on which the quarterly returns are founded, that it is impossible they can always fairly represent the state of the corn market; and it is therefore of great importance to revise and modify the system by which they are at present regulated. On this point I beg to put a case. I will suppose, that the average, taken quarterly, exceeds, by the merest trifle, the maximum price (and I repeat, that the merest trifle may constitute all the difference between the influx of an unlimited supply and the continuance of a strict and unrelaxed monopoly) suppose 392 it exceed, by only a single penny, the protecting price of eighty shillings a quarter, the effect would be to open our poi4ts to the whole supply of the world for three months. It is true there is a clause which excludes all grain imported from countries between the Eyder and Bidassoa after the first six weeks of the quarter, if the average price in these six weeks fall again below eighty shillings; but whilst this exception admits the evil, it provides no adequate remedy. The proximity of these countries will enable them to pour forth all their surplus corn in the first six weeks; whilst the introduction of the whole supply from the rest of Europe, and from America, exclusive of what is lodged in the warehouses of this country, has the full period of three months to glut the market, unrestrained even by the operation of any duty whatever. All this Might happen upon falling prices; and thus, at the very time when there might probably exist no real ground whatever for importation, we might be exposed to have the superabundant corn of Europe poured into this country.
§ We must not, however, deceive ourselves by supposing that England is the sole country which at present suffers; and that all other countries are enjoying the blessings derived from flourishing agriculture and successful commerce. We are, on the present occasion, as we have been on so many former occasions, rather the favoured spot of the world. The distresses which our agriculturists are suffering, great as I admit them to be, are infinitely less than those to which the cultivators of the soil in America, or those towards the sea coast in Europe, and stilt more in the interior, are at this moment exposed. The distress in the interior of Germany has arrived to such a height, in. consequence of an overstocked market, as to involve all the classes of people connected with agriculture in the most serious difficulties. In Silesia, so great was the excess of produce in the last harvest, that many of the landed proprietors did not think it worth the expense of collecting and getting in; and the finest crops in the world were allowed to rot on the ground. In Bohemia, the farmer can get only an eighth of the price which he received for his corn during the war. When such large portions of the world, therefore, are thus circumstanced, do not let us show so little of the character of Englishmen as to think only of ourselves; and do not 393 let us he the first.and loudest to complain, or be induced by a partial evil, to overlook the various and valuable blessings we still enjoy. But to return to my argument on the necessity of some modification of the law, which may prevent, if possible, any overwhelming importation of foreign corn, and make that importation, if at all required, more gradual, and commensurate with the real wants of the country, I beg to observe, that the danger, against which I am desirous to guard, is not either improbable or very remote. The changes of the seasons have of late years produced great variations in the prices of corn in this country. Even in the autumn of the last year, it was at one period very probable that the ports would be opened. In consequence of the badness of the weather, corn rose for a time with great rapidity; but, on the weather improving, the price rapidly descended. I remember that when I passed through Grantham market, in September last, on my way from Ireland, corn was selling at one hundred shillings a quarter. This is one instance of the way in which the averages may be accidentally affected; and on a question of such vital importance, as little as possible ought to be left to the influence of chance. During the first weeks which compose the average, the price of corn may be much raised by unfavourable weather; during the last week or two it may fall as much by a change of weather; and yet the whole effect of the average may be to open the ports, although at a time when such a relief is wholly uncalled for. Corn, since the month of September, rapidly declined in price, and is now at fifty shillings a quarter. I put it to the House to consider, what would have been the effect on the country, if, in consequence of any accidental circumstances, such as those to which I have alluded, the ports had been opened this autumn, and had remained open for three months. The price has been depressed to its present state in consequence of our internal surplus; but what would be our condition, how would the distresses of the agriculturists have been increased, if in the present disordered state of the equilibrium between the supply and the demand of corn throughout Europe, we had been exposed to unbounded importation? It is not extravagant to suppose that the price of wheat might have been reduced, under such circumstances, below forty shillings, 394 to the utter ruin of the farmer and the destruction of our best interests. Under such circumstances, some precautionary measures seem to me to be indispensable. Sir, it would be premature now to go into any details on this important subject, until it has again been considered and weighed by a committee composed of those most conversant with such matters. It would be very injudicious on my part, were I to enter more minutely into the question, or to point out the exact nature of the measures which his majesty's ministers intend to propose. But, at the same time, I feel no hesitation in describing in general terms, the nature of those measures, which I shall perhaps best effect, by stating what his majesty's ministers have determined not to do. First, then, I most decidedly protest against any delusive system of imposing high duties on the importation of foreign corn:—I mean, duties of the amount which were last year so indiscreetly and unadvisedly pressed upon us in many petitions. I consider such a system as one of the worst delusions that can be practised on the public, for the fact is, that so soon as prices in this country advanced to the extent of real pressure, parliament, if they had voted such a measure, would be compelled to repeal it. His majesty's government, on the contrary, look to such a moderate scale of duty on foreign import, as whilst it would fairly compensate to the English farmer the comparatively high charges under which he cultivates, would so far regulate and restrain the import of foreign corn, as to render the supply not sudden, inordinate and overwhelming, but progressive and commensurate with the actual wants of the country. And in applying these duties, I should of course look to some reduction in the import price; partly in order to render the supply more gradual, by taking it somewhat earlier than at present, and partly by such modification of the scale as would compensate to the consumer the additional charge which an import duty, however small in amount, must have a tendency to impose.
§ I further wish to have it considered, (having already stated the fallacy of a single average of six weeks, determining the actual state of the internal supply) whether the interests of the agriculturist, with which eventually those of the consumer are inseparably connected, cannot be placed in some degree under the 395 protection of a double average. That is, whether some additional restraint, either by limitation of quantity, or increase of duty, may not be imposed on the import of foreign corn for the first six weeks or three months after the ports open, thereby not wholly excluding foreign supply, but admitting it in a more limited degree, till such time as the subsequent averages should serve to confirm or to correct the average which first opened the ports. Sir, I will not go further into the details of this suggestion. I have described the extent of the evil With which we have to cope,—I have described the nature of the remedy with which his majesty's ministers are inclined to meet it, and which consists in a modification of the existing law, rather than in any new measure. With respect to the warehousing of foreign corn, it is a system which I also certainly wish may undergo some investigation. For, although I am strongly of opinion that no fraud exists in that system, or, at least that if there be any, it is of small amount and by no means such as some persons apprehend, yet I am, for several reasons, disposed to believe, that the surveys of the warehouses are not made with so much accuracy and regularity as they might be; and in that point some improvement may take place. it also seems to me to be material, in order to bring the real state of the trade into the view of all farmers, and dealers in corn, both in this and in foreign countries, that regular returns should be weekly published in the London Gazette, stating the amount of foreign corn in the warehouses, the amount brought in and the amount carried out since the former return. There may be other measures, all tending to the same purpose, which it may be desirable to adopt. To one of them I will shortly call the attention of the House, without committing myself however at present, to any determinate opinion or judgment on the matter. Although I feel great difficulty in proposing any advance of the public money on corn warehoused, yet there does appear to me to arise out of the very system of our corn laws, a case on the part of the farmer, which calls upon parliament to protect him, if possible, from the extreme depression of prices which a glut of the market must always occasion—a depression, which must, at some periods, be expected in a country which grows, communibus annis, corn 396 enough for its own consumption, and which, from the superiority of its relative, prices, cannot expect to find a profitable vent for its surplus corn in the markets of the Continent. I therefore throw out the suggestion for the consideration of the House, looking at the subject, as I trust we now all look at it, with temperate and conciliatory feelings, whether it might not be prudent and politic to adopt a system of moderate encouragement to the farmer, as he no longer enjoys, as formerly, an export bounty, by giving a small monthly allowance (about equal to the interest of the capital invested, and charge for warehouse) on British corn to be warehoused, when the averaged prices were low, say under fifty-five shillings, on condition of its remaining in store till the price should rise, say to sixty-five shillings; but still leaving a power in the owner at any time to withdraw his corn from the warehouse, and to throw it into consumption, on waiving or refunding the allowance. Such a plan as this, without absolutely withdrawing grain from the market, or interposing the officer of government between the buyer and seller, might have a natural tendency to distribute the supply at an equable price throughout the year; giving the farmer the benefit of an additional purchaser in the market when prices were depressed by glut, and the consumer an additional supply when prices might considerably advance, but not to the point at which the ports would be open for foreign produce. Such a system might be at once advantageous to the farmer, whom it would secure against an extreme fall of price, and to the manufacturer, whom it would materially, benefit by its tendency to cause a steady market. In what I am now saying, I beg to be understood as merely throwing out ideas with a view to their being considered. My object is, to afford a degree of encouragement to the corn market, which may guard it against too great and sudden fluctuation; and I am persuaded, that a point may be discovered at which the interests of the farmer on the one hand, and of the manufacturer on the other, may find reciprocal and permanent advantage. It is better for each to pay something more for the produce of the other at all times, and under a rule of uniform operation, than for both to be placed at the hazard of unexpected changes, which can only bring benefit for a short period to one class, by the depression of the other. It may be said, 397 that this is an artificial plan, and not sanctioned by sound general principles. But the whole system of our Corn Laws is artificial. The question is, whether the plan will be practically useful, and whether it may not be considered as a beneficial substitute for the old bounty on exportation. I again beg pardon of the House, for having detained them so long with the exposition of my opinions on this subject; but I really felt it right to submit to them some developement of the views which his majesty's government entertain, in proposing the re-appointment of the committee on the Corn Laws.
§ Sir, I feel that I have greatly, although I hope, when the nature of the subject is considered, not unjustifiably, trespassed on the patience of the House; but I should not have satisfied my own sense of duty at such a moment, if I had withheld any of those various considerations which have occupied my own mind, or which appear to me to be worthy of being reviewed by the intelligence and ability of others. In the course of my statement, I have felt called upon to allude to, and to support some of the first and most important principles of national policy—some of the most irrefragable maxims of moral conduct—maxims, front which, neither states nor individuals can ever depart, without being doomed to taste the bitter fruits of such desertion—maxims, which powerfully inculcate the sacrifice of present and fugitive, for the maintenance of future and more permanent advantages. In endeavouring to perpetuate the system of an adequate sinking fund, invariably applicable to the reduction of the national debt, I feel that I have had a sacred cause to defend—I feel that I have been treading on consecrated ground. Sir, however feeble the voice which addresses you,—however impossible it is for me to bring back to the recollection of the House the effect of that eloquence, which first induced parliament to establish the system which the honourable and learned gentleman now ventures to impugn, and proposes to us to abandon—however impossible it is for me to recall to the House, the full conviction, with which the voice of Mr. Pitt impressed on parliament the expediency of laying, in the sinking fund, the foundation of the lasting prosperity of the country—the foundation of that strength, which enabled her to persevere through all the difficulties of the arduous struggle from which she 398 has emerged with such surpassing glory;—however impossible I feel this to be—I shall still be satisfied if I can place tile measure which his majesty's present government recommend, under the venerated sanction of that illustrious individual; consecrated as his name must ever be, no less by the important truths which he established, than by the splendid acts which he achieved. I never can believe that the Commons of England, but lately arrived at the close of so triumphant a career, will consent to blast the hopes of the country, and in the very moment of victory, to cover themselves with shame by tearing down with sacrilegious hands the barriers which he raised for the protection of the public credit, and the lasting glory of the empire. I never can believe that the Commons of England, who supported that great statesman through the long, dark, and dreary career of our contest with revolutionary France, and who clung to the dying counsels which fell from his lips, in behalf of the country which he loved, and the country which he had saved—I never can believe that the Commons of England, who, notwithstanding the gloomy forebodings and counteracting efforts of the gentlemen on the other side (many of whom not only opposed, but endeavoured in every possible way, and at every period of the war, to thwart their exertions) nobly persevered, until they gained all for which they had contended —until they had emancipated Europe, and consigned its despot to the rock, on which he finally terminated his eventful life; I never can believe that the Commons of England will now be seduced by any thing that may be uttered by men, were they infinitely more eloquent than the hon. and learned gentleman and his friends, to sacrifice, at a moment of temporary public distress, all the great principles which they have hitherto so stedfastly maintained; to leave their country to seek its prosperity and greatness in the chance events of wild, visionary, and untried experiment; and to compromise its power, its safety, and its honour, by abandoning all those wise and dignified maxims of policy which carried it through the late tremendous conflict with a splendour of achievement which nothing but an act of their own can ever tarnish. Sir, I have felt myself called upon, on this solemn occasion, thus to remind parliament of the great outlines of our policy. I am fully sensible how feebly and inadequately 399 I have performed the task. But I have, at least, the consolation of feeling, that if the shade of that great man, whose memory I have invoked, could descend among us, and be the witness of our counsels—if his attention could once more be recalled to earthly affairs, and if he could see the Commons of England deliberating whether or not they should destroy, perhaps, his greatest work, the Sinking Fund, —although he would feel, not dismay, but disgust at the degenerate sentiment which, now that the difficulties we have to contend with are trifling, compared with those which we have surmounted, is disposed to advise the infliction of so fatal a calamity on the nation—he would, nevertheless, feel assured, that those who received and listened to his last counsels of constancy and perseverance, and who, by pursuing those counsels, have brought to a glorious termination the sanguinary war in which the country was so long engaged, will scorn to abandon his principles, under any circumstances of temptation. Sir, I am perfectly willing to commit this great cause to the decision of a tribunal in which I have implicit confidence, and to which I will never hesitate to leave the determination of whatever is dear and valuable to my country or myself—the wisdom and justice of the House of Commons. I am convinced that they are still actuated by the same spirit which has before conducted them to the accomplishment of the many mighty deeds which signalize the history of the country, and have rescued its best interests from destruction—I am convinced that they will not relinquish the fame and glory which they have hitherto acquired; but that, firmly adhering to the political principles in which they have been educated—they will, by the maintenance and establishment of public credit and consequently of the public prosperity, take the most effectual means of relieving the distresses of their constituents, and thus securely ray the foundations on which this great empire may endure to the latest posterity; a lasting monument of human wisdom, greatness, and honour.—The noble marquis concluded by moving, that returns be laid upon the table, of the revenue and expenditure, exclusive of the funded and unfunded debt, for the year ending the, 5th Jan. 1821, together with similar accounts for the year ending 5th Jan. 1822; and then gave notice, that on Monday next, he would move for the re- 400 vival of the agricultural committee; and hat the Chancellor of the Exchequer would on a future day, bring forward a measure for enabling the Bank to issue 4,000,000l. on Exchequer bills in loans to different parishes; and would also submit a proposition for reducing the present amount of the duty on malt.
