§ Resolutions [April 24] reported.
§ Resolution 1.
§ MR. E. W. HARCOURT
said, he wished to take the opportunity of thanking the Prime Minister for the very literal way in which he had carried out the promises he had made earlier in the Session on the subject of roads. He believed the sum which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to appropriate to the maintenance of disturnpiked roads was exactly the sum which those roads at present cost. He thought, however, what they had chiefly to congratulate themselves upon was that the principle was conceded that main roads were to be maintained, not out of the rates, but from other sources. The satisfaction, nevertheless, with which the arrangement would be regarded, would depend entirely upon the manner in which the relief was to be distributed; and, again, as to the method of relief, it was to be remembered that the chief offenders in destroying roads were brewers' vans, timber waggons, and other carriages drawing heavy weights, as well as traction engines, and these ought to be dealt with before it could be said that any justice was done. He had had a large correspondence with highway authorities throughout England, perhaps larger than any other Member in the House; and he thought he could undertake to say that if any degree of justice were done in the matter of maintaining main roads from sources other than the rates the President of the Local Government Board would find very little difficulty in making such alterations as were necessary in the Highway Act of 1878 in a way which would give general satisfaction.
§ MR RYLANDS
said, he understood from the Prime Minister that it was his desire that they should take this stage of the Budget without much discussion, and that sufficient opportunity would be given on the second reading of the Cus- 1411 toms and Inland Revenue Bill. His object in rising now was to express a hope that that Bill would be made the first Order of the Day, because he was bound to tell the Prime Minister, in regard to the great Expenditure, there would be considerable examination and discussion. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that public opinion was indifferent on this question; but he must say, on behalf of his own constituents and the populous constituencies of Lancashire, that one of the main causes of dissatisfaction with the late Government was their large Public Expenditure. He must also tell the Prime Minister that he had hardly gauged the feelings of the House when he said that the House was indifferent to the Expenditure of the country. He (Mr. Rylands) had a Notice on the Paper on that subject, and he should have pressed it had he not desired to avoid, in the present state of Business, embarrassing the Government. There must be full opportunity for discussion, and they ought also to have an opportunity of redeeming the pledges they gave prior to the General Election.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I rise, Sir, not to prolong this conversation, for it is, I think, undesirable the matter should now be gone into. It is quite obvious that the question raised with regard to Expenditure, and the financial position generally, ought to be fully discussed. I have no doubt that a full discussion will bring out some points that are not at once evident upon the mere statement of the amount of Expenditure; and there will, perhaps, be an opportunity of dispelling some false ideas on the subject. At the same time, it is quite clear that the position, as stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday, is one that demands the serious consideration of the country and of this House, and that we should not be doing our duty, or satisfying the general expectations of the country at large, if we did not make it the subject of serious debate. I could not help noticing the suggestion thrown out yesterday by the Prime Minister that it might be necessary to adopt further or other measures for checking expenditure. I confess that that raises a very large question, upon which I should be sorry off-hand to express an opinion; but it is one very worthy of discussion. I hope, 1412 however, we shall not now run into a general or particular discussion, because we have other Business before us; but let it be understood that a full and fair opportunity will be afforded hereafter to discuss the statement of the right hon. Gentleman.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GLADSTONE)
Nothing could be fairer or more reasonable than that. It is quite in conformity with what I endeavoured to convey last night, that full opportunity should be given for discussion; and if the best opportunity arises on the second reading, rather than on going into Committee, I am perfectly willing to consult the convenience of the House. Since full opportunity will be given, it is very desirable not to make any partial anticipations. With regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Harcourt), they were in place, and I thank him for them. Our pledge was limited by the arrangement made at the beginning of the Session, and I do not regard the principle in this grant as having quite so extensive an application as he does. That, however, is not the question. It is not necessary to enter into details; but I must remind the hon. Gentleman that in his estimate of the amount he must take Scotland into consideration, because Scotland is entitled to receive some fair proportion of the amount in respect to main roads.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
said, he did not think the taxpayers would be quite so pleased as his hon. Friend (Mr. Harcourt) appeared to be, especially when they found that a certain proportion of the small amount which was to go to highways was to be given to Scotland. He asked the right hon. Gentleman to give this subject that fair consideration which it required. He recollected the pledges the right hon. Gentleman made to his own tenants with regard to local taxation. He now proposed to increase the Carriage Duty, a duty which had been reduced, and which would again make it a most objectionable tax. The Prime Minister had entirely overlooked that class of traffic which had done the most harm to the roads—the large vans and heavy locomotives. These and the omnibuses, which went to railway stations, were allowed to go free; while the light carriages, which caused little wear to the roads, were to be more heavily taxed. He hoped the right hon. 1413 Gentleman would reconsider this matter. With regard to the Malt Tax he was one of those who always strongly advocated the repeal of the tax when barley was at a very low price; but he did not when barley rose to the extraordinary high price it did during prosperous years. But since the right hon. Gentleman had taken off the Malt Duty and placed the duty on beer the price of barley had gone down very considerably. We could grow far better barley in this country than could be grown abroad; but the price of barley was depreciated because, as the right hon. Gentleman knew, he had permitted anything to be used in brewing, and such ingredients as rice and maize and a greater quantity of sugar were now used. Many brewers, especially the small brewers, using substitutes for all kinds of malt and hops, produced beer of a very inferior quality, to the detriment of the people of this country. [A laugh.] The hon. Member for Scarborough might laugh, because he was one of those who recommended his countrymen to drink water only; but all did not share his opinion, and many a man in drinking his glass of beer desired to have it good. He would venture to say that unless something was done to check the evil he alluded to, the repeal of the tax would be anything but a benefit either to the farmers or the country.
