§ The House in Committee on the Post-office Acts.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
then rose and said—Sir, I cannot commence the observations which it is my duty to address to the House on the present occasion without very earnestly expressing a hope that the House will not omit to pay to the statement of the financial affairs of the country for the present year that attention which its high importance calls for; and I express that hope with the more confidence, because on many occasions during the present Session I have met from both sides of the House many very generous allowances and a great deal of indulgence. Sir, I wish to explain to the House my reasons for the course which I now propose to take. The resolution with which I am about to conclude is one undoubtedly of the utmost importance, as I shall endeavour to show, to some of the highest and best interests of the country. But it is also of much importance in a financial point of view; and for that reason I think it but just and right that the House should be made aware of 1339 the actual financial condition of the country, before it is called upon to decide upon another proposition involving very important financial considerations. My observations, therefore, on the present occasion, will naturally divide themselves into two branches;—first, an exposition of the existing state of the finances of the country; and secondly, an explanation of the proposition which I am about to make—a recital of the authorities in this House for and against that proposition—and a recommendation on the part of the Government, that the House should at least enter upon the consideration of that proposition, accompanied, however, with one condition to which I hold it to be inseparably united. Adhering to this course I proceed at once to the first portion of the duty which I have assigned to myself, namely, the explanation of the present state of the finances of this country. I cannot approach that subject, without first calling the attention of the House to the new position in which, to a certain extent, the House and the Government of late, and more especially during the present year, have been placed. Upon former and ordinary occasions, undoubtedly, whether on going into Committee of supply or in stating the income and expenditure of the country, it was the object, and indeed it was felt to be the duty, of the individual to whom it fell to give explanations on the subject, to prove to the House that all possible efforts had been used to push the principle of retrenchment to the utmost possible extent consistent with the public service; he was held bound to prove, that every estimate had been confined to the least possible wants of the service for which it was intended, it was his business to be prepared to meet objections founded on views of economy. Such being the arguments the most likely to be urged by the representatives of the people. But I must remind the House that of late—and more especially in the course of the present Session—the relative positions of the two parties have been different—the government have not gone into one Committee of Supply without being threatened with amendments, not of the old character, and with a view to the reduction of the estimates, but, on the contrary, for the purpose of increasing them. If we proposed to go into the navy estimates, we were told, in contradiction to the assertions of the authorities presiding over the Admiralty, that the navy is unfit to 1340 represent the honour and to maintain the rights of England; and that the Government will forget their duty if they do not largely add to the estimates and greatly increase the navy. In like manner, when discussing the estimates for the marines, the ordnance, or the half-pay establishment—no matter, in fact, in what branch of the service—we are met at every turn, and under every circumstance, with complaints that we do not carry the expenditure of the country far enough, and invitations are given, nay, more, a little compulsion is often resorted to on the part of the House, to compel the Government to carry the expenditure for the different branches of the public service much beyond the scale and limits of the estimates. So, also, in like manner, as to the Miscellaneous votes. There can scarcely appear in the public prints, or there can scarcely be urged on the part of private individuals, any personal claim or any claim affecting a class, without our finding that such claim at once creates able, efficient, and I regret to add, sometimes successful advocates in this House, and thus the Government are at times compelled to propose votes which they never contemplated or considered to be necessary. I am not alluding to these things as matters of reproach, I mention them as matters of history. Again, Sir, alterations are made in our laws, pregnant, no doubt, with very great improvement; but, at the same time, attended with considerable expense. The system of responsible central control adopted — and I think wisely and effectually adopted—with a view to the improvement of many of our most valuable institutions, whilst it has effected an improvement and saving to the local public—if I may so designate the separate parts of the community—has cast upon the general public, as represented in this House, a new and increased expense; for instance, I am not disposed in the slightest degree to undervalue the amendment of the Poor-laws, on the contrary, I look back to my connexion with the Government which carried the measure for amending the Poor-laws as one of the proudest circumstances of my life; but the Poor-law, whilst it has saved to the counties and the agriculturists many millions, has at the same time entailed upon the general public, as I see by the estimates, an expense of no less than 73,000l. for the present year. In like manner this House was besieged with petitions, to give to the community at 1341 large, and more especially to the dissenting portion of the community, a good system of registration of births, marriages, and deaths. Well, a system has been devised which has obtained the assent of both Houses of Parliament. I presume, and believe, that the system is a good one; but, again, while the benefit has been conferred upon the public, that benefit has to be paid for, and it appears on the estimates in the shape of a sum of 20,000l.In like manner the tithe commission costs the country 32,000l. a-year; the factory inspectors 8,000l. a-year; the inspectors of prisons 5,600l. and there are many other charges of a similar nature which have only been introduced in later years. Thus while the country has had the benefit of a more extended and complete administration, of important and salutary laws, the burthen on the public has been much increased, and to meet that burthen, the House, in considering the ways and means, is bound to supply the funds required by previous votes in supply. In like manner there are many other matters of a pressing character which the Government has of late been called on to undertake. There is the great system of steam communication throughout the world—the steam communication with India, which costs the country 100,000l. a-year, to which the public contribute 50,000l. There have been, also, many measures of benevolence and charity undertaken of late years—there is the annual interest of 750,000l. upon the West Indian Loan for the emancipation of the negroes—the grant for the education of the negroes in the West Indies, which the Government has taken up; the vote of 30,000l. for the education of the people of this country, which the Government has most properly undertaken to assist and encourage. You have voted large sums for these purposes of benevolence and improvement; but while your improvements confer great benefits on the public, they also entail a large expense on the State. I may state as an instance, the communication which is the subject of my intended resolution, the transmission of letters. You have now a railroad communication open throughout a great part of the country, and of course the corresponding public have a right to the full benefit of such communication. The Government is bound to give it, and the public will not be satisfied without it; but it costs you a very large sum. On one single line of communication, one branch of the service, I 1342 had an opportunity lately of comparing the present expense to that incurred before the introduction of railroads, and I find the former cost of 7,000l. for the expense of the Post-Office, increased by a farther sum of 30,000l., required in order to give the public the benefit of railroad communication. I am not complaining of all this; I am only showing the various causes which have compelled the Government, in modern times, to increase the public expenditure. Sir, the consequences of many of these causes—and I may add more especially the sense of duty on the part of the Government itself—have led in the present year to a great increase in the estimates; and to that, in the first instance, I wish to call the attention of the House. The estimates for the army, for instance, in the year 1838, were 6,322,000l., while the estimates in the present year are 6,563,000l. The estimates for the navy in the former year were 4,811,000l., and for the present year, 5,197,000l. The estimates for the ordnance in the former year was 1,546,000l., and in the present year 1,732,000l. In short, Sir, on the three great branches of the public service there is an increase of 812,000l. on the estimates of the year, without taking into account any extraordinary expenditure for Canada. The increased charge for the year is, on the whole, 962,220l. What is my object in stating these things? I wish to bring practically before the House, when they view the general state of the finances of the country, that which they are very apt to forget—that when in Committee of supply, they are sometimes too prompt in incurring debts without considering their means of payment; and I wish the House to consider, at least, in future, that if they feel disposed, when in Committee of supply, to sanction any very lavish expenditure of the public money, they must not afterwards quarrel with the individual whose duty it becomes to call on them to make provision for such additional expenditure.
Sir, I shall now proceed to compare my statements in the budget of last year, with the actual results of the income and expenditure of this year; and then I shall proceed to make my statement of the probable income and expenditure of the year now to be provided for. This I shall do, abstracting for the present all consideration of the extra charges on account of Canada, to which I shall now allude only in passing, reserving more full particulars to a subsequent part of my address. Last year I 1343 calculated the income from the Customs at 20,795,000l.; the revenue from the Customs, however, up to the 5th April last, was 21,210,000l.; thus showing an improvement on that branch of the public revenue, and thus proving that the calculation I made was not excessive. The revenue from the Excise I calculated last year at 13,902,000l. It has, however, fallen short of that estimate, the actual amount of revenue from that branch having been, up to the 5th of April last, only 13,729,000l. The cause of this miscalculation was, that I apprehended I should have been right in taking the average of the two preceding years. I should have been 2,000l. over the mark, had I taken the average of the three preceding years. My calculation of last year, as to the stamp duties, has been exceeded. I assumed that the stamp duties would produce 7,001,000l., but they have produced 7,043,000l. The taxes I calculated at 3,654,000l.; they have produced 3,700,000l. The Post-Office I calculated at 1,638,000l.; it has produced 1,674,000l. The Miscellaneous I calculated at 279,000l., they have produced 474,000l. This latter sum, however, is not so much an excess, as a temporary accession arising out of a payment received from the Canadian Treasury, under the provisions of the Canada Act. The total amount of my estimate was 47,271,803l., the amount actually received has been 47,833,118l. Here, then, is an excess of 561,315l., and I think the House will see, that, calculating on so large an expenditure as 47,000,000l., it would be scarcely possible to expect a nearer approximation, especially when it is borne in mind that this excess of 561,000l. is an excess of receipt, and not a saving of expenditure. [Sir Robert Peel inquired what sum was obtained by the corn duties?] I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has asked a question in reference to the state of the duties on corn, because a most singular misapprehension has prevailed, and has been circulated by the public press on that subject. Writers who argued with reference to the last year's revenue, had stated that it must be materially affected by the enhancement of the corn duties, they little thought, that high prices accompanied by low duties, although they cause a large importation of foreign corn, produce a very small amount of revenue. I know, that the right hon. Gentleman does not labour under the prevalent misapprehension on the subject, and I am therefore dealing only 1344 with the misapprehensions of others. I am able, in reply to his question, to state the difference between the corn receipts of the two years I have compared, which is the object he no doubt has in view. Those years are 1837 and 1838. The duties upon foreign corn, received in 1837, amounted to 306,860l. In the course of the last year they amounted to 146,000l.; so that if it had not been for the circumstance to which Gentlemen have attributed a large increase of the public revenue, there would have been a much greater revenue, which is just the reverse of what Gentlemen have suggested; but I shall advert to this subject again. To return to my general statement: I have shown the excess of the receipt to have been 561,315l. above the estimate of last year; but I wish I could, on that account, state, that on the whole the result was satisfactory. I regret to state, that the result is not so satisfactory as I could have wished, because, whilst the income of the country has exceeded my previous anticipation, the expenditure of the country has exceeded my estimate in a much larger proportion. That expenditure has exceeded my expectations very mainly by reason of the events in British North America; but there are other circumstances connected with the state of the country which have also added to it. I shall proceed now to compare my estimate of the expenditure with the actual expenditure, as I have compared my estimate of receipts with the actual receipts. The estimated interest of the public debt, funded and unfunded, was 29,350,000l.; the expenditure was 29,427,000l.; the other charges upon the consolidated Fund were estimated at 2,400,000l. They amounted to 2,383,000l. The estimate of the army is that upon which the main increase has taken place. For reasons which I shall afterwards explain it is put down to the army, but it embraces a considerable branch of expenditure to other purposes. The army vote was 6,322,000l. That was my estimate of last year. The expenditure has amounted to the sum of 7,201,000l. the cause of which I will explain as I pass on—I am merely dealing with the figures for the present. The navy estimates amounted to 4,811,000l., and the expenditure to 4,690,000l. The estimate of the ordnance was 1,546,000l., and the expenditure 1,381,000l. Therefore the total expense of these three branches of the service, the great services, will stand thus—estimate 12,679,000l., expenditure 1345 13,272,000l. The miscellaneous estimate was 2,545,000l., and the expenditure upwards of 2,678,000l., exclusive of 500,000l. for Canada. The total estimated expenditure of the year was 47,477,808l., and the actual expenditure has been 48,263,444l., showing an excess of expenditure of 785,636l. Now, Sir, any Gentleman who does me the honour of recollecting a statement which I made last year will bear in mind that I showed an apprehended deficiency of 206,000l. The actual deficiency produced by the excess of expenditure on the 5th of April, in place of being the estimated sum of 206,000l. amounted to 430,000l. That is a difference of 224,000l. Such is according to the balance sheet of April. The balance sheet of April, according to my last year's anticipation, should have exhibited a balance of 206,000l. That anticipation was formed without taking into account the extraordinary circumstances that have arisen in the course of the last year in Canada, to which I shall call the attention of the House hereafter, and I think the House will see, that it is not a very unpardonable fault that in the statement of the income, as well as the expenditure, there is a difference (not however greater than 206,000l..) between the anticipation made twelve months back, and the result as now shown. I certainly had feared the discrepancy might have been much more, and I am gratified at finding it is so little. Sir, before I go into the causes of this increased expenditure, I may be allowed to say a very few words on the subject of the income side of the account. I shall not trouble the House with details of the lesser branches of the revenue, but hon. Members will expect from me some account of the great branches of the revenue during the last year, in order to guide them in their calculations and anticipations for the next year. I hold in my hand a return from the Customs, giving an account of the increase of the last year as compared with the preceding; and I find that as regards the greater articles of importation, there has been, in many of the most important of them, an increase which, although not very great, has yet been steady and progressive. In the articles of sheep's wool, cotton wool, timber, wine (except some classes of foreign wine, in which there has been a small falling off), tobacco, tea, sugar, oil, and in many branches of spices, the increase has been, in some cases, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 per cent; and in others, the increase has been very much larger. In the article of sheep's 1346 wool, for instance, the increase has been 32 per cent., and in cotton wool 22 per cent. The various ratios of increase are fully stated in the return; but I will not at the present time trouble the House with the details. On the other hand, in some articles the Customs' duties have decreased; but with one exception, those are articles of no very great importance, nor is the decrease considerable. One of the articles is indeed of importance, raw and thrown silk; but the decrease is only three per cent., and the only article where the decrease has exceeded a small per centage is tallow, on which there is a diminution of nine per cent. But on the whole the Customs' revenue for the last year has been, on the gross return, most satisfactory, and evidences a most satisfactory state of trade. To pass to the Excise. On many of the most essential articles, there has been a considerable increase; on others there has been a diminution, but that diminution is to be partly attributed to the circumstances attendant on the last harvest. For instance there is a diminution in hops. There is also a diminution of five per cent, on malt. On bricks, also, there has been to a certain extent a decrease of duty. On those branches of the glass trade in which there has been no reduction of duty, there has been a small diminution in the amount received upon the year, but upon that branch of the trade as to which some years ago I had the honour of proposing a reduction of duty—I allude to flint glass—there has been a considerable increase. On plate glass, there has been a steady progressive increase, while there has been a falling-off on crown glass. But this must be taken with reference to the increased use of plate glass; for no person can pass along the streets without observing, that the use of plate glass has become one of the luxuries of the time. As compared with the three preceding years there is an increase of 15 per cent, on plate glass, and on flint glass of 6 per cent. On licences also there is an increase, and on the paper duties, on which I had the honour of proposing a reduction of the duty, there has been an increased revenue of 10 per cent. There is also an increase on both kinds of soap, and also on spirits. In short, I think there is nothing in the state of the Excise revenue, although the total amount is less than that at which I estimated it, that can for a moment create the slightest possible doubt or mistrust of the resources of the country. Where there 1347 has been a diminution in the revenue it has been connected more with the seasons than with any other cause. With regard to the stamps and taxes, I do not see that any observation is called for from me. My estimate has been exceeded in the return by a few thousands. Circumstances, however, will occur, on which it is impossible to calculate. The amount of legacy duty, for instance, may vary in particular quarters, without exercising any permanent effect on the revenues of the country. I will now proceed to the Post-office revenue and explain the reason why there is a falling-off in the receipts from that branch of the revenue. The gross amount of the Post-office revenue is as much as I had anticipated; but the reason why there is not such a large net amount of revenue from this department is, that the heads of that department have been exerting themselves in every possible way to promote and increase the accommodation of the public—for instance, the more frequent and general despatch of mail by railroad. This, as I have before stated, has led to an increase of expenditure, and to a consequent diminution in the net receipts of the Post-office. At the same time, however, there has been a gradual increase in the gross amount of the Post-office revenue, which is made obvious by a paper from that department which I have before me. This return takes a certain amount of revenue from each division of the Post-office, and shows the increase that has taken place in each class. On an amount of 120,000l. received within a certain period of last year on unpaid letters outward there has been an increase, within the same period of this year, of 9,000l.; on 114,000l. received during the same period for unpaid letters inland there has been an increase of 12,000l.; on 169,000l. received for letters by bye and cross roads there has been an increase of 7,600l.; on 53,000l. of the gross receipt for Scotland, there has been an increase of 4,700l. on 62,000l. of the gross Post-office revenue of Ireland there has been an increase of 2,400l.; on 32,000l. for the two penny post delivery there has been an increase of 2,800l. on 18,000l. for the receipts from the West Indies and British North America there has been an increase of 1,400l.; and on 19,000l. which was paid for foreign letters, there has been an increase of 2,100l. Taking the same period also in the whole of the miscellaneous receipts, there has been an increase of 916l. Therefore, upon a 1348 total amount of 588,000l. of the Post-office revenue, there has been an increase within a comparatively short period, of 42,382l., being an increase of nine per cent, on the April quarter of this year. A great many calculations have been made to prove the decay and falling-off in Post-office revenue; but the result, in this case, proves, that where there is a falling-off in the net revenue of the Post-office, it often happens, in consequence of greater expense incurred by that department, with the view of giving increased accommodation to the public. There is also an increase in the expenditure under the head of army extra ordinaries. It is only just to my noble Friend, the Secretary at War, and the War-office, to state, that the greater part, or almost the whole of this increase arose in consequence of the extraordinary expense which it was necessary to incur in Canada, as I shall presently proceed to show. To those Gentlemen who are at all conversant with the nature of the expenditure from the military chest and in the colonies abroad, it is quite unnecessary to enter upon any explanations; but to others who have not had opportunities of becoming acquainted with matters of the kind, some explanation may be necessary. Suppose, for instance, that the Governor of Canada considers it necessary to order a steam-boat to be equipped; when the Governor directs this equipment to take place, he directs an issue for the purpose to be made from the military chest in order to defray the expenses. A bill is then drawn by the officer of the commissariat to raise the means of meeting this bill of the draft on the military chest. This bill is then sent home, paid and charged to military expenditure, ultimately, on the adjustment of accounts, it is determined to which branch of the service the charge belongs, and it is transferred accordingly; but it roust be charged under this head at first, in consequence of the commissariat department having to make the advance. It is only in the settlement of the commissariat accounts that the final adjustment is made, when, after proper examination, the charges are apportioned and settled between one department and another. The expense incurred in Canada I shall now bring under the attention of the House, keeping back nothing, concealing nothing, distorting nothing, but putting the House as fairly and as fully as I can in possession of what I believe will turn out to be the maximum of charge under this head, the utmost 1349 to which according to probable circumstances, this country will be subject up to the end of 1840. I have not yet got the complete accounts to a later date than the 31st of March, 1838—that is, the complete and final accounts are not made up to a later period than that date; but I have the means of fixing what I believe will be found to be a correct estimate up to a much later period. I have received some accounts within the last three days, which furnish me with materials for this estimate. In consequence of not having got the accounts on this subject, my annual finance statement has been delayed, as it was essential that I should give as clear and full an account of the extraordinary expenditure for Canada as was possible. I repeat, the cash accounts have only been obtained within the last three days. I will first allude to the extraordinary expenses incurred in Canada, since the period when the circumstances occurred in that country to require this expenditure. The extraordinary expenses incurred in Canada in 1837–38, amounted to 245,620l.; the extraordinary expenses in the following year was 701,400l., making a total of 947,000l. of extraordinary expenditure for the years 1837–38 and 1838–9, that is, to the month of April, 1839. This included every article of extraordinary expenditure incurred in Canada, according to the best information I possess. A part of this amount has been provided for by a vote which has been taken on account of 500,000l. Deducting this sum from 947,000l., there would remain a balance of 447,000l. to be provided for. This disposes of the expenditure of the two previous years. I now come to the possible expenditure of the present year for Canada. I shall assume the total expenditure which bears on the subject at 1,101,300l., that is, for the year ending April 1840. I have already stated the maximum total expenditure for the last year, but there may be some charges which may not be placed to the proper account. I have taken the last cash accounts which I have received within the last three days and these are the only accounts which I have to deal with at present. Of this sum we have already provided for 594,700l., which has been voted on the ordinary estimate. In the army, navy, and ordnance estimates, the ordinary charges are provided for. This I do not mean to deal with at the present, but there are certain other charges for ordnance extraordinaries, which may yet be required. Reserving this amount we have the sum of 594,700l. provided for 1350 by ordinary estimate. Deducting this from the gross charge of 1,101,300l., there will remain a balance to be provided for of 506,600l. If this sum is added to the surplus of 447,000l. already stated as arising in the two previous years, it will appear that the total extraordinary expense incurred in Canada for the three years, and not yet provided for is 1,053,000l.
