§ Order for Second Reading read.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
Sir, in rising to offer to the House a few remarks upon the second reading of this Bill, I am desirous, at the outset, to advert to a report which was a short time ago industriously circulated, and which was even mentioned upon some public occasions, to the effect that the late Government, and myself in particular, as the Finance Minister of that Government, had left our finances in a disordered and unsatisfactory state, and had in consequence bequeathed an inheritance of difficulties to our successors in office. Now, I am bound to state that the right hon. Gentleman the present Chancellor of the Exchequer in his financial statement gave no sanction to that report; that the numerical statements which he submitted to the House with respect to the finances of last year were quite correct, and that I have no complaint whatsoever to urge against his exposition in regard to that period. In order, however, to remove any impression of the nature to which I have referred, from the mind of any hon. Member who may entertain it, I may be permitted to call very briefly attention to that which was the state of the national finances when we left office. If the office of the Chancellor of the Exchequer were like that of the English Lord Mayor or of a Roman Consul—an annual office—it might be possible for him to pursue an imprudent system, and to get over his difficulties by a resort to temporary expedients, leaving to his successor the onerous task of overcoming the obstacles which might have been created by those shifts and contrivances. It was, however, impossible for me to know last year that the House of Commons would pass a vote of censure on the late Government, a few weeks only before the time when it would be my duty to submit to its notice the statement which I proposed to make in regard to the financial arrangements of the next year. The state of things, therefore, with which the present Government had to deal upon its accession to office was one with which I contemplated the possibility of having to deal when I proposed the arrangement of last year, and with which I should have been prepared to deal had not that vote been passed to which I have already alluded. I cannot, therefore, understand what is meant by attributing to the late Government a fixed design of 2121 handing over difficulties to its successors, and I may be allowed to call attention to the fact that it did not, in truth, hand over to them any difficulties which did not arise out of the state of the law, and that the financial condition of last year was upon the whole satisfactory—quite as satisfactory, at all events, as the House had reason to anticipate from the statement which I submitted to them at the beginning of last Session. I then estimated the expenditure for the year which has just expired at £65,474,000. The actual expenditure turned out to be £70,378,000, thus showing an excess of actual over estimated expenditure of £4,904,000. Well, the excess of revenue over estimate, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite has correctly stated, was £1,416,000. During the year we paid off debt to the amount of £3,741,668, and therefore with that excess of revenue over estimate, that excess of expenditure over estimate, and with that large sum applied to the remission of debt, there was an excess of expenditure over revenue for the whole year only of about £2,000,000. That sum was taken by me out of the balances in the Exchequer, but I think I can satisfy the House that the state of the balances in the Exchequer during the last few years has been satisfactory, and that the sum which the present Government found there at the end of the financial year was ample for the purposes of the ensuing year. Now, I find that in April, 1855, the balance in the Exchequer was £3,949,000, but in that amount was included £1,000,000 of Ways and Means Bills, which was, in fact, an anticipation of the revenue of the succeeding quarter. The real sum, therefore, was £2,949,000. In 1855 the balance amounted to £5,600,000, in 1857 to £8,668,000, and on the 1st of April last it was £6,657,000, which I think the House will consider a sufficient sum for the exigencies of the Exchequer. I believe I am correct in saying upon the information I received before leaving office that no deficiency hills bearing interest would be required for the payment of the late dividends, and I now learn that none have been found necessary. Of the entire expenditure of the last year, including the redemption of £4,000,000 of debt, the whole was defrayed out of the revenue of the year, and if a sufficient sum was left in the Exchequer as a balance at the end of the financial year, the House, I submit, Sir, must come to the conclusion that, so 2122 far as regards the last financial year, there is nothing to be made up in this year, and that so far as the finances are concerned the late Government left nothing in an unsatisfactory condition. I now pass to the plan of the right hon. Gentleman for meeting the demands of the present year, and as to that plan I must say it appears to me that, so far from being obnoxious to the charge which was brought against him upon a former occasion of being too adventurous, and of departing too far from received and established maxims, he has upon the present occasion shown himself rather too prudent, too cautious, and, perhaps, I may say, almost pusillanimous—Serpit humi tutus minium timidusque procellæ.He has made his arrangements with a view to avoid present difficulties, but those arrangements may with good reason, I fear, be anticipated to produce greater difficulties hereafter. In the first place, he has stated to the House that he has been enabled to present a reduced estimate of expenditure for the present year. I will take it that the Budget of the present Government in one sense does exhibit a diminished expenditure, inasmuch as they have been able—and I rejoice that they have been able—somewhat to reduce the Army and Navy Estimates which had been prepared by their predecessors. I freely give to Government all the credit to which they are entitled for those reductions, and no person will more sincerely rejoice than myself to see all practicable reductions made in our military and naval expenditure. But, nevertheless, when the Government talks of reduced expenditure, I may observe that that form of expression is in general taken to mean a diminished expenditure as compared with the expenditure of the preceding year. Let me see how the matter stands. The comparison I shall make will he very simple, and I think intelligible to the House. The Consolidated Fund charges on the last year were £1,770,000. In consequence of the probable expenditure for the compensation of proctors—an expenditure which was pressed upon the late Government by this House—the probable charges upon the Consolidated Fund for this year amount to £1,900,000. The Army Estimates of last year, including all branches, but excluding the supplementary vote for the militia, was £11,893,000. For this year the Army Estimates are £11,750,000. 2123 The Navy Estimates last year were £9,172,000. This year they amount to £9,860,000. The Civil Service Estimates last year were £7,395,000; those of this year have not yet been presented, but they are taken by the right hon. Gentleman at £7,000,000. The total of the four sums I have mentioned for last year was £30,230,000, while this year it is £30,510,000, showing an increase of £280,000. That increase may be got rid of if we add to last year's Estimates the supplementary vote of £500,000 that was taken for the militia, but we do not know whether any similar vote may not be required for the present year. Well, that comparison, which is simply adduced from the figures quoted by the right hon. Gentleman, shows us that he is not justified in stating there is any probable reduction of expenditure upon the Estimates of the present year. Be it observed, we are making a comparison at the beginning of the financial year, when it is impossible for us to know whether circumstances may not arise to render a larger expenditure absolutely necessary and thus cause an increase in the present Estimates. Such are the prospects of our expenditure, and now I come to the plan of taxation. The right hon. Gentleman's plan is shortly this,—he takes off two millions of taxation, or rather he allows taxation to that extent to expire, and he substitutes for it a somewhat precarious £800,000. I call the amount "precarious," because I think the estimates of £500,000 from Irish spirits and of £300,000 from the tax upon cheques are, in each case, somewhat uncertain, and I doubt whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer can as confidently as he might in the case of other taxes expect to receive those amounts from those sources. Now, it is true he will only lose one million out of the two millions during the present year, but by this change of system we shall, after the present year, lose two millions of income tax, and for that the right hon. Gentleman only substitutes £800,000. He then proposes to pay off the Exchequer bonds by creating a new loan to the same extent, and also to postpone the War Sinking Fund of £1,500,000. The proposition in regard to the first point is to issue two millions of Exchequer bonds, bearing a rate of interest not greater than 3½ per cent, payable at anytime during six years; so that, in fact, the right hon. Gentleman may have the opportunity of spreading the pay- 2124 ment of those £2,000,000 of bonds over a apace of six years. He has not stated to the House the mode in which he proposes to effect this new loan, but I have understood that he has made arrangements with the Bank of England for the advance of £2,000,000 in a gross sum, in order to pay off the present holders of the bonds. Whether that is the most convenient mode, or whether the present holders of Exchequer bonds were not entitled to some consideration—or had not some right to expect that an offer should not have been made to them to renew their bonds upon certain terms—are points which no doubt the right hon. Gentleman has considered, and upon which, until I hear his reasons fur the course he has taken, I wish to express no opinion. But it is to be borne in mind that if the right hon. Gentleman has solved a problem in postponing the payment of the Exchequer bonds created during the war, and for which payment a definite time was fixed, that problem will return next year, when there will again be £2,000,000 of Exchequer bonds falling due, and again £1,000,000 in the following year. Therefore, unless we are to have a systematic course of borrowing in order to pay off these bonds and to treat them as Exchequer bills, I do not see how the present budget can be defended, especially as next year the entire loss of £2,000,000 of income tax will be felt. The next point to consider is the discontinuance of the War Sinking Fund. I was responsible for having proposed that measure after mature deliberation, and, after still further deliberation, I believe it is the only plan of sinking fund that is practicable, and which can be supported by argument or experience. Exchequer bonds are of a totally different nature. They partake of the character of a terminable debt; they are payable at a certain fixed time, and the money is due when that period expires, when they must be paid off unless the holders are willing to renew them. The nature of a Sinking Fund is wholly different. That is a compulsory arrangement, made beforehand, in pursuance of which the public faith is pledged to the redemption of a certain amount of the debt annually. Mr. Pitt convinced himself that by some self-acting process—some contrivance of compound interest—the enormous debt which was incurred during the French war could be extinguished; and I dare say there are hon. Gentlemen in this House who have seen a portrait of Mr. Pitt 2125 with a paper in his hand inscribed with the words, "Establishment of a Sinking Fund for the redemption of the national debt," showing that in the public estimation of that day Mr. Pitt's great title to immortality was his scheme of a Sinking Fund for the redemption of the national debt. I need not remind the House how illusory that plan was, how every trace of it has been swept from our legislation, and that the only relic of it which remains is the obligation, whenever any surplus exists, of extinguishing a certain amount of debt. If the case of a nation resembled that of an individual a Sinking Fund, such as was created soon after the peace of 1815, by Act of Parliament, would be an efficient and satisfactory means of extinguishing the debt. But that is never allowed to be the case. The system on which the income of a nation is regulated is by first taking its expenditure and then adapting its income to that expenditure. Therefore it is vain to expect that there can be any considerable surplus naturally arising after the expenditure has been defrayed, and unless this House is prepared to make it obligatory on the Government—unless some paramount obligation should arise to propose Ways and Means by which a certain portion of the debt shall be annually extinguished, we must make up our minds quietly to submit to the perpetuity of our present debt, and to satisfy our consciences by the annual payment of the interest, without any attempt to reduce the principal. I admit that in a year in which the £2,000,000 of Exchequer bonds fell due there would be great difficulty in discharging the £1,500,000 of the War Sinking Fund. When the Act for that War Sinking Fund was passed it was impossible for me to tell how far our financial state would be equal to the claims of the year in which the Exchequer bonds were redeemable. All that could be done was to make a general prospective charge. If the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer could have suggested means by which these £2,000,000 could be redeemed, I should not have made any objection to the postponement of the War Sinking Fund. What I object to in the present scheme of the right hon. Gentleman is, that he has made no attempt either to pay off the £2,000,000 of Exchequer bonds wholly or in part, and that he has postponed the operation of the War Sinking Fund, as if no obligation to pay off any 2126 debt had existed. It is often said that the national debt of this country is of so gigantic a nature that it is vain to make any attempt to pay it off—that, in fact, it is so great as to transcend the power of any generation to deal with it, and that we must now submit to what has come to be regarded as an inevitable destiny. But let it be borne in mind that, in the first place, the capital of the debt is an imaginary quantity—a sum which the Government can never be called on to discharge. When we talk of discharging the debt, what is meant is, that we buy up our own perpetual annuities granted by ourselves. But I would call attention to the fact that when money is borrowed at 5 per cent., a sum equal to the whole capital is paid in interest every twenty years. When it is borrowed at a less interest, as in the case of the national debt of this country, it may be considered as being paid off in a greater number of years, but still in a limited amount of time. The same result follows. The present debt stands at an interest of about 3⅓ per cent., and we pay in annual interest a sum equal to the whole principal of the debt once every thirty years. Therefore, however large that sum may be, it is not so great but that some efforts may be made for its reduction. I come now to the right hon. Gentleman's view as to the national obligation to reduce, and, finally, to extinguish the income tax. I confess I have some difficulty in understanding his theory with respect to national engagements of this nature. The right hon. Gentleman holds that there is no binding engagement on us not to pay off £2,000,000 of Exchequer bonds. He also holds that we are under no national engagement to appropriate £1,500,000 to the War Sinking Fund. But when he comes to the question of remitting or repealing taxation, the right hon. Gentleman says that we have passed an Act under which we are bound by a national engagement to remit next year 2d. in the pound of the income tax, and to extinguish it altogether in 1860. I ask the right hon. Gentleman upon what grounds he rests this doctrine as to our solemn national engagements, when it is considered that the question of balancing our income and our expenditure naturally arises every year? What I wish to know is, whether we are to lay down that prospective engagements for the remission of taxation are to be hold sacred while prospective engagements for the payment of a 2127 debt are to be held absolutely worthless. There is no principle so well recognised or of which we are so justly proud as the payment of our engagements. I quite admit that engagements made by Act of Parliament to discharge national debt are always subject to certain conditions, and that it is always open to this House to reconsider engagements of that sort. Far from being a patron of the doctrine of irreversible and indefeasible laws, I hold that to be an exploded error; but if we are to admit this doctrine of national engagements where it is for our immediate convenience, we should hold it equally sacred where it involves some present privation or inconvenience. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, applying his doctrine of national engagement to the present year, says we are under a sacred engagement to reduce the income tax, and he allows it to fall from 1d. to 5d. When we are called on to give this effect to a solemn national engagement, perhaps we may take a somewhat less exalted view of the benefit to be derived by the tax-payer from this change.
