§ [SECOND READING.]
§ [SECOND DAY'S DEBATE.]
§ Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Amendment proposed to Question [12th May], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
Which Amendment was—
To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'this House declines to impose Customs duties upon grain, Hour, and other articles of the first necessity for the food of the people.'—(Sir William Harcourt.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ *(2.25.) MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the course of this debate, has referred to myself and something I wrote in reference to the corn tax, and has endeavoured to show that under the circumstances I at any rate ought not to oppose the re-imposition of the tax. I do not desire to trouble the House again by any reference to myself, but I must say that I think the right hon. Gentleman is somewhat unfortunate in his authority when he shelters himself behind Sir Robert Peel and Mr. Gladstone. The Government, indeed, are very fond of sheltering themselves behind somebody, but I think that my right hon. friends the Members for West Monmouthshire and East Wolverhampton have both conclusively shown that neither Mr. Gladstone nor Sir Robert Peel considered this tax in the light we are now asked to consider it. Sir Robert Peel imposed this duty as a purely nominal one, and Mr. Gladstone re-enacted it as an entirely provisional one. But we know that now it is not intended to be either nominal or temporary—it is, in fact, to be permanent. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech last night seemed to me to endeavour to draw a red herring across our path. He complained that my right hon. friend and those who support this Amendment had not suggested any alternative taxation to that which they asked the House to repudiate. I do not think that that is a fair taunt as regards the Opposition on the present occasion. We have always argued that not only is the right hon. Gentleman putting taxation on in the wrong way, but that he is not imposing 37 sufficient taxation to meet the cost of the war. We have always said that there ought to be more taxation and less money borrowed. The Government admit that this is not a war tax, but that it is to be permanent, and is intended to meet the increasing ordinary expenditure of the nation. I confess it seems to me a totally new doctrine which the right hon. Gentleman has laid down that we are not entitled to criticise a tax without suggesting some alternative with regard to taxation. I can show the fallacy of that position. Hon. Members on that side as well as on this side of the House ventured to criticise the cheque tax, and it was withdrawn. Surely the right hon. Gentleman will not go so far as to say we were not entitled to criticise that tax without suggesting something to put in its place. It seems to me we are fully justified in criticising the right hon. Gentleman's proposals for taxation without offering any alteration. But, as a matter of fact, my right hon. friends and other Members have suggested alternative taxation to that proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. We are all agreed on this side of the House when you have a war expenditure of this sort, and more especially an increased peace expenditure, that we must extend and alter our system of taxation, and must raise a certain proportion of that taxation not only from direct but from indirect taxation. My right hon. friend the Member for East Wolverhampton pointed out one or two branches of revenue which, if they had been taken one by one, would have enabled this small sum of £2,500,000 to be obtained without raising the important issue which this corn tax necessarily brings to the front.
I ventured to say on the first night of the Budget debate that it is one thing to renew a tax and quite another thing to impose it. The right hon. Gentleman did not seem able to appreciate that position. He says that if a tax is good at one time it is good at another. That, however, is a financial principle from which I entirely dissent. Will the right hon. Gentleman remember this : that this tax, when it was put on, was put on simply, solely, and distinctly as a registration duty? Sir Robert Peel imposed it in order to meet the cost of registration, but I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not contend that it is necessary to maintain the duty or to put it 38 on again for mere registration purposes. As Mr. Lowe said, you might just as well burn down your house in order to roast a pig as to keep the duty on for purely administrative purposes. This duty was continued as a nominal duty, but, seeing that the right hon. Gentleman proposes that that shall bring in £2,500,000, surely he will not contend that it is now to be a nominal duty. There is all the difference in the world between an existing tax and a new tax. To an existing tax trade gets accustomed, but a new tax necessarily disturbs trade. And again, when the right hon. Gentleman says that because a tax, when it was in existence for a long period, did not affect prices, therefore prices will not be affected when a new tax is put on, it seems to me he is putting forward an entirely fallacious proposition. I do not wish to put the matter too high. I have no doubt that this small tax will not very materially affect prices in particular districts and under particular circumstances, but unfortunately many of us think that this is only the first step, and we realise that in these cases it is not the first step that costs. The danger of subsequent additions is a real danger, and therefore we wish to enter our protest at the earliest possible moment.
The right hon. Gentleman has changed his ground in regard to this matter. In his Budget speech he said the duty would not affect prices, and that the prices of bread and flour would not go up. Last night he took quite a different view. He admitted that in many cases bread, and in all cases flour, had risen in price, but he attributed the increase not to the new tax but to the shortage in the crop of corn. That shortage, however, existed when he made his Budget speech and when he said there would be no rise in consequence of the tax. I will say this: If it is true that the shortage in corn has increased the price of bread, it is quite certain that that shortage and that increased price have been aggravated by the additional 1s. per quarter duty on corn. The right hon. Gentleman further said that the bakers had taken the opportunity of the tax to put up prices, but surely it must be very bad finance to give an excuse to a large trade dealing 39 in the necessaries of life to put up the prices in consequence of a tax which you have imposed. The right hon. Gentleman dealt in simile last night. He said the cup was full, and this tax had made it overflow. But it is very bad domestic economy when you make the cup overflow. You only make a mess, and you do not gain anything. It is very provoking, no doubt, that some bakers and millers should have put up their prices. The right hon. Gentleman has ignored flour very largely, but I do not think he will deny that a shilling per sack has been put on that universally, and that means not only an extra shilling per sack on foreign corn, but the English millers are also getting the additional shilling for English flour, which means putting the money entirely into their pockets. No doubt it is inconsiderate of the bakers to put up prices, but, after all, bakers, like Chancellors of the Exchequer, must live, and in many cases this additional tax had so reduced their profits as to make it necessary to put up prices. I will admit that the increase of price on bread has not been universal, although, as far as I can make out, it is absolutely universal with regard to flour throughout the country. That. I think, the right hon. Gentleman will admit must have added to the price of bread where there is domestic baking which is pretty universal in the North. The right hon. Gentleman says that the prices are only the same as they were a year ago, but that means that if he had not put on the tax the price of flour would have been a shilling per sack less now. The right hon. Gentleman admitted this, and tried to minimise the fact. He quoted statistics relating to a number of cities, and of co-operative societies. I do not know on what basis he made his selection, but I do not suppose that he chose the societies which were likely to have put up their prices. He said that in the cases of only thirty-two societies out of 284, the prices of bread had gone up ½d. But that was only about one-fifth of the total number of co-operative societies in the country, and if we adopt the same proportion for the whole of them, we have at least 160 societies which have already increased the price of bread. Each of these societies represents some thousands of working 40 men, and to that extent the working classes have been prejudiced by the tax. I was rather struck by what the right hon. Gentleman said in regard to these societies. He said the price of their loaf generally was 5d. per quartern, and he congratulated himself that that was a moderate price. As a matter of fact, it is a very high price, and these are the last loaves on which this tax would have any effect. This is an illustration of the ignorance which the right hon. Gentleman has shown throughout these debates of the domestic economy of the working classes, who will be really affected by this tax. This matter is not by any means a question of the rise in price of either flour or bread. Is it a fact that if this tax had not been imposed in a large number of cases the prices would have fallen instead of rising? I should just like to quote one or two sentences from the bakers' own paper to which the right hon. Gentleman referred the other day. I find in it this statement with regard to the bread tax—that in many cases the time was ripe for a fall in prices for the higher priced bread, and that this fall was now averted—thanks to the tax.