The Account stands thus:—
N.B.—The sum on the Estimate for this year is taken at £1,000,000.
Estimate for 1839–40 1,101,300 Provided by Departments 594,700 Balance 506,000 Additional Estimates for works in Canada 100,000 Total Estimate for 1839–40 606,600 Balance of last year 447,000 £1,053,000
The amount, then, which the House has to deal with above the 500,000l. taken last year, is 1,053,000l., which is undoubtedly a very large sum, and it is very much to be regretted, that such an expenditure was called for. It is not my purpose to, enter upon a discussion of the Canada question but I believe, that I shall have the concurrence of every Gentleman present, when I state, that in the situation in which Canada was placed, both in her external relations and as regards her internal tranquillity, the Government would have been guilty of the basest neglect of duty if they suffered any branch of the service to be in a less efficient state than appeared to Sir John Colborne and the other authorities in Canada to be requisite, or if they had refused to send out such additional force as was called for by them. The House knows perfectly well both the extent and the nature of the boundary which the military force in, Canada has to defend; the general commanding there has had to provide in every way for the defence of the territory, and therefore a large, military force is absolutely necessary. We had better, on every account, at once determine to give up the colony, if we ar not prepared to defend the inhabitants of the colony from attacks, from either foreign or internal enemies; and if we are determined to do so, it is our duty to do it effectively. I now proceed to state the nature of the force in Canada. The Horse Guards' return which I hold in my hand does not state the ordnance force in, that country, as that 1351 is given in a separate return. I deal therefore with the other branch of the service only. In 1835, the military force in British North America was 4,611. So it continued in 1836 and 1837. For those three years this was the amount of the ordinary average force in those colonies. In January, 1838, the number was 5,089; in April, 1838, it was increased to 7,449. On the 1st of January, 1839, the number was 13,215 effective rank and file. I have excluded from this computation the artillery, because I have not got the return before me. In addition to this regular force, there is at present a very large irregular force in Canada. The number of the incorporated militia is 21,054, the number of volunteers actually enrolled is 3,775, and the number of local and stationary militia is 8,238; so that, in addition to the regular military force in Canada, there is this armed body of 33,067 men. I hope my hon. Friends will not think that I am anxious to lead them by this statement into a political debate; my wish and intention is to confine myself to the discussion of the finance question. The House will see that the increase of the regular force has been very great in Canada but the increase of the irregular force there has been still more so, which necessarily must be attended with a great outlay. This, I think, will account for the additional expense of upwards of a million above the average expenditure for this colony. This great increase in the number of regular soldiers in Canada has been made without adding to the army, as we have been enabled to make a great diminution in the amount of the forces in Ireland. I need not add that this has been attended with a great diminution of expenditure there; and it is a state of things very different from what was the case formerly there, and mnst afford the greatest satisfaction to all persons. [Mr. Goulburn. Has the right hon. Gentleman stated the amount of the expense of the irregular force in Canada?] The exact amount of the expense incurred by that description of force is not before me, but I shall be most ready to furnish my right hon. Friend with any information in my power. The House must be aware that it is much more difficult to procure accurate returns respecting the charge for this description of irregular force, than for the regular army there. It would be much easier to furnish a return of the expenses of the whole of the British army in its quarters, than to give the details of the 1352 expenses of this irregular force in Canada. I was about to draw a distinction between the increased military establishment in Canada, and the diminished force which it is found necessary to keep in Ireland. In the year 1797, when the disturbances began in Ireland, the army then amounted to 79,000 men, and the expenditure was 2,600,000l.; in 1798, the number of troops in Ireland was 91,000, and the expense was 3,900,000l.; in 1799, the military force on foot there was 114,000, and the expense amounted to 4,100,000l.; in 1800, the military force there was 53,000; in 1810, it amounted to 35,000 effective men; in 1820, it was 20,900; on the 1st of January 1835, it was 16,347; and on the 15th of June, which was the last return, and the nearest approach to the present time for which a return could be made up, in the place of 35,000 men, which were maintained in 1810, there was required for the maintenance of the tranquillity of that country no more than 12,600 men. This was a smaller force than it had been thought expedient to keep in Ireland at any previous period since the time of the Union. It was thus owing to the tranquillity of Ireland that the Government had been enabled to make considerable exertions, and to dispatch a strong force to Canada, without much increasing the public burthens. If the state of Ireland at the present period had made it requisite to maintain an army of 35,000 men there, as was the case in 1810, we could not now have increased the military force in Canada to 13,000, without adding greatly to the number of men, and thereby incurring a great additional expenditure.
I have endeavoured to compare the estimate of income and expenditure for the last year with the actual accounts. I now proceed to state what I anticipate will be the income and expenditure for the next year. I have already shown to the House, that the amount of the estimates has been largely increased; I find that this increase amounts to 919,000l. The estimates of the Custom duties, as furnished to me by the heads of that department, and which I have the most perfect reason to trust to as accurate returns tested, as they have been by past experience, I take at 21,500,000l. The estimate of the Excise duties, taken on an average of the last three years, and being within a few pounds of the receipts of the last year, I take at 13,845,000l. The estimate of 1353 stamps I take at 7,054,000l.; of taxes at 3,694,000l.; of the Post-office at 1,585,000l.; and of Miscellaneous at 250,000l.; to which may be added revenue from the Crown Lands, amounting to 200,000l.; making together a total of revenue, according to the estimate, of 48,128,000l. Before I proceed further, I wish to say a word or two respecting the revenue derived this year from Crown lands, about which many mistakes, and great misapprehension seem to prevail. It has been asserted, that the Government did not obtain the amount which was carried to the public credit in the finance returns, under the head of Crown Lands, as revenue, but that it was obtained from the sale of Crown Lands. This is an entirely erroneous view of the subject; if we had done so, without explaining it to the House, we should have been guilty of a gross breach of trust and public duty. It is, however, no such thing; the whole amount that has been stated, as brought to account, was the produce of the income of Crown Lands. It has been asked, how is it that no revenue of the kind has been received or accounted for in former years? My answer is, that nothing of the kind has previously appeared, because this revenue had hitherto been absorbed in paying off a very considerable debt incurred and charged on Crown revenues for public improvements, and now that that debt has been paid off, this revenue is brought to account. If any Gentleman is not satisfied with this statement, I hope that he will renew the subject, and call for further explanation, which I shall be most ready to give. I do not anticipate that this will be requisite, though after the explanation given by me on a former occasion on this subject, it has been stated out of doors, that the public accounts had been mystified on this subject, with the purpose of misleading. I challenge any investigation on this point, and I trust, that if this explanation is not conclusive, some hon. Member will call for further explanations. I will now proceed to explain the probable expenditure of the ensuing year. I should estimate this at the ordinary expense of the year, without taking the extraordinary expenditure for Canada last year, which was 1,000,000l. I take the charge for the interest of the debt and Exchequer Bills at 29,443,000l.; the charge on the consolidated fund the same as last year, at 2,400,000l.; the array 6,563,000l.; the navy 5,197,000l.; the ordnance 1,732,000l.; miscellaneous 2,652,000l.; making a total expenditure of 1354 47,988,000l. This would exhibit a surplus of income over expenditure — certainly of very small amount, but still an excess of income over expenditure—of 140,000l. I have made allowance for increased estimates to the amount of 900,000l., but I have not hitherto made any provision for the extraordinary expenditure of 1,000,000l. for Canada, above the account contained in the ordinary estimates. This is not a state of things that can be regarded as satisfactory, and if I thought that the extra expenditure for Canada was likely to become a permanent charge, I should feel it to be my duty to come down to the House to propose, that provision should be made accordingly, and I should feel it to be my duty to propose a tax to meet this charge. But this amount of a million for Canada does not apply solely to the service of the present year, but it includes also an arrear of charge for services for two years anterior, and the whole of this extraordinary expenditure is not one which I should regret to contemplate as a permanent annual charge on the country. God forbid that Canada should continue to call for such an expenditure, and that we should not hope to see the time when this charge might be greatly or entirely reduced. If this expenditure arises from circumstances of a temporary nature, I do not think it would be prudent, or that I could with justice ask the House to impose a permanent tax to meet this charge. On some future occasion, when I have laid the papers on the Table of the House, I shall propose to provide for the deficiency that arises by a vote of Exchequer bills, in the nature of a vote of credit. I will not now go into the question, I merely suggest the course that I intend to take. I cannot however, leave this part of the subject without saying that while there are some matters which I have recited which are not satisfactory, it will be well to turn our attention to other branches of our finance which are in a more satisfactory state than they were last year. At this time twelve months there appeared on the balance sheet of the year to be a deficiency of 1,648,000l. In the year ending 5th of October, this deficiency amounted to 755,000l. and on the 5th of April it was reduced to 430,326l. Unquestionably there is every reason to apprehend, if there is no violent disturbance of the tranquillity of the country, that the finances will go on improving, And I may be permitted to remark, that if it was not for the state 1355 of excitement and disturbance that has prevailed, the financial situation of the country would have been free from all cause of alarm. I should not have had anything to explain of more than an ordinary nature, but the extraordinary circumstances which have occurred render this statement necessary. There are many circumstances connected with the great interests of this country at the present time, which it behoves the House well to consider as connected with the finances of the country, and which it will be necessary to deal with with great prudence. Is there any Gentleman in the House who has considered the circumstances in which we should be placed if we should unfortunately have a similar harvest to that of last year, and thus be exposed to the consequences of the failure of two successive harvests. Is it possible to look without dismay to what would be the probable results of another failure in the crops. It is satisfactory to find on the other hand, however, that the value of our exports has been increasing gradually and progressively and that the exports from this country last year were greater than any previous year except 1836, when the amount of exports were particularly large in consequence of the particular circumstances of the year. The amount of the exports of articles of manufacture of England and Ireland during the year ending April, 1837, was 42,000,000l., while the exports for the year ending April, 1838, was upwards of 50,000,000l. The returns for the five months of this year show the same ratio of increase as there was last year. If, however, circumstances occur so as to cause the value of money to increase, and prices are affected, an important change will take place. If the prices of goods be decreased from such a cause, employment will be diminished and the revenue will be very soon considerably lessened; and I would ask under these circumstances whether it would not be alarming that a demand for food from abroad should occur in conjunction with such results. I am sure that I need not point out to hon. Gentlemen the difficulties that would arise from such a state of things. I hold in my hand a return which I perhaps should have referred to when I was asked by the right hon. Baronet a question on the subject of the corn-duties, when I stated in reply what a small amount of revenue was received from the duties on foreign corn last year, notwith- 1356 standing the large quantity imported into this country. The House has a right to know the quantity of foreign corn that was imported into this country, and the circumstances under which this supply was obtained. The quantity of wheat and flour imported into this country between the month of August, 1838, and the month of May 1839, was not less than 2,591,000 quarters. Taking the estimated value of this as nearly as it can be approached, I believe that it will be at least 7,126,000l. There is a most important consequence from this coincidence, which must be obvious to hon. Gentlemen who feel any apprehension for the great interests of the country, they should consider that this large quantity of imported corn is not the result of a steady trade and the consequence of a regular demand, but that it arises from a sudden deficiency in the produce of our own harvest, and which made it necessary that these imports should be paid for in money. It cannot escape consideration that this large importation of wheat has led to the diminution of the amount of bullion in the Bank of England. If it be regarded only as a coincidence it will still be found to suggest to the minds of hon. Gentlemen many important and alarming considerations. I refer to this as bearing upon the question of the diminution of bullion in the coffers of the Bank. If this pressure be continued on the Bank, and if there is a continued diminution of the stock of bullion, attended with a consequent effect on prices, and if the value of com imported is proportionate to the drain on the Bank for gold, you will trace a coincidence not only deeply affecting the Bank and the portion of the trade I have just mentioned, but which must bring into, jeopardy the best interests of the mercantile classes and of the public. [Sir R. Peel asked from what period the right hon. Gentleman took the returns of the imports of foreign corn.] I thought that I had already stated the account to be made out from August 1838 to May 1839. The average duty paid on this large amount of foreign corn was 1s. 7d. the quarter, while the previous year the duty was 1l. 5s. the quarter.