§ Mr. Brougham
in offering himself to the House, begged to assure them, that he had listened with the utmost possible attention to the very able statement of the noble lord who had preceded him. He had listened to that noble personage with an anxiety due to the great and important question before them, and he was happy to congratulate the House on the change and amendment which had taken place in the tone and temper of the noble marquis's opening address to them on that evening. It was not long since the noble lord had taunted the Opposition side of the House, for having hastily proposed any measure of retrenchment or economy. But the noble lord had lived four days since that period, and no doubt the noble lord, had grown wiser and better from the experience afforded in the interim. From the noble lord's statements it appeared that he was now prepared to treat the question of the public distress with more gravity. They had not on that evening heard from the noble lord his usual taunts upon one set of persons, and his sneers and jokes upon another. It was gratifying to find that the noble lord had at length determined to bring some portion of his mind to bear upon the great and important question before them. It would appear, however, that the plan which the noble lord had propounded was like one of those beauties which were best seen in the dimmest light, and which he was anxious therefore not to expose to the broad glare of day. It was not easy to distinguish the features of the plan laid down by the noble lord; but as far as they could be recognized, as far as he could estimate the amount of what the noble lord intended to do for the relief of the country, he would beg leave to make a few observations upon it. The noble lord had taken a glance at futurity, and had stated, in general terms, that the destinies of all governments were at the disposal of that Power whose influence; extends over all mankind; that there was no comparison between what a man held in his hand, and what he might look to from change, from accident, or from 401 time; and that it was principally to the interposition of Providence, that the sufferers had to look for relief. Little more did the noble lord say save this, that in the taxes upon one particular article, he had to propose a reduction of one million and a half. The noble lord, as a relief to the country in this season of unexampled distress, offered a reduction of one shilling on every bushel of malt. He offered it, it would appear, as the only remedy against the distress which weighed down and oppressed the agricultural interests of the country. The noble lord next adverted to a point on which the noble lord and himself were at issue. The noble lord had said, that, at a former period, he (Mr. B.) had drawn a much more distressing picture of the then existing distresses of the country, than any picture which, at the present moment, he could attempt to draw. He alluded to the distress which affected a great portion of the people in the year 1816; but it was material, to remind the House, that the statement to which the noble lord had alluded, took in not only the year 1816, but 1817 also. But, what did that statement amount to? He (Mr. B.) had endeavoured to show, that great individual distress had existed at that period amongst a particular class. He had stated, that that distress was so extensive, so desperate, that a number of individuals had been actually in a state of starvation, and had actually perished for want of food. He (Mr. Brougham) then alluded to the distress and misery which had prevailed in the manufacturing districts, and he might be suffered to remind the House, that there was no inconsistency in stating, that in the years 1816 and 1817, great distress was felt in the manufacturing districts, and that, at the present moment, great misery, suffering, and privation, were experienced by another order of the community. Did the noble lord doubt the fact? The situation of the labourers, their excessive poverty, the wretched and fallen state to which they were reduced, bore but too powerful a proof of the truth of that which he had asserted. Vainly, then, did the noble lord recall to the recollection of the House, that he (Mr. B.) had described the misery of the manufacturing classes in 1816 as very great. He could not pretend to say, that because one part of society was described, and justly described, to have been in a state of poverty and wretchedness at one period, 402 that another part of society might not be reduced to a state not less wretched, not less entitled to sympathy and relief at another. The noble lord had noticed what he was pleased to call the errors of his (Mr. B's) statement in that House a few nights since, with respect to the malt-tax. That, in point of fact, he was not in error, manifestly appeared from the very papers which the noble lord had read to the House. The noble lord had said, that there was the same consumption as in the year 1792; but he did not take into his consideration the increase of population from the year 1792 to the present period, which stood as 5 to 7. His (Mr. B's) argument was simply this—that the increase of consumption could alone afford substantial relief to the farmer, and that consumption was checked because of the excess of taxation. But the noble lord, with an ease and felicity which seemed to attend him throughout his whole argument, and by the aid of which he was able to surmount every difficulty, gravely told the House, that even if a diminution in the consumption of malt had taken place, it was a matter worthy of little consideration, because, if malt was not consumed, something else would be. Yes, something else might be consumed—brickbats might be consumed; but, would that bring comfort to the farmer? would that afford him relief? He saw no relief it could bring him, save in so far as the consumption of straw, which was necessary in the manufacture of brickbats, might be taken into account. It should be recollected that he was confining himself to the distresses affecting the agricultural classes—to the growers of barley, not to the manufacturers of brickbats; and that this brickbat argument of the noble lord had no possible application. But the noble lord, in the excess of his sagacity, and with a wise and provident benevolence of heart, had found out, that tea was an admirable substitute for that good wholesome old English beverage which was produced from malt. Now, against that substitute he had the strongest objection: he objected to it upon many grounds; he would ever contend, that whilst the great body of the people consumed tea instead of beer, they consumed an article which he believed was not so wholesome—which he knew was not so British—which he was sure, in whatever quantities it might be consumed, could give no relief to the British 403 farmer, whatever it might do for the agriculturists of China. How was the use of that article likely to serve the British interests, and least of all the interests of the agriculturist? He knew only of one class which the increase of the consumption of that article could possibly serve—he meant the importers of tea, that was to say, the East India Company. They, and they alone, were interested in the success of that trade; unless he excepted the chancellor of the exchequer, whose scale of revenues might be extended by the high tax which he had placed upon tea. It was for the right hon. gentleman and his noble colleague to congratulate themselves on the success of that trade; it was for the East India Company to rejoice—but what benefit could it confer upon the country? It returned no profit to the British cultivator—it gave no relief to the British consumer—it tended not to the cultivation of one single acre of English land—to the poor and labouring class it brought neither health, nor comfort, nor relief. It was a thin and meagre liquid, which gave neither strength to the body nor comfort to the mind, and which the British people were now obliged to use instead of that refreshing, inspiring, and truly British beverage, which their fathers had used in the good old times of England.
He had no hesitation in saying, that the noble lord, so far from shaking the statement which he had made, had, after all his observations, left it precisely where it was, if, indeed, the noble lord's illustrations had not put that statement in a still stronger and clearer light.
He would now beg to say a word on a very material mistake which the noble lord had made as to the effect of taxes upon the industry and the property of the country. As the noble lord had commenced his speech by informing the House that he should, upon that occasion, confine himself to making his statements, and that he should upon another occasion explain the reasons upon which they were founded, he could not tell whether the noble lord did, or did not, intend to argue in future upon the principle which he had that evening laid down. The noble lord had thought fit in his wisdom to state, that all the amount of taxation paid, directly or indirectly, by the farmer, did not exceed one-seventh part of his rent. He had often heard the observation that the calculators of figures 404 in arithmetic were more fanciful than the host imaginative poets, and that probably night be tile case; but, let the fancifulness of the most nimble and dexterous ready-reckoners have been heretofore what it might, it must yield to the extreme fancifulness of the noble lord on the present occasion. On the delicate and complicated question of the operation of the distribution of taxes on the different classes of the community—a question upon which the most enlightened political economists all allowed that they could scarcely see an inch before them—a question upon which they found it almost impracticable to obtain any integral results, and upon which they never dreamed of obtaining them with the nice accuracy of fractional parts, calculated by numerators and denominators—on a question, which, in whatever way it was considered, was replete with a thousand difficulties, every one of which was almost insurmountable—on such a question the noble lord had not only jumped over all the difficulties which surrounded it, but had also, with an agility peculiarly his own, and an activity which could never be sufficiently admired, jumped to this result—that if unity were divided into seven equal parts, and one of those parts were taken, they would have a fraction expressing the precise amount of the proportion between the whole bulk of taxes paid by the farmer and the produce, gross or net, that he derived from his land. [The Marquis of Londonderry said to Mr. Brougham, across the table—"You may take it as one-fifth part of his rent, if you like."]—The noble lord said, he did not care if it were taken at one-fifth or one-seventh. He would say so too; one-fifth was quite as correct as one-seventh. The one was just as likely to be the result as the, other. It was, however, too much to make so fanciful a calculation the groundwork of an answer to a statement which was founded upon clear and established principles, and which did not deal in vague and unfounded calculations; it was such a feat on the part of the noble lord as covered him (Mr. B.), not with confusion, but with wonder and admiration. [Loud cheering.] The noble lord, after making the extraordinary observation on which he had just taken the liberty of offering a few comments, proceeded to make another, which, if possible, was still more extraordinary. The observation to which he 405 was alluding had not been thrown out by the noble lord for the sake of rounding an elegant period, or of making a flimsy exordium to a brilliant speech; no, it was the corner-stone upon which every one of his subsequent observations rested, and was indicative of the spirit in which the whole speech had been delivered. The observation was, that the reduction of taxation would not afford the slightest relief to the suffering' people of this country. The noble lord, in making that most extraordinary declaration; had thought proper, in order to lighten his vessel, and sail more comfortably, to throw over-board all the observations which he (Mr. B.) had made upon that subject on a former evening. As the noble lord had clone him the honour to pay considerable attention to certain parts of the speech which he had then delivered, he could only regret that the noble lord had riot paid the same attention to that part of it in which he had described the effects of taxation, not in relation to the mere sum paid into the Treasury, but in relation to the increase which it received in its various stages from the original producer of the article taxed to the consumer, forming in its progress what he had taken the liberty of calling a reduplication of taxation. All those observations the noble lord had discharged from his mind; from a fear, perhaps, that if he allowed them to remain on it, they would be found to be not quite so easy of digestion as the noble lord wished. Those observations, however, were not the only ones which the noble lord had omitted in his statement of that night to notice. He had left entirely out of his consideration the effects of taxation in raising the price of labour. Not one word had the noble lord said about taxation in that its most piercing, searching, and penetrating form; not one word had he said of the manner in which it thus diminished the profits to the producer, and increased the price to the consumer; not one word had he said of the effects which it thus produced upon the necessaries, comforts, and luxuries of every man in the community. Instead of uttering a single word upon that subject, the noble lord had told the House, that their way was, to draw a strong line of demarcation between the system which Lad been explained to them that evening, and the system which had been explained to them on a former evening; to trust to the vivifying and fructifying powers of 406 the country; to look to its powers of resurrection; and, last of all, to confide those true principles of political economy, from which every sentiment that the noble lord had uttered was an utter deviation, if, indeed, it were not intended as a violent satire. If the House followed the advice of the noble lord, and attempted to draw the strong line of demarcation which he had suggested, they must draw it between something and nothing, for the noble lord that evening had produced a regular system, and he (Mr. B.) had neither produced, nor attempted to produce on a former evening, any system at all. All he had then done was, to call upon-the House to reduce the extent and expenditure of the existing system, to relieve the people from the burthens under which they were at present labouring, and to enforce, in every department of the state, retrenchments of a substantial nature, and not such as were only retrenchments in mere items, and intended for no other purpose than to swell a period, or act as clap-traps in that assembly. Such an appeal to the justice of parliament no man in his senses could call a system; and the noble lord had only called it so, for the invidious purpose of having it supposed that gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House conceived themselves to be in possession of a nostrum calculated to cure the diseases of the state. Now, to such empiricism they had never pretended: if there were any empirics in the House, it was the gentlemen opposite, who, by their exhausting, evacuating practice, had reduced the country to its present state of agony and distress. He trusted that the House would not forget the chief point, on which he and the noble lord were at issue. The noble lord maintained, that if the whole mass of taxation, as he had been pleased to term it, were swept away, and if all chance of its ever rising again to trouble the country were annihilated, no effectual relief would be afforded to the people of England in their present condition of suffering and misery. On the contrary, however, he maintained that the relief to which they had a right, as matter of justice, from their representatives, if they still wished to keep up the semblance of being the representatives of the people, and as a matter of humanity, if they turned their view to the distress in which all classes were involved—a relief from all the burthens of taxation that were not 407 absolutely warranted by state necessity—to which relief, by the way, they were as much entitled in a time of prosperity as in a time of adversity—as much in the flourishing state of 1792, as in the depressed state of 1822—he maintained that such a relief would be of the utmost service and assistance to all classes of the community. He maintained that the House, in the existing circumstances of the country, had not the slightest right to keep up a single man who was not wanted, to build a single frigate which was unnecessary, or to pay a single officer, either civil or military, whose services could be dispensed with. He should use the same language to the House, if the nation were in prosperity, that he now, at a time of great general suffering, used in appealing to its humanity. He should tell the House, that it was bound to economise at all times; and, whenever it could, to effect a diminution of the public imposts. He should tell it that it was bound above all things to do so now: and, wishing to follow, for his own part, the advice which he was giving others, he must say that he would not be content with any paltry reductions, which would be more reductions of show than of deed. Such was the paltry diminution of one shilling upon malt, that was now proposed to be made—a reduction which he regarded as an insult and a delusion on the country. All reductions, short of large reductions, were mere palliatives applied to the disease which was now raging throughout the country; and if they wished to act wisely, they would make such reductions as would be general in their operation; or if not general, such as would give relief to those classes who were enduring the greatest hardships and privations.