I contend that the right hon. Gentleman is not entitled to confine his attention to the districts where the price of bread has not been raised; he has to meet the argument that if it had not been for this tax, in a very large number of cases the price would have been reduced. Then, it ought to be remembered by this House that, in the northern districts of the country especially, a vast number of the working classes bake their own bread, and in many cases they will not rent rooms or a cottage in which there is not a baking oven. On all these people the weight of this tax, plus something additional, has already been imposed. I do not wish to go over the ground as to the effect this tax will have on the poorest classes of this country. Though it may be true, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that their consumption of bread will not be diminished, this tax, so far as it affects the price, will curtail their comforts or their necessities in other respects.
Now I come to the question of Protection. The right hon. Gentleman says that this tax will not protect. But he cannot deny 41 that it is a Protective tax. Surely the definition of that is that it will give advantage to one producer over another : one is taxed, while the other is free. Let us, if the right hon. Gentleman chooses, call it a "sort" of Protection. It is Protection of some sort, and we have learned from experience that a "sort" of war—as the Lord Chancellor called the war now going on—is as expensive as real war when it is going on. The right hon. Gentleman forgets that in regard to this matter he has raised the whole question of Protection. The difference between the present duty and the former tax was that at the time the latter was repealed it was a moribund tax, and it was the last remnant of a discarded and discredited Protective system, whereas it is now being reintroduced, and constitutes, as many of us believe, the first step towards some further system of Protection. We have during this debate been endeavouring to get some light from Members of the Government, and I shall be glad if the Secretary to the Treasury, who is going to follow me, or the Leader of the House, who will probably speak later on, will give me a clear and specific answer to three plain questions. First, what is the definition of a Protective duty? We have never had that properly laid down.
§ * MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
That is somewhat inadequate, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will kindly develop the answer a little. We should be very glad to have from him his real definition of a Protective tax. That, however, is a comparatively small matter. There are two other matters of paramount importance. The right hon. Gentleman says a Protective duty is a duty which protects. What I want to ask is this : At what stage will this corn duty cease to be non-Protective? The right hon. Gentleman says it is not Protective at 1s. Is it Protective at 2s.?
§ * MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
I say that this tax, however small it may be, is in essence a Protective tax. I am not proposing the tax, and I do not see that the right hon. Gentleman has any right to catechise me as to my definition or my views. On the other hand, we have a perfect right to catechise him and the Government, as they are proposing the tax, and therefore I want to know if he will answer my questions. Does he say that at 1s. a tax is not a Protective one?
§ * MR SYDNEY BUXTON
Does it cease to be non-Protective at 2s.? Is it non-Protective at 3s.? When does it become Protective?
§ * MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
At no point does it cease to be Protective in essence. Will the right hon. Gentleman understand that I am not proposing the tax? I want to know at what point does this tax cease to be non-Protective. In my opinion, in the years to come it is going to increase. At what point will it become Protective? The right hon. Gentleman says it is not Protective at 1s.; he is doubtful about it at 2s., and would give no answer as to 3s. I suppose he will admit that at 20s. it would become Protective.
Then, I want further to ask what guarantee are we going to have that this tax, which he says is not Protective at this moment, will not eventually be increased to a Protective amount? That seems to me a most important point. The Chancellor of the Exchequer pooh-poohed our fears with regard to the question of Free Trade. He said we must have very little belief in it if we were afraid of a tax of this sort. But my right hon. friend last night compared the matter to an embankment. We know, as the Hollanders know, that in regard to the safety of an embankment it is the first trickle that has to be watched for and stopped, because unless it is, it will lead to the destruction of the embankment. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thanet, in his speech on Budget night, said the Chancellor of the 43 Exchequer was Cobdenite, and he denounced him as a Free Trader of the worst possible description. But if the right hon. Gentleman is a Free Trader of the worst possible description, I think we shall be in a bad way indeed when we have a successor to him who is not such a Free Trader. I want to point out to the House that already under the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman we are adopting the principle of Protection, or, as he calls it, discrimination, which is practically carrying us back to the old times at which Protection prevailed. My hon. friend the Member for Devonport clearly proved, by the figures he quoted last night, that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman in regard to flour and corn gave discriminating assistance to flour as against corn, and that, if both were to be on an equality, the duty on flour should be 4d. instead of 5d. as proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. My right hon. friend the Member for East Wolverhampton also quoted some figures in regard to this matter, and the reply of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was that the same discrimination was made when Mr. Gladstone altered the system from measure to weight. I think, however, that was no answer at all, because practically at that time there were no imports of flour. Moreover, it is quite arguable that the discrimination made had the effect of preventing the importation of foreign flour, for as soon as the tax was abolished the discrimination disappeared and the imports of flour enormously increased. That shows that it was a Protective duty for the English miller. On what basis has the right hon. Gentleman fixed on 5d.? Mr. Gladstone put it at 4½d., and the millers have represented that a duty of 4½d. would gave them sufficient Protection. Yet he has gratuitously added ½d., and has practically pledged himself to a discriminating duty in favour of the British over the foreign miller of no less than 1d. in regard to this duty. Has any notice been taken of this matter by the dominion of Canada? As we know a very large proportion of our flour comes from Canada. They send us very little wheat : it is almost entirely flour they send. They have, rightly or wrongly, in order to knit together England and Canada, given us favourable treatment as regards other nations, and we now, as far as I can make 44 out, are going to put them to a considerable disadvantage in regard to flour. Will the right hon. Gentleman say if any representations have been made by Canada in regard to this matter, because I think it puts us in a very awkward position. I am sorry to say it is not only deeds but words which show which way the wind is blowing in regard to this question of Protection. The right hon. Gentleman the other day met a deputation of importers of flour in regard to this particular matter, and he stated that it was to the general advantage that flour should be ground at home rather than be imported. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Agriculture has also spoken and said he would like to see the duty on flour considerably increased. The argument of the right hon. Gentleman is that he does not think it is to the advantage of this country that imports of foreign flour should increase. That is exactly the argument which was used in the old Protectionist days. If the right hon. Gentleman is going to give his opinion as to what is for the benefit of trade, and is going to carry out his view by a discriminating duty he is reviving the arguments and the system of the Protectionists of old days. As I understand the words I have quoted the right hon. Gentleman desires by his discriminating Protective duties to diminish the imports of flour.
* THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXECHEQUER (Sir M. HICKS BEAGH, Bristol, W.)
The report of my remarks, of course, was very brief and did not fully state what I said. I gave my reasons for desiring that wheat, for example, should be imported in the shape of corn rather than flour, and they had nothing whatever to do with the British miller. My reasons were that then you would get the whole grain, including the offal, which is extremely valuable for feeding stock purposes in this country. If you merely have the flour imported the offal remains in the United States. Their stock are fed with it and we do not get the benefit of it here.
§ * MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
I did not say that the right hon. Gentleman was arguing from the point of view of the millers. My point is that he is giving his personal opinion as to what is best for the trade of the 45 country, and to carry it out puts on a discriminating duty. That is the sole basis on which the old Protectionist system was founded. Further, his discriminating duty will reduce the imports of flour, and so adversely affect the revenue; yet this duty is professedly solely a revenue duty.
Under this tax, as it stands, practically he is putting a duty on the raw material which is consumed—he is putting on a duty discriminating against the British farmer in regard to his food products in favour of the foreigner. The foreigner practically will receive to the extent of the duty a bounty on his goods. I cannot understand how the right hon. Gentleman will be able when this question comes up again for consideration, to resist the argument which will be logically and justly raised in favour of putting a duty on foreign food products which come into this country and unfairly compete with food products grown by the British farmer. Then, in regard to the matter of Protection every single argument that the right hon. Gentleman has used in favour of the 1s. duty would, it seems to me, equally justify a 5s. or a higher duty. Indeed, it seems to me that the argument once admitted would be considerably more in favour of a higher than a lower duty. There is the ordinary financial economic argument which many of us raised in regard to the sugar tax, namely, that if you are going to put on taxation at all you should put on a considerable amount. It is an economic fallacy to put on a small duty and disturb trade for very little benefit. That argument will be in favour of an increase of this duty. There is also the argument which has been used a good deal in the course of these debates, namely, that in regard to a small tax the Exchequer will not benefit nearly to the amount the consumer loses. This will also be a great argument in favour of the increase of the tax. Then, again, as our expenditure increases, and it is bound to increase, it will furnish an irresistible argument for raising the tax. When the right hon. Gentleman or his successor finds out that by one turn of the screw he can produce further revenue from this tax, it will, I think, be impossible to resist taking that course.
46 There is another argument to which I wish briefly to refer. In consequence of this tax we are practically largely reverting to the old system of taxation—the old basis of many years past. The policy of taxation has been, for some time past, to get a large revenue from a few branches, while others should go free, the obvious reason being that any tax necessarily interferes with the trade, enterprise, and energy of those engaged in commerce. I think it is very significant, and I do not know that the House quite appreciates what has been the result of the policy of the right hon. Gentleman in the last two or three years. One of our boasts has been that our Customs tariff has been simple and small. We had reduced our duties from 1,000 to only 46. The other day the right hon. Gentleman made some mystery about the duties put on in connection with the corn laws; but, at all events, this is clear, that while our duties before two years ago were only 46, they have risen at the present moment to 124. This is what is called broadening the basis of taxation, but the broadening of taxation is practically the narrowing of trade. I desire to oppose this tax on one or two very considerable grounds. In the first place, I think it violates the principle of Free Trade; in the second place, it appears to me to be gratuitously raising the question of Protection; in the third place, I think it has been amply proved that it will fall with the greatest severity on the poorest class; and, in the fourth place—and I do not think it is an unimportant point—it has shown to nations abroad, and I am not sure that it has not had the same effect in South Africa, that this country has arrived at such a financial condition that it is obliged, in order to carry on the finances at all, to resort to the food of the people. I believe it has done a good deal to weaken our position abroad, and that it will weaken it in South Africa. As the tax is one that will be felt by the poorest class of the community I, for one, will give it my most strenuous opposition.
§ (3.8.) THE FINANCIAL SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN,) Worcestershire, E.
When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire initiated the debate in which we are now engaged, he promised that if we desired a united and 47 vigorous Opposition, the tax we are now seeking to impose would provide us with the object of our wishes. I think as regards the vigour of the Opposition I need say nothing when I survey the aspect of the Benches opposite. [Laughter, and an HON. MEMBER: Look at your own Benches.] But we do not pretend that the whole financial system of the country is being upset; we do not pretend that a burden is being placed upon the poor of the country which they will regard as intolerable; we do not pretend that a revolution is being worked in the system which has prevailed here for the last fifty years. On the other hand, hon. Gentlemen opposite would have us believe, in the face of those empty Benches, that the whole country is seething with fierce indignation against the action of the Government, and they ask us to believe that it is nothing but the inconvenience of appearing in this House at two o'clock that prevents Members coming to give proper vent to the feelings of the country. I need not say more about the vigour of the Opposition. I think its union is even more remarkable. It has union in negation and destruction only. The moment you come to any suggestion of a constructive character, the moment you come to any suggestion for an alternative method of meeting the financial situation, that union disappears, and we get the most discordant notes from every quarter of the Opposition.