I have been accustomed on occasions of this kind to refer to the returns respecting the savings banks. Nothing can show the practical good sense of the people of England more clearly than the conduct of the depositors in the savings banks, and their disregard during the late, period of excitement of 1357 the exertions made by ill-advised persons to produce a run on the savings banks. I cannot say whether this was done by Chartists or other persons. I know that some of the leaders of that class assert, that they would not lend themselves to such a proceeding; but others have done so, and have exerted themselves to the utmost to excite a run on the savings banks. In some places such a result has been produced for a short time. I relied, however, on the general good sense of the depositors and I felt confident that they were intelligent enough to know, that those who withdrew their deposits would be themselves the sufferers. This is the case now, because under the existing law it is much easier to withdraw money from the savings banks than to replace the amount. The mass of persons who are depositors in savings banks knew too well their interests and duty, to allow themselves to be led away by such excitements as I have described. I have before me the returns of the savings banks between the years 1834 and 1838. I will only take the two last years, and I find that in 1837 the amount of money received in the savings banks was 988,000l. while during the same period the amount paid out, exclusive of interest, was 810,000l. In the year 1838 the amount received was 1,495,000l.; while during the same year the amount drawn out, exclusive of interest, was 468,000l. This return proves how very slight has been the effect produced by the Chartist excitement. I also hold in my hand a return of the number of depositors, and the amount of their deposits, at the 20th of November, 1837, and the 20th of November, 1838, during which period there was much political excitement, and I find that the increase in the number of depositors during that period was 67,696, and the increase in the amount of money paid in wag 1,793,439l. After this I think the House may place perfect reliance on the assertion that the depositors in savings banks will not be easily led away by any outcry or political excitement that may prevail. I have thus given a statement, as accurately as I can, or the probable state of the financial year, and I shall proceed to the second branch of my subject; the postage duties. I thank the House for the patient attention it has paid to the preceding part of my statement, and I shall now apply myself to the resolution which is before the House, and which I am about to move. I may be allowed, in the first 1358 instance, to anticipate an objection, and to answer it, as far as I can, by anticipation. Sir, it may be said to me—"By your own showing, and on your own statement, you have a surplus on the ordinary income compared with the expenditure not exceeding 140,000l., while on the other hand, you have shown an absolute necessity of making good from the credit of the country a sum of no less than one million; how, then, are you justified in making a proposition that may affect so large a branch of the public revenue as that of the Post-office?" Sir, if my proposition were one to reduce the postage on letters to one uniform rate of a penny, without making good the deficiency of revenue which might ensue, I should expose myself not only to the censure of the House and of the public, but to the ridicule and scorn of men of common sense; but, Sir, this is not the proposition I am about to make, or which I should think myself justified in making. In all the communications which I have had with Gentlemen who feel interested in the subject, on both sides of the House, I have invariably maintained the same language to them; I have always asserted that I do not think it would become me to propose, and still less would it become the House to agree to a proposition, to make this great change effecting so large an amount of public revenue without, at the same time, and by the self same vote, pledging itself absolutely to make good the loss which may be sustained thereby, and I must say in justice to the various Gentlemen to whom I have stated this proposition, that I have not met one among them who is not prepared to sanction this view of the subject. Sir, I should never think of advocating any proposition like the present, unless coupled with this condition, and my resolution and my bill will include it—I repeat, Sir, and I state fairly to the House that I shall not think myself warranted in supporting the measure I now recommend to the House, unless it be accompanied by a distinct pledge that Parliament will undertake to make good the full amount of deficiency that may be occasioned by the alteration. The mode of proceeding which I shall propose is this: I shall propose a resolution, and if this is agreed to by the House, a bill shall be founded on it, and carried through both Houses of Parliament affirming the principle of making good the deficiency. By this course of proceeding, whatever the abstract merit of the proposition may be, I 1359 hope to satisfy the financial alarms and scruples of Gentlemen on both sides of the House. Had I proposed to effect the object merely by resolution, I might have satisfied some hon. Members, but on the other hand I have been met by hon. Gentlemen opposite with this objection, which I have already heard:—"Why proceed by resolution when, taking so serious a step? Do not let us be committed to the whole question by a single vote, but give us in a bill the opportunity of testing the measure in its various stages;" and I should be further required not to exclude from the deliberations on this very important measure, the other branch of the Legislature. I trust, Sir, that hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House will think that in proposing a bill I have thus acted in the most advisable as well as in the most fair and open manner. What then, Sir, is the purport of the resolution, and what will be the purport of the bill? The purport of the resolution is this: that it is expedient to reduce the postage on letters to one uniform rate of one penny, chargeable on every letter of a weight to be hereafter fixed by law, the parliamentary privilege of franking being abolished, and the official franking being placed under strict regulations: this House pledging itself, at the same time, to make good any deficiency of revenue which may be occasioned by such alteration in the rate of postage. I propose, if this resolution is assented to, to introduce it into the preamble of the bill which I shall afterwards present to Parliament. If the committee will not pledge itself to make good the deficiency, I shall abandon the bill altogether. And should any hon. Gentleman on either side of the House undertake the management of the question under such circumstances, he will find me as steadfastly opposed to the measure, without this pledge, as the House will find me a steadfast, earnest, and eager friend of the measure, if I am given the means of carrying it into effect in the only way in which it can be honestly carried out. Before I enter further into the details of the plan, the Committee will allow me to say, that if there were at the present moment a surplus income of three or four millions, I might be very much disposed to say, that this was an experiment which, without any pledge at all, it behoved the House to make; but with an expenditure and income in the condition which I have explained to the committee, it would be clearly impossible for 1360 any person who reasons justly, or who properly considers his political duties, to say that we are entitled to place at risk a million and a half of the revenue of the country without at the same time binding ourselves to make good any deficiency which may arise. I wish in a few words to call the attention of the Committee to the manner in which this proposition comes recommended to their adoption. In the course of last year a committee was moved for, and acquiesced in by me on the part of the Government, to consider the subject of postage. Of that committee I may observe, that there are points in which I differ from their report, and on which, indeed, let me add, they differ from themselves—but yet I must admit, that a committee which took more pains to inform itself, whose collection of evidence is more valuable, as giving the opinions of many of the most intelligent persons of all classes in the country, I never remember in my parliamentary experience. They sat for many days, they examined a great variety of persons, and though the proposition I have to make differs from that which they have suggested, I fully believe they would have sanctioned it. They made a recommendation to the House, not for the adoption of a uniform penny postage, but for a general twopenny postage to be collected under certain regulations, and they considered that this twopence postage could be introduced without any loss to the revenue. Now, Sir, from the best consideration which I have been able to give to the subject, comparing one proposition with the other, and, above all, considering the evidence taken before the committee, I find the whole of the evidence, the whole of the authorities conclusively bearing in favour of a penny postage in preference to a twopenny postage. And, Sir, I am quite sure that in making an experiment of this nature, it behoves this House to set to work, not only fairly, and frankly, but largely, in order to come to a satisfactory result; further, I conscientiously believe that the public run less risk of loss in adopting the proposition for a penny postage than it would if we introduced a twopenny postage. But there is evidence beyond that of the Committee, The report, the evidence, and the whole subject have been for some time under the consideration of another tribunal—the public at large. An infinite number of petitions have been presented on this 1361 subject from all parts of the country and from all classes, and I readily admit the weight and authority of petitions. If I add, at the same time, an opinion that many of these petitions would appear to bear the marks of being manufactured petitions, I do not say this for the purpose of varying the conclusion to which I have come, but for the purpose of putting that conclusion on other grounds than the mere number of petitions or the number of signatures. While, however, I state, that many of these petitions bear this suspicious impress, I find that the mass of them present the most extraordinary combination I ever saw of representations to one purpose from all classes, unswayed by any political motives whatever; from persons of all shades of opinion, political and religious, from clergymen of the Established Church, from all classes of Protestant Dissenters, from the clergymen of Scotland, from the commercial and trading communities in all parts of the kingdom. It must, however, be remembered, that while the object of all these petitions is simply a reduction of taxation, an object for which all classes are ready to apply, the proposition now before the Committee is the reduction of the postage charges to a low uniform rate, but upon the express condition that any deficiency occasioned by this change shall be made up by the imposition of some other tax. The petitioners have therefore to consider, that it is not merely to carry their petitions into effect that I move this resolution, but to do it coupled with the condition of an additional tax, sufficient to make good the future deficiency. This, therefore, is the way in which this subject presents itself to the Committee. I must state to the Committee, and more especially after the petition which has been just presented by the noble Lord opposite, from the paper manufacturers of Lancashire, that I shall not ask the Committee at present to commit itself to any matters of detail. I ask hon. Members to commit themselves to the question of an uniform rate of postage of one penny at and under a weight hereafter to be fixed. I do not ask them to commit themselves to the question of stamped covers, or prepayments. I have my own opinion on these points, but they are matters which it is impossible to expect hon. Gentlemen to understand in the present state of the proceeding on which it would be premature to express an opinion or still less to commit individuals or Parliament. I will take, as an instance, the petition from the paper 1362 manufacturers to which I have alluded. If it were to go forth to the public to-morrow morning that Government had proposed and the Committee had adopted the plan of Mr. Rowland Hill, the necessary result would be to spread a conviction abroad, that as a stamped cover was absolutely to be used in all cases, which stamped covers were to be made by one single manufacturer, alarm would be felt lest a monopoly would be thereby created, to the serious detriment of the other members of a most useful and important trade. The sense of injustice excited by this would necessarily be extreme. I therefore do not call upon the Committee either to affirm or to negative any such proposition at the present. I ask them simply to affirm the adoption of an uniform penny postage and taxation of that postage by weight. Neither do I ask you to pledge yourself to the pre-payment of letters, for I am of opinion, that at all events there should be an option of putting letters into the post without a stamp. It may be asked why the Government comes to the House for any resolution at all or for any bill at all on the subject, and it will possibly be suggested from the other side of the House that the object in making a legislative proceeding of it is to gain increased popularity by that mode of proceeding, being aware as we are that the change proposed is a very popular one. But this suggestion would be ill-founded. We might have effected many of the objects we have in view without a resolution of the House, on any legislative proceeding whatever; but we have come to the House on very different grounds. In the first place, if the resolution be affirmed, and the bill has to be prepared, it will here after require very great care and complicated arrangements to carry the plan into practical effect. It may involve considerable expense and considerable responsibility on the part of Government; it may disturb existing trades, such as the paper trade, and the existing arrangements, such as the conveyance of mails, the organization of many post-offices, &c. I, therefore, cannot think that Government would have been warranted in taking this step of its own authority, without the knowledge and the approval of Parliament. The step, indeed, is so important a one that even if we had a surplus revenue, we should not feel warranted in proceeding without the sanction of Parliament, though it might be competent in us to do so by law. It would have been indecorous, it would have been 1363 improper in the highest degree, it would have been indefensible, had the Government proceeded without coming for authority to Parliament. Even if we had a surplus revenue of five millions, we ought to have appealed to Parliament, but under the existing circumstances, it would have been altogether unjustifiable on our parts to have acted merely upon our own authority. Such, Sir, are the reasons which induce us to introduce the present measure. I will now proceed to state what are the powers which we ask for by the bill. We shall want in addition to the power the Treasury already possesses, a power, not only of reducing but a power of increasing the rate of postage, a power absolutely necessary to carry out the plan. At the present time there are Penny-post-offices established in various parts of the country, the regulations of which are analogous to those of the twopenny post in London, consequently, packets of four ounces in weight are conveyed at the rate of a penny within those districts. Now, we cannot obviously have a uniform rate of po tage charged by weight without a power of increasing the rate of postage in these particular cases. To have a uniform rate we must reduce the weight to be carried in these districts to the scale which may generally be fixed under the proposed plan. I may remark here that there appears to exist in many quarters an erroneous idea that in the case of these penny postages the proposed penny postage will be continued in addition to the new rates; this is a misconception. The new postage will be distinctly and simply a penny postage by weight. I also require for the Treasury, a power of taking the postage by anticipation, and a power of allowing such postage to be taken by means of stamped covers; and I also require the authority of rating the postage according to weight, in place of rating it according to the single or double sheet. Such are the powers which we want under this bill; but inasmuch as they are very large discretionary powers, though we have many of them at our disposal already by law, I shall propose a clause in the bill rendering it necessary that these powers shall be exercised by Treasury warrants only, that copies of these warrants shall be laid on the Table of the House, and moreover, that these warrants shall only stand good till the end of next Session, so as to render legislation necessary in the course of that Session if this reduction should be continued. We 1364 only ask the power of making these changes on our own authority during the recess. Such, Sir, is the object of the bill which I mean to introduce. If the proposed revenue is to be collected through the medium of stamps, we must also take the power of issuing these stamps, of paying for these stamps, and of making the stamp revenue available for post-office purposes. The Committee may expect me to state what amount of loss may be likely to arise from this change. I shall not go into much detail on this point, because it must be at the best mere matter of conjecture, and not at all open to demonstration. Gentlemen may assume that this or that amount of correspondence will be created, but I believe that the ingenuity of no man can predicate with any degree of closeness what the future increase of letters will be. I am bound to say that my own anticipation is, that at the outset the loss will be very considerable indeed. I am of course, anxious that this resolution should be carried, but I cannot disguise from the House or the public the fact that in my belief the loss at the outset will be very great. I am the more bound to declare this opinion, because, if I did not now avow it, and if hereafter the loss does turn out to be considerable, and the House and the public should, therefore, be called upon to pay an equivalent to supply this deficiency the House might say, that I had given them no warning, that I had deluded them into a vote, and had paltered with the truth. But be the loss greater or smaller by the proposition before the Committee, this House will if it agrees to my resolution become bound to make it good. It has been suggested to me that on a future occasion it may be difficult to prevail on the House to fulfil its obligations. It is said, that the House will forget its resolution passed this Session, if hereafter called upon to make good a large deficiency; but this is a suggestion which I do not for a moment give ear to. I fully believe that those who support the present motion will act honestly, and will redeem the pledge which they are now called upon to give. If any Gentleman is not disposed to do so, let him now propose to expunge the latter part of the resolution, and simply vote for the repeal of the present postage charges. If they vote for the whole resolution, they will desert their duty to the House, to the public, and their own honour as gentlemen, if they do not hereafter sanction 1365 a new tax should it be rendered necessary by a deficiency. There is another point on which I have to say a few words, as to the abolition of the franking privilege. Undoubtedly we may lose the opportunity now and then, of obliging a friend, but on any other grounds, I believe, there is no Member of the House who will not be ready to abandon his privilege. As to any notion that hon. Gentlemen should retain their privilege under a penny postage, they must have a more intense appreciation of the value of money and a greater disregard for the value of time, than I can conceive, if they insist on it. As to official franking, my idea is, that with some few exceptions, which maybe considered hereafter, the business of the various departments ought to be conducted on the principle that each shall pay its own postage. I am aware that it may be said this will practically amount to taking money out of one pocket and putting it into another, but I think that it will tend greatly to diminish the amount of postage paid in these offices, if each is called upon to include that postage in its own contingencies. I have, in conclusion, only to add my thanks for the attention which the Committee has given to my statement on these important subjects, and to assure the Committee that it is the fixed determination of Government if the bill is sanctioned, to give it the fullest effect, and to take care in applying its provisions that the steps taken shall be carefully considered and matured. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the following resolution:—That it is expedient to reduce the postage on letters to one uniform rate of a penny postage, according to a certain amount of weight to be determined—that the Parliamentary privilege of franking should be abolished—and that official franking be strictly limited — the House pledging itself to make good any deficiency that may occur in the revenue from such reduction of the postage.