Adverting to the other part of the project disclosed to parliament by the noble lord that evening, the hon. and learned member observed, that it consisted in making savings, which the noble lord said that he had made and could continue to make, to the amount of 2,000,000l. annually—to be diminished, however, this year by a sum of 700,000l. or 800,000l., which the noble lord said he wanted for Greenwich and for Ireland; and in adding these savings to the sinking fund, so as to form a total sinking fund of five millions and a quarter or thereabouts. In that part of his project, the noble lord gloried with a modesty and liberality that was peculiarly his own, and which was on 408 that account peculiarly entertaining; he gloried, however, rather as the proxy of his right hon. colleague, the chancellor of the exchequer, than in his own personal character: he said in a voice of triumph, which it was quite delightful to hear—"Behold at last, a real sinking fund to five millions; that golden number which we have so often predicted, but which till this moment we have never vet realized: here it is, a clear surplus beyond our expenditure." Though he was at issue with the noble lord upon the point of its being a clear surplus of revenue, he would, for the sake of argument, conceive it to be such; and then he would say, "Let us do with it what will relieve the country." The noble lord, however, said, "No; we will not relieve the country—we will not take off any of its burthens—we will keep these five millions and a quarter to swell our speeches, and to flourish with them in the course of our debates; we will keep up the delusion of a sinking fund; we will, by all means, raise up the 3 per cents, and will say that the safety of England depends entirely on the rise of the funds; above all, we will keep faith with the public creditor." Keep faith with the public creditor was that which he (Mr. B.) said too. And here he might be allowed to ask the noble lord, by what right it was that he presumed that he (Mr. B.) had proclaimed principles upon that subject which were dishonourable and unjust, on the part of the English nation? Was it because he had said "Before an overwhelming necessity arises, let not even a whisper of such a thing be breathed abroad?" Did any man pretend to deny, that if a paramount overwhelming necessity should arise—a necessity which had no ears to hear, no mind to judge, and no reason to obey—a necessity which made laws, and justified the laws it made,—did any man pretend to deny, that if such a necessity should arise—and arise it might, if all means of relief were sedulously withheld from the country—they might not be compelled to adopt a measure which they all now agreed in condemning? But he had said "until that necessity exists, let no man whisper such a proposition to sully the fair fame of the nation." Was such advice calculated to lead to the violation of the compact with the public creditor? Certainly not: on the contrary, it was the men who obstinately persisted in withholding all relief, that 409 were by such conduct doing every thing in their power to bring on such a system as must inevitably lead to the violation of that compact. He therefore again said, "Leave that accumulating sinking fund, which has been so often and so satisfactorily exposed—that is your only way to avoid that crisis which my argument points out to you as possible to happen, but which it by no means anticipates. Above all things, reduce your taxes—make all possible retrenchment in your expenditure—and then I trust we shall outlive the day on which we are obliged to use this word "necessity;" and shall be able to view in the distance the possibility of such measures being resorted to."
He would now beg leave to say a word or two as to the origin of the sinking fund. Upon that subject, the noble lord had appealed to many valuable authorities, but chiefly to one which was certain to have great weight and influence in that House—to a man whose strength of mind and purity of conduct he respected as highly as the noble lord himself—a man who, though he had swayed the interests of England, and, to a certain degree, those of Europe, had ruled with still more despotic sway over the interests of finance. He did not doubt the success of that appeal; but he thought it came with a bad grace from those statesmen who had gone on step by step, pulling out stones from that edifice, which they called by his name, till they had scarcely left it anything but the name. But, giving to that illustrious statesman all the credit due to the system, he must still say, that he would have spurned all the little contrivances, all the vile expedients, which underlings in office had put in execution in order to continue it, but which their superiors had covertly countenanced, saying they could not help it—a thing which he at least would never have condescended to do. He repeated the assertion, that the friends of that illustrious statesman, had, piece by piece, destroyed that very system which they were always so ready to praise. The first inroad that was made upon the sinking fund, as established by Mr. Pitt, was in 1801, whilst he was yet alive. That was, however, but a slight deviation from it, when compared with those which followed. In 1813, a monstrous deviation from it took place, under the guidance of the chancellor of the exchequer, whom the 410 noble lord had that evening held up to the admiration of the House as the golden deity of a surplus revenue of five millions. Then came repeated borrowings from it, until at last they were obliged to calculate its amount in fractions of a million, instead of having, upon Mr. Pitt's principles, a clear sinking fund of 21,000,000l. Indeed, some time ago there was some uncertainty whether there was any sinking fund at all. Last year it was asserted not to be more than 1,800,000l.; and in the present it had been unexpectedly increased to 2,000,000l. After such a statement, to say that gentlemen on his side of the House were the first to invade the sinking fund—to call down vengeance upon their heads for daring to touch that which ought to be considered sacred—to charge them with inconsistency, because they now called upon government to abandon it for the relief of a distressed people, was, of all the delusions, both political and arithmetical, which the noble lord had that evening endeavoured to raise, the most absurdly fanciful.
The hon. and learned member then proceeded to discuss another point in which the present advocates of the sinking fund had deviated from the principles on which Mr. Pitt had conducted it. Instead of allowing it to accumulate at compound interest, which was Mr. Pitt's principle taken from Dr. Price, they had returned to an accumulation at simple interest, on the principle adopted by sir R. Walpole. After commenting upon the inconsistency which existed between the words and actions of these admirers of Mr. Pitt's sinking fund, the hon. and learned member adverted to the rapidity with which the noble lord had passed over the retrenchments that he had stated himself prepared to make. So rapidly had the noble lord run over these items, that he defied any man to say whether there was any intention to reduce the civil list; whether there was any intention to abolish or reduce any useless places or pensions; whether there was any intention to overhaul the perquisites of office. How that had come to pass, he could not tell; whether the noble lord had intentionally omitted them, or whether they were to form a part of the statement hereafter to be given by the chancellor of the exchequer, as to the mariner in which 150,000l. was to be saved by a reduction of offices and superannuations—
§ Mr. Brougham
said, he had thought so, and would mention a short conversation which had occurred between himself and an hon. friend, in illustration of the reasons why he had thought so. His hon. friend, in listening to the speech of the noble lord, had asked him (Mr. B.) what had become of the retrenchments which had been promised in the opening of the speech. "Surely," said he, "the noble lord must be coming to the retrenchments which he spoke of." He (Mr. B.) replied, that his friend was very much mistaken, for the noble lord had passed by them. "Impossible," said his hon. friend, and turned round with a smile of indignation. The matter had, however, turned out just as he had stated, much to the surprise of his hon. friend, but not at all to his own; for he had grown gray in experience of the noble lord's line of policy, and was now perfectly acquainted with all the tact and tactics of his adversary. All that was to be got by abolishing useless civil places all that was to be got by abolishing those heavy burthens upon the people which were now become intolerable, all that was to be got by extending to them every relief to which they were so justly entitled, all attempts to afford them that decent comfort of which their situation was so susceptible, and to show them that the House would not continue to mock their misery, all those manifestations of feeling towards thorn were to be left untried. The system of jobbing for parliamentary purposes and court influence out of the public purse, when the people were starving for want, was yet untouched. Besides these, were the ministers to overlook all that was to be gained, all that was to be secured, for still higher purposes, for more sacred interests, for renovating the British constitution, and saving it from being at length overwhelmed by the corrupt influence of ministers improperly wielding the patronage of the Crown? Why were not these attempts made, in a crisis like the present, to secure public confidence? He had heard, indeed, that one measure of reduction was contemplated by his majesty's government—a 10 per cent deduction from official salaries. This, he supposed, was to be an average offering to secure the main interest a sort of premium of insurance, which all placemen were to render or do by way of policy 412 with the chancellor of the exchequer, in order to keep his system afloat, and to avert the dangers of the storm, which was now battering the vessel of the state. This policy was not likely to be effective. But, take it in another point of view, it was most unfair and unjust. Ten per cent might be a great deal too much, nay even 5 per cent to be deducted from the salaries of some officers. He could name many small public servants who had embarked their only capital, which was their time, their youth, their health, in the establishments to which they were attached, who had disqualified themselves by having so done from embarking their fortunes in any other pursuit, and who were now with their families lingering, rather than living, upon salaries of 80l. or 90l. a year. How would a reduction of 10 per cent affect them? It in fact would make the whole difference of their being able to exist, or unable. In many cases, 10 per cent. would be entirely too little to take off, quite incommensurate with the profits of their station, or the imperative exigency of the present crisis. But, besides that class of persons, there was a higher set, the standing tenants of profitable office, many of whom were arranged upon the benches opposite, from whom a sacrifice of 10 per cent. would be literally nothing, and quite incommensurate with the hopes, the just expectations, the demands of the people. So that the offer of 10 per cent. whilst in one way it would work injustice, would in another do nothing—would be little better than a mockery of the public suffering. Why, in the name of God, were not those great public offices filled (as he had no doubt they might always be) by volunteers, satisfied with the honour, dignity and patronage of them? Such men would be better able to discharge the duties of the great officers of the household, and adorn a constitution of which they could not be the props, except as the props of the Crown. Would those great officers adorn the constitution less if they entered them on some other principle than on that of gain—on some other principle than on that of trade—on some other principle than that of a recompence by pounds, shillings and pence? He was quite prepared to say the same of the more efficient offices of the state. He had no difficulty in saying, that he thought those offices might be better held by persons who would be content with half the present salaries. Even if the sa- 413 laries were not adequate to the expences of the situations, that would be no bar to the acceptance of office. For, although he was not so romantic as to suppose that any man, who for the last twenty or thirty years had received a great salary while in office, had not made money of his situation, he nevertheless believed, that with the exception of the late Mr. Perceval, and perhaps not with that exception, the same individuals who had held the offices of state during that period, would, have held them, even had the salaries been reduced a third, or even a half. That was an opinion which he had long held; and holding also the opinion, that whether in times of distress or of prosperity, not an unnecessary farthing ought to be wrung from the people by their representatives, he was positive that a temporary reduction, and he believed that a permanent reduction, might be advantageously effected. There were some offices, however, of high nature, which if touched at all, ought to be touched delicately. They were offices which required so peculiar an education, and so long a previous course of study, on the part of those filling them, that they were fully entitled to all the pecuniary advantages they enjoyed. At the risk of every kind of misrepresentation and jeering, to which, as a member of the legal profession, he knew he should lay himself open by the observation he was about to offer, he had no hesitation in declaring it to he his decided opinion, that those who held judicial appointments, were not too abundantly remunerated. When a man was made a judge, he was taken from a very lucrative practice. He had known judges, who, by becoming so, sacrificed half their usual income. Now, when it was considered how incalculably beneficial it was to the public, at any cost, to have the best qualified individuals dispensing justice from the bench, it would be felt that this was a branch of the public service, the emolument of which ought not to be touched.
