rose to make the motion of which be had given notice. The subject, he said, was of the greatest importance to the country. The table of the House was literally groaning under the weight of the petitions complaining of excessive taxation, and praying for relief. If the measure which he had to propose were acted upon, it would relieve the people to the extent of seven millions of taxes, and, at the same time, enable every thing to be carried on in the way most conducive to the honour of the country. It would 303 secure this if no exigency arose; and, if any exigency did arise, it would strengthen the resources by which that exigency was to be met. He would put nothing to the House till he had stated the principles of his plan; and he hoped, that the resolutions which he was about to submit to the House would not, in the present stage, be opposed. The object which he had in view was fourfold:—1. He proposed to reduce a large amount of taxation; 2. To give the most effectual support to the public credit; 3. To effect a conciliation between the agricultural and the funded interests; and 4. To form a sinking fund, which would, with little comparative expense, really lessen the amount of the debt. Our present sinking fund, which was so very inefficient for its purpose, had been formed by Mr. Pitt, under peculiar circumstances, and without due attention to the subject. In 1798, anxious to support the public credit, Mr. Pitt had recourse in the first place to an unconstitutional measure; that of making a part of the taxes perpetual, and he did this in order that by the sale of the land tax, he might redeem a large portion of the national debt. At that time the tax on land amounted to 2,000,000l. a year, and to this extent it was mortgaged. The terms were, that any proprietor of land, transferring as much 3 per cent stock, as would amount to 3l. 6s., should redeem a tax on land, to the amount of 3l. a year. Any person whatever might at the same time redeem this by paying 3l. 12s. So that the purchase cost the actual proprietor one-tenth, and a stranger one-fifth of the annuity. He added some other inducements, such as that a purchaser to a certain extent should have a vote in the election of members of parliament. Between 1798 and 1802, seventeen millions had been redeemed; eight millions more had been redeemed from 1802 to 1822. The rate at which this redemption had gone on latterly was so slow that, in fact, it would take many centuries ere it produced the intended effect, while the annual expense was about 4,400l. He had taken the trouble to calculate the value of this annuity for the time during which it was computed to pay off the tax; and, would it be credited, that this would amount to flatly times the national debt? In this case, it would be better to make the annuity at once available for public purposes.—He would now go a little more 304 into the detail of those plans of which he had stated the outline. He proposed that for every 100l. of 3 per cent stock transferred in the redemption of the land tax, there should be granted 3l. a year in value, giving to the owner of the land a priority of purchase. If at the termination of six months the owner should refuse to purchase, it should then be open to strangers to redeem, paying 4 per cent. In virtue of that tax on land, which they would hold in the shape of a fee farm rent, there should be superadded other advantages in the form of qualifications. Under the existing law, purchasers possessed the right of voting. He proposed also that the proprietor of the land should be empowered to repurchase from the stranger the said tax within five years, on payment to the latter a bonus of 5 per cent. That arrangement would hold out inducements to large bodies and public companies to make purchases. They would have other advantages, besides the certainty of no loss, and the chance of the bonus of 5 per cent. He should recommend the extension of qualifications, such as that of killing game, sitting as magistrates, and being, enabled to qualify as members of parliament. All these advantages would strike purchasers as being very valuable, and make the redemption more saleable. It would not be advisable, in his opinion, to refuse such an application of the national resources, if government were thus enabled to obtain purchasers. If strangers could not be found disposed to purchase, it might be put up to auction in districts, at a reserved price. That provision would have the effect of making the sale produce its full value. It was his intention to have the purchasers paid at the Bank of England, in the same way as the dividends were; and that the transfers, signed by the receiver, should be numbered and registered, under the head of the county in which the purchase was made, with the name of the party purchasing affixed. By such a process every facility would be afforded to enable transfers to be made with the same regularity and dispatch as in the public securities. The qualifications which he before enumerated should, however, be limited, in the same way as the right of voting in proprietors of East India stock, to persons who continued purchasers for a certain time.—He should not trespass longer on the attention of the House by going into further detail. It was admitted, that the 305 reluctance which had latterly operated against the redemption, arose from the high prices which made it almost unsaleable. It might be said, that by such a proposition he was disposed to take every thing from his majesty's government. That inference he must deny; as even on the chancellor of the exchequer's own admission, he had a surplus of 2,200,000l. It could, therefore, not be allowed to him to dispute Ins own concession. Besides, it did appear to him, that no lair opposition to his proposition could be founded on such grounds, when it was recollected, that the tax was imposed on the proprietor of laud, for the purpose of a sinking fund, and therefore to that purpose it should be made available. The next consideration to which he should apply himself was, as to its effect on the public creditor. By the proposed arrangement, he contended, the public creditor could not be injured, but might be eventually served. The security of claims depended not so much on the ability to pay, as on the willingness to discharge them. The very feeling of relief that the measure he contemplated would afford the public, would naturally produce a greater disposition to sustain the remaining pressure. By its adoption, the public creditor would be released from all the mischiefs of that discussion which, though he deprecated it, was, he feared, fast approaching; and which had for its avowed object a diminution of the interest of the stockholder. Yet, though he felt the dishonour, he would say, the disgrace of such an attempt, he could not disguise from himself, that it proceeded from a very distressed body of men—a body that, in the year 1814, possessed a profit of 35 millions annually in the occupation of the soil, and who had since been reduced from affluence to the lowest state of wretchedness and beggary. He could feel no surprise at any application which that body made under such embittered feelings. And, though in that House it might be deemed sufficient to say, that under such circumstances, no relief could be afforded, yet he should contend, that they were bound to grant every aid that it could be proved was practicable. He trusted that it would not be believed, that he called upon that House to interfere with the sinking fund, or that hon. members could fancy that they were bound by their pledge to a particular arrangement, when, in the measure he proposed, 306 they had a sinking fund as it was originally intended, at the same time that it would give an immediate and efficient relief to the suffering classes of the community. Since he had the honour of a seat in that House, he had uniformly declared his confidence in the renovation of our resources. He had never indulged in gloomy views of our prospects, because he felt that our prosperity mainly rested on a population properly employed and increasing. From the concession of the chancellor of the exchequer, he was justified in assuming, that were the country, by his proposition, to obtain a repeal of seven millions of taxes, from the increase of consumption that would follow, the actual loss to the revenue would not exceed six millions. That would still leave to the right hon. gentleman one million above his estimate. Then the very operation of the proposed plan, by cancelling in seven years 41,330,000l., would so materially advance the price of the public securities, as to enable the government to pay off the 4 per cent stock, by which an annual saving would accrue to the country of 750,000l. He did not at present propose any repeal of specific taxes; that would be a subject for the subsequent consideration of that House in its wisdom to adopt. What he complained of, in the proposition of the chancellor of the exchequer was, he merely took off a branch of taxation, and reduced only by a percentage. He kept up patronage, corruption, and all the expensive machinery. The plan now proposed destroyed these great and increasing evils, while it (rave to the revenue the two items, viz. the 750,000l. by the reduction of the higher stock, and 200,000l., if the repeal of the duties on beer and malt, according to the suggestion of his hon. friend, the member for Winchelsea, was acceded to. He was convinced that large reductions might be made in our establishments, to the amount of four millions. But taking into calculation all that the revenue might gain by existing impositions, he would ask the House to compare its amount with those increased resources, which a remission of taxes for seven years would yield. Left in the packets of the people, it would work as capital; and at the end afford to the public necessities resources fitted to any exigency, tar beyond what a sinking fund with compound interest could produce. The proposition he recommended was not 307 novel. It was the acknowledged measure of Mr. Pitt, sanctioned by parliament; and he called upon that House, reflecting on the distresses of a great branch of the community, to lend their hand to its revival. By so doing, they would conciliate those gaeat interests, now unhappily at variance, namely, the landed and funded. The hon. member concluded with moving the first of the following resolutions:—
§ 1. "That by the resolutions voted by this House in the year 1819, it was deemed expedient, that an efficient sinking fund should be created, to the amount of five millions.
