§ The House having resolved itself into a committee of Ways and Means,
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
rose to make his promised exposition of the Financial Situation of the Country, and addressed the committee as follows*:—
Although, Sir, the circumstances under which we are now called upon to review the situation of our finances, differ in some material respects from those which existed at the corresponding period of the last year, yet there is nothing, in my mind, in the present aspect of public affairs, which ought to create either alarm or despondency. There may be grounds, and no doubt there are grounds, for much of individual sympathy for the severe distress which recent events have brought upon many classes of the community; and it is impossible that the causes which have tended to produce that distress should not, at the same time, be accompanied by much public inconvenience and embarrassment. But, Sir, I think 1 may venture to say, that the violence of the storm has passed away; that the clouds which impended over us have begun to disperse; and that, by the very conflict of the elements, the atmosphere has, to a certain degree, been cleared and purified.
If, indeed, there were any thing doubtful in the situation in which we now stand, and in the difficulties by which we have been so recently surrounded;—if there were any thing obscure or mysterious in their nature;—if they had arisen from causes beyond our comprehension;—then, indeed, there might be much more reason for uneasiness than appears to me* From the original edition printed for J. Hatchard and Son.1306 to exist at the present moment. But in all the discussions which have taken place in parliament upon this subject in the course of the present session,—although there has undoubtedly been a great difference of opinion as to the precise extent to which different causes may have operated to produce certain results, there has prevailed among us, I think, but one sentiment as to the general nature of those causes, and as to their general operation in producing such consequences. I confess, therefore, that to my mind, this circumstance is a source of no ordinary consolation.
In the course, however, of these discussions, there has been, in my opinion, a great deal of very unnecessary contest between those who are sneeringly denominated philosophers, and those who designate themselves by the more humble title of practical men. I call it "unnecessary contest," because I consider it to be the bounden duty of the legislature to endeavour at all times to render available the sound reasoning and theory of one class, by applying to them the practical experience of the other. It is only by a just application of the lessons of experience to the development of sound principles, that parliament can be enabled to determine upon its course; it is only by a judicious combination of these, the two elements of all wise conclusions, that the House and the public can be empowered to form a just estimate of the situation in which the country may be placed, and to arrive at an accurate and satisfactory decision. But, if those who have to prepare their minds for the consideration, or for the determination of subjects of this nature, are to be told that books must be thrown aside, and elementary reasoning rejected, I know not at what fountain they are to drink, if they are to be driven from those springs where science and knowledge are the presiding deities. And, Sir, when we find that in every class of the community knowledge has extended, and is extending itself to a degree, which but half a century ago would have been deemed impossible, are we who sit here, some of us as the ministers of the Crown, and all of us as united in the important act of legislating for a great country,— are we, I ask, to be behind-hand in availing ourselves of the increasing lights of human intelligence? Is it not, on the contrary, our duty to struggle to be foremost in the race? Knowing, as we do, 1307 that the progress of human knowledge must, in the first instance, be gradual and limited, it is our business to take care that, instead of being out-stripped, we lead the way; and, by assisting the judgment of our countrymen, enable them to avoid the errors into which they might otherwise fall, in regard to those great questions which so nearly affect their own, and the national interests. I am aware, Sir, that there are some persons who think this general diffusion of knowledge the misfortune of the age; but, for my own part, I confess that I cannot conceive how that mind can be constituted which contemplates the progress of human knowledge with an eye of fear. On me it produces an impression diametrically the reverse. I am convinced, that the more accurately the mass of the people is informed, the more they are in a condition to see and comprehend what is essential for their good, and the means by which that good is to be attained; the more likely are they to abstain from the use of means which would be prejudicial in their operation, and which would be calculated to prevent, rather than to forward the attainment of the good which they naturally desire to possess. If, then, all men (I was going to use that despised term, all philosophers) are agreed in the maxim, that "knowledge is power," the general diffusion of knowledge becomes pf incalculable value to a nation; for if, with reference to our present difficulties, and to all difficulties of a similar kind in which we may be placed hereafter, we find the people at large, if we find the legislature in accordance with the people, and if we find the government in accordance with the legislature—all building their conclusions on sound principles, all proceeding on the foundation of correct reasoning, I confess I think we may treat with comparative indifference the recurrence of the dangers by which we have lately been assailed; partly, because the chance of their recurrence will be diminished, and partly, because, if they should recur, we shall know better how to meet them.
Sir, it is under these circumstances that we are called upon to look at the situation in which our finances now stand, and to consider what are the prospects of the country for the future. I think, however, that before I can satisfactorily proceed to explain the view which his majesty's government takes of what it is fitting to under existing circumstances, I ought 1308 to recall the attention of the committee to the course which has been pursued with respect to our financial system during the last two or three years. And I am the more anxious to do this because I have been reproached,—and reproached in no very equivocal terms—with having, on former occasions, used warmer language than I ought to have used, and with having contributed by that language to the production of much of that mischief which we all so deeply deplore. Sir, it may be true, it undoubtedly is true, that in adverting to the situation of the country in the last few years, during which it has been my lot to have any concern in matters of this kind, I have used strong expressions of congratulation. It is true, I say, that, on such occasions, I have described the country as in a condition of prosperity. And, Sir, I do not now regret that language; I do not now depart from that declaration; for surely the country is not to be considered in a state of decadence because some untoward circumstances may have occurred, to interrupt her progress, and even throw her back, for the moment, in her course. But this I will venture to add, that however I may have erred in the terms which I have employed; however, from the delight which every honest man must feel in seeing his native land flourishing and happy, I may have congratulated the House on the result with more of earnest warmth than of calculating hesitation, I have, in no case, stated any thing as fact but that which was strictly true: and, I think I can satisfy the committee, upon a reference to what I have led them to expect during the last three years, and to the results which have actually ensued, not only that I have not intentionally deceived the country (though that, indeed, has, I believe, not been imputed to me) but, that no deception at all has been practised.
When, in the year 1823, it first became my duty to submit to the House a view of our finances, I ventured to assume that, in the course of that year, a certain amount of revenue would be realised; and allow me to ask, what was the result? It was found that my estimate, not formed upon any over-confident anticipation of improvement and increase, but upon the plain and simple basis, of the revenue which had been already received, was far below the actual amount. I assumed, in that year, that the Customs, the Excise, the Stamp duties, the Assessed Taxes, and 1309 sundry miscellaneous items, would produce an income of 52,200,000l. In the course of that session, we repealed taxes to the amount of about 3,200,000l.; of that sum I calculated that about a million and a half would be lost to the revenue in the course of 1823; so that in point of fact, my original estimate would have been borne out, if the receipts had been 1,500,000l. less than 52,200,000l. Now, what was the result? Why, that the actual revenue, after sustaining the loss that I have mentioned, amounted to 52,017,000l.; being less by 183,000l. only than my first estimate; and exceeding, by 1,318,000l., what would have been sufficient to realise my anticipations, after the reduction of taxes had been adopted. In regard to the year 1823, therefore, it is clear that I held out no expectations which were not justified by the event. And if the committee will examine the accounts for the following year, they will be led to the same conclusion. In the year 1824, I estimated the probable produce of the revenue at 51,265,000l. In the course of that session, however, taxes were repealed to a very considerable amount; and I calculated that the loss which the revenue would immediately sustainin consequence, would be 630.000l. But what was the fact? The actual receipts of the year, notwithstanding such a reduction of taxes, were considerably beyond the original estimate which I had formed: for, the estimate being51,265,000l., the actual produce was 52,562,000l.; being an excess of nearly 1,300,000l. Again, in 1825, I assumed that the revenue derived from the same sources would be 51,975,000l. From the repeal of taxes, subsequently enacted, I expected that in the course of that year the loss upon that assumed amount would be about 650,000l. Yet, the actual receipt, notwithstanding the defalcation occasioned by that cause, and by the commercial difficulties and pressure that began to be felt at the latter end of the year 1825, was 52,259,000l.; or, 384,000l. above my original estimate in the statement of the Budget; an estimate founded upon an hypothesis which bad no reference to any reduction of taxes in the course of that year.
The result of all these statements is this:
The estimated revenue for 1823 was £.52,200,000 1824 … 51,265,000 1825 … 51,975,000 Total £.155,440,000
It thus appears, that in those three years the actual receipts exceeded the estimates by the sum of 1,398,000l.; notwithstanding the concomitant repeal of no less than 8,000,000l. of taxes. I say, then, and I say boldly, that I have not erred as to facts; and that I have not been guilty, even involuntarily, of deluding the country by the language which I employed.