He begged pardon for troubling the House so long; but he felt it necessary to make one or two remarks on the concluding part of the noble lord's speech. The next part of the plan was to borrow four millions on the security of three per cent exchequer bills, for the purpose of applying the money in some way which the noble lord did not explain with his usual perspicuity. He understood that the application of the four millions was to 414 be two-fold; partly in the purchase of stock to raise the price of the funds (a favourite object with the gentlemen opposite, and auxiliary to their plan of paying off the five per cents.), and the remainder in aid of the poor-rates. Now really he was utterly at a loss to discover how this would in any way counteract the existing evil. The noble lord had, in his usual figurative manner, complained of the effect of pouring into the country such a rapid torrent of gold, that if it were not stemmed in its course it would be productive of incalculable mischief. To use the noble lord's own expression on a recent occasion, the noble lord seemed to have quite a hydrophobia of gold [a laugh]. Now he believed, that the ravages of such a torrent would be confined to this—that when the tide had set steadily in, and the gold had got into circulation and affected the exchanges, the over plus would set out again. The ebb would follow the flow, until that level was restored, which all the power of man could not prevent or destroy. Unless, therefore, the noble lord meant that the Bank (for what purpose he was at a loss to conjecture) was accumulating so much gold as to diminish the circulating medium all over Europe, and that the four millions of exchequer bills were to be issued to make up that deficiency, he could not conceive what possible ill effect would be produced. The noble lord, however, forgot that the Bank could not issue gold beyond a certain amount. if they reissued the gold, it would not remain in the country; and as long as paper was convertible into gold, it would be utterly impossible for the noble lord, with all his power over the finances of the country, to derange or impede the unerring, unalterable, and inevitable proportions which the laws of nature assigned to regulate her own level. Another Bank-restriction act would, he knew, do it; but who would attempt to revive a measure, from the baneful effects of which the country was at this day so heavily suffering? That part of the noble lord's plan was therefore quite nugatory, and the second part of it was worse than nugatory, for it was mischievous. To control the operation of the circulation of gold was impracticable enough, according to the noble lord's plan; but to hear him offer to lend all the parishes of the kingdom specific sums of money in aid of the poor-rates, was in the highest degree astonishing! To hear that such a proposition, if carried into effect, 415 could produce any thing, save wanton extravagance, attended by great mischief, aggravating all the previously existing evils, was to him most wonderful, albeit he was not unaccustomed to the marvellous statements occasionally delivered by the noble lord. To hear the noble lord gravely and seriously dole out this project to the country gentlemen as a remedy or a relief, was, even from him, almost as miraculous, as the most visionary measure which it was possible for any human being to propose on the present occasion. Did the House expect him to argue the folly of such a scheme? Supposing for a moment that this plan was put in operation, must not the man who was to be relieved, because he was unable to pay his rates this year, be prepared with security to pay them doubly (that is, with the fresh rates) in the ensuing year, with interest, of course, with the cost of every sort of waste in the management of these funds in the bands to which they were to be intrusted? All this accumulation of cost the borrower must be prepared to meet after the lapse of a year! Silly as was the plan of lending, first contemplated by ministers—that plan which was scouted on all sides the moment it was announced, abandoned even by the inventor himself, and disowned the moment after he proposed it—ludicrous as that plan undoubtedly was, of lending Exchequer bills to the country gentlemen, it was not half so absurd as the present proposition. The first plan was, to confide the money into the hands of those who were interested in its economical application; but the new plan was, to intrust it to the discretion and responsibility of overseers and trustees for the poor, who were annually elected, and alone annually responsible. The noble lord's plan rose, step by step, to the climax of absurdity. He was to run the accounts of all the parishes of the kingdom into one, to enable them to pay doubly next year what they could not singly in the present and this miracle was to be accomplished through the same careful, disinterested, judicious, and responsible overseers, who were, in addition to their other labours, to have the power of applying a portion of the funds confided to them for the completion of useful public works! Better would it be, that the noble lord should, as he once said, recommend the application of the money to digging holes and filling them up again, than direct its expenditure in the way he 416 had suggested. If a public work were wanting, and the parish could afford to undertake it (and if they could not, why commence it?), there was no doubt it would proceed, if it were deemed beneficial, without the noble lord's aid. The parishioners, in such a case, would manage their own interests much better than the noble lord could for them; but if he, with his authority, came forward to stimulate them, by the use of the public money, to undertake expensive projects before they could themselves afford them, the inevitable consequence would be, to introduce parochially the same great and lavish profusion which prevailed in the public administration of the general interests of the country—to reiterate throughout every parish of the country, as much extravagant waste of public money, as he, on a former evening, had given them a specimen of, when he referred to the details of the finance report.
He had now detained them too long in dwelling upon the complicated parts of this diffuse subject. He earnestly besought the House and the gentlemen of England at length to open their eyes to their own situation, and trust to themselves for the management of their own concerns. Let them continue, if they would, to repose the same confidence they had done in his majesty's ministers let these ministers retain their offices. God forbid that any other set of men should covet their places! He no more now thought of seeing successors to them, than he did two years ago, when he called the attention of that House, in the hope of their cautioning ministers by their interposing voice, and driving them from the wanton folly and countless perils of the Queen's bill. In the same tone, and with no desire of displacing them, he now solemnly conjured the country gentlemen to stay the proffered measures of ministers, and make them substitute in their place others better adapted to the condition of the kingdom. Let those ministers still receive the confidence of parliament; but let them at such a crisis be compelled to show that they deserve it. Let the House, by a timely interposition, save themselves, and by doing so save their country. Let them uphold the public credit, which was in danger, not from the visionary schemes of innovators, but from the fatal tendency of the noble lord's measures. The gentlemen of England might now interfere, in perfect consistency with their past princi- 417 ples. It was only for them to speak, and the noble lord would feel himself bound to obey. They stood in a situation of great and momentous responsibility; for through the ministers in whom they confided, they had now an opportunity of saving their country. Let them reflect upon the consequences of an unopposing and uninterrupted confidence? They had believed too long, they had trusted too implicitly in state empirics, who, upon the effect of artfully raised alarms, had built the fabric of their power. At one moment the alarm was, that Napoleon would take their money—at another that the radicals would take their constitution. These state empirics drew their sole authority from alarm—their only specific was endless evacuation. The safety of the country hinged more than it had ever done upon any former occasion, on the decision which the country gentlemen were prepared to adopt upon the discussion of that evening. He earnestly implored them to pause before they rashly adopted the plan which had been developed to them by the noble lord that evening. He invoked the wisdom of heaven to guide them, and he earnestly implored that his humble and solemn prayer might not be urged in vain.
§ Mr. Huskisson
began by remarking, that the motion then before the House was simply for an account, to the production of which there could be no possible objection. But inasmuch as the comprehensive speech of his noble friend (lord Londonderry), who had introduced that motion, necessarily embraced topics similar to those which had been brought under the view of the House by an hon. and learned gentleman (Mr. Brougham) on a preceding day, and again that evening, the present discussion might be considered in the light of an adjourned debate upon the nature and causes of the present distress. He was the more at liberty to look at it in that point of view, without violating either the forms or the rules of the House, as the hon. and learned gentleman's motion, on Monday last, had been met, and most properly disposed of, not upon its merits, but by the previous question. That motion, however, had answered the hon. and learned gentleman's purpose. It enabled him to range over the whole manor of political economy, to fire his shots at random, and then to day, when the minister of the Crown was obliged to go over the same beat, the hon. and learned 418 gentleman came forward, in no very sportsman-like manner, to claim as his own the fruits of the noble lord's more steady pursuit. That the hon. and learned gentleman, however, was mistaken in supposing that the noble lord's plans had been changed, in consequence of his (Mr. B.) speech, he (Mr. H.) could assure him, from his own personal knowledge; but, independently of his assertion, he would leave to the House to determine, considering the circumstances under which the hon. and learned gentleman had made his motion, whether it was not more probable that the object of his speech had been to anticipate the measures of government, than that those measures, adopted after long and mature deliberation, had been altered to accommodate themselves to the impression made by the speech of the hon. and learned member. Leaving him, however, in the enjoyment of this fancied triumph, he (Mr. H.) should think himself at liberty, in rising to state his own view of our present difficulties, to refer also to the hon. and learned member's speech of the former night, as far as it related to the subject of the present discussion. He felt this to be the more necessary, whatever might be the indiscretion of entering upon so wide a field, and the indisposition of the House to attend to matters necessarily dry and uninviting, as he had never heard a speech more abounding in mistaken assertions, more fraught with erroneous principles and contradictory inferences, more pregnant with alarm, mischief and danger, or more calculated to mislead the judgment by a delusive appeal to the prejudices and sufferings of the people; and to hurry parliament itself into a course which, if once entered upon, it would be too late to retrace, however much they might afterwards deplore their error. He did not ascribe this character to the hon. and learned gentleman's views, under the influence of party spirit—far from it, his wish was, as much as possible, to keep the mighty interests at stake out of the range of party feeling. Looking to the complicated relationships existing between the landed interest and all the other great interests of the country, and to the manifold difficulties of the subject, he could wish gentlemen to come to its examination in that House as calmly and dispassionately as they would to a similar discussion in the closet. This was the course which he was determined to pursue, stating fearlessly his own impressions, with the 419 greatest deference certainly to the judgment of others with whom he had the misfortune to differ, either in or out of parliament, but without any personal consideration, except that of regret at the existence of any such difference between their sentiments and his own.
When the subject to be considered is the present distress, it is natural to look back to periods of past distress, in the hope that, by a reference to former sufferings, some useful lessons of experience, some valuable inferences, and some monitory cautions may be derived, to serve as a guide to carry us through the straits and difficulties of the present moment. Without going into a long detail, or to remote events, he could wish gentlemen to bear in mind that, in most instances of former severe distress, we have had to encounter evils (and those evils attended with symptoms and dangers) which fortunately do not press upon us at this moment. Let them recall to their recollection the heart-rending accounts which, on former occasions, have reached us from the population of our manufacturing and trading districts. How long is it since the House was told, and told with too much truth, that a considerable proportion of those condensed masses of the people were destitute of employment or resource, almost perishing in the streets for want of food or clothing, having sold piece-meal their furniture to sustain life; that the manufactories were closed, the prisons overflowing, the work-houses crowded to excess, the shipping of the country unemployed and rotting in port? It is impossible to have forgotten the period when in those districts, misery was so general and so urgent, that neither the compulsory levies of the poor rates, nor the liberal aid of voluntary benevolence could adequately administer to its relief; when,that misery, goaded on by public agitators, was rushing into acts of desperation; when life and property were equally insecure,—at least, when they could not be protected by the ordinary administration of law; and when expensive military precautions and new laws became, therefore, necessary to preserve the public Peace. What, in those perilous times which followed so rapidly upon the restoration of Peace, was the language of the same men, who had so steadily and systematically foretold the defeat and humiliation of our arms during the whole progress of the war? The trade of foreign prophecy was fortu- 420 nately at an end, but faithful to their vocation, they entered upon the new field opened to them by our domestic difficulties. These difficulties, we were told, were the necessary consequences of taxation and high prices—that we had saved Europe, that we had acquired military glory indeed, but that the price had been the ruin of England—that in this country the expense of living was so great we could no longer manufacture or navigate in competition with other nations—that our manufacturing and trading capitals would seek employment in less burthened countries —that the middle classes would migrate to live cheaper and better abroad, and that the bulk of our industrious population would in consequence be left destitute from want of employment. The manufacturing population, assured by these prophets of misfortune, that their then misery was only the beginning of the still greater privations which awaited them, were further told, that the magnitude of the public debt was the foundation of all the evils under which they laboured—that this debt was the creature of a corrupt parliament; and that the alternative was, on the one hand, ruin and starvation, or on the other, the annihilation of the "pretended national debt," and a radical reform of the House of Commons. These were the only remedies at that time; they are the only remedies of the same class of politicians for our agricultural difficulties at the present moment. If any one doubt this, let him compare the proceedings of all the popular meetings about four years ago, in the manufacturing parts of the kingdom, with the speeches at several of the meetings lately called in the agricultural districts. He will find in both cases the same doctrines inculcated, in many instances too, by the same individuals, and adopted by those who listened to them, as the panacea for all their difficulties. But our manufacturing distress was attended with alarming symptoms which excited apprehension even among men not given to despond. Consumption had diminished, and was rapidly diminishing —the revenue was falling off from week to week, and from quarter to quarter—public credit was very low—private credit out of the question, upon the best sccurities, within the limits of legal interest. These certainly were indications of the country being in a labouring, if not in a declining state. The argument, therefore, of those who took a gloomy view of our af- 421 fairs was at least intelligible, and the conclusion consistent with the argument, although in the degree it might be pushed too far. In substance the argument was this—taxation has a tendency to raise prices—the rise of prices to render labour dear—and dear labour to drive capital to seek more profitable employment elsewhere. But that taxation can be the cause of low prices, and, above all, of the present low price of articles of universal demand and consumption, in respect of which the grower has the monopoly of the home market, is one of the strangest paradoxes which the wit of man ever devised.
