§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. COURTNEY
, in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, 405 said he might, perhaps, explain once more that it was merely a formal proceeding. He had already explained that it was extremely desirable to have the Bill reprinted in order that the full financial proposal of the Government might be before the House. It could not be discussed until it was before the House, and right hon. Gentlemen opposite must admit the necessity of having it reprinted. It was proposed to have the Bill read a second time to-day, committed pro formâ to-morrow, and to take the formal discussion on the Question that the Speaker do leave the Chair on some early night, when it would be made the first Order, and when those who had put down Motions on the second reading could bring those Motions forward. He believed all the hon. Members who had put down Motions—with, perhaps, one exception—had agreed to this plan, which, if adopted, would assist them and the House. He, therefore, earnestly hoped that the proceeding to-night, which, he repeated, was merely a formal one, would be allowed to take place without debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Courtney.)
§ MR. E. W. HARCOURT
said, he was sure no one would accuse him of wishing in any way to obstruct the Business of the House; but in this matter he was in a peculiar position. He had already given way to the Government once this Session in a matter in which he took great interest, and in which he believed many other hon. Members took great interest. As he had had only a very unsatisfactory explanation with regard to a promise which the Prime Minister had made him in the presence of the House, hon. Members would excuse him if he said a word or two on the subject. The right hon. Gentleman, when he (Mr. Harcourt) withdrew his Motion on the 24th of February, acknowledged that he saw that the corner-stone of that Motion was that immediate relief should be given to the taxpayers and ratepayers of the country. The right hon. Gentleman said that the promise he gave was to be independent of any legislation with which he might find that the House was not in perfect accord. Well, the way the right hon. Gentleman had met him had been by saying that he 406 would take a tax to put himself in funds; but the tax that it was intended to propose, he (Mr. Harcourt) believed was one with which the House was not in perfect accord. Therefore, if it was found that the tax was not one that the House generally approved of, if the right hon. Gentleman said that by the course he had taken he was fulfilling his promise, he (Mr. Harcourt) could only say, with all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, that he was escaping from his promise by a side-wind. This was an unworthy way to carry out a promise made before the whole House, and on the strength of which he (Mr. Harcourt) had withdrawn the Motion upon which he had wished to address the House. He certainly did thank the right hon. Gentleman for so much of his promise as embraced the principle that the cost of the main roads should not be put upon the rates; but he did not think that the proposal the right hon Gentleman made was a wise one; but, because it was not wise, the rejection of that proposition by the House would not release him from his promise. There were plenty of other means which the Prime Minister, with his great wisdom and great financial knowledge, could make use of for raising the required funds without the Carriage Tax. He considered the Carriage Tax would be an unfair tax, even if the present tax only were appropriated for road purposes, much more so if that tax was to be increased. Firstly, because the £540,000 which was produced by the Carriage Tax was chiefly collected in the towns; and, secondly, because the carriages which the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed to tax were not the chief offenders. Any legislation in this matter must lay on the users of the roads their fair share of the maintenance. Turnpikes did this in a rough and extravagant way. Turnpikes were gone, and now the taxation was unjustly thrown upon the ratepayers. The right hon. Gentleman promised him before the House that he would give immediate relief in the matter. It went without saying, that relief must be just or else it was worthless. He had received vast numbers of suggestions from all parts of the country on these matters. He saw an objection in many of the methods proposed, which was that persons who did not use the roads would be heavily taxed. Well, then, the Carriage and 407 Horse Tax at first presented an appearance of greater fairness; but he had already shown what his reasons wore for disliking the former tax; and, as to the Horse Tax, why it had but lately been taken off, and he was sure those who were interested in the matter would not approve of its being re-imposed. If a fresh tax were necessary, it would be more fair that vehicles should pay in proportion to the use they made of the roads; for instance, carts and waggons used on the land only should not be taxed. Hauliers, brewers, butchers, and tradesmen whose vehicles were always on the roads, should be rated in proportion to the tolls they formerly paid to the turnpikes. This was easily got at. He believed it would be found that waggons of the above description paid about £10 a-year; carts about £7 10s. a-year. Traction engines drawing heavy weights of course should pay at a higher rate. He was only roughly sketching what might be done. Another scheme which recommended itself to notice was a terminal railway rate. Supposing one penny were charged on each ton of goods discharged by railways and canals for carriage on roads in England, they would find that, as 240,000,000 tons were so discharged each year, £1,000,000 would be realized. There would be no difficulty in collecting the rate; and as far as railways were concerned it would be a positive gain to them, for they would then be relieved of their liabilities respecting roads and over bridges. Towns would receive their fair share, and the rate would fall very lightly on small consumers. The right hon. Gentleman laughed at him about appropriating the Beer Tax for the roads; but there were other licences connected with beer that might be made use of. There were many other methods also which the genius of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was quite capable of conceiving; but it was not open to him to say that, if one proposition was distasteful, therefore he was absolved from making any other. He was in the recollection of the House in these things. He believed the sense of justice of the House was on his side. He would not enter more fully at this late hour into the merits of the case. He had promised not to detain the House long, and would therefore conclude by moving, as an Amendment to the second reading— 408That the financial arrangements comprised in the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill will not be satisfactory unless provision is therein made for giving immediate relief to the ratepayers from the incidence of rates levied for the maintenance of main roads in England.