§ (Mr. Raikes, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. William Henry Smith.)
§ [BILL 143.] SECOND READING.
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. William Henry Smith.)
§ MR. DODSON
said, he wished to make an explanation in reference to a statement he had made the other evening in comparing the financial condition of the year 1877-8 with that of the year 1872-3, and to the reply of his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury. He (Mr. Dodson) said, that the estimated expenditure for 1877-8 was, roundly, £79,000,000, exactly £78,794,000; and that the actual expenditure for 1872-3 was, roundly, £71,000,000, exactly £70,714,000. Admitting the accuracy of the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that in order to 1675 ascertain the net burden of taxation it was necessary to deduct £13,400,000 which would be derived from other sources than taxation from the entire estimated expenditure, it would reduce the exact burden for 1877-8 to £65,394,000. He went on to say that in order to render the comparison a fair one, it was necessary to make a corresponding deduction from the actual expenditure of 1872-3 of the revenue derived from other sources than taxation. This amounted to £10,703,000, which reduced the actual burden for expenditure in 1872-3 to £60,011,000, as against £65,394,000 in 1877-8. The explanation of the difference of the figures mentioned by his hon. Friend and himself was that his hon. Friend included in his statement the surplus of the year 1872-3, which amounted to £5,896,000, but which really formed part of the revenue, not of the expenditure of the year; and so far they had been at cross purposes. He would like to know if the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury had any reply to make to that explanation?
§ MR. CHILDERS
desired to say a few words as to the general effect of the Budget of his right hon. Friend and as to our present financial position. After the Financial Statement had been made, he ventured to put one or two questions to his right hon. Friend, and on most points he admitted that the explanation given was satisfactory. One question had reference to the receipts more especially under the head of Income Tax during the last week of the year just closed, as compared with the receipts for the first week of the present financial year; and he had accepted as satisfactory the reply that nothing had been got into the receipt of last year except what belonged to it. He had, however, noticed that during the last two years the balance in the hands of the collectors of Inland Revenue had steadily diminished, the payments into the Exchequer in those two years not merely representing the receipts of the year, but a considerable sum besides—namely, £105,000 in 1874-5, and £90,000 in 1875-6 —the payment of which into the Exchequer had diminished the balances, and by the same amount swollen the Exchequer receipts. It would be very interesting to watch that process this year, as it would show whether the receipts within the year, 1676 including the large receipts of the last week to which he had referred, fairly represented the revenue of the year. Then, as to Miscellaneous Revenue, the estimated receipts last year amounted to £4,100,000, while this year the amount was £4,840,000. In the explanation given on the subject some of this was accounted for, perhaps between £300,000 and £400,000; but he did not see anything to justify so large an increase as £740,000, the fact being that an expected increase of £300,000 or £400,000 only was accounted for. With reference to Customs, Excise, and the Land and House Taxes, the amount received under these heads no doubt fluctuated, but he feared the Chancellor of the Exchequer took too sanguine a view. During the last half-year these fell short of the Budget Estimate by no less than £1,390,000 per annum, while this year they were taken at only £540,000 less. The evidence that had been adduced by his right hon. Friends the Members for the City of London (Mr. Goschen) and Montrose (Mr. Baxter) went to show that the depression of trade continued; that things were going from bad to worse; that the consuming power of the people was diminishing; and that there was no prospect of a better state of affairs this year than had existed last. It might, perhaps, be said that in using this language he was relegating himself to the class which was described a few nights ago as being one of "good-natured croakers." If this were so, he should not object to the term, because he found himself in very good company. His right hon. Friend the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) brought forward five Budgets, and in reference to four of them he was charged with being too sanguine as to the Budget Estimates. This was thought by Her Majesty's present Advisers, who were then in Opposition, to be a fair and reasonable species of criticism, and he did not remember that any of his hon. Friends who now occupied the Opposition Benches applied the appellation of "croaker," in any form, qualified or otherwise, to the critics. In every case the late Chancellor of the Exchequer was within the mark. There had been cases, however, in which the estimated revenue had not been realized, and in which the non-realization had caused considerable inconvenience. For instance, the Budget of 1861 was, apparently, one 1677 which had been based upon fair Estimates, but it ended in a very serious falling off in that part of the revenue which was derived from taxes. The Budget of 1868 was apparently well balanced, but it failed in that the revenue did not reach the Estimates; and these Budgets were stated to the House, the first by the right hon. Gentleman who had since become the Earl of Beaconsfield, and the second by the right hon. Gentleman who was now First Lord of the Admiralty. This, however, was not all. The country had had before this year three Budgets from the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, and in the cases of two of them the revenue derived from Customs, Excise, and Stamp Duties had fallen short of the Estimates. In the financial year 1874-5 but for the extraordinary amount of postal revenue received in excess of the Estimate, and the fact that a sum of £300,000 was transferred from the capital of the Treasury chest to revenue, there would have been a deficit, and in every year the expenditure exceeded that given in the Budget. On the whole, he thought Her Majesty's Government had no right to complain of criticisms such as he was offering in reference to the present proposals of the Government. After all, however, the responsibility attaching to the financial proposals for the year must rest upon the Government, and it was only open to the Opposition to offer criticisms as to the way in which the responsibility was discharged. He would now refer to the aggregate figures of the Budget. Comparing the receipts in the financial year 1873-4 with the estimated revenue for 1877-8, he found an increase in the taxation of the country amounting to £3,278,000 for the year in addition to no less than £2,047,000 of revenue drawn from the Post Office, Crown Lands, the Telegraph Service, and other sources which formed no part of the direct taxation of the country. On the other side, the increased charge between 1873-4 and the present Estimate was £5,271,000, of which the augmentation in the Army and Navy Estimate amounted to not less than £1,702,000. There had also been an increase in the purely establishment Votes of the Civil Service (omitting the Board of Trade, Post Office, and Education Departments) amounting to £305,000, but this had been been made 1678 up for to a great extent by the reduction which had occurred in the amount paid for permanent public works. The estimated charge for the Army and Navy for the present year was £1,700,000 above that for the year 1874, regulated by the present Government, and admitting that special circumstances had led to an extraordinary expenditure on those services during the years 1875 and 1876, those circumstances had now passed away, and the expenditure should have been brought back to its normal amount. Had the estimated expenditure for these Services for the year been reduced to that of 1874, it would have enabled the right hon. Gentleman to have taken ld. off the Income Tax. There were important branches of this subject which had been alluded to in former debates upon it on which further information ought to be elicited. In the course of the debate which occurred the other evening it was stated from the Ministerial Benches that during the five years the late Government were in office they took out of the pocket of the taxpayer on the average the sum of £65,102,000 per annum, while the present Government, since they came into office, had taken out of the pocket of the taxpayer on the average the sum of £65,205,000, and that thus the expenditure of the present Government had only exceeded that of the late Government on the average by the modest sum of £103,000 per annum. Those figures were, probably, correct as far as they went, but they did not give a fair view of the real state of facts. It was an important fact that whereas the late Government during their five years of office had remitted taxation to the amount of £12,500,000 per annum, and had left the finances in such a condition that the present Government, immediately on their accession to office, were enabled to remit taxation to the amount of £4,500,000 per annum; on the other hand, the present Government during the last three years had remitted taxation to the amount of £60,000 only, and had added £1,500,000 per annum to it. The late Government, however, had to pay various extraordinary charges, such as £4,600,000 for the Abyssinian War, £3,200,000 for the Alabama claims, £800,000 for the Ashantee War, and £2,000,000 in consequence of the Franco-German War in Europe, making a total of £10,600,000. The present Govern- 1679 ment, on the other hand, had had to pay no extraordinary charges whatever. The late Government applied directly to the reduction of Debt the sum of £15,250,000, besides Terminable Annuities, and increased the balances by £2,700,000, while the present Government had applied directly £3,000,000 towards the reduction of the Debt and had reduced the balance by £1,500,000. It had been said that the late Government had left legacies of expenditure to their succcessors which the latter were bound to provide for. He had looked carefully through the whole of the operations of the late Government which had entailed an increased expenditure upon their successors, and he found that they were seven in number. They were the Education Act, the abolition of Army Purchase, the scheme for Naval retirement, the commutation of pensions, the Army localization, the extension of docks, and the advances for Irish Church operations. The additional expenditure for educational purposes for the year 1876-7, as compared with that of 1872-3, was £1,069,000, and that had been all but met by the additional net revenue derived from the Post and Telegraph Offices, which amounted to £987,000. In connection with the abolition of Army Purchase, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said the late Government had left a legacy of expenditure. The facts were that the expenditure under that head in 1872-3 was £946,000; whereas the estimated expenditure for the year 1877 was only £500,000, which, with the highest estimate of the Retirement charge, would amount to £830,000, or £116,000 less than the expenditure in 1872-3. The late Government introduced a Bill for the commutation of pensions. The result of that measure was for the first few years a considerable increase of charge, but relief would commence in 1879. Under the head of Naval Retirement the immediate increase was £54,000 a-year; but now the charge was £25,000 a-year less. As to Army Localization, the charge in 1873-4 was £250,000; it was not more now. The charge for Naval Works in 1868-9 was £749,000; for 1877-8 the estimated charge was £545,000. On each of these heads, the arrangements of the late Government, so far from leaving a legacy of expenditure, left a legacy of economy. The financial arrangement in connection with the abo- 1680 lition of the Irish Church involved the raising of a very large sum indeed for the Irish Church Commissioners—no less than £8,200,000—in order to provide for the commutation of incomes and other charges, and all this was met by the late Government—larger repayment had been made since the change of Administration. But these were not all. There was an Abyssinian Expedition in 1867, the estimated cost of which was £3,500,000. Later it was said the cost would probably be £5,000,000. What did the Expedition really cost?