The History and Proceedings of the House of Commons: Volume 9, 1734-1737. Originally published by Chandler, London, 1742.
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Debate on a Motion, to address the King for a farther Reduction of the Forces.
Jan. 29. A Motion was made, That an humble Address be presented to his Majesty, to acquaint him with the Readiness, wherewith his faithful Commons had agreed to the Continuance of the extraordinary Expence, which he had thought necessary in the present Juncture; in which Resolution they had concurred with the greater Chearfulness, as a grateful Return to his Royal Goodness, in ordering so considerable a Reduction of his Forces both by Sea and Land, as soon as the present Posture of Affairs would permit; and in full Confidence, that it was his Royal Intention, as soon as there should be a more perfect Reconciliation among the several Powers of Europe, to make such farther Reduction of his Forces, as might be consistent with the Security and Dignity of his Majesty's Royal Person and Government, and with our present happy Constitution; not doubting, but that, from his Fatherly Compassion to his People, he would be graciously pleased to direct, that whatever Land-Force should thereafter be thought necessary, should be established in such a Manner, as should make the Saving more sensible, and the future Burthen less grievous to the Nation.
This Motion was supported by Mr John Pitt, Lord Polwarth, Mr Pulteney, Mr Gybbon, Sir John Barnard, Mr Sandys, and Mr Walter Plumer; and was oppos'd by Mr Winnington, Col. Bladen, Sir William Yonge, and Mr Conduit. But the Question being at last put, in was carried in the Negative without a Division.
February 2. The House having ordered, that the proper Officer should lay before them an Account of all the publick Debts, at the Receipt of his Majesty's Exchequer, due or standing out at Christmas, 1735, with the annual Interest paid for the same; Mr Sandys stood up, and spoke as follows.
Mr Sandys's Motion for raising, within the Year, the Supplies necessary for the current Service. ; Debate thereon.
'Every Man is now, I believe, convinced that the great Debt we groan under, is a most heavy Clog upon all publick Measures, and will certainly, while it continues, prevent its being in our Power to act upon any Occasion with that Vigour we ought, either in Vindication of the Honour and Interest of this Nation, or in Defence of our Allies. This of itself is a most terrible Misfortune, but what still adds to it is, that these our unlucky Circumstances are well known to all our Neighbours, which is, I believe, the principal Cause of our having so little Influence on the Councils of other Nations; and while this Load continues we may expect to be insulted by them, as often as they can find the least Pretence for so doing. In such Circumstances therefore it is the most pernicious Thing we can do, to run the Nation any farther in Debt by creating new Funds, or to prevent that Fund, which was long since appropriated, from being religiously applied to the extinguishing yearly a Part of that Debt contracted before the Year 1716; for if we do so in Time of Peace, it will convince our Neighbours, that it would be impossible for us to support an expensive War, which will of course render us contemptiele in the Eyes of all foreign Nations. And with respect to our Domestick Affairs, the Consequences of pursuing any such Measure are full as pernicious; for every new Mortgage we make, becomes a sort of Prop for supporting the Interest payable upon the former; whereas we ought to use all possible Means to reduce that Interest, not only for the Encouragement of Trade among us, but to encrease the Sinking Fund, which would enable us to pay off all our old Debts much sooner, than it will otherwise be possible for us to do: Nay, I am almost certain, that if no new Debts had been contracted since the Year 1716, nor any Part of the Sinking Fund converted to other Uses than it was originally designed for, the Interest upon all our Funds would have been long since reduced to 3 l. per Cent. and a much greater Part of our old Debt would have been paid, by which we should have been enabled to have taken off some of those heavy Taxes, under which the poor Labourers and Manufacturers have groaned for so many Years. The loading Posterity with new Debts, in order to give a little Ease to the present Generation, may be a good temporary Expedient for a Minister; and may prevent the People's making too particular an Inquiry into that Expence, which his Measures have brought upon them: But it is a most pernicious Expedient both for the Royal Family, and for the Nation in general. For when any Sum of Money is raised for the Service of the ensuing Year, by contracting a new Debt, and creating a new Fund for the Payment of that Debt, it is subjecting the Nation to pay at least double that Sum in the End; because in every such Case, the Nation is obliged to pay Interest for the Money raised, and the Expences of collecting for many Years, besides paying the Principal at last; this shews the Loss the Nation sustains by the contracting of any such Debt for the current Service. By a long Continuation of such Measures the People may come to be so loaded with Taxes, and those Taxes so much engaged for the Payment of former Mortgages, that it may be impossible for his Majesty, or some of his Successors, to vindicate the Rights of the Nation, without loading them with heavier Taxes than they are able to bear, which may very probably raise a general Disaffection against our present happy Establishment; and may be of the most dangerous Consequence even to the Creditors themselves; for if ever we should be reduced to such Circumstances, that either the Nation must be ruined, or the publick Creditors left unpaid, it is easy to see which Side of the Dilemma would be chosen. The proper Method to prevent our running into Debt is to diminish our yearly Expence; but as the Number of our Forces for the Service of the ensuing Year has already been agreed to; I cannot now propose any Diminution of our Expence for this Year. We have already granted a great Part of the Supplies necessary for the Service, and we are to go this Day into a Committee of Ways and Means for raising those Supplies. What Methods may then be pro posed for that Purpose I do not know; but as I am of Opinion, that no Consideration ought to prevail with us to contract any new Debt, or to prevent that Fund which stands appropriated for the Payment of the old, I shall take the Liberty to make a Motion which I hope the House will agree to. For if our usual Funds cannot answer the Service we have already agreed to, I think it will be better to lay some new Taxes upon the Luxuries of Life, than to create new Funds; otherwise we run the Hazard of reducing our Posterity to the Want even of the Necessaries of Life, that we ourselves may live in Afluence; for this Reason, before we go into the Committee of Ways and Means, I shall take the Liberty to move to resolve, 'That this House will raise within the Year the Supplies necessary for the current Service.' Mr Sandys being seconded by Sir John Barnard and Mr Willimot, the same was opposed by Sir William Yonge, Mr Winnington, Mr Heathcote, and Sir Robert Walpole as follows:
'If the Question, now before us, depended solely upon the Influence this Nation has at present in the Councils of all the Powers of Earope, or upon the Regard our Neighbours have shewn to this Nation in all their Measures, a few Words would be sufficient to shew, that we ought not to come to any such Resolution as has been proposed; for it is certain that we never had a greater Influence than we have at present in every Court of Europe, and that Influence is founded upon the strongest Reason; because our Neighbours all know very well, that we have now two Funds sufficient for supporting any War we may be engaged in, and which we can upon any such Occasion make use of, without overloading the Subject, or raising Discontent in the Nation; and these Funds are the Land-Tax and the Sinking-Fund. Tho' our landed Gentlemen would think it hard to pay 4 s. in the Pound Land-Tax, during a Time of Peace, yet they would not certainly grudge that Tax, if they saw the Nation necessarily involved in a War; and tho' the SinkingFund is to be applied in the most religious Manner to the Payment of our old Debts, yet, in Case of a War, I believe no Gentleman will say, but that it would be proper to suspend such Payments (especially as none of the publick Creditors are desirous of having their Money) and to apply that Fund towards supporting the War; so that our Neighbours know extremely well that we have a Revenue of above two Millions, besides our usual Supplies, which we may raise towards supporting a War without laying any new Tax upon our People.'
'I shall admit, Sir, that the Sinking Fund would be a Gainer, by the Reduction of the Interest payable upon the old Funds, and that it would be an Advantage to the Nation to have the Sinking Fund increased; but I very much question if it would be possible to reduce the Interest payable upon our old Funds lower than it is at present, even tho' we should never hereafter contract one Shilling new Debt. I have indeed heard of a great many Projects for that Purpose; and some of them have appeared well in Theory, but when they came to be examined, it has always been found that they would not do in Practice, and therefore they have been laid aside: Besides, Sir, it would be an Experiment of the most dangerous Consequence, to reduce the Interest payable upon our old Funds lower than it is at present, because it would probably induce Foreigners to draw their Money all at once out of our Funds, which would of course bring our publick Credit into great Distress, and would drain us of all the ready Specie now circulating in the Nation; and if the publick Credit of the Nation should be once brought into any great Distress, most of our own People would take the Alarm, which would run it so low, that the Restoring of it would be impracticable.