Now let me inquire what will be the probable result of the change? During the war the income tax amounted to 16d. in the pound, which was equal to £6 13s. 4d. per cent. On the return of peace the late Government, not acting, I beg leave to repeat, in obedience merely to the popular demand, but acting according to what they thought right, proposed to take off the war 9d. The war 9d. came to £3 15s. per cent. When reduced it was a very substantial relief, no doubt, and one that was felt to be such by every class in England, especially the smaller class of incomes, on whom the pressure of the war income tax fell very severely. The result was that the tax last year stood at 1d. in the pound being equal to £2 18s. 4d. per cent., which for an income tax cannot be considered a very high and oppressive rate. The right hon. Gentleman proposes to take off 2d., which is 16s. 8d. per cent, and reduces the £2 18s. 4d. per cent, to £2 1s. 8d. per cent, though in reality the whole relief he affords in the present year is 8s. 4d. per cent. I do not mean to say that this is not a relief, but it is not such as will be sensibly felt by persons of large income, as they do not look to their incomes with such accuracy as to feel this small difference. On the other hand, if you take those who have £200 or £300 a year, 16s. 8d. per cent. comes to 2128 so small a sum on their entire income that it cannot be regarded as affording them any very substantial relief. It appears to me, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman, in proposing this arrangement, is violating an important principle involved in the redemption of the Exchequer bonds falling due this year, without giving any substantial or effective relief. There is another important question included in the plan of the right hon. Gentleman. He denounces the existing income tax as impolitic and unjust, and he treats it as a national obligation that the tax should expire in 1860. But we do not know what may be the state of our finances in 1860, and we do not know whether our expenditure will be such as to admit of our reducing taxation. The income tax of that year will amount to £5,000,000. There may be some sanguine Gentlemen in this House who think that in 1860 we shall have to deal with the practical problem of taking off £5,000,000 of taxation, in consequence of our having that amount in surplus. I hope it may prove so, but it may turn out that there is no surplus revenue. Then if we are bound by a solemn engagement to take off £5,000,000 of income tax the question will resolve itself into this—What other source of taxation shall we resort to in order to raise £5,000,000 of revenue? The House will see that these are two perfectly distinct questions, which it is extremely difficult, if not utterly impossible, for us to solve at the present moment. The income tax is one that falls in most part on the wealthier part of the community. It is easy to get up in this House, in an assembly of gentlemen, every one of whom pays income tax, and denounce it in the terms used by the right hon. Gentleman—it is an easy way of calling forth the cheers of this House. But before the income tax can be abolished, and we can substitute £5,000,000 levied from the general consumption of the country, and therefore affecting all classes, it will be necessary to address assemblages of a very different character—assemblages which will embrace as few individuals who pay income tax as this House embraces persons who are exempt from the payment of the tax. That is a consideration which I ask the House seriously to ponder before they are drawn into any resolution that they may be unable to adhere to in a future year, and before they fetter the liberty of their deliberations as to the course which they may hereafter 2129 judge to be most conducive to the interests of the country. I will call the attention of the House for a moment to a brief comparison of the amount of our direct and indirect taxation, with the view of seeing whether it would be wise now to pledge ourselves irrevocably to extinguish the income tax in 1860; for, after all that has been said of our removing taxation from the general consumer and raising a large portion of our revenue from direct taxation on the opulent classes, let the House consider how small a proportion direct bears to indirect taxation. According to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the income of the present year from customs and excise which form the bulk of our indirect taxation, will be £41,500,000. Let us see how very small in comparison with this is the amount of our direct taxation. The land tax is about £1,200,000; assessed taxes, £2,000,000; income tax £5,000,000; in all £8,200,000. Strictly speaking, that is the whole amount of our direct taxation; and if you take from it the income tax you have only £3,200,000. But there is another class of taxes which I include with the direct taxation though they differ in some respects from the preceding. That class comprises the stamps, probate and legacy duty, and succession duty, amounting to £7,550,000. Then there is the revenue from the post-office (which is a payment for services performed rather than a tax), £3,200,000; and these, added to the above, make a total of only £10,750,000; and even adding the total to the other they do not equal one-half of the indirect taxation. In these circumstances, I confess that it appears to me that this House ought not to come to any distinct pledge with regard to the period at which either the income tax or any other tax should cease. I do not wish to be understood as expressing any opinion as to the cessation of the income tax at a time when it may be found that the interests of the country demand its abrogation. I am no advocate for the income tax. All I ask is, that when the time arrives for considering this question we should be free to act, and not find ourselves tied by any declaration which may be considered as having pledged the faith of this House. I decline altogether to allow my freedom of judgment to be interfered with by any declaration of the right hon. Gentleman. I wish to hold myself perfectly free to form in future years a judgment upon the expenditure and the income of 2130 the country, and I trust the House will join with me in refusing to be held to any formula or any test that may be imposed upon us by the right hon. Gentleman. The real question with regard to the probable remission of the income tax depends on the views which the House may take of what ought to be the amount of the public expenditure; for I beg to remark that, whatever the proposition of the Government may be at the commencement of a Session, when the Estimates are once adopted by the House they cease to be the Estimates of Government, and become the votes of this House. It is in vain for hon. Gentlemen after this to attempt to separate their responsibility from that of Ministers, and nothing can be more unjust to the Gentlemen who sit on the Treasury Bench than to hold them responsible for the expenditure involved in the Estimates after they have been voted by the House. It is with the House that the responsibility ultimately rests, and whether before inquiry or after inquiry they sanction the expenditure, it is not competent for them to blame the Government afterwards. Having had the honour for the last few years of sitting on the opposite bench., and having had the responsibility of balancing to the best of my ability the revenue and expenditure of the country, I am bound to say that in the present state of parties, in the absence of any strong feeling on any great public question, in the absence of any compact party organization, it is the Government which has become the great advocate of economy in this House, and it is the different sections of the House which have become the great advocates of expenditure. I speak from personal knowledge of this matter. I am bound to state that the great pressure upon the Government is not now to diminish expenditure, but it is a pressure brought to bear from various quarters—from local, sectional, and personal interests—to increase expenditure. That pressure it is difficult for any Government, and will be difficult for the right hon. Gentleman the (Chancellor of the Exchequer), to resist. He will feel it before he has been long in office, and the House will never become fully conscious of their responsibility until that responsibility has to be solved by the equalization of revenue and taxation. I feel it my duty to speak with freedom on this subject, because I think that the House is too much in the habit of attempting to urge an increase of expenditure and the remission 2131 of taxation upon the Government. I take the liberty of telling hon. Gentlemen that that process cannot go on very long. I am glad that no one has been found to recommend us to have recourse to the ruinous system of peace loans, and I rejoice that the right hon. Gentleman has not given the smallest sanction to a system of that sort. But if the House should not be prepared to adopt a system of peace loans, and if it continues to urge an increase of expenditure and a reduction of taxation it cannot go on very long in such a course. When, however, I state that the pressure of this House upon the Government under present circumstances tends greatly to the increase of expenditure, I must also do this justice to those who do press that increased expenditure upon the House, that it is with rare exceptions an expenditure of a just and useful nature. There are a vast number of plans for public improvement and for putting things into us perfect a state as possible. Every one wishes to see an increase in his own branch of the public service and an extension of its usefulness, and every Department seeks naturally to obtain from the Government the largest share of expenditure for its own branch. Some hon. Gentlemen wish to build better barracks for the army; others are filled with alarms of foreign invasion, and desire to see large sums laid out on fortifications; others are for making ampler provision for retired soldiers, for the widows of soldiers, and for other military services; while others indulge in innumerable plans for the expansion and improvement of the army. These recommendations, I admit, are not prompted by motives of personal interest, but if they are carried into effect they cannot fail to involve a large addition to the Army Estimates. Similar recommendations are made with regard to the Navy Estimates. Then we have suggestions for the encouragement of education, the promotion of science and art, the building of innumerable public edifices, the laying down of electric telegraphs by land and sea, and, in short, the evening would scarcely be long enough to enumerate the useful public projects which are pressed upon the Government, which in some instances they are forced to adopt and which of necessity materially add to the aggregate of the public expenditure. If this system is to go on and the Government are to be charged with backwardness, and with being influenced by a niggardly spirit if they venture to interpose an obsta- 2132 cle on the ground of expense, and the House, as has been the case on some occasions, decline to support the Government in resisting such demands—then, it will be impossible for the Government to make those remissions of taxation which hon. Gentlemen declare to be necessary. The same difficulty, also, is likely to arise with respect to those views of foreign, colonial, and Indian policy which are proclaimed by some hon. Members. If we are to extend our arms to all the extremities of the habitable globe—if we are to enlarge our colonial empire—if wherever a few British merchants establish themselves we are to send out ships to protect them in case of dispute with the natives—if we are to maintain that spirited foreign policy which the House has shown so strong an inclination to support—if we are to menace our neighbours, and at the extremity of the world are to be prepared with fleets and armies to give protection to British interests, it will be in vain for any Government to attempt to reduce its expenditure, and the only course is to adopt the views upon domestic, foreign, and colonial policy entertained by a majority of this House, and equalize the revenue and expenditure as we can. I did not intend to trouble the House so long, and I ought to apologize for the length of my remarks; but I wish to repeat that I trust the House will content itself with a statement confined within the limits of the current year. They have seen by the experience of the previous year that after the Estimates were prepared, a great revolt broke out in India, which might have defeated all the calculations that had been made. I believe that the assurances which my right hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Vernon Smith) and myself gave to the House at the end of last Session, with respect to the probable pressure on the finances arising from the Indian disturbances, have been realized by the event. But we gave those assurances with great reserve and distrust in our own judgments; and if the capture of Delhi had been postponed, or if other events over which it was impossible to have any control, and which it was impossible to foresee, had occurred, it might have been our duty to call Parliament together in the autumn or winter, to lay before them increased Estimates, and to ask them for assistance in carrying out greater military and naval operations. With an enormous empire, and the extent to which the energy and enterprise of Englishmen have 2133 proceeded, and are protected and encouraged by the Legislature, it is impossible at the beginning of the Session to foresee with confidence the events of a single financial year,—ranch less what will be the state of things in two or three years. For these reasons I think that this House ought not to enter into prospective engagements with respect to the taxation of future years. I do not ask you to pledge yourselves to keep up particular taxes, but I merely warn you against entering into rash obligations, and I beg you to leave yourselves the full and unfettered liberty of discussing and deciding, when the exigency has arisen, as to the nature and character of that exigency and the best way of meeting it.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