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, the financial arrangements comprised in the Customs and Inland Revenue Rill will not he satisfactory unless provision is therein made for giving immediate relief to the ratepayers from the incidence of rates levied for the maintenance of main roads in England,"—(Mr. Harcourt,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. MACIVER
said, he would move the adjournment of the debate; and ho did so because he believed that he and many other hon. Members had great reason to complain of the course the Government had taken. The Secretary to the Treasury had been good enough to inform him that he (Mr. Mac Iver) was the obstacle to the progress of this measure—or, rather, that the obstacle was the Motion which stood in his name on the Paper. That, however, was not quite correct. Ho should at any time be willing to withdraw a Motion that stood in his name in order to facilitate the despatch of Business if he wore able to elicit a really definite promise that there would be full opportunity given to debate his Motion. The discussion on this important Bill had been held over since the 25th of April. They had now arrived at an hour when it was quite useless to make speeches; therefore, he would not detain the House with the subject of his Amendment. He would only move that the debate be now adjourned.
§ [The Motion, not being seconded, could not be put.]
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, he was surprised that the hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Harcourt) had taken this course. It was inconvenient that these questions should be raised in the absence of the Prime Minister, who was the person who had made the promise, and who was the only person who could offer the necessary explanations.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, the absence of the Prime Minister might be stated as a reason for adjourning the debate.
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, that if the second reading were now allowed the hon. Member for Oxfordshire would not lose much. He, no doubt, would lose the opportunity of saying the same thing twice over—first, on the second reading, and again on the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair; but it was not usual to say things twice over in that way. The hon. Member would have the most ample opportunity of making his statement or complaint, of pressing his claim, and of calling on the Prime Minister to redeem his pledge, on the night which would be set apart for the discussion of the Bill. He (Mr. Courtney) hoped the hon. Member would forego the discussion on his Amendment to-night, and take the discussion on it when the Question arose that Mr. Speaker do leave the Chair.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, the hon. Gentleman, in his laudable desire to promote the Business of the Government, really overlooked the position of private Members with regard to this matter. The hon. Gentleman said that the hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Harcourt) would lose nothing at all by consenting to the second reading of this Bill being taken now, and the Bill being committed pro formâ, because an opportunity would be offered to him to bring forward his Motion, on the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair. If the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire was the only Member who had a Notice of Amendment on this Bill, there might be something said in favour of what the hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury had said. But, in point of fact, there were no less than 11 Gentlemen who had Notices of Motions on the second reading of this Bill. Therefore, if the hon. Member for Oxfordshire were to wait for the occasion which was promised him by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the probability was that he would lose his opportunity altogether, because some other of those Gentlemen whose names were down would very possibly have precedence of him. In considering this matter they must take into consideration the position of the hon. Member for Oxfordshire himself. The hon. Member brought forward his Motion with regard to Local Taxation, especially with respect to highways, at an early period of the Session. He had an opportunity of 410 making an excellent speech on the subject, and of testing somewhat the opinion of the House; and if the matter had come to a vote, they would have seen how far the House were prepared to accept the views of the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman, however, on that occasion was interrupted by the proposal from the Prime Minister, who seemed to promise the hon. Member all he asked for; therefore, the hon. Gentleman abandoned the opportunity which he had, and, by so doing, he facilitated the progress of other Business. He sacrificed his own opportunity; but he looked forward to an arrangement which would be satisfactory to him. In the course of the discussion which had since taken place there had been suggestions made which seemed to show that there was, at all events, a doubt in the mind of the Prime Minister whether he would or would not be able in the present Session to fulfil the promise which he made to the hon. Member for Oxfordshire. It was something more than a doubt; and, therefore, the hon. Member now said—"I wish to bring the matter to an issue; I wish to take the sense of the House on this important question. It really does not signify for that purpose whether the Bill is exactly in the form which it is ultimately to assume." The question was one of a general and broad character, and it was one on which his hon. Friend (Mr. Harcourt) had a fair right to test the sentiment of the House. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury now said that it was unfair to bring forward this proposal in the absence of the Prime Minister, and in that way spring a surprise on the House. Why, the Prime Minister only that very day said there were a number of Notices on the Paper with regard to this Bill; but he understood that only one Gentleman intended to press his Motion. He (Sir Stafford Northcote) called out "two;" but the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister would not believe that that was the case. It really was not the fault of the Opposition if the Prime Minister would not believe that which he was told—namely, that there would be no objection made to proceeding with this Bill to-night. He (Sir Stafford Northcote) must say that the House had been extremely forbearing. The hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury knew perfectly well, and all old 411 Members of the House knew perfectly well, that, as a general rule, what happened in financial matters was something of this kind. The Chancellor of the Exchequer made a statement in a general way, and then it was subjected, perhaps, to a little conversation; but no regular discussion took place upon the first night. Usually a day was named within the week of the introduction of the Budget for the discussion of the proposals of the Budget in Committee of the Whole House. At every stage of the Bill they had been asked by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to forego their usual opportunity of discussion. Nothing was done to stand in the way of the progress of Government Business; and now, when the second reading of this Bill was proposed, there was an attempt to withdraw the promise which had been made to the House. The House was not receiving fair treatment at the hands of the Government. Hon. Members were willing to admit that the Government had a great deal of pressure upon them this Session, and they had endeavoured, as far as they could, to make allowance for that pressure. They had given the Government a great deal of time; they had given them precedence for one Bill, and then for another Bill; and, in fact, they had done all they could to forbear interfering with the progress of Government Business. Having had so few nights for Supply, having had so few opportunities of bringing forward questions that ought to be brought forward, he thought it was a most unprecedented and most inexcusable thing that the Government should make the present demand upon them. The hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Harcourt) came forward very gallantly and said—"I am quite prepared to take this opportunity of taking the sense of the House. I waive the opportunity of asking for an adjournment and having a full discussion, if you will allow us to come to a vote on this important question. If the Government do not feel they are in a position to come to a vote now, and will let us adjourn the discussion, let us take it upon some subsequent evening, I am quite content; but do not call on the House to forego the legitimate opportunity now at our disposal." He (Sir Stafford Northcote) must say there were many grounds why they should be very 412 chary indeed how they assented to the proposals of the Government, until they had some further explanation with regard to some points in the Estimates to which attention had been directed. He had no desire at all to unduly hurry over the consideration of the Financial Bill, yet he thought the proposal of his hon. Friend (Mr. Harcourt) might be very legitimately discussed now. The House might do very well even now in coming to a vote. Of course, if the Government thought the matter required further consideration, it was in their power to move the adjournment of the debate.
§ COLONEL MAKINS
said, the hon. Member (Mr. Courtney), in moving the second reading, stated that his object was solely to get the Bill re-committed—that was to say, to bring the Bill before the House in another form. He (Colonel Makins) only rose to suggest that if the hon. Member was not prepared to come to a vote on the Bill in its present form, there was another course he could take—namely, to withdraw the Bill and bring in a fresh one. That would give an opportunity for discussion on the second reading. If the House agreed now to the second reading of this Bill, one of the stages would be lost on which a discussion could take place.
§ MR. PELL
said, that one of the objections he had to make to the proposal of the Government was this. There appeared to be a general understanding that if the proposals of the Government were now assented to, and this Bill read a second time, those who had subjects for discussion during the progress of the Bill would remain exactly in the same position as if they insisted upon this stage not being lost. That would hardly be the case. He (Mr. Pell) had had a Motion on the Paper for a long time, which he intended to move on the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair, and he intended now to take this opportunity of making the Motion, because he observed that there were so many Motions on the Motion for the second reading of the Bill. What ho wished to draw the attention of the House to was this—that if this Motion was agreed to, he would not get precedence, but his Motion would remain behind the Motions of the 11 Gentlemen which were now on the Paper. For his own part, therefore, he objected to the 413 proposal of the Government. Hon. Members had to represent their constituents, and they did undoubtedly look for an opportunity of giving expression to their views and to those of their constituents upon such an important Bill as this. Although he did it with extreme reluctance, because he was aware of the difficulties which surrounded the Government and the Parliamentary Business this year, he could not consent to lose this opportunity of discussing the subjects raised by the Bill.