§ Mr. Goulburn
rose under circumstances of no inconsiderable difficulty, from the course which his right hon. Friend had thought it proper to pursue, in bringing forward upon a resolution which involved a great change in one branch of the finances of the country, the general financial statement of the year. If he were to address himself entirely to the resolution, he should certainly inform himself better as to what was the usual practice of the House, and, what, under ordinary circum- 1366 stances, was more convenient for the purposes of discussion. The question which it involved was one of sufficient importance, in his opinion, to justify its having been made the subject of a separate discussion altogether, instead of its being made the medium through which to present to Parliament and the country the whole financial statement of the year—a financial statement which, if taken by itself, afforded most ample grounds for discussion, and required, more than the resolution which had been submitted to them, the earnest consideration of the House. He felt great difficulty, therefore, without any particular knowledge of the details, in entering into a discussion of this important subject. With one part of it especially he felt he had a very irksome duty to discharge; in doing which he feared he should test the patience of the House, inasmuch as he should be called upon to repeat principles and opinions which he had year after year inculcated upon the Government, hitherto without any effect, but, by the continued repetition of which, he trusted they would be induced so far to concur with him as to take a bold view of the finances of the country, in order that they might see what was the general effect of the system upon which they were acting; not to consider the question of finance as a mere insulated question applied to the circumstances of the moment, but to see what would be the necessary consequence of the course they were pursuing if persisted in, and at least express their opinion, that that course ought to be abandoned. In the few observations he had to address to the House, he should follow as nearly as possible the order in which his right hon. Friend introduced the subject to their notice. He would begin, therefore, with that part of it which applied to the financial situation of the country at the present moment, which pointed out to them what was the expenditure and what the receipt, what that expenditure and receipt were to be in the year to come, and by what means it was proposed to equalize them. Before he did so, he could not but again refer to the inconvenience which he felt to result from having to enter at all into a statement upon a resolution which had really no reference whatever to the subject. He should have been much better pleased if he had to deal with a vote in a committee of ways and means for the Exchequer 1367 Bills with which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to make up his deficiency. That would have been in his mind the proper vote to have taken upon a question of this nature, as affording an opportunity of entering into an ample discussion upon the policy of the right hon. Gentleman, which the present resolution barely afforded them. His right hon. Friend began his speech by saying, that whereas in former years it had been the custom of the House of Commons to be very vigilant of the expenditure of the public money, to call upon the Officers of the Crown for strict accounts of the reductions which had been effected in every branch of the public service; and whereas that state of things was entirely changed, the House of Commons being foremost in urging upon the Government the necessity of increased establishments, and the abandonment of economy, it now became the duty of the Government, not as formerly to resist economy, but to resist an undue extravagance upon the part of Parliament. He confessed he had seen no such tendency to extravagance on the part of Parliament. If it even did exist, was it not the duty of the Government, in taking great and comprehensive views of public affairs, to oppose itself to such a system, just as it would be their duty to oppose if urged upon them, an undue system of parsimony. But if the House had shown a disposition to increase our naval and military establishments, had there been no just reason why they should have entertained the desire? Did they not find, in the speech of his right hon. Friend, good grounds for supposing that if the establishments of the country had been kept in a state of greater vigour and efficiency, we might have been saved a great portion of that accumulated expenditure referred to by the right hon. Gentleman? They were now called upon to provide for the expenditure which had been caused by the state of Canada. He would not call it enormous, because he regarded the expenditure as a subordinate question when the honour of the country required our dominions to be adequately maintained; but he would say, that when the right hon. Gentleman complained of the desire of the House to increase our establishments, he should have recollected, that if there had been, in the case of Canada, an early application of our military resources—if when they had been told, that in the 1368 ensuing winter there would be a rebellion in that country, they had sent out a force sufficient to control that rebellion, that House would not now be called upon to vote so large a sum of money to meet the expenses which had been incurred in the year 1838. The expenditure attending such a course would not have been more than one-fourth of the present amount, and would have saved the country about 1,500,000l., to which it was now subjected for the maintenance of troops and that irregular force which, under the name of militia and volunteers, it had been necessary to call into action in Canada. It was stated by Lord Durham, in his report, that irregular soldiers cost three times as much as regular soldiers. Bearing all these things in mind, he must say, that it was very extraordinary and unwise on the part of the Government, who declared, that they were under the obligation of sending forces to these provinces, to complain of suggestions upon which they subsequently acted, and ought to have acted originally. The right hon. Gentleman went next through the several items of expenditure and receipt as estimated by himself in former years, and compared them with the actual expenditure and receipt of the present year. Upon that part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, it was not necessary that he should make much observation. He did not pretend to say that there was anything in his right hon. Friend's calculations which could justly subject him to blame or censure. The views of those who furnished him with the details of the different branches of finance appeared, as nearly as possible, to have been adequately realised. He had only to regret that the result of the expenditure and receipt was the deficiency which had been stated by the right hon. Gentleman to the House. There was one observation of his right hon. Friend to which he must beg leave to call the attention of the House, as it bore forcibly upon another part of the question. Alluding to the increased expenditure arising under the army and navy, and other regular services of the year, his right hon. Friend complained that there was a disposition on the part of the House and the country generally, to incur debt without reflection as to the means by which it was afterwards to be paid. He knew very well that such a disposition did exist. It was one which was not only common to popular bodies, 1369 but to individuals whom those bodies represented; but he must say, that in proportion as such a feeling prevailed, in proportion as they conceived it to be dangerous to the interests of the country, in proportion was it the duty of the Government and of the Treasury to set themselves against such a feeling, and to take care, when entering into debt on behalf of the country, that means would be forthcoming to pay off that debt. It was with considerable surprise he had heard the right hon. Gentleman say, that in the ensuing year they would have a surplus of 130,000l. of receipt as compared with the expenditure, which surplus when set against the Canadian expenditure, left a deficit of the calculated revenue of the year into which they were entering of not less than 860,000l. or 870,000l. His right hon. Friend then said, that this was a state of things which he was far from considering satisfactory, in which he felt assured every Member of the House of Commons would agree with the right hon. Gentleman. His right hon. Friend added that if this were a permanent diminution of the resources, if he had any reason to apprehend that this deficiency was likely to continue, or that he should again have to present a deficiency to the House in the year 1840, he should then boldly say to Parliament, you must devise means of defraying this expenditure, and not again borrow money for the purpose of making up the difference. But he did not see what right his right hon. Friend had to assume that it was not a permanent diminution of expenditure. What said his right hon. Friend in his speech of the 18th of May last year? He said, that the deficiency was simply of the amount of 200,000l. odd; whereas by the accounts laid upon the Table it turned out to be 441,000l. What was his right hon. Friend's statement:—I trust," said he, "that the Committee will see that there is no improper risk in adopting the course which Mr. Canning pursued in 1827, but that on the contrary they will think I should heading improperly towards the House if, in order to meet a temporary evil, I were to ask either the House or the country to submit to the permanent imposition of any new tax.The deficiency of 1836 was stated to be temporary, but being only small, the right hon. Gentleman did not feel himself justified in proposing a diminution tax. The same argument had been made use of in 1370 1837, when the deficiency instead of being 441,000l. was 726,000l. The same argument had been used for adding to the debt instead of raising money to pay the debt in 1838. It was repeated in 1839. Still were they told that they had no right to anticipate any permanent deficiency—that they should go on for another year without any effort to equalize the expenditure and receipt—that, in fact, they should proceed upon the spendthrift principle. The right hon. Gentleman said, they were to have a surplus of 200,000l. upon the year to come, assuming that Canada would not require the same degree of expenditure. What reasonable ground was there for anticipating that that 200,000l. would not be dealt with like the same sum in 1836 according to the popular but destructive doctrine of raising; the amount by the issue of Exchequer bills, rather than by a tax. He must, therefore, repeat what he had said before, and call upon the House to consider in good earnest the real financial state of the country. He knew the question to be an irksome one, but in the present state of political opinion he regarded it as a question of peculiar power, strength, and influence, and one with which the happiness of the country was intimately connected. If they went back to the year 1831, without going into large calculations, but taking a view of those things which were most obvious, they would find that in that year the charge of our public unfunded debt amounted to nearly 28,400,000l., while in 1839 it amounted to 1,000,000l. more, and that after a ten years' continued peace. So that there had been an increase of a million of annual charge from 1831 to 1839. To be sure, there had been an addition of 700,000l. on account of slavery; but had there been no sets-off? Had there been no falling-in of the debt? Had there not been a considerable portion of funded debt from the bank's diminution of charge amounting to 100,000l. Had the Government not applied, or attempted or professed to apply, a surplus revenue of about 9,000,000l.? Yet notwithstanding this falling-in to the revenue of the country, and notwithstanding this surplus, there was from year to year an augmenta-of 1,000,000l. of interest on the funded and unfunded debt of the country as compared with 1831. He admitted that the surplus revenue had had some effect upon the reduction of debt; and why? Be- 1371 cause it appeared from accounts before the House that, instead of applying it bonâ fide to the reduction of the debt, as occasions offered, it was applied to buying up the deficiency bills, coming in aid of the Consolidated Fund, in diminution of the real surplus, to the extent necessary to supply the deficiency. Was it not natural, when he saw this annual increase of the charge of debt in a period of peace and prosperity, that he should again call upon the House to look the question in the face, and not be discouraged by their silent acquiescence in the system under which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had for three years administered the revenue of the country? But the right hon. Gentleman said, he meant to supply the deficiency by an augmented issue of Exchequer Bills. The right hon. Gentleman had no doubt of the propriety of thus supplying the deficiency of revenue. It was true, indeed, he had of late, after repeated admonitions and suggestions, in the course of the last years, made a considerable reduction of the unfunded debt, by means partly of the surplus which had occurred in one year, and partly by the application of the money of the savings' banks. On the question of the application of the money from the savings' banks to the purchase of Exchequer bills, he, on this occasion, should say nothing, because the discussion of minor points was calculated to divert attention from the essential points—namely, the consequences of the present perilous state of things. If the House could have the courage lo maintain a constant surplus revenue, there would then be a hope, however small, of making some impression upon the public debt of the country. The right hon. Gentleman had said,—If I had a surplus, I could deal with the Post-Office experiment, and could attempt other improvements, which I am afraid to hazard, lest I should increase the annual expenditure.If we had but maintained a surplus, however small, and it had uniformly continued, our expenditure would have stood more on a par with our receipts, or instead of an increased charge, compared with antecedent years, going on in regular progression, we should have been able to deal with different branches of our finance, which required regulation and improvement. But the effect of this continual 1372 application would be to accelerate the period at which we ought to be able to effect a great reduction of our annual charge by a further reduction on the debt. In the year to come, a period would arrive when we should be at liberty to deal with no less than 160,000,000 of debt, and effect an annual saving of 700,000l. The great object was, to maintain a surplus revenue, and apply that surplus to the reduction of the debt. But if we went on annually increasing the debt, checking the prosperity of the country, and losing the advantages which peace afforded, it not only involved an augmentation of debt, but deprived us of that source of public relief which resulted from a reduction of the interest on the debt already incurred. Next year a great portion of the public debt would be open to be dealt with by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but if he went on encumbering himself with additional Exchequer-bills—if, in the conduct of this great operation, which was always hazardous and dangerous, he encumbered himself with a mass of unfunded debt, from year to year, he would take the most effectual means of debarring the country from that legitimate advantage which would result from the reduction of the charges under which it laboured. And such reduction of charge would not be of a fluctuating nature, varying from year to year, but would be of a permanent benefit to the country, and would afford it the means, at a future time of danger and difficulty, of extricating itself from financial pressure. The course which the right hon. Gentleman was now pursuing tended to deprive the country of those great advantages which he thought it might enjoy. He had thus briefly stated his views of the finances of the country, and his objections to the course pursuing by the right hon. Gentleman. It might be fit, when, at a future day, the right hon. Gentleman submitted to the House, the mode in which he proposed to carry into effect his plan for supplying the deficiency, that the subject should be more fully entered into. It embraced a large extent, and ought to be discussed in many points of view, and the House and the country must discuss it fully, unless they were prepared to subscribe at once to the principle which had been laid down this night, and which had been acted upon for three years. He would now make a few observations upon that resolution which was the more 1373 immediate subject of this night's discussion—the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman to deal with the Post-Office, and, by a change in the whole mode of carrying on that department, to effect a considerable improvement in the transmission of letters, and to give great facility and relief to every class of persons. He admitted, with the right hon. Gentleman, that under the circumstances, the placing in hazard a revenue of 1,500,000l. was no trifling consideration. Though it was connected with the prospect of ultimately increasing the wealth and prosperity of the country, yet this was a certain revenue, free from doubt and fluctuation, and yielded an annual sum of 1,500,000l. If the right hon. Gentleman had had the surplus revenue which he had recommended, he should have concurred in the propriety of an immediate change in this department, and after reading the report which the committee had made to the House, he should be disposed to say, if the experiment be made at all, it would be wise to make it to the extent which the right hon. Gentleman proposed, and not to adopt the suggestion of the committee. After reading the evidence, he admitted that it was with no little surprise he found the committee proposing a postage of twopence, instead of one penny; for the whole tendency of the evidence went to show, that a postage of two-pence would fail, but a penny might succeed. He would not say, after all that had been stated in the evidence, that the public would be disappointed in its expectations; but he felt assured that there was a better chance of success by the one-penny postage, than by adopting the suggestion of the committee. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman, that if the experiment be adopted at all, it must be general, that you cannot deal with such an experiment partially, applying one system to one district, and one to another. So far as regarded the measure of the right hon. Gentleman, he was prepared to give his concurrence. But there was another very different and most important consideration. If he understood the course which the right hon. Gentleman meant to pursue, it was to pledge the House by the resolution that a penny postage should be introduced, and that Parliament would make good any deficiency which the adoption of the measure might cause in the revenue; and the right hon. 1374 Gentleman had thought it necessary to apologise to the House for proceeding by bill. No such excuse, however, appeared to him to be necessary. On the contrary, he should have been surprised if the right hon. Gentleman had pursued any other course. That the Chancellor of the Exchequer, being about to risk 1,500,000l. of revenue, should think it necessary to apologise for proceeding by bill, appeared one of the most unnecessary as well as extraordinary apologies ever offered to Parliament. The proceeding of the right hon. Gentleman appeared to be this:—To pledge the House by the resolution to provide for any loss that might arise from the reduction of the postage, and in the bill he was to state broadly and distinctly, in the preamble, the nature of the pledge; and that there was to be an enactment, putting it in the power of the Treasury to give effect to the plan in the manner they thought proper. If there was any course of proceeding more than another open to objection, it was this. He would tell the right hon. Gentleman what would be the result. At the end of the Session he would put his machinery in motion; letters would pay the penny postage, and at the end of the year there would be a deficiency of from 500,000l. to 1,000,000l., which Parliament would be called upon to supply. The right hon. Gentleman would come down and say, that there had been a deficiency of 1,000,000l. of revenue through the adoption of his plan, and would call upon the House with all his energy and eloquence to give him a tax to supply that deficiency. The answer would be this—"The people are oppressed with taxation; try a little longer before you impose a new tax;" and the right hon. Gentleman would find his own argument on the present occasion turned against him. The hon. Member for Kilkenny would get up and say, "Unless I could be assured that there would be a permanent deficiency of revenue, I should not be justified in voting in favour of a new tax; but, as I consider the deficiency to be only temporary, I call upon you to supply the deficiency of revenue, occasioned by the reduction of postage, by an issue of Exchequer Bills." This argument might be brought with tenfold force against the application of the right hon. Gentleman, that he had kept up the revenue of three consecutive years by the same means. The right hon. Gentleman 1375 proposed in his bill, to give the Treasury power to carry the plan into effect; but the House ought to see the plan well digested in the bill, and the powers it proposed to give. The right hon. Gentleman relied on the pledge of the House of Commons; but pledges of this nature were broken by expediency, and how could he bind their successors in the House? When the right hon. Gentleman talked of laying the Members of the House under an honourable obligation, he would see a different set of faces when the matter was brought under discussion. He spoke of appealing to the honour of Gentlemen; but the new Member for Kilkenny might say, "It may be very well for my predecessor to bind himself, but he connot bind me;" and a resolution passed by one House of Commons might not be considered binding on another. Although he did not oppose the resolution, he reserved to himself the liberty of resisting any part of the proceeding, if, on further examination, he should see reason to think it was objectionable, and that it did not provide a mode by which a provision was made against a deficiency of the revenue occasioned by this change in the Post-office. He entreated and implored the House to weigh the situation in which it would place the country, if, instead of providing for the expenditure of the country out of the annual revenue, it continued for another year to have recourse to the practice of issuing Exchequer Bills instead of endeavouring to relieve taxation, and carrying into effect the prudent councils of the greatest nation in the world.
§ Mr. Hume
had listened with very great attention to the observations which had just been made, and as he considered that the subject which they were discussing was of very great importance, he should address a few words to the House. He meant to speak first to the question which had been the last submitted to them, that which related to the Post-office, and which he thought ought to be regarded as separated from the question of revenue. It was, indeed, a very bold, he might say a very venturous act, to propose a change so important as that by which one million and a half of revenue was put at risk; but then the question was one of paramount importance. It was of the greatest importance to all classes in the country, and particularly to the poorer and the middle classes, much more, in his opinion, than to the 1376 rich; and thinking this, he said, he was sure that, after all, the risk to be encountered would not be found to exceed one half or one third that which the right hon. Gentleman had mentioned. He was warranted in saying this when they considered that the effect of decreasing charges was to increase the revenue; and he was confirmed in it by hearing what had taken place in France from a similar reduction. There was no instance in which postage had been reduced, in which there had not been an increase of postage. When, too, he saw that from 15,000 to 20,000 letters were sent every day by Members of both Houses of Parliament, he was sure that such letters being charged in future, must help much to make up the deficiency which was expected to take place. He calculated there would be a deficiency the first year; he believed there would be a deficiency the second year; but when the system came fairly into operation towards the end of the second year, he did not believe that the deficiency would be greater than what Mr. Hill had estimated it at. He thought the experiment a most important one; and he thought, also, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was fairly warranted in making that experiment, and in thus doing what he had been called upon to do by the general desire of the country. He had no hesitation in saying, that the deficiency, whatever it might be, would be made good by the House of Commons. He agreed, however, with the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that taking a pledge from that House was altogether unnecessary. He had seen Acts of Parliament, which pledged the application of sums in a particular manner, and yet afterwards he had known of specious pretences being found for applying a surplus otherwise than it was originally intended. He doubted then very much if the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer did any good by asking the House to pledge itself, particularly when he could point out Acts of Parliament much more solemn than mere resolutions, which could not, and did not bind future Parliaments. He had the greatest confidence in the good sense of the House—he was sure it would sustain the loss willingly, if, after the experiment had been fairly made, and fully worked out, it should still prove deficient in producing a revenue. It was a bold experiment, and there was a much better chance of its succeeding, because it was a bold 1377 one. He confessed, that he himself was very sanguine as to the results, if the experiment were fairly tried. He tendered to the Chancellor of the Exchequer his cordial and his best assistance in supplying the means, whenever he found that there was a deficiency, and he was sure that the House would aid in such a proposition. The measure could not but be productive of the most important results, and, whatever might be the loss, the Government, he was sure, would find the country quite willing to supply the deficiency. He must candidly, however, tell the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he did not think that the fitting course which he ought to pursue should be, to impose taxes to make up the expected deficiency. Let them compare, for instance, the expenses of the army and navy in 1835 and last year. Last year he thought the expenses of army and navy were 16,250,000l., and by the finance report it appeared, that the expenses of the army and navy, in 1835, were 13,800,000l. Might they not then hope, that the state of circumstances would be such as to enable them to make a reduction more than equal to the expected deficiency in the amount of the Post-office revenue? Had they not a right to expect that the 16,000,000l. for army and navy, would be brought down to 13,000,000l.? He hoped the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer would look with confidence and steadiness at the situation in which they were placed. He said this much with regard to the Post-office, and he now had to turn to another and very important subject. Upon that subject he confessed that he agreed with what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman who had last spoken. He did not think that the slate of their finances was at all satisfactory. He was not willing, at that moment, to enter very fully into this subject. He saw the situation in which they were placed, and yet it was a ground upon which he had felt the deepest anxiety for a considerable time. He had been anxious to know, from the early part of the Session, at what time the budget would be brought forward, and it might be satisfactory to the House to know on what grounds his anxiety rested. He found, from a paper that he held in his hand, that on no occasion but one, since 1825, had the budget been brought forward so late as the month of July. In 1825, it was brought forward on the 25th March, in 1378 1826, on the 13th March, in 1827 on the 1st June; and the right hon. Gentleman, opposite afforded the only example, in 1828, of bringing it forward six days later than the present. In 1829, it was brought forward on the 8th May; in 1831, on the 11th of February; in 1832, on the 27th February; in 1835, on the 5th of April; in 1836 on the 6th of May, and the last budget was brought forward on the 18th of June. He could see no reason for the present being brought forward at so late a period. It was but fair in him to confess that the charge in the financial year to which he had been a party, had not produced those results which he had anticipated from it. He had anticipated, that the financial statement would always be made before the estimates were voted; and it was now, with the greatest regret, that he saw they had succeeded so ill in this respect. He was of opinion that they ought to retrace their steps, and not allow the financial statement to pass beyond April at the latest. Nothing could be of more importance, and yet, at that period of the year, it was not possible to have attention directed to it; for instance, let them look at the present occasion, when there was scarcely a sufficient number present to form a House; and yet there was no question so important as the financial statement. He confessed he looked with great anxiety to the present financial condition of the Government, since the Chancellor of the Exchequer had increased the amount of the Exchequer Bills afloat by 1,000,000l. in the last year. He had not brought forward this question last Session, because he was in hopes that, early in the present Session, they might have had a private inquiry upstairs, and then have come down to the House with facts and details, collected and arranged. But the Government had proposed nothing of the sort, and he blamed himself now for the deference which he had shewn to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, thinking, as he had clone, that a motion of this nature had better originate with, than be forced upon the Government; and more especially did he blame himself, when he found that measures had been taken not to make a House on Tuesday last. When Thursdays were given up to the Government, he thought he had a just right to complain, when he found that no member or officer of the Government was present on Tuesday last, to assist in making 1379 a House for the discussion of his motion on the Bank of England. He must then take that opportunity of saying, that he looked with the greatest alarm to the condition in which the country was placed, and especially as the right hon. Gentleman was adding to the amount of the Exchequer bills, and thus endangering the credit of the country. They saw that there was a deficiency, and yet he asked the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, what authority had he for saying that the estimates would be diminished next year? What grounds had he for giving in that diminution, when he said that the estimates of last year were increased, and not diminished? What right had he to prepare for this diminution when the Government had settled nothing in Canada? If the Government had given Canada a representative government, he was confident that in two months the expense of their military establishments there might be saved. When, however, he saw the determination of the Government to leave Canada in its present state till 1842, there could be no hope of any reduction in our military establishment, in order to meet the expected deficiency in the Post-office branch of the revenue. What had they seen a few days ago? Were not exchequer bills at a discount? [No, no.] Well, he had been told so. Had they not, at-this very moment, the whole pressure of the banking interest resting on the Bank of England? And what was the situation of the Bank? By the last average returns of three months, which he was obliged to take as the right hon. Gentleman would not give him the weekly returns, the balance of bullion in the Bank amounted in round numbers to but 4,500,000. He would ask the House whether, with such a pressure of paper as existed at this moment, it was safe to leave matters in their present situation. No country banker kept any stock of bullion; all the bankers said it was no business of theirs, as the notes of the Bank were a legal tender. He would tell the House, that the exchanges were still against us ever since August last, except at the end of November, and the consequence was, that the 9,000,000l. of gold in the Bank coffers had diminished, as he really believed, to 3,000,000l. [No, no] Why, had they not the account from day to day, in order that they might fully understand their exact situation? He pro- 1380 tested against the condition in which the country was left, and which it was proposed to permit it to remain by the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer—depending so much upon the Bank of England. Let him, however, state a single fact, and with that he should close his observations on this point. He had a paper in his hand, which might be found useful in advising them of the situation in which they were placed. Gentlemen, perhaps, were not aware, that to pay the dividends which became payable to-morrow, Government had not one farthing. That might excite a little surprise; but for twelve years past they had never been able to pay them. It followed as a matter of course, that the Bank made advances on the days on which the dividends were to be paid. He had returns in his hand on this point from 1797, and these papers showed that there ought not to be this meddling with the Bank of England. No Government ought to depend upon advances from a private establishment. By the system established in France, not a shilling was advanced to the Government. In the Bank of France, there remained 10,000,000l. of bullion surplus belonging to the Government. There were 169,000,000 of francs so placed. They took no advances from the Bank, and they paid every thing connected with the debt. If that Bank failed as regarded its own resources, the public resources would be untouched. On the 5th of July, the issue of Exchequer Bills to meet the demands was, 5,172,000l. To-morrow the Bank must make a loan, and it should do this with only three or four millions in gold. What a prospect there was then before them, with the exchanges against them ! It was not to the credit of the English Government that they should be dependent upon any private body whatever. If the Government were not able to pay its dividends on the 6th, it was in the situation of being refused aid by the Bank; and then let them look to what might be the consequences if such an event took place. Was it safe for them to allow such a plan to proceed? If it were the proper time for doing so, he could show such strong reasons, and enter into such striking details, as must convince the House that the credit and the honour of the country ought not any longer to be allowed to rest on a rotten reed.—[An hon. Member: "Sir John Rae Reid."] Let them look to the 1381 evidence of Mr. Baring, as to what took place in 1825. Let them reflect, too, on what had been said by Mr. Huskisson, and which he himself had heard—namely, that they were within twenty-four hours of being within a state of barter. This was a pretty state for England ! They did not want money—capital was overflowing amongst them, and men were seeking for channels in which it might be employed. With such capabilities, the condition of the country ought not to be risked. Under these circumstances, he protested against the plan which the right hon. Gentleman proposed. He thought, that it was fraught with danger, and, in a full discussion on the matter, he would be able to prove that half the present misery of the industrious and working classes, was produced by the conduct of the Government. The misconduct and mismanagement of the finances by the Government and by the Bank, were fraught with the very greatest mischief. He did, then, entreat the Government, and he entreated especially the right hon. Gentleman, to let the finances of the country be placed in a proper situation, and no longer to trust them in the hands of those who, however competent to manage their own affairs and take care of their own interests, were certainly incompetent to conduct the affairs of the country. It was placing the property of every man in a most dangerous and critical situation, and leading them to ruin, from which in too many cases, they could never recover. The right hon. Gentleman had shown, that our exports had increased in a degree beyond anything that could have been imagined; but that increase only showed the effects of speculation, and he would ask the right hon. Gentleman to look back to 1836, and then say, whether he could expect in this year the same amount of revenue from this source. It would be vain to expect that the increase would continue. It was an increase astonishing in its amount, being no less, as he understood, than 30 per cent.; but it only showed what might be expected when speculation was great, and when it was encouraged by the Government. But the right hon. Gentleman would not be doing himself justice, if he trusted to a continuance of that increase. Let him look at Manchester, Preston, and other great manufacturing towns, where the mills were only working four days in the week, and he would then acknowledge, that the increase 1382 was one which could not be depended upon for the current year. He objected also to the system adopted by the right hon. Gentleman, of adding to the funded debt of the country without the knowledge or sanction of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman had, within the three last years, added 3,000,000l. to the three per cents., without the consent of Parliament. Was it fit that the Government of this country should thus traffic in the money-market—that they should be buying Exchequer bills one day and selling them the next; and all this, too, without the knowledge of the House? It was true, that the hon. Gentleman had reduced the amount of Exchequer bills, and he willingly allowed that they were well out of the market; but what was the process adopted to effect this object? The money was taken out of the savings' banks, and the amount added to the funded debt of the country, without either the knowledge of the country or of Parliament. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman, whether within the last month, a considerable amount of three per cents., had not been sold out to buy Exchequer bills in order to carry on public works which had been ordered by that House? This trafficking in the money market was unworthy of the Government, and he hoped would be discontinued. He had, he trusted, stated enough to show the House, that they could not go on as they had been going; and he could not but deprecate any proceeding which would injure the credit of the country. The credit of this country stood so high in the eyes of Europe, and deservedly so, that he trusted nothing would be done to lower it in the estimation of the world; and he should consider the right hon. Gentleman extremely culpable, if he should run the same risks as he had done in 1837, when he had allowed Exchequer bills to come almost to a discount. He would not then enter on the question relative to the Bank, but at the proper time he should be able to prove, that it was impossible to allow matters to go on as they had been doing. A remedy must be found. He had now stated his satisfaction with one part of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, and his dissatisfaction with another part, and he should have conceived that he had been wanting in his duty, if he had not protested against that part of the right hon. Gentleman's propositions which he had last alluded to.