If the state of the House does not lend much excuse for the prolongation of this debate, on the subject which has now been before us for four days, I find some consolation in the fact that it has afforded the hon. Gentleman who preceded me an opportunity of explaining his position and himself. We all admire his courage, in whatever cause it is shown, and in the face of the hon. Gentleman's written declaration on this matter, I think it does require some courage to come down and oppose the tax in this House.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
If the hon. Gentleman did me the honour to read all I said on the subject, I hope he read it in a copy he bought, and not one that he borrowed.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I think I need not submit to cross-examination on that point. I say that it requires some courage on his part, having regard to his past utterances, to come down and oppose this step. The hon. Gentleman has left it on record, in a considered opinion, formed in the calmness of his own study, that this tax was one which was profitable in itself, collected with little trouble or expense and little interference with trade, and which had practically no effect on the price of bread.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
The laws of political economy, of which we have heard so much, are apparently something quite different in 1902 from what they were in 1869. The hon. Gentleman shed a tear over the abandonment of the tax. He thought the tax was given up recklessly, and he has left on record his opinion that if the tax were still in force nobody would propose to abandon it.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I will not say that he desires to misrepresent me, but if he quotes, he should read all that I wrote on that particular Budget. I do object to have certain extracts read from something which I said, without the context. If he will read the other parts, which, apparently, he has not done, he will see that on every principle I condemned the tax. I was talking of it, I think, with reference to other matters.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
If the hon. Gentleman condemned it on every principle, he, at any rate, on grounds of expediency thought that it had practically no effect on the food of the people.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member thought that if it had not been given up nobody would be so foolish as to give it up today. After all, I do not wish to press that point too hard. I do not pretend that we can justify the tax merely by what the hon. Gentleman 49 has written, or that I have to prove that the hon. Gentleman's opinion at one time was not exactly the same opinion as he holds now. I listened to the whole of the hon. Gentleman's speech, but failed to find in it any appreciation, and I might almost say any reference to the situation with which we are dealing. What is that situation? We are face to face with an enormous expenditure—an expenditure swollen at the present time by the heavy cost of the war in which we are engaged—an expenditure which we can all see, even when peace has been restored, will be upon a very heavy scale. We are bound by some means to meet that expenditure. There has hardly been a suggestion that any other solution is possible. It is true that my hon. friend the Member for Exeter said the crux of the situation was the necessity for increased vigilance and prudent thrift. That is a principle to which at other times my Hon. friend the Member for Oldham has also lent some countenance. I hope I may live long enough—and I believe I may—to see my two hon. friends Chancellor of the Exchequer and Financial Secretary to the Treasury, although I will not indulge in the ambiguous task of deciding to which of these offices the respective hon. Gentlemen may be allocated. But I should watch them in either position with great interest. I have served my financial apprenticeship, so to speak, in the great spending Departments. I have now been for nearly two years at the Treasury, and I have had some experience of both sides of the national balance sheet. I venture, therefore, to tell my hon. friends that, unless they are prepared to revoke the considered policy of this country—not only in foreign and colonial matters, but in domestic concerns—they will find it impossible largely to reduce the expenditure on which we are engaged.
What, Sir, are the causes of that expenditure? In the first place, the war. But apart from the war, we have been obliged to increase very largely the sums which are provided for the maintenance of our Army. The war has illustrated the weaknesses of our existing system : it has not created them; and whether there had been war or not, it would still have been necessary to 50 strengthen the Army, and improve its organisation. It is not the war that has led to the increase in the Navy. This has been the result of the increasing competition of the great Naval Powers which we see arising in all parts of the world. What is the next great subject of expenditure? It is the education grant; but is there a man in this House—yes, there is one, my hon. and gallant friend the Member for the Chelmsford Division of Essex; he, however, stands alone—who has any desire to reduce that Vote? At any rate, the hon. Gentleman opposite has frequently told us that he looks forward to a large increase of that Vote. Now, by this analysis I have accounted for nearly the whole of the increase which has taken place in our expenditure. The major portion of the additional expenditure will be found to be employed in the foreign and Colonial services which concern the administration of our great African possessions. It has been the subject of accusation against my right hon. friend that he has not provided sufficient funds for meeting the expenditure of the war; but, at any rate, he is doing something to redress the balance, in Lord Rosebery's phrase, by providing the money for the development of those possessions which will be of great benefit to the trade and commerce of the country in the years that are to come.
I have ventured to summarise the great sources of increased expenditure for the purpose of asking the House this question—for whose benefit is that done? Can it be pretended that any one of these expenses is for the benefit of a particular class or of the wealthier classes of this community? Is it not true that the poor are at least as much interested, if not more so, in the maintenance of the open highways across the seas, and in the preservation of such open markets as still remain to us? Is it not the fact that their wages and employment would be the first to feel any shortage of our predominance on the ocean, any closing of the markets against our goods which we still preserve, while all the markets of our possessions are preserved open to the world? I say it is necessary to provide new taxation, and that it is just, necessary, and to the common interest of all classes, that the expenditure should be derived from sources to which all 51 contribute. An hon. Gentleman opposite suggested that the taxation ought to be placed on the millionaires, on the income-tax payers, on site values—in short, that it ought to be placed anywhere except upon one single class or interest, and that on no account are we to place it on the shoulders of the taxpayers as a whole. I join issue with hon. Members when they put forward any such doctrine as that.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
All the suggestions which I have quoted have been put forward from the opposite side of the House, and have been cheered by hon. Members behind the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Let me point out the difficulty of dealing in general terms with the whole discussion, because that united opposition which the right hon. Gentleman promised is only, as yet, faintly adumbrated, and has not produced any adequate visible results. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that we should take off the doles from the agricultural interests, that we have imposed this tax for the benefit of the farmers, and that if he and his friends went to the country and offered free feeding stuffs they would be supported. But will they go and tell the farmers that what they take off the feeding stuffs they will put on the rates? The courage of the right hon. Gentleman opposite stopped short at that statement, and I would be very much surprised if in that dim and distant future when he and his colleagues achieve a majority any one of them will favour the repeal of the tax we are now imposing. But what have we been told? When the right hon. Gentleman interrupted me in order to make his own position clear—I am sure he will acquit me of any intended misrepresentation—I was saying that it had been suggested that we should have selected taxes which would fall on the few instead of being spread over the whole population. But that is 52 inconsistent with the high doctrine of political morality preached at the same time by right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and by none more eloquently than by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose-Burghs, who laid it down—and I agree with him—that it would be pitiable for this country to attempt to teach the majority of the electors that they may call for any expenditure at other people's-cost without any fear that any part of the burden of that expenditure would fall on them. And I venture to think that none of the solutions which they have so readily put before the House would, if the occasion arose, be adopted by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I will not delay the House by examining these solutions at length. When I spoke about the proposed tax on site values I was met by cheers from hon. Gentlemen opposite; but I venture to say that for any such proposal they will get cold Comfort in the Minority Report of the Royal Commission on Local Taxation, on which they appear to rest their case. That Report says that the land affords no large undeveloped service of taxation for local purposes, still less for national purposes. A Iarge part of the burden of the rates already falls on the owners of site values; and the Commissioners propose not so much a new source of revenue, but a re-arrangement of the burdens which already fall on that class of property. Yes, but if you are going to re-arrange the burden-by transferring to the owners some part of the rates which the occupiers now bear, do you think there would be any margin left over for the national taxcollector when he comes round to try and get a share of it? I need not labour this point, because from both sides of the House I can quote twenty expressions of opinion that we are face to face with, circumstances in which we cannot rely on direct taxation alone to meet the growing necessary expenditure of the country. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton said the other day that it was impossible to meet the whole of the expenditure of the country by direct taxation, and last year, when we were discussing the coal tax, in answer to an interruption thrown out, he said—I do not like the tax on sugar, but at the same time I have no right to complain if the 53 Chancellor of the Exchequer, when we are pressing him to raise more money by taxation, puts a tax on an article which the whole community will feel.Now, we are agreed that some portion of this great war expenditure must be met by indirect taxation which the whole community will feel. But why, under these circumstances, is this tax opposed? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton said that this is the worst tax which we could have chosen, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire says that it is the last tax which we should have proposed. Well, in passing, I may say that it is the last tax taken off by the great financier whose example the right hon. Gentleman professes to follow. The hon. Gentleman who preceded me complained that we invoke the authority of Mr. Gladstone in this matter. We do not wish to press that authority further than the facts allow, but we are entitled to say that for more than twenty years after the corn laws were repealed this corn tax was maintained by Mr. Gladstone. We are, moreover, entitled to say that he did not do that in ignorance—that would be absurd—for during that period he re-imposed, remodelled, and re-organised this tax without a word of complaint, so far as I have been able to ascertain, from any one of the great protagonists of corn law repeal who were still living, and even when he had funds at his disposal to abolish the tax. And now the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire would have us believe that all that time Mr. Gladstone thought this tax most pernicious and indefensible! That is making too great a demand on our credulity, it is attaching too slight an importance to Mr. Gladstone's authority, power, and courage. He lessened the taxation on tea, he abolished the duty on timber, he even took off the duty on bottled wines. Is it to be supposed that if Mr. Gladstone regarded this tax as so profoundly impolitic and unjust, so monstrously inequitable in its incidence, he would deliberately leave it untouched, and spend his surplus in reducing the duty on bottled wines? I venture to say that if we look at the history of this question, the line taken up by the right hon. Gentleman opposite is one which cannot for a moment be sustained. Then the right hon. Gentleman, followed by the 54 hon. Gentleman the Member for Poplar in that respect, says—"Ah, Mr. Gladstone had an excuse in his time; it produced so little to the revenue that really it was of no consequence." Did ever financier propound to a deliberative Assembly a more preposterous case of fitness for exemption! The interference with trade is just the same, the effect, whatever it may be, on the food of the people, is not less, because the return to the revenue is slighter; and yet, forsooth, a tax which was good then, is now, because the return from it is large, an improper one to reimpose!
Then, if we are not moved by that argument, hon. Gentlemen opposite I say that the tax is Protective. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Poplar put to the Government a series of questions to which he demanded direct and simple answers. I am anxious to gratify the hon. Gentleman to the best of my poor ability. He, however, declined to allow me to ask him a question, and I think he is a little unfair as to the distribution of the task; but at the same time I am anxious to gratify him as far as I can. He asked me what was my definition of a Protective duty. Sir, I think it is the essence of a Protective duty that it should exclude—pro tanto, not absolutely—from your market goods that would otherwise come in, and cause these goods to be produced at home instead of being imported. Will any hon. Member venture to assert for one moment that a bushel more of corn will be grown in this country as a result of this duty, or that a bushel less will be imported? Then the hon. Gentleman's next question was—At what stage does it cease to be a non-Protective duty? It ceases to be non-Protective when it ceases to prevent goods coming into this country which otherwise would come, and when it ceases to cause corn to grow in this country which otherwise would not grow. If that is, as I hold it to be, an accurate description, though not perhaps a scientific description, of what is the essence of Protection, then, judged by that test, this is not a Protective tax. But the hon. Gentleman says that this tax discriminates unfairly as between flour and grain. In fixing the rates, as my right hon. friend has already explained to the House, he was guided by the rates in force when this tax was previously imposed, and made only such changes as 55 seemed necessary in the altered circumstances. No doubt it is true that it is extremely difficult in these cases to hold the balance exactly even, or to be certain that we have exactly fitted the duty to every form of the article. But if there is any doubt on the subject it is better to err on the side of the whole grain rather than err against the whole grain. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Poplar spoke as if this were done wholly in the interests of the British miller. The British miller does not enter into our consideration of this matter, except that he is entitled to justice the same as any other citizen. But does anyone contend that it is to our interest that we should have flour coming into this country in preference to grain, and that our competitors should retain all the feeding stuffs, and send us only flour? If so, will those country Members who are so solicitous for the interests of the farmers explain clearly to their constituents that that is their view of what equity requires? I do not believe that it is advisable to discriminate in favour of flour at all, and I think I have support for that view. The North Wedern Miller, which is published in Minneapolis, Minnesota, referring to the effect of this tax on the American producer, writes—The American miller is on the whole relieved to find that he has escaped the Budget with nothing worse than this comparatively small difference in favour of his British competitor. In fact, if it were not for the far more serious handicap which the export of flour made by the American railway in their differential rates against flour, and in favour of wheat, the British duty would not he worthy of consideration.Finally it writes—Minneapolis millers are generally of opinion that the duty will have no serious effect on their trade with the United Kingdom.That is the opinion of an organ of American millers.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I think what is true of the United States is equally true of Canada. But, as the right hon. Gentleman has called my attention to it, I venture to say to him that he must decide which horse he is 56 going to ride; is the consumer in this country going to pay, or the producer in Canada? If he tells us that we will have to bear the whole burden, he must not encourage the Canadians to believe that they will have a grievance in the tax.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
The hon. Gentleman has mistaken me. I say there is an unfair discrimination in the case of flour as compared with corn.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
In that case the quotation I have just read is equally applicable to the case of Canada.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
The right hon. Gentleman need not have interrupted me to ask that question. He has opportunities of learning the opinion of Canada equally as good as mine. I quoted the extract to show that the discrimination, if discrimination there be, involved in this tax in favour of whole grain as against flour, is as nothing compared with the discrimination hitherto in force by the railway and shipping companies in favour of one and against the other. When we get over these difficulties raised by hon. Gentlemen opposite, they meet us with another. They say that this tax falls on the poor, and that it falls with especial severity on the very poor. When hon. Gentlemen are arguing that point they are accustomed to talk as if this were the only tax we have to pay. You cannot judge of the equity of the taxation of this country without making a survey of the whole field and the resources of our revenue. It is not fair to take one tax by itself, and to say because that tax presses more on one class of the community than on another, that, therefore, that in itself is sufficient to condemn it. You must look at taxation as a whole, and see whether, as a whole, it is equally distributed among all classes of the community.
