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Lord Castlereagh moves for the appointment of a Committee of Finance.— Finance Resolutions.-Debate on the Report of the Committee.--Resolutions agreed to.-Army Estimates.-Navy Estimates.-Ordinance Estimates. The Committee of Supply and Annual Budget of Ways and Means.-Debate on the Budget.-Excise Duties Bill.-Army Extraordinaries. Sinking-Fund Loan Bill.-Sir Henry Parnell moves a series of Finance Resolutions, which are negatived by a great majority.
BEFORE entering into the details of
repealed or reduced; and that after
effect to lessen in any degree the burdens of the present year. By the calculation embodied in the resolutions afterwards submitted to the House of Commons by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it appears that the supplies to be voted for the present year were estimated at L. 25,500,000; that the existing revenue applicable to the supplies amounted to about L. 7,000,000, leaving the sum of L. 13,500,000, to be raised by loan, or otherwise; and that the produce of the Sinking Fund, applicable to the extinction of the -National Debt, would not exceed L. 15,000,000, leaving only a surplus of about L. 2,000,000 above the sum necessary to be raised for the service of the year.
This being the state of our Finances, Lord Castlereagh moved in the House of Commons, on the 8th of February, for the appointment of a Committee of Finance, in order to afford a general outline of the plan which Ministers intended to submit and to pur. sue in the course of the session. The House, he said, would, of course, be anxious to have the general estimates laid before it; and as they were embraced in a very narrow compass, it would not be necessary for him to claim attention to any considerable length his principal object would be to touch upon those points, the details of which would subsequently come under the notice of the committee. He felt great confidence, that at the termination of the labours of the committee he was now about to propose, it would be found, that the balance in favour of the income had been created not merely by reducing the expenditure, but by the progressive advance of the various sources of revenue. His motive for moving for the committee so early was, that it might proceed with its deliberations without delay, and that the
House might be in possession of a report that would show the real situation and fair prospects of the country. The first important point was the income of the country; and he would simply state the amount of the receipts, comparing the quarter ending on the 5th of January 1818, with the quarter ending on the 5th January 1819. The receipts on the former were L.51,665,458, and on the latter L.54,062,000, showing an increase upon the quarter ending the 5th of Jan. 1819 of L. 2,397,000. It was material, however, to observe, that upon the sum he had first named, there were certain arrears of war duties on malt and property considerably beyond L.2,000,000, which reduced the income up to the 5th of January 1818 to L.49,334,927, while the arrears of the same taxes up to January last amounted only to L.566,639; so that the produce of the permanent taxes for the latter quarter was in truth,in round numbers, L.53,497,000, being an improvement in the whole of L.4,163,000, deducting from both the amount of the arrears of each. Members were likewise most probably aware, that a considerable amount of sugar-duty had been admitted into the receipts for December 1818, which in fact belonged to the revenue of the preceding year, and which ought, therefore, to be added to the produce of the sugar duties of 1819: this would take a considerable sum from the net produce of 1818, and reduce it to L.48,724,000, while that of 1819 remained at L. 54,062,000; the difference, allowing for some other comparatively trifling deductions, would be L.5,328,000, or not less than an increase of ten per cent. upon the ancient permanent taxes. It was impossible to announce to the house a more encouraging prospect than this state of things afforded. Another sa
tisfactory circumstance well deserving notice was, that the increase was not upon any one article which might be supposed to have taken a sudden start, but upon no less than between thirty and forty of the articles which constituted the excise account; indeed, there were only one or two articles, and those comparatively insignificant, on which there was not a sensible augmentation : on bricks and tiles for instance, the employ ment of which unequivocally marked the wealth of a country, there was an increase of duty nearly amounting to half. The last committee subtracted the amount of the sinking fund and the expenses of the nation from the actual income, thinking it a question between the operation of the sinking fund on one hand, and the increase of debt on the other; and in their last deliberation they took the best prospective view circumstances would allow, of the income and expenditure of the year 1819; and they thought that they might safely assume that the income of the country would be L.52,500,000, and the expenditure L. 51,087,000, leaving a net surplus of L.1,413,000 at the end of the year. Comparing this anticipation in May last, with the fact, as it now turned out, it was obvious, that the income, instead of being L. 52,500,000, was L. 54,062,000, or L. 1,500,000 better than had been calculated upon. As to the expenditure, the Finance Committee had stated it at L. 51,087,000; but the estimates now before the House showed that it was only L.50,442,000, or about L.650,000 less than the sum expected. Adding, therefore, the reduction by economy of L.650,000 to the improved revenue, it appeared that the country was now in a better situation by L. 2,145,000 than the former Finance Committee had ven
tured to anticipate; and adding also to that sum, the L.1,413,000 on which the Finance Committee had calculated, a total surplus of not less than L.3,558,000 was the result, applicable to the reduction of the debt of the nation. If the Finance Committee, on examining minutely all the details, should report that such was the fact, the House would feel ready to allow, that the great objects for which that body had been appointed had been accomplished. He would now touch those points on which Ministers had the satisfaction of feeling that subsequent reductions might be effected in the present condition of the country. The House would not forget that some essential changes had taken place, at home and abroad, which induced Ministers to think they might now carry into effect that economy, which would not have been wise or provident until they could see distinctly the consequences to which it might lead. The policy of the steps they had now taken might be the subject of future discussion, but at present it was only necessary for him to state a few important facts. The Finance Committee had taken the military estimate at L.8,967,000, assuming a decrease of L.3,000,000 on the return of the British army from the Continent; for the House would be aware that a considerable sum must be devoted to the allowances of half-pay and pensions to the officers and soldiers whose services were no longer required. The committee had taken the expense of the army at L.8,967,000, exclusive of the L.300,000; but his Lordship was happy to state, that Ministers felt themselves enabled to take it at L. 8,700,000, inclusive of the L.300,000; so that the difference in favour of a greater saving of the public money was L.567,000, and the