§ 2. "That at the time in question, it was agreed unanimously, that the only sinking fund which can be efficient, is that which is produced by a surplus of income over expenditure.
§ 3."That, as far as can be collected from the papers laid upon the table of the House, there actually exists a sum of about live millions applicable to the reduction of the national debt.
§ 4. "That, in addition to these five millions, applicable to the reduction of the debt, there is, at the disposition of parliament, arising from the increased productiveness of several branches of revenue, and from the various plans of reform and economy in the administration of the country, proposed to be carried into execution this year, a sum of about 2,200,000l.
§ 5. "That it appears, therefore, that a total sum of 7,200,000l., arising from the above-mentioned sources, is applicable to the maintenance of public credit, and to the relief of agricultural or other distress, by remission of taxation.
§ 6. "That, although it was determined that the capital stock purchased by the commissioners for the redemption of the national debt, with this efficient sinking fund, should be transferred to their account, it was nevertheless understood, that the interest payable upon stock so purchased, should either determine at the time of purchase, or be paid over and become part of the consolidated fund.
§ 7. "That, taking 80l. as the price of 100l. in three per cent consol stock, it appears that five millions of money, annually laid out during the space of seven Years, would redeem about 43,750,000l. of three per cent annuities; but, should we remain at peace, it would redeem a much smaller sum.308
§ 8. "That in the year 1798, for the support of public credit, there was passed an act for the redemption and purchase of land tax; which act, from the exorbitant conditions attached to such redemption and purchase, has, in a great measure, failed in effecting the destined object.
§ 9. "That notwithstanding the obstacles thus created, such has been the anxiety of the public to redeem their land, and purchase landed securities, that the sum redeemed and purchased amounts to 700,000l., and upwards.
§ 10. "That, if so large a proportion of the land tax has been redeemed and purchased, at a sacrifice, in the first instance, of 10l., and in the second of 20l. per cent; it is but reasonable to conclude, that the remaining balance of 1,239,701l., would be similarly redeemed and purchased, if no sacrifice was necessary.
§ 11. "That it appears, that 1,239,701l. of land tax thus redeemed and purchased, and paid for in three per cent consolidated annuities, would cancel a sum in such annuities of about 41,330,000l., being more than the amount that would be purchased by the regular investment of the sinking fund in stock, for the space of seven years, if we remain at peace.
§ 12. "That it appears that this method of reducing debt by no means differs in its substance from that which was adopted by the House in the resolutions of 1819, the essential attributes of both plans being the maintenance of public credit, by the diminution of the quantity of debt.
§ 13. "That, as the mode of redeeming the national debt, by redemption and purchase of land tax, injures no class of proprietors, and will absorb a quantity of debt, nearly equal to that which would be redeemed by an efficient sinking fund of five millions, annually laid out during seven years, it is expedient to substitute it for the sinking fund, adopted in the resolutions of the House in 1819.
§ 14. "That by this substitution there may be remitted to the people, in alleviation of their distress, seven millions of taxes."
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
commenced with stating, that from the line of argument taken by the hon. member, it would not be necessary for him to trespass at any considerable length on the attention of the committee. The hon. member had himself conceded the very points on which he should feel it his duty to oppose the hon. member's proposition. 309 The very first resolution, upon which the others were founded, declared, that by the vote of parliament, an efficient sinking fund of 5,000,000l. was necessary. Now, if he should be enabled to show, that the proposition of the hon. member was subversive of the basis of his resolutions, in that case it would be admitted, that he had shown, that his other resolutions were untenable. The maintenance of an efficient sinking fund of five millions was the substratum, and all the succeeding resolutions down to the 12th, referring to the main principle, proceeded upon that acknowledgment. What did the 12th resolution propose? "That it appears that this method of reducing debt by no means differs in its substance from that which was adopted by the House in the resolutions of 1819, the essential attributes of both plans being the maintenance of public credit, by the diminution of the quantity of public debt." The hon. member in that resolution took for granted, that his proposition was a substitute for a sinking fund. If, therefore, he could show, that in this assumption the hon. member was not only incorrect, but that it was directly the reverse of that which he affirmed of it; then it would follow as a necessary consequence, that as a substitute, his plan was altogether impracticable And here he must be allowed to ask, if the hon. member proposed his measure as a substitute for another, on what grounds he did, on a former occasion, deny the existence of that which he now admitted by the proposal of a substitute? The truth was, that instead of being a substitute, the two measures bore no resemblance. He apprehended, that the very essential attribute of a sinking fund was, that its operation, while it diminished debt, was unaccompanied with any loss of revenue. The interest accruing from the debt so redeemed was left at the option of parliament, to be applied either to a further diminution of debt, to the public exigencies that might arise, or to the repeal of taxation. But, in the plan of the hon. member there was no choice left; because, while it reduced a corresponding amount of the public debt, it also extinguished a portion of the revenue. If, therefore, it was, as the hon. member admitted as his substratum, expedient to preserve an efficient sinking fund—and if, as he (the chancellor of the exchequer) contended it was, the essential attribute of a sinking fund not to extin- 310 guish, by its operation, revenue, then it followed, either that the hon. gentleman must give up the basis of his resolutions, or his substitute. He was surprised that the intelligent mind of the hon. member could not see through the fallacy that pervaded the whole of his assumption. He should say also, that the proposition of the hon. member, while it operated as to the extinction of revenue, would not be in all cases a redemption of the land tax. Suppose the case of a person holding a life estate with a land tax unredeemed; that he, either by the transference of stock, or by borrowing the sum of 200l. became a purchaser under the plan of the hon. member. Now, though the tax would be redeemed as between the estate and the individual, it would not be redeemed to the heir of the land; he would have to pay it to the representatives of the life estate holder. It was a perfect misnomer to call such a measure a redemption of the land tax. Another essential attribute, to use the terms of the hon. member, of a sinking fund, was, that it carried with it certainty and permanency. The plan now proposed was diametrically the reverse of that. In seven years, the hon. member calculated, that his proposition would cancel 43,750,000l. But, at I the end of the seven years, what became of the sinking fund? Where could they find its attributes of certainty and permanence? It was true, the hon. member looked forward to the resources which would follow a remission of taxes for seven years. Such an effect might follow; but was it that species of certainty on which the pledge of parliament was secured? The lion, gentleman, by adopting what he was pleased to call his substitute, would send them, at the end of seven years, fishing in the great ocean of revenue; but whether to catch a whale or a herring, he could not possibly ascertain. If, therefore, the proposition of the hon. member was, from the very nature of its operation, the reverse of his assumption, there was an end of the two concluding resolutions. But, even were the assumption well founded, he should have great doubts as to the propriety of its adoption.