Motion made, and Question proposed—
That the Duty of Customs now payable on Tea shall continue to be charged, levied, and paid on and after the first day of August, one thousand eight hundred and ninety-nine, until the first day of August, one thousand nine hundred, on the importation thereof into Great Britain or Ireland (that is to say):—
Tea. … The pound. Four Pence."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)
§ *MR. MENDL (Plymouth)
Those of us who, like myself, listened to the exceedingly lucid and luminous speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in introducing the Budget will, I think, agree with me that there was, at any rate in the first portion of the right honourable Gentleman's remarks, nothing except matters to cause satisfaction and pleasure to most honourable Members of this House. The condition of the national revenue and the prosperity of the people evidenced, as the right honourable Gentleman said, by the Bank returns, the railway traffics, and by the condition of the labour market, were all causes for congratulation. What the right honourable Gentleman said, too, by way of warning to those who wished to alter the old-established principles of financial policy in this country and the 69 danger of a new departure in our fiscal system which has produced the good results shown in our last year's revenue returns, will commend itself to all honourable Members on this side of the House. That warning shows that, the right honourable Gentleman at any rate is a free trader, whatever may be the opinion of some of those with whom he acts. This is all the more satisfactory, because previously we had hints and suggestions from various quarters that he intended to depart from the principles of free trade. The only observation I should like to make upon this subject is with regard to the reception the right honourable Gentleman's proposals with reference to the increase in the wine duties met from certain of his own supporters. It appeared to be forgotten by those honourable Members who spoke on this subject that the object of the right honourable Gentleman in imposing that increase was for the purpose of increasing the revenue only, and not as a reprisal against France in order to extort concessions from France. There is one question which I think has not been answered, and that is the effect which the increasing of these wine duties may have upon some of our Colonies. It is quite true that our Colonies have no right whatever to object to our putting duties upon their products, inasmuch as they have no hesitation whatever in putting duties upon our products. Having regard to the fact that there is a very large and growing party in the Australian Colonies who are anxious to encourage the production of wine and to relax the duties levied upon certain British goods, and who are earnestly working for that end, it seems to me that this is not a very fortunate moment for this House to be called upon to increase the duties on Australian wines and to discourage the trade in Australian wines with this country. This trade has grown from practically nothing in a very small space of time, and I have the authority of various Australian producers of wine in stating that a very large increase in their trade is expected within the next few years. I do not think there is anybody on this side of the House who can quarrel with the right honourable Gentleman's proposal with, regard to the prolongation of the 70 terminable annuities which will fall in in the years 1902 and 1904. No doubt this falling in would be inconvenient and exceedingly undesirable, and it is quite right to postpone them, and that will enable a very considerable amount of debt to be redeemed. All that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said about the necessity of reducing our Debt in that part of his speech was admirable, for the generalisations of the right honourable Gentleman were perfect. But when he came to a particular application of them it transpired that he was not in favour of keeping up the Sinking Fund, but of "improving" it by reducing it. He said we were practically to do something quite different to what he said we ought to do in the first portion of his remarks, for when the right honourable Gentleman was leaving his retrospect of the past and his anticipations of the future and came to deal with the question of how to meet the greater portion of the deficit caused not by diminished revenue but by increased expenditure, all cause for satisfaction completely ceased. I say when he came to deal with a deficit that state of things arose, because it is quite obvious that it is this deficit which causes the right honourable Gentleman's proposals for alterations in the arrangement of the redemption of the Debt. It has been attempted to show that the deficit has nothing to do with the question, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer wanted to reform the Sinking Fund quite irrespective of the state of the national finances. Now, I think that a more extraordinary statement than that it is impossible to conceive. Here you have a country in a state of general prosperity and enjoying a period of peace— I hope it is not an exaggeration to call it a profound peace—and it is surely something more than a coincidence that because the expenditure due partly, of course, to our great armaments, but also largely due to charges on the public revenues which were placed on them by the right honourable Gentleman and by his predecessor the present First Lord of the Admiralty in the interest of particular favoured classes, because that expenditure of the country involves a deficit of £2,750,000, that the fund available for diminution of the National 71 Debt should be reduced by £2,000,000 out of that £2,750,000. Here we have a sharp issue which divides us from the right honourable Gentleman, though, judging from the speeches made, it does not divide us on this side of the House from some honourable Gentlemen opposite. We have had an opportunity of hearing three or four speeches from supporters of Her Majesty's Government, and they have used arguments with which all of us on this side of the House cordially agree. I think there are a great many others on the opposite side who, although they do not speak, yet in their hearts hold the same opinion as we do on this side with regard to this question. The opinions expressed in the Press have been either lukewarm or absolutely opposed to the suspension of the Sinking Fund, and I think there is only one leading journal which has boldly advocated the course which the right honourable Gentleman has taken. I might also call the attention of the Committee to the fact that two leading and very influential weekly financial newspapers which, so far as politics are concerned, are, I believe, supporters of Her Majesty's Government, have condemned in good round terms the proposal which the right honourable Gentleman has made—I allude to the "Economist" and the "Statist." Now, what is the justification of the proposal which the right honourable Gentleman has made? First of all, is it the great naval and military expenditure of this country? If it were I should not admit the justification. I have supported the Naval Programme of the Government ever since I have been a Member of this House, and the expenditure necessary to keep up an efficient Navy. But the Government ought to have the courage to face the cost of that Naval programme. Imperialism is a fine thing, but, as I understand it, it involves a financial reserve as much as armaments. I was very pleased and interested to read in the speech which the Leader of the House made at the Primrose League meeting yesterday the pregnant correspondence between the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel, who said that though this country was not in a condition to withstand invasion while we had a National Debt amounting to £800,000,000, nothing could be done to make it so. The fact is that if 72 you go to war with a European Power the forces which you have in existence at the outbreak of war will never be sufficient for the purposes for which that war will be carried on. Now, it is for that reason that every other country has a war chest. They store up bullion, but we have preferred a more scientific way, and our war chest is the Sinking Fund. That Sinking Fund is our national insurance fund, and the £2,000,000 which the right honourable Gentleman has taken from that Fund represents a loan for war purposes of over £66,000,000 sterling, and that is what the Chancellor of the Exchequer borrows to-day when there is no war, and when he has no justification for doing so. We hear a good deal about the price of Consols being the reason why the right honourable Gentleman cannot pay off the Debt, and that is the justification of the right honourable Gentleman. I submit that that is no real justification. Why are Consols high? There are a variety of reasons. The chief reason I should imagine, and which I should think no man in this House has any desire to see otherwise, is that, owing to the general prosperity of the country and our financial stability, Consols have been made and are considered the best security in the world. That is an enormous advantage all round, and inter alia has made the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty's successful scheme for the conversion of the National Debt possible. But there is another reason for the high price of Consols which is a contributory reason, and that is the limitations which you put upon so many of our large investing departments to buy Consols only, such as the Savings Banks, the Chancery investments, and all the great Government Departments which come into the market for Consols, and this has a tendency to narrow the market and puts up the price, as the right honourable Gentleman has said, against ourselves. Consequently you have a vicious circle under this system of terminable annuities under which we have to go on investing in Consols, and by that means you raise the price. But the remedy for that, surely, is not to adopt the course of the right honourable Gentleman, but to widen our investing powers in these Government Departments. I have never been able to 73 understand why they should not invest their money in Corporation Stocks, London County Council Stocks, or Colonial Stocks. If you did that and, as the right honourable Gentleman has suggested, prolonged the existing annuities and set up new annuities, you would be paying off the Debt in the best way possible, without the disadvantage of the present system. But really the right honourable Gentleman's argument as to the price of Consols seems to me to go too far and proves too much. The Leader of the House yesterday really argued that we ought not to buy Consols at 110 at all. But if it is unwise that £7,000,000 or £8,000,000 should be so applied it is only one degree less unwise to buy those Consols to the tune of £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 a year. This argument seems to me not really to be relevant to the principle that we must go on reducing the Debt, but is only relevant to the question whether our present system of reducing that Debt is the best one. The right honourable Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer's argument for reducing the Sinking Fund, that he prevents it growing so large that Parliament would rebel against the application of a huge amount each year, seems to me to be too transparent. To strengthen and safeguard the Sinking Fund by docking it of £2,000,000 seems to me to be regarding it as one of those plants which are stronger for being pruned. It is precisely the same argument as that which was used by the First Lord of the Admiralty in 1887, for the right honourable Gentleman upon that occasion said exactly the same thing, namely, that it was necessary to reduce the Sinking Fund in order to strengthen it. It seems to me that each Chancellor of the Exchequer becomes a kind of guardian angel of the Sinking Fund against his successor, who is a, sort of Mephistopheles to be guarded against. We had this argument from the First Lord of the Admiralty, and we have had it also from the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I suppose upon another occasion when we have another Chancellor or the Exchequer we shall have the same argument applied over and over again. It seems to me that this argument about our paying off too much Debt is really an absurd argument. 74 It is now 100 years since the battle of Waterloo, when in consequence of the war with France the greater part of our Debt accumulated. Since that time we have experienced prosperity in this country which was unknown before, and yet we have not succeeded in the century that has passed in paying off one-third of the Debt as it stood in 1815. Now, what was the whole theory of the Sinking Fund established by the late Sir Stafford Northcote? It was not, as some people have supposed, that we should apply a fixed amount to paying off the Debt, but that that portion of the annual debt charge applicable to the redemption of the Debt should increase year by year in proportion to the reduction of the principal. But look at the statistics with regard to the tax revenue of this country. In the year 1884–85 the tax revenue amounted to £73,750,000, and in 1899–1900 it amounted to £91,500,000. Now, it is rather remarkable that in 1884–85 we applied £6,750,000 to the reduction of the Debt, and this year the Chancellor of the Exchequer says that £7,750,000 is too much. This is an argument which I am bound to say I do not understand. The real fact is that there is the widespread heresy, which I hope is confined to the Benches opposite, that a National Debt is a good thing, and that you ought not to pay it off too fast. That view may exist, and it seems to exist, in the mind of the Treasury, because I notice that in the Treasury Minute they refer to the Sinking Fund as "the most vulnerable portion of the Fund." But there is a serious question which we have to consider, and that is, will you ever be able to increase this Sinking Fund? It has been said that we on this side of the House are opposing this proposal in regard to the Sinking Fund because we hope to make the Government unpopular by so doing. Well, I must say that one of the signs which shows the special cowardice of the present Government lies in the fact that they think, no doubt, that the suspension of the redemption of the Debt is likely to be less unpopular than an increase of taxation. To some extent that may be true at first, though ultimately, of course, every taxpayer will feel the consequences of their policy. I do not see that increased taxation was really necessary if 75 the Government had had the courage which the Member for West Monmouthshire had in 1894, when he had a larger deficit, and when he did not have an expanding revenue. The right honourable Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire sought new fields of taxation and other sources of revenue, and the present Chancellor of the Exchequer might have done the same. I do not say that he might have taxed ground values, because he would have had too heavy an account to settle with some of his friends if he had made such a proposal, but there are many fields which he might have explored, and upon this point I might make some suggestions. There are two fields to which, I suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he might have gone for the purpose of raising fresh taxation. This is an advertising age, which is distinguished by many of the abuses of advertising. But there are also grave disadvantages as well as advantages from an æsthetic and other standpoints. He might have put a useful tax on street advertisements, sky signs, and advertisements in the green fields, and the rather objectionable advertisements which greet our eyes in railway carriages. I think that offers a, very excellent field for taxation. It is also, to a large extent, an age in which people go in for every form of amusement, and I should have thought that a small duty on theatre and music-hall tickets might have been imposed. I do not believe that a small graduated duty on these amusements would be very much felt, for I am sure that the right honourable Gentleman would not object to paying a shilling extra for a stall at a theatre, and I do not think the people would have any objection to paying a penny or so more in the cheaper seats. I only mention these things to indicate some of the very many directions in which the right honourable Gentleman might have experimented. He has, however, preferred the less original and less praiseworthy course of laying hands on the ark of the financial covenant, the Sinking Fund of this country. I do not believe that any individual or any nation can be considered secure which lives upon its capital, and that is what these proposals come to. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer has interfered by his proposals with the financial stability of this country, and I very much 76 regret the way in which he has laid hands upon the Sinking Fund.
§ *CAPTAIN PRETYMAN (Suffolk, Woodbridge)
Many criticisms have been directed against the proposals of this Budget. This House generally assented to the description of this period given by the First Lord of the Admiralty when he described the time through which we were passing, not as a time of unqualified peace but as a period of precarious peace. I think that the money which is derived from the reduction of the Sinking Fund, and which is spent in preparations for war, will be expended to greater advantage than spending money in times of precarious peace, for it will prevent a large increase in the Debt in the future. And now with regard to the argument about the abounding prosperity of the nation. The honourable Gentleman who has just sat down is well versed in commercial affairs, but I should like to know, when he is studying commercial business, whether he looks on one side of his balance-sheet or on both. I should say that when you are studying questions of prosperity you ought to look on both sides of the account. The prosperous man is the man who has what is more than sufficient for his needs. That appears to me to be the real test of prosperity, and on account of this large expenditure which we have had, the nation, at the present moment, has found that the needs have been in excess of the income, although, fortunately, we were prosperous in the sense that our income was very large. That seems to me to be the answer in regard to peace and prosperity. In regard to other features in the Budget, I must say that I think a high compliment was paid to the Chancellor of the Exchequer when, in the criticisms made upon his statement by the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton—who is, perhaps, the highest authority on taxation, with one or two exceptions, on the other side of the House—when the only substantial criticism he offered was an attack upon the policy of the Government in having spent money in relief of agricultural rates and rural education. That is a matter of ancient history. [Opposition cries of "No, No!"] Well, I do not wish to deal with it as ancient history, but that is the point of view I wish to approach it from. When a right 77 honourable Gentleman rising from his place on the Front Bench on the other side of the House makes a statement that this relief is a "dole to the landlords," I think it is not one which can be too often dealt with. The statement was made that this relief was nothing more nor less than a dole to the landlords, and the right honourable Gentleman has opposed it in his place, not once or twice, but main times; and as the agricultural community may expect that he has a great deal to say, they naturally look with more apprehension upon words such as those which fall from his mouth and from the Front Bench than they would look upon platform utterances. Therefore, to say that this is a dole to the landlords, the right honourable Gentleman meant to say that when in a position to do so he would withdraw that dole. I would ask him, if he found himself in a position to withdraw that dole, who would be affected by it? Would it only affect the landlord, or would he find that there would be an outery from the agricultural community and the tenant farmer? Would he venture to withdraw the relief which has been given under the Agricultural Rating Act? I cannot think that he would attempt to do it. Now, in order to judge as to the effect of the dole, let us see what is the position of the landlords at the present moment when they have had full advantage of it. I can quote the case of a farm which was let last year. The landlord of that farm has had the full advantage of the operation of the Act, and has got the whole advantage of that dole when he comes to let the farm. Now that farm used to be let at £1 per acre, and the rates were paid by the tenant, and so the £1 went into the pocket of the landlord; that was 50 years ago. Now this farm is let at the rate of 6s. per acre, and the landlord pays 4s. 3d. for tithes, 4d. for land tax, 1s. property tax, and 5d. for insurance, leaving him out of the dole the sum of 11d. per acre, and that is the landlord's share. I would ask what the right honourable Gentleman thinks is the State's fair share of the dole if the landlord gets 11d. Now I come to the use of the word "dole." Can it fairly be argued that it is the same thing as giving a dole? I do maintain that it is wrong for this House to give anything in the nature of a dole to any industry which happens to 78 be in a condition of requiring assistance, but to remove an unfair burden is an entirely different thing to giving a dole. If it can be shown that the State is imposing on a portion of the community more than it can bear, I say that to remove a fair proportion of that burden cannot be regarded as a dole. That is the position which the agricultural community have always taken up. No doubt, there are innumerable cases in various parts of the country where the landlord is receiving 11d. per acre. He has to maintain the houses and buildings on the estate, which in this particular case are insured for £1,000, and he has imposed upon him many obligations, for which he gets absolutely nothing. Therefore, I think that it is unfair to say that the State, in removing an unjust burden from the owner of that particular farm, has given him a dole, or has acted in any way against the interests of the rest of the community. Further than this, the right honourable Gentleman proceeded to say that there was another dole which had been given to the clergyman in the form of an educational grant to Voluntary schools. I think it is hardly fair to use that expression here, and to say that a dole has been given to the clergy when it was given for the maintenance of rural schools. Can the right honourable Gentleman rise in his place and suggest for one moment that one single farthing of that money has found its way into the pockets of the clergy?
§ SIR H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
I did not use the word in that sense. I said Voluntary schools, and I did not mention the clergy.
