Page images

had not violated the privileges of the Commons, had broken the usage of Parliament. The appointment of the Committee, and the very resolution before the House, condemned, by implication, what the Lords had done; but the course proposed by the Committee would denote in after times a melancholy decline of spirit in the House of Commons. The Lords, to whom the theories of Mr. Horsnan had always been palatable, had made repeated efforts to exercise the power of amending money bills which had been defeated by the Commons. Mr. Bright then adduced the precedents on this question, from the year 1407 onwards, and he showed that the resolutions of the House in 1678 and 1691 asserted the absolute control of the Commons over all aids and supplies granted to the Crown, and this right was reasserted in subsequent years. A stream of resolutions and declarations confirmed and consecrated the principle existing for five hundred years, and which he had thought every one admitted, the fundamental and unchangeable principle of the English Constitution, that taxation and representation were inseparable in this kingdom.

The speaker then went on to apply the resolutions and declarations to the use of the paper duty, which from the time of Queen Anne had crippled a very important industry. It had done very successfully what Queen Anne's Ministers wanted; it had threatened, and, to a large extent, it had strangled the press of the country. As to the question whether sugar should be relieved to the extent of a million, tea of a

[ocr errors]

million, or paper of a million, he came to the conclusion that the abolition of the paper duty was not only a relief to that amount in money, but it was a relief to a great industry, and to several other industries whose prosperity must depend on an abundant and cheap supply of paper. He spoke with some knowledge of the subject, and he had not the least doubt that the abolition of the paper duty was a positive relief to the whole people of the country equal to double the relief which would have been afforded by a reduction equal in amount to the duty on the articles of tea and sugar.

Mr. Bright then proceeded to show why the House of Commons was the best judge in the country of what was necessary for the trade, and also what was required by the financial condition of the country :

'First of all, there are among us a good many sagacious men of all sorts. There are, as I know, some very sagacious landowners; we found it very hard to beat them, even when they had a very bad case. We have a very sagacious gentleman down here who spoke to-night, and who, whatever be the question which comes before us, always finds some very fitting object for his merciless and unscrupulous vituperation. We know, many of us intimately, all the details connected with these questions ; in fact, I suppose there is not a trade in this country of any importance or note that cannot find its representatives in this House. For many years past we have had the absolute control of questions of finance, and I undertake to declare, notwithstanding what the right hon. gentleman has stated, that there is not a representative body in the world which during the last twenty years has done more in the way of financial and fiscal reforms with greater advantage to the people. And yet, at the end of that period, when the triumphs of this House are to be found not in granite and bronze monuments, but in the added comforts of the population, and in the increased and undoubted loyalty of the people, you are now, forsooth, asked by the right hon. gentleman to abdicate your functions, and to invite 400 gentlemen, who are not traders, who have never been financiers, who

do not possess means in any degree equalling your own of understanding the question-you are to ask them to join your councils, and not only to advise, but to check, and even to control.'

They were now asked, continued Mr. Bright, in terms not ambiguous, to overthrow the fabric which had grown up in the country, and which had existed without damage for at least five hundred years. The House of Lords had not behaved with fair honour towards the House of Commons in this matter; for every man of them who knew anything about what he was voting for knew that the House of Commons repealed the paper excise, not merely because it wished to remit a million of taxes, but because it thought that to strangle a great industry was an injurious mode of raising revenue, and therefore it transferred that amount of taxation from the paper excise to the income tax. Moreover, it was an unfair proceeding to refuse to allow the paper duty to be repealed while they retained the additional income tax, which was substituted for it. The Lords had trampled on the confidence and taken advantage of the faith of the House of Commons. As to their having rejected the Paper Duty Abolition Bill by a large majority, a peer had confessed to him that it would certainly have passed if it had come before those only who regularly attended the sittings of the House. About two hundred members, who hardly ever come there, were let loose for the occasion.'

Mr. Bright urged that the Lords had thrown out this bill by a large majority, thinking that by so

[ocr errors]


doing they were making a violent attack on the Ministry, and especially on the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It would have been consonant with the dignity of the House of Commons to have passed another bill to repeal the paper duty, thus giving the Lords an opportunity of reconsidering their position. If this course had been taken, without passion and without collision, the difficulty would have been got

With regard to this paper duty, 'repeal was consistent with the policy of the Whigs before Sir Robert Peel came into power, with the policy of Sir Robert Peel's Government, of Lord Derby's Government, of Lord John Russell's Government, of Lord Aberdeen's Government, of Lord Palmerston's Government, of Lord Derby's last Government, and of the existing Government. The policy of the repeal of the paper duty is the recognized policy of this House, and it is the admitted interest of this country. Then, why, unless it be for a party triumph, unless it be to attack a particular Minister, why is this question of £700,000 this year, and less than double that sum in future' years, raised to an importance which does not belong to it? and why, for the sake of a party triumph, are the great interests connected with it to be damaged and tortured, as they now are, by the action of one House of Parliament?'

The speaker then paid a high tribute to Mr. Gladstone, who was especially attacked through the policy on the repeal of the paper duty, affirming that in 1853 his financial measures were the chief strength

of the Government of Lord Aberdeen; and that the power and authority which Lord Palmerston's Administration had acquired during the present session had been gained mainly as the consequence of his beneficent propositions. His budget had been received with universal approbation. Having replied to Mr. Horsman's deprecatory and inaccurate remarks upon the French Treaty, Mr. Bright referred to the great increase in our commerce, adding, 'When you now attack, through the Chancellor of the Exchequer, principles the adoption of which has wrought this great good, you are not, in my opinion, pursuing a course which will enhance your reputation with the country which you profess to represent. There is not, I contend, a man who labours and sweats for his daily bread, there is not a woman living in a cottage who strives to make her humble home happy and comfortable for her husband and her children, to whom the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer have not brought hope, and to whom his measures, which have been defended with an eloquence few can equal, and with a logic none can contest, have not administered consolation. I appeal to the past and present condition of the country, and I ask you, solemnly, to oppose no obstacle to the realization of those great and good principles of legislation.'

Mr. Bright complained that Lord Palmerston had not shown more courage in this matter, and thus concluded:

'I fear this session may as a consequence become memorable as that in

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »