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Mr. Bright ably defended the Budget. He complained that Mr. Horsman had endeavoured needlessly to revive a subject which it was obvious there was no wish on the part of many members to have imported into the question before the House. Touching his objection to the combination of the resolutions in one bill, he said Mr. Horsman would find in the journals of Parliament, no further back than 1801, 1802, and 1803, that the House of Commons had repeatedly, and almost constantly, taken the very course the Chancellor of the Exchequer had recommended. As to Mr. Horsman's speech generally, there was not a horror in connection with the public affairs of Europe and the world he had not treated them to. Had he not spoken of dangers worse
"Than fables yet have feigned or fear conceived
Gorgons, and hydras, and chimeras dire'? If he believed all he had told them, he ought to present a resolution condemning the Government for not entering on an expenditure of £80,000,000 instead of £70,000,000, and should refuse utterly to consider any question of repealing any tax whatsoever. Then there was the hon. member for Huntingdon (Mr. Baring), whom he did not hold to be an authority on financial matters. “I have known the hon. gentleman in this House for eighteen years, and it has been my misfortune to have observed that he has always been wrong. Now an authority that is always wrong comes at last to be no authority at all. Everybody knows that Moore's Almanack, which is sometimes right, is reckoned to be no authority, except among the ignorant; and I say that the hon. member for Huntingdon, who on these questions has been invariably wrong, cannot be a safe authority for us to follow.'
Discussing the question of the surplus, Mr. Bright said his creed was always to believe a Chancellor of the Exchequer when he admitted a surplus; he assumed, therefore, that the surplus was a real one; and the question then remaining was whether the remission of duties was judicious and fair to the various interests of the country. The proposed remission went half to direct and half to indirect taxation; and he asked why there should be so much hostility to a particular remission, and whether it was worth while to assail a Chancellor of the Exchequer on this ground merely to gain a party triumph. It had been said that a preference should be given to tea and sugar, but those who said this did not know the real incidence of these taxes. He was as great an enemy to the tea and sugar duties as any one, but he believed that the remission of the paper duties would give a greater relief to the industrious classes than the reduction of the war duties on tea and sugar. Mr. Fitzgerald had asserted that this was a political budget, framed to conciliate him (Mr. Bright). He admitted that it was his budget;
he approved and adopted it, and therefore it was his; and in a few days it would be the budget and the policy of the House, because they approved of
and would adopt it. The question was whether, in adopting the policy he had recommended, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had gone beyond his duty. Mr. Bright asked whether much of the present security and prosperity of the realm was not fairly to be attributed to the policy and the budgets of the last twenty years, which he had always supported, and which the hon. gentlemen opposite, unhappily for their reputation, had always opposed ? And he closed his speech with this peroration, interesting from the personal point of view :
"Sir, I have seen a good deal of party contest in this House. I have no objection to the greatest efforts of the greatest party, if those efforts are guided by an honest desire for the public good ; but I observe that these party contests are generally fought in a field which, as one of our own writers and poets has described it, is “a field of ambition in which truly the labourers are many, but the harvest is scarcely worth the carrying away." I despise those triumphs. I scorn altogether those laurels. (Cheers.) If I contended here for the mastery, if I looked for fame, if I desired to be remembered hereafter in connection with the great struggles on the floor of this House, it should be by associating my name directly with measures which I felt in my conscience it was wise and just in Parliament to give, and which it would be a blessing for the people to receive. (Loud cheers.) Sir, I have looked at this budget, I hope, with an impartial and an honest eye. I believe that it meets these two conditions —that it is just for Parliament to pass, and that it will be beneficent towards the people for whom it is intended; and on these grounds alone I shall give it my hearty support.' (Cheers.)
The House ultimately went into committee, and on the 6th of May Mr. Gladstone formally announced his intention of including all the chief financial propositions in one bill. He was acrimoniously attacked for this policy by Lord Robert Cecil and other members, but supported in his decision by such
high authorities on Parliamentary procedure as Sir James Graham, Sir William Heathcote, and Mr. Walpole. The Government carried their propositions, and the paper duty controversy was finally disposed of on the 12th of July, when the Royal assent was given to the bill repealing the Excise duty on paper.
Mr. Bright entered a protest this year against the Navy Estimates. In introducing these estimates on the 11th of March, Lord Clarence Paget urged upon the House the necessity of proceeding at once with the construction of iron-cased vessels similar to the French La Gloire and the English Warrior. Mr. Bright said he firmly believed that the French fleet had been prodigiously overrated, and that alarms had been raised upon the foundation of monstrous falsehoods. He would be the last man to charge the noble lord with endeavouring to create a false impression; but such was the effect of official life that a man somehow took colour from the atmosphere he lived in. The Treasury bench seemed to be not the bourne from which no traveller returns,' but the bourne from which no honest man returned. Neither Lord Palmerston nor any of his colleagues had made a distinct statement on this question. *They do not condescend to particularize on this matter, but they allow these alarms to exist and these assertions to circulate throughout the country. They make use of them for the purpose of seizing on a time of popular delusion to add to the Navy and to the expenditure of the country. Instead of that, if they were to tell the people the truth, and to lay before them the real state of the facts, which they know, which I am convinced that they knowwhich to my certain knowledge their own officers send to them from Paris,—they might have saved millions during the last few years. There is not a man in Paris, whether Bonapartist, Orleanist, or Republican, who does not entirely disbelieve and disavow all the statements made in this House and this country as to the gigantic naval preparations of France, and the disposition of its Government towards England. Surely, after what was done in consequence of the panic excited when the right hon. member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) was at the Admiralty, and considering that this is a time of peculiar pressure, when a general discontent is arising in different parts of the country at this enormous expenditure, the Government might easily have reduced the military estimates of the year by four or five millions ! And I do not believe there is a man in the kingdom, with the slightest knowledge of politics, who could imagine that we were not quite as safe as we shall be when all this money has been voted.' Mr. Bright added that Lord Palmerston, who had disappointed the country and his supporters in that House in some things, might with credit to his Government and satisfaction to the country have touched the estimates with a bolder hand.