§ *CAPTAIN PRETYMAN
I distinctly heard the word clergyman used, but if the right honourable Gentleman denies it, then I welcome his withdrawal of the statement. If the right honourable Gentleman did not make that statement, it loses a great deal of weight, but the statement has been repeatedly made from the opposite side of the House that this is a dole to the clergy, and to use language of that description when not one farthing of this money is ever likely to come into the possession of the clergy is utterly misleading. Then there is a further statement made by the right honourable Gentleman which I think that he will allow he did make. I refer 79 to the case of the death duties, upon which the right honourable Gentleman said that the avoidance of those duties was a great misfortune, and he indicated a way in which he thought the period of 12 months should be extended. Now, the right honourable Gentleman is a great authority on taxation, and I speak, therefore, with the greatest diffidence. I wonder if the right honourable Gentleman will allow that one of the first principles of taxation is this: that if you impose a duty which is so unequal and so heavy in its incidence as to become intolerable that tax will be most certainly avoided, and evasion would result. We can apply that also to questions of indirect taxation. What was the first triumph of the younger Pitt in his financial administration? When Mr. Pitt first administered the Treasury, what did he find? There were enormous taxes upon various articles, smuggling was rife, and those indirect taxes were avoided by smugglers. By revising those duties in such a form, and making them of a fairer and even character as regards the various portions of the community, those taxes were reduced, but the revenue from them was largely increased, and exactly the same principle will apply to direct taxation. By means of these death duties direct taxation has been imposed in such a form as to be almost unbearable to a certain section of the community. I do not say that the total sum raised by these duties is greater than the amount of property taxable in this country can bear. I do not say that the total amount is too large, but I do say that, by the way these duties are administered and the manner in which they fall, they have inspired a large section of the community with such terror and such dread of these duties that they certainly will, and do, take every possible means of avoiding them. The real remedy to this question of avoidance is not the old and played-out remedy of putting on the screw more tightly, because such a course will essentially and inevitably fail, because you cannot drive Englishmen in that way. What you have to do is to face the question that there are just and reasonable complaints in regard to these duties which have to be faced, and should be attended to by this House. For my own part, if once these duties were put upon a fair basis, I would do all in my power to stop the avoidance of 80 them. So long as we have not only conplaints of the incidence, but more especially of the administration of this Act, I think it is vain to ask this House to strengthen the hands of the Government by inserting provisions which will tighten the screw upon the classes affected. I want to give a particular instance which is germane to this question in regard to the administration of this Act. In the first place, I think, in regard to the character of the Act itself, we may fairly take the opinion of Lord Macnaghten, who, in delivering a recent judgment, said—The other provisions of the Act which were dragged into the discussion, rather unnecessarily, as it seems to me, are strangely confused and singularly ill drawn.And, secondly, he says—It is difficult to see what else it could possibly mean. But, at any rate, it is a comfort to find something in the Act about which there can be no dispute.And, thirdly—Whatever the meaning of that section may be, as to which I do not hazard a conjecture.And, fourthly—Some people think the Act a harsh Act as it stands. It would be intolerable if it could be construed as the Commissioners desire to construe it.And, further, he says—That sub-section is not an easy one to construe, and I am not satisfied that I have quite mastered the meaning of it.Now, if the House of Lords, which is the highest legal authority in this country, are unable to master the meaning of this Act, and if they are further of opinion that if it could be construed as the Commissioners desire to construe it it would be intolerable, I think a fair case has been made out for the Act being examined with regard to some of its imperfections being removed. What was the particular case? It is not for me to say anything about the legal points involved when there was a plain issue involved. I think the House is competent to judge whether such a case should have been taken into the courts at all. I can give a perfectly plain case as to what would have happened. Take an ordinary case of a, large estate worth 81 £400,000 in the country. The owners might borrow £100,000 to make a railway. Having made the railway, they sell it to the local company, and they take shares. Their estate has a mortgage of £100,000, and they have got that much stock. Consequently they are no better off than they were before. If the contentions of the Commissioners had been held they would have claimed, and been entitled to, full duty on £100,000 without any deduction for the mortgage, and the £100,000 stock. They would claim, therefore, not upon £400,000, but upon £500,000. Now, that amounts to the action of a tradesman who sends his bill in twice over. Is it to be maintained that the Treasury are to be authorised to act outside the ordinary rules which govern business transactions between debtor and creditor in this, country? It has been proved that their contention in this case was wrong in law, and I think this is agreed also, that it was immoral in the first instance. I think we have a just right of complaint chat subjects should have to defend themselves in courts of law, for it is not only illegal but immoral. What is the result? Why this—that not only is the difficulty in construing this Act experienced in the House of Lords, but it applies to all the different courts ill this country, and, in regard to small estates, people do not know when death occurs what amount of duty they will have to pay. They have to rely upon the information they obtain from the Inland Revenue Department, and I believe they do their best to give that information. But what is the result of it? That a long period of delay invariably occurs before, an account can be settled, and during the whole of that period of delay 3 per cent. interest is charged to the unfortunate executor. Consequently, the Treasury loses nothing by the delay, because they cannot get 3 per cent, for this money; and if during this delay the interest is going into the Treasury, it is not in their interest to expedite matters. Unfortunately, the estate has to pay 3 per cent. during the whole time of the delay, for which the law is entirely responsible. I think that question should be taken into consideration; and, further than that. where the executors are prepared to pay, as they constantly are, a sum of money down, in the first instance, before the 82 account is actually concluded, I think some discount ought to be allowed. At the present time no discount is allowed, but interest is charged. Then, again, there is the question of getting the certificate after the account has been cleared. You never know what charge may subsequently be brought against the estate, and any division becomes extraordinarily difficult. These points are of enormous importance, especially to small estates, and I venture to draw the right honourable Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer's attention particularly to the first subject I touched upon. I think this Government have not been thanked often enough for the only substantial relief which the agricultural industry have ever received. Naturally, with regard to the death duties, they also look to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give them similar relief in connection with this Measure. I ask nothing un-reasonable, for I think this Act has been long enough in force for us to see what points require revision. Therefore, the Chancellor of the Exchequer may fairly be asked if he cannot see his way to have some form of inquiry held into the working of this Act, so that some of these hardships and inequalities may be removed. There was one other subject which I should like to say a word upon; and that is to express my great regret that no mention has been made in the Budget of any relief being given to the clergy in regard to the rating on tithe. Of course, I am aware that it is possible that relief may be given through a Bill in some other form, but, at the same time, we shall have no opportunity of calling attention to this matter except in the Budget, and I think the case for the clergy at this moment is as strong as any case which has ever been brought before this House. I am perfectly aware that there is no single class of the community which is not in its own opinion overtaxed, but in this case the question of poverty has not only to be considered. It is not a question of giving special assistance to a certain class of the community, but it is a question of removing unjust taxation. Now, in this case the question of policy not only has to be considered because it is not such a question as we were discussing last night. It is not a question of especial assistance to a certain class 83 of the community, but relief from, and the removing of, unjust taxation. In regard to that the clergy occupy a special position. In 1896 a Resolution was passed by this House almost unanimously, at the instance of the honourable Member for Essex, that the clergy were overtaxed, and ought to be relieved. The question has been referred pending the report of the Local Taxation Commission; we have now before us an interim report on this very question, and the report says—Although some undoubted grievances have existed for many years, no measures for their relief have yet been adopted. On the contrary, their position has gradually been rendered worse, owing to the passing of certain Acts of Parliament, and also by decisions of the courts.Again, they say—We know of no other class of ratepayers whose basis of assessment results in the contribution of so large a proportion of income towards local taxation.And, in conclusion, they say—The burden of local taxation upon the owners of tithe-rent charge not severed from the benefice is unduly onerous.'Stronger words than those could not be used: and then they further say, the case should be met by some form of financial relief. That report is signed by 12 out of 13. With regard to the position of the clergy themselves, what is it? I can give you a case of a clergyman whose gross income is £104 from tithe, and out of that sum be has to pay 3s. in the £ rates. Now, we have arguments used in this House to show that 8d. in the £ will fall very heavily on the shoulders of those who have to pay it. Of course, there is a rebate on income up to £800, and an exemption on incomes under £150; but here you have £104 bearing an income tax of 3s. in the £. Surely, that is a case which ought to be dealt with. The clergyman in that position has no greater income, and is in a very much worse position than a leading artisan in any of our great towns. The artisan earns more than £104, and, if he does not, in regard to that income, he pays no tax, except of course indirectly, in beer and tobacco. Here is a clergyman who has to contribute to the calls of his neighbour, and who has many 84 calls upon him, and whose income is less than that of the artisan, and upon which he has to pay 3s. in the £. Taxation is a matter of expediency rather than of justice, but a case has been made out in favour of the clergy, first by this House, and secondly by the Royal Commission, and it has been constantly ignored; but I hope, for their own sake, and for that of their Party, that the Government will do something this Session to relieve the clergy of the injustice from which they are suffering.
§ *MR. HALDANE (Haddington)
In the able speech just delivered by the honourable Member for Woodbridge, the honourable Member has dealt with three positions—the doles, the Budget, and the clergy. It is with regard to the first two of these that I should like to make a few observations. In the Committee it would not be in order to discuss the policy of what is called the Doles Act, and I do not propose to do so. I only propose to make one observation in reply to what fell from the honourable Member. I do not think that he was justified in speaking of the agricultural rate as being only a contribution to agricultural assessment; on the contrary, I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer will find before very long that the boroughs, who have non-agricultural as well as agricultural subjects, are interested in this subject as well as other parts of the country, though from a different point of view. The boroughs are finding out that not only are the taxes which they pay being used as a source of doles to their agricultural neighbours, but they are also finding out in respect of new rates since the passing of the Act that a large class of subjects are withdrawn from the purview of their rating, so that the rating falls more heavily on those who are left to bear it. I have been engaged for the last few weeks in a correspondence with the authorities of one of the boroughs which I represent—a borough which, I regret to say, has always been renowned for its principles of high conservatism—in which I have been at great pains to explain that the Government are not such dishonest people as this borough now appears to think, because the whole matter was fully explained and warning was given by the Opposition when the 85 Government introduced their Bill. When the time comes for the review of the provisions of that Act, I think the discussion will extend itself beyond the point to which the honourable Gentleman has referred. The honourable Gentleman went on with his next subject—the subject of the death duties, upon which he speaks with the knowledge of an expert—and the honourable Member spoke in somewhat deprecating terms of the drafting of that Finance Act. I take a different view. It was passed with great difficulty, and in the Legacy and Succession Duties Acts you have the same problems of construction to deal with. When the legacy duties were first imposed their provisions gave rise to a great deal of hardship, and the tax was regarded as an unjust tax; but in the working out of the provisions at the courts we got accustomed to it. In the Succession Duties Act, in 1853, there were a great many disputes between Her Majesty's subjects and the Crown. Yet the Act is now looked upon as one of the masterpieces of legislation. I think the honourable Gentleman will find—and it is the opinion of some of our most distinguished conveyancers—that among people who are best qualified to judge, that Act is considered one of the best specimens of draftsmanship that we have in modern Statutes. That Act was prepared by my right honourable Friend the Member for West Monmouth, with the assistance of Sir Henry Jenkyns and Sir Alfred Milner, two of the most distinguished public servants the Treasury has ever had. When my right honourable Friend looks back upon the working of that Act he will have no cause for regretting it. There are some points upon which friction has arisen, but those are, in the main, small points, though I should like to see them redressed; they are more apparent than real. But the Measure, treated as a whole, is both wise and just. There are, no doubt, cases in which the payment of duty is evaded, which ought not to escape, and several of them have lately been occupying the attention of the judges. In these, and other matters, it is possible that the Act might be revised so that, they might be dealt with, but the Act as a whole is a good one, and one that has, in its working out, been 86 marvellously clear. I cannot help thinking that some of the criticisms which have been made to-night need not have been made at all. I do not say there are no difficulties, because there are questions which invariably arise, but there ought to be no difficulty hereafter. I wish to say also that I think there is room for improvement in the machinery by which the duties are collected. I quite agree that the time has come for the reconsideration of the whole matter of the Finance Act, although that is a question which I do not propose to discuss now; but the time has come when there ought to be a reconsideration of its administration, with, a view, on the one hand, of getting rid of the present sources of friction, and, on the other, bringing in those cases which ought to be under the Act. There are one or two other points to which I want to refer before the Vote comes on. With regard to the Sinking Fund, from which the right honourable Gentleman has taken £2,000,000, the argument which he advances really tells more in favour of raising the provision which is made for the reduction of the Debt than for reducing it. I could never see the reason why the Government should not invest in securities other than Consols, such as the stock of large corporations which are practically quite as good. The Chancellor of the Exchequer would have to select them, and that might be a matter of some delicacy or difficulty, but if you balance the advantages with the disadvantages you will find the one far outweighs the other. Then I come to another thing. The Chancellor of the Exchequer wants to invest his money, and Consols are very high. Why not go to India? There is no greater benefit that we could confer on India than to apply some of our free cash in loans to her, or in the purchase of her securities which are trust securities, and which have been recommended for investment of trust moneys. I do not see why what is good enough for a trustee to invest in should not be good enough for the Government. There are other securities which ought to be brought within the scope of trustees; and I do think that the Government would do very much better by enlarging the scope of the investments which are in the discretion of trustees under wills and marriage settlements, and thus 87 relieve them from being pressed by beneficiaries to invest a trust in a mortgage of real estate, which, is nominally within the trust deed, but the character of which in many cases is most rotten and unsatisfactory.
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
I think the suggestion of the honourable and learned Member to allow the trustees to invest in other securities would only have the effect of raising these securities to over par—some of them are over par already—and, therefore, would rather add to, than diminish, the difficulties of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As a humble student of the death duties under the Gamaliels of the Front Opposition Bench, I hold that the mistakes in the administration of the law have been wrongly shouldered on the Commissioners of Inland Revenue. I believe the Commissioners have been right throughout, and whenever they have been wrong it has been either through the blunders of the law officers of the Crown or through the inadequate or improper directions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The evasion of the death duties which I always thought the most wanton was committed by the right honourable Gentleman himself (Sir William Harcourt) when he directed the Inland Revenue Commissioners, against their advice, to let the Emperor of Russia off the duty on £200,000. The next great blunder was committed in the Beech case, through the mistaken advice of the law officers of the Crown. The death duties show a far larger increase than any other item of taxation, in spite of the fact that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer and the First Lord of the Admiralty predicted enormous evasions. One word with regard to the Beech case. That case, with its corollary, affects the whole question of settled property. If the second case goes against the Government, the whole estate duty on settled property, which amounts to something like £2,000,000 a year, will be placed in peril. One word as to the proposed new stamp duties. I have obtained a few figures from the City, in order to show the extraordinary way in which these new stamp duties will act on foreign securities, which I should like to bring before 88 the attention of the right honourable Gentleman, because I think he can scarcely have considered the extraordinary variations in the burden. I will take two securities. There is, first of all, what is called the Anaconda Copper Mine Shares. These are £5 shares, and their present price is £9 10s. Ten shares, or £50 of nominal capital, would be worth £95. The tax on them is 2s. 6d., or 0.131 per cent. Then, I will take the Cedulas "P" bonds, of £1,600 each, at 6¼ per cent. That produces £100, and the tax on it is £4, or 30 times as much per cent. as it is upon the Anaconda Copper Mine Shares. These figures suffice to show that while in one case certain stock will be taxed only 0.131 per cent., in the other case it will be taxed 4 per cent. Probably the right honourable Gentleman had not realised this when he settled the rate of taxation, and I think it cannot be beyond the resources of the Treasury to find some means by which these extraordinary differences in the percentage in the tax may be got over. Well, Sir, one word as to the wine duty. When the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Forest of Dean pointed out that the importation of wine from the colonies was increasing the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that that was not the case. But I really think, if he looks over a series of years, he will find it has very considerably increased.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir M. H. Beach,) Bristol, W.
I said that for the last three years it had remained practically the same.
*Mr. GIBSON BOWLES
It may be practically the same for those years, but if the right honourable Gentleman looks back 20 years he will see that there has been a great increase. I attach the greatest importance to our getting every article we possibly can from the Colonies. Your Colonies are your best customers. Everything you can do to increase the prosperity of the trade of the Colonies increases the population of the Colonies, increases the emigration to the Colonies, and breeds your own customers. Now, let me ask the Committee to consider the figures I have taken from the Statistical Abstract. I find that, taking the population of the world to be 89 1,140,000,000, the average foreigner takes £0.135 per head of our exports, but the average British Colonist takes £3.106 per head. The average of the four best foreign customers of British produce—namely, Russia, Germany, France, and the United States—is £0.223 per head, while the average of the four best British Colonies—Canada, Australasia, the Cape, and the West Indies—as I have said, is £3.106 per head. The final result of these figures is to show that the average British Imperialist is worth, as a customer, two average foreigners, and that the average British Colonist is worth 14 of the best four nations of foreigners, and worth no less than 23 average foreigners. That really seems to me to suggest that there should be some differentiation in these wine duties in favour of the Colonies; in other words, that we should let the Colonies off the new duties entirely. The amount will be small, and the only reason that I can conceive for hesitating is that it may possibly excite the animosity, the anger, and the retaliation of foreign powers. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer says that the fear is a bogey which ought to be put aside, and tells us it is our business to arrange our tariff for our own benefit; and, I would respectfully add, also for the benefit of the Colonies and with a view of increasing the number of our customers. Now, Sir, the right honourable Gentleman admits the enormous increase in the expenditure of this country. He has the most extravagant set of colleagues, as well as the most extravagant set of—well, I don't know what to call them.
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES
Well, the most extravagant set of supporters, that I suppose any Chancellor of the Exchequer ever had to deal with, and the House must deal tenderly with him in his various lapses from strict economy. The right honourable Gentleman says it is all the fault of his supporters—that they voted for the expenditure, and therefore must pay the bill. I remember occasions on which I vainly endeavoured to stem this extravagance, and especially when a Vote of £2,500 was proposed to assist the attorneys in striking each other off the Rolls.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I only carried out a Resolution of the House, which was carried by a large majority.
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES
Quite so; but when that Resolution was proposed I did not find in the right honourable Gentleman that stern, unbending economy I found in myself, and which I should have expected to find in a still greater degree in the right honourable Gentleman. Before leaving this matter I may perhaps be allowed to remind the Committee of certain information given in the accounts. The Exchequer issues are given as £108,150,000. But that is not all the expenditure. To that we must add the sum diverted to local taxation account, £9,521,000; appropriations in aid, £5,899,808; receipts by Departments paid out by them,£1,550,000; and the mercantile marine fund, £650,000, making a total expenditure of £17,620,000; so that instead of the total expenditure being £108,150,000 it is £125,770,808. The £17,620,000 intercepted never appears in the account at all; though the Chancellor of the Exchequer put a note with regard to a portion of it into his yearly accounts. Then the local expenditure for 1898-9 was £97,000,000. If you deduct from that £12,000,000, which represents the contribution by the Government to that taxation, you have £85,000,000 of local taxation. Add this to the £125,700,000, and there is a gross total of over £210,000,000.
§ SIR H. FOWLER
The sum put down for local taxation also includes reproductive investments by local authorities.
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES
Well, it is an arguable question whether reproductive expenditure ought to be charged. But sometimes it is not reproductive, and causes loss. At any rate it is expenditure. I now come to the debt. From 1816 to 1860 this country never put aside less than £28,000,000 a year for the reduction of the Debt, and at that time the income of the country was far less than it is now. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has suggested that the amount set aside permanently for the service of the Debt should vary in accordance to the amount 91 of the Debt. I cannot see any principle underlying this. It seems to me that the true proportion should be according to the national income. When your income is small you cannot afford to pay off much of the Debt, but when your income increases you can afford to pay off more of it, and there is no better purpose to which you can apply it. In the year 1860 the income tax produced £1,150,000. It now produces £2,250,000 as nearly as possible, so that instead of paying off £28,000,000 of our Debt I think if you are going to pay it off in proper proportion to revenue you ought now to pay off £56,000,000. That is my view, but it is apparently not the one which is held by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Well, Sir, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that in renewing the expiring annuities he is following the precedent of 1883. In point of fact, he is departing from it. There were some very remarkable words used upon this question by Mr. Gladstone. Speaking in 1881, Mr. Gladstone said—The time has come when we may properly make a further provision for the reduction of debt by a change which I will describe—by the conversion of a portion of the short annuities which will expire in 1885 into large annuities that will not expire until 1906: The effect of that conversion, of course, is to liberate a very considerable annual sum. I should regard it as a wholly illegitimate proceeding to apply any portion of the sum so liberated in favour of the Ways and Means of the year. I propose to use it to the last farthing in the reconversion of stock into those longer annuities expiring in 1906.Therefore I think it must be admitted that the precedent of 1883 has not been followed. But there is one other point. The right honourable Gentleman is passionately excited over the position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1902, and he finds it necessary to deal in 1899. with the future position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am inclined to say, as Sir Stafford Northcote said in 1883—That is a proposal which is entirely within the lines of the legislation of 1875, and a very proper proceeding it is, subject to qualification. But I want to know why it should have come this year, and do you thereby gain any advantage over the more simple process of waiting till 1885, when the annuities fall in, before you deal with the amount?That question was put by Sir Stafford Northcote in 1883, and it is a question which I feel inclined to put again in 92 1899. The Chancellor of the Exchequer always likes to hear extracts of his speeches, and I will give the answer in an extract. In 1896 he said—We shall be within measurable distance of the time when we shall have to choose between diminishing or putting an end to the reduction of our National Debt or an increase of taxation.Well, he has chosen the first of these two alternatives. Then he proceeds to say—I do not envy the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whoever he may be, who has to impose increased taxation to a very large extent upon our present financial system.One other point, Sir. The Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to think it is a deplorable thing for the Debt of the country to be above par. So does the First Lord of the Treasury. The First Lord of the Treasury, in an elementary speech on finance delivered to the Primrose Leaguers yesterday, explained that in consequence of Consols being above par investors must suffer a loss, and that we might just as well throw money into the sea as pay off the Debt under such circumstances. This is most enlightening. The right honourable Gentleman seems to think that the State has always borrowed money at £100. To a large extent the State has borrowed at £70, or £80, or £90 per cent. of the nominal £100, and "par" is therefore strictly and really £70, or £80, or £90. Yet, strange to say, the terrors of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and of the First Lord of the Treasury begin at £100. The Chancellor of the Exchequer foresees that unless he reduces the Sinking Fund his successor might have too much money, and he says to himself: "There may be a Chancellor of the Exchequer who may not be characterised by my austere virtue. He may come from West Monmouth, or Wolverhampton, or possibly from Scotland. He may be profligate, he is certain to be frail. He may take this large sum, and with it reduce the duty of 35 per cent. now imposed on tea, or that of 200 per cent. on spirits, or of 247 per cent. on tobacco. He may squander it in giving doles to his friends among the agricultural classes, or in setting up a system of local government, calculated to advance the sacred 93 cause of Home Rule in Ireland. I will not expose my future Friend to this temptation; he shall not be under this sore trial. I will remove the temptation by removing the money, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer of 1902, when he comes into being, will remember me with gratitude and affection, and he will thank the Fates which have raised me up to preserve him from the most deadly and dangerous situation in which any financier can find himself—that of having too much revenue and too little debt."