§ Mr. Wallace
did not mean to follow his hon. Friend in the opinions he had expressed. He wished to say a few words to them, as Chairman of the Committee on postage. In the first place, he begged to thank the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for having brought forward this question with perfect fairness towards all parties. It was quite true, that the report of the Committee was in favour of the twopenny rate, and he hoped that he might be excused when he briefly stated, why the Committee came to that resolution, although most sensible that the greater portion of the evidence was given in favour of the penny rate. They were restrained by the orders they had received, and they were obliged to keep within the view most strictly for which they had been appointed. The Members of the Committee voted in favour of an uniform rate. As Chairman of that Committee he had never been called upon to give but one vote, and the majority of the Committee were of opinion, that a twopenny rate of postage would be the best they could hope to attain. As to the pledge which the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked them to give, he had not experience enough in that House to decide whether that would be satisfactory or not; but looking at the class of petitioners who came before the House to require the grant of this boon of an universal penny post, he was sure that so numerous and respectable a class would never send representatives to that House who would not be ready to vindicate the pledge or understanding entered into upon this most important subject. The number of petitions had been adverted to, and he was free to admit, that there was on this as well as upon other subjects a considerable degree of agitation and anxiety on the part of those who promoted this plan, to stir up the feelings of those who accorded with them in opinion, to solicit this boon at the hands of Parliament. When a great commercial capital like London came forward, as it had done by constituting a postage committee, to endeavour to stir up the feelings of their countrymen in the remotest parts of the kingdom, it was no wonder that the sympathies of the whole nation were brought out to ask for this boon. With regard to the loss of revenue he was free to admit, and, indeed, he thought, that in the first year certainly there would be a great loss of revenue; but, from all the attention he had given 1384 to the subject, and he had devoted to it his entire time, and had endeavoured to understand the question with a perfectly honest desire of concealing nothing and declaring all, his conviction was, that although there might be a defalcation to the amount of 500,000l. or 600,000l. in the first year, including the expense that would be incurred in setting the machinery going, still he believed, that from the increase in the number of letters, and the universal use of the Post-office instead of its abuse, the revenue in the course of another year would be equal to its present amount. It was his confident anticipation and hope, that in three years the defalcation of the first year would be made up. He ventured to state this because he entertained a sincere and honest conviction, that such would be the result. With regard to the resolution, that had been brought before the House, it seemed to be admitted on all hands, that it was really necessary to give effect to this plan, if it should be the opinion of the House of Commons and of Parliament, that it ought to be conceded to the wishes of the people. It was quite true, that at present the Treasury and the Postmaster-general combined had the power of reducing the rates of postage to any given amount. It was also true, and he believed very few were aware of it, that in the last Session a clause was added to a bill by which the Treasury and the Postmaster-general, when they agreed, could insist upon postage being paid in advance. He was in possession of the bill, and could assure the Committee this was a fact. He thought it, nevertheless, of the utmost importance, that the Committee should sanction the proposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so as to enable him to put in operation this great machinery, and give this country an opportunity of taking the lead in bestowing one of the greatest boons that could be conferred on the human race before any other country. The distinguished individual who had invented this magnificent plan, ought not to see it adopted by any other country, before it was adopted by his own. He believed it was very well known, and if not he begged leave to state, that the Postmaster-general of France, and the government generally of that country, were anxious at the earliest possible time, to adopt a plan similar to, if not the same plan as that recommended by Mr. Hill. 1385 He believed, that a noble Lord not then in his place had been in communication with the government of France on this subject, and that the executive of that country was most anxious to be informed of all the particulars of the plan, for the purpose of its being immediately adopted in France. The government of the United States of America was also in active correspondence with this country for the same purpose; and he believed, that Prussia and other continental nations had a similar object in view. He submitted, that as England had the honour of this invention, which had undoubtedly been first brought before the public by Mr. Hill, that it would be exceedingly blame-worthy in this country, for the risk of a loss of 500,000l., which would be paid back in two or three years, if they were to lose the honour of being the first to execute a plan which was essentially necessary lo the comforts of the human race. He would not go into details respecting the plan, but he must observe, that he differed so far from the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to the apparent adoption of only one part of that plan. He believed, that the use of stamped papers, not meaning covers only, but stamped papers of all kinds, might be permitted without granting a monopoly to any party. He believed, that the adoption of stamps, something like French wafers, might be brought into very general and convenient use. Several of these specimens had been presented to the Treasury and the public offices, and to himself, and as far as he could judge from the evidence adduced by Mr. Wood, the Chairman of the Stamp-office, and the Commissioners, he had no hesitation in saying, that the adoption of this plan would secure the revenue against loss from forgery. There was one other subject which had not been adverted to, but to which he wished particularly to allude. On referring to the evidence given by Lord Ashburton and several others respecting the effect which this plan would have in London, Liverpool, and other large towns, he found the following question was put to them:—"What effect do you suppose will flow to the other branches of the revenue if the system of cheap postage be adopted?" The replies given by all were to the effect, that they believed, that the other streams of revenue would, be filled, and would 1386 flow largely into the Exchequer. They might therefore look to a large addition from other sources of revenue, independent of the Post-office, and they might also look to a large addition to the revenue from the duty upon paper, in consequence of the large additional consumption that must take place. The question came to this, what number of letters would be transmitted by post? So far as it was in his power to reduce the evidence to a practical view, his real belief was, that Mr. Hill, in estimating the increase at sixfold was within the mark. He meant to say, that those letters that did not pass through the Post-office, he conscientiously believed, amounted to twice as many as passed through it. This was his own opinion, gathered from the evidence—namely, that if eighteen millions of letters passed through the Post-office, thirty-six millions did not pass through it. This was a strong assertion, but he conscientiously believed he was not overstating the fact. There was another subject necessarily connected with this subject. He had adverted to the probability of the adoption of this plan by France, the United States, Prussia, and the other continental States, but he thought, that it was of no small importance, that the plan should be adopted as regarded our colonies and possessions abroad, for in no part of the world was postage more expensive and at the same time letter-writing so inconsiderable. Putting out of view the moral effect which the plan would have, he thought it would greatly tend to improve the social relations of those communities with the mother country, and we should be spared those heart-burnings and complaints that now existed, if there was an opportunity of having matters explained through other channels. He thought that the increase of communication with the mother country would produce an increase of good feeling. This was, however, a matter of opinion. He could not help adverting to the progress of this question since it had been brought before the public. It was not till the commencement of the last year, that Mr. Hill's plan became known to the country. From the very first he saw that it was a proposal that deserved the utmost consideration, and he was convinced that inquiry would prove its worth. What was the effect produced? In 1838, three hundred and twenty petitions were presented in favour 1387 of the measure, many of them from large towns and from chambers of commerce. In the present Session not less than 1,800 petitions had been presented, showing an increase of more than five-fold. This was one proof of the interest taken by the public in the matter, but there was another proof. The first report of the select committee was published about Easter, and in less than two months that report was out of print, and no copies were now to be had to supply the wants of those foreign countries who were desirous of availing themselves of its contents. This showed the anxiety of the public on the subject. With regard to the measure itself, it had been so generally discussed, and had been brought before the public by the newspaper press in every part of the country so often, that it would be a waste of the time of the House if he entered into it. He believed that the measure would be fraught with benefit to the very highest class of the community, but he did not believe, that it would be of such benefit to the higher classes us to that very large class who were at present completely debarred from all communication with distant friends. He believed, also, that it would open a wide field to emigration by enabling those who had left the country to send to their friends at home a just and true account of their situation. He also thought it would be extremely beneficial in enabling persons residing within workhouses to communicate with their friends and relations outside. With these remarks he would only beg permission to express his warm approbation of the plan of Mr. Hill, and to state that Mr. Hill was a man of a most honest and generous mind; that his sole object was to investigate the truth, and that for his indefatigable labours in bringing the intrinsic merits of his plan before the public, he was entitled to the lasting and grateful thanks of his country.
§ Sir Robert Peel
said, that he should have thought it sufficient, if Government had maturely considered the details of this measure, had calculated the probable loss to the revenue, and had come forward to propose, in this acknowledged deficiency of the public revenue, some substitute to compensate the public. He should have thought that sufficient. So convinced was he of the moral and social advantages that would result from the removal of all restrictions on the free communication by 1388 letter, that he should have willingly assented to the proposition. But that was not the proposition made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That proposition was, that they should now, on the 5th of July, pledge themselves to supply what might be an eventual loss of 1,000,000l. or 1,500,000l.; and that the House of Commons should enter into a vague pledge that they should hereafter make good any deficiency in the revenue. He thought it highly probable, whatever might be his opinion of the advantages of this plan, — and he wished to say nothing in disapproval of it—that it was highly improbable that in the present period of the session, and in the present state of the public revenue, that that House should be ready to consent to run this risk. This he must say, that if they were prepared to run this risk, he would infinitely rather do so without a pledge, than with a pledge. This he had no hesitation in saying. The right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, told them that their private honour was to be a guarantee for their hereafter redeeming this pledge. When he heard his right hon. Friend, the Member for Pembroke (Sir J. Graham) speaking of some obligations on the subject of the Reform Bill, he recollected that he was met by the noble Lord, the Secretary at War (Lord Howick), who protested against the doctrine of any obligations of private honour interfering with the execution of public duties. They were told by that noble Lord, that it was utterly impossible that a public man could consider himself fettered in the discharge of his public duties, and that no promises or engagements that he might enter into could be binding upon his private honour. How, then, was it possible for the right hon. Gentleman, the colleague of the noble Lord, to uphold the doctrine that they might be bound by promises which they might make in their individual capacity to take a certain course upon a particular occasion? But if their private honour was to be appealed to, and that obligation was to be binding, it did become of the greatest importance that they should understand distinctly what was the engagement they were entering into. Of this there could be no doubt. They were asked to consent to a pledge that they would make good any deficiency in the revenue that might be occasioned by the alteration in the rates of the existing 1389 duties. Did he understand that pledge to involve this engagement—that, supposing there to be a loss of 800,000l. in the Post-Office revenue in consequence of this alteration of the duties, he should be compelled to assent to a new tax for the purpose of supplying the deficiency? Was that the meaning of this resolution? He understood that it was the distinct meaning of this resolution, that he should be pledged to make good any deficiency of the revenue occasioned by an alteration of the rates of the existing duties; that this was the engagement into which they were to enter, and which they were to be called upon by the obligations of public honour and private duty to fulfil. Suppose the anticipations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be realised, and that there was an immense reduction made in the civil and military establishments—suppose the other branches of revenue became productive, and suppose they found themselves at the end of two years with a deficiency in the Post-office revenue to the amount of 800,000l., but with an actual surplus of a million, was be bound by this resolution to make good by new taxation the deficiency occasioned by the alteration in the rates of postage. He had asked this question, and he received an answer, as he understood, that he was so bound. [" No, no."] Then he was not bound by any such engagement? Why, that was an additional reason for not entering into a pledge that was perfectly indefinite, and which must be left to the sense of every individual whether it were binding or not. What time would they be called upon to redeem this pledge? The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, that the loss to the revenue would be great at first. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenock (Mr. Wallace) limited the loss of revenue probably to the first or second year; but suppose the contingency which the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer regarded as probable did really occur, and that there was not a great surplus to dispose of; but supposing at the end of the first year that there was an actual deficiency of 500,000l. in the Post-office revenue, would he be called upon to redeem this pledge? Suppose two years to elapse, and that at the end of the first they found a deficiency of 800,000l., and at the end of the second only 600,000l., was he then to redeem this pledge, or would Members be at li- 1390 berty to argue that as there was a progressive reduction in the Post-office revenue of 800,000l. the first year, and only 600,000l. the next year, they might wait quietly for three or four years, and the deficiency would be amply supplied by the increased vigour of the Post-office itself. Let them, that Gentleman would say, not run the risk, and incur the inconvenience of laying on partial taxation, and of making permanent laws to supply a temporary deficiency, and that it would be wiser, seeing the revenue was recovering itself, to postpone any new taxation for five or six years. If all these considerations were open to the discretion of each Member, where was the use of saying that they had given a pledge that was binding upon their private honour? He could understand a pledge given by Parliament to the Crown, that if the Crown advanced a certain sum of money, Parliament must make good the same, but he could not understand a pledge that hereafter they were to make good a certain deficiency of revenue, when he believed, according to the second explanation he had received that it was left to the discretion of the House of Commons and of each individual Member whether the general circumstances of the country called for the fulfilment of that pledge. He must say that he possessed such hope and confidence in the good sense and wisdom of Parliament, that he believed the apprehensions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer would never be realised. But what was the period at which this measure was proposed? This resolution was moved on the 5th of July, for the purpose of involving Parliament in this vague and indefinite pledge, which was left to be redeemed on the private honour of each individual; and he must say, that he would never believe that the right hon. Gentleman would get the consent of Parliament to such a pledge, and yet they were told that the bill depended on involving Parliament in that pledge, and that it must be abandoned altogether unless Parliament promised to supply any deficiency that might arise. He did not like pledges of this sort. Could any thing be more dangerous, as an example, than that a public man to relieve himself from a difficulty in supporting the public credit, and to escape supplying a deficiency by an immediate proposal of taxation, could anything be more dangerous or discreditable than to enter into 1391 pledges of this sort, unless it was known how they were to be redeemed; and could anything be more dangerous to the public credit and more embarrassing to the public than to be told that Government expected a probable deficiency of 1,500,000l., but that they could not tell what was the article upon which the new tax to meet this deficiency was to be laid. They had had a deficiency of revenue now for three years. In the years 1837, 1838, and 1839, the balance sheet had presented a deficiency as compared with the expenses. ["No, no."] There was a deficiency for 1837 and 1838, and the right hon. Gentleman himself admitted that at the end of April, 1840, that was for the year 1839, he expected that there would be a deficiency of nearly a million. But the right hon. Gentleman hoped that the expenses of Canada would not continue. Why had they made any advance towards a settlement? The House had to consider the complicated relations of this country in all parts of the world, and foreseeing that it was possible that although the expenses in Canada might not be permanently continued, yet looking at the state of our West-India possessions, looking at the affairs of the East, looking at the preparations made by France to meet them, and looking at the state of affairs on the frontiers of India, could any man confidently anticipate that the deficiency which was expected in 1839 upon the postage revenue, might not occur upon other grounds, considering the present state of the world and our immense possessions. Under these circumstances th Chancellor of the Exchequer, referring to the evidence of Lord Ashburton, and expecting a possible defalcation, invited Parliament to take a course that would incur the risk of a deficiency of two millions, and invited them to give a pledge to supply this deficiency. He was not prepared to run this risk, but if he were, he would infinitely rather run the risk without giving any pledge. If this country expected new taxation to meet the deficiency of 1,500,000l. or 2,000,000l., was it not natural that every person would be considering on what branch of the productive industry of the country was the new tax to be laid. Again, he asked when the pledge was to be redeemed? Was it at the end of the first year or the second year, or was it to be after an unlimited and indefinite time? 1392 If it was at the end of a limited period, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer was entitled to call upon them to redeem this pledge after an experience of one year of the new experiment, was he, at the end of that year, to call upon them to supply the deficiency by permanent taxation? Observe, there was not the slightest reason why they should not also be called upon to supply the deficiency arising from other sources. There was as much ground for now proposing to supply the deficiency that had arisen for the last three years as there could be for supplying the deficiency that might arise from a defalcation in the Post-office revenues. They stood on the same ground, and he saw not the least distinction between them. They were about to deal with an acknowledged deficiency for the present year of 1,000,000l. of revenue, and they were about to incur the hazard of losing 1,500,000l., and in the present state of the public credit he would not himself give a pledge that was perfectly indefinite both as to the amount of the taxes to be raised, and the period at which they would be called upon to raise them. A precedent more dangerous or more fatal to public men and ministers he had never heard proposed to Parliament. He would never believe that it could be carried until he heard the royal assent given to the bill that proposed it. What was the statement of the right hon. Gentleman? He stated that the revenue for the present year was 47,833,000l. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilkenny, anticipated a considerable reduction in our military establishments. Had he compared the amount for 1838 with that of 1837, and did he not find an increase of about 800,000l.? On what ground, then, did the hon. Gentleman's expectation rest, that they would be able to supply the deficiency by a great reduction of our military establishments? Again they would be told by the hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. Wallace) at the end of the first year, that they had made an incomplete experiment; that they could not judge of the plan by the first year; that in so short a time the people had not got into habits of corresponding, and that he must oppose any new taxation founded upon an imperfect and incomplete experiment. Further, the hon. Member for Kilkenny would tell them that the true way to remedy the deficiency in the amount of the revenue would be not to increase taxation, but to, 1393 reduce our establishments? Could any man contemplate the raising of taxes to the amount of one million or one million and a half, to supply a deficiency, and yet that no indication should be given of the article upon which the new taxation was to fall? If in the month of April the Chancellor of the Exchequer had proposed to run this risk, and if he had shown that, by encouraging commercial speculation, it was likely that the revenue would not be injured—if he had taken that course, it would have been creditable to the Government, and he might have been induced to concur in such a course; but, with the opinion expressed of the public credit, he could not consent to hazard such an amount of revenue as 1,500,000l. The right hon. Gentleman said, that the highest authorities in the country were in favour of this plan. Why, a more decided condemnation of the plan he had never heard than that which had been given by the secretary of the Post-office. Whether that opinion was well or ill founded he could not say; but this was the evidence of Colonel Maberly, the Secretary to the Post-office:—He considered the whole scheme of Mr. Hill as utterly fallacious; he thought so from the first moment he read the pamphlet of Mr. Hill; and his opinion of the plan was formed long before the evidence was given before the Committee. The plan appeared to him a most preposterous one, utterly unsupported by facts, and resting entirely on assumption. Every experiment in the way of reduction which had been made by the Post-office had shown its fallacy; for every reduction whatever led to a loss of revenue in the first instance. If the reduction be small, the revenue recovers itself; but if the rates were to be reduced to 1d., the revenue would not recover itself for forty ox fifty years.The forty or fifty years alluded to in this portion of Colonel Maberly's evidence was, perhaps, the period over which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer intended that their pledge should extend. The opinion of Lord Lich field, the Postmaster-general, was to the same effect, and equally conclusive as to the impolicy of adopting the plan of Mr. Rowland Hill. But he begged it should be distinctly understood that he did not wish to say one word in disparagement of the plan of Mr. Hill. [The Chancellor of th Exchequer, hear.] He understood wha that cheer meant from the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman meant 1394 to infer that he was deterred from expressing an opinion against the plan by a fear of forfeiting popularity. The reason which actuated him, however, in abstaining from pronouncing an opinion was totally different. The reason was, that he did not feel himself called upon to enter upon details. It might be said he had presented petitions in favour of the plan from his constituents. No doubt he had. But if he had wished to gain popularity by the course which he should adopt on this question, surely it would have been more likely that he would have at once expressed his acquiescence in, and approval of, the measure. What was it that the House was asked to do? To risk a revenue of 1,500,000l., and to incur also the responsibility of a pledge to make good any deficiency at an indefinite, vague, and undetermined period. If he wanted popularity, he would at once give way to the feeling in favour of the moral and social advantages which had been already alluded to, the great stimulus it would afford to the industry and commercial enterprise of the nation, and the boon it was described as presenting to the poorer classes; but if he thought that by the course he intended to adopt that night he was committing himself on the merits of the question as sought for by the right hon. Gentleman, he declared at once that if he stood alone he should not hesitate to refuse his assent. And it was only because he considered the resolution now before the House as the foundation for a bill to be afterwards brought in, and on which he should be free to act as he might then find expedient, that he now declared that he gave a reluctant assent to it. He did not see that by agreeing, under those circumstances, to the resolution, he bound himself to the bill. He did not intend to enter upon the question of the Corn-laws, but as the right hon. Gentleman had drawn their attention in a particular manner to the large importations of corn, and the large exports of bullion, which, he said, would form matter for grave consideration, he would refer to other statements and returns equally well worthy of consideration. He wished to allude to the savings' banks, and to state that notwithstanding the high price of corn and necessity of importation, so far as the savings' banks were concerned, the social state of the working classes was proved to be exceedingly satisfactory. The right 1395 hon. Gentleman had quoted papers showing the amount of deposits and withdrawals for a successive period of years. He should also refer to the same source of information, and he found that in the year 1834, the deposits were 944,000l., withdrawals 542,000l.; in 1835, deposits 1,850,000l., withdrawals 540,000l. In 1836, deposits 1,289,000l., withdrawals 543,000l., In 1837 the deposits were 988,000l., the withdrawals 800,000l. And last year, notwithstanding the great depression in the state of trade, the deposits were 1,475,000l., and the withdrawals 463,000l. So that, in the course of last year, the deposits were the largest since 1834, and the withdrawals at the same time the smallest during any year of that period. He mentioned these facts, not with the view of founding any observations on the subject of the Corn-laws, but merely to state the fact, that so far as the condition of the people was to be gathered from the amount of deposits and operations in the savings' banks, a large importation and high price of corn had not been attended with those effects which many anticipated and believed. So much had been already said on the general finances of the country, that he would not detain the House by again travelling over the same ground. But in regard to the question of the Post-office revenue, he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would give a proper notice of the day on which the conclusive opinion of the House was again to be taken on the subject, so that he might consider what course he should then pursue. At present he should content himself by observing that, reserving to himself the right then to meet the question with a negative, on either of the two branches into which it resolved itself:—First—whether the state of the public finances was such as to justify the House in incurring the hazard of the loss of more than one million of the public revenue.—Second, if so, whether the House was prepared to take the consequences of such a step, and to incur the responsibility of giving the unexampled precedent of fettering Parliament by a pledge to make up an uncertain deficiency ranging over an indefinite period of time.