'Another Consideration, Sir, of great Weight with me, is, That we cannot well reduce the Interest upon our publick Funds any lower than it is at present, without reducing at the same Time the Interest of Money in general; and I am persuaded the reducing the Interest of Money in general, to a lower Rate than what it is at present, would bring great Difficulties upon all Ranks of Men in the Kingdom. With respect to the publick Creditors the Difficulties are apparent; for a third Part of their yearly Income has been taken from them by the Reduction already made; and if a farther Reduction of one per Cent. should be made, they would then have but one half of that Revenue, which they supposed they were to have when they first lent their Money to the Publick.
'Then with respect to the Landed Gentlemen, the reducing Interest so low would be a great Hardship, for they would be obliged to give each of their younger Children at least 5 or 6000 l. whereas when Interest is at 5 or 6 per Cent. one half of that Sum will enable them to live in a genteel Manner; so that the reducing of Interest so low would lay all our Landed Gentlemen under a Necessity of ruining their Estates, or at least of mortgaging them very deeply, to provide for their younger Children. And lastly, Sir, with respect to the Trading Part of the Nation, it is very well known, that every Branch of Trade in the Kingdom is already so overstocked, that it is almost impossible for one half of our Tradesmen to live by their Business; and a farther Reduction of Interest would drive so many into Trade, that no Man could live by any Trade he could engage in. Even our Borrowers of Money, Sir, or Gentlemen who owe any Money at Interest, would be reduced to great Difficulties; for the Profit to be got by lending Money, or by leaving Money in any Man's Hand at Interest, would be so small, that no Man would think of employing it in that Way; this would of course bring a general Demand upon all those in the Kingdom who owe any Money at Interest, and at the same Time would render it impossible for them to find any Money for answering that Demand. From all which I think it inconsistent with the publick Good of the Nation, and with that of every particular Man, to reduce the Interest payable upon our publick Funds lower than it is at present. Whatever may be the Consequence with respect to Ministers, I am very certain, Sir, it would be an Expedient of very bad Consequence with respect to his present Majesty, to load his People with Taxes which they may think unnecessary; for the People will always pay voluntarily and freely such Taxes as they think are absolutely necessary for the Support of the Nation, but it will always raise Disaffection to the King upon the Throne, to load the People with Taxes which they think unnecessary at the Time they are laid on. It is for this Reason that in Time of War, a Government may venture to subject the People to Taxes, which would raise terrible Complaints, if they should be raised in Time of Peace; and for the same Reason I am of Opinion, that we ought rather to convert a Part of the Sinking Fund to the current Service of the Year, than to increase any of our old Taxes, or load the People with any new; for as there is at present no Demand for paying off any of our old Debts, and as none of the publick Creditors desire to have their Money, I am convinced the Generality of the People would think it unnecessary to load them with any new Tax, when they know we have such a Fund, to which we may have Recourse for making good the current Service of the Year; and therefore we may presume, that the loading of them at present with any new Tax would raise a general Disaffection to his present Majesty's Person and Government, and consequently be a most pernicious Expedient.
'It has been said, that by contracting a new Debt, and creating a new Fund for the current Service of the Year, the Nation comes at last to be loaded with double the Sum so raised, by Means of the Interest and Expences of Management, which they are obliged to pay yearly till the Principal be paid off: But I cannot admit of the Justness of this Calculation; for, with respect to the Expences of Management, it is well known that no new Debt we have lately contracted, has occasioned any great new Expence; because the Fund for paying off that Debt has always been committed to the Offices already erected, so that it has occasioned no additional Expence, but that of adding perhaps two or three Under Clerks to some of the Offices before established: And as to the Interest paid yearly by the Nation, does not every private Man save that Interest yearly, or make as much by the Share which he must have contributed to that principal Sum, in case it had been raised within the Year? If every Man in the Nation should be obliged this Year to contribute 10 s. towards the current Service of the Year, does not he lose the Interest of that 10 s. for all Years to come? And if by borrowing a Sum of Money upon the publick Credit at 3 or 4 per Cent. that 10 s. should be lest in every private Man's Pocket, may he not make every Year 5 per Cent. of that Money so left in his Pocket? From hence it must be granted, that the contracting of a new Debt at a low Interest, instead of raising the Money within the Year, is an Advantage rather than a Loss to the Nation in general.
'As the Forces necessary for the Service of the ensuing Year both by Sea and Land, have been already agreed to, they must be provided for some Way or other; and if the usual Taxes shall be found insufficient for that Purpose, every one knows we have but three Ways to make good that Deficiency. We must make it good either by increasing some old Taxes, or by laying on new Taxes, or by taking so much from the Sinking Fund as will make good that Deficiency. As for the first Method, none of our old Taxes will admit of any Increase, except the Land-Tax; and, considering the heavy Load that has for many Years lain upon the Landed Gentlemen of this Kingdom, I am really surprized, that they have so long allowed themselves to be so loaded by the Trading Interest; therefore for the sake of Prudence, as well as Justice, we ought not to think of increasing the Land-Tax; and I hope, in all our future Measures, we shall impose such Taxes as may fall with an equal Weight upon all the Subjects, in Proportion to their yearly Revenues or Profits, whether those yearly Revenues and Profits proceed from Land, Trade or Money. With respect to the second Method, I wish with all my Heart several of the Luxuries which have been lately introduced, or very much increased, were taxed more heavily than they are at present: But I am of Opinion, that it is a dangerous Experiment to lay on any new Tax, in a Time of profound Peace, even upon the Luxuries of Life; especially as it is generally known, that we have another Fund to which we may have Recourse, without injuring in the least the publick Credit of the Nation, or laying any additional Load upon any Rank of People: And if we should venture upon any such Measure, it would not be proper to make use of any such Tax for the current Service of the Year, because it is impossible to guess how much the Produce of a new Tax will amount to, and I cannot think it would be right to appropriate an uncertain Produce for the Payment of a certain Sum. It is well known, that a great Part of the Debts we are now loaded with, and of which some Gentlemen take all Occasions to complain in the most grievous Manner, were occasioned by that very Method of laying on a new Tax, the Produce of which must always be uncertain, and appropriating that uncertain Produce towards the Payment of a certain Sum; therefore if Gentlemen have a Mind to lay any new Taxes upon the Luxuries of Life, I shall not be against it; but I hope they will order the whole Produce to remain in the Exchequer, in order to attend the future Disposition of Parliament; for before next Session the Amount of such new Tax will be known, or may be nearly guessed at, and then it may safely be appropriated to the current Service of the then ensuing Year; or be made a Fund for answering the current Service of that Year. Whether the usual Taxes will be sufficient to answer the Services already voted, and the other Services that may be thought necessary for the ensuing Year, I shall not pretend to determine; but if they are not, I think it is plain that we must have Recourse to the Sinking Fund, as the most proper Method of providing for any Deficiency: However, we are not at present to determine this Question absolutely; when Gentlemen begin to consider of Ways and Means for raising the Sums necessary for the Service of the ensuing Year, they ought, and they certainly will agree to raise them in that Manner, which shall appear to be the least burthensome to the People; and therefore I think it would be very wrong in us, to restrain ourselves in the Manner proposed by the Motion now before us. But that we may be left altogether free to do in this Respect what we may think proper when we go into the Committee of Ways and Means, I shall propose, that the previous Question may be put, with regard to the Question now before us.'
Mr Sandys. Sir John Barnard. Mr Willimot.