I do not want to trouble the House with many figures. I appreciate very much the kindness with which hon. Members have listened to me, but let me put in as few words as I can the figures which my right hon. friend gave the House yesterday. Take the figures of the year 57 of the greatest expenditure in connection with the Crimean war, the finance of which period we are told to compare ours to, and to hide our diminished heads; that period when pure finance was supreme, and the expedients of the present day were unknown. In 1855–6 indirect taxation was 58.6 per cent. of the whole, as against 47.7 per cent. today; direct taxation was 41.4 per cent. as against 52.3 per cent. today. The amount produced per head of the population from direct taxation was 19s. 8d. as against £1 12s. 11d., and from indirect taxation £1 6s. 9d. as against £1 9s. 11d. today. Even that comparatively very small difference in the amount produced per head by indirect taxation is made up, and more than made up, by the increased taxation of alcohol, and I think there is no considerable body of Members on either side of the House who wish to see the taxation of alcohol reduced. Lot me add one figure. If we take the indirect taxation of 1855–6, the year I have already spoken of, and compare it with that of 1901–2, we find that the tax on alcohol produced 13s. 8d. per head of the population, whereas today it brings in 18s. 6d. All other indirect taxation produces today 11s. 5d. as against 14s. 3d. in 1855–6. No one will contend for a moment that the prosperity of the country is not greater, that it has not descended deeper, and that the working classes are not more able to bear burdens today, than in the days of the Crimean War. And yet the burden of indirect taxation, which is the burden that falls upon them, is less per head of the population, if we exclude alcohol, than it was at the time of the Crimean War.
Hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House have appeared to think it a sufficient condemnation of the tax that it would fall on all people of the country. How far are they prepared to press that argument? If you are not to tax the very poor, it is not this tax alone that you must not impose. There are other taxes also that you must take off. You must abolish the tax on sugar, which my right hon. friend put into his Budget last year. You must abolish the tax upon tea, which my right hon. friend has frequently imposed. You say these people are to be excluded from all taxation and all contribution towards the 58 revenue. I venture to say that under such circumstances it would puzzle any Chancellor of the Exchequer to find revenue sufficient to meet our expenditure, and it is entirely contrary to the view which hon. Members and right hon. Members on that side of the House have laid down—I refer to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton. The hon. and learned. Member for South Shields has opposed this tax on two occasions during this session, and I would commend to him the study of his own remarks on the Budget of last year. At that time he was very much concerned about the coal tax, which he denounced as a tax which rested on a particular class of the community only, and was not spread over the whole community. He accused my right hon. friend of reversing the whole policy of the country upon which taxation has been levied during the last fifty years, and said that it had been the whole aim of taxation to reach as far as possible the whole community. That was the aim of the tax upon tea, that was the aim of the tax up on sugar, and so on. Now, the hon. Gentleman, who opposed the tax upon coal because it rested upon a particular class, opposes this tax because it rests upon all. The hon. Member for the Luton Divison of Bedfordshire opposed it with more emphasis than anybody to whom I have listened during the course of the debate, when he said that, though reluctant to use strong language, he could only describe this as an infamous tax. Why infamous? Infamous because the mass of the people cannot escape, if they would. A tax that the mass of the people must pay is an infamous tax! It is no use for the hon. Member to shake his head; that is the view of his colleague the Member for the Luton Division. I do not wish to sow dissension in an otherwise united Party. I merely show the extraordinary results of the arguments used.
Now, I have approached this tax so far as if it were going to fall entirely upon the consumers of the country, but will it? During this debate we have had some references to the laws of political economy, and some very instructive statements upon them. 59 I admire the command which hon. Members opposite have over the laws of political economy; it would seem that those laws alter from year to year as the exigencies of the Opposition demand. Last year, when an export tax was being put upon coal, we were told that surely the occupants of the Treasury Bench were not so foolish as not to see that an export duty must fall upon the consumer. This year we are discussing an import duty on corn, and we are told that it is axiomatic that an import duty of a shilling levied in Liverpool falls upon the consumer in this country, while an export duty levied in New York or Buenos Ayres would fall upon the producer in those countries. Then we had the argument of the hon. and learned Member for Launceston, which was a very seductive argument, in which he sought to prove that the consumer would not only in the end pay all this tax, but an extra shilling besides. But is it so certain that the price will be raised? Is it so certain that the assumption of the hon. and learned Gentleman has any necessary foundation in fact? If it be certain that in every case the price of an article to the consumer would be raised by the whole amount of the import duty, and not only that, but by an extra sum which the various people who handle the commodity have put on to recoup themselves, will hon. Gentlemen explain to me how it comes about that the average price of wheat in France, during the last year, instead of being greater than the average price of wheat in this country by the whole amount of the duty imposed in France, was only greater by about half the amount of the duty? I venture to say that a reference to the debate of last year and the immutable laws of political economy as they are propounded by the Opposition, and the consideration of other circumstances such as those to which I have alluded, tends to show that this proposition is not so simple as hon. Gentlemen would have us believe, and that the incidence of an import duty is a much more complicated and doubtful question than anybody would suppose. I admit that there is great difficulty in tracing the incidence of an import duty, but speaking generally, and in the 60 long run, omitting the disturbing conditions of a given moment, I believe that if the supply is greater than the demand at the current prices of the day, the duty will tend to be borne by the producer; but that if the demand is greater than the supply, the duty will tend to fall upon the consumer. It will depend, therefore, on all the varying circumstances which regulate the law of supply and demand as to what proportion of this tax is borne by the consumer in this country or by the producer elsewhere. The hon. Member opposite thinks that because in thirty cases out of the 280 into which he made inquiries, the price of bread has been raised, that is a conclusive proof that the duty will fall on the producers of this country. Hon. Members take no account of the conditions of the market at the time, and no account of the prospective sources of supply; they take no notice of the fact that in certain of these districts rates have been cut down below the cost price. It is enough for them to say "Post hoc, propter hoc."—the price has been raised, and the cause is the duty. I think the tax will be borne sometimes by one and sometimes by the other. We know that already the American interests are combining to consider how they shall maintain their trade with regard to this duty, and we know that in the case of one railway at least they have reduced their rates for flour, to enable flour to be brought into this country at the same price as formerly. But, whether I be right or wrong, whether this tax falls mainly on the producer and the middleman or whether it falls on the consumer in this country, I, for one, will never stand here to defend the proposition that the great masses in this country are to be shielded from the responsibility of sharing the expenditure for which they are responsible. We are proud of our institutions; we are proud of our great Imperial inheritance. I believe that the people to the full share that pride, but I have never hesitated to tell them that with the enjoyment of the privileges that that great position brings, come its obligations and responsibilities, and I for one will not believe that those who have approved the policy which we are carrying out, those who have seconded all our efforts to pursue it to a 61 successful conclusion, will grudge their contribution to the expenditure that is involved, or will expect that they are to have all the advantages of Empire without bearing any portion of the cost.