§ *MR. J. LOWTHER (Isle of Thanet)
At the risk of disturbing the effect of the amusing speech to which we have just listened from the honourable Member for King's Lynn, I ask the Committee to turn their attention for a moment to a subject of a somewhat more prosaic character—the wine duties. As regards the wine duties as a whole, no doubt there has been a good deal of criticism on the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do not think my right honourable Friend need pay very much attention to the criticisms directed against the major portion of the proposal to increase the duties on foreign wines, as that, I think, is a matter on which the public opinion of the country, whatever views we may entertain, is not very profoundly expressed. But, as regards that portion of the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer which includes the tax upon the wines imported from British possessions, that is a matter on which very strong feeling has been aroused. My right honourable Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has very properly declined to commit himself prematurely to any opinion as to any alteration of his proposals until he has received a deputation which will furnish him with information that will enable him to deal with the Colonial wine trade. Under these circumstances, of course, I shall not attempt to induce the right honourable Gentleman to break silence or to forestall the declaration which in due course he will, no doubt, make. But I would point out to my right honourable Friend that he has now a great opportunity, and the House of Commons have a great opportunity, as regards our relations to our Colonies. If you ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer thus late in the day to 94 make any very serious departure from the framework of the Budget and to modify his proposals in a radical sense, I could understand his offering very great objection if we asked him to forego a prospective revenue which would necessitate the imposition of taxation in its place or in other respects very seriously compromise his general scheme. I could understand my honourable Friend appealing to his Party and his friends, and asking them not to press or enter upon any such scheme. My right honourable Friend is to meet a deputation who will submit to him proposals which emanate from the Colonies; if I am right in thinking that the amount at stake, the prospective estimated revenue is only the infinitesimal sum of £20,000 a year—if that be the case the Chancellor of the Exchequer will realise that he has now in his power, by remitting this duty in the case of Colonial wine, to meet a very strong and growing feeling amongst Her Majesty's Colonial subjects, that something ought to be done to encourage trade between the Mother Country and the Colonies and to satisfy the aspirations of the Colonies. I think that this is an opportunity which should not be thrown away. I would wish in this connection to entirely disassociate what I have now mentioned to the Committee from other general opinions which I have felt it my duty to lay before the House of Commons on perhaps too frequent occasions. This is not a matter of protection or free trade at all. It is a question which must be judged entirely on its merits. It has no connection with fundamental principles and universal terms. My right honourable Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies has given forcible expression to his desire to promote this principle of preferential trade within the Empire. I believe the right honourable Gentleman is a member of the Cobden Club, and his opinion certainly would not be classified in any shape or form with those fiscal opinions which I have the misfortune to maintain. But what does the Secretary for the Colonies say? He says—There is a universal desire amongst all the members of the Empire for a closer union between the several branches, and, in their opinion, it is desirable, nay, it is essential for the existence of the Empire as such.95 The right honourable Gentleman goes on to say—Experience has taught us that this closer union can be most hopefully approached, in the first instance, upon its commercial side.Now, here is an opportunity of promoting that which the Colonial Secretary says is essential to the existence of the Empire, at a ridiculously small cost. I am not isolating the Secretary for the Colonies from his colleagues. The Prime Minister has recognised the very great importance of the trade carried on within the Empire itself. He said in my hearing on one occasion when I had the honour to introduce a deputation to him—It is to the trade that is carried on in the Empire of the Queen that we must look for the vital force of the commerce of this country.I could multiply quotations from prominent Members of the Government— even from that neophyte in finance, as he has just been described, my right honourable Friend the First Lord of the Treasury, in support of these views. But what I should like to point out especially is this: that the Colonies have made an approach to us by giving us something which would entitle them to a return. The Dominion of Canada has granted a distinct and appreciable preference in its tariff to the products of this country. Of the Colonies as a whole, Canada is the only one which has acted as yet on that principle in a practical way; but other Colonies have endorsed the principle. At the Imperial Conference held in Ottawa a Resolution was unanimously passed—That provision should be made by Imperial legislation enabling the Dependencies of the Empire to enter into agreements of commercial reciprocity, including the power of making differential tariffs with Great Britain, or with one another.Well, that prayer of the Ottawa Conference has been answered. Her Majesty's Government have got rid of those entangling engagements which stood in the way of the British Empire entering into closer commercial relations with its dependencies in the same way as every other country has done. That being so, and Her Majesty's Government having realised the importance, and the necessities of the case, having removed 96 all the difficulties in the way by denouncing the Treaties with the German Zollverein and with Belgium, to the consequent disturbance of commercial relations with these two important States, having removed the incidental difficulties under the most-favoured-nation clause, having faced all that and recovered our freedom of action, I think this is a golden opportunity to establish a claim to the gratitude and co-operation of our Colonial fellow-subjects, if we accede to the very earnest remonstrances and suggestions they are now making, and to gratify, at the paltry cost of £20,000, the Imperial instincts of our fellowsubjects beyond the sea. That being so, I hope my right honourable Friend will in due course signify his own desire and that of his colleagues to grant this very earnest request on the part of our fellow Colonial subjects. I would not have said this to-night had not my right honourable Friend let drop, in answer to a Question put to him in the House, that his-mind was open on this matter, and that he was desirous of obtaining information which he had not, and that up to now he had not been able to entertain the petition, the prayer of which I hope he will eventually see his way to grant. I wish to say a, few words as to the exploded doctrine of economy. I am afraid I am the only Member of this House who has ventured, year after year, to say a word on behalf of that absolutely exploded doctrine. Ministers nowadays, so far from having economy urged upon them, as was the case in my early Parliamentary days, are goaded into extravagance by friend and foe alike. My right honourable Friend the Member for West Monmouth will bear me out that when he and I first engaged in Parliamentary life the private Members almost invariably brought forward on Tuesdays and Fridays urgent remonstrances against the extravagance of the Government of the day, and that the Opposition almost invariably denounced the sins of their Ministerial opponents. But it is the fashion in these latter days, at any rate, only to pretend to be in favour of economy. The motto, "bless the expense," is the only political doctrine that is thoroughly popular nowadays on both sides of the House. In some quarters there is still a lingering feeling that something should be said about economy. There were 97 some valiant spirits who suggest that the Navy should be cut down, and others that the recruiting for the Army should be stopped. The honourable Baronet the Member for Cockennouth is the only survivor of that small section of the House which used to move that the Army should be reduced by 10,000 men; but nobody supports him, and nobody ought to support him. When, however, the Civil Service Estimates come on for consideration Members in all parts of the House jump up, not to suggest reductions, but to suggest huge additions to the expenditure. Questions are asked as a matter of business, day after day, which imply huge additions to the Civil Service Estimates. If I may venture to say so, the worst offenders are the Committee of Council on Education. That mysterious body appears to have an enormous gullet wherein to bestow the taxation of the people; and any attempt to reduce our educational expenditure is denounced from all parts of the House. If there is any one system worse than another it is the system of subventions—that is to say, the system of giving to public bodies other people's money to spend. Well, now, we know that public bodies are only too free in spending the rates which their own immediate constituents have to provide, but when they get a fund that comes out of someone else's pocket their extravagance knows no bounds. Take the case, for instance, of that extremely absurd arrangement which was made between my right honourable Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty and Mr. Acland, under which large sums of money are handed over to the county councils annually to be spent on what is called, but very improperly called, technical education. A great part of that money was originally intended by Parliament for a wholly different purpose. I do not want to go into the controversies on that point, but when that money was handed over to the local authorities only a portion of it was ear-marked for technical education, and one half of it was distinctly indicated as to be employed in the relief of the ratepayers. But now it is all spent, for the most part, on what is improperly called technical education. What really happens is this. The Committees say to the county councils, "It does not matter; here you have this money that comes to us from the liquor trade, or 98 from one source or another; we have got it to spend; let us make the freest use of it we can." The consequence is that a large proportion of that money is scandalously wasted. And I fear I must apply the same remark to a very large proportion of the ordinary educational expenditure. It is, for the most part, squandered away to unfit large numbers of children for their condition in life. I have shown enough to convince the Committee that all of us are very largely to blame for these bloated Estimates, which we do nothing to curtail, but are largely guilty of contributing to their increase. As regards the question of the sources of taxation, that is a subject that is altogether too serious to enter upon now. I demur altogether to the figures for which the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton made himself responsible the other day when addressing his constituents, although undoubtedly he corrected a very palpable error into which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had fallen a few years ago as to the relative proportions of direct and indirect taxation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that direct taxation contributed 52 per cent. of the revenue; the taxation from the other classes, which he called the consuming classes, contributed 48 per cent. Well, I pointed out that the unfortunate bearers of that direct taxation were bound to be consumers also, and that in their capacity of consumers there were arrayed against them figures to which they themselves had contributed. But my right honourable Friend never denied what was uttered by him—namely, that the bearers of direct taxation contributed as such 48 per cent. of the taxation, and the consuming classes 52 per cent. I have, of course, pointed out that that was a very crude way of putting it, and it was very liable to be misunderstood. The right honourable Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton declared that, according to the calculations he had made, 45 per cent. only was contributed by the payers of indirect taxation. For he took into account the very elementary fact omitted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the payers of direct taxes were also consumers. I am rather curious to know where the right honourable Gentleman got his figures, although I have no doubt 99 he has a perfect groundwork for the statement he made. I hope that the right honourable Gentleman will, at some time or other, give some indication how he arrived at his conclusion, for I think he has overlooked several considerations which would have very greatly affected his total. At any rate, we are in this position, that, while direct and indirect taxation may be nominally pretty level one with the other, our indirect taxes are levied upon a dangerously small number of articles. The moment anyone suggested an additional item he is apt to get upon controversial ground, but I think there are a great number of items which would occur to the Chancellor of the Exchequer as being deserving of his consideration in respect of any readjustment of taxation. I think it is enough at the present moment to point out that the dangerous practice followed last year of taking off a large sum from an indirect tax, which you know is very difficult to impose again when the money is required, is one which the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought seriously to take to heart as a warning. My right honourable Friend still maintains that he was well advised in taking off a portion of that duty. I daresay I repeat myself several times over by calling his attention to the fact that I was almost the only person who took serious objection to his proceeding last year. The Chancellor of the Exchequer defended it on the ground that the indirect tax payers had largely contributed towards the surplus, but I reminded him that if he remitted that indirect tax it would be very difficult for him to resume the burdens when the receipts from that source failed. My right honourable Friend has found that difficulty this year. I trust that when the time comes for the reconsideration of our financial system, which everyone admits cannot be far distant, these old-fangled prejudices, as I must call them, will be relegated to a place to which I need not further refer. For we are told that if we suggest any addition to indirect taxation we are placing unfair taxes upon the great masses of the people. I should bore the Committee if I once more warned them that one of the reasons why the old cry of economy has died out—one that we would do well to bear in mind—is, that 100 in the days I speak of the House of Commons represented to a larger extent than it now does the taxpayers of the country, whereas at the present moment the persons who pay the piper are not those who call the tune. For that reason I hope that some system of just taxation of an indirect character will be proposed to Parliament which will ensure a fair contribution all round.
§ MR. H. BROADHURST (Leicester)
I agree with some parts of the speech made by the right honourable Gentleman who has just sat down when he was referring to the increased expenditure represented by the doles to local authorities. I think with him, and my experience supports me in this, that in local administration the money sent down by Parliament to local bodies is not always used as wisely and well, and as economically disposed of, as money raised direct through the rate collectors of the local rates. All of us who have had experience in our boroughs or counties will agree with the right honourable Gentleman in that respect. I have often heard remarks made in connection with the appointment or with the increase of a salary of a local official, that the Government paid half of the salary and therefore they could afford, with an easy conscience, an increase to these salaries. I have had considerable experience of that, and I do think it would tend to economy in all directions if some better system were invented, and the present system abandoned altogether. I think if the right honourable Gentleman had followed this subject a little further he would have been able to show that as these subventions had increased, that is, as the Votes in aid of local authorities had increased, so the local rates had increased proportionately, instead of being lowered. In my opinion these Imperial subventions have in a large measure tended to increase local taxation, and not to relieve it. My object in rising was not to deal with that particular subject. I cannot follow the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Thanet in his complaint as to the large sums voted for educational purposes. I think that most of us who have studied the needs of the nation, and of the competition to which we are subjected to by educated foreign nations, rather regret that larger sums 101 are not voted for that purpose instead of smaller sums. It is a particular complaint against the sums voted for technical educational purposes that the county councils have that large sum of money to dispose of, and that if it was used to the best advantage by the county councils it would undoubtedly do a great deal of good in the country. I maintain, however, that there is a great deal of good being done at the present moment, although nothing like the amount of good that we ought to obtain from that expenditure. I wish in that respect that we had a much better administration of these large sums of money than we at present have. In regard to the Resolution under discussion, I regret, as I said the other night, and I repeat it again, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget propositions for the present year did not take the opportunity afforded by his extraordinary revenue to give some measure of relief to those who most needed relief in taxation, and who are most entitled to it, namely, the poor, who obtain no advantage whatever from the Budget. I had hoped that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have had the courage either to have reimposed, of necessity, the duty on tobacco, or to have increased its reduction. As it now stands it is no good, no benefit to the people. It is only an advantage to the half-dozen or so of the large tobacco merchants in the country. We should have either made the reduction of the duty another 3d. or 4d.—2d. would have done it probably—at any rate 3d. would have made it perfectly clear—or he might have reimposed the 6d. in the pound. I cannot help believing that the Chancellor of the Exchequer sees the mistake he has made and the injustice, to some extent, he has done. I would have liked to have seen the Chancellor of the Exchequer do something in regard to the reduction of the duty on tea. The tea duty brings in, in round figures, a sum of £4,000,000 a year, as I understand. The Chancellor might have taken 2d. per pound off the duty on tea, and that would have been a reduction in taxation which would have been felt in every cottage home in the land. I have no hesitation in saying that the large increase in the consumption of tea by the labouring classes, 102 even by the agricultural labouring classes, has been enormous within the last 10 years. It is now the habit of farm labourers, and other low paid and unskilled labourers, to take their provision in drink for the day away from their homes in the morning in bottles or in cans. And that drink provision is made entirely from tea. Now, I think it is—whether it may be wise or otherwise on their part to drink this cold tea—it is the practice, and it is the best substitute they can get for beer. They cannot afford beer. The old-fashioned system of home brewing in cottage homes has gone out, for many reasons and from many causes, and the workers are now relegated to the teapot as their only brewing machine for their daily drink. Now, the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to have thought of this class of the community, and to have provided a reduction at the very least of 2d. in the pound on their tea. That would have brought universal satisfaction, and would have done a great amount of good amongst the poorer people. The other classes of the community would not probably have felt the advantage so great. The better-to-do classes can buy a higher quality of tea now than a few years back, and they do not feel the pinch at all; but the 12s. or 15s. a week men, with their families, are those upon whom the Chancellor of the Exchequer has missed an opportunity of conferring a great boon. I wonder whether it is too late for him to do that now. He could do it at the cost of £2,000,000, or less, if I am right. Now there are lots of ways in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer might very well recoup himself of that £2,000,000. I do not think that there are 50 people in the country who would complain if he reimposed the tobacco duty. If he were to go back to the original duty on tobacco he would at once obtain half of the sum necessary to make good the deficiency caused by the reduction in the tea duty. I complained the other night of the Chancellor of the Exchequer having put a higher duty on cheap wines, and at the end of the Debate he was good enough to say that he would give some consideration to the complaint made from various quarters of the House. I indicated that there might be a possibility of getting a relief of taxation on the lower classes of wines. I under 103 stand that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has held out some hope that he would consider the complaints of those who spoke against the increased taxation of cheap wines.
§ MR. BROADHURST
I am very sorry if the right honourable Gentleman has not promised to reconsider the matter, but I hope he will.
§ MR. BROADHURST
Very well, then, there are other means and other directions by which the Chancellor of the Exchequer might meet another £1,000,000 of his deficiency. I do not want to put taxation all on one class of the community, but the right honourable Gentleman might turn his attention very profitably in the direction of the highest classes of foreign cigars imported into this country, and to the most expensive class of wines. Let him relieve the poorer and cheaper wines, which are consumed by the lower middle classes untouched. There are other sources open to the Chancellor of the Exchequer which can be better enforced upon the right honourable Gentleman by honourable Members who are better informed on the subject than I am. These might have directed his attention to mining royalties, from which he might obtain a million or two.
§ MR. BROADHURST
The Chancellor of the Exchequer laughs at the bare idea, but what a magnificent prospect is before him, if he would only apply his mind to the subject of mining royalties and land values. Why, at the slightest touch of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on mining royalties and land values, he would bring in to his exchequer millions of money. He would be in a fairy-land of finance, and happy for evermore. He would be able to release the burdens of the poor in all directions. I do hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will give us some encouragement. If it is too 104 late for his present Budget, will he promise us, instead of making worn-out speeches—although we are always delighted to read his prelections on current politics—will he promise the Committee that he will be able to give next autumn some considerable attention to these suggested sources of revenue. If we let him off any difficulties in regard to the tea duty this year, will he promise us next year that he will do his best to take off the tea duty, and find some other means of making good the deficiency caused by such reduction? I cannot but pity the unfortunate Chancellor of the Exchequer. He does not drink tea, and the most marvellous thing is how he is able to exist in the successful manner he does. Neither does he smoke. He does not drink coffee or cocoa, nor does he consume sugar, I suppose. How it would add to his sweetness if he would only indulge in some of these light beverages. He does not realise the boon he would confer upon the poor people, and the gratitude he would earn in every cottage home in the land, if he could see his way to give some promise that if he could not reduce the tea duty this year, he would give them a better Budget next year. I sincerely trust that he may be able to encourage us in that direction. He need not indicate the particular article upon which he will grant relief, but if he promises us to study new sources of revenue, that will be sufficient, and we will bide our time until the psychological moment arrives to reveal to us the great secrets of his popularity. I trust he will take this golden opportunity of making some great mark in the history of financial administration, which should leave his name in every household of the country as the record of a great Minister having the command of a great revenue and having used some portion of it for the benefit and advantage of his poorest fellow-citizens.
§ MR. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)
I beg to ask the right honourable Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he can give any information on certain points? The Resolution which alludes to the imposition of a duty on stamps states that that duty will be imposed on a date to be fixed by Parliament. I re- 105 serve any remarks which I have to make on the increase of the duties of these wines until the Second Reading of the Bill, but the Resolution raising the duty on the capital of companies does not give any indication as to when that will come in force, whether on a date to be fixed by Parliament or now. I wish to know if the Chancellor of the Exchequer can give us any information on the subject.
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Perhaps I had better answer that question at once, as it is an important one. The Resolution with regard to the wine duties comes into force at once, and I understand the Resolution as regards the increase of the duty on the capital of companies would also come into force at once. And for this reason, that if Parliament should not think fit to pass them into law it would be perfectly possible for the money erroneously paid under them to be returned to those who paid it. But the other stamp duties to which reference has been made cannot come into force until the Act including them passes, because the money paid on stamps or deeds practically cannot be returned, if erroneously levied. Therefore, a day will be fixed for these, and, as at present advised, I am inclined to fix the 1st August.
§ *MR. PURVIS (Petersborough)
I wish to give my reason why I think that this is a time when, in order to meet growing expenditure, we ought to reduce the Sinking Fund. The greater part of the public creditors are British, and when the taxpayers and the creditors are both members of the same community, it is no loss to pay the interest of the National Debt, however great it may be. It is a mere transfer, so far as the nation is concerned, from one hand to the other; the same as if a man took a half-crown out of one pocket and put it into the other. I say that this is not the time when it is expedient to set money free in the market, because it will not be so productive as it should be. When money is set free by the reduction of the National Debt, at a period when the country is rich and prosperous, it will emigrate in order to get a better return, or, if it stays at home, it is apt to be 106 thrown away in rash speculation. It is unlucky for 13 to sit down to dinner when there is only room for 12, and in the same way I suggest that this is not the time to introduce more capital into the market when there is not room enough for what already exists there. How is it possible to secure more room for circulating capital, and to make it more expedient at some future time to reduce the Debt? Simply by securing new markets in unknown regions hither-to inaccessible. This is the precise policy which the Government have been following in Africa and in Asia. It has, of course, led to a greater expenditure on the Army and Navy. It is not a question, however, how much the Government have expended; the point is, have they spent their money economically? Their policy alone can augment our business without bringing down profits so low as to stop accumulation or drive capital abroad or into rash speculation, which is the tendency of reducing National Debt and thereby putting circulating capital in the market before it is wanted. The expenses of administration in a rich and prosperous country like this do not grow in proportion to the wealth of the population, and therefore the burden of the National Debt is felt less and less from year to year. These are points which, elementary as they are, I have thought it well to lay before the House. There has been a flowing tide of expenditure on the Army and Navy, by reason of international competition, and the burden has become so serious that it has led to the idea, of a Peace Conference. But to be afraid of the increase of our expenditure from the point at which Mr. Bright put it 25 years ago—i.e., from something like £80,000,000 sterling to £112,000,000, at which it stands to-day—is mere superstition, and to act upon that fear is to stand still in this matter—it would indeed be to go back. If we were to stand still in this matter of expenditure we should have to stand aside and allow some other nation to take our place and reap the fruits of our Empire. Then the grass would grow in the streets of our great cities, and the golden age of pastoral simplicity, for which my honourable Friend the Member for Northampton sighs, will have arrived. 107 But until that time comes we must make up our minds to bear the burden, as well as to enjoy the prosperity, of our Empire and try to make the best of it.
§ COMMANDER BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)
I have been anxious to say something upon this Budget, and I will do so briefly now, rather than postpone it to a later occasion. I do not think it will be denied that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has had a difficult task in squaring accounts in consequence of our vast expenditure. I do not think it is fair to criticise too severely the spending departments, because I feel that the increase of expenditure is very largely the outcome of circumstances over which nobody had very much control. I do not think that the enormous increase of expenditure on the Army can be attributed to any special individual. I would, however, make one observation upon one branch of expenditure which has been very freely criticised on the other side of the House. It is a, class of expenditure which I undoubtedly supported, and which I think is justified on very strong grounds—I mean the expenditure incurred under the Agricultural Rating Act. I supported that Act on these grounds: that the Finance Act introduced by the right honourable Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire in 1894 disturbed the relations between taxation upon real and personal property, largely to the disadvantage of real property, and, holding as I do, it is a maxim which may be supported everywhere, that all classes of property—be it real or be it personal—should be taxed in the same proportion, I accepted and voted for the Agricultural Rating Act, because I understood it to be an effort on the part of the present Government to compensate real property for the disturbance in its relations with personal property which was caused by the late Government. The Finance Act of 1894 was, I considered, just in principle, but many of us could not vote for it because we could get no word of sympathy from the right honourable Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire, who, we felt, was placing a burden upon real property which amounted to a much heavier proportion of taxation than was imposed upon any other form of property. That is the view I have always taken of the 108 Agricultural Rating Act. There is, however, one proposal in the Budget upon which I feel I must pass a short criticism, and that is the right honourable Gentleman's intention to take £2,000,000 from the Sinking Fund for the purposes of the ordinary expenditure of the year. I frankly say I regret the decision at which he has arrived. It seems to me to be a very unwise decision. If we could rely upon an era of perpetual peace it might then be justified, but it is not justified when we know that we may, unfortunately, be launched into some great war, when, of course, our great sources of revenue would necessarily shrink, and the purchasing power of the people would necessarily be less, and when we should reap to an enormous degree the advantage of having a largely reduced Debt. My honourable Friend who preceded me suggested what I have seen in the Press, but what I have not before heard in this House—namely, that it might be a good thing for the country to have a large, rather than a small, Debt.