To this it was replied by the same Members, who were for the Motion, as follows:
'It has been often observed, That new Measures must always be supported by new Doctrines, and it may as justly be observed, that wrong Measures must be supported by wrong Doctrines. This is the Case with respect to the Question now before us. The Doctrines advanced in favour of that Measure against which the present Question is intended, are all so deceitful, that they are a plain Proof that the Measure must be wrong. What Influence our Ministers may think they have in the Councils of Foreign Powers, I shall not determine; but I am sure it does not appear that we have any great Influence, either from the Advantages that have been lately obtained in Favour of this Nation, or from the late Behaviour of some of our Neighbours towards our Allies. I hope it will not be said, that the Courts of Vienna and Madrid had any great Regard for us, when they concluded that Treaty of Vienna which produced the Treaty of Hanover, and made such a Bustle in Europe; and I am sure it cannot be said, that the Courts of Paris, Madrid, and Turin, shewed any great Regard for us, when they made that private Alliance, by which they parcelled out among them, our Ally the Emperor's Dominions in Italy; nor can it, I think, be said, that the Emperor placed any great Confidence in our Assistance, when, in order to obtain a Peace, he agreed to yield up to France the whole Dutchy of Lorrain.
'I have not the Honour, Sir, to be in the Secret of Affairs, therefore I must judge from publick Appearances; and from them it is to me evident, that our Influence has of late greatly decayed, and will, I am afraid, decay more and more: Foreigners, Sir, know our Circumstances better than we seem to do ourselves: They know that now, after a Term of twenty Years Peace, our publick Debts are very near as great, and our Circumstances as bad as they were at the End of the last War: They know that by a Land-Tax of 2 s. in the Pound, we cannot provide for the yearly Supplies we think necessary, even in Time of Peace, without running ourselves into some new Debt, to the Amount of 5 or 600,000 l. yearly, or taking so much from the Sinking Fund; and they know that, as the Sinking Fund we now have arises wholly from our Consumptions being much greater in Time of Peace than in Time of War, the greatest Part of it would be annihilated in case we should engage in a War; from which, every Foreigner must conclude, and I should think every Englishman too, that with 4 s. in the Pound Land-Tax, we could not raise 500,000 l. a Year more than has been found necessary for supporting our Government in Time of Peace; and that therefore we could not support a War without loading the People with many new Taxes, or greatly increasing those we now have; neither of which, I am afraid, our People would patiently submit to.
'Now, Sir, give me Leave to consider the extraordinary Doctrines advanced, for the Support of that Measure which the opposing of this Question seems to point at: In the first Place we are told, it would not be possible for us to reduce the Interest payable upon our old Debts, even tho' we should never contract any new Debt: This, Sir, is contrary to one of the most established Maxims, which is, That the natural Interest of Money must always depend upon the Proportion there is in any particular Country between the Demand for borrowing Money at Interest, and the Demand for lending Money at Interest; for as we have a Sinking Fund capable of paying off a very large Sum yearly, if we never perverted any Part of that Fund, which is always the same with contracting a new Debt, we should be every Year diminishing the Demand for borrowing, and increasing the Demand for lending; so that the natural Interest of Money, would necessarily of itself decrease, without any Projects for that Purpose.
'This, I say, Sir, would of course happen in a few Years; but even at present, if no new Debts were to be contracted, I do not know but Methods might be found for reducing immediately the Interest of all our Funds to 3 and a half, perhaps to 3 per Cent. what these Methods may be, I shall not take upon me to mention, because some Gentlemen seem resolved that no Proposition shall be received, except those offered by themselves. And to frighten us from any such Projects, we are told, that the Foreigners would, in such a Case, draw their Money out all at once, and drain us of all the current Specie in the Kingdom; but to those who understand the Circumstances of Europe, and are apprised of the Lowness of Interest in some Countries, and the Precariousness of the Security in others, this must appear to be a meer Bugbear.
'Besides, Sir, the Thing would either be in itself impossible, or it is an Event we have no Occasion to be afraid of; for if Foreigners should all at once resolve to sell out, it would either run the Price of all our Funds a great deal below Par, or it would not; if it did, they would be obliged to suspend their Resolution, and take 3 per Cent. rather than sell out a 100 l. Stock for 80 or 90 l. in ready Money; and if their selling out did not run the Price of our Stocks below Par, we can have no Occasion to be afraid of any such Resolution; because their selling out could not ruin our publick Credit, and the ready Specie they could carry out would soon be replaced by the general Balance of our Trade, if we had no Interest to pay yearly to them; for it has been for many Years, and while it continues, it must always be a terrible Drawback upon our general Balance of Trade, to have a Sum of 4 or 500,000 l. sent yearly out of the Nation, in order to pay the Interest due to them, every Farthing of which is entirely lost to us; because the whole is spent by them in their own Countries, or converted into Principal here, to increase their future yearly Demand.
'Another Paradox, advanced against the Question now before us is, That the reducing the Interest of Money in general, would bring great Difficulties upon all Ranks of Men in the Kingdom. This, Sir, is evidently contrary to another established Maxim, which is, That the lower the Interest of Money is in any Country, the more flourishing it must be in its Trade and Commerce: I shall grant, that it would diminish the Revenue of our publick Creditors, as well as of all other Money-Lenders, but it would not diminish their Capital, and those that could not live idly upon the Interest of their Money, would be obliged to betake themselves to Trade, or to some other industrious Employment, which might be a Service to themselves, and a certain Advantage to their Country.
'As to the Landed Gentlemen, I am surprized, Sir, to hear it said, that the reducing of Interest would be a Hardship upon them, considering how many, I am afraid too many of them, are like their Country, involved in Debts and Mortgages. On the contrary, it would be a great Advantage to every Landed Gentleman in the Kingdom, because, besides reducing the Interest he is to pay for the Debt he owes, if he has any, it would greatly increase the Value of his Lands, as well as of all the Lands in the Kingdom; and as for his younger Children, he would be under no Necessity to give them any greater Fortunes than before; but, if he were, a Mortgage of 6000 l. at 3 per Cent. is no greater Burthen upon an Estate, than a Mortgage of half that Sum at 6 per Cent. Interest; and if any Part of the Estate were to be sold for the raising of that Money, as the Price of Lands will always rise in Proportion as the Interest of Money falls, when Money comes to be at 3 per Cent. Interest, the same Parcel of Land to be sold, will then fetch 6000 l. which would have sold but for 3000 l. when Money was at 6 per Cent. I do not know what the honourable Gentleman means by enabling younger Children to live in a genteel Manner; unless he means in an idle and extravagant Manner; and the fewer there are of such Persons in any Country, I am sure it is the better for the Country; which would be the Consequence in the present Case: For as few Gentlemen could propose that their younger Children should live upon the Interest of the Fortunes they could give them, they would breed them all up to some Trade or Business; so that instead of a great Number of idle and extra vagant Gentlemen, we should have a great Number of in- dustrious and frugal Tradesmen or Merchants; and which would be of most Advantage to the Country, is very easy to determine.
'It is, Sir, a very great Mistake, to imagine that there can be in any Country too great a Number of Merchants and Tradesmen, or that any Sort of Trade, which deserves that Name, can be overstocked. Shopkeeping, or any other Bu- siness, which tends to support the Luxury of a People, may, 'tis true, be overstocked; and it is always a Disadvantage to the People to have too great a Number of such among them; but as for Merchants, Manufacturers, and Mecha- nicks, there can never be too great a Number of them in any Country; because the more there are of them, the more foreign Trade the Nation will have, the greater its Exports will be, and the more easy will it be for every particular Man, if he be industrious and frugal, to provide a Support for himself and Family. This is justified by Experience in all Countries, and in all Times; and therefore among the many other Misfortunes attending our publick Funds, this may be reckon'd as one, that a great Number of our Peo- ple are thereby enabled to live idly upon the Interest of their Money, which must necessarily diminish the Number of our Merchants, Manufacturers, and Mechanicks.
'To imagine, Sir, that the reducing of Interest to 3 per Cent. would bring any Distress upon those who have Occasion for Money, is something very new; for the more Trade there is in a Country, the more Money there will al- ways be to be lent at Interest; and those who have more Mo- ney by them than they can make use of in their Trade, will always lend it upon good Security, even at 1 per Cent. ra- ther than keep it in their own Coffers. But upon this Occa- sion I cannot omit taking Notice, that in this Respect too, our publick Funds are of great Detriment to the Trade and private Credit of the Nation, because the monied Men of the Kingdom have so ready a Way of getting an Interest for their Money by Means of these Funds, that they never think of lending their Money to private Men, but at an extrava- gant Interest or Premium; by which Means our private Cre- dit between Man and Man is very much lessened, and great Sums of Money drawn out of Trade, which is therefore a very strong Argument in favour of the Question now be- fore us.