Sir, I am not disposed to quarrel with the opinion of my right hon. Friend, that the financial condition of the country calls for some further review, and some broader review, than it received on the night when the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of Exchequer brought in his Budget. At the same time I think it would have been more convenient to the House if some notice had been given that a discussion of so much importance and interest was about to be entered upon, more especially as my right hon. Friend has traversed a wide field in the remarks which he has submitted to the House. I shall not attempt to traverse that field, and I will only detain the House a few moments, but there are various matters which it is not possible to pass by in silence, and there are some which I should have been glad if my right hon. Friend had permitted us to avoid reviving. I concur with my right hon, Friend in the desirableness of endeavouring to call attention to the certain and serious consequences of the practice which is going forward of using the House of Commons, not as a curb upon the Government in the matter of public expenditure, but of bringing it to bear upon the Government as a stimulus to outlay. It is impossible too deeply to regret the growing frequency of that practice. But when censure is bestowed upon the House of Commons I must say one word in its behalf, and I speak from experience, because it has often been my duty to resist officially Motions made in this House in favour of an increase of public expenditure. I venture to say that Governments are not wholly without blame in this matter, because if they offer to the attacks of the House of 2134 Commons a feeble resistance that scarcely carries with it the appearance of sincerity, and if they permit the House to take into its own hands the functions of the Executive, the certain consequences will be such an aggravation of the evil as cannot be compensated by the soundest admonitions, such as we have heard from my right hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend says he rose to notice a rumour that the state of the finances was not satisfactory. He then described the condition in which he left the Treasury, and the balance of income and expenditure for the year just expired and the year just begun. I confess I had hoped that we bad heard enough of the state of last year's finance in the debates of the last Session, and I will only point out to my right hon. Friend that, while it is not a convenient practice to refer to rumours out of doors as a reason for raising discussions here on this subject, the question, after all, is one that docs not depend upon rumours, but upon figures. My right hon. Friend naturally reverts to his opinion that the state of the balance of income and expenditure is satisfactory. I do not hesitate to say, whatever rumours may be abroad, that I am bound to adhere to the opinion that it is not satisfactory. My right hon. Friend says that after the payment of £4,000,000 of debt there was a satisfactory balance in the Exchequer at the end of last year. There is no man more accurate than my right hon. Friend, but I question the accuracy of that statement. I think that in the £4.000,000 he includes a sum of £1,100,000 which he paid for the redemption of the Sound Dues. I am sure there is nothing further from his intention than to mislead, but I think it is a mistake to call redemption of debt the defraying a charge, in the first year, out of money borrowed for the expenses of the war, which was then lying in the Treasury. My right hon. Friend left a deficiency in the year which has just expired, and likewise an estimated deficiency in the year which has just begun. The deficiency in the year ended, after deducting the £1,100,000 for the Sound Dues, was something under £1,500,000, and the deficiency in the year commenced, if the charges fixed on the year by law were included, would be about £4,000,000, or, omitting the Exchequer bonds and Sinking Fund, about £500,000, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposes to provide for by new taxation. These are matters of fact which there is no occasion to, 2135 enhance or exaggerate, and which perhaps there is no great advantage in discussing; but the statement that the relation between income and expenditure constitutes a satisfactory state of circumstances is an expression of opinion which I cannot allow to pass without my protest. My remonstrance applies to the state of things last year as well as to the state of things prospectively, which I thought my right hon. Friend had also included within the sentiments of approval which he pronounced. My right hon. Friend has proceeded to intimate an unfavourable opinion with regard to the plan proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in more points than one, and my right hon. Friend in one portion of his speech said, "Do not let this House make rash engagements with reference to years which are yet to come." My right hon. Friend said it in another view; but I could not help feeling how strongly his warning applied to that most rash engagement which he induced the House to make, and to which I am entitled to object now as I objected at the time—namely, the engagement to pay off, under the name of a Sinking Fund, annually £1,500,000 of debt. This is a question of great importance. My right hon. Friend went back to the history of Mr. Pitt and his opinions upon it, and he said "the admirers of Mr. Pitt anticipated that the creation of the Sinking Fund would be among his proudest titles to the approbation of posterity." A few years past, and the whole doctrine of Mr. Pitt was, I may say, blown to atoms. But at the same time there is much more to be said for the doctrine as invented by Mr. Pitt than as revived of late years; for if Mr. Pitt erected a theory which did not stand the test of experience, at any rate be had never seen the theory subjected to the test and failing under it. But what have you done? After seeing the system of Mr. Pitt fail, after knowing that every eminent man has, one by one, given judgment against it, after utterly erasing that system from the statute-book, three years ago you deliberately constituted it afresh. And now the old story begins to be repeated. The touchstone of experience has again begun to be applied. I do not count the £250,000 last year. You have the first serious example this year. The responsible Ministers of the Crown say it is impossible to fulfil the engagement which was contracted by the Act; and although my right hon. Friend objects to the statement of the Chancellor of tin; Exchequer, yet even he has 2136 never told us that he has sufficient confidence in his plan to go to a division or make any proposal with regard to it. Sir, I confess I deeply regret the revival of the Sinking Fund, and I am sorry to hear my right hon. Friend say that it is the only practicable mode of reducing the debt. With regard to the reduction of the debt I am ready to go all lengths with my right hon. Friend. But has there been no debt reduced in the last thirty years? Do we not know that under the annual ordinary operation of the Budget thirty or forty or fifty millions of money have been applied to the reduction of the debt under a different system from that which my right hon. Friend designates as alone practicable? Does my right hon. Friend think that under the system which he designates as alone practicable one-third of the sum would have been paid off. I hope that my right hon. Friend will bring this question to a fair issue. It is quite plain that we ought to have an opinion upon it one way or the other. If we think the Sinking Fund good, let us take some positive step to show that we intend to act upon it; if we think it bad, let us have done with it altogether. Depend upon it you will not get out of that subject without considerable dissatisfaction. This House, when it passed those Acts, undertook that £1,500,000 a year should be laid out absolutely in the purchase of stock. It is impossible but the fund holders must have a great interest in the redemption of that pledge. Their objections were stated at the time, but they gain more and more force the longer you pretend to keep that plan alive, and at the same time do not suffer it to become efficacious. The paying off £1,500,000 a year stands inscribed on the book of your obligations at the instance of my right hon. Friend, who deprecates all financial legislation for future years. Is there any conceivable state of circumstances under any conceivable Chancellor of the Exchequer in which, having an income for the year just sufficient, without the £1,500,000, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would come down and ask for £1,500,000 more taxes? I say confidently that if my right hon. Friend himself is Chancellor of the Exchequer when that state of facts arises, he will not invite the House of Commons to lay on taxes of £1,500,000 in order to redeem the pledge, if pledge it were, or, at any rate, to fulfil the plan which had been sanctioned by an Act of Parliament. My right hon. Friend 2137 does not, I think, do justice to the ordinary Sinking Fund established by the Act which directs the application of surplus revenue. It is not at all true that it is ineffective. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer do his duty, and the Departments do their duty, these two things follow,—the Chancellor of the Exchequer estimates the income moderately, and the Departments estimate the expenditure fully. There is usually a margin both in the one and the other, and you will rarely find, under favourable circumstances, that there is not a considerable sum applicable in the course of the year to the reduction of the debt. My right hon. Friend finds fault with the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the different mode in which he deals with two different classes of engagements. My right hon. Friend says, there is an engagement to pay off £2,000,000 of Exchequer bonds, and an engagement to let the income tax fall. Why fulfil the one, pleading it to be obligatory, and drop the other? It seems to me, the Chancellor of the Exchequer may very well say, that there is no engagement at all with respect to Exchequer bonds, except simply to reimburse the holders. There never was a pledge of Parliament— it never was the intention of Parliament that a portion should be redeemed in 1858. I venture to speak confidently, because I am cognizant of the circumstances. The history of those Exchequer bonds was this; —When heavy taxes were laid on at the commencement of the war, the income tax was necessarily six months in arrear, and it became necessary to provide funds by temporary instruments. The temporary instruments were the Exchequer bonds, and the money which ought to have gone to pay them off was the half-year's war income tax, which was outstanding twelve months ago, a greater part of which, in spite of remonstrance, the House of Commons in its wisdom thought fit to apply, not to the redemption of public debt, but to the expenses of the year. The mere circumstance that they were made redeemable in 1858, had nothing to do with the views of Parliament. In bringing a new security of that kind into the market, it became necessary to arrange the terms for their falling due, in such a way as would be most convenient for putting out the bonds, and for that reason the bonds were put out to expire in 1858. But the answer of the Chancellor of the Exchequer is plain—"I cannot redeem the Exchequer 2138 bonds; the money was received last year, and spent last year for other purposes." And while I quite agree with my right hon. Friend, the House of Commons took upon itself the responsibility of his proposal, yet I must say that, as my right hon. Friend was himself the person who made it, he is the last man who ought to come down and find fault with the Chancellor of the Exchequer for not extinguishing the Exchequer bonds. With regard to the other engagement, I cannot help thinking myself, that my right hon. Friend somewhat overstates the doctrine of covenant and compact respecting the ultimate extinction of the income tax. No one pretends that Parliament gave an irredeemable pledge on that subject. No man has ever said, in my hearing at least, that we were bound to extinguish the income tax in 1860, whether public policy recommended it or not. But there is a great deal between saying that and adopting the doctrine of my right hon. Friend. That doctrine is clear. It is not that the income tax is a great instrument of taxation, which may be properly maintained for a great object of public policy, but it is this—that the income tax is a convenient part of the ordinary financial system of the country. That is really the basis of all the remarks of my right hon. Friend upon this subject. But, Sir, that is not the ground upon which we originally obtained the income tax from the people. In 1842, when it was enacted—in 1845, when it was re-enacted—in 1853, when it was extended to Ireland and carried down to a lower clas3, directly opposite language was used. Parliament was told, and the country was told, and understood from end to end, that the income tax was asked for, not because it was a convenient portion of the ordinary revenue, but because certain great ends of policy were to be obtained by it. Those ends were two. The first was the extensive reconstruction of our commercial and financial system; the second was the maintenance of the honour and interest of the country in a great European war. Both were objects perfectly adequate, and the country was contented to pay for them. But if you are going to make a transition from that system, which obtained the tax as a special tax, to that which places it in the category of ordinary taxation you ought not to make that transition in the dark. It ought to be well understood, it ought to be placed before Parliament and the country, and the country ought to have 2139 an opportunity of giving its verdict, whether it is contented to pay the tax on that footing or not. We first obtained the income tax, and we kept it up for the purpose of effecting beneficial remissions of taxation; but is that the path in which we are walking now? What is the history of the paper duty of late years, of the wine duties, of the duty on marine