§ WAYS AND MEANS considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, I shall not detain the Committee by any prefatory observations, but will proceed at once to state the results of the finances of the year which has just expired—the year 1873–4. And I will begin—although the figures have been already published and are known to hon. Members—by stating what were the Expenditure and Revenues of that year. The right hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for the University of London, in his Budget Statement last year, estimated the Expenditure for the year 1873–4 at £75,071,000, including in that amount the whole of the Alabama Award. The actual Expenditure, including the payment of the Alabama Award, has been £70,400,500, or £1,395,000 in excess of that Estimate. That, as the Committee will readily understand, is mainly duo to that unforeseen event, the Ashantee War, the expenditure for which, in the year 1873–4, has been £800,000. I believe I may say, in passing, that very probably the Vote taken for the Ashantee War of £800,000, with perhaps a Supple- 635 mentary Vote of some £70,000 or. £80,000 in the present year, will cover the whole expense of that very successful expedition. (And here I cannot refrain from congratulating my predecessors, and especially my noble Friend Lord Cardwell, on the economical as well as the extremely able and satisfactory manner in which the expedition has been carried into effect.) There were, of course, as is always the case—indeed, I may say, as is now always the case—some Supplementary Estimates in the course of the year, and there were some savings upon the Estimates which had been adopted in the beginning of the Session. I do not think, however, the Committee will care that I should go in detail through these savings and Supplementary Votes, which are comparatively small. They make—after deducting the savings from the Supplementary Estimates—a balance, as against the year, of £595,000 above the Vote of Credit. I may mention among the savings one of some interest—that on the amount estimated for the Army Purchase. I think the amount taken for Army Purchase was £842,000, while the amount actually expended was £714,000. I mention the circumstance because there is some uncertainty with regard to these Estimates of the Army Purchase. The Votes have been founded on certain calculations of the actuaries, and some of these calculations have not been verified. I find that in the first year, 1871–2, the actuaries assumed an Expenditure under this head of £1,160,000; whereas the actual demand was only £340,000. The difference, I believe, was owing to the system not beginning as early as was expected when the actuaries made their calculation. For the following year the actuaries assumed £1,107,000; and the actual demand was £946,500. Last year, when the actuaries assumed £874,609, the actual demand only amounted to £714,000. I may so far anticipate the estimated Expenditure of this year as to say that the Estimate is £658,000, as against the actuaries' calculation of £768,000. We believe the amount will be below the actuarial estimate, as in former years; but that must be considered a matter of some uncertainty, and it is a matter which is not within the control of the Government.
I will now proceed to mention the results of the Revenue of last year. 636 The Budget Estimate of the Revenue was £73,762,000, and the actual receipts were £77,335,657, showing an excess of £3,573,657 of actual Revenue over the Estimate. But I must explain that a portion of this excess is only nominal. There was, as hon. Members of the late Parliament will remember, some irregularity discovered last year in the accounts of the Post Office with regard to the expenditure in the Telegraph Service, and the result was that it was found the sum of £800,000, which ought to have been carried to the account of the year before, had not been properly carried to account. The sum was borrowed in the way in which the other expenditure on the Telegraphs had been provided, and the sum so borrowed was carried to the Revenue of last year. Accordingly there was a nominal addition of £800,000 to the Revenue of last year. Deducting that, the real excess of the receipts of last year over the estimate is £2,773,657. It will be in the recollection of those who were present when the last Budget Statement was made, that considerable doubt was expressed by many persons as to whether the Estimates of the Chancellor of the Exchequer were not too sanguine; but the result of the year shows that instead of being too sanguine he was within the mark. The same result was attained last year as has boon attained for several successive years in an enormous, and, though hardly an unexpected, a very remarkable extension of the receipts from the Customs and Excise. It may, perhaps, interest the Committee to know what the principal heads of Revenue were last year, and what their relation was to the estimates of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Customs Revenue, which he took at £19,003,000, actually yielded £20,339,000, being an excess of £736,000. The right hon. Gentleman's estimate of the Revenue from the Excise was £25,747,000; it yielded £27,172,000, showing an increase of £1,425,000. There is also an increase of £500,000 on Stamps; and with regard to the Post Office and other heads of receipts there were also increases. There was a falling off in the amount of Telegraph Service, and likewise some falling off in the Land Tax and House Duty; but they are not considerable. The main feature of the year was the great increase on Customs and Excise; and, as the House 637 will probably be prepared to hear, far too large a proportion of the increase, from both these sources of Revenue, was due to the consumption of spirits. That is a matter which if it be in some sense one of financial congratulation, is a much greater and higher matter of regret. At the same time, we must take note of it financially, as showing that the consuming power of the people is still unimpaired. There is at least this satisfaction—that if you compare the consumption by the people of other articles than spirituous liquors you will find the consumption is increasing in other articles as well as in this. It appears, therefore, that there is a general power of consumption which is developing itself among the people at large, and although no doubt spirits get a very fair and perhaps an undue share of it, yet if I were to give the Committee the figures—which I cannot conveniently do just now—of the consumption of bacon, butter, cheese, corn, and many other articles, independently of tea and sugar—they would see that there has been, and is, a continuous and largely increased consumption of these articles as well as of those more questionable articles, spirits and tobacco. With regard to spirits, the increase of the Customs Revenue above the Estimate was about £450,000; and upon the Excise there was a still larger increase. The net result of last year shows that there was a surplus of Revenue over Expenditure of £869,157.
I will not detain the Committee longer by dwelling on the finance of last year, because what I have to say on the finance of the present year is of more immediate and pressing interest, and I think I had better proceed to it as soon as possible. Perhaps I had better begin by mentioning the estimated Expenditure of the year which is before us. The estimated Expenditure for 1874–5 is £72,503,000, as compared with £76,627,000 granted last year. Of course, I am comparing my Estimates, not with the Budget figures, but with the actual grants, including both the payment of the Alabama Award £3,200,000, the cost of the Ashantee War £800,000, and the various Supplementary Estimates to which I have before referred. The actual Expenditure of last year was £76,466,500; the Expenditure estimated for the present year is £72,503,000, showing a de- 638 crease in the anticipated Expenditure of this year as compared with the actual Expenditure of last year of £3,963,500. The various items of Expenditure are as follows:—The interest of Debt is taken at £26,700,000, being £50,000 less than it was last year. Other Consolidated Fund charges are taken at £1,580,000, against £1,570,000 last year. The Army charge is taken at £14,485,000, against £14,416,000 last year—showing an increase of £69,000. The Purchase Commission, as I mentioned before, is taken at £658,000, against £842,000 last year. The Navy Estimate is £10,180,000. against £10,005,000 last year. The Civil Services are taken at £11,287,000, against £11,594,000 last year—showing a decrease of £307,000. The Post Office expenses are taken at £2,882,000, against £2,745,000 last year—showing an increase of £137,000. The collection of Customs and Inland Revenue is taken at £2,694,000, against £2,699,000 last year. The collection of Telegraph Service Revenue is taken at £938,000, against £858,000 last year. The Estimate for the Packet Service is £999,000, against £1,148,000 last year. The Alabama Award, of course, does not appear in the present year; and the Ashantee War stands for a Vote of Credit of £100,000, as against £800,000 last year:—the whole giving, as I have said, for the present year, a total of £72,503,000, against £76,627,000, the amount of the grants last year. The Estimates of Expenditure are, of course, the Estimates of our predecessors. They have been examined and accepted by my Colleagues, I believe, with very slight alterations; and I hope it may be found that they will be substantially the Estimates which we shall go through the year with. But, as I said in the beginning, one can never feel very sure on the subject. There are such things as Supplementary Estimates, and very few years pass in which Supplementary Estimates have not to be proposed to the amount of £300,000, or £400,000, or so. Whether that may be the case this year, or whether we shall be so fortunate as to escape that unpleasant necessity, I cannot predict. But though there are sure to be, generally speaking, Supplementary Estimates, you have always to set against them on the other side the savings which are made where estimates have been prepared in a careful manner and with 639 due caution, and where it is found that the Services do not cost the whole of what has been provided for them. I hope, therefore, we may look at this Estimate of £72,500,000 as giving a fair prospect of the total Expenditure for the year upon winch we have entered.
Well, Sir, having said so much as to the Expenditure, I come now to the much more difficult task of estimating the Revenue with which we are to meet it. The Revenue which we received last year, as I have already stated to the Committee, shows a very good margin over the estimated Expenditure of the year that we are now entering upon. But the question is whether we are to take the Revenue of the past year as the standard for the Revenue of the coming year, or whether we are to adopt an Estimate somewhat lower or somewhat higher than that standard. Now, that is a question which, of course, gives occasion for considerable divergence of opinion, and during the time we have hold office we have observed various opinions, widely differing one from another, which have been put forward by persons of authority upon the prospects of the coming year. There are some who say that the condition of trade is unsatisfactory, and that the prospects of employment among the people are by no means encouraging; and they foretell that we shall find a falling-off in the consumption which is the mainstay of our Customs and Excise Revenue. There are others who take a different view, and who tell us that the progressive increase of the Revenue which they have observed now for so many years is likely to continue, and to continue even at an augmented rate. It is, of course, a matter of importance with a view to the regulation of the Finance of the year that we should arrive at as sound a judgment upon these matters as we can; but we must bear in mind that, however cautious and careful we may be, we are always liable to possible disappointment.
And here I must remind the Committee of the remarkable statement which was made by a very high authority in the month of January of the present year. In the month of January of the present year, the late Prime Minister—one of the very highest financial authorities, perhaps I may say of this century—who held at the time the office not only of Primo Minister and First Lord of 640 the Treasury, but that of Chancellor of the Exchequer also, and who had devoted his attention for several months to the study of the position of our Finance—in an address which he thought it right to put forth to his constituents, announced beforehand that, as far as he was able to calculate, upon the best information that he could collect, the Surplus which we might expect in the coming financial year, if no great misfortune were to happen, would exceed rather than fall short of £5,000,000. That statement was, as I remember, received at the time by the country with some incredulity, and was a good deal criticized in the Press and. upon the hustings. I myself never ventured in any degree to challenge the calculations upon which I felt sure my right hon. Friend the late Prime Minister must have made that statement. I knew he was not a man who would be likely to be deceived in these matters, or to risk his high reputation by making a reckless statement upon so grave a subject, and I therefore anticipated that when the time should come for him to make his Financial Statement in the House of Commons, he would be in a position to show that his Estimate had cither been realized, or that he was deceived owing to some circumstances which could not then be anticipated. When we acceded to office, I was very shortly put in possession by the officers of my Department of the calculations upon which the right hon. Gentleman had founded the statement which he made, and I found, as I had expected, that these calculations had been made in the usual manner by the officers of the Revenue with great care, and in considerable detail, and I am bound to say that they entirely justified the expectations which the right hon. Gentleman had in his mind at the time he penned the address to which I have referred. Of course, Sir, we have had to consider what changes may have come about since then—what circumstances may have arisen which might in any way have altered the judgment which the right hon. Gentleman formed in the month of January. There were still two months to expire before the close of the financial year, and much might happen in those two months. During the time I have held office I have been in constant—I may say in daily—communication with the heads of the great Revenue 641 Departments, and I have more than once in the course of that period—in fact, two or three times—asked them to review and revise their estimates with the accruing knowledge which week by week continued to furnish. Undoubtedly, in one respect, the calculations of the late Prime Minister have been to a certain extent disappointed—that is to say, the Revenue which he anticipated from Customs and Excise for the year now last past was not in some articles realized; and probably for this reason—that the very fact of the publication of the announcement that there would be a surplus of £5,000,000, and that it would be the duty of the Government of which he was the head to propose considerable remissions in the duties upon articles of consumption, naturally had its effect upon the markets. It can be no cause of surprise to anyone that it should have occasioned a check in the taking out of articles of consumption—especially those which are called "breakfast-table" articles. Therefore, the Revenue from those articles for the year ending the 31st of March last did not entirely come up to what the right hon. Gentleman had anticipated, and the same cause has to a great extent affected the Revenue of the present month. The knowledge that there was a large surplus, and the probability that some portion of it might be devoted to the taking off of duties upon articles of consumption, had its natural effect upon the markets, and must have deranged the trade in those articles under the circumstances. That is one of the penalties we pay for levying a part of our Revenue in the very convenient form of Customs' Duties. Still, the result of the calculations of the experienced officers who preside over the Customs and Revenue Departments is this—that they anticipate as large an increase as before upon the different heads of Revenue with which they are conversant—perhaps, even a still larger increase than that which they anticipated at the time when they gave their estimates to the right hon. Gentleman.
