- An Appreciation By Goldwin Smith
- An Appreciation By J. E. Thorold Rogers
- Free Trade. I. Her Majesty's Speech.—amendment On the Address. House of Commons, August 25, 1841.
- Free Trade. II. Corn-laws.—mr. Villiers' Annual Motion. House of Commons, February 24, 1842.
- Free Trade. III. Distress of the Country. House of Commons, February 17, 1843.
- Free Trade. IV. Corn-laws. House of Commons, May 15, 1843.
- Free Trade. V. London, September 28, 1843.
- Free Trade. VI. London, October 13, 1843.
- Free Trade. VII. Manchester, October 19, 1843.
- Free Trade. VIII. London, February 8, 1844.
- Free Trade. IX. Effect of Protective Duties. House of Commons, March 12, 1844.
- Free Trade. X. London, May 8, 1844.
- Free Trade. XI. London, July 3, 1844.
- Free Trade. XII. Manchester, October 24, 1844.
- Free Trade. XIII. London, December 11, 1844.
- Free Trade. XIV. London, January 15, 1845
- Free Trade. XV. Agricultural Distress. House of Commons, March 13, 1845.
- Free Trade. XVI. London, June 18, 1845.
- Free Trade. XVII. Manchester, October 28, 1845.
- Free Trade. XVIII. Birmingham, November 13, 1845.
- Free Trade. XIX. London, December 17, 1845.
- Free Trade. XX. Manchester, January 15, 1846.
- Free Trade. XXI. Corn-laws. House of Commons, February 27, 1846.
- Free Trade. XXII. Manchester, July 4, 1846.
- Free Trade. XXIII. House of Commons, March 8, 1849.
- Free Trade. XXIV. Leeds, December 18, 1849.
- Free Trade. XXV. Aylesbury, January 9, 1853.
- Letter From Mr. Cobden to the Tenant Farmers of England.
- Finance. I. Manchester, January 27, 1848.
- Finance. II. Manchester, January 10, 1849.
- Finance. III. House of Commons, March 8, 1850.
- Finance. IV. International Reduction of Armaments. House of Commons, June 17, 1851.
- Finance. V. House of Commons, December 13, 1852.
- Finance. VI. House of Commons, April 28, 1853.
- Finance. VII. House of Commons, July 22, 1864.
MANCHESTER, JANUARY 27, 1848.
[On Jan. 4, the Morning Chronicle published a letter of the Duke of Wellington to Sir John Burgoyne, in which the great change which modern improvement in attack had induced on all systems of national defence was insisted on The Duke urged that a large addition must be made to the military forces of the country, in order to make it secure. Mr. Cobden, in a meeting at Manchester, where general politics were discussed, combated this opinion.]
I have, in the first place, to tender you my thanks, and the thanks of those gentlemen who represent North and South Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire, for the honour which you have done us. I believe that a very large proportion of the Members of those divisions of the two counties are now Free-traders, and, I have no doubt, will be found to do their duty to the satisfaction of this assembly.
Now, gentlemen, I have been asked a dozen times, I dare say, what is the object of this meeting. I confess to you that I do not wish to regard it as a meeting to celebrate past triumphs, still less to glorify ourselves or one another. I wish rather that it should be made to show that we are alive to the future—that, having secured upon the statute-book a guarantee for free trade in corn, we intend to make that the prelude to free trade in ships—that we intend to prevent the West India proprietors from taxing this community for their advantage—and that, in fact, we intend to carry out in every article of commerce the principles of Free Trade, which we have applied to corn.
Now, gentlemen, our esteemed Representative (Mr. Milner Gibson) has so ably and efficiently anticipated some points which I intended to refer to in connection with the sugar question, and other applications of our principles of Free Trade, that I am relieved from the necessity of repeating them, and I thank him most heartily for the speech which he has delivered upon this occasion, which is one of the ablest that I ever heard in this hall. I believe that the question of Free Trade, the question of Free Trade in all its details, is understood by this assembly—that what I have told you to be the future objects of this meeting has the concurrence of every one in this assembly, and I have no doubt that every Member of Parliament now upon this platform will aid us in carrying our principles into effect.
But now, gentlemen, I wish to allude to another subject, and although I deem that subject to have an intimate connection with the question of Free Trade, yet I wish to be distinctly understood, and I do not for a moment presume that, in what I am going to say, I shall speak the sentiments of any Member of Parliament or gentleman beside me. I speak only for myself, and I wish to be understood as compromising no other individual. I allude, as you may probably anticipate, to the intention which has been announced of increasing our warlike armaments.
Now, gentlemen, you will bear me out, that throughout the long agitation for Free Trade, the most earnest men who co-operated with us were those who constantly advocated Free Trade, not merely on account of the material advantages which it would bring to the community, but for the far loftier motive of securing permanent peace between nations. I believe that it was that consideration which mainly drew to our ranks that great accession of ministers of religion which gave so powerful an impetus to our progress at the commencement of our agitation; and I, who have known most of the leading men connected with the struggle, and have had the opportunity of understanding their motives, can say that I believe that the most earnest, the most persevering, the most devoted of our coadjutors, have been prompted by those lofty, those purely moral and religious motives to which I have referred, especially for the object of peace. Well, gentlemen, I am sure that every one of those men have shared with me the shock which my feelings sustained, when, within one short twelvemonths after we had announced our adoption of Free Trade to the world, we were startled with the announcement that we were going to increase our warlike armaments.
I ask, what is the explanation of this? Probably we may find it in the Duke of Wellington's letter—in the private efforts which he announces therein that he has made with the Government, and to the correspondence which he has had with Lord John Russell. I may attribute this, then, to the Duke of Wellington and his letter, and to his persevering efforts. Well, I do not profess to share the veneration which some men entertain for successful warriors. But is there amongst the most ardent admirers of the Duke one man, possessing the ordinary feelings of humanity, who would not wish that that letter had never been written or never published? His Grace has passed the point of the ordinary duration of human existence, and I may say, almost without a figure of speech, that he is tottering on the verge of the grave. Is it not a most lamentable spectacle that that hand, which is no longer capable of wielding a sword, should devote its still remaining feeble strength to the penning of a letter,—and that letter may possibly be the last public letter which he may address to his fellow-countrymen,—which is more calculated than anything in the present day to create evil passions and animosities in the breasts of two great and neighbouring nations? Would it not have been a better employment for him to have been seen preaching forgiveness and oblivion of the past, rather than in reviving recollections of Toulon, and Paris, and Waterloo; and, in fact, doing everything to invite a brave people to retaliatory measures, to retrieve themselves from past disasters and injuries? Would it not have been a more glorious object to contemplate, had he poured the oil into those wounds which are now almost healed, rather than have thus applied the cautery—reopening those wounds, and leaving to other generations the task of repairing the mischief which he has perpetrated? I will leave the subject of the Duke's letter with this remark, which I made when I read it and came to the conclusion, where he says, ‘I am in my 77th year'’—I said, that explains it all, and excuses it all. We have not to deal with the Duke of Wellington; we have to deal with those younger men, who want to make use of his authority to carry out their own special purposes.
Now, what I wish to impress on you and the people of England is, that the question before us is not a military, not a naval question, but a question for civilians to decide. When we are at war, then the men with red clothes and swords by their sides may step in to do their work—and, as Sir H. Smith fitly described it, in a speech which he recently made, a damnable trade it is. But we are now at peace, and we wish to reap the fruits of peace, and in order to do so we must calculate for ourselves the contingency of a possible war. That is a civilian's question—that is a question for the decision of the tax-payers who have to pay the cost of a war. It is a question for the merchant; it is a question for the manufacturer, for the shopkeepers, for the operatives, for the farmers of this country—ay, and, pardon me, my Lord Ellesmere, it is a question for the calico-printer.
What is this prospect of a war? Where does it come from? You, I say, are competent to judge on this subject better than military men. You are more impartial; you are disinterested; at all events, your interest does not lie on the side of war. Any man who can read a book giving an account of France—any man who can read a translation from a French newspaper—any man who will take the trouble of studying the statistics of the progress of their commerce and wealth—any man who can study these things, is as competent as a soldier to pronounce an opinion on the probability of a war. I have had better opportunities than any soldier of studying these things, and I say that there never was a time in the history of France and England when there was a greater tendency to a pacific policy in France, and especially towards this kingdom, than there is at the present time. Why, the French people have gone through a process which almost disqualifies them for going to war. They have gone through a social revolution, which has so much equalised property that the tax-payers are equally spread all over the country, and, paying a large portion of the taxes in indirect taxation, they have a direct interest and a most sensitive feeling in the expenditure which would be necessary to go to war. There are in France far more people of property than in England. There are some five or six millions of real proprietors of the soil in France. You have not one-tenth of that number in England. These are all thrifty, painstaking, careful men—all with their little savings, their little hoards of five-franc pieces—all anxious to do something for their children, for there is not a more domestic and affectionate race in the world than the French. I have seen with horror, and shame, and indignation, the way in which some of our newspapers speak of the French people. They have placed us before the community, before the world, in so ignominious, so degraded a condition—they have marked us as such an ignorant people, to say nothing of our prejudices and want of Christian charity, that, I say, nothing but an uprising of the people in multitudinous assemblages like this, and repudiating the doctrines put forth by those pretending to speak and write in their behalf, can set us right with the world or with ourselves.
There is one paper in this city, which I would always wish to treat with respect, if it will allow me—there is, I say, one paper here which, I see, last week gravely entered into this argument, gravely adopted this line of reasoning, that it is necessary we should have a police in Manchester, and that we have had a constantly increasing police here to protect us—against what? thieves, ruffians, pickpockets, and murderers; and, therefore, we must have increasing naval and military armaments to protect us against the French. Are the majority of the French people thieves and pickpockets, ruffians and murderers? If they are, could they exist as an organised community? And yet they are a community as orderly as ourselves, for there has been as little tumult in France during the last five or six years as there has been in England.
I see that there is another newspaper in London, a weekly newspaper, which used to write with some degree of credit to itself, but I presume that it has been panic-stricken,—that it has lost its wits. That paper tells us that the next war with France will take place without any declaration of hostilities on the part of that country, and that, literally, we have to protect our Queen at Osborne House against these ruffianly Frenchmen, who may, otherwise, come and carry her off What a lesson has our courageous Queen read to these men! She went over to France, unfriended, unprotected, and threw herself on shore at the Chateau d'Eu, literally in a bathing-machine. Now, there is either great courage on one side, or great cowardice on the other.
But, gentlemen, this is a sort of periodical visitation which we have. I sometimes compare it to the cholera—for I believe that the last infection which we had of this kind came about the time of the cholera. The last time that a cry of this sort was got up, we were threatened with an invasion of the Russians, which my friend (Mr. Milner Gibson) has told you of. Now, I am rather identified with and interested in that invasion of Russia. It was that which made me an author; it was that which made me a public man; and it is quite possible, if it had not been for the insanity of some of the public newspapers—and some of them are just as insane now as they were then—that I should not have come into public life. They then told us that the Russians would be coming over here some foggy day, and that they would land at Yarmouth. If it had not been for that insanity I should never have turned author, never have written pamphlets, but must have been a thrifty, painstaking calico-printer to this day.
Now, again, what I want is, that you should understand a little better about these foreigners. You may remember that about three weeks or a month ago I had occasion to address a few remarks to the electors assembled at Newton, on the occasion of the election of my friend Mr. Henry; and that there I let fall some observations favourable to the reduction of our armaments, and showing how necessary it was that we should reduce our expenditure in that department, in order to enable us to carry out fiscal reform. I little dreamt then, that within a few hours of the time when I was speaking, a large meeting was being held at Rouen, the Manchester of France, at which there were 1,800 electors assembled, to promote, at a public dinner, the progress of parliamentary reform, and that a gentleman was there making a speech so similar to my own, that he sent me a newspaper containing a report of it, and expressed his astonishment that two speeches, made without collusion, should have so nearly resembled each other. I will, if you please, read that gentleman's remarks, and notice the cheers of the company as I go on. It is Mons. Vicienne who speaks:—
'How long will it take to turn from theory into practice the very simple idea that, apart from the precepts of religion, which we do so often quote, but so seldom practise, and upon the merest calculations of an enlightened self-interest, nations have a far different mission upon earth than to excite in each other mutual fear? How long will it be before they discover the selfish objects of those who have an interest in persuading them that the name of a foreigner is synonymous with that of enemy? When will they learn that, as children of the same Father, their real and only enemies, those which they ought to struggle to destroy, are ignorance, oppression, misery, and superstition?—[cheers]—that in proclaiming their mutual friendships, they will tend to the consolidation of peaceful relations with each other? When will they discover that the maintenance of formidable armaments, in countries whose nationality is not seriously menaced, inflicts an evil upon all, and confers benefits on none? [Shouts of "That's true—that's true."] But, better to define my idea, do you not think that if, confident in the maintenance of an honourable peace, we were to deduct from the 500 millions francs which our army and navy cost us, 20 millions to be applied to the education of the people, and a like sum for the purpose of converting 20,000 soldiers into road-makers; if we gave back to agriculture and manufactures 50,000 more soldiers, leaving in our pockets the sum which they cost to pay and support them—think you not that this would be a good result of the entente cordiale, I will not say between the Governments—we know what that is worth—[laughter]—but the nations, which have no dynastic interests to serve, and do not play at diplomacy. [Cheers.] Do you not think that this example of common sense and feeling of security given by us would have its influence upon the other countries of Europe, would lead to other disarmaments, would facilitate everywhere those fiscal reforms which are postponed from day to day on the plea of the necessities of the treasury, and would give to productive industry that capital and labour which are now diverted into unproductive channels? [Expressions of assent.]'
Now, at the same meeting, another gentleman, an eminent Member of the Chamber of Deputies, spoke, and said:—
'Heaven grant that the day may come when the world shall be one nation! God gave us the earth, not to bathe it with blood, but that we might make it smile with fertility. [Cheers.] Oh! gentlemen, which nation has found the grandest success in war? What country can exhibit such glorious triumphs as France, whose soldiers rushed to the field of battle in search of death, or rather immortality? [Applause.] But after glory comes reverses; we have found that if war has its immense triumphs, it has also its immense disasters. Besides, what changes are going on around us! If war, during so many ages, was the rule, and peace the exception, in our day peace ought to be the rule and war the exception. [Cheers.] See, in fact, what is passing throughout civilised Europe. People are fraternising by their industry, and by those novel means of communication which are almost annihilating distances. In four days you are at the extremity of Germany; in five days you may visit Berlin and Vienna; in seven days you are upon the banks of the Vistula. In a short time we shall be as near to the empire of Russia; already travellers are carrying ideas of liberty into that country, frightening tyranny, which will one day fall from its seat. Enough of conquering! Who would wish again to arm people against each other? Why should they think of the aggrandisement of territory when there are no longer any barriers between nations? [Prolonged cheering.] Let me not be told that this is a dream—a Utopia; already we begin to realise it. By their intercourse, nations are beginning to know and understand each other; they are ridding themselves, one and all, of those ancient prejudices and hatreds which have hitherto separated them. Why should they not fraternise together? Why should they be enemies? Are they not the children of one God? Have they not all the same immortal spirit, which is the emanation from heaven? And, upon earth, have they not the same interests to protect and develope? [Prolonged sensation—bravos!] And I demand of you, if France, warlike and conquering, has seen the nations offering to her the tribute of their acclamations, what a part will she perform in this long peace of the world! [Applause and long interruption.]'
Now, gentlemen, those extracts are very long, but I thought they would interest you—to know what was passing in a popular assembly, representing the active public opinion of the chief manufacturing town in France; and when you see such sentiments as those applauded in the way in which they were in a French assembly, why will you, people of Manchester, believe that the French are that nation of bandits which some of your newspapers would make you believe? I do not mean to say that there may not be predjudices in France to root out; and Heaven knows that we have prejudices enough in England to extirpate; but this I do say, that it is not with a few insignificant brawlers in Paris—men without station, stake, or influence in their country—it is not with those we should attempt to pick a quarrel, but it is rather to such men as those from whose speeches I have quoted that we should hold out the right hand of fellowship.
Now, I will be practical with you on this question of armaments, for I shall not have another opportunity of speaking to you again before this question comes before the House of Commons. I have said that it is a question for civilians to determine—that military and naval men should have no voice in it—that it is for you only, the tax-payers. Do not let me be misunderstood. I am not going to enter into the technicalities of war. I do not claim for civilians—Heaven forbid I should—a knowledge of the horrid trade of war. I only contend that, whilst we are in a state of profound peace, it is for you, the tax-payers, to decide whether you will run the risk of war, and keep your money in your pockets, or allow an additional number of men in red coats and blue jackets to live in idleness under the pretence of protecting you. Now, I say this, that I am for acting justly and fairly, for holding out the olive-branch to all the world, and I am for taking on myself, so far as my share goes, all the risk of anything that may happen to me, without paying for more soldiers and sailors.
But it is not merely the question, whether you will have more armaments, that you civilians are competent to decide. You have already expended this year 17,000,000l. sterling in your armaments, and it is a question on which you are competent to decide, whether the best possible use is made of your money—whether, for instance, the navy, for which you pay so largely, is really employed in the way best calculated to answer the design of those men who profess themselves so anxious to accomplish it, if you will give them more money—that is, the protection of your shores. Where do you think all your great line-of-battle ships go? I have picked up a few secrets abroad—for you know that I have travelled by water as well as by land. I venture to say that there is not more perfect idleness, nor more demoralisation, the consequence of idleness, going on in the same space on the face of the earth as in our ships of war, from their want of having something to do. Where do you find them? Where are those great line-of-battle ships, of whose payment and equipment you hear, and which you read of going out of your harbours with such a display of power? Do they go where we have any great commerce? Go to Hamburg, and there you will never see an English man-of-war. Go to the Baltic, where we carry on so much trade, and you will rarely see one. There is rough weather, and not many attractions on shore there. Well, go, then, to America. There is North America, with which, I suppose, we do one-fifth or one-sixth of the foreign trade of this country—at least, I hope we shall very shortly come to that. Do you think any of these great men-of-war are upon that coast? Why it is the rarest thing indeed for one to be seen in those waters, and if one does appear there the fact is recorded in the American newspapers. They do not go there; for there are no idle people on shore, and the officers do not like the society they meet with. In fact, the ships are not wanted there, and they would do more harm than good if they went there.
Well, then, where do they go? I am trying to get the information for you. I moved for a return, just before the close of the last little session of Parliament, which will throw some light on the subject, and I ask you to keep your eye on that return. I will tell you what it is. I moved for a return of the amount of our naval force that has been in the Tagus, and the waters of Portugal, on the 1st of each month during the last twelve months—the name of the ships, the complement of guns, and the number of men. Now, when that report turns up, I should not be surprised if you see that you have had a naval force in the Tagus and the Douro, and on the coast of Portugal, which, in the number of guns, will not fall much short of the whole American navy. Lisbon is a pleasant place to be at, as I can vouch, for I have seen it. The climate is delightful. Geraniums grow in the open air in the month of January. I do not quarrel with the taste of the admirals or captains who go and spend twelve months in the Tagus, if you will let them. But now, I ask, what are they doing in return for the money which they cost you? Are they promoting, even in the remotest degree, English interests there? Nothing of the kind. Our fleet has been in the Tagus, at the absolute disposal of the Queen of Portugal, positively and literally nothing else. Our papers have avowed that our fleet went there to protect her Majesty of Portugal, and to give her and her court an asylum, in case the conduct of her people should compel her to seek it.
Now, this is a subject upon which every gentleman, nay, every lady, is competent to judge. I never like to speak disrespectfully of any country, and, therefore, I do not wish to be thought to speak slightingly of Portugal, when I say that it is one of the smallest, poorest, and one of the most decayed and abject of European countries. I am sorry for it, but such is the fact. What in the world has England to gain by going and taking this country under her protection? Is it her commerce that you seek for? Why, you are sure of her commerce, for this simple reason—that you take four-fifths of all her port wine, and if you did not, no one else would drink it. Now, I would not like to be thought capable of using an atrocious sentiment, and what I am about to say I mean only as an illustration of an economical argument; but, positively, if the earthquake which once demolished Lisbon were to come again, and sink the whole of Portugal under the sea, it would be an immense gain to the English people. That, however, is not the fault of Portugal; for our ships go there—to do what? Why, to help the Queen and Government of Portugal to misgovern the people. When they rebel, our forces go on shore and put them down by the strong arm. Why, our statesmen actually undertook to say who should govern Portugal, and to exclude a particular family from all participation in the Government. They also stipulated that the Cortes should be elected on constitutional principles. Well, the Cortes was elected, and the people have returned almost every man favourable to that very statesman whom Lord Palmerston and Co. said should not have any influence in Portugal.
Now, gentlemen, I ask you just to follow out this question of English interference with Portugal. Understand the whole subject—the increase of your armaments which is thus caused; apply your common sense to it. There is a constant complaint that the English public do not give any attention to foreign politics. What is the reason of that? It is common sense, and a very sound instinct on the part of the English people. They turn their heads and eyes from foreign politics, because they know that they have never done them any good. But you must do one thing: you must change from apathy to knowledge; you must superintend your foreign minister; and when you do that, I undertake to say that you may save a great deal of money—and that will be one good result, at all events, in these bad times. What I wish to bring home to your convictions is this, that if the people in Brighton—if the old ladies of both sexes there are frightened lest they should be taken out of their beds some night by the French—why not bring home the fleet from the Tagus, and let it cruise in the Channel? I am no sailor, but I feel sure that no sailor would gainsay this,—that it would be a great deal better practice, better exercise, better for the crew, for the condition of the ships, for the quality of the officers and men, if the fleet were sailing in the Channel, than lying in demoralising idleness at Lisbon.
Now, gentlemen, if you go into the Mediterranean—if you follow your ships there—you will find precisely the same thing going on. Why, the Mediterranean is crowded with English ships of war—not to look after your commerce: they can do no good in that way. We have settled that question: we have repudiated protection. But there you find them, nevertheless. Leaving Portsmouth, they sail directly for Malta; and Malta is the great skulking-hole for your navy. I was at Malta at the commencement of winter, in the month of November. Whilst I was at Malta, a ship arrived there from Portsmouth; it had come direct; it had 1,000 hands on board when it left Portsmouth; it came into Valetta Harbour, when I was there, with 999 people on board, men and boys, having lost one hand on the passage. Soon after the arrival of that vessel I started from Valetta, went to Naples, and from thence to Egypt and Greece, and when I returned she had never stirred. Her officers had gone on shore to live in the club, and the lieutenant and other officers in command found the utmost difficulty for even a pretence of work. The crew were ordered to hoist up the sails and to let them down again; and they scrubbed the decks until they scrubbed the planks almost through. Well, I was introduced to the American Consul at Malta, and he spoke to me in a very friendly manner on the subject of our navy. He said, ‘We Americans consider your navy to be very slack.’ ‘Slack!’ I said; ‘what do you mean by slack?’ ‘Why,’ he said, ‘they are too idle; they are not sufficiently worked. You cannot have a crew in good order if they lie for three or four months in a harbour like this. We have never more than three or four vessels in the Mediterranean, and rarely one larger than a frigate; but the instructions which we have from the Government at Washington are these,—that the American ships are never to be kept in port at all; that they are to go from one port to another, to take care of the traders, and see if there are any pirates, although there are not often any of them in the Mediterranean. But the vessels are always in motion, and the American sailors and American ships are in a better state of discipline and equipment than the English ships, on account of their idleness.’ Now, again, this is a question on which every man and woman in the country is competent to form an opinion; and I say that if any one talks to me about increasing our armaments, I tell them, if they are frightened in the Channel, let them bring home those useless ships which are lying in the Tagus and the Mediterranean. If they tell me that the ships of war in the Tagus are lying there for the protection of the Queen of Portugal, I tell them that her subjects are her proper protectors.
Now, one word, rather personal to myself, without the slightest reference to the opinions of the gentlemen around me; I had been, somehow or another, rather singled out on this question of armaments. I dropped a few remarks at Stockport on the subject, in the most harmless and incidental way. To confess the honest truth, I did not go there to say anything about armaments or taxation; but, in the course of my speech, as people here can testify, a man shouted out, ‘But ain’t taxation something to do with it?' and then, under the impulse of the moment, I alluded to the army, navy, and ordnance, as the only item on which a reduction of taxation can be effected. The papers in London—I suppose for their own convenience' sake—tried to make me ridiculous, if they could, by making me say that I wanted to save the whole expenditure on the army, navy, and ordnance. I have no hesitation in declaring what my opinions are on this subject. I stated at Stockport, very candidly, what I shall state here—what I stated in my pamphlets twelve years ago on this subject—that you cannot have a material reduction in your armaments until a great change takes place in public opinion in this country with regard to our foreign policy. I have stated that opinion over and over again in my writings. I said at Stockport that you cannot reduce that item until there is a change in public opinion, and the English people abandon the notion that they are to regulate the affairs of the world. Indeed, those were my very words at Stockport, as people here can testify. I wished to do no injustice—to offer no factious opposition to Ministers with respect to the maintenance of our armaments. All I wanted was to invoke public opinion, as I do now, and as I always will invoke public opinion. When the public opinion, the majority of the influential opinion of the country, is on my side, I shall be content to see my views carried out. Until that time, I am content to be on this question, as I have been on others, in a minority, and in a minority to remain, until I get a majority.
But, gentlemen, the real and practical question before the country is not the question of a reduction of armaments. This, however, has been very carefully mystified. It is not a question, as this paper in Manchester, in its latest number, says, whether we shall dismantle fleets and leave our arsenals defenceless. That is not the question, and it is dishonest to put that as the question. The real question is, will we have an increase of the army, navy, and ordnance? Now, when I admit that public opinion does not go with me to the extent which would enable me to carry a great reduction in our armaments, I at the same time maintain—speaking for the West Riding of Yorkshire—speaking for Lancashire—speaking for Middlesex—speaking for London—speaking for Edinburgh—speaking for Glasgow—I say that, on the question of the increase of our armaments, public opinion is with me in those places, and against the Ministers. And if that public opinion is expressed, and expressed through public meetings, I, for one, have no hesitation in saying that a large portion of the press has neglected and forsaken its duty on this question. I say that if public opinion be expressed in public meetings throughout the country, before the estimates are brought on in the House of Commons, there will be no increase of our armaments. But whether that manifestation of public opinion takes place or not, I—speaking for myself, as an individual Member of the House of Commons—say that not one shilling shall be added to the estimates for our armaments, without my having forced a division of the House upon it.
I began by identifying this question of our armaments with the question of Free Trade, and I tell you, in conclusion, that the question of Free Trade is jeopardised all over Europe by the course which it is intended to take. Why, I receive the papers from Paris, and what do they tell me? There is a band of Free-traders there associated together; they publish their weekly organ, as we published our Anti-Corn-law paper. It is called the Libre Exchangé, and is edited by my talented and excellent and able friend, M. Bastiat. That paper, last week, was mourning in sackcloth and ashes over the course which they there think England is going to pursue. And what says the organ of the protectionists, the Moniteur Industriel? They are deluging, not only France, but England, with the last week's number of that paper, in which they leap with exultation at the condition of this country. ‘We told you,’ says that journal, ‘that England was not sincere on the Free trade question. She has no faith in her principles; she sees that other nations are not following her example, and she is preparing her armaments to take that by force which she thought to take by fraud.’
Now, I exhort my countrymen everywhere to resist this attempt to throw odium on our principles, which, if carried out, the Free-Traders believe would bring peace and harmony among the nations. The most enthusiastic of us never said, as some of the papers pretend that we did say, that we expected the millennium soon after we had got Free Trade. We never expected but that we should have to give time to other nations for the adoption of our principles, precisely as we required time to adopt them ourselves. But what we did hope was this: that the Continent of Europe, with eyes steadily fixed on this country, in connection with this question, would, at all events, not have seen that we were the first to have doubt as to the tendency of our own principles, and to be arming against the world when we pretended to be seeking only their friendship and kindness. We permitted too many of the good and peaceful men who joined this agitation to try to make it the harbinger of peace, which it was intended to be; we planted the olive-tree, never expecting to gather the fruit in a day; but we expected it to yield fruit in good season, and, with Heaven's help and yours, it shall do so yet.
MANCHESTER, JANUARY 10, 1849.
I must bespeak your kindness for keeping silence and order during the meeting, for I am afraid I am so much out of practice, that I shall not make myself heard over this vast audience. I have to move a resolution, which I will read to you. It is:—
'That this meeting resolves to co-operate with the Liverpool Financial Reform Association, and other bodies, in their efforts to reduce the public expenditure to at least the standard of 1835, and to secure a more equitable and economical system of taxation.'
We have often, gentlemen, met in this hall to advocate a cause which has brought upon us the charge of being the farmers' enemies; and now we come forward in another character—we appear here as the farmers' friends. We have been accused of having subjected the agriculturists of this country to a competition with foreigners. They have complained to us that they are more heavily taxed than the foreign farmers. Now, gentlemen, we come forward to offer them the right hand of fellowship and union, to effect a reduction of ten millions in the cost of our Government. I have moved, and in your name I hope it will go forth to the country, that we co-operate with the financial reformers of Liverpool in their agitation for financial reform, on the condition that we advocate a return to the expenditure of 1835. In 1835, the affairs of this Government were carried on for ten millions less of money than they are this year, and I have ventured to propose, in a letter which may have probably met the eyes of some of those present, that we should go back to that expenditure. I have waited three weeks before I should have the opportunity of saying a word in public in defence of my views, to see what would be said against that recommendation. I must confess that my opponents have not given me much to answer. I have heard it said, and it is probably the most valid argument that can be urged, that the population has increased since 1835. True, it has; our numbers are 12½ per cent. more than they were then, and our opponents say that we must allow a larger sum for the government of a greater number than a smaller; and I admit the argument so far as civil government goes, and in my plan I allow forty per cent. more for the civil government than was expended in 1835. But I deny that thirteen years of duration of peace is an additional argument why we should have an increase of our forces. And here I am very glad to call to my aid the opinion of a statesman who probably will be allowed by our opponents to be an authority in this matter. Towards the close of last session of Parliament, Sir R. Inglis, the Member for the University of Oxford, uttered this extraordinary doctrine—very extraordinary everywhere but at Oxford—that the longer you remain at peace, the greater the probability was that you would go to war. His idea seems to be. that men in time of peace were only being fattened up for a speedy slaughter. Now, hear what Lord Palmerston said in reply to him:—
'But I look to the general tendency of men's minds towards peace, and I differ from the hon. Member for the University of Oxford, who thinks that the long duration of peace renders war more probable: I think, on the contrary, that the duration of peace renders its continuance more likely, and will make countries more disposed to settle their differences otherwise than by war.'
It appears that in 1835 we spent 11,600,000l. for our army, navy, and ordnance, and I propose that we now shall not expend more than 10,000,000l. What I take from the expenditure for warlike purposes in 1835, I add to the civil expenditure in 1848. We spent for purposes of civil government in 1835, 4,300,000l.; I allow 5,900,000l. for the civil expenditure of the Government now; and taking into account the saving which I contemplate in the cost of collecting the revenue, and in the management of the Crown lands, which I have seen estimated by a financial reformer at something like half a million—taking these into account, I am allowing more than actually we are now expending for the ordinary expenses of the civil government of this country, and thus we get rid altogether of the objection, that increase of population requires an increase of expenditure to govern the people. Then, there has been another argument used also, and it is this: that, during the last year, and the year before, there was a deficiency of revenue. We have spent more than we have received, and we borrow money; and, therefore, even if my financial plan should be carried out, there still will not be the ten millions to dispose of in the remission of taxes. Well, my answer to that is this—and these cunning financiers who meet me with this argument ought to know it—that if the revenue has fallen off during the last year and the year before, it has been because the balance-sheets of our merchants and manufacturers have been equally adverse. The revenue has been deficient because the profits have been annihilated in the trade of every man in the country; but now that you have food at moderate prices, trade revives, and instantly you see the revenue increasing, and next year, perhaps this year—the next year, certainly—will see you with a surplus revenue as certainly as you had a deficiency last year. But I say, gentlemen—and I want to keep the financial reformers to this point, because we must have one simple article of faith, or we cannot march together—I say, give me the expenditure back again of 1835, and I will guarantee you the remission of ten millions of taxation. If you want—if the country wants to reduce their duty on tea one-half; if you wish to abolish altogether the duty upon timber, upon butter, upon cheese, upon soap, upon paper, upon malt, upon house-windows; if you wish to put an end to a system that curtails those necessaries and comforts—then raise your voices throughout the country, simultaneously, for the expenditure of 1835.
Now, where is the difficulty? Where is the difficulty of returning to the expenditure of 1835? Why, the whole question lies in the amount of your warlike armaments. The whole question is, Will the Government be content to waste ten millions of money in unproductive services like your fighting establishments—I mean your fighting establishments in a time of peace? Will our Government be content with ten millions? and if not, why not? I want the arguments—why not? I was asked the other day by an M.P., ‘When are you going into the details to show how you propose to carry on the Government upon your plan?’ My answer was this: ‘I should be a very bad tactician, and but a poor logician, if, when I have made a proposal that the Government should support its warlike establishments with ten millions of money, I did not call upon them to give me an answer, and to show me why they cannot maintain them with ten millions.’ I put them on the defensive. I ask them whether they have made the most of the money they receive. How do you think they dispose of the money? Why, you maintain one hundred and fifty admirals, besides fifty retired admirals. Well, but how many do you think you employ? Why, during the heat of the great French war—the greatest war on record—when you had nearly one thousand pennants flying, you never employed more than thirty-six admirals at one time—and at this time you have but fourteen admirals in active service. With all their ingenuity of putting admirals to work when they are not wanted, they can only find employment for fourteen. Well, then, I find in the army you have a colonel for every regiment who does the work; and you have another colonel of every regiment, who is the tailor to the regiment—who never goes near it—who never sees it—whom the men would not know if he did go near it; but he supplies clothes to them, and gets the profits of a tailor. These are illustrations how money is wasted. But I won't confine myself to the abuses and waste that occur. I tell you plainly from the outset, that, in order to effect such a reduction of expenditure for your armaments as you require for a relief to the country, a material relief—that will be felt in the homes and at the firesides of the population of this country—you must reduce the number of men. You must be content with a smaller manifestation of brute force in the eyes of the world. You must trust something to Providence—something to your own just intentions—and your good conduct to other nations; and you must rely less upon that costly, that wasteful expenditure, arising from so enormous a display of brute force.
Now, gentlemen, I will bring this matter home to my opponents with a very few figures. How is it we have had this great increase in the cost of our armaments? Has it been only an increase of waste, an increase in the number of admirals, and an increase in the number of colonels? No; it is because you have augmented the number of your men. I hold in my hand a statement made by Lord John Russell in the House of Commons last session. I will quote his own figures. He gives me the increase of the army, navy, and ordnance, since 1835; and in 1835 the number of men in all these services was 135,743; in last year they were 196,063. The increase in the number of men in the army, navy, and ordnance, since 1835, has been 60,320. Now, what has been the increase of the expenditure? In 1835, the total cost for all these services was 11,600,000l. In the present year it is upwards of 18,000,000l. The increase of the men has been as nearly as possible fifty per cent., and the increase in the money has been about fifty per cent. also. It is perfectly understood when Parliament votes the men, it must vote corresponding establishments in every direction; and, therefore, while I admit there are abuses, and great waste and mismanagement, I say, if you want a material reduction in the cost of your armaments, you must at once boldly proceed on the plan of reducing the number of armed men.
Why should you not reduce them? Why have they been increased? There has always been a ready excuse for adding to the force when an augmentation of the army, navy, or ordnance has been proposed; but what I complain of is, that when the alleged occasion of the increase has passed away, we never have a diminution. In 1835, as I have told you, our armaments were at the lowest point. In 1836, a cry was got up that the Russians were coming to invade us. I remember penning a pamphlet, to expose the absurdity of the cry, that the Russians were preparing to invade the coast of Norfolk some foggy morning; but that cry was an excuse for an increase in our navy. Then, again, in 1839, after the unfortunate scenes at Monmouth, in which Frost, Williams, and Jones were concerned—I suppose I must call it rebellion—there was immediately a proposal made by Lord John Russell for an increase of 5,000 men to the army. That increase was made specifically to meet the case of the Chartist riots; but when tranquillity returned, we never heard a word about reducing those 5,000 men. If you follow step by step the increase in our armaments, you will find the same course pursued. At one time, we must needs go and settle affairs in Syria, and we sent a large fleet to bombard Acre, and fight Ibrahim Pasha, or some other Pasha. Then we had a quarrel with the French at Tahiti. Then in 1845, there was a dispute about the Oregon boundary. As President Polk talked a great deal about fighting, and some men in the House of Representatives uttered more nonsense than usual, our Government proposed a large increase in the navy, and we had the ‘squadron of evolution’ fitted out,—this squadron of evolution is still going on with its evolutions. This was as a demonstration against America; but the Oregon question was settled—the Tahiti question is settled—the Chartists, I hope, are now well employed and comfortable; where, then, is the pretence for keeping up all these increased armaments? But I have not forgotten the last excuse. You remember, this time last year, standing on this platform, I raised my voice in conjunction with yours—and we stood almost alone—against that wicked attempt to impose on us by increasing our national defences to protect us against an invasion from France. By way of parenthesis, for your encouragement and the encouragement of the country, let me just remind you of the progress of opinion since then. We then had to contend against the increase of our overgrown establishments—we had an up-hill battle, but we succeeded. Now here is a proposal before the country to reduce the cost of our armaments nearly one-half, and that proposal is receiving more favour with the public within twelve months than our resistance to an increase of the armaments did last year.
And why is it? Because, in spite of all the efforts to mystify the public mind on the subject, events on the Continent have trumpet-tongued declared, that the attempt to frighten us with the threat of an unprovoked attack from France, was a vile slander upon that nation. We were told this time last year, ‘It is true the French are quiet now, because Louis Philippe, the Napoleon of Peace, is on the throne; but wait till he dies, and you will see how the French people, that are now kept in by this wise monarch, will break loose on their neighbours.’ Louis Philippe is politically dead; the French people were thrown entirely on their own resources—the bridle on their necks, the bit in their mouths, the masses were allpowerful, and the Government, on its knees, was ready to follow them to the utmost bent of their passions. Has there been amidst that 35,000,000 of people, your next neighbours, one whisper that could justify the accusations made against them last year by those wicked alarmists and panic-mongers whom I will never forgive, or, if I do, I will never forget to remind them of their wickedness? Has there been one act of the French people to warrant the imputation that they wished to come and attack you? But I won't confine myself to that. There were countries nearer home which everybody supposed the French more likely to attack than to attempt to conquer England. Has there been the slightest wish displayed on the part of the French people to make the Rhine the boundary of their empire? Have they invaded Belgium? Have they entered Holland? Have they conquered Italy? Have they shown the slightest disposition for conquest in any way? On the contrary, wherever a public man has sought to conciliate the French people, has he not addressed them in terms of peace, and promised them, above all things, that he will follow a pacific policy? Take their President—a Napoleon Buonaparte—I say nothing of his fitness to be President of the Republic, that is the affair of the French people, not ours; but observe, when such an individual canvasses the French people for their suffrages, how he accosts them. Does he promise them a war against England, or at least an invasion of Belgium? What said Louis Napoleon in his address to the French people?—
'With war, there can be no mitigation of our sufferings. Peace shall, therefore, be the most cherished object of my desires. At the time of her first revolution France was warlike, because others compelled her to be so. She was attacked, and she rolled back the tide of conquest upon her invaders. But now that nobody attacks her, she can devote all her resources to peaceful amelioration, without abandoning a firm and honourable policy.'
Now, does that look as if you had been wisely spending your money in fortifying yourselves, and keeping up your enormous standing armaments, because certain parties, who are interested in clothing regiments, or being admirals, with nothing to do, choose to tell you that the French people are a mighty hobgoblin, ready to come over and devour you some morning. I have dwelt longer on this subject, because what I stated with reference to the great mass of the French people last year was perverted: I said that property in France was more divided than in any other country in the world. I said there were 8,000,000 or 10,000,000 of real proprietors in France. The whole soil of that vast empire—and it is the richest on the surface of Europe—is cut up in small properties, held in fee-simple by those who cultivate it. And when those who write in certain aristocratic journals talk of dangers arising to a country from the minute subdivision of its property, I am very much disposed to whisper in their ears whether the lessons of history have not taught us that the danger is wholly different Let them point out the nation that has been ruined because its property was in too many hands. Does not ruin rather proceed from property being accumulated by a small number of persons, and the consequent indulgence of luxury and corruption by the few, and the degradation and misery of the mass? The argument I drew last year, and which I repeat here now, confirmed by experience since, is this, that the people in France, being nearly all proprietors, and having to pay for any war they may wish to carry on, they will not vote for a war, as they would have to vote for more taxation. I believe that Louis Napoleon, Cavaignac, and Guizot, whose book was published only yesterday, and every man in France, including M. Thiers, will agree with me, that if there be one passion more predominant than another among the mass of the French people, it is the desire for peace. But I do not confine myself to France. I will take Germany; I will take Italy; and I ask, where, amidst their convulsions—where monarchs have abdicated, where popes and potentates have run away in the disguises of lacqueys, or gone down on their knees before the mob in their ascendant—where, in all Europe, has there been among the mass of the people one sign or symptom of a desire for aggressive war on their neighbours?
Beware of another mystification. One of the most favourite of the enemy's devices is this—they raise a confusion in your minds by pointing to the internal disorders in foreign countries, and persuade you it is a state of war. I told you the people abroad were for peace, and so they are; but when the revolutions broke out, these fallacy-mongers exclaimed, ‘Here's Cobden, just come back from the Continent, tells us the people are all for peace—now they are all for war.’ They have been in a state of revolution to obtain precisely the same ends for which this country went through a revolution two centuries ago. And though in France the gain, even in the way of practical liberty, has not been so great as in other countries—for they had a great amount of practical freedom before their last revolution—yet, when you compare the state of Germany and Italy with what it was when I was there not two years ago, I say that, with their convulsions, slight and evanescent compared with our war against prerogative under our first Charles, Germany and Italy have gained an amount of freedom which required ten years' civil war in England to achieve. I left them in those countries with every newspaper and every book under the strict control of the censor. I left them with closed courts of justice administering law, not by oral testimony in presence of the accused, but by written documentary evidence. I left them without a representative form of government, without trial by jury; and now, though they may blunder and stumble in the path of freedom, they are at least in the highway for obtaining the same constitutional privileges—as soon as they can use them they may have them—as we have ourselves. In spite of all the attempts of the press and public men to cry out ‘Reaction,’ and applaud the despots and their soldiers, who are willing to fight for tyranny, I, in the presence of this great assembly and in their name, do express sympathy for the people who are struggling for their liberties. Do not think I am talking to you of politics foreign to your interests here. It is by studied misrepresentation of what is going on upon the Continent that our enormous standing armaments are maintained and defended in this country. I say that the progress of constitutional rights on the Continent must be favourable to the preservation of peace, because I think I have proved to you that the mass of the people on the Continent, like the mass of the people in this country, are favourable to peace, and averse to war. But you have another safeguard. I defy you to show me how any Government or people on the Continent can strengthen themselves, even if they chose to carry on a war of conquest. Let France invade Germany, it only makes Germany unite like one man—the whole Teutonic race are united as one man to repel the French. What is their predominant sentiment? The union of Germany, not for aggressive force, but for defensive succour. What is the cry in Italy? Italian nationality. What is the contest between Lombardy and Austria? The house of Austria may call Lombardy part of its territory, but there is another race,—the Latin race say, ‘We will not be governed by a Teutonic race;’ and, though the Austrians may keep down the Italians by Radetski and his 100,000 troops, Lombardy will be a source of weakness, not of strength, to them. I defy you to show me any partition where an accession of territory has not been rather a source of weakness than of strength Take the very worst that can happen:—suppose any power on the Continent is going to attack its neighbour, is there any reason why we should be armed to the teeth in order to take part in the struggle? In ancient times, when the people were counted as nothing, and when sovereigns told out their subjects as a shepherd would his flock; when a royal marriage united the crowns of two kingdoms, and the people of both became the willing subjects, or even serfs, of the one sovereign, there might have been danger in an acquisition of territory. But now that the people count everywhere for something, and we see on the Continent of Europe great lines of demarcation of race—the Italian Peninsula, for instance, one; Spain, another; Germany, another;—and when you find the great mosaic mass of Austrian dominion broken up, as it were, into Sclaves and Magyars, I see new limits assigned to conquest. I repeat, there is no longer any reason to fear that one empire will take possession, by force of arms, of its neighbour's territory; but, if it should, the accession of territory would be a source of weakness, not of strength. Take it at the worst, then; let the nations of the Continent attack each other; who is coming to attack you, if you only let their politics alone?
This brings me to another position which has an important bearing on the reduction of our armaments, and that is, we must let other people manage their own affairs. The Spaniards, who have very wise maxims, say, ‘A fool knows more of what is going on in his own house than a wise man does in that of his neighbour.’ Now, if we will apply that to nations, mind our own business, and give foreigners the credit of being able to manage their own concerns better than we can do for them, or they with our interference, it will save us a great deal of money, and they will have their affairs settled better and sooner than if we intermeddled with them. But what are we doing? There cannot be a petty squabble in any country in Europe or the globe, but we must have a great fleet of line-of-battle ships sent from England to take part in it. We have just interfered between Naples and Sicily—what is the consequence? We are detested by both parties. In all Italy it is the same. They speak of Englishmen with contempt and execration; not because they undervalue our qualities as men—no, they pay as high a tribute to the qualities of Englishmen as we could desire—but, as a nation, as a Government, interfering with their politics, from one end of the Peninsula to the other, the Italians cordially hate and detest us. So with regard to Spain—we have spent hundreds of millions on Spain, and what is the present state of feeling there? I travelled from one end of Spain to the other, and I never heard the name of the Duke of Wellington mentioned, although he fought their battles, as we persuade ourselves—I never saw his portrait or bust through all my travels, but I saw Napoleon's and his Marshals' everywhere. At this very moment, Napoleon and France are more popular in Spain than England and Englishmen. It is the same in Greece—the same in Portugal. The English people are hated, because we interfere with their politics. Is not that a very undignified attitude for a great nation like this to occupy? If we kept aloof from their squabbles, and contented ourselves with setting foreigners a good example—if we put our own houses in order—if we set our mud cabins in Ireland in order—we should show a great deal more common sense than in attempting to manage the affairs of other nations when we are not responsible for their government. But an argument has been used why we should interfere; and I like to hear it, for it shows that our opponents are at their last extremity. They say, ‘If we don’t interfere, France will interfere;' and so it is,—we have sent a fleet to Naples, because the French had a fleet there. I remember, at the last stage of the Anti-Corn-law agitation, our opponents were driven to this position—'Free Trade is a very good thing, but you cannot have it until other countries adopt it too;' and I used to say, ‘If Free Trade be a good thing for us, we will have it: let others take it, if it be a good thing for them; if not, let them do without it.’ So I say now, if our constant interference with the affairs of the Continent be a costly, useless, pernicious policy for us, and if France—if Austria, choose to adopt that policy and ruin themselves by it, let them do so, but don't let us follow their example. This is common sense, although it does not pervade high quarters in this country.
