1 June 1821
The Chancellor of the Exchequer brought forward the Budget.
Mr. Ricardo said, that the chancellor of the exchequer always gave a most flattering account of the state of the country. Last session he had declared that the funds which would be applicable to the expenditure of the present year would be much greater than what he had now stated them to be. He had stated that the addition to the sinking fund would have been 1,700,000l. instead of 950,000l. had it not been for the additional interest on exchequer bills. Now, he wished to know whether the interest of those exchequer bills had not been provided for in the preceding session? He thought a sum was voted for that purpose, because he took occasion, on the last budget, to remind the right hon. gentleman that he had made no provision whatever for the interest on the exchequer debt; and he stated in answer, that provision had already been made out of former votes. If that were the case, he must place this payment against certain debts which should be liquidated in the present year, and not against that which fairly belonged to the budget of former years. From the papers which were in the hands of members, it appeared that the account might be correctly stated thus:— By the annual accounts, the amount of the unfunded debt appeared to be 17,292,544l. There were funded, during the last year, 7,000,000l. exchequer bills, which, added to the former amount gave a total of 24,292,544l. There was a deficiency arising on the consolidated fund, which the right hon. gentleman had entirely left out of view. That deficiency amounted to 517,232l. during the present year, and this being added to the enormous deficiency which existed before, might be stated, in fact, at 8,990,000l. And here he could not help remarking, that these accounts, from the way in which they were made up, did not give the committee that correct view of the state of the finances which it was desirable that it should be furnished with. If he wished to consult them for information, he could find no part from which he could clearly discover what the annual deficiency upon the consolidated fund really was. A paper having been moved for some time since, he was enabled to ascertain that on the year ending the 5th Jan. 1821, that deficiency was 8,850,327l. and in the year ending 5th Jan. 1820, 8,321,000l. The difference between the sums was 429,327l. Now, this being the case, what was the reason that in the annual printed accounts which were delivered to the House, the amount of the deficiency upon the consolidated fund for the very same period , was stated at 517,232l. instead of 429,327l.? making a difference between those accounts and the return which he spoke of, of 87,905l. He did not mention this difference upon account of the magnitude of the sum, but for the purpose of showing how little reliance could be placed on these public accounts, under their present shape. But, to return to the matter of those accounts. It seemed that, during the last year, we had contracted loans to the amount of 24,292,544l. to which must be added, for the deficiency upon the consolidated fund, 517,232l., making together 24,809,776l. Against this amount they must put that part of the debt which had been paid off. It must be shown how much money had been devoted to that purpose; and then, whatever balance appeared, by so much had our debt increased or decreased. We had a sinking fund last year of 17,510,000l. The amount of treasury bills paid off was 2,000,000l. The difference between the amount of exchequer bills upon the 5th January, 1820, and the 5th January, 1821, was 5,934,928l. So that we had devoted, in truth, to the payment of the national debt, whether funded or unfunded, during the current year, the sum of 25,444,928l., and reckoning, as he did, the amount of the debt contracted to be during the same period, 24,809,776l., the difference would be 635,152l. The actual amount, therefore, of difference, between the debt on the 5th Jan. 1820, and the debt on the 5th Jan. 1821, did appear to be no more than 635,152l., although the right hon. gentleman by some other species of calculation, made it amount to 950,000l. The House was told by the right hon. gentleman, that there would be a sinking fund next year, of 4,000,000l. Now, assuming the revenue for the current year to be as stated by the right hon. gentleman, and supposing that there should be such a sinking fund, it was to be remembered that the right hon. gentleman had included in his calculation a sum of 500,000l. which he said he was to receive from France, and which was applicable towards the payment of the national debt during the present year. But if this 500,000l. was so applicable during the present year, it would not be in the next, or any future year. He (Mr. Ricardo) wished to know what funds could be made of general and permanent application in this way; and therefore it was of little avail to bring forward such a sum as this in such a statement. He took it that the sinking fund would really amount to 2,809,000l.; and the sinking fund on exchequer bills, to 290,000l., making the sinking fund 3,099,000l. instead of 4,000,000l. He confessed he was one of those who thought a sinking fund very useless. He did not mean to say that he was not favourable to such a fund in the abstract. Upon the principle of the thing there could be hardly any