After this retrospect to the remedies proposed for the late distress in the manufacturing and trading districts, it is natural to ask, has the national debt been annihilated? Has the parliament been re-modelled? Has the sinking fund been taken away? Have taxes been repealed? Or, without recurring to any of these expedients, have the glut and stagnation ceased? Has manufacturing industry recovered? Has public credit been improved? Is private credit flourishing? Is the revenue progressively growing better? Is the population of Lancashire, Yorkshire and the other manufacturing counties fully employed, cheerful, loyal, obedient to the laws, contented and happy? Has their increased ability to provide for their wants led to an increase of consumption, and is increasing consumption every day operating to relieve us from the excess of raw produce which now gluts our markets? This is not mere theory or speculation. The proofs of this happy change are to be found in facts and figures, which cannot deceive, though the hon. and learned gentleman, in talking of consumption and revenue, hinted an opinion, that the increase could not be real; for which, however, he could state no better reason than this, that it did not accord with his preconceived theory, or his preconceived appeal to the feelings of the suffering part of the community. Better and more just would have been the application of his eloquence had be said to the landed interest, "In the present contented and improved condition of these populous districts, in the diminution of crime and misery, in the ease with which the laws are administered, in the security and peace which the manufacturers now enjoy, in the growing prosperity; and in the cessation of all the anxiety, expense and danger 422 which attended their former state, there is something which has a tendency to compensate to your better feelings, at least, for the depression under which you now labour; and be assured, the improved condition of these classes, their augmented means of consumption, are the sure harbingers of an improvement in your own situation."
The temporary calamities brought upon the country by the late stagnation of our manufactures, have been attended with this good effect:—that, in seeking for remedies, the public mind of the country, and the mind of parliament, have been turned to the merits of what has been called our mercantile system, with its balance of trade, its balance of prohibitions and protections, and checks and bounties, and all the complicated and confused machinery by which the interests of commerce have been impeded instead of being promoted:— that in both Houses of Parliament we have had committees to investigate the merits of that system, and that the result of their inquiries, aided by discussions out of doors, has been the diffusion of more liberal and enlightened dews upon these important points. Already we have seen the fruits of these researches in the measures proposed last session by the chairman of the committee of foreign trade (Mr. Wallace) for the gradual relaxation of this system of restraint:—a relaxation which, besides its immediate benefits, in multiplying the enjoyments and extending the intercourse of civilized society, would be attended with the future advantage of abating hose grounds of national jealousies arid irritation which have too frequently risen between this and other states on commercial questions—of leading us and hem to form a jester estimate of those causes of hostility which, during the last century, were too often engendered by those jealousies and irritations, and thereby (co-operating with the general progress of knowledge, and the increasing controul which public opinion exercises aver the conduct even of despotic governments) to render that greatest of all calamities, war, less frequent in the world.
In like manner there is reason lope, that the difficulties of the present time have tended, through the investigation in parliament and discussions out of doors, and will still further conduce, to remove many of the prejudices and errors which 423 have existed on the subject of the corn laws. The ultimate result, he trusted, would be such an alteration in those laws as would protect both the grower and the consumer from the evils to which they are alternately liable under the present system.
If it can now no longer be denied that the manufacturing distress of the years 1816 and 1817 was produced by previous over-trading, combined with the altered value of the currency; it remains to be seen, whether causes, in a great degree similar, have not mainly contributed to the present depression of our agriculture. The excess of supply in all the principal markets proves the redundancy of produce; and that redundancy, together with the improved value of money, is quite sufficient to account for the present low prices. That this superabundant production is of our own growth is also undeniable. To this state the country has been gradually approaching for many years. At the breaking out of the war in 1793, our average growth of corn was certainly below our consumption. The waste of war, the great purchases of government, and the difficulties which a state of hostility threw in the way of the foreign supply, by enhancing the price of imported corn, gave the first stimulus to an extension of our own cultivation. That stimulus was greatly aided by the bad harvests which preceded the first stoppage of the Bank in 1797, and by the still more deficient crops which followed that event, in 1799 and 1800. Before the latter period the diminishing value of money, consequent upon the restriction of cash payments, afforded great additional encouragement and facility to the ardent spirit of speculation which natural causes had already created in agriculture. This artificial excitement continued to operate so long as the value of money continued to decrease, that is, till the conclusion of the war. That excessive speculation is one of the concomitant evils of any system which rapidly lowers the value of money is an undeniable proposition. In what manner this effect is produced by depreciation is a question which may be passed over in this discussion; but its consequences may be traced in the present glut of produce. It is the cumulative result of the facility with which money or credit was procured to bring barren tracts into cultivation, and to draw a greater produce from lands previously cultivated. If in both these pur- 424 suits speculation has been carried too far, the consequences must be the same as in over-manufacturing and over-trading—to the speculators a loss—to the consumers, the temporary benefit of prices lower than those at which their wants can be permanently supplied—that the latter will be able to consume somewhat more, and the former disabled or deterred from producing as much as heretofore, until the supply adjusts itself to the demand. There is, however, in this respect, one material difference between manufactures and agriculture greatly to the disadvantage of the latter, Capitals embarked in the cultivation of the soil are more slow in producing the expected returns, and cannot so easily be withdrawn, or turned into some other channel of employment. Should the seasons continue favourable, the glut in agriculture, therefore, may be of longer duration than in other branches of our national industry, and the more so, as it is an excess no part of which is likely to find a vent in exportation.
If no alteration had been made in our corn trade with Ireland, probably the pressure of this glut might never have been felt, or felt only in a very slight degree, by the English grower. He did not anticipate the immense change which has been produced by the law of 1806. His improvements proceeded upon calculations which did not allow for the prolific powers of the more fertile soils of Ireland. He did not foresee that by the time those expensive improvements would be in their full bearing, we should be furnished with an annual supply from that country exceeding the average import of foreign corn from all parts of the world before the introduction of that law. This however is the fact. The present depression is the result of the competition created by an excess in both countries, a competition the more severely felt by both, as they have to struggle at the same time with the increased value of money.
The corn bill of 1815, however well intended, has certainly contributed to aggravate the present distress. It was passed under an impression of the inability of this country to raise corn enough for its own consumption. The effect of that impression was a pretty general belief, confirmed by the decided opinions of great authorities who opposed the bill in both Houses of parlia- 425 ment, that the import price of eighty shillings a quarter would thenceforward be the minimum price of wheat in England. The consequence was, that prospective calculations, either of improvement, or for the letting of land, were formed very much upon these assumptions; and as the import price was stated to be the lowest price, which, according to the doctrine of that day, would remunerate the British grower, it was considered that up to 80 shillings remuneration was secured, and all above it would be profit. The calculation would not have been disappointed, had the data been correct, but the country was then rapidly advancing to a state, in which its produce would exceed its consumption; and the erroneous consequences of this calculation, joined to two or three productive harvests, have led to the present depression.
If any man can doubt that excessive production has materially contributed to the fall of prices, let him compare the quantity of corn sent for sale to Mark-lane, and to every other principal market in the kingdom, for the last twelve, and still more, for the last six months, with the quantity sent at any former periods of corresponding duration. Low price might be the effect of the increased value of money unaided by other causes; but increased quantity does not depend upon the alteration in the currency. A constantly overwhelming supply, concomitant with an increased consumption (and both these facts admit of positive proof) kept up for a considerable period, can only be the effect of redundance. It is true that the supply may lately have been somewhat accelerated by the poverty of many of the farmers. This may have been the case for a few months after the harvest. But the average quantity for a whole year cannot be influenced by this temporary cause. It can only be explained by a general excess of production, of the extent of which some idea may be formed from the fact that the whole supply in Mark-lane, for the last year, has exceeded by nearly one third the supply of the year preceding, and that in the last quarter the quantity has been very nearly double that of the quantity in the corresponding period of the last year. This excess of production has been the subject of much idle declamation at meetings out of doors. It has been said, "who ever heard of plenty as an evil, or of a people brought 426 to the brink of ruin by abundance?" Plenty has never been described as an abstract or general evil, or the whole nation as distressed by abundance. The possession of this blessing brings with it innumerable comforts and advantages to the consumer. Cheapness is the effect of plenty, and if that cheapness be now in part at the expense of the grower, is he to repine at the bounty of Providence, because it is the natural order of things that his speculation, like all others, is liable to temporary excess and derangement?—or if not privileged against the course of nature, is he alone to be indemnified at the expense of the community, against the occasional contingencies in a great degree brought upon himself by the effect of those very corn laws to which he has resorted for his own special protection? Can a provident legislature yield to such an expectation? Will it not rather say to the agriculturist, as to any other speculator, "whatever we may feel for your disappointment, every man must abide the event of his own calculations."
If, however, upon some mistaken principle, a positive monopoly of the Corn market is habitually to be preserved to the British grower, and the people to be precluded from resorting to foreign supply, except occasionally to guard themselves against existing dearth, then, indeed, it may be a question, whether for the interest of the people themselves, the inconveniences of this vicious system, alternately visiting the grower and the consumer, may not in some degree be palliated by other artificial expedients, though in principle scarcely less objectionable than the system itself. If the tendency of excess, in working its own cure, be to produce deficiency; and if both excess and deficiency be liable to be aggravated by the fluctuations of the seasons, it may be deserving of consideration, whether, in the present state of our corn laws, some remedy for the former, and some guard against the latter, may not be found in the plan of a bounty upon the warehousing of British corn, suggested by the noble marquis, when the markets should be glutted, and corn below a certain price. A moderate sacrifice for this purpose may perhaps tend to prevent extreme depression at one time, and extreme dearness at another; and by the latter advantage compensate to the consumer in seasons, of scarcity, the benefit conferred upon the grower in seasons of redundancy. A 427 bounty of this description would be more fair, in reference to the different classes of the community, as well as less expensive; to the state, than the old system of a bounty upon exportation; but still it is a measure which, if possible, should be voided. It will be for the House hereafter to consider, whether it be not a wiser course to revise a defective law, by getting rid of its acknowledged evils, rather than to leave them in full operation, for the chance or expectation of trying how far they can be obviated by a counteracting expedient; of which the best that can be said is, that if we are to continue to labour under the disease, that expedient may possibly prove, if not an antidote, at least a palliative, of some of its worst consequences.
Before he proceeded to offer a few remarks on the state of the currency, as connected with the present distress, he felt it necessary to advert to the hon. and learned gentleman's grievance, that he had not been placed upon the Bank committee of 1819. From the moving accents and subdued tone, in which the hon. and learned gentleman complained of the refusal which he had met with on that occasion, he (Mr. H.) felt, if not compassion for his disappointment, at least regret for the omission of his name; especially when he mysteriously hinted, that, had he been upon that committee, all the inconveniences and pressure which have resulted from the resumption of cash payments might have been greatly palliated, if not altogether avoided. After this declaration, he had listened with more than ordinary attention to all that fell from the hon. and learned gentleman, expecting every moment the solution of this mysterious intimation, and to find himself, and those who laboured with him in the committee, overwhelmed with compunction for having ventured upon a Report without the benefit of the hon. and learned gentleman's counsel and assistance. But, after many circumlocutions, the only light which the hon. and learned gentleman had thrown upon the subject was this, "that the evil, after all, was the departing from the standard in 1797." Wonderful discovery! What an Iliad of woes might have been saved to this country if those words, instead of escaping from the lips of the: hon. and learned member in 1822, could have found vent in 1819!
