HC Deb 11 April 1892 vol 3 cc1170-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, towards raising the Supply granted to Her Majesty, the Duties of Customs now chargeable on Tea shall continue to be levied and charged on and after the first day of August, one thousand eight hundred and ninety-two, until the first day of August, one thousand eight hundred and ninety-three, on the importation thereof into Great Britain or Ireland (that is to say) on— Tea. the pound. Four Pence."—(The Chancellor of the Exchequer.)

MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Midlothian)

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has not yet acquainted us on what day he will ask the House to go into Committee for the purpose of considering the nature of the proposals he has made. I, of course, cannot undertake to control the discretion of individual Members, but the ancient practice of this House has been to refrain from detailed discussion of the finances of the country on the evening the Budget was proposed; and to that custom it is my intention to adhere on the present occasion. But I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will give us a proper and convenient opportunity shortly after the Recess of making such observations as his very interesting and comprehensive statement would appear to call for. If that old custom was justified in the circumstances of the country 20 or even 10 years ago, most certainly the reasons in its favour are fortified by the changes that have since taken place in our arrangements with regard to many portions of our system of finance. The right hon. Gentleman, who has had a serious task before him this evening, must be sensible that a greater degree of complication has been introduced into that system in consequence of much that has taken place in recent legislation; and the bearing of these changes on one another has to be carefully considered by the House, independently of the fact that it is far more difficult now than it would have been in previous times for Members to draw their knowledge of the subject entirely from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman has entered into a very interesting statement with respect to the basis on which he has framed his Estimates of the coming Revenue from various branches of taxation in Customs and Excise, and from the various schedules of the Income Tax. I do not think that I have ever known that particular department of the statement of the Finance Minister so much expanded as it has been on this occasion by the right hon. Gentleman Undoubtedly it was not too much expanded for the interest of the House, which was entirely sustained, and would have been sustained probably even if the right hon. Gentleman had entered into still further details. And when I speak of the complicated statement, I do not in the slightest degree intend to convey that that complication was due to any want of care or accuracy or lucidity on the part of the right hon. Gentleman himself. But the facts and materials of the statement have been greatly enlarged, and the opportunity of considering them is one that ought to be carefully made use of. I am not quite certain whether I entirely understood what was said by the right hon. Gentleman at the close of his speech with regard to the Wine Duties. I understood him to say that a change was to take place at once with regard to sparkling wines which was to have no effect on the Revenue, but if it did have an effect it would rather be in its favour. The effect of this change would justify particular notice. After describing the change he meditates in the duty on sparkling wines the right hon. Gentleman proceeded to refer more generally and vaguely to some other changes in the Wine Duties, and to the possibility of a connection between the change in the Wine Duty and the communications that have taken place, or that may take place, with Spain, as to certain proceedings adopted by Spain in regard to its commercial relations with this country. It would not be right for me to touch on this subject, and even if I did attempt to touch upon it I should be likely to do more harm than good. I shall wait until there is a fuller exposition of the views of the right hon. Gentleman, which we may probably have on a future occasion; and all I will do now is to express the hope that in making any of these changes in the Wine Duty he will not confine his consideration to the effects of what may take place in Spain, but will also take into view any consequences that may be produced in other countries with which our commercial relations are in some cases still more extended. In the present state of opinion and sentiment on the Continent of Europe, with regard to questions of protection and freedom of trade, it is evident that the greatest caution ought to be observed in any measures of the British Government which may possibly cause any alarm amongst those interests abroad to whose improved and more enlightened opinions we have chiefly to trust—I do not say for preventing the introduction of changes in foreign countries in the wrong direction, but, at all events, for confining those changes within narrow limits, and for promoting, on the whole, an enlightened policy. The right hon. Gentleman said one word in the course of his speech which I am very desirous to echo. It was prudent as well as generous on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to refer to the services of the Chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue, who has just retired. For 20 years I have enjoyed the intimate friendship of that distinguished gentleman. For the larger part of these 20 years I have been in close personal or official relations with him. I have had ample opportunity of estimating the justice of the right hon. Gentleman's appreciation of his services, and I can thoroughly concur in the expression which he has used. I am only sorry that those services are brought to their public or official termination. I hope that the vigour which my hon. Friend the late Chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue has applied to the discharge of his official duties at Somerset House may remain available for the service of the country in some useful and valuable capacity. It is the great happiness of this country—a happiness in which I will not say it exceeds all other countries, but certainly a happiness in which it is very remarkable—that we have so many public servants possessed of great ability and unsparing diligence, and even an enthusiasm for the public welfare. I do not believe there has been any occasion on which it was more warrantable and becoming to record the fact that we have enjoyed in the person of the late Chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue the services of a public officer who was alike able, upright, and indefatigable in promoting every interest connected with this gigantic Department.