'The People, Sir, never grudge the contributing what is necessary for the Support of the Government in Time of Peace, no more than they grudge what is necessary for the Support of the Government in Time of War: The only Thing they grudge is, to find the Nation loaded with an Expence that is not necessary, or the Money they contribute improperly applied; and tho' the perverting of the Sinking Fund, or running the Nation in Debt, may prevent the People of the present Generation from being sensible of an unnecessary Expence, and consequently may prevent their inquiring strictly into that Expence, yet such a Measure will make the present Expence fall with double Weight upon their Posterity, and when they find themselves obliged to submit to heavy new Taxes, because all the Old stand en gaged for the Payment of old Debts, which will certainly be the Case as soon as the Nation comes to be engaged in any War, they will then with Reason complain, that an insupportable Load has been thrown upon them, for the Sake of a temporary Ease given to their Ancestors. This may very probably raise a general Disaffection to the present Establishment, and it will be the more dangerous, because it will happen at a Time when our Enemies will certainly be in Earnest about playing the Pretender upon us. This Consideration must, in my Opinion, have great Weight with every Gentleman, who has a sincere Regard for the illustrious Family now upon the Throne, and especially for that Royal Prince, who, 'tis to be hoped, will one Day sway the Scepter of this Kingdom; for by thus perverting the Sinking Fund, or running the Nation into new Incumbrances, even in Time of Peace, he may be left in such Distress, as not to have it any Way in his Power to support the Government with any Lustre, or to vindicate the Rights of the Nation with any Vigour.
'That no new Office or Officer has lately been created may be true, but, Sir, we know that a very great and a very grievous Office, and a great Number of Officers, were lately revived in Pursuance of the same Measures now pointed at; [The Salt-Tax. See Vol II. p. 159.] and we likewise know that the collecting of our Taxes, and the managing of our Funds, cost the Nation a most prodigious Sum of Money yearly, a much greater Sum, I believe, than is necessary for that Purpose; for if a narrow Scrutiny were made into that Affair, I am convinced it would be found, that the Business of two or three Offices might be managed by one, without employing a greater Number of Officers and Clerks in that one, than is now employed in any one of the three; so that several Offices, and a great Number of Officers and Clerks might be laid aside, by which a very large Sum of Money might be saved yearly to the Publick. This would contribute greatly towards preventing our loading the People with new or additional Taxes, or running the Nation in Debt, by creating new Funds, or perverting the old; and this the People would certainly insist on, if they were every Year made sensible of the Sums necessary for the publick Service; but this, it may be presumed, will always be avoided by those who have the Disposal of such lucrative Posts and Employments.
'It has been insinuated, as if it were an Advantage to the People to run the Nation in Debt yearly, rather than raise the Sums necessary within the Year; because the Money is thereby saved in every private Man's Pocket; of which he may, as long as he keeps it in his own Possession, make an Interest or a Profit of 5 per Cent. perhaps more; whereas the Publick may borrow at 3 per Cent. or 4 at most; and from the same Way of Reasoning, it may be argued, that it will be an Advantage to the People to run the Nation every Year into some new Debt, and never pay off one Shilling of the old. But do not we know, Sir, that in all Countries, People look upon the publick Taxes as a Part of their yearly Expence; when those Taxes are high, every Man must contract his yearly Expence in other Articles, and when the publick Taxes are low, every Man may, and generally does launch out a little into Expences upon other Articles, which he would otherwise have saved; so that if by borrowing a Sum of Money upon the publick Credit for the Service of this Year, we should prevent our being under a Necessity of imposing a Tax of Ten Shillings upon every Man in the Kingdom, that Ten Shillings would not be saved and laid out at Interest by any Man in the Kingdom, at least not by any Man, I believe, with a View to answer his Share of the Principal and Interest of that Sum that had been borrowed by the Publick: No, Sir, every Man would live in his usual Way, as if no such Ten Shillings had been, or were ever to be paid; no Man would contract his usual annual Expence on account of his Share of that Sum borrowed by the Publick; so that the Sum so borrowed by the Publick, and the Interest thereof, would remain a Charge upon every Man's Posterity, without their having any Thing left them by their Ancestor for answering that Charge. Even the Posterity of the most frugal Man in the Kingdom would not be One Shilling the richer, on account of that Ten Shillings which was saved in the Pocket of their Ancestor; because he might have saved Ten Shillings of his yearly Expence in any one Year, and would certainly have saved it, if he had found himself under a Necessity of paying a Tax of Ten Shillings to the Publick.
'Sir, we have seen of late Years several Attempts made to throw a Division, and to breed a Dissension between the Landed Interest and the Trading Interest of this Nation; but such Attempts will, I hope, always prove fruitless, for their Interests are inseparable, and will always be thought so by every Man who has a Respect for either. There is not a Landed Gentleman of any Sense in the Kingdom, but knows how greatly the Rents of his Estate would be diminished, if our Trade should be undone; and therefore he will never consent to the throwing of any unnecessary Burthen upon it. There is not a Trading Man in the Kingdom, of any Consequence, but has a View to settle himself or his Posterity in a Land-Estate, and therefore he will never agree to the throwing of any unnecessary Burthens upon Land: But, Sir, there has been lately a third Interest reared up in this Kingdom, inconsistent with both: I mean, Sir, the Interest of those concerned in our public Funds: This is an Interest for the Support of which both our Landed Interest, and our Trading Interest are now greatly distressed; and it is an Interest which some Gentlemen seem to have a much greater Regard for than for either of the other two: Such Gentlemen will, I believe, always be for creating new Funds, as long as we have any Thing left unmortgaged, or any Thing upon which a new or additional Tax can be laid; because the creating of new Funds will always increase that Interest which they seem to have so much at Heart; and will prevent its being ever in our Power to diminish those Annuities we are obliged to pay them; but they ought to consider, that the Number of Men concerned in our Landed and Trading Interest, must always be much greater than the Number of those concerned in our Funds; so that if People find that either our Landed Interest, and our Trading Interest must be destroyed, or our publick Fund Interest annihilated, it is easy to see upon whom the Ruin must fall; and therefore, if those Gentlemen consider right, they must conclude that it is against the Interest of the Proprietors of our Funds to make any Additions to them, or to divert that Money which is appropriated, and ought to be applied yearly, to the diminishing of them.
'Whether or no it may be necessary to impose any new Taxes, I shall not determine; I hope not, but if it should be found necessary, the Produce of a new Tax may be appropriated to the current Service, as well as the Produce of an old; because if any Deficiency happen, it may and ought to be made good out of the Grants of the succeeding Year; for our present Debts did not proceed from appropriating the Produce of any new Tax, but from not taking Care to make good in every succeeding Year the Deficiencies, which had happened in the Grants for the Service of the former. We all know, Sir, how dangerous it is to have Money lying in the Exchequer unappropriated; we know what a Temptation it is for some Gentlemen to form extravagant Projects, and to put the Nation to a needless Expence: Nay, we know how apt some Gentlemen are to break thro' the most strict, and the most necessary Appropriations, in Cases where there is not an immediate absolute Necessity to apply the Sums so appropriated to the Uses for which they were originally designed; and our Experience in this Particular is one of the chief Reasons, and one of the strongest Arguments for the Question now before us; therefore if we agree to the laying on of any new Tax, I hope it will be immediately appropriated to the Service of the ensuing Year.