§ (4.0.) MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
I desire briefly to intervene in this debate in order to put before the House the view which is taken by the Irish Party of this tax, and to state the course they intend to take. On this matter, as, indeed, upon every question on which they have to act in this House, the Irish Members will be guided solely by what they consider to be the interests of Ireland. They will look at this question entirely from the Irish point of view. Looking at it from that point of view, we have made up our minds, after careful consideration, to vote in favour of the Amendment which has been moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire. We believe that, taking everything into account, and viewing all the circumstances of the case, and balancing one thing with another, the imposition of this tax will be injurious to Ireland. We feel very strongly that it will press upon the poor in Ireland, and that the poorer the population the more it will press upon it. We believe that this imposition is—to use a phrase which has already been current in this debate—a mean and somewhat contemptible expedient, in a Budget of £200,000,000, of raising a paltry sum of £2,500,000. We believe further that it will increase the unjust burden of taxation which weighs upon Ireland. Finally, we object to this tax because it is imposed for the purpose of raising money to maintain this war, and our position—our consistent position from the very first—has been to refuse to vote a single shilling for any such purpose.
The Irish Members have been told in some quarters that, in view of Ireland's peculiar position as a purely agricultural country, they ought to vote in favour of this tax—a tax which, as has been pointed out to them, may be regarded as the commencement of a policy of Protection. It is rather amusing to find that this argument is addressed to us by people who, when they are arguing the question with Liberals above the gangway, maintain that the tax is not a Protective tax at all. We are not deceived, we are not influenced by such arguments at all. It 62 is quite true that there are many Irishmen who would be glad to see, in a self-governed Ireland, the power of Protection in the hands of an Irish Parliament. Indeed, it is small wonder that that feeling exists among certain sections of the Irish population. If there is one fact in the history of Ireland about which I never heard any dispute, it is this : that the policy of Free Trade, while it was of inestimable benefit to this country, was the ruin of Ireland. I remember very well a Liberal Free Trade Chancellor of the Exchequer—the late Mr. Childers—declaring in the draft Report which he prepared at the Financial Relations Commission—which draft Report was, I believe, almost his last serious work before his death—that—Just as Ireland suffered in the last century from the Protective and exclusively commercial policy of Great Britain, so has she been at a disadvantage in this century from the adoption of a policy of Free Trade.I protest emphatically against the idea that in voting against this tax we are giving any decision whatever upon the broad question as to the effect of Free Trade on the prosperity of Ireland in the past, or that we are giving any vote which can in any way compromise or fetter our complete freedom of action if the question of Protection in a real and tangible form arises in the near future. For my part, I do not for a moment believe that the imposition of this tax will be of the slightest benefit to agriculture in Ireland so far as farmers are concerned. I may recount to the House an interesting experience I had on the night that this tax was introduced. Leaving the House after the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I met in the Lobby a very important supporter of the Government and an enthusiastic supporter of the tax. He slapped me on the back and said—This is glorious news for Ireland; your farmers will now all begin to grow wheat again.Can anybody conceive such an utter absurdity? Nothing of the kind can possibly happen, and no benefit, in my opinion, will accrue to agriculture or to the farmers in Ireland from the imposition of this tax. On the other hand I believe that this tax will inflict a very grave injury upon the farmers as a 63 class. The question of the increased cost of feeding stuffs has been alluded to in its relation to English agriculture. Its relation to Irish agriculture is far more important. I have here a document which I received yesterday from an important business man in the North of Ireland—a man who is no political supporter or friend of mine. He writes from Portadown and says—The case in Ireland is quite exceptional. Ireland imports maize and barley in large quantities for cattle feeding. She also buys offals in the shape of bran and pollard from English millers and also from Canada and the United States. The introduction of cooperative creameries has stimulated an increased demand for Indian meal, barley meal, and all other feeding stuffs, all of which are now taxed, as the English miller is adding the duty to the price of the offal. To show the extent of the tax upon some small Irish farmers I would point out to you that a farmer whose poor law valuation does not exceed £12, would consume on an average 2 cwt. of Indian meal weekly, 1 cwt. of bran, and 1 cwt. Hour monthly, the tax on which would amount to 40s. yearly, or almost as much as his rates would come to. I do not believe that this has any parallel in any part of the United Kingdom. In selling his butter the Irish farmer has to compete with Denmark, to which country, while there is a tax on wheat, feeding stuffs are admitted free. For a number of years past Danish merchants have been our keenest competitors for the offals of the English and Scotch flour and oatmeal mills. It is the same with the Irish farmer when he comes to sell his pork and beef. … The food is taxed and the corn is taxed. It is worth a passing notice that while maize and barley, the staple feeding stuffs used by Irish farmers, are taxed, the linseed and cotton seed cake, the principle food used by English and Scotch farmers is admitted free of duty.That seems to me to be a conclusive statement, showing that the effect of this tax upon Ireland, so far from being a benefit to agriculture and to farmers, will be a direct injury to them. On the whole, balancing any problematical advantage which this tax might possibly be with the disadvantages which are certain, we have come to the conclusion that the tax will be injurious to our country, and upon that ground we are going to oppose it.
