Speeches on Questions of Public Policy by Richard Cobden
[On March 8, 1850, Mr. Cobden moved the following resolutions:—'That the net expenditure of the Government for the year 1835 (Parliamentary Paper, No. 260, 1847 amounted to 44,422,000l.; that the net expenditure for the year ended the 5th day of January, 1850 (Parliamentary Paper, No. 1, 1850) amounted to 50,853,000l.; the increase of upwards of 6,000,000l. having been caused principally by successive augmentations of our warlike establishments, and outlays for defensive armaments. That no foreign danger, or necessary cost of the civil government, or indispensable disbursements for the services in our dependencies abroad, warrant the continuance of this increase of expenditure. That the taxes required to meet the present expenditure impede the operations of agriculture and manufactures, and diminish the funds for the employment of labour in all branches of productive industry, thereby tending to produce pauperism and crime, and adding to the local and general burdens of the people. That, to diminish these evils, it is expedient that this House take steps to reduce the annual expenditure with all practicable speed to an amount not exceeding the sum which within the last fifteen years has been proved to be sufficient for the maintenance of the security, honour, and dignity of the nation.' The resolution was negatived by 183 (272 to 89).]
The reason why I propose this motion, on this day and at this precise time, is, that I am anxious, before we commence voting away the public money, that we should have an opportunity of taking a view of the whole financial interest of the country in order to a large reduction of the expenditure. I know no other way than this of bringing the general view of our finances before the House, for we have a peculiar way of dealing with the finances and expenditure of this country. The House never has brought before it, as in other countries where constitutional laws and usages are in force, a full statement of the whole income and expenditure, with the view of having the sense of the House taken upon both. We have only statements regarding our finances laid before us in detail. After the Government has decided what any particular estimates shall be, they are brought before the House, and the House has then scarcely any other alternative but that of going through the empty form of sanctioning those estimates.
One of the reasons why we are almost uniformly ready to assent to these estimates is, that a refusal to assent to them would be taken as a vote of want of confidence in Ministers, and therefore tantamount to their dismissal. I think, however, that we ought to have the opportunity of discussing the whole of these questions apart from any such considerations. I do not bring forward this motion in a spirit of hostility to the Government. I have not framed it in the shape of an address to the Crown, praying the Crown to adopt a certain course; but I have put it in the shape of a resolution, to the effect that in the opinion of this House it should take steps to reduce the expenditure of the country to the standard of 1835. Now, I must not be misunderstood, as I was on a former occasion, for there are always attempts made to misrepresent any movement of the kind; I must not be accused of meditating an immediate reduction of expenditure to the standard of 1835. I have framed my motion in precisely the same words as last year. I then moved for a reduction of expenditure to a certain amount with all convenient speed, and I make the same motion now. I do not say that we can return to the expenditure of 1835 in one year or in two, but I asume that in the present state of the country, in the state of our domestic affairs, and of our foreign relations, there is no obstacle to a gradual return to the expenditure of 1835, provided the Executive Government has the sanction of this House for resorting to such a course. If events should happen to change the circumstances of the country, there is no reason why we should not next year reverse the decision we may come to in the present.
I only ask you to consider now, whether, in the existing state of our foreign and domestic relations, we are not entitled to expect from the Government a return to the expenditure of 1835 as speedily as possible? I am anxious to bring forward this motion on another ground. We have heard intimations in this House that there will be motions made for a reduction of taxation. Now, I hold it to be self-evident that we can have no large reduction of taxation unless we have a corresponding reduction of expenditure. I know that there are certain parties who think that we may shift the burden of taxation from one shoulder to another, from one class to another, and thereby give relief to the country. I know there are writers who affect considerable scorn of those who merely take the vulgar view which I do,—that we must reduce expenditure in order to reduce taxation. They call such persons as myself vulgar politicians, and argue that more good is to be done by a shifting and a modification of taxes than by what I propose. Now, I have no faith in any such device for relieving the distress of the country. In fact, there is no means of modifying taxation in this way, by which we can relieve one interest without increasing the burden upon another. I defy you to put your hand on any interest of the country that is willing to receive an addition of taxation; and, therefore, if you propose to modify the pressure, by taking it off one to place it on another, you will find as much resistance from those on whom you are going to lay the tax as of assistance from those who are to be relieved. If we are anxious to effect a reduction of any tax that presses on the industry of the country—I do not confine myself to those that press on trade and commerce, but such, for example, as the malt-tax or the hop-duty—it is only possible to accomplish this by entering on such a path as I now point out to you.