—£8,300,000, of which the Government for the time being paid £4,000,000, leaving £4,300,000 to be paid by theie successors—the late Government. The purchase of the interest of the Telegraph Companies by the Government of 1866-1868 was spoken of as a great exploit. The Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day, on the second reading of the Bill to authorize that purchase, said the scheme would cost between £3,000,000 and £4,000,000. Now, what did it cost? £8,980,000, which was an excess upon the Estimate of £5,500,000. That was left as a legacy of expenditure to the late Government. But what was the present policy about deferred charges? Early in the Session of 1874 a plan was brought forward for the relief of local burdens, but when we came to look into the accounts we found that a large amount of charge under that head was deferred until 1875-6, and the other heads of expenditure were swollen by £850,000. It was very convenient to postpone the charge to a future day; but the Government got very great popularity indeed at the moment for having brought forward the plan for the relief of local burdens. We had heard something about prisons. The Bill on prisons was brought forward in 1876; but the first charge connected with the carrying out of that measure would not be made until 1878-9. The soldier was to be put into a very much better position; he was to be paid, in some shape or other, 2d. a-day more; but it was all deferred. Popularity for the present was obtained by the plan, but the charge fell on the future; and that, again, would be a legacy of expenditure for the successors of the Government. But there was a still larger item than that. The most popular plan of the present Government, which had been accepted by Parliament, 1681 had been the great Sinking Fund plan No. 2. It was very popular in the country. The charge for that plan, which began at £275,000 for the first year, would in 10 years rise to £960,000, which made an average annual charge of £680,000 during that period. During the next 30 years the amount to be paid to the Sinking Fund by the Chancellor of the Exchequer out of the taxes would begin at £4,090,000, and would end at £12,090,000, or an average of £6,200,000. Surely, then, if ever there was a legacy left by a Government to its successors, that Sinking Fund, averaging for 10 years £680,000, and then going on to an average of over £6,000,000, was an illustration of it. But there was another subject on which a thorough elucidation ought to be given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. His right hon. Friend had impressed on the House and the country that the present Government had, as a cardinal feature of their policy, kept up the public credit by a systematic reduction of Debt. Now, he maintained that they had not systematically reduced the Debt at all. On the contrary, they had made things pleasant to local authorities by stopping the reduction of Debt and increasing loans from the Exchequer, which was a very different thing. According to his right hon. Friend's own figures, the Debt on the 1st of April, 1874, was £779,283,000, and on the 1st of April, 1877, it was £775,590,000, showing a reduction of £3,693,000. From that latter sum they must deduct £1,454,000 for the reduction in the Exchequer balances, leaving the net reduction of the Debt during the last three years as only £2,240,000, or at the rate of £747,000 per annum. But then the right hon. Gentleman said they must take into account the loans in excess of repayments, the payments for barracks, fortifications, the Abolition of Purchase, and the Telegraphs, all of which in those three years gave them an improvement of the national balance-sheet to the aggregate amount of £15,200,000. Well, but the late Government reduced the Debt from £805,500,000 on April 1, 1869, to £779,300,000 on April 1, 1874, making a total reduction of £26,200,000; while the Exchequer balances improved in the same period by £2,700,000, the loans in excess of repayments amounted roughly to another £4,000,000, the 1682 telegraphs which were purchased to £9,000,000, and the sum for barracks, fortifications, and Army Purchase together was £3,500,000. Those sums, added to the amount of Debt reduced between 1869 and 1874 by the late Government—namely, £26,200,000, gave a total of £45,400,000, or, after deducting the Chancery Funds cancelled, just £40,000,000, being at the rate of £8,000,000 per ann., against £5,000,000. The real reduction of Debt effected by the present Government during three years was therefore only £2,240,000, or at the rate of £747,000 a-year; whereas the late Government had effected a reduction of £28,900,000 in five years, or at the rate of nearly £5,000,000 per annum. Instead of the present Government having kept up public credit by the systematic reduction of Debt, it was just the reverse; and the demands on them had increased, and would continue to increase, for there was every reason to believe that the last three years' experience was a fair specimen of what was to come, and the net result was that £747,000 a-year, under the new Sinking Fund, was the whole amount applied to the direct reduction of Debt. What would happen, then, if this country should find itself under the necessity of adding greatly to its expenditure—say, in the event of war? If they were steadily reducing their Debt by processes formerly in force, when war came on those processes ceased, and they would have £5,000,000, £6,000,000, or it might be £8,000,000 at their disposal, to which they could add the additional taxation that might be imposed. But when they had launched on a system of large loans they could not stop, because they were made in instalments which spread over years, and they would not have at their command that immense weapon which a rapid reduction of Debt placed in their hands. There was a danger, then, when the lending system was carried to a length which interfered with the systematic reduction of the Debt, and to that danger the House ought to direct its attention. He had done his best to state these figures and arguments correctly, and he should be only too happy if his arguments and conclusions could be refuted. He had argued that the financial position of the Government was not as satisfactory as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had put it before 1683 them, and that there were dangers a-head in the shape of a falling-off in their estimated revenue, which, if they were realized, would do much to shake public confidence. He had shown as between the present and the late Government that the latter had reduced the expenditure to a point which enabled large remissions of taxation to be made, and the Debt also to be greatly reduced, while they had left to their successors a very full Exchequer; that the charge as to their having left large legacies of expenditure to their successors was perfectly unfounded; that in regard to nothing else but the Education Vote had they not borne their fair share, while, on the other hand, they had borne enormous legacies left them by their predecessors; and, further, with respect to the great scheme which the right hon. Gentleman opposite had proclaimed to the country, and for which he had received much credit; in point of fact, it was an entire myth; and, by stopping the reduction of Debt, the right hon. Gentleman had put our finances into a perilous position, which would become tenfold more perilous if the country were to be called upon at short notice to enter into a war, or to meet a great emergency.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, he was sure the House would feel that he undertook a task of considerable difficulty in replying to the able speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Childers). His speech bristled with figures, and no doubt also with a few facts; and anyone who had to reply to such a statement off-hand must feel placed at some disadvantage. In the first place, however, he might be allowed to rectify the misapprehension of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester (Mr. Dodson) the other evening. He alluded to the revenue receipts from taxes during the years to which he (Mr. W. H. Smith) referred, and the facts were these—In 1872-3 the revenue receipts, excluding fee stamps, amounted to £65,902,946, and the revenue receipts in 1873-4 to £65,353,724, also excluding fee stamps; while in 1876-7 the revenue receipts from the same sources were £65,590,500, and therefore it was perfectly accurate to say that the pressure on the taxpayers was less in 1876-7 than in 1872-3. He admitted the right hon. Gentleman was right in saying that 1684 there was a large surplus in 1872-3 which was applied to the reduction of the Debt—there was a surplus of £5,894,322. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Childers) travelled through all the figures to be found in the Estimates, and he understood him to say that the Estimates of expenditure for this year would place a charge on the taxpayer in excess of the year 1873-4 by the sum of £5,000,000. Now, he was quite unable to follow the calculations by which the right hon. Gentleman arrived at that result. In the year 1876-7 the actual receipts from taxes—i.e., Customs, Excise, Stamps (excluding fee stamps), Land Tax, House and Property and Income Tax—were £65,590,500, and the estimated receipts for the year 1877-8 were £65,615,000. That was the actual imposition of taxes; what was done with the amount was quite a different matter. The right hon. Gentleman quoted the remissions which were made in 1874. They amounted to £3,000,000 — the Sugar Duties, the relief to Income Tax payers, the Horse Duty, the Servants Duty, and the adjustment of Brewers Licences, amounting together to £3,000,000. The net relief to the taxpayer was £3,000,000 as compared with 1873-4. But, said the right hon. Gentleman, the late Government left a large surplus in the Exchequer of £5,500,000. Now, the question naturally arose, what was done with this surplus? The fair way of stating it was this—There was first a reduction of £3,000,000 in taxation. There had been an increase in the Votes for Education of something over £1,000,000, which they would all admit to be a very proper and just expenditure. Then there was £1,450,000 which was given back to the ratepayer, who was also a taxpayer, in the shape of relief to local taxation. There was also in the Budget an increased provision of £1,160,000 for the payment of Debt, altogether apart from the interest upon the loans advanced to local authorities, which was available to meet the charge for the New Terminable Annuities. He had thus accounted for £6,610,000, which disposed of the surplus of £5,500,000 left to the present Government in 1874. But the right hon. Gentleman said the expenditure on the Army and Navy was something enormous. The excess of expenditure under this head, he said, was £1,700, 000 over the estimate in 1685 1874-5. He had looked carefully into the figures, and could not make out the calculations of the right hon. Gentleman. The net Exchequer issue for 1874-5 was £24,212,000 for the whole of the Army and Navy Services, including a sum for the Abolition of Purchase of £579,000, and the Ashantee Vote of Credit. The net issue for the year 1876-7 was £25,485,000, and the estimate for the coming year was £24,969,000. So that the excess of the year 1877-8 over the year 1874-5 was £757,000, and not £1,700,000 as alleged.
