The House having resolved itself into a committee of Ways and Means, to which the accounts of Surplus Ways and Means and Monies and Out-Cash in the Exchequer were referred,
§ Mr. Canning
rose, and addressed the committee as follows:—
The task, Sir, which it is my duty this day to perform—difficult as it must be at any moment, and under any circumstances, to a person who is called upon to undertake it for the first time—is certainly not lightened by the consideration, that the picture of the financial situation of the country, which it is now my duty to bring before this committee is not one of unqualified prosperity.
Undoubtedly, Sir, a gloomy complexion has been thrown over the whole of that situation, by the dark spots which have settled on particular parts of it; and which have created a deeper impression, both upon this House and upon the country, than I think was warranted by any consideration of the state of our finances. And it is a consolation to me to reflect, that the nearer we approach the subject, and the more accurately we look at it in detail, the more ground we have to hope, that that complexion has been much exaggerated in the opinion of the public; and that, if there are some topics upon which it is impossible not to admit that there is something to lament, and much to repair—there are, nevertheless, grounds for anticipation of its certain improvement.
Sir, the financial situation of this country is indisputably one which, at this time, requires to be looked at with a steady and a scrutinizing eye; but, in proportion as that scrutiny is minute and accurate, we shall, I am happy to think, find in it the justification of sanguine hopes, that the result will neither be difficult nor questionable.
Sir, with no other preface than this—which I hope will be taken at least as a proof of the sincerity with which I am disposed to deal with the subject—I shall 1099 now proceed to state to the committee, in the first instance, what was the financial situation of the country at the end of the last year:—Secondly, to combine and compare, as has been the habit of my noble friend, my predecessor in this office, that one year with the three several years which preceded it:—and, lastly, to suggest what I consider ought to be the provision to be made for the service of the present year, and to state those grounds upon which I feel myself authorized to look forward with encouragement to the future.
Now, Sir, in stating the first and second of those heads; namely, the situation of the country at the end of the last financial year, and the comparison of that year with the three years which immediately preceded it I shall only premise, that I apply myself principally to documents which are already on the table of the House, and, by a reference to which, every hon. gentleman will be enabled at once to verify any part of that which I may advance.
With regard to the third and fourth points; namely, the provision to be made for the service of the present year, and the prospect for the future, I can only appeal to the manifestation which I have already given of my sincerity, and which I hope will obtain from the committee, their belief, that it is not my intention to keep back any thing which ought to be brought forward, or to palliate any thing which may have been wrong. And I assure the committee I will not press upon them any opinions which I do not honestly and sincerely entertain myself.
To begin, Sir, with the first head to which I propose to call the attention of the committee; namely, the financial situation of the country, at the end of the year 1826.
At the end of that year, after balancing the amount of the income over the expenditure, there remained an actual surplus, after defraying the charge of the sinking fund, of only one million. Now, the amount applicable by law, towards defraying the charge of the sinking fund, for that year, was 5,500,000l. There was, therefore, an apparent deficiency, in the year, of 4,500,000l. I say, Sir, "an apparent deficiency;" because, from that deficiency are to be deducted two sums, which go considerably to reduce its amount. The first of those sums is the aggregate of 1100 advances made from the Exchequer fund, under several acts of parliament, either for public works, in Great Britain and Ireland, or for the purchase of beneficial interests, which are not only very likely, but certain, to make a more than adequate return to the public.
Now, Sir, it is quite obvious, that money laid out in this manner, and for the repayment of which the country hold available claims and securities, are not items which can, in fairness, be carried to the account of the expenditure of any particular year.
Those advances, together with the balances remaining over, of similar advances, amount, in the year 1826, to the sum of 1,200,000l. The particulars of these advances will be found in the papers now on the table of the House. I shall, therefore, spare the time of the committee, by not stating them in detail; seeing that every gentleman may have access to them, provided he entertains any doubt of the accuracy of my statement.
To the amount of these advances is to be added another sum, arising out of the circumstance, that, in the course of the year 1826, there were other over-payments of this kind, or payments on account of expenses, which had not occurred in that year, but which, nevertheless, were defrayed out of its income, and which also amounted to about 1,200,000l. The items of this sum are likewise to be found in another paper, which has been laid upon the table. These two sums of about 1,200,000l. each, being deducted from the 4,500,000l. which I have already stated as the whole apparent deficiency of the year 1826, leaves a real deficiency of about 2,100,000l.; including the amount of those payments to be made, by law, on account of the sinking fund.
Such then, Sir, was the situation of the finances of the country at the end of the last year. But, before we proceed to take this statement as the actual measure of financial ability, still more before we take it as the proof of the financial embarrassment of the country, it will be both fit and proper for me to have recourse to that process which, as I have before said, my noble predecessor constantly resorted to; namely, that of combining and comparing each particular year with the three preceding ones, of taking an average upon the whole—and of drawing an inference from the aggregate amount.
Sir, it is now just four years since the 1101 sinking fund was placed upon its present more simple basis. Those four years, therefore, seem naturally to form that period which it is necessary to combine, in order to arrive at a general result, or average, in the first instance.
Taking, then, those four years 1823, 1824, 1825, and 1826, and combining them, according to this process, the results are as follow—
The total income of those four years was 229,204,261l., or, in round numbers, 230,000,000l. The total expenditure of the same period was 209,242,184l.; or, in round numbers, 210,000,000l.
The surplus of income which remained applicable to the sinking fund of 1823, 1824, 1825, and 1826, was 19,962,677l. say, as before, in round numbers 20,000,000l.
The total aggregate amount of the country, for those four years, was, therefore, something under 230,000,000l. the total expenditure something under 210,000,000l. and the surplus remaining applicable to the sinking fund was almost within a fraction of 20,000,000l.
Now, Sir, the amount of the sinking fund which, by law, was applicable to the reduction of the national debt, during the same period, was about 21,500,000l.; leaving, therefore, an apparent deficiency, upon the whole of the four years, of income, applicable to the discharge of the whole expenditure, including the sinking fund, of 1,265,687l.
Against this apparent deficiency, however, is to be placed, as I have before pointed out, the amount of the advances from the Exchequer, under different acts of parliament, either for loans, for carrying on public works, or on account of beneficial purchases, which the public have in their possession, as available securities for the repayment of the money which has been so advanced; and which, therefore, as I have already observed, it would be manifestly unjust to consider as forming part of the actual expenditure of the country, during those four years.
The amount of excess of advances beyond repayment, for the four years, was something short of 2,400,000l. Deduct from this sum the amount of the deficiency of a million and a quarter, and there remains a real surplus of income beyond expenditure, in those four years, after providing for the whole of the sinking fund, of something more than 1,100,000l. 1102 I now come to state, Sir, what is, of course, matter of estimate, namely, the income and expenditure of the present year:—
The estimated receipt of 1827, founded on the actual receipt of 1826, is 54,600,000l.
The estimated expenditure of 1827, not including the sinking fund, is 51,800,000l.
The sinking fund, applicable to the debt, during the present year, is 5,700,000l. Add this sinking fund to the expenditure, and the total demand for the present year will be 57,500,000l., leaving, I am sorry to say, a deficit, to be provided for, of 2,900,000l.