I am anxious that, before we come to a vote on the motion of the hon. Member for the North Riding of Yorkshire (Mr. Cayley), or on any similar motion, we should first decide whether or not we are willing to sanction such a reduction of expenditure as will warrant a reduction of taxation. I do not take the expenditure of 1835, to which I wish we should return, as an arbitrary point. I felt anxious, in common with other gentlemen, for the reduction of the expenditure, and I looked about to see what were the causes of the increase of that expenditure. In the course of these inquiries, I naturally turned to the first point from which the increase began. I went back to 1835, but I took it only as a guide to enable me to put my finger on some starting-point—a point to rest my arguments for a reduction upon And I am doing nothing new. That was the course always taken by the Whig party; for a quarter of a century, they always returned to 1792. The hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) will bear me out, that from the close of the war till the time of the Reform Bill, constant reference was made to 1792 when speaking of the expenditure. And not merely the Whigs but the Tories did so. In 1817, Lord Castlereagh, when moving for the appointment of a committee on this subject, took 1792 as the point to which chief reference was made in his motion.
I am, therefore, not taking an undue course in fixing on 1835, and am not entitled to be 'pooh-poohed' by those who have taken the same course on previous occasions. I do not ask you to go back to 1835, because a certain expenditure existed in that year; but it is to enable you to satisfy your own minds as to whether any necessity exists for the increase that has since taken place, and to show the grounds on which persons resist a gradual return to the expenditure of 1835. And when I speak of 1835, I am equally prepared to take the average of 1835, 1836, and 1837. I hope, therefore, that gentlemen opposite will bear with me while I read a few figures, and ask them to discard altogether from their minds any feelings or prejudices that may arise from differences of opinion on other questions. I wish you to go into the subject as a matter of business, and with a desire to arrive at a conclusion beneficial to those whom you represent in Parliament, and who feel on this question precisely as my own constituents do. I will read the particulars of the expenditure for the years ending the 5th of January, 1836, and the 5th of January, 1850. In 1836, the interest of the funded and unfunded debt was 28,514,000l.; last year it was 28,323,000l., making the interest on the debt nearly 200,000l. less now than in 1836. The expenditure for the army in 1836 was 6,406,000l.; last year, 6,549,000l.; for the navy, in 1836, 4,099,000l.; last year, 6,942,000l.; for the ordnance, in 1836, 1,151,000l.; last year, 2,332,000l. The civil expenditure of all kinds, in 1836, was 4,225,000l.; last year, 6,702,000l.—making the whole expenditure of 1836, 44,395,000l., and the whole expenditure of last year, 50,848,000l.
When I brought forward my motion last year, taking the finance accounts of 1848, I stated that the increase of expenditure was nearly 10,000,000l. as compared with 1835; but the finance accounts of the last year, as compared with the previous year, show a reduction of 3,344,000l. We have, therefore, to deal with an expenditure of 50,838,000l. against an expenditure of 44,395,000l. in 1836, leaving an excess in 1850 of 6,453,000l. This was by the last year's finance accounts; but I believe we may assume that in the forthcoming estimates we shall see another reduction of say 1,000,000l., which will bring the excess at the end of the present year, as compared with 1835, to about 5,500,000l. Now, I ask, is not this very satisfactory, and does it not encourage us to pursue the same course which we had already held in this House, viz. pressing on the Exchequer for further and further reductions; for I will venture to say, that if these efforts had not been made in the House, and if they had not been made by gentlemen resident in Liverpool (I mean the Financial Reform Association), the reduction I have referred to would not have been made? We all know that there is an amount of resistance to curtailments in certain quarters, an amount of pressure such as we have just heard on the subject of the brevets, such an amount of importunity from the different professions, that, unless the Executive is backed by this House and the country, it will be impossible to resist the demands made upon us.