§ *MR. PURVIS
I did not mean to say that. I meant to suggest that this is the better time to reduce the Sinking Fund.
§ COMMANDER BETHELL
I am afraid that no amount of argument can persuade me that the country is better off with a heavy Debt. Even with the disadvantage of Consols being at a very high price, it seems to me the balance of advantage is in favour of continuing the process of paying them off. Supposing in the course of the next 22 years we were to continue to pay off in that manner about £150,000,000 of our Debt it would lessen the interest by at least £20,000,000, and it is well worth consideration whether it would not be a great advantage to have such a contracted Debt. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer could have seen his way to augment the present taxation, or, for the purposes of revenue, to have broadened the basis of taxation, I should have been very glad. Of course the question of paying off Consols when they stand at so high a price is one upon which there may be a great deal of argument, especially when it is so convenient to make use of this excuse for not paying them off; but, in spite of that, I 109 think the advantage to be gained by making a present sacrifice is so enormous that, in my judgment, there is no doubt whatever as to the course which ought to have been pursued. After all, we have been passing through a very prosperous period. For the last 15 years, with only two or three exceptions, the country has been extremely prosperous. We have in that time paid off a great deal of debt, and I believe that while we continue prosperous we should continue to reduce it, although I quite admit that, if our revenue should fall, and if we should have to pass through a bad time, it might then become a question whether we might not properly reduce the amount of money set aside for the reduction of the Debt. Without making any further observations on the financial arrangements for the year, or without troubling the House on another occasion, I am glad to have had this opportunity of stating as clearly as I can that, in my judgment, it is unfortunate that the Government have adopted the plan they have for meeting the increased expenditure of the year. I should have supported them with much greater pleasure had they seen their way to obtain the sums required by some augmentation of existing taxation.
§ *MR. J. SAMUEL (Stockton)
We are very much indebted to the honourable Member who has just spoken for the very candid expression of opinion he has given as to his reasons for supporting the Agricultural Rating Act of 1896. We have always been told that that Act was introduced because of the unfair incidence of rating upon agricultural land. Now we are told that the reason why the Bill was brought in and the Measure passed into law was the unfair incidence of taxation as between real and personal property, the disproportion having been brought about by the Finance Act of 1894.
§ *MR. J. SAMUEL
I think the honourable Member is following what Lord Londonderry said in the country as to the actual reason why the Government brought in the Agricultural Rating Act. And, if that is so, I hold that it is a very unfair arrangement, and for this 110 reason. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us more than once that the total amount received from agricultural land due to the change in the law under the Act of 1894 was only £800,000. If that is so, we have handed back to the landlords of this country and of Scotland no less a sum than £1,800,000 in lieu of the amount they have paid to the Exchequer.
§ *MR. J. SAMUEL
Yes, and we know that when the Bill was passed it was contended that the occupiers in England would get the benefit, but we are also aware that when a man applied for a farm one of the chief points taken into consideration in fixing the rent is the amount of rates to be paid. I only made this statement because of the observation of the honourable Member for the Holderness Division that the Bill was introduced because of the alteration in the incidence of taxation in 1894, and I say that we are very much indebted to him for the statement, because the country will now be able to appreciate the fact that this grant under the Agricultural Rating Act was, after all, a grant made to the landlords of the United Kingdom. But I really rose in order to reply to some observations made by the right honourable Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Thanet. Those of us who come from the North of England know that the right honourable Gentleman is always calling attention to the grants-in-aid, and especially to those which are given to technical education. I think he told us that these grants-in-aid ought to be taken by the Committee into its very serious consideration, because those of us who have some experience as to how the money is expended by county councils, and even by borough councils, are aware that there is a great deal of extravagance, and certainly the House will some day have to take this matter into consideration. The larger sums expended are those given under the Act of 1888 to local authorities, who are spending the money in a most extravagant way; and I would suggest that this might be saved to the taxpayers, who might thereby be afforded very considerable 111 relief in taxation. The right honourable Gentleman went on to say that the working men of this country did not pay any taxation. I think that that is a statement that would be made by no man who has had any experience of the large amount of indirect taxation paid by the working classes, by the consumers of tea, tobacco, and drink. If you take, for instance, the tea duty, you will find that the working classes are very large consumers, and that where they pay 1s. per lb. for tea no less than 4d. per lb. goes into the Exchequer. Then we know that they are large consumers of tobacco, and some of them, unfortunately, of drink as well, and consequently they do pay a large proportion of the indirect taxation received by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right honourable Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Thanet went on to say that the reason there is not the interest there should be in the reduction of taxation, and in economical expenditure, is that the electorate at the present time is much too wide, and that the House is elected by the working classes of the country. He also said that those who chose the tune did not pay the piper. But I would venture to point out that the working men representatives in this House and the working classes through-out the country are not the people who have demanded a great increase of expenditure upon the Navy and the Army. That demand has been made by the upper and middle classes, and, that being so, I would urge that it should be met by the direct taxpayers, and that it should not fall upon indirect taxation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer suggested to-day that he had some very extravagant colleagues sitting around him. I would like to ask him whether he has received any demand from the working classes of this country for any increase in the Army and Navy which has necessitated this additional expenditure. I think it is only fair, when the charge is made that those who choose the tune do not pay the piper, to say that, according to their income, they do pay a fair proportion of the taxation of the country; and certainly they are not those who make extravagant demands upon the Exchequer. They may demand increased efficiency in the administration of the Civil Departments, but that is a very small matter in 112 comparison with the millions which this Government have given to the landed interest and to the Army and Navy as well. I think it is only right that some-one should enter this protest against the statement made by the right honourable Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Thanet. Many honourable Members on this side of the House do, in common with myself, regret that the Government have not seen their way to meet the expenditure by increased taxation, instead of by reducing the Sinking Fund. If they were to place these taxes upon the people who have demanded the increased expenditure upon the Army and Navy, I venture to say that, in a very short time, these demands would cease, and we should have a lower rate of expenditure. I must confess I think there is great need for economy on both sides of the House.
§ *MR. BECKETT (York, N.R., Whitby)
I am glad to hear from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that there would be no fresh taxation. That, of course, is a great boon, but a boon which has been purchased at too great a cost. There is no doubt about it, that the central feature of the Budget around which everything turns is the redemption of the Sinking Fund, and the question which the country will ask is, whether this is desirable and necessary. If it be shown to be necessary, it is useless to argue whether it is desirable or not. I do not think the Chancellor of the Exchequer will contend that it was necessary if the money he wanted could be raised from any other source; and there are unquestionably other sources that could be tapped. The right honourable Gentleman has drawn us a picture which shows that we are practically rolling in wealth. The people are perfectly conscious of their own prosperity, and I think they would have borne the imposition of fresh burdens with equanimity. There is reason to believe that the people are perfectly well satisfied with our expenditure on armaments. In this respect parsimony is no longer possible, and they look to efficiency rather than economy. Above all things, they regard it as a paramount duty of the Ministers of the Crown to make effective provision for our military and naval necessities, and they are, to use the expression made by 113 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, perfectly ready to stand being taxed, but not being teased. And now as to the question whether this redemption in the Sinking Fund is desirable, if it is not necessary. The Chancellor of the Exchequer treated this question with a considerable amount of ingenuity. He was supported by certain of my honourable Friends, who said that the National Debt was an excellent thing in itself. No doubt the National Debt is an advantage to business men in the way of investment, and still more as a security. But at the same time, if you extend your purview beyond the City, and embrace a rather wider horizon, I do not think anybody can contend that the general condition of the people is made more prosperous by having to meet an annual charge of 23 millions. Now, what are the arguments of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the redemption of the Debt. In the first place, he anticipates the windfall of 1902 because some future Chancellor of the Exchequer may use it for the remission of taxation. The honourable Member for King's Lynn has pointed out that it is rather a strange thing to protect the financial virtue of your successors by sacrificing your own. I do not think that this is an argument which even convinces the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself. Then the next reason that he gives is this. He says that we must redeem so much of the stock because we are raising the price against ourselves. I rather question the assertion that by redeeming seven millions a year we are raising the price very considerably. If anybody looks at securities they will find that they have gone up all round, and Consols have gone up more than any other. They serve the purpose of business better than any other stock can serve them, therefore a great demand is made upon that particular stock. The price of gilt-edged securities has gone up all round, and as Consols are the most gilt-edged of all securities, they have naturally gone up more than any other. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer proves rather too much, because if it is an unsound financial policy to pay off Debt when you are dealing with seven millions, surely it must be unsound to pay it off when you are dealing with five or six millions. My right honourable Friend the First 114 Lord of the Treasury said that we might as well chuck eight hundred thousand pounds annually into the sea.
§ *MR. BECKETT
In that case, if we reduce the amount of the reduction from seven to five millions, we shall still be chucking the money into the sea. That argument, in order to have its full force, ought to operate in the direction of our not paying off Debt at all until 1923. What is the Sinking Fund? It was intended, in its origin, to reduce our Debt by four or five millions a year? But the object also was to reduce the Debt at an accelerated rate. That was present to the mind of Sir Stafford Northcote, who wished to see the Debt reduced first by five millions, then by 10, and then by 15 millions. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that he has made this reduction in order to protect the Sinking Fund, but it seems to me a rather strange way of showing a tender affection for the Sinking Fund to lay violent hands upon it. The First Lord of the Admiralty was the first Minister who violated the integrity of the Sinking Fund, and I am sorry that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not been bold enough to resist the temptation of following in his footsteps. I cannot see the force of the contention that we are paying off Debt too fast. I do not think that we can pay off Debt too fast. The public Debt of the country is 635 millions, which is a very considerable sum, and if it is a fact that this country has grown in prosperity in an absolutely unprecedented manner, yet that, in spite of this we have only reduced the Debt of the country by about one quarter since the end of Napoleon's wars, I must say that I am sorry that anything has been done to retard the rate of reduction; and in view of our increased expenditure, which is still increasing, it is all the more reason why there is a strong obligation upon us to reduce our liabilities to as great an extent as possible, especially as we are extending our liabilities in another direction. One honourable Member has referred to our local indebtedness, and complains that we are borrowing at a tremendous rate. Our local debts are going up by leaps 115 and bounds, and as regards the citizen, it matters not to him whether he pays his money in rates or taxes, for the burden of the debt is precisely the same, whether due to the Crown or to the municipality. The figures of our local indebtedness are somewhat remarkable, although I admit that some of it is due to remunerative forms of expenditure. In 1870, which is the first year for which the figures are available, our local indebtedness was 38 millions, but now it is 298 millions.
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES
Do those figures include the debt for the whole of the kingdom? They do not correspond with my figures, which are for the United Kingdom.
§ *MR. BECKETT
Then that makes the force of my argument all the more significant. Our indebtedness has increased, and the rateable value has not increased in the same proportion. The Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to the fact, which everybody recognises, that the Sinking Fund is undoubtedly our war chest, and he also alluded to the fact that our armaments, upon which we have spent so much money, have been the main factor in maintaining peace. People are willing to spend large sums of money upon armaments, because they recognise that they are creating a great reserve in the Sinking Fund. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has strongly impressed upon the country that if we went to war we could raise 200 millions without extra taxation. But by this reduction now proposed by the right honourable Gentleman he is practically depleting the war chest of the country to the extent of 80 millions at one stroke, and I must say that in view of the disturbed state of Europe, and seeing that we have been on the verge of war more than once within the last two or three years, I cannot help thinking that this reduction is a very serious matter. If you look closely into it, I think you will find that the cause of this deficit was the reduction of the tobacco duty last year, for if the duty had been kept at the old figure, the deficit would have been £1,900,000 instead of £2,900,000. If the deficit had 116 been a million less, I do not think that any raid would have been made upon the Sinking Fund. The Chancellor of the Exchequer does not hold out a very promising prospect for the future. I had hoped that the right honourable Gentleman—and I have the greatest possible belief in him, as the best of all Chancellors of the Exchequer—would have brought in the best of all possible Budgets, and would have shown sufficient courage to find new and productive sources of revenue, which he has predicted will have to be found in future years. He warns us of the danger of departing from the old-established system. I will not detain the Committee much longer, but I desire honourable Members to look at the old-established system which has been in operation since the year 1862, when we practically rearranged and reorganised the whole of our financial system. In 1862, we derived from Customs 24 millions, whereas now it is only 21 millions. From Excise the total is 17 millions, as against 29 millions at present. For stamps the total was nine millions in 1862, but it is only eight millions now. In 1862, we derived from the income tax £10,800,000, but now the total is £18,000,000, and there are also now 15 millions from death duties as well. Now, the loss on the Customs represents a remission, of taxation which is a gain entirely to the working classes of this country, for this remission consists principally of the abolition of the 1s. duty on corn, and the abolition of the sugar duties. The increase of the Excise illustrates the growing prosperity of the country, for it increases with the increased spending power of the people. As regards the income tax, a, penny in 1862 produced £1,700,000, but now, in spite of added exemptions, it produces two and a half millions. There is also this significant fact, that in 1862, when the population was 30 millions, they paid in taxes on food to the amount of 14 millions sterling, while now the population pay in similar taxation only four and a half millions in pursuance of an extremely wise policy, which has been a great boon to the people. Now, I just want to point out this fact, that 30 millions of people paid nearly 14 millions in taxes on food without suffering any great hardship; now 40 millions of people only pay four and a half millions 117 of taxation on food, so that it seems to me that if we are driven into a corner it would be possible to reimpose the shilling corn duty and the sugar duty without seriously injuring the working classes of this country. In 1862, we spent in food and drink £39,600,000, and now 40 millions of people spend only 43 millions in food and drink. As regards the duty on drink and tobacco, it is in no sense a burden on the people, and it is raised easily. Drink and tobacco are luxuries chiefly indulged in by males, although the other sex indulge in them to a certain extent; but they are essentially male luxuries which ought to be provided for out of the surplus income which remains after a man has found the money which is necessary for the maintenance of his home. Nobody would suggest a reduction in the price of intoxicating liquors, and I am surprised that there has been any reduction of the revenue from tobacco. It is contended by many that an increased consumption of tobacco would be no advantage to the population, and when you see small boys going about smoking cigarettes, I think it will be admitted that cheap tobacco has its evils, and that the tax on tobacco might be raised without injuring the citizens either morally, physically, or intellectually. It is true that man does not live by bread alone, and tobacco and wine certainly add pleasure to life, but, at the same time, a man may do without these things and will be none the worse, and these should certainly form articles of taxation to be resorted to whenever the Chancellor of the Exchequer is driven into a corner, for taxation on articles of food is always, to some extent, mischievous. With regard to taxation on property, there is no doubt that every contribution levied on property is felt by all classes, whether it is direct taxation on the profits of business men or the earnings of professional men. In 1862, the taxation on property produced 20 millions, and now it produces 43½ millions, and that shows that the shifting of the burden has been very considerable; and I very much question whether you can add to the burdens on property with advantage. You cannot tap this source continually without producing rather serious results. If you carry this tax on property too far, you will kill enterprise and curtail expenditure, with the ultimate result of a re- 118 duction of the wages for labour. We see now a prosperous country in Europe weighed down by taxation which is killing all enterprise. I allude to Italy, where business is now being mainly carried on by foreign capital. The mere fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not thought it advisable to add a penny to the income tax—and he certainly cannot increase the death duties—shows that this class of revenue cannot be drawn further upon. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has, to a certain extent, again laid his hand upon the throat of property, because in the long run the extra wine duty and stamp duty falls upon property, and will have to be paid by the same class who pay the death duties and the income tax. This shows, I think, that the right honourable Gentleman has, to some extent, been infected by the democratic ideas of his predecessor the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I confess it is a disappointment to me to see that he has been led aside from the path I hoped a Conservative Chancellor would have followed. But I must say that, however much the death duties were disliked, they achieved their purpose, which I very much doubt whether the duty on wine will do. Why, when the right honourable Gentleman decided that alcoholic wines should pay an increased duty, did he not also turn his attention to the alcohol in beer? The alcohol in beer pays a lower rate than the alcohol in spirits; therefore, why was not some proposition made to increase the duty on beer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has favoured the brewers, and this House is too much under the domination of the brewing trade. The contribution of this trade to the revenue is totally inadequate when you bear in mind the figures. From an official list, I find that at the beginning of 1898 the brewery and distillery companies represented 139 millions of capital. There is no means of ascertaining the present market value of all this, but I find quoted in the official list of the Stock Exchange 94 millions of it, and the market price of this 94 millions is 124 millions, so that there is practically a premium of 30 millions, or about 32 per cent. premium, upon these breweries. It seems to me that in the face of this large premium he might very well lay his finger upon brewery 119 companies whenever he wants to raise extra revenue.