whole charge was covered for L.267,000 less than the Finance Committee had calculated. On the navy estimate, there was a reduction of L.100,000, and the same saving in the ordnance department. There was, however, an expense to which the attention of the House ought to be called, and which was occasioned by the pay of regiments for broken periods. It was almost always impossible for Ministers to reduce the regiments most within their reach. Some were at a considerable distance from home; a change of cantonments was requisite, and this and other circumstances it was not necessary to detail, occasioned an expense of about L 230,000, L.100,000 being connected with the transport department: this expense of L. 330,000 was, however, only temporary, and was all that Parliament would be called upon to vote, connected with the topic of military reduction. He would now state the amount of the reduction in point of men, taking the rank and file: the army in France, consisting of 20,126, had been reduced; of the troops voted last year for home service and for the colonies, there had been a reduction of 9,402, and in the artillery of 2,035, making altogether a diminution of 31,563 rank and file, exclusive of officers. There was one circumstance of which the House ought never to lose sight; and it was this-the annual expense was stated to be L.16,237,000; but neither the whole of this, nor any thing like the whole of it, was paid for troops actually on foot, but a large part, L. 4,358,000, went to pay debts of gratitude to officers and soldiers, for services they had rendered their country; so that the direct expense of the army could not be stated so high as L.12,000,000. The pensions and other gratuities were constantly falling in, and the amount thus an
nually saved could not be calculated lower than L.130,000, or L.140,000. He would next advert to a general, but a mistaken, supposition which had been entertained some short time ago, that a great deal of commercial distress prevailed; that the exports had been most materially reduced; that the ports of the Continent were shut, in consequence of the want of commercial treaties; in short, there was a prevailing notion, that owing to some supineness on the part of Ministers, the commerce of the country had sustained a severe and perhaps an irreparable shock. Yet how did the fact stand? Did the returns at all verify this gloomy conclusion? On the contrary, they directly contradicted it, as the House would perceive by a statement of the official value of the exports: he referred to the official value as distinguished from the real value; which of course fluctuated from year to year. The official account took the exports at an assumed value, and was rather to be deemed a statement of quantity than of value. It was with most unfeigned satisfaction he had to ob serve, in the first instance, that the last had been the most splendid year ever known in the history of British commerce. It even exceeded 1815, when the commerce of the country had gone beyond its predecessors to the amount of not less than L. 10,000,000; a rapid advance that was considered by some persons as forced and unnatural, and owing to temporary causes that would not afterwards operate. His Lordship was obliged to make the calculation upon the three first quarters of each year only, as the returns from the out ports up to the 5th of January last had not yet been made out. In 1815, the official value of British produce and manufac
tures was L. 35,231,000: in 1816, L. 28,827,000; in 1817, (the year when it was asserted that the nation was commercially ruined,) L. 32,000,000; and in 1818, L.S5,325,000, being nearly L.100,000 beyond the year 1815, the great exeess of which was assigned to temporary, fallacious, and unnatural causes. His Lordship trusted, therefore, that such a view of the state of the commerce of the kingdom was calculated to dispel the gloom which some had promoted in ignorance of our real condition. After the Finance Committee should have inquired into all the details of this important subject, would be the time for the House to decide upon it. But his Lordship felt the utmost confidence that the result of its inquiries would confirm all he had advanced, and would warrant the utmost confidence, in the inexhaustible resources of the British empire. He concluded by moving the appointment of a Finance Committee.
Mr Tierney regretted, that as the Noble Lord had gone into such detail, he had not given previous notice of his intention to do so; for no man who had heard the notice of the motion for the revival of a Finance Committee, such as had existed in the last Parliament, could have supposed at the time that such a motion would be accompanied with the opening of the budget for the year. He was not, therefore, prepared to follow the Noble Lord into a minute examination of all the items, but would give to the House such observations as occurred to him on hearing them. The Noble Lord had talked a great deal, and built most sanguine expectations, upon what he called the present flourishing state of trade. He (Mr Tierney) was not prepared to deny (not being equally well armed with the several accounts and
figures as he seemed to be) that his statement was well founded. But if the Noble Lord was right, all the merchants with whom he (Mr Tierney) had conversed on the subject, and the number was by no means small, were wrong; for every one of them, to a man, had taken quite a different view of the question. Without going at present into a very minute examination of this alleged prosperity, might not a great part of it be traced to the immense paper issues? The manufactures were likely to flourish; but there were two things to be taken into that account capital was plenty-he spoke of capital, paper so called and labour was cheap; put both those circumstances together, and the glowing picture which had been drawn might be accounted for. He would ask whether that could be called a flourishing state of trade which rested upon such basis? The Noble Lord had stated that the total sum in which the revenue of this year exceeded the preceding was L. 5,300,000. Admitting this sum, and even a little more, how did it bear out the argument which was founded upon it? The Noble Lord had said, that the income and expenditure would meet, and that there would remain a surplus. There never was a stouter assertion than this, nor one which was more calculated to give general satisfaction to the House and the country, if it could be proved. But the Noble Lord, in building up this argument, and drawing so happy a conclusion from it, had thrown out of his view altogether the sinking fund, which he could not but imagine was a burden to the country. This he conceived was a delusion on the part of the Noble Lord; and it would be a most complete delusion on that part of the House, to imagine that this question of a budget could