Now, then, seeing that we have an excess of expenditure of 5,500,000l., as compared with 1835, how do I propose to reduce that excess so as to return to the expenditure of 44,399,000l. in 1835? I wish it to be understood that I am now dealing with an excess of 6,453,000l., and I propose to take 5,823,000l. from the amount expended on the army, navy, and ordnance last year, leaving 10,000,000l. for those purposes, and the remaining 630,000l. I would take from the civil expenditure, from the cost of collection, and from what may be gained by the better management of the Woods and Forests.
To begin with the civil expenditure. I find that last year it amounted to 6,702,000l., while in 1835 it was 4,225,000l. Of the different items which make up this expenditure I find that last year the civil list was 396,000l., and in 1835, 510,000l. With regard to the civil list, as appropriated to the service of Her Majesty, I have not one word to offer. The amount settled on the Queen on her accession to the Crown having been given as an equivalent for hereditary revenues, it is my opinion that the Queen has as good a title to that amount during her lifetime as any of our ancient nobility possess to their estates; therefore I must not be misunderstood on this point, after so plain an avowal of my convictions. Nobody ever heard me propose any different arrangement from this, and I do not do so now. There is an impression throughout the country that the Queen has an exorbitant income, because the sum of 395,000l. was put down on her civil list; but the country should know that Her Majesty herself had only 60,000l. a year at her disposal, the rest going to the expenditure of different departments of her Majesty's household, to maintain, as it was called, the pomp and state of the Throne. It is on some of these items of expenditure that I should be disposed to raise a question. There are items that I think might, with great credit to the Crown, be transferred to other purposes. Take the case of the buckhounds—a department which costs 6,000l. or 7,000l. a year; is it not an absurdity to suppose that such an establishment can add to the dignity of the Crown? Let that sum be taken to pay one of the Queen's judges, the Chief Justice, for example. It would be much more conducive to the dignity of the Crown to spend the money in that way than in throwing it away upon buckhounds, and I question whether it would not be more satisfactory to Her Majesty. The expenditure of items like these does not contribute in the least to the honour and dignity of the Sovereign. We all know that the Queen lives in the affections of her people; but this affection is not attributable to such idle pageants as these,—it is rather due to those quiet domestic virtues that peep out from the retirement of Osborne than to such displays as are supported by this expenditure of the civil list.
But, to pass on to the next item, which is for annuities and pensions for civil services charged by various Acts of Parliament on the Consolidated Fund. Last year it was 464,000l., and in 1835 it was 524,000l. These I do not propose to touch, as they are granted under Acts of Parliament, and those holding them have no doubt made their arrangements on the faith that they would be theirs for life. But I hope the House will agree with me that we ought to prevent the repetition of such things in future. There are a great number of items under this head that I am tolerably certain never will be repeated; but it will require vigilant guardianship, on the part of this House and the country, if they expected to profit by the demise of these annuities and pensions. It will be seen from the age of the parties who are recipients of these pensions, that in all probability there will be a very considerable and probably rapid diminution of the payments under this head, and we are all aware that the largest annuity has lapsed within the last six months. We may, therefore, expect that something handsome will shortly be got towards my reductions from the payments that would fall in under this head.
The next item is for salaries and allowances, which come under a different category altogether. One thing must have struck those who look over the accounts under this head, and that is the great number of commissionerships. I should very much prefer to a commission, one well-paid responsible functionary. I cannot understand why, when we give to the home or foreign ministers such power as we do, we cannot give to one individual, of good character and talents, the duties of the most responsible commissionership. The public business would be better done by one man than by a dozen; and not only better, but cheaper. Therefore I do hope that in future we shall have boards transformed into individuals.