We have another argument to meet. We are told we must keep up enormous armaments, because we have got so many colonies. People tell me I want to abandon our colonies; but I say, do you intend to hold your colonies by the sword, by armies, and ships of war? That is not a permanent hold upon them. I want to retain them by their affections. If you tell me that our soldiers are kept for their police, I answer, the English people cannot afford to pay for their police. The inhabitants of those colonies are a great deal better off than the mass of the people of England—they are in the possession of a vast deal more of the comforts of life than the bulk of those paying taxes here; they have very few of those taxes that plague us here so much—excise, stamps, and taxes, those fiscal impediments which beset you every day in your callings, are hardly known in our colonies. Our colonies are very able to protect themselves. Every man among them has his fowling-piece, and, if any savages come to attack them, they can defend themselves. They have another guar antee—if civilised men treat savages like men, there is never any occasion to quarrel with them. With regard to our navy, they tell us it is necessary because of our trade with the colonies. I should have thought it was just that trade which wanted no navy at all. It is a sort of coasting trade; our ships are at home when they get to our colonies. We don't want any navy to protect our trade with America, which is a colony emancipated; and we may thank our stars it has broke loose; it never would have been such a customer if the aristocracy of England had held that field of patronage for their younger sons. You don't want a ship of war to protect your trade with the United States; and last year you exported to them 10,900,000l. of your produce, more by upwards of a million than you exported to all your colonies together, India excepted. Sir William Molesworth, in that admirable speech of his on the colonies, showed that, by a better administration, not by taking away altogether your force from the colonies, but by an improved system ofgovernment, you might save 2,000,000l. per annum.
You have to make up your mind to one thing,—you cannot afford all this waste. It is not a matter of choice with you. I tell you, you are spending too much money as a nation. It is not merely your general taxation—your local taxation likewise oppresses you. Mark me, the greater the cost of your armaments falling on general taxation, the more you will have to spend in poorrates and other taxes. The more you waste of the capital of the country, the more people will be wanting employment; and when they want employment, it is the law of England that the poorest, who are the first to begin to suffer under a course of national extravagance or decay, have the right to come to those above them and demand subsistence, under the name of poor-rate; so that, in proportion as the extravagance of Government increases, poor-rates and the expenses of a repressive police increase also. You must, therefore, lessen the national expenditure, or the catastrophe cannot long be deferred. I have detained you already too long, but there is one thing I wish to impress upon you before I sit down. It is of paramount moment to the English people that we should not allow ourselves to entertain an undue or exaggerated notion of our own importance as a nation, or to take a too unfavourable view of other countries. It is through your national pride that cunning people manage to extract taxes from you. They persuade you that nothing can be done abroad unless you do it; and that you are so superior to all other countries, that your next neighbour, France, for instance, is nothing but a band of brigands, and unless you are constantly on the watch, they will be ready to pounce upon you and carry off your property. Until, as a nation, we give credit to other people for being able to work out their own liberties—unless we believe there is something of honour and honesty in other countries to shield us from unjust aggression on their part, we must always be armed to secure ourselves from the imaginary attacks of our neighbours. Other nations are far too intelligent to require that we should always be armed to the teeth, in order to let them know how strong we are. I don't believe that the French will come to attack the English merely because we happen to have a few less ships of war or a few less regiments than we now possess. Their Government will look far beyond your manifestation of force. They will inquire what is the wealth, the power, the public spirit of our people; are we a contented nation, attached to our institutions, governed well, united as one man against an enemy: and if they see the indications of this latent national power, depend on it they won't wantonly rush into war with us, even if we don't always go armed to the teeth, and show ourselves ready for fighting.
Take the case of the United States. America has three times, within the last few years, had a misunderstanding with two of the greatest Powers of the world—twice with England, once with France. We had the Maine boundary and the Oregon territory to settle with the United States, and America had her quarrel with France, arising out of a claim for compensation of 1,000,000l., which the French Government refused to pay. What was the issue of those controversies? When the claim was refused by France, General Jackson, then the head of the American Government, published his declaration, that if the money was not paid forthwith, he would seize French ships and pay himself. At that time—I have it from Americans themselves—the French had three times the force of ships-of-war that America had; Admiral Mackau was in the Gulf of Florida with a fleet large enough to ravage the whole coast of America and bombard her towns; but did France rush into war with America? She paid the money. Why? Because she knew well, if she provoked an unjust war with the United States, their men-of-war were nothing compared with the force that would swarm out of every American port when brought into collision with another country. France knew that America had the largest mercantile marine; and, though at first the battle might be to the stronger in an armed fleet, in the end it would be that country which had the greatest amount of public spirit, and the greatest number of mercantile ships and sailors. What was the case with England? In 1842 there was a talk of war with America, on account of the Maine boundary question. Bear in mind that America never spent more than 1,200,000l. on her navy, in any year of peace previous to 1842. We are spending this year 7,000,000l. or 8,000,000l.; but will anybody tell me that America fared worse in that dispute because her resources in ships-of-war were far inferior to ours? No; but we increased our navy, and we had a squadron of evolution, as it was called. America never mounted a gun at New York to prevent the bombardment of the city; but did she fare the worse? We sent a peer of the realm (Lord Ashburton) to Washington; it was on American soil that the quarrel was adjusted, and rumour does say that America made a very good bargain. It is the spirit of a people, the prosperity of a people, the growing strength, the union, the determination of a people, that command respect.
Now, what I want you as a nation to do, is to believe that other countries will just take the same measure of us that we took of America. They won't come and attack us merely because we reduce our armaments to 10,000,000l. On the contrary, other countries, I believe, will follow our example. I believe, if we are not very quick, France will set us the example. I see General Cavaignac, and all their best men, advocating a reduction of the army. A formal proposal has been made to reduce their army one-half, as the only means of saving the country from financial confusion. Let us encourage these good men in their good work. And, though our Government do not set the example, let us from this Free-Trade-hall tell General Cavaignac and his followers that we will undertake to reduce the cost of our fighting establishments, man for man, as they do theirs. When they tell us that we are in danger of a collision at any moment with foreign powers—when they tell us that a couple of drunken captains of frigates at the Antipodes may suddenly embroil this country in war with France, and that this is a reason why we ought always to be armed and prepared for hostile conflict—I ask you, as reasonable Christian men, why should we not adopt the proposal which has been made at so many public meetings, and which I shall submit to the House next session—to insert a clause in a treaty with foreign nations, binding each other that in case of collision between two drunken captains, or a dispute arising from the conduct of some indiscreet consul at Tahiti—in case of a misunderstanding on any point whatever, each should be bound to submit the subject-matter of dispute to arbitration—that, instead of drawing the sword being the point of honour to which nations shall resort, it shall be to fulfil honourably the treaty by which the dispute shall be referred to arbitration, and abide honourably by the decision when pronounced?
To conclude, I tell you, if anything is to be done in this matter of financial reform, it must be done by the people out of doors. There never was a time when independent men in the House of Commons—I mean the very few independent, both by circumstances and by feeling—of both the two great parties who have hitherto divided the sway in this country, were so weak as they are at this moment. And why? Because the party in power is nominally the same party as ourselves; because their followers mingle more or less with ourselves, and we are neutralised at every turn, or, at all events, we find a wet blanket on our shoulders, whenever we go into the House of Commons. Now, if you want to carry financial reform, it must be carried precisely in the same way that Free Trade was carried. You must speak out of doors in a voice that will be heard and felt in the House of Commons. The representative system, as we have got it, is a very clumsy machine. The House of Commons nominally has to look after the purse-strings of the people, and see that taxes are lightly and equably laid on; but you are obliged to leave your business, and form financial associations, to compel the House of Commons to do that which it is designed to do, but does not. There is no help for it. We must do it ourselves. I honour that excellent and tried veteran friend of ours—Mr. Hume. I admire his efforts; I venerate the constancy, the downright pluck, the granite-like hardihood and consistency of the man, who, through good and bad repute, for thirty-seven years, has advocated the people's interest in the most material and useful form. We will back him. We will strengthen his hands, and enable him to do that in future he has not been able to do in times past.
I hope next session we shall have many of the county members voting for retrenchment. I predict you will see many of the county members compelled by their constituents to vote for a reduction of taxation. I wish here to express my sympathy with the farmers in their efforts to get rid of a tax which they consider the most obnoxious of all,—I mean the malt-tax. I crave pardon of the teetotallers. The objection mainly urged against the malt-tax is, that it interferes so much with the business of the farmers. They tell me that not having malt to give cattle is a very great impediment to their feeding. On Monday last, I saw one of the ablest farmers in the country, who told me he bought great quantities of malt-dust, which he mixes as the best ingredient with the food he gives to his lambs. We sympathise with the farmers. We never will tolerate one single shilling by way of protection to corn; but we will co-operate with them in getting rid of that obnoxious tax—the malt-duty. We owe this to the farmers, and we will try to repay them in kind. We are financial reformers. We have a habit of doing one thing at a time. Perhaps it is weakness; but I own to it, I can only accomplish one thing at a time. I promise you, and my friends everywhere, that I will never cease the advocacy of this question until I see the cost of our armaments reduced to 10,000,000l.; until I see the expenditure of the country reduced to what it was in 1835, at least. I don't say I will stop there. But let us understand each other; the least we intend to do is the reduction of our establishments to the standard of 1835. I repeat, I won't stop there. I sincerely believe that, with your assistance, and with the growing tendency for peace throughout the world, we shall not rest with the horrid waste of 10,000,000l. for our fighting establishment in time of peace. I believe we shall live to see one-half sufficient; and, with such meetings as this, it will not be long before it is so.
HOUSE OF COMMONS, MARCH 8, 1850.
[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.
INTERNATIONAL REDUCTION OF ARMAMENTS.
HOUSE OF COMMONS, JUNE 17, 1851.
[The discussion to which Mr. Cobden alludes in the commencement of this speech was a motion and division made and taken by Mr. M. T. Bass on the reduction of the Malt-duty by one-half. Mr. Cobden's motion was supported by Mr. Roebuck, Mr. Milner Gibson, and others, and opposed by Mr. Urquhart. It was met by an amicable explanation on Lord Palmerston's part, and was ultimately withdrawn.]
The resolution which I have now to move is a logical sequence to the discussion in which the House has just been engaged. It has been said, in the course of this discussion, that it is impossible for certain interests to support the present amount of taxation. One of the actuating circumstances that has influenced me in bringing forward this resolution is, that I think it will be so far suited to the present circumstances of the country that it will tend to produce a diminution of burdens and a relief from taxation.
I wish the real scope and purport of my motion to be understood at the outset, so that it may not be misrepresented in the debate. I do not propose, then, to discuss or entertain the amount of the armies maintained upon the Continent. When I speak of warlike preparations, I allude to naval preparations and fortifications. Our army is maintained without reference to the armies of the Continent, and the armies of the Continent are never framed or maintained with reference to the army of England. In speaking of armies, which I regard as the standing curse of the present generation, the matter is usually complicated by questions of a purely domestic character. I am told that the armies of the Continent are not kept up by the Governments of those countries for the sake of meeting foreign enemies, but for the purpose of repressing their own subjects. This being the case, I am asked how I can persuade foreign Governments to reduce their armies, seeing that they were not kept up from the apprehension of a foreign foe, but in order to maintain internal order, as it is called. Now, I believe, if I can succeed in my motion with France, the examples of the two countries may be at once followed by other countries in the reduction of their navy, and that, if a reduction in the naval forces and fortifications of England and France takes place, other countries may afterwards follow with a reduction in their armies.
I presume it will be admitted that the maintenance of a naval force, beyond what is necessary in time of peace for the protection of commerce, is an evil; but I shall be told it is a necessary evil. If I ask why, it will be said, ‘Because other countries are armed as well as ourselves.’ Well, admitting that, and assuming that France and England maintain a certain amount of naval force, not for the purpose of protecting commerce or acting as the police of the seas, but in order to hold themselves in a menacing attitude towards each other, that must be an unmitigated evil, and not only a pure waste, but it would be better and more economical if both voted that money and threw it into the sea, for both would then save the labour which was employed upon ships of war, and which might be more productively occupied. These two countries will be equally well prepared for warfare with each other if they reduce their force to one as if they both maintain their force at twenty, as their relative proportions will remain the same, and no advantage can be gained, in the event of hostilities, by keeping up this unnecessary force.
Why do I assume that England arms against France, and France against England? I am prepared to show that it is the avowed policy of both countries to arm themselves, so as to be prepared to meet the armaments provided by the other country. In the debate in the French Chamber of Deputies in 1846, when a motion was made for a vote of 100,000,000f. for a great augmentation of the navy, M. Thiers, who carried the resolution for this augmentation, said:—
'There is nothing offensive to England in citing her example, when our navy is under consideration, any more than there would be in speaking of Prussia, Austria, or Russia, if we were deliberating upon the strength of our army, We pay England the compliment of thinking only of her when determining our naval force; we never heed the ships which sally forth from Trieste or Venice,—we care only for those that leave Portsmouth or Plymouth'
I am told that the noble Lord below me was in the Chamber of Deputies when this speech was made. The noble Viscount (Palmerston), in the debate on the financial statement in 1848, said:—
'So far from its affording any cause of offence of France that we should measure our navy by such a standard, I am sure any one who follows the debates in the French Chambers, when their naval estimates come under discussion, must know that they follow the same course,—adopting the natural and only measure in such cases, namely, the naval force which other nations may have at the same time.'
In the same debate on the financial statement in 1848, the noble Lord (John Russell), after showing that the expenditure for the navy in France had increased since 1833 from 2,280,000l. to 3,902,000l., proceeded to observe:—
'I am not alluding at all—it never has been the custom to allude, and I think we are quite right in that respect—to what may be the military force of foreign Powers. I do not, therefore, allude at all to the amount of the standing army that is kept up in France, or in Austria, or in Prussia, or in other foreign countries; but so great an increase in naval estimates, I think, does require the attention, and, at all events, should be within the knowledge of the House.'
I have two objections to that policy: first, it is an irritating policy, having a constant tendency to increase the evil, and to which I see no remedy unless it is in some way met; and secondly, it is a proceeding on exaggerated reports and ideas spread upon the subject of the armaments of the two countries. When these things are exposed, they always bear the trace of great exaggeration. I will mention an instance. Our naval estimates were greatly increased in 1845. The French were alarmed. A Committee of the Chamber of Peers was appointed to inquire into the state of the French navy. They made a report. In that Report they said:—
'We have now to announce the execution of a great scheme which the English Government is pursuing with its usual foresight, and which cannot fail to have a vast influence upon the naval policy of other countries.' (The report then goes on to state that, under the modest pretence of providing steam guard-ships, the British Admiralty is converting eight sailing-vesselsinto formidable steam batteries, capable of remaining fifteen days at sea; that they will be completed during that year; and that it was expected they would be doubled in the following year.) ‘If’ (continues the Report) ‘we compare the powers of destruction possessed by the broadsides of these floating fortresses with those of the most formidable batteries ever employed by an army upon land for the destruction of fortified places, we shall then know what to think of an armament provided under the modest and defensive guise of steam guard-ships. It is, then, for France an absolute necessity to prepare an armament of a similar character and of equal force, so that we may have nothing to dread in future, in case of a possible misunderstanding with England.’
Now, in that Report it is broadly stated that eight steam guard-ships were being prepared by the British Government against France; and there was some ground for it, inasmuch as eight guard-ships were being altered with screw propellers; but when I sat on the Committee on the Navy in 1848, I found, on examining the authorities of the Admirality, that only four of these steam guard-ships were ever completed, and that, instead of being of the character stated in the Report, they were only capable of going to sea for four days instead of fifteen, inasmuch as they were not prepared for carrying a large supply of coal. I will give another illustration of how the two countries play at see-saw in this respect. After the proceedings of England in 1845, and those of France in 1846, Mr. Ward, who was then Secretary of the Admiralty, came down to the House and proposed again an increase of our navy, citing the example of France. The proceedings of France, he said, ought to be a lesson to us, and imposed a great responsibility upon those who were in power in this country. But the British Government could not stop there. They ran the estimate up to 42,000, or, I believe, to 44,000 men. That produced its fruits in France. I hold in my hand an extract from a Report of the National Assembly on the Navy in 1849. It says:—
'Let us see whether foreign Powers really show us the example of a reduction of naval armaments. This very spring, England has voted 40,000 men for the sea service. This vote will amount to 6,000,000l. sterling, without including the cost of artillery, &., which is defrayed out of the Ordnance estimates. We content ourselves with twenty-four vessels of the line afloat, and sixteen in an advanced state upon the stocks, for our peace establishment; the English have seventy afloat, besides those in course of building. With our peace establishment, such as it was fixed in 1846, we should be one-third inferior in strength to the English navy.'
But to illustrate this point further I will quote to the House an extract from a speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty (Sir Francis Baring). In moving the naval estimates for the present year, the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty said (and it was this remark of the right hon. Gentleman that has induced me to give notice of this motion):—
'It was impossible to fix upon what was necessary in their own establishment without looking to the establishments of foreign countries. He might, however, observe that they had had sufficient proof in the course of the last year that a gallant, active, and intelligent people, not far from themselves, had not by any means neglected their naval establishments and naval power.'
And the right hon. Gentleman went on to give a description of the naval evolutions at Cherbourg, and that great fortified place was held up to this country, with a formidable account of its preparations. I now hold in my hand a Report of a Commission of the National Assembly for the outlay of 6,800,000f. to continue the defensive works at Cherbourg; and it bears date the 11th of April, 1851. It says:—
'If we would be fully alive to the necessity of no longer leaving in a defenceless state the point most important and certainly the most menaced upon the whole coast of the Channel, we have only to listen to the opinion entertained of Cherbourg by the English, and especially by one of their most renowned sailors. Admiral Napier, in his recent letter to the Times We have only, in fact, to cast our eye upon the map, and to observe the vast works which the British Admiralty are now executing at Jersey and Alderney for the purpose of creating a rival establishment to our own. This is the more necessary, inasmuch as the railroads and steam-boats in England are every day increasing, and their powerful means of transportation give to those who possess them the facility of concentrating upon any given point a sudden expedition. We must be on our guard against so powerful an enemy, situate at so short a distance from our shores, and who, by the aid of steam, will be henceforth independent of wind, tides, and currents, which formerly impeded the operations of sailing vessels.'
One of the best things this House has done for a long time was to suspend the other night the works for the fortification of Alderney. These works are a menace and an affront to France, and are meant as a rival to Cherbourg. Now Cherbourg, as every one knows who has sailed along that coast, is a most useful, and valuable, and indispensable port of refuge for merchant ships,—in fact, a breakwater at Cherbourg might have been made by subscription from all the maritime States of Europe, so important is it to all who sail along that coast. But Alderney could mean nothing but a great fortified place, within a few miles of France, intended to menace that country. Now, these fortifications arise out of a panic in England. If any one could get at the professional springs applied to panic, it would be a most amusing history. In 1845 the country was led to suppose that we were to be invaded by some maritime Power. A number of engineers had a roving commission to go along the coast and point out places where money could be spent in raising fortifications, and when they had exhausted the coast of England they went over to Jersey and Alderney. I have heard the evidence of some of those gallant gentlemen. One of them said he went down to Plymouth—he found the people there expecting their throats would be cut the next day; and, said he, ‘strange as it may appear, I shared their alarm.’ It was understood that this panic had projected our harbours of refuge, as they were called, upon which it was suggested that between 4,000,000l. and 5,000,000l. should be expended. It was under the same panic that the works at Keyham, upon which 1,200,000l. had been wasted, and the works at Alderney, which had cost four times as much as the value of the fee-simple of the whole island, were projected. And thus it was that France had now an eager rivalry with us. M. Chevalier, in a pamphlet which he has published on the subject, endeavouring to stem this torrent of rivalry, said that while England had projected her fortifications on the coast of England, France at the same time had projected works to the extent of between 10,000,000l. and 11,000,000l. sterling, without including the fortifications of Paris, and he gives a comparative estimate of the increased expenditure both of France and England from 1838 to 1847, and shows that in that period England and France have constantly augmented their naval expenditure to the extent of between 13,000,000l. and 14,000,000l. sterling, and that both going on in that neck-and-neck race of rivalry, the two countries have, in fact, spent nearly the same amount. Now, is there a remedy for that rivalry? Is it possible to bring human reason to bear upon that mass of folly? I am sure that Gentlemen who think it necessary to have a precedent for what they do, will admit the force of the precedent I am about to quote. I am not going back to 1787, to the demolition of Dunkirk, or to an armed neutrality, or to an arrangement made for a specific object for any armament, but there is a case in modern times bearing upon this question. There was a convention between this country and the United States to limit the amount of force in the lakes that separate Canada from America. The convention was this:—
'Arrangements between the United States and Great Britain, between Richard Rush, Esq., acting as Secretary of the Department of State, and Charles Bagot, his Britannic Majesty's Envoy Extraordinary, &., April, 1817.—The naval force to be maintained upon the American lakes by His Majesty and the Government of the United States shall henceforth be confined to the following vessels on each side, that is:—On Lake Ontario, to one vessel not exceeding 100 tons burden, and armed with one 18-pound cannon; on the upper lakes to two vessels, not exceeding like burden each, and armed with like force; on the waters of Lake Champlain, to one vessel, not exceeding like burden and armed with like force. All other armed vessels on these lakes shall be forthwith dismantled, and no other vessels of war shall be built there or armed. If either party should hereafter be desirous of annulling this stipulation, and should give notice to that effect to the other party, it shall cease to be binding after the expiration of six months from the date of such notice. The naval force so to be limited shall be restricted to such services as will in no respect interfere with the proper duties of the armed vessels of the other party.'
It was entered into in 1817 at the close of the war with the United States, in the progress of which, in 1814, the Duke of Wellington was at Paris, and he then wrote to Sir G. Murray thus:—
'I have told the Ministers repeatedly that a naval superiority on the lakes is a sine quâ non of success in war on the frontier of Canada, even if our object should be solely defensive; and I hope that when you are there they will take care to secure it for you.'