MR. JOSEPH COWEN
said, that, acting in accord with the general desire of the House, he would not enter into a discussion on the Ministerial proposals. But he desired to give Notice that when the Bill based on the Budget Resolutions came on for second reading, he would move an Amendment condemnatory of the intended additional duty on carriages. He recognized the justice of the demand that had been made for concession with respect to turnpikes; and he did not think the sum the Chancellor of the Exchequer contemplated setting aside for that purpose was excessive. He wished to speak with becoming deference and respect of any fiscal propositions of the right hon. Gentleman; but he could not help saying that he thought he had not shown his customary skill in discovering the means for raising the required funds. The mode of assisting those who paid for highways did not strike him as a satisfactory one; but, apart from that, the proposal to increase the tax on car- 1414 riages would hamper a useful, varied, and important trade, which was already suffering from depression. There was a large capital embarked in the coach-building business, and there were thousands of workmen employed in it. That trade had suffered proportionately more than any other trade from the recent bad times. The duty at present imposed was a bar to development, and the additional duty would be a further deterrent. The coach-building business was one of the few trades now that were taxed. The Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out very lucidly on the previous day how the duty on malt was doubly injurious to the trade. It not only imposed a duty, but impeded the maltsters by compelling them to conduct their operations subject to Excise control. The same thing applied to the coach business. Carriage builders were crippled in their operations by the action of the representatives of the Inland Revenue. The persons who used carriages in the usual way were best able to pay the extra tax; but it was not them he was considering. It was the men directly engaged in the trade itself; and when the time came he would endeavour to adduce reasons why the Government should abandon the intended increase of duty. It might be possible, he thought, to extend the proposed relief to the highways without imposing any duty at all.
MR. MAC IVER
asked for some assurance that an opportunity would be given for discussing the Motion of which he had given Notice the previous night, and which it was certainly his intention to bring forward at some stage of the Budget discussion—That Customs duties shall be replaced on such foreign importations as come into unfair competition with the industries of Great Britain and Ireland.He asked for this on two grounds. There were many people who seemed to think that importations of luxuries from France might very well be subjected to a tax; and there were many who regarded with alarm the extraordinary depreciation of the revenue derived from intoxicating drinks. Many people felt greatly alarmed at the fact that the Revenue was dependent upon intoxicating drinks for nearly one-half of it; and, so far as that went, it created a state of things which contributed largely to prevent any serious remedial measures being adopted 1415 to check intemperance. It was with a desire to forward the cause of temperance, as well as with a desire to free our industries at home from unfair competition, that he trusted a proper opportunity would be given to raise this question at some future stage of the financial Bill.
§ MR. EARP
contended that it was incorrect to say that many substitutes had been used for malt for brewing purposes. The diminution in the consumption of barley and the fall in its price were not results of the repeal of the Malt Duty. The diminution in question was partly the result of those changes in the habits of the people to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had alluded. The brewing trade had been depressed, and consequently there had been less demand than formerly for barley. When the brewing interest should revive higher prices would be got for barley; and in the long run the repeal of the Malt Tax, instead of bearing prejudicially upon the farmer, would affect him beneficially.