The next item is for diplomatic salaries and pensions, being last year 160,000l. and in 1835, 176,000l. Here there is a rich harvest to reap. Our ambassador in France has 10,000l. a year, that in Austria 9,900l. Now, what did the United States pay for the same services? The hon. Member for Kent smiles, and I know what is passing in his mind. He thinks that I am going to be exceedingly democratic in what I am about to say. Certainly, if I were going to compare the expenses of the monarchical chief and the elective chief of a republic, I should be dealing unfairly with my case; but when we come to speak of the representatives of two countries living at Paris, one from England and the other from America, and both exposed to the same necessary expenses—for of unnecessary expenses I do not speak—then a comparison may fairly be drawn. Now, our ambassador at Paris has 10,000l. a year; the American ambassador has 2,000l. Our Austrian ambassador has 9,900l.; the American ambassador, 1,000l. Our Turkish ambassador has 6,500l.; the American, 1,300l. Our Russian ambassador has 6,600l.; and the American, 2,000l. Many of our embassies might be suppressed altogether, such as those at Hanover and Bavaria. Gentlemen opposite see all these things as well as I do, and laugh at them in private, whatever they may say in public. They never denounce such extravagance in public, unless, indeed, they sometimes do so for mischief. I believe that the expenses under the diplomatic head might be reduced at least one-half.
I next come to the courts of justice, the payments for which last year amounted to 1,105,000l., and in 1835 to 430,000l., showing an increase of nearly 700,000l. The constabulary force in Ireland, amounting to 550,000l., no doubt adds to the amount under this head, but still there is much useless expense. I am anxious to see the judges well provided for; but really such salaries as 7,000l. and 8,000l., especially in Ireland, are out of the question. I find a judge in Ireland receiving 8,000l. a year, while the highest judicial functionary in the world, sitting at Washington, charged with the settlement of all the international disputes between the States of the Union, and with the interpretation of the Constitution itself, had only 1,200l. a year. Such anomalies as these should not be allowed to exist. The miscellaneous charges I find to be 398,000l., and in 1835, 274,000l., these charges being fixed on the Consolidated Fund. There is 60,000l. for commissions in Ireland; but surely these commissions are not to last for ever. Then there are miscellaneous charges on the annual grants of Parliament, these being last year 3,911,000l., against 2,144,000l. in 1835.
I now come to the payment for public works and salaries of public departments, together with all our colonial and consular establishments. Under this head there has been the most extraordinary profligacy of expenditure. The expense of the House we are in, or which we ought to get into, is a scandal to us. It seems to me, that from the beginning to the end this has been the most melancholy and disgraceful proceeding the country has ever heard of. We have adopted for our style the most costly that can be thought of; and it appears as if we had studied how we could lay on the greatest expense, in such a way that it could neither be seen nor appreciated, when we selected the florid Gothic style for our new Houses. The whole system, the whole proceedings of the House of Commons in this matter, from the top pinnacle of the new Houses to the sweeping of the floors, are characterised by as much disgraceful waste and extravagance as could be found in any portion of the public service. In this department of public works, salaries, &c., I propose a large saving in the expenditure. I hope that in this proposal I shall have the co-operation of the hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley).
Last year I showed the House, that from 1836 to 1848 there had been a continual succession of increases in the expenditure; and that when the special exigencies which caused the increases had passed away, no return was made to the old expenditure. I refer to such exigencies as the Oregon and Maine boundary disputes, Tahiti, Syria, and the like. We come to the discussion of the subject now with the advantage of another year's experience. We are another year further removed from that great crisis of European affairs which everybody expected was to lead to certain calamitous consequences, in the form of an international war. If there is one consoling remembrance, one drop of sweet in the cup of gall which Europe has drained during the last two or three years, it is this. We have extracted from all that turmoil and convulsion the fact that there is not a disposition, on the part of the bulk of the people of any nation, to pass their own frontiers to make war upon any other nation. I speak of the people as distinct from their Governments, because we have always been told that when Louis Philippe should die, the French people are so inclinable to war that they will break the prison bars, and ravage Europe more like wild beasts than human beings. Well, we have now seen that these same people, while having the reins in their own hands, have shown no disposition to carry war into their neighbours' territories. I do not wish the House to assume that the millennium is come, or that there will never be another international war; I do not ask you totally to dismantle your ships, or leave your ports defenceless; but that in which I am anxious you should concur with me is this,—that during the last twelve months events have rather been confirmatory than otherwise of the views I then expressed with reference to the safety of making a gradual reduction of our armaments.
