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the real situation of the country in the face; to examine it thoroughly, and to hold it up publicly as it really was, without deception of any kind whatever.
Under this impression it was, and not with any despondent ideas of the national resources, that he meant to call their attention to the report on the table; and he conceived that he should be able to prove that it was drawn up upon erroneous principles; that it was replete with mistaken calculations; that the committee had acted under a delusion; and that the effect of the whole must be fallacious, and not to be relied on, as the ground of a proceeding of so serious and important a nature as a bill containing and enacting a plan for the gradually paying off the national debt. When he said this, he begged leave once for all to be understood, as not meaning to convey any imputation whatever on the gentlemen who composed the committee; they had acted, he was persuaded, on honorable principles, and had rather given way to delusion themselves than meant to deceive or mislead the house. But meaning as he did to object to the report, and to disprove its statements, he must take the liberty of declaring, that he thought the formation of the committee highly objectionable. The right honorable gentleman opposite to him had gone the length of avowing, that he should not be ashamed to deliver lists of his own friends to be ballotted for to form such a committee; and therefore he might be allowed to suppose, that some of the right honorable gentleman's influence was exerted in the selection and appointment of the gentlemen who were returned by the ballot, and who actually had been members of the late committee. Such a committee, so appointed and chosen, he thought extremely improper; because, as every part and party in the house, however they might differ as to the best means of paying off the national debt, were undoubtedly agreed in their opinion, that it ought to be set about as soon as possible, and commenced in
the manner most likely to effect it on the best and most advantageous terms for the public, he should have imagined, that on such an occasion, a fair and impartial committee, composed of men of different sentiments, and men who were as likely to draw out the dark side of the question as the light one, would have been the sort of committee best adapted to the occasion. Mr. Sheridan now proceeded to examine the committee's report, the favorite object of which appeared to him to be, to hold up the measures recently taken by the minister of the day for the prevention of smuggling, as the great and principal cause of the supposed increase of the public income. The committee, in the exordium of the report, say, "The large amount of the taxes proposed since the commencement of the late war, in addition to the then subsisting revenue; the difficulties under which the different branches of our commerce laboured during the continuance of that war; and the great and increasing prevalence of smuggling, previous to the measures recently adopted for its suppression, appeared to your committee to render any averages of the amount of the revenue in former periods in a great degree inapplicable to the present situation of the country."
The very reverse of this reasoning ought, in his mind, to have prevailed; and the committee would have done much more wisely to have stated the averages of the amount of the revenue, and of the expenditure of it in former periods, because, as the report stood, there appeared a statement of the present receipt, to which was opposed not the present expenditure, but the expenditure that it was supposed would be the expenditure of the year 1791. Where, Mr. Sheridan asked, was the difficulty, since peace was no new situation to this country? The mode of stating the present receipt, which happened to be remarkably high and favourable, against the probable expenditure of a year at so great a distance, was a mode directly contrary to that ever be
fore resorted to, as the best means of getting at the true situation of the country, and the reverse of what had been the conduct of a near relation of the president of the committee (Mr. Grenville) who, as an honorable baronet (Sir Grey Cooper) on a late occasion had stated, at the close of the last war, came forward with a plan, in which he had expressly declared, that he did not think himself at liberty to take the receipt of the current year, as that was the year immediately after the conclusion of the peace, and in consequence a larger one than usual. He denied that the reasoning of the right honorable gentleman on the present produce of the revenue paid into the exchequer, had been just or correct; the mode of argument resorted to by a right honorable gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) to prove the increasing receipt, had been, by comparing one quarter with another, and inferring, that in proportion to the excess of one quarter over another, so would be the excess of one year over another. That sort of argument he considered as weak and fallacious, and the last quarter's receipt proved it.
Of the excessive amount of our taxes and public debts, concerning which he might perhaps think rather singularly, he should not hesitate to declare, that such an immense burden was thereby imposed upon the country, that it became almost impossible for that house, on any occasion, to withhold the supplies. So much indeed was mortgaged to the public creditor, that it could scarcely be done without creating an alarm of a nature extremely injurious to the national credit; and therefore, if it was to do over again, he, for one, should oppose the entering into any bargain with the crown for the grant of a stipulated civil-list revenue, since that, added to the other circumstance, fettered that house in its votes, and in so much took away from their rights. If, therefore, the right honorable gentleman was correct in his plan, he was fighting not only for the re
venue, but for the constitution of his country, which was certainly very laudable. Mr. Sheridan contradicted the favorite position of the committee, in their report, that the recent increase of the receipt of the revenue had been owing to the measures lately taken to prevent smuggling. He mentioned sugar and several others to prove this assertion; indeed he knew not how those measures could, in any respect, be said to have tended to the increase of the revenue, unless it was in the effect of the commutation tax; and so generally admitted at this time was the perniciousness of that measure, that he supposed they should hear some alteration of it proposed even during the present session, since no man need do more than look at the very sensible pamphlet written by Mr. Rous, to be convinced of the extravagance and absurdity of that tax; which tended to send such immense sums out of the country in a trade, which, in point of export, had before been greatly against us. Mr. Sheridan took notice also of the pamphlet of Mr. Baring, stiling him a man high in situation at the India-house, and who boasted in his writings that he enjoyed the confidence of ministers. Mr. Baring professed to be the advocate of the tax, but his arguments appeared to tell the other way, and that very forcibly; for what could be more self-evident, than that it was in the highest degree impolitic to encourage the import and use of a foreign luxury, the introduction of which was carried to such an extent, in consequence of the commutation tax, that, according to Mr. Baring's accounts, four millions of money would be wanted of the public to enable the company to carry on the trade. This, he believed, was an over-statement; as, doubtless, one million four hundred thousand pounds would do; but that sum the company must borrow of the Bank, and the public be the security, which was exactly the same as if they had lent it themselves. He objected to the statement of the produce of that tax, and said, that the committee had
taken credit for matters which could not be reckoned any more after they had been once received, as they would not be paid again.
Some false calculations had arisen also in respect to the game duties; the post-horse-tax receipt; glove-duty receipt; the duty on medicines; the shop tax; and the tax on attornies. Indeed, a considerable sum might be deducted from the total of their several amounts of produce; and so much ought to be taken from the calculated receipt in their report, because it had been erroneously assumed. The inefficacy of the glove tax, might prove the futility of every one of the same sort, which could never be made productive but by means so arbitrary that the house ought not to agree to them. At present, the glove duty was so generally evaded, that almost every man who purchased a pair of gloves, would consider it as a species of shoplifting to take the stamp out of the shop with him. The system of extending taxation by stamps, to such articles as the principle of a stamp duty would not apply to, was absurd in the extreme. Stamping law proceedings and other documents, was a good idea; the stamp gave a weight, a sanction, and authority, where so applied; but could that be said of gloves, or of all the trumpery of a perfumer's shop, to which they were now about to extend stamp duties. Would a stamp legalize pomatum, or give validity to lavender water? With regard to the proposed tax on hair powder, the right honorable gentleman had borrowed it from a noble friend of his (the Earl of Surrey) who had paid his contribution to it by suggesting and proposing the obnoxious tax. What a vast number of years had they to look forward, even so far as the year 1791, admitting that the committee had been founded in all their arguments, before the completion of their wonderful designs; the present members of the house would be departed, and their political existence terminated! They, the old grey-bearded