§ Mr. Warburton
rejoiced that by the course adopted by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer this question had at length been submit- 1396 ted to the deliberate consideration of Parliament, so that by the discussions in that House and throughout the country it might be ascertained whether it was proper to adopt the plan proposed or not. If Parliament should determine that it was not proper to do so, then it would be for the country to approve of or dissent from that opinion. He begged the House to consider what was the real position of the question. They had then—from official, indisputable returns, laid on the table of the House—from a body of evidence given before a Select Committee of their number—by men from all parts of the country, impartial, intelligent, and practically conversant with the subject, undeniable proofs that whether they looked to the state of the Post-office revenue in England, Scotland, or Ireland, that revenue had been stationary for the last twenty years, and occasionally even retrograding. What was the cause of that unsatisfactory state of that particular branch of the revenue? The other departments of public taxation had, generally speaking, made advances proportionable, at least in some degree, to the increased population and facility of intercourse throughout the kingdom. There must be some special reason for that solitary position of the Post-office revenue. Where then could they find the cause? He would refer them to the Appendix to the third Report of the Select Committee on Postage, and they would there perceive that the rate of postage charged for the transmission of each letter, compared with its actual cost, was at the rate of 1,000 to 1,400 per cent. He considered such a system not as one merely of taxation, but as extortion. It was a system to which he could find no parallel. It was totally unrivalled by anything in the financial annals of the country, unless, perhaps, he might single out the impost on tobacco. Let the House consider the evidence laid before them by the Select Committee as to the suppression of correspondence occasioned by the present heavy rates—the illicit intercourse which those high rates created—the devices for conveying letters by private hands which were resorted to—and he was confident they could not hesitate as to the advantages which would result from adopting the plan of Mr. Rowland Hill. When they found that such things resulted from the present scale of postage duties—when they saw that the Post- 1397 office authorities themselves admitted that the present state of things could not be maintained—were they still to hesitate in giving their conclusive assent to the adoption of a better system, because it was expected that there would be a deficiency rather than a surplus in the general revenue of the country? If they were to wait till a surplus in the general revenue should justify the change, he did not know when the public could expect to reap the benefit. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer would tell them that in the present temper of Parliament it was not likely there would be a speedy surplus. Let them take the army, the navy, the colonies, or whatever department they chose, they would find a disposition prevailing on every hand to run into extravagance. Were they then he would ask, to defer proper and judicious measures until that extravagance should cease? Were they to defer the establishment of an acknowledged benefit, till such a vague and indefinite reason should arrive. And were they to defer it for the shallow reason, that because of the prevailing disposition to extravagance there was no surplus to justify the Government in adopting any great change in the financial policy, however just and expedient in itself. If they were to act on that principle he feared they should have to wait at least to the expiration of the forty or fifty years which, according to the evidence of Colonel Maberly, read by the right hon. Baronet, was expected to elapse before the Post-office revenue would recover itself from the effects of the change. As the right hon. Baronet had been pleased to read extracts from the evidence attached to the report of the Select Committee he would also refer to the abstract attached to that report the responsibility of preparing which had mainly devolved upon himself, and he would with the permission of the House, also read a portion of the evidence of the secretary to the Post-office, Colonel Maberly, which, on the subject of the reduction of rates, was as follows:He certainly did think, and always said, that the present rates of postage are a great deal too high, and so he believed had every Postmaster-General for many years considered them; too high for the interests of the public, and too high for the interests of the revenue.He merely quoted that evidence to show that in the opinion of a great Post-office authority the present rates were 1398 considered a great deal too high; and when they were told that these rates were too high both for the interest of the public and those of the revenue, the time was surely come for making the proposed Reform in the ground-work of this decayed branch of the public establishments, and for applying the remedy by which, instead of waiting for a surplus, they would, in all probability, do much to produce one. The next question, then, was, what sort of remedy they should adopt? He had already shown that the tax on the transmission of each letter was as high as 1,000 to 1,400 per cent. The actual cost of a letter was about ¾d., and the postage charged on an average was 7¾d. on single letters. At a moderate computation, then, that amounted to 1,000 per cent. Let them glance a little to the system of postage in the neighbouring country of France. The cost of conveying a single letter in that country was about ¾d., and the Post-office charged in that country, only at a five-fold rate of profit, instead of a ten-fold rate, as in this country. The right hon. Baronet had read the evidence of Post-office officials, and he had also followed his example. He should now read the opinion of a merchant—a gentleman extensively engaged in mercantile pursuits—who had given to the public, works of great importance and utility, and which had received just attention and admiration. He alluded to the evidence given before the Select Committee by Mr. Cobden of Manchester, whose opinion deserved every consideration. The House would find the opinion of that Gentleman to be thus expressed in answer to the question—What he thought of the manner in which the Post-office was conducted:—I think the general feeling throughout the commercial community has not been so adverse to the mode of managing the Post-office, as to the legislation to which it is subjected; the rate of duties, which of course are laid by Act of Parliament, is not in the hands of the executive functionaries of the Post-office. That it is a total failure as a great commercial establishment—if I might so term it—is proved unquestionably to the whole community, by the fact of its being stationary in the amount of its profits and returns; we consider that the mode of conducting it has proved it to be a total failure — commercially speaking, the greatest failure in the country.He might take up the whole night in quoting corroborative testimony, He might 1399 also quote the evidence of Mr. Jones Loyd, on whom none would speak on such subjects without fully acknowledging the importance and great weight of his opinion. That opinion was to the same purport. Was that disputed? Was it disputed that Mr. Jones Loyd considered the present rates of postage too high? Why, Mr. Jones Loyd, went further than Mr. Cobden, for he not only said that he considered the present rates too high, but he said, that looking at the matter in an abstract sense, and judging of its social and moral effects, he viewed the postage of letters, as altogether an unfit subject for taxation. In the course of his speech the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had told them that in one particular quarter of the year the Post-office revenue had shown an improvement of 9 per cent., but when it was considered that on a comparison of twenty years the increase was only as 1½ to 1,000 he could not expect that the House could form any favourable opinion from hearing of that temporary improvement in one solitary quarter, as regarded the present system of Post-office taxation. He thought it was creditable at the same time to the right hon. Gentleman that he had come forward on the present occasion to propose the adoption of Mr. Hill's plan—certainly more creditable to him as the organ of the Government than if he had waited for a more favourable year, when the state of the revenue would have rendered it a measure of more easy attainment. Then as to the nature of the remedy. All the witnesses who had been examined by the Committee, with the exception of Colonel Maberly, had said that unless they made a large and sweeping reduction, the benefit of the change would be entirely lost—that it would be totally useless to make any moderate diminution of the rates, and that they need not attempt, an alteration at all unless it were carried to such an extent as should give rise to large and new classes of correspondence. He was glad that the Chancellor of the Exchequer concurred in that opinion. He should now say a few words in justification of the course adopted by the Select Committee. It was true they had reported in favour of a uniform rate of twopence; but it was proper to state that they had done so only on the principle that a uniform rate of twopence was better than no uniform rate at all. At first he had proposed to the committee 1400 to recommend an uniform rate of one penny. He was unsuccessful in carrying that proposal, and he then recommended an uniform rate of l½d. Again, unsuccessful, he proposed the twopenny rate; and more fortunate in that case than in the former, his motion was carried by the casting vote of the Chairman. To that vote of the committee he willingly acceded, because every argument which could be applied in favour of a twopenny rate was applicable with equal force to a uniform penny rate, and vice versa. By these means the Committee were enabled to embody in their report an account of the great extent to which correspondence by post was suppressed. They were enabled to bring forward every general conclusion in favour of Mr. Hill's plan—all facts and arguments in favour of a low uniform rate. He, therefore, did not adhere to the twopenny rate. The minority on the vote for a rate of one penny had acquiesced in the report, upon the ground which he had explained, that the facts and arguments would be equally, and indeed more applicable to a lower rate; and he, therefore, still adhered to the general plan of an uniform rate of one penny—a course which had been so ably advocated in the pamphlet of Mr. Hill—so fully explained and supported in the report of the Select Committee—and now, he was rejoiced to think, crowned with triumphant success. The changes which would be obviously necessary in consequence, were of two kinds: first, a reduction in the rates;—secondly, the adoption of measures necessary to facilitate the increased demand for Post-office communication. On the first of these, enough had been said already. Then, as to the second point, the measures to facilitate Post-office communication, the first of these was unquestionably payment in advance. The right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said, that although he wished generally to introduce the system of payment in advance, if he should judge proper, yet he wished to have a reserved power on that subject, and that it should be optional to pay in advance or not, as parties might prefer, at least for a limited period. Now, he was confident, that the measure would not succeed, unless pre-payment was enforced as a rule at once from its introduction. At present it was admitted by high authority, that it was impossible, under the present system, to ascertain how far collusion and pecula- 1401 tion might go on among the deputy postmasters. He did not attribute dishonesty to those functionaries, but in the report of the commissioners on post-office inquiry, it was stated, that there was no mode of ascertaining how far peculation might extend among these officials throughout the country. Neither did that opinion depend on the report of one commission. It was repeated by several. The opportunities of defrauding the public in the manner referred to by those commissioners could be effectually suppressed by adopting the principle of pre-payment, by means of stamped covers; and when the risk of fraud was so great under the present rates, how much would it be increased under the reduced rate, when country correspondence would be so much increased ! Then, as to the economy of collection in the revenue. Mr. Hill had laid before the committee calculations on that subject not contained in their report, showing that under the system of stamped covers and pre-payment, the expense would be one-sixth less than at present. The greater expedition that would be accomplished in the delivery of letters, by the pre-payment, would be productive of considerable saving. He would refer to the 18th Report of the Commissioners of Revenue Inquiry on that point, where it was said, that the time of delivering a paid letter would be only three seconds, that of unpaid letters would be eighty seconds per letter. He must say, that he viewed, with considerable alarm, the doubt which had been expressed of adopting Mr. Hill's plan of pre-payment and collection by stamped covers. He trusted, that the principle of pre-payment was not to be excluded, if experience should show that principle to be expedient. An objection had been made by a gentleman of high authority as a writer on political economy, Mr. M'Culloch, on the ground, that the public would not have security for the due delivery of their letters, if the principle of pre-payment were adopted. Now, it was his opinion, and in that view he was supported by M. Piron, the secretary of the Post-office department in France, that the system of registration proposed by Mr. Hill would be found to operate as a security against any risk of the abstraction of letters. Mr. Hill proposed, that a charge of one halfpenny should be made for the registration of a letter, for which the post-office should grant a receipt to the party paying that sum, containing a copy of the 1402 direction of the letter. In this way the circumstance could only be known to the person who posted the letter, and the party who gave the receipt; and it really did appear to him, and he might say to every impartial mind, that by adopting the system of registration, the security would be greater to the public under the plan of pre-payment and collection by stamped covers than under the present plan of management, and enabled him to set at nought the opinion so confidently expressed by Mr. M'Culloch. He should here observe, that a premature alarm had been alluded to as existing on the part of the paper-makers, who were apprehensive that a monopoly would be given for the supply of the paper necessary for the stamped envelopes. He considered it quite premature to enter at present into details, but he thought the Government ought to let it be generally known, that they wished to obtain the best plan to prevent forgery. Let them make that known on a principle of free competition, and delegate the decision to proper judges; and let them then give a pecuniary reward to the person who brought forward the best practicable plan, and no ground of complaint could remain. With regard to the question of the pledge to be given by Parliament to make good any deficiency in the revenue occasioned by the failure of this plan, he was quite ready individually to give such a pledge, upon certain conditions. But he must first know at what time the Government proposed to call on the House lo redeem the pledge—whether a fair trial was to be given to the plan? He would have no objection whatever to vote for a new tax, to cover any deficiency caused by the failure of the plan, provided the state of the revenue required it; but he should by no means be prepared to do this, at the end of twelve months, because he was quite satisfied that twelve months would not be a sufficient time to afford a fair trial of the plan. The right hon. Gentleman called on the House to pledge itself to make good any deficiency in the Post-office revenue that might arise from the failure of this plan; but did he mean to say that, whatever might be the state of the finances of the country—whether there were a deficiency in the general revenue of the country or not—he would still call on the House to redeem its pledge? If the right hon. Gentleman meant this by his resolution, he could not enter into any 1403 such engagement. He maintained that twelve months would not be a fair trial of his plan. Look at the case of the advertisement duty. It was reduced from 3s. 6d. to 1s. 6d., having been retrograding for four years previously; yet the revenue arising from the advertisement duty was now 75 per cent. of what it was before the reduction, and it was advancing at the rate of eight per cent. per annum; so that in three years from the time of making the reduction, the revenue from the advertisement duty would amount to as much as it was before the reduction. Yet no one would now come down to that House to call for the imposition of a new tax, to cover the 25 per cent. now deficient in the advertisement duty. He maintained, that there ought to be a full and fair trial of the plan, and he did not think that less than three years would be sufficient to form an opinion of its effects. At the expiration of that period, he would be ready to make good any deficiency of revenue, should it arise. But he was of opinion, that no such deficiency would be found to exist, and that therefore the House would not be called upon to fulfil the pledge, even if it were given. The Government were entitled to the thanks of the country, for having adopted the plan in the manner they had done, and particularly when the present state of the revenue of the country was borne in mind.
Mr. Wolverley Attwood
said, if the right hon. Gentleman meant, by his resolution, to pledge the House to adopt any tax which he might think fit to propose, for the purpose of making good a deficiency caused by the failure of this plan, he apprehended that the House would not be disposed to give any such pledge. If, on the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman did not mean to push his resolution to that extent, then he apprehended that the resolution would be unavailing; because, although as individuals they might be ready to assent to the tax the right hon. Gentleman might propose, yet each one would raise objections to the particular tax proposed, and endeavour to bring forward some proposition of his own. With reference to the right hon. Gentleman's financial statement, he could not refrain from censuring it, as well as his declaration of his intention to allow the financial affairs of the country to remain in their present state. The right hon. Gentleman 1404 calculated, that the deficiency in the revenue would be 900,000l.; but what ground was there for depending on his calculations? For his own part, he maintained there was a much greater probability of finding the revenue below that of the previous year, than that there would be an excess. On the 18th of May, last year, the right hon. Gentleman expressed his belief, that notwithstanding the deficiency of the previous year, there was no fear for the future, when the then state of commercial affairs of the country was looked at, and the 10,000,000l. of bullion in the coffers of the Bank of England were considered. What sentiments did the right hon. Gentleman entertain now? Were not the commercial affairs of the country in a state of great danger? Was not the amount of Bullion in the Bank very much reduced? If, upon the current year, there was a deficiency, would the right hon. Gentleman be prepared to meet the consequences on the trade and commerce of the country? Under such circumstances, in how much worse a position would the right hon. Gentleman be, if he came down to propose new taxes, or to add to the unfunded debt, than if he were, at once, to take that step at the present time?