doubt; but, after the experience which they had had, he did not expect to see that principle acted upon. He did not expect that it would ever be made applicable to the reduction of the national debt. The hon. gentleman then briefly recapitulated the history of this fund from the time of sir Robert Walpole. When Mr. Pitt came into power, he was desirous of establishing a sinking fund upon the safest and most permanent principles, so as to secure it from all inter-meddling of ministers. What had become of this sinking fund, and where were all these boasted securities? First of all, the present chancellor of the exchequer came down to the House boasting (as if he were going to confer a great obligation on the country and the fund-holder) of his intention to take about 7,000,000l. of the annual income of this sinking fund; and he then talked of the greatness of the treasure with which we should be incumbered. That right hon. gentleman’s alarms ever seemed to arise, not from any prospect of our poverty but from the great increase of our wealth; and accordingly he was always telling the House of the various mischiefs that resulted from excess of capital. Had that right hon. gentleman considered the true principles of capital, he would have seen that there never could be much danger of its excess. Upon the subject of this sinking fund, he would take the liberty of calling the attention of the House to a pamphlet which had been written under the auspices of a right hon. gentleman opposite he believed. [The hon. gentleman here read an extract from a pamphlet.] This was the system of which it had been gravely observed that no departure from the original measure, and no violation of the act of 1792, had taken place in the subsequent appropriation of the fund. Now, the principle of Mr. Pitt’s system was professedly this—that thereafter, every war should carry in itself the seeds of its own destruction. In every word of the reasoning of this pamphlet upon this question, he (Mr. R.) did most cordially agree; and hence he inferred, that such appropriation as had been made of the sinking fund, was a violation of the public faith. It was the violation of that fund which had entailed upon us a large increase of debt; and they who expected to see it preserved inviolate hereafter, did, in his opinion, deceive themselves. The right hon. gentleman had ventured to apply, in payment of the interest of a new debt, almost all the sinking fund that remained to us. Almost all, did he say! The right hon. gentleman had, in effect, applied the whole of it. He had lately increased the taxes by 3,000,000l., a sum which was more than the sinking fund actually amounted to. He (Mr. R.), therefore, was rather disposed now to say, “Let us have no sinking fund; let the money remain in the pockets of the people. When the ministers want supplies, whether for carrying on a war, or for any other purpose, let them come down to the House and ask for them, without having any such fund to resort to.” Ministers were accustomed to tell the House that they must have a sinking fund to meet exigencies, to second the efforts of our armies and generals, and to inspire the enemy with a salutary respect for us. But the legal and the original intention of the sinking fund was, to pay off the national debt; in proof of which he might refer the House to a well known speech of Mr. Pitt’s. [Here Mr. Ricardo read a passage from it.] After this declaration of Mr. Pitt, and after all which they had seen in late years, could they place any confidence in ministers as to their being likely to act upon such a principle? Under all circumstances, whenever a motion should be made for the repeal of any tax that was within the actual amount of the sinking fund, he, for one, would support such repeal. He knew it would be objected that the revenue would sometimes fall short in particular branches, which would make it difficult to supply the deficiency. If so, let government impose new taxes to raise the full sums necessary for the state; but he would never consent to this sort of misapplication of a fund created for the specific purpose of liquidating the debt of the country. But this sum had been appropriated and fresh taxes imposed likewise. The people consented to fresh taxes on that occasion, in the hope that they should the more speedily experience some relief; and but for this reasonable expectation, parliament too would never have been induced to impose them. Unfortunately, the people of England were at this moment much more in debt than they would have been if there had been no sinking fund in existence. He should offer but a word or two relative to saving banks. He highly approved of them; but a plan had been suggested by a gentleman in the country, to which he thought the House would do well to pay some attention. The name of this gentleman, he believed, was Woodrow, and his plan was one by which a life-annuity income might be obtained in these banks. The plan was, that persons at an early age might be willing to make a trifling sacrifice, which, by the operation of compound interest, would in the course, say of thirty or forty years, increase to a considerable sum. At the birth of a child, a father might be disposed to put by a small sum of money, for the purpose of procuring to the child an annuity hereafter: a plan of this kind would be productive of great benefits.