'The very Question now before us is, whether we ought to lay a Restraint upon ourselves, with respect to the contracting of any new Debt, or diverting the Sinking Fund from that Use for which it was originally designed, and to which it stands appropriated by the express Words of those Acts of Parliament by which it was established? The Restraint now proposed, is only for this Session; but I wish the Restraint were for all Sessions to come; and I am sure if we have any Regard for our Posterity, if we have any Regard for the present illustrious Family, if we have any Regard for the future Happiness, I may say Preservation, of the Nation, we will at least for this Session act as if we were under such a Restraint; therefore there can be no Harm in laying ourselves under any such. And there is the more Occasion for it, because of the frequent Deviations we have lately made from this necessary Rule, and because of the bad Use that may be made of some late Precedents; for if a Check be not speedily put to such Measures, as all Administrations are but fleeting Things, we may expect that every Administration will endeavour to make themselves easy, and to put off the evil Day as long as they can, by contracting some new Debt every Year, and mortgaging some Part of the Sinking Fund as long as there is a Shilling of it left. As we have at present a pretty considerable Sinking Fund, this Measure may perhaps support the present Administration as long as it can well be supposed to last, especially if no War happens in the mean Time; but sad and melancholy will the Reckoning certainly come to be at last, when we find ourselves engaged in a dangerous and expensive War, our People loaded with as heavy Taxes as they can possibly bear, and all those Taxes mortgaged for the Payment of Debts, except just as much as may be sufficient for the Support of our Civil Government. This Prospect, Sir, gives me a most terrible Alarm, and therefore I am most heartily for the Question before us.'
Then the Question being put, That the Question be now put; it was carried in the Negative without a Division.
Mr Heathcote voted duely elected for Southwark.
Feb. 17. The House resolv'd, Nem. Con. That George Heathcote, Esq; was duely elected a Burgess for Southwark: Mr Sheppard the Petitioner having some Days before given up the Dispute.
A Petition of the Justices of Peace for Middlesex, against the excessive Use of Spirituous Liquors, which is referr'd to a Committee of the whole House.
Feb. 20. A Petition of his Majesty's Justices of the Peace for the County of Middlesex, in their general Quarter Sessions assembled, was presented to the House and read, setting forth, That the drinking of Geneva and other distilled Spirituous Liquors, had for some Years past greatly increased, especially among the People of inferior Rank; and that the constant and excessive Use thereof had already destroyed Thousands of his Majesty's Subjects, and rendered great Numbers of others unfit for useful Labour and Service, dehauching at the same Time their Morals, and driving them into all manner of Vice and Wickedness; and that that pernicious Liquor was then sold, not only by the Distillers and Geneva Shops but many other Persons of inferior Trades; by which Means, Journeymen, Apprentices, and Servants, were drawn in to taste, and by Degrees to like, approve, and immoderately to drink thereof; and that the Petitioners apprehended the publick Welfare and Safety, as well as the Trade of the Nation, would be greatly affected by it, as that Practice was dangerous and mischievous to the Health, Strength, Peace, and Morals, and tended greatly to diminish the Labour and Industry of his Majesty's Subjects; and therefore praying that the House would take the Premises into their serious Consideration, and apply such Remedy as the House should judge most proper. This Petition was ordered to be referred to a Committee of the whole House; and it was resolved that the House would resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House, on the 23d, to consider of the said Petition.
Four Resolutions of the said Committee thereupon.
Feb. 23. The House having resolved itself into the said Committee, Sir Joseph Jekyll mov'd for the following Resolutions, viz. I. That the low Price of Spirituous Liquors was the principal Inducement to the excessive and pernicious Use thereof. II. That in order to prevent the excessive and pernicious Use of Spirituous Liquors, a Discouragement should be given thereto by a Duty to be laid on all such Liquors by Retail. III. That the vending, bartering, or uttering the said Liquors should be restrained to Persons keeping publick Brandy-Shops, Victualling Houses, CoffeeHouses, Ale-Houses and Innholders, and to such Apothecaries and Surgeons, as should make use of the same by way of Medicine only. IV. That no Person keeping a publick Brandy-Shop, a publick Victualling House, Coffee-House or Ale House, or being an Innholder, should be permitted to vend, barter, or utter the said Liquors, but by Licence, with a Duty payable thereupon.
Which are agreed to by the House.
These Resolutions were all agreed to without Debate in the Committee, and being next Day reported to the House, were there likewise agreed to. Then it was ordered, That the said Report be referred to the Committee of the whole House, to whom it was referred to consider farther of Ways and Means for raising the Supply.
Proceedings on the Petition of Sir R. Winn, complaining of an undue Election for the County of York.
Feb. 24. The House proceeded, according to Order, to the Hearing of the several Petitions, complaining of an undue Election and Return for the County of York, and the Deputy Clerk of the Peace for the East-Riding of the said County, having produced several Books, as the original Poll taken at the said Election; and being examined as to the Time, Place, and Manner of the Delivery thereof to him by the High-Sheriff of the said County; the Counsel for the sitting Member, Sir Miles Stapylton, Bart. against whom only the Petitions were aimed, objected that the said Books ought not to be admitted as Evidence, the same not having been delivered over upon Oath, nor within the Time limited by Law, nor any Proof given, that no Alterations had been made therein after the said Election, and before the said Delivery. Upon this Objection the Counsel of both Sides being heard, and the Preamble and the fifth Section of an Act made in the 10th Year of Queen Anne, intitled, An Act for the more effectual preventing fraudulent Conveyances, in order to multiply Votes for electing Knights of Shires to serve in Parliament, was read, whereby it was enacted, 'That in taking the Poll, the Sheriff, &c. shall enter the Place of the Elector's Freehold, and of his Abode, and shall mark Jurat. against his Name, and the Returning-Officer shall, within twenty Days after the Election, deliver over to the Clerk of the Peace all the PollBooks, on Oath made before the two next Justices of the Peace, Quorum unus, &c. without Imbezzlement or Alteration; and in such Counties where there are more than one Clerk of the Peace, then he shall deliver the original PollBooks to one, and the attested Copies to the rest, to be preserved amongst the Records of the Sessions of the Peace.' Then the Journal of the House of the 12th of March, 1727, in relation to the Report from the Committee of Privileges and Elections, touching the Election for the County of Bucks was read; after which the said Clerk was again called in and examined as to the keeping of the said Books, since the Time of the said Delivery thereof, and as to the taking Copies of and collating the said Books, and as to the Declarations of the said High-Sheriff, and other Circumstances before and at the Time of such Delivery: After which the following Question was proposed, 'That Books, called the Original Poll-Books of the last Election of Members to serve in Parliament for the County of York, produced by Robert Appleton, Deputy-Clerk of the Peace for the East-Riding of the said County, and which were delivered over to him by the High-Sheriff of the said County in open Court, at the Quarter-Sessions of the Peace for the said Riding, about two Months after the said Election, as the original Poll taken at the said Election, and which have been kept by him the said Deputy-Clerk of the Peace ever since among the Records of the Sessions of the Peace for the said Riding, the said Books not being delivered over by the said Sheriff within the Time, nor upon Oath, as required by the Act of the 10th Year of the Reign of Queen Anne, For the more effectual preventing fraudulent Conveyances, in order to multiply Votes for electing Knights of Shires to serve in Parliament, be admitted as Evidence?
After Debate, the Question being put, it was carried in the Affirmative, by 201 to 164: Hereupon the said PollBooks, and Copies of them, were delivered in; and then it was ordered that the farther Hearing of the said Petitions be adjourned to the 26th.
A Bill ordered in, for limiting the Number of Officers in the House of Commons.
Feb. 25. Mr Sandys moved for Leave to bring in a Bill, For the better securing the Freedom of Parliaments, by limiting the Number of Officers in the House of Commons; and Leave was accordingly given, and Mr Sandys, Mr Greenville, Mr Gore, and Mr Howe, were ordered to prepare and bring in the same.
Second Debate on the Yorkshire Election.
Feb. 26. The House proceeded to the farther Hearing of the Petitions complaining of an undue Return for the County of York, and the Counsel for the Petitioner Sir Rowland Winn, Bart. and the other Petitioners, having proposed, in order to disqualify John Maken, who voted for Sir Miles Stapylton at the said Election, and then swore that he was a Freeholder, to prove by Parol-Evidence, that he had no Freehold at the Time of the said Election, in the Place where he then swore that his Freehold did lie: The admitting of such Evidence was objected to by the Counsel for the sitting Member, who alledged, that no Man's Parol-Evidence could be admitted, or received as any Proof, against the Affidavit of another Man; and the Counsel on both Sides being heard upon this Objection, and several Journals relating to it read, the following Question was proposed, viz. 'That the Counsel for the Petitioners be admitted to give ParolEvidence, as to a Person being no Freeholder at the Time of the Election, who swore himself then to be a Freeholder?