—The hon. member said his object was to give greater facilities to, the operation of Mr. Pitt's act; and that the lethargy under which it laboured, was occasioned by the onerous conditions which were imposed on persons who wished to redeem this tax. He had also 311 observed, that a much less quantity of the tax was now redeemed, than when Mr. Pitt first proposed the plan; but, when they considered the circumstances under which it was proposed, they could not be surprised that it did not go on so rapidly now, as it did at an antecedent period. The circumstances under which Mr. Pitt proposed it were diametrically the reverse of the circumstances which now prevailed. In the first place, this country was at that time engaged in a most expensive war; of which no one could foretel the probable termination. In consequence of that war, government was raising very large loans, on most ruinous terms; and Mr. Pitt's plan was brought forward, not as a plan for the relief of any particular class of persons; but, under the extraordinary depression of the funds, for the purpose of raising their value, that government might be enabled to borrow, with the greatest advantage, those various loans, which, whether that or any other measure were proposed, it was absolutely necessary the state should procure. The funds being at that period very low, and the value of land progressively improving, it was quite clear, that many persons would be ready to transfer their securities from the funds to the land. The funds were then at 48: they were now at 73, and the value of land of late years certainly had not increased. This accounted most clearly for the slow progress which the law had recently made. The hon. member seemed to think, that the real obstacles to the efficacy of this plan, were the restrictions which were connected with it; and he proposed that those restrictions should be entirely removed. Now, if they were done away with, and other regulations were introduced, for the purpose of giving the public additional advantages, the old act must be entirely lost. He did not lay much stress on that point; but other consequences, it appeared to him, would follow, from the hon. member's plan, which applied most essentially to the whole of the law as it now existed. Those who had at all attended to this subject, must be aware, that though, by the original act, the first option of redeeming the land tax was given to the proprietor of the land; yet, in order to induce him to come into terms, a very disagreeable alternative was suspended over his head. An individual, without knowing any thing of the party whose 312 land tax was to be sold, a stranger from 'Change-alley, might purchase it; and thus he acquired a claim on a part of the estate as a creditor. Now, he could see no good reason for giving to this third person any additional advantages, as the hon. member proposed to do. In order to give this law effect, the land tax was made perpetual; whereas it had been before voted only from year to year: Having done this, if they said td the holder of an estate—"If you don't purchase the land tax, I have a third person ready, who will," it was compelling him to lease it, whether he would or not; which was a very great hardship. Mr. Pitt felt this great hardship; and how did he meet it? He said—"If a third person conies in, and buys it, instead of 10 per cent, he shall pay 20." The hon. member said, he would put the strange purchaser on the same footing. To render his plan efficacious, the hon. member said, if the proprietor refused to redeem the tax, then a third person might purchase it; but as it might be unpleasant to the owner, if the stranger were at once possessed of this lien on his estate in perpetuity, and might wish to oust him from it, if an opportunity occurred, in that case the hon. member proposed, that, on paying to the purchaser 5 per cent on the money he had deposited, within a certain period, the interest of the third party should cease and determine. But the hon. gentleman had said, that that third person, under his plan, would have many advantages which at present he did not possess: the hon. gentleman meant, for instance, to make him a magistrate It seemed to be his wish to make the plan extremely palatable, not so much to the individuals who might pay the tax in question, as to certain large trading companies who might be likely to dabble in such a matter; and to some particular individuals, in truth, who might, as a speculation, be inclined, possibly, to buy up the land tax. These last persons, though they might be, perhaps, quite unconnected with a county, and possessed of not a single acre of land, were to be placed on the footing of magistrates of that county. Surely this would be a complete change of the principle upon which it had been usual to select county magistrates! He, for one, would be very unwilling to adopt it; were the hon. member's plan even likely to be more practicable and useful than 313 he could deem it to be. Thinking, therefore, that the alterations which had been proposed to the House, were of a nature to render the act alluded to yet more objectionable than it was stated to have been at the time when it was originally passed; and that even if they were not so, that the projected plan would not be found effective for the purposes that had been contemplated by the measure for which it was to be substituted; and that therefore the very basis upon which the hon. gentleman had intended to found his proposition was taken away, he should move the previous question upon all the resolutions.
said, he felt some difficulty in answering the objections which had been urged against the plan of his lion, relative, from the very nature of those objections. He had come down to the House expecting to hear something like argument against the practicability of carrying the measure into execution. The right hon. gentleman, however, had done little more than urge the danger of large monied companies dabbling in the land tax. Why, this was the very object Mr. Pitt had in view: his first idea was to make the land tax perpetual; he then allowed individuals, not proprietors, to purchase up the land tax, by paying 20 per cent by transferring from the funds, and 10 per cent if he were the proprietor. In this case the funded proprietor paid 20 per cent, for the privilege of converting his property from the funds into land. To this his hon. relative objected; and he coincided in the objection. He was desirous of placing the fund holder and the landholder on terms equally secure. He did not see how the argument of the chancellor of the exchequer could apply, that the annihilation of the debt would be the annihilation of income. If, at the end of 38 years the land tax would be redeemed by appropriating the sum of 1,200,000l. annually, at the end of 38 years there would be a loss of 1,200,000l. Now, by the plan of his hon. relative, the same amount would be redeemed in seven years. The right hon. gentleman had availed himself, with considerable address, of the last year's resolution respecting the sinking fund. But, he was mistaken when he said, that the plan of his hon. relative went to abolish the sinking, fund entirely. On the contrary, it only meant to appropriate it for seven years; and, when the confusion and dis- 314 tress which existed, with regard to the taxes in question, between the landlord and tenant were considered, it would be no useless sacrifice of five millions a year for seven years, to purchase a lasting relief from such confusion and distress. His hon. relative did not wish to pledge the House to any thing more than the giving up five millions of taxes for seven years, and afterwards it remained with, the House to do as it pleased. By his plan, a sinking fund would be created, perfectly secure from the rapacity of ministers; and, from the fate that had attended three successive sinking funds which ministers had laid hold of. It would put a stop to many of those expensive projects, which an obsequious parliament was always so apt to follow. By the proposed scheme, the sinking fund would be placed beyond their grasp, and secured from most of the disadvantages hitherto objected to it. For himself, he did not so much object to a sinking fund, as he did to its violability, and to the temptation which it held out to ministers, a temptation which they rarely had the firmness to resist. The plan of his hon. relative would increase the funds of the country, and give the government a greater weight with foreign states. It would show them, that we had resources at our command, and funds in our treasury, which would enable us to meet any of the exigencies that were likely to arise.
§ Mr. Ricardo
thought that the plan which had been proposed by the hon. mover, could by no means be considered as a desirable substitute for the sinking fund. At the same time, it might possess those merits which should induce the House to adopt it. In the manner in which his hon. friend had proposed that plan, he certainly could not acquiesce; for he thought it would fail to accomplish the object which he conceived to be so desirable. It was, indeed, most desirable, that we should diminish the amount of our debt; and to effect that diminution, he did believe it might be available; but, in such case, it must be adopted in a different way from that in which the hon. gentleman had stated it. Its object was to purchase up a certain quantity of the land tax, by the transfer of a certain quantity of stock; and then it went on to propose, that other parties might purchase the tax, in case the proprietor of the land should not choose to do so. If this had 315 been the extent of the plan—if it had gone simply to cancel an amount of stock—if it had left the purchaser no other right but that which a mortgagee possessed in his claim upon the land—if it had allowed the parties to claim of the landlord, without any intervention of the government or its officers, then he would say, that it was certainly calculated to accomplish the great object of diminishing the debt. But if, under this plan, there was to be a receiver-general to receive the amount of the proprietor, and to pay it into the Bank—if there was to be this sort of management and collection created—it would only be substituting one debt for another; and though there might thus be 42,000,000l. and upwards, of stock, cancelled, yet he should consider, that they were only creating a new stock in its place, and transferrable in the same manner. An objection had been raised by the chancellor of the exchequer, that did not seem to possess all the weight which that right hon. gentleman attached to it. He had said,—"Would it not be a great hardship to give to a stranger the right of demanding this tax of a land proprietor? Why, what would be the hardship? The landed proprietor, it was clear, must pay at all events; and was the receiver of the taxes so merciful a gentleman, that the House was to suppose he would exercise his official functions with much more kindness and humanity than the proprietor of the land tax would manifest? He (Mr. R.) very much regretted, that the land tax was not of that description, that it might be extended further; for if those taxes which were applicable to the reduction of the national debt could be so