Before, Sir, I come to consider more minutely the necessities of the present year, I wish—and I think the committee will not consider it an unreasonable wish, or an objectionable mode of proceeding—to deal with it as I have dealt with the four preceding years, supposing the whole of this estimate to be founded on data as accurate as those to which I have already referred.
The amount of the income of the four years ending on the 5th of January, 1827, I have already stated to be, in round numbers, 230,000,000l. But I must here observe, that as, in adding the current year to this statement, it is necessary to do so without taking any notice of Exchequer advances and repayments (it being, of course, impossible, at present, to ascertain the amount of those advances and repayments for the present year), I shall omit, in this statement, so much of the income of the four preceding years, as accrued from repayments for public works, &c., and so much of its expenditure as arose from grants and loans.
The income of the last four years, exclusive of such repayments, amounted to 228,000,000l.
The estimated income of the present year is 54,600,000l.
The total actual and estimated income of the five years, exclusive of repayments, is 282,600,000l.
The expenditure of the last four years, exclusive of advances, was 205,667,000l.
The estimated expenditure of the present year is 51,810,000l., making together a total expenditure, for the five years, of 257,477,000l.
The difference between the aggregate of the income, and the aggregate of the expenditure, we may therefore take at something more than 25,000,000l. 1103 The legal claim of the sinking fund comes next to be taken into consideration.
The sinking fund, by law, amounted, in the years 1823, 1824, 1825, and 1826, to 21,227,765l. The same legal claim, in the current year, is 5,700,000l., making in the whole the sum of 26,927,765l., and, consequently, leaving a deficiency of income, on the five years, to meet the sinking fund required by law, of 1,804,765l.
I must here request of the committee distinctly to understand, that this sum of 1,804,765l. is the deficiency for the five years, and is not to be confounded with the deficiency, under the same head, for the current year, out of its present resources.
It appears, then, Sir, from this retrospective view of the state of our finances, that the total amount of deficiency of income, up to the end of the current year, combined with the four preceding years, will be something short of two millions—a deficiency, say of two millions, accruing on an expenditure of nearly 300,000,000l.; and that expenditure spread, too, it must be recollected, over a period of no less than five years.
Sir, I do not at all mean to say, that this is a state of things with which this House and the country ought to feel satisfied; but I do say, that it is a much smaller excess of expenditure over income, than my own apprehensions had led me to anticipate—much smaller, I think, than the House and the country generally conceived it to be.
I am aware it may be said, that there is a fallacy which pervades the whole of the statement which I have made—a fallacy arising out of the circumstances which is generally designated by the name of the "dead-weight." I thus allude to it, without meaning, in the slightest degree, to attach any opprobrium to the expression; and I merely use it, because the House has, by usage, become more familiar with it, than with any other. But I think, Sir, it is altogether a mistake to consider, with respect to this operation, that, to whatever other objections it may be liable on other accounts, it is open to the charge of falsifying this side of the account, in the slightest degree [hear, hear!]. I do think it a mistake—and I will tell the honourable gentleman who has just cheered me, why I think so. I am perfectly ready to admit—indeed the fact is perfectly notorious, and has long 1104 been conceded—that the dead-weight is open to the vice of obscuring and of complicating the national accounts. And, because it has had that very effect, I am apprehensive that this scheme has been made to bear a greater portion of blame than really belongs to it.
But, in respect to this particular account, it has not only not operated badly, but, in fact, has proved of very considerable advantage to the country. The contributions, during the last four years, from the commissioners of naval and military pensions, have amounted to 7,600,000l. And, at the same time, it must not be forgotten by gentlemen, that when this measure of the dead-weight was first introduced, taxes to the amount of two millions annually were repealed. Before, therefore, it can be assumed, with any degree of fairness, that the addition of this 7,600,000l. has a tendency to give an exaggerated appearance to the statement of our income, honourable gentlemen ought to consider what would have been the produce, during the same time, of those taxes which were repealed, because this system of contribution—and only because this system of contribution—was established.
The amount, I say, of the taxes which were repealed at the time that this system of contribution was established, was something more than two millions annually; and, during the same period in which the dead-weight contribution has yielded to the income of the country, 7,600,000l., those taxes, if they had continued unrepealed (which, by hypothesis, would have been the case, inasmuch as the temptation to the House to sanction that scheme of contribution was the enabling it to arrive at the repeal of such taxes) would have yielded 8,240,000l. So far, therefore, from the amount of the public income being unfairly swollen by the introduction of this dead-weight, it shews a total of 640,000l. less than it would otherwise have amounted to, by reason of the dead-weight having been substituted in the place of the taxes alluded to.
All this, however, does not, of course, affect the merits of that scheme in other respects. It does not clear the scheme of the evils of that obscurity and that complexity which, as I have already said, it has introduced into the public accounts; but of the charge of inflaming those accounts of the income of the country, and 1105 of giving a false impression of our financial affairs, that scheme appears to me totally guiltless. For I repeat, that if that scheme had never been established, the income of the country would have appeared, on these accounts, 600,000l., on the aggregate, better than it actually does appear. This charge, or rather the absence of this charge, that is to say, the continuance of those taxes—if they had remained instead of being repealed, and the dead-weight had not been called to our aid—would have reduced their general balance against the country from 1,800,000l. to 1,200,000l.
But this, Sir, is not the time at which I shall enter into the merits or demerits of that scheme generally. Of those merits or demerits I will frankly own I was not aware until it became my duty to look minutely into these accounts; and I am perfectly sure that a like ignorance, or a like recklessness of the real facts of the case prevails amongst others on the point of the advantages or disadvantages which have resulted to the country from the existence of the dead-weight scheme. But we must not blind ourselves to this circumstance—that we have obtained from it, within the last four years, very substantial benefits; and when we shall revert—as, perhaps, we may do at no distant period—to an examination of this point; when we come to re-consider the question of this scheme, we shall find, I have no doubt, that it is not one of plain sailing—that it is not one which has not, on each side, compensating advantages, as well as counteracting disadvantages. Assuredly, we shall gain much by simplifying the national accounts—we shall gain still more by meeting our difficulties, whatever they may be, full in the face; but we must be prepared to do so by taking up a portion of those burthens which we have been relieved from during the last four years. I wish to state this fully and fairly to the committee; without any pledge on my part as to the course that I may feel it my duty to pursue; but I am anxious to guard the committee against the impression that the mere sweeping away of this scheme of the dead-weight is all that they have to do.
The committee, Sir, will not fail to perceive, that in all that I have had the honour of stating to them, I have assumed as a fixed point, the fact, if not the expediency, of a sinking fund—a fund 1106 which, by whatever name we call it, whether sinking fund or surplus of revenue over expenditure, is to have the effect of preserving national faith and national credit, and of enabling the country to meet the fluctuations of her revenue, and to meet also any unforeseen emergencies in which it may unawares be placed.
Sir, the present year affords us examples of both these necessities. It affords an example of a sudden falling-off in the revenue; and it affords also an example of a particular foreign emergency coming upon us suddenly and unawares.