This Motion likewise occasioned a long Debate, but at last the Question being put, it was carried in the Affirmative by 206 against 152; after which the farther Hearing of the Matters of the said Petitions was adjourned to the 2d of March.
Debate on a Motion for enabling the King to borrow 600,000 l. at 3 l. per Cent. chargeable on the Sinking Fund.
Feb. 27. The House having resolved itself into a Committee, to consider farther of Ways and Means for raising the Supply granted to his Majesty, and the Surplusses stated at LadyDay and Michaelmas having been referred to the said Committee, a Motion was made, That towards raising the Supply granted to his Majesty, his Majesty be enabled to borrow any Sum or Sums of Money not exceeding 600,000 l. at an Interest not exceeding 3 l: per Cent. per Ann. by Loans to be charged upon the Surplusses, Excesses, or overplus Monies commonly called the Sinking Fund, redeemable by Parliament.
Upon this Motion there was a Debate, in which the Courtiers urged, The Necessity of raising, some Way or other, the Supplies voted for the current Service of the Year; the Impossibility that there was of raising them any other Way, but by throwing the Burden upon the landed Interest, which would be the more unreasonable, because that Interest had been for many Years overloaded, and obliged to contribute much more than their proportional Share towards the annual publick Expence; the absolute uncontroulable Right the Parliament had to dispose of the Sinking Fund yearly to such Purposes, as they should think most for the Benefit of the Nation in general; the Inconvenience of paying off too much of the publick Debt at once; the Unwillingness of the publick Creditors to receive their Money; and the small Interest the Nation would be obliged to pay for what Money was necessary to be borrowed upon the Credit of the Sinking Fund.'
To this it was answered, 'That the Supplies, necessary for the current Service of the Year, might have been greatly reduced, if some Gentlemen had thought fit; in which Case they would not have been obliged either to throw an additional Burden on the landed Interest, or to incroach upon that Fund, which had always, till of late Years, been deemed sacred to the Payment of our publick Debts: That if Words in an Act of Parliament could appropriate any Sum to a particular Use, the Sinking Fund was originally appropriated, in the most express Terms, to the Payment of the publick Debts contracted before the Year 1716; and the only Power that was left to future Parliaments, by its original Constitution, was to dispose of it to the Payment of such of those Debts, as should at the Time be thought most necessary to be paid off: That it would be happy for the Nation, if they could pay off all their publick Debts at once: That the Unwillingness of the publick Creditors to receive their Money was a certain Sign of their having an advantageous Bargain; and was therefore a Demonstration, that it was the Interest of the Publick to pay them off as fast as possible: And that, tho' they might perhaps be able to borrow the Sum then proposed at 3 l. per Cent. yet even at that Rate, it was adding to the future yearly Expence of the Nation a Sum of 18,000 l. per Ann. for ever; which, tho' perhaps a small Sum in the Eyes of Gentlemen who dealt in Millions, was however a Sum, that might thereafter be greatly wanted for the current Service of some succeeding Year: That considering the great Expence we had been at in the then current Year, and the great Expence we were like to be put to in the next, for the Defence of a Foreign Nation, they were surprized to find that no Subsidy had been received, nor any Sum like to be brought, at least to the publick Account, for answering the Expence we had been, or were like to be at on that Occasion: That we found by Experience, no Nation would so much as promise us any Assistance, without our granting them a large annual Subsidy, to commence as soon as the Promise was made, and to be paid, tho' no such Assistance should ever be wanted: That even when some of our Allies had, for very valuable Considerations, engaged to assist us at their own Expence, yet when that Assistance was required, they had always found Pretences for not complying, 'till we engaged to defray any Expence they should be put to upon that Account: That it was certainly our Interest to protect our Allies, and to prevent any one of our Neighbours growing too powerful by conquering another; but if we always shewed ourselves ready to protect the weakest Side at our own Expence, every one would find Pretences for throwing all the Burden upon our Shoulders, by which Management we must necessarily at last become the weakest of all our Neighbours; and having thus spent our whole Force, and thrown away all our Money in the protecting of others, we should at last have nothing lest wherewithal to protect or support ourselves.'
To this it was replied again, 'That we had given no Assistance, nor had lately put ourselves to any Expence in the Defence of any Nation, but what we were obliged to, not only by the most solemn Treaties, but even for the Sake of our own Preservation: That with regard to the Nation supposed to be meant [Portugal] it was very well known, that we were as much interested in the Defence and Preservation of that Nation as of any other; and it was likewise known, that we were far from being at all the Expence, for that Nation itself had been at a very great Expence in providing for its own Defence, and a great Part of the Money laid out in that Provision had been brought to this Kingdom: That as that Affair was then upon the Anvil, it could not at this Time be fully explained, but a Time would come when it might; and when that Time did come, the House might then, if they thought fit, inquire into it; upon which Occasion the Necessity, the Justice, and the Wisdom of our present Conduct would, they believed, be easily explained to the Satisfaction of almost every Gentleman, who might then have the Honour of being a Member of that House.'
Then the Question being put for agreeing to the Motion, it was carried in the Affirmative without a Division.
Farther Debate on the Yorkshire Election.
March 2. The House having re-assum'd the Hearing of the Petitions relating to an undue Election for the County of York, the Counsel for the Petitioners examin'd Joshua Wilson, in order to disqualify the above-mentioned John Maken, as having had no Freehold, at the Time of the said Election, in the Place where he then swore that his Freehold did lie; and the said Wilson beginning to give Evidence of that Disqualification, by relating the Confession of the said John Maken, he was interrupted by the Counsel for the sitting Member, who said, That as the House would not admit of a Man's Confession, even before them, as an Evidence against what he had swore at the Time of an Election, they would not surely admit of a Man's private Confession to a Neighbour in the Country, as an Evidence against what he had swore at the Time of an Election. Upon this the Counsel of both Sides were heard, and several Journals read, particularly the Resolution of that House of the 12th of Feb. then last, in the Case of the Election of the Borough of Southwark, against admitting the Petitioner's Counsel to examine Thomas Gaman, in Contradiction to his Oath at that Election: And then the following Question was proposed, viz. 'That the Counsel for the Petitioners be admitted to give Evidence, as to what a Voter confessed of his having no Freehold, who at the Time of the Election swore he had.' Upon this Motion there was also a Debate; but upon the Question's being put, it was carried in the Affirmative by 181 to 132.
After this the Counsel for the Petitioners proceeded to examine the said Wilson and several other Witnesses, in order to disqualify several other Persons, who voted for the said sitting Member at the said Election; and having begun to examine a Witness, in order to disqualify one of those Persons, to whom the Petitioners, in the Lists by them deliver'd, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 16th of January last, had objected, that he was not assessed, nor had a Freehold of 40 s. per Ann. in the Place, where, at the Time of the said Election, he swore that his Freehold did lie; and it appearing that the Evidence, which the Witness gave, tended to prove that such Person had no Freehold at all there, he was interrupted in his Evidence by the Counsel for the sitting Member, who said, That by the said Order, Petitioners were obliged to deliver to the sitting Members Lists of the Persons intended by the Petitioners to be objected to, who voted for the sitting Members, giving in the said Lists the several Heads of Objection, and distinguishing the same against the Names of the Voters excepted to: That as the Petitioners had not objected to this Person that he had no Freehold at all, but only that he had not a Freehold of 40 s. a Year, where, at the Time of the said Election, he swore that his Freehold did lie; therefore no Evidence was to be admitted for proving that he had no Freehold at all. The Counsel of both Sides being heard upon this Objection, after some Debate, the Question was put, and carried, That the Counsel for the Petitioners be admitted to give Evidence as to a Person's having no Freehold at all, to whom the Petitioners had objected, in their List of Objections, that such Person had not a Freehold of 40 s. per Annum. Then the farther Hearing of this Affair was adjourned to the 4th Instant.