(7.15.) MR. PICTON (Leicester)

The right hon. Gentleman says the money devoted to elementary education now amounts to £8,000,000. That is a sum in which we ought to take pride. At the same time I think we ought to take warning from the growth even of the most beneficent expenditure. It is an expenditure for the advance of civilisation, but if it grows at the present rate we shall have to reduce the expenditure on war, or the country cannot bear the cost.

*(7.17.) MR. BARTLEY

Considering that one-third of our taxation is now derived from alcoholic liquors — the great staple drink of the people — the incidence of taxation on the working classes is calculated to be in excess of what it ought to be. I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will arrange that there shall be some definite systematic investigation, so as to put the whole subject of taxation upon a fairer basis. Another question to which I desire to call attention is the subject of the Income Tax. The Chancellor of the Exchequer made the very remarkable statement that £50,000,000 income was distributed over 350,000 persons. This fact he said showed the enormous growth of this branch of our income. This £50,000,000, distributed over these 350,000 persons, represented incomes averaging only £130 each. The enormous development of the Income Tax was a result of the increase in the number of those at the bottom of the scale coming into the Income Tax category, and that fact required very careful consideration with regard to the fiscal burdens of the people.


They do not pay on £130.


I know there is a deduction of £120, but still the fact remains that the enormous proportion of the Income Tax payers are those who pay on incomes below £200 under Schedule D. There is no doubt that more than half the payers in that Schedule pay on incomes of an average of £3 a week. Of course they get a small rebate, but the burden of the tax upon the trading community is very great. I am glad that a larger number of persons are coming into the Income Tax class, but it shows that the time has come when we should make a difference between the rate of payment on the incomes of those who earn it by their labour, as compared with those whose incomes are on accumulations. There ought to be two different Schedules. I go so far as to believe in the French system, under which industrial incomes are not taxed. I believe that would be a wise step in this country. It would add to the amount of taxation upon the richer class, and put it upon the spontaneous income from past savings. I hope some complete change will be made in our system of levying Income Tax, enlarging the payment of those who have large incomes derived without industry. Although a graduated system of Income Tax could not be introduced, still we might do something to relieve those who make their incomes by their industry. I hope next year the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have a more successful Budget, and be able to take this subject into consideration.

(7.25.) MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S.E.)

As a humble agricultural Member, and not a financial expert, I wish to say that although we are very grateful to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the reduction he has made in local taxation, yet I regret he has not been able to go further. We in the Eastern Counties are working out a precarious existence, as land is going out of cultivation owing to foreign competition and the incidence of local taxation. I should like to indicate two methods by which you might relieve local taxation without putting a heavy burden on any other class of the community, and that is by taxing British wines, and by putting a tax on transfers of shares, to show the amount of money which actually passed on the completed transaction. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will remember that gratitude in agricultural industry, as in others, is only in anticipation of favours to come.

MR. BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)

I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman when the arrangement as to new patents will come into operation?

MR. S. BUXTON (Tower Hamlets' Poplar)

Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that the whole of the year's extra receipts have gone in the reduction of gross expenditure?

(7.28.). MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)

Will the right hon. Gentleman lay on the Table before we come to the consideration of the Budget a tabulated statement showing the receipts and expenditure of the Post Office during the last ten years? Although a portion of this Revenue has been spent on increased postal facilities, on improvements of the Public Service, and on important additions to salaries, still there is a large surplus, much larger than was the case six years ago, when the right hon. Gentleman came into office. The surplus Revenue in 1885 was £3,119,000; in 1886 it was £3,008,000; whereas so far as I can make it out for the past year it was £3,316,000, after considerably increasing the salaries; and in the present year it will be £3,420,000. There has already been improvement, but there is room for more, and I think the surplus Revenue might be still further utilised. What I have to ask is, will the right hon. Gentleman give a tabulated statement showing for the last few years the surplus Revenue in each year, so that we may have the actual figures and be enabled to make comparisons?

