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1,817,0001., so that the savings had more than covered the expenditure. The result of all these operations was a deficit of 3,340,0001., which he pointed out was due mainly to a falling revenue. Going into details of this falling revenue, he mentioned that the decrease in spirits alone was 660,0001. in Customs and 800,0001, in Excise, and the falling off in malt was 940,0001. At the same time, the consumption of tea, coffee, and other articles of this kind had not fallen off. Passing next to the figures of the coming year, he thus stated the estimated expenditure of 1880-81:Permanent Charge of Debt
£28,000,000 Other Consolidated Fund Charges
15,541,300 Home Charges of Forces in India
10,492,935 Civil Services
15,436,442 Customs and Inland Revenue
2,816,709 Post Office
3,420,404 Telegraph Service
1,210,736 Packet Service
£81,486,472 This, he said, was less than the Exchequer issues of last year by 2,713,5281. The revenue of the coming year he stated thus : Customs.
11,100,000 Land Tax and House Duty
2,760,000 Income Tax
9,000,000 Post Office
6,400,000 Telegraph Service
£81,560,000 This was an increase of 600,000l. on the Exchequer receipts of 1879–80, and, compared with the expenditure of the year, it left a surplus of 74,000l., or a practical equilibrium. But the Probate Duties Bill, introduced a few days ago, he calculated would add 700,0001, to the revenue, so that the surplus would be raised to 774,0001. Before proceeding further, the Chancellor mentioned that a clause had been drawn, which would be inserted in the Budget Bill to abolish the exemption from the income tax enjoyed by the Civil Service Supply Association, without injuring the other friendly societies. Proceeding then to deal with the accumulated deficits, represented partly by Supply Exchequer Bonds, which he stated at 8,100,0001., the Chanceilor went at considerable length into details of the movement of the Debt, showing that the total amount of Funded and Unfunded Debt and Terminable Annuities on March 31 next would be 779,551,0001., and contending that, though there was a net increase of 1,472,000l. in the total of
Funded and Unfunded Debt since last year, if repayable debt (in which he included local loans, Suez Canal Bonds, and the loan to India) were deducted, as it ought to be, there would be a net diminution in the actual liabilities of 2,877,0001. In like manner he showed that since the present Government came into office, notwithstanding the bad times and the war expenditure, the net increase of debt was only 268,000l.; but if the repayable debt were deducted, the result, of course, would be altogether in the other direction. Of this war expenditure, amounting to 12,285,000l.
- viz., 6,125,0001. for the Eastern Question, and 6,160,000l. on account of South Africa-8,100,0001., he said, had been raised by borrowing. Some portion of this, he anticipated, would be obtained from the colonies ; but, without taking this at present into account, he proceeded to explain how he proposed to deal with it; and, after some general observations on the nature of the Floating Debt, intended to relieve uneasiness at its apparent growth, he explained a scheme by which six out of the eight millions would be converted into Terminable Annuities to last until 1885, when, as he reminded the House, there would be a considerable falling-in of Terminable Annuities. By an annual payment of 1,400,0001. it was calculated that these 6,000,0001. would be extinguished in 1885; and he proposed to obtain this partly by taking the 625,0001. now paid under the new Sinking Fund, and to add for five years 800,000l. a year to the 28,000,0001. which was now the Permanent Charge of the Debt. The combined effect of this operation and the addition to the revenue of the 700,0001. Probate Duties would be to increase the expenditure for 1880-81 to 82,075,9721., and the income to 82,260,0001., thus showing a surplus of income over expenditure of 184,0281.
The discussion on the Budget was taken on March 15, but in the circumstances it was somewhat mechanical and lifeless, being conducted with a sense that the attention of the public was directed elsewhere. There was difficulty at times in keeping a House. Many members had rushed off on election business, and those specially interested in finance knew that they would have other opportunities of criticism.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer's diversion of his Sinking Fund to the partial payment of the extraordinary floating debt, and his proposed reform of the Probate Duties, were the chief topics taken up. The whole object of the Sinking Fund arrangement for paying off a National Debt being to place each payment beyond the reach of accidents, and enable it to be made in years of adversity as well as years of prosperity, the Opposition critics had good ground of complaint that the means of reduction had been seized upon. Sir Stafford Northcote's financial reputation depended to a large extent upon the success of this expedient for the reduction of National Debt, and his critics were able to taunt him with effect upon destroying faith in a plan upon which he had prided himself, by treating his sacred fund as so much cash in hand,
to be used in emergencies. His reply was that the Sinking Fund had not been extinguished, but only turned for a period to a use not contemplated when it was created; but this answer hardly touched the point which his critics made against him.
The reform of the Probate Duties was chiefly objected to on the gound that it did not go far enough, and that the subject was too complicated to be dealt with hurriedly, and at a crisis which did not leave due time for its consideration. Mr. Gladstone said that he did not purpose to say anything on the subject except by way of protest. It was not in his power to check the career of the Government. He and his friends were entirely at their mercy. He commented particularly on the fact that the Probate Bill did not touch one of the worst abuses of the present system, under which an administration had to pay duty on the whole assets of an estate, without deducting the debts. Mr. J. Barclay, Mr. Childers, and Mr. Dodson spoke to the same effect, but no division was taken.
Very little attention was paid to the proceedings of Parliament during its closing days. One measure only attracted much attention, and that was a measure which bad a direct bearing upon the coming election. Sir S. Northcote, when he announced the dissolution, had intimated that before Parliament rose he would ask it to deal with the question of corrupt practices at elections. In accordance with this promise a Corrupt Practices Bill was introduced, the main feature of which was the abolition of the restrictions upon the conveyance of voters to the poll. This practice, though prohibited by the existing law, was, nevertheless, persisted in, the law being systematically evaded ; and Sir Stafford Northcote proposed to remove the prohibition. Very few members were left in town on March 16, when this Bill came on for second reading ; but the Scotch members and the Irish members succeeded, by the energy of their protests, in securing the exemption of Scotland and Ireland from its operation. English Liberal members protested with equal energy, but in vain.