The actual receipt for 1823 was £.52,017,000 1824 … 52,562,000 1825 … 52,259,000 Total £.156,838,000
Allow me, Sir, here to advert to another point, to which it is material that the attention of the Committee should be called. I have already stated, that in the course of the three years to which I have been alluding, taxes to the amount of 8,000,000l. were repealed. But I think I should give a very imperfect view of the situation of our finances, and of what has been done in respect to them, if I did not request the committee to go back with me a little further, namely, to the year 1816, when, after winding up all the expenses of the war, parliament was enabled to establish and pursue something like a systematic diminution of our burthens. It is very material, Sir, that this subject should be adverted to, because it has been argued, in the course of the present session, that in fact the reduction in the burthens of the people which has been made since the conclusion of the war, is not worth speaking of; that it is but a feather in the scale, opposed to the general amount of our expenditure; and that it has not been more than sufficient to balance the difference which has taken place in the value of our currency. It has also been maintained, that it is impossible for us to return to a more sound currency (for the purpose of returning to which, measures have lately been, and now are, under the contemplation of parliament)—that that perilous experiment, as it is described to be, cannot safely be hazarded, unless his majesty's ministers are prepared decidedly and essentially to curtail the whole expenditure of the empire at once, inasmuch as it would be impracticable to effect the melioration of our currency, and at the same time continue to levy the amount of taxation of which the Exchequer is at present in the receipt. Sir, I consider these two propositions to be wholly unfounded in fact and in reasoning. I think I shall be' able to show the committee, that there is 1311 no ground whatever for the assertion that we have done nothing,—or rather that we have not done enough. When I say that we cannot justly be charged with not having done enough, I do not by any means wish to be understood that we ought to stop in the course of reduction, where we are; that is far from being my view, or my feeling, on the subject; but I am prepared to prove, that there is no truth in the statement, that we have been doing little or nothing; and just as little in the assertion, that the melioration which we are endeavouring to effect in our currency is inconsistent with the present scale of our expenditure, and the present amount of our taxation.
Adverting, in the first place, to the reduction which has taken place since the year 1816, I will state to the committee the precise process of the reduction which originated at that period—the different items on which it has been made—and the principles by which it has been regulated. And, when I have made this statement, I think the committee will see that parliament has not been asleep upon its post; that it has not neglected the great duty—for a great duty I must always consider it—of endeavouring, in a time of peace, to relieve the people, as much as possible, from the oppressive burthens which have been unavoidably imposed during the continuance of war.
In 1816 (the first year in which any reduction of taxation took place), the Property tax was repealed. I know very well, Sir, that the repeal of that tax was effected contrary to the opinion and recommendation of his majesty's government. It is undoubtedly true, that under the circumstances of the time, government was desirous that the Property tax should be continued for two years longer. The House thought otherwise; they thought it ought to be repealed immediately, and repealed it was. It is not my purpose now to inquire whether government was right in proposing to retain it, or the House in resolving to take it away; but, at all events, the people gained the advantage of the repeal of a tax, the annual amount of which was no less than 14,320,000l. In the same year, the War Malt duty of 2,790,000l. was abandoned; and further relief was afforded, in the diminution of war-customs, duties on tonnage, and coasting duties, to the extent of 828,000l. To these are to be added, 35,000l. arising from a small reduction of the assessed taxes in Ireland, 1312 and 315,000l. from the diminution of the duty on Malt and Spirits in the same country. The total amount of taxation thus repealed, in 1816 was 18,288,000l. In the year 1817, partial relief, under the heads of Shop-windows, Husbandry Horses, &c. was afforded, to the extent of 280,000l. In 1818, various assessed taxes were reduced in Ireland, to the amount of 236,000l. In 1819, the policy pursued by parliament was of a different character; and a very considerable addition, to the amount of 3,190,000l., was made to the taxation of the country. In 1820, no alteration whatever took place. In 1821, the repeal of the Agricultural Horse tax lessened the burthens of the farming class of the people by 480,000l. In 1822, the duty upon Malt was reduced one shilling a bushel, and the public were relieved thereby to the amount of 1,400,000l.Nearly the whole of the impost upon Salt was also removed, being a reduction of 1,295,000l.; there was likewise a reduction of half the duty upon Leather, 300,000l.; the Tonnage duty, 160,000l.; and the tax upon Hearths and Windows in Ireland, 200,000l.;—so that the, total amount of taxes repealed in the year 1822 was 3,355,000l. In 1823, various assessed taxes in England were repealed, to the amount of 2,250,000; whilst the relinquishment of the whole of them in Ireland, saved the inhabitants of that country the payment of 100,000l. Added to this, was a reduction of the duties on Spirits, both, in Ireland and in Scotland, to the extent of 800,000l.; and a reduction of 50,000l. in several minor branches of the Customs. The total relief in 1823, therefore, was 3,200,000l. In 1824, the following duties, to the following amount, were diminished; viz.—on Rum, 150,000l.; Coals, 200,000l.; Law Stamps, 200,000l.; Wool, 350,000l.; Silk, 527,000l.; Union duties, from 1822, 300,000l.;—making a total of 1,727,000l.—The total repeal in 1825, was not less, than 3,146,000l.; and it was produced in the following manner:—by the relinquishment of the remainder of the Salt duty, about 200,000l.; of the duty on Hemp, 100,000l.; on Coffee and Cocoa, 150,000l.; on Wine, 900,000l.; on British Spirits and Rum, 1,250,000l.; on Cyder, 20,000l.; on Assessed Taxes, 276,000l.; and, finally, on Customs, in various minor articles of commerce, 250,000l.—Thus, Sir, it appears that the grand total of taxes repealed from 1816 to 1825, amounts to the sum of 30,712,000l.; from this, however, must 1313 be deducted the sum of 3,190,000l., being the amount of taxes imposed in 1819, for the purpose of establishing an efficient Sinking fund: but, taking that sum from the total of 30,712,000l., it will leave 27,522,000l. as the clear remission of taxation since the year 1816.
Now, Sir, I say with confidence, that the repeal of 27,522,000l. of taxes is a substantial and important relief to the country; and that it is impossible for any man in his senses to argue, that this large remission of duties has not mainly contributed to that increased consumption which has itself augmented the revenue, It is very true, that in 1816, if the rates of exchange with foreign countries be: taken as the criterion, the value of the currency was depreciated, perhaps to the extent of five per cent; so that the whole reduction of taxes which, as I have stated, took place in that year, cannot perhaps he looked upon as a clear reduction, since a part of it might be necessary, in order to meet the rectification of the circulating medium; if the depreciation were five per cent, then, upon the actual amount of taxation in the year in which it occurred, namely 61,000,000l., that portion would amount to about 3,000,000l.; and if we deduct this3,000,000l. from the 27,552,000l. of taxes remitted, it will leave 24,552,000l. as the actual reduction of the burthens of the people since 1816. And, when I assert and prove that actual relief has been afforded to this extent, I know not that it is necessary for me to argue, a priori, that it has done good; because I apprehend that the common sense of every man must demonstrate to him that that must be the inevitable consequence. Let us, however, look at it a little in detail; if we deduct the 24,000,000l. from 58,000,000l. (which would have been the amount of the revenue, after deducting the sum of 3,000,000l., to which I have before alluded), the result would leave only 34,000,000l. as the produce of the revenue; but the actual receipts of 1825, notwithstanding all the diminutions which I have been describing, were not less than 52,000,000l. And how have the 18,000,000l., the difference between the two sums, been obtained? solely from the greater means which the people have possessed of consuming the various articles upon which taxes are levied: and if, Sir, we were to try this question by the test of the feelings of the people who had to pay the taxes, I ask whether we should not find that the re- 1314 mission of them had given the liveliest satisfaction? I see in his place the hon. member for Wareham, who so actively and successfully exerted himself to effect the repeal of the duty on salt. The ground which that hon. gentleman stated, and truly and clearly stated, for that repeal, was, the severity with which the duty upon salt pressed on the poor man. Ask the poor man, now that he has no duty to pay upon salt, whether, when he comes to sum up the amount of the charges for his maintenance and comfort, he does not feel better satisfied, and more at his ease? He will tell you that he is greatly obliged to the hon. member for Wareham, for having been the means of inducing the House to repeal that tax. I should like, Sir, to ask the 171,000 persons who were last year relieved from the payment of the house-tax, or the 635,000 persons who were last year exempted from the window-tax, if they have derived no practical benefit from those reductions, and if they do not feel grateful to parliament for having made them. I should like to ask them, whether they agree with the hon. member for Aberdeen, that nothing has been done for their relief, either by his majesty's government, or by the legislature; and whether they feel, as the hon. member for Aberdeen would fain persuade them that they ought, that as much money is now taken out of their pockets in the shape of taxes, as was the case before those reductions, took place. I should like to ask them whether they agree with the hon. gentleman, that their feelings and wishes have been set at nought; and that his majesty's government can think of nothing but plunging into some wanton and extravagant expense, for some wretched and trumpery purpose of patronage! I declare most sincerely, that if there be any thing uppermost in my mind in the consideration of these matters, it is an earnest desire to lay aside all thoughts of mere official interest and patronage. In considering the expediency of the abolition of any particular tax, the miserable question of patronage has never crossed my mind it has never occurred to me to ask myself, "What will be the consequence, if government should lose this or that, source of influence?". No doubt, Sir, that, in many respects, it would have been very agreeable to me, personally, if a different system had been pursued, and if the patronage of his majesty's government had not been cut down as it has been. 1315 I have many friends upon whom I should have been exceedingly glad to confer some convenient appointment. But, when applications have been made to me on such a subject, I have felt no difficulty in saying, "I am really very sorry, but I have nothing to give you; we have no spare offices, and no spare money; we have reduced every thing to the lowest point; we cannot put any individual into a public situation who is either too old, or too young, or too idle, to do his duty. I can recommend to an office under government only the man who is competent to fill it properly; if you are not competent, I am very sorry for it, but you cannot come in." This is the language which I and others invariably hold on such occasions; and the consequence has been, that I believe it is agreed, on all hands, that the efficiency of the public service, in every department, was never more complete than at the present moment.