extended, it was quite clear that they might push that most desirable object still nearer to its accomplishment. So far he concurred with his hon. friend, and no further. He could by no means agree with him, that if the land proprietor should wish to purchase, he should have the right; but if he should decline that, then a stranger might purchase; and, failing both, that it should be sold by public auction. How such a purpose was to be accomplished by public auction, he really could not see. Certainly, the result of this plan could not, by any means, be called a sinking fund. It was totally unconnected with such a fund. But the right hon. gentleman might say, if he pleased, "Your plan is a very good ones and I will 316 adopt it, in addition to my sinking fund." If the plan was a good one, as he (Mr. R.) undoubtedly considered it, upon the whole, to be, he thought it might be quite desirable on its own peculiar grounds; but not as a substitute for the sinking fund. With respect to the sinking fund, he had already very frequently said, that he should be willing to vote for a reduction of taxes to the amount of that sinking fund; but he could not consent to vote any larger reduction than was equivalent to its absolute amount. It was now universally agreed, that the definition of such a fund was the surplus of our income over our expenditure. That surplus, which the right hon. gentleman estimated at 7,000,000l., he (Mr. R.), and the country in general he believed, took to be, in fact, no more than 5,000,000l. How had the right hon. gentleman got the item of 2,000,000l. which he made a part of that surplus? Was it to be obtained in any other way, than by taking it from the sinking fund itself, or borrowing it in the market? If it was borrowed in the market, it was only increasing, by so much, the debt. If it was taken from the sinking fund, it was by so much a diminution of the assumed surplus. Therefore, he (Mr. R.) could not vote for remitting taxes to the amount of 7,000,000l. He thought, indeed, that if due economy and retrenchment were observed in every department of our expenditure, it might be very possible to remit even 7,000,000l., and thus add 2,000,000l. to the proposition of the chancellor of the exchequer. But he greatly feared the fact would not be so; and he must see another account brought in by the government, before he could consent to the remission of the additional 2,000,000l. Under the false notion with which ministers seemed to be impressed about their surplus of 7,000,000l., it was much to be apprehended, that they would not prove a whit more economical than usual, were the House even to vote the remission of other 2,000,000l. They would say, "You only take away our surplus, and therefore there is no necessity for further economy." He hoped the House would pardon him, if he was tedious, but he desired once more to explain what he meant by an efficient sinking fund. An efficient sinking fund, in the opinion of many gentlemen who sat near him, could not exist at the same period that we were increasing our debt. In that position he did not coincide. He 317 thought, for instance, that when Mr. Pitt first established a sinking fund, and although, during a considerable portion of his subsequent life, the country was engaged in foreign wars, by the enormous expenses of which the debt was increased in a far greater proportion than the sinking fund paid it off; yet that, in effect, we then always had a sinking fund. Of every loan that was borrowed to meet those vast expenses, Mr. Pitt provided for the interest, and reserved a fund of one per cent for the extinction. Undoubtedly, an incredible weight was added to the debt by the protracted war that ensued; but, what would have been the situation of the country, had she sooner effected a peace? All those loans which had been borrowed in war time, would have been provided for, and there would have been left an efficient sinking fund. Had this system been adhered to during the whole progress of the war, he (Mr. R.) would have been the last man to raise his voice against the sinking fund. But, what was the fact? In 1813, the late chancellor of the exchequer came down to the House, took 8,000,000l. per annum away from the sinking fund, and in the same breath told them, that they were paving their debt, that the finances would be placed in the most flourishing condition; and in a short time after the peace, he told them, that they would be in possession of a greater treasure than any other nation of the earth could boast. It was at the very moment that he took away from the sinking fund 8,000,000l., that the late chancellor of the exchequer had made all those splendid promises. But, unfortunately, this was not his only attack on that fund; nay, it was a trifling one, compared to those which he subsequently made upon it. The late chancellor of the exchequer, instead of providing for the annual interest of his loans, suffered compound interest to accrue upon them. Though there was placed, in the hands of commissioners, who most conscientiously and perfectly discharged their duties, a fund of 15,000,000l., he said, "I have, by my expenditure, left you in a situation in which you have a deficiency of 15,000,000l. in your finances." Why, where, then, was the sinking fund? Would the chancellor of the exchequer have dared to come to that House, year after year, and have calmly spoken of a deficiency of between 12,000,000l. and 15,000,000l., if he had not known all the while, that there was, 318 in reserve, a fund of 15,000,000l. which he reckoned upon parliament's permitting him to apply to other purposes than those which it was originally intended to effect? Now he (Mr. R.) contended, that the sinking fund of this day would have the same fate as its predecessors. If it remained, it might go on well enough for a few years; but, should the right hon. gentleman opposite continue in power, he, or if not, then some future chancellor of the exchequer, after coming down to the House, and telling them how thriving a condition this sinking fund was in, would some day inform parliament, that a deficiency of some sort or other was discovered, or that some emergency had arisen, which rendered it necessary to appropriate the whole. The language of his majesty's ministers confirmed these anticipations in a great measure. If, however, they properly considered the matter, they ought to look upon this fund as already appropriated. It was a fund to pay off debt; and surely it was never to be considered as applicable to the expenses of a war; for if it was to pay debt, it could meet no other object. Let the House suppose the case of a private individual: suppose he had an income of 1,000l. a-year, and that he found it necessary to borrow 10,000l., for which he agreed to give up to his creditor 500l.per annum. Let them suppose his steward to say to him, "If you will live on 400l. a year, and give up another 100l., out of your income of 500l., that will enable you, in a certain number of years, to get completely rid of your debt." The party listened to this good advice, lived on 400l. a-year, and. gave up annually 600l. to his steward, in order to pay his creditor. The first year, let it be assumed, that the steward paid the creditor 100l. Then the debt would be 9,900l.; and therefore the income due to the creditor would be only 495l. But the party continuing to pay to his steward 600l. per annum, in the next year the steward paid over 105l.; and so from year to year the debt was diminished, 600l. being still received by the steward. At the end of a certain number of years, the result was this:—That out of a yearly reserve of 600l., half the debt was paid off: only 250l. was due to the creditor, and 350l. remained in the hands of the steward; his master continuing to live on 400l. per annum. At this period, some object offering to the steward, which he thought might be 319 beneficial to the gentleman, or to himself, he borrowed 7,000l., and devoted the whole 350l. in his hands, to pay the interest on that sum. What, then, became of this gentleman's sinking fund? Originally he was in debt only 10,000l.; now, he found himself indebted, altogether, 12,000l.; so that instead of possessing a sinking fund, as he had hoped, he was positively so much more in debt. He considered that the whole mystery of our sinking fund was, in truth, just the same. He did believe, in his conscience, that the amount of the national debt would not have been near so large as it now was, if the sinking fund had been honourably adhered to. He did believe, that such a disastrous result would not have been the case, if Mr. Pitt had continued minister. No: he would have provided—as any other honest or efficient minister would have done—for debts as he contracted them. In time of war even we should have possessed a sinking fund. But, as he despaired of ever seeing such a system followed by any minister in that House—as he despaired of seeing a sinking fund strictly and inviolably sustained—he would give his hearty support to his hon. friend's motion, if he would make his proposed remission of taxes 5,000,000l., instead of 7,000,000l. The latter amount seemed rather beyond the mark, and therefore he could not vote for it. With respect to the memorable plan of last year, he hoped the right hon. gentleman was not one of those who could support such an inexplicable mystery. He hoped that the right hon. gentleman would repel the charge of having contributed to such a delusion. If the right hon. gentleman really wished to repeal 2,000,000l. of taxes, let him say to the House that the ministers of the crown, wishing to do so, proposed to take them out of the sinking fund. The roundabout statements, and the machinery of acts of parliament, which in recent sessions had been resorted to, were unbecoming the station of the right hon. gentleman, and unworthy of the government of a great and powerful nation.