Now, under these circumstances, the position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer is one of some anxiety. I had to decide on making important recommendations to my Colleagues. I had not simply to take the estimates of the heads of the great Departments, and say— 642 "These are their estimates; I have nothing to do with thorn but to accept them." On the contrary, I have had to decide, on my own responsibility, whether I could recommend my Colleagues to take those estimates and, looking to all that one hears from different quarters, it has been a matter of some anxiety to me whether I should recommend to my Colleagues, and to them whether they should accept, the estimates given in to us. But, after the fullest consideration, we see no reason why we should distrust estimates which have been framed by men who are so thoroughly conversant with the subject-matter to which they relate—men who have been in the habit of watching the barometer in these matters, and of observing the course of business throughout the country, how consumption proceeds, and how the evidences of the consuming power among the great mass of the population bear on the financial prospects of the year. It is perfectly true that there are many persons of authority who tell us, as we have been told before—and as, perhaps, we may he fairly told—that we must expect difficulties and checks in the commercial prosperity of this country—that there will be industries in which there may be rather less expenditure in wages and otherwise than last year. Still, we have thought that the wise and prudent course—that course which is dictated by what I would call the true spirit of caution as distinguished from the spirit of timidity—is to take the estimates which have been presented to us, and found our calculations upon them. Of course, it would be perfectly possible for us to come to the House of Commons, and say—"We have had certain estimates laid before us, but we have shrunk from presenting them. Or it would be possible to conceal the fact, and, as it were of our own motion, to lay before you a Statement founded on less sanguine anticipations. It would, of course, be possible to do this; and in that way we might think we kept ourselves safe. I think it is a more candid and a more satisfactory course that we should toll the House of Commons and the country what the anticipations are which have been formed; what the estimates are which have been drawn up; that we should then think of the circumstances which should lead us to be cautious in 643 acting upon these estimates; and that we should not, in framing our measures and recommending them to Parliament, take an over-sanguine view of what may be expected, but take a cautious view of the way in which we ought to act on what we have before us. There are some things about which we should be very cautious. We must take care, above all things, that we do not go wildly into expenditure, because this is an obvious lesson to learn when our Revenue is in a condition in which an accident may disappoint our expectations; we cannot do wrong in keeping down expenditure, so long as we do not sacrifice efficiency in so doing. But beyond that I think we should be unwise if we were too closely and too timidly to refuse to "lighten the springs of industry," as the phrase is, and to take off burdens which affect the industry of the country. If it be true that the commercial interests of the country are not in quite so satisfactory a condition as we could wish—if it be true that there are symptoms of a strain being put upon industry—the proper prescription for a wise financial doctor to apply is not unnecessarily to burden its springs, but to endeavour, as far as possible, to ease industry by relieving it of the pressure which unnecessary taxation places upon it. It is, therefore, in that spirit we shall proceed to deal with the surplus of Revenue which we consider we shall have on hand.
With an apology to the Committee for having made these prefatory remarks, I will proceed to state what are the Estimates of the different sources of Revenue placed in my hands. The estimates of Revenue for the coming year are as follow:—Customs are taken at £20,740,000, as against £20,339,000 last year—allowing for an increase of £400,000. The Excise is taken at £28,090,000, as against £27,172,000—allowing for an increase of £918,000 on last year. Stamps are taken at £10,880,000, as against £10,550,000 last year—allowing for an increase of £330,000. Land Tax and House Duty are taken at £2,360,000, against £2,324,000 last year—allowing for an increase of £36,000. The Income Tax is taken at £5,500,000, against £5,691,000 last year—a decrease of £191,000, which is of course due to the fact that the Income Tax for the past year was at 3d., whereas in the previous 644 year it was at 4d., and there remained to be collected at the beginning of last year certain arrears of Income Tax at the rate of 4d. The Post Office is taken at £5,300,000, against an apparent Revenue last year of £5,792,000—showing a decrease of £492,000. Of the £5,792,000, £652,000 was due to the Revenue improperly detained in connection with the Telegraph Expenditure. We take the estimate for the Telegraph Serviceat£1,250,000, against£1,210,000 last year—an increase of £40,000. The Crown Lands we take at £375,000—which is the same as last year. The Miscellaneous Revenue is calculated upon the principle upon which it was estimated when the estimate of January was formed. The Miscellaneous Estimate was taken at £3,500,000, against £3,882,657 last year—of which £148,000 was a re payment to Revenue of the extraordinary receipt for the Telegraph Service. The net result is that the Estimate for this year amounts to £77,995,000, against £77,335,657 last year; and as compared with our Expenditure of £72,503,000, it leaves a surplus of no less than £5,492,000.
The Committee will bear in mind that this Estimate has been framed upon a principle which has been gradually introduced and partially acted upon in the framing of the Estimates, but which has not been fully adopted until this year, and that is the taking into account of the expected increment of the Revenue for the coming year. Some years ago the practice was to take the Revenue on an average of years, and to estimate the Revenue of the coming year upon that average. After a time it became the practice to take the Revenue of the year immediately preceding as the Estimate for the next. Now, we find that every year the increase of population and other circumstances lead to an increase in consumption, and it has gradually become the practice to take the estimate of the Revenue at a higher amount than the actual yield of the past year; and upon that principle the anticipated increase of Revenue has been fully taken into consideration in framing the estimates laid before you. I mention that because it is a circumstance which ought to induce additional caution in considering Expenditure or other proposals to deal with the Revenue.
Speaking of the estimate of Miscella- 645 neous Revenue, I said it amounted to £3,500,000, upon the principle upon which the calculation was made when the estimate of January was formed; but I have not quite done with the wonders I have to lay before the Committee. The Committee are aware that it is the habit of the State to make advances to various undertakings, and to make them upon terms which insure repayment at certain times with the addition of interest. That interest has hitherto been always treated as part of the repayment, and has been carried into the balances of the Exchequer; but the Controller and Auditor General, in his Report on the Consolidated Fund Charges, has recently drawn attention to the fact that the interest ought to be treated as Revenue; and when once the fact is brought under notice, and when you are challenged to say whether it is or is not Revenue, it is impossible to deny that it does form part of the Revenue of the country. Therefore, we have determined that in future, and in the present year, it ought to be added to the Miscellaneous Revenue. I am not able to state precisely what the item will be this year. Although we have an exact account of the English advances, the account of the Irish advances is not kept in a form which at once shows how much of the repayment is interest and how much is principal, and it will require some calculation to ascertain the amounts—there can be no doubt that the operation is one which is not beyond the resources of Irish science—I may, however, calculate that the whole amount will not be less than about £500,000, and therefore the surplus, which I have taken at £5,402,000, will, as nearly as possible, or perhaps may fully reach the extraordinary amount of £6,000,000.
The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Lowe), some years ago, when he had described the amount of the surplus he had presented to the House, though it was much smaller than the amount I have named, asked the question—"What are we to do with all this money?" I must say that if he was obliged to ask the question then, I am still more obliged to ask it now. It is not that I have not had advice on the subject; I have had a great many deputations, and I have found the truth of the old proverb that "in the multitude of counsellors there is safety. There was, in truth, something alarming about their demands, 646 for out of about £66,000,000 of properly called disposable Revenue they proposed among them to sweep away about £55,000,000. Nevertheless, I found very commonly that either a deputation answered itself, or that one deputation answered another; or if they did not do that, the Press were generally good enough to answer them next morning. For my part, I thought it was the most dignified course I could adopt to listen to all they had to say, and to say nothing myself in return. I believe that I acquired the reputation which Horace said he acquired among his friends—Scilicet egregii mortalem altique silentî.Upon the whole I thought it best to wait and see what was the effect of all the advice. There has been a great deal of advice tendered to me besides what came from the deputations. I have to thank a right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Baxter) for some of the help which came to us, and which wound up with a proposal—not before made—to take off the gun tax. But of all the advice which has been tendered that to which, of course, the highest respect and consideration was due is that which was contained in the programme sketched out by my right hon. predecessor. It has been impossible not to wish sometimes that the plan which he partially sketched out could have been laid before us more completely; it has been impossible to restrain a wish of the poet that we could call up him—Who left half toldThe story of Cambuscan bold,that we might have known what the proposed "adjustments of taxation" were—that we might have known in what way he hoped to realize the magnificent promises with which the statement opened, until we reached that "readjustment" which reminded us of the poet's "but yet,"—A gaoler to bring forthSome monstrous malefactor.But, Sir, we have been unable to find in this advice anything to give us a guide that we could completely follow; we have been obliged to rely on ourselves—to take counsel with ourselves—and we find it our duty to present to the Committee the best advice we can tender to them.
647 Before I say what we propose to do I may be allowed for one moment to touch upon something which we do not propose to do. There was a natural feeling—a generous feeling, I think—which must have suggested itself to many minds that at this moment of great financial prosperity in England there was a part of the British Empire that was suffering severe distress, and it must have occurred to many minds whether part of the superabundance of England might not go to alleviate the necessities of India. But although that may seem a natural idea to have entered into some minds, a little consideration will show that it is one which we could not wisely and properly carry into effect, and for the reasons very ably and clearly stated by my noble Friend the Secretary of State for India, in his recent speech at the Mansion House. If England were to come forward and make herself in any way responsible for a portion of the debt of India—though the effect would be to give momentary relief to India and enable her to obtain what she wants on a little better terms than she otherwise could—yet really and practically it would be prejudicial to her in the long run, because it would teach those who administer the finances of India to be less careful in their administration if they thought they had a great Power like England to fall back on, and were not obliged to make the Revenue of India go far enough to meet the charges upon it. In truth, the want of India is not money, but the means of obtaining for money the food her people need. Her credit is good, and we might, perhaps, oven impair that credit if we should appear to think that it was necessary to supplement it by an Imperial guarantee. And, again, if anything were contemplated in the way of a direct gift from the Exchequer, the objections would again come in which were taken by my noble Friend the Marquess of Salisbury. Any money so given would have to be distributed according to the strict rules applicable to such cases, and could not be applied to the relief of that kind of necessity for which help is principally wanted. Therefore, we believe the true course which England should take in helping India is rather to have recourse to the free, unfettered, and willing contributions of the people of England than to any contributions from the Exchequer.
648 I return to the question, "What are we to do with our surplus of £6,000,000? I think I hear the hon. Member for Pembrokeshire (Mr. Scourfield) challenge me by saying,—"You talk of a surplus, but you have no surplus; when a nation is in debt it cannot be fairly said to have a surplus; and as honest men the first thing we ought to do with a surplus of our Revenue is to apply it to the reduction of our Debt." Well, there are two opinions on that subject—one is the extreme opinion of the hon. Member for Pembrokeshire; but there is another extreme opinion often held on the other side. There are many who say that there is no moral obligation upon us to pay off any of the capital of our Debt—that we have contracted to pay a certain charge for Annuities, and that so long as we continuo to pay those Annuities we fulfil our contract; and they go on to say that there would be no advantage in buying Consols at 92 or 03, or whatever may be the price of the day, and that it would be far better and wiser that we should leave the money to "fructify in the pockets of the people." Now it seems to Her Majesty's Government that the truth lies between the two propositions. We entirely accept the view that we are under no moral obligation whatever to do more than pay the Annuities we have contracted to pay, and we admit that there are often circumstances which render it more desirable to apply a surplus in some other way than in redeeming those Annuities. But, at the same time, when you have the opportunity it does seem desirable that something should be done towards the reduction of the Debt. I will not enter into any argument at present—I have too much to say to waste the time of the Committee by going over grounds which are probably familiar to most of my hearers. I will only say that it is as inadequate a description of a reduction of debt to say that it is buying Consols at 92 or 93, as it would be an inadequate description of the reduction of a tax to say that it was merely reducing by a halfpenny or a penny the price of the article on which it fell. There is something in the moral effect of making provision in a time of prosperity for calls that may be made upon you in evil times—there is something more than mere reduction of Debt—something far beyond the mere investment of money 649 in the purchase of Consols to that extent. Let me just mention to the Committee that looking hack to the year 1842—which we may consider as, in some sense, the starting point of our modern system of Finance—I find that in the course of the 32 years which have since elapsed we have made some progress towards the reduction of the Debt, and that we are proceeding to do, within the next 11 years, something really appreciable. The amount of Debt which has been reduced since 1842, on the balance—although we have had to borrow for the Crimean War, for the Irish famine, and for other purposes—the amount of Debt reduced within that period is £70,195,000; and there are now in operation Terminable Annuities which, without any addition to them, and simply keeping them up for the 11 years still to run, will effect a further reduction of about £50,000,000. So that by the year 1885, if nothing happens to cause further Debt to be incurred, and supposing we do nothing more in the way of reduction, we shall have reduced the Debt since 1842 by the respectable sum of £120,000,000.
We should think it, then, a right course, under any circumstances, having so large a surplus at our disposal, to apply some portion of it to the redemption of Debt. But, under the circumstances of the present year, that obligation which we should recognize under any circumstances becomes doubly imperative; because, as I have just mentioned, we are carrying into the Revenue of the year for the first time an item of between £400,000 and £500,000 of interest on Advances, which has hitherto been paid into the balances in the Exchequer; and I think the greatest precisian against the payment of Debt must sec that nothing could be more appropriate than to apply money received in that way towards the extinction of Debt. Now, how is the Debt to be dealt with? The Committee are aware that there are two ways in which it maybe dealt with—that there is the ordinary process which goes on in the application of chance surpluses through the Sinking Fund, and there is the system of creating Terminable Annuities. Both these modes have been in operation for a good many years. I will not trouble the Committee with figures; but I think the result is that the Debt has been a great many more times reduced through 650 the operation of Terminable Annuities than by any mere application of chance surpluses. We therefore think that although there may be some small disadvantage in the system of Terminable Annuities, yet it is a system that on the whole it is desirable to maintain. We propose, therefore, to create fresh additional Terminable Annuities to run out in the year 1885 with the £450,000 of interest on Advances which will be at our disposal. The Committee are aware that one of the difficulties of creating Terminable Annuities is this, that you may not get them taken on the market; and therefore the only way in which you can create them effectually is when you have at your disposal a fund which you can apply to taking them up. Such a fund exists in the balance of Post Office Savings-Banks money, which is in the Government's hands, and which may be as properly invested in Terminable Annuities as in any other kind of Government Securities. Now, I find there is a sum of £7,000,000, which may very well be spared for investment in this way; so that the amount which may come to us from the interest on Advances will be applied to the creation of fresh Terminable Annuities to extinguish £7,000,000 more of the Debt by the year 1885.