Allow me also to say, Sir, that, during the period to which I have been referring, the permanent burthens of the country—I mean those connected with the debt of the country—have been materially reduced. But, before I touch upon that point, it may be satisfactory to the committee to know a little in what ratio the power of consumption in the country has increased since the year 1816; and here I shall be able to show, beyond the possibility of dispute, that the fears of such as assert that the country cannot go on without the adoption of some undefined and unintelligible change in our present system, are perfectly visionary.
I have in my hand a list of a great variety of articles paying duty, with a comparison of the amount of those articles on which duty was paid in 1816, and the amount on which duty was paid in 1825. From this list I find that the increase has been in the following ratio:— Auctions 64½ per cent, Beer l6½, Bricks 188, Candles 36¼, Licences 36, Paper 51⅔, Printed Goods 110¼, Hard Soap 113¼, Soft Soap 121¼, Tea 20¼, Crown Glass 95½, Green Glass 10¼, Flint Glass 104, Plate Glass 108⅓, Leather 29, Malt 50, British Spirits 53⅖, Foreign Spirits 81½, Butter 317½, Sugar 19, Tallow 201, Timber 196, Deals 182⅓, Coffee and Cocoa 43, Hemp 74¾; Rum, a decrease of 12¾ per cent, Raw Silk, an increase of 274½ Thrown Silk 180, Tobacco 13¼, Wine 88, Sheens' Wool 443, Cotton Wool 119.
1316 Honourable gentlemen may exclaim, "Do you mean to say that the increase of consumption is to be taken strictly in that extravagant ratio; as upon wool, for instance, at 443 percent?" I answer, Certainly not: but, I produce this document to show that there is that progressive power of consumption in this country which is indispensable to her greatness, and which forms the most convincing proof of the inherent vigour which has hitherto enabled her to meet and overcome difficulties the most formidable, and on which I confidently rely for similar success in future.
I will now return to what I was about to state with regard to the public debt; Whilst we have been decreasing the pressure of taxation, to the amount of 27,522,000l., since 1816, and of 8,000,000l. since 1823, we have not been inattentive to the permanent burthens of the kingdom. In this part of my statement, I will advert only to the transactions of the last three years, because, it was not till 1823 that the present arrangement of the Sinking-fund was carried into effect. On the 5th of January, 1823, the public funded debt amounted to 796,530,000l.; on the 5th of Januarys 1826, it amounted only to 778,128,000l.; being a reduction in the three years of 18,401,000l.; which is at the rate of nearly 6,134,000l. per annum. I will now direct the attention of the committee to the unfunded debt. On the 5th of January, 1823, the unfunded debt was 36,281,000l.; on the 5th of January, 1826, it was 31,703,000l.; being a reduction of nearly 4,578,000l. The total charge—and that is the only true way of looking at the subject, for all that we are interested in knowing is, not what is the nominal capital of the debt, but what it costs us annually—the total charge (including the charge for management) on the5th of January, 1823, was 28,123,000l.; the total charge of the unredeemed funded debt, on the 5th of January, 1826, was 27,117,000l.; being a reduction on the charge of the funded debt of 1,006,000l. The interest on Exchequer bills, during the same period, was reduced from 1,100,000l. to 820,000l.; being a reduction of 280,000l. The total charge of the two descriptions of debt was, on the 5th of January, 1823, 29,286,000l.; on the 5th of January, 1826, only 27,946,000l.; being a redaction of 1,340,000l., in the annual charge of the 1317 whole debt, in the course of three years. And yet; the hon. member for Aberdeen says, that all this is nothing—that it is a mere feather in the scale—that it affords no substantial relief to the people! Now, Sir, in my view of the case, it is of no consequence whether this state of things has been produced by a sinking fund, or by a surplus, or by any other means. It is not the name of the thing, but the substance, that is important. If the nation pays less in this respect now by 1,340,000l. than it did in 1823, and if, at the same time, good faith has been preserved with the public creditor, and adequate provision made for the maintenance of the character, honour, and security of the country; if we have also been enabled to do much towards the extension of the benefits of religious instruction and worship to the poorer classes; if we have furnished the means of interior improvement, in the construction and repair of roads, bridges, harbours, and objects of that kind; if we had something likewise to bestow on the promotion of the arts and sciences; and if, in three years, we have nevertheless repealed 8,000,000l. of taxes, and have reduoed the annual expense of the debt considerably more than 1,000,000l.,, I say, fearlessly, that we have done something, and that we may boldly face our constituents, in whatever part of the country, and at whatever time, we may have to appeal to them for their suffrages.
Sir, I have just been alluding to that portion of our annual charge which has been diminished by a reduction of the charges of the debt. There is, however, another part of our expenditure, against which, I have always felt inclined to wage the most unrelenting warfare;—I mean, the expense attending the collection of the revenue. It is a subject which has often attracted the attention of the House; and I have never allowed it to go out of my sight. We have not been idle or inattentive on this point. In 1818, the expense of collecting the taxes of the United Kingdom was 4,353,000l.; in 1825, it was reduced to 3,832,000l.; being a diminution of no less than half a million. This was a great deal to do in the time. Considering that great changes in such matters cannot be accomplished all at once, let me say, that this reduction of half a million affords, at least, prima facie evidence that we have endeavoured to do our duty. Nor, Sir, let it be sup- 1318 posed that this was a very easy task. We have had many strong prejudices, many powerful interests, many deep-rooted habits, to contend with. I think I cannot give a better proof of the sort of feeling which we have had to encounter, than by adverting to what has been recently published to the world in the northern part of this island. It seems that the extinction of the two independent Boards of Customs and Excise in Scotland (and the same course has been pursued in Ireland), and their amalgamation with the central Boards in England, are to be considered by every true Scotchman as derogatory to his national dignity, offensive to his national pride, and subversive—Good God! of what?—subversive of his prescriptive rights! When Antony, in the beautiful speech which Shakspeare puts into his mouth over the dead body of Caesar, after an eloquent and pathetic description of the wound1s under which Cæsar had fallen, exclaims, in a burst of passionate enthusiasm,—Oh what a fall was there, my countrymen!Then you, and I, and all of us fell down,And bloody treason flourished over us:the appeal was not more vehement, the passions of his auditors were not more keenly excited, than the appeal which is now made, and the fire which is now kindled, against the unfortunate author of the woeful tragedy which terminated the existence of two insignificant fiscal departments! Sir, I could not imagine, at first, what was meant by all this indignation. I felt almost like "a guilty thing," oppressed by the weight of some undefined offence. If I chanced to meet my noble friend at the head of the Admiralty, or any of my hon. friends who sit at the same Board, I hardly dared look them in the face. I felt confident that the denunciation was for some dreadful crime, but I knew not what; and I was left for some time in all the agony of doubt. At last, I had the consolation of recollecting that I had Scotch blood, and good old Scotch blood too, flowing in my veins; and was persuaded that I could never be insensible to the honour and dignity of that ancient country. But, Sir, I confess that, when I have been passing in review all the signal triumphs which Scotland has achieved, in all that adorns, and ennobles, and benefits the human race; when I have been calling to mind the originality, the grace, and 1319 the genius of her poets; the eloquence, the accuracy, and the research of her historians; the elaborate lucubrations, and the profound discoveries, of her philosophers; when I have been watching their progress as they respectively either traversed the delightful regions of fancy, or penetrated the depths and recesses of history and of science, I never thought of including among the worthies of Scotland, the members of her independent Board of Excise. And when I have been reading with greatful exultation of the heroic exploits of an Abercrombie, a Moore, a Lynedoch, and a Hopetoun; when, two years ago, it fell to my lot to propose to this House to do an act of tardy justice, by proposing to vote a monument to the memory of lord Duncan; I certainly never dreamt that the honour of Scotland would be tarnished, if in the same year I transferred the seat of the Board of Customs from Edinburgh to London. I always thought that the honour of Scotland rested on a more solid basis. I thought that the glory of the great men who have adorned the annals of that country, would have shone with perennial light, if the Excise had never meddled with her whiskey, nor the Customs controlled her commerce; and I trust we may long continue to contemplate their lustre with instruction and delight, although her revenue boards have lost the affected importance of their imaginary independence, and have been swallowed up. O! dreadful catastrophe! in the all-devouring vortex of English uniformity. When, too, I am told, that the abolition of these and similar offices is something disrespectful to the what is called (not however by me) the impoverished nobility of Scotland, I think, that if I were a real Scotchman, I should be too proud to admit that the honour of the ancient lineage of that ancient kingdom would be diminished, because the government had less patronage to offer, and her nobility less of emolument to covet. These measures, dictated alone by the necessity of judicious retrenchment, may indeed be represented as punishments inflicted on an innocent and unoffending people, and the wrath of Scotland may be denounced against their author; but, as long as I am armed with the consciousness of seeking to diminish the burthens, and to increase the happiness of the people, I can look without terror upon the flashing of the Highland claymore, 1320 though evoked from its scabbard by the incantations of the first magician of the age.