A Petition of the Quakers for Relief, relating to Tithes; A Bill order'd in accordingly.
The same Day a Petition of the Quakers was presented to the House, and read, setting forth, 'That notwithstanding the several Acts of Parliament made for the more easy Recovery of Tithes, Church-Rates, Oblations, and other Ecclesiastical Dues, in a summary Way, by Warrant from Justices of the Peace; yet as the said People conscientiously refused the Payment thereof, they were not only liable to, but many of them had undergone grievous Sufferings by Prosecution in the Exchequer, Ecclesiastical, and other Courts, to the Imprisonment of their Persons, and the Impoverishing and Ruin of them and their Families, for such small Sums as were recoverable by those Acts; and therefore praying, that the House would be pleased to take the Premises into Consideration, and afford them such Relief therein, as to the House should seem meet. Hereupon it was order'd, that Leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend, and render more effectual the Laws then in being, for the more easy Recovery of Tithes, Church-Rates, Oblations, and other Ecclesiastical Dues from the People called Quakers, and that Mr (fn. 1) Glanville, Sir William (fn. 2) Yonge, Mr Henry Archer, and Mr Hampden, should prepare and bring in the same.
Sir J. Jekyll's Motion for a Duty of 20s. per Gallon to be laid on all Spirituous Liquors.
March 8. The House being in a Grand Committee on the Supply, Sir Joseph Jekyll mov'd to resolve, That for all Spirituous Liquors, which any Retailer thereof should, from and after the 24th Day of June, 1736, be possessed of, there should be granted to his Majesty a Duty of twenty Shillings per Gallon: But this was oppos'd by several Members, who thought the laying on so high a Duty was in some Measure a Prohibition: And upon this Occasion Mr William Pulteney stood up, and spoke as follows:
Mr Pulteney's Speech against the Motion.
'I believe it will be admitted by every Gentleman, that the constant and excessive Use of spirituous Liquors among the inferior Rank of our People, is a Practice which has of late Years grown to a monst'rous Height, and it will be as generally and as readily admitted, that this Practice is dangerous and mischievous to the Health, Strength, Peace, and Morals of the People; and that it tends greatly to diminishing the Labour and Industry of his Majesty's Subjects; therefore I believe we shall all agree in this, that some Method ought to be taken for putting a Stop to this Practice; but whether it be necessary for this End, to lay a total Prohibition upon the Retail of such Liquors, is a Question that will, in my Opinion, admit of some Doubt, and deserves our most serious Consideration, because of the many bad Consequences with which such a Prohibition must certainly be attended.
'Let us consider, Sir, that the Distilling Trade is a Business which has been carried on by Royal Authority for about an hundred Years, and that it has been not only highly approved, but very much encouraged by several Acts of Parliament passed since the Revolution. Under such publick, such great, and such solemn Sanctions, what Person in the Kingdom could imagine that the Trade was in itself pernicious, or that it was inconsistent with the Health and Welfare of the People; no Man could: And accordingly great Numbers of his Majesty's Subjects, especially within these last forty Years, have betaken themselves to this Business, and have employed all the Money they were Masters of in providing Materials proper for the Business. And farther, Sir, as the distilling of such Spirits has met with great Encouragement from the Legislature for many Years past, so likewise the Retail of them hath been so much encouraged, or at least connived at, and there is not now an Inn, an Alehouse, for a Coffeehouse in the Kingdom, but what owes a great Part of its Profits to the Retail of such Liquors: By which Means there are now such Multitudes of Families in the Kingdom who owe their chief, if not their only Support to the distilling, or to the retailing such Liquors, that they very well deserve the Care and the Consideration of a British House of Commons. The only Complaint now before us, Sir, is against the constant and excessive Use of spirituous Liquors among Persons of inferior Rank: There is no Complaint against the Liquors themselves, nor was it ever said that a moderate Use of any fort of such Liquors was hurtful; nay, it will be granted, I believe, that the moderate Use of them is upon many Occasions convenient, if not necessary; so that by a total Prohibition of such Liquors by Retail we seem to be carrying the Remedy much farther than the Disease, even with respect to our home-made Spirits. But with respect to Rum, I am sure there never was any Complaint against the constant and excessive Use of that Liquor among Persons of inferior Rank; therefore I can see no Reason for putting a Stop to the Retail of that Liquor; and when we consider the present low and distressed Condition of our Sugar-Colonies, and that they are now chiefly supported by the Sale of their Rum, I think we ought not to put almost an intire Stop to the Consumption of that Liquor, without some very strong and very urgent Reasons for so doing.
'From what I have said, Sir, I hope no Gentleman will suppose or imagine, that I am arguing against our taking some Method for putting a Stop to the constant and excessive Use of such Liquors amongst Persons of inferior Rank. No, Sir, I shall readily and willingly agree to any proper Method for that Purpose; but I must declare that my Concern is so great for the Multitudes of Families both in this Island and in the West-Indies, who now owe their chief Support to the making and vending of such Liquors, that I cannot give my Consent to any Regulation which will turn them entirely, and at once, out of the Business to which they at present owe their chief Support; especially, as I am convinced the Disease we have under our Consideration does not any Ways stand in need of such a desperate Cure: And I have likewise so great a Regard for his Majesty and his illustrious Family, and for the Peace and Quiet of this Kingdom, that I cannot give my Consent to a Regulation which I foresee will raise great Disaffection to the present Government, and may produce such Riots and Tumults, as may endanger our present Establishment, or at least such as cannot be quelled without spilling the Blood of many of his Majesty's once faithful Subjects, and putting an End to the Liberties of the People. It is a dangerous, it is, Sir, a terrible Thing, to reduce many thousands of Families at once to a State of Despair, which will be the certain Consequence of laying such high Duties upon the Retail of spirituous Liquors as will amount to a total Prohibition.
'The constant and excessive Use of spirituous Liquors, amongst the inferior Rank of our People, is the only Complaint now properly before us, and as it is evident that this Grievance proceeds entirely from the low Price of our homemade spirituous Liquors, it is certain that a Duty upon all such, perhaps less than that which was imposed by the late Act against Geneva, would prevent the constant and excessive Use of such Liquors amongst the inferior Rank of our People: This, Sir, I think is evident from the Effect of those high Duties which are laid upon Brandy and Rum; for it is certain that Brandy and Rum are more coveted by the Vulgar, and may easily be made more palatable than any sort of home-made Spirit; yet we have never heard of great Complaints made against the constant and excessive Use of Brandy or Rum among Persons of inferior Rank; the Reason of which certainly is, because the Duties upon these Liquors have raised the Price so high, that the lower fort of People cannot afford to make a constant and excessive Use of them; and therefore it is plain, that if the Price of all home-made Spirits were, by a Duty to be laid upon them, made as high as the Price of Rum is at present, it would prevent the constant and excessive Use of them among the Vulgar.
'It cannot be said, Sir, that nothing but a total Prohibition can be an effectual Remedy against the Evil complained of, because we all know that the late Act against Geneva was effectual so far as it went: It was made, we know, to extend only to Compound Spirits, and with respect to them it was an effectual Remedy, for it put an entire Stop to the constant and excessive Use of such Spirits amongst those of inferior Rank; but some of the Distillers immediately began to make a fort of plain Spirit, which, I believe, in Derision of the Act, they called Parliament Brandy, and this the Common People made as constant and as excessive an Use of, as they had before done of Compound Spirits: This was the Case of that Act, and if it had been amended, and made to extend to all home-made Spirits, instead of being repealed, there would never have been Occasion for any such Complaint as that we have now before us: How it comes to be repealed, I shall not now take upon me to explain; but upon recollecting what was the Effect of that Act, I think we need not give ourselves any great Trouble in searching after a Remedy for the Disease now complained of: Let us but revive that Act, extend it to all home-made Spirits, and add some Clauses for preventing any Person's selling spirituous Liquors without a Licence, and I am convinced the Remedy will be found to be effectual.