So that, in case of any rupture between England and America, the occupation of the lakes was considered by that great authority to be necessary for success in hostilities; and yet notwithstanding that, immediately after the war, the two countries had the good sense to limit the amount of force upon the lakes. And what has been the result of that friendly convention? Not only has it had the effect of reducing the force, but of abolishing it altogether. When I sat on the Committee I did not find that any vessel was left on the lakes as an armed force. I would ask, then, whether it is not possible to devise some plan, if not by actual convention, as in the case of America, yet by some communication with a Power like France, and say, ‘We are mutually building so many vessels each in the year; our relative force is as three to two, and if we increase it tenfold, still the relations will be the same. Will it not be possible, by a friendly understanding, to agree that we shall not go on in this rivalry, but that we shall put a mutual check upon this mutual injury?’ Lord Auckland stated before the Committee in 1848 that the amount of force left in the Pacific was always governed by the force left by other Powers. Now, I may be told that I am dealing merely with France; but there are only two countries of any importance as naval Powers, namely, France and Russia, for America had set an example, and was out of the question. When California was discovered, America might have placed two or three line-of-battle ships off that coast, but she withdrew the only one she had there, and turned her artisans and shipwrights to construct some of the most magnificent steam-vessels that were ever seen; and yet her commerce was extending, as our own is. The hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Urquhart) may, perhaps, refer me to Russia; but I contend that no country that has not a mercantile marine can be a great naval country. You may build up a navy as Mehemet Ali has done, and put his fellahs on board, but if you have not a mercantile marine you never can become a great naval Power. Russia has, no doubt, a great number of ships at Cronstadt—I have seen them all—but if Russia had power she kept it at home; and there may be very good reasons why she did so, for I have heard remarks from American skippers lying at Cronstadt to the effect that her vessels were not much to be admired. She has about 30,000 sailors, but they are men taken from the interior, unaccustomed to sea duty, and are, of course, a complete laughing-stock to British seamen. I do not consider that any country like America or England, carrying on an enormous commerce, and with 100,000 mercantile sailors, can ever be endangered by a country having no mercantile marine. With reference to our distant stations, at all events America offers no obstacle, but rather invites us to this course by her example. France is the only country that presents herself with any force upon foreign stations; and I ask, is it impracticable to carry out the same rule in regard to France that had been agreed to with the United States, or are we to go on ad infinitum, wasting our resources, and imposing unnecessary taxes in order to keep up that waste? I may be told, probably, that this is not the proper moment for such a resolution as this. I think that it is the proper moment. I believe that nations are disposed for peace, and I am glad to be able to cite the opinion of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and of the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, that there is a great disposition on the part of the people towards maintaining peace. I hold in my hand also an extract from the most powerful organ of public opinion in this country—the most powerful vehicle of public opinion in the world—a paper which certainly everybody would admit has the best possible opportunity of knowing what the tendency of public opinion is throughout the world—I mean the Times newspaper. That journal, in a recent leading article, says:—
'Wars of nation against nation are not the evil of the day, but the contests between classes in the same country. Europe is already so much governed by the representatives of tax-payers, that an European war is an affair of improbable occurrence. Even in countries where constitutional government is not understood, the ruling power would be very slow, for its own sake, to impose taxes for purposes of war. England has remained at peace, although European society has gone through convulsions in the course of the last five years of which history presents no example since the breaking up of the Roman empire.'
If there were not a disposition on the part of the people of the continent to go to war, where is the use or the necessity of the enormous naval force which France keeps up? Surely there must be as great a disposition on the part of that country as of this to reduce the burdens of taxation by diminishing expenditure. I have conversed with French statesmen upon this subject, and when I have put it to them, as I have done to English statesmen, they have admitted that the plan which I propose would be most desirable for them. They say that they keep up their navy because England keeps up hers, but that it would be the greatest possible relief to them to be able to reduce it. I believe that if our Government made a friendly proposal to France, it would be met in an amicable spirit. France does not pretend that she is as strong as England by sea, and she does not aim at being thought so, for it is invariably admitted in the discussions in the French Chamber that she has no pretensions to rival England in the amount of her naval force. I say, then, that if a friendly proposal of this sort were only made to France, I fully believe it would be accepted. This leads me to what I consider the strongest reason why this system should be abolished, and it is this—that while the spirit of rivalry is maintained by two countries so equal in point of resources, taking the army and navy together, it is impossible that one could ever gain a permanent advantage over the other. If one were exceedingly weak and the other strong, and the strong could have some extraordinary motive to oppress the weaker, I might despair to convince by argument; but the case of England and France is very different. Whenever England increases her armaments and fortifications France does the same, and vice versâ. We are pursuing a course, therefore, which holds out to neither country a prospect of any permanent gain. We are not actuated by motives of ambition or aggression, but are simply acting for self-defence, and no rational mind in either country supposes anything else, than that a war between the two countries must be injurious to both. Every country will have an interest in putting an end to this mutual rivalry and hostility by the course which I recommend. I shall be anxious to hear what the noble Lord says upon this. I do not ask the noble Lord to do it in any specific form. My resolution merely says that a communication should be entered into in a spirit of amity with France. I do not stipulate for a diplomatic note in this form or that. I shall be perfectly satisfied if I see the attempt made, for the objection that I have to our system of policy was that there never had been an attempt made to stay the progress of this rivalry—there never had been anything done that could by possibility tend to bring the two countries to an understanding. All I stipulate for is, that diplomacy should put itself a little more into harmony with the spirit of the times, and should do that work which the public thought ought to be the occupation of diplomacy. I shall be told that it is an affair for public opinion, or for the operation of individual enterprise. Why, public opinion and individual enterprise are doing much to bring England and France together. Compare the present state of things with that which existed twenty-five years ago. I remember that at that time there were but two posts a week between London and Paris, Tuesdays and Fridays. Down to 1848, thirty-four hours were allowed fot transmitting a post to Paris; we now make the journey in eleven hours. Where there used to be thousands passing and repassing, there are now tens of thousands. Formerly, no man could be heard in our smaller towns and villages speaking a foreign language, let it be what language it might, but the rude and vulgar passerby would call him a Frenchman, and very likely insult him. We have seen a great change in all this. In this, the first year of the second half of the nineteenth century, we have seen a most important change. We are witnessing now what a few years ago no one could have predicted as possible. We see men meeting together from all countries of the world, more like the gatherings of nations in former times, when they came up for a great religious festival,—we find men speaking different languages, and bred in different habits, associating in one common temple erected for their reception and gratification. I ask, then, that the Government of the country should put itself in harmony with the spirit of the age, and should endeavour to do something to follow in the wake of what private enterprise and public opinion are achieving. I have the fullest conviction that one step taken in that direction will be attended with important consequences, and will redound to the honour and credit of any Foreign Minister who, casting aside the old and musty maxims of diplomacy, shall step out and take in hand the task which I have humbly submitted to the noble Lord (Palmerston). I beg to move ‘An Address to Her Majesty, praying that she will direct the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to enter into communication with the Government of France, and endeavour to prevent in future that rivalry of warlike preparations in time of peace which has hitherto been the policy of the two Governments, and to promote, if possible, a mutual reduction of armaments.’
HOUSE OF COMMONS, DECEMBER 13, 1852.
[On December 3, 1852, Mr. Disraeli made his financial statement. Among other particulars, it proposed to extend the income-tax to Ireland. After a debate extending over five nights, the resolutions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer were rejected by a majority of 19 (305 to 286), and Lord Derby retired from office.]
If the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Davison) who has just sat down, had offered one word of argument in reply to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Sir Charles Wood), on Friday evening, I should have felt it my duty to have recurred to the topics he then urged; but as the hon. Gentleman has not ventured to grapple with that speech, the statements contained in it remain unanswered, and that relieves me from the necessity of touching on the principal parts of the Budget of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Disraeli). I wish, however, to refer to one part of the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. He represents the city of Belfast; and on a question which touches the taxation of the people of England, I think he would have exercised a sounder discretion if he had remained silent. By the obtrusive activity of the hon. Gentleman, attention is directed to that on which I should not have observed if he had been silent—that the question does not touch his constituents. The hon. Gentleman is an illustration of the evil of what is called an United Kingdom which is subjected to different modes of taxation in its different portions. We are now discussing the question of the house-tax, and the hon. Gentleman cordially concurs in the proposition which has been made. Now, it is a house-tax for England and Scotland, and the city of Belfast has no interest whatever in the matter. We are going to deal with England—the hon. Gentleman has only himself to thank for any remarks I may make—and the hon. Gentleman is about to give his support to an income-tax, which is to be levied upon the trades and professions in England, and on my constituents in Yorkshire, and upon the manufacturers of linen-yarn at Leeds and Barnsley. I take this to be an illustration of the evils and absurdities of the present system. There are in Belfast, as every one knows, establishments for the manufacture of linen-yarn and linen-cloth, which enter into competition with establishments for a similar manufacture possessed by my constituents in Leeds and in Barnsley. In Belfast labour is cheaper, the raw material is cheaper, capital is quite as cheap, and there is little difference in the price of coal. Now, my constituents pay to the Government 3 per cent. on the profits of their manufactures, while the constituents of the hon. Gentleman, who are engaged in the same trade, are exempt from that tax. Is it not evident that my constituents labour under a great disadvantage in competing with the constituents of the hon. Gentleman? And since he has entered into this discussion, I put it to him, whether he will be ready, by-and-by, to agree to a proposition which is threatened to be made by my hon. Friend the Member for Marylebone (Sir B. Hall), to extend the same incometax to Ireland as it is to be levied in England? I leave the question to the consideration of the hon. Gentleman.
With reference to the question which is immediately before the Committee, I will observe, that in some remarks which were made by an hon. Gentleman on Friday night, who spoke before the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax, it was stated that somebody on this side of the House objected to the Budget, because it created an addition to the direct taxation of this country. The hon. Baronet the Member for Hertfordshire (Sir E. Bulwer Lytton), and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. E. Ball), threw out such taunts as these against the Freetraders, and said, ‘Now we will put you to the test; carry out your own principles now that we are all Freetraders.’ Now, I am prepared to answer the challenge thrown out with regard to the promotion of direct taxation. I say, on the part of the Freetraders, that we do not object to direct taxation, where, in the first place, it is shown to us that it is levied equally on all descriptions of property; and where, in the second place, it is shown that a direct tax is one which will prove beneficial to all the interests of the country. But we do not recognise any right on the part of the representatives of the agricultural districts, or any claim arising out of Free-trade, which entitles them to levy a tax on some particular kind of property in the towns, in order to relieve certain kinds of property in the country from taxation, for that would be a one-sided, partial, and unjust system, and just the kind of system which we have been struggling for the last fourteen years to get rid of by the abolition of the Corn-laws. It would be, in fact, adopting the odious principle of compensation. Our first answer to the taunt from the other side of the House is, that we do not recognise, on the part of Members representing the agricultural districts, any grievances or losses incurred by them which entitle them to ask anybody else to submit to taxes which they do not pay themselves. Hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to doubt this very point themselves. The hon. Baronet the Member for Hertfordshire (Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton) says, that a great deal depends on the way in which relief is granted. ‘Do it graciously,’ he said; ‘even if you don’t grant that the farmers are distressed, still they think they are, and therefore give them something, in the way of the abolition of the malt-tax, which may console them.' This is a very sentimental way of dealing with a great question, which involves a sum to be counted by millions, and one which I do not understand. I deny that there is any distress which entitles them to ask for compensation. I had a note the other day from one of the most enterprising and intelligent farmers in the East Lothians, which I will read to the House, as I believe it will afford not a bad explanation of the condition of the farming world in general. He says:—
'The farmers of the Lothians of Scotland, essentially a wheat district, never were, as a body, in a more flourishing condition; and the demand for land, in consequence, is beyond parallel for the last thirty years. Every farm that is to let brings an advanced rent of from 10 to 30 per cent. I have four years of my lease to run, but have made a new arrangement at an increased rent of 15 per cent., which I begin to pay immediately, and I have always one-fourth of my land in wheat. Two farms have been let in this parish, within the last six months, at a similar advance to my own, and an adjoining farm, belonging to the Marquis of Dalhousie, is at present to let, the factor being in London, with the offers in his pocket, to show to his Lordship's commissioners; and I know for a fact that first-rate tenants, men of capital and skill, have offered 30 per cent. increase on the rent which the farm was let nineteen years ago, when it was advertised for six months, and then let to the highest bidder. My brother took a farm last week adjoining the one on which he resides of 225 acres imperial, and for which he pays 20 per cent. increase of rent. Sheep-farms have brought higher additional rents; but I have said enough to show you that any talk of agricultural distress is sheer nonsense, and for myself I have done, and am doing, as well as I could possibly desire. One of the principal reasons for this is, that where land is properly drained, by a liberal use of guano and other artificial manures, the crops have been increased one half at least, and every acre is made to carry as much corn as can stand. It costs me as much as 700l. per annum for artificial manures, on a farm of 650 imperial acres. I know several farmers whose outlay in proportion is greater; but then, in place of four quarters of wheat per acre, we have now six or seven quarters, and other grains in proportion; while root crops are also much heavier, and their value per ton is as great or greater than ever—thanks to the numerous consumers of butchers' meat.'
I mention this in the outset, because I have observed in the papers this morning a letter written by a Member of the Cabinet—if he is not a Member of the Cabinet, he is an exponent of the policy of the Ministry—and he states to his constituents, that although the Government do not intend to propose a return to protection, yet that they do intend to propose compensation, and that the Budget is the first step towards it, and that the repeal of the malt-tax is peculiarly a measure of relief to the landed interest. If such is the case, I say that we are entering on the old controversy between town and country, and you compel us to go into this controversy in a spirit that I thought was never to have been revived. An hon. Gentleman opposite says, ‘Carry out your principles of direct taxation with regard to the duty on soap and on paper.’ I say that I am ready to carry out direct taxation, if you propose a tax which shall be equitable, and levied on all kinds of property alike; but my objection to the Budget is, that it does not carry out direct taxation fairly and equitably. The proposal now made with regard to the house-tax is most unjust. What do you propose? You have already imposed a property-tax of 3 per cent. on all land and on all houses. You next go to Schedule A, and you lay an additional house-tax of ninepence in the pound, or 3¾ per cent., making the tax on houses to be at the rate of 6¾ per cent. as against 3 per cent. on land. Then you say, ‘We want more money by direct taxation,’ and you come with your scheme of compensation, or rather I should call it spoliation; and you go to Schedule A again, and select houses, and lay on another ninepence in the pound, or another 3¾ per cent., thus making the tax 10½ per cent. on houses as against 3 per cent. on land.
But that is not all; for we all know that in making an assessment on real property and on houses, you assess houses at a much fewer number of years' purchase than you do land; for land is usually assessed at thirty years' purchase, while houses are only assessed at the utmost at fifteen years' purchase; and therefore, if you levy the same rate of taxation on both of them, you cause a double pressure of taxation upon houses as compared with land. If you invest 1,000l. in land, and 1,000l. in houses, while the one is assessed at thirty years' purchase, and the other at fifteen, if you lay the same tax on both of them, it is, in fact, double on the sum invested in houses, making in the whole 10½ per cent., and that brings the whole amount you levy on houses up to 21 percent., and that is what you propose to levy on houses as against 3 per cent. on land. That is a great injustice on the part of the Government, and the House will do wrong even to attempt it; for, even if it is carried by a majority, do you think you will ever be able to maintain it? Do you think that the intelligent people of the towns will ever submit to it? Do you think that those centres from which radiate the light and intelligence of the country——Why, whence do you get your literature and your science? Is it not from the towns? I never heard that we went into country hamlets to seek for such things. I say, if you pass such a law, you cannot expect it will be submitted to; and it would be the worst thing that could happen for you, for you will revive the old controversy between town and country—but not in the old form, when hon. Gentlemen opposite could say it is a contest between cotton-lords and landlords—but they will have every little market-town taking sides against them, for they will all see the injustice that is practised on the owner of house property. Your argument is, that this house-tax would be a tax, not on house property but on rents. I think myself that this, as well as every other tax, would ultimately be felt more or less by everybody. But, at all events, as regards the great proportion of house property, it can be clearly shown that you tax the owners as well as the occupiers, inasmuch as there are a large number of houses in the towns which are owned by those who live in them. Let the House see how the tax will work. You have benefit building societies, whereby frugal mechanics and humble tradesmen manage, in the shape of weekly payments, to get together sums of money sufficiently large to build or purchase houses for themselves, and many of these houses would be generally 10l. houses; and in future they will be still more numerous than they have been, for I am glad to say the saving character of this class of society is increasing, and they are now happily bent on improving their dwellings. Well, what kind of justice is it to meet these men, immediately that they have accumulated as much savings as enables them to become possessors of small houses, with this inordinate taxation? Your notion of justice is to say that they shall pay at the rate of 21 per cent. on their investment, in proportion to the 3 per cent., which is all that is paid by the owners of the large landed estates. Take another example. Look at the vast landed property in the metropolis owned by noblemen, who let it out on building leases. Take Belgrave-square, for instance. You would find houses built there on land held on a 99 years' lease, and at a ground-rent of about 50l. a year for each house. Well, the person who had put the bricks and mortar on the ground, or who has bought it, is subjected to this direct taxation, but it does not reach the ground landlord. He carries off his 20,000l. or 30,000l. a year, and is left untouched. Is there any justice in that? Let me remind you, further, that the householders in towns are subjected to very heavy charges of another kind—to a vast number of local charges, not only for the support of the poor, but for police-rates, for highway-rates, for lighting, and for every description of impost; and bear in mind that inequality of the pressure of the rating, which I alluded to before—that the smaller number of years' purchase that this house property is rated at, presses with equal severity on the owners of that property in assessing it for the local rates, as in the case of the property and house-tax. Not only, therefore, has this property higher general taxes to pay, proportionally, but it has higher taxes to pay for local purposes. You cannot expect a system of direct taxation, which would work like this, can ever be maintained. And what is this direct tax to be laid on for which we are now discussing—for it is the house-tax which is now before you? It is to be laid on for the purpose of enabling us to remove one-half of the malt-tax. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Christopher) has stated, with his usual frankness, what the object of it was. He tells us that the Government are about to take off one-half of the malt-tax for the benefit of the land. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, tells us that he makes the proposition in the interest of the consumer.
Well, which are we to believe? I certainly think the Government would do well to come to some understanding with respect to their principles, or, at least, if they cannot agree, that one or the other section of them should engage to be silent. My idea of the malt-tax is precisely that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—that it is a tax paid by the consumer, but that, undoubtedly, as with all taxes laid on a commodity we produce, the producer is subjected to inconvenience and to loss by it. The illustration which the right hon. Gentleman gave is precisely analogous. The cotton printers protested against the 3½d. per square yard duty on printed cottons, because that duty tended to hamper them in their business, and to diminish the consumption of their goods. I quite agree, therefore, with the right hon. Gentleman, that the consumer will primarily be benefited by the remission of the malt-tax, and also that the producer will be benefited, although to a small extent comparatively. But I have always understood that the great grievance of this tax consists in the Excise regulations which it imposes. This does not affect the farmer, it is true; but in one way it does affect him. An intelligent farmer, with whom I have the honour to be acquainted—one who has been a Free-trader from the time the Anti-Corn-law League began its agitation—I mean Mr. Lattimore of Hertfordshire, who is a model farmer, and admitted to be so by all his neighbours,—Mr. Lattimore was the first who converted me to the importance of repealing the malt-tax, on the ground that it would enable the farmer to feed his cattle with malt. How far this is a valid ground I cannot say; but I have so much faith in Mr. Lattimore's judgment, that I believe it to be a valid ground, and I have always considered the claim of the farmer to the repeal of the tax to be founded upon that fact, if it be a fact. I have, therefore, publicly stated, that if we could by any means produce the necessary revenue without the malt-tax, I would advocate its total remission; but I have at the same time always said this—that I would never be a party to imposing a substitute for the malt-tax. I don't know that you could point out to me any tax, however little objectionable in its form, which I would substitute for the malt-tax, if the amount of revenue it produces is indispensable. And I am not less strongly opposed to removing only one-half of the malt-tax. I voted some two years ago against the proposition of that kind of my hon. friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Bass). My objection to the remission of one-half the malt-tax is on principle. I won't agree to halve an Excise tax, especially the malt-tax. I object, independent of my objection, to the way in which you propose to make up the deficiency. As the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) has put the case—as the case merely of the consumers—it is open to objections of a serious kind. The right hon. Gentleman says that beer, like bread, is a primary necessary of life; and that idea has been complacently repeated by all the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken on that side since—that it is a necessary of life, indispensable to the health and strength of the labourer. Now, the fact is, that there is a wide difference of opinion on that subject; and I have repeatedly said, both in this House and out of it, that the great difficulty you have to meet in dealing with the malt-tax is, that there is a large, a growing, and an influential body in this country—some of them very fanatical, too—who hold the opinion, that beer is not only not a necessary of life, but that it is a very pernicious beverage to the individual, indulgence in which leads to the infliction of serious evils on the community. You think they are wrong, no doubt; but you have to deal with that class, which, within my knowledge, is a numerous and a highly influential one among our constituencies; and I think that, wrong or right, they are entitled to be heard in this House. This class is not speaking wildly, or without considerable authority; and it may not be amiss if I read to the House what has been said on the subject by certain persons, begging hon. Gentlemen not to give way to any lively emotion until they have heard the names attached to this document. These persons say:—
'An opinion, handed down from rude and ignorant times, and imbibed by Englishmen in their youth, has become very general—that the habitual use of some portion of alcoholic drink, as of wine, beer, or spirits, is beneficial to health, and even necessary to those subjected to habitual labour. Anatomy, physiology, and experience of all ages and countries, when properly examined, must satisfy every mind, well informed in medical science, that the above opinion is altogether erroneous. Man, in ordinary health, like other animals, requires not any such stimulants, and cannot be benefited by the employment of any quantity of them, large or small; nor will their use during his lifetime increase the aggregate amount of his labour in whatever quantity they are employed,—they will rather tend to diminish it.'
Now, that is a very strong opinion; and that ‘opinion’ is signed by upwards of seventy of the principal medical men of the kingdom, amongst whom I find the great names of Sir Benjamin Brodie, Dr. Chambers, Sir James Clark, Mr. Barnsby Cooper, Dr. Davies, Mr. Aston Key, Mr. Travers, and Dr. Ure. I think that, after having got such a declaration as that, I am entitled to say that this question—whether an increase in the consumption of beer would increase the health and strength of the people of this country—is, at least, an open question; and in this direction, therefore, I claim leave to differ with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his friends. Ana observe that this increased house-tax would fall on very many thousand professors of ‘temperance,’ and that some of you avow your object, in imposing that tax, is to cheapen the price of beer. The ‘teetotallers’ among my constituents would naturally say, ‘We don’t want to be relieved from the malt-tax; we have already repealed it, so far as we are concerned; we are trying, by tracts and lectures, to induce our fellow-citizens to imitate us; and we think your Budget unjust, and we won't have it.' And, more than that, they believe that the consumption of malt is pernicious to the interests of society, and take pains to persuade their fellow-subjects that it is so; and yet the Government ask them to submit to the house-tax, in order that beer may be cheapened, and that a greater consumption of it may be occasioned. Had the Chancellor of the Exchequer put his proposition on any other ground—on the scientific ground, that the malt-tax was a nuisance to the trader, and that it prevented the farmer giving desirable food to cattle—all the principles of political economy would come to his aid, and we should be compelled to acquiesce in the project. But, as it is, the obstacles you have to encounter are twofold: first, that you substitute a partial tax not levied equally on property generally; and next, that the malt-tax is to be reduced to a purpose to which the great bulk of the people are indifferent, and to which hundreds of thousands—I have heard them estimated at millions—are wholly opposed, on strong grounds of moral principle. Such being the ease, I don't think you have the least chance whatever of passing a house-tax. I don't know what a present majority of the House may do; but I can tell you, you can't maintain that tax if you pass it. You have seen lately with the windowtax, how long-lived is an agitation against an unjust impost; and, depend upon it, you are embarking in a contest out of which you will come as disastrously as you have done out of the battle for Portection—with this difference, that you will be far more easily beaten. And what is more, you are going to fight a battle not worth fighting for. I can hardly bring myself to regard this as an attempt at compensation. I did not want to allude to the thing; but the statement of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster does not leave me a chance of passing it over, and I have been obliged, in some respects, to deal with it in that manner. There is another proposal, in connection with this subject, in regard to which I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer has really quite wrecked his character as a financier; and that is the proposal to remit one-half of the hop-duties. I have often had communications with the growers of hops in Sussex, who have represented that they wanted the whole duty off, but have expressed apprehensions, in consequence of the Kent hopgrowers advocating only a removal of half the duty; and I have comforted them in this way,—'Don't alarm yourself for a moment; for, after the great doings of Peel, we shall never have a half-and-half Chancellor of the Exchequer making two bites at a cherry.' Here is a most exceptional tax—the only tax you have collected upon the produce in the fields and gardens of the country—worthy, no doubt, of Persia, or of Turkey, but too ridiculous for this England of 1852. How is it collected? Every September the Chancellor of the Exchequer sends a little army of tax-gatherers into half-a-dozen counties; and every Member of Parliament knows that every spring he is asked by some unfortunate poor fellow to use his influence to get for him this temporary employment in collecting the hop-duty. In September the hops are picked, carried, and dried, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer disperses his little army of taxmen over half-a-dozen counties. They take stock of the hops, and thus an estimate of the tax is got. It comes sometimes to 200,000l. a year, sometimes to 300,000l., sometimes to 400,000l. a year; hardly ever to half a million. Thus it has all the evils that can attach to any tax; it is cumbrous and costly in its collection; it is uncertain in amount—no Chancellor of the Exchequer ever being able to calculate to any positive amount on it; and it bears with most unequal pressure on different parts of the country. In some districts, the hops are hardly worth half the price of hops grown in other districts; and as this is a tax on the quantity and not on the value, of course it falls with the severest pressure on the poorest soils and the poorest quality of hops. Well, is it conceivable that the right hon. Gentleman, after the experience we have had of the great works that some of his predecessors have done—after the Corn-laws had been abolished, and the vast system of Navigation-laws had been done away with—could come down to the House of Commons, and as a great scheme of finance, propose such a mockery, the remission of one-half the hop-duties? I hope the House will never consent to such a paltry and trifling policy as this. If no one else will make the motion, I will myself undertake to propose the total repeal of the hop-duties, and even should that not be carried, I will still vote against the repeal of only one-half the tax; for it is far better to keep it as it is, if we cannot get it done away with altogether.