I shall now, Sir, proceed to the subject more immediately under our consideration, and call the attention of the committee to the financial condition of the country for the present year. I have already slated to the committee the great extent to which taxation has been diminished; I have stated the benefit which I am sure the country must have derived from the reduction; I have also shown how, out of that very reduction itself, may arise the means of carrying the benefit still further; and I shall now proceed to detail the estimate for the present year, 1st as respects the charges, and, 2ndly, the means by which I propose that those charges shall be met. The expenses are divided into two parts, viz.—the permanent charges, and those which are the subject of annual votes; and as of the latter, a considerable portion has already been sanctioned by the House, I do not think it will be necessary for me to trouble the committee with any comments or details respecting fit. But the general heads of the two branches are as follows, viz.—
The annual votes this year in the Committee of Supply are as follows:—
£ Interest and Management of the Public Dept 27,117,186 Interest of Exchequer (deficiency) Bills 50,000 Civil List, and Pensions of a permanent nature, charged on the Consolidated Fund, and not the subject of an annual vote 2,065,000 Half-pay Annuity 2,800,000 Sinking Fund 5,585,235 Permanent charge on Consol Fund £.37,617,421
1321 I now, Sir, proceed to state the revenue upon which I calculate to meet this expenditure:
£ Army 7,747,000 Navy 6,135,000 Ordnance 1,754,000 Miscellaneous 2,225,000 Interest of Exchequer Bills. £850,000 Annual Votes, £.18,711,000 Add the Permanent Charge £.37,617,421 The whole expenditure of the year £.56,328,421
Having thus stated the revenue on which 1 calculate to meet the expenditure of the present year, it is fit that I should state the grounds of that calculation. It may appear to the committee, that under all the existing circumstances I am now looking to a receipt higher than that which I have a right to expect; but I will distinctly specify the reasons which induce me to believe, that the amount on which I calculate will be realised. I begin by laying down, as the basis of my estimate, the actual receipt of the past year; making, afterwards, such variations as circumstances may appear to require. The actual receipt of the Customs and Excise for the year 1825 was 37,546,000l. But this sum would have been much larger had it not been for various occurrences which happened in the course of the year, and which affected those branches of the revenue to an extent much greater than I had anticipated; occurrences which 1322 cannot again take place. I allude, principally, to the amount repaid, in consequence of the reduction of the wine duty, to the holders of the stock on hand. This was no less than 1,050,000l.; a formidable sum; and much more, as I have already observed, than I conceived it would be. Since, however, it arose from a cause of casual occurrence, and, since there can be no operation parallel to it upon the Customs and Excise of the present year, I am entitled to assume, supposing no other circumstance interferes to reduce the nett receipt of the revenue, that this sum of 1,050,000l. would be receivable in the year 1826; that is to say, that it will not be abstracted from the gross revenue of Customs and Excise in 1826, as it was in 1825. I calculate, also, upon a small addition to the receipts of the present year, arising from the further operation of those measures for getting rid of divers useless or mischievous bounties, which my right hon. friend, the president of the Board of Trade, introduced so beneficially for the commerce of the country, in the last session of parliament. I take the amount of these to be about 50,000l. There was also another circumstance which most unexpectedly affected the revenue of last year. The committee is aware that, in the course of the last session, there was carried into effect one of the most extensive alterations and amendments ever made in the laws of Customs. Several hundred acts of parliament relating to them were, by the laborious and joint exertions of my hon. friend near me (one of the Secretaries of the Treasury), and of the gentlemen who were associated with him in the task of getting rid of so multifarious and inconvenient a system of legislation, reduced to about six clear and intelligible statutes. In the accomplishment of so great a work it is not wonderful that some minor errors should have crept in and escaped detection; and it so happened, that by one of those minor and venial errors, the revenue has been affected in a way for which we were not quite prepared. The duty on tobacco, which, at the beginning of the year 1825, was four shillings a pound, and which was meant to be continued at that rate during the remainder of the year, was so dealt with in one of these new-acts, that, by some strange mischance, one shilling of it lapsed on the 5th of July; so that for one half of the last year, that is to say from the 5th of July, 1825, to the 1323 5th of January 1826, the duty on tobacco has been reduced from four to three shillings a pound. This accidental omission has cost the revenue 450,000l. But, I am entitled to assume that, unless it should be the pleasure of the House to confirm permanently this temporary diminution of the duty on tobacco, that loss will not occur in the present year. The three items, then, to which I have alluded are as follows:—
A small item, being the surplus of last year beyond the demand of the Sinking fund, which I consider myself entitled to make available towards the expenditure of the present year £. 167,000 Customs and Excise; which I take together on account of the transfer to the Customs of a large proportion of the duties formerly collected by the Excise; and the impossibility of separating the items without great confusion 37,446,000 Stamps 7,400,000 Taxes (including the Assessed 4,800,000 Post Office 1,550,000 Miscellaneous 1,360,000 The total income from these sources. £.52,723,000 Payment from the Trustees of Half-pay and Pensions. 4,320,000 The whole Receipts of the year. £.57,043,000 Deduct the Expenditure 56,328,421 Surplus for Parliament to deal with as they may think fit. £.714,579
It is, however, obvious, that it would be quite preposterous in his majesty's government to calculate upon such a receipt as this, under the present circumstances of the country. I think it would be exceedingly imprudent to do so, as I am perfectly ready to admit, that such a receipt is not likely to be realized in the course of the present year. It is our duty, then, to see what deductions from this amount of 39,096,000l. we ought to calculate upon. In the first place, there is to be taken into the account a further loss to the revenue, arising from the reduction of taxation last year; which further loss I estimate at 350,000l. The statement of the views of government, in respect to the reduction of taxes, took place at so early a period last year, that the effect of them began to be felt almost as soon as they were announced. In point of fact, during three quarters of the last year, we experienced three quarters of the whole amount of the loss which I had calculated as likely to accrue from the operation of the reductions. I therefore imagine that we may lose in the present year, from the same cause, not more than the amount of loss on the remaining quarter; and I estimate it at 3,50,000l. I feel, however, that I ought 1324 to explain to the committee how it happens that, after having stated the total amount of reductions effected last year to be no less than 3,146,000l., I now, when speaking of the loss to be expected in one quarter, state it at no more than 350,000l. The reason is this; although the reduction of taxation, as estimated by a comparison with the previously existing rate, amounted to 3,146,000l., yet, upon the principle that a judicious reduction of a high rate of taxation naturally leads to a great increase in the consumption of the articles taxed, I took the actual loss to the revenue at not much more than 1,500,000l. of which sum 276,000l. would fall upon the assessed taxes; so that 350,000l. being rather more than one fourth of the actual loss assumed upon the Customs and Excise, is as much as we may expect to lose in 1826.