Another point which I considered last year afforded a chance of a great reduction of the army, was the state of our colonial relations. Now since that time a most important event has occurred. The Prime Minister of the Crown has adopted language in reference to the colonies which I have myself often held as to the principle of self-government on the part of those colonies. The noble Lord (Lord John Russell) went the full length of the views which I have ever entertained upon that subject; and has most agreeably surprised me when discussing the constitutions to be established in Australia, and more especially at the Cape of Good Hope. The noble Lord proposes to give to those colonies the right of framing their own constitution, of levying their own taxes, of determining their own tariff, and of disposing of their own waste lands. The noble Lord has thereby disposed of those vast continents which the English people has held to belong to them, and which they once thought might yield them something to aid and assist them in bearing their burdens and maintaining their position in the country. The noble Lord has given those vast continents to the people who live amidst them. Well, it is perfectly right; but look at the consequences. This House cannot hereafter by legislation give 160 acres of land, which the American Government gives so frequently to those who deserve it, if Parliament even desired to favour the most deserving patriot in Her Majesty's service. I do not complain of that; but what I wish to ask with reference to this question is, did the noble Lord intend to stop there? Is this country to give to the colonies as complete independence as, nay, even greater independence than, the separate States of the American Union possess, since they cannot dispose of an acre of waste ground, nor touch their tariff,—are the people of this country, I ask, to be called upon by the same Prime Minister who gives to the colonies the right of governing and taxing themselves to pay and maintain the military police which occupied those colonies? It is utterly impossible, under the altered circumstances arising out of the policy of the Government towards those colonies, that any Minister with a head on his shoulders, after declaring what I have heard declared with reference to Australia, the Cape of Good Hope, New Zealand, and Canada, can permanently impose upon the people of this country the charge of maintaining the military police of those colonies. It is but a military police, and not an army kept up for the defence of the colonies from foreign attack: for this country charges itself with the expense of defending the colonies in the case of war. These military establishments are maintained 10,000 miles away. We send out relief at an enormous expense, and that to maintain a police which the colonists are better able themselves to pay for than are the people of this country.
In assuming that we may make a considerable reduction in the public expenditure by gradually withdrawing our troops from the colonies, let me not be answered by a reference to the case of our arsenals at Gibraltar, Malta, and Ceylon, or in those places where the African race predominated. I confine myself to those colonies where the English race is likely to become indigenous and paramount. What is the object of maintaining these establishments? Is it in order to secure the connection between England and her colonies? Such a ground can hardly be alleged; and yet I know of no other motive, unless it be to preserve the patronage which the system afforded to the Minister. It is for the House to say whether the maintenance of patronage in Downing street is a sufficient reason for taxing the people of this country. It will be found that, taking into account the force kept in those colonies, the force kept at home for the necessary reliefs, and the number of men always on the ocean on their passage to and fro, there are means of reduction to an amount not much short of 20,000 men.
But since 1835 we are placed in a different position with regard to the army required at home. First, with reference to the means of transport, since the introduction of railways, the same number of troops gives a vast increase of power. We have a piece of very interesting evidence on that subject. General Gordon, Quartermaster-General, stated in his evidence before the Committee on Railways in 1844:—'I should say that this mode of railway conveyance has enabled the army (comparatively to the demand made upon it, a very small one) to do the work of a very large one: you send a battalion of 1000 men from London to Manchester in nine hours; and that same battalion marching would take seventeen days; and they arrive at the end of nine hours just as fresh, or nearly so, as when they started.' What has been the practice of individuals in consequence of the facilities afforded by railways? Men of business keep smaller stocks on hand, because they can be easily supplied from their wholesale dealers. The Committee of last year on the Ordnance Estimates recommended the application of the same principle. There were found to be enormous stores scattered over different parts of the country, and the Committee contended that the Government should avail themselves of the railroads as private individuals do. The Government promised to adopt that regulation; but I want them to understand that they may go a little further, and avail themselves of that mode of communication, and thereby do the same amount of work, in case of need, with a smaller number of troops.