With regard to the proposed modification of the income-tax, I feel bound to give the Government every credit for the way in which they have dealt with that question. I do say it is most remarkable that a Government supported almost exclusively by county Members—representing territorial interests only—should be the first Government to deal—at all events, in principle, if not going to the full extent—fairly with the income-tax, as it relates to trades and professions. Most assuredly that proposal should have come from a Government representing this side of the House. My own opinion is, in spite of all that mathematicians and philosophers may say, that when you are going to levy a tax upon income and property, you must adopt one of two courses—either vary the tax upon incomes, making it lighter than the tax upon property, or take the plan which has been adopted in the United States, and capitalise the whole property of the country, whether it is in land, or in capital or stock engaged in trade—capitalise it all, and levy the same rate on all. Either you must capitalise all in this way equally, or you must make a distinction between permanent property and incomes derived from precarious sources—the practice of professions—the midnight working of the physician, and the daily toil of the lawyer—from trades such as that of a farmer, whose profits depend upon the changing manner in which his capital fructifies on the soil, and the income of a man who sleeps while his property fructifies. I repeat that I must give the Government credit for their intentions to make this distinction; and I am persuaded that if it is not done by them, it must very speedily be done by some one else.
But in dealing with this question the old curse of the party has settled on the right honourable Gentleman, and he could not deal fairly with it; he was obliged to make a miserable, paltry attempt to get a special benefit for the tenant-farmer. Instead of charging the farmer the tax on one-half of his rent, he proposes to reduce it to one-third. In the time of Pitt, the farmer paid on three-fourths; Sir R. Peel reduced the three-fourths to an estimate on one-half of the rent; and now it is asked to go down to one-third. Well now, really, I will ask hon. Gentlemen—say, the hon. Member for Somersetshire (Mr. Miles)—whether they think farming would be worth following as a trade, if the tenant-farmer could only get a profit equal to one-third of his rent?—that the income derived from profit and interest on his capital—from profit arising out of his own skill and industry—would altogether only amount to one-third of his rent? Would it not be better for you to say at once, if that is so, he ought not to be taxed on his income at all? But would it not be much nearer the mark to say that it ought to be equal to the whole rent?
You are proposing to extend the area of the income-tax, so as to embrace incomes of 50l. a year from real property, and of 100l. a year from trades and professions; and, as a principle, I am bound to say that I do not object to an extension of the area of direct taxation. But I say, too, include all alike within the area—tax every description of income and property. Certainly, you are embarrassed in applying the principle; for you have such an amount of indirect taxation, comprising seven-eighths of your whole revenue, and which, no doubt, presses with the greatest severity on smaller incomes, and especially on the labouring classes, that there are large sections of the community who have a claim to exemption from direct taxation. There is, in fact, no other ground on which you can resist the application of the principle, that your direct taxation should be universal.
The proposal of the Government is to extend the area of the tax to incomes of 50l. on property, and 100l. from trades and professions. Let us see how this extension to incomes of 50l. and 100l. affects the justice of the case, as compared with what you are going to do towards the farmers. I will put a case of a farmer with a farm of 250 acres of moderate land, and paying a rent of 280l. a year. By your proposals, farmers paying rents under 300l. a year are exempt from this tax altogether, because it is proposed that the tax shall not apply to farmers whose rents are under 300l. a year. If the farmer I speak of farms as he should do in Free-trade times, he has 2,000l. or 3,000l. capital. In fact, 10l. an acre is not so much as he should have; he would be better with 15l.; but, at any rate, he should have not less than 10l. an acre. Here, then, would be a man with a capital employed of 2,500l. paying no income-tax whatever, the Government assuming that he does not make 100l. a year. Let that be assumed. This farmer goes into the market town, riding his nag, and looking in fine health and great spirits; and he passes by a lawyer's clerk, who gets 100l. a year, and who is subjected to an income-tax of 5¼d. in the pound. The farmer has 250 acres of land, many labourers employed, stables full of horses, sheds full of cows, pens full of sheep, yards full of stacks; and yet the lawyer's clerk pays, and this farmer does not pay, income-tax.
Now, do not deceive yourselves; do not suppose for a moment that this could last. Is there any judgment or common sense in making such a proposal? Is it not provoking a quarrel with us on the most miserable grounds? You say you want in this way to benefit the farmer; but I do believe, on my honour, unless the farmers are very unlike the rest of their countrymen, that they will not thank you for putting them in this invidious position. They do not want these special exemptions; they want to be regarded as contributors to the revenue on the same footing as the rest of their countrymen.
By your proposal you are widening the operation of the income-tax, so as to embrace a greater number of people who were not included in its range before; you do that on ‘principle.’ But you have especially framed your measure so as to prevent any new class of farmers from being brought under the range of the tax. Is it worthy of the territorial party? What do you mean by it? Are you always to keep the farmers on your hands as a separate and distinct class? I put it to the farmers—have they not had enough of it themselves? Have they felt it to be their interest to be kept apart as a separate class, to be made political capital of? I thought the example which had been shown in the last few years, in the case of the farmers, of the way in which they have been most ridiculously bamboozled, would have been enough for them; I really thought it would have had the effect of preventing them, or any other class, from being made a separate class for political objects. I never thought we should have had a body of men setting up as friends of the tailors, or friends of the grocers, or friends of the shoemakers. I thought that trade would have been kept out of the arena of politics for ever, after the ridiculous way in which the farmers have been bamboozled; and I sincerely hope that this Budget will be modified and withdrawn, and that farmers will be placed on an equality with other classes, and will be made to pay on their profits just the same as other people. I know the objection that is made to that. You say farmers do not keep books, and that, therefore, they cannot give an account of their profits. Well, here is a good opportunity for making them keep books. You cannot do the farmers a greater service than by inducing them to keep books, and to know exactly what they realise in a year.
No, Sir, I did not expect that on this occasion we should have had these old grievances revived. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has thrown over local burdens, and we were to hear no more about exclusive taxation of that kind; I thought that we were about to get rid of this farming interest altogether; but it seems to me that hon. Gentlemen have not entirely comprehended their position, and do not yet understand what Free Trade is. It seems to me they have confounded two subjects which are not the same—the question of protective duties and the question of direct taxation.
Now they will perhaps excuse me if I give them a little A B C on this matter. I see the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Ball) here. He has not been much accustomed to hear Free-trade speeches. I want to show him and other hon. Gentlemen what it is we have been doing. I beg to inform that hon. Member and other hon. Gentlemen on the same side, that the advocates of Free Trade have not been necessarily the advocates of direct taxation. Direct taxation is indeed a distinct question from that in which we have embarked. We have been opposed to protective duties, and we have said, ‘Give us freedom of exchange with other countries; do away with the restrictions on our commerce, and we do not enquire what the effect of that freedom will be on price; all that we want is to have free access to as great a quantity of these good things as can be got.’ What is running in the minds of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire and of other hon. Gentlemen opposite—I believe the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire has shed tears on the subject—is sheer prejudice on this question—that as Free-traders we mean low prices for everything. Now, what we want is abundance. We do not say that Free Trade necessarily brings low prices. It is possible with increased quantities still to advance prices; for it is possible that the country may be so prosperous under Free Trade, that whilst you have a greater quantity of anything than you had before, increased demand, in consequence of the increased prosperity, may arise, so that the demand will be more than the supply, and you may raise the prices on some articles. In some articles it has been the case; it has been so in wool and on meat, and we may not know yet what effect it may have on wheat itself. But hon. Gentlemen opposite seem always to proceed on the assumption that the Free-traders want to reduce prices, and that, therefore, they ought to have some compensation for those reduced prices. And then they talk of competition with foreigners; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that he was going to prepare a Budget which would enable the industrious classes of this country to sustain themselves under the pressure of this unrestricted competition.
Now I thought it had been universally admitted that the industrious classes were in a much better position under the competition than they were before under the old system of restriction. I and my friends do not want commiseration for the working classes for the evils which they have suffered in the progress of Free Trade, for the working-classes themselves declare that they have derived great advantages from Free-Trade measures. Free Trade has, indeed, conferred great benefits upon the community at large, and it is intended that it shall confer upon them still greater advantages. I do not acknowledge, however, that it is necessary to propose any remedial measures to benefit anybody against the evils which are alleged to be caused by Free Trade. The Chancellor of the Exchequer—who, I think, is not yet very enthusiastic in the cause of Free-trade principles—has told them that he had framed a great measure to enable the country to adopt and conform itself to this new system of commerce. Nobody, that I am aware of, has asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer for any such measure. The right hon. Gentleman said that his proposition would cheapen the necessaries of life; and, in the opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, beer seems to be one of the chief necessaries. Well, how does the right hon Gentleman intend to cheapen beer? By raising the price of lodgings. But are not lodgings as necessary to the people of this country as beer? If we are competing with foreigners, which would lower the price of commodities, I say that to reduce the price of beer, to raise the price of lodgings by putting a tax on houses, is not, after all, a benefit to the people of this country. I do not admit that the people of this country will come in formâ pauperis to this House for anything of the kind. The truth is, you have got into a false position by making promises you ought never to have made. You have tried to appear consistent when consistency was impossible. But what I am anxious to do is to see that you do not mix up Free Trade with any question of compensation. I say the effect of Free Trade hitherto has been to change a failing revenue into an overflowing exchequer. Free Trade has made the people more prosperous, has diminished pauperism and crime, and in every possible way has promoted the prosperity of this country. Do not come to the House and say we must do something to enable the people to bear up under the load of this competition. And then hon. Gentlemen opposite ask us to give a new name to the principle, and to call it ‘unrestricted competition.’ I think it is Lord Byron who says a party has a right to fix the pronunciation of his own name; and I think Free-traders have a right to put their own name on their own principles. I never insulted you by calling you ‘Monopolists’ when you choose to call yourselves ‘Protectionists,’ and do not you go out of the good old Saxon ‘Free Trade,’ and give us this new name—do not call us—I really cannot pronounce it. How can we call ourselves an ‘Unrestricted Competition Party?’ You must adopt our principles, name and all.
Now, one word with regard to the alteration of the tea-duties. I think that is a question which the late Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to have dealt with; and I am sure, that if I had been Chancellor of the Exchequer I should have done what the present Chancellor of the Exchequer now proposes, four or five years ago. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is far wrong in that proposal; but, on the whole, I doubt whether the Budget is the Budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at all. I do not believe, either, that the passage in the Speech from the Throne, alluding to this matter, was drawn up by the right hon Gentleman. I think the Budget has been cut and snipped away, patched, dove-tailed, and swopped away, until at last—as in the Queen's Speech, when somebody suggested that an ‘if’ should be put in, that all parties might be accommodated—so in this case some one suggested one thing and some another—until at last, all the bold things that were intended were abandoned, and what was left was the proposal which has been submitted to the House. The fact is, that the Budget does not at all correspond to the magniloquent phrases in which it was introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was not at all worthy of a five hours' speeeh. Indeed, I humbly conceive that I could have discharged the duty in about an hour and twenty-five minutes. But the right hon. Gentleman, I suppose, has done his best.
And now with regard to this controversy as to the direct taxes. I have long foreseen that this would be discussed. The hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Drummond) stated the other night that I was consistent in advocating direct taxation, because I have said that such taxation would not be paid, and that then the public establishments could not be maintained. I have never said the taxes would not be paid. I have always had the opinion of the people of England, that they would pay their just debts under any circumstances; but I have always said this—if you come to get more of the taxes from the people in the way of direct taxes, they will come to scrutinise the expenditure more closely—and I think so still. The House may depend upon it that we are now entering upon a controversy as to how the Imperial taxation is to be raised. When we come to have what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has promised us, the whole of our accounts of the taxation brought into a balance-sheet—even the cost of collection—we shall find that our expenditure is approaching to 60,000,000l.; that is, about as much as the annual income from real property in England, and pretty nearly as much as the trades and professions are assessed to the income-tax. You will find that the great body of the people will be galled with the yoke, and that there will be pressure against some particular tax. Take, as an instance, the paper-duties. Since I have been in this House, a gentleman has shown me an American newspaper, printed on paper made out of straw, at an exceedingly low price. Now, the raw material of that paper is worth two guineas; but the tax in this country would be fourteen guineas; and therefore, before a paper-maker in England can manufacture such paper, he must pay upon two guineas' worth of raw material fourteen guineas of taxation. I have also received a letter from Bristol, enclosing specimens of the same paper, and stating that, if it were not for the Excise regulations, the paper could be manufactured in England quite as well as it is in America. Then, besides paper, there is the tax on soap. What an abominable tax is that! Only conceive of an agitation against the Excise duty on soap. Why, the supporters of the tax would have it said of them, that they were the advocates of dirt. Then take the insurance duties. For an insurance from fire to the amount of 100l. you pay 1s. 6d. for the risk, and Government makes you pay 3s. for the duty. I will not go over the rest, but their name is legion. But, as they are discussed, you will feel more and more the necessity of resorting to some other mode of taxation. It is not merely that you are competing, but the change in the habits of business renders these obstructions impossible. The greater velocity of business will render them impossible.
Look at your Customs regulations; there has been an agitation about them, and you cannot see the end of the difficulty, except by abolishing customhouses altogether. The late Sir Robert Peel effected a reduction of duties upon a great many articles; and many of us thought that the reduction of Customs duties would cause a great reduction in your Custom-house establishments. But no; you cannot allow articles to pass without examination; if you did, goods that do pay duty would come in in the guise of those that do not. For instance, if you allow cotton bales from America to come in without examination, how soon would these cotton bales be metamorphosed into tobacco bales? Look at the magnitude of your transactions. You are receiving from 25,000 to 30,000 bales of cotton a week, and how difficult it is to examine all of them. How different it was thirty years ago, when you had not as many hundreds!
Then, suppose any other country, such as America, should adopt the system of getting rid of these Custom-house regulations, you must adopt their system. You may make up your minds that, having got rid of protection, with the large mass of taxation hanging over this country, you are entering upon a long controversy on the subject of taxation, in the course of which you will have to deal with many of the duties to which I have referred; and if the growing surplus of the revenue does not enable you to abolish these duties, you will find it necessary, especially in the case of the Excise duties, to increase the amount of direct taxation. When you do that, you must make up your minds to come to a fair and honest system of direct taxation; for there is too much intelligence and discussion in these days for any party to escape his fair share of taxation.
This country is adopting the system of Free Trade, and yet it is extending its colonial empire, and spreading its establishments all over the world; and all the expenses are paid from the taxation of this little speck of an island. That might have been very well a hundred years ago, when Adam Smith had not laid down the law of political economy, but Adam Smith said, seventy years since, that he did not suppose the time would ever arrive when protective duties would be altogether abolished. We have arrived at those days; but they have entirely changed the aspects of your policy with regard to your colonial empire, and you ought to make up your minds to that change. Our colonies must maintain their own establishments. We cannot keep armies in Canada and elsewhere—we cannot afford it. The taxation of this country, which impoverished the people, will drive them to those colonial settlements, where so many inducements to emigration exist.
Twenty-five years hence there will be removed not only many of the physical but other obstacles in the way of emigration. Emigrants can now perform their voyages in one-half the time, and at one-half the expense, they could do five years ago, and they now feel that they are not going into exile, for many of them have friends or families in our own colonies or in America, and they go there as on a visit; but can you suppose, if you allow mismanagement to go on here, that the people will not be eager to go there, to escape the effects of your taxation? That has been the effect of enormous taxation everywhere.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said the other day that this emigration did not tend to impair the consumptive ability of the country. It may be that the emigration of some 200,000 or 300,000 people may not have impaired the national resources; but what will be the effect if one-half of the population of the country quitted its shores? There is every reason why we should look this question in the face, as the beginning of a movement which will widen in its extent and scope.
I wish the House to consider, when the people of this country have so many burdens of taxation to bear, whether you ought to increase the taxation, as has been done already. We have wasted a great deal of money, and our expenditure is much too large; but it is of no use my saying so, because yon call me a Quaker if I do. You have added 1,200,000l. to your expenditure lately; and while we have this large amount of expenditure, let no man in this country expect to escape from taxation. I will not undertake to exempt the 10l. householders from taxation to meet the expenses of our establishments, if they send up to this House Members to vote an increase of those establishments. Already we are spending 16,000,000l. in the expenses of our establishments. Then let the middle class make up their minds that they must pay for this.
We are now, however, dealing particularly with the house-tax, which the Government propose to levy to meet the deficiency arising from the reduction of the malt-tax. If they can show me that there is a deficiency arising from an excess of expenditure, and that expenditure is supported by public opinion out of doors, I will lay that tax upon the shoulders of those who have sent Members to this House. But it is an entirely different thing when the Government propose to create a deficit by reducing the tax upon malt. I say there is no tax I will vote for—I know of no tax I would vote for—in substitution of the malt-tax. It is only in the case of a sufficient surplus that I would vote for the reduction or the abolition of the malt-tax; and that not being the case, I cannot vote for the reduction now proposed.
HOUSE OF COMMONS, APRIL 28, 1853.
[In December, 1852, Mr. Disraeli brought forward a Budget, the leading feature of which was a relaxation of the malt-duty, and the substitution of an equivalent to it, in a tax on inhabited houses. The Budget was received unfavourably, the Ministry collapsed, and with it the last attempt to maintain agricultural protection. On April 18, 1853, Mr. Gladstone, Chancellor of the Exchequer in Lord Aberdeen's Administration, proposed his scheme, which contained an extension of the legacy-duty, in a very modified form, to real estate, and the abolition of all duties on 123 articles. It proposed also a gradual abolition of the income-tax. Unfortunately, the aims which Mr. Gladstone had before him were not carried out, for, three days after the Budget resolutions were carried, Prince Menschikoff presented his ultimatum, and those diplomatic negotiations were commenced which ended in the Russian War.]
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his remarkable, nay, his marvellous speech, has dwelt with some emphasis—indeed, with a sort of pathos—on the extent to which the House, by its expenditure, has anticipated the surplus revenue, and the remarks on this subject, I think, have come from the right hon. Gentleman in a tone which seems to invite the special attention of the House to that particular part of his financial statement. I, for my part, rise thus early in the debate with the hope that I may induce the Committee, in taking a review of their public assets and liabilities, in their character of trustees of the people, anxious to do their best for the interests of those who have intrusted them with the management of their affairs, to pay some attention to the mode in which that surplus has been appropriated. I am not going to make a peace oration, nor am I going to blame this Government or the late Government for anything which either has done in the way of expenditure; those I blame in the matter are the parties out of doors, who, by their proceedings, have rendered it almost inevitable that the expenditure I so regret should be incurred. Nay, I will go even further, and thank the noble Lord (Aberdeen) at the head of the Government that he has not taken advantage of the opportunity which many silly and many, I fear, not over-honest people have given him to increase the expenditure still more largely. Had the noble Lord been so disposed, he might, in January last, have proposed an increase to the army of 20,000 men and to the navy of 10,000 men, and his proposal would have been received with acclamations—the unhappy Peace party escaping with, at the very least, a sound drenching under the pump, had they ventured to raise a murmur of objection. None the less is it a matter of deep regret that so large and permanent an increase to our establishments has been forced upon the Government. For how, let me ask, does the matter stand? Since 1851—I do not go back to 1835—since 1851, in two years we have added to our expenditure for army, navy, and ordnance, including the militia, the commissariat, and other outgoings of the same kind, no less a sum than 1,870,000l.
What I wish to call the attention of the House to, and particularly that of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), who said that the Manchester school were going to ruin the aristocracy—what I wish to call their attention to is, that if they had not since 1851, in those two years, made this addition to the expenditure, there would be at this moment in the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer a surplus large enough to enable him to make all the remissions and modifications he proposed to make, without any increase of taxation whatever. Do not let the hon. Member for North Warwickshire blame the Manchester school for the increased taxation that he said was going to ruin the aristocracy. I do not for a moment suggest that nothing should be spent on our armaments; I have been content that 10,000,000l. should be appropriated to that purpose; but the point to which I immediately invite attention is that, under the circumstances to which I have adverted, not merely has a sum of 15,555,000l. been expended in 1851 on our armaments, but since 1851 a further sum of 1,870,000l. has been appropriated to the same purpose. No wonder that, under such circumstances, the Chancellor of the Exchequer should touch in tones of pathos on the state of the surplus.
The cause of all this expenditure has been the panic which the public has taken into its head to conceive of a French invasion. Where is the panic now? So utterly dispersed that I can find no one who will even admit that he has ever entertained such a notion, much less that he feels it now. But, meanwhile, the mischief has been done; the additions to our expenditure have been made, and the public, who is the party to blame in the matter, will find that the additional expenditure it has occasioned will be for years and years to come an extra burden upon it. These additions to our establishments, once made, are not to be got rid of in a day; I will venture to say that the present generation of taxpayers will not altogether get rid of the additions to the taxation that they have been instrumental in creating in the course of the last two years.
Now, what are the items of the Budgets since 1851 for civil purposes, including the debt, and everything else except military and naval expenditure? Let the Committee mark how slightly the amount has varied. In 1851 the expenditure, other than naval and military, was 34,692,000l.; in 1852, 34,732,000l.; in 1853, 34,738,000l.; so that the whole increase on the civil expenditure, including the debt, for all purposes other than naval and military, is only 81,000l. on an amount of 34,000,000l.; whereas the increase on the naval and military expenditure has been 1,870,000l. on an expenditure of 15,000,000l.