£. Progressive reduction of Bounties 50,000 Wine Drawback, allowed last year to the wine merchants, but not to be deducted from this year's revenue. 1,050,000 Loss by the lapse of Tobacco duty. 450,000 £1,550,000 If to this be added the actual produce of the Customs and Excise in 1825. 37,546,000 We have a Total of £39,096,000
I am, however, Sir, very sensible that, under all the circumstances attending the late derangement and confusion of the money market, and the consequent stagnation of the external commerce and the internal industry of the country, it would be very unsafe to frame any estimate of the revenue of the present year, without making a fair allowance for a further loss, which may be expected to arise from diminished consumption. I have endeavoured to form, as well as I could, some sort of calculation of the amount at which that loss ought to be taken. It is, undoubtedly, very difficult to come to any such precise conclusion upon this subject, as can be satisfactorily exemplified at once by any mere statement of figures. It must depend upon such an infinite variety of considerations, that possibly no two persons, although working with the same materials, and reasoning upon the same principles, would arrive at precisely the same result. But having already assumed that there will be a deficiency in the Customs and Excise of 350,000l. being the remainder of the loss occasioned by the reduction of taxation last year, I anticipate from diminished consumption a further loss of 1,300,000l.; which, notwithstanding the difficulty of coming to any precise decision upon the subject, I take to be as reasonable a view of the matter as can be taken under such uncertain circumstances. And I am confirmed in this view of the subject, when I refer to what has been the actual state of the Excise revenue during the two first months of the present 1325 year, which were months of great pressure and great uneasiness, and during which the officers of the revenue were directed to abstain as much as possible from pressing inconveniently on those who were not in a condition to meet their demands, a course of proceeding which we felt ourselves called upon by the severity of the distress in some districts to adopt.—Looking, then, to the general receipts of the Excise in January and February, on all the articles in which there has been no alteration in the duties, and comparing them with the receipts in the corresponding months of 1825, it appears that the loss has not exceeded, for that period, the sum of 2,389l.
On those items in which a reduction of duty was effected last year, such as Cyder, Glass, Licences, Sweets, and Vinegar, there has been a diminution of produce in the two months of January and February last, as compared with 1825, of 102,000l.
£. The gross receipts for January and February, 1825, were. 2,259,669 Those from January and February 1826, were. 2,257,280 Decrease £.2,389
But this decrease does not arise principally from a diminished consumption of exciseable articles. It arises almost entirely from an alteration of a very extensive nature, which has been effected in regard to the system of granting licences in Ireland, and to the scale of duties payable on those licences. That system, the committee is perhaps aware, is now entirely changed. A great number of absurd regulations which formerly existed in that country have been abolished; as, for example, that which in various places in Ireland regulated the duty upon licences according to the fact of whether or not the Borough returned members to parliament. That was an absurdity, the reason of which I do not profess to be able to divine. But, at all events, the system upon which the duties on these licences are payable, has been, in almost every respect, assimilated, as much as possible, to that more reasonable arrangement which prevails in England. The 1326 consequence, however, is, that whereas formerly the duties on licences were payable early in the year, they will, most of them, not now be payable until after the 5th of July; and from this change there has resulted in the present quarter a loss of not less than 100,000l. If, therefore, I may venture to judge from the result of the two months in question, as regards the Excise, of the effect which diminished consumption may have, during the whole year, upon the two branches of Excise and Customs, taken together, I do not think that I am taking too sanguine a view, when I estimate the probable loss in this year from that cause at 1,300,000l. Deducting, then, this sum, and the deficiency to which I before alluded, from the amount of the Customs and Excise of last year, together with the additions which I have above specified, it will leave 37,446,000l. as the estimate of that branch of the revenue in 1826. The next head to which I shall advert, is that of Stamps. Stamps produced last year 7,447,923l.; I shall take their produce this year at 7,400,000l. The Post-office, last year, produced 1,595,461l.; I will suppose a falling off in the present year, of 45,461l.; which will leave the Post-office estimate 1,550,000l. The Assessed taxes produced last year 4,990,961l. The loss to the revenue on this head will be somewhat more considerable; since, of the 276,000l remitted in 1825, not more than one fourth was lost in that year. I anticipate, therefore, a decrease of 190,961l; which will leave that estimate 4,800,000l. The Miscellaneous items for 1826, will, on the other hand, be much larger than usual. The increase will proceed from three or four casual causes. In the first place there is a sum of 100,000l., which, by treaty with the government of Holland, was to have been paid to this country in 1825. That sum, however, was not actually received within the year, and consequently could not form any part of the produce of 1825; although, as it is now, I believe, received, it will form a part of the estimate for 1836.
£. The produce in January and February1825, was. 292,933 The produce in 1826 was. 190,933 Decrease. £.102,000
There is another sum, with respect to which I confess I did not anticipate that money from such a source would again find its way into the Exchequer—a sum which arises from what I am afraid many persons believe to be the never-ending lottery. The last lottery, I must explain to the, committee, was contracted for in 1823. I acknowledge that, for my own part, I was 1327 not aware, when that contract was made, that the usual system upon which lotteries are conducted would protract their existence one or two years beyond the period at which they might be contracted for. It appears that I was in the wrong; and it certainly was my mistake; it cannot, however, be now helped; and the consequence of this is, that in the present year, a sum of about 180,000l. will be derived to the revenue from these lotteries, which have so often, and so justly, met with the reprobation of the House. I am as rejoiced at their approaching termination as the House can be; for I felt it my duty to take the first opportunity of putting an end to a system which, however it might be glossed over by ingenious reasoning, was exceedingly inconsistent with those principles of good government which would seek to derive no advantage from any practice of gambling, which, whilst it is prohibited by the general law in its application to individuals, was permitted, under the lottery system, to be carried on by the government. There is another item, of some importance, which will come into the Exchequer in the course of the present year; and that is the return from Ireland of the old silver coinage, which has been called in, and replaced by the new. That new coinage cost us, last year, 500,000l. This year the old coin will come back, and will be available for the public service: it will, probably, amount to not less than 400,000l. The last point to be noticed, in respect to the miscellaneous receipts, is a sum arising from an arrangement between the Admiralty and the East India company; who, in consideration of the increase of the Navy, made with a view to the state of their affairs in India, have felt themselves bound in justice (as, it is my duty to say, they have with the utmost cheerfulness admitted), to pay 60,000l. for the benefit they are deriving from the augmented naval force stationed in the Indian seas to defend their possessions. — These several sums account for the increase of the miscellaneous items from 619,088l., which was their produce last year, to 1,360,000l., which is my estimate of them for the year 1826. The general estimate for the present year, therefore, stands thus;—
CUSTOMS AND EXCISE. Produce of 1825. £.37,546,000 Add—Progressive Reduction of Bounties £.50,000 Wine Drawback 1,050,000
Loss by lapse of Tobacco duty 450,000 1,550,000 £.39,096,000 Deduct—Further loss from Reductions last year £350,000 Further loss from diminished consumption 1,300,000 1,650,000 Estimate for 1826 £.37,446,000
STAMPS. Produce of 1825. £.7,447,923 Deduct assumed loss in 1826 47,923 Estimate for 1826 £.7,400,000
TAXES. Produce of 1825 £.4,990,961 Deduct loss from reduction in 1825 190,961 Estimate for 1826 £.4,800,000
POST-OFFICE. Produce of 1825. £.1,595,461 Deduct assumed loss in 1826 45,461 Estimate for 1826 £.1,550,000
I assume, under these circumstances, that (as I before stated) the condition of the revenue, during the present year, will be such as to leave us a surplus, a clear surplus, after all the deductions which I have described, of 714,000l. Now, this sum is, perhaps, not a very large one; but I think it is worth something; and I also think that it may be made available to some useful purpose. At the same time, I apprehend that our choice as tons, application is very limited on the present occasion, on account of the circumstances to which I have already alluded, regarding the unintentional alteration of the duty on tobacco, which took place in the course of the last year. I should state to the committee that, when it was ascertained that that one-shilling duty had elapsed, the parties interested became very anxious to know what, his majesty government intended to do with regard 1329 to it—whether they intended to let it lie dormant, or to allow it to revive, as by law it would have done, on the 5th of January last. Our answer was, that at all events we should not revive the lapsed duty until the pleasure of parliament should be taken on the subject. But now, I have no hesitation in saying, that it appears to me to be incumbent upon us to recommend to Parliament to continue the reduction of that one-shilling duty, although I do not mean to say, that, if our means had not enabled us to continue the reduction, we should not have been perfectly justified in allowing the full duty to continue in operation. I should greatly have preferred carrying this reduction still further; but, in the actual condition of the country, I do not think it would be prudent or expedient to do so. At the same time I must say, that a great deal of good has arisen from this reduction, apparently small as it is; it has had no inconsiderable effect in checking the smuggling of tobacco, particularly in Ireland, where that practice is carried on to an extent beyond all imagination or belief. I do not suppose that the ingenuity of man was ever exercised to a bad purpose with greater success than it is in the smuggling of tobacco; and the committee would be astonished if I were to enter into a detail of the devices to which that most ingenious class of persons, the smugglers, have recourse in order to carry on the illicit introduction of this article; but, the reduction of the one-shilling duty has, I repeat, already had an exceedingly beneficial effect in the discouragement of the illicit traffic in tobacco; and whenever circumstances may enable us to carry the reduction still further, I have no doubt that the revenue will derive a large compensation for its first loss, not only from the increased consumption, but also from the more complete extirpation of the extended evils of smuggling. The amount of the loss resulting from the abandonment of this part of the tobacco duty, I estimate, for the whole year, at about 600,000l.; and although I do not mean to deny that it would have afforded me great pleasure, either to extend the amount of this particular reduction, or to apply a similar principle of reduction to other articles, I do not feel that at present I should be justified in doing so. I do not profess to be a prophet; and it would be foolish in me to hold out positive expectations on a 1330 subject liable to the operation of so many uncertain contingencies; but, when I state that during the last three years I have had the good fortune to propose the reduction of eight millions of taxes, 1 think I say enough to entitle me to ask of parliament to believe that I shall not be slow in carrying the principle of reduction further, whenever a fit opportunity may present itself.