And here I would wish the committee to consider what would be the situation of a country which should so exactly square its annual income to the state of its ascertained expenditure, as to leave no preparation for those emergencies, nor any provision—as every private gentleman is bound to provide by laying aside some part of his income for unforeseen casualties—to meet claims which cannot be exactly anticipated. What ought to be the amount of the surplus fund to be set aside, is a point which I shall not now say; but, I confess, it has never occurred to my mind, in any calculation that I have made, that a sum less than five millions, on an annual expenditure of more than fifty millions, is a proportion that, following the dictates of experience, or proceeding upon the analogies of private life, it might be found prudent to forego.
And here, again, I beg leave not to be considered as giving any decided opinion. I told the committee at the outset, that I would declare candidly the considerations which have impressed themselves on my own mind; but this is one of those subjects which will hereafter come for the consideration of the House, and upon which his majesty's ministers will anxiously look for the advice of parliament.
For the present year, then, the question which arises out of the statements which I have submitted to the committee—the question which they will have principally to consider—is, whether the present deficiency, which I have stated, in round numbers, to be three millions—though it is now, and I think we have every prospect of its proving hereafter still more so, considerably less than I have stated it at—whether, I say, this deficiency shall he provided for by any extraordinary course, or whether, under the peculiar circumstances of the present year, it may not be the more 1107 expedient step to take a credit on the consolidated fund, and leave it to the year to come, to determine what measures of a more decided character it may hereafter be necessary to resort to.
This, Sir, is, of course, in other words, a proposal to add to the amount of Exchequer-bills now outstanding. And the first question that arises, on the suggestion of such a proposal, is, whether the amount of those bills, now outstanding, be such as to bear this hypothetical addition; or whether it be at such a rate, as would make it dangerous to run any risk, by pressing harder upon the amount already in the market.
In order to come at this, it will be necessary, Sir, to examine the value which these bills actually bear in that market. The price at which Exchequer-bills are now selling, is equivalent to a premium of 50s. upon every 100l.; that 100l. yielding an interest of three per cent per annum. And such being the premium, this assuredly does not indicate any appearance of an over-stocked, or labouring market.
Then, Sir, as to the amount. The whole amount of Exchequer-bills, at present outstanding, is 24,000,000l. That amount would be increased, supposing the whole of the sum, now apparently deficient, to remain deficient at the end of the year; that is, supposing the revenue to go on, for the remainder of the year, at the same rate at which it has gone on during the four months last past; and supposing all the indications, I will not say of reviving prosperity, but of reviving activity in our trade and commerce, which we hear of from all parts of the country—supposing the information on this subject, which has been communicated to so many honourable gentlemen, to be quite erroneous—supposing, in fact, the very worst—and the addition will make the whole amount of Exchequer bills outstanding, 26,700,000l.
But, Sir, I think I may say, without offering any direct authority for the assertion, that it is impossible, from the various, but concurrent information which has reached so many honourable gentlemen, from all parts of the kingdom—that it is impossible, I say, to believe, that the two propositions which I have taken the liberty to suggest to the committee—namely, that the progress of the revenue will not be accelerated, during the remainder of the year, beyond the rate at which it has proceeded during the last four months; and that the deficiency in the revenue will not 1108 be diminished by the accelerated ratio of improvement in our commercial situation.—I say, it is impossible to believe these two propositions, without entirely disbelieving all these favourable accounts from all parts of the country.
Why, then, Sir, I may consider 26,000,000l. as the amount of outstanding Exchequer-bills at the end of the current year. Supposing I were to rely entirely on that resource for squaring accounts at the end of the year, I think I am not too sanguine in taking that as the total amount. Now, Sir, 26,000,000l. of Exchequer bills is a less amount of such bills than ever was outstanding, at any period, as I am informed, in the history of this country during the last twenty years—that is to say, not the amount now actually outstanding, but the amount, such as it would be, if the bills now outstanding were added to those necessary to make up the deficiency of the present year's income.
But, Sir, there is still another material consideration, to which I have already partially adverted, in stating the amount of the income and expenditure of the country of different years, and which it is very material that the committee should take into their view, and consider its bearings upon the whole case.
Sir, of this 26,000,000l. of outstanding Exchequer-bills, one fifth part, at the least, is of a nature totally different from the remaining four fifths; and of a totally different nature also, from Exchequer-bills in the ordinary and general acceptation of the term. The aggregate of the advances made by the government, and which remain actually due to the country, is upwards of 5,000,000l. Five millions, therefore, of this amount of Exchequer-bills represent, not the credit of the government, but so much advanced on public works, loans, and other securities. They are, in fact, available securities, and may be made convertible by the government at their pleasure.
This circumstance, Sir, reduces the whole amount of Exchequer-bills, in the ordinary sense of the word, even upon the most unfavourable supposition of our having to replace the whole apparent deficiency of the present year by an increase of that mode of security, to twenty-one millions—which is, as I have already said, a sum less, by 5 millions, than has ever been the amount of Exchequer-bills outstanding at any period within the last 20 years. 1109 Under these circumstances, Sir, and when I put to myself the question, whether or no we can run the risk, whatever that risk may be, of having to defray the deficiency in the income to meet the expenditure of the current year, by an addition to the now outstanding Exchequer-bills, to the extent I have stated—and compare that risk with the possible effect of any other mode of providing for such deficiency—I confess, Sir, I am strongly inclined to the course which I first suggested. I am inclined to it by a consideration of the present state of the country. That state, Sir, appears to me to be one of hopeful, but not confirmed, convalescence. And I do trust and believe, that it will continue to gather strength, and return gradually and steadily to its former power and security—I mean, of course, its financial security—provided it be not, at this critical period, either tampered with, by the application of any injudicious remedies, or afflicted by any sudden shock, which may have the effect of diverting it from the healthy course in which it is now gradually, but directly, advancing. Whichever way I turn, I see indications of an improving revenue. I am not sufficiently sanguine to believe that this improvement will be great enough to overtake and cover the whole of the deficiency of the year. A part, however, of that deficiency I am sanguine enough to expect to see speedily cut off by natural means; and that hope it would be wrong in us to disappoint, by any measures, calculated to force results, which, by being so forced, may have the effect of defeating it. I feel strongly the prudence of awaiting the realization or the disappointment of that hope, before we decide upon any other course of action. If I were to decide for myself, as to whether I should adopt a course like that which I am now advocating, without the advantage of previously consulting parliament, I should unquestionably feel the responsibility too great for me to undertake. But, Sir, it is because I have the opportunity of stating in this House, frankly and openly, the course which I recommend, and the motives which prompt me to the recommendation—it is because there is nothing of keeping back, nothing of concealment, nothing of a desire to represent things otherwise than as they really are—that I feel the courage to express my conviction, that, in the present peculiar situation of 1110 the country, it is better to wait the result which we have reason to expect, than proceed to the adoption of any measure which would be premature.
Sir, I have now opened to the committee, rather those principles which, I conceive, ought to guide us in our present situation, than entered into any particular details connected with it: and I think the peculiar character of the times justifies me in having adopted such a course, in preference to going into a multiplicity of such details—into calculations of revenue—into calculations of trade—which might only have more perplexed a subject, which my want of experience in this department has already, I fear, but too much obscured.