insurance? The whole of that process of remission has been completely arrested, and we talk of the continuance of the income tax as if we had a right to do so consistently with the terms upon which we obtained it. But that is not the whole strength of the case. Not only did we obtain the tax to carry out new changes in our commercial system for the benefit of the consumer and the great body of the people, but we have now absolutely begun to travel in an opposite direction. My right hon. Friend, when he was quoting his figures to show the incidence of indirect taxation, might have mentioned that he himself, in a laudable effort to make the revenue and expenditure meet, during the last year, arrested the downward progress of the tea and sugar duties, and thus added £2,000,000 to the permanent taxation of the country. Let us have a clear understanding, then, whether it be about Exchequer bonds, the Sinking Fund, or the income tax. If it be the opinion of the country that it is a good permanent tax, by all means let it be paid. And I am bound to say that I do not think this House has shown that degree of personal selfishness, considering it as a body composed of income-tax payers, which ought to expose it to any imputations on this point. No doubt the income tax has a great many recommendations as part of the permanent revenue of the country, but there are also great objections against it. One is a moral objection—for I believe it does tend more than any other tax to demoralize and corrupt the people; not from the extent of its levy, nor from the fault of those who levy it—for no tax was ever in any country under the management of a Department more efficient and intelligent—but from the essential nature of the tax itself. Another objection is, that so long as you consent, without a special purpose, to levy the income tax as part of the ordinary and permanent revenue of the country, so long it will be vain to talk of economy and effective reduction of expenditure. It is a source so productive, an engine so convenient—it is so easy to lay on 1d. or 2d. at a time; it is so easy to come down to the 2140 House, like my right hon. Friend, and show that the difference between £2 1s. 8d. and £2 18s. 4d. is, after all, so very contemptible a sum that we need make no difficulty about paying it, that so long as you have the income tax a part of your ordinary revenue you need not think of effective and extensive economy. If economy is not thought desirable, of course that argument is of no weight, but, being one of those who believe that our scale of expenditure would admit of considerable reduction, I am thereby strengthened in my opinion that either the income tax should be used for its original purposes or that it should be allowed to drop. I have a small complaint to bring against my right hon. Friend. When he rose to-night we were justified, I think, in entertaining some expectation that he would have told us what he would have done had he been Chancellor of the Exchequer. My right hon. Friend went very near, but he did not quite come up to the mark in his usual manly manner—although something may be extracted from his statement. He made one material admission—that the reduction of the war income tax last year was the deliberate act of the Government—not done under Parliamentary pressure. I believed that at the time, but I am extremely glad to hear it confirmed by the right hon. Gentleman. But that statement has been very seriously impugned, and unless I am much mistaken —I say it with great regret—I have seen that statement impugned, not in authoritative form certainly, but still in a form which we seldom find to be wrong—by Members of what was lately Her Majesty's Government. I think that I have seen it stated that when a right hon. Gentleman, a colleague of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, who went down to his constituents in a central county in the autumn, was asked by some of them how it was that they had not the army and the military establishments of the country in a better condition when the mutiny in India broke out, his answer was, "How could we?—the House of Commons, Mr. Disraeli, and the rest of them, would not allow us to keep up the war income tax." I do not know whether that statement ever came to my right hon. Friend's knowledge, but at all events, he has put a complete extinguisher on all such statements for the future, and we shall no longer have it said that the extinction of the war income tax was extorted by the House of Commons. As it appears to me, my right hon. Friend, 2141 from what he said, would have raised the income tax again to 9d. He gives the present Government plenty of latitude and margin. I do not ask you, he says, to redeem the Exchequer bonds, and keep up the Sinking Fund, too; but you ought to have done one or the other. If you did not pay off the Exchequer bond?, you ought to have kept up the Sinking Fund. [Sir G. LEWIS: Just the other way.] Well, then, I am afraid if that is my right hon. Friend's idea, his income tax must have been 10d. There was a deficiency of £500,000 to be made up—the income tax stood for the first half-year at 7d., and for the second at 5d. If £2,000,000 were to be obtained for the purpose of redeeming the Exchequer bonds that would have been £2,500,000 to be provided by taxation, and I apprehend that £2,500,000 would have been produced by raising the income tax from 5d. to 10d.; 1d. in the pound being worth £1,000,000 for the year, it would be worth £500,000 for the half-year, and five sums of £500,000 each was just what my right hon. Friend would have wanted. That is merely a humble conjecture of mine, and of course very far inferior to the information which my right hon. Friend might have given us if we could only have extracted it from him whole and entire. I adhere to my own belief, that it is the duty of the Minister always to have a clear surplus, and steadily to keep in view the annual reduction of debt in time of peace. I cannot think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer— from whom I have frequently differed in matters of finance—is upon this occasion justly chargeable for failing to liquidate bonds when he had not one farthing wherewithal to meet them; still less do I think that that accusation ought to proceed from those who have induced the House of Commons to divert to a different purpose the money intended to be applicable to their liquidation.
§ MR. CARDWELL
I apprehend that the true question which we have to consider is a very short and simple one; and, though it does not involve any great sum, the principle on which it rests is of the greatest magnitude and importance. It is not a question of prospective or retrospective finance; but it is whether, in framing our financial arrangements for this current year, we are bound to deal with that repayment of debt which, according to existing statutory arrangements, falls due within this year. I agree with my right hon. 2142 Friend (Mr. Gladstone) that, so far as regards the sinking fund created during the war, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was justified in disregarding it. I concurred, at the time, with my right hon. Friend in resisting that proposal when it was placed on the statute-book. By whom was that resistance led? By a Finance Minister now, alas! no longer living, whose proud fortune it was to reduce a greater amount of debt, and to confer, by just economy and by a wise husbanding of resources, a greater benefit on this generation than any other Minister of Finance. I refer, of course, to the late Mr. Goulburn. But I do not think my right hon. Friend has stated with perfect accuracy the contrast between the present War Sinking Fund and that of Mr. Pitt. I concurred with him in objecting to this Sinking Fund, believing it was of no use to bind ourselves by a good resolution in the statute-book, when we had not the Ways and Means by which that good resolution was to be carried out. And I am not astonished at the result, which is, that for the last year only a small amount on account of the Sinking Fund was paid; that the balance sheet shows even that amount to have been paid not out of surplus revenue; and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the course of the present year, has found it necessary to depart altogether from the arrangement. But besides these objections, there were in the time of Mr. Pitt others—namely, that by a financial fallacy you were imposing on yourselves additional burdens which otherwise need have no existence; that yon were borrowing money in order to create a sinking fund at a time of adversity, when the rate of interest was high, whereas you could much more easily have established such a fund when peace and prosperity had returned. With regard to the £2,000,000 of Exchequer bonds which fall due in the present year, my right hon. Friend says there was no stipulation between Parliament and the public on this point. In that opinion I quite concur, and no one would dream of charging upon the present Chancellor of the Exchequer that he was personally involved in an engagement made when he was not in office. That, however, does not relieve him and the House of Commons from the necessity of considering whether the arrangement we are now making respecting these £2,000,000 of Exchequer bonds is a wise and beneficial one as regards the tax-paying people of this country. The bonds fall 2143 due this year, and the course it is proposed to take with regard to them is the one so often recommended, and to which people are unfortunately so apt to give way— namely, the postponement of our obligations. And to what period are we going to postpone them? From the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I understand it is a deliberate part of his plan to postpone them to a period when the income tax shall have expired, in order to give the public an assurance that we do not intend to break the existing arrangement for the termination of the tax. But in what position will you be in the year to which it is proposed to postpone them? You will have lost £6,000,000 which the income tax now produces, and you will have gained £2,000,000 of Long Annuities which will have fallen in by that time. In all probability, therefore, your position will be £4,000,000 worse than at present. Now, if we are not to have prospective finance, I say do not let us postpone our obligations and make prospective difficulties. How are these difficulties to be met at the period in question? Will you re-borrow? Now, there was no part of the Budget speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer more able than the eloquent passage in which he denounced the mischiefs of re-borrowing. I presume, therefore, it is not intended to re-borrow the amount. If, however, you intend to re-borrow it, why not do so now? Practically you are re-borrowing it now. Why, then, do you not state explicitly that you make this amount part of the permanent obligations of the country? Then, whereas during the war we said—"We have divided the burden of this war between the present generation and posterity; we have levied one part of it by taxes and the other by debt; and, of the taxes, we have levied one part upon property and the other by duties on articles of consumption," it would now be known that you had departed entirely from this understanding, and were going to make a permanent obligation upon posterity of that which at the time you intended to liquidate by the produce of taxes upon property. Well, then, do you intend to pay this amount out of the income tax? If so, look at the argument you are furnishing to the Chancellor of the Exchequer of that day for departing from the compact which you say it is your object to observe. The Financial Minister of I860 will then say, "With the £2,000,000 of Revenue which 2144 the termination of the Long Annuities will give me, and with the exercise of judicious economy"—an economy which my right hon. Friend has recommended, and which I hope to see more practised than has been the case in late years—"by these two means, combined, I might have taken off the income tax if it had not been for the £5,000,000 of Exchequer bonds which you have left me saddled with, and which you say are not to be re-borrowed." You are, then, laying a foundation for a new imposition of the income tax in 1860. But, if it were safe to prophesy, I would venture to predict that you will not re-impose the income tax for the purpose of paying off these bonds. Well, then, if you don't re-borrow—if you determine on putting an end to the income tax, how are we to repay this amount? The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, "Have you no confidence in a buoyant Exchequer and in increased consumption?" Yes, we have such confidence, for we have seen a policy which, by imposing an income tax and remitting indirect taxation, has increased the national revenue while it diminished the national burdens. But if you reverse that process, and seek to replace the expected deficit by the produce of indirect taxation, then we must look with diminished confidence at the buoyancy of the Revenue and the power of the consuming classes to fill up the vacuum you have made in the Treasury. My right hon. Friend referred to the £2,000,000 already permanently re-imposed on the indirect taxation of the country. Yes, the re-imposition of taxes for this purpose has been permanent upon the poorer classes, and now you are going to abolish altogether a tax which presses comparatively upon the rich alone. I should rejoice to see the paper duty and the duty on fire insurances removed, as well as those other smaller taxes levied upon articles through the Customs, which, small in their individual amount, constitute altogether a sum of about £1,000,000— too large to be remitted, except with a superabundant Exchequer. Would it not be wise to look in a future year to the remisssion of duties like these, which curtail trade, diminish our prosperity, and impoverish the Exchequer? If, however, you do not re-borrow these bonds—if you do not pay them out of the income tax—you leave them a burden upon these indirect taxes, and you paralyze by your own hands the most powerful instrument for replenishing the Exchequer—namely, the reduction 2145 of duties which press upon the industry and tax the consumption of the people.