MISCELLANEOUS. Produce of 1825 £.619,088 Add—Payment from Holland, Lottery, and East India Company, on account of naval force. £.340,912 Add also—Silver from Ireland. 400,000 740,912 Estimate for 1826 £.1,360,000
There is another subject, connected with the financial arrangements of the year, to which I now wish to call the attention of the committee. I have endeavoured to show the grounds upon which I am satisfied that we are at present in a situation, not only to meet all the necessary demands that the public service may require, but to carry still further, although to a more limited extent than I would desire, the reduction of taxation. There are, however, certain other points connected with our financial system, which are of the greatest importance, and to which I think the attention of Parliament ought to be devoted with peculiar care. Gentlemen are aware how much has been said, in the course of the discussions of the present session, upon the subject on the situation in which the Bank of England is placed in consequence of its advances to government. And although I have always been ready to defend the conduct of government in respect to those advances as well as in respect to the general amount of the unfunded debt, I have never contended that it would not be a very desirable thing to diminish the amount, not only of those advances by the Bank, but also of that portion of the unfunded debt which is in the hands of the public, whenever those objects could be safely and properly accomplished. On the 5th of January, 1826, the Bank of England held Exchequer bills, upon advances to the government, to the extent of about 6,000,000l. These bills were independent of any which the Bank might have purchased in the market, and which they deal with as they think proper; but in the month of February, in the present year, it is well known that the Bank, at the instance of government, consented to purchase 2,000,000l. of outstanding Exchequer bills. The object of this measure was partly to relieve the money-market from the pressure which at that time seemed to operate with peculiar force upon this species of security; and partly in the hope that various classes of 1331 the community, who were suffering from the forced contraction of the currency, which alarm and want of confidence had produced, might obtain a certain degree of relief from this mode of extending the general circulation. But it is quite clear, that, however willing the Bank might be to purchase these 2,000,000l. of Exchequer bills, it would not have been prudent for them to do so, unless they received an assurance that the amount should, if necessary, be repaid them at no very distant period; and accordingly they were informed by his majesty's government, that the amount should be repaid in the present year—I believe in the month of June. At a subsequent period the Bank consented to make advances to a large amount on goods, for the purpose of still further contributing in a more direct way to relieve the difficulties of the commercial world; and having undertaken to do so, it becomes still more important, with a view to save that corporation from possible embarrassment, that the government should provide itself with the means of giving to the Bank every facility in their operations, which can be derived from a diminution of their general advances to the government. The proposition, Sir, which I intend to submit to the committee, is, that in the course of the present year, and as early as circumstances may render it advisable, the Bank shall be repaid 6,000,000l. of the Exchequer bills in their possession. The committee will observe, that the Bank hold of these bills, first, the 6,000,000l., which they possessed on the 5th of January last; secondly, the 2,000,000l., of which they became possessed, by purchase, in February; and thirdly, rather more than 3,000,000l., upon which they had made advances for the purpose of paying off the four per cent dissentients: and the total of these various sums is rather more than 11,000,000l. With respect to the last class of advances, however (those which were made by the Bank on account of the four per cent dissentients), provision has already been made for them by their being charged upon the Sinking-fund; and at the close Of the present year they will be nearly extinguished. There remains then the sum of 8,000,000l.; 6,000,000l. of which, as I have already mentioned, I propose to pay off in the course of the present session, or as soon after as the general circumstances of the case may render 1332 advisable. In addition to what I propose to do with respect to Exchequer bills held by the Bank of England, I cannot but think that it is very desirable to effect some reduction in that portion of the unfunded debt which is in the hands of the public; I shall therefore propose a moderate reduction of the outstanding Exchequer bills of that description; and I conceive that we may carry that arrangement to the extent of two or three millions. In order, therefore, to effect these two purposes, I propose to fund, in the course of the present session, Exchequer bills to the amount of eight or nine millions. I am by no means prepared to say, that I should not be glad to see the unfunded debt reduced in a greater proportion than that which I now recommend; but I am satisfied that every one will see, that too rapid a course of reduction by means of funding, might, at this moment, be attended with great inconvenience, and lead to a very injurious derangement in the circulation of that species of security. At the same time, I can see no reason why, after the present year, when the Sinking-fund shall have been relieved from the payment of that portion of the unfunded debt which is now charged upon it, it should not be made applicable to the reduction generally of the unfunded, as well as of the funded debt. Such an application of the Sinking-fund would be strictly in conformity to its original object; for in the act by which the present Sinking-fund is established, it has been provided, that it shall go on accumulating at compound interest, until it reaches one per cent on the capital of both debts, funded and unfunded, taken together. Parliament has, therefore, already so connected the two descriptions of debt with the Sinking-fund, as to render such an application of it quite consistent with the principle of its formation; and the only effect would be, that the daily amount of stock bought in the market would be diminished—a circumstance, which, at present at least, is comparatively of no very great importance. It is my intention, therefore, either in the present, or early in the next session, to propose such an alteration in the mode of applying the Sinking-fund, as may render it, if necessary, as available to the reduction of the unfunded, as it is now to the reduction of the funded debt.
I have thus, Sir, endeavoured to state to the committee the circumstances under 1333 which our revenue stands at present; I have endeavoured to explain the course which his majesty's government, sanctioned by parliament, have pursued during the last few years; and I have endeavoured to show the grounds on which I relied (and, as the event has fully shewn, justly relied) in framing the estimates of' preceding years; as well as the grounds on which I consider myself warranted in relying now upon a prosperous future. Sir, I am not afraid or ashamed to use the word "prosperous." I say, that a nation may safely be termed prosperous, when, combining in itself all the great elements of wealth and power, it finds the legislature and the government striving, with generous emulation, to promote the development of the national resources, by correcting what is defective, removing what is obstructive, and giving life and scope to what is active. I see the foreign policy of this country confirming and extending that just and independant influence amongst other nations, which the fair dealing, the honesty and the prudence of England have heretofore entitled and enabled her to maintain. I see, year after year, the most vigilant attention paid to all practicable improvements in the construction and administration of the laws; whereby, whilst the liberty of the subject is never overlooked, justice is rendered more intelligible to those by whom it is dispensed, and more satisfactory, as well as accessible, to those for whose benefit its dispensation is intended. I see the commercial policy of the country adapted to more enlightened views, and every amendment of the system pursued with a spirit and a perseverance worthy of so good a cause, and essential to its final success. I see, that in the management of our finances, the ruling principle is, to combine a due provision for what the honour, the dignity, and the safety of the country require, with a just circumspection of unnecessary patronage and a well-considered reduction of excessive taxation. I see all these useful measures suggested, enforced, and sanctioned by the deliberate, and I might almost say the unanimous, voice of parliament: and when in addition to all this, I see that, as respects the people at large, the light of knowledge and of reason is gradually dispelling the mists of ignorance and of prejudice, and opening their minds to a discriminating appreciation of what ought to be the conduct of those to whose care their interests are confided— 1334 am I using the language of exaggeration and over confidence, when I say, that the affairs of this kingdom are in a right and prosperous course? There may still be many difficulties to meet us on our way. We may have to undergo, as we recently have experienced, the sudden violence of the unexpected tempest;—we may have at times to encounter "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune;"—but, Sir, if we have only resolution and constancy enough—To take up arms against that siege of troubles,And by opposing—end them;if we pursue our path with steadine and fidelity, we shall find our dangers and our difficulties diminishing with our progress; and we shall advance with systematic regularity towards that great end of all good government — the happiness and well-being of the people.—The right hon. gentlemen concluded, amidst loud cheers, with moving—"That towards raising the supply granted to his majesty, the sum of four shillings in the pound be raised within the space of one year, from the 25th of March 1826, upon Pensions, Offices, and Personal Estates, in that part of Great Britain called England, Wales, and the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed."