§ MR. CHILDERS
said, what he compared was simply the Budget Estimate for the Army and Navy, plus the Navy Supplementary Estimate in 1874-5, and the Budget Estimates for the Army and Navy in the present year. He could not compare it with the expenditure, for he could not say what that would be. He could only take the Estimates.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
thought he had given the House the best and fairest information, which was the net actual expenditure, with regard to the past. The expenditure for the present year was, of course, only in estimate; 1874-5 was a year which was not properly the subject of comparison. The comparison was with 1873-4, a year for which the late Government were almost wholly responsible. In that year the net expenditure on Army and Navy, including £800,000 for the Ashantee Expedition, was £24,358,000, and the increase was, no doubt, considerable since that time; but the question was, whether the increase was justifiable considering the circumstances of the case. He did not stand there to defend the Estimates for the Army and Navy; the Government were responsible for them. The Government presented those Estimates to the House which they believed were necessary for the security of the country and the good condition of the Services represented. He could only refer to one single fact—that in 1870, when there was, as at present, an apprehension of great disturbances arising in Europe, the late Government thought it necessary to come down to the House and obtain a considerably increased Vote for the Army and Navy; but now the present Government felt it was possible to maintain the honour and dignity of this country without coming to Parliament with any such demand, and, in the face of circum- 1686 stances calculated to cause great anxiety and to lead to great apprehension for the peace not only of Europe, but of the world, it had been able to effect some considerable reductions in our military and naval expenditure. As to the Customs and Inland Revenue receipts falling short of the Estimates, he would give the figures for the three years. In 1874-5 the Customs revenue receipts exceeded the Estimates by £549,000; the Excise and Stamps fell off £555,000; the taxes were £80,000 in excess; so that apart from the taxes there was a difference of £6,000 to the bad, and the taxes gave a surplus of £74,000, and the Income Tax was £346,000 more than the estimate. In 1875–6 the Customs had increased £520,000, and the Excise had fallen off £114,000; Stamps had increased £402,000, and Land Tax and House Duty £46,000. In 1876-7 there was a considerable difference, which had been explained and commented upon. As was well known fluctuations between Customs and Excise depended upon the relative consumption of foreign and British spirits. The general result was that, during the time for which the present Chancellor of the Exchequer was responsible for them, except in the unfortunate year just passed, the receipts had fully justified the anticipations his right hon. Friend had formed from time to time. Reference had also been made to the Miscellaneous Estimate, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract said that the great increase of £740,000 in the Estimate for 1877-8 over that for 1876-7 had hardly been justified by the explanation given to the House; but it should be recollected that a very large sum of that increase, £200,000, was due to interest for loans advanced to local authorities through the Public Works Loan Commissioners, and on the purchase-money for Suez Canal Shares, £58,600 to fees at public offices and County Courts, and £467,000 was the estimated increase in the contributions from Indian Revenue. An examination of all the items would show that the receipts were, if anything, under-estimated rather than over-estimated. He understood the right hon. Gentleman to complain of the facilities afforded for the increase of local obligations by the low rate of 3½ per cent., and he seemed to charge the present Govern- 1687 ment with setting up a system which increased debt all over the country; but the system of loans out of the Imperial Exchequer was set up in its integrity by the late Government. He (Mr. W. H. Smith) found no fault with it, except that it did afford a temptation to local authorities to increase an expenditure which ought to be considerably restricted. It began with the Education Act of 1870, when local authorities were authorized to claim advances at 3½ per cent for capital outlay; the precedent had been followed in respect of the Public Health Act and the Sanitary Acts, and so far as the present Government were concerned, it had been the disagreeable task of the Treasury to watch Bills that had been introduced with the object of obtaining loans at the public expense. Formerly these loans were advanced without the special attention of Parliament being drawn to them; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer had determined that they ought to be brought under the notice of Parliament from year to year; and now, under an Act passed two years ago, the Public Loans Act, it was no longer possible for the Commissioners to grant them without coming to Parliament and stating the local indebtedness of the local authorities. In this way Parliament was forced to pay some regard to the consequences of its own work; and it was a matter that deserved grave consideration, for the facility of getting into debt was a dangerous one to give to either public authorities or private individuals. As, however, the late Government thought it right to give local authorities power to borrow money at a low rate, he had done his best, in conjunction with his right hon Friend, to secure that they should consider the circumstances under which this favour was sought. With the actual figures before him he was unable to follow the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Childers) as to the increase of the charges on the Civil Service Estimates. For the three years 1871-2 to 1873-4, they amounted to £16,985,000, or £5,660,000 a-year, and in the three following years to £17,387,000, the difference between one period and the other being £400,000, or an average excess of £130,000 a-year. The Post Office revenue was £5,792,000 in 1873-4, £5,670,000 in the following year, and this year it was estimated at £6,100,000; the average 1688 during the past six years had been £5,500,000 a-year; and the average increase might be put down at from £100,000 to £150,000 a-year, very much depending upon the condition of trade. If we increased by £400,000 or £500,000 in four years, we did exceedingly well. The Miscellaneous Receipts were largely increased by bringing in the income derived from interest on loans. There was brought into the account the payment of £200,000 from Egypt; but such items were only cross entries, increasing the apparent income and expenditure by about £1,000,060. The increase in the revenue from Miscellaneous Receipts other than taxes had certainly been marked, and some credit for the result might be claimed for the permanent officers of Departments. The average of the receipts for the three years ending 1873-4 was £11,000,000 a-year, and the sum now reached was £13,400,000. Sources of income had been found which did not formerly exist, and income had been improved by good administration. He thought he had said enough to show that although they had apparently swollen the expenditure of the country, that expenditure had not been swollen to the extent which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract had so eloquently and fully described. One point which had not been so fully insisted upon as it ought to be was the effect of the present system on the reduction of the Debt. They were steadily keeping in view that reduction; but it should be remembered that the £28,000,000 applicable to the Debt did not increase; but as the Debt decreased, the interest diminished, and that diminution increased the balance available for the reduction of the Debt from year to year, and that without any pressure upon taxation. The right hon. Gentleman took credit to the late Government for having, when the Income Tax was at 6d. and 4d., paid off a large amount of Debt; but he (Mr. W. H. Smith) thought the country preferred closer Estimates, and setting aside a definite sum every year, just as a man might set aside a certain sum for payment of interest on a mortgage on his estate, while he looked forward to a redemption of that mortgage. He did not think the Government would be justified in levying a 3d. Income Tax, in order that the Government might be left at the end of the year with a large 1689 surplus. That was not the policy of the present Government. He did not say that it was the policy of the late Government, but they held office during a period of commercial excitement, when the prosperity of the country was advancing by "leaps and bounds," when wages and profits were rapidly increasing, and when the Customs and Excise naturally produced an income in excess of what had been estimated. No greater misfortune, in his idea, could befall a country than that such periods of commercial excitement should occur; but when they did occur, it was no doubt just and proper to take advantage of such times and apply the balance of any excess of receipts over expenditure towards the reduction of the National Debt. To estimate for them would be a totally different matter. To a commercial nation like ourselves no greater misfortune could happen to a country than the exceptional and factitious prosperity of 1872-3 and 1873-4. The result of the wages of labour being so suddenly driven up was that profits were disturbed and many trades were injured, and it was now only reasonable and natural that a re-action should set in and that trade and employment should suffer. They were, however, suffering less than might have been supposed. In some trades wages had now fallen enormously, leading, no doubt, to suffering on the part of many persons, but they had fallen so as to render it possible that those trades should be carried on so as to allow reasonable profits to be made. A period of depression naturally followed a time of great excitement and unusual profits, and no doubt the production of coal and iron was enormously less than at the period in question. The wages of labour were also less, but although in many trades not so many men were employed, yet in others they were working steadily and constantly. There were other industries, too, which were not suffering under great depression, and in which, while excessive profits were not being made, at least there was fairly continuous employment. The reduction in the present amount of production was by no means so excessive as had been supposed. The receipts of the railways in regard to goods traffic were not falling off, except in the mineral districts. A misapprehension had arisen, because it was unfortunately the habit of many persons 1690 to suppose that unless there was an increase in the operation of their own trade, every other industry was carried on at a loss; but, looking back at the commercial history of the last 10 years it could not be expected to go on at the same rate of increase, and no one who made large profits at such a time could reasonably expect to continue to increase his net income in the same way. The world was not wide enough to afford scope for the employment of capital at a continually-increasing ratio and for the increase of wages in the same ratio. With regard to the Budget, he believed that the Estimates of income for the coming year which had been carefully prepared by the Revenue Departments and for which his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and himself were responsible would be supported by the result. He did not say that every item would be realized; but if they were short in one point the deficiency would be made up by an excess in another, so that the result of the income and expenditure of the year 1877-8 would be found to justify the Estimates laid before the House.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