On the other hand, I trust I have explained, and without much complication, that which it was my single object to make clear and perspicuous to the committee; as it seemed to me better to propound to them that single object, distinctly and intelligibly, than to carry them through a succession of such items.
Nothing now, Sir, remains for me to submit to the committee, but to state the Supply and the Ways and Means; as, in accordance with the principle which I have just laid down, I propose to provide, in no other way than by a credit on the Consolidated Fund, for any deficiency that there may be in the income of the present year.
The Supplies which have been already voted for the current year are:—
Army £. 8,194,466 Navy 6,125,850 Ordnance 1,649,972 Miscellaneous 2,275,034 Interest on Exchequer Bills 650,000 ——— Total £. 18,895,322 ———
In addition to this amount, before the rising of parliament, it will be my duty to call on the House for a vote, by way of a vote of credit, for 500,000l.; the object of which I shall then explain to the House to be any unforeseen contingency that may arise, connected with our army in Portugal.
The total of grants and of vote of credit, will, therefore, be 19,305,322l.
The accounts which have been laid on the table, with regard to the Ways and Means, are as follow:—
Surplus Ways and Means £. 88,044 Military and Naval Pension Money 4,155,000 East India Company 100,000
Duties on Sugar, Personal Estates &c. 3,000,000 Grant out of the Consolidated Fund 11,600,000 £. 18,943,044 Exchequer Bills to answer Vote of Credit 500,000 ——— Total £. 19,443,044
Now, Sir, the main question which the committee have to decide is, whether, under all the circumstances of the country, we shall go on through the present year, not in ignorance, but with a perfect knowledge of our situation, and looking to the growing effects of returning prosperity—whether it will not be far better than entering upon unadviseable and premature discussion of every one of those great questions of finance, which await discussion next year—to go in the path which I have taken the liberty to suggest—whether that will not be our wiser policy, rather than to run the risk of deranging the present course of things, without having any correct means of judging what the effect of such derangement may be.
It will be found, that the supply of the present year exceeds that of the last by about 800,000l. This difference, Sir, arises from two causes—the Army Extraordinaries, and the Vote of Credit for which I call, in consequence of the Expedition to Portugal.
I am far from saying, Sir, that to bring back the expenditure of the country to the scale of last year is all that the House and the country have a right to expect, or all that his majesty's government is inclined to perform. Most undoubtedly it is intended to bring that expenditure to the lowest possible scale, consistently with the public safety. I shall abstain from making any promises on the subject; and, for this reason—that I have always observed, that promises made under similar circumstances, must, from the very nature of things, be contingent on events which we cannot, by possibility control;—and because, too, they are always exaggerated by those to whom they are made; and, more being expected than is held out, they generally end in disappointment. All I can say, therefore, on the part of his majesty's government, is, that it is their fixed determination to apply to those important subjects, the reduction of the expenditure, and the improvement of the revenue—their best and most zealous attentions; and, in so doing, to take this House into counsel, on the subject. 1112 In conclusion, Sir, my decided opinion, and I feel that I ought to give it fairly before I sit down is, that the course recommended, is the most expedient course, and the wisest. The country is at present in a state, rather to be left to itself, than even to be aided in its return to prosperity, by measures which, as remedies, would be premature. And if, Sir, I entertain—as I undoubtedly do entertain—a sanguine hope, that the time is not far distant, when that prosperity will be more unequivocally demonstrated than it has lately been, or than it is at present, I found that hope, rather on its known intrinsic energies, and its inherent, though not now put forth powers, than I do upon any indication arising out of particular circumstances, which I could fairly turn to, as justifying that hope. I would rather, Sir, express what I feel upon this subject in other words than my own—in words which, I am sure, the committee will pardon me if I read upon this occasion, in preference to submitting the same views in any language that I could supply. The speech from which I am about to quote is one which beautifully describes the energies of this empire, and the operation of that spirit of enterprise for which it is distinguished, in communicating the commercial activity and wealth of its own people to the most distant regions—
"But there is still another cause, even more satisfactory than these, because it is of a still more extensive and permanent nature;—that constant accumulation of wealth, that continual tendency to increase, the operation of which is universally seen, in a greater or less proportion, whenever it is not obstructed by some public calamity, or by some mistaken and mischievous policy, but which must be conspicuous and rapid indeed, in any country which has once arrived at an advanced state of commercial prosperity.
"Simple and obvious as this principle is, and felt and observed as it must have been, in a greater or less degree, even from the earliest periods, I doubt whether it has even been fully developed and sufficiently explained, but in the writings of an author of our own times, now unfortunately no more—I mean the author of a celebrated treatise on the Wealth of Nations—whose extensive knowledge of detail, and depth of philosophical research, will, I believe, furnish the best solution to every question connected with the history of commerce, 1113 or with the systems of political economy.
"This accumulation of capital arises from the continual application of a part, at least, of the profit obtained in each year, to increase the total amount of capital to be employed in a similar manner, and with continued profit in the year following. The great mass of the property of the nation is thus constantly increasing at compound interest; the progress of which, in any considerable period, is what, at first view, would appear incredible. Great as have been the effects of this cause already, they must be greater in future for its powers are augmented in proportion as they exerted. It acts with a velocity continually accelerated—with a force continually increased—
"Mobilitate viget viresque acquirit eundo. It may, indeed, as we have ourselves experienced, be checked or retarded, by particular circumstances—it may, for a time, be interrupted or even overpowered; but, where there is a fund of productive labour, and active industry, it can never be totally extinguished. In the season of the severest calamity and distress its operations will still counteract and diminish their effects;—in the first returning interval of prosperity, it will be active to repair them. If we look to a period like the present, of continued tranquillity, the difficulty will be to imagine limits to its operation. None can be found, while there exists at home any one object of skill or industry, short of its utmost possible perfection; one spot of ground in the country capable of higher cultivation and improvement; or while there remains abroad any new market that can be explored, or any existing market than can be extended. From the intercourse of commerce, it will, in some measure, participate in the growth of other nations, in all the possible varieties of their situations. The rude wants of countries emerging from barbarism, and the artificial and increasing demands of luxury and refinement, will equally open new sources of treasure, and new fields of exertion, in every state of society, and in the remotest quarters of the globe. It is this principle which, I believe, according to the uniform result of history and experience, maintains on the whole, in spite of the vicissitudes of fortune, and the disasters of empires, a continued course of successive improvement, in the general order of the world." 1114 The words, Sir, which I have just read to the committee, are the words of Mr. Pitt—the author cited is Adam Smith.
Sir, we hear now a days, that the application of philosophy to the affairs of trade and commerce is an innovation. I, however, am content to go back to the year 1792, and to take the words which Mr. Pitt then used, and which I have treasured up in my mind, into my mouth, and to take them as the guide and polar star of my own policy.