This item being set aside out of the account, we have now then to deal with the original surplus of £5,492,000 which will still be available, leaving a safe margin for the reduction of the burdens on the taxpayers. Well, Sir, what are the objects to which we are to apply this very handsome surplus? We have endeavoured to take those objects in the order we consider their importance demands; and the first of them to which we consider ourselves bound to give our attention is the question of Local Taxation. It will be anticipated, from the proceedings of the late House of Commons and from the antecedents of those who sit on these benches, that this would be a subject which would naturally engage our early attention. But it is not simply because we have taken an interest in it, or because we have taken a course which pledges us to give early attention to the subject, that we put it first in the list of objects of consideration. We put it first because it seems to us upon the whole the object of the highest national interest at the present time. It would be a most inadequate view to 651 say of those who urge upon us a reform of our system of Local Taxation, that they are actuated simply by a desire to get rid of certain burdens. We ought to consider the position which the question really occupies, not only in our financial, but in our whole social and political system. I said just now that we look back to the year 1842 as in a certain sense the commencement of a new financial epoch; and, no doubt, at that time a great revolution was effected in the financial system—and in a most important branch of it—by the reform of our system of indirect taxation effected by Sir Robert Peel and his Administration and carried on by the late Prime Minister. We are never tired of praising the great work which has been done in these. 30 years. There has been a great remission of taxation—mountains of taxes, I may say, have been removed from the pressure put upon the consumers and also upon the trade and industry of the country:—we have done an amount of work of which any nation may be proud in the course of about one generation. But it now seems to us that there is another side to the question of Finance which stands as much in need of attention and reform as did the side of indirect taxation in the days of Sir Robert Peel and in the year 1842, and that is the great question of our direct, and especially of our direct local, taxation. We have done a great deal, as I have said before, to improve the condition of the people. But although we have cheapened articles of consumption—although we have improved the opportunities of employment for the people—and although we have done much to develope the commercial, the manufacturing, and the agricultural interests of the country, still there are points in which we must fool that the condition of our people is not such as we could wish to see it. We must feel that there is one standing blot. When you speak of all that has been done for the people and all the relief that has been given to them, it is melancholy to be obliged to look back upon the subject of the Poor Law, and to find that at the present time the amount expended per head of our whole population on poor relief is larger than it was before the year of Sir Robert Peel's great reforms. I have here a statement drawn up in periods of 10 years be- 652 ginning from the year 1834, the date of the passing of the now Poor Law. I find from it that for England and Wales in the first period of 10 years, extending from 1834 to 1843, the average amount per head of the whole population that was expended on poor relief was 6s. 1¼d., and that the amount is now, or was in the last 10 years, from 1864 to 1873, 6s. 4½d. per head. Therefore, while there has been this great general improvement in the condition of this country, your poor-rates, or the number of persons who come for poor relief, have not diminished. Well, what is it that the people now mostly stand in need of? I venture to say that those who have paid most attention to the condition of the people will admit that there are few objects of greater importance to them than an improvement in their dwellings, an improvement in sanitary arrangements, an improvement in their education in the highest and best sense of the term, and an improvement in the encouragements we can offer them to the adoption of habits of temperance and providence. Now, it seems sanguine to say that those great objects can be attained by legislation; but undoubtedly by wise legislation they may be very considerably promoted. This is a truth of which we, at all events, feel strongly convinced, and which, I think, will not be slow to commend itself to the minds of others. And if we are ready to deal with questions of the character I have just indicated, we shall deal with them best, and we can only deal with them satisfactorily, through local agency. We shall do very little to improve the dwellings of the people without calling into play the assistance of local authorities; we shall do very little, or nothing, to improve sanitary arrangements without this. We shall do very little—and in fact we do very little—for education without largely invoking the aid of local administration. With regard to the encouragement of providence, I speak rather feelingly, because for the last three years I have been sitting with other Members of this House and with some of my friends on a Commission which has been inquiring into the important subjects of Friendly Societies and other Provident Associations in this country; and we have arrived unanimously at the clear and strong conviction that if anything can be done 653 thoroughly to develops those institutions and encourage among the people true and sound habits of providence, it can only be accomplished by a system of well-concerted local action. I am sorry to say, in passing, that our Report is not yet in the hands of Members. I have seen the proofs of the last sheets this very day, and I hope the Report will soon be placed on the Table. But the House may take my word that the main gist of our recommendations is the constitution of a system of local arrangements by which great facilities will be given, and great improvements will be made in those institutions. But if we are thus dependent for a very important portion of our social policy, and for the reforms and improvements which we hope still to effect in the condition of our people, upon local action and local authorities, we must take care that our local taxation, and the local expenditure for which it is raised, are put on a sound and proper footing. If that taxation is unfair, depend upon it you will meet with resistance in carrying any measure you wish to carry that may increase it. You have had experience enough of that already. I was struck not long ago, in reading the report which the Committee of the Central Chamber of Agriculture addressed to their constituents, with this fact—that they congratulated the Chamber that in the last Session not fewer than 19 Bills, which involved some addition to local expenditure, were either stopped or materially modified in their progress through Parliament. I have no doubt that that report was in a certain sense satisfactory to those to whom it was addressed; and, in the present condition of Local Taxation, no doubt that satisfaction was natural and perhaps justifiable. But at the same time it reads one a lesson as to what the inertia or the resistance may be of those who feel that the taxation they are called on to bear is not rightly or fairly administered, and also as to how many good measures—for, doubtless, some of these were good—may be stopped in their progress for want of a better adjustment of this matter. Therefore I say that in calling the attention of Parliament to this subject, and in putting Local Taxation in the forefront of the questions with which we have to deal in our first financial arrangements, we are not actuated by a desire to conciliate 654 any particular class or to favour any particular interests; but what we have honestly in view—rightly or wrongly, that is another matter—that what we propose to deal with is what we believe to be the most important question of the day. And the task to which we have set ourselves—although it is a difficult one, although it is one that we cannot accomplish at a blow, although it is one with which we can deal only in a very incomplete and imperfect manner at present—is still a task to which we are proud to devote ourselves, in which, with the blessing of Providence, we hope to succeed, and from which, as far as our energies and our abilities go, we shall not flinch.
Now, I ask for a moment what are the complaints we most commonly hear in regard to our system of Local Taxation? I think they may generally be divided into three. It is said, in the first place, that then; are Imperial services which are charged exclusively or in undue proportion on local resources. It is said, in the second place, that the area of rating is not fair, and that many classes of property, including the very important class of personalty, are exempted from the burdens which are borne for the benefit of all kinds of property, the owners of personal property among the rest. And there is also a third complaint—coming, perhaps, from rather different quarters from those from which we hear most of these complaints made—namely, that our system of Local Taxation is bad and uneconomical, because we have a bad system of management, a bad system of administration, and an improper division of the country into local districts. I think there is truth in all these complaints. They may each and all of them be exaggerated; but there is, no doubt, much truth in every one of them. With respect to the question of charging on local funds Imperial services, it is undoubtedly the case that there are certain services of an Imperial character which can be best administered locally. I have adverted to some which are far more objects of Imperial than of merely local importance when I spoke of the condition of the dwellings of our working classes, sanitary arrangements, and other matters. These are matters of Imperial importance, but they can be best administered locally. But if they are administered locally, by whom is the expense to 655 be borne? The guardians of the central Treasury say, very naturally and very properly—"We cannot allow those who are administering; these matters locally to put their hands without stint or limit into the central Treasury, to draw any funds they may please, and expend them at their own good will and pleasure." And there would, no doubt, be a serious danger in that, unless we can find a means of properly controlling the action of local authorities in those affairs. Now, we some-times hear the argumentused, that because the local authorities are the managers, therefore they are the persons who are benefited. It does not, however, necessarily follow that because they are the managers they, and the persons who pay, are the persons who are exclusively benefited by that which they are managing. But with regard to this question of control, remember that in many of these cases yon have already established a system of Government control. It is more or less efficient; it may perhaps be made more officient than it is; but in such cases as those in which you have Government Inspectors, you have a system of Government control which not only serves to a considerable extent to protect the central Treasury; but, on the other hand, also serves sometimes to lay a burden on the ratepayers. It is said it is an objectionable thing to place the power of expenditure in the hands of those who do not contribute to the funds, but this is an argument that cuts more ways than one. There is an impression prevalent among some of those who are most unwilling to admit the claims of the ratepayers that as long as local authorities have to deal with the matter, all local authorities are much the same thing, and may be regarded as substantially one body. They consequently see no inconvenience in laying upon a union, for instance, the charge of providing funds for the maintenance of its lunatics, and at the same time confiding the expenditure connected with the lunatics to a body over which the guardians have no control. The guardians of unions are in no way able to control the expenditure with regard to lunatics. That is put into the hands of visiting justices, with whom they have no connection, and who are in turn superintended, and I may say, to no small degree, stimulated by Inspectors appointed by the Government, for the purpose of seeing that 656 these unfortunate people are properly taken care of. Well, it is no answer to the ratepayers of a union who urge that it is very hard they should have to find funds for the maintenance of these lunatics in asylums to which we have obliged them to send them, to reply—"Oh, but they are administered by your local authorities, and therefore they are managed practically by yourselves." It shows as great a confusion of ideas as that which prevails among some ignorant people in this country that all foreigners are very much of the same nation. It reminds me of an old woman in Devonshire, who in answer to a friend of mine, said, referring to two persons, one a Canadian and the other a Swede, who had come down into the neighbourhood—"Well, they tell me they be both forreners, so I suppose they know each other." It is in the same way that local authorities are looked upon as if there were no difference between them by those who regard matters merely from a central Treasury point of view. Now, when it wasurged—as was done in the late Parliament, by my hon. Friend the Member for South Devon (Sir Massey Lopes) and as was voted by a majority of, I believe, 100—that some contribution should be made from the Consolidated Fund towards the maintenance of lunatics, the cost of police, and other expenses. we were met by the objections to which I have referred, which were very natural, but which, as I think, were by no means conclusive. We were met by the objection to which I have referred, and also by the suggestion that there were other and better ways of providing for the help that might be given and it has been suggested that this difficulty might be cut short, and that instead of merely contributing to local funds, we should hand over to the control of local bodies certain branches of Imperial revenue. Now we think there is a good deal to be said for that proposal, but it must be borne in mind that it is one of a complicated character, and would involve a very careful revision of our whole system of finance; and I am not ashamed to say, on behalf of the Government, that we have not been able, in the comparatively short time allowed us for the preparation of our plans, to go so thoroughly into the whole of our financial system as to be able to elaborate any plan of this sort. We do not 657 regard the scheme as one which ought not to be carefully considered. It will, on the contrary, he evident, as I proceed, that we contemplate a careful consideration of it with reference to our whole system of Finance, and we hope that in another year, if we should have the opportunity of submitting a Financial Statement to the House, we may be able to show that we have given a careful attention to the subject. In the meantime, however, what are we to do? Arc we to lot the whole matter stand over while we are considering the most excellent mode of proceeding, and, while so leaving it, to apply the whole of our available surplus to other objects?—or are we to ask the House to leave us in the possession this year of a very largo proportion of the surplus unappropriated for the purpose of doing something which we have not decided upon next year? We have considered these alternatives, but we have considered them only to reject them. We do not think it would be at all fair, or that we should be treating the subject in the manner in which it ought to be treated, if we were simply to put the matter aside for a year and dispose of the present surplus in some other way; and as for retaining a very large proportion of the surplus untouched, we should not be able to carry out that policy. We intend, therefore, to make proposals with regard to the relief of Local Taxation in the present year. They must be regarded not as absolutely final, but as proposals which we think will meet the present emergency, and will to a great extent facilitate what we may have to do hereafter.