said, that if ever there was a time when the finances of the country should be criticized it was at the present moment. He and his Friends upon the front Opposition bench had been charged with "croaking;" but the example was first set by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he told the House that the elasticity of the Revenue was gone. It behoved the House to be very careful in watching the finances and seeing whether any reduction could be made in outgoings; and he trusted he should not be regarded as a croaker, if he took a less favourable view of the Estimates which had been submitted than had been taken by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. W. H. Smith). The expenditure for a peace Budget was very excessive, and taking the instances of the financial operations of the present Government, he had never found the Budget Estimate cover the amount of the expenditure. He did not complain of the way in which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to meet the expenditure for the year, but he complained of the amount itself. For the first time in their history they had a peace expenditure of £78,800,000, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer esti- 1691 mated that he would have a small surplus of £226,000. The time had come when they should look that large expenditure in the face, and see whether such a large sum was necessary to maintain the honour and dignity of the country. Financial prosperity could not for a length of time be coincident with commercial and industrial depression, and in the case of this country he believed the coincidence had come to an end. He denied that it was foreign competition which was causing the trade of this country to suffer. All industries were suffering from a depression of trade, and this country was not alone in that matter, although, upon the whole, we were suffering less than some, for he believed the industry which was suffering most of all was the silk manufacture of France, in which that nation was so supreme. There was no trade in this country—not even the iron trade—in which there was such depression and lowness of wages. But wherever the depression to which so much reference had been made existed, it was brought about by the same causes that had checked our own industries— namely, over production; from excessive expenditure on the part both of individuals and of Governments—particularly by Governments in maintaining "bloated armaments;" from the dread of war and want of confidence; and in respect of our own country, he might add, from other causes, and especially from the stupendous losses which had been sustained in bad investments in loans to bankrupt foreign Governments, and in bad investments at home as well as abroad; and the best evidence of our superabundant wealth was to be found in the way in which we had borne those losses. Notwithstanding the prodigious amounts that had been taken out of the pockets of the investing class, the credit of the country stood as well at this moment as ever it had done. The failures were exceedingly few, the country was rich, and the sums spent in luxuries great. But it would be easy to show how our financial position was likely to be affected by the financial arrangements of the last few years. He had alluded to loans to foreign and bankrupt Governments, not including those of Spain and Egypt, and it was estimated that up to February last the total loss amounted to about £335,000,000, of which no less than 1692 £276,000,000 had come into default since 1873. Not that all that was held by this country, but it was to be feared that a very large proportion of it was so held—to the extent, it was estimated, of fully £200,000,000; and when there were added to this the bad investments in foreign railways, mines, and other enterprizes, in countries where there was neither a sense of honour nor a chance of law and justice, it would be found that the amount due to the British investor was something between £300,000,000 and £400,000,000. What was the consequence of this fact so far as the Chancellor of the Exchequer was concerned? One only he need mention, and it was this—a falling off of payment of income tax on at least £20,000,000 a-year. All this, he regretted to say, told injuriously on our internal trade and our financial arrangements. It was inevitable that the industries of the country should be affected by the inability of investors to become purchasers to the extent they would otherwise do, while the finances would be affected by a large reduction of the Income Tax. They would all be most thankful if the estimates and expectations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer were realized; but when expenditure and income ran so closely together it behoved them to look the matter straight in the face, so that if they could not secure a surplus at least they might be able to make both ends meet. It was within his own knowledge that wages in the coal and iron trade had been greatly reduced. The change in the rate of wages in connection with the textile trade had been slight; but even where there had been no reduction in that respect there had been an enormous reduction in the pay sheets. Other industries had suffered similarly. He believed there was hardly any branch where the workmen were on full pay excepting in the cotton trade of Lancashire. The trades which suffered most were those which produced, not articles of necessity, but of luxury. Under these circumstances the question was what ought to be done? As an independent Member of the House he thought that these financial debates ought not to be left entirely to the two Front benches, which confined themselves very much to the purely financial view of the subject. It was well that men engaged in business should tell the Chancellor of the 1693 Exchequer what they thought on the matter, and that he should know what were the views of the country. The right hon. Gentleman had asked the other day—"Do you want to increase taxation?" No; there was no desire to increase taxation, for that could not be done under existing circumstances; but what did all prudent people do when they found their income falling away? Why, they always reduced their expenditure, and what he would urge upon Her Majesty's Government was greater economy. Without economy, said the Chinese proverb, no man could be rich, and with economy very few men could be poor. Economy became a popular cry some three or four years ago, and it had been one of the boasts of those who supported Her Majesty's Government that they were opposed to economy, or what they called cheese-paring economy; but we had heard very little of that recently. There were various directions in which economy might be effected. With regard to the Civil Service, ho was inclined to question the accuracy of the opinion expressed the other night by the right hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter) that there was no great saving to be effected in that direction. When sinecures fell in they ought not to be renewed. It seemed to him that there was a most unnecessary creation of offices for the purpose of putting men into them, and a great deal was spent on inspectorships for factories and other industries when the work could be done by local authorities at a vast diminution of expense. Again, how many men were pensioned off in order merely to make room for somebody else. How often it happened that men were allowed to retire in the prime of life on full salary. In some Departments, moreover, it was notorious that employés were not fully occupied. There was one Department where, if any one called at a quarter to 2 o'clock to make an inquiry, he would be told that none of the clerks had yet come, whereas as Berlin those functionaries were at their posts and working hard at 10 o'clock in the morning. But he admitted that any saving that could be effected in the Civil Service would be small compared with what might be done in the Naval and Military Services. It was particularly in the manufacturing establishments of these Services that economy might be looked for. If, for 1694 example, Government trusted to private enterprize for the construction of their iron-clads he believed they would find the work done cheaper, and that they would be saved from the temptation to increase their stock of stores and the number of their employés beyond what was really necessary. He had been looking at the growth of our naval expenditure, and he found that it had increased by about £1,100,000 per annum since the present Government had been in office. The expenditure of the late Government on shipbuilding, including the Store Vote, &c., since 1869-70, was a total of £10,161,000, or an average of £2,540,000 per annum. In his present comparison he was omitting the year 1873-4. The expenditure of the present Government was £14,584,000, or an average of £3,646,000 per annum. In the omitted year the expenditure had amounted to £3,109,000, the reason of the greatness of that sum being the enormous cost of iron and coal. Now all that the country had received for that additional expenditure was the building of 22,000 tons per annum instead of 20,000, or, say, for the whole period during which the Government had been in office, an extra iron-clad. And what made it more astonishing was, how we should be expending so much in our dockyards when there were such enormous changes in the cost of the material? The price of material, so far from having risen, had since the year 1873 fallen 50 per cent. He would compare the cost of material for a few years. Cleveland iron, in 1872, cost 104s. 6d. per ton; in 1873, 115s.; in 1874, 75s. 6d.; in 1875, 52s.; and in 1877, 42s. 6d.. Ordinary coal, again, was at just half its former price, while steam coal had fallen from 21s. in 1873 to 10s. per ton in the present year. The consequence was that while iron steamers cost £21 a-ton to build in private yards in 1873, they now cost £14 or £15 only, and sailing vessels, which in the same year cost £19 a-ton, were now built at £12 or £14. How, then, was the enormous increase of expenditure to which he had referred to be accounted for? He could not help thinking that it was in a great measure owing to the Government having manufacturing establishments which could not be easily controlled, and which were not subject to the wholesome 1695 influences of competition. In spite of what was said about false economy, he believed with the late Mr. Cobden, that the large cost incurred on our manufacturing establishments was unnecessary, and he would impress upon the Government that open-handed, lavish, expenditure was one of the greatest evils to which an Administration could be subjected, and that wherever a wise economy prevailed there you would find prosperity and good management.