§ Mr. Hume
said, that the right hon. gentleman had taken a very wide and extensive view of the condition of the country; and had very properly concluded it by admitting, that there was a considerable deficiency in the income of the country as compared with its expenditure. The right hon. gentleman had added, that that was a circumstance which did not create in his mind any despondency. In that sentiment he so far agreed with the right hon. gentleman, that he was persuaded we might call out resources, and make efforts, commensurate with any difficulties which we might be required to meet. The great difference of opinion between the right hon. gentleman and himself was on the question whether, after the experience of twelve years' peace, we were to go on for another year cherishing those delusive expectations by which we had hitherto been deceived. Year after year, since the termination of the war, the House had been assured, that the prosperity of the country was increasing; and year after year had that assurance been falsified by the event. Going back to one of the periods to which the right hon. gentleman had adverted, the year 1792, let the House look at the difference between the financial condition of the country at that period, and at the present moment. In 1792, the debt was only 223,000,000l.; it was now above 800,000,000l. In 1792, the whole revenue was 16,000,000l.; it was now 69,600,000l. Under such circumstances, could the House allow another year to pass, with an avowed defalcation in the revenue, and make no effort to arrest the evil? The intended appointment of a committee of finance in the next session was dwelt upon: but, it ought to be recollected, that, if the House were to set about the task immediately, they might make a beneficial reduction in our expenditure; while, on the other hand, a delay until the next session would have the effect of un- 1115 necessarily adding three or four millions more to our debt. The right hon. gentleman had made a quotation from Adam Smith; and on that foundation had built a flattering prospect of increasing prosperity in the years to come. Such suppositions were merely castles in the air, were calculated to amuse for the moment, but having no foundation in reality. What was the declaration that had been candidly made by the right hon. gentleman? That, after twelve years of peace, during which time we had been compelled to borrow money every year, whenever the loan from the Bank stopped, they must make up their minds either to have recourse to a loan or to lay on new taxes. Was it possible, after such a statement as that, that the House could allow his majesty's government to go on with the unexampled expenditure which had been hitherto permitted? Instead of taking the more fair and manly course which so obviously presented itself, the right hon. gentleman had said, that we must be prepared to meet our difficulties at the end of another year. What prevented us from endeavouring to look our difficulties in the face instantly? The right hon. gentleman had dwelt with great complacency on the continuance of peace, on the great productive wealth of the nation, on the probable increase of demand for its commodities, and on the gradual accumulation of its available capital. Now, in talking upon these subjects, the right hon. gentleman had wilfully shut his eyes against facts. What was the state of the shipping interest? Had the right hon. gentleman any hope that he should derive an increased revenue from the increased prosperity of the shipping interest? What was the state of the manufacturing interest? Was there any man who would say that the profits on manufacturing capital during the four last years, or even during the present year, were such as to warrant the right hon. gentleman in proceeding to carry on the government with extraordinary expense? What was the state of the mercantile interest? Was there a merchant in the House who would say that there was any kind of trade which now returned a profit equal to the usual rate of interest for money? Let the House look to a very singular circumstance, arising out of the depressed state of the commercial and mercantile interests. The public funds, instead of being depressed by the increased amount of the debt, and of taxa- 1116 tion, and the diminishing amount of the revenue, had actually risen, and why? Because no merchant could now venture to employ his money with any expectation of obtaining a suitable return for it. It was to avoid loss in commercial speculations, that individuals now put their money into the funds; and, so far was the credit of the country proved to be high from the high state of the funds, that he believed the reverse to be the case. After entering into an argument to prove that all the interests of the country were so depressed, that there was no chance of any speedy improvement in them, he called upon the House to consider the remedy which the right hon. gentleman had proposed for the existing difficulties. It was nothing less than this: to let the country go on as it was, for another year. The right hon. gentleman was the first chancellor of the Exchequer who had ever proposed to let the country go on as it was for one year, in order that he might commence the diminution of its debt at the end of that period. He protested against the House permitting the right hon. gentleman to take the estimates proposed for the present year. They were larger than they were last year, by nearly a million sterling. Although the right hon. gentleman did not talk of our being on a high eminence from which we looked down with conscious superiority on the rest of the world, he spoke of the public credit as that on which he principally depended. Now, he sincerely wished that there was no such thing as public credit. Enigmatical as it might appear, public credit would be the ruin of this country. It was to support public credit that Mr. Pitt established the sinking fund; and by the public credit thus sustained, he and succeeding ministers had been enabled to add 870,000,000l. to the national debt. He protested against the soundness of many of the financial doctrines which the right hon. gentleman had put forward, and particularly against the manner in which he had glossed over the loan—for such, in point of fact, it was—that he had borrowed from the Bank this year. He protested against increasing the unfunded debt by 3,000,000l. to keep up the ridiculous system of funding and refunding, which had been followed so much and so ruinously of late years. In the year 1822, the government had borrowed 13,000,000l. of the Bank. It gave the Bank 100l. for 1117 every 73l. which was advanced; the sum was afterwards paid off by driblets, and the government replaced it at 83l., 95l., 96l., and even 97l. three per cents.—He then pointed out the disadvantageous operation of the sinking fund to the public, and entered into several statements to prove that it had lost 224,000,000l. since the institution of it by Mr. Pitt. Last year the unfunded debt had been reduced; and he strongly protested against the right hon. gentleman's risking such a crisis as that which occurred before, by keeping up so large an unfunded debt. It was a most injurious plan, and ought not to be sanctioned by parliament. The finances presented the double spectacle of a diminished income, and an increased expenditure. With respect to the reduction of two millions of taxes, to which the right hon. gentleman had alluded, he begged to ask whether the House would have agreed to that reduction if they had thought that it was to be followed by an annual addition of two millions to the debt? By the course pursued, our financial system was so complicated, that it was impossible for any man thoroughly to understand it. After some observations on the measure of last year, by which six millions had been paid to the Bank of England to enable it to meet any difficulties, the hon. gentleman repeated his protest against going on in this manner. If we had not the means of meeting our expenditure, our only course was at once to reduce our expenditure. Our expenditure might be reduced by five or six millions, without inflicting injury upon any department of the public service. As to the expedition to Portugal, he condemned it on principle. He condemned ministers for endeavouring to force a government on that country. Where was the majority—in the government, the people, or the army—in Portugal, to which the right hon. gentleman had looked for support? If the Portuguese wished to have a tyrannical government, in God's name let them have it. But, we must support liberal principles forsooth! The right hon. gentleman was, it seemed, displaying a standard, round which all liberal men rallied. He had no objection to his doing so, if it was to be at his own expense; but he had a great objection to his doing so at the expense of the country, at a time when the labouring classes were unable to obtain half a belly-full. If the right hon. gentleman did not state distinctly that our 1118 troops were coming away from Portugal, he would bring the subject under the consideration of the House. It was not merely the loss of the million which had already been expended in this absurd undertaking that he lamented, but he was apprehensive of greater sacrifices, and he condemned the principle on which the proceeding had taken place. Such an expedition, the object of which was by domination and awe to influence a people in the choice of their government, was strongly contrasted with the former opinions of some of those who had supported it, when they declared that the people of every country ought to be left to their own choice in that respect. Until assurances were given of a speedy termination of this project, he would not sanction the vote of credit when brought forward, even if he were single in his opposition. He contended, that all our establishments were much larger than our income warranted, and the wants of a free country required. He contrasted the expense of the British with that of the American government, eulogizing the universality of suffrage by which the latter was supported, and praising the quiet manner in which large popular elections were decided under it by means of the vote by ballot. He maintained that it was not merely a dereliction of duty, but down-right inhumanity, for the House to allow matters to proceed in their present course. If the government wanted money to meet its expenditure, let it lay on new taxes: above all things, let it not suppose that it would not want taxes hereafter, because it had now obtained a loan. The time of reckoning would come; and therefore it was that he denounced the doctrines of the right hon. gentleman opposite to be as indefensible in theory as they were ruinous in practice. He protested against the incorrect manner in which the right hon. gentleman had drawn up his average of our income and expenditure for the last five years. He contended, that the deficit in the revenue for the present year amounted to between 2,000,000l. and 3,000,000l., and maintained that it was incumbent on the House to ask, whether there was likely to be a less deficit for the coming year. He insisted that the deficit would not be less, and that it ought to be paid off instantly, instead of being tided over, as the right hon. gentleman proposed, to the next year. In conclusion, he protested against the system which had been pro- 1119 posed that night, and called on the right hon. gentleman, if he wished to make himself popular in the country, to put an end to that delusive humbug which was entitled the Sinking Fund.