adverting to what had fallen from an hon. gentleman (Mr. W Maberly) observed, that if that hon. gentleman had not been quite so young, or had passed more years in observation upon the real state of the finances of the country, he would not have lent himself to the support of what appeared to him the lightest bubble that was ever blown 320 in it; as far as concerned the principle of substituting the redemption of the land tax for a sinking fund. As for the opinion of the hon. member for Portarlington, or any other gentleman, who thought a sinking fund a nuisance, and that it would be proper for the country to go on without it, that was another question. All gentlemen must be agreed, that upon the finances of a great country, as well as upon those of an individual who administered them with common prudence, there ought to be a surplus at the end of the year. This necessity was still greater with respect to a nation; for its finances must be liable to casualties to which those of individuals were not subject. He must say, that the plan which it was proposed to substitute in lieu of that proposed by the right hon. gentleman, seemed to have no foundation in common sense or prudence. A proposition to take away 7,000,000l. of perpetual income, and to compensate their loss by a perpetual income of 1,200,000l., was one which required no details to prove its absurdity. The time had gone by when the finances of a country were to be managed by conjuring. It might have been so, indeed, in France, when an adventurer once proposed to undertake their management on such conditions, and the ignorance of the time was so gross as to credit him. If the hon. mover had proposed to get into a quart bottle, he should have thought him just as likely to succeed, as this plan was to accomplish its object. Any gentleman who merely looked at the figures, would see its fallacy; but two objections deserved particular notice. The plan, at the end of seven years, would leave them without any sinking fund at all; and the hon. gentleman had totally omitted from his calculation, the 1,200,000l. that he proposed to employ, which must of necessity be deficient on the income of the year itself. Clear it was, that upon the last year of the proposed term, there must be the 1,200,000l. deficient, which it was the hon. gentleman's proposition to appropriate. He could not imagine by what process of hocus poet's the hon. member could make 1,200,000l. amount to 7,000,000l. He would now make a few observations upon what had fallen from the hon. member for Portarlington, respecting the sinking fund. The subject was one of the greatest moment to the country. The question was, whether the country was to have a surplus or a bare 321 revenue—whether any attempt was to be made during peace to decrease the debt which we had contracted in a time of war. He did not hesitate to declare, that upon the issue of that question, the destinies of the country materially depended. He could not help adverting to what he conceived to be a contradiction in the speech of his hon. friend. His hon. friend said, he was not opposed to the principle of Mr. Pitt's sinking fund; but he objected to the preservation of any surplus at all, because he was sure that somebody would take it away: he was afraid that some minister or other would take it away; and, therefore, he was resolved to take it away himself. This reminded him of a Frenchman in some play, who, upon being appealed to by a lady for his advice, as to the best mode of resisting the advances of her admirer, replied, that the best way of resisting temptation was to yield to it at once. His hon. friend said, with respect to the sinking fund, "there are ministers who will not retain it; there are country gentlemen who will not let them, if they were even willing; so I will surrender my predilections in its favour, and take it away myself." That was the amount of his hon. friend's argument. If the country could bear the maintenance of a sinking fund, he considered it a proper thing; but because he did not believe that ministers and the House possessed virtue enough to retain it, he wished the House to yield at once, without making an effort to resist temptation. He differed entirely from his hon. friend in the view which he took of that subject. Now that the management of the finances had been placed in the hands of a gentleman who appeared likely to possess the confidence of the House, and who had shown how eloquently he could explain the real situation of the country, he was convinced that the House and the country, when they were fully acquainted with the state of their affairs, would prove that they possessed that virtue and resolution for which his hon. friend would not give them credit. What would be the situation of this great country without any surplus? If the House were to adopt the project which had been submitted to it, the government might next year be compelled to make up its wants by loans; even supposing the revenue to continue at its present amount. The least extraordinary circumstance that might occur—for instance, a demonstration, not amount- 322 ing to a positive declaration of war—would create some casual expense, to meet which the government would be obliged to have recourse to loans. He liked a sinking fund, because it might he made available in a manner in which his hon. friend thought it ought not to be employed; namely, to meet sudden emergencies. No doubt, the funding system was liable to many abuses; but its legitimate use was to enable the country to make loans for casual circumstances, which it might pay off at after periods. If a sinking fund of 5,000,000l. were maintained, government would be able to meet any exigencies, without burthening the people with fresh taxes; which he always considered it impolitic to impose, until it was ascertained that they would be permanently wanted. As a proof of the efficacy of a sinking fund, in supporting credit, he would refer to the experience of France, as a case in point. The government of that country, thinking itself called upon to make a military demonstration, had applied to the legislature for the sum of 100,000,000 francs, which was to be raised without the imposition of any tax, and the sinking fund would be employed with respect to it for its legitimate purpose. Here he might observe, that in his opinion, it was immaterial whether government borrowed from the sinking fund, upon the principle of Mr. Fox's clause, or whether the sinking fund was employed to diminish the debt which had been created by having recourse to loans. America, also, had her sinking fund; and by its operation she was making rapid strides in the reduction of the very considerable debt which had been incurred during the last war with England. The emperor of Russia had recently condescended, for the first time, to give a public statement of his financial system; from which it appeared, that a sinking fund of 30 million of roubles had been established in Russia; and he (Mr. B.) believed that it was fairly applied. Thus the House would perceive, that those powers of Europe with whom we might happen to cone in conflict, were acting upon that system of finance of which some hon. gentlemen were desirous of depriving this country. If the views of those gentlemen were carried into effect, the country would be removed from that high situation in which it had always stood; it would be deprived of all power and in- 323 fluence, and would be placed in a state similar to that of the king of France, who, it was stated, was obliged to march into Spain, or else somebody else would march over him. The question before the House was not a question between the fund-holder and the landholder. Indeed, He was of opinion, that the scheme of the hon. member, if carried into effect (supposing it to be practicable), would produce a rise in the funds. It was necessary that the House should take a general view of the situation of the country, and place its finances on the footing most conformable to its interests. He should like to know from the hon. member for Portarlington, how, in a case of emergency, the country could effectively act without a surplus revenue? What would be the situation of the country, when deprived of credit? It would resemble the situation in which France stood at the period of the restoration, or of that poor and unfortunate country, Spain, which was likely to fall under the oppression of the powers of Europe, absolutely for want of those resources which the possession of public credit would give her. The situation of a country whose credit was impaired, resembled that of an individual under similar circumstances, who was obliged to purchase commodities at a higher price by one-half than he would pay if his credit were good. At present every body was anxious to sell to the government, because it was considered the safest paymaster; but, once take away the sinking fund, and deteriorate the credit of government, and it would have to advance considerably upon its present rate of purchases. The hon. gentleman next adverted to the plan which the hon. member for Portarlington had suggested, for effecting an adjustment between the funds and other descriptions of property in the country. He was of opinion, that such an adjustment was altogether impracticable. The hon. member for Aberdeen had, on a former evening, produced some very curious financial statements, from which he had drawn the conclusion, that if the country had, during the war, had sufficient resolution to bear six millions of additional taxes, the debt might have been altogether avoided. He did not intend to enter into a minute argument upon the subject; but he thought the hon. member's project was altogether visionary. How could we possibly have started at once from a taxation of sixteen 324 millions before the year 1790 to sixty millions, which was about the extreme taxation of the war, and then put on six millions additional, without a revolution of all the interests of the country? The hon. member stated what might be arithmetically true, but what was practically false. No doubt there was a great abuse of the funding system during the war; but as to the additional taxation, proposed by the one hon. member, and the adjustment of property suggested by the other, he must assert, that however specious in theory, or valid in abstract calculation, they were totally inapplicable to any practical object. He should vote against the resolutions.