It must be obvious to every one who wishes to see the policy carried out which the interests of the country demand, that, for this purpose, he must grapple with the naval and military expenditure. What I wish the Committee to take, along with me, from the outset, is the principle that the remission of indirect taxation is inevitable. You may arrive at this result by savings, the growth of a surplus revenue, of retrenchment, of increased revenue, the product of the increased prosperity of the country; but, assuredly, if you eat up such surplus by additions to the naval and military expenditure, you must, perforce, make up the difference by increased direct burdens upon property and income. Whoever holds the reins of power—whoever the Chancellor of the Exchequer may be—whether the right hon. Gentleman below me, or the right hon. Gentleman opposite, or any one else—the inevitable rule must be to aim at the reduction of the Customs and Excise duties, even at the expense of property and income. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, for example, proposes to take off the malttax, an indirect impost, and to meet the loss, so far as he can, by an additional tax on houses, which may fairly be considered a direct impost, and the right hon. Gentleman fell solely in that attempt to find a substitute for the malt-tax. If the present Government, powerful as it is, hardly sees its way to a majority large enough to carry its Budget, its difficulty is the finding of a direct tax sufficient to enable it to reduce indirect taxation.
I wish Gentlemen on both sides of the House to consider that we have come to a time when if they will be extravagant, they must be extravagant at the expense of property, and not at the expense of consumption. In these days, when every man has, at least on his lips, the profession of deep consideration for the poorer classes, it will never do to leave the main burden of taxation on consumption. More and more emphatically is it found that the prosperity of the country depends on the increase of consumption, this means increasing the employment of the masses, and this employment can alone be fostered by the removal of all impediments in the path of industry. These impediments, it must be borne in mind, tended to accumulate with the growth of the population, and therefore it becomes daily more necessary to provide for their removal.
The Committee is well aware of the great and just cry of alarm that has proceeded from our merchants, in consequence of the obstacles placed in the way of commerce by our Custom-house regulations. Those regulations were bad enough when we had to deal with only 30,000,000l. or 40,000,000l. of exports and imports; they are grievous, utterly insupportable, now that, instead of from 30,000,000l. to 40,000,000l., we have to deal with from 70,000,000l. to 80,000,000l. of exports and imports. Further, it is to be considered how enormously the velocity of communication has increased, so that, by the aid of steam, the traffic which once occupied forty days on its way to America, now effects its transit in twelve. This alone is a circumstance imperatively demanding that measures should be taken, by a reform of the Customs' regulations, to expedite, and most materially to expedite, the entry and exit of goods.
As our fiscal regulations now stand, the free bale of cotton is delayed in its admission, that it may be overhauled so as to be shown to be not a bale of tobacco, which has 3s. per pound of duty to pay before it passes. But to effect that change with reference to tobacco, the duty must be reduced to 3d. or 6d. in the pound, otherwise the object would fail altogether. I hope there will not be such an increase of smoking in this country as to enable the revenue from a 3d. or 6d. duty to be as much as from a 3s. or 4s. duty: and the fact is, that there will be a loss of some millions annually. How are you to deal with that, except by increasing direct taxation? But this is not the case with tobacco only, but with other matters. You must make up your minds to a constant remission of these taxes. As was stated last year by the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), every year since 1842 has witnessed the constant remission of these indirect taxes. The right hon. Gentleman has not, indeed, proposed anything of that sort himself; but there is a selfacting process in the sugar-duties which was effecting that change even last year. This will and must go on.
I come now to the practical question before us. There is at present virtually a deficiency; because I look upon the remission of indirect taxes as so inevitable, that, though the right hon. Gentleman has a surplus of 300,000l. or 400,000l., yet he is obliged to create fresh taxes in order to meet the imperative demand for the repeal of indirect taxation. The right hon. Gentleman proposes, then, the continuance of the property and income tax; and he has done so with some arguments very elaborate, very able, and, I may say, very subtle. I must observe, that the part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech in which he dealt with the income-tax is, to my mind, the least satisfactory of all. It was the most declamatory, and appeared, as all such appeals did, to be the least conclusive. The right hon. Gentleman began by an allusion to Mr. Pitt, and said, that that tax having served its purpose during the war, it ought therefore not to be used in time of peace. But, surely, it is time that we had done with that argument, because there is always this answer to it—that other taxes did their work also during the war. The Customs and the Excise were during the war, and, if that were any reason, they ought to put by that grant of the Custom-house, as they proposed to do the grant of the income-tax, and let us remain in repose until we had another war. But no one proposed that. Why not? Is there anything intrinsically worse in the income-tax than in the tax upon tea and wine? In what way is it worse? Does it give rise to greater oppression in its incidence? Why, how large a proportion of the income of a poor man's family is spent on the ounce or half-ounce of tea which he buys every two or three days! There is the same duty upon his tea, which might be purchased in the bonded warehouse at 10½d. per pound, that there is upon the finest-flavoured pekoe or gunpowder-hyson, that might cost 5s. or 6s. per pound. Is there anything in the income-tax more unequal in its pressure than that? Take, again, the wine duty. The gentleman's bottle of Lafitte, which might cost him 5s. in the cellar of the grower, pays precisely the same duty as the bottle of vin ordinaire, which may be bought in the south of France for 2d. Is there anything in the income-tax more unequal or more unjust than that?
In this way I might go through the whole list of excisable articles, and I should find that in the most necessary articles of consumption the poor family approached more nearly to the rich family than in any other thing. When we lay a tax upon commodities which enter into the daily consumption of the poor, we may be sure that the mass of the people pay a far larger sum in proportion to their incomes than the rich.
Well, then, why are we to make an exception with respect to the income-tax as compared with the other great taxes which served Mr. Pitt in the time of war? Is it because it offends the law of political economy—because it takes more from the pockets of the people than arrives at the Exchequer? No. I question whether we might not collect direct taxes cheaper than any indirect taxes. Is it because it impedes industry more than indirect taxation? On the contrary, however oppressive it might be felt to be upon other grounds, I have never heard that it interfered with the progress of industry, or impeded commerce in any way whatever. Is it the demoralisation that flows from it? Does it produce greater evils than other taxes by demoralising the trader? Does not the levving of the Excise duty produce more demoralisation than any direct tax could possibly do? Let us take, for instance, the case of the tobacco and snuff trade. I remember being present in the Chamber of Commerce in Manchester when a deputation, consisting of a great number of tobacco-manufacturers in Manchester and the neighbourhood, waited upon them to expose the adulterations which were carried on in the trade, and to endeavour to induce the Chamber to interfere to effect some alteration in the duties. Those gentlemen, who were the largest dealers and manufacturers in the neighbourhood, stated frankly—after exposing all the different articles with which tobacco was coloured and adulterated, such as the beard from malt, peatmoss, and things of that kind—that there was not a man in that neighbourhood who carried on the tobacco and snuff trade without illegal adulterations, except Mr. Reed, a gentleman who was present; and Mr. Reed left the trade, and, though he was nearly forty years of age, went to Cambridge, and was now in holy orders. Can you find anything worse than that in the income-tax?
With regard to the criminality arising out of these taxes, let any one go to one of the maritime counties—inquire of the chairman of quarter sessions—go to the gaol at Winchester, or anywhere upon the south coast—and ask what is the number of commitments for smuggling. Let him inquire of the overseers how many children are left destitute and chargeable to the parish, because their parents had fled the country for smuggling. I ask, is there any demoralisation in the income-tax that can be compared with that? The right hon. Gentleman has alluded to the mode of self-assessment as offering temptations to fraud, which are in many cases irresistible. I will suggest whether that might be remedied. I do not see why any one should be called upon to assess himself at all. In America, where direct taxation is levied for all the purposes of the separate States, the taxpayers elect an assessor—an experienced, discreet, sober man of the town or neighbourhood,—and he assesses the value of his neighbour's property. Why should not that system be adopted in England? Then, the assessors having made their assessment, if the party chooses to make oath that he is surcharged, or to produce his books, he would have the same means of redress as in America. The advantage is, that there will be no temptations held out to men to state their property at less than it is.
But there is another thing. It has been found in America that a man has less aversion to an exposure of the amount of his property, when it was known to be only the assessment of others, than he has to expose his own assessment of his property. The consequence is, that you would see, as I have seen in Boston,—I have had the book in my own hands,—a printed list of everybody's assessment in Boston. There is Mr. Abbott Lawrence, for example, figuring away with some 700,000 or 800,000 dollars of personal, and a certain amount of real property. I do not find that there was any grievance complained of there; and, after two or three years of assessment, you arrive at a much better notion of a man's income than when you take his own return, because the people who are appointed assessors see from time to time the changes that are going on in the establishments, the evidences of prosperity, or the reverse. As a rule, we estimate at its true value what the amount of our neighbour's property is. I think that this deserves the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I hope that it will be taken into consideration by the public at large.
The right hon. Gentleman has stated that he cannot agree to any modification of the income-tax. Now, I believe that there is one fallacy which runs through the right hon. Gentleman's argument upon that subject, which I should have thought could have scarcely escaped so acute a logician. It all amounts to this,—'Don't show me that you can at all diminish the evil; I'll show you that the evil still remains behind, and therefore I will not allow you to touch it.' Admitting the grievance, as I understand the right hon. Gentleman does, can anybody doubt, if you put trades and professions at 5d., and real property at 7d., that there will not be to some extent a diminution of the injustice? It is true you have terminable annuities besides. It is true that when you come to deal with them and with life-interests, the actuaries may bring you an arithmetical puzzle, which will never work in practice, however well it may look on paper. But the right hon. Gentleman has not told them that they will not be doing some good by mitigating at least the evil which he has admitted. I have no hesitation in confessing, as the result of my experience in the Committee, that there are greater difficulties in the question than I had expected. I have no hesitation in saying so. I went into this question seven or eight years ago, with great confidence as to the practicability of effecting all that was required, but I have found that I was wrong; and my hon. friend, also the Member for Stoke-upon-Trent, who is a great deal deeper in these mysteries than I am, admitted the same thing. But I cannot say that the right hon. Gentleman has shown good grounds for doing nothing; for, if we were to determine upon doing nothing until we arrived at perfection, why then I am afraid that we must put an end to all sublunary things.
Now, there is one matter with respect to my votes on the income-tax which I think requires a little explanation. In 1842, I resisted Sir R. Peel's attempt to impose the income-tax, and for this avowed reason,—that you were retaining the monopoly on corn, that you were refusing to deal with the sugar-duties, that you were therefore destroying the revenue, and that at the same time you wished him to join in imposing a tax in order to repair the mischief which you were committing. I would act in the same way to-morrow if I were in the same circumstances. In 1848, I voted for Mr. Horsman's motion for a modification; but I voted against my hon. friend's the Member for Montrose's motion, to levy the income-tax only for a year, in order that he might have a committee. That I did upon the avowed ground that my hon. friend wanted to unite himself with gentlemen on the other side of the question, and that he did not want to modify, but to abolish the tax, while he (Mr. Cobden) wished to preserve the tax. My hon. friend, however, ultimately obtained his committee, and I cannot say that harm has resulted from it. Having taken that course in times past, I have the income-tax now presented to me again without modification by a Government which I believe will stand or fall by the declaration that they will not agree to any modification. I have at the same time presented to me another portion of the Budget, which I believe goes far to redress the inequality which existed in the old income-tax, and which is a bold and honest proposal. Whatever might be the fate of the Budget, the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, at all events, have earned for themselves the merit of straightforward and honest conduct, by dealing with that which defeated Mr. Pitt in the plenitude of his power, and which no one had attempted to deal with since—I mean the legacy-duty. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer was disposed to have recommended that this question should be dealt with. I am quite sure that it would have been dealt with by somebody—that public opinion would have done it; and I must say, looking at the income-tax, coupled with the legacy-duty, and viewing them as the key-stone of the arch of this Budget, I shall take them both, and shall take them with both hands. Though I myself have spoken as strongly as anybody can speak in this House in favour of the professional man, as well as in the interest of the mercantile and manufacturing community, I am bound to say that I have not found in the north of England any very active opposition to the equal rate of duty laid upon all classes. I believe there is more feeling of resistance and of suffering under the inquisitorial character of the tax among mercantile men and trading capitalists than there is upon the score of the unjust assessment of the tax. I beg that I may not be misunderstood upon this point. I am only speaking for Lancashire and Yorkshire, and I do not wish it to be thought, from what I say, that there is not among traders and professional men elsewhere a strong feeling against this tax. To be very frank upon this subject, I believe that in Lancashire and Yorkshire there is a feeling among the population that a compensation is afforded by the mode in which the surplus gained from the income-tax is disposed of; I mean by the extension of commerce and the freeing of industry from the fetters that bound it. They submit to the income-tax, therefore, without murmuring, partly from the feeling that it is inevitable, and partly from the belief that they receive some compensation in their trades. That will not operate with professional men, or with small traders in rural districts; but I think that the legacy-duty laid upon real property—although I should wish to view that question per se, and not as a compensation, though we are made up of checks and compensations in this country—is, if not an equivalent, at least some compensation, to those very classes, the professional and trading people, and ought to tend to reconcile them to the tax in its present form. I think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has acted wisely in extending the tax to incomes of 100l. As an advocate for direct taxation, I would, as an abstract principle, levy it upon everybody, where the tax could be collected with a profit. When I say ‘as an abstract principle,’ I am assuming that no other tax existed; but in this country, where so much is already laid upon the mass of the people by indirect taxes, where they paid far more in proportion to their means than the upper classes, it became necessary to compensate them by levying upon the property of those who were richer a direct tax. I do not say that, in the present circumstances of this country, I would propose to levy the income-tax upon all wages; but I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer has acted very wisely in drawing his line at 100l. As I have before said, the working people of this country pay a very large amount in indirect taxation. They are sometimes told of the large amount of Customs and Excise which have been remitted; but a great fallacy lurked under that. In point of fact, we had not by that means diminished the taxes upon the working people, but we had been very cleverly and industriously shifting the burden ever since the days of Mr. Huskisson and Mr. Grant. We have taken the load off the head, and put it on the shoulders; or we have been strapping it up under the arms in all kinds of ways, so as to gall less; but the burden was borne just as before. Let me give an illustration of this. The amount of Customs and Excise duties paid in this country in 1831, which was before the Reform Bill, was 35,680,000l. The estimates of Customs and Excise for the coming year is 35,320,000l., so that there is only 360,000l. less paid now for indirect taxes than in 1831, although during the interval Customs and Excise duties have been repealed to the extent of from 12,000,000l. to 15,000,000l. per annum. There has been an increase in the population, of course; but that does not affect the question to an extent some people may suppose.
I come now to deal with the question of applying the income-tax to Ireland, which seems to be the great difficulty with the Government upon the present occasion. I hope hon. Gentlemen from Ireland will not suppose that I am anxious to impose any unjust burdens upon them. I am an advocate of religious and fiscal equality to the most perfect point. I have given a proof that, as regards religious equality, whatever might be the odium or passing obloquy which I may suffer from a partial outbreak of bigotry in this country, nothing shall induce me to put a fetter upon the consciences of Roman Catholics. If I could make them so, they should be as free to exercise the practices and observances of their faith in England as if they were to cross the Atlantic and go to the United States. I want the same thing in commercial and fiscal questions; but there must be a perfect equality between the two. I mean that the taxes which are paid in this country must be paid in the other. I do not want to levy heavy burdens upon either England or Ireland. If I had my will, they should both pay less than they did now. But what I say is, that there is no safety for the proper working of the Legislature so long as there are Members sitting in it from parts of the kingdom where the people paid less taxes than in other parts of the kingdom. I have seen the working of this system for some time, and I will tell the hon. Gentlemen from Ireland what were the symptoms I have observed in consequence of the discrepancy in the amount of taxation. I have observed that the Irish Members take little interest in Imperial expenditure, unless upon some questions where there is a transfer of taxes from the general Exchequer to some locality in Ireland. Hence their fights about that bauble, the Lord-Lieutenancy; hence their fights about Kilmainham Hospital, although it is a mere nest of jobbing. Hon. Gentlemen will allow me to say, that I have had an opportunity of hearing something of Kilmainham, having sat upon a Committee where that matter was brought before us. And, therefore, I speak with some knowledge of the circumstances of the case. What is the reason that no statesman has ever dreamt of proposing that the colonies should sit with the mother country in a common Legislature? It was not because of the space between them, for, now-a-days, travelling was almost as quick as thought; but because the colonies, not paying Imperial taxation, and not being liable for our debt, could not be allowed with safety to us, or with propriety to themselves, to legislate on matters of taxation in which they were not themselves concerned. What happened on the very last occasion on which I addressed myself to the question of the Budget? I followed the hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. Davison), who rose to support a proposition for doubling the house-tax, and laying on an income-tax upon my constituents at Barnsley and Leeds. Those constituents were largely engaged in the linen-trade; the hon. Gentleman's constituents at Belfast were also engaged in the same kind of trade; and the hon. Gentleman got up and declared his intention to vote, that taxes from which his own constituents were free should be laid upon my constituents, at Barnsley and Leeds. But I want to know how that hon. Member is going to vote now? If he were now to vote against putting on a similar tax on his profits at Belfast, I want no better proof that they ought never to allow Members to sit in the same House representing different interests, where they could help a Minister to impose taxes on their neighbours on condition that they were not imposed on themselves. How would the case be if they allowed representatives from the colonies to sit in this House? An ambitious and unscrupulous Minister would be sure to make use of them, if they were not possessed of that virtue which ordinary men have not, for the purpose of oppressing the English people. The Minister would say, ‘Help me in such a case, and I'll help you to prevent England from putting some tax on Canada.’ The consequence might be, that we should have an irresponsible Government—that we should have constant coups d'état, until the people rose and declared for a separation. On the present occasion, the Government, true to the invariable system of compromises, has proposed to grant the Members for Ireland a very large boon indeed, if they will only accept their quota of the income-tax. Now, knowing what I do of the temper of the people out of doors, I will whisper to the hon. Members,—'Close with the bargain, and give the Government your vote.' And why do I say so? Because, if I understand the matter aright, it is proposed to give the Irish almost as much as they asked them to pay. I believe that it is almost an equivalent. But I beg hon. Members for Ireland to look at the exchange, and see how it puts them out of court as the advocates of the poor in Ireland; because, as I understand the matter, the consolidated annuity-tax is levied upon the poor farmers of Ireland. Of course it is levied one-half upon the landlord and one-half upon the tenant, down to those under 5l. rent. Now, the class of poor tenants above 5l. is to be relieved, according to the proposal of the Government, and an income-tax imposed instead upon all persons having incomes of 100l. a year and upwards. Now, I beg hon. Members to remember, that it is only farmers paying 200l. a year and upwards of rent who would be liable to pay income-tax; and I will ask them to consider how few farmers there were in Ireland who have rents to that amount. I believe that 100l. a year is considered a very genteel income in Ireland. People there live much cheaper than here; there are no assessed taxes, and provisions are cheaper. Persons with 100l. a year in Ireland, then, are quite as well, if not better, able to pay income-tax than people of the same class in England. I have heard a great deal said about the amount of English indebtedness to Ireland, and of Irish indebtedness in Ireland. The hon. Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Brown), himself an Irishman, has estimated that Ireland was in England's debt 300,000,000l. The hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. M'Gregor), who, judging from his name, had some Celtic blood in his veins, has put down the debt at 160,000,000l.; while the late Mr. O'Connell has put down the amount the other way, and declared that England is indebted to Ireland 60,000,000l. I would say, ‘Let the Statute of Limitations apply to both sides. Let Irish Members make up their minds to pay the same taxes as the people of England, and unite with us in advocating retrenchment and economy.’ I assure those Members that the thing is inevitable, and that if a dissolution were to take place on the question of the equalisation of taxes—although, no doubt, Ireland would be disposed to avoid taxation, if possible—the thing would be settled without them.
There is another point I wish to refer to, and that is the question respecting licences, which the right hon. Gentleman, I believe, has said is still under consideration. On that question I think the right hon. Gentleman has erred on a matter of principle. I cannot understand on what principle the right hon. Gentleman is going to lay a tax on all traders who deal in tea or tobacco. I can understand why the Excise should require a dealer who sold tea, tobacco, or other articles where surveillance was thought to be necessary, to register themselves, and perhaps pay a nominal fee, but I confess I cannot understand why traders who already pay large taxes should be asked to pay, in addition, an ad valorem duty on their rent for licences to carry on their business, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will alter that part of his plan.
Then, with regard to the advertisement duty, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not ‘make two bites at a cherry’ in that matter. I want to see the connection between the press and the Government altogether dissolved. [Laughter.] I know what that laugh refers to. It is an illustration of what I mean to argue. It has been stated that the right hon. Gentleman, in proposing to remit the stamp upon supplements containing only advertisements, would be giving a boon to only one paper; and very free remarks have been passed as to what were his motives in giving that boon to a particular paper. Now, I do not believe the right hon. Gentleman is capable of doing that. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman has with all parties in this House too much credit for sincerity and truthfulness to be supposed capable of being a party to a transaction of this kind; but suspicions are entertained on the subject out of doors,—and how have they arisen? They have arisen because Government were enabled to deal with the tax in a manner which favoured one particular newspaper. And so with the advertisement duty. That also keeps up a connection between the Government and the newspaper press. Certain newspapers want that duty off, and others want it kept on, and Government are tempted to watch and weigh the rival influences, and shape their public course accordingly. I repeat that, in my opinion, the Government should have no connection with the press whatever. I hope, therefore, that if they adhere to their resolution, and deal with the advertisement duty at all, they will abolish it altogether.
And if he deals with the stamp-duty, the right hon. Gentleman must not—as I believe he is now fully aware—deal with it in a manner which would merely favour one newspaper at present, and not more than three or four prospectively. If the right hon. Gentleman should be persuaded by the proprietors of some large provincial newspapers to alter his plans, so as to continue the penny stamp on newspapers—allowing supplements to go free, whether they contain news or advertisements, or both together—he would be falling into an error similar in character, though not so great in degree, to that into which he fell when he proposed to remit the stamp on supplements which contained advertisements only; because, if he did, there would, at the outside, be only some half-score of newspapers, which were at present in the habit of publishing supplements, which would at all be benefited by it. And how would it act prospectively? It would act in the opposite way to that which the right hon. Gentleman has laid down with regard to licences, for in that case he proposed to levy the tax in proportion to the business which the parties carried on.
But what will be the effect of the plan to which I have just referred with regard to newspapers? It will allow a newspaper twice the size of the Times to be published with a penny stamp, while it will impose the samesum of a penny upon the small struggling paper not half the size of one sheet of the Times. And I beg hon. Members to mark the effect. The small sheet, having to pay the same tax as the large sheet, will be placed under an immense disadvantage. I have seen in Lancashire, whenever a newspaper publishes a supplement, and gives it to its readers, such is the desire of readers to have a great mass of matter, that all the other papers in the district were obliged also to publish a supplement, or be trampled under foot. If, then, the right hon. Gentleman levies the same stamp upon two sheets as he levies upon one, allowing both news and advertisements to appear in the supplemental sheet, you may depend upon it that the effect will be to destroy all the second and third-rate newspapers. I beg hon. Members opposite to bear this in mind, for I believe that some of the newspapers in their interest are not in the most thriving condition.
I will put this case of the stamp-duty to the test of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's own principles. The right hon. Gentleman said, that if a man kept a gig with two wheels he should pay 15s., but that if he kept a carriage with four wheels he should pay double. But in the case of newspapers he reverses the rule, for he makes the four-in-hand pay only the same tax as a gig. Then, again, with regard to the licensing duty, he proposes an ad valorem tax on the rent of a man's shop. If a man happens to have such a prosperous trade that his shop is overflowing with customers, and he is not able to carry on his business on his old premises, does the right hon. Gentleman propose to allow him to open a supplemental shop, and pay only one tax? The question, it will thus be seen, would not bear the test of the right hon. Gentleman's own principles. The right hon. Gentleman must either not touch the stamp-duty at all, or he must be prepared to allow newspapers to be taxed according to weight or size when sent by post, and allow them to be sold on the spot where they are published without a stamp.