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that, although he was afraid that the right hon. gentleman was too sanguine in the expectations which he had that night opened to the House, still he could not agree with the hon. member for Montrose, in thinking that it was the duty of parliament to force the right hon. gentleman to take into immediate consideration the multifarious abstract questions to which he had alluded in his speech. It would not be fair to the right hon. gentleman to force him at present, new as he was in his present office, into an examination of them all in detail. He thought that, even if the House had the power, it would be bad policy to force him into it, so far as the mere question of economy was concerned. If the right hon. gentleman were permitted, during the prorogation, to examine into the financial situation of the country, he would find that, the more he examined, the greater power he had to reduce the public establishments without injury to the public service. If the right hon. gentleman were compelled to begin his examination immediately, he would be too cautious in the reductions he proposed; and the consequence would be, that the country would have less hopes than ever of obtaining any material relief. The right hon. gentleman had stated, that it was the intention of government to appoint a financial committee next year. This was a proceeding of which he entirely approved; because he believed that, in making this proposition, it was not intended to form a committee that would be a mere delusion on the public. To that committee he confessed he looked forward with great hope; for, if he did not expect, and if he should not hereafter find, that it recommended the strictest economy in every branch of the public expenditure, it would be impossible for him to give his support to the administration. Whatever other advantages the country might gain by possessing the present ministers, he thought it right to state, distinctly and positively, that, if great economy were not introduced into all the estimates of the next year, he should feel himself obliged to withdraw his support from the government. If the proposed finance committee were properly and fairly 1120 constituted—if it had full powers to go into the whole expenditure of the country—there could be no doubt that plans of economy would be brought forward, and he trusted they would be adopted. Therefore he approved of the proposition which had been made by the right hon. gentleman, which would keep the financial system of the country in its present state for a short time, with a view to its future revision and reduction. He knew that the increasing the amount of the unfunded debt was very disadvantageous, and under other circumstances he should not agree to it; but, under the existing state of affairs, he thought it was the best thing that could be done for the country.
§ Sir Henry Parnell
said, that he was not one of those members, the hon. member for Aberdeen alluded to, as having withdrawn their support from his opposition to the sinking fund; for he had voted against all his motions for abolishing it; not that he thought it of any use as a sinking fund to pay off the national debt, but because he was of opinion, that in each year there ought to be a considerable surplus provided for, over and above the actual expenditure. The events of this year proved the policy of having such a surplus; because, in consequence of it, the great falling-off of the revenue had not been attended with any public inconveni[...]nce. But the present plan of the sinking fund, he was ready to agree, ought to be altered. It was an entire failure as a means of an effectual redeeming of debt. No subject was more deserving of the attention of ministers than the state of the debt: it was the great evil of our system; and now, that Mr. Pitt's plan of paying it off had proved of no effect, he thought the time was arrived for carrying into execution the plan which he had produced in 1823, for securing the redemption of a considerable part of it, by converting perpetual annuities into terminable annuities. This plan had received the entire approbation of Mr. Ricardo, as being the only one that would place a sinking fund out of the power of ministers; and as one that would work beneficially and effectually in liquidating debt. He did not agree, that there was any weight in the objection which had been made to it, that it would not be practicable to obtain such a conversion of perpetual annuities into terminable annuities as would produce any great reduction of debt. The present price of Long An- 1121 nuities, did not justify such an opinion; but now that the rate of interest was so low, and was daily falling, the public could well afford to give a premium on the conversion, in order to secure the great object of making sure of a considerable extinction of the debt, at certain fixed periods of time. A sinking fund of two millions a year, if spread over fifty to seventy and eighty years, would redeem several hundred millions of debt; and this it would do without being exposed to be seized upon for the current expenses of the year, by any future ministers. If Mr. Pitt had made all his loans from 1793, in long annuities of fifty years or upwards, although he would have had to give a somewhat higher interest on them, they would have cost the country less than they have cost, when the interest combined with his sinking fund, and the rise of the funds are taken into consideration, and we should now be approaching fast to the periods when they would be falling in. If, instead of paying off the five per cents, in the manner in which they were paid, they had been converted into long annuities, the conversion might have been made on very favourable conditions, and the extinction of so many millions of debt would have been secured. He trusted that no more time would be lost in giving effect to this plan of a sinking fund by long annuities; at least, an act should be passed, to give an opportunity to those persons who might prefer a terminable annuity, paying a larger annual dividend to a perpetual one, paying a smaller dividend, of obtaining one. In regard to the pressure of the debt on the prosperity of the country, he did not consider it to be so great as many persons did. The debt was an evil only relatively; that is, according to the ratio it bore to the wealth of the nation; and thus, after all that can be said or done towards redeeming it, the most perfect sinking fund was a great accumulation of new wealth. The chancellor of the Exchequer had very ably and happily selected that point in a financial system which, of all the parts of it, was the most important; namely, the power possessed by this country to accumulate wealth: it was this power, that, with a proper management of our finances, would enable it to overcome all its difficulties, in respect to its existing or future expenditure; but this being the case, it above all things was the duty of parliament so to direct its 1122 legislation, as to have no laws and no taxes that had the effect of retarding unnecessarily the progress of accumulation. Every existing restriction of trade, and every existing tax, ought to be tried by this test; namely, the effect it produced in retarding accumulation; and, whenever any new measure relating to trade or taxation is proposed to the House, the merits of it should be judged of by its probable influence in retarding accumulation. The whole Statute-book, as to trade and finance, ought to be revised on this principle; so that every thing should be done that can be done to promote the accumulation of capital, and in this way diminish the pressure of the debt. It was in consequence of the ignorance of the importance of this great and fundamental principle, that almost all past legislation on matters of trade and finance was so injurious to the best interests of the public. To this ignorance was to be attributed the Corn-laws; the system of Protecting duties; the Timber duties; the duties on East-India Sugar; and that charter of monopoly which prevailed through all our commercial legislation. The hon. baronet said, that he could not agree with the member for Aberdeen, that there existed no hopes of improvement in the country. On the contrary, it was unquestionable, that trade and manufactures were recovering from their late great depression. According to all past experience, we were now justified in looking forward to great improvement. The extreme state of distress in which trade had lately been, would, according to what had often before happened, be followed by a gradual advance towards extreme prosperity; and we might reasonably expect to see very prosperous times again before long. As to the Dead-weight, there never appeared to him any difficulty in making it intelligible; because it was nothing more or less than a plan of borrowing a great many millions of money. It was invented in 1822, in order to avoid the necessity of making a great reduction in our expenditure; and it was now very fortunate that it was coming to a close, and that we were to lose the receipt of two millions a year, in consequence of the bargain with the Bank being to expire next year; because this circumstance would be a good guarantee that we should now have an effectual plan of retrenchment adopted. He gave the chancellor of the Exchequer full credit for sincerity, when 1123 he declared his intention to propose a committee of finance in the next session. He looked forward to such a course as the means of securing a very considerable reduction in our expenditure: he was certain such a reduction was practicable; and he thought it augured favourably of our future prospects when the finance minister adopted the course of submitting his views of retrenchment to the free examination of a committee of this House.