§ Mr. Tierney
commenced by observing, that he could assure his hon. friend who had just sat down, that he did not view the subject lightly, but attached as much weight and consideration to it as his hon. friend could possibly do. But, what was the real question? It was nothing else than whether five millions were to be taken from the taxes of the country or not. He believed such arguments had been offered to the House, as at least would incline it to consider whether a sinking fund of five millions ought to be supported, or a reduction of taxes to that amount. He could say, without fear of contradiction, that no one had been a more consistent friend to the plan of Mr. Pitt's sinking fund than himself; but he had often warned the House of the lavish expense of that minister, under which no plan of a sinking fund could be carried into beneficial effect. But, though he supported the original principle of the sinking fund, he did not think that the present situation of the country was such as to bear a sinking fund of five millions. That situation was such, that it required at least a remission of taxes to that amount. He had outlived the real sinking fund, for of that established by Mr. Pitt, not a trace was now remaining. It was truly said by his hon. friend behind him, that repeated invasions had been made on the original sinking fund. He (Mr. T.) had witnessed those invasions, and had opposed every one of them. But now the mask was: thrown aside; for while the law declared that there was a sinking fund of 17 millions, the House was now called upon to declare, that there should be a sinking fund of but five millions. It. was said on the opposite side, that the public credit depended on a sinking fund of five mil- 325 lions. But, if we adhered to the principle of public faith, we should have a sinking fund of 17 millions. This was established by law; but, in the year 1819, the ministers changed their plan; they procured a resolution of the House, stating that there should be a sinking fund of five millions, which should be binding upon the country; and whoever objected to it was considered an enemy to public credit. He (Mr. T.) understood public credit to be nothing else than a faithful adherence to public engagements. But the ministers asserted, that public credit meant, that we should maintain more than we wanted by five millions. Now, he wished to know, whether it was convenient to the country to have five millions of sinking fund under the present state of things; for they were not now to consider the state of the law, but the state of the country. He was convinced, that the country would receive more substantial benefit from the proposed remission of taxes for the next seven years, than from the support of the sinking fund. Now, the right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer seemed to be convinced of this truth, though he had not sufficient resolution to carry it into complete effect. He had seven millions to be applied to the reduction of the debt. How happened it, then, that the chancellor of the exchequer abandoned two millions of that surplus, by a remission of taxation? Why, because he had taken into consideration the distressed situation of the country, and found, that a remission of taxation was the most desirable thing that could be effected. The whole surplus of seven millions, however, was just as much the property of the fund-holder as the five millions were. Far be it from him to blame the chancellor of the exchequer for having given two millions out of the seven millions hack to the people. He thought the right hon. gentleman had acted wisely in doing so; but he wished the right hon. gentleman to admit, that those who were disposed to go farther might be actuated by as honourable motives as he was himself. They differed from him in degree; but the principle upon which they proceeded was precisely the same. He said, that the sinking fund ought not to be so much as five millions. The chancellor of the exchequer replied—"You are wrong; I must have a sinking fund of five millions; I will give up two millions of my surplus; 326 but, dare to touch the remaining five, and I will hold you up to the country as an enemy of public credit." His hon. friend (Mr. Baring) appeared to stickle a great deal for a sinking fund; but in reality he meant nothing more than surplus revenue. His hon. friend said, that government could apply the surplus during peace to the reduction of the debt; but that, if a war should commence, they might take it altogether. Nobody doubted that a surplus of five millions was an excellent thing; he was of that opinion, and he even thought, that a surplus of ten millions was better. But then he came back to the old question—could the country afford to supply the exchequer with the surplus? He thought that it could not; and, therefore, that it was most desirable it should be abandoned altogether. He considered it to be most unwise in the House to pledge itself to support a specific fund, which it was allowed, could not be touched in a case of difficulty without an invasion of public credit. The present was the best time for getting rid of the sinking fund. The country was now in a state of peace. Circumstances might, perhaps, arise to disturb that tranquillity; and in that case, he might venture to say there would be no difficulty in deciding upon the proper measures to be taken; but, assuming that the country was at present in a state of peace, it could not be denied, that there was no time so favourable for a remission of taxation. How mischievous would it be if the House were, on Monday next, to pass a resolution, for the maintenance of the sinking fund, which government might afterwards, in the event of a war breaking out, seize upon, and apply to the purposes of the war! In such a case, if the arguments which had been addressed to the House were worth any thing, public credit would be destroyed: and surely no man would venture to say, that if the country were to enter into a war, ministers would not have recourse to the sinking fund. Conceiving, as he did, that public credit was to be maintained by honourably fulfilling public engagements, he could see nothing incompatible with the existence of public credit in abolishing the sinking fund. If the government wanted the means to carry on a war, he would not have them obtain their resources by seizing on the sinking fund. The most proper coarse would be, to apply to parliament for new taxes; and 327 he was sure that, to support a war which came home to the feelings of every gentleman in that House, they would be voted; and he was also certain, that the country would, to the utmost of its power, cheerfully bear them. Much difficulty would be removed, if the five millions were called surplus, instead of sinking fund. It would then be in the power of any gentleman to propose a remission of taxation to that amount, without incurring the risk of having it imputed to him that he was an enemy of public credit. Let it not be thought, that the taking away of taxes would occasion a total loss to the revenue of their amount. He was of opinion, that the agricultural interests had obtained considerable relief from the remission of taxation which had already taken place, and that that remission had mainly contributed to raise the revenue to its present flourishing state. The chancellor of the exchequer must also be of the same opinion, or he never would have consented to give up two millions of his surplus. If the whole of the surplus were abandoned in like manner, he was confident, that before the expiration of two years, the revenue would be benefitted by the measure. The money would afford a greater interest, and be more advantageously employed, whilst in the possession of the people, than if it were handed over to a set of commissioners; and the surplus of revenue would soon be found to exceed five millions. The House ought to reflect upon the painful state of embarrassment in which some of the first families in the kingdom were plunged, in consequence of the dreadful expense of the late war. It ought not to be supposed, that he would consent to any measure which would have for its object to destroy public faith. On the contrary, he would struggle to the last to preserve it; but he did think, that some attempt should be made to preserve those whose existence depended upon landed property, many of whom had only a life interest in such property, perhaps burthened with mortgages and marriage portions for younger children. It was not for his interest to Advocate the cause of persons whose property consisted of land; but he could not withhold his commiseration from a large and suffering class of the community. He believed his sympathy was shared by the House; and it was generally felt, particularly after the declaration of the chancellor of the exchequer, that the best 328 mode of affording relief was by the remission of taxation. At last they had almost agreed upon that point; when out came the unhappy resolution, declaring that a sinking fund of 5,000,000l. was necessary. The plan which his hon. friend had brought forward, had been received almost with sneers from all sides. He thought, however, that the whole country was indebted to his hon. friend, for having brought it forward. Whether the plan was perfect in all its parts, was another question; but, if it did no good, it could do no harm. If purchases were made in the manner which his hon. friend suggested, there could be no doubt that the stock-market would be relieved to the extent of 41 millions. His hon. friend who spoke last had said, that to carry the plan into execution, would be to throw away 1,200,000l. of income. He could not admit the correctness of that statement. According to the proposed plan, if an individual were to transfer 100l. 3 per cents to the public, he would obtain an annuity of 3l.—So far, certainly, there was nothing gained. But, the advantage which would result from an extensive execution of the plan, would be to relieve the stock-market from its present state of depression. If that was thought an object of importance when Mr. Pitt originally brought forward the scheme, at which time the amount of the debt was, he believed, about 300 millions, of how much greater importance ought it to be now, when the debt amounted to 800 millions. If it were asked what advantage would accrue from this system, he would say that it would give the stockholder an equivalent for that advantage of which it might deprive him. He did not mean to fight the battle against the landholder, but he thought that, in any arrangement which might be made, the fund holder should be favoured, where it could be done. But it was said, that one of the effects of this proposition would be to raise the price of the funds. It was immaterial to him whether it had that effect or not. If it were proposed merely to have that effect, he should deprecate it as much as any matt. If there was any thing which he should implore of the chancellor of the exchequer, it would be to abstain from the paltry tricks to which resort had been had in other times, of endeavouring to raise the funds, and then coming down with a triumphant speech calling on the House to mark how 329 the funds were getting up. Such tricks were unworthy of any liberal policy; and he would pawn his life, that they would never be resorted to by the right hon. gentleman. Amongst other objections to his hon. friend's proposition, it was urged, that it would be rather sharp upon the landed interest to assume, that this land tax was to be perpetual. This was not his hon. friend's fault. It was part of the original plan of redemption. It was seen by Mr. Pitt himself, but it did not weigh against the exigencies of the time. No doubt, the assumption of its perpetuity might seem hard; but if the landed interest did lend themselves to it, it would be a great benefit to the country, by a diminution of the public debt, and a relief to the market from a great weight of stock, which would be thus put into another shape. It was not for his hon. friend to contend for the wisdom of the measure, as it was first proposed; hut, the principle being admitted, he wished to follow the steps of Mr. Pitt, and make it more effective for the general benefit. Mr. Pitt was disappointed in the result of the measure. The redemption extended only to 700,000l., when he expected it would have reached 2,000,000l. If, however, better terms were now offered, no doubt the whole would be taken up. And it was this which was called a hocus pocus! So far from there being any delusion in it, he had no doubt it would be found a substantial benefit. It had been urged, with very little of sound reason, that if these five millions of sinking fund were once suspended, they could never be put on again; as if, after being relieved from it for seven years, the country would not cheerfully pay it again, in case of any emergency. It was absurd to suppose, that that would not be willingly done, when necessity called for the sacrifice. He was therefore desirous that the House should adopt the first part of his hon. friend's proposition, as a measure which would be found cheap and valuable. It might afterwards be modified as the House should see fit. He did not mean to go the length of saving, that the whole surplus of seven millions should go to the immediate reduction of taxes. He would still have a surplus, which would be a sufficient support to public credit, and effectually supply the place of that fund, which, from the way in which it had been hitherto managed, was a delusion on the public. The stockholder himself ought 330 not to object to the appropriation of the sinking fund. He was bound to come forward and even participate in the sacrifice for the public good. He must know how the country was beset with difficulties; and he ought to be grateful for the manner in which his rights had been defended, under every privation, by the rest of the community. The right hon. gentleman concluded by again expressing his conviction, that this measure would be more effectual, by the diminution of taxes, for the benefit of the country, than any other which could be devised.