With respect to the rest of the Budget, I am glad to find that the soap-duty is to be abolished. That tax has long been a standing reproach on this country. It has marked the hypocrisy of all the pretences to cleanliness, and often, when I have heard of meetings on sanitary reform, I have thought of the soap-tax, and felt ashamed of my country. And so with regard to the paper-duty. You talk of promoting education, and yet here is a tax on the material by which knowledge is conveyed. This, also, will stamp us with hypocrisy on that subject so long as it remains.
I will only add, that I hope this Budget, in its main provisions, will pass this House. I believe, so far as I have had an opportunity of judging, that it is generally acceptable to the country. The imposition of the legacy-tax will remove a sore which has been festering in the minds of the people of this country for a long time. In the interest of the parties concerned, I would say, the sooner that tax was put on the better. I would say, both to the landed gentlemen and the Irish Members, ‘Take on your burdens, and it will be the better for you in the end.’ I am told that the Members of the other House are looking on with great solemnity. There, they are in possession; but in the House of Commons many hon. Members were only expect ants. I was breakfasting with a gentleman of the diplomatic corps the other morning; the conversation was in French, and my host said it was very easy to explain why the Chamber of Peers would be favourable to the tax, and the Commons not: because the one is a Chambre des Pairs (Pères), and the other is a Chambre des Fils.
There is another point which I wish to allude to before I sit down. I want to be very honest with the House about the income-tax. They are told that that tax was to continue till 1860 only. Now, I am sorry that I cannot give my sanction to that idea. My belief is that we must go on remitting indirect taxes; and I should not be honest if I said that I saw any prospect of our being able to do away with the income-tax in 1860. There are certainly but two ways in which it could be done. It could only be done either by substituting some other tax in its place, or by a very large retrenchment in the amount of our expenditure. Some means or other must be found available for the Chancellor of the Exchequer for his meeting the constant demands upon him for the remission of indirect taxes; and I do not see, therefore, how we can afford to part with the income-tax. I do not, however, for a moment doubt the sincerity of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the matter. I am quite sure, that if the right hon. Gentleman is in Parliament in 1860, and holds a responsible position, he will rather give up his office than be a party to anything like a breach of faith. But it is melancholy to think how few of us may be in Parliament in 1860. I hope the right hon. Gentleman and all of us may be alive then; but, even if they are, who can bind the Parliament that will assemble in 1860? I beg, therefore, to be understood as not pledging myself in favour of the abrogation of the income-tax in 1860.
HOUSE OF COMMONS, JULY 22, 1864.
[The following speech, recommending the reduction or abandonment of Government manufacturing establishments, as impolitic and wasteful, was the last which Mr. Cobden delivered in Parliament.]
I regret that, owing to the necessity which lay on many of us to postpone the notices of Motions which we had on the paper a fortnight ago, I was not able to bring this subject earlier under the notice of the House. The question is important, not only in a financial sense, but in its bearings on the defence and security of the nation. In advocating the view that the Government of the country should not undertake to manufacture for itself that which can be purchased from private producers, I am advancing no new doctrine in this House. On the contrary, this has always been the policy of the House, and the opposite system pursued during the last few years has been in defiance of the reiterated expressions of the opinion of Parliament. I might go back to the celebrated speech of Edmund Burke on economical reform, who so long ago as 1780 laid down, in language which it is impossible to surpass, the reasons why the Government should not resort to the manufacture of its own supplies, but should depend on the competition of individual manufacturers. In 1828, before the Reform era, a Committee of the House of Commons put forth a Report, in which there is a paragraph to this effect:—
'The Committee are not disposed to place implicit reliance on the arguments which have been urged by some public departments against contracts by competition, and in favour of work by themselves. The latter plan occasions the employment of a great many officers, clerks, artificers, and workmen, and not only adds to the patronage, but to the appearance of the importance of a department. Nor can the Committee suffer themselves to feel any prejudice against the contract system, by references to some instanoes of failure. They believe that most cases of failure may be attributed to negligence or ignorance in the management of contracts, rather than to the system itself.
Now here is the gist of all I have to say. I shall only amplify this passage, and in doing so, I hope I shall not be accused of more illiberality towards the officials than was exhibited by the Committee of 1828. On various occasions this question has been partially raised in reference to particular articles, and an exceptional ground has always been alleged why we should give, for some special branch of production, a preference to the Government manufactories. The consequence has been, that step by step the departments have taken upon themselves an immense increase of manufacture. I have asked myself how is it, that while we have for twenty years, in our commercial policy, been acting on the principle of unrestricted competition, believing that that is the only way to secure excellence and stability of production, and when the private industry of the country is more equal than ever it was to the demands of the Government, how is it that the departments have been allowed to raise up these gigantic Government monopolies? I believe it is in consequence of the weakness of the Executive Government. For many years past there has, I fear, been very little control exercised by the Treasury over the various departments of the Government; and the rein being loosened, the heads of departments have taken the power into their own hands, and embarked in vast manufacturing undertakings, contrary, as I cannot but believe, to the intention of this House and the country. The result of my experience is, that there is little use in the House undertaking by Committees to correct the failures of the Executive Government. By interfering in the management of the details of the Government, you infallibly do more harm than good. You lower the Executive in the estimation of the permanent officials, and you attempt what is impossible, for the departments laugh at the idea of Parliament superintending the details of the administration. Moreover, the Government, by allowing Parliament to attempt to control these details virtually abandons its own duties and responsibilities. During the last few years we have had Committees of this House on ordnance, on plating ships, and on various other branches of Executive administration connected with the safety and defence of the country. In early years of my experience in Parliament, when Sir Robert Peel was Prime Minister, he would have resisted the appointment of such Committees as tantamount to a vote of want of confidence. He would have said, ‘If you think the administration is not satisfactorily conducted by me, then you must find somebody else to undertake it.’ My view is, that the House can interfere with great advantage in prescribing the principles on which the Executive Government shall be carried on; but beyond that, it is impossible for the Legislature to interfere with advantage in the details of the administration of the country. The principle I advocate is, that the Government should not be allowed to manufacture for itself any article which can be obtained from private producers in a competitive market; and that, if we have entered on a false system in this respect, we ought, as far as possible, to retrace our steps.
To give the House an idea of the extent to which the system of which I complain has grown, I will quote a few figures. In 1849-50, I sat upon a Committee to inquire into the Ordnance, and we found that the whole amount of wages then paid to artificers and labourers in the United Kingdom and the Colonies on the Ordnance Votes was 141,330l. This year I find that we have voted in corresponding votes for the wages of our manufacturing establishments, including the clothing factories, a sum of 584,000l., being more than four times the amount of the sum voted in 1849-50. The wages voted for the gun factory at Woolwich this year were 144,000l., which exceeded the wages for all the departments in 1849-50. Down to and including the Crimean war, the British Government never cast an iron cannon, or made shot or shell. Our ordnance was purchased from the Carron Works in Scotland, from the Low Moor Company, or from the Gospel Oak Works of Messrs. Walker. At the outbreak of the Crimean war, my right hon. friend the Member for Limerick (Mr. Monsell) was Secretary to the Ordnance, and I am afraid that I must charge him with having deposited the nest-egg which has produced the pernicious brood of which I am complaining. From the evidence given by the right hon. Gentleman himself, in 1854, I find that he and Captain Boxer, of the Laboratory Department at Woolwich, laid their heads together, and said, ‘If we spend 7,000l. in putting up machinery, we can make our own fusees, and bouche our own shells.’ That was the beginning of those acres of costly machinery which may now be seen at Woolwich. No very long time elapsed before Captain Boxer said, ‘We are now prepared for making fusees, and bouching faster than we can get shells; therefore, let us make shells;’ and accordingly they laid out 10,000l. in the erection of machinery for casting shells and shot. There is a very interesting narrative in the evidence before the Sebastopol Committee, and I find that the right hon. Gentleman was arraigned before that Committee for acting without the consent of his colleagues. I do not blame him for that. We were at war, and he and Captain Boxer displayed a commendable energy; but I mention these facts to show you how establishments of this kind grow. The next step, after setting up machinery for casting shot and shell, was to erect turning and boring machinery for making the guns. It was resolved, that instead of obtaining castiron cannon from the Low Moor Company, they should purchase from that concern solid blocks of iron, and bore and turn them at Woolwich. Another suggestion immediately followed:— ‘We had better cast our own guns rather than buy these blocks from Low Moor;’ and so the machinery was set up for that. Now came a difficulty. There are, as I have said, but two or three concerns in England from which it is safe to buy ordnance, of which the Low Moor Works are one, and the Gospel Oak Works of Messrs. Walker another. When casting a 68-pounder at Low Moor, they not only take selected qualities of their own iron, good as it is, but they use coal of a particular kind, fresh from the earth, to smelt it. That firm would not sell pig-iron to the Woolwich establishment, and the result was, that, having got the machinery for casting the guns, there was no iron fit to cast. They went into the market, and purchased the ordinary kind of pig-iron, and they made about 100 guns; but it is believed that not one of the 100 ever went into the service. They were pronounced rotten, and were never used. After 200,000l. had been spent in this way, the establishment at Woolwich for casting guns was abandoned.
Then came the second part of the performance. It had become necessary that the Government should obtain a supply of rifled cannon. No sooner did this necessity arise, than there were men of genius, such as Mr. Whitworth, Sir William Armstrong, Captain Blakeley, Mr. Lancaster, and Mr. Lynall Thomas, preparing to supply the want. The reasonable course would have been to have said to these inventors, ‘Go on, and improve your system. Manufacture some guns, and to whichever is most successful, we will be your customer.’ But the establishment at Woolwich wished to secure the manufacture of rifled ordnance, and those in authority—some of them in very high authority—seem to have lost their heads altogether, and to have gone almost crazy over Sir William Armstrong's gun. An illustrious Duke is reported to have said, that Sir William Armstrong's gun could all but speak; and another eminent officer declared it was equal to anything in the tales of the Arabian Nights. I will venture to offer a suggestion. When we have in future to make a choice of ordnance, our high officials in the army should pursue the same course they do when they hold a court-martial—let the younger officers speak first—because, when the Commander-in-Chief utters such an emphatic approbation, it is hardly likely that junior officers will be found to dissent. I would further suggest, that the authorities should in these matters follow the commercial system, and not begin to praise and puff an article before they buy it. The result in this instance was, that Sir William Armstrong—then Mr. Armstrong—resolved to make a present of his patent to the War Office. And a very costly present it was. It was assigned over to the Secretary for War, and an arrangement was entered into, which to this day I can hardly understand. It seems that Sir William Armstrong was to receive, for ten years, a sum of 2,000l. a year for superintending the working of the patent. That arrangement was antedated three years, and 6,000l. was paid down, upon which he became superintendent of the Royal gun factory, and chief engineer of the rifled ordnance department. A business was set up at Elswick, in Northumberland, by the War Office—an establishment which previously belonged to Sir William Armstrong—and we made advances in a mysterious manner to the extent of 85,000l. Immediately afterwards our officials at Woolwich set up a manufactory of the same kind, and they set it up apparently with a view of controlling the price at Elswick. It is most amusing to see the naiveté with which the leading men at Woolwich came before the Committee appointed by this House and tried to show that they were producing the gun cheaper at Woolwich than at Elswick, forgetting that the two were one and the same concern; that they were both started by the Government with the nation's capital. The Committee were evidently unable to understand the accounts of the Woolwich factory, and in their report they passed a resolution begging them to amend them. I believe that the right hon. Member for Limerick will admit that this is a fair statement of the origin and progress of the rifled Armstrong gun. It was to be made of wrought-iron, was to be breech-loading, and built up on the coil principle with bars of forged iron. It is no disparagement to Sir W. Armstrong, who is a man of great mechanical genius, to say that the general impression of scientific men has been unfavourable to his invention; unfavourable to the breech-loading principle, and unfavourable to the material of which he proposed to construct his gun. But the point to which I desire to call the especial attention of the House is this, that the Government set up a manufacture, and installed as its head the author and patentee of a particular gun. The consequence was, that Mr. Whitworth, who was then in the field, found that he had virtually to submit his gun to the inspection and approval of his great rival. There were other men as well who were candidates, but I mention Mr. Whitworth especially, because every one who knows him will allow that he is one of the very foremost practical mechanicians of the age, and everybody will admit, that any system which excluded that gentleman from competition, in a matter to which he had devoted his attention, must be a wrong system. It was not merely the mechanicians who were thus excluded. The general impression was, and is, that the great problem to solve is not so much a pattern of rifling, or a form of gun, as the material from which a gun is to be made; and we have for the last ten years been travelling in a direction which will no doubt ultimately land us in this position, that we shall have it in our power, whenever we find it advantageous, to apply steel to every purpose for which we now use iron. Mr. Bessemer was in the field with his invention for cheapening steel. We have it in evidence before the Committee on Ordnance, from Capt. Scott, that Mr. Bessemer told him he should have liked the Government to try his principle of homogeneous metal, which he and many others believe will be found better than wrought iron, but that when he found Sir William Armstrong in possession, he gave up the idea. There is also evidence that the Messrs. Walker, of Gospel Oak Works, who produced some of the best cast-iron guns, made the same remark, that, finding Sir William Armstrong in possession, they should abandon the manufacture of guns. Well, a Committee of this House upon Ordnance was appointed, and sat in 1862-3; and I must say, that on reading the details of the evidence taken before it, I was astonished at the levity with which that evidence was allowed to pass into oblivion without having been brought under the notice of the House. I call my right hon. friend the Member for Limerick, who was Chairman of the Committee, to account for the omission; and the other Members of the Committee are not altogether without blame. The evidence adduced before that Committee was of the most important, and even the most portentous character; for it transpired that we had between 2,500 and 3,000 guns upon the principle of Sir William Armstrong; that there is a confessed expenditure of 2½ millions on these guns; but I believe it was very much more; and it was admitted that 100 of these guns, of the largest size, were made before a trial or experiment was entered into. That there may be no cavilling about what the result of that Committee was, I will read a few words. The Duke of Somerset, the head of the Admiralty, in his evidence, said last year:—
'The whole science of gunnery is in a transition state, and when I was this year asked what gun I approved for the navy, I was obliged to say that I really did not know.'
Recollect, this was after nearly 3,000 guns had been made on the Armstrong principle. His Grace also declared that we had nothing better now for close quarters than the old 68-pounder made at the Low Moor Works. And the Committee report—unanimously, I suppose—that the old 68-pounder is, therefore, the most effective gun in the service against iron plates. The Committee finally say:—
' "The Armstrong 12-pounders, although stated by some of the witnesses to be too complicated a weapon for service, are generally approved; "but that" the preponderance of opinion seems to be against any breech-loading system for larger guns."'
They recommend that the different systems should be experimented upon. And they also recommend that the accounts of the Woolwich Gun Factory should be kept in a more intelligible manner. ['No.'] These are not their words, but that is their sense. They say they cannot understand the accounts. I would just add a few words from a naval officer who has given considerable attention to this matter. Writing on the 30th of June last, Admiral Halstead thus summed up:—
'The result is, that the largest and most costly fleet of the world, intrusted with the security of the largest maritime empire, has long been presented to all but England's eyes without a gun fit for the special warfare of the day, and with special guns fit for no warfare whatever.'
I ask, is that a satisfactory state of things in which to find ourselves after spending, perhaps, three millions of money, and making nearly 3,000 of these guns? Admiral Halstead, in another letter, calls this ‘the great blind jump of 1859.’ What has been the result of the Committee? The consequence is, that you have had set up at Shoeburyness a stunning competitive contest between Sir William Armstrong and Mr. Whitworth; and thus, after this vast outlay of public money upon the invention of one of the competitors, you are trying which of the two has got the best gun. There might, however, be some consolation in this, if the Armstrong guns were now really being tried against Mr. Whitworth's; but what is the fact? If I am rightly informed, the original gun which we took up and have got in stock—that is, the service gun—is not the gun which Sir William Armstrong is trying. I am told that the original breech-loader, of which we have nearly 3,000 on hand, has been abandoned in this competition, and that there is another gun, of an improved construction, substituted. I saw it stated in a report of the trial in the Times the other day, that the original breech-loader is withdrawn from the competition. That is not a very consolatory circumstance in the condition in which we find ourselves.
I beg the House to consider what is meant when we are told that we have no naval gun. We have 12-pounders for the field, if we chose to go to war in New Zealand or China; but you are not to reckon on the contingency of an enemy landing here to fight you. When I speak of your having no naval guns, I mean guns to fight with. I observe that Captain Cowper Coles talks of the Armstrong 110-pounder as something to do for a chase—or, in nautical phrase, ‘to tickle up a runaway.’ Now, let us realise the full force of the admission that we have no gun adapted for modern naval warfare. The hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Caird) stated the other day—and we could have no higher authority—that half the people of this country during the last three years have been fed with grain and food brought from abroad. We are in the position of a garrison depending for subsistence upon our communications being kept open. If, after all your expenditure, you have no guns for your ships to contend with against an enemy, do you suppose that your foe would be so foolish as to attempt an invasion with a view of fighting you on land? No; if they had the command of the sea they would blockade us, and starve us into submission. Our life as a nation depends on our having the mastery of our communications by sea. And yet this is the way in which those who govern us take care to keep open our communications.
Well, the whole secret of the failure is this:—The Government do not understand the functions of a buyer; the whole difficulty of their position arises from their not being able to fulfil the duty of a purchaser, in a common-sense and judicious manner. The true course to have pursued with all these scientific men, when they came with their improvements in artillery, was to have encouraged them to go on, and to have promised their custom to the most successful, or, perhaps, a very small amount of help at starting. I believe that Sir W. Armstrong only asked for 12,000l. to begin with, and that Mr. Bessemer would have commenced making his steel guns with 10,000l.; and I have no doubt that for less than 100,000l. the Government might have set half-a-dozen establishments to work, competing for the prize of supplying them with guns. That is a matter which the Government will never comprehend till this House insists that they shall buy their commodities instead of making them. If they are not capable of buying their commodities in the market, do you suppose they are competent to fulfil the far more difficult task of manufacturing them?
I wish to show you the position in which we, as a nation, are placed by these proceedings. We are in danger of seeing foreigners supplied with better armaments than ourselves from our own private workshops. The very individuals whom the Government have rejected and would not have dealings with, have set up manufactories of ordnance for themselves. Mr. Whitworth has founded an ordnance company for the manufacture of guns. I am told that Sir William Armstrong, having closed his connection with the Government at Elswick, and received 65,000l. as compensation, has set up a manufactory of guns at Elswick; and, being no longer connected with the Government, I am told that he is actually manufacturing his 600-pounders for foreign countries. Within a quarter of an hour's drive from this spot I saw, a few days ago, an establishment where steel guns—600-pounders—are being bored; and this firm, which was rejected by the Government, is, I am told, receiving orders for these monster guns by the dozen, while you are in this experimental mood down at Shoeburyness over the 70-pounder and the 110-pounder. I have now said all that I intend to say respecting this gigantic ordnance failure.
Then, as a still further proof of the necessity for the Government to know how to exercise the functions of a buyer, let me refer to small arms as an illustration. Down to about ten years ago, we bought all our muskets from contractors. The Government did not make a rifle even during the Crimean war. I may here remark, that the ordnance supplied during the Crimean war was of a very satisfactory character. The ordnance and small arms were supplied by private contractors to the army and navy, and they were spoken of in the highest terms in the report of the Sebastopol Committee of 1855, which, at the same time, contained condemnations of the commissiariat, of the medical, and other departments. As I have said, previous to 1855 we bought our small arms from private contractors. How does the House think the Government managed their purchases? I mention this as an illustration of their incompetency as a buyer. If hon. Members refer to the evidence given before the Small Arms Committee of 1854, they will find that the Government were in the habit of buying their muskets in component parts. They contracted, at Birmingham and Wednesbury and other places, for the stock with one maker, for the barrel with another, for the lock with a third, and so on, until they had about a dozen separate contracts for the component parts of a musket. All those various parts were sent to the Ordnance Depôt, and from that depôt they were given out to a distinct body of contractors, named ‘setters-up,’ who fitted them together, and made up the musket. Thus they who completed the musket never came into contact with the contractors for the component parts—a system most ingeniously contrived to prevent all improvement. Mr. Whitworth and Mr. Nasmyth, both eminent men, who were examined before the Committee, spoke of the absurdity of this practice, when large capitalists were ready to undertake to supply the completed article. The Government complained that they could not get muskets fast enough, because there were sometimes strikes among the workmen. They were asked, in return, ‘Why do you not give orders to capitalists, who will set up machinery for making the entire musket?’ and it was shown that the system of contracting for the separate parts multiplied the risk of delays from strikes, because if, for instance, the men struck who made the locks, they put a stop to the supply of the complete musket. The Government, however, could not be made to comprehend this; and what was the remedy they proposed for the grievance of which they complained? Instead of improving their mode of purchasing, they thought it would be easier for them to manufacture muskets, and therefore the Ordnance Department came before the Committee of 1854 with a plan for erecting an enormous Government manufactory of rifled small arms at Enfield. The Committee were decidedly against that project, and I am glad to see present the hon. Memder for North Warwickshire, who was a member of that Committee. They said, ‘If you wish to see better machinery introduced for the manufacture of small arms, that is one question; but it is quite distinct from the question whether you are to have a Government factory;’ and, in their report, they speak decidedly against the Government setting up this enormous establishment, because, they say, you will thereby extinguish private trade, which it would be well to preserve for your future necessities. The result was, that the Government sent to America to procure machinery. Colonel Colt, the American, had been in this country for twelve months at that time, and he had set up his machinery; but the Government, rather than encourage a Birmingham or a London house to enter into the trade to supply them, rushed into what has become the Enfield Rifle Manufactory. That establishment, which then contained sixty or seventy work-people, has since grown into the employment of from 1,200 to 1,500. I am not about to contend that the rifle factory at Enfield has, up to the present time, done its work badly, or that it has not been profitable. If you set up machinery which is almost self-acting, and if you give it constant employment, it is not easy to make a concern otherwise than profitable; but while doing this, you have been driving out of the trade all those who would have set up the manufacture upon an independent and more durable basis. But the future of this establishment cannot be estimated from the past, for what is now becoming the fate of the Enfield factory? You have no longer full work for it, for you cannot continue to make the one pattern which you have been continuously at work upon—the pattern of 1853. A Committee has decided that Mr. Lancaster's rifle is a better weapon; public competition showed that Mr. Whitworth's was superior; and the consequence has been that the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) has moved, in the present session, the rejection of the estimate for making Enfield rifles, because they were of an inferior kind, and therefore the manufacture ought to be suspended. If, then, these rifles are to be discontinued, and others are to be made, you will be confronted with the difficulties which await you in every Government manufactory where you are your own and your only customer. During this transition period, as your production falls off, the cost of each article increases, owing to the larger proportion of the permanent fixed charges which it has to bear. To evade this, and also in order to find employment for your work-people, you will always be liable to the temptation of going on making things which you do not want, in order to employ the people about you, and the result will be that you will be overstocked with articles which your better judgment would induce you not to buy, if you had to purchase them in the market from private producers.