Assuming soldiers to be the proper means of keeping order in this country—though I concur in the opinion which was maintained thirty years ago by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir Robert Peel), that this is a constitutional and civil country, and that the Government ought not to have recourse to military force at all—but assuming that bayonets are necessary to preserve order, one soldier was at this moment, by means of the facilities of railways, more powerful than ten were in 1835. But this is not the only ground why I believe that we possess prospective means of reducing the army. Since 1835, we have very largely increased our armed force in other ways. We have embodied 14,800 pensioners, 9,200 dockyard men are enrolled, formed into battalions, and regularly drilled; and there are about 3,000 county constabulary. Here is an increase of 26,000 armed men in England, to which I may add an increase of 5,000 constabulary in Ireland. All these things form additional ground why I hope to see a gradual reduction of our armed force.
Take the case of Ireland. Ireland has always been the unhappy excuse for keeping up a large army at home. Ireland is now tranquil. Pass your measures for bringing Ireland into closer approximation with this country,—for giving her your own institutions, and a better representative system,—and I believe we shall do more to preserve order there than if we were to a send a dozen regiments to that country. Ireland has never been so free from political excitement or disorganisation. That country will soon be brought within a short day's journey of London, and need not be treated in any respect in future but as a province But there are now in Ireland 25,000 regular troops, to which are to be added the 5,000 additional constabulary and upwards of 5,000 pensioners, making in all between 35,000 and 36,000 armed men; whereas there were only between 16,000 and 17,000 rank and file in Ireland in 1835. Ireland, then, affords means for a further reduction of the army. But it is not merely by a reduction of the force that I desire to see economy attained.
I cannot speak with practical knowledge of military affairs, but I speak from high military authority when I state that the organisation of the British army is the most extravagant of any army in Europe, and justifies the assertion that it is an army maintained especially for officers. What is the process going on in the army? Last year we withdrew a few thousand drunken men from the service; but the complaint of the country was, that the number of officers ought to have been reduced instead of the number of men. This process is going on again. You have announced it to be your intention to reduce 1,800 rank and file, but nothing is said of withdrawing a major, or a second-captain, or a second-lieutenant, from any of the regiments; but all in the higher grades are maintained as before. Great economy might be gained in the army by a different organisation. It does not require one to be a military man to know that.
With regard to the cavalry regiments, more particularly, does the system require change. According to the present mode in which those regiments are organised, they have become the laughing-stock of all the military men in Europe. There is a very distinguished man now in London, a general officer in the service of Austria, and who acquired some celebrity in the war with Hungary. I asked that officer to look over our army list, and just give me some notion how far it corresponded with the system of his own country, which was regarded as a model of organisation, and which does not differ very much from that of Prussia and France. When he saw the number of officers assigned to one of our cavalry regiments he laughed outright. In the light cavalry, in the time of peace, there are eight squadrons of 180 men each, and of about 200 in war. These are commissioned by one colonel, one lieutenant-colonel, two majors, eight captains of the first rank, eight captains of the second rank, sixteen lieutenants of the first rank, and sixteen lieutenants of the second rank, making fifty-two officers in all. This gives one officer to every twenty-eight men. In the English Guards there are thirty-two officers to a regiment of 351, or an officer to every eleven men; in the cavalry and the line there are twenty-seven officers to a regiment of 328 men, or one officer to every twelve men. Put two English regiments into one, and maintain only half the present number of officers, still you would have twenty more English officers than there were in an Austrian regiment. I would recommend the Government to alter this system, if it be only to take away the justification which it affords to the Liverpool and Manchester Reform Association for alleging that the army is kept up for the purpose of serving the aristocracy. Until you remove this fact, no one, either in this country or abroad, will believe that these forces are organised for promoting the interests of the people. If you wished to reduce the army with the greatest economy to the people, and with the least loss of force, you should reduce the number of regiments by amalgamating them, and retain their bayonets at the expense of the officers. While we discharge the men and retain the officers, we shall destroy that which constitutes the strength of the army, and retain that which constitutes all the expense.