(7.30.) MR. BIGWOOD (Middlesex, Brentford)

I should like to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, finding that his Revenue has increased by so large an amount, he will be inclined to entertain a proposal which I shall make later on when the Budget is discussed, for reducing the cost in some degree, or bringing some funds to the assistance of the County of Middlesex, who are paying so much more for their police than is the case in any other county in England. Having such a large sum at his disposal in the shape of the windfall to which he has referred, I hope he will be generously inclined.

(7.31.) SIR J. LUBBOCK (London University)

There is one other question to which, perhaps, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will give an answer when he replies. In his interesting and lucid statement he has not said whether the amount put at the disposal of the County Council by the Wine and Spirit Duties will be retained. Several County Councils are about to hold their meetings, and will, no doubt, be glad to know whether any change is proposed. I presume that such is not the case, but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will say a word on the subject.

*(7.32.) MR. GOSCHEN

In reference to the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), I find his own Return gives the best statistics on the subject of the Post Office that can be procured, and all I say is that the statement shall be brought up to date as far as possible. That would show the right hon. Gentleman what he desires; but, if not, I will give him the figures in manuscript. With reference to the increase in the Post Office Revenue, I think the figures he has dealt with only touch Post Office Revenue and Expenditure, without taking into consideration sites and buildings, and I may remind the right hon. Gentleman that sites are a large amount.


The sites are provided out of the Post Office grant, and the buildings out of another fund.


Speaking from memory, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Revenue of the Post Office will be £200,000 less than it was in the previous year because of the increased expenditure. With re- spect to the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for London University, I know of no change proposed in the allocation of the Wine and Spirit Duties. I think it is highly desirable that the County Council should devote that money to the purposes of technical education; but that is a matter which is entirely in the discretion of the Council, and I do not propose to legislate on that point. The matter for the present will remain precisely where it now stands. With respect to the question of the hon. Member for Poplar, I think I stated clearly that in the present year the whole of the cash receipts appropriated in aid of Votes are not lost to the Miscellaneous Revenue, owing to the fact that the receipts for each quarter are paid in after the end of the quarter. It is the case that, by a statistical coincidence, the amount of a quarter's receipts is about the same as the amount of my margin; but I must tell the hon. Gentleman that the change to which he referred was made long before the Estimates arrived at such a point that I was able to foresee what the final balance would be. With reference to the remarks of the hon. Member for North Islington, it is a large scheme that he suggests, and I admit that no subject is more interesting than the general question of the incidence of taxation. The reconstruction of the Income Tax, which I know is an ideal of the hon. Member's, is a work of the most stupendous character, and it is certainly not a task to be taken up at the close of a Parliament. I was asked a question with respect to patents, and what was meant was that new patents taken out after the 25th September should enjoy the diminution in fees. It is now under consideration whether the diminution can be made in the case of those taken out before that day, and I shall be prepared to make a statement later on. I have now only to thank the Committee for the words they have used with respect to the statement of the Budget. Of course, we perfectly recognise that it is impossible to discuss the very large issues which are involved without full time being given to hon. Members to study the proposals when they appear in printed form. I have had a conference with the First Lord of the Treasury, and I think it is possible that the first Thursday after we meet again may be set aside for the further discussion of the Budget proposals. However, I will consider that point with the Leader of the House, and will make a communication on the subject to right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen who are interested in the matter. With respect to the Wine Duties, I do not think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Gladstone) would wish me to enlarge upon that point at present; but I will not forget the recommendations which he has made, nor have they been absent from our minds during the preparation of our proposals. I will take into consideration the other points that have been mentioned to me; and I would suggest that we should now take the Resolution with regard to sparkling wines, as that is a definite change on a definite date. I would also suggest that the Resolutions dealing with Tea and Income Tax should be put off till the Thursday after the Easter holidays at all events.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn. Resolved, That, instead of the Duty on Wine imposed by "The Customs (Wine Duty) Act, 1888," there shall be charged and paid the Duty following (that is to say):— Sparkling Wine imported in bottle . the gallon . two shillings. This Duty is to be paid in addition to the Duty in respect of alcoholic strength payable under "The Customs Amendment Act, 1886," and without reduction.—(The Chancellor of the Exchequer.)

Resolution to be reported To-morrow, at Two of the clock.

Committee to sit again upon Monday 25th April.