said, that, unless ministers were determined to support every reduction that could be effected in the public expenditure, it was impossible that the country could go on, or that its commerce and manufactures could attain the high situation at which they would unquestionably arrive, if the active industry of the people was left unimpeded. He did not feel disposed to adopt the tone of censure towards the right hon. gentleman, which had been used by his hon. friend. In his opinion, the right hon. gentleman had made a very fair and candid statement. They were not to expect from the chancellor of the Exchequer a disadvantageous exposition of the finances of the country. The right hon. gentleman, by taking a straight-forward course, and meeting the difficulties of the country boldly, would do more to strengthen his power, and to secure an honourable popularity, than he could possibly effect by resorting to those miserable expedients which other ministers had been weak enough to adopt.
§ Lord Milton
said, he could not arraign ministers as the hon. member for Aberdeen had done, because they had not come down with some specific plan of finance; because, if there were any time when it was less possible to do so than another, the present was that time. Although the country was beginning to recover from that state of prostration to which it had been reduced for more than two years, yet it had not regained that tone of calm tranquillity that would enable the government to enter immediately into an extended revision of its resources, and to propose such measures as they might confidently call on parliament to sanction. When he looked back to what had taken place within the last few years, he felt it was greatly to be deplored, that the public expenditure had not only not been greatly decreased, but had been considerably augmented. For this, however, that House was quite as much to blame as the government. As to the right hon. 1124 gentleman, he should do him injustice if he thought he would shrink from proposing to the committee to be appointed next year the reductions which were called for by the state of the country. But, if he meant to do this, he must brace himself up against all applications; he must put on the whole armour of denial to the claims made upon him; but, above all things, he must resist the importunities of those who possessed parliamentary influence in that House. He was aware that there was nothing more difficult, in the situation in which the right hon. gentleman was placed, than to resist the applications to which he was exposed. It would not be parliamentary in him to make any more direct allusion to those applications. He trusted, however, that under the auspices of the right hon. gentleman such claims would be resisted, and that reductions would be made in the public expenditure. With respect to the sinking fund, he thought it a great delusion to imagine that that fund was to be kept up by an addition of taxation upon the country. It was one of the great errors of Mr. Pitt's system, that the people should be taxed to buy up a debt standing at four or five per cent interest, when it was clear that that money, if left to fructify in the pockets of the people, would be productive of infinitely more benefit to the country.
§ Sir J. Newport
said, that, from the appointment of a finance committee, it might be confidently expected, that the public expenditure would be diminished, and the revenue be rendered more productive. With respect to Portugal, if there were only one man in the House to support the right hon. gentleman in the course he had taken, he would be that man. It was impossible that we could have taken any other course, consistently with honour and good faith.
confessed that, after the most minute attention he was capable of giving to it, he was perfectly satisfied with the mode in which the chancellor of the Exchequer was about to provide for the exigencies of the year. He could not, therefore, concur entirely in what had fallen from his hon. friend, the member for Aberdeen; and he was the rather unable to concur with him, because he had not been fortunate enough, with all the attention he had paid, to follow his hon. friend, with that certainty as to his hon. friend's conclusions, which he had generally been able to do, when his hon. friend had favoured the House with his luminous 1125 statements. As he understood the plan of the right hon. gentleman, it was this—to raise a sum of 3,000,000l. to supply the exigencies of the public service. It was one thing whether this sum should be raised at all, and another as to how it should be raised. Assuming, however, it was necessary that the sum should be raised, there were but three conceivable ways in which it could be done. The first mode was by raising new taxes, the second by funding, and the third was that proposed by the right hon. gentleman, which, as he understood it, was to increase the unfunded debt. To raise the money by taxes was, he apprehended, on every account, most objectionable. Many years ago he had opposed the policy of one of the right hon. gentleman's predecessors in his present office, in imposing new taxes. He had then urged, that for every sum of money which was raised by the imposition of a new tax, there would be a proportionate falling-off in some other existing tax, or rather a general falling-off in the whole of the existing taxes; so that no increase of revenue would be derived, whilst the country would be incumbered with the additional charge and machinery for collecting the new impost. In 1819, when it was deemed necessary (erroneously he thought) to raise 3,000,000l. of money, in consequence of the measure then adopted for restoring the currency to a sound state, he declared that to raise that sum by levying new taxes, was the worst expedient that could be resolved upon. He then warned the government of the inexpediency of increasing the burthens of the country, after its sinews had been relaxed by the weight imposed on it, and the sources of taxation weakened by the constant drains which had been made upon them. Could he, or any other man, who held that language in 1819, now, in 1827, consistently propound the raising of new taxes, when it was on all hands admitted, that the state of the country was not such as to induce any minister to add to its burthens? He did not think, that any person who took a rational view of the subject could advocate the imposition of 3,000,000l. of new taxes. He had always thought, that the system of raising money by loan, how grievously soever it might have been abused by being carried to excess, could, on some occasions, be resorted to consistently with the soundest policy. If a sum of money should be required at a moment when the 1126 resources of the country were labouring under temporary depression, owing to the exhaustion resulting from former drains or to passing distress—that was a state of things which justified, nay, called for, a recurrence to the system of raising money by loan. If the money must be had, it was much easier for the country to furnish the smaller sum to pay the interest, than to supply the larger sum of the principal. Having decided against raising the money at present required, by taxes, he now came to consider whether it was most expedient to raise it by funding, or by increasing the unfunded debt. It was a fact known to every one who could read the price current, that the three per cents were at present at eighty-four; that was, sixteen per cent below par, whilst Exchequer bills were at 50s. premium. It was evident, therefore, that, if government funded, they would do so at a disadvantage, and that if they purchased Exchequer bills, they would buy at an advantage. The difference between resorting to an issue of Exchequer bills and to funding would be, that the former measure would cost the country 90,000l. annually for interest, and the latter would cost it 120,000l. A party holding Exchequer bills received 10s. less than the holder of the other security.
Mr. Brougham .