hoped the House would not be led away by the statements of the right hon. gentleman, some of which he considered to be complete fallacies, and should, he thought, be able to prove them, such, to the satisfaction of the House. The first and the greatest fallacy the right hon. gentleman had been guilty of, was his assumption with respect to the diminution of the charge of the public debt. He had gone back to 1816, and compared the revenue of that year with that of 1825; but with regard to the comparison of the capital of the debt, he had gone no further back than 1823. In that the error Consisted, and the only reason the right hon. gentleman could have for the deceit was, that in 1822, an additional charge was put on the management of the debt to the amount of 2,800,000l.; so that, in point of fact, the amount of charge, as compared with 1819, was in the last year increased. The only obvious reduction was in the unfunded debt; but then it should be recollected, that this was effected only by increasing the debt in another shape. To pay with one hand and borrow with another was not clearing off debt. That was the second fallacy worthy the attention of the House. With re- 1335 spect to the estimate of the revenue for the coming year, he should be most glad to go along with the right hon. gentleman, in taking it at what he had calculated; but he was afraid the calculation had not been made on sufficiently certain data. The right hon. gentleman had taken only one month of last year with one of the present. Now, he should like to have the calculation made from the 1st of January this year, to the present time, and compared with the same period of the last year. Doubting, therefore, the accuracy of the right hon. gentleman's principle of calculation, he could not place much reliance on his estimated surplus. Last year, the right hon. gentleman had told them that they were to have a surplus of 864,000l, and it turned out not to be a fifth of that sum; and this year they were told they were to have a surplus of 714,000l.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that the calculation to which the hon. member alluded was made last year, before the reduction of taxes took place, and of course the surplus was less by the amount of the taxes reduced.
said, that that of course would alter his argument, as to that point. Still, however, he must repeat his regret, that the right hon. gentleman had not made his calculation on the produce of the revenue up to the present period; for if it should turn out that there was a great falling off in the revenue in the month of February, the hon. member could hardly be said to have made a fair calculation. He was, happy, however, to see in the right hon. gentleman a disposition to take away any part of the unfunded debt. He regretted that it had not been done last year. The right hon. gentleman had entirely mistaken what had fallen from him upon a former occasion. He never meant to say that he could have funded Exchequer-bills, and reduce the 5 or 4 per cents at the same time. But he might have done so in subsequent years. He might have done so with great advantage to the public when the 3 per cents were between 90 and 100. He must again press upon the right hon. gentleman the dangerous nature of such securities as Exchequer-bills — he meant that class of them for which immediate payment might be required, as for a promissory note. He approved of the plan of funding nine or ten millions of Exchequer-bills, and of applying the Sinking- 1336 fund as, well to the redemption of the un-funded as of the funded debt. This might be very well done, were it not for the dead-weight, as it was called, which hung upon the Sinking-fund. In his opinion, it would be better to get rid of the deadweight altogether. It was, from the outset, a cumbersome and ridiculous measure. No persons felt more gratified than he did at the prospects of future prosperity held out by the right hon. gentleman, and he hoped they would be realized.
§ Mr. Hume
said, that the eloquence of the right hon. gentleman opposite- had entirely led the House away from those points to which its attention ought to have been called, and on which it should have got some more satisfactory explanation than they had heard that night. He was not then going to follow the right hon. gentleman through all his arguments, but he must object to the mode in which he had made his calculations, and the periods between which and the present he had made comparisons as to consumption and as to revenue. However, he would not have risen now but for the allusions made to his statement on a former evening. That statement was, that though so much had been talked of about the reduction of taxes, more money had been taken from: the pockets of the people within the last three years than had been within the preceding years. The moment he made the assertion, it was positively contradicted by the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and by the chancellor of the Exchequer. He would, however, repeat his assertion, and he would prove it to demonstration by the returns before the House. He would not follow the right hon. gentleman back to 1816, and he did not see what right he had to go to that year; but he would take the returns of revenue of the years 1817, 1818, and 1819, and compare them with those of the last three years, and it would be seen that in the latter more money was taken out of the pockets of the people than in the former. By those returns it appeared that the amount of revenue was, in 1817, 51,183,000l.; in 1818, 52,000,000l.; and in 1819, 51,000,000l. Now, he would admit, that many advantageous changes had been made in the mode of collecting the revenue, and the repeal of useless and injurious laws restrictive of the principles of free trade, in the last two or three years; but, in those years, the amount of revenue was—in 1823, 52,561,000l,; in 1824, 1337 52,655.000l.; and in 1825, 52,044,000l.; thus making an average increase of 1,000,000l, per year. Now, he would ask, had the people not a right to expect that these immense sums should not be taken from their pockets in the eleventh year of peace? Was it not natural that they should in that year expect to be called on for a less sure than they were in the third year after the war? It was, he would contend, quite a fallacy to say that the public were paying less within the last three years than in the years he had named. On this ground it was that he could not consider the statement which he had heard from the right hon. gentleman at all satisfactory, as it held out no prospect of reduction of our immense expenditure. We had an army expenditure of 7,700,000l. Our naval expenditure exceeded 6,000,000l.; and adding the ordnance and miscellaneous, the whole made 17,500,000l. Was such an extravagant expenditure to be borne? They were told that the only reduction that would be made would be the duty on tobacco; and then they were informed that 10,000,000l. were to be added to the funded debt, which was before too large. Would the country be satisfied with this statement? He contended that it would not, and ought not. Neither did he think the right hon. gentleman's argument upon the consumption at all satisfactory, as a proof of the growing prosperity of the country. The right hon. gentleman had taken the consumption of 1816, which was unusually small, and compared it with that of 1825, which was extraordinarily great, and produced by causes from which the country was still suffering. He would prove, when the returns for which he had moved were laid on the table, that the right hon. gentleman's calculations about increased consumption were wholly erroneous. The right hon. gentleman had said, that there was an increase in the consumption of beer, of tea, and several other articles. Now, he should be able to show, not from the returns of a single year, but from the average of several years, that the consumption of malt, and beer, and tea, and several other articles on which they were told that a large increase had taken place, had diminished; taking, as they were bound to do, the increase of the population into consideration. He should be able to show, that the population had increased since 1788 or 1792, about 41 per cent, but that the consumption had 1338 decreased, as compared with the population. The statement of the chancellor of the Exchequer was defective, in not presenting to the House a fair view of the cash-account of the country. If a merchant wished to present a full statement of his affairs, could he be said to do so if he omitted a cash-account? Where was the cash-account here? There was none; and therefore he contended, that the statement was most unsatisfactory, for the calculation of those estimates had been made on erroneous principles. The assumption of a prosperous state of the country, from the supposed increase in consumption, was, he would maintain, a delusion; and he was surprised the right hon. gentleman was not ashamed to make such a statement. It was to assume the prosperity of the country, and to make that assumed prosperity a ground for continuing our immense expenditure. The hon. member then censured ministers for keeping up the cajolery of the Sinking-fund. They ought to give up that delusion, in order to afford relief to the country. In all the measures which ministers had adopted with respect to commercial policy, they were right, but as to finance; they knew nothing about it. He deprecated the' allusion which the right hon. gentleman had made to what had passed in Scotland, for the purpose of carrying the House along with him. The anonymous author of the publication to which reference had been made, was a man who had benefitted more by the taxes than almost any one living. It was no wonder that such a person should wish to keep up the system of taxation. Any thing which fell from persons in his situation was beneath the notice of that House. With regard to the diminution in the expense of collecting the revenue, he believed he might claim some credit for that reduction. He had, for three successive years been urging ministers to effect that reduction before they attended to his remonstrances. At length, however, they sent out the commissioners to Ireland; and he would not deny that they had done great good. When he first called the attention of the House to the subject, the expense of collecting the revenue in Ireland was 26 per cent, in Scotland 16 per cent, and 9 per cent in all other parts of the kingdom. It was in vain, however, to think of any effectual reduction in the burthens of the country, until the landed interest co-ope- 1339 rated with the other classes in insisting upon economy and retrenchment. On a future occasion, he would enter more fully into the subject. He had merely risen to enter his protest against the statement of the right hon. gentleman, lest the House should be led astray by the fallacies which it contained.