But when the hon. and learned member. 428 did at last come forward, at the twelfth hour, with his marvellous proposition, not more astounding from its immediate practical importance, than new as a discovery, he seemed conscious that a heavy responsibility might be cast upon him, on the score of public duty, for having kept the secret so long in his own bosom. He felt that it might have been divulged, if not to the committee up stairs, at least to the House during the discussion of the Report, and the measures grounded upon it in 1819. He therefore very properly protected himself from this reproach, by reminding us that he was prevented by illness from attending the House during those proceedings. The future philosopher, in reading the history of these eventful times, may find in this misfortune, as in the original stoppage of the Bank, a proof how much the misery or happiness of nations turns upon some accident not much noticed at the time, because its influence of good or evil is not then foreseen. For ourselves of the present day, we may deplore the tardiness of the hon. and learned gentleman in promulgating his discovery; but that feeling will now be as unavailing to relieve the distresses of the country, as the regret with which we have all heard of that most inopportune illness, by the effect of which we were unfortunately deprived of that discovery at the critical period of 1819.
In the hon. and learned gentleman's view of the causes of our present difficulties, it suits his purpose to lay great stress upon the fluctuations of the currency, and he has given us many calculations, not very new, to skew the extent of the depreciation at different periods. To prove that during a great part of the war the currency was really depreciated is now become unnecessary. The fact is admitted, and the arguments and principles of those who contended for it in 1810, are no longer controverted. But it is rather curious that the new converts, those who stoutly denied depreciation when it most glaringly existed, should now be the most strenuous to exaggerate the extent to which it was then carried. When Gold was at 5l. an ounce, the mortgagee, the annuitant, the public creditor, were told that they had nothing to complain of; and now they are told by the same parties, that they are only entitled to three fourths of their nominal claims, and for this curious reason, that they are at last relieved from the loss which they 429 sustained, for many years, from having been paid their incomes in money depreciated 25 per cent. But this is an exaggerated statement of their loss. There can be no other measure of their loss from depreciation than the excess of the market above the standard or coinage price of gold, and if this be taken as the measure, the average of the whole period between 1797 and 1819 would not amount to near 25 per cent.—It did not exceed five, as has been jusoly observed by the hon. member for Portarlington, at the date of Mr. Peel's Bill. But then we must not confound depreciation with a diminution in the value of money. Quite independent of natural causes, such as an increased supply of the precious metals, there may he a diminution in the value of money, and to a considerable extent, without its being depreciated; and, in like manner, its value may increase without any alteration in the standard. Every contrivance which tends to economize the use of the precious metals, or to provide a substitute for them in the shape of voluntary credit, tends to diminish the value of money. A diminution of value from these causes, involving no injustice to any one, is attended with great benefits to the community. Much of the prosperity of England, since the beginning of the late reign, may be ascribed to the legitimate contrivances, by which this diminution was gradually effected and extended, in all the various modes of verbal, book; and circulating credits. This is one of the advantages of accumulating wealth, of stable institutions, and provident laws, affording a high degree of security to property in all its various modifications. But this diminution in the value of money could not be in progress in one country without its being more or less felt by all; not only in proportion as other countries could avail themselves of the same means of credit and economy in the use of the precious metals, but also because in proportion to the gradual extension of those means in any particular country, is that country enabled to dispense with a part of its metallic currency, which, diffusing itself over the circulation of the remainder of the world, tends every where to lower the value of gold and silver in relation to all other commodities. This may appear abstruse, but it is important to the understanding of the present subject. Before the Bank restriction, England had done much to economize the use of coin, Scotland still more, and Ire- 430 land far less than England. In Ireland gold was the principal medium of payments. In Scotland, where notes as low as one pound had long been in use, it entered for very little into the pecuniary transactions of the country—in England it still formed a considerable part of our circulation, there being then no circulating paper under five, and only to a small extent, under ten pounds. The first effect of the restriction was, to add to the paper circulation by enlarged issues, not only from the national Banks of England and Ireland, but also from all the country Banks. This addition continued gradually to increase, and especially in the notes under five pounds. Every increase for the first two or three years was a diminution in the value of money, but not a depreciation. Why? Because the gold left the country, as the paper became its substitute, and by this process, the exchanges were kept at or near Par. The effect of this exportation of our coin was every where to lower the value of money, and by so doing, to keep it upon a level with its diminished value in this country. In the progress of this operation the united kingdom was drained of all its gold. There would however have been no real depreciation of the paper substituted in its stead, if, by imposing proper limits upon the issues of that paper, the par of exchange with foreign countries (which is necessarily equivalent with the standard of the gold coin in this country) had been made the criterion of its value. But the issues of paper not being confined within those limits, depreciation took place. The consequence, therefore, of the Bank restriction was two-fold—1st, a diminution in. the value of money generally, but without depreciation, and 2dly, a depreciation specially superadded this country, the degree of which at any particular period was the difference between the standard and the market-price of gold. By the first result, the price of commodities, including of course all the raw productions of the soil, was raised generally. By the second, this general rise of prices was carried still further in this country, in proportion to the depreciation. The actual depreciation, therefore, as it was not the sole cause of the rise of prices (speaking now of that rise only in as far as it was influenced by changes in the value of money) during the war, so it cannot be taken as the measure of the fall of prices since 1819, unless 431 we could have got rid of the depreciation without recalling into our own use a part of the gold which had been exported, or in any degree diminishing the extent in which credit had become a substitute for actual payments. That fall must be still greater, if, instead of importing gold for circulation here, the greatest part of it has been withdrawn from circulation in other countries, to be buried in the vaults and cellars of the Bank. The proportion of the rise of prices generally during the war, and of fall since the peace, not in England only, but in all other countries, from these alternate operations, may be difficult to estimate; but it must be considerable; and the more so, as other countries, as well as England, had also a depreciated paper, and have since endeavoured to replace it by a metallic currency. But even diminution in the value of money, without depreciation, and afterwards depreciation superadded, do not afford a just measure of the actual rise of prices, and especially of the rent of land in this country during the war. To these causes must be added the effect of excessive speculation. It is true that this excessive speculation had its foundation in the diminishing value of money; but when the farmer had saved a few thousand pounds, was it not natural that he should wish to lay out his capital in the purchase of land, that land upon which he had realized an independence, and of which the rent and fee simple had at least doubled within his recollection? For the same reason, was it not natural that the landlord should grasp at every opportunity of adding to the number of his acres; and that he again should be met in competition by the land-jobber, ready to adventure his capital in the same market, as affording the best prospect of assured future profit? In this state of general delusion, was it surprising that tenants were ready to embark in improvements and to take leases not founded upon the calculation even of existing prices, but in the sanguine hope of prospective profits, to be realized by a future rise before the end of their respective terms? And what was the state of the money market whilst all this speculation was going on? With depreciation guaranteed by law, the Country Banks had every facility to lend; the farmer, the land-owner, the jobber every temptation to borrow. Can we wonder at the extent of the revulsion? If we are unable to rescue many of its victims from the ruin 432 which it has brought upon them, at least let it be a warning never to be forgotten, against any future tampering with the standard value of the currency.
But has nothing been omitted which was within our power, to mitigate the pressure arising from the restoration of our currency? If the view and the principles which he had now submitted he correct, he must say that every thing which might have been done, had not been done, for that purpose. Looking with apprehension to the difficulty of reverting to a metallic currency, he had stated his suggestions more fully in the Bank committee. They did not differ very materially from those of the hon. member for Portarlington. It was his (Mr. H.) wish that we should have a gold coin, as a medium of small payments in the common ready-money dealings of the community, instead of the one pound notes of the Bank of England; and for reasons with which he would not trouble the House, he recommended that there should be a small seignorage taken upon that coin, as there is upon the silver, at least equal to the expense of coinage. The amount of such a coin requisite for the purposes which he had described would not be considerable, at the most seven or eight millions; as it was no part of his plan to interfere with the circulation of Country Banks, except by such regulations and encouragement as might conduce to their increased stability and security. Beyond that amount of seven or eight millions, gold could be of no use in this country as coin, and the only other purpose for which it could be wanted was, as a check and regulator to maintain the standard of the currency. That standard, he agreed with the hon. member for Portarlington, would be most perfectly secured by the Bank paying its notes, not in coin, but in gold bullion at the price of 3l. 17s. 10½d. an ounce. The quantity requisite for this purpose, he also agreed with him, being only the amount requisite to balance the occasional fluctuations of the exchange, need not be large;—an amount very considerably less than that which he apprehended was now hoarded by the Bank. Had this principle been acted upon, the foreign exchanges could not have been for more than two years constantly and greatly in favor of this country, a proof, as is observed in the report of the Agricultural committee, that the value of money here has been kept artificially above the par even of the 433 increased value of the money of other countries; for there is nothing which, in the natural state of things, finds its level with more celerity and ease than the course of exchanges between different countries. He was therefore warranted in concluding that the pressure had been accelerated by the mode, and aggravated by the extent, of preparations made for giving effect to the act of 1819. He was convinced this would be the case from the moment the Bank in that year demanded a repayment from government of ten millions. He recollected it was the general opinion of the committee. It was the opinion of his right hon. friend (Mr. Peel) the chairman of that committee, and was so stated in his speech when the report was taken into consideration by the House. It was also the opinion of his noble friend, at the head of the government, stated in another place. In saying this, nothing could be further from his thoughts than to cast any reflection upon the conduct of the Bank. A heavy responsibility was imposed upon them, and if, in providing to meet it, they had erred at all, they had done so from an excess of precaution, from an over anxiety to fulfil the commands of the law:—an error (if committed) into which it is the less surprising the directors should have fallen, as their interest as a corporation was obviously the other way; and it is natural for men of high honour to arm themselves, sometimes perhaps too scrupulously, against the supposed influence of personal motives in the discharge of a great public duty.
After what he had said, it was scarcely necessary to add, that he viewed with satisfaction the plan mentioned by his noble friend (lord Londonderry) of an issue of four millions of gold from the Bank upon the security of exchequer bills. He took it as a kind of admission from the Bank that they had now in their coffers gold, at least to that amount, more than was necessary, even in their cautious judgment, for protecting the credit of their notes, and, of course, more than was convenient for their own interest to retain. The effect.of the operation, as he understood it, would be, to replace the circulation where it would have been, if, instead of a repayment of ten, the Bank had been satisfied with six millions from the public. In that case, their accumulated treasure would probably have been four millions less than at now is—at present they will re-issue to that amount. In whatever degree four 434 millions withdrawn has straightened the circulation and added to the pressure, four millions restored will give relief. Not that he expected that the whole of the gold would remain in this country; he knew it could not, but, by diffusing itself generally, it would every where have a tendency to give ease and life to the labouring markets of the world, and by consequence, and at least in the same degree, to our own. What is most urgent is, to stop the progress of depression.—That once effected, speculation, which is now in a manner dormant, will revive, and it is in this view, more than by its actual amount, that this operation of the Bank seems to hold out a prospect of reviving confidence and hope. He could have wished that, instead of being advanced to government, this sum had been added to the amount of the discounts of the Bank. Such a proceeding would have been more conformable to the principles and object of that Institution. It would not only have kept their issues more under their control, but would have afforded more relief to the public. It would have afforded more relief to the public, because the Bank have no means of increasing their discount to that amount except by lowering the rate which they now charge for interest—lowering it from five to four, or possibly less, per cent. Why this should not be done, or why they should prefer lending to government at three per cent was to him inconceivable. The amount it was safe and prudent to advance, either to the state or to individuals, was entirely their own consideration; but within that amount, he, as a member of parliament, had a right to say, that under the present circumstances, discount was their prior duty. The government disclaim the advance as an accommodation for the service of the year, and he was glad they did so; but they were willing to use it as the means of getting the sum into circulation, and in the hope of affording some relaxation to the existing pressure. The Bank is the public banker, but this was not the primary object of its institution. That object was, and ought to be, to facilitate the operations of commerce and industry, by extending mercantile credit; and how was that to be extended except by liberal discounts? For this purpose, extensive, and important, and exclusive privileges are given to the Bank, whilst all other bankers are placed under restrictions. These privileges were given in the ex- 435 pectation that the Bank, by keeping their I rate of discount rather under the market rate, would tend to lower the latter, and to make the loans of money cheaper here than in other parts of the world. But how is this object to be attained if the Bank refuse to discount except at a rate higher than the market interest of money? If they are to keep the rate of discount at five per cent, whilst the Banks of other states, Hamburgh, Amsterdam and Paris, are discounting at three, or at the utmost four per cent, the tables will be turned against us; commerce will find cheaper accommodation elsewhere, and the privileges of the Bank will only be felt by the industry and trade of this country as tending to uphold (as far as such privileges can uphold), instead of tending to lower, the rate of interest upon money. He could not, therefore, too strongly state his opinion that the directors of the Bank would best consult the character and interest of that Institution, as well as the public interest, by lowering the rate of discounts in whatever proportion it may be necessary, in order to draw to themselves at least as much demand for that accommodation as it would, in their judgment, be safe for them to grant.