MR. T. BARING
However unequal to the task of following my right hon. Friend in debate, I trust the House will excuse me if I demand its patience while I say a few words of parting on the much-condemned Sinking Fund. I believe that those who originated that fund did so with an honest intention to pay off in time of peace and prosperity an addition to our public debt which was rendered indispensable by our efforts in war. I believe that at that time it might fairly be said, "After the termination of the war, when we shall be, we hope, at peace with all the world—when we shall have a diminished expenditure and diminished Estimates, and when there will be loud demands for a reduction of taxation—we will render it obligatory upon the Minister of Finance not to reduce the Revenue to so low an amount that he shall be unable to pay £1,500,000 yearly towards the War Sinking Fund." But circumstances have changed since the time when the right hon. Gentleman (Sir G. C. Lewis) predicted we might return to the peace Estimates of 1852. We could not then look into futurity. We did not know that we should have a mutiny in India, or be plunged into an expensive war with China. We did not contemplate that we should incur accidental and temporary expenses, such as the redemption of the Sound Dues—a sum which any Chancellor of the Exchequer, as a matter of finance, would have been justified in borrowing and in spreading its payments over a number of years. We did not know then (and I wish it were not evident now) that the state of Europe would be such as to inflict upon us the necessity of maintaining expensive establishments. We did not know how much that war with Russia would develope the organ of combativeness in this country and throughout Europe. Well, we now find that we have come to a point at which we cannot derive from our Revenue a sufficient sum to meet our obligations. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone) Bays, he hates the very idea of the revival of the Sinking Fund, But what is the objection, let me ask, to that fund? In whatever way you raise the money which you require—call the mode what you will—you are, in reality, doing nothing more than seeking to give effect to an honest wish to pay your debts, 2146 and not to saddle them upon posterity. Mr. Pitt's plan was a failure, because it recognized the principle of borrowing with one band and paying off with the other. No doubt, if you had followed, after the peace, the plan of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford, and had you realized such a surplus Revenue as to continue the extinction of your debt, you would not have been obliged to have recourse to fix a sum by legislation. But, let me ask the House, has a Chancellor of the Exchequer ever maintained a surplus? Do we not, upon the contrary, see each successive Minister occupying that position courting popularity by a remission of taxation, and leaving the debt of the country to take its chance of reduction. If you just consider for a moment how closely each Chancellor of the Exchequer reckons upon the sources of making his revenue and meeting his expenditure, you will find that it is only to the circumstance that his calculations, owing to the occurrence of a season of prosperity, happen to be erroneous upon the right side, that you are indebted for any diminution of your debt; and that is not a mode of providing for the liquidation of our obligations to which, in my opinion, it is honest for the Chancellor of the Exchequer or for Parliament to resort. The House cannot fail to observe, that whenever a surplus revenue arises, hon. Member after hon. Member gets up in his place and asks that one tax or another might be repealed—sometimes the paper duty, sometimes the insurance duty, at another time the duty upon hops, indeed, it was only the other night, when the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced to us, not the existence of a surplus, but of a deficiency, that one hon. Gentleman asked for the remission of the last-mentioned duty, while another sought to have the duty on paper abolished. I contend, therefore, that unless Parliament takes some step to render the gradual extinction of our debt obligatory, the extent of its diminution will depend upon such circumstances as the strength of a Government to resist the demands of deputations, upon its being of a squeezable nature or nut, and upon the pressure which is brought to hear upon it from without. If, in my opinion, we were to adopt the system of borrowing when a time of pressure came upon us, and paying off our debts when a period of ease set in, we should be pursuing a policy which would not be only 2147 honest, but also politic and economical. It is not honest merely to say we can pay our debts. The real honesty consists in not saddling posterity with the whole of our liabilities. The course which I have indicated is the politic course, because the system of diminishing in time of prosperity the load which may have been laid upon us by the pressure of a war, of famine, or by any irregularity in our finance, enables us to borrow upon cheaper terms whenever the occasion for effecting a loan may again arise. It is an economical course, because, if it had been adopted, I feel convinced we should in years of peace and prosperity have our surplus revenue, without any unwillingness upon the part of this House, devoted to the reduction of our obligations, instead of demands being made for laying it out in the promotion of other and less beneficial objects. I also feel sure that, however the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) may have been baffled in attempting to reduce the burden of the debt by reducing the interest, such a step would have succeeded had the House always shown its readiness in times of prosperity to pay off the debts contracted in times of adversity. I agree, therefore, I confess, with the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir G. C, Lewis) in the opinion that the War Sinking Fund, although condemned by many high authorities in this House, was based upon a sound policy. I may now observe that it was predicted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford, in 1854, when those Exchequer bonds were issued, that they were but the representatives of taxes which were to come, and that there was not the slightest doubt but that they would be met when they fell due.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
And that prediction would have been verified but that the money which was raised last year was spent for other purposes.
MR. T. BARING
How could you know that those bonds would fall due at a time when you would have money to meet them? How could you, in 1854, know that the money which was to be raised in 1857, 1858, and 1859, might not be spent in settling arrears? Well, that has actually come to be the case, and you now find that by means of your Exchequer bonds, pay-able at a fixed period, you produce the great embarrassment in the case of the Finance Minister of being obliged to pay them off by means of increased taxation or exposing himself to the condemnation of 2148 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford. He asks us if we are to go on borrowing. You must do so if you have not got a farthing to pay. But, it is said, why not borrow in Exchequer bills. These are renewable at the end of every year, and if you borrow at a high rate of interest, you have to pay it only for that year, and you may avail yourself of the change in the money market for the purpose of renewing the bonds? But were not these bonds to be scrupulously paid off? We might meet the difficulty in which we are placed by means of increased taxation, and I, for one, should not have objected had there been no reduction in the income tax, because I can understand no compact binding upon Parliament, except a compact to meet the exigencies of the country, and to maintain the national faith. How that taxation is to be divided, whether it is to be levied in a direct or an indirect shape, is a question which this House must decide. To arrive at a just conclusion upon the point, you must not look too much either to one side or the other. You must not, moreover, bind yourselves to abolish the income tax in 1860, because the exigencies and sufferings of the country may then be such that great relief would be afforded by taking off a certain amount of indirect taxation. I cannot, however, agree with those who say that, looking to the present amount of indirect taxation, you are bound, for the purpose of reducing it, to keep up this tax upon property. My own impression is, that it is a wise policy to divide the burdens of the country, so that, while upon the one hand you do not levy taxes that may prevent consumption to an injurious extent upon the part of the great body of the people, you do not, upon the other, raise such an amount of direct taxation as may disturb the means of giving employment, and press indirectly upon the labouring classes throughout the kingdom. I beg to apologize to the House for trespassing upon it at such length. I confess, however, that after the condemnation which has been passed upon the departed Sinking Fund, I did wish to say a few words over its grave.
§ MR. BRIGHT
I wish to make a few observations upon the subject under discussion. I did not hear the whole of this de-bate, but what I did hear of it is of that confused character which one might have expected from the dilemma in which we are placed. One side of the House casts the blame of placing us in our present 2149 position upon the other; but the truth of the matter is, that we have been spending a great deal too much, and the difficulty is how to raise money to meet the demands which have in consequence arisen. On that point there is a contest between the rich and the poor, and, as is generally the case in this country, the poor go to the wall. [Cries of "No, no!"] I should be very glad if I could agree with the hon. Gentlemen who cry "No;" but when you maintain a large and a permanent tax upon articles of import, which are mixed up with the comfort of every cottager's family in the kingdom, and you reduce a description of tax almost touching nobody who has less than £100 a year, I cannot help thinking that people out of doors who read this debate will come to the same conclusion as that at which I have arrived. The fact is, we are endeavouring to do that which is impossible—trying to render a very heavy taxation easily borne. Such a taxation never was and never will be easily endured; and, move over, it never was or will be just. You must shift it from one shoulder to another. The rich and the powerful will do all in their power to shift the burden from themselves, and it will rest, as in this country is the case, mainly upon the great masses of the population, whose incomes are small, but whose consumption of taxed articles is, in consequence of their numbers, very considerable. It has been said that much of the difficulty in which we find ourselves in reference to this question of taxation is to be attributed to our foreign policy. I concur in that opinion. We are pursuing a foreign policy which every man among us condemns, in so far as it has been acted upon by a past generation, and which will receive at the bands of a future generation an equal share of condemnation. Allusion has been made to the combative spirit which has been raised among the people of this country; but whenever that spirit has been raised, there have always been statesmen ready to take advantage of it for the purpose of placing themselves upon that (the Treasury) bench, or, if already there, to maintain their position upon it. We have bad two wars since the particular time to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, one of which was begun, was car-carried on, and was ended without, as far as I know, one single word of information being given to this House; and, more, I believe that war was brought to an end at the time it was, because the Minister stood in some fear on account of a memorable 2150 debate and division which had taken place in this House in connection with another war. That war the House condemned— the Chinese war—and the Minister thought that perhaps he might be trespassing too much on the patience and credulity of his countrymen, and therefore he huddled up one war at least, that he might have only the other to manage with the country and Parliament. But that Chinese war the House of Commons has condemned, and that condemnation has never been reversed. It stands upon our records now; and although, from circumstances which few men will look hack to with satisfaction, a Parliament was returned apparently to reverse that sentence; yet no man, Minister or Member, has dared to ask that Parliament to reverse that sentence. ["Oh, oh!"] Let the hon. Gentlemen who cry "Oh!" try to do it. We do not know now whether we are at war with China or not. I understand that a celebrated individual, a native of that country, has been taken prisoner, and is now in India. Is he a prisoner of war, or has he been taken away merely as a curiosity? I do not know what the Government of the Earl of Derby is doing as to that question. They at least are not responsible for entering upon that war, but they will make themselves responsible if they delay one single hour to bring it to a conclusion. We are in that country, to my mind, as I solemnly believe, making the English name hateful, and making the spread of our civilization and our religion utterly impossible in that portion of the earth. We have no object, for every man admits we cannot have territory. We can gain nothing but trade. Trade surely will be better carried on with a nation, with whom we are at peace, than with one with whom we have fraudulently and upon false pretences plunged into war. There is one other point connected with our expenditure to which I wish to refer. I never yet have seen a Minister since I have sat in this House who made any real attempt to diminish the expenditure of the country. To take one case. I do not know the exact amount of the Navy Estimates, but I know they are some millions in excess of what was voted a few years ago. I suppose my hon. Friend the Member for Lambeth (Mr. W. Williams) could tell me to a sixpence, for I believe these vast Estimates weigh upon his mind, and discourage him precisely as they do me. Now, no country has a fleet that can measure itself with that of this country 2151 except France. Does anybody who sits there (pointing to the back Opposition benches) deny that the fleet of Russia cannot compare with ours? Austria and Prussia have no fleets at all of any consequence. The United States have one ship of the line and a few frigates, but not one ship of war in ten as compared with our navy. I should like to know why it is necessary that this country should maintain many hundred vessels of war of all sizes, when there is no other country which has a fleet to oppose to us, except that country which is our nearest neighbour and closest ally, and which, we are told, is only anxious to be on terms of amity with us? Hon. Gentlemen may think the amity of nations is not always to be relied upon, and although I do not doubt in the least the desire of the Emperor of the French to be upon terms of friendship with this country, yet I never had myself the slightest sympathy for that alliance which has existed between France and England. Amity with all nations, justice and courtesy to all, but intimate political alliances with none. That is my policy, and I believe it is the only policy in these matters which can lead to good. If you ask the French Minister of Marine why his Estimates are so large, what will he tell you? He will tell you he is building great ships, which he believes will never be of the least use, because England is building great ships, which every sensible Englishman also knows will not be of the slightest use. He will say, France has almost no colonies, very little foreign commerce as compared with this country; that France has no pretension whatever to a great navy except her nearness to England, and the policy of England in always maintaining an enormous navy. Supposing that a Minister of this country, daring to grapple with this question, were to say to the Emperor of the French, instead of squabbling with him about the Suez Canal, or, I will not say betraying, but differing from him upon the question of the Danubian Principalities, or negotiating about some paltry matter the decision of which either way will not affect any man in England— suppose, instead of that, a Minister were to say, "Why are we thus always playing at beggaring one another with millions spent upon our navies, while our populations are suffering, merely that we may hold our fists in each other's face?" I ask the House in all seriousness, would it not be better, instead of going on for the 2152 next five years, as we have for the last five years, building vast ships, which all good men hope will never be used, and which all sensible men know are not necessary for the purposes of our security,—would it not be better to ask the French Government, "Is it not possible to relieve your Exchequer and our Exchequer, to relieve your people and our people from the pressure of this vast taxation, which we are constantly compelled to wring from them?" Why not try some such course as that? But instead of doing that, which would be a great relief to the people and Governments of both countries, the cry of "Give, give," was repeated from Session to Session in respect of the army and navy. You have a million of paupers in England and Wales, you have others in Scotland and Ireland, you have Colonies beyond sea which are easily reached for a few pounds, and to which your population is being draughted off year after year. Every man who goes to those colonies repudiates your policy, repudiates your debt, and thanks Heaven that at last he has found a country where industry can have its reward, and where men calling themselves statesmen are not using every engine of government to deprive him of the produce of his industry and to diminish the comforts and independence of his family. And you, landed proprietors of England, remember that, however many of your countrymen may emigrate, your acres remain, and you will have by-and-by a different tone in this House after another reform in Parliament. Your succession duties will be overhauled, and will not be got rid of so easily as at present. Your property tax, which you are assisting the Chancellor of the Exchequer to throw over, will come back to you, and come back in an increased proportion. Rely upon it, the course which we have pursued for some years has been foolish and wicked. By casting unfair burdens upon the people you will create among them a spirit of discontent and disaffection, and when they have the power, as they shortly will have, to lay taxes upon those who have spent the money, you may depend upon it the poor will not always go to the wall and the rich will not always escape. ["Oh, oh!"] Those are unpalatable truths, but they are truths for all that. I do not like the income tax any more than you do, but I know it is the duty of Parliament either to diminish our expenditure or to maintain the income tax, or some other tax of that 2153 kind, and that, as we acted in a foolish spirit in involving ourselves in this expenditure, so we are now acting a cowardly and immoral part in casting off the burden of expense from our shoulders partly upon the great body of consumers now living, but mostly upon our posterity corning after us.