§ Sir J. Newport
said, he felt himself obliged to express an opinion quite different from that which his hon. friend entertained with respect to the conduct of ministers. He thought the country was greatly indebted to the chancellor of the Exchequer, and the President of the Board of Trade, for the measures which they had adopted since they had been in office. They had effected considerable reduction of taxation, and placed matters in such a train, that a progressive reduction must take place; which would, he believed* and particularly in the case of Ireland, insure an increased revenue. The measures which ministers had adopted for reforming the mode of Collecting the revenue in Ireland would work a great moral improvement in the habits of the people. He trusted that they would carry their reforms still further. The revenue jurisdiction of Ireland should be entirely abolished. In the post-office department the most scandalous abuses prevailed. Might not this be incorporated with the English department? He Ventured to throw out the suggestion, and trusted it would obtain attention.
rose to express his concurrence m the sentiments of his right hon. friend who had just sat down. Nothing, in his opinion, could be more fair or more manly than the Candour of the chancellor of the Exchequer, in the speech which he had just made; and he was sure it would prove highly satisfactory to the country. Every financial statement must proceed upon some estimate; and he must be a bold man who would pretend to foretel what the revenue for the present year would be. Even the chancellor of the Exchequer, with the great judgment and acuteness which he possessed, could not undertake to say whether there would be one million or two millions deficiency in the revenue for this year. Where there were bubble fortunes, there must be a bubble revenue. The increase of trade proceeded from a momentary excitement. The general failures caused a suspension of those luxuries which had created the increase of revenue; and the revenue 1340 must suffer a proportionate limitation, which would probably be confined to the current year. Under all these circumstances, he considered the chancellor of the Exchequer's statement a very fair one. Though some of the minor points might be open to observation, yet, when looked at as a whole, it appeared so satisfactory, that he should be very reluctant to criticise particular passages. As to the surplus of 7,000,000l. when considered in connection with a revenue of 54,000,000l. comparatively it was no surplus at all; particularly when it was remembered, that 580,000l.. was made up by the 400,000l. which had accrued from Irish coin, and 180,000l. from lotteries, both of which items would not recur next year. The hon. member concluded by observing that, upon the whole, he had never, since he sat in that House, heard a speech which had given him more satisfaction than that delivered that night by the right hon. gentleman.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
begged to explain himself upon two points. The first point was with reference to the revenue of the year. The hon. gentleman had taken him to task for admitting into the calculation for the year 400,000l. derived from the old coin of Ireland, and 180,000l. from lotteries; these being casual receipts, not to recur another year. It was obvious that these were casual payments; and then the question was naturally asked, how that deficit was to be made good next year? His answer was, that the growing progress of the other branches of the revenue was likely to make up for any deficiency of this nature. As to the question of the deadweight, although the defence of that measure did not devolve upon him, yet he had felt it necessary to justify the government, though he was not insensible to the objections which the measure was liable to. In other circumstances than the present, he might not have been adverse to re-considering it; but now, when he must assume some reduction in the revenue, he did not think he was in a situation to state what was the intention of government, should circumstances be favourable at the expiration of the period for which the bargain was made with the Bank. With respect to the debt, he wished k to be understood, that he meant to fund from 8,000,000l. to 9,000,0000l. of that sum; he meant to repay to the Bank 6,000,000l; and thus, by buying stock or Exchequer- 1341 bills, 3,000,000l. would go to the reduction of the unfunded debt in the market.
did not wish to protract the debate, but he wished to make one observation with respect to the duty on tobacco. He thought the reduction of duty from 4s. to 3s. was not sufficient to prevent the smuggler from competing with the fair trader. It would, in his opinion, be advisable to reduce it to 2s. in order to prevent smuggling altogether. He could not sit down without congratulating the country upon the favourable statement they had just heard. Such a statement, after what had recently taken place, was most cheering.
expressed his surprise that the chancellor of the Exchequer should have attacked the Scotch people for having objected to the removal of the Scottish revenue board to London, when, in point of fact, the great body of the people of Scotland were in favour of that measure.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, he had not blamed the Scottish people; on the contrary, he had eulogized them; and had only expressed his surprise that any man could be found in that country to oppose or find fault with the measure.
§ Sir C. Forbes
could not help expressing his surprise at the attempt about to be made to alter the currency of Scotland. He hoped that those members who were more immediately interested in the welfare of that country would make a stand, and resist the plan proposed by ministers for altering the Scottish banking system. He was decidedly of opinion that any alteration would be injurious; and so long as he could get one member to support him, he should oppose it; and he hoped ultimately the measure would be abandoned. He hoped the members from Scotland would imitate the gentlemen of the sister kingdom, and stick together upon this occasion.
§ Mr. Ellice
said, he could not help noticing what had fallen from the hon. baronet. The House had passed a bill which was to regulate the currency of England, and, he would ask, what right had Scotland to be exempted from a similar regulation? He was unable to comprehend why a measure highly expedient for England should not apply with equal advantage to Scotland. The hon. member for Midhurst had exclaimed against the country bankers of England; but he wished the House to notice the 1342 difference between their conduct and that of the Scotch bankers. The former, so far from asking for delay, might be said to have almost gone beyond the House. But the Scotch banks had come forward almost with a petition to that effect. Notwithstanding what had been said by the hon. baronet, he should be prepared to show, that the Banking system of Scotland had been, in a great degree, the cause of the over-trading and speculation which had been productive of so much evil. It was, therefore, too much for them to be told, that the people of that country would resist a measure which was agreed to by almost the unanimous vote of the House, and which was understood should apply to the whole kingdom. While on his legs, he wished to ask the chancellor of the Exchequer, whether he meant to make any reduction in the duty on soap, and on drugs used in the manufacture of silk?
§ Mr. Bright
asked, what was to be done with the surplus of 120,000l.? There was one tax, which, although unproductive, pressed heavily on persons ill able to bear it; he meant the tax on receipt stamps, which he thought it would be extremely desirable to abolish.
§ Mr. Huskisson
said, that when on a former night his right hon. friend had spoken of the duty on soap, he had intimated that the arrangement relative to it was this—that all who used it in the silk manufacture, should enjoy the same advantages as those engaged in the woollen manufacture; namely, that of a drawback of the duty. On the subject of dye-drugs, it could scarcely be forgotten that there had been imposed upon them no more than a nominal duty. The surplus of 120,000l., which had been adverted to, was, it must be confessed, rather small, considering the large amount upon which it was calculated; and, so far from going to seek for a mode by which to appropriate it, the matter of regret was, that the surplus should be so trifling on so large a calculation. The hon. member for Aberdeen had noticed the necessity for funding seven or eight millions of Exchequer bills. Now, even that operation, supposing there were no other, would go nigh to consume the whole of that sum. The hon. member for Abingdon had endeavoured to confuse one of the most luminous statements that had ever been delivered within the walls of that House. That hon. gentleman had 1343 proceeded upon an entire misconception of the facts; for he had asserted nothing less than that the public debt, in amount of capital, interest, and charge, had increased since the year 1819. It had been said, that by figures almost any thing could be proved; and certainly a practical illustration of this maxim had been given by the hon. member for Aberdeen. His fallacy consisted in his asserting that the debt of the country during the past year had increased 70,000,000l. and upwards, with an increase upon that of 2,000,000l. in the form of charge. This was for the dead-weight. The payment of an annuity of 2,800,000l. during the next 45 years, was taken by him as an addition to the public debt made in 1825, and as belonging exclusively to that year. Upon such grounds as these it was that the hon. gentleman cried out to the government to put an end to the dead-weight. There was another argument of that hon. gentleman to which he would advert. It amounted to this: that ministers, though they reduced taxation between twenty and thirty millions, still left the burthens of the people undiminished. There was a reduction; that was admitted; but because the taxes, when reduced, were in the remaining department more productive than before the reduction, it was inferred that no relief was afforded; which amounted to saying that the people of England were as much inconvenienced by the present amount of taxation as if no reduction had ever been made; that, in fact, taxation pressed now as heavily as it did in the year 1816; that the increased consumption, in which the late repeals of taxes had enabled the people to indulge, yielding larger revenues than heretofore, was to be taken rather as a continuance of burthens, than as a relief from pressure. Now, when the whole of the duty was taken off salt, half the duty off wine, large reductions on spirits, and various other articles, the hon. member for Aberdeen jumped up, and wished the country to believe that the repeal of seven-and-twenty millions of taxes yielded a benefit equal to the repeal of only 4,000,000l.
§ The resolution was then agreed to.