§ MR. A. F. EGERTON
said, he was prepared to defend whatever increase had taken place in the Navy Estimates. The hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) seemed to argue that because the tonnage built since the present Government had been in power was not very much in excess of that built by the last Administration, therefore, there must have been some want of economy in both the acquisition and use of stores. Not having the figures at hand, he could not follow the hon. Member through the comparison he had just instituted. It was true that shipbuilding was a very considerable part of the dockyard work, but a great portion of it also consisted of the repairing of ships. His comparison had been between a year when the iron-dads were comparatively new and the present time. But such ships wore out, and the boilers wore out, and had to be replaced. When the present Government came into office a great number of the boilers were worn out, and the consequence was that the present Government had to replace them at very considerable expense. Instead of there being want of economy he would tell the hon. Member that in the year 1876-7 the Admiralty had saved £67,612 (chiefly in coal and metals) on the estimated price of articles under the Store Vote. There was, he might explain a number of demands pouring in in the course of the year which had to be met, and in many instances the Admiralty had no control over the expenditure until it had been made, and one item of naval expenditure which could never be estimated exactly, was the extra expenditure on foreign stations. Now, for the year 1876-7, this extra expenditure on foreign stations amounted to £38,000, which of course swallowed up a considerable amount of the saving on prices. Moreover, although that saving had been effected on the price of articles originally 1696 estimated for, it became necessary to provide other articles which had not been estimated for. That was always the case in dockyards, and, he had no doubt, in private establishments as well. It was found, for instance, that armour plates of particular dimensions were not wanted, and that others had to be provided. Generally speaking, he could assure the hon. Gentleman that in the Store Department of the Admiralty the strictest watch was kept on the purchase of stores for the Navy. The hon. Gentleman seemed to think that private builders could produce ships at a less cost to the country than the Royal Dockyards. Now, when he (Mr. Egerton) first went to the Admiralty, he had gone very minutely into this question, and he found that, allowing a fair sum for establishment charges, there was remarkably little difference between the two expenditures, not only as applied to iron-clads but to wooden ships. But then there was this to be said—he did not wish to throw any disparagement on private building yards, but they had a greater security in the Royal Dockyards that all the materials were of the first quality, from being under the eye of the Admiralty, than they could have in any private building yard. That was a great advantage. His own impression was, that shipbuilding should be divided between the two, the one being an efficient check on the other. The hon. Member had made a curious statement, of which some notice should be taken. He understood him to say that the excess of Admiralty expenditure over the Estimate of 1873–4 amounted to £900,000. [Mr. MUNDELLA said, he meant on the whole expenditure.] The actual expenditure over the Vote was little over £200,000. The Admiralty had given great attention to this subject—the importance of accuracy in the Estimate. And he thought they had at last succeeded. Last year there was much less excess than in any previous year. This year he hoped and trusted there would be no excess at all over the Estimate; and, in that case, he thought the Admiralty would be entitled to some credit for the attention they had paid to the subject.
§ MR. PEASE
thought it must be a great satisfaction to the House that this subject had not been disposed of before his right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract had delivered his 1697 able and important speech. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) appeared to imagine he had brought in a Budget so exceedingly satisfactory that no remarks should be made upon it. When his Estimates were criticized he seemed almost to resent it. He (Mr. Pease) wondered at the time that the right hon. Gentleman should be so thin-skinned; but after the debate on the Resolutions he again looked at the figures and found that the right hon. Gentleman was wrong in his Customs Estimate by £328,000, in Stamps by £110,000, in Excise by £112,000, and in various other items, and that but for an excess on some two or three articles he would have had a deficit of £850,000. Comparing the expenditure in the last year of the late Government with the Estimates for this year, there was an estimated excess in the latter of no less a sum than £4,000,000. Of that the Army and Navy would take £1,229,000, and £3,000,000 would go to the different Services. He thought the Secretary to the Treasury deserved great credit for having produced the Estimates at so early a period, and for many details he had given, which helped hon. Members better to understand them; but he could not help calling his attention and that of the House to the constant extension of expenditure, independently of the increased Education Votes and the Vote in aid of local rates. The lesson that the figures he had referred to should teach was that the House itself must watch the growth of these Estimates more carefully in future than had been the case lately, because the increase in those items, which was entirely independent of the extra charge for the relief of local taxation and for the purposes of education, being something like £190,000 per annum, indicated a want of proper control on the part of some person or another. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had characterized his Budget as a satisfactory one; but it was satisfactory on two points only; the first being that it showed that owing to fortuitous and happy circumstances the revenue for last year was sufficient to meet the expenditure, and the second being that no increase in taxation was asked for to meet the expenditure of the current year. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had thrown the taunt across the 1698 House that many hon. Members had come down expecting to find quite the contrary, and that they were disappointed at the result; but he (Mr. Pease) objected to his corn being measured with such a bushel, inasmuch as all commercial men were greatly relieved when they found that there was to be no increase in the taxation of the country. He would now proceed to ask whether no change was required in the incidents of the taxation? In his opinion it would be worth the while of any Government to devote their attention to affecting an alteration in the incidents of the Income Tax, and of the wine, beer, and spirit trade, and the last was a point he especially thought the right hon. Gentleman would have touched upon. The last and the present Government had established a vast monopoly for the sale of intoxicating liquors throughout the country, by which great fortunes had been thrown into the hands of the brewers and spirit merchants, and that monopoly had been considerably aided by the action of the licensing authorities, and the Government had asked nothing and had received nothing from those who were benefited by that monopoly. In his opinion, however, where there was a large monopoly granted which produced an admittedly large profit it was the duty of the Government to obtain something in return. With regard to the Estimates for the future, it was all very well for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that he had taken the best advice on the subject, and had consulted experienced men and the heads of Departments with reference to them; but it became the duty of independent Members of that House to criticize them, and to bring to bear their practical experience and common sense upon them, when they appeared to be based upon unsatisfactory data. The right hon. Gentleman estimated his receipts from Customs and Excise for 1876-7 at £17,800,000, and for 1877-8 at £47,350,000, but he (Mr. Pease) thought from the signs of the times that there would be a far greater falling off this year. The state of railways had been alluded to as showing that the state of trade was not so bad as had been represented; but, with regard to railways, what caused the most alarm to directors and managers was the falling off in the third-class traffic. There 1699 had been of late a gradual diminution in the spending power of the working classes, arising from the badness of trade in every manufacturing department as well as in trade generally. Whoever he conversed with in the City, whether they were engaged in the Home or Foreign trade, the same complaints were made as to the depressed state of trade, and he was afraid that the sanguine expectations of the right hon. Gentleman as to the produce of those duties would not be realized. It was also more than probable that there would be a great falling off in the produce of the income tax under Schedule D arising from various causes, especially in the case of annuitants, who derived their incomes from foreign investments, and from the depressed state of trade affecting professional men and traders generally. On the other side of the account, so far from there being any economy exercised, the estimates of expenditure showed an increase of about £1,200,000 above the expenditure of 1873-4. Although the cost of materials and labour had been largely reduced, the Navy Estimates were still maintained at a high figure; and the same was the case with regard to the Army expenditure. The additional 20,000 men raised by the last Government in the time of the Franco-German War had ever since been retained. Things certainly did look gloomy abroad now; but if he understood the feeling of Her Majesty's Government aright they were neither prepared to preach a crusade against Turkey, nor to go to war on behalf of the Porte. In his opinion the position of this country was never safer than at present, and in times like these greater economy should be exercised in order that money might find its way into the channels of trade rather than be squandered in unnecessary expenditure.