'But admitting that nothing but a total Prohibition will do; yet, for God's Sake, Sir, let us have some Regard to the many poor Families that are now supported by the distilling and vending of spirituous Liquors: Do not let us, for God's Sake, turn them all at once out of their Livelyhood: Let us consider how difficult it is for a Man who has been bred up to, and long exercised one fort of Business, to turn himself all at once to another, by which he may support his Family: Let us consider what a Loss he must sustain by the Sale of those Utensils he had occasion for in his former Way of Business; The Difficulty must upon all Occasions be great, the Loss must be considerable; but by turning such Multitudes adrift at once, we shall make the Difficulty insurmountable, and the Loss irreparable; for there will be such Numbers brought at once to look out for new Employments, that it will make it impossible for any one of them to succeed; and there will be such a large Quantity of a certain Sort of Materials brought at once to the Market, that none of them will bear any Price. In short, Sir, the Difficulties and Distresses which many poor Families must be drove to, raise in me the most melancholy Reflections, and they must raise in the Breast of every Man that hears me, the most compassionate Concern; therefore, if it be thought absolutely necessary to lay on such Duties as will amount to a Prohibition, I hope they will not be laid on all at once: We may now lay on a small Duty upon all sorts of Spirits sold by Retail, and a small Duty upon Licences for selling by Retail; we may increase those Duties the next Session, and we may go on increasing yearly, till they be at last brought up so high as to amount to a Prohibition: By this Method People will have time to look about them, and will get out of the Trade by Degrees; which will make it the less hurtful to every particular Man, and the more easy for him to fix himself in some new Way of Business, by which he may be able to support his Family.
'I have often heard, Sir, of Sumptuary Laws, by which certain Sorts of Apparel, or rather Decorations, have been forbid to be worn by Persons of inferior Rank; but I never yet heard of a Sumptuary Law, by which any Sort of Victuals or Drink were forbid to be made use of by Persons of a low Degree; yet this is, as it appears to me, what seems to be now intended: We are absolutely to forbid the Use of Spirituous Liquors to all those, who are not able to purchase a certain Number of Gallons at a Time: A poor Journeyman or Labourer shall not have a Dram, shall not have a Glass of Punch, unless he can spare to lay out eight or ten Shillings at a Time, which I am sure two Thirds of our People cannot well spare to do: Whereas, if a Man is rich enough to lay out eight or ten Shillings at a Time, or profligate enough to pawn his Coat, in order to raise the Money, he may drink as much, he may commit as many Debauches in that Liquor as he pleases; the Law, contrived by the Wisdom of the British Legislature against the excessive Drinking of Spirits, shall put no Restraint upon any such Man: If Spirituous Liquors, even when taken in the most moderate Way, are of such a pernicious Nature, that they ought never to be tasted without the Advice and Prescription of a Physician, we ought to take Care of the Rich as well as of the Poor, by putting it out of the Power of the former, as well as of the latter, to taste the bewitching Cup without such Advice and Prescription; but if the moderate Use of such Liquors be no way hurtful, I can see no Reason for our making any invidious Distinction between the Poor and the Rich; let us leave the moderate Use of such Liquors to all, and take all proper Methods for preventing their being immoderately used by any. This, I think, Sir, may be done by a much lower Duty than that now proposed, and therefore, tho' I have as great a Regard for the Health and the Morals of the People, as any Gentleman in this House; yet I cannot but be against the Motion now made to you, because of the terrible Consequences with which it must necessarily be attended.'
Arguments in Behalf of the Motion.
In answer to the above Speech of Mr Pulteney's it was urg'd, 'That no sort of distilled Spirituous Liquor was absolutely necessary for the Support of Nature; that such Liquors were at first used only by Physicians, in some dangerous Distempers, and were never dispensed but in small Quantities; but when such Liquors were to be met with at every Corner, and People left at Liberty to take as much of them as they pleased, few could keep themselves within any Bounds, because a small Quantity deprived them of their Reason, and the Companions they usually met with at such Places, encouraged them to drink to Excess: That it was impossible to prevent this Excess, without diminishing the Number of Retailers of such Liquors, and raising the Price so high, as to put them out of the Reach of Persons of inferior Rank, who were the only Sort of People apt to make a Custom of getting drunk with such Liquor; for that very few of the better Sort had ever been found to commit frequent Debauches in such Liquors; and even with respect to them, by putting it out of their Power to meet with such Liquors at a cheap Rate in any Place of publick Resort, the Temptations which might arise from promiscuous Company, would be entirely taken away, and very few Persons were so ridiculously abandoned as to get drunk by themselves.
'That they were very sensible of the Difficulties to which great Numbers of his Majesty's Subjects would be reduced by the Duties to be laid upon the Retail of such Liquors; but the Interest of every particular Man must give way to the general Interest; and where the Preservation of the Society was so essentially concerned, the Prejudice of some few particular Persons was not to be regarded. However, that all possible Care would be taken of those that might suffer by the Duties to be laid upon the Retail of Spirituous Liquors, in order that they might be enabled to fall upon some other Way of supporting their Families; and as every one would be convinced that their being turned out of their present Way of supporting them, was necessary for the publick Good, it was to be presumed that every Man would willingly submit to such a Regulation; so that it could not raise any Disaffection to his Majesty's Government.
'That with respect to Rum and Brandy, it was very certain that they likewise had been often drank to great Excess, notwithstanding the high Duties laid upon them, and were as pernicious, both to the Health and the Morals of the People, as any home-made Spirit: That it would be ridiculous to lay a higher Duty upon home-made Spirits, which were the Manufacture of the Subjects of this Island, than upon Rum and Brandy, especially the latter; and that if our Sugar-Islands should suffer a little by our lessening the Consumption of Rum, they could not complain, when they considered that it was for the Sake of preserving their MotherCountry, the general Interest of which was always to be preferred to the particular Interest of any Colony; for if any sort of Spirit should be exempted from the Duties then to be imposed, the Retailers would sell all Sorts of Spirits under that Denomination, and the Distillers would compound them in such a Manuer, that it would be impossible to discover the Fallacy.
'That they would willingly agree to the Method proposed by the honourable Gentleman, of laying on but a small Duty at once, and raising that Duty by Degrees; but they were very sure the laying on a small Duty would not be an effectual Remedy for the Evil so loudly complained of: And if the Resentment, then in the Nation against all Sorts of distilled Spirituous Liquors, should be allowed to subside, they were afraid they would never be able to get a new Act passed for raising that Duty, because of the Multitudes of People that would always be engaged, by their own private Interest, to oppose the passing of any such Law; therefore they thought it was absolutely necessary to take Advantage of present Conjuncture, to put an effectual Stop to a Practice so long, and so justly complained of; and for that Reason they were for agreeing with the Motion.'
The Motion for laying a Duty of 20 s. per Gallon on all Spirituous Liquors agreed to in the Grand Committee, who resolve also, That all Retailers thereof shall pay 50 l. yearly for a License.
The Question being then put upon Sir Joseph Jekyll's Motion, the same was agreed to without any farther Debate; as was likewise the following, viz. That from and after the 24th Day of June, 1736, the Sum of 50 l. yearly should be paid to his Majesty, for a Licence, to be taken out yearly by every Person keeping a publick Brandy-Shop, a publick Victualling-House, Coffee-House, or Ale-House, or being an Innholder, who shall vend, barter, or utter, any such Spirituous Liquors.
Sir Robert Walpole moves, That the Committee might sit again, to make good what Deficiencies might happen in the Civil Lift, by the above Resolutions, which is agreed to.
The Chairman of the Committee being about to make a Report of the two foregoing Resolutions to the House, Sir Robert Walpole stood up and mov'd, 'That the Committee might fit again before any Report was made to the House, because as the Duties proposed to be laid upon Spirituous Liquors would certainly very much diminish the Consumption of such Spirits, it was not to be expected that the Duties upon such Spirits would produce so much yearly as they had formerly done; and as the former Produce stood appropriated for answering certain Annuities and Payments, particularly to the Civil List, it would be necessary to consider of Ways and Means to make good the Deficiencies, that might happen by the two Resolutions they had then agreed to: Hereupon the Committee agreed to sit again upon that Affair before making any Report.