Last night the hon. Member for Oldham in his interesting speech denounced and ridiculed the idea that this was a mean tax. Without the slightest offence to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I desire to say that I cannot conceive anything meaner 64 than the way in which he has dealt with this Budget. Here he proposes two new taxes, one of them calculated to produce, say £2,500,000, and the other to produce £500,000. An outcry is raised against the smaller tax—the tax on cheques—which would only have fallen on the well-to-do classes [Oh, oh!"] I use the words "well-to-do classes" in a sense that I will make understood in a moment. Every one knows that a man who has a banking account is not necessarily a rich man, but I say that it follows that men who have a banking account, at any rate cannot be regarded as the poor or the very poor of the country. An outcry is immediately raised against this tax by the bankers and business men of the country, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer gives way and abandons the tax. But when an outcry is raised against the tax raising five times the amount, and which will, in the main, fall on the very poor of the country, that outcry is ridiculed, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer insists upon standing by his tax. I say that that is a mean way of dealing with the finances of the country, and I say that this particular tax on corn and bread is the meanest conceivable tax, when we remember the classes upon whom it will fall.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer boasted, as he has done over and over again, of the way in which direct taxation has been levelled up to indirect taxation. I have listened to him repeatedly making that boast; I have never liked to interrupt him, but I have felt greatly tempted to ask what were the figures with regard to Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman says that since 1856, I think, there has been a steady tendency to diminish the amount of indirect taxation and to raise the amount of direct taxation, until now they are nearly equal. That is not the case in Ireland. At this moment, the indirect taxation of Ireland is about 73 per cent. of the whole.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
It is something between 73 and 78 per cent. of the whole, whereas in England the 65 direct and indirect taxation have become almost level. Why is it that the indirect taxation of Ireland remains so high? It is because Ireland by comparison with this country is so poor, that the only way in which you can raise taxation is, not by taxing the income or the properties of the people, but by imposing taxation in an indirect form upon the very poorest classes of the community. No one who is not really intimately acquainted with Ireland can have any conception of how horribly a tax like this bears upon the people. Hon. Members who have not studied Ireland—and how few hon. Members have done so—intimately, have no conception of the poverty of large masses of the Irish people. I have in my hands a Report of the Local Taxation Commission, which issued special Reports dealing with Ireland, and here is a separate Report containing recommendations made by Lord Balfour of Burleigh, the Chairman of the Commission, and another member. Lest it should be thought that this is an expression of opinion coming from two individuals, it is well to know that there is appended to this recommendation a declaration by Sir Edward Hamilton of the Treasury, and Sir George Murray, endorsing the recommendations contained in this separate Report. And what is the statement in that?—In round numbers the population of Ireland in 1901 was 4,457,000 people, and the rateable value £15,200,000, or £3 8s. 2d. per inhabitant. But three-fifths of the value is agricultural, and the assessment value, in the sense of the English Agricultural Rates Act—that is, taking into account land at only half its value, and other property at its full value—is £2 10a. per inhabitant, whereas the average assessable value in England and Wales is over £5, and, there-fare, it would appear that England is twice as rich in taxable ability as Ireland is by this test. And in Scotland the figures are practically the same, except this, that the difference is between £1 and £3 per inhabitant.And it goes on to say—After making every allowance for defects of valuation, it remains true that Ireland is much poorer than England in general, and that in parts of the west of Ireland in which the extreme depths of poverty are reached, 10s. assessable value is the minimum in Ireland, £2 10s. per inhabitant being the minimum in the poorest parts of England.In another part of the Report, the Commissioners go on to say that in certain parts of Ireland—These are the only classes in the community—the poor and the destitute.66 These are the people whose bread you are to tax. [An IRISH MEMBER : Whose meal they are going to tax. They cannot afford bread.] Yes, whose meal you are going to tax.In the congested districts there are two classes—the poor and the destitute. There are hardly any resident gentry; there are few traders of officials; nearly all the inhabitants are either poor or on the verge of poverty. La these districts the taxation is by far the highest, but the local resources are so low, that even with a high rate of taxation the indispensable needs of the locality cannot be properly met.Here is an important Report issued by a tribunal appointed by yourselves—a Report dealing with a most vital question affecting Ireland. Are there six English Members of this House, outside the Members of the Irish Government, who have read this Report? I venture to say there are not half a dozen men in any part of the House outside those I have mentioned, and the Irish Members, who have read this Report with reference to Ireland, or even realised for a moment the poverty of the country upon which [these additional taxes are put.
My hon. friend the Member for West Donegal, who has very recently come into the House, called our attention yesterday to a calculation he had made upon this question of the new taxes. He is a man who lives in West Donegal, which is one of these poor districts, and he is intimately acquainted with the lives of the people around him, and he tells us, speaking of the average living of those people among whom he has spent his life, that they are in the habit of using about a bag of Indian meal in the fortnight or three weeks. And, Sir, this tax will impose sixpence per bag additional upon the cost of this meal, and these people will therefore be obliged to pay twelve or thirteen shillings a year additional taxes by this impost. It may be said this is a small matter. Hon. Members may think it a small matter to add thirteen or fourteen shillings a year to the cost of a family in Ireland. Allow me to give to the House what has been quoted in several debates upon similar occasions. There are some tables given by the Government Department known as the Congested Districts 67 Board as an appendage to one of their Reports, and they give twelve examples of the income and expenditure of twelve families in the poorer parts, scattered practically over the whole of Ireland. I will take these at random. Here is one example of the receipts and expenditure of a family in ordinary circumstances—judged by the Irish standpoint—the ordinary circumstances being profits from agriculture and home industries. The total receipts are £23 8s. 7d. The total expenditure includes these items: Meal, £7 14s.—because that is their bread, as my hon. friend who interrupted me rightly pointed out a moment ago. These people cannot afford the luxuries of ordinary bread. They live very largely upon yellow Indian meal, the kind of meal you feed your dogs on in this country. Now, in the family where the budget is £23, meal costs £7 14s.; tea, £5 17s.; sugar, £1 19s.; tobacco, £3 9s. 4d—total, £18 19s. 4d., out of a total income of £23. The Secretary to the Treasury was right when he stated that in considering this tax it is not fair to consider it alone. It is right we should take a survey of the other taxes, and I say it enormously strengthens my case. There are these poor creatures living in straitened circumstances such as that; and you, from motives and with objects I will not delay now to examine, enter upon a great Imperial policy and a great war to extend the dominions