The next great head of this extensive subject, adverted to in the speech of the hon. and learned gentleman, was Taxation, to the extent of which he ascribed mainly, if not exclusively, the present agricultural distress. This conclusion the hon. and learned member had attempted to support by some of the most visionary doctrines of political economy which he (Mr. H.) had ever heard, at least from a person of his acknowledged talents and ingenuity. Among other positions equally extraordinary, the hon. and learned member had stated, "as a known and acknowledged axiom of political economy, as old as the science itself, that one effect of taxation was, to raise prices by increasing the profits of capital." This principle he (Mr. H.) must own was new to him, and belonged, he should say, to that class of axioms which a few years ago, set up the ideal unit or the abstract pound sterling as the real standard of our currency, axioms which, to his mind at least, had the merit of being unintelligible. He should like to know what the member for Portarlington had to say to this axiom? He had always thought that one of the evils of taxation was, that it diminished the pro- 436 fits of capital; but if it increase profits, how can it produce this effect without increasing the powers of employing industry, without increasing the means of consumption and enjoyment, without adding to the accumulated wealth of the country? And yet this is one of the axioms by the aid of which the hon. and learned gentleman endeavours to connect, as cause and effect, the amount of our taxation with the public distress. Another axiom of the hon. and learned gentleman equally fallacious is, that prices are raised to the consumer by the employment of great capitals, and that taxation renders such great capitals necessary. If he had said that, without a great extent of capital in a country, there could be no great extent of taxation, he (Mr. H.) could have understood him; but instead of great fixed capitals raising the price of manufactured commodities, their tendency w as directly the reverse. It was by this extent of wealth, and by all the mechanical and chemical improvements which science suggested, but which capital alone could turn to the greatest practical advantage, that the natural effect of taxation in raising prices was in some degree counteracted; and that England was enabled to manufacture cheaper than any other country in the world. This advantage enabled the industrious classes in this country to provide themselves with many of the comforts of life, in clothing, hardware, and other articles, not only cheaper than they could be had in other countries, but cheaper than they were in this country at a time when the public burthens were much less in their amount. This is the case with cotton clothing, with coarse woollens, and with iron goods, articles of no small consumption by the agricultural classes of the community. Differing, therefore, with these doctrines of the hon. and learned gentleman respecting taxation, he was at the same time anxious that his own principles should not be misunderstood. Those principles might be found in the agricultural report of last year. To some of the propositions and inferences of that report he could only give a qualified concurrence; but upon this topic, it had his entire assent. He was ready to say now, as he said then, that "taxes, however re posed, must necessarily abridge the re sources and comforts of those by whom they are ultimately paid, and that the general amount and real pressure of taxation have been positively increased in 437 proportion to the improved value of the currency."
In one principle stated by the hon. and learned gentleman, he agreed — "that it was the total amount more than the mode of levying the taxes that ought to be considered." But if he agreed with him in this general remark, he must add that the hon. and learned gentleman had fallen into a strange inconsistency; for a great part of his speech had been an attempt to prove that the malt tax, and most of the productive taxes in the collection of the excise, were paid by the occupiers of the land. As well might he argue that the tax upon sugar was paid by the West India planter, and that upon tea by the Chinese. In truth all these taxes fall in the first instance upon the consumer, and are ultimately borne either by the profits of capital, or sometimes by the capital itself, belonging to all the subjects of the state, and must operate in diminution either of the one or of the other. A remission of taxes, therefore, must be a benefit to all, and not exclusively to any particular class.
The immediate cause of the distress of the farmer is the great depression of his market, creating a difference of one third, at the least, between the nominal value of his whole stock in business now, compared with that nominal value a few years ago. In this state of things, let us suppose that taxes to a large amount are taken off. The effect will be, we are told, a further fall in prices. Be it so. What will be the consequence to the tenant whose stock in business is already diminished in value one third? Why, that it will be diminished one half. Now in the case of many tenants, at least one half of the capitals with which they began business, was money borrowed. To a man in that situation, what sort of relief should you give? With a new tenant who now takes to the concern and provides his stock in business with a money capital, only one half of that which was requisite to his predecessor, the case is different. The fall of prices, produced by the remission of taxes, involving too the fall of rent, will be to hint any thing but a disadvantage. It will be a boon to him, as it will to capitalists, under similar circumstances, in other branches of industry. This appeared to him (Mr. H.) the fair distinction. The remission of taxation will be no immediate remedy to a distress directly arising from low prices; 438 —but in whatever degree it can be effected, it will ultimately be a benefit to the agricultural, as well as to all the other interests of the country.
The hon. and learned gentleman has gone into minute details to shew that taxation diminishes consumption. Here again the general principle may be admitted. But has there been any marked diminution of consumption, peculiarly coincident with the present distress? On the contrary, has not consumption increased, and is it not now increasing in all articles of general use, even those subject to heavy duties of excise? If taxation, therefore, be the immediate cause of the present difficulties, whence comes it that the taxes complained of as peculiarly pressing upon agriculture, are more than usually productive? We are agreed as to the existence and character of the distress. It rests, therefore, with the hon. and learned gentler man, either to contend, that distress increases consumption, or to admit (contrary to the whole drift of his speech) that the particular taxes which be has mentioned—malt, soap, candles &c. do not fall either exclusively or extensively upon the distressed classes; and if they do not, it follows that the remission of those taxes would do nothing specifically for the immediate relief of agriculture.
The hon. and learned gentleman has shewn that the increased consumption of malt has not kept pace with the increase of our population. But when he ascribes this circumstance exclusively to the increase of the tax on this article, he might have shewn, had it equally suited his purpose, that increase or diminution in the annual consumption of this article has not corresponded with the augmentation or abatement of the tax. In 1816 the tax was reduced from 4s. 4d. to 2s. 4d. a bushel—the consumption of 1817 was 17,136,020 bushels,—that of 1818 26,462,933,—that of 1819 22,346,259,—making an average of the three years of 21,981,737 bushels. In 1819 the duty was again raised to 3s. 6d. per bushel; the consumption of 1820 was 24,535,155, of 1821 28,697,057 bushels, giving an are rage for the two years of 26,616,106 bushels, and exceeding the average of the three years of low duty by 4,634,369 bushels. If upon a comparison of 30 years the increase in the consumption of malt has not kept pace with the increase of the population—without denying that 439 the tax has contributed its share to the falling off—it may in part probably be ascribed to other causes—to improvements in the art of brewing, by which a saving of malt is effected—a saving, which he understood, was still greater in the distillery—also he was willing to hope, in part to a melioration in the habits of the people—at least he was glad to see that the consumption of soap, and other exciseable articles, connected with the comforts of the industrious classes, had increased, within the same period, in a proportion greater even than the increase of population; for he knew no more certain indication of sobriety than increased cleanliness and an improvement in the domestic manners of the community.
From whatever causes, however, the increase in the consumption of malt had not kept pace with the growth of the population, upon a comparison of the present period with the year 1792; it would be a fairer mode of inquiry, in reference to the effect of taxation, to make the comparison not upon malt only, but upon all the articles of general consumption which are liable to heavy duties of excise. This comparison, embracing some articles upon which the increase of taxation has been much more rapid and extensive than upon malt (such for instance as tea, mentioned by the noble marquis), would shew that, upon an average of the whole, consumption has fully kept pace with the augmented number of our population. But, Oh! exclaims the hon. and learned gentleman, indignant at the mere mention of tea.—"This may be very well for the agriculturist in China, but does tea in the smallest degree promote British industry or give employment to any one individual in Great Britain?" Does the hon. and learned gentleman wish us to understand, that the Chinese kindly make us a present of all the tea, and, still more kindly, deliver it free of expense in Leadenhall street; and that no British industry is put in motion, either to provide the means of procuring, this foreign article, or to convey it to the shores of this country? Are we to take this as the hon. and learned gentleman's doctrine in respect to commerce with foreign states, and as another sample of that political economy which the hon. and learned gentleman has attempted to palm upon the good sense of the House of Commons, but which in fact is more worthy of a drunken mob in Place-yard?
440 The hon. and learned gentleman has compared the nominal amount of the taxes, including the charge of collection, now, and at various periods of the war, in order to shew that their real amount has not been diminished. "The people pay as much now in the seventh year of peace," he says, "as they did in 1806—aye even as much as they did in 1813." "Was there ever any thing so monstrous?" In 1813–81 millions was the gross sum collected, last year it was 60." "The difference is just equivalent to the depreciation of the currency." The hon. and learned gentleman entered into a similar comparison with the year 1806. No wonder, that for these comparisons it suited the hon. and learned gentleman's purpose to take the average depreciation of the currency at 25 per cent. But, even if, it were true that the average depreciation had been carried to that extent, we have in these comparisons, the hon. and learned gentleman's implied admission that agriculture flourished, during the war, with an amount of taxation at least equal to that of the present time. Its present depression, therefore, is not the consequence of taxation. In the next place, what is there so monstrous or so new that a country which resorts to loans during war, should have to pay the interest of those loans after peace? Was not this the case after the American war? If the hon. and learned gentleman had been in the House in 1789, he might have exclaimed, "how monstrous, our revenue is now, in the sixth year of peace, seventeen millions, and in 1781, a year of war, it was only 10 millions." He might then have further exclaimed—"a great part of the difference arises from new taxes which did not exist during the war, but which have been imposed in successive years since the peace." On the other hand, to make his present statement correct, be ought to have added to it—"that, contrary to the practice of all former wars, we had been able to wind up this last, the most protracted and the most expensive of all, not only without any addition to, but with a great remission of, the public burthens.
Whether our expenditure upon the reduced scale stated by the noble marquis be still too great, is a point reserved for further investigation and discussion; but when the whole charge for the current year is brought under 50 millions, in- 441 cluding the extraordinary expenses incident to the insurrection in Ireland, it ought to be a strong presumption with gentlemen on the other side, that, with safety and justice, retrenchment cannot go much further. The hon. member for Essex (Mr. Western), whose absence from indisposition he (Mr. H.) particularly regretted, had deliberately stated his opinion in 1816, "that 50 milions was "the lowest sum, to which we could hope "to bring our expenditure, and that he "did not see how it could be brought so "low." No man will question his capacity to investigate these subjects, no man will question his disposition to economy. This is an authority which must have its weight with the other side of the House, and which is justly looked up to by the country; he therefore referred to it with the more confidence, as he was sure it would be a satisfaction to that hon. member to find, that the expenditure was now actually within the estimate which he had considered the lowest that could be sufficient.
The hon. and learned gentleman recommends an immediate remission of taxes to the extent of any existing surplus. But he goes further. If the taking off of five millions of taxes should not afford immediate relief (and assuredly it would not), the ilex t step would be, to apply the remedy of an "unreasoning necessity" as the hon. and learned gentleman describes it; but which in plain terms, means neither more nor less than a breach of faith with the public creditor. That a nation like an individual, may be compelled to bend to an absolute uncontrollable necessity is what cannot be denied; but when the hon. and learned gentleman calmly contemplates a state of things short of that, and attempts to measure and define it by the present difficulties of the country; the continuance of which, he intimated, would come up to his view of an "unreasoning necessity," the proposition is most alarming. Setting aside all considerations of morality, justice, and public honour, is there any man weak enough to believe, that a national bankruptcy would relieve the present distress? blind enough not to see that it would involve us in general confusion, and weaken, if not destroy, the foundations upon which the security of all other property now rests? Something has been said of the public debt being a mortgage upon all the lands of England. This he would deny. There is no such 442 specific mortgage. The public creditor can show no parchment—produce no deeds. His title is not upon the laid more than upon the whole capital and income of the country. He derives that title from the same source as that which gives to every other subject of the realm the security in what he possesses—from the guarantee of the public power of the state. What is property itself, but the creature of that public power? Has not the claim of the public creditor the same sanction and pledge of that public power, as the private engagements between man and man, or as the transmission of property by inheritance or by will? Are not a these means of possession created and upheld by law, administered and enjoyed according to law; and can you make an inroad upon any one without endangering the whole? The possessor of an estate which he has inherited or purchased, or the holder of a mortgage upon that estate, has no more natural right, the one to his rent, or the other to his interest than the public creditor has to his dividend. Titles to property are not like life, or liberty—the gifts of God and nature. If you cancel the security given to one class of property you endanger the rights of all. Your blow may indeed be aimed at one corner of the edifice only, but its recoil, depend upon it, will damage, perhaps destroy, the foundation of the whole fabrick.