§ GENERAL SIR GEORGE BALFOUR
said, he wished to say a few words upon Army and Navy expenditure, and upon the difficulty of accurately ascertaining what that expenditure really was, owing to the many different modes adopted in stating that expenditure, and necessarily in taking out the figures, and also to the fact that the audited accounts, which could alone be relied on, were so much in arrear as to prevent any accurate comparison with the present year's estimated expenditure. The hon. Gentleman the 1700 Secretary to the Treasury had, however, very courteously given him information on which to base his calculations of comparative expenditures for different years, and he had, therefore, framed them upon the actual issues of money from the Exchequer. The hon. Gentleman himself had, he was glad to find, followed that rule that evening, and although his figures had been in some degree questioned, yet the statement he had made in regard to some portions of the public receipts and expenditure, based upon the issues and receipts from and into the Exchequer, was, he conceived, as fair and honest a method of treating the matter as was possible. For himself, he had previously adopted the Exchequer transactions during the eight years ending with this financial year 1877-8, and had been able to compare the expenditure on the Army and Navy, and he found that during the four years for which the present Government was responsible, the gross expenditure for the two Services was £107,092,879; whereas in the previous four years, during which the last Government was in office, it was only £101,412,803; but in this latter sum there was included the large amount of £2,251,096 on account of the war in Europe and for the expenses of the Ashantee Expedition, whereas in the former the only sum charged was £125,000 on account of Ashantee. By deducting these extraordinary expenses the total for the four years for which this Government was responsible amounted to £106,967,879, against £99,211,847 for the last four years of the late Government. There was another mode of looking at this expenditure, and that was the net sums spent after deducting Army and Navy receipts, which had varied very considerably during the past eight years. These receipts, for the four years this Government was responsible, amounted to £6,813,489, and for the four years of the late Government to £7,135,364; therefore, after allowing credit for the various sums which were received on account of the Army and Navy, he found the net amount to be £100,279,390 for the four years the present Government had been in office, and £94,277,439 for the previous four years. There was thus a difference by the first calculation of £5,680,076, and by the second of £6,001,951. Therefore the present Ministry was fairly responsible for an 1701 excess of about £1,750,000 per annum. He did not find that they had spent, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to think, more money on account of the abolition of Purchase in the Army than their Predecessors had spent. The sum appropriated during the late Government amounted to £2,000,473, against £2,079,115 in the present Administration. But there was an excess of about £3,000,000 in Naval expenditure. They had, however, spent a fraction more for localization, and something less for fortifications than their Predecessors. Although he did not think the expenditure for the Army had increased in an equal proportion to that for the Navy, still it had very considerably increased. He admitted that the cost of buying up the commissions of officers of the Army had fallen on the present Government, and they were not therefore answerable for that item of charge; but he thought the purchase-money for these commissions ought to have been paid down to the officers at the time the system was changed. Until all claims of officers for money invested in commissions was cleared off, he could not agree with the remark of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for London, that they had bought back the Army from the officers, because that reform in the organization of the Army could not be said to be feasible until they had really repaid to the officers the money invested in their commissions. He had all along regretted that this payment had not been made at the time Purchase was abolished, the sum needed might have been about £8,000,000; and if this had been raised in the way the £4,000,000 were obtained for the purchase of the Suez Canal Shares, then an annuity for £400,000 would, in 35 years, have cleared off the entire debt, and then it would have been possible to have made those Army changes which economy and efficiency dictated. At present the question of Promotion and Retirement was under consideration. He must raise his voice against such a measure, until all the improvements which, by the abolition of Purchase, were required in the organization of the Army were made, and out of these reforms the pecuniary means ought to be provided by which the Promotion and Retirement scheme could be carried into effect. He gathered from an answer of the Secretary of State for 1702 War to a Question which he had asked, that the right hon. Gentleman considered himself competent to make the changes involved in the scheme, without allowing the House of Commons to have a voice in the matter. If that was so, then if the House of Commons should have any objection to the right hon. Gentleman's plan, they would have a right to refuse to provide money for the purpose. But the fair and right way was to lay the scheme before the House; and, if approved or amended, then the House would vote the funds. They had heard a great deal to-night about the Miscellaneous Estimates, which had, within the last few years, doubled in amount; and to the year ending 1878 the estimated receipts amounted to £4,800,000, of which no less than £2,100,000 was received from India on account of the Army and Navy. He strongly objected to the Miscellaneous Estimates being swelled by such receipts. These were monies due by India for actual outlays incurred by the Admiralty and War Offices for services performed by these Departments for India. There were many other payments made both by India on account of England, and by England on account of India. These were mainly settled between the respective accountants general of the several Departments without passing through the Exchequer. So ought nearly all the accounts now entered as Exchequer receipts. Again, he could not understand why the present generation should be burdened with a payment which might be spread over a number of years. We had spent £4,000,000 in buying up officers' commissions; he believed £4,000,000 more would be required—about the same amount as had been paid for the Suez Canal shares. Why should not the Chancellor of Exchequer do as he had done in the case of those shares, borrow the money and spread the payment over a number of years by means of Terminable Annuities? So also as to the aid granted to local taxation, he objected to the system of taking money into the Exchequer and paying it out again in aid of local taxes. It, like the military receipts, swelled the expenditure.
§ MR. MONK
said, that he rose to put a practical question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the 1703 amount of stamp duties now levied upon appointments to ecclesiastical benefices. Those duties, which fell with exceptional hardship upon poor clergymen, were regulated by the Stamp Act of 1870, which imposed duties on various kinds of appointments, civil and ecclesiastical. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had inserted a clause in the Act of 38 Vict. c. 23, repealing the duties as to civil appointments, and he (Mr. Monk) now asked for an explanation of the distinction made between the two classes of appointments. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had said the other day that in the case of presentations to Crown livings not exceeding £200 a-year no less than £30 was payable, and that the greater part went into the Exchequer; and that thus the most direct taxation possible was levied on the poorest class of persons, who could possibly be called upon to pay it. It would only cost £4,000 a-year to remit this burden on the poorer clergy. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: £8,000.] That made it a stronger case, then, for consideration on the part of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. LOWTHIAN BELL
thought that for many purposes the iron trade might be considered an index of the prosperity of the country. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London had asked from what quarter we might expect the resuscitation of our trade. Was it from America? He thought not, for he had some recent experience of the trade with that country which he thought would not be very agreeable to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. What was the state of our trade with that country? In the year 1871 we exported 1,250,000 tons of iron and steel; in 1875 that quantity had fallen enormously, and he saw no prospect of a return of the prosperity of that trade, especially as the iron made in America was more than enough for the home consumption of that country. Again, in 1871 the value of the iron and steel exported from this country was not less than £9,000,000; but last year that quantity had fallen to £3,000,000. The hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) said he was not afraid of competition; neither was he (Mr. Bell), if he depended upon the skill of our manufacturers and our men, in which, in the iron trade, England was without a rival; but if he meant that we would still be able to 1704 force our way into all the markets which formerly took large quantities of our goods, ho must join issue with him; for this reason, that some of those countries had made great advances in their own manufactures. The United States now not only supplied their own wants, but they had commenced the exportation of machinery, in which we thought ourselves without any rivals. They now had almost the exclusive supply of locomotives to Brazil. If we were to keep our ground, both employers and employed must be careful what they were doing, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer must not overweight them with taxation, but must make it as light as possible; and without wishing to be a croaker, he could not but think that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon had taken too sanguine a view of the financial prospect. It was true that an increase might be calculated upon account of the natural increase of population; but since 1871 the population had only increased about 2 per cent, yet the estimate for the Excise in the current year was about 20 per cent higher than it was in 1871.