A suggestion was made by persons very well qualified to consider the subject that it would be advantageous to make lunatics a county instead of a union charge; but when we came to weigh the proposal, we found that in consequence of the boundaries of unions being in many cases not conterminous with the counties, and in consequence of the large number of Acts which give special powers to visiting justices, an attempt to bring about a change of that sort was by no means so simple as it might seem at first sight, and could not be undertaken. There would probably be found, if we went into the matter, difficulties in other directions. I will now, without going further into the general arguments for 658 the policy we are pursuing, mention what the proposals are which we intend to make. With regard to lunatics, we propose that there should be a contribution from the Consolidated Fund towards the charge of their maintenance. We do not propose that that contribution should bear a certain proportion to the amount that may be expended on lunatics, but that it should be a fixed charge of so much per head; so that the motives for economy which now prevail among those who administer the matter will still remain. We find that the average cost of lunatics per week in England is rather under 10s. per head. The expense of maintaining paupers in the union workhouses is somewhat over 5s., and we think 4s. a-week will represent pretty fairly the difference between the cost of the pauper in the workhouse and in the asylum. We propose, accordingly, that a contribution of As, per head per week should be made to the unions in respect of every lunatic who may be in the asylum. The financial consequence of that would be that we should incur an expenditure for the year of £480,000. But the whole of that would not be paid within the present financial year. I believe the time at which the payment would be made would be after the annual Michaelmas audit, and therefore the first payment would be made in the course of the ensuing autumn; and, of course, only the charge of the half-year from Lady-day to Michaelmas would fall into the accounts of this year. Therefore, the charge on the Consolidated Fund for the present year would be only £240,000. I might justify this, if I thought it necessary, to add anything to the arguments I have already adduced for the selection of lunatics as one of the first objects of our attention, by the lesson and the example given to us by no less an authority than the right hon. Gentleman lately at the head of the Government in his mode of dealing with the Irish Church surplus. After strongly laying down the principle that it ought not to be given indiscriminately to the relief of the poor, he selected lunatics as the first object to which the fund should be devoted; so that I think we might claim his approbation of our course in selecting lunatics as the first object of relief. The second object to which we propose to contribute is the cost of the police. That charge has not been thrown upon 659 the counties with their consent. I remember that in my own county we declined to adopt the Act while it was optional. We did not introduce county police till the Act compelled us to do so, against the wishes of the county magistrates, and I believe of the ratepayers. The same thing happened in other counties. In this case we introduce no now principle. A contribution has hitherto been made by the Government of one-fourth of their cost of pay and clothing. We propose to increase it to one-half, which will add about £600,000 a-year to our expenditure on this head. It is the intention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to bring forward a measure with reference to the Police, and we shall insert in it a clause which will enable this alteration to be made. That will be the second head upon which we shall offer relief to local taxation. With regard to a third head mentioned in the Resolution adopted by the late House of Commons—namely, the cost of Justice—we find that it is a subject undergoing inquiry at the present moment, and we do not think that it would be right to make any proposal respecting it. There is one other contribution we shall have to make not to general, but to special Local Taxation. I allude to contributions which should be made in relief of local rates in respect of Government property. That is a matter which has been frequently before the House and has been dealt with in different ways. Before the year 1860 there were some descriptions of Government property which had always paid rates and which continued to do so. They were paid generally under the head of "Public Works." In that year, 1860, a system was introduced under which a Vote of £35,000 a-year was applied, under certain regulations, towards the local rates in places where the Government had a considerable amount of property. The amount, however, at which the Government fixed those contributions, or rather the point at which they considered themselves liable to contribute, was taken rather inconveniently. It was, I believe, only where the Government possessed property to the extent of one-sixth of the whole parish, and then only to the poor rate. In the year 1863 a new system was adopted with respect to certain property purchased by the Government—such, for 660 instance, as the site for the Courts of Justice—in which cases the old rateable value was taken, and the rates were paid by the Government according to the rateable value. Well, last year the late Government introduced a Bill on this subject, in which they proposed to do away with various exemptions, and amongst others the exemption of Government property. I may say that it is the intention of my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board to introduce a Eating Bill this year, similar in many respects to that of last year, but confined to the cases of woods, mines, and game. We do not intend to include in the Bill the case of Government property, because we find that there would be so much difficulty in working the system which was proposed in the Bill of last year, that it would lead to unsatisfactory results in all directions. We therefore propose, in lieu of that, to continue on an amended footing the system of contributions, by Votes submitted to Parliament—such contributions to extend to parishes which contain any Government property and not merely to those parishes in which the Government possesses 1–6th of the property. We see no reason why, if the Government has 1–7th, or 1–10th, or 1–20th of the property of a parish, it should not contribute to the extent of 1–7th, or 1–10th, or 1–20th just as it now docs to the extent of 1–6th. There are one or two minor Amendments with which I need not now trouble the Committee; but I may say that we have a calculation which was prepared last year by a gentleman in the Treasury very conversant with the subject, as to the amount which—contributing the entire amount contemplated in last year's Bill—would become chargeable. It has been revised with great care and minuteness and its accuracy ascertained, and the result is that if the provisions of the Bill of last year were acted upon, the total amount which would be contributed on the part of the Government would be £170,000 in addition to £63,000 which is the amount at present contributed. We therefore propose to take a Vote for those sums with respect to rates on Government property. That, therefore, will make the contributions to Local Taxation £1,250,000, but of that sum only £1,010,000 will form a charge upon the present year.
661 Now, Sir, having dwelt—I am afraid at too great length—upon the question of Local Taxation, I have only to say that it is a matter which will continue to engage our attention with reference, not only to the question of burdens, but to the further very important question as to the improvement of administration, and the possible necessity of altering the present system, and of devoting some branch of general Revenue for local purposes.
I now, Sir, pass on to the next head I have to consider—the head of Revenue which is very closely connected with the question of which we have been speaking. I refer, of course, to the Income Tax. Now one of the remarks which are made by complainants on the subject of Local Taxation is as to the large quantity of personal property which does not bear its due share of public burdens, which should be borne by all alike. Undoubtedly, that is a complaint which in the present position of Local Taxation is justly made. But the question how you are to remedy the evil is one of very great difficulty and delicacy. I believe that almost all who have considered the subject admit that it would be impossible to rate stock-in-trade, or other personal property, or to attempt to bring the owner of personalty of the kind referred to within the jurisdiction of the tax gatherer. Then the question is whether there is any other way in which the owner of personal property, who is not a ratepayer or is only a small ratepayer, can be made to bear his fair share of the public burdens. Well, that is a question so difficult and complicated that we cannot undertake on the spur of the moment to attempt to give it a full or satisfactory answer. It may be taken for granted that if you do away with the Income Tax some means must be found of making the owner of personal property contribute towards the burdens of the country. Possibly, if you retain the Income Tax, it will be found that his contributions to that tax supply the deficiency; but that is a point which requires careful consideration, and the whole position of the Income Tax is one of such great magnitude not only financially, but as I may even say politically, that it would be wrong and culpable in us if on so short a notice we were to come forward with a definite or decided proposition with respect either to 662 the absolute remission or the absolute perpetuation of that tax. We desire, therefore, that it may be understood that in treating of that question we reserve our judgment until we have had full time to consider it in all its bearings and in all its relations to the other branches of the financial system, and until we are able to make a proposal that will, as it is said, hold water in all its parts. We must admit that this mighty structure of the Income Tax, which has now been in existence for by far the larger part of the present century, which has been in continuous existence for a generation, and has placed at the disposal of the country no less than £250,000,000, and which has been made available as an instrument for effecting very great reforms of taxation at one time, and for relieving us of very great burdens at other times—we must admit that such a mighty structure as that is not to be lightly thrown down at six weeks' notice; and, therefore, although we certainly do not profess any enthusiastic admiration for the faults of the Income Tax—although we are ready to admit, in the language of one of Shakespeare's clowns, when speaking of his mistress, "She hath more faults than hairs"—yet, bearing in mind that it has "more wealth than faults," we still think it ought to have a little further trial before we decide what is to be done with it. We therefore set that question aside, and whatever we do in the present year, we have determined not in any way to tamper with the structure of the Income Tax. We do not say that it might not be possible to find improvements—if it should be decided to maintain it—in its mode of assessment, in its incidence, and in some other matters connected with it; and these are questions on which we reserve entire liberty of judgment. All for the present we intend to do—and we think it is an amount of relief to which the taxpayers are, under the circumstances, justly entitled—is simply to remove 1d. of the tax. That would amount to £1,840,000 for the whole year; but of that £1,540,000 only will be lost to the account of the present year.
We have, therefore, now disposed of £2,550,000 out of surplus, and that amount—exclusive, of course, of what we apply to the reduction of the Debt—has been applied to the reduction of direct taxation. Well, it will naturally 663 be expected that at the same time we should propose some remission of indirect taxation. I do not think we ought to admit as a canon of finance that direct and indirect taxation should always, or a general rule, be reduced pari passu. I do not think it is at all necessary that because we reduce direct taxation by £1,000,000, we should take a like sum from indirect taxation. I can see no principle in such a maxim as that. It may be a convenient one under certain circumstances; but it implies, in the first place, that you have got a system of taxation which is so fairly balanced that you destroy the equilibrium if you deal with the one side without dealing equally with the other also. For my own part, I very much doubt whether our financial system is in that happy condition. But without entering into that question, I think what ought to be regarded as the leading principle in considering in what direction taxation should be reduced is this—how can most good be effected by the remission to be proposed? The leading principle in selecting remissions of taxation is to consider in what direction you can do most good, without nicely regarding whether it affects direct or indirect taxation. You ought to ask who it is upon whom these taxes fall? It is not the consumer or the producer, or this interest or that—really and truly the whole burden falls on the whole community, and you should endeavour to make such selections as will, upon the whole, be most to the benefit of the public at large. In selecting the subject for the remission of indirect taxation, Her Majesty's Government have given consideration to all the great articles of our consumption upon which duties are collected producing large amounts of Revenue; and, after having very fully considered the question, they have arrived at a conclusion which I think the Committee, in common with the public, will not be slow in anticipating—that of abolishing the Sugar Duties. It is almost unnecessary to go into any lengthened argument upon the subject—the history of the last few years will have prepared everyone for this step. I think it was four years ago—but I am not quite sure of the date—that the great article of sugar, which had been the heroine of so many important Budgets, and which had upset certainly one Ministry—and I am not sure that it had 664 not something to do with upsetting another—made what was supposed to be positively her last appearance as prima donna, when the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Lowe) diminished the duty upon it by one-half—announcing that he was proposing a reduction which he conceived and hoped would be a final remission. But before three years had elapsed the right hon. Gentleman found it necessary to repeat the operation, and last year the duty on sugar was again reduced by one-half, whereby a revenue derived from this source was raised which was comparatively small in proportion to the cost of its collection, and, what is of more importance, bore a still smaller proportion to the annoyance and, I believe, the injury done to trade by the restrictions it imposed upon it. Therefore, it is not upon the principle of reducing an indirect duty or a duty upon consumption to balance a particular reduction made in direct taxation, but upon the principle that we find in the Sugar Duties, as they at present stand, a source of Revenue which does more harm than it produces good upon the whole, that we have selected Sugar as the article upon which to propose a remission of taxation. It is an article of the very first magnitude in the consumption of the country. I believe that next to corn it is the article of which the largest quantity is consumed in this country—next to corn it is the article of which the largest quantity is introduced into this country; it supplies our shipping with the largest amount of freight; and it enters more largely into the general processes of manufacture and consumption than any other article now subject to duty. Besides that, it is held out to us that if we abolish the Sugar Duty there is a reasonable prospect that England may become the great entrepôt of the sugar trade; and I think that is a consideration which all who are interested in the commercial prosperity of the country must regard as being one of first-rate magnitude. I must say that, speaking as one who is responsible for the finances of the country, I consider that at any time—more especially at the present moment, when we have some little uneasiness as to the commercial forecast of the year—it is of the greatest importance that we should select for remission some article which will have the effect of stimulating and 665 supporting the commercial interests of the country. And I may fairly say this, that if it had not been that I had contemplated the remission of this duty, and the consequent support that would be given by our measures to the industry and commerce of the country, I should have accepted with much more hesitation than I did the estimates of the heads of the Inland Revenue and Customs Departments. But I felt that, as in former times great remissions of taxation have stimulated industry and commerce, so we may hope it will be again; and I thought that, reading backwards the lesson which was read some 35 years ago by a Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir Francis Baring) who, in a time of commercial anxiety and depression, sought to remedy the deficiencies in the Revenue by increasing the duties of the Customs and Excise, and failed in the attempt, we might rather hope, by relieving the duties on Customs or Excise, that we should be facilitating, encouraging, and stimulating commerce, and so be supporting and strengthening our Revenue. There is, I believe, no argument which can well be adduced against the remission of the duty upon sugar except one, which is certainly of some weight, and which, at all events, is a plausible one. It is that in abolishing this duty we are cutting off permanently a source of Revenue which we may some day or another regret. I cannot deny that it is a different thing, now that our duties fall upon comparatively so few articles, to cut away one of those sources of Revenue, from what it was when they fell upon so much larger a number, because, fully believing as I do that the abolition of one duty does produce increased consumption in other directions, and thus in some way or other produces an increased flow of wealth into the Exchequer, I admit, of course, that you may carry that process too far, and leave yourselves with so few channels through which the wealth of the country can find its way that the Exchequer may permanently suffer a loss. At the same time, considering what the progress of the different branches of the Revenue is, and that it appears likely to continue, I cannot believe that we are left without plenty of channels through which the Exchequer will replenish itself. I refer, as one main source of possible addition to the Revenue, to the vast 666 increase in the consumption of spirits. You may say that that is a very dangerous thing to rely upon. It is dangerous and not very pleasant, I admit, to rely upon the increase in the consumption of spirits as a source of future Revenue. It may also be said that the time may come when a check will come, and that source of Revenue may fail you. I have asked myself how is it that you expect this source of Revenue will fail; what will be the cause of its falling off; and why should not spirits be able to bear—and it is quite possible they might be able to bear—an increased amount of taxation without diminishing the consumption? That is one source of Revenue which is still open to us upon an emergency, for I verily believe it would be possible to increase the duty without diminishing the consumption, and without raising the danger of illicit distillation. But that resource we keep as a reserve for the future. I ask again, under what circumstances would it be expected that the consumption of spirits in this country would fall off to such an extent as seriously to injure the Revenue? It must be from one of two causes—either from some general failure of the consuming power of the people—from some failure in their ability to purchase spirits, the will remaining as it was—or from some great change in the habits of the people inducing them to abandon the use of such enormous quantities of ardent spirits. If it were the former it would tell upon all the sources of Revenue just as well as upon that derived from spirits; and if it were merely a question of inability, I think you would stave off that inability and reduce the probability of its occurring to a minimum by taking off a duty like this upon sugar, and so increasing pro tanto the consuming power of the people. But if the reduction of the Revenue derived from spirits be due to the other cause—if it should be due to a material and considerable change in the habits of the people and to increasing habits of temperance and abstinence from the use of ardent spirits—I venture to say that the amount of wealth such a change would bring to the nation would utterly throw into the shade the amount of Revenue that is now derived from the spirit duty, and we should not only see with satisfaction a diminution of the Revenue from such a cause, but we 667 should find in various ways that the Exchequer would not suffer from the losses which it might sustain in that direction. Therefore it is with perfect confidence and without misgiving that the Government proposes that the remission they have given on some principal article of consumption should be in the form of the abolition of the Sugar Duties. There is one point in connection with this subject to which perhaps I ought to advert. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, when last year proposing to reduce this duty, alluded to the complication of the scales and the difficulties which have arisen in our negotiations with France and other foreign countries; and it has been suggested by some that possibly by remitting this duty altogether, and putting weapons as it were out of our hands, we shall leave ourselves entirely at the mercy of France or other foreign Powers to lay their duties upon sugar in such a form as may be injurious to our refiners. In reply to that suggestion I may say that I am afraid that, oven under the Treaty which has existed since 1864, our refiners have been exposed to what we may deem unfair disadvantages in competing with the French refiners, and I am afraid that work that Treaty how you will, word it how you may, remonstrate about it how you will, it will always be in the power of France or any other foreign Government, should they choose to do so, to give to their refiners an advantage over ours. Therefore, I do not rely upon the words and stipulations of treaties, but upon that sense of what is for her own interest to which France is, I believe, awakening, if we may judge from the debates in her National Assembly and from the Bills which have been recently passed relative to refining in bond. It is upon that that I rely for obtaining fair play for the British refiner in comparison with his foreign rivals. I believe you cannot rely upon treaties; but you may rely upon the sense which a foreign nation has of its own interest in not wasting its money upon subsidies to its refiners. I believe, in any case, by far the best, the true and the only policy we can adopt for the advantage of our own sugar trade and of its branches is by setting it entirely free. I believe, if we may judge by the paralysis which has fallen upon the sugar trade since the announcement made by the right hon. 668 Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) in January that there was a probability of the duty being repealed, and if we refer to the enormous efforts that are made upon the part of some classes of those who supply us with sugar to bring in their sugar with the appearance of a fictitious qualify and to make it appear worse than it is in order to get it in at a lower rate of duty, and when you see the discouragements we apply to various modes of improving production, I think we may anticipate for the sugar trade a very great future if we set it free from these trammels. The amount at which sugar was taken in the Customs estimate this year was £2,000,000, and I take the reduction at that amount. There will be a difference in the dates at which the duties will expire, and the date I propose for raw sugar is the 1st of May, and that for refined sugar the 21st. So far as sweets are concerned, the reduction will, of course, affect only such as are taxed in respect of the amount of sugar contained in their manufacture. Upon one article, however, it will be necessary for me to reimpose a small duty, in consequence of taking it off sugar. There is at present a duty upon plums and other fruit, but plums prepared with sugar are taxed somewhat higher than other fruit. It will be necessary for me to place them on the same footing with other fruits. I should mention also that the Excise duty upon' sugar—that is, upon sugar used in breweries—will have to be raised, so as to place it on an equality with malt. This will have to be done so as not to give sugar the advantage over malt.