I have said I do not mean to argue that making one article, and having constant employment, this Enfield establishment has not paid itself. But here are the balance-sheets relating to the rifle factory and the gunpowder manufactory adjoining, which have been laid upon the table, and upon which I wish to make one or two observations. I see they are signed ‘Hartington,’ as Under-Secretary for War; but I would advise the noble Lord not to put his name to any more of these balance-sheets, as I can assure him they would not pass the Bank-ruptcy Court. They are not creditable to him, and they are still more discreditable to a commercial nation like this, of which he is a representative. I wish to call attention to some facts connected with these balance-sheets. In that which is dated the 31st of March, 1863, it is stated that the articles produced in the year cost at Enfield 199,177l., while if they had been purchased from the trade the cost would have been 356,378l., showing a saving of 157,201l. Among the items are 71,590 rifles, for which it was stated the private trade would charge 63s. 1d. each. Now, a gentleman who is at the head of the trade in Birmingham informs me that a tender was actually made this year to the Government to supply rifles at 50s. each, or 13s. 1d. less than it is said the private trader would charge. Then, again, it is stated that 13,780 short rifles made at Enfield would have cost 94s. 7d. if bought of the private trade. The same gentleman informs me that a contract was made last January for the Turkish Government, through our War Office, to supply the same weapons at 65s. 9d., or 28s. 10d. less than is said here to be the trade cost. Then there are 13,000 carbines put down as costing 63s. 7d. in the private trade, but which this gentleman tells me could have been had for 50s. The amount of these overcharges upon these three items alone is 75,000l. It may be objected that the balance-sheet is for 1862-3, while the prices of the private trade which I have quoted are for this year. I put that point to the gentleman on whose authority I have spoken, and he said the articles might have been had at about the same price last year, if anybody had applied for them.
I find that you can never make the conductors of these Government establishments understand that the capital they have to deal with is really money. How should it be real money to them? It costs them nothing, and, whether they make a profit or a loss, they never find their way into the Gazette. Therefore to them it is a myth—it is a reality only to the taxpayers. Throughout the inquiries before Parliamentary Committees upon our Government manufactories, you find yourself in a difficulty directly you try to make the gentlemen at the head of these establishments understand that they must pay interest for capital, rent for land, as well as allow for depreciation of machinery and plant. There is an immense capital employed in the Enfield Rifle Manufactory. The fixed and floating capital invested in materials, buildings, machinery, and land, appears from the balance-sheet to amount to 350,000l. The private manufacturer, of course, in the shape of either rent or interest, would charge himself on the whole of the amount, or if he did not he would soon find himself in the Gazette.
There is more than want of self-respect in the departments which publish such accounts. It is an insult and an outrage to private trade to pretend to show by such fallacious balance-sheets how much the articles cost, and how much they would have cost, if they had been bought of private traders, and to make it appear that we have had all these rifles for 199,177l., while if we had bought them of private traders we should have had to pay 356,378l., or 157,201l. more. The whole amount of wages paid during the year was 135,700l. and we are asked to believe that there has been a saving of 157,201l. as compared with what would have been paid to private manufacturers. Now, we all know that for everything but labour the Government go to the same source of supply as private manufacturers do. They have not as yet established coal and iron mines of their own, and for all raw materials they have to go into the market and buy on the same terms as private establishments buy. Yet the Enfield Rifle Factory professes to have saved more than the whole amount spent in wages during the year! We all remember the story of the two gipsies who sold brooms. Says one of them to the other, ‘I can’t conceive how you afford to sell your brooms cheaper than I do, for I steal all my materials.' ‘Ah!’ says the other, ‘but I steal the brooms ready-made.’ Now I should like to know from the noble Marquis (the Marquis of Hartington), whom I shall persist in holding responsible for these accounts, to which he has appended his name, how he manages this great feat of commercial legerdemain.
Turning over two pages in this Report on the Government Factories, I come to the Waltham Abbey Powder Manufactory. That is an establishment with 160 acres of land, upon which they profess to grow wood for their charcoal, with water-power of immense extent, with large buildings for business and for dwellings, and, of course, with a great amount of machinery. Their business is not a large one. They return themselves as having produced in the year 14,526 barrels of powder, which they value at 34,747l. Then, after the usual memorandum, that this is exclusive of interest of capital, depreciation of plant, &c., they show that these 14,526 barrels of gunpowder, if supplied by private makers, would have cost 79,933l., so that they have effected for the Government a saving of 45,185l
Now, I say that, for a country calling itself a commercial nation, to have such accounts published and signed ‘Hartington,’ is monstrous; and it only shows the utter valuelessness of anything that the noble Marquis may say at that table on this subject. The noble Marquis has shown that he possesses too much ability to make these statements on his own authority; but it is clear that he recites anything that is put into his hands, and therefore what he may say at the table is not worth the slightest attention.
Now, let us see how all this is managed. The capital represented by buildings, water-power, machinery, and rolling stock is 300,000l., and no interest is charged on that. The land is worth 20,000l., but there is no item for rent. Nothing is allowed for rates and taxes, and nothing for insurance. Now, I asked a very well-informed gentleman what the custom was in the private trade with regard to the charge for insurance on a gunpowder manufactory. Of course, the Royal Exchange or the Phœnix Company would not like such risks. So I find that private traders are in the habit of allowing about 25 per cent. for insurance. Nothing of the sort is al lowed for here. Enough has probably been said to show that the system on which these Government manufactories are conducted is wholly unsound; that there is an utter absence of responsibility; that there are none of those motives for saving money or avoiding losses which private individuals have; and that, wanting the motives which are necessary for human action, it is impossible that these establishments can be carried on properly.
Let me just touch for a minute upon another matter—the great clothing establishments. Earl De Grey and Ripon, as the head of the War Department, is not only the largest manufacturer of ordnance and of small arms, but he is the most extensive tailor in the world. [Laughter.] You laugh; but all these tailoring transactions are carried on in his name, and he is responsible for everything. [Laughter.] You laugh at the idea that Lord De Grey should overlook all these details; but is it not a serious thing for the country to have an immense business of this kind carried on virtually without control? About ten years ago, the system of clothing the army was changed, and, instead of clothing-colonels, we had clothing by contract. For a few years that system continued, and the right hon. Gentleman (General Peel) introduced an improvement in the purchasing department. Down to this time the custom was to contract for the clothing by piecemeal, getting the buttons, braiding, and clothing separately; but the gallant officer had contracts made for the whole garment. We were told in evidence before the Army Organisation Committee by the gallant officer, by the Commander-in-Chief, and by another witness, that the system worked very well. But there was a plot all this while to divert the manufacture of army clothing from private makers into the hands of Government officials. The plot was stealthily carried out. A small establishment was first set up at Woolwich for making clothes for the Artillery and Engineers. That establishment was to go no further. Then a small manufactory was started at Vauxhall for making clothing for the Guards.
As one more illustration of the fallacious grounds on which these Government manufactories are established, I will give a brief extract from the evidence given before the Committee on Contracts, which sat in 1858, by Sir Benjamin Hawes, then permanent Under Secretary at the War Office—and we all know that a permanent official often knows more than his chief. He handed in what he was told to give as the cost price of a soldier's garment. There happened to be a man of business on the Committee—my hon. friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyne (Mr. Jackson)—and he, mistrusting the calculation, took the subject in hand, and cross-questioned the witness:—
'You have given the Committee the actual cost to the Government of the clothing and the making of the clothing for one man?—Yes. Independent of all departmental charges and so forth?—Yes. These charges would be plus salaries?—Yes. Plus interest of capital?—Certainly. Plus rent?—Certainly. Plus damage, and every other contingency?—Yes. And carriage, and ink, and pens and paper, and all necessaries for conducting the business?—Yes. Therefore that is not a fair return of what it costs the nation, because, if you have to pay those charges in addition, those prices are not the actual cost to the country?—They are not. So that the return is a fallacious one?—It is not a complete one.'
I will read another extract from the evidence of the same witness. In justice to my late friend, Sir Benjamin Hawes, I must add that he never contemplated the creation of a Government clothing establishment on its present gigantic scale. Alluding to the manufactory of clothing for the Guards, which had been established the previous year at Vauxhall, he recommended only a slight extension of the factory, so as to supply a regiment or two of the Line. He is asked—
'As I understand you, it is not proposed that that establishment should be extended so far as to make all the clothing for the army, but only a portion of the clothing of certain regiments, in order to give you a test as to the price?—Certainly; I hope never to see a great Government establishment for clothing the army. The more such establishments are used for the purpose of obtaining information and obtaining models the better; but I look with some apprehension upon all great Government establishments.... It is very desirable that a Government establishment should produce the minimum, and the private trade of the country should produce the rest.'
At the very time this evidence was being given, when the House would have refused to sanction a large extension of the clothing establishment, the plot was all laid for getting into the hands of the War Department the manufactory of the clothing of the whole army, with a slight exception. An enormous building has been erected at Pimlico—put up, I believe, upon most costly ground, the item of ground-rent being between 2,000l. and 3,000l. a year—and they now make there the clothing of every regiment, and manufacture everything, with the exception of the tunics, for about fifty battalions, which comprise, perhaps, one-tenth of the whole supply of clothing for the army; I suppose this exception is maintained in order to enable the noble Marquis to tell this House that the department has not a monopoly. The accounts rendered of this Clothing Department are most fallacious. I find that about 15,000l. a year for fixed charges and interest of money have never been brought into the account at all, and that there is no allowance for rates and taxes. Taking into consideration the waste and fraud to which an establishment for a trade like that is so peculiarly susceptible, when the materials used are cut up into pieces, I must say that it is one of the most unwise and injudicious undertakings that could have been entered into.
I have already said, you never find with respect to those establishments that anything is put down for rates, taxes, lighting, or charges of that kind. There is a fallacy in this. If the tailoring business is carried on by the Government, somebody else is deprived of it, who would have paid rates and taxes, including the income-tax. Let us suppose the extreme case, that all the manufactures of the country were carried on by the Government, and that they were all exempt from taxation, how would the Chancellor of the Exchequer get his revenue?
I now come to the management of the Royal Dockyards, to which the remarks I have made apply with greater force than to any other department. We have had repeated debates on that subject, and Committees and Commissions have reported on it without end. The tendency of our debates during the last few years has been to prevent, if possible, the Admiralty from continuing to make things which we knew were of no use—to prevent them from building wooden ships, when everybody knew that iron ships would be wanted—and great three-deckers, when all scientific men were aware that they would be mere slaughter-houses, if opposed to modern combustible missiles. What, in the mean time, has been the tendency of the Admiralty! The heads of the dockyards have been endeavouring to counteract Parliament by securing votes for timber in every possible way, and even by buying timber with money voted for iron ships, in order that, having the timber on hand, there may be an excuse for using it for the purpose of building obsolete vessels of war.
I have spoken plainly with respect to the right hon. Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) and the noble Lord the Secretary of the Admiralty, and I hardly know which to blame the most for bringing in Estimates which they must have known entailed an improper waste of money. If I blame the noble Lord most, it is because I know that he knew better. But, after all, there is probably something to be said on the other side. If you will have these enormous establishments employed for one customer only, you are always in danger, in seasons of transition, of having a great number of workpeople thrown out of employment. This operates on the feelings of humane men, who are responsible for their subsistence, and induces them, under the guidance of their feelings, and against their better judgment, to manufacture articles which ought not to be made at all. There is no doubt that we have been spending millions of money on the construction of valueless vessels, and that you have from fifty to a hundred great wooden ships which ought never to have been in existence, and will never be of any use, but which were in great part built because you have a system which compels you to find employment for your men. If, instead of being builders, you had been buyers of ships, does any one suppose that you would have purchased one of those useless and obsolete wooden vessels? I speak to hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House in the confidence that they will co-operate with me on this occasion. They are said to favour large votes for the military and naval services. But no party in the House is interested in the waste of public money on these establishments. They find me but little disposed to vote money for the army and navy; but I am always for paying the men well, and I would give them more money than they get now, though I should certainly be satisfied with fewer of them; but you cannot indulge in more liberality towards the men while you tolerate the waste and extravagance of keeping up these large manufacturing establishments; for all these charges come under the head of Army and Navy, and swell up, in the eyes of the country, the amount expended on the services.
I wish to ask why we should not take advantage of the present time, when passing from wooden ships to iron ships, and do with the hulls of vessels what you do with your marine steam-engines—buy them, keeping up the Government dockyards only, as far as might be wanted, for repairs. Where would be the risk or inconvenience from such a change? Do you think that the ship-builders in private yards could not perform the work as satisfactorily as the Admiralty? There are, I believe, at this moment upwards of 500,000 tons of shipping building in private yards; and during the last year there have been building in this country fifteen ships of war, of an aggregate of nearly 40,000 tons, for the Governments of the following countries:—Denmark, Italy, Spain, Russia, Turkey, China, Prussia, Peru, Portugal, and two rams supposed for the Confederate States. With the exception of a small vessel of 500 tons, which is of wood, all these ships, I am told, are being built of iron. Do you suppose that the private builders, who are constructing ships to this enormous extent, cannot build the hulls of your vessels of war? Why, you already procure from private manufacturers the most important part of your steamers, that which requires the greatest skill and the most reliable probity in its production. You get your steam-engines wholly from private establishments. I remember sitting on a Committee upon the Navy in 1848, when we were just in time to prevent the Government Dockyards from commencing the construction of steam-engines. The rule laid down, and ever since acted upon, was, that the Admiralty should repair their engines, but not make them. This has been found to succeed most admirably; it is the only branch of your naval construction about which you never hear any complaint. No Committees of this House have been called for, no blue-books have been required, for improving the construction of marine steam-engines. The difficulties in the dockyards have been in connection with the building of the hulls of ships. Why should not the plan which has worked so well with the engines be equally applicable to ships? This is a most opportune time for making the change, just when the armour-clad vessels are coming into use. At the present moment you have no means of making iron-plates for the armour-ships, but I have no doubt that, if the House permitted, the authorities of the dockyards would get up plans for having iron rolled in those establishments.
There is an old plea for maintaining these Government establishments on a small scale, upon the ground that you may be able to manufacture a little, so as to serve as a test and a check upon contractors. Such a course might have been to some extent unobjectionable formerly, when there were few competitors; but we live now in a time when such a check is unnecessary; for are not great shipbuilders, great gun-makers, and large tailoring establishments, better checks upon each other, through the force of competition, than you can possibly be upon them? If the accounts in the Government establishments are honestly made out, then you will find that the Government, carrying on a small business without the usual motives for economy, produces things at a very dear rate, and the contractors will expect to be paid at this price, which you say should be the model one. If, on the other hand, the accounts are made out like those to which I have referred, and private producers are expected to compete on such terms, then every respectable manufacturer will throw aside the invitations for contracts with disgust and scorn, and refuse to have anything to do with such departments. But is not the fact of the perfect success of your marine engines, without any such check as is proposed, a sufficient answer to this plea? Surely, the great waste which we know to have been so long taking place is a sufficient motive for a change. I was talking the other day to an eminent practical shipbuilder on this subject, and this is the substance of what he told me:—
'There has been expended in wages to artificers, naval stores, for the building, repairing, and outfitting of the fleet, steam machinery, and ships built by contract, new works, improvements, and repairs in the yards, from 1859 to 1863 inclusive (five years), 24,350,000l. Taking into account the values of all the iron-clads built and building, and giving a large sum for useless constructions of wooden ships, and making a liberal allowance for equipment and repairs, still there will be left more than ten millions out of the above sum, for the expenditure of which a private shipbuilder could assign no rational purpose.'
I remember the noble Lord the Secretary to the Admiralty saying, some time back, that he could not trace several millions of the Estimates in any results to be discovered in the dockyards, and I suppose my friend the shipbuilder has been engaged in a similar search.
It has been said, that if we retain the powers of production in our Government establishments, and a war breaks out, we shall have the means of bringing all these powers to bear on the preparation of our armaments. There is, I think, a great deal more to be said on that score, in favour of my plan of giving the work to private establishments. If our private shipbuilders were employed by our own as well as by foreign Governments, then we should have a dozen or a score of large firms engaged in constructing ships of war, not only for ourselves, but for half the world. In the same way, if the Government merely kept the factory at Woolwich for repairs, or let it, and gave orders to private houses for the supply of their artillery and ammunition, you would have half-a-dozen or half-a-score, as the case might be, of great establishments producing these articles for our own and foreign Governments. In the present very low state of civilisation, in which no country feels itself safe, particularly if a weak Power, but when, fortunately for humanity, there is a principle developing itself in mechanical science, which gives a great advantage to those who act on the defensive, especially against an aggressor from a distance, I am inclined to think there would be constantly a very great demand for munitions of war by foreign countries—South America, for instance, Japan, and others, who would arm themselves, in order to be safe against attack. And I am not prepared to say they would not do well in thus arming themselves, because the stronger a Power is, the less temptation does it offer to outrage. What, then, if you pursued the course I recommend, would be your position? In case of a war breaking out, you could prohibit the exportation of ships of war and munitions of war, and you would be instantly put in exclusive possession of the whole of the resources of all the private establishments which were previously working, not for you alone, but for foreign Powers as well; while, on the other hand, the foreign Governments would find themselves cut off from the supplies on which they had been relying. I can imagine no contrivance by which you could place yourself in so advantageous and economical a state of preparation for war as this.
There is, however, another reason why the two systems of partially manufacturing for yourself as a Government, and partly purchasing from private traders, will not harmonise. The heads of your manufacturing departments must virtually be the buyers of such commodities as their departments want. Colonel Dickson, the head of your rifle manufactory at Enfield, or somebody under him, practically makes all the purchases of small arms; and there have been repeated complaints from Birmingham of the unfairness of a rival manufacturer being constituted the ‘viewer’ o the rifles supplied by private contract. At Woolwich, there was an extraordinary example of this state of things, when Sir William Armstrong had to judge the quality of the productions of his competitors. The head of a manufacturing department has always an interest in giving a preference to his own productions or inventions, and disparaging those of outside rivals. There was the case, for instance, of Captain Cowper Coles's turret ship. That was the invention of an outside man; and there is no doubt there has been an unseen, but a felt reluctance on the part of the dockyard people, to carry it out speedily. I live near Portsmouth, and have myself observed what has been going on. It is nearly four years since Captain Coles proposed his plan to the Government. It is more than two years since they began to cut down and plate the Royal Sovereign, in order to convert it into a turret ship. In the mean time, Mr. Reed comes into power. I will not say a word in disparagement of that gentleman. I have no doubt he is a man of talent. We, who sometimes complain of routine, have no right to object to an outside man stepping into a high place in the service on account of his assumed abilities. Mr. Reed, however, must be more than a man, he must be an angel, if he did not feel that his importance and value at the head of the construction department of the Navy would be enhanced by his producing something which should be better than Captain Cowper Coles's invention, and should be completed earlier. So he sets to work on the Research. I am no authority on these matters; but I hear an universal opinion that Mr. Reed's immovable square battery is anything but an improvement on Captain Cowper Coles's revolving turret. The world have decided that question, as is shown by the course taken in America, and by the orders received here from foreign countries. But what are the facts? Mr. Reed's vessel, the Research, though designed later than that of Captain Cowper Coles, was launched and at sea considerably in advance of the Royal Sovereign. Now, I am not making any attack on individuals; I am only illustrating the working of a system. If, instead of a construction department in your dockyards, you had a buying department, then Mr. Reed, or Admiral Robinson, or whoever were the heads of it, would seek out such men as Captain Cowper Coles, or the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Laird), and confer with them, would look abroad and avail themselves of inventions and improvements as they arose, without any feelings of rivalry arising from their own personal interest as inventors.
Before I conclude, I must impress on the House the absolute necessity there is for a thorough reform of the buying department of the Government. Do not call it a contract department. That is the old name which was used as an excuse for ignorance and incompetency, when officials gave out contracts according to a red-tape rule, taken, perhaps, from a pigeon-hole where it had lain for fifty years, and scarcely to be understood by the modern manufacturer. If a firm was doing a prosperous business with private customers, it would have nothing to say to such a contract, and it went to some one who had nothing better to do, and who hoped he might possibly make something of it. A person sent me from Manchester a copy of the specification for a tender for tarpauling, in which the most minute particulars were set forth in a tone of dictation, that, if it were not ludicrous from its ignorance, would be really insulting to any respectable manufacturer. It was just such a circular as a man of large business would throw into his waste-paper basket; and it contained a requirement that the canvas should be sent for inspection before being tarred. So that, as my correspondent said, he was expected to send all the canvas from Lancashire to London, and then to convey it back again; when, if it had been required that a strip should have been left untarred, it would have answered the purpose. Why should they not have devised a means for clearing off part of the tar themselves? This is a specimen of the way in which the Government contracts are entered into. I would have all that altered. But my plan involves no disparagement of the services of those able men now in your employ; you will want all the brains you have in your constructing department for your buying department. I have no doubt that Colonel Boxer, Mr. Reed, and the other heads of the different manufacturing departments, would make most excellent buyers. If they are not competent for that, I would employ men who are, and I would pay them on a far higher scale than you pay the heads of your departments, for you cannot have men fit to be trusted to go into the market and buy things in the way in which they ought to be bought, unless they are placed in a position to be above all temptation. Therefore, I would have men of the utmost capacity; but I should lay down this condition, and insist upon it—that if you cannot in England buy what you want, it is you yourselves who are to blame, and not the producers of the country. England is now sending abroad 150,000,000l. sterling worth of productions every year. There is not a shilling's worth of that produce that would be bought here if it could be obtained better and cheaper elsewhere, and yet it continues to be bought in larger quantities every year. If you hear anything disparaging to our modern mode of conducting business, that such and such articles are not made so strong and durable as they were at former times, laugh at all such shallow criticisms. The manufacturers here produce for others just what they wish to buy, although, in consequence of the more rapid changes of fashion, it is certainly not the habit of our daughters to wear silk dresses of the strength which were worn by their grandmothers. Then I say, that if in a country which produces every year 150,000,000l. sterling of manufactured articles for exportation, the Government fail to obtain the 10,000,000l. or 15,000,000l. sterling worth of goods which they want, be assured that it arises entirely from their incapacity to buy them. You must have men selected for their ability to buy the commodities you want. If you consult such great wholesale houses as Leaf's and Morrison's in the City, whose buyers purchase millions' worth of articles in the course of the year, they will tell you at once, ‘We can do with comparatively inferior men to sell our goods, but we get the best men we can to buy them.’
I will conclude with a remark in reference to the present state of our armaments. When I consider what has been done in the Armstrong guns, and our armaments generally, I regard it as a deep discredit to the Government of the country, and of itself it ought to compel a change in the system. You have invited this disgraceful state of things by undertaking to do that which you ought never to have attempted. We are governed in this country—I do not use the word invidiously—by a class, and it is a very narrow class indeed, which forms the personnel of our Administrations. I do not complain of that, inasmuch as our manufacturing and trading community do not seem disposed to educate their sons to compete for the prizes of official life; but I wish you to bear in mind, that by such a neglect and mismanagement as you have fallen into in regard to your artillery and ships, you may produce the most serious consequences. I know of nothing so calculated some day to produce a democratic revolution, as for the proud and combative people of this country to find themselves, in this vital matter of their defence, sacrificed through the mismanagement and neglect of the class to whom, with so much liberality, they have confided the care and future destinies of the country. You have brought this upon yourselves by undertaking to be producers and manufacturers. I advise you in future to place yourselves entirely in dependence upon the private manufacturing resources of the country. If you want gunpowder, artillery, small arms, or the hulls of ships of war, let it be known that you depend upon the private enterprise of the country, and you will get them. At all events, you will absolve yourselves from the responsibility of undertaking to do things which you are not competent to do, and you will be entitled to say to the British people, Our fortunes as a Government and nation are indissolubly united, and we will rise or fall, flourish or fade together, according to the energy, enterprise, and ability of the great body of the manufacturing and industrious community.