With reference to the navy, the expense of that branch of our force has greatly increased since 1835. In 1835, the estimate was 4,494,000l.; and last year the amount was upwards of 6,260,000l. I know of nothing to deter us from contemplating a gradual reduction in our marine force. If we compare the British service with that of the United States in maritime matters, we shall find, that whilst the United States have only one line-of-battle ship at sea, wherever their commerce extended, the oceans and seas were visited by a body of small vessels of war, because these were intended to be what a navy should be in time of peace—a police protecting the mercantile marine. But this country keeps up an enormous force of line-of-battle ships which never can be used for the safety of commerce. By using small vessels of war, we might save a deal of expense. But large line-of-battle ships are maintained in order to afford opportunities of preferment to the higher classes.
There are other reasons why the navy might now be reduced which did not exist in 1835. Independently of our regular navy, there is an immense available reserved force in the mercantile steamers of the country, which have been built for maintaining the Post-office communications. Last year a Committee sat to inquire into the practicability of using large merchant steam vessels, in case of necessity, as a means of national defence. The Committee reported that it was practicable to call into use an amount of steam-power, should it be desirable for national defence. The report stated that there were 180 steamers of upwards of 400 tons burden, besides between 700 and 800 smaller vessels, which might all be made available in case of war. Beyond this, there are thirty-five other vessels in the mercantile steam navy, which could all be got ready in the course of a few weeks, if needed. There were none of these resources in 1835. They have all grown up since.
With respect to the navy in the Mediterranean, I do not see any use in it. The great line-of-battle ships now in the port of Piræus had much better be lying up in ordinary, or on the stocks. I am very much afraid that, as long as we keep up in time of peace that enormous armament, there will always be a disposition, either on the part of the Government, or of the Foreign Minister, or of the Admiral on the station, to bring these ships in some way into action, in order that at the end of the year the estimates might be renewed for the maintenance of that force. We ought to view this question in the way in which the United States has done. The foreign policy of the United States is a lesson to this country. They never arm themselves to the teeth; they never put out their whole strength; they calculate that foreign countries will give them credit for the strength which they have lying latent. The policy of this country is quite the reverse. We seem to think that foreign nations never give us credit for power, unless we display it by having a large number of line-of-battle ships afloat.
Increase the prosperity and happiness of the people by a reduction of taxation, and they will add to their real power quite as much as if they maintain large armies and powerful fleets. Money is the sinews of war; and those nations that are encumbered by an armed force, as is the case at this moment with Austria and France, are in a position to be bullied by a country that has not the tenth part of the force in ships and regiments, but which has an easy exchequer with a wide margin for expenditure, and which is capable of drawing upon its latent resources. When I say this, I am not for disbanding the army, or dismantling the navy; but I speak in degree, and say that 10,000,000l. of money are enough to be expended upon that army and that navy, upon which 15,000,000l. are now expended.
With respect to the ordnance, it is impossible to deny that great economy might be gained by better management in that department. The Committee on the Ordnance Estimates found it necessary to remonstrate with the Government for keeping too many stores. By adopting the recommendation of the Committee, both in the navy and the ordnance, a saving of fifteen per cent. will be effected, while the stores will be better manufactured. There will be no further loss on the sale of stores, which has amounted during the last year to between fifty and sixty per cent. upon a sum of not less than 500,000l. It has been suggested that the sappers, miners, and engineers, might be usefully employed at the fortresses abroad—Gibraltar and Malta—instead of the troops of the line, who might be better employed elsewhere. I believe a great saving might be effected in the Ordnance department Everybody connected with that branch, of the service is dissatisfied with it, and requires a reorganisation of it. I have come to the conclusion that in a very few years we may very largely reduce the military and naval establishments, without in the slightest degree endangering the peace and security of the country. What are the 10,000,000l. which I propose to reduce? It is as much a the whole expenditure of the United States before the Mexican War, and more than the whole expenditure of Prussia.