§ *MR. BECKETT
The premium on banking shares has not risen in the same way. At all events the banks render a service to the community that we cannot very well dispense with, and I do not see that taking care of the money of the community is on the same footing as pouring beer down their throats. It seems to me that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had reimposed the tobacco duty, and put a small extra duty on beer, he would have got all he wanted, and would have done nothing to seriously interfere with the trade and commerce of the country or the happiness of the people.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
I congratulate the right honourable Gentleman opposite upon the very sound and sensible speech he has made. I think if the honourable Gentleman continues to realise what mistakes the present Government are making, he will in time expand into a Liberal and come on to our side. The honourable Gentleman went on to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer why he did not tax the brewers. Surely, as a Member of the Conservative Party, he must be aware why the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not tax the brewers. It was mainly through the brewers that honourable Gentlemen opposite won their elections and came into office. During those elections, almost in every publichouse, the brewer provided the money to make it a Conservtive election agency, and it could hardly be expected that, however much the Chancellor of the Exchequer might consider that the brewers ought to be taxed more than they are, as a member of the Conservative Party, he dare not tax them any more. My only surprise is that he does not give them a dole as he did the other classes who were good enough to aid in putting him in power. The honourable Gentleman made some sensible observations about the raid which is being made upon the Sinking Fund. The honourable Gentleman is a banker, and understands what the Sinking Fund is. I confess that I was utterly surprised when 120 I heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer make his speech that he did not seem to understand what the meaning of a Sinking Fund was. The right honourable Gentleman commenced his speech by saying that if there was one thing he would not touch, it was the Sinking Fund. When I heard that statement, I turned round to my right honourable Friend near me, and said: "I know his ways, and I think you will see before his speech is over that he will go for that Sinking Fund." A sinking fund means that you put a certain sum of money aside for the gradual extinction of the National Debt. In the nature of things, the amount of interest goes down with the amount by which you diminish the Debt and the Sinking Fund goes up, and surely every person who has considered that we have allotted a fixed sum per annum for the extinction of the Debt knows perfectly well that it must go up every year. The real fact is this—the right honourable Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had a very difficult task. I have no doubt that he has done his best to preach economy, and I have no doubt, if it had not been for the right honourable Gentleman, there would have been a far greater expenditure; but he had to yield to his colleagues, and he did not dare, although he might think that the consumers paid too little at present, to levy a higher tax upon them; so he had recourse to the Sinking Fund, and it is always an easy matter to "rob Peter to pay Paul." But I was, I confess, astonished at his speech. I was still more astonished by the speech delivered yesterday by the First Lord of the Treasury at an association called the Primrose League, a body which, I understand, is in some way connected with the Conservative Party. The right honourable Gentleman appeared there as the great high priest of the Conservative Party, and delivered an astonishing speech on current politics.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
No, I was not; but I have so much admiration for his speeches that if I could have got a ticket I should have gone to listen to the right honourable Gentleman, though in all probability they would not have ad- 121 mitted me. But I have read the report, and he said that we are spending a large sum upon armaments; but, apart from the fact of spending them, we are threatening the world in general—no one will dare to make war on us—and in doing this we are benefiting posterity, because although there is a Debt, and they will have to pay the interest on it, the effect of spending large sums on great armaments is to make them a sort of Sinking Fund.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
I did not say that.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
No, the right honourable Gentleman did not say that; he clothed his meaning in better language than I can use, no doubt, but that was the idea.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Then I hope the right honourable Gentleman will be more careful in future, because many other simple people like myself may be deceived as to what the right honourable Gentleman really does mean. But it is rather a curious argument, a large and ingenious paradox, and I think he excelled himself in likening great armaments to the Sinking Fund. Now, what are the other taxes? £800,000 has to be provided, and he puts up the duty on wine—he increases it. I have no particular objection myself in general to duties on intoxicating liquors; but why, may I ask, is it put upon wine rather than upon the brewing interest? I will tell the Committee why. Because the wine interest is a much smaller interest than the brewing interest. Some interest had to be offended, and it was thought better to find a small interest rather than a large one. I think it is a curious exemplification of our free trade that, having entered into a compact with France under the Cobden Treaty, that we should have raised these duties. As I have already said, the Government has got into a mess with Italy, Portugal, France, and our Colonies, and I hope they will be able to get out of it without going to war, and so placing another tax upon the country. The other duty 122 is a tax on Colonial securities. The right honourable Gentleman told us how we taxed the Colonies, and how we sought to draw them to us. I should have hardly have thought he would have shown his love to them by taxing them. The Government has increased taxation by £19,000,000. Of that £3,000,000 has gone in doles to the one class which he favours, £10,000,000 have gone to armaments, and I should say that I am putting it low when I say the increase of £2,0000,000 of our increased expenditure is due directly to foreign annexation. In the meanwhile old-age pensions, promised at the last election, are put off, and every endeavour to better the condition of the poorer people of this country has been frustrated. There is no money for that, because of this large expenditure in armaments. If the expenditure had remained at the same as it was when this Government came into power, we should have had £10,000,000 to play with; but to the extent of those £10,000,000 we should have benefited the country. It is often said that the House and country are in favour of these great armaments. For my part, I am opposed to them, and I know that there is a town, called Northampton which is also opposed to them. Nobody can complain of my opposition, because I have never lost an opportunity of complaining or dividing against the policy of the Government and the expense that is the necessary consequence of that policy. I cannot understand sensible men—because, putting aside their political opinions, they are sensible men—on the other side of the House pledging themselves to a policy which must necessarily, through its naval proposals and the increase of its armaments, terribly increase our expenditure. You have a Colonial Secretary, who told his constituents at Birmingham that we had a sacred mission from Heaven to civilise the barbarous nations of the world, and his idea of doing so is to seize upon their countries. That is one reason for these armaments. If you expand your territory you must increase your Army. If you have a greater territory to protect, what do you do? Why, at the present time you are raising a troop of Chinese, and you are raising savage regiments to fight other savages, and that is why I go to the bottom of 123 these things, and I not only take exception to the expenditure, but to the policy which renders it necessary. It is the same with regard to the Navy. I am not going into the whole question of the Navy. You have the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a naval financial man; the First Lord of the Admiralty, also a naval financial man. You have the First Lord of the Treasury, who understands to some extent affairs of this kind, but I cannot understand why they go into this game of "Beggar my Neighbours" against other countries. They want to be supreme on the sea. They want to be assured that our commerce will go on in times of war the same as in times of peace, and this seems to work in with another divine revelation which the Colonial Secretary has had—that we shall never be at war with more than two powers, and we shall never be defeated because success in a naval war entirely depends upon the number of ships we have as against the number of ships they have, so that so long as we continue to build more ships than they we shall be alright. But so long as we go on building ships other nations will go on building them.
Order, order! I think the honourable Gentleman is travelling rather wide of the subject matter before the Committee.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I have no doubt, Sir, that I was carried away by the strong feeling I have against increasing our armaments; I only want to say that we object to a large revenue if that large revenue is not properly spent. We Want economy, and we want 20s. for every £, but we fully recognise there are many things in which the State has an obligation to its poorest citizens. We feel that we could approve of the taxation if the money was spent in a proper manner. But we complain of extravagant waste in the application of money which, if well spent, could be used to greater advantage. Do not let it be said that we Radicals should object to any taxation, and spend it on bettering the condition of the poorer classes. That is what we want to do; but what we assert is that taking this account as it is, that if you have run the expenditure up to £120,000,000 per annum, and out of that £50,000,000 is spent directly upon 124 armaments, about £23,000,000 to reduce the National Debt, which is caused by wars, you will not be able to raise that amount of money which we hold is necessary and desirable to expend upon the country—not on Africa, not on China, not upon the rich man to whom doles have been given, but upon the poorest classes in this country.
§ *MR. LOUGH (Islington, S.)
There is one thing to-day which has placed us at a disadvantage in discussing this matter, and that is, that no Resolution is upon the Paper.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
It is has never been the rule in this House to put the Resolution upon the Paper. That is perfectly well known.
§ MR. LOUGH
I put the suggestion in the most respectful way. I asked many of my honourable Friends, but they could give me no information, and I do think it would conduce to a better discussion if we had a Motion on the Paper. I have not had an opportunity so far of making one or two remarks on the general scheme of the Budget. I have listened to a great many speeches, and I do not desire to take up the points which have been dealt with by those who have preceded me, but there are two or three matters which, perhaps, it is not too late to bring to the notice of the right honourable Gentleman, with regard to which I think he might modify his scheme a little. First, I would refer to the question of stamps; one observation has been made in this Debate upon that, and I will only say that I agree with what has been urged upon the right honourable Gentleman with regard to Foreign and Colonial Bond stamps. The point was not taken yesterday evening which I desire to call attention to now, which is that a great many of these bonds are sold at a great deal below their nominal value. Some, I understand, representing a face value of £100 are sold at £5, and the whole of those will have to bear £100 stamp. Many shares in American railways have never paid any dividend, and they are sold very much beneath their face value, and there is a large business being done in them. If they are stamped on their nominal value, it will be manifestly un- 125 fair. I have heard no suggestion from the right honourable Gentleman as to how this class of shares shall be dealt with, and I cannot but think the right honourable Gentleman has been a little hasty in putting a stamp upon these bonds. I would be very glad if he in his reply would make some suggestion as to how he would be able to deal with that class of stock to which I refer. Something was said as to the proposed stamp on letters of allotment, and I think that also requires some reconsideration. In the Budget speech we understood the right honourable Gentleman to suggest a 6d. stamp on letters of allotment down to £1. Now it is to be modified, and we have a 1d. stamp on letters of allotment up to £5, and after that a 6d. stamp. This, again, I must strongly oppose, because in the ease of allotments in small amounts a capital of £1,000 would have to pay £5. whilst an allotment of £1,000 to one person only pays 6d. I certainly think that this ought to be adjusted. It certainly exercises a great effect upon the allotment of shares to small applicants. I do not know how this proposed stamp will affect a class of enterprise which has recently sprung up in Ireland. I mean the allotment societies which have sprung up all over Ireland. Perhaps they will come under the head of the Friendly Societies Act; if not, it is a matter which I think the right honourable Gentleman ought to look into. I think it might be so arranged that the 1d. stamp should cover £100, and then after £100 we might have a 6d. stamp on letters of allotment up to £1,000 or more. There ought to be some adjustment in this matter, because the recent policy in the finance of this country has been to tax the poor lightly and place taxation upon the rich; but in this case, and another which I shall mention, this policy has been reversed. It will be more apparent when I take the next item. Take the case of the wine duties. I believe there is great feeling in the country about these wine duties, and I hope the right honourable Gentleman in his reply will give some promise that this matter shall also be reconsidered. The objection which I take to the wine duties is that it is the poorest wines—the cheapest wines—that pay the heaviest duty—the poor man's wine. The duty on wine containing 30 per cent. of alcohol is increased from 1s. to 1s. 6d., 126 which is an increase of 50 per cent. in taxation. On wines containing over 30 per cent. of alcohol the duty is increased from 2s. 6d. to 3s., so that in the poor man's wine you have an increase of taxation of 50 per cent., and in the rich man's wine it is only 20 per cent. In that case also it is obvious that the principle of finance has been reversed. If it is necessary that the duty on cheap wine should be increased by 50 per cent., then I think it is also necessary that the higher quality wine should be increased in like ratio. Now, there is one complaint which I wish to make in reference to the Budget, and which I always do make, and that is that the right honourable Gentleman in his speech said nothing at all about Ireland.
§ MR. LOUGH
There are several other taxes in Ireland besides the whisky tax. Ireland comes in indirectly, and it always will come in indirectly into these fiscal questions until the financial relations between the countries are dealt with fairly. How does it come in? We have heard a great deal about the whisky tax and the reduction in the tobacco duty. Generally every representative of Great Britain thinks that the tobacco tax ought to be re-imposed. What is the difficulty? This is the first one: With regard to this tax, nobody wanted it reduced because it is as low or lower than ever it was, and it is not felt by the population. That is the truth with regard to Great Britain; but when we turn to Ireland it is particularly high, and one of the most oppressive taxes ever imposed upon that country, and entirely against the principle laid down in 1860 or 1870. Years ago the tobacco duty was not more than 1s. in the lb., now it is 3s. 4d. I allude to this matter because I believed the right honourable Gentleman had a kindly feeling towards Ireland, and he thought he took an impost off an article that is much consumed in Ireland. He took it off England as well. By reducing the tobacco duties he lost a million or a million and a quarter; with half that amount he could have reduced the tobacco duty in Ireland down to 1s. in the 1b., and not touched the tax in Great Britain at all. He would have satisfied 127 English Members who did not want the tax reduced, and given the Irish a great benefit. But that is only a side question with regard to Ireland. The great point is the way in which Irish revenue is progressing as each year passes compared with the British revenue. It may be said that you cannot recognise the difference, but there is a difference which cannot fail to be recognised. Papers are issued every year which are in effect the Irish Budget, and the last are dated 31st March 1898, and they show that the increase in the British revenue is almost without precedent; they show an increase so far as England is concerned of £3,061,000; but so far as Ireland is concerned there is a decrease of £30,000 in the revenue. That is an incident of such gravity that every Chancellor of the Exchequer who makes a Budget speech in this House should give us some information about it. The Irish revenue has commenced to decline, which is the most tragic circumstance which could occur, and the population is steadily diminishing; whilst the revenue in Great Britain is steadily increasing. How will the new tax suit Ireland? There is £450,000 to be levied, some of it out of wine and some out of stamps. I am sorry the Irish benches have been so empty during this discussion. It is a very interesting question. We can answer the question at once. The new taxes will not suit Ireland at all, because everything shows that it is poverty that is increasing there instead of the wealth that is increasing so rapidly here. It may be said that these duties will not press heavily on Ireland. They will not press so hardly upon Ireland as many other taxes would, but Ireland wants relief from taxation, and the £40,000 to be levied on these two articles will be a burden greatly felt by that unhappy people.
§ On the return of the CHAIRMAN after the usual interval—
§ *MR. YOXALL (Nottingham, W.)
The proposal to increase the duty on light wines is, in my view, an unwise proposal, and one which, if it does not tell adversely in its effect on the revenue, will tell adversely on the moral welfare and sobriety of the country as a whole. I submit that the impost involves a reversal of the fiscal policy which has been pur- 128 sued since 1860, under which wines have been taxed more and more lightly in the hope of encouraging the greater consumption of light wines, and a corresponding diminution in the consumption of liqueurs, spirits, and beer. That was the policy laid down by Mr. Gladstone, and, with a few exceptions, it has been followed from year to year. Now, in this respect, the present Budget does something to check that policy, and I venture to submit to the Committee that it will act adversely upon the growing custom among large numbers of people who drink light wines in preference to beers and spirits. The man who goes into a cheap restaurant and gets a 1s. bottle of claret, or an 18d. bottle of Rhine wine, will feel the effect of the duty. It is most unwise, for the sake of £400,000, to add this extra impost. It would have been much better if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had placed his additional tax upon liqueurs imported from abroad, or upon spirits of home manufacture, than to have done something to discourage the consumption of light wines, which, compared with heavy beverages, are innocuous and more healthy for the public to consume. It is for these reasons that I protest against the imposition of the extra duty.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
Reference has already been made in the course of the Debate to the speech which was delivered by the First Lord of the Treasury in the Albert Hall. But I do not think that justice has been done to that speech. It was, I venture to say, one of the most remarkable speeches that was ever made on the Financial Statement. What was the argument of the First Lord of the Treasury? He said that under the Budget proposals—in spite of the reduction proposed to be made in the Sinking Fund—there would remain a sum of £5,800,000, which would be set aside in the coming year for the reduction of the Debt. He went on to say that the £5,800,000, which is set aside for the coming year, would, for every £100 of stock cancelled, have to pay somewhere about £110 10s. Quite true. Now, mark what that means—The expenditure in the present year in the redemption of the Debt of this £5,800,000 will involve the expenditure of over £800,000, for which absolutely no return is obtained by anybody except the existing 129 holders of Consols. So far as the nation is concerned, so far as the taxpayer is concerned, so far as those who are going to provide the money are concerned, it might as well be thrown into the sea, because it serves no useful purpose whatever.Well, Sir, this argument, if it has any value whatever, is directed, and solely directed, not to the reduction of the Sinking Fund, but to its total abolition; because it amounts to saying, that it is the duty of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not merely to take the £2,000,000 out of the Sinking Fund, but to abolish the Sinking Fund and spend the money upon building addition; ships or reducing taxation. I have never, in the course of my political experience, heard an argument which brought the speaker to such an impotent conclusion. Well, Sir, there is in that speech the germ of a policy which I venture to say the tax-payers of this country, and those who are the inheritors of sound principles of finance, are bound to repudiate, because it indicates that in spite of the protests to which we listened the other night, the Ministers now in control of the finances of the country consider the Sinking Fund is an abuse, and that every £1 laid out in cancelling Consols, so long as they are at a premium, is so much money thrown into the sea. Now, Sir, I turn to another passage of this remarkable speech. The First Lord of the Treasury went on to say that he had been reading the correspondence between Sir Robert Peel and the Duke of Wellington in 1845, and that in the course of this correspondence the Duke of Wellington expressed the conviction that the country was in a neglected state in matters of defence, and that he could not answer for the defence of the country, or of the Colonies, in the event of an invasion by France. What was the answer of Sir Robert Peel?Our Debt is nearly £800,000, and though peace has existed for nearly 30 years, but little has been done to diminish the Debt.And he went on to say that—Though much ought to be done with regard to defence of England and of Ireland, and though it would be desirable to do much with regard to the Colonies, practically the condition of the finances was absolutely prohibitive of any complete scheme of the kind desired by the Duke of Wellington, and in that impossibility the Duke of Wellington concurred.130 But what is the extraordinary lesson the First Lord of the Treasury draws from that remarkable and most instructive correspondence? He says, that since that day the wealth of this country has vastly increased, so vastly increased, indeed, that the immense burden of taxation the people of England are now called upon to bear can be borne much more lightly than that which had to be borne by your forefathers in 1845. Yes, Sir, but if Sir Robert Peel and the Ministers of those days had listened to military alarmists, and had consented to pile up the expenditure, would the country be as prosperous as it is today? I say that the lesson which the First Lord of the Treasury deduces from that correspondence was the very reverse to that which he ought to have deduced; because, if so great an authority warned him that the country could not afford to bear the immense burden of taxation, I think he ought to have recognised that his first duty was to put the finances of the country on a solid footing. Sir, the extraordinary position which England occupies, as compared with other countries in point of credit and financial resource, is due to men like Sir Robert Peel, Mr. Gladstone, and other Ministers who had the courage to set military and naval alarmists at defiance, and who practised those doctrines of economy of which Ministers now make mockery. The First Lord of the Treasury spoke of the few survivors of the despised Manchester School. Well, of some of the doctrines of the Manchester School I certainly am no admirer; but if he means the men who preach economy in this House, then I say that that remark was most undeserved. Sir, I think that the real moral to be deduced from the speech of the right honourable the Chancellor of the Exchequer is this, that the Ministry foresee deficits in the years to come, and that they are resolved to direct the attention of the public to the Sinking Fund as a means by which these deficits are to be provided for, and thus avoid the unpopularity of fresh taxation. I noticed in the same speech that the First Lord of the Treasury had described the great disappointment of the Members on this side of the House because fresh taxation had not been imposed, that they were disappointed in not being able to make the popular capital which they expected 131 out of the Budget. It is the resource of a very weak Minister when he has the general consent to a great increase in the military expenditure. I have always been one of the minority on this side of the House, who have consistently opposed every great increase of expenditure, particularly naval and military expenditure. On several occasions I have expressed my opinion that those who supported these great increases will be called upon by the irresistible logic of facts to support also in the Committee of Ways and Means the necessary Measures to provide for these increases. I do hold that all solid, honest, and safe finance is based above all other things on this principle, that you must bring home to the taxpayers their responsibility, if they vote for increased expenditure, by instantly providing for that increased expenditure by taxation. If by any device, by borrowing, for instance, you can postpone to a future day the meeting of the bill, you are less likely to take into serious consideration the possibility of reducing outlay. And therefore I say it is an unsound and almost a dishonest policy to pile up an enormous increased expenditure and not propose to bring home to the taxpayers a sense of their responsibility by increased taxation. One remarkable thing I have noticed is this, that this year, when there was a deficit, the Chancellor of the Exchequer suddenly discovered that it was a very improper thing to reduce the Debt to the extent we were doing, but we did not discover that last year. If it was an improvident and wasteful thing to leave the provision for the reduction of the Debt at £25,000,000 last year, and the year before, why was it that he was not converted to the improvident view until the necessity arose to provide for fresh expenditure? If I raise that point, it is because I hold that in a time of great and exceptional prosperity, the continuance of which it is impossible to calculate—if the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been really brought to the conviction that the provisions for the extinction of the Debt were excessive, the proper use to make of any sums taken from the annual provision for the Debt ought to be to employ it in relieving taxation. I heard an honourable Member say that that would be a very dangerous thing for the money market. 132 I do not know whether he really understands the operations of the money market when he talked in that way. The sound principle is that if you cannot lay aside a reserve fund wisely and judiciously in the shape of repayment of debt, then your proper and defensive policy is to leave the money in the pockets of the ratepayers, and secure a reserve in other ways by reducing the taxes. I say, that even if we were to admit, as I do not admit, the validity of the argument, that the annual provision for the Debt has become excessive—I say that the only proper use to put the two or three millions thus left free from the extinction of debt is to make use of it for the remission of taxation. We know that even assuming nothing occurs in Africa or China, or in various other regions where disturbances are likely to arise, to increase the demands of the various Departments, the automatic expenditure will increase as regards not only the Army and Navy, but in connection with education and two or three other Votes. That is admitted, and we know from statements made before the Committee of Supply that the revenue is very likely to have passed the high water-mark of prosperity, and that a solid decrease may set in next year or the year after, when large deficits will arise. How are these deficits going to be provided for? Are they to be provided for by fresh taxation? And if not, then I say that the argument now being used will be made the basis for a fresh inroad on the Sinking Fund. Sir, I also think that the danger of the public consenting to the further increase in the perpetual demands of the Navy and Army will be considerably enhanced by the fact that they have not been made to pay this year, as was the case in the last two or three years, when the Estimates were enormously exceeded, and at the end of the year there were realised surpluses of two, three, or four millions which met the increased charges without increased taxation. The public mind was thus not directed to the mad career of increased expenditure during the last four years, when 19 millions were permanently added to the expenditure of the country. That is a condition of things without parallel in the history of England. But if the public had been this year compelled to submit to a sharp increase of 133 taxation, to the extent of two or three millions, then they would have taken the whole situation into very serious consideration, and the means would have been found to put a stop to this enormous increased expenditure. There is one aspect of this particular subject in which I am particularly interested. I myself, as an Irishman, have watched for the last two or three years with gathering indignation, the reckless way in which the millions of surplus were disposed of without any reference, or at any rate, with little reference, to the claims which the Irish people have put forward to some readjustment of the financial grievance under which they suffer. It is a great aggravation of that grievance that this country has not been able to plead any difficulty or want of funds as an excuse for meeting our just demands. On the contrary, the funds have been abundant, and a very small proportion indeed of the money added to the naval and military expenditure of the country would have been sufficient to remove the financial grievance from which the Irish people are suffering. In this connection I desire to say that I will not join in the condemnation levelled against the right honourable the Chancellor of the Exchequer for his action in reducing the tobacco duty last year. That remission and the imposition of the death duties in 1894 were the only acts of justice which have been done to Ireland within my memory on questions of pure finance. The death duties were just towards Ireland, because they threw additional burden on the community in such a way as to inflict no fresh injustice to Ireland. And, therefore, I recognise that as a great democratic reform in which the just claims of Ireland were acknowledged. As regards the Budget of last year, I say it was a just Budget, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer, having a million and a quarter which he was prepared to use in the remission of taxation, devoted it to the remission of a tax which, more than any other tax, presses on Ireland unjustly. And, therefore, I admire today the courage of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in standing by that remission, in spite of the pressure put upon him to give some remission on taxation on real property. In that respect he did that which was right and just both as regards Ireland and the 134 people of this country. I cannot share the view that the remission of the duty on tobacco is not so advantageous as a remission of the tea duty would be. I venture to say that if you polled the men of the country—I cannot say as to the women—it would be found that they would insist that tobacco is almost a universal necessity of life, at all events, according to the customs of the people at the present day. I therefore think the remission of the tobacco duty is a capital remission, but it went only a very small way to redistribute the financial balance in Ireland. It is a monstrous thing that the whole of these Budget additions made to the expenditure of the Empire are required for the protection and the expansion of the trade in England. An honourable Member said a few minutes ago that this was a pure business transaction, that the Government was spending these £19,000,000 more than four years ago for the purpose of expanding British trade in large parts of the earth's surface; that the expenditure would create markets for which we would get a full recompense for all the money laid out. But, Sir, not a farthing of that will come to us in Ireland. We have no trade with these regions, and are not likely to have any. So far as the Fleet of the Empire is concerned, and the new trade which is to be created for the benefit of the Empire, Ireland shares in none of the advantages. And yet we are made to pay a large share of the cost. Our voice is not sufficiently weighty in this House to support the view which we take—a view commonly denounced as that of Little Englanders, because the Irish representatives are entirely opposed to this policy of extension, and the grabbing of new regions all over the world. I wish to say a few words on another aspect of the question. We are called upon to provide the means for this fresh expenditure by increasing the taxation on wines. I have not the least doubt that this will cause a great exasperation in certain foreign nations. I venture to say that for every pound levied by the new wine taxes possibly £100 will be spent on ships and armaments caused by the irritation in France and other countries. These taxes will also cause serious embarrassments with the Colonies. I have listened in this House frequently to the most enthusi- 135 astic speeches as to the policy of knitting together the various parts of the Empire, and the enormous advantage that would follow from that course. I am not a believer myself in that dream. I have travelled throughout most of the British Colonies, and I believe that the British Colonies are very fond of the Mother Country so long as the Mother Country gives them all the money that they want. I have not the slightest doubt that the time will come when these Colonies will set up for themselves, as America did, when they are sufficiently wealthy and sufficiently strong to do so. That is a view, I admit, which is not shared by many men in this House, and which is not the fashion at the present day. But could there be imagined a measure more calculated to irritate the Colonies, and for a very small advantage, than to put a tax on the wines produced by them? I know that in Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia the greatest possible pride is taken in the wine industry, and that they look forward to developing it to an enormous extent. I must say from personal experience that their wines are most excellent, and I think that they are capable of being made as good as the wines of Germany and France. And yet, for the sake of the few pounds which will arise from the proceeds of this tax, all these advantages have to be cast aside, and we are asked to consent to a measure which will undoubtedly check the wine industry in the Colonies, than which nothing can be more calculated to irritate the colonists themselves. I have held all along, and I still hold, the view that all the talk we have listened to about the necessity of this enormous increased expenditure for the defence of the Empire, and which has caused these new taxes, is to a large extent entirely untrue. I hold and believe that this condition of things has arisen from the policy of the Government. Although it may be quite true that England is bound in her own interest to keep pace to a certain extent with any two other Powers, so far as the fleets are concerned, we heard that doctrine enormously enlarged upon. The First Lord of the Admiralty distinctly stated that in drawing up his Naval Programme he had under his consideration six naval Powers, including the United States of America. And so, once you 136 allow these claims an undue voice in the politics of the country, their appetite increases and grows on what it feeds. You cannot satisfy the Army and the Navy. If you spend millions on them, they want more millions next year. As long as you encourage them, I do not blame them. Their professional spirit always finds some ground for increased expenditure, and the more you increase their power the more you increase their demand for further expenditure. I hold that it is by speeches made by Ministers, and by the attitude we have assumed towards other Powers, and by the constant talk on platforms as to the necessity of England being mistress of the seas, and capable of sweeping the seas, that have driven the other European Powers, and have caused them to make the great exertions they have made to increase their fleets, and which in return have excited this country to increased exertion in the way of increased expenditure. It is not alone the policy of the Ministry which has involved this greatly increased expenditure, but it is this enormous, and, as I consider, this enormously useless extension of our Empire in Africa, which is responsible for at least. £750,000 of this additional expenditure. There is another point which has been passed over in these Debates, and which has, I think, added £150,000 to the military expenditure of the country, and that is the maintenance of 17,000 troops in the self-governing Colonies in South Africa. That is a most extraordinary proceeding. As I understand it, in listening to the Debates in this House, the maintaining of a corps of 17,000 in South Africa will require at least 30,000 men in this country to maintain these 17,000 men in South Africa, and 30,000 men in this country will account for an expenditure of £2,000,000 a year. It is the maintenance of these great garrisons abroad which compels the Government to add, year after year, to the strength of the Army at a cost of £3,000,000 per annum. I trust some other occasion will occur on which we can demand from the Government why these 17,000 men are maintained in South Africa. For these reasons I am strongly opposed to the present proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and even the First Lord of the Treasury will admit that I am among those who consistently oppose 137 all increased expenditure, and am now legitimately entitled to oppose this Budget.