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Radnor (Sir G. Lewis) accused me to-night of introducing to the House what he called a "grovelling measure." Serpit humi, said the right hon. Gentleman. But, after listening to the observations of the right hon. Gentleman, I think I may venture to answer him by a line from the same poet to whom he has referred—Dum vitat humum nubes et inania captet.He first found fault with the statement I made, that there had been a reduction of the expenditure to the amount of £800,000. And the right hon. Gentleman, by comparing the Estimates of the present year with the Estimates of the last year, proved, according to the manner in which he placed the question before the House, that the statement on my part was not authorized. But, Sir, I never stated that we had made a saving in the Estimates of this year over those of last year to that amount. All I stated was, that by the arrangements we had had recourse to, there would be a reduction of expenditure to the amount of £800,000; and I think I can show the House in a moment that that statement is accurate. On the Estimates laid on the table for the Army and Navy we made immediately a reduction to the amount of £400,000, and upon the other Estimates for the year the Civil Service and Miscellaneous Estimates, as compared with those of last year, show a like diminution of £400,000, together making the £800,000 I mentioned, a reduction to the same amount. The right hon. Gentleman has, I think, misstated the circumstances under which I proposed not to interfere with the decline of the income tax this year, He maintained that our compact with reference to the income tax was not more strict than the engagements entered into with regard to the Sinking Fund and the Exchequer bonds. Technically speaking, all engagements are in the hands of Parliament, and are in the same position. But what I wished to bring before the House, when they decided on the course which was to be taken with regard to the income tax, was that there were considerations of high policy connected with that tax which it was 2154 impossible for the House to avoid considering. Objections of so serious a character had been urged against the income tax in its present form becoming a permanent feature in our financial system, that it was impossible to avoid a grave consideration of the subject. From whom did the objections to that tax come? Not from the gentlemen of England, Members of Parliament, or the centres of wealth and opulence. They came, on the contrary, from professional men, from traders, from the humbler classes of society who are subject to its incidence, and who complain of its injustice, its inequality, and its inquisitorial character. These are not complaints, I repeat, urged by persons of opulence with respect to their own position in respect to the tax. These are complaints that can be pressed, and epithets that can be used only by persons of humble and difficult fortunes. The clamour against, and discontent with, the income tax, has never arisen from the opulent and educated classes. And it is to meet these complaints that so many plans have been originated to construct it in such a way as to recognise the difference between the different incomes that are brought under the operation of the tax, and it was to consider those complaints that a Committee of this House sat for two years. Well, I retain the opinion, that it is impossible to keep the income tax in its present form as a permanent feature of our financial system, and I think I did not misinterpret the feelings of the House and the country when I recommended that course which I hope they will ultimately sanction with respect to it. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir G. Lewis) says, that if the course we have indicated is pursued, we shall find ourselves in 1860 with a deficiency of £5,000,000 of taxation, and with no substitute. I might observe that in that statement the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Radnor has taken no account of the falling in in 1860 of those annuities which have been subsequently referred to in the course of the debate. I think it is of the utmost importance that the House should have a clear opinion on this subject, and that if they have a clear one, they should act on it with firmness and consistency. There is no greater fallacy than to suppose that because you do not approve of the present income tax you are therefore opposed to all direct taxation, That is a very convenient way of placing the question for those who are resisting the 2155 proposals of the Government, but it is not a fair one. Approval of a fair amount of direct taxation is perfectly consistent with disapproval of the manner in which direct taxation in at present raised. I believe it is of the utmost importance for social and political considerations of the highest character, that the income tax should not be maintained as a permanent feature of our financial system, and if I am told that in 1860 we may find ourselves in so perilous and difficult a position that it may be impossible for us to fulfil that arrangement, I must say that I never did, nor did I ever hear any Gentleman of any authority of any kind in this House upon this subject, contend that we could contemplate anything like that solemn compact referred to by the right hon. Gentleman. If next year, or in the year following, in 1860, circumstances of great exigency arise, or the country is in considerable danger, no one could contend for one moment that this tax is not to be adhered to as a source of supply. On the contrary, one of the reasons for which I maintained the inexpediency of keeping it up as a permanent tax, was that when a moment of difficulty arose you could fall back with confidence upon it, and you would have resources at command which would maintain the position of the country as a first class power. I shall say nothing now about the Sinking Fund. I resisted the creation of that Sinking Fund with the two right hon. Gentlemen who have spoken to-night. It is sufficient for me to say that no one now maintains the practicability of maintaining the War Sinking Fund under present circumstances. Every one agrees that the attempt to maintain it under present circumstances would have been idle and futile. Then I come to the other point of the Exchequer bonds. I admit that there is a great difference between the engagement to pay the Exchequer bonds, and that to maintain the arrangements with respect to the War Sinking Fund, and it was with the greatest regret that I found myself compelled to propose to the House that some postponement of the Exchequer bonds must take place. But both these engagements were purely financial engagements. On the other hand, our engagement with respect to the income tax was not merely based upon financial considerations, but also upon several considerations, and those of high policy. Viewing, then, the two engagements to which I referred in a purely financial aspect, the House were agreed the other night that it 2156 was most inexpedient, looking to the state of the country—commerce hardly recovering from its late severe trial—to load the country with a heavy burden of taxes to fulfil their engagements. The House having come to that conclusion, they placed at my disposal the necessary powers to raise two millions in order to redeem the bonds. And now, as the right hon. Gentleman says that the House has a right distinctly to know what has been done on the subject of these bonds, and has accused me of some want of courtesy, if not of a higher and more business-like virtue, in not giving holders of the bonds the option of renewing them, I will tell the House what I have thought prudent to do. The House permitted me to raise £2,000,000 by Exchequer bonds, payable at a period not later than six years from the date of such bonds, and at a rate not exceeding 3½ per cent. I have obtained, or shall obtain, from the Bank an advance of £1,000,000, payable in 1862, at 3¼ per cent; and under the circumstances of the case I think that that is a moderate and fair rate of interest, because, although it is, no doubt, possible to get money for a short period at 3 per cent—for a period of six years 3¼ is a fair arrangement. But I have made it a part of the arrangement that I should have the right to call towards the end of the year for another million at the same rate. But I have a lively hope, and indeed confidence, that the balances in the Exchequer, strengthened as they will be by the large exceptional sources of income that we shall have this year, will not render it necessary to call for the other million, but that I shall be able, out of the revenue of this year, to redeem £1,000,000. I contend, therefore, that under all the circumstances of the case, and with due humility, when these imputations are thrown out so freely of being disregardful of the public faith, that that is a prudent, and if carried into effect will be a very successful arrangement. I said that I have confidence in the state of the revenue, because, as I showed the other day, there has been during the whole of the year a considerable rally in its chief sources of produce. Since the last year a deficit upon the principal articles of revenue has actually been changed into a considerable surplus as compared with the Estimates of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am now in a position to tell the House the amount of the revenue for the first month of the financial year, ending May 1, and they 2157 will then be in a position to judge how far it bears out my Estimates. I will compare the revenue derived from some of the principal articles of consumption from the 1st of April to the 1st May, 1857, with that derived from the same articles for the corresponding month in the present year. This statement will, however, be confined to the Excise, because, although the account for the Customs is highly favourable, still, on account of the large amount paid for tea duties in April of last year a comparison would present the appearance of a considerable deficiency, although there is really an increase on the last month as compared with the first. I shall begin with the Excise. From the 1st of April to the 2nd May, 1857, in the very height and flush of our prosperity—long before there were any symptoms of that commercial crisis which weighed upon the country at the end of the year—the amount received from the Excise was £1,366,000. Well, Sir, the Excise for the same month in the present year—after all the country has suffered from that commercial distress—amounts to £1,602,000. The stamps from April to May, 1857—and again I must remind the House that that was a moment when none of us dreamed of the slightest depression to our commercial prosperity— were £484,000. The stamps for this month are £573,000. There is an increase on laud and assessed taxes. From April to May, 1857, they were £663,000; this month they are £668,000. The increase is of course slight; but I think these are very important tests, bearing in mind that the accounts from the Customs —especially on the article of tea—are of a very favourable character; for they show that the increase in the revenue is not of a transitory or evanescent nature, but arises from the increased resources of the country and the just revision of taxation which has taken place. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Radnor has not stated that he is going to oppose the Bill, therefore I will not anticipate anything so unpleasant from him. I am sorry the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Blight) should have indulged in some remarks with regard to the taxation of the country, which, I think, are not just. I do not think it is the main object of this House to remove taxation from property to labour. I do not think there is any desire in this House to evade the fair burden which they should bear. Sir, if ever an opportunity 2158 presents itself when we can enter into this question in detail—and it is impossible to form a just opinion upon this question without going into detail—I will show that the position of the hon. Gentleman, namely, that the necessary consequence of our system is that taxation must rest upon the great bulk of the population whose incomes are small, is a position which he will not he able to demonstrate. On the contrary the—I will not say "great bulk of the taxation," but—greater portion of the taxation, is borne by what we call people of property, and that mass of population, whether domestic servants or others, in relations equally near to and dependent upon that property. This is not the opportunity nor the occasion to enter upon this subject; but I could not hear such a proposition as that laid down by the hon. Member for Birmingham without at least entering my protest against its validity, and expressing my readiness, whenever the occasion offers, to grapple with him on that subject, and to prove to the satisfaction of ail practical men that the position which the hon. Gentleman would endeavour to establish in regard to the general incidents of taxation as affecting the labouring classes cannot be maintained. With one portion of the hon. Member's observations I would express my concurrence. I, too, deplore the great expenditure of this country on armaments. I regret that the state of affairs should render it necessary. I do not, however, myself, despair that—I will not say immediately, but in due season, and when some of the excitement which has prevailed unhappily of late has passed away—the wisdom of Cabinets will bring about that reduction of military expenditure which it is for the interests of all nations should be encouraged. That is only to be done by frank communication and by encouraging not only in this country, but between us and our immediate neighbours, a spirit not of acerbity such as has in some instances lately been manifested, but of mutual kindness and confidence, which, notwithstanding the sneers which some persons indulge in, I feel it is for the interest of both nations to foster, and which, I doubt not, the great body of the population will, on reflection, sanction and adopt. This is not an occasion on which I ought to touch much on these points; but it is not I that brought them into the debate, and unquestionably expenditure depends upon policy. I wish to make no comment on the policy that is past, but this I can 2159 truly say of the policy which is at present pursued, that is has no other object than to maintain the honour of this country, and to conciliate the good dispositions of foreign nations.
said, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) had observed that the late Chancellor of the Exchequer might, if he thought proper, have appropriated the sums that were in his hands to pay off the Exchequer bonds. The right hon. Gentleman, however must know that the state of the law and the state of the facts prevented his doing that. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer had £4,500,000 of the war income tax at his disposal last year, and they had £2,000,000 in bonds falling due, but he had no authority whatever to pay off those bonds out of the sum in his hands. The only way in which he could have paid them would have been by going into the market and purchasing the bonds at an extravagant price. He had no means of receiving the money, because the Sinking Fund Act required that any surplus that there was at the end of a quarter should be applied under that Act. The charge, therefore, against the late Chancellor of the Exchequer was entirely unfounded, inasmuch as it was impossible for him in the state of the law to apply any money last year to the payment of bonds due this year. There were some points in the Budget which appeared to him to require explanation. He could not bring himself to believe that the calculations of the right hon. Gentleman would prove to be correct. The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated in his estimate of the Customs' duties, that in the last year there was paid into the Exchequer a sum of £23,100,000; but then, he said, although that amount was paid in, yet the actual receipt for Customs was £23,300,000, because £200,000 had been left in the hands of the collectors and officers of the out ports to pay salaries and expenses voted by the House. He (Mr. Wilson) must remind the right hon. Gentleman that although there was the sum of £200,000 left in the hands of the collectors this year, yet there was last year a sum of £200,000 left in like manner, and that, therefore, one amount should balance the other. The right hon. Gentleman was certainly not entitled to take credit for the £200,000 left in the present year as available for forthcoming expenditure. Again, the right hon. Gentleman had admitted that a sum of 2160 £400,000, arising on the receipts of last year, properly belonged to the year before. That sum was much nearer £600,000 than £400,000, and, if so, the net receipts from the Customs last year would be found to he £22,500,000. Now, the right hon. Gentleman computed that the Customs would produce in the present year £23,400,000, or an increase of no less than £900,000 over the past year. He was afraid that looking to the depressed state of trade in the present year, no such increase would take place. So with respect to the Excise. Last year the Excise produced £17,800,000; but the right hon. Gentleman had estimated the probable yield in the present year at £18,100,000, or an increase of £300,000, in addition to the £500,000 expected to be derived from the equalization of spirit duties in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman had also taken credit for an increase of £300,000 from the Post Office—an increase not arising from receipts, but from a recovery of the balances now in the hands of the different offices throughout the country for the purpose of paying expenses. Here, again, he must remind the right hon. Gentleman that he was not entitled to take credit for those balances, because last year there was left in the country post offices a sum of £393,000, which ought to be put against the £300,000 now in hand. Altogether the right hon. Gentleman expected an increase of no less than £1,600,000 in the present year, including a sum of £100,000 for stamps. He was afraid that the right hon. Gentleman would find himself mistaken in his calculations. The financial crisis which occurred at the end of last year did not much affect the consumption of commodities; it did not interfere with the agricultural districts at all, and its effects in the manufacturing districts were considerably postponed. During the worst months of last year the employment in the manufacturing districts was as abundant as in the first three months of the present year. He (Mr. Wilson) was in a position to state that our exports had decreased this year no less than £5,300,000. In our export port trade to the United States there had been a decrease in the three months, as compared with the same period of last year, of £3,000,000. For the first three months of 1857 the exports to the United States were £5,246,000, while for the first three months of this year they were only £2,168,000. He sincerely hoped 2161 that his forebodings might turn out to be erroneous, but he could not help thinking, comparing the present depressed state of trade with its excited and prosperous condition last year, that there would be no such large increase of revenue as £1,600,000. A great deal bad been said in favour of the reduction of the property and income tax, which had been denounced, especially by his right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University, as being not only inquisitorial, but liable to evasion. Now, he could not help thinking that they were apt to exaggerate the objection there was in the country to the income tax. That objection arose in ancient times, when it was supposed that the tax would cease on the return of peace. The income tax was invented by Mr. Pitt for war purposes, and at one time, undoubtedly, it was not regarded by the people as a proper part of a peace establishment; but since its revival by Sir Robert Peel for purposes of peace, there had been a growing disposition throughout the country to believe that it was an exceedingly wise and beneficial tax. There was no tax so little liable to evasion. Schedules A, B, and C were not open to evasion at all, because the tax was collected at the source, and Schedule D was the only part of the tax which could be evaded. Even with regard to a portion of the receipts, arising under Schedule D —those collected from public companies — there could be no risk of evasion, and he believed it had been proved to demonstration that no less than 80 per cent of income tax was in no way liable to be evaded. It might be said that the income tax ought to be reserved for great emergencies; but those who had thought most on the subject had come to the conclusion, that the wisest policy would be to keep a small and moderate income tax at all times, capable of being expanded whenever occasion required. But the chief fault he had to find with the budget was, that it was the first attempt to depart from the commercial policy we had pursued for the last twenty years; that it postponed the payment of the public obligations at the same time that it reduced taxation, to be made up by other taxes highly objectionable. It imposed the first tax on trade for the last twenty years. He alluded to the proposition for a penny stamp on cheques. Stamp duties had been always considered an odious description of taxation; and although the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford had reduced the cost 2162 of stamps, they were in principle still objectionable. The right hon. Gentleman would have the House believe that the public were enamoured of a penny taxation. So they were, when a penny stamp on letters took the place of a sliding scale of postage, varying within the United Kingdom from 5d. to 1s. 5d.; so they were, when a uniform penny stamp on receipts superseded stamps varying from 3d. to 10s. They did not object to it, when a penny stamp was imposed upon banker's drafts or cheques drawn at a distance of over fifteen miles from the bank upon which they were drawn for. Such cheques and drafts had theretofore been liable to such stamps as would be required by bills of exchange; but none of these cases were that of the penny stamp proposed to be required on ordinary cheques, which was a new impost, and one more inconvenient than any other stamp that could have been imposed. It was a tax that interfered with one of the greatest improvements of modern financial science. The trade and commerce of the country had received the greatest amount of assistance from the system of deposit banking. All the joint-stock banks that now existed in London had sprung up within the last twenty years; yet their deposits were at present nearer to £50,000,000 than to £40,000,000, whilst they had not caused any withdrawal of capital from the private banks. An immense economy of the capital of the country was the result. In London alone, the deposits in the various banks amounted to £100,000,000; in Scotland, £40,000,000; in the rest of England and in Ireland, £100,000,000. There was a total of nearly £350,000,000 available for the purposes of trade. He considered it most undesirable to interfere with such a system by imposing a penny stamp upon bankers' cheques. When a banker paid a cheque he only returned a customer his own money, and why should the House impose a penalty upon a man who was only getting his money back? It was truly said, that this was not the first time the proposal had been made in that House. In the year 1853, some hon. Gentlemen tried to impose their views on this subject upon the House, and in 1855 the tax was proposed by the Government of that day. But that was a year of war, and war taxes were necessary to meet the war expenditure. If they only interfered with bankers' deposits to the extent of 10 per cent, the loss 2163 to the country in the waste of capital would be four times greater than any advantage arising from the tax. He hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer, therefore, before he made up his mind to persevere with his proposition, would consider these objections. The right hon. Gentleman had reminded the House that they had lost sight of the object for which the income tax had been established. That right hon. Gentleman had stated that, by means of it we had repealed nearly £3,000,000 of indirect taxes, and he (Mr. Wilson) contended that such blots on our tariff as the remaining timber duties ought to have been repealed before the House got rid of the engine that had enabled them to reduce so many taxes upon articles of consumption. Then there were the silk duties, for which no one supposed to be benefited thanked them; and the duties upon various small articles, which still rendered it necessary for Custom House officers to examine the clothes of persons arriving in this country. The right hon. Gentleman was about to equalize the spirit duties, but there was still a protecting duty of 90 per cent upon homemade as against foreign spirits. The paper duty and a great many of those blots still remained, for the removal of which the income tax was first imposed. Upon these grounds he protested against the notion that the House ought to get rid of the income tax, and he believed that holding out such a relief was holding out a delusion. Charges to a great amount would accumulate between the present year and 1860, and yet hon. Gentlemen said, "Let us get rid of the income tax." In 1860, annuities to the extent of £2,100,000 would fall in, but the tea and sugar duties were to be reduced at that time to the extent of £2,400,000, and it would be deceiving the public to lead them to suppose that the income tax would in that year be extinguished. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, when pressed on the subject, said he would not bind himself by such an obligation; but his whole argument for the Budget rested on the supposed extinction of the income tax. No one really believed that they would extinguish the income tax, and he regretted that bolder, stronger, and more manly language had not been used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon that subject. No doubt every tax was unpopular, and its unpopularity would increase, if those who ought to defend were the first to decry it and to point out its inconvenience. No one could 2164 look at that budget without seeing that it would postpone present difficulties only to increase the difficulties of the future, while it was liable to the further great objection, that it was to some extent a reaction from that policy which had of late years been productive of such immense advantages to this country.
§ SIR HENRY WILLOUGHBY
said, he thought the House would have a difficulty in conducting their business, unless they dealt only with the matter in hand, and that was, whether it was expedient to raise a sum of money in the shape of Exchequer bonds. He must, however, say, that he had hardly expected to hear from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Wilson) a justification of the income tax, and he thought that he had very much underrated the feeling of the people with regard to the income tax. It was regarded by the people of the great towns as essentially a war tax, and as an impost which necessarily assumed an inquisitorial character, and which pressed on different classes with an unequal severity that ought not to be tolerated under the ordinary peaceful condition of an industrious community. The people, therefore, would never consent to pay it in time of peace. It was imposed in 1842, because there was a deficiency in the Treasury, principally occasioned by war, and there was a distinct pledge given that it should come to an end in three years. Faith was broken, and in 1845 it was not repealed. He regretted that the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) should have endeavoured to raise a question between rich and poor. He believed that nothing could be more injurious than to impose an income tax on those who lived by labour, because the first effect of the tax was the withdrawal of employment. He suggested that the bonds should at once be converted into Exchequer bills as being less likely to complicate future financial operations than the plan of allowing the Bank of England to take them, and he objected to the clause in the Bill enabling the Commissioners for the reduction of the National Debt, to invest money on account of savings' banks in their purchase. These bonds had, for a long time, not been a favourite mode of investment, and the purchase of £1,800,000 worth with savings' bank money had entailed a loss upon the savings' banks. Upon the last two points, he hoped the Government would give some explanation.