§ MR. RAMSAY
said, he did not wish to prolong this desultory discussion; but he was glad to hear the Prime Minister announce that he had not forgotten Scotland when he proposed the Budget last night. He wished, however, to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that it was not from Scotland that the outcry for grants in aid had chiefly come. Their complaint had been directed hitherto to the fact that the grants allowed to Scotland had not been in proportion either to her population or taxation, and that the share they had got of those grants was less than they were fairly entitled to. If he was correct in saying that the grants in aid had not been demanded by Scotland, he would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether it would be expedient to give any new grants in aid for any purpose whatever, in addition to the subsidy derived by the people of England from the Imperial Exchequer. He thought it was a very doubtful question—he did not know what the opinion of the majority of the House would be upon it—whether the counties that received those grants in aid derived any such benefit as was supposed by many of those who demanded them. His experience was the opposite. In the county with which he was connected, they used to get from the Exchequer 1416 a share of the sum of £5,000 for maintaining the military roads in the Highlands of Scotland; and he believed the roads in the same district now were maintained at less expense to the ratepayers within the several districts than when the Road Trustees had the £5,000 from the Imperial Treasury in addition to their own contributions. Now, if such was the case, and if the assessment levied for the maintenance of the Police Force had increased since the Government came to pay one-half of the whole amount, these facts should lead the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider the question of renewing those grants in aid, and, at the same time, whether it would not be better to give efficient local administration to the several counties, and so enable them within themselves to levy and control local charges instead of drawing from the Imperial Treasury. He had no wish to detain the House further than to say that it would be desirable that Scotland should be exempted from the increase proposed to be made in the duty on carriages, and left very much as she was—only the Prime Minister taking care to give her, for all purposes, the same proportion of the grants, except special grants for the roads in England, but leaving them in other respects as they were.
§ MR. DUCKHAM
maintained that when samples of barley were of as good a quality as in past years they realized a satisfactory price. The low price now obtainable for barley he attributed to a deterioration in the samples. He could not connect it with the repeal of the Malt Tax. He begged to express his gratitude to the Prime Minister for the relief to the agricultural interest which he had shadowed forth in his Budget.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, nothing could be more certain than that the Prime Minister, in proposing the abolition of the Malt Tax, had in view the enabling of the brewer to use other materials than barley in the manufacture of beer. If the Prime Minister was right one or two things would be the result—if barley was used as before the abolition of the Malt Tax, the amount of barley used in the manufacture of beer would be largely increased; if, on the other hand, other materials than barley were used in the manufacture of beer, it was perfectly obvious that the price of 1417 barley must fall, irrespective of the foreign barley that might be imported. The brewer, therefore, was now exposed to two sorts of competition, to neither of which he was exposed before—first, to the competition of foreign barley and foreign malt; and, secondly, to the competition of other substances than barley.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, he wished to take that opportunity of giving Notice that, on the second reading of the Budget Bill, he would endeavour to justify himself with respect to a charge which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devonshire (Sir Stafford Northcote) had brought against him, with reference to a statement he had made as to his administration of finance. The right hon. Gentleman had said his statements were of a misleading and inaccurate character. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that he had no intention of misrepresenting him. At the proper time and the proper occasion, he would ask the House to listen to his justification of the statements he had made. He heartily endorsed the expression of his hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands), with reference to the dissatisfaction of large constituencies in this country with regard to the National Expenditure. Members on the Liberal side of the House, he believed, were bound to say as honest men that they won their places by pledges to reduce that Expenditure. They were bound to support the most economical Chancellor of the Exchequer this country ever had in reducing the present enormous Expenditure, which was both extravagant and unnecessary.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, he had no intention of imputing to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) any desire to misrepresent him. He simply said, or rather wrote, that certain statements which the hon. Member made were, as he considered, inaccurate or misleading.
§ MR. CAINE
said, that if the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) would study the statement of the Prime Minister with reference to the falling-off of the revenue derived from alcoholic liquors, he would find that the depression was caused by the great increase in society of those who, like himself, believed it was better to drink wholesome water than unwholesome beer.
MR. ALDERMAN W. LAWRENCE
regretted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not found himself able to deal with the anomalies in the Probate Duty. Freehold property ought to be brought under the same taxation as leasehold property. They ought either to abolish the Probate Duty on leasehold property, or to impose Probate Duty on freehold as well as leasehold property.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
said, he was sorry the Prime Minister was not present, because he wished to repeat a question he put last night, and on which he received no information. The right hon. Gentleman last night stated that the Government had sent to France a portion of the Revenues of Cyprus, which this country had impounded. He should like to know whether that arrangement took place after an understanding with Turkey or before? When we took Cyprus, we did not give Turkey to understand that we would impound a portion of the Revenue for ourselves or anybody else. It appeared to him that if we acted spontaneously as agents of France, and laid a distringas upon moneys due by Turkey to France, we established a principle of a very doubtful character.