§ SIR W. LAWSON (Cumberland, Cockermouth)
Honourable Gentlemen on both sides of the House, of different political opinions, have expressed their opinions in regard to the Budget proposals, and I may be permitted to say a few words on the subject. As regards the remarks of my right honourable Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet, that I was the only survivor of the Cobden school of politics I am obliged to him for giving me that compliment, because I acknowledge that he is one of the most honest and fearless politicians in this House, although we differ completely in our opinions. I am proud to be called a survivor of the Cobden school, because I think this country is in the proud position that it occupies to-day by having adopted the policy of Cobden. Would you have had a £112,000,000 Budget if it had not been for Free Trade? My right honourable Friend says that I am the only survivor of the Cobden school, but I have got a new colleague lately in the shape of the Emperor of Russia; for in the missive which His Imperial Majesty recently sent to the nations, he was only carrying out the policy of Mr. Cobden. It is of that policy I wish to speak in connection with this immense Budget we are discussing to-night. I admit that it is quite correct to say that this Budget is a war Budget in the time of peace. If in the years gone by the Chancellor of the Exchequer had asked for such a Budget it would have been sufficient to carry on a great war; but we have now all the expenditure of a war without the glory of a war. It is very extra-ordinary to my mind that we should be called upon to meet this enormous expenditure when we consider our position. We heard in the Queen's Speech at the beginning of the Session—My relations with other nations continue to be friendly;and then the Government wants £50,000,000 for armaments in order to show the friendship of the Queen for those other nations. What is the use of being friendly with other nations if we are to have this enormous expenditure? Well, I have been in this House 138 so long that I remember those struggles for economy which have been referred to. I was much interested on Tuesday night in the speech of the honourable Member for East Aberdeenshire when he brought forward a very good retrenchment Motion. I knew what would happen on that Motion, because I am an old hand. I remember 37 years ago when we were beginning this wild expenditure. The young Radicals, as we were in those days, held a meeting, and the late Mr. Childers drew up a resolution. I am not sure that the Leader of the Opposition was not one of us on that occasion. He was a very good Radical in those days, and I hope he will continue to be so. But when this resolution which Mr. Childers drew up was brought forward in the House, it was bowled over directly, because Lord Palmerston, who was the most adroit and agile of all political gladiators, got up and said a vote on an abstract resolution of that kind was of no consequence; and all our friends disappeared. That was the way things were carried on in the House in those days. But to-night we must be practical, because this money has to be voted sooner or later. I allude to the circumstance to show how far we have travelled during these 37 years. Then the Budget was £70,000,000, and I remember Mr. Baxter said on that occasion that we could not go on much longer bleeding the taxpayers to the tune of £70,000,000. That shows the folly of prophesying before the event, for where are we now? We have a Budget of £112,000,000, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer very honestly and frankly says that he sees no prospect of there being any relief in the future. That being so, we go on for ever with these enormous sacrifices. Those words ought to be repeated over and over again which Mr. Disraeli used long ago when he said "that expenditure depends upon policy." It is the policy of expansion, or Imperialism, or whatever you like to call it, which has brought us into this position. The Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs has described the true Imperialist as one who believes that everything that does not belong to other nations should belong to us, but a great many people believe not only that, but also that everything that does belong to other nations should belong to us. The Under Secre- 139 tary does not approve of that, but that is the policy which the Government is carrying out by these enormous sums of money. The only possible justification for spending £50,000,000 on the Army and Navy would be if we required it for defence. Then I am puzzled to know against whom do we want to defend ourselves? I should like to ask any historian if he could point out to me any great war that by any stretch of language could be called defensive. I am alluding to its commencement. Of course, it may become defensive after it is started. It is not for defence you want these sums of money. If you are to go on bullying France, scrambling for Africa and partitioning China, you will require a much bigger Budget even than you have now. The Chancellor of the Exchequer explained last year that the money expended on the Army and Navy was for promoting our trade through-out the world. It would be a poor way of spending your time and money, to have these great armaments for the purpose of carrying on trade. "Our trade our policy," is what the publicans say, and people do not think better of them for it; but I think it is a very sordid way for a great nation to act. I am not going into the machinery of this Budget; it has been fully discussed to-night. I will only say that the policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the policy of the man who said he was determined to pay all his debts, even if he had to borrow the money to do it. That is the policy of this Budget. The Government say they have got a mandate. Where did it come from? Did it come from the Heavens above or the earth below? All I have to say is that if the white man's mandate is to go careering about the whole world in search of gain, then the white man's burden by and by will have to be much bigger than £112,000,000 a year. I do not say that the Government are doing wrong in spending this large sum of money if their policy is right. My honourable Friend the Member for Stockton said that the working men never asked for this expenditure. But have they ever protested against it? I am not going to attack the Government. They got no mandate from Heaven, but they did from the constituencies, and more blame to the constituencies. They got a mandate from the people of this 140 country to create wars and shoot people all over the world. I cannot tell what the people of this country are thinking of. It seems to me they do not think much about politics at the present moment, because food and work are more abundant than ever they were in the history of this country. Because the people at this moment have plenty of food and football, they wax fat and kick. I appeal to the Government, not as politicians seeking votes more or less, but as statesmen. I ask them if they cannot now do something to relieve the heavy burdens of this Budget by adopting a wiser Foreign Policy. I will not lay stress on what Cobden said, but I will appeal to other statesmen who may have more weight with honourable and right honourable Gentleman opposite. I will appeal to Sir Robert Peel, who said that in times of peace we should try retrenchment; to Mr. Disraeli, who, in the most celebrated phrase he ever used, alluded to the "bloated armaments" kept up by this country. I would appeal also to another Conservative statesman whom we all remember well—Lord Randolph Churchill. He sacrificed one of the brightest careers any statesman ever had, because he could not stand the enormous national expenditure, and he may be said to have sacrificed his whole future on the altar of economy, a deed which I think has not had sufficient recognition from the people of this country. I mention those statesmen because I think their opinions may have weight. They were no Little Engenders, as some of us are called. Now is the opportunity for the Conservative Party to relieve the country from its enormous burden. They have an over-whelming majority in this House. They have able leaders, and there is nothing to disturb them in the country. Let them revise this Budget, which is based on a policy of rivalry and ruin, and, by placing the national finances on a peace footing, send a much needed message of peace and economy to the long-suffering nations of Europe.
§ MR. ARNOLD (Halifax)
The question has been discussed at great length as to the amount set apart for the purposes of the National Debt, but I would call the attention of the Committee to the fact that, although that amount is reduced by the sum of £2,000,000, there 141 yet remains a Sinking Fund of more than 1½ per cent. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that something like £6,000,000 was quite sufficient for the reduction of the National Debt The reduction of the National Debt at the present moment takes the form of the purchase of Consols. But as we are bound to pay off at par in 1923, I cannot see the use of paying off at a premium now. It is not done in any business I have ever heard of. We ought to discharge our liability in full when it is due, and not pay a premium of 11 per cent. in discharge of it years before. I think we could easily devise some other means of reducing the Debt than that method. Honourable Members opposite think that because we shorten taxation by £2,000,000 another £2,000,000 ought to be raised, so that we might still continue to pay this £2,000,000 off the Debt. Perhaps they ought to look at some other sources of revenue than those included in the present taxation. Almost everything we drink at the present moment, except plain water, is taxed. Water mixed with whisky pays an enormous tax, and water used for tea is also heavily taxed. But there is one class of water not taxed, which is extremely palatable, and that is ærated water, which is imported in enormous quantities. Why should it not pay something towards the revenue? The retail price of ærated waters is excessive. An enormous quantity of these agreeable beverages are drunk by the community, and cost an enormous sum of money, and I fail to see why they should not contribute something towards the revenue. A tax on ærated waters would bring in £2,000,000, but whether £2,000,000 is raised in that or in any other way I hope we shall adopt a business-like method of discharging our liabilities when they become due some 20 years hence.
§ *MR BARLOW (Somerset, Frome)
I should not have intervened in this Debate had it not been that I have a very great objection to one proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The increase in the stamp and wine duties is undoubtedly objected to by the persons who will have to pay them, but I do not 142 think that is the chief blot in the proposals of the Government. The chief blot is undoubtedly the intention of the Government to tamper with the Sinking Fund. I confess I am sufficiently old-fashioned to have always regarded the Sinking Fund as a kind of guarantee fund to improve our position financially and to lay up in times of prosperity, in order to be able to draw upon in time of war and adversity. It seems to me that we are unduly increasing our expenditure both on the Army and Navy, and in various other ways. That expenditure goes on increasing with automatic regularity, and appears almost to have the permanency of a law of Nature. But I contend that we are laying up a valuable reserve force if we decrease the amount we owe under the National Debt. One financial paper I see capitalises the amount which the Government reduce the Sinking Fund by, and makes it £66,000,000 sterling, therefore to that extent you are lessening your power to grapple with adverse times in the future. It is true that we are building ships and fortifying places, but it is no less true that guns and fortifications require money, not merely for their construction, but also for their maintenance. It is no less true that the country has in the long run to find the money, and the more you trench upon your resources in times of peace and prosperity the less able will you be to draw upon the country in time of war and adversity. Therefore I say that I have never seen a more prodigal act than the act of the Government in a time of unexampled prosperity, when the revenue has increased beyond the most sanguine hopes of Chancellors of the Exchequer on one side or the other, to ignore that increase, and reduce our Sinking Fund, which must be the great security we must avail ourselves of in times of adversity. If we had an exceptionally unfavourable year, there might be something to be said for it, but we have not had an unfavourable year. Our trade is increasing and prosperous beyond our hopes, and in this time, of all others, the Government say that we must reduce our Sinking Fund, which we are laying up against a rainy day. What 143 would we say of a private individual who managed his affairs in such a fashion? We should say he was on the straight road to ruin, and say it rightly and justly. I contend that it is a weak and a false policy on the part of the Government, having spent the money of the country under the guidance and instruction of Her Majesty's Ministers, not to place the responsibility of the country before it, and not to show the country that increased expenditure must mean increased taxation. Supposing we continue as at present for two or three years more, are you going to abolish the Sinking Fund altogether, or impose fresh taxation? This is a happy-go-lucky system. You hope something will turn up in the future which will help you, but your hopes are not justified by the observations of business men or the financial condition of the country. We are told by the supporters of the Government that we are still paying off a greater proportion of the National Debt that we did some years ago, but I submit that the doctrine of equality of sacrifice in any year should be observed. If we are prosperous now we ought to pay off more rather than less. The amount it is proposed to allocate under the new arrangement is a very much smaller proportion of our income than the amount which was appropriated for that purpose some years ago, when both our national income and expenditure were less. Therefore I say that it is not on lines of this kind, not by shirking our responsibilities, that the Empire, of this country has been built up. It is not on lines of this kind that it can be maintained. The weak and pusillanimous lines which we are adopting now are not the lines which the country has a right to expect from the Government. They are not the lines on which the Government will obtain the support of the thinking portion of the community, or the lines which make for the stability of this country. Therefore, for my part, I shall oppose the proposal of the Government on every opportunity which comes in my way.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The Debate on the Resolution, according to the ordinary practice of the House which has been followed, I think, to-night, is of rather 144 a miscellaneous description. Various subjects naturally come up for consideration, and this is not the occasion certainly upon which I should attempt to review the financial policy of this Administration, with its great majority, which for four years has enjoyed great surpluses which were not its own, and which by that policy, at the end of four years, has achieved a deficit, which it proposes to meet by suspending the fund for the liquidation of the Debt. That is a very serious financial consideration, which, upon the Second Reading of the Finance Bill, I think the House of Commons will feel called upon carefully and critically to examine. I should not have troubled the House again to-night but for this—that I think it is desirable at once that we should take some notice of the defence which has been offered by the Government. What they cannot, and what, I am sure, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not, deny is a very grave proceeding is the invasion of the Sinking Fund for the liquidation of the Debt. In my opinion, the reasons which have been offered for the course are even more serious than the step itself which has been taken. We have had only, in the first instance, the laboured apology which was made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his speech, and I observed what seemed to me a very true remark in some journal, that he appeared, without success, to be endeavouring to convince himself of the propriety of his proposal. We have since had a very remarkable document—the Treasury Minute. I have known the Treasury long, and I respect it much, but I do regret that at the end of the nineteenth century, of 50 years of education under Sir Robert Peel, under Sir Cornewall Lewis, under Mr. Gladstone, and under Sir Stafford North-cote, such a document as that should have emanated from the Treasury. It exhibits, in my opinion, a contradiction and an abandonment of all the sound principles of finance which for 50 years have been preached in that Department, and which have resulted in the great financial prosperity of the country. Then, Sir, we have had the additional advantage of a light and airy discourse upon finance addressed to the dames of the Primrose League by the First Lord 145 of the Treasury. We must take him to be the principal authority, for I know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is only the Second Lord of the Treasury, and that the First Lord of the Treasury is the Leader of this House. The honourable Member for King's Lynn described that elementary treatise on finance in language which was extremely appropriate. But, Sir, the serious part of this matter is that the defence of the particular Measure which the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposes to take is absolutely fatal to the whole of the Sinking Fund in the future. There is not an argument advanced in that Minute, there is not an argument brought forward by the First Lord of the Treasury in his speech to the Primrose League, which is not fatal to what remains of the Sinking Fund after this deduction has been made from it. That is the real point to which I wish to address my remarks, in order to show the House how this is. Now, of course, these financial authorities profess an ardent devotion to the Sinking Fund. The First Lord of the Treasury said the other day that any attempt to destroy the Sinking Fund would be a national misfortune. That is his view. Then the Chancellor of the Exchequer is stronger still. He says it is really the only safeguard in these days from something like financial ruin.
*THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXSCHEQUER
I was not talking of the Sinking Fund then. The right honourable Gentleman has quoted from a part of my speech which alluded to the manner in which we now provide for the payment of the interest and the repayment of the capital of the Debt, which we borrow for what I may call reproductive purposes. What I said was, that our only safeguard from financial ruin was that we should provide as we go on for the repayment of that Debt. I was not referring to the Sinking Fund for the old Debt at all, although I attach very great importance to it.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I accept, of course, that explantion, but I am quite sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer shares the opinion of the First Lord of the Treasury that any attempt to destroy the Sinking Fund 146 would be a national misfortune. Now, Sir, it is worth while to examine how far the problem which he proposes in this Budget is calculated to destroy the Sinking Fund. I will only quote the language of the Treasury Minute. The Chancellor of the Exchequer holds—That though it may be legitimate to suspend for a year the whole or part of the Sinking Fund, as was done in 1885–86"—I rend that with satisfaction, because that is a defence of the suspension of the Sinking Fund which took place under that Government for the purpose of meeting a national emergency—yet the proper annual provision for the discharge of the National Debt should constitute a lien upon the public revenue secondary only to the obligatory payment of interest.Therefore the Treasury Minute places the maintenance of the Sinking Fund second only to the payment of interest on the Debt. I observe that the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India thought it necessary to assure the City of London that the present Government does not intend to repudiate the repayment of the National Debt. There are some remains even of financial conscience in the present Administration, and I was extremely glad to hear on the authority of the Secretary of State for India that there was no contemplation of immediate repudiation. I am sure the City of London must have felt safer the next morning. That was the explanation. He was understood to have referred to the Sinking Fund, but it was explained in this House that what he really said was that the Government were not going to repudiate the Debt.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (Lord GEORGE HAMILTON,) Middlesex, Ealing
I did not say that. The suggestion came from Sir John Hibbert, who, I believe, was an esteemed colleague of the right honourable Gentleman.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
He did not say that the Government were going to repudiate the Debt; he was my colleague in the Treasury, and there was no attempt made of that character before. Now, what I want to show is that the course that the Government are pursuing is one which is necessarily and 147 inevitaby fatal to this provision for the liquidation of the Debt, but I cannot help thinking that the Treasury Minute must have been drawn up with the express purpose of laying the foundation for the permanent destruction of the Sinking Fund. Well, if it was not, it is the clumsiest performance that ever emanated from a public office, Let us see what the argument is. The first doctrine is that the more you cut down the Sinking Fund the stronger it will become. That was a piece of financial ingenuity worthy of the present First Lord of the Admiralty. The first principle of the gospel of the Sinking Fund, it seems, is that the more you rob it the safer it becomes. Upon that doctrine, if a man has got £10 in his pocket you can take £5 out and tell him that the other £5 is safer because it would not be worth the while of anybody else to take it. That is the doctrine you apply to the Sinking Fund, and the First Lord of the Admiralty, who in a time of buoyant revenue first struck off something from the Sinking Fund, said, "Oh, but I diminished the interest on the Debt." Yes, that gave you greater resources, and so far from diminishing the fund for reducing the Debt it gave you greater means of reducing the Debt still further. He reduced it by £3,000,000, as the French say, pour encourager les autres; and that was the doctrine of the First Lord of the Admiralty. Now, these are all very fine sentiments of respect for the Sinking Fund, but let us see what is going to be their final effect. The First Lord of the Admiralty when he struck £3,000,000 off the provisions of the Act, and reduced the amount from £28,000,000 to £25,000,000, gave us a guaranteee that it never should occur again. He was to be the first and only robber of the Sinking Fund. But he did not foresee that after the lapse of a few years there would come another Unionist Chancellor of the Exchequer with an equally predatory disposition who would strike off £2,000,000 more. So that we have now got £5,000,000 struck off the Sinking Fund in order to to protect the £5,000,000 that remained behind, and these two repeated operations will make the whole quite safe. So you go on, and you strike off £2,000,000 more, and then the £3,000,000 will be per- 148 fectly safe. Then you strike off the £3,000,000, when there will be none, and that will be absolutely secure. I am reminded of the well-known lines—My wound is great because it is so small, Then 'twould be greater were it none at all.'That is the operation which is commenced by a Conservative Government for the purpose of making the Sinking Fund for the conversion of this National Debt secure. The whole argument that is put forward in defence of this proposition is one which makes the maintenance of the Sinking Fund in the future, in my opinion, absolutely impossible. Let us take the next argument upon which they rely, and see what that is. The right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury goes to the Primrose League and says it is monstrous to require the country to provide money only a portion of which is to go for the object to which they intend to devote it.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
What was the adjective? At all events you approved of it, because in fact this proposal to cut off £2,000,000 is defended by saying that what you were doing is a thing you will not do any longer, and that is to require the country to provide money only a portion of which is to go for the object to which they intended to devote it.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I do not know whether the right honourable Gentleman conceives himself to be repeating my argument; if so, he has entirely misconstrued it. What I said was that when stocks are 110½ the larger your Sinking Fund the larger the amount that was absolutely wasted to produce no result in the payment of the Debt, an arithmetical proposition which even the right honourable Gentleman will not deny. I also said it was very important to pay off debt, that some loss would be made and the point was how great that loss was to be.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Then the loss is greater on the remaining £5,000,000 than on the £2,000,000 you 149 cut off, and this argument applies to the £5,000,000. Surely this argument is one which can be used by anybody who wants to reduce the £5,000,000; and so if you take off £2,000,000 more from that you will, at all events, have remedied the disadvantage to which you have referred.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Of course it is, and therefore this argument goes to the extent of the destruction of the fund by degree. It is like the old saying as to an artichoke, you take it off leaf by leaf, and at each suck this argument becomes equally applicable to taking more off the millions you have left. You are advancing an argument to defend your present position which entirely destroys the security of what you leave behind—I think that is the proposition. Well, that applies to the whole of the Sinking Fund that you leave behind. It is said, "Oh, this only applies when the Funds are at a high premium." I do not quite understand how that argument is applied. I think the funds were 96 when the First Lord of the Admiralty cut off the £3,000,000; they were below par, that was an argument for cutting off £3,000,000. When they are above par that is an argument for cutting off £2,000,000. Whether they are high or whether they are low, a Conservative Government is always ready to cut off millions from the Sinking Fund. Their whole defence rests on the price of Consols at this moment, and it is a futile defence which has no foundation in fact or proof. Let us look at it on the assumption of the right honourable Gentleman; he says that Consols being at a premium it is an evil to pay off debt.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Oh, pro tanto. Yes, that is the doctrine of the Government. It is pro tanto, always pro tanto, but it unfortunately happens your pro tanto is the Sinking Fund. I am obliged for the phrase. I might sum up your whole argument and in decent language call it a pro tanto argument.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Then we may take it pro tanto. Now, let us see and examine this price of Consols. According to your argument, the price of Consols will necessarily go up because as the Debt is paid off and there is a greater demand for Consols from various causes the price of Consols will become higher and the argument becomes stronger, because every pound your Consols rise is an additional argument for not paying off the Debt. Therefore, every argument put forward is a deliberate argument for the ultimate destruction of the Sinking Fund and the paying off the Debt. It is perfectly obvious that if Consols rise to 120 instead of 110 then this argument is conclusive. In the words of the right honourable Gentleman, that to provide for the payment of debt in these circumstances is not to be thought of. There is a great deal of fallacy about the price of Consols, and the able speech of the honourable Member for the Whitby Division, coming as it did from an authority in commercial matters, and from the other side of the House, is well worthy the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and of Her Majesty's Government. Everybody knows that Consols have risen from the causes that have led to the rise of all other securities—the prosperity of the country and the great savings of the people who are seeking investment; and it is a remarkable fact that although in the last two years you paid off a considerable amount of debt by purchase, if I am not wrong Consols are at a lower figure now than they were two years ago—I remember they were at 112 then; I think they were a little above—113 I think. To-day they stand at 3 per cent. lower than they did two years ago, and yet the Chancellor of the Exchequer says that he has paid off many millions of debt! It is a delusive argument altogether. If you are not going to pay off debt because Consols are at a premium, then you are not going to pay off debt at all. I do not think that even the return of the First Lord of the Admiralty to the Exchequer would bring Consols down again to 95. Consols ought to be cheaper, because I remember very well in those days, when he became 151 Chancellor of the Exchequer, they were at 100 and he succeeded in getting them down to 95, and I remember at that time telling him in this House he was the only buyer of his own Consols. If you lay down the proposition that it is a financial evil to pay off debt because Consols are at a premium, I say it amounts to this—that you do not mean to pay off debt at all. I do not mean to say the Chancellor of the Exchequer will say that, but there are a great many Gentlemen among those by whom he is surrounded who hold that doctrine and will press it upon him. Of that I am perfectly sure. Then another doctrine put forth in defence of this procedure is this. You say the Sinking Fund is to be reduced—this is one of the great arguments of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—in proportion to the reduction of debt. Why? Your means of reducing debt have increased; why, therefore, should your efforts to reduce debt still further be diminished? A more fallacious, a more unsound financial argument I never heard in my life. When the Debt was very heavy in the time of Robert Peel, you could not make great efforts to reduce it; all you could do was to make taxation tolerable to the people; but in proportion as your Debt has been reduced you become more capable in doing that for your own advantage and credit and the benefit of others who come after you of reducing debt. A more unsound and vicious financial principle there cannot be than that enunciated, that because of the proportion in which the Debt has been reduced you should diminish your efforts further to reduce it. When the burden is less upon you, then, therefore, without adding further weight or oppression to the people, you are able to do more for your own credit and the advantage of those who come after you. That is the third argument. Another most extraordinary argument is that the reduction is to be in proportion to the quantity of Consols in the market, and the right honourable Gentleman tells us this is a constantly diminishing quantity. Of course it is. If you go on reducing debt, if you go on increasing Savings Bank deposits, and if, in the accumulation of the wealth of the country, banks, insurance offices, and 152 other institutions demand a greater quantity of Consols, as they do, of course the quantity diminishes every day, and if you choose to lay down the principle that as they diminish you diminish your efforts to reduce debt, and you will diminish the Sinking Fund, and for its abolition that is an argument that becomes more powerful every day, and if the argument is good for anything it is for the constant and recurring diminution of the Sinking Fund for the reduction of the Debt. There is another argument that expenditure is larger and therefore provision should be less. A most dangerous argument. Your policy is piling up for posterity, for your immediate successors, a far greater expenditure than you are now indulging in. Who is going to pay the expense of the Cape and Cairo scheme? Why, those who come after you. The Under-Secretary of State the other day, expressing himself in the vulgar tongue, said, "You cannot do these things on the cheap." You cannot, that is perfectly true. This I will say for the English people, if they do intend to embark on undertakings of this character it is not their desire or intention to do so on the cheap. When it is done it must be done in a manner worthy of a great nation, and that means great expenditure in the future. You are only incurring the liability. It is those who come after you who will have to pay for it, and when you are embarking in an expenditure no man can measure you take the opportunity to cut off the provision which shall relieve them from the liabilities you are imposing upon them. I call that a mean and pusillanimous policy, totally unworthy of the people whom you represent. I have shown, I think, some reason for saying the arguments by which this proceeding is defended are themselves fatal, ultimately and necessarily fatal, to the provision for the liquidation of the Debt. But I am not speaking of arguments only, but of the example set by a man of whom I speak with sincere respect—the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. If he has had to yield to this temptation, I do not know the man who follows him who is likely to resist it. He enjoyed for four years abundant surpluses and no temptations, but in the fourth year the temptation came when he had a 153 deficit, and he fell. Whether he will be the man who will ultimately destroy what remains of the Sinking Fund it is impossible to predict. The virtue of a Chancellor of the Exchequer is very much like the virtue of a woman. It is only the first step that costs. After that it is hardly worth while to make a struggle for your reputation. But look at the consequences! Sir, I know something of this. I know the life a Chancellor of the Exchequer leads, who says in a moment of impulsive frankness when he was charged, I think by the Member for King's Lynn to-night, with having had extravagant Estimates and expenditure, "Oh; it was my colleagues." I have no doubt it was. He accepted, of course, the responsibility. But there is one argument which the Chancellor of the Exchequer can use to his colleagues. He said, "If you don't be reasonable, you will have to increase the taxation." That is a very convincing argument when nothing else will convince them. But when they can say to a Chancellor of the Exchequer, "You have only to steal a million or two more, or £3,000,000 more, from the Sinking Fund," the Chancellor of the Exchequer is defenceless, and that is what will happen. They will say, "Oh, in 1899 you cut off £2,000,000, why next year or the year after should you not cut off £2,000,000 more." A greater encouragement to public extravagance it is impossible to conceive, or one which justifies any Member of this House in his desire to embark the country in some additional expense. It is, in my opinion, a most fatal proceeding. The First Lord of the Treasury put a remarkable question yesterday. He asked, "If important additional taxation had been thrown on the public, whether that additional taxation would have been borne with patience or impatience." I have no doubt that was a question which greatly occupied the minds of the Cabinet when they were considering the Budget. He says, "It is a question we may all ask ourselves with advantage." No doubt they asked themselves that question with advantage, and the answer is to be found in the Budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They have answered it with what I will call the opposite quality to that of courage. They have come to the conclusion that 154 additional taxation would not be borne with patience, but with impatience, because they know that the opinion of the people of this country is not at the back of their expenditure, otherwise it would have been borne with patience, and not with impatience. I have learned a good deal from the speech of the right honourable Gentleman yesterday, though I was not at the meeting of the Primrose League.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
There is a fine moral sentiment conveyed in the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury. He says—it is easy to make speeches about the magnitude of the Empire, the greatness of the Navy, and other topics naturally dear to the national heart, and if We are not prepared when the time comes to pay any sacrifice which those great objects involve our patriotism is but lip service. It is worthless for every great national object; sooner or later—sooner, rather than later—its hollowness will become manifest to all the world, and we shall have to admit with shame when we talk of Empire, in perfect faith, no doubt, when we proclaim the blessings to the world at large which a commercial, peace-loving, and civilising Empire like ours confers, we are not prepared to carry the burdens which that Empire may carry with it.There is a picture of yourselves painted by yourselves! A Daniel come to judgment! The "white man's burden"! Yes, the "white man's burden" means the suspension of the Sinking Fund. And it is a comment on the principle of the "white man's burden" that we seek the glory, we claim the pride, but it is those who come after us who are to pay the expense. Well, Sir, I venture to say that we on this side of the House have earned a right to condemn such a policy as that. We at least did not in our time succumb to the temptations to which you have so weakly yielded. No doubt we had our faults. Yes, but we were incapable of your financial poltroonery. We were in a very different position from you. We had a weak and precarious majority. We were assailed by a, powerful, and, I will add, a violent Opposition. We had a, great deficit, and we were face to face with a falling revenue. You to-day calculate upon a rising revenue of 155 £2,000,000 this year. We felt it, our duty to prevent great Estimates, which resulted in a large deficit—a deficit as great as that which you had to encounter—and we had the honesty and the courage to meet it. What was your temptation to suspend the Sinking Fund compared with that which was offered to us with all our political and all our financial difficulties in those days? No, Sir, we believed that the country, when we demanded this expenditure, would support us by meeting it and making the necessary sacrifices. We did not resort to these fallacious pretexts for the purpose of escaping the liabilities which we called on the country to meet. We presented a scheme to meet the national liabilities, which received the assent of the House of Commons and the approval of the country.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
It was a financial scheme, which, by majorities of 13, we passed through the House of Commons, and which you, with your majority of 150, have not dared to alter. It is true that you have lived for four years on the proceeds of that financial scheme, and, now you have come to trust to your own resources—what are they? The cutting off of the provisions for the payment of the debt of the country. you have revelled in those surpluses. You have a, deficit, and how do you meet it? You meet it by running away. We trusted the public to make provision for our expenditure. You do not dare to trust the public, for you have shirked calling upon them to meet those liabilities. That is very different from what it was in the days of your Tory predecessors. It was on Primrose Day that this pusillanimous policy was displayed and defended by the First Lord of the Treasury. Sir, I remember the day when Tory finance was of a different character. In the year 1859, when Mr. Gladstone succeeded Mr. Disraeli, in times when the great French scare took place—now we always have scares; in those days they came at intervals; now they are chronic—Mr. Gladstone had to meet an increase for the Army and Navy of £5,000.000, and how did he do it? The income tax was 5d. He proposed to raise it to 9d. in that year, and collected the extra 4d. 156 in the six months. And in the year 1860 it was said that he took the produce of the long annuities in the time. But why did he take them? They were part of the great reconstruction of the whole of our commercial system in the treaty of commerce with France, which is the root and foundation of our present prosperity—that system which has been consecrated by the experience of 40 years. That was the provision that was made. And then Mr. Disraeli came forward and supported those proposals—and he used an argument which is well deserving of your attention and consideration—he said, in supporting his great opponent in those financial proposals—I would first, however, observe that, totally irrespective of the bad financial policy of raising unnecessarily in times of peace money by loan, I can imagine nothing more impolitic, as regards the opinion of Europe of our position, than at the present moment of pressure, when the amount of £4,000,000 to £5,000,000 is required to place the armaments of the country in a proper state, to make it appear that this powerful country is unable to defray such an expenditure without resorting to extraordinary measures.And now, when the country is twice as rich as it was then, and when its resources are infinitely greater, and you are called upon to meet an additional expenditure of £4,000,000 or £5,000,000, you resort to these extreme measures. You are the unworthy successors of the man you met to celebrate yesterday. There was a soundness about the finance of those times which seems entirely wanting now. As to this Budget, of course it appeals to what I will call the lower and more selfish instincts of mankind. Nothing could be more agreeable to the taxpayer than that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should come and preach the doctrine, "Spend what you like; we will not call upon you to pay for it." That is certainly very likely to be an agreeable utterance. But, if you think that financial principles of this kind will commend themselves to the deliberate judgment of the English people, you greatly mistake the temper of the nation. They respect men who call upon them to make the sacrifices which are necessary for the national advantage; but they expect that those men should treat them with confidence, 157 and should tell them what is the price that they ought to pay for it. You may carry this Budget, as you will, by the majority you possess. You know already that, even in this House among your own supporters, there are men who doubt its wisdom and its policy. There are many outside too—men who know on what principles the safety of a commercial nation and the glory of a great people depend—who will not approve of this wretched shift to which you have resorted. And, though we may not be able to save the Sinking Fund, at least we may enter our protest on behalf of the Party to which we belong against what I can only call an ignominious Budget.
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I think that the Question asked by my right honourable Friend yesterday—namely, whether the people were patient or impatient of taxation—was not entirely absent from the mind of the right honourable Gentleman during the speech to which we have just listened. He has expressed the opinion that the proposal to reduce the fixed Debt charge is necessarily and inevitably fatal to the Sinking Fund. We may appeal, I think, to the fact that the price of Consols has not been in the slightest degree affected by that proposal. The right honourable Gentleman drew a contrast between these proposals and the action of the Government, of which he was a Member, some years ago. He accused us of financial poltroonery; and he held himself and his colleagues up as patterns of honesty in their financial Measures. But, Sir, the right honourable Gentleman himself has three times been responsible for a suspension of the Sinking Fund.
§ Sir W. HARCOURT shook his head.
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
There are people, I know, who look upon the Sinking Fund as a sort of financial Ark of the Covenant—a thing which, in no circumstances, is to be touched. That is not the view of the right honourable Gentleman, or of any responsible person in this House, or in the country. It is universally admitted—and it is the great argument in defence of the Sinking Fund—that, 158 in case of war, the whole of the Sinking Fund must be suspended.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I said so in my speech; and I read from a Treasury Minute, in which it was stated that a temporary suspension of the Sinking Fund for national emergencies was perfectly justifiable.
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Certainly; and I am not arguing that a temporary suspension is the same thing as the proposal which I have made. I am only contending that the Sinking Fund is not in itself the inviolable thing which some speakers and writers appear to imagine it to be. It is admitted that, in a war, the whole of it would be suspended; and it is also admitted that in a time of trial, quite apart from war, the Sinking Fund might be temporarily suspended. The right honourable Gentleman has done that himself, and quite rightly. I am not at all finding fault with his action. But supposing I had made a proposal of the kind, supposing I had come down to the House, and said: "Our expenditure, mainly for warlike purposes, has enormously increased this year, and will be largely increased next year, mainly on account, as the Committee are aware, of the new Naval Programme which was inaugurated last year—I propose that in consideration of these circumstances, and considering we are, as the honourable Baronet the Member for Cocker-mouth has said, practically in a time of peace presenting a war Budget, that the new Sinking Fund should be suspended for two years." I really believe that for that proposal I would have had the blessing of the right honourable Gentleman.