§ MR. SLANEY
said, that with the exception of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) every Gentleman that had addressed the House was either a Chancellor of the Exchequer or an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, or else he might be regarded as an aspirant to that office. He must, however, protest against the melancholy tone which had characterized the debate. He must, also, protest against the statement of the hon. Member for Birmingham that it was the wish of the House of Commons to throw burdens upon the humble and to exempt the higher classes. Men of much weight and authority had that evening spoken as if the finances of the country were in a difficult and painful position, as if the weight of taxation was so great that the people could hardly bear it. He would venture to remind them that, although since the termination of the great war in 1815 there had been no great reduction of the national debt, there had, owing to the increase of wealth and property, been a progressive, continual, and still continuing diminution of its pressure upon each individual taxpayer. Personal property had increased at the rate of thirty per cent. every ten years. So that since 1815 they might fairly estimate that the furniture and comforts of the people had increased 150 per cent. The value of land had increased one-half; and they must add to that the increase of the value of the shipping and the £300,000,000 invested in railways. It followed, therefore, that there was an immense reduction in the pressure of the debt on the people at large. For his own part, he was not disposed to join in the lamentations which he had heard, because we did not keep up a Sinking Fund. He was induced to take that view partly because such a policy would be directly injurious to the community, and partly because he did not think that any material reduction of the debt would be a benefit to the nation. It was obviously a great advantage to have some safe and ready mode of investment, to stimulate the industry and enterprise of the country, and he believed that fully one-half of the public debt was held by trustees, and was thus withdrawn from the market. He did not believe that we had any reason for despondency. On the contrary, he confidently hoped that in a very short time the springs of industry would begin again to be loosened, commerce would spread and prosperity extend, and that the weight of taxation would be much less felt by the 2166 people than many hon. Gentlemen anticipated. Having differed from the hon. Member for Birmingham in one part of his speech, he must earnestly join with him in. the hope which he expressed, and which seemed to be received in a corresponding spirit by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that we might, by means of the cultivation of friendly feelings, and the interchange of benefits between nation and nation, be enabled to reduce those large armaments which we now maintained, as it were, to keep each other in play, and thus to diminish expenses which all agreed were not beneficial to any nation. The Budget was not in his opinion open to any great objection; but he was afraid that that part of it which referred to the stamp upon cheques might have a tendency to diminish the small dealings with the banks. Such a result would be very injurious; but, upon the whole, he was not disposed to object to the arrangements of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Mr. G. A. HAMILTON
said that his hon. Friend and predecessor (Mr. Wilson) had said he had only one fault to find with the Budget, namely, the manner of dealing with the Exchequer bonds; but he (Mr. Hamilton) thought that his hon. Friend, when he implied that the Estimates of revenue were excessive, had taken the strongest objection which could be made to a Budget. No stronger duty devolved upon a Minister than that of being accurate even to an excess of caution in those Estimates. It was a singular but highly satisfactory circumstance that for a series of years the Estimates of all Chancellors of the Exchequer had been exceeded by the actual receipts; and he should be very sorry that his right hon. Friend (Mr. Disraeli) and the present Government should form an exception to that rule. He could assure his hon. Friend opposite that no Estimates could be more thoroughly scrutinized than these had been, and that there could be none of which a Chancellor of the Exchequer could speak more confidently with regard to the result likely to be realized. He would state how his right hon. Friend and himself had arrived at their Estimates of the Customs and Excise, and he thought that his hon. Friend would then see that his observations were founded upon a misapprehension of what had been stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The amount paid into the Exchequer under the head of Customs during the year ending the 31st of March last having been £23,109,000; his hon. Friend asked how is was that their 2167 estimate for the ensuing year was £23,400,000. In the first place, at the end of the year, irrespective of this 23,109,000, there was in the hands of the collectors at the out ports, not, as his hon. Friend supposed, a balance, but a difference, between the balances at the beginning and end of the year, in excess, of £117,090. There was in addition a sum of £63,000 which had been advanced by the Board of Customs on account of pensions voted by that House, and which was due by the Treasury to the Customs. These sums, £23,109,000, £117,000, and £63,000, made up the amount of £23,289,000, which constituted the net receipts of Customs for the year ending the 31st of March last. There was required a further sum of £111,000 to make up the amount at which the Customs' receipts had been estimated for the ensuing year. He would tell the hon. Gentleman how that sum was made up. In the first place, they calculated an increase, which was the ordinary annual increase, of the consumption of sugar and molasses of 200,000cwt., which, at 13s. per cwt., would produce £130,000. The increase of duty from tobacco, the ordinary annual increase, they estimated at £60,000, and the increase on ten smaller duties at £120,000, making a total increase of £310,000 But they felt it right to make a deduction from that in respect of the loss on tea and sugar arising from the excessive amount which had paid duty in the preceding year. That deduction was estimated at 3,250,0001b. of tea, which, at 1s. 5d. a lb., gave £170,000, and £30,000 in respect of coffee. This made a total of £200,000 to be deducted from the £310,000, leaving a balance of £110,000, which they added to the net amount received by the Customs during the year ending the 31st of March last. His hon. Friend was aware that a large amount of duty was paid upon tea immediately after the expiration of the financial year ending the 31st of March, 1857; but their estimate had been founded upon the consumption during the natural year ending the 31st of December, adding a reasonable amount for the probable increase of consumption during the present year. The quantity of tea consumed during the year ending the 31st of December was 69,000,0001b.; an addition was made to that equivalent to what might be considered a reasonable increase of consumption during the year, and the estimate of the tea duty was founded upon that amount. There- 2168 fore his hon. Friend would see that the extraordinary amount of tea upon which duty was paid at the beginning of the last financial year had not been— as he had supposed—unfairly brought into the account. The receipt of the Customs for the month just passed was not a criterion on which to rely with much confidence, yet it might afford some indication whether or not the revenue had an upward tendency. The estimated revenue from Customs being £24,300,000, one-twelfth of that amount was £1,950,000, whereas the actual produce during the last month was £2,025,000, showing an excess upon the estimate of £75,000 for the first month. If the increase for the other eleven months only continued in the same ratio the excess upon Customs for the whole year would be £900,000. Under these circumstances he believed the House would feel that the Estimate of his right hon. Friend was not excessive so far as the Customs were concerned. He came next to the inland revenue, in regard to which a few figures would show the House whether his right hon. Friend had evinced a disposition to exaggerate the probable returns for the current year. To begin with hops, the duty raised from that article last year was £489,000, and the Estimate for the current year was £410,000. Licenses realized £1,436,000 last year, and for the current year they reckoned them at £1,400,000. Malt was an article on which the return might he calculated pretty accurately from the peculiar mode in which it was levied. Last year the malt duty yielded £5,490,000, and the Estimate for the current year was £5,500,000. The increase on malt for the first month of the present year over the corresponding period of the past year, if it continued to maintain the same ratio, would give a total excess at the end of the year of £155,000 over his right hon. Friend's Estimate. Paper, which produced £1,243,000 in the previous year, was estimated at £1,240,000. The sum anticipated from the spirit duties, exclusive of the £500,000 from the increased rate on the Irish manufacture, was £9,280,000 instead of £9,281,000 which they produced last year, and the total estimate of the Excise revenue for the year was £18,100,000. He hoped those figures would show that they had not indulged in any extravagant expectations in framing their Estimates, and for his part he should never be prepared to adopt what he should regard as so dishonest a mode of pro- 2169 ceeding. It was very gratifying to observe the extraordinary elasticity and rapidity with which the resources of the country recovered from their depression. The improvement already experienced in the state of things which existed in November and December last was perfectly marvellous, and indicated that, notwithstanding the severe strain to which they had been lately subjected, the national resources remained unimpaired. They were justified, therefore, in entertaining, he would not say sanguine, but favourable anticipations for the future. The question had been asked why his right hon. Friend did not convert Exchequer bills into Exchequer bonds. The reason was, that the Exchequer bill market was very sensitive, and it would have been very undesirable to venture upon so rash an experiment as the conversion of so large a sum as two millions of this description of securities.
§ MR. CAYLEY
said, he must be allowed to congratulate the Secretary of the Treasury upon the clearness of his statement. At the same time he feared he was two sanguine in his anticipations. It was not so certain that the recovery of the country from its recent depression would be very rapid. After the prostration of 1839 the revival did not occur before the lapse of four years, while the revival from the distress of 1847 did not take place till the beginning of 1853. Better things might be expected in the present case; but the commercial classes had been so severely punished by our system of money laws that it would be unwise to look for a speedy recovery. He was astonished at what had fallen from the hon. Member for Birmingham. It was strange it had not occurred to the hon. Gentleman to inquire how it happened that in 1854, 1855, and 1856, when the price of corn was double what it was now, and the taxation of the country just the same as at present, we were all boasting of our prosperity, whereas, we were now contemplating an adverse state of trade and depression among the labouring classes. The hon. Gentleman had the other day advised his constituents, thousands of whom are out of employment and could not buy food, cheap as it was, that they had better go to another country which could support them, or that they should complain of the burthen of taxation. It was remarkable that it was only in times of prostration that they heard of this pressure of taxation. Surely the country could not be suffering from over population 2170 when so much difficulty was experienced in obtaining soldiers and sailors. Let the hon. Gentleman, instead of recommending his constituents to emigrate, bring his powerful mind to bear upon the question why we were exposed every ten years to a commercial crisis. These periodical visitations were not an inevitable necessity. We passed laws to produce these very results, and then complained of them as a law of nature. They must be traced to human legislation, and to human legislation alone. The hon. Gentleman talked of a revival: but how could a revival take place in the present depressed condition of trade! Solely by that which was now called "enterprise," but which would, six or seven years hence, be called "speculation." The period of trial through which the country had passed had produced a disinclination to take up the funds which were appropriated to commerce, and that would last until the money lying unemployed had accumulated to such a degree that persons would be willing to entrust it to a lower class of traders. This state of things would never be altered until we altered our currency laws. The reason why the income tax was originally imposed was to supply a deficiency of £12,000,000, which had been accumulating for six years before, and not because of the wars which had, preceded the year 1842. The right hon. Member for Oxford had argued that the prosperity of 1844, 1845, and 1846, was owing to the commercial reforms which the income tax enabled Sir Robert Peel to introduce; but, in truth, that prosperity was owing to the cheapness of money, which stimulated the employment of labour, and thus increased consumption. When money became dearer this prosperity ceased, and after] 847 we had four or five years of great depression. In 1852, we had money at 2 per cent again, and prosperity followed in consequence. He was on the whole satisfied with the scheme of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but he should have been better pleased if he had not postponed the payment of the Exchequer bonds.
§ MR. W. EWART
acknowledged that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had produced a skilful Budget, which had commanded general acquiescence; but he should have been better pleased had the right hon. Gentleman proposed a continuance of the higher rate of income tax, so as to enable us to pay off the Exchequer bonds. He was not favourable to the proposition to impose a duty on cheques, as he 2171 thought it likely to cramp commercial transactions. He had always understood that Sir R. Peel's object in imposing the income tax was to enable him to introduce improvements in our commercial system, which would encourage trade, and reduce the duties pressing on industry and the food of the people. He had always been of opinion that the disciples of Sir R. Peel had not gone far enough in that direction. As the duty on corn had been taken off there was no reason why the duties on such articles as cheese and butter should not also be taken off. He concurred with the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) as to the evil effect of war in increasing taxation, and expressed a hope, that the time was not far distant when our alliance with France would be strengthened by the reduction of the wine duties. Such a step would be of great advantage to both nations, and it would open the south of France to the trade of this country.
§ Bill read 2° and committed for Friday.