—Aye, when he sold out again; that was if he knew as well as his hon. friend when to sell out; and if he knew as well as his hon. friend what he was to get when he did sell out. But the seller, in such case, could not be supposed to be possessed of as much knowledge as his hon. friend [a laugh]. He was perfectly satisfied with the promise of a finance committee in the ensuing year. He looked to the Report of that committee for the greatest and most important information with respect to the debt, the taxes, and the public expenditure. If, as was the case, some good was derived from the finance committee of 1817, as well as from that appointed in Mr. Pitt's time, he hoped he was not too sanguine in expecting much more benefit from that of next session, when he took into account the better light, on matters of trade and finance, which had broken into that House, and diffused itself throughout the country, since the appointment of the former committees. When he recollected the great errors which had been recently swept 1127 away, touching commercial policy—when he recollected that the doctrine which he had had the honour of propounding and illustrating by the well-known saying of Dean Swift (that, in the customs and excise, two and two did not make four, but sometimes only three, and sometimes not even two)—namely, that additional taxation did not always increase the revenue, but sometimes caused a defalcation—when he recollected, that this doctrine had been, of late years, recognized, and when he remembered, also, that the reduction or repeal of some taxes had already, in certain instances, augmented the revenue—when he contemplated the improvement which was taking place in the various branches of knowledge throughout the country, and when he looked at the light which was slowly, temperately, but surely, breaking within the walls of parliament, and dispelling the darkness which they had once sat in, he must confess that he looked forward with hope to the result of the labours of the committee of next session. The chancellor of the Exchequer had, in his opinion, acted wisely in not holding forth any exaggerated expectation on that subject; and he had done well in not giving too flourishing, too picturesque, an account of the state of the financial resources of the country. He had heard enough of budget statements to induce him to distrust all accounts of extraordinary prosperity, from persons in the peculiarly suspicious situation of a minister of finance, coming down with his budget and asking for supplies. He had, however, more satisfactory means of arriving at a knowledge of the state of the country, than any statement from the ministry. He was in the habit of receiving communications from persons in the manufacturing districts, who were not inclined to give exaggerated views of affairs. From the descriptions which those persons gave him of the state of the country, he had, within the last six weeks, for the first time during eighteen months, discovered the tokens of a permanent and very gradual, and, therefore, he thought trustworthy, improvement. Before he sat down, he might be allowed to express a hope, that the government and the finance committee of next session would turn their attention to a tax which operated on publications. The tax was equally oppressive to the readers of publications, and to the manufacturers of that commodity (to use the 1128 phrase which would be understood in a committee on the subject of finance), and had a strong tendency to discourage cheap publications containing useful knowledge. Those cheap publications were already (without the burthen of this tax) under proper restriction, by which he meant, not the restriction of a new and unnecessary law, but that of the old law, which armed the Crown with abundant power for punishing blasphemy, sedition, and immorality. The universal dissemination of useful practical knowledge he looked upon to be one of the greatest blessings which the upper classes of society could confer upon the country. If the tax could be taken off, or, at least, so reduced as not to affect the publications to which he alluded, he was convinced that, in a short time, the revenue would gain, rather than lose, by the measure. It was well known that, under the existing law, no publication, consisting only of one sheet, which contained an article of news, could issue from the press without a stamp. He was a member of a society which had made narrow inquiries into this subject; and the result of those inquiries was, that some classes, and by far the most ignorant, and therefore, the most in need of information, had no possible means of obtaining access to it, except through the medium of what were commonly called newspapers. Now, if only the fourth or eighth part of a sheet of a cheap publication were to be appropriated to news, and the other parts devoted to useful knowledge, which might be bound up and permanently kept, information would thus be conveyed into every farmer's house, into every manufacturer's cot, and into every peasant's hovel. He was confident that such would be the result; for such had already been the result when the experiment had been tried. The tax was more than fifty per cent on the general value of publications. Another point of considerable importance would be, to allow cheap publications to be sent by post, free of expense, or at a trifling cost. In France and America a very liberal policy was observed in this respect. In France, all useful publications were allowed to be sent by post upon payment of only half a sous; and in America, upon payment of a cent, or half a farthing. Were a similar regulation adopted in this country, prodigious benefit would result from it. How greatly would it promote the diffusion of useful know- 1129 ledge all over the country. He would say to the government, "Be not afraid of sedition; a good government has nothing to fear. If writers be seditious, better your measures. If you are afraid of the twilight in which you still sit, let in more light. Be assured, that no diffusion of light can act otherwise upon a good government than to strengthen and assist it; while it will, at the same time, better the people in point of morals and religion, and render them more firm in their allegiance." He had flung out these observations, because he had thought them well deserving of consideration; and he hoped and expected, that, in the quarter to which they were addressed, they would meet with the attention they deserved. Having disposed of this subject, he felt it necessary to refer to a circumstance which was, in some degree, connected with it,—he alluded to the motion made last night for the repeal of an act passed in troublesome times, which he certainly wished was no longer to be found on the Statute-book. In bringing forward that motion, he thought the hon. member for Aberdeen had acted unadvisedly, though, doubtless, with pure motives. In so acting, the hon. member had taken up what he (Mr. Brougham) had declined proceeding with; for he had, early in the session, given a vague notice of his intention to move for a repeal of the act. He was surprised to find that his absence from the House last night had been made the subject of some comment. He thought it rather hard that his absence on such an occasion should be made a matter of reproach to him. He had heard that his offspring was to be taken from him, and treated not very tenderly; was it, then, surprising that he should stay away, and not feast his eyes with seeing his child mangled by the honourable member for Aberdeen? It was too much for human nature to bear such a sight [a laugh.] Even savage animals felt attachment to their young; and why should not a legislator have the same affection for his offspring? He could not then come to witness what he foresaw must take place. If any of the gentlemen opposite who expressed their surprise at his absence last night would promise to support his child when he himself introduced it, he would come and see that it had fair play. But when the hon. member for Aberdeen, contrary to his express desire, (for he had begged and prayed of 1130 the hon. member not to touch his child), chose to drag his offspring into the House last night, and to dandle it something in the manner that a lion would dandle a kid, and to behave in such a way as to raise up against the unfortunate child the hands of no less than a hundred and twenty persons, whilst only ten stepped forward in its defence, it was not to be expected he could endure so distressing a sight. He was certain of what would happen, when once the hon. member for Aberdeen took a fancy to his child. He protested against his child being handled by the hon. member; but it was all of no use. If he had brought the subject forward himself, he would have disconnected the question about the press and the diffusion of knowledge, from that of the Six Acts; because he knew that, if he united them, he should have no chance of obtaining the support of the House. For the reasons he had stated, therefore, he had abstained from being present at the mournful ceremony of last night [a laugh]. It was a mistake to suppose that he had supported every motion which had been made for the repeal of any of the Six Acts. Motions for the repeal of the Seditious Meetings Act, the Seizure of Arms Act, and the Transportation for Libel bill, were made when he sat on the seats opposite; and on all those occasions he had absented himself from the House, because he thought that those measures had produced no bad effect; although when they were originally proposed he had spoken, and the House had listened to him till three o'clock in the morning (a painful ceremony, doubtless, for the House, and he could assure them far from being a pleasing task to the speaker), in opposition to their enactment. His absence last night was not accidental, nor was it occasioned by the occupations of business. The fact was, he had gone out to dinner, and, had he been so inclined, might as easily have come down to the House as have gone where he did. Moreover, he would say, that as often as a motion of his was made by another member, when he did not approve of it, so often would he take leave to absent himself from the discussions.
The several resolutions were then agreed to.