With respect to the sinking fund, he had no difficulty in avowing, that there could be no real sinking fund in time of peace, except the surplus of revenue above expenditure. Nothing else could be deserving of the name. But with such a debt as ours, and without such a sinking fund, he should look with disquietude, not so much to the immediate interests of the public creditor, as to the security of the state. If parliament proclaim our utter inability to reduce our debt during peace, what can we expect upon the renewal of hostilities, but the annihilation of credit, forcing us either to limit the extraordinary exertions of war within the additional means that can be raised annually by taxation, or to declare a national bankruptcy? Is this the alternative for which the country is prepared? If we had never had a sinking fund, it would be one question, whether, at a moment of difficulty like the present, we should, the first time, make the effort necessary for creating one: it is quite another ques- 443 tion, whether, without the most overruling necessity, we ought to give up the sinking fund which we already possess; to give it up too in the face of the resolution of the year 1819, thus exhibiting to the world such a proof of distress and inability, of weakness and vacillation in council, as must lower our station, and destroy our influence, in Europe, and as could not fail, ere long, by inviting aggression, to bring upon us, in increased expense and diminished security, the punishment, even in a pecuniary view, of our own shortsighted and miserable policy. If hitherto, public credit has been to England power and safety, are we to part with it at the moment when all the states in the world are cultivating that source of strength by establishing sinking funds for the reduction of their respective debts? In France the sinking fund is greater in proportion to the total amount of debt than in this country; and in America still greater than in France.
But one great authority, hitherto most friendly to a sinking fund (Mr. Tierney), has told us that we may part with it now, and restore it again some years hence, when the country shall be more prosperous. This appears a weak and dangerous course. If once given up, the sinking fund will be gone for ever. Besides, can any man say how soon this country may be driven to the necessity of preparing for war? Would that be a case which we could postpone, because we should have postponed our sinking fund? If called upon to vindicate our honour could we adjourn the demand of satisfaction to some indefinite but more convenient period? If we once adopt this principle, if the feelings of the country be once subdued to it, insults and injuries will certainly not be wanting, but as we should have first parted with the means, so we should soon be without the spirit to avenge them.
That the resources of England however are reduced to this extremity he utterly denied. If in reference to any other great state in Europe, it had been proved to him, that its public credit stood very high,—that its revenue was increasing, without any increase of taxes, that its population was increasing in numbers with a rapidity unparalleled in any long-settled country, and that its internal improvements were keeping pace with the growth of its population;—and if, notwithstanding these facts, he had been told, that the real state of that country was desperate and hopeless; he 444 should have mistrusted the accuracy of the assertion. If these be the immediate forerunners of decline, decay, and ruin, what, he might be allowed to ask, are the steady indications of increasing wealth, power, and prosperity?
Not concurring, therefore, in the gloomy view, not dismayed by the mysterious and fearful forebodings of the hon. and learned gentleman, he could not consent, under a pressure which he trusted would be temporary, to break down the best hopes, and to destroy the public credit, of the country. If after all the dangers we had defied, all the difficulties which we had overcome, and all the trials which our fortitude and firmness had met unappalled, during a war of twenty years,—if after we had terminated that long struggle in a manner which had raised the name and character of England to a height which no other country ever attained, we were, in a moment of despondency, to dash away, for ever, one of the main resources which have raised us to that proud distinction—a resource which is well described in the conclusion of the speech from the throne, as "that public credit in the maintenance of which all the best interests of this kingdom are equally involved, and by a steady adherence to the principles whereof we have attained and can alone expect to preserve our high station amongst the nations of the world,"—he should then make it his earnest entreaty to those with whom he had acted in public life, he should call upon them by the reverence which they felt for the character and memory of Mr. Pitt, and, he might add, by their regard for their own fair fame, not to lend themselves to pull down this monument of our greatness and our strength; and if unfortunately, the House should resolve that it ought not to be sustained, to leave to other hands the unhallowed task of its demolition.
§ Mr. Brougham
said, he was not in the House on any of the evenings when Mr. Peel's bill was in its progress through parliament, except on the third reading, and it was too late then to enter on discussions in which he had previously taken no part. He was absent from severe and dangerous illness.
began by remarking on the extraordinary manner in which the right hon. gentleman had come down to comment on a speech delivered several days ago, while be made no adequate reply to what had been said in the debate 445 of that evening. He expressed his surprise at the apathy with which honourable members who were complaining so loudly of agricultural distress, had heard the paltry reductions now stated in the speech of the noble marquis. Were their feelings entirely changed? Could they be satisfied with the measures proposed? The hon. member then proceeded to make some observations on the effect produced by the change in the currency, and other causes of the public distress. He contended, that the temporary appropriation of the sinking fund, or the remission of an amount of taxes equivalent to it, in the present distressed state of the country, so far from destroying public credit, would be the best means of supporting it, especially when coupled with retrenchment and economy in every branch of the public expenditure. The remaining taxes would thereby be more productive; capital would increase, the revenue would rise, and with the return of general prosperity, the public creditor would be more certain of being ultimately paid, than if the present fund were drained from the nation in the hour of its distress.
§ Mr. Hume
said, he had not intended to claim the indulgence of the House at that late hour, but he could not refrain from making a few observations on the speech of the right hon. gentleman; and, on the extraordinary proceeding, he believed somewhat novel, of coming down with an answer to a speech delivered a week before. He had endeavoured to lead the House from the subject which was before it, by treating the argument of his hon. and learned friend in a most uncandid manner. The speech of the right hon. gentleman was in itself full of contradictions. The right hon. gentleman had called the attention of the House to the distressed state of the manufacturing interests in 1816, from which he said it recovered when left to itself. But what was the conclusion to which he came with respect to the agricultural question? He said he would not leave the agricultural interest to itself, as he had done the manufacturing interests, to recover from the depression under which it at present laboured; but wished to resort to the wild scheme of borrowing four millions from the Bank, for the purpose of buying corn with the public money. He would not leave the agricultural, like the manufacturing interest, to find its natural level; but thought that its distress might be 446 remedied by government purchasing corn and placing it in granaries. [Here Mr. Huskisson expressed his dissent]. The right hon. gentleman had certainly admitted that such a scheme formed part of the plan for ameliorating the condition of the agricultural interest; and although he had conceded that it was an absurd project, and had ridiculed it in strong terms, he at length came to the conclusion that on the whole, it ought to be tried. The right hon. gentleman misrepresented what had fallen from his hon. and learned friend, when he said that his hon. and learned friend attributed all the difficulties of the country to taxation. His hon. and learned friend said, that taxation abridged the comforts of the people, and lessened their means of consumption of corn. The right hon. gentleman himself admitted that taxation was an evil in the abstract. If it was an evil in the abstract, he would wish to know what it was in practice. Both the noble marquis and the right hon. gentleman had dealt unfairly with his hon. and learned friend, when they assumed that he had declared taxation to be the cause of low prices. He had stated no more than had been advanced from the other side; namely, that the effect of taxation was, to abridge the comforts of the people, and to increase their difficulties; and he did not think it possible gravely to deny that position. The right hon. gentleman again misrepresented the intentions of his hon. and learned friend, when he stated that the latter wished to destroy public credit. The expression of his hon. and learned friend, upon which that misrepresentation was founded, was, he believed, couched in the following words:—"that he desired to be understood as wishing to do away with all the system called the sinking fund, except so far as would allow the immediate application of a surplus of revenue over expenditure for the purpose of instantly reducing the debt." He would appeal to the House whether that passage could bear the construction which had been put upon it. With respect to the sinking fund, he was decidedly with his learned friend, of opinion, that it ought not to be continued on the footing oil which it at present stood. He was certain that some good might be effected, if all the surplus were to be immediately applied to purchasing a certain portion of the debt, instead of being left at the discretion of his majesty's ministers to be im- 447 properly squandered, as he would prove it to be, by the right hon. gentlemen opposite.—He would now say a few words with respect to the plan which had been brought forward that night by ministers. The public had waited with the utmost anxiety to know what propositions ministers would bring forward. He had never known expectation raised so high as it had been on the present occasion, both within and without the walls of that House. They had now got the plan of ministers, and what was it? He would maintain that it was a delusion, and that no folly could equal that of those persons who were inclined to depend upon the statements of the noble marquis. To prove how the noble marquis had before deceived the House, and how little reliance was to be placed upon his present assertions, he would remind the House of what the noble marquis had stated on former occasions. The House had before been mad enough implicitly to believe the noble marquis, and had been deceived by him; but he entreated the country gentlemen not to allow themselves to continue in error, until destruction had overtaken them. He begged of the House not to put trust in the declarations of the noble marquis, and the chancellor of the exchequer. He would show the House the credit which the right hon. gentleman deserved, as soon as he had disposed of the noble marquis. In the year 1817, the expense of the half-pay amounted to 650,000l. The noble marquis then stated, that it would gradually be diminished—not only by the death of individuals, but from the circumstance of persons who had a claim upon the fund being appointed to situations of active service as they should become vacant. How had the noble marquis's statement been borne out by events? The half-pay now amounted to 900,000l. In 1819, the noble marquis stated, that the expenditure of the country, according to the estimates for that year, would amount to 15,522,581l., when it appeared from the annual finance accounts, that the actual expenditure was 17,384,402l. In 1818, the ministerial estimates were calculated at 15,727,212l.; it appeared from the accounts, that the expenditure for that year was 16 millions and a half. In 1819, the estimates were 15,522,000l. and the actual expenditure was 17,384,402l. In 1820, the estimates were 16,678,000l. and the expenditure was 16,725,000l. Thus it would be seen, that every, year 448 the expenditure exceeded the estimates of the noble marquis. After having been so often deceived, would the country gentlemen allow themselves to be again deluded? Did they desire a remedy for their distress similar to the panacea of last session?—The hon. gentleman then made some observations, to show the inutility of the sinking fund under existing circumstances. When the right hon. gentleman, upon the occasion of the imposition of 3,000,000l. of new taxes, had expressed his expectation of obtaining a surplus of five millions, he (Mr. H.) had stated, that no surplus to that amount would be obtained, even if ten millions of taxes should be laid on. His opinion was, that the ministers would expend all the money they could collect, and that no effectual reduction of expense would take place, until parliament took away the supply. The event had proved that he was right; for in the year ending January, 1821, the surplus amounted to only 950,000l. He had been exceedingly surprised to hear the noble marquis speak of the general prosperity of all the branches of the public wealth, excepting agriculture. What was the state of the colonies? What was the state of our manufactures? He denied that the manufacturing interest generally was in a flourishing condition. In several branches of manufactures only a bare profit could be obtained. He could prove the statement of the noble marquis to be founded on error. The noble marquis founded his calculations on official returns of the value of exports, which generally considerably exceeded the real value of the articles exported. If hon. members confided in the noble lord, after the exposition which he had made, they would exhibit the ne plus ultra of credulity.—He could not refrain from noticing the allusions which the right hon. gentleman who spoke last had made to popular assemblies. Notwithstanding the taunts which he had directed against assemblies in Covent-garden, he would tell him, that each of the many thousand persons who composed the meeting at that place the other day, were as capable of judging of the subject before the House as he was; and he could farther inform the right hon. gentleman, that if he had at that meeting made use of the same expressions which he had that night uttered, he would not have been backed so well as he had been in that House. He was convinced that if that House had that night been com- 449 posed of 500 honest tradesmen, they would have immediately scouted the doctrines of the noble marquis, and the statements of the right hon. gentleman [Hear, and a laugh]. The noble lord's plan of lending money to the overseers of the poor would, from one end of the country to the other, excite nothing but contempt. It was made a boast, too, that the loan was to be in gold—as if that were now a matter of any importance, when every Bank note was exchangeable for gold coin. The plan would be a certain loss to the country. It would derange all the means which otherwise existed of bringing the agricultural interest to a level. This meddling with the money market was contrary to all sound principles, and also contrary to those which had been laid down by the right hon. gentleman opposite. The finances of this country were in a state of complication and derangement, to which nothing similar was to be found in the financial systems of any state of Europe or of America. Could any body tell whether there was a surplus over the expenditure of the country? No: that was impossible; the right hon. member, when questioned on the subject by the hon. member for Worcester, could not tell what was the amount of surplus revenue, or whether any surplus existed. He would put it to the country gentlemen, whether it was their intention now, to allow 26,000,000l. for carrying on the same services, which in the year 1792 required only 7,000,000l. Allowing for what was called a dead weight of 4,500,000l. or 5,000,000l., he could show that reductions might easily be made to the amount of from 7,000,000l. to 10,000,000l. So far from the plan proposed being likely to prove satisfactory, it was one which would most cruelly disappoint the expectations of the country, and he would state confidently, that it could not be carried into effect.
§ The motion was agreed to, and the said accounts were laid on the table.