Those who think there is any danger to the defences of the country in my proposition, I beg to ask whether they do not see any risk, inconvenience, if not danger, in leaving our taxation in the state in which it now is! Some one in the City has written a pamphlet with a view to show that the country is lightly taxed. It may be perfectly true that there is more wealth in the country now than during the great war; but I maintain that wealth does not pay the taxation of this country. If it did, we should have no rich man in the City writing a pamphlet to show that taxation is no evil. Whatever plan you may pursue, you cannot refrain from altering and abolishing many of those taxes that press upon the industry of the manufacturing and agricultural interests of the country.
There is another doctrine recently enunciated—which is, that the country must not have a remission of taxation, even if it could be effected by a saving of expenditure, but that whatever surplus there is must be applied to the reduction of the National Debt. Whatever may be thought of that doctrine, I am quite content if the country is able to pay the interest upon the principal of the National Debt. It is a poor beginning, with a surplus of 2,000,000l., to attempt paying off a debt of 800,000,000l. There should be some grander scheme than that before talking of paying off a debt of so enormous an amount. I believe it is proposed to limit the plan to paying off the debt which has been contracted with in the last three or four years. I consider that debt no more pressing in its nature than any portion of the debt contracted during the war. It may not be so objectionable, but all the debts were bad, and happy would it be if we could pay them all. But, whether the principal were ever paid or not, the country will never recover the waste which the contracting of those debts has occasioned.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth (Sir Robert Peel) in 1842 began a new system—that of reducing the taxes on industry, and of relieving trade and commerce, by substituting for duties on the necessaries of life a more direct system of taxation in the imposition of a tax on income. It was not enacted in the most desirable shape; but, bad as it is, I hope we never shall part with it, though I should like to see some modifications of it. Something greater must be done before we can afford, out of our surplus, to pay any part of the debt, and at the same time have the means of abolishing those taxes which more immediately interfere with the productions of industry.
I humbly submit that both those things must be done; but Government will be compelled to part with the whole of their surplus of 2,000,000l. in relieving those who suffer from indirect taxation and are clamorous for its remission—not because it takes so much money from their pockets, but because it interferes with the progress of business, whether it be the article of paper or any other that is hampered by the Excise. Whatever Government, therefore, is in power, must contemplate a plan of finance by which it must look to have a much larger surplus than 2,000,000l. But how can that be done, if you do not adopt my plan, except it be by some other mode of taxation? I would vote for 10 per cent. direct taxation, if the Government would propose it; but they cannot do that. They can, however, do without it, if they would reduce the expenditure to the standard of 1835. They would then get a present and a growing surplus, and at last a surplus of 10,000,000l. from this time. That would be a sum for abolishing something important. If you divide it into two, with half you might convert some part of the debt into terminable annuities, and with the other relieve the industry of the country from the duties on paper, soap, malt, hops, and other articles. Without such a plan, it will be only child's play to look to a surplus.
Is there not less danger, then, in trusting to our good intentions and to Divine Providence, instead of 10,000,000l. being expended on our armaments? Is it not better to trust to those elements of security, and have it in our power to relax taxation and give contentment to the people in the way which I have put before the House? It is to enable you to take that course that I ask the House to pass the resolutions I am about to move. It is not a vote of want of confidence—it is, in fact, a vote of confidence; for there is a power that resists improvement in this country. It does not appear in public, but works by covert means, and it requires the counteraction of the House to enable the Government to take any step for the relief of the country. I ask you, then, as I regard the interests of those who sent you here, not to look at this as a party question—not to oppose my motion, because I bring it forward—but to vote upon it bonâ fide and upon its merits, and to go out into the same lobby with me in its favour.
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