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
hoped the right hon. Gentleman would at once state at what stage of the bill he proposed to offer his opposition to it; whether on the report of the resolution, or on the second reading of the bill.
§ Sir R. Peel
had no desire for a double discussion on the question. He never was disposed to carry on a mere vexatious opposition, after a question had been fairly decided upon, and he would therefore be prepared to take the discussion on the report, provided an early day was fixed for the purpose, and provided the bill was strictly in accordance with the resolution.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
would fix Friday next for the report, with the understanding that the discussion was then to be taken upon it. He was quite at a loss to understand the line of argument adopted by the right hon. Baronet. The effect of it, as far as he could see, was, to say, that until this country was in the situation of possessing a surplus revenue of 1,500,000l., with which to try the experiment, this plan ought not to be adopted. Hon. Members seemed disposed to treat too lightly the 1405 proposition for the House to give a pledge on the subject. He, for one, could not deal lightly with it. He looked upon such a pledge, not as one made to the government of the day, or to the constituency, but as a pledge to the public creditor, that if the means of defraying the debt due to the public creditor became diminished, then those who had called for the measure that had caused the danger, would be prepared to meet the consequences. Such a pledge as this was very different from a mere pledge on a political question. The hon. Member for Bridport had asked whether the redemption of the pledge would be demanded, even if the state of the public revenue did not require it. He had no intention, under such circumstances, to demand the redemption. One great argument in favour of the present plan was, that with the increase of the means of communication, there would be a great increase of commerce. If then there appeared a loss of 500,000l. on the Post-office revenue, at the same time that the other branches of the revenue yielded a surplus of 1,000,000l., it was no part of his proposition, that in that case the pledge should be redeemed. He was, however, quite satisfied that the House of Commons would not refuse to make up the deficiency, if necessary. He could not sit down without protesting against what had fallen from the hon. Member for Kilkenny, on the subject of the Bank. The mode of discussing the question adopted by the hon. Member, might do a great deal of harm, but could not possibly do any good. Nothing was more to be deplored than this incautious and inopportune manner of discussing matters connected with the Bank.
§ Mr. Gillon
objected to the financial statement being brought forward at this late period of the Session, when hon. Members were pairing off, and there was not the means of obtaining the sense of the House upon the question of what taxes should be continued and what abolished. To bring forward the Budget at this advanced period of the Session was, in fact, a mere farce. He was glad that the hon. Member had now, for the first time, adopted the principle of shifting taxation. At the same time, however, he could have wished that the right hon. Gentleman had taken up the subject on a broader basis, and had done something to relieve the industrious classes from some 1406 taxes which press hardly and unequally upon them. He regretted, too, that the right hon. Gentleman had not announced any intention of attempting to ameliorate the system of taxation on the internal communication of the country, and he regretted this the more on account of the pledge given by the right hon. Gentleman on this subject on a former occasion. The right hon. Gentleman then pledged himself to bring in a bill to remedy the unequal system of taxation, by the operation of which the most meritorious and industrious classes of the community were rapidly sinking from a state of affluence to ruin. Great complaints had been made by the postmasters in Scotland at this neglect in reducing the post-horse duties, and he could not help considering there had been a breach of faith after the promises held out on the subject by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He should not be satisfied until this duty was taken off, and he should bring the subject under the consideration of the House on an early day in going into a Committee of supply, and he trusted that the House would support him in getting rid of this unjust and unequal system of taxation.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
stated that at the time the motion of the hon. Gentleman was brought before the House on the subject of internal communication, the question of the postage duty had not been mooted or brought under consideration. This question was quite large enough for the attention of Parliament, without mixing it up with extrinsic matters with which it had no connection whatever. He had told the deputation of postmasters that waited on him that it was thought desirable that the question of the postage on letters should be taken up by the Government, and that their case could not be taken up at that time. The parties expressed their regret, but apparently acquiesed in his opinion, and that the postage question was much more pressing than their case.
§ Mr. Alderman Thompson
thought that nothing would be more prejudicial to the public interest than that a tax should be taken off one article and imposed on another, in the manner that had been suggested to-night. With respect to the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he must say, that he could not help questioning the policy of increasing the amount of the unfunded debt, as it was 1407 quite large enough at present. Looking to unquiet times which might arise, it would have been better if he had proposed to fund a considerable quantity of Exchequer Bills. It should be recollected that these bills were payable on demand at certain dates, and that at the present time the Exchequer Bills amounted to 22,000,000l., and their charges must be met, and these circumstances should be considered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in framing his financial scheme for the present year. He regretted also the departure from the usual practice of Chancellors of the Exchequer as regarded the keeping the expenditure within the income of the current year. This was the third year in which this bad policy of departing from this course had been pursued. Depend upon it the old practice was more in conformity with sound policy, and it was better to have a surplus income than leaving matters thus to chance. He entirely concurred in what fell from the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the conduct of the Bank of England. If the hon. Member for Kilkenny was determined to persist in bringing charges against the Bank, he at any rate ought to be prepared with facts to support his assertions, instead of relying upon sources of information which, to say the least of them, were very questionable. The whole statement of the hon. Member was a gross exaggeration of the facts, and the hon. Member had indirectly been imposed on by the parties communcating with him. The hon. Member said, that some time ago the Bank had nine millions and a half of bullion in its coffers, and asked how was it that this amount had been reduced to the present small quantity now in its possession. The right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer had very satisfactorily explained this, when he stated that 2,500,000 quarters of foreign wheat and flour had been imported in consequence of the bad harvest last year, and that for this it was necessary to pay upwards of seven millions sterling. In consequence then of the bad harvest, upwards of seven millions more had been exported than in the previous year; and how was this to be done in markets where there was no demand for our manufactures, unless by the payment of bullion, and therefore that amount had been taken from the coffers of the Bank. The hon. Member said, that the amount of bullion in the Bank had been reduced to 1408 three millions, and that to-morrow there would be a demand of six millions for the payment of the interest of the national debt. The hon. Member should be cautious in indulging in such imputations without knowing the ground he rested on. The only information he could obtain on the subject was the quarterly return of bullion published in the Gazette, which in the last return gave a return of 4,440,000l. He hoped that for the future the hon. Member would not indulge in such wild and visionary assertions respecting the Bank, but would abstain from observations of the kind until he knew that he could rely on the authority given him.
would not enter at all into what had just fallen from the hon. Member, as he wished to confine his attention to the question on which they were to vote. He heartily supported the resolution in both its branches. That part of it which altered the postage to a penny on each letter he thought would be one, of the most valuable legislative reliefs that had ever been given to the people of this country since he had had a seat in Parliament. It was impossible to exaggerate its importance. It would be of immense importance to his own countrymen. All parties in Ireland were agreed upon the propriety and necessity of it, and they would be surprised to find that it was to be made a party question of—that they were to be threatened into a division upon it, and that this day week was the day on which they were to have the struggle. The House ought not to shrink from it. It was impossible to deny that that was intended, and that all the petitions of the people were to be frittered away into a question of how many-Members could be whipped up on each side of the House. It would have been different if there had been a proposition made to separate the resolution by dividing it into two—into that part which reduced the postage, and that which gave the pledge. That would have been the better way for hon. Members to have proceeded who had any objection to this resolution at all, because then it would have been seen that both sides had been in favour of the reduction. That had not been done but the whole was to be opposed. Let hon. Members look at the advantage that this was calculated to afford. Could any man consider the question and not agree with him that all the Government should have required was to 1409 be indemnified against the expense of the Post-office. Nay, if the postage on letters was not sufficient for that, Government ought to make a sacrifice for the purpose of facilitating communication. It ought not to be burthened with a single farthing more than defraying its expenses. It had, however, been made a source of revenue, and how? By almost laying a prohibition on communication between the poor: a tax light upon the rich, but heavy upon the poor—and that was the system on which party politics was now to be called forth, for the purpose of keeping up in this country a system which burthened the poor, interfered with all the social feelings of life prevented parents from hearing from their children, and husbands from their wives. He thought it was bad enough to make Canada a party question—bad enough to make Jamaica a party question; the Poor-law had been made a party question, and many Members, he believed, had come into that House by raising a cry against the Poor-law; but this, which was such a burthen to the poorer classes, ought surely to be exempt from party feeling. Now, there were a great many of his countrymen in London who might wish to write to their friends in Ireland. One thing was well known of them, and that was their universal desire to save a little money to send over to their poor friends in Ireland, and, for his own part, he wished he had forty franks a day, because he was sure he could dispose of them, in assisting his poor fellow countrymen in that manner, to the best possible advantage. If, for this purpose, the poor man paid the postage of his letter, he paid more than two days wages in London. If he did not pay the postage of it, it cost a week's wages to the party who received it in Ireland in postage; that was one-fiftieth of the income of the party who received it. If the higher classes in this country—if the Gentlemen he was now addressing, were so taxed, as that they could not receive a letter from their sons without paying a fiftieth of their annual income for it, he did not know what the extent of indignation would be that would not be expressed by them. It was inquired what the deficiency was to be raised from. Was it to be put upon salt, malt, or corn? That was part of the tactics of the hon. Gentlemen opposite. They wished the Ministers to fix upon some tax that peradventure there might 1410 be some objection to it. And all this was thrown out before it was certain there would be any loss at all. He wished hon. Members to look at the effect of railroads. Upon the only railroad in Ireland a reduction of 1d. upon 9d. had increased the numbers of passengers going by the carriages 27 per cent. in four months, and in that way of looking at it in all probability in a very short time any immediate decrease would be fully made up. Who could estimate the immense increased quantity of letters that would be written in consequence of this reduction. He thought the probability was, that instead of the revenue being diminished, it would be considerably increased, and were they to have a party trial under such circumstances. Were they disposed to confirm the vote for reducing the rate of postage? If they were, why then should they refuse to pledge the House that the deficiency should be made up? Why they must make it up—and were they to oppose the most useful of all measures because it was encumbered with a superfluous pledge? Were they to oppose it because the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as an honest man, had thought he was bound to require this security, that the public should not sustain any loss by it? He thought the House would pause before it agreed to a suggestion so absurd. He never supported a motion with greater pleasure than he did the present.
Mr. Hodgson Hinde
regretted, that the right hon. Gentleman opposite had not brought forward a proposition to reduce the duty on post horses. He did not in this accuse the right hon. Gentleman of a breach of faith, but he thought the post-horse masters would consider it very unsatisfactory to be told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he refused to reduce that duty, but that he would give them a reduction in the Post-office. In reference to the Post-office, he was of opinion that the House and the country ought to have time to consider the nature of the pledge that was now submitted to them.
§ Mr. Darby
complained of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin having accused Gentlemen on his side of the House of attempting to bring forward a party spirit to the consideration of this question, simply because they wished to have time to consider the effect of the proposition made to them by the right hon. Gentle- 1411 man opposite. If a tax were to be placed on steam boats to raise the anticipated deficiency, he was sure the hon. Member for Greenock would complain of that. If it were to be placed on malt, he himself would complain of it; and if it were to be placed on salt all the public would complain of it. It was unfair also in the hon. Member for Dublin to complain that those on the opposite side of the House had not separated the resolutions. Why did he not address that to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had pledged himself either to carry the whole resolution or to withdraw it.
§ Sir J. R. Reid
was much astonished and surprised to hear that his hon. Friend the Member for Kilkenny had charged the directors of the Bank of England with a breach of faith, and he would tell his hon. Friend that if he knew them as well as he did, he would not say what he did of them. With regard to the course which they had pursued, he could only say, that if the same thing were to happen to-morrow, they would follow the system which they had adopted, in which they were fully justified. He sincerely regretted that he was not in the House when the hon. Member for Kilkenny made his observations, in order that he might have taken him up a little sharper than he could now do. [Laughter.] Hon. Members might laugh, but it was no laughing matter. The hon. Member for Kilkenny had been endeavouring for some time past to talk the Bank of England down; and his example had been followed, and he said it with regret, by several newspapers. The Bank, however, was perfectly justified in doing what they had done, and feeling conscious that they were in the right, they would not care what hon. Gentlemen or other parties might say. He had been told that the hon. Member had even been witty upon the Bank—nay, more, had made use of his (Sir J. R. Reid's) name. He could only say that the hon. Member was more humorous than he expected from him.
§ Mr. Hume
was perfectly innocent of intending any attack on his hon. Friend. At one of the observations that he had made on the subject, the House had laughed; and it was not immediately that he perceived what it laughed at. He was perfectly innocent, in the first instance, of having introduced the name of his hon. Friend; but he had merely stated, that 1412 the Government, when it placed reliance on the Banks of England and Ireland, trusted to a broken reed. He did not then think, for a single moment, of the name of his hon. Friend, and it was not till he saw the great effect that he had produced that he was aware of what he had said. The Member for Sunderland said, he had made a most unfounded attack on the Bank. Now, what were the facts of the case? The Bank had put forth a notice on the 20th of May, that they were prepared to make advances on Exchequer Bills to the 23d of July, and parties having Exchequer Bills went, therefore, before the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to renew them, but on the 20th of June an order came from the Bank parlour, stating that no such advances would be made for the future. He, on this ground, distinctly charged the Bank with a breach of faith. He thought it was a most unfair and unjustifiable proceeding. He only regretted, that he had had no opportunity of bringing the subject of the Bank forward at an earlier period.
§ Mr. Alderman Thompson
wished to put the hon. Member for Kilkenny right, by telling him that the notice of the 20th of June had no reference to Exchequer Bills, and that the Bank for years had not been in the habit of advancing money on them.
§ Mr. Hume
said, the worthy Alderman knew nothing about it. He had a copy of the order, and the hon. Member was altogether wrong. The first notice on the 28th November, was to make advances on Bills of Exchange, Exchequer Bills, India-Bonds, and others, at 3½ per cent On the 28th February, the same notice was again given, and repeated on the 30th May, varying the rate of interest. The notice of the 20th June, which raised the interest to 5½ per cent., excluded Exchequer Bills. This was an instance of the way in which their affairs were managed.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that Exchequer Bills were, he believed, stated in the first order, but not in the others. But it was stated that the Bank had a discretion which it might exercise to the exclusion of these securities. Now, by the bill which he had the honour of passing through Parliament on the usury laws, the Bank was at liberty, such being the existing law, to continue advances on Bills of Exchange. What had been done was the result of the law, 1413 and did not depend on any arbitrement of the Bank. With respect to the raising of the rate of interest, he would not now discuss that point, except so far as to say, that it followed as a necessary consequence of the bad state of the law, and was a reflection on their own imperfect legislation. He would take that opportunity of saying, that it had been surmised that injustice had been committed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in allowing exchange to take place, and these securities to be taken at a time when they were rendered less available to their holders. Such a charge, if true, would be a grave one; but he could assure the House, that he knew nothing of the alterations adopted by the Bank of England until the day on which they had taken place.
§ Sir J. R. Reid
concurred in every word which had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, and said, that the Bank had had no communication with him whatever upon the subject. With respect to what fell from the hon. Member for Kilkenny, he must tell him that the particular securities he alluded to, were excluded in the notice of the Bank, inasmuch as it was out of the power of the Bank legally to make advances on them. He trusted, the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Bills of Exchange Bill would pass into a law, and he would take that opportunity of saying, that he was sure it would be received with favour by the commercial world.
§ Mr. Scholefield
said, that one hon. Member had remarked, that no tax could be proposed but some objection would be made to it. There was one tax which he trusted would meet with no opposition, and that was a property-tax. The way to relieve the poor was, for the rich to take the burden on their own shoulders.
§ Resolution agreed to.
§ The House resumed.