apologized to the House for addressing it, after the able manner in which the subject had been discussed by his right hon. friend, the chancellor of the exchequer, and by the hon. member for Taunton. The House would at once perceive, that the present was an anticipation of the discussion that would take place more regularly on Monday next, when his right hon. friend had signified his intention of bringing the whole question respecting that most important part of our financial system, the sinking fund, under their consideration. He would not complain of it; but the right hon. gentleman who had just spoken had introduced the subject rather prematurely, in his observations on the speech of the hon. member for Taunton—a speech which he had heard with the greatest satisfaction, exhibiting, as it did, the most statesmanlike views with regard to the importance of retaining a surplus revenue, and employing it towards the liquidation of the debt. Coming, as that opinion did, from an individual of the hon. gentleman's knowledge and experience, it would have more weight in the country, and tend more to the maintenance of the public credit, than if it had proceeded from almost any other person in the House. He owned that he was much surprised at what had just fallen from the right hon. gentleman on the subject of the sinking fund. The right hon. gentleman's observations were as applicable against the creation of a sinking fund at any period, as they were against the maintenance of such a fund at present. When he recollected how strenuous a supporter the right hon. gentleman had been of the establishment of the sinking fund in 1786, he was at a loss to understand why he had so completely changed his opinion on the subject. The right hon. gentleman had urged, as one 331 objection to the application of the surplus of five millions as a sinking fund, that it was taking that sum from the people, which would fructify to the national advantage, in their pockets, much more than in the reduction of the debt. There was no objection more trite; nor any which had been so frequently brought against the sinking fund. But it was general in its nature. It was applicable, not only to the present time and circumstances, but to all times and circumstances, when it was proposed so to apply a surplus revenue. He sincerely regretted the departure from the original principles of the sinking fund. He wished that those principles had been adhered to inviolably.—Much as he admired the general reasonings and great talent of the hon. member for Portarlington, he did not think he had been happy in the illustration he had made of the case of a man of 1,000l. a year paying off his debt of 10,000l. by a fund of 600l. a year, and being, at the end of a certain period, in a worse situation than he was at the commencement, by contracting a fresh debt. The hon. member did not state what sort of emergency it was which induced the contracting of the fresh debt, when half the first was discharged. If he could show that the emergency was such us might arise to a nation—the defence of its honour, or the protection of its liberties—then the illustration was unhappy; for in such a case the nation, as well as the individual, would borrow, whether any of the former debt had been paid or not; and it was natural to suppose, that both would be in a better condition to do so, when they had taken previous means to pay off part of the former encumbrance. The right hon. gentleman who spoke last, had complained, that the surplus of five millions had been declared necessary in 1819; but, before he sat down, he admitted, and he (Mr. H.) hailed the admission, that some surplus was necessary. Now, upon an income of fifty millions, if it was admitted that we should have some surplus for an emergency, it was immaterial whether it was called a sinking fund or not; and, considering the amount of our debt, he was prepared to contend, that five millions were not too much. Of this he was persuaded, that even if the sinking fund were abolished, it would be expedient to have a surplus of not much less than five millions, to meet any occasional fluctua- 332 tions that might take place in the amount of the revenue, and to provide against unexpected contingencies. He would ask those who were rejoicing at the present improvement in the revenue, whether, if the country were to be visited with a bad harvest, which would necessarily be followed by a great change in the price of all the articles of comfortable subsistence, there would not he a considerable diminution in the revenue of excise? In that case, if the present estimated surplus were less than five millions, might not serious public inconvenience and embarrassment be the result? To the right hon. gentleman's question, why a surplus of five millions should be preserved? he had thus given one answer. But he would go further. whether the resolution which had been adopted by the House of Commons in 1819, was wise or not, was not the present question. But it ought to be recollected, that it was a resolution which had been adopted by a very large majority of the House. If it were now to be departed from, what would be the impression on the country, what would be the impression on all Europe, in the present feverish state of the world? What would be the general inference which would be drawn from such a proceeding, both abroad and at home? Did the House recollect the distinct and explicit terms of the resolution to which he adverted? They were these: "That to provide for the exigencies of the public service, to move 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." If that resolution were not in the way, the right hon. gentleman might, perhaps, argue more effectually against the maintenance of such a surplus. But with such a resolution on their Journals, nothing short of the most pressing necessity could justify the House in impairing the national credit in the eyes of Europe, by abandoning the surplus which we had solemnly declared it was indispensable to maintain. If, on the other hand, it was a question as to the amount of surplus, he contended, that 5,000,000l. was not a larger sum than was necessary to main- 333 tain our credit in the eyes of the world, especially at a time when there was not a country in Europe, which did not think it essential to its own power and security to imitate, and in some instances to surpass, our plan for the reduction of the public debt. It was admitted, on all hands, that there should be some surplus; and it became, therefore, little more than a dispute about words, whether that surplus should be called a sinking fund, or some other name. With respect to the resolutions which had been moved by the hon. member for Abingdon, he quite agreed with the hon. member for Taunton, that if those resolutions were proposed as a substitute for the sinking fund, nothing worse could possibly be devised. The hon. gentleman's second resolution declared, that it had been agreed unanimously by the House, that the only sinking fund which could be efficient, was that which was produced by a surplus of income over expenditure. That was the groundwork of the hon. gentleman's plan; and, the way in which he proceeded to carry into execution this declaration of the House, was by proposing to do away with any surplus whatever! The whole of the hon. member's plan was to transfer 41,330,000l. of stock from the purchasers of the land tax, provided the whole 1,239,701l. were redeemed and purchased. For what was commonly called the redemption of the land tax, was simply the transfer of a portion of the debt from one class of individuals to another. Suppose the hon. gentleman found persons ready to-morrow morning to conclude the whole transaction, what would be the consequence?