§ LORD FREDERICK CAVENDISH
said, the reason why the hon. Gentleman's question of last night was not answered was simply because he went away without waiting for an answer. The answer was this—that the loan was jointly guaranteed by England and France; and Her Majesty's Government believed they would have been acting most dishonourably if they had not secured what was due to France as well as what was due to this country.
§ LORD FREDERICK CAVENDISH
There was no understanding with the Porte, and the Treasury simply acted in accordance with the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown, who said it was perfectly clear that they were within their rights in stopping those sums out of the guarantee fund.
§ MR. J. G. HUBBARD
said, as the guarantee was joint, our Government could not justly have received a single sixpence from the Porte without dividing it with France; but he thought such joint guarantees were greatly to be deprecated.
§ MR. ECROYD
said, he hoped an assurance would be given by the Government that opportunity would be afforded for the discussion of questions of deep importance connected with the Budget. He should like to discuss the possibility of reducing the duties on tea, coffee, cocoa, and dried fruits, which bore upon the labouring population very severely, and of imposing duties upon the articles of luxury from France and other foreign countries, with which our shops were filled. He concurred with the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Joseph Cowen) in his objection to the increased duty on carriages, inasmuch as it would operate as a distinct discouragement to coach-building, which was an important branch of English industry. It would have been infinitely better had the Chancellor of the Exchequer raised a considerable revenue from articles of pure luxury, instead of maintaining an exorbitant duty on tea. If only in the interest of temperance, they ought to encourage the consumption of an article which was acquiring a more and more important place in the domestic economy of our labouring classes.
§ Resolution agreed to.
§ Resolution 2.
§ MR. PELL
declared his inability to join in the expression of pleasure at the Chancellor of the Exchequer's proposal for rectifying the admitted injustice which arose from the abolition of toll-gates. The redress which the right hon. Gentleman had offered was not of an equitable nature. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman could hardly intend that his proposals should receive the sanction of Parliament. It occurred to him that the right hon. Gentleman would not be surprised if, on the second reading of the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill, the proposals of the Government were rejected, and if the hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. E. W. Harcourt) were left where he was at the beginning of the Session. The roads were said to be worn down by the trading classes. It was the heavy and the rapid traffic, which really rendered the maintenance of the roads costly, that brought a heavy charge upon the ratepayers. But the trading classes were not to be taxed, except when they took their evening drives in a light carriage. 1420 Those who would be taxed were the innumerable people who, after a life of diligence and thrift, had been enabled in their old age to provide themselves with a light carriage and a horse in order that they might enjoy the pleasure of a drive from the town into the country. Of course, the upper classes would also be hit by the Chancellor of the Exchequer's proposal; but the middle classes, who did not use the roads in a way calculated to damage them, would, in a very large degree, have to provide the funds for the restoration of the wear and tear caused by the traders and the representatives of the large commercial houses. This did not appear to be an equitable way of dealing with the question, and he thought the Resolution ought to have pointed to a contribution of a more general nature from all classes of the community.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, he really thought that the Prime Minister, when proposing the additional duty on carriages, was intending it as a practical joke. The right hon. Gentleman was simply repeating his former tactics with regard to the Malt Tax of shifting money from one pocket to another. The tax which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to raise upon carriages was one of an injurious nature, for the simple reason that the manufacturers of cars and carriages in this country gave purely local employment. He was disposed to support the view of the hon. Member who thought it would be more satisfactory if the right hon. Gentleman taxed some articles of luxury which were not manufactured in this country, and were imported. The effect of the tax on carriages would be, he feared, to lessen the number of those vehicles used by the classes who keep carriages, and thus to strike a blow at the coach-building trade, which had not been at all prosperous in recent years.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
asked when it was proposed to take the second reading of the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill?
§ LORD FREDERICK CAVENDISH
said, that the second reading of the Bill would be set down for Thursday, with a view to a day being fixed for its discussion.
§ Resolution agreed to.
§ Resolutions 3, 4, 5, and 6 agreed to.1421
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. PLAYFAIR, Mr. CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER, and LORD FREDERICK CAVENDISH.
§ Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 140.]