Friday, the 19th, was the last working day of the expiring Parliament. Significantly enough, the House, which had had to listen so much in the course of its existence to Irish grievances, was counted out during a debate raised by the O'Gorman Mahon on Lord Beaconsfield's letter to the Duke of Marlborough. The O'Gorman Mahon had asked the House to declare that it “highly disapproved the attempt of the Prime Minister to stir up feelings of hatred between England and Ireland for the purpose of furnishing an election cry to his followers, and regarded with indignation his flagrant misrepresentation of the loyal efforts of the Home Rule party to extend the blessings of constitutional government to Ireland." He denied that the Home Rule movement involved any disloyalty, or contained any proposal to destroy the empire. Mr. Sullivan, who followed the O'Gorman Mahon, maintained that the Home Rule movement aimed at closing the era of insurrection for Ireland. It was an olive branch held out
at some risk to themselves, by certain public men in Ireland, prominent among whom, it was only justice to say, were members of the Conservative party, in the troublous times of 1866 ; and never in his practical experience was there a movement more fruitful of hope for the peace and welfare of his unhappy country. The Chancellor of the Exchequer briefly replied to these speeches; and when an attempt was made to continue the debate, the Speaker's attention was called to the fact that there was not forty members present, and the House was counted out. Thus practically ended the Parliament which had met on March 5, 1874. “ Nothing in the whole term of this body's existence,” the Times remarked, “has graced it less than the close.”
The session of the House of Lords ended with more dignity; in an evening of discussions on the Corrupt Practices Bill, the state of agriculture and trade, and the affairs of Afghanistan. The depression of agriculture and trade was brought under the notice of the House by the Duke of Rutland, who advocated a return to protection as a remedy, or the introduction of reciprocity if protection were impossible. Lord Beaconsfield availed himself of the opportunity to expound his views on the nature of the prevailing depression, and the possible remedies for it. “If the whole nation,” he said, “ chose to adopt a protection policy, nothing could resist that policy being carried into effect." Reciprocity, as on a previous occasion, he declared to be in his opinion impossible. On the question whether it was in the power of the Government to do anything to relieve the distress, be said that it appeared to him that there were many things which might be done to facilitate the improvement of the soil, and thereby benefit its occupiers. “ Whether,” Lord Beaconsfield went on to say, “we consider the question of removing the restrictions on its cultivation, or that most important point as to which I introduced in the other House of Parliament a remedy-namely, the securing for a tenant a complete protection for the capital which he has invested on the farm which he occupies—I think myself that before we can beneficially act to relieve and improve the agriculture of this country, the agriculture of this country must be in a normal condition, and that it would be most unwise in a moment of distress to hurry a measure when we are not dealing with the land of England in its usual state. I think it must be acknowledged by all that it is not so much competition, it is not so much local taxation, but what is infinitely more injurious and more powerful-namely, an almost unprecedented series of disastrous seasons—which has brought about the present unfortunate state of agriculture in England. That condition of the cultivators of the soil, however, is not a permanent one, and, as far as I can see, matters are tending towards improvement. All the evidences of nature that can guide us rather make us hope that we are about to enjoy a season of prosperity and abundance; and should this promise be fulfilled, the agricultural mind will be relieved from a great deal of the despondency and
distress which at this moment paralyse to a great degree the energies of the farmer. Then will be the time to consider whether we cannot alter many things in the relations of the farmer with the landowner, and deal with other matters which do not now beneficially act upon his condition. We require more data, more opportunities for examination, and more experience before we can come to any decided opinion as to the effect of the importation of foreign-grown corn upon our own produce. When the English farmer has been blessed with a harvest worthy of his industry, and when we have gained greater experience of the effect of the produce of other countries upon our own, then will be the time for us to consider a variety of measures which undoubtedly may not appear very important in themselves, but which will in the aggregate place him in a more advantageous and improved position than he now occupies."
When Lord Beaconsfield made this speech, the last word of his party for the time being to the farmers, the electoral battle had been in full progress for a week, all the leading members of the Opposition being fully occupied in various parts of the country with their indictment of the Government. Mr. Gladstone's speech at Marylebone on the 12th, before his departure for Scotland, marked the opening of the engagement. The Water Bill, the failure of which he treated as the main cause of the dissolution, and the readjustment of the Probate Duties—which he denounced as pressing unfairly upon personal property as compared with real property-were the chief topics of this speech. A passage in the peroration proved to be prophetic. “I cannot help hoping,” Mr. Gladstone said, “ that whatever the answer of the country may be, it shall be clear and unequivocal, and shall ring from John o'Groat's to Land's End. Don't let us have an ambiguous expression of the popular voice-to-day an election in one way, tomorrow an election in another; to-day Liberalism is up in good spirits, to-morrow Jingoism is up. It is better that Jingoism should have its way, and that the people, if they won't learn by reason—and they have had plenty of reason—should learn by experience, than that we should present to the rest of the world not one England, but two Englands ; in fact, an England that does not know its mind, an England blowing one day hot, another day cold; one day wet, another day dry ; something like what is said of our climate, and never maintaining that consistency and dignity of action which belongs to a great Power.” This hope of a decided result from the General Election was far from being generally entertained. The common impression was that one party or the other would be returned to power with a small majority. Politicians and party-managers in the country were more hopeful of the prospects of the Liberals, but in London the utmost that was hoped for was a small majority. To predict a majority independent of the Home Rulers would have been considered a jest; and to predict what actually happened, a Liberal majority against