I am still in possession of a reasonable amount of disposable surplus—there still remains in hand £042,000. As I have mentioned the subject of the Malt Duty, I may as well inform the Committee that the amount of that duty is too large for me to think of employing any portion of that sum in its reduction. I regret that this is the case, because I am by no means insensible to the interest which is taken in this question, nor to the arguments adduced against the duty. But the question of abolishing it, or of reducing it with a view to future abolition, is one far too large to be entertained at the present moment. The question of changing the incidence from the half manufactured article of malt to the finished article of beer, is one which 669 deserves consideration. It is full of difficulty—I do not see how it is to be done; but I do not say it is impossible. Information has lately been obtained from foreign countries, at the instance of the right hon. Member for Chester (Mr. Dodson), showing the methods there employed for taxing beer, and the information so obtained, which is very valuable, will be carefully studied.
Now, Sir, I have to consider what other claims there may be to relief out of the surplus that still remains. As I reminded the Committee at the beginning, a great number of claimants have been before me, and although some of their claims were in no way unreasonable, I must ask that they may be allowed to stand over till they can be taken in connection with other measures with which we may have to deal. One of these on which I received a deputation—the Inhabited House Duty—I would especially refer to. The principal speaker in that deputation was anxious that I should propose to take off the tax altogether; but the other members had different suggestions to make for dealing with portions of the question. I am free to admit that there are some circumstances connected with the assessment of the Inhabited House Duty which require careful consideration. This is, how over, just one of those taxes which, in the present state of affairs, it would be unadvisable to meddle with. It will be within the recollection of the Committee that a year or two ago the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen), in introducing his scheme of Local Taxation, proposed to assign the house tax to local bodies for local purposes. I do not say that we are considering any plan of that kind—in fact, we can hardly be said to have any definite plan under our consideration. We are rather reviewing all sorts of proposals; but this tax is just one of those with respect to which it is desirable we should keep our hands free. With regard to Excise Licenses, and other matters of that kind, it is as well we should keep them undisturbed, because we may find thorn of use when we come to grapple with the questions of Local Taxation and Expenditure. There is another tax with respect to which, though I have received no deputation, I have had a great number of applications and private representations. It has 670 given me a good deal of trouble, and it must also stand over till the re-arrangement of our system of Local Taxation, when we may possibly be able to find a solution of the difficulty. I refer to the tax upon dogs, and especially to the tax upon sheep dogs. The difficulty lies in this. I have received various representations from the one side, urging me to relieve sheep dogs from this tax, which is a serious inconvenience to those who use them; and on the other hand, I have received equally urgent representations from other persons, asking me to enforce the law more strictly, and even to increase the tax upon dogs, because of the great mischief they do, especially in the way of worrying sheep. As it appears by no means easy to distinguish between dogs that guard sheep, and those that worry sheep, I am obliged to take further time to consider what should be done. One suggestion that was made to me was that all dogs, except a limited number for keeping sheep, should be taxed at a higher rate, and in order to prevent evasion, should be marked by having to wear a collar with some kind of stamp upon it. That was an ingenious suggestion no doubt; but when it was made to me, I could not help remembering that a sportsman, an American friend of mine, had told me he thought of bringing his hounds over here to compare them with those in this country, and I thought I should scarcely like to introduce my friend to a pack of foxhounds running in stamped collars. It will be better to lot the question stand over to next year, when we may possibly find that there are means by which we can hand over the tax to the local authorities, and thereby obtain a better enforcement of the law.
I now have to refer to another and a rather more difficult subject. It is a question upon which there has been a good deal said and a good deal written in the Press, and upon which I have received more than one large deputation—I refer to the subject of Brewers' Licences. The ease of the brewers would seem to have something in it in two respects. They say that this licence duty was imposed upon them in 1862, when the then Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed to take off the hop duty; but, not being able to spare the necessary amount of Revenue, he proposed to commute it into an addition to 671 the licence duty paid by the brewers. They had before that paid duty; but at that time it was considerably augmented, with a view to recoup the Exchequer for the loss arising from the repeal of the hop duty; and they say that, inasmuch as they have no doubt that if the hop duty had continued till now the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have swept it off without charging anything upon the brewers, it is but reasonable that the equivalent burden should be removed. Another argument they use is that they are subjected to unfair competition on the part of the private brewer who does not pay the duty. They remind me that when the tax was originally imposed it was intended to tax private brewers as well, and that, as that proposal fell through, they are exposed to unfair competition. A third reason they urge is that the tax is a vexatious one by reason of the way in which it is enforced—because they are exposed to very heavy penalties, many of which may be incurred through the carelessness or inadvertence of their servants. I admit there is something in all these objections, but I cannot say that I think the arguments of the brewers conclusive. In the first place, the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day never held out the idea or gave any colour to the belief that the arrangement made was intended as a temporary arrangement. What occurred was this. He mentioned the hop duty as one that he desired to take off, but said he could not do it without finding a substitute, and he then passed to the subject of the Brewers' Licences. He pointed out that the Brewers' Licences as then arranged were not fair or satisfactory, and that they fell unevenly upon the smaller brewers. He proposed, therefore, to rearrange them and in the rearrangement to increase them, in order to recoup himself for the loss of the hop duty. But he gave the brewers a drawback on the hops they used, which they had not had before; and he also gave them the right to use certain substances as a substitute for hops which had previously been prohibited. Therefore the brewers did not receive this burden without some compensation; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer of that day no doubt expected that they would derive very great benefit from the abolition of the hop duty. They say they 672 have not done so; and that whereas the hop duty was taken off when it was producing a comparatively small sum, the licence tax now levied on their production is a much larger sum. That must be because they are brewing a larger quantity than formerly, and, therefore, it is clear that if the hop duty had remained, the brewers would now be paying a larger amount than at the time when the tax was taken off. Then there is this difficulty. They say they cannot put this tax off themselves and upon the public. I do not know how that may be. [Mr. BASS: Hear, hear!] Did they or did they not recover what they paid in hop duty? [Mr. BASS: No.] They did not. Then how are they worse off than they were?
I did not understand the question. I thought the right hon. Gentleman asked me whether we got any compensation for the licences in the abolition of the Hop Duty. I reply—Not one penny.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. The question I wished to put was this,—When hops were subject to duty and when the brewers had to use hops only, were the brewers able in the price they charged to make their customers pay the duty which they paid upon hops? I will not press the hon. Member for an answer. [Mr. BASS: No doubt we did.] Well, if they did, I cannot for the life of me understand why they cannot make their customers pay for the Brewers' Licences. I could have understood the case if it had been the other way. They might have got from their customers the amount they paid for licence duty and yet have had a difficulty in getting what they paid for hops; because there was much fluctuation in the price of hops, and there would have been a difficulty in putting the price of beer up and down. But the amount of the Licence Duty is a matter which they can ascertain for themselves with tolerable certainty, and therefore they can arrange to put it upon their customers, and can recover this duty as they recovered that. With regard to the argument about the private brewers, there would be a good deal of force in it, if we found that private brewing had increased since the change was made; but I do not find that this is the case. With regard to the penal- 673 ties there is something to be said. They are no doubt very heavy, and some of them are incurred through mere inadvertence. What we propose is to divide the penalties into two classes. As to penalties for offences which are not accidental—such as not taking out a licence or using improper substances—we propose to keep the full penalties. But with regard to penalties for inadvertence—such as not making an entry at the right time—we propose to modify them very materially. That then is the case as regards Brewers' Licences, and I think there is no imperative demand of justice which compels us to take the matter into consideration. I admit that what is asked for might be a very fair boon to give if we had no other way of disposing of our surplus. I am far from saying that the brewers have no right to ask for this; and I do not say that if we had a greater abundance at our disposal, and had not stronger competitors for it, they might not have a good claim.
But there is another duty upon which a great deal has been said, and which produces about the same amount of Revenue as the Brewers' Licences. I mean the tax on Railway Passengers. With regard to that tax, I have heard it called a tax upon locomotion; and I must frankly own that when I hear people talk of taxes upon abstractions I am instinctively disposed to button up my financial pocket—because I think there is a great fallacy involved in what is said about certain taxes being taxes on locomotion, on prudence, or on knowledge. In such cases we ought to see upon whom the tax really falls, and who would be benefited by its removal. If there is a tax on locomotion, the persons most injuriously affected must be railway passengers, and it might be expected that considerable complaint would come from thorn. I am not, however, aware that representations against this tax have proceeded from railway passengers. On the contrary, I was very much struck, when I carne into my present office, by the number of letters I received from persons of all classes suggesting as a mode of raising Revenue a tax upon railway tickets. The claim for the remission of this tax really comes, not from railway passengers, but from railway shareholders, who are a very different body. No doubt the tax is one on locomotion in the sense of diminishing their profits; 674 but I cannot help seeing that railways are practically a monopoly. It is very possible that the benefit might come into the pocket of the shareholders, and might not find its way into the pocket of the locomotive public. Considering that this tax has been in existence almost as long as the earliest railways themselves—that most railways have boon constructed with a perfect knowledge of this tax, and that the shareholders would alone derive immediate benefit from its remission—I am bound to ask whether we could obtain any security that railway passengers would obtain any advantage from its remission? That is a question of very great difficulty. There is one point to which I would draw the attention of the Committee, and that is not so much as to the tax itself as the exemptions from it. Those exemptions are anomalies; they are the cause of much uncertainty, and produce ill-feeling and litigation. I will explain how that matter stands. Originally, there was a tax on all railway passengers. In 1844, a proposal was made, and an Act was passed, to compel Railway Companies to carry third-class passengers at low rates and by trains of a certain convenience. In order to induce them to do this, and to sweeten the Act, it was provided that the duty on third-class passengers so carried should be remitted. Many changes have occurred since then, and now Railway Companies, instead of being obliged by law, find it to their own interest to carry third-class passengers, and upon terms much more favour-able than in 1844. They therefore say, with a good deal of plausibility, that it is very hard that they should offer increased facilities, and not get the remission contemplated by the Act, because they may not comply exactly with all its requirements. A difference of opinion has arisen between the Board of Inland Revenue and the Board of Trade as to what trains are and what trains are not exempted from duty. That is not only inconvenient, but to a certain extent a scandal, and I promised to turn my attention to the subject with the view of obtaining a settlement of the dispute. I have pressed the matter on the Board of Inland Revenue, and I find that there have not been any 1âches on their part causing the question to remain unsettled, and that they have tendered a special case for the acceptance of two or three 675 Railway Companies. The matter is now in course of being settled in the Courts, and I learn from the Attorney General that it is likely to come before the Courts next Term, when some decision will be arrived at which will put an end to an inconvenience which is not very creditable With regard to the remission of the tax, I cannot help thinking that it would be culpable on our part to propose to take it off without endeavouring to obtain any corresponding advantages for the public either in the way of greater facilities for travelling or—what is still more important at this moment—obtaining greater security against accident. I feel that it would be very wrong on the part of the Government to take off the tax without some security of this kind; while we have, as yet, found great difficulty in arriving at any measure for promoting this object. We are, therefore, obliged to lot this matter stand over; but we will give our best consideration to any measure recommended by the Railway Commissioners or the Board of Trade. And we shall be very glad if it is possible for us at some future time, and in connection with measures for improving the safeguards for railway travelling, to relieve the Railway Companies from this tax.