§ MR. SAMUDA
, after complimenting the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) on his speech, said, that he thought the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been quite right in coming to a conclusion in favour of the gradual reduction of the National Debt. That was certainly a wise policy and everyone would be indebted to him for the course he had taken upon that point. He must say, too, that he had never heard a speech more convincing as to the general finance of the country than that which the right hon. Gentleman had made on the occasion of the Budget. Last year the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. A. P. Egerton) complained that it was necessary for the Government to engage largely in the manufacture of ships, because, in many instances, when they allowed vessels to he manufactured for them, they had found bad contractors. He (Mr. Samuda) protested against that statement, for the truth was that the Admiralty were responsible for that result, for they adopted exactly the proper course to find out bad contractors, as they would only take the lowest tender, without reference to the character of the firm making it. The 1705 tenders could never be executed at the price given, for the work to be remunerative; and the consequence was that if they were carried out in a satisfactory manner, they involved a loss either to the children of the contractor, or to his creditors. The inevitable result of bad times must be to produce good ones. A great many mines and industries had been opened on the Continent in consequence of our artificial prices, but the moment the business returned to its original channel, these artificially-supported industries must collapse, while those which existed in this country must regain their primitive and natural position. In conclusion, he expressed a hope and believed that the expectations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be realized, and that at the end of the year we should have no cause to regret that we had passed through our present state of depression without increasing the burdens placed upon the country.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, he would take that opportunity of explaining an error in the construction put on some remarks he had uttered on a former occasion. He had never stated that wages had fallen 50 per cent. What he did say was intended to apply only to coal and iron industries and, generally speaking, to the Cleveland district. He desired to set the matter right, because his statement had been commented upon by The Economist, a journal for which be had the greatest respect. He took this opportunity of expressing his concurrence with every word which had fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to the loss the country had sustained by the death of Mr. Bagehot, the late editor of the journal in question. That gentleman was the life of The Economist and enjoyed a respect as universal as it was well deserved.
§ MR. BIGGAR
thought taxation was based upon a false system. It should be the object of the Chancellor of the Exchequer not to tax anyone who did not possess more than would procure him the necessaries of life; but instead of that he obtained too little from the rich and too much from the poor. As an illustration of what he meant he might mention the case of spirits and wine. The former was not of as much value as the latter. It was also the drink of the poor, while wine was the drink of the rich, yet spirit paid very much more duty than 1706 wine. Tobacco was another instance of the unfair manner in which taxation was levied. He also complained that at the present time the income tax was levied in a most unreasonable and unfair way. He urged that certain incomes should be taxed at a much higher rate than those which were uncertain and fluctuating, and that in imposing the tax the Government should discriminate between the value of different kinds of property—between, for example, the money derived from Consols and that which might be derived from Turkish bends, or the money obtained from railway debentures and that which came through shares. He hoped that, in his next year's Budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would impose a heavier income tax upon the wealthy people of the country who could well afford to pay it, and a lighter tax upon those of the poorer classes of the community.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken (Mr. Biggar) had contributed some novelty to the debate. The hon. Member had raised the question, which had been often raised before, as to the incidence of the income tax upon different classes in the community; and had argued, what others had argued in former times, that there ought to be a distinction between the rate laid upon certain incomes and that imposed upon uncertain incomes. But the hon. Gentleman had gone further than he remembered anyone to have done previously. The hon. Member had not only maintained that incomes from fixed property—funded property for example—ought to be rated more heavily than incomes derived from professional gains, but he had actually proceeded to distinguish between the value of different kinds of fixed property, and had invited the Government, in imposing the tax, to discriminate between money derived from Consols and money derived from Turkish bends; between money derived from railway debentures and money derived from railway shares. He was bound to say that from the point of view which he evidently took of the matter, the hon. Gentleman had made out a good case. But his argument furnished another illustration of the difficulty of discriminating between the different classes of income in levying the tax, for it was obvious that if distinction within 1707 distinction were to be made, the policy which the hon. Gentleman advocated might be carried out ad infinitum, thus showing that the attempt to differentiate as he proposed was in reality an impracticable undertaking. As to the tax on spirits, it turned not only on the question how much was derived from that source by way of revenue from the poor, but whether spirits were or were not in themselves a proper subject for taxation; and he very much doubted whether the hon. Gentleman would not be disposed to take a different line from that which he has just taken on the point if he were discussing the advantages of temperance. He would not follow the hon. Gentleman into the topics he had raised; there were several things he had said with which they must all agree, and there were many points upon which they must differ. Turning to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), he felt bound to join in what had been said by many hon. Gentlemen, and to express his entire concurrence in the remark that it was a speech of very great ability, and one worthy of his high reputation in matters of finance. He thought, however, several of the points which the right hon. Gentleman had urged, if not all his important points, had been exceedingly well answered on the spur of the moment by his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was not at all disappointed with the comparison which had been drawn between the expenditure of one Government and that of another, and he should not be dissatisfied at such comparison being left to the judgment of those by whom the debate would be impartially read; but they were now discussing, not so much the comparative merits of one or the other Government, but the merits of the Budget of the present year, and he was anxious that the House should not be led away by arguments wide of the particular subject for discussion. The practical main question before the House was, would they or would they not accept the scheme of finance for the present year submitted to them by the Government, which was to make no alteration in the taxation for the year. Government were met by the observation that their Estimates were sanguine Estimates; and this observation was justified by the remark that 1708 trade was very bad, and that there was no prospect of a revival. They were quite aware that trade was very bad and did not anticipate a revival; and, therefore, they had presented what they deemed cautious Estimates. The hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Bell) had spoken as if, in preparing the Budget, he had taken into account a probable increase of the Excise revenue. The fact was, he had taken it at less than last year, and the Customs also had been taken at less. He could assure the House that these matters had all been considered with great care and consideration. It filled him with surprise, not that there should be occasional miscalculations in the Estimates presented by the Revenue Departments, but that looking to the enormous amount of revenue the calculations came so close to the amount as they did. He confessed he was mainly governed in presenting the Estimates by the knowledge that the heads of the Revenue Department had had all the subjects connected with their Departments under consideration, and they had carefully and critically examined them, and arrived at the conclusions which had been presented to the House. Now, before presenting the Estimates he looked into various facts connected with the state of the country. He endeavoured, as far as he was able, to ascertain what had been the falling off of the revenue in former periods of depression, and in what classes of taxes the falling off had been greatest. Perhaps the information he obtained would be more suitable for communication to a statistical society than to that House, but he would venture to give some of the results at which he arrived. One of the questions which he tried to investigate was which sections of the taxpaying community paid best under the present circumstances, and which taxes were most and which least affected by stagnation of trade. Well, it was found that the taxes might be arranged in the following order, beginning with those most affected by the state of trade:—first, mercantile taxes, which varied, in the case of bills of exchange, from an increase of 31 per cent in 1863–5, to a fall of 16 per cent in 1875–7; secondly, taxes on articles consumed chiefly by the upper classes. These appeared to take a longer time to feel the full effect of bad times, but showed a stronger rise and fall than 1709 the taxes which were paid by the masses, which were more immediately but not so strongly sensitive. They varied from a rise of 21 per cent in 1865–7, when the financial distress of 1866, it would seem did not fully reach them, to a fall of 10 per cent in in 1857–9, after the commercial panics of 1856–7. They had shown during the last few years the same backwardness to feel the distress of trade. Up to 1875 they continued to rise, and it was only in the past year that a fall set in. Thirdly, taxes on articles consumed by the masses. These showed a smaller range of rise and fall, but they felt the influence of the times more immediately. Next came the direct taxes, which exhibited a still more confined range. Income tax and house duty showed a steady and almost uninterrupted increase. The stamps on deeds had a greater disposition to follow the course of trade, but with no great certainty; while legacy and probate duties on two occasions—namely, after the crisis of 1868 and in the past year—showed a fall. The Post Office showed a steady increase, which apparently followed no law and could not be found to have any connection with the state of trade. He had also made comparisons between the financial condition of the country now and what it was at some former periods of stagnation, and upon the whole he had arrived at the conclusion that the increase on articles consumed by the upper classes reached a, higher point, and the decrease in bad times reached a lower point, than was attained by articles consumed by the masses. The general result was that even in bad times, so large was the area with which they had to deal, the revenue kept up, on the whole, in a manner which might at first sight appear incredible, but which gave one some consolation and confidence in the steadiness of our financial basis. They must pass through bad times, but they told