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I think I would have got an affirmative answer to that. Now, Sir, I am accused of cowardice in having made the proposal which I have placed before the House. It would have been perfectly possible for me to have made the alternative proposal that I have suggested. But why did I not do so? Because I have not made this proposal of the reduction of the, fixed Debt charge 159 in order to meet the deficit of the year. Honourable Members, and the right honourable Gentleman himself, throughout this Debate have treated this matter as if I had taken up this question solely with reference to this year's deficit. Honourable Members may believe me or not, but I can assure them that it is absolutely contrary to the fact. I have had this very difficult question of the proper amount of the fixed Debt charge, and the arrangement for the reduction of our Debt, under consideration for more than two years. I was very nearly making a similar proposal last year to the House. And why did I not? Because, in the first place, I thought it was rather too far distant from the period with which I desire to deal—namely, 1902. And, in the second place, because I remembered what was said of my right honourable Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty when he made a, proposal for reducing the fixed Debt charge, and through that operation was able to remit taxation. If any one looks back to the Debates of that year, he will see that the right honourable Gentleman the Member for West Mon-mouth, who denounces me so vigorously to-night, and Mr. Gladstone, both argued that the crime which my right honourable Friend then committed was not so much that he proposed to reduce the provision for the redemption of the Debt—they admitted that that might be sometimes necessary—but that he proposed to reduce it in order to remit taxation. And I felt that if last year, when I had a surplus, I was to make that proposal, I should have been met with the same objection, which, to my mind, was not entirely an unreasonable objection. But I had this matter still under my consideration, and having made up my mind to deal with it, it is only a coincidence that I have dealt with it in a year in which there is a deficit. I am accused of cowardice, but I knew perfectly well what would be said of me when I brought it forward. If I believed, as I do believe, that the present arrangements for the reduction of the Debt cannot be maintained consistently with the permanent maintenance of the Sinking Fund system, then I should have been guilty of cowardice, and I should have been shirking my duty if I had hesitated in bringing this proposal forward from fear of abuse. The 160 honourable Member for Haddington, who spoke earlier in the evening, showed, I think, a fairer estimate of the difficulties of the question than the right honourable Gentleman who has just sat down. There are difficulties in this matter which are new: there can be no doubt of that. In the first place, the only kind of debt with which we can now deal in the reduction of the Debt is Consols. Two and a Half per Cents. are a very small amount. They are largely in the hands of Government Departments: they are rarely on the market; and therefore the only kind of debt in which we can operate to any extent in order to reduce the Debt is Consols. In the second place, the premium on Consols has been continuously high for several years—more than 110 and 112, and although that premium has been so high, I am in a position which Chancellors of the Exchequer were not in some years ago. I cannot avail myself of that premium in order to convert the Debt and reduce the rate of interest. As the Committee are aware, Consols cannot be reduced until 1923. And, in the third place, we have as our competitors in the Consol market, when we are entering that market to reduce the Debt, enormous sums required to be invested for the deposits in the Savings Banks. I saw with surprise a statement attributed to Lord Welby the other day, that it is not the business of the Government to find investments for the people. Why, to the tune of something like eight or nine mllions a year we have to find investments for the Savings Banks money, and we are limited by law for those investments to Consols, and to such Government securities as may from time to time be available, like the Local Loans Stock, or the recent Guaranteed Greek Loan. Now, the honourable and learned Member for Haddingtonshire saw the difficulty which apparently the right honourable Gentleman does not see. He saw the difficulty of continuing to buy Consols at a premium, and he said—If you want to reduce your Debt, do not reduce your Sinking Fund. Why not set up more Terminable Annuities with the two millions by which you propose to reduce the fixed Debt charge.I will tell the honourable and learned Gentleman why. The total amount of 161 Consols held by the Commissioners of the National Debt on account of the Savings Banks is 103 millions. If I were to apply that two millions a year to terminable annuities which would expire in 1923, which is not a short term, I should have to cancel no less than 60 millions of Consols. I am about to cancel 15 millions as it is, and that would be 75 millions in all. I do not think anyone would contend that it would be right for those who are in charge of the Savings Banks Fund to lock up in terminable annuities so large an amount of their funds as 75 millions out of 103. Then the honourable and learned Gentleman has suggested—Why do you not lend this money to India or to the municipalities?I will tell the honourable and learned Gentleman. Because we could not get it back again when it would be wanted. The time when this money might be best employed in redeeming Consols is the time when Consols can be redeemed at par, and I know that the Indian Government would not be willing to incur large liabilities to this country on the understanding that they must produce the money at a certain date. And for obvious reasons. There might be a famine or there might be a war which might make it impossible for them to redeem that pledge. And so far as regards the municipalities, all that is possible in that way is now done through the Local Loans Fund. We lend money at 2¾ per cent., and there are very few municipalities that can borrow on better terms. And, therefore, I venture to say that the suggestion of the honourable and learned Gentleman is one impossible to be carried out in connection with the Sinking Fund for the National Debt. I admit, however, that with regard to the Savings Banks deposits, this question is a very fair matter for consideration. The Savings Banks are very dangerous competitors with us in the Consol market, and if Parliament should think fit to extend the power of investment of the Savings Banks deposits no doubt the Consol market might be relieved, but I would warn honourable Members that that is not so simple as it seems. Because, after all, we guarantee the Savings Banks depositors, and the Savings Banks depositors must be content with a low 162 rate of interest; and if in place of investing in our Funds this money that we guarantee, we invested it in inferior securities yielding a better interest, the depositor would think that he ought to have a higher rate of interest than now. I think that the honourable and learned Gentleman will see that that involves some little danger to the Savings Banks. But I do not deny that the matter is one well deserving of consideration, and I think that it ought to be considered at an early date. But now, as it is, we are face to face with the difficulties to which I have alluded. I listened most attentively to the speech of the right honourable Gentleman, but I failed quite to understand whether he really contends that the fixed Debt charge should never be reduced at all, until the Debt is paid off. That is really the crux of the question. It is a question of principle. If the right honourable Gentleman holds that view, I can only say, with due respect, that I absolutely disagree with him.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I cannot answer that question. We may be paying off Debt of a hundred or two hundred years.
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Yes; but it is a question that will arise much sooner than that. The right honourable Gentleman, I am sure, if he looks at it fairly, instead of dealing with more general arguments, will see that that is the real difficulty. He admits that the Consol market is narrow, and I have shown the difficulty of investment. I think the right honourable Gentleman feels himself the difficulty. But supposing the fixed Debt charge had never been reduced from 28 millions, supposing it were to remain at that figure for some years to come, why, Consols would be much higher than now. It must be obvious that the effect of applying a largely increasing annual amount of many millions a year to the purchase of Consols, both by increasing the demand, and by putting more Consols in the hands of the Government, should raise the price of Consols. If you go on until you have to invest 12 or 15 millions a year in Consols, instead of six, or seven, or eight millions, long before you get to that point Consols would be prac- 163 tically unpurchaseable. I will venture to add that it never was expected or intended by those who discussed the question when the Fixed Debt Charge was initiated that it should permanently remain at £28,000,000. Nobody who looks back will find a more able speech than the one by Mr. Gladstone against the whole scheme. Mr. Gladstone showed—and, it appears to me, with an experience nobody else possessed—Mr. Gladstone showed how in 1819 it was decided to appropriate a fixed amount of five or six millions annually to the redemption of the Debt, and how that broke down. He showed how Sir George Cornewall Lewis's plan also broke down. And let me refer to what the right honourable Gentleman said with regard to the contrast between Mr. Disraeli's finance and our own in this matter. In the year 1858 Mr. Disraeli had an estimated deficit of nearly £4,000,000. In the same year the income tax was due to fall from 7d. to 5d., and if he had acted on the proposition we are now asked to act upon, his obvious course would have been to postpone the reduction of the income tax, which would have increased his revenue by £1,000,000. But he rejected that course, and he decided to abolish the Sinking Fund established by Sir George Cornewall Lewis, which was to come into operation that year, and that reduced his expenditure by £1,500,000. That is the contrast with our action which the right honourable Gentleman makes. But that is not all. Mr. Gladstone warmly endorsed Mr. Disraeli's action, and when the next year came, and he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, no doubt he increased the income tax, but why did he not reduce the Sinking Fund? Why, because with his full approbation, Mr. Disraeli had abolished it already. The very next year he availed himself of the falling in of £2,000,000 of what were called the Long Annuities for the purpose of the reduction of taxation, and we are now asked—in spite of these examples which the right honourable Gentleman has held up to us as worthy of our imitation, as convicting us of cowardice and degeneration—we are now asked to add to the income tax in order to maintain the amount devoted to the reduction of debt at a sum far beyond anything hitherto devoted to it, and at a sum which will, 164 in my belief, before many years are over render it impossible to redeem the Debt at all. I was quoting Mr. Gladstone's opinions on the subject of the Fixed Debt Charge. Mr. Gladstone showed how all fixed appropriations had broken down. Sir Stafford Northcote answered—If the circumstances of the country should materially alter, it would only be right that we should take steps to take off that which we now propose to put on, in view of the present and probable immediate future of the country. … We were now paying off our Debt, so far as the terminable annuities were concerned, at the rate of £3,700,000 per annum, and all that he asked the House to do was to sanction the continuance of the present burden on the country until circumstances should arise when it might become prudent for the Government of the day to propose a change in the scheme. … It was impossible to bind the country for all time. … There were undoubtedly two limitations to the Government proposal. One was that, if a time should arrive when it would be impossible with advantage to get stock enough to redeem it would be open to the Finance Minister of the day to propose some different legislation; and the other limitation was that if a time came when our circumstances greatly altered, and when we were called upon to make far greater exertions than at present, then we should have in this system a reserve which could be easily and properly made applicable.Well, Sir, I maintain that both these circumstances affect us at the present moment. I contend it is reasonable to hold that the present taxpayers are entitled to have some advantage from the reduction of the rate of interest on the Debt. I think the House almost unanimously admitted, when my right honourable Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty was Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he was right, when the interest on Consols was reduced by ¼ per cent., in giving the taxpayers of the day some benefit from the reduction. I maintain the proposition, in spite of what the right honourable Gentleman said to-night, that the taxpayers of to-day are also entitled to some reasonable benefit from the reduction of interest arising out of the reduction of the amount of the Debt. I am told I am sacrificing my own virtue to save the virtue of the Chancellor of the Exchequer of 1902. I argued the other night that he would be perfectly justified in devoting £2,000,000 of the terminable annuities which would then fall in to the benefit of the taxpayers of the day, and he would also be justified in 1903 in 165 devoting the reduction of the rate of interest on Consols that would occur to the benefit of the taxpayers of the day. But, I contend, I am equally justified in anticipating that £2,000,000 from 1902. I gave the reasons the other night; but, having done so, I am also bound to provide that the Fixed Debt Charge shall not again be reduced on account of those terminable annuities in 1902, by prolonging, as I propose to prolong, those terminable annuities to a later day. That is practically what I have proposed to the Committee. I do not want, considering the lateness of the hour, to continue the discussion of this complicated matter to-night. I will venture only to say that I do not think that what I have proposed deserves in any degree the censure of the right honourable Gentleman, that it still retains for the purpose of reduction of the Debt nearly £6,000,000, almost indentically the sum he himself said was sufficient to devote to the reduction of of the Debt in the year 1886–87. If I do not propose to increase the taxation of the country in order still further to increase that sum, I can only say I do not believe that in that action I am doing anything that will really interfere with a reasonable and persistent reduction of the Debt. On the contrary, I am convinced that if the policy which the right honourable Gentleman has suggested to-night were carried out the time would very soon arrive when the people would be disgusted at paying for Consols an infinitely greater premium than they do now, when the whole scheme would fall through, and the Sinking Fund which he desires to defend would be entirely abolished.
§ *MR. FLETCHER MOULTON (Cornwall, Launceston)
I should feel quite ashamed of intervening in a contest in in which such great magnates as the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer have just been engaged if I did not feel that there was in this question a side which concerns others than Chancellors of the Ex- 166 chequer. I refer to the honour of the English nation, which in my view of the case is at stake, and which concerns us all equally. And I have this advantage, that I propose to speak of this matter as a thing concerning our national duty, and when I look on the other side of the House I see very many faces that I know in other relations of life, men who sustain a high position in business, and to whom I should appeal among the very first if I wanted to prevent in ordinary business life the carrying out of such proposals as we are asked to sanction as a nation. I am satisfied that if it were not for the pressure of Party there would be no stronger supporters of the policy of maintaining the existing system of paying off the National Debt than the honourable Members who sit on the Benches opposite. I propose to commence by considering for one moment the question of the ground on which we pay off National Debt at all. In my opinion, no nation has a right to put a mortgage on posterity. You have no right to say that each generation shall come into existence burdened with heavy debts, in the contraction of which it has had no word; but you have a right to say, that inasmuch as the events of a nation's life are very various, inasmuch as at times we have long spells of peace purchased by the courage and sacrifice which have borne us through dangerous times of war, you are entitled to require that there shall be a fair averaging of the expenses of a nation over a series of years, so as to equalise the demands made upon it by reason of these ups and downs of its national career. Take the case of the English Nation. Nearly 100 years ago it had a long spell of war. I am not for a moment going to say that the expenditure incurred in those long Continental and other wars was not of a most extraordinary kind, justifying the spreading of the total expense over a long series of years by the process of borrowing. But I do say that a very short war now would cause quite as much expenditure 167 as those 60 years of almost continuous war that marked the reign of George III. The consequence is we have not here to deal with expenditure which was so completely exceptional that we must abandon all the laws of average. We have no right to say that such an expenditure cannot happen more than once in the lifetime of a nation, and therefore there is nothing that would justify our allowing the burden to remain in perpetuity. We must therefore take care that by our national arrangements we shall reduce the Debt in times of peace, so that it does not burden the nation for a longer series of years than is warranted by the character of the expenditure that caused it. Does the present charge exceed what is reasonable for this purpose? At the time the Debt was at its height what was the amount of the Debt charge on the English nation? The amount was at least as great as the utmost we have ever asked should be applied to the reduction of the Debt. In other words, all we have ever asked is that the Debt charge as it was then should be maintained until this Debt is wiped off. This is surely no unreasonable demand, and no less will enable us to discharge the Debt within the period in which, in fairness to the future of our nation, it ought to be paid off. I contend that this matter is not only apart from Party, but that both Parties in the State ought seriously to support the Government of the day in making full provision for thus paying off the Debt. This is necessary because it is impossible to go to the ordinary voter and explain to him the complicated reasons of State that make it necessary to maintain the national credit. We must act in this matter regardless whether the right course be popular or not. Let me not be misunderstood in saying this. I do not say that we act in this assembly from higher motives than the English nation act, but I say that we have to apply those high motives that we believe actuate the nation to more complicated questions than can be brought before the constituencies as a whole, so that they 168 can form a judgment on them. And thus it ought to be the pride of both Parties to let it be known to every Government that they would have no support from either side if they ventured to lower the standard of our efforts in the discharge of national obligations. And this includes the payment of capital indebtedness as well as interest. If you pay the interest on the Debt only, you are not discharging the national obligations; you are only postponing them. You are leaving just as great a burden upon those who come after, who will be yet farther removed from the causes which led to the contraction of the Debt than ourselves, and who will rightly say they ought not to bear in this unmitigated way the burden of a Debt incurred long ago by their remote ancestors. Surely it ought to be the duty of all of us to resist the temptation, and to strengthen the hands of Governments in resisting the temptation to ease monetary taxation by means of abandoning the repayment of the Debt. I have pointed out that the amount that we at present repay annually is lower to the extent of £5,000,000 to £8,000,000 than the Debt charge was at the time of the contraction of the Debt. But there is another consideration which shows that our rate of payment off is too low rather than too high. If we had chosen to maintain the fixed Debt charge as it was when at its highest the Debt would have disappeared in about 150 years, and I would ask the House if it really considers that 150 years is too short a period for the discharge of a Debt which we are every moment liable to recontract; because no one doubts that if a serious war broke out in these days of costly warfare, the huge Debt we have more or less got rid of would be surpassed by the new Debt we should almost immediately contract. But I will not dwell further upon this point, because I do not believe for one moment that there is a feeling in this House or in the country that the amount we have devoted to the repayment of the Debt is too large. The arguments of the Chan- 169 cellor of the Exchequer in support of its reduction have not been mainly based upon an appeal to any such feeling. They have been much more specious. He has suggested that at the present time Consols are much above par, and that therefore it is uneconomical to spend the national money in purchasing them to reduce the Debt. He suggests that it would be more prudent to defer our efforts until 1920, when they can be purchased at par. I do not think that any one of the excuses that have been put forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in favour of his device for avoiding taxation has produced any effect either inside this House or outside it, except this one, and it merits some analysis, which I know perfectly well that the audience to which I am speaking will be able readily to follow. What is the cause of Consols being above par? It is due to two causes, and it represents two totally different influences. If you look at the price of Consols, you will find that they remained a little below par rather than above par from the date of their conversion until the last four years. Then an extraordinary change took place. They rose steadily to something like £111 or £112. What was the reason for that? The first and main reason was unquestionably the fall in the natural rate of return for pure investment. I mean by that phrase the annual rate per cent. you get for the use of money when the security is so perfect that there is no risk whatever tending to increase that rate. At present it is customary to talk of this rate of interest for pure investment as being 2½ or 2¾ per cent. per annum. But this rise in the price of Consols during the last four years shows that it is not so. In about 24 years these Consols can be redeemed at par, yet at present they stand at some 11 per cent. above par. In other words, the world recognises that the present rate per cent. for Consols is about a half per cent. more than the true rate per cent, when there is no risk. But we cannot take advantage of this fall in the rate per cent. for another 24 years. 170 This was one of the conditions of the conversion. In other words, we are paying at this present moment a half per cent. more than the natural interest when there is no risk at all, and we must continue to do so for the next 24 years unless we get rid of the obligation by purchasing at the higher price and cancelling them. The Chancellor of the Exchequer shrinks from purchasing Consols above par, as though the excess above par was money thrown away. I appeal to any honourable Gentleman with the slightest commercial knowledge that this is a fallacy. Supposing a man has undertaken to pay 6 per cent. on a certain sum of money lent for 10 years certain, so that he is not to be allowed to redeem it for 10 years, and he wants to get rid of the liability, does he not know that he must pay for that obligation far more than the mere capital value of the money to be repaid, because he has undertaken to pay a rate per cent. which is higher than the natural rate per cent. for a certain number of years? Therefore, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer is afraid to pay more than the par value of Consols lest he should be throwing away national money, he has shut his eyes to the fact that he is getting rid not only of the capital liability, but also of the burdensome obligation of paying a rate per cent. during the intervening years higher than the natural rate for perfectly secure investments. Is anybody going to say that this furnishes a reason for our not purchasing them at the present moment? We are purchasing them at their true and fair value so far as this extra premium on Consols represents the extra rate per cent. that we promise to pay, and if that were the only cause which enhances Consols it ought not to make the Chancellor of the Exchequer pause for one moment in redeeming them as fast as possible. But there is another cause at work. It is quite possible to force a particular security above its natural financial value by giving to it certain privileges, or—what amounts to the same—by subjecting rival securities 171 to certain disabilities. This cause has undoubtedly been at work. Our statutes as to the securities in which Government funds may be invested are so restrictive that they force up Consols beyond their natural price. Take the case of the savings banks. They are only allowed to invest in Consols or like securities. This immediately creates a special market for Consols alone, which drives them to something above their value, because, although there may be other securities of equal value as securities, they do not command an equal price, because they may not be used by the savings banks for the purpose of investments. The same thing took place in America when the National Banks were obliged to deposit a certain number of bonds of the Federal debt as security in return for the status they enjoyed. This gave a special value to these bonds, which raised their price higher than their economic value would have warranted. I quite agree that the present price of Consols may be affected by this cause, although the influence cannot have yet become very marked owing to the vast amount of Consols that exist at the present time. But I appeal to the House as to whether this is not a problem which a Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to feel it his duty, as well as his privilege, to attack by some other method, and not make it a cowardly excuse for reducing the Sinking Fund. It is one that must be solved. Are we going to allow something like £500,000,000 or £600,000,000 to remain as a burden on posterity in this country, which may not have the same wealth as we have, simply because we are going to stick to a principle which drives Consols to a, false value? It is not a matter which arises only when you spend £7,000,000 a year in the reduction of Debt. Even if you apply not £7,000,000, but £5,000,000, or £3,000,000, or £2,000,000 regularly to the reduction of the Debt, you must thereby lessen the amount of Consols, and the price will go up if the present restrictions remain. It is therefore a 172 difficulty which must be met, otherwise the possibility of reducing the Debt during the next 20 years will absolutely go. If you are going to meet it, I ask what better time can there be for a Chancellor of the Exchequer to solve this problem than a time which the right honourable Gentleman describes as one of unexampled prosperity, when you have no special difficulties to face, and when you have a Government with such a large majority that it can secure the adoption of the method it selects. That is a moment at which you ought to deal with this problem, which must necessarily affect to a serious degree the removal of our present National Debt. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, by his action in diminishing the Debt charge because the price of Consols is high is attempting to delude the country by making it appear that these difficulties are insoluble, when they are the very questions Ministers are put in office to solve. I listened with the greatest patience and the greatest interest to every word that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his Budget speech. I listened to-night to all he has said in defence of the Budget, and what does it all amount to? He professes to be a strong supporter of the principle of reducing the Debt, and he says, in a tone of sincerity which indicates that the first person he has deceived is himself, that he has lowered the amount that is to be used this year for the extinction of the Debt because he hopes thereby to prevent his successors from further lowering it. It is a strange instance of self-delusion. He has not only rendered it easier to his successors to still further reduce it by setting them this bad example, but he has done it in a way which proclaims the doctrine that it ought so to be reduced from time to time without giving any principle to guide us as to when and to what extent it should be done. This leaves it as an expedient ready to hand for any Government that seeks to avoid unpopularity, and it is one that will be most largely used by 173 the worst Governments, for it is they who are driven to purchase support. The only true way to reduce the Debt as the national honour requires is to adopt some system which is to be adhered to in good times and in bad times, unless there comes some overmastering necessity which makes us momentarily depart from it. But for the self-sacrifice of those who preceded us our charge for interest on the Debt would have been heavier than the whole Debt charge at this moment. We have reduced it from £28,000,000 to £25,000,000, and now it is to be reduced to £23,000,000. If each year you are going to consider what is convenient in this matter from the point of view of the political exigencies of the moment, we shall very soon abandon all serious attempt to carry out the repayment of the Debt. The true explanation of the decision of the Government to reduce the sum appropriated to the repayment of the Debt is not that which they have given, but a far different one. It is that we have a Government that dare not tax the poor and will not tax the rich, and who therefore prefer to lower the standard of national effort in the discharge of national obligations, rather than risk the momentary unpopularity of meeting increased expenditure by correspondingly increased taxation.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolved, That the Duty of Customs now payable on Tea shall continue to be charged, levied, and paid on and after the first day of August, one thousand eight hundred and ninety-nine, until the first day of August, one thousand nine hundred, on the importation thereof into Great Britain or Ireland (that is to say);—
§ Tea the pound Four Pence.