I have said that I have still a remission to propose. I have gone over the various remissions which I am not going to propose, and therefore by a process of exhaustion I have come to the only one which I do intend to propose. I think it will be found, by an inspection of agricultural statistics for the last year, that there are in this country somewhat mere than 2,000,000 horses, of which 864,000 are taxed, while 1,275,000 are untaxed. Of the 864,000 which are taxed, half, I believe, are probably employed in trade, and I have received a great number of representations—though never a deputation—on the subject from persons who have informed me that the tax which they have to pay for horses is a very serious inconvenience to them in carrying on their business. The great interest to which I have just been referring are great users of horses, and so also are the brewers. There are, therefore, two classes at least that may take some comfort from what I am about to say. There are, besides, a number of retail tradesmen—such as butchers, bakers, fishmongers, and poulterers—in 676 fact, every man who carries on a trade—who uses one or more horses. It will be observed that there are continually arising questions of a very awkward kind as to what horses are and what are not liable to the tax. There is this further consideration, to which our attention has been directed by the Committee of the House of Lords which sat last year on the subject of the diminution of the stock of horses in this country, and of the importance, in a national point of view, of ascertaining the best mode of removing the obstructions which lie in the way of horse breeding. It is, under those circumstances, our intention, without entering further into the matter—though I might give other reasons—to propose, as the last of the remissions for the year, the abolition of the Horse Duties. The amount of the duty on horses is, I think, £410,000; but, of course, with the Horse Duty would go the Horse-dealer's Licence Duty and the supplementary tax, which it would not be worth while to keep up, on racehorses—making a total of £480,000.
I have now gone through the whole of the proposals which we have to make; but I may sum them up in a somewhat different form from that in which I have presented them to the Committee, and one which they may find more acceptable. The Income for the year is taken at £77,995,000; the Expenditure at £72,503,000; which gives a surplus of £5,192,000. I am leaving out of account matters connected with the Terminable Annuities and Miscellaneous Revenue. It is proposed, in addition to the Expenditure of £72,503,000, to take Votes in aid of Local Taxation—£600,000 for police; for lunatic asylums (half this year), £240,000; and in the shape of contributions from Government property, £170,000:—making a total of £1,010,000. This will increase the Expenditure to £73,513,000. On the other hand, we propose to take off the Sugar Duties, £2,000,000; to take 1d. off the Income Tax, £1,840,000; and to remit the Horse Duty, Horse-dealer's Licence, and Race-horse Duty—£480,000; total, £4,320,000. There will be £300,000, however, of the Income Tax remission to come out of next year's receipts, and that will make the total amount of our remissions £4,020,000 for the present year. If you add that sum to the additional Expenditure of £1,010,000 you 677 will have £5,030,000, which will leave a surplus of £462,000.
Sir, I will now leave these proposals in the hands of the Committee. I thank them very much for the kind indulgence with which they have listened to my Statement, which, at least in some parts, must have been wearisome and tedious. I hope they will accord to the proposals of the Government the same kind attention, and the same candid consideration, which they have been so good as to extend to myself. I can assure the Committee that we have approached our task in no spirit of over-confidence, in no spirit of depreciation of the great difficulties with which it is attended, and in no spirit of party interest—or, indeed, with any other desire than to do our best with the view of promoting the national welfare. Our task has, from various circumstances, been a peculiarly difficult one. While on the one hand we have had to deal with one of the greatest opportunities which have ever probably presented themselves to a Ministry in any one financial year, we have, at the same time, been precluded by circumstances to which I have already alluded from taking the advantage of that opportunity which we could have wished. We felt that the question to be solved was not what could be done, but what it was possible to do within the time at our disposal; and we trust the Committee will give our proposals their kind attention, and will receive them in the spirit in which they are tendered for their acceptance. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the following Resolutions:—1. That the Duties of Customs now chargeable on the under-mentioned goods upon their importation into Great Britain or Ireland shall cease and determine on and after the respective dales hereinafter mentioned (that is to say):On Sugar, viz.Candy, Brown or White;Refined Sugar, or Sugar rendered by any process equal in quality thereto;Manufactures of Refined Sugar;on and after the twenty-first day of May, one thousand eight hundred and seventy-four:And on Sugar, viz.Not equal to Refined—First Class;Second Class;Third Class;Fourth Class (including Cane Juice);Molasses;Almonds, Baste of;Cherries, Dried;Comfits, Dry;678Confectionery, not otherwise enumerated;Ginger, Preserved;Marmalade;Succadoes, including all Fruits and Vegetables preserved in Sugar, not otherwise enumerated;on and after the first day of May, one thousand eight hundred and seventy-four.2. That, in lieu of the Duties of Customs now chargeable on the under-mentioned articles, the following Duties of Customs shall be charged on and after the first day of May, one thousand eight hundred and seventy-four, on the importation thereof into Great Britain or Ireland: (that is to say,) on
|Plums preserved in Sugar thecwt.||0||7||0|
3. That on and after the first day of May, one thousand eight hundred and seventy-four the following Drawbacks now paid and allowed shall cease to be paid and allowed on the under-mentioned descriptions of Sugar refined in Great Britain or Ireland on the Exportation thereof to Foreign parts, or on removal to the Isle of Man for consumption there, or on deposit in any approved warehouse, upon such terms and subject to such regulations as the Commissioners of Customs may direct for delivery from such warehouse as ships' stores only, or for the purpose of sweetening British Spirits in Bond (that is to say):
Upon Refined Sugar in Loaf complete and whole or Lumps duly Refined, having been perfectly clarified and thoroughly dried in the stove, and being of an uniform whiteness throughout; and upon such Sugar pounded, crushed, or broken in a warehouse approved by the Commissioners of Customs, such Sugar having been there first inspected by the Officers of Customs in Lumps or Loaves, as if for immediate shipment, and then packed for exportation in the presence of such Officers, and at the expense of the Exporter; and upon Candy;
Upon Refined Sugar unstoved, pounded, crushed, or broken, and not in any way inferior to the Export Standard Sample No. 2, approved by the Lords of the Treasury, and which shall not contain more than five per. centum of moisture over and above what the same would Contain if thoroughly dried in the stove;
Upon Sugar refined by the centrifugal or by any other process, and not in any way inferior to the Export Standard Sample No. 1, approved by the Lords of the Treasury;
Upon other Refined Sugar unstoved, being bastards or pieces ground, powdered, or crushed:—
——Not in any way inferior to the Export Standard Sample No. 3, approved by the Lords of the Treasury;
——Not in any way inferior to the Export Standard Sample No. 4, approved by the Lords of the Treasury;
——Not in any way inferior to the Export Standard Sample No. 5, approved by the Lords of the Treasury;
——Inferior to the above last-mentioned Standard Sample.
4. That, on and after the first day of May, one. thousand eight hundred and seventy-four, the Duties of Excise now payable upon or in respect of Sugars made in the United Kingdom shall cease, and shall no longer be charged or levied.
5. That, on and after the first day of May, one thousand eight hundred and seventy-four, in lieu of the Duties of Excise now chargeable upon Sugar used in Brewing, there shall be charged and paid upon every hundredweight, and in proportion for any fractional part of a hundredweight, of all Sugars which shall be used by any Brewer of Beer for Sale in the brewing or making of Beer, the Excise Duty of Eleven Shillings and Six Pence.
§ MR. LOWE
After the very important and admirable statement of the right hon. Gentleman, I should hardly be treating him with proper respect if I presumed to offer any observations on his proposals at the present moment. There are many things in his speech which we on this side of the House have heard with great satisfaction, and I would now simply ask him when he proposes to proceed with his financial scheme?
§ First Resolution agreed to.
§ Resolution 2 agreed to.
§ Resolution 3.
said, he had heard with great satisfaction many of the statements made by the right hon. Gentleman. They had often heard about lightening the springs of industry, but he was afraid the meaning of that sometimes was the not paying our debts. He was glad that the principle for which he had long contended, of applying a part of the Revenue every year to the redemption of the Debt, had to a certain extent been recognized by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They had no right to count on a continuance of the great commercial prosperity of the country, and it would be extremely wrong to neglect the opportunity which times like the present afforded of doing something in the direction he had mentioned.
§ MR. DODSON
said, he wished to know whether it was proposed to dispose at present of all the different Resolutions connected with the Budget, 680 and have the discussion that day week on the Report, or whether they were to go on further at this sitting than the Resolution on the sugar duties? In the latter case they would be enabled to have the discussion in Committee, and there was a great convenience in dealing with the Budget in that manner.
§ SIR GEORGE JENKINSON
thanked the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the very kind manner in which he had taken notice of the subject of local taxation. It was their duty to be thankful for small mercies, and those which had just fallen to the lot of the agricultural interest came within that category. It was commonly said that when a man had been kept from food for a long while he should be fed carefully at first so as not to produce repletion, and this was the principle on which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had acted. At the same time, he had held out a promise of doing something more in the future. It was difficult to see why the sugar duties should be totally abolished, while those on malt were left untouched. Last year, when the former were remitted one-half, his hon. Friend (Mr. Clare Read) asked why the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not turn his hand to malt, and he (Sir George Jenkinson) might now say the same thing. Surely the time had now arrived for dealing with the duties on malt. They were very heavy, and it could not reasonably be asked that the whole should be remitted at once; but, with so large a surplus as that which had just been announced, it might fairly have been expected that there would be a reduction of them to the extent of a third or a fourth. Three times within the last five years had relief been given to the consumers of sugar, and he could not see a reason for this special favour. He hoped the subject of the malt duties would receive the favourable consideration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer next year, for the tax pressed heavily upon the agriculturists, especially in the feeding of cattle. With regard to the remission of the horse duty, he thought that some of those who benefited most would be among the richer classes. Local taxation was very heavy, and was in danger of being increased, and this was one item which might have helped in its reduction by providing for the expenses of turnpike roads after the Trusts had expired.
§ SIR JOHN LUBBOCK
congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on the very able Statement which he had just made to the Committee, and the magnificent surplus which he inherited from his predecessors. He, however, could not but regret that the right hon. Gentleman did not propose to do more for the reduction of the National Debt. If the present policy had been adopted in deference to the views of those who had specially studied the question, he would have been most loth to obtrude any mere views of his own on the House; but, on the contrary, the most eminent of our political economists had expressed themselves very strongly in favour of the reduction of the National Debt, though subject, of course, to the choice of a favourable time and opportunity. It had been said that practical politicians had taken a very different view, and had preferred reduction of taxation to reduction of Debt. This, however, appeared to have been done in deference rather to the supposed wishes of the country than in the exercise of their own deliberate judgment. In fact, our most eminent financiers had generally expressed themselves strongly on the wisdom of reducing our Debt. Sir George Lewis, one of the most sagacious of statesmen, speaking with all the responsibility of a Chancellor of the Exchequer, expressed his strong conviction that we ought to take steps to reduce our Debt, and that £5,000,000 a-year was too little to devote to such a purpose. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe), when Chancellor of the Exchequer, said that "he would be glad, as far as he was concerned, if the House would consent to put on a shilling income tax for the reduction of Debt," which, however, he (Sir John Lubbock) thought would be going too far. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal party, in 1866, made a most eloquent and convincing speech on the subject, expressing his conviction that it was our duty "in the time of our wealth and prosperity to reduce our Debt." The present Prime Minister, when Chancellor of the Exchequer in the following year, referred at length to that speech, and said that he "entirely approved the policy which it enunciated." Nay, the right hon. Gentleman himself had that evening expressed the same views. Moreover, 682 when legislating for others, Parliament habitually acted on this principle, for when local bodies were authorized to borrow on the security of rates they were almost always compelled to redeem the loans so created within a certain number of years. The Times and The Economist had recently advocated the same view in a series of most able articles. Those who were of a different opinion generally assumed that the same amount would be saved, and the capital of the country would be increased equally, whether we reduced our taxation or whether we retained it, and applied the surplus to a reduction of Debt—that the difference was merely whether the amount was saved by individuals or by nations as a whole. This, however, was not the case. On the contrary, taxes were in the main paid out of income and not out of capital. It was, indeed, somewhat extraordinary that this should be denied by those who were anxious to apply the whole of any surplus to reduction of taxation, and who argued that such reduction was made up for by increased consumption, because in this case it was evident that for every £1 of taxation reduced, £4 or £5 must have been spent. Mr. Mill laid it down as an undoubted fact that "people did not wholly pay their taxes from what they would have saved, but partly, if not chiefly, from what they would have spent." So far from believing that national savings would diminish individual savings, he believed that the very reverse would be the case, and that the example of national thrift would tend to encourage prudence and economy on the part of individuals. Of course, he did not deny that there might be cases in which it was better to reduce or remove taxes rather than to pay off Debt. A tax which pressed heavily on trade or commerce might cost the country far more than it brought into the Exchequer. But this could not, he thought, be said to be the case at present. It was sometimes said that we should do well to continue the course which had been pursued in recent years, and which had been followed by so satisfactory an increase in the Revenue; but the fact was that we could not follow that course. The principle of the recent remissions had been to lower the taxes on the necessaries of life, and it had, no doubt, been our fortunate experience that many of the previous 683 reductions of duty had been made up for by increased consumption. The buoyancy of our Revenue had not been entirely due to the remission of taxation, but greatly to the prosperity and increase of our trade and manufactures. The reduction of a tax would, no doubt, be recouped to a considerable extent by increased consumption. That could not happen when a duty was abandoned altogether, as was now proposed with the sugar duties. It might, perhaps, be admitted that a reduction of the Debt was desirable; but we were already devoting a fair sum annually to the purpose. But was that so? The amount which we paid on Terminable Annuities over and above that which we should have to pay on Consols was the only amount regularly allotted to this object, and this extra payment amounted to about £2,200,000 a-year. But surely if it was wise to reduce our Debt, no one could say that £2,200,000 was a reasonable amount? In 1866 the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition considered an annual reduction of £3,500,000 to be far too little. We took credit to ourselves for the fact that during the last 15 years we had reduced our Debt at the rate of £2,800,000 a-year; but we must remember, on the other hand, the great improvement which had taken place in our national position during that period. Our exports and imports had actually more than doubled, having risen from £304,000,000 to £669,000,000, an increase of no less than £365,000,000. The proportion per head of the population also had increased from £10 14s. 5d. in 1858 to £210s. 6d. in 1872. Again, the total annual value of the property and profits assessed to the income tax had risen from £313,000,000 in 1857 to £465,594,000 in 1871, since which time, again, it must have very considerably increased. By the side of these figures how paltry did it seem to boast about having reduced the Debt at the rate of less than £3,000,000 a-year, especially when we remembered that during the same period taxes had been removed amounting to more than £23,000,000 a-year! But if, while the taxation had been so greatly reduced, the power of bearing it, so far as concerned the propertied classes, had been enormously increased, how was it with regard to those of our fellow-countrymen who lived on 684 weekly wages? The hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Brassey), in a very interesting paper read before the Social Science Association last year, showed how considerable an increase had taken place recently in wages. The total amount of merchandize imported into the country was, in 1858, at the rate of £5 16s. per head; in 1872 it was £11 2s. 10d. per head; and if we took articles of general consumption we should find a very considerable increase. Thus the amount of wheat imported in 1868 was 87.5 lb. per head; in 1872 it was 162.8 lb. per head. Sugar, in 1858, 34.5 lb. per head; in 1872, 47.3 lb. Tea, 2.5 lb. in 1858; 4 lb. in 1872; eggs, 4.7 per head in 1858; 16.6 in 1872. An argument which was sometimes used against the reduction of Debt was that gold was diminishing in value. Surely, however, it was impossible for anyone to foresee what the value of gold would be 50 years hence. At present, some of the principal nations of the world had an inconvertible paper currency. But if, as was to be hoped, more enlightened views prevailed, much of that paper would be replaced by gold. Again, there was a tendency to substitute gold for silver, as was being done in Germany. It was not impossible that a gold currency might be established in India, and if China and Japan should follow the same example, which would probably be greatly to their advantage, we might live to see the value of gold considerably enhanced. Moreover, he thought the question be-came simpler if we reversed it, and asked whether it was not sometimes desirable, and even unavoidable, to borrow in times of war. But if this was so—and no one, he believed, denied it—then it was clearly necessary to reduce the Debt in times of peace. For it was obvious that if a nation borrowed while it was at war, and did not pay off in times of peace, its Debt would continue to increase until national bankruptcy was the ultimate and inevitable result. Moreover, there were special reasons why we should be very careful about reducing taxation at the present time. Wages showed a tendency to decline; but if this was the case, the consumption of beer and spirits—and, consequently, the Revenue—would decline too. Under these circumstances, then, there were special reasons why we should be unwise to deal with the present increase 685 in our Revenue as if it were permanent. The reduction of Debt in times of prosperity would equalize the national burdens, and lighten our difficulties in adverse times. Nor could it be said that we should in such a case be acting solely for the benefit of posterity. He was not, indeed, disposed to grudge what we could do for posterity; but in this case he maintained that many of us might hope to live to profit by, or suffer from, the course now adopted. If our Revenue fell off, or if any great war should tax our resources, we should indeed lament that we had omitted to avail ourselves of the present opportunity; and if, on the other hand, our prosperity continued, we should, he was sure, never regret that we had made some little sacrifice for so great an object. Mr. Cobden had quoted with approbation the saying of an American statesman that the reduction of Debt gave more strength to a nation than one hundred ships of the line ready for battle, or a hundred thousand armed soldiers: and the present Prime Minister himself, when Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1867, truly said that—If a Chancellor of the Exchequer is called upon to go into the market to raise money, he will walk with a prouder mien, and experience greater facilities in raising money, if it can be shown that in the day of out prosperity we have made an honourable and an honest attempt to reduce the amount of our National Debt."—[3 Hansard, clxxxvi. 1123.]For his own part, holding the views which he did, he could not help wishing that the right hon. Gentleman, instead of dealing with £7,000,000, had dealt with £27,000,000 by Terminable Annuities; for, after all, the real danger to this country was not from attack in times of war, but from competition in times of peace. We were, he hoped and believed, making sufficient efforts to provide against the former, but he wished we were doing more to prepare for the latter. He regretted, therefore, the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman. His Budget might acquire a temporary popularity; but if he had taken a bolder course;—one more in accordance with the convictions of our leading statesmen on both sides of the House, and with the opinions expressed in his own speech—he would better have consulted the real interests of the country, and have justly earned for himself the gratitude of the nation.
§ MR. BUTLER-JOHNSTONE
said, he would have been glad if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had left the income tax where it was, and allowed the proceeds to go into the sinking fund of our National Debt. If our commerce were always to go on increasing it was of small importance whether we paid off our Debt or not; but it appeared to him we ought not to take for granted that the country would always be as prosperous as it was at present. The prosperity we had enjoyed for the last 20 or 30 years was more likely to be the exception than the rule, and the time might come when a Debt of over £700,000,000 would press heavily even on the indomitable energies of this country. As to the income tax being objectionable, why, all taxes were, for that matter, objectionable, and if they were to proceed to deal with them all for that reason they would never be able to reduce the National Debt at all. He contended that it was their bounden duty in a time of prosperity such as this to make some serious effort to reduce that Debt. An opportunity of doing so had been allowed to pass; a popular Budget had been prepared, and he almost despaired of seeing a serious effort made to reduce our enormous Debt. The present was an epoch in the history of our finances. The policy of stimulating our commerce to the utmost had borne fruit, and we were now in possession of an enormous surplus with which a great effort might be made to grapple with our gigantic Debt. The Statesmen of 1815 were wise in their generation, in neglecting the Debt, and turning their thoughts to stimulating the commercial and manufacturing energies of the country, in throwing the reins, as it was called, on the neck of the willing horse, so that the country might increase so much in wealth as not to feel the weight of a Debt which might otherwise have crushed it. But a totally different set of conditions had now arisen from those of 1815. We had now a plethora of wealth in the country, and he contended that it would be wise and statesmanlike in the day of our prosperity to prepare against a day of possible commercial depression and calamity. Without going into the question whether our coal supply was likely to be exhausted or not, he would point out that in the event of the price of coal continuing to advance our commercial prosperity might be greatly endangered. 687 If a calamity happened to the manufacturing industry of the country, the Debt would be seriously felt, and when war broke out we should not be in so favourable a position as we should occupy if the Debt were considerably reduced. He would be willing to give up the sugar duties if the income tax had been left where it was, and he therefore, with the hon. Baronet the Member for Maidstone (Sir John Lubbock) deeply regretted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not made a better attempt to reduce the National Debt.
§ MR. SYNAN
said, he did not propose to enter into any discussion of so large a subject as the question of the reduction of the National Debt on the present occasion; but when it came to a matter of comparison whether there should be such a reduction, or a reduction of those taxes which interfered with the comforts and independence of the people, he should vote for that which affected their present prosperity—namely, the relief of those taxes which were hard to bear or tended to impede that prosperity, He wished to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether his scheme of affording relief in respect of local taxation would be extended to Ireland, as in that country the lunatic asylums were supported by the counties out of county rates, and not by unions as in England, and were a very heavy burden upon the ratepayers, who had no power to divide the rates with the landlord?
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, it was intended to extend the same relief to Ireland as to England and Scotland in that respect.
§ MR. W. STANHOPE
said, he thought the projected change respecting the cost of the maintenance of lunatics would undoubtedly be a national advantage. It would also be an inducement to guardians to send fresh cases into asylums at an earlier stage, but it would cause the transfer of many chronic cases, now treated in the union workhouses, to the asylums, and a large increase in the number of lunatics sent into the county asylums, and, consequently, a vast charge would be thrown on the counties in providing additional accom- 688 modation. The cost per bed could not be estimated at less than £200. The remission of the horse duty would be valued by the small traders, and he himself had had many representations from them of the hardship with which this duty pressed upon thorn. But, on the other hand, one of the inducements which young farmers had for entering the Yeomanry was their exemption from this duty, and he feared, unless something was done to counteract it, the remission of the duty might have the effect of keeping many who otherwise would have entered the Yeomanry out of the service. On the whole he congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on his Budget.
§ SIR GEORGE BOWYER
said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer deserved great credit for undertaking to deal with the question of local taxation. Lunatics were now better cared for than they used to be, poor-houses were better managed, and the rural police made more effective; and it must be admitted that the cost of these improvements had fallen very heavily on the land. The whole country benefited by improved asylums, bettor-regulated poor-houses, and a more efficient police, and yet, hitherto, it was the land upon which all the expense had fallen. The same might be said of schools. Great expense was gone to in providing schools, especially where there were school boards; and landowners were obliged to provide them, if they objected to school boards. All this entailed great burdens on land, and the grievance had been admitted by one Government after another; but none had had the courage to deal with it, because there were persons in this country who seemed to think that land and the owners of land ought to be treated as harshly as possible, and these people were just now doing all they could to injure the landlord, making him pay higher wages to the labourer. The labourer, no doubt, was in some places not sufficiently paid; but this system of agitation in his behalf was hurtful to the land, and if carried on and supported by those who ought to know better the land would be unable to bear the pressure. He believed that when the whole system of finance should be taken into account it would be found that some further alterations might be made to relieve the burdens on land without injury to any other interest or class of people in the country. As to the 689 question in reference to a reduction of the National Debt, he considered that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had wisely dealt with it. There was only one thing he regretted in the plan of the right hon. Gentleman. He wished the Chancellor of the Exchequer had taken into consideration a small tax which was very grievous to the poor—he meant the licence duty for hawking. He hoped he would do so in a future Budget, in order that an honest, industrious class of persons might have some relief from a tax which they found so hard to pay. There were many poor men and women who could earn an honest living by hawking goods, but were prevented by the licence duty, which they were unable to pay. He believed the Budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be satisfactory to the whole country, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not be prevented by any clamour from giving the relief he had promised to the land.
§ MR. MARTEN
shared in the general expression of gratification with which the Budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was received; but he ventured to express his regret that the right hon. Gentleman had not dealt with the brewers' licence duty. At the same time, he derived encouragement from what the right hon. Gentleman had said, that he kept over this matter to be dealt with as part of the general question of the malt duty, which required more ample consideration than time would now allow. Still, he had hoped the brewers' licence duty would be dealt with on its own merits, or rather its demerits. The number of brewers who paid the duty was comparatively small. The great bulk of the brewers in this country brewed very small quantities, and their profits must therefore be—as in fact they were—proportionately small. According to the Return for the year ending the 30th September, 1872, the total number of common brewers was 30,798, but out of that number 28,549 were returned as brewing under 1,000 barrels of beer annually, which would represent about 250 quarters of malt, and, taking all expenses into consideration, would not leave a profit in the best of such cases of more than £250 a-year. In the majority of cases it might be taken at from £100 to £150. In bringing the case of these persons under the notice of the Committee, 690 he was anxious to show that they were in reality dealing not with a few great brewers whose largo establishments and colossal fortunes were the wonder of many, and perhaps the envy of some, but with a very large portion of a trade whose production was small and whose profits were in proportion. It was upon this, by far the largest class of brewers, that the licence duty fell with crushing severity. There were some private brewers who browed over 1,000 barrels a-year; and from the experience of the brewery companies, who published their accounts annually, there was no difficulty in arriving at an approximate estimate of the profits of the small brewers, who constituted so overwhelming a portion of the trade. He believed that none of the brewery companies had last year declared a larger dividend than 10 per cent upon their capital. These companies carried on business upon a very large scale, with all the advantages of the best machinery, and with a capital which could command the best article in the market at the lowest price. The small brewer who turned out his 1,000 barrels a-year had no chance of realizing equal profits, and yet he had to pay as heavy a licence duty. The result of this system was seen in the continuous decrease of the number of common brewers in England. In 1867 they were returned as 37,110; in 1808, 35,629, and so on; in consecutive years they had been reduced to 32,000, to 31,000, and in 1872 to 30,798. This showed that the effect of the burden was more and more to drive the small brewers out of the market, and to give the large brewers a more complete and extended monopoly of the trade. With regard to the origin of the tax it was essential that certain facts should be borne in mind. It was said, in imposing the new brewers licence duty, that it was put on as some equivalent for the abolition of the hop duty. It was assumed by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gladstone) that the brewers would benefit to the full extent of the remission of the hop duty. The tax itself was objectionable in many respects, apart from its financial bearing, and the right hon. Gentleman said he was willing to abolish it if the brewers would agree to the imposition of a licence duty instead. The average receipts from the hop duties were £280,000, the income from the old brewers' licences was 691 £70,000, together in round numbers £350,000, from which was to be deducted £5,000, the cost of collection, leaving a net receipt of £345,000 a-year. The right hon. Gentleman calculated that the new brewers' licence duty would yield a sum of £300,000 annually; and therefore that there would be a loss to the Government of £45,000 a-year by the change; but the fact was, that instead, there had been an almost annual excess, over the former receipt of £345,000, to the extent in some years of £40,000 and upwards. That arose partly from the manner in which the duty was levied per barrel; and the brewers, both large and small, had not felt the effect of the abolition of the hop duty in the way it was expected. The area of ground upon which hops were grown was limited; in fact, hops were in the hands of a few monopolists, and they were the only persons who had derived benefit from the remission. The brewers had, in fact, paid even higher prices than before. For these reasons he regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had not taken this special case into consideration.