less severely than might be expected from the large extent of the area which was affected. He would not take the House more into these matters. He would only once more assure them that he had looked not only into the condition of British trade, but also into the condition of foreign trade; and he could confirm what had been said by the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) and others as to the way in which the distress mani- 1710 fested itself elsewhere. A remarkable proof of the severity of the crisis was to be found in the Report of the Tax Commissioners of New York, whose Return of the assessment on real and personal estate in that city showed that in 1873 the total value of the personal property amounted to £43,000,000, and that in 1876 it had fallen to £26,700,000—a decline in four years of 37 per cent. A curious Return had been published in The Economist from an American house, showing that in the four years 1873–6 one house in every 21 engaged in commercial business had fallen. In Germany, the cessation of the war and the payment of the indemnity was followed by a great deal of wild speculation in joint-stock companies. From the passing of the German Joint Stock Law in 1870 to the close of 1874 there were 857 companies formed in Prussia, with a nominal capital of over £200,000,000. This was far more than in the 70 years from 1800 to 1870, in which period only 441 companies were formed with a capital of £156,000,000. These figures showed that there had been an extraordinary state of excitement, which accounted in a great measure for the re-action which afterwards set in. In Vienna, in 1873, there were 294 joint-stock companies, with a paid-up capital of £142,000,000. During the four years 1873–6, 135 of these companies, with £32,000,000 of paid-up capital became bankrupt. He mentioned these matters because they threw light on the causes of the depression from which this country was suffering, and showed that other countries had suffered quite as much; and also because he was anxious to make the House aware that all these various matters had entered into his calculations. Under the circumstances, he ventured still to present his Estimates to the House with the same confidence that he had felt at the commencement of the financial year. He might be wrong in some items—some might turn out less well than he hoped; but he hoped for the best, and he was sure he would be utterly wrong, and would have no justification whatever if he asked Parliament to take so very gloomy a view of their financial position as to impose additional taxation. If the times were bad, surely they ought not to make them worse by taking more taxes out of the pockets of the people. It was said on the other side of the House—"We do not want 1711 to mend matters by putting on more taxes, but by reducing expenditure." Government were anxious in the matter; they had done and would continue to do their best to keep down expenditure; but there had been calls upon them which they had not been able to resist, and they had been obliged to increase the expenditure on both the Army and Navy. With regard to that particular increase he thought that both the House of Commons and the country recognized that it was fair and reasonable. Perhaps he might venture to say in answer to the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella), whom he was glad to hear criticizing their expenditure, that example in these matters was better than precept, and that it would be more satisfactory if he and some others would abstain from supporting propositions the object of which was to press an increase of expenditure upon the Government which they did not think was necessary. The other night there was a proposal to give increased pensions to the Irish Constabulary, and it was natural that Irish Members should have supported it, but a good many other Gentleman were on the same side, and it was remarkable that almost all of the Gentlemen in question were among the leading economists of the House. That was an example of the difficulties in which they were placed by those who preached economy but did not always practice it. He did not propose to re-enter on the old question as to the comparative extravagance of one Government and another. It seemed to him, however, that there had sometimes been a little want of logic in the arguments employed. It was asserted that Government had increased the expenditure. They replied that the expenditure had increased, partly because of certain legacies of expenditure that had been left them. The rejoinder to that was—"But you left us certain legacies of the same kind." This was really no answer at all. It reminded him of an old story told, he thought, of a Lord Chancellor of Ireland, who was going to Court one day, in a great crowd, when a carriage ran into his from behind. He cried out to his coachman—"What are you doing? The carriage behind has run into me," and the coachman's reply was—"Oh, it's all right, your honour; I have run into the one before." The right hon. Gentleman opposite had 1712 said, much to his astonishment—"You talk of our having left you legacies; but you are leaving us a legacy by your scheme for the payment of the Debt." He could not understand that statement at the time it was made, and he had been trying to understand it ever since without success. But taking it in the only possible way in which it could be understood, he might reply by quite as good a tu quoque as the right hon. Gentleman had made use of. It was the particular merit of the suggestion he had had, the honour to submit to the House, and which it accepted, that it was not one for incurring a fresh charge, but for continuing an old charge. It proposed to fix £28,000,000, the previous charge for interest, as the payment to be made every year, and, after the interest was paid out of that sum, to apply the balance to the redemption of the Debt. Under that plan the country would year by year pay off more and more of the Debt with the same expense to the taxpayers. If he understood the complaint of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, he said—"Oh! but that is laying a burden upon the future, because year after year more of this money will go towards the redemption of the capital and less to the payment of the interest, and yet the same sum will be levied." Was he right in that interpretation of the right hon. Gentleman's language? [Mr. CHILDERS assented.] Then he could not understand the right hon. Gentleman's objection, because precisely the same principle was adopted with regard to the Terminable Annuities. What was being done with regard to the Fortifications. They had been undertaken in 1860, when, instead of paying for them at once out of moneys voted by the House, they were paid for by a loan which was to be extinguished by means of Terminable Annuities, and year after year more capital and less interest was being paid off, and, therefore, in 1877 we were discharging a burden due to the capital account of 1861–2. That scheme, therefore, was open to exactly the same reprobation as the Debt scheme of the Government, and it was quite unreasonable for hon. Members to bring this charge against the Government in the way they had. If that course had been adopted in connection with the Terminable Annuities in that case, how could it be alleged that 1713*** the Debt scheme of the present Government was throwing a burden upon posterity, because it was based on the same principle. The right hon. Gentleman had also asserted that the Debt scheme would weaken the financial position of the country, because, as he said, under the old practice the redemption of Debt could be stopped in case of emergency, and thereby the financial resources of the country would be greatly strengthened. But that was precisely what the Government proposed doing, and they could do it much more easily under their Debt scheme than it could have been done by means of Terminable Annuities. Assuming that in years to come it should be necessary to put a stop to the redemption of Debt, what could be easier than by a short Act of Parliament to reduce the sum of £28,000,000 now appropriated to the paying off the interest and capital of the Debt to £25,000,000, or to such other sum as would be sufficient to discharge the amount of interest alone, leaving the capital to stand where it was. Surely having such a power at command would give ns great financial strength instead of weakness, and must be, he thought, a perfect answer to a remark he had heard with great surprise. But he was told that this Debt scheme was but a very trifling matter after all. Well, he had never introduced it to the House as being a great matter, at present it was a slight matter, but it would grow as time went on, and would at length become a very important one, and would produce very sensible results upon the Debt. Then the right hon. Gentleman said that compared with what they had done in reducing the Debt the present Government had done much less. His answer was—True; but give us back the taxation you had and we would do the same. You had a period of prosperity, while we have fallen confessedly upon bad times. You had that prosperity which advanced, as you boasted by leaps and bounds, but in producing which you had nothing to do. You were levying income tax at 4d. and 6d. in the pound—["No, no!"]—well, at any rate, it was levied at higher rates than now, and the condition of things otherwise was much more favourable for you had the sugar and other duties, which were now given up, and it was no great wonder if you did pay off debt rather faster than our modest and moderate proposal. The 1714 right hon. Gentleman had also charged him with having stopped the reduction of the Debt in order to make advances to the local authorities. That was not very intelligible; but what the Government had done was to introduce a stricter principle, and say—"The interest of the money which is lent, and lent on good security, to the local authorities is revenue, and as revenue it ought to be treated." As revenue it was treated, and as revenue it came into the Exchequer. When the Government had to make advances, they got the money by Vote of Parliament, and lent it out on good securities for a fair return, and the whole system was of great advantage to the country. Nor was it all the doings of the present Government. In what they were doing they were only giving effect to the policy which was initiated by their Predecessors, as in the case of the loans under the Education Act, advanced for the purpose of school buildings, and in the Public Health Act. The Government were not responsible for that policy. They were advancing the money in the best way they could; they considered that it was advanced on good security and that it was making fair returns. Their Predecessors in office, having initiated a policy, left the Government to find the money. The Government were endeavouring to carry out 'that policy to the best advantage. These were things which were left to them in the shape of legacies. They did not blame their Predecessors for that; they only urged in their own justification that since that policy had been adopted, it was necessary that they should, as far as they could, apply the means for giving effect to it. So much for the difference between the expenditure of the Government and the expenditure of those who preceded them in office. For his own part, he was not curious to go into these comparisons, and to say—"You have done this and we have done that," or to show that their Predecessors might not have done some things better than they; but, on the other hand, the Government claimed to have done some things as well as their Predecessors. All that he said was that Her Majesty's Government believed that upon the whole their Budget was an honest one, and that the expectations it put forward would be fully realized. If hon. Members opposite had anything 1715 better to propose, let them bring it forward, but if not, he trusted that they would read this Bill a second time, and would give them credit for what they had done.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill read a second time, and committed for Thursday.