—The public charge, and the public income would be equally diminished. By the act of 1786, each separate loan was to be considered as a separate debt. For the interest of each loan a specific sum was provided, by specific taxes for that purpose. He would ask whether if, with regard to any loan subsequent to 1792, any given tax—the sugar duty for instance—had been appropriated to the payment of the interest on that loan, and we were now to allow that duty to be redeemed, any advantage would be gained? It would be very easy to write off all our debt in a similar way; but, when we had done so, we should be paying just the same interest, and be liable to just the same charge as at present. But, as the hon. member for Aberdeen had said, on a 334 recent occasion, we ought to look at the debt with reference not to the capital, but to the annual charge upon it. That charge being in no way affected by the proposition of the hon. member for Abingdon, he must say, with all his respect for that hon. gentleman's acuteness and ingenuity, that he thought the hon. member for Taunton justified in calling it a species of conjuring. With the greatest respect for the talents which had been displayed by the hon. relation of the hon. mover, he must positively deny that there was any resemblance between the present case and the circumstances under which Mr. Pitt proposed his measure. In the present state of the country, the legislature had no object in view to induce them to call on the country to make sacrifices, for the purpose of keeping up the price of the funds. In time of war such a proceeding might be extremely desirable; but in time of peace, when, if there was any surplus of revenue, it was applied to the reduction of the debt, and when government were no longer the creators and sellers, but the purchasers of stock, they could have no possible reason for wishing to raise the price of the funds. If, therefore, the proposed plan were worthy of adoption at any period, it would rather be at a time when public credit might be labouring from great drains upon it, than at a time when it was in circumstances of comparative elevation; it would be at a time when government were sellers rather than when they were purchasers of stock. The whole proposed proceeding, therefore, appeared to him to be delusive. And, even if it were adopted, he rather thought that great disappointment would ensue, with regard to the extent of its practicable execution. A great many circumstances would conspire to prevent individuals from buying up the land tax, and to induce them to prefer the ease and security of the public funds. The amount of the land tax in each county was fixed; and was the same now as in the time of William the 3rd. It did not vary. But, in the event of the erection of a great number of buildings in any particular district, a new apportionment of the land tax might take place. For that reason, individuals would be reluctant to buy what could not increase, but might diminish in amount. Under these circumstances, though he might, be disposed to consider the proposition at another time, 335 he did not think the present was the occasion when we were required to bolster up the funds by such a plan. He begged pardon for having trespassed on the House so long; but, hearing the sinking fund attacked by hon. members of such high authority, he was anxious to show, that the abolition of that fund would be not only inconsistent with the declared resolutions of parliament, but against that sound policy which the country had hitherto adopted for the support of public credit.
considered the present discussion to be important, not merely because it related to the plan of his hon. friend, but because it also involved the application of the surplus of our revenue, and the arrangement of the sinking fund. The right hon. gentleman who had just sat down, in alluding to his hon. friend's plan regarding the sinking fund, had said, that the objection which had been made to the sinking fund, as at present conducted, might have been made against its first establishment in 1786. Now, the Charge which the right hon. gentleman had made against his hon. friend did not apply at all. The internal state of the country differed so much from what it was in 1786, that no parity of circumstances could be found between them. For his own part, he did not consider the difference of opinion between the two sides of the House to be so great as the right hon. gentleman had represented it. The chancellor of the exchequer had told the country, that it was to have a remission of taxation to the amount of 2,000,000l., and a sinking fund to the amount of 5,000,000l. The proposition on his side of the House was, that there should be a remission of taxation to the amount of 3,000,000l., and a surplus of revenue, called by ministers a sinking fund, to the amount of only 2,000,000l. Every man must see that such a remission of taxation would tend very materially to improve the remaining branches of the revenue. Indeed, he was of opinion, that it would improve them so much, that there would be, at the close of the year, a surplus of even more than 2,000,000l. The right hon. gentleman who spoke last, had argued as if the resolution of 1819 was so binding upon the House, that any departure from it would be a breach of public faith. But, what could be more inconsistent than this language in the mouth of the right hon. gentleman, who, 336 in order to arrive at the resolution in question, had passed over a raw of the country which had been violated by it? The highest doctrine which he had yet heard advanced regarding the sinking fund, was that which had been advanced by the hon. member for Taunton. Now, the hon. member's doctrine would be very good, if he had to deal only with inanimate objects; but, unfortunately, it was with the people that the hon. member had to deal; and he appeared to have left entirely out of his consideration, their wants, their feelings, and their distresses. Surely he ought to have recollected, that a remission of taxation to the amount now proposed would not only be for the good of the revenue, but also for the ease and the comfort of the people. It was curious to see men who had imposed 3,000,000l. of new taxes in 1819, now coining forward to declare, that they thought the public would murmur excessively; if, after they had received some abatement of taxation, any new taxes were imposed upon them, to support the country in those exertions which might be required of it, by a due regard to its own honour, and the liberty and independence of the rest of Europe.
shortly replied. He contended, that the plan which he had introduced to the House, did not deserve the name of bubble, which had been applied to it. Indeed, if it was a bubble, it was a bubble which not only Mr. Pitt had supported, but also the right hon. gentleman who had for so many years sat upon the opposite benches. The plan too, whether it was a good or bad one, was not his plan; but had for many years been sanctioned by an act of parliament. Kicked and cuffed about, as it had been that evening, he must still maintain, that no argument had been offered to the House, to show that it might not honestly and fairly remit seven millions of taxes, and by selling the land tax, get a substitute for the five millions which it had determined to apply annually to the maintenance of the sinking fund. With this conviction on his mind, he was determined to press his resolutions upon the House.
§ The previous question being put upon the first resolution, the House divided: Ayes, 72; Noes, 157. Majority against Mr. Maberly's resolution, 85. The previous question was then put on the rest of the resolutions, and negatived without a division.
|List of the Minority.|
|Allen, J. H.||Monck, J. B.|
|Barrett, S. M.||Mundy, F.|
|Benett, J.||Newman, R. W.|
|Bennet, hon. H. G.||Normanby, visc.|
|Benyon, B.||Ord, Wm.|
|Bernal, R.||Palmer, C.|
|Calcraft, J. H.||Palmer, C. F.|
|Calcraft, J.||Pelham, J. C.|
|Carter, J.||Price, Robt.|
|Clifton, lord||Poyntz, W. S.|
|Curwen, J. C.||Pryse, P.|
|Cradock, S.||Ramsden, J. C.|
|Davenport, D.||Ricardo, D.|
|De Crespigny, sir W.||Robarts, A. W.|
|Denison, W. J.||Robarts, G. J.|
|Denman, T.||Rowley, sir W.|
|Dickinson, W.||Scarlett, J.|
|Dundas, C.||Sefton, earl of|
|Ebrington, visc.||Shelly, sir J.|
|Ellice, E.||Smith, W.|
|Farquharson, A.||Talbot, R. W.|
|Farrand, R.||Tierney, right hon. G.|
|Ferguson, sir R. C.||Tynte, C. K.|
|Grattan, J.||Webbe, E.|
|Griffiths, J. W.||Whitbread, S. C.|
|Guise, sir B. W.||White, col.|
|Hamilton, lord A.||Williams, T. P.|
|Heron, sir R.||Wilson, sir R.|
|Hobhouse, J. C.||Winnington, sir T.|
|Honywood, W. P.||Wood, M.|
|Hornby, E.||Wyvill, M.|
|Johnstone, W. A.||TELLERS.|
|Legh-Keck, G. A||Maberly, J.|
|Lamb, hon. G.||Hume, J.|
|Lennard, T. B.|
|Lethbridge, sir T.||PAIRED OFF.|
|Leycester, R.||Birch, J.|
|Lushington, S.||Brougham, H.|
|Leader, W.||Creevey, T.|
|Maberly, W. L.||Duncannon, visc.|
|Macdonald, James||Robinson, sir G.|
|Marjoribanks, S.||Wilkins, W.|