§ MR. MAGNIAC
said, he happened to represent a very considerable class in the country, and he held in his hand a Memorial, signed by 1,000 commercial firms in the country, which had been intrusted to him for presentation. He stood in this position, that by the action of the Government not only had he no opportunity now of introducing the Motion he had on the Paper with regard to this Bill, but he should have no opportunity of introducing his Motion until the Motion was made to go into Committee on the Bill. He (Mr. Magniac) certainly thought that the best course for the Government to have taken would have been to have had the Bill reprinted and brought in again. That course might have been followed 10 days ago, and, had it been followed, no complaints would have arisen.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said, he could hardly think that the present occasion was one on which it would be convenient, as his hon. Friend had suggested, that they should try the experiment of withdrawing the Bill for the purpose of introducing a fresh one; and he could hardly think that that was a proceeding which would commend itself to the House. He could scarcely agree with what had fallen from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Harcourt); and he could not agree with the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Stafford Northcote), that if the course now proposed by the Government was followed the hon. Member for Oxfordshire would practically lose an opportunity for discussion. The right hon. Gentleman had pointed out that there were 11 Notices of Amendments on the second reading of this Bill; but, strange to say, he omitted to mention that that of the hon. Member for Oxfordshire was the 11th on the Paper, and therefore he? would have had very little chance indeed 414 of being able to take the opinion of the House on his Motion. The probability was that one of the previous Amendments would have been moved; and although, no doubt, the hon. Member for Oxfordshire would have been able to have ventilated his views on the Motion brought forward, whose ever it was, in all probability he would not have been in the position to have taken the sense of the House on his own Motion. If the hon. Member did not like the course the Government had taken, and was desirous to take a Vote, he (the Marquess of Hartington) did not see why the Government should object. He did not know that it would be a very convenient course, or one that would be satisfactory to the hon. Member himself, who had shown a disposition to discuss this subject fairly with the Government. It was not altogether desirable to obtain votes; but what was really desirable was that they should have a fair discussion of the proposals of the Government. As he had said, the Government would not object to a division; but he could not help thinking that it would be more convenient if the discussion were taken on a subsequent occasion, and when the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was in his place. The real question before the House was whether the House would consent to the form of proceeding recommended by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and whether they would virtually make this Bill unopposed, in order that it should be reprinted. If, however, the hon. Member for Oxfordshire desired it, the Government had no objection to take a division.
§ MR. RAIKES
said, the noble Marquess appeared to treat the issue before the House as if it were merely one between the Government on the one hand, and the hon. Member for Oxfordshire on the other.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said, he only referred to the hon. Gentleman opposite because he had proposed an Amendment to the Motion.
§ MR. RAIKES
said, the noble Marquess laid stress on the inconvenience which might be sustained by the hon. Member for Oxfordshire in not being able to bring forward his proposal. He (Mr. Raikes) wished the House to consider that the question was one between the Government and the House, and not 415 between the Government and any individual Member. If there was any one question in the whole course of the year on which the House was entitled to express its opinion, after full and exhaustive discussion, it was the question of the second reading of the Bill which involved the Government's financial policy. They were now told by the Secretary to the Treasury that they should abandon the opportunity of discussion on this occasion, partly because it was 2 o'clock in the morning. partly because the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not in his place, and partly because the Secretary to the Treasury was good enough to promise the House an opportunity of discussing the measure on the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair. It appeared that the Secretary to the Treasury, who had not been very long in his Office, must believe that Members were singularly ignorant of the Forms of the House when he endeavoured to beguile them by telling them that because they were to have another opportunity of discussion, which everyone knew they would have, they should give up the first legitimate opportunity of discussing this measure. He (Mr. Raikes) wished to call attention to the manner in which the Government in the present Session was conducting the Financial Business of the country. The finance of the country was being conducted with a total absence of debate. The ordinary opportunities for the discussion of Supply were abrogated; every chance which might be given to Members to raise questions were swept away; and now, when they had readied the great culminating occasion of the year on which the Government's financial policy came under revision, they were asked to abandon the most legitimate and Constitutional opportunity which the House had for discussing the question. He thought he ought to point out that that was only one of the inconveniences which arose from the fact that two of the most important Offices of the State were combined in the same person. No one would begrudge the Prime Minister that rest he had so laboriously earned; but it was an unfortunate circumstance that the Prime Minister could not be in bed without the Chancellor of the Exchequer being absent, and that the House should be left to the guidance of the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. 416 Courtney), who was entirely unacquainted with the Constitutional procedure of the House.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 149; Noes 131: Majority 18.—(Div. List, No. 256.)
§ Main Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
understood the Financial Secretary to have stated that this Bill would be taken as the first Order of the Day at the Evening Sitting. Would the Government give it precedence of the Arrears of Rent Bill?
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, he had said that this would be the first Order of the Day, and would be taken on the first opportunity for discussion. He was not aware of any difficulty in carrying out the intention of the Government; but he was not prepared to give an absolute pledge.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
said, a Morning Sitting between 2 and 7 was practically between 3 and 7, and that would be sufficient.
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, that would not be so; but the Bill should be put down the first thing possible for a Morning Sitting.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.