§ MR. GRIEVE
called attention to the dates fixed for the cessation of the sugar duties, comparing the intervening periods with those allowed on former occasions, and said he believed that, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would hear the sugar refiners, he would see reason to make a change in the dates that were proposed in the Resolutions. He complimented the right hon. Gentleman upon his courage in abolishing those duties. Its effect on the shipping interest and upon the commerce of the country would be most beneficial.
§ CAPTAIN RITCHIE
observed, that the poorer classes of income tax-payers had expected to receive some consideration in this Budget, and it had been hoped that a portion of the surplus would be devoted to raising the limit of exemption to £200 or £250. He thought that if some portion of the sum which had been given to the remission of the duty upon horses had been appropriated in that direction, it would have given more general satisfaction to the country at large.
§ MR. MELLY
said, he rose to continue the pœan of praise with which the truly Liberal Budget of the right hon. Gentleman had been received on that side 692 of the House. He thought congratulations were due to him first upon coming into possession of so large a surplus as £6,000,000, and secondly upon his fair and reasonable distribution of that large sum—the economies of a former Administration. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that his predecessor (Mr. Gladstone) had "like Cambuscan bold left half his tale untold," but ho. (Mr. Melly) must remind hon. Members opposite that the story was not only half told, but more than half disbelieved. Not only by many Members of the Conservative party, but by the whole of the Tory Press, had the figures of the late Prime Minister been violently disputed and ignorantly denied; few were they who had given him that credence and credit for perfect exactitude which facts had that night so triumphantly proved to be his due. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer had well said, no other result could have been expected from calculations made by "the most eminent financier of the present century." As regards the distribution of the surplus under the excellent proposals of the Government, local taxation would be relieved of a charge of £1,000,000 without impairing the securities for economy. By increasing the subscription of the central Government to the local police force from one quarter to half, no change was made in the powers of the county and borough authorities, and the grant of 4s. a-week towards the maintenance of pauper lunatics still left the inducement to kind, careful, and economic management on the part of the local governments. He much approved the appointment of £2,000,000 of the large surplus with which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had had to deal to the total repeal of the sugar duties, which would give great satisfaction to the constituency which he represented. He thanked Her Majesty's Government also for this subscription to the policy of a "free breakfast-table." The consumption of sugar had greatly increased. The hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Torr) stated last year that the Price of sugar would be maintained, though half the duty was repealed, and that the grocers alone would reap the benefit. Within a month, shops were placarded with the announcement that sugar had fallen one halfpenny a pound. No doubt, in a few days, they would see 693 red bills announcing a further reduction in price. Speaking from some little knowledge of the subject, he was quite certain that nothing would more greatly conduce to the development of the trade of London, Liverpool, and the other great out ports than the total abolition of the sugar duties; as the right hon. Gentleman had said England would become—still more than she was—the "entrepôt" of the sugar trade. Their ships sailed and steamed from every sugar shipping port; they had almost a monopoly of the carrying trade from sugar producing countries, and now that all the vexatious differential duties were done away with, the stocks of cane sugar necessary for the supply of Europe would be very largely held in this country, while its re-distribution would increase their trade. The simpler forms of purification would be carried on in Jamaica and other Colonies, and sugar would be more and more cheaply supplied direct to their industrial classes. He also approved of the reduction of the horse duty, which every cart and cab owner would appreciate, as well as many thousands of the smaller class of tradesmen. He thought the Budget would be generally approved, and hoped a rule of economy and prudence would enable the right hon. Gentleman to continue thus to carry out the policy of his predecessors in office.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
, in the absence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, undertook that the question put by the hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. Grieve) should be carefully considered. It was not proposed to repeal the duty on refined sugar till the 21st of May, so that more than a month would be given to refiners to work out their stocks. It was the intention of the Government to take the Resolution on sugar that night, and to postpone the Resolutions on the income tax and the horse duty until Thursday next.
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
said, he was happy to be able to join in the congratulations offered to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Budget which he had produced. He considered that the right hon. Gentleman had made a good use of the splendid inheritance to which he had suddenly and unexpectedly succeeded. The House appeared to be tolerably satisfied with his financial scheme, and he fancied that the country 694 would not find very much fault with it. There was only one class of persons who scorned to have been left out in the cold, and that was their friend the brewer. He must congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and the Government to which he belonged on the moral courage which they had shown in dealing with that interest; because, as they' all knew, there had been representations going about the country that the Government found themselves in office through the influence and power of the great brewers. Any person who listened to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer must be convinced that the Government would not pay any regard to private interests, but consider only what would be best for the country at large. Last year the present Premier observed that it was a regular thing on a Budget night for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say there was a large increase on spirits, and then, with a face arranged for the occasion, state how much he regretted it. But happily there was no pretence in the Chancellor's statement that evening; for in no part of his speech was he more earnest than when eloquently deprecating the large quantity of spirits consumed in this country during the past year; and he (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) was pleased to see how cordially the House greeted those remarks of the right hon. Gentleman, showing that he was not alone in regretting what was going on in the country at the present time. He was glad also to find the right hon. Gentleman exploding the nonsensical notion that the Revenue would suffer if the people drank loss. The mode in which we raised about one-third of our Revenue was something contemptible. A great swarm of collectors was, as it were, sent forth in the shape of publicans and beer sellers commissioned to gather in from the people money required by the national Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman was correct in saying that pauperism had not diminished, but increased of late years in proportion to our population, and unfortunately the same was the case with regard to lunacy and crime. When a director of the Hudson's Bay Company, the right hon. Gentleman took credit to that body for preventing the sale of drink in their territories; but why should not the people of this country enjoy the same 695 blessing? He hoped before long to find the right hon. Gentleman advancing still further towards the views he himself advocated.
§ COLONEL BARTTELOT
, while congratulating his right hon. Friend both on the position he now filled and on the surplus he had at his command, also congratulated a right hon. Gentleman not then in his place (Mr. Gladstone) on the substantial accuracy of the statement he had recently made as to the state of the national finances. He had never denied or concealed from himself that the right hon. Member for Greenwich was a man on the substantial correctness of whose figures they could rely. As to the horse duty, agriculturists had enjoyed exemption, and he was glad the commercial community would be benefited by the abolition of the tax. With respect to the malt tax, there was no longer the same agitation as when the price of barley was from 26s. to 30s. a quarter, and as long as the price remained at 50s. farmers would not feel very strongly on the question; but he regretted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have dispensed the large surplus of £5,492,000, and proclaimed his inability, from the want of resources to meet the wishes of the farmers and agricultural classes in this respect. Was it wise to defer dealing with a question of this hind? He (Colonel Barttelot) had never advocated immediate abolition; but he thought the tax should be gradually reduced in prosperous times, particularly as whenever household suffrage was extended to counties—which he hoped was a very distant day—the class enfranchised by it would denounce a duty on one of their chief articles of consumption. The Chancellor of the Exchequer might have more fully considered dealing with the tax by an increase of the brewers' licences. His hon. Friend (Mr. Greene) laughed at this, knowing well that the repeal of those licences would have simply benefited the brewers, whom, as the farmers' best customers for barley, he himself should have wished to have helped had he been able. Another plan would have been to limit the amount of the tax, say to £6,000,000, remitting any excess in the interest of barley growers, and a third, which he should have preferred, would have been a moderate reduction, such as 8½d. out of the 696 2s. 8½d. per bushel, which was the present amount paid. Turning to the income tax, he regretted that instead of the reduction of a penny, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not exempted incomes under £250 or £300 a-year. The feeling against the tax had been produced by a former Chancellor (Mr. Lowe) having insisted on raising every farthing he could from it, and the pressure had been most severe on the possessors of small incomes. The repeal of the sugar duties might be inevitable, and was preferable to reducing both the sugar and the tea duties, in which case both must speedily have been given up; whereas there was now hope of retaining one of them. He doubted, however, whether, considering the low price of sugar, the consumer would benefit. He congratulated his right hon. Friend on his Budget, though he should have desired alterations on some points.
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY
thanked the right hon. Gentleman for the remission of the horse duty, which he felt assured would be received as a great boon by the farmers of the country. So far as Scotland was concerned, the farmers felt that they had been rather harassed by the late Chancellor. The right hon. Baronet seemed also to correctly understand the feelings of the farmers with respect to the dog tax. The farmers were not in favour of the total abolition of that tax. He believed they would approve of the suggestion to double the present tax, and exempt those from payment who kept sheep. There was another tax in regard to which the farmers felt strongly, and that was the gun tax. Farmers, though allowed to shoot vermin, might only scare birds, and rooks, which used to be shot by persons who would not pay the duty, had alarmingly increased. The tax was so small a matter that it would not affect the Financial Statement, and he hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer Mould deal with it on the next opportunity.
§ MR. MUNTZ
said, ht; did not see how the Chancellor of the Exchequer could have abolished the income tax, though after the proclamation last January many persons had expected, and would have benefited by such a course. After the unfortunate step taken last year, the remission of the sugar duty had become inevitable. With respect to the relief 697 proposed to be given to local burdens it had been stated that a great boon, amounting to £1,010,000, had been granted to the landed interests. But local taxation affected towns as well as country. In his opinion, a fairer apportionment could not possibly be made. Towns had their proportion of lunatics, and the police were more required in the towns than in the country. On behalf of his constituents, he accepted the exemptions granted as a boon, for which he thanked the right hon. Gentleman. Then, as regarded the £170,000 in respect of the rating of Government property, the towns would reap almost the whole of the benefit conferred. With respect to horses, the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be hailed with much pleasure by those who got their livelihood, whether in country or town, by means of a horse and cart. Having said so much in favour of the financial scheme of the right hon. Gentleman, he was sorry to have to add a word which was not so agreeable. He feared that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had estimated next year's income rather beyond what he would find it. It was impossible to deny that the inflation of the last two years was coming to a close. The present high rate of wages, which had been occasioned by strikes and exceptional demands, could not be maintained. Strikes were occurring every day, and exports were falling off. He trusted he was mistaken; but taking all things into consideration he could not but doubt the accuracy of the right hon. Gentleman's Estimate. On the whole, however, the Budget would, he believed, meet with the general approval of the country.
§ MR. STORER
congratulated the Chancellor of the Exchequer for so considerably lightening the burdens so long borne by the real property of the country; but he could not view the Budget with unmixed satisfaction, because he thought agriculturists had a right to expect that justice would have been granted to them in regard to the malt tax.
§ MR. SANDFORD
said, he was much disappointed that incomes below £300 a-year were not wholly exempted from income tax.
§ MR. COLMAN
said, that whilst some complaints had been made that the malt tax had not been dealt with, it was only fair, on the other hand, to remember 698 that there was much diversity of opinion amongst barley-growers themselves on the question. Coming from one of the largest barley-growing counties in the Kingdom, he could state from his own knowledge that many farmers were of opinion that the abolition of the duty would not be for their benefit. He was not giving any opinion himself on the wisdom of the tax, but till the farmers were more agreed amongst themselves they could not expect the question to be dealt with. Amongst the many thanks which had been expressed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for his remission of taxation he had to express one regret. He should have preferred that the horse tax should be handed over to the local authorities instead of being abolished, believing it was a tax which might properly and fairly be used as an alleviation of local burdens. At the same time he had to express on behalf of those who were interested in the question of local taxation their thanks for the relief already given, and for the promise of further consideration of the question before another Budget.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
, in reply, thanked the Committee for the favourable reception which the proposals he had laid before them had received at both sides of the House. He could not help thinking that with the surplus at the disposal of Her Majesty's Government, his task had been a comparatively easy one. He was glad that, upon the whole, the Committee appeared to think he had made a fair and right selection of taxes to be abolished or reduced. This he could certainly say, in confirmation of what had fallen from the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz)—that they had been solely anxious to do that which should be best for the general interests of the country without caring to inquire whether land or town would benefit most by their proposals. He believed with the hon. Member, however, that, in many instances, towns would receive a larger share of benefit than the country, and the Government were particularly anxious to promote the improvement of the dwellings of the people in towns. No particular questions had been raised in the course of the discussion to which he need advert at length. With reference to an observation that had 699 been made by the bon. Member for Greenock (Mr. Grieve) relating to the date of the abolition of the sugar duties, he might state that the point had been carefully considered by the Government, who, in fixing the date for their abolition, had followed the example which had been set them last year, and from all he could ascertain the date fixed would be the most convenient for the trade, the public, and the refiners, the latter of whom would have until the 21st May to get rid of their stocks. With regard to the point referred to by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Sandford), he had already stated that the Government reserved the question of the income tax, both as to its structure and its incidence, until next year, merely reducing it for the present one penny in the pound, and therefore the matter alluded to by the hon. Member had not been raised. With reference to the course of Business, the Government would have been glad to have all the Resolutions proposed that evening, and to have had them reported next week; but there seemed to be a wish on the part of several hon. Members whose opinions were of great weight and authority in that House that a further discussion on some of the Resolutions should be bad in Committee of Ways and Means. He, therefore, proposed only to take the Resolutions relating to the sugar duties that night, leaving those relating to the income tax and the horse duty to be taken on that day week. Monday night would be taken up by the Navy Estimates, and, therefore, he proposed that the Report of the Resolutions to be agreed upon that night should be brought up on Thursday next, and that afterwards the House should go into Committee of Ways and Means to discuss the Resolutions relating to the income tax and the horse duty, the Report upon which he hoped would be able to be taken on Friday, the 24th instant, the Standing Orders as to Motions on going into Supply being suspended for that purpose. It was, of course, desirable to get the Resolutions with regard to the rate of the income tax settled as soon as possible.
§ Resolution agreed to.
§ Resolutions to be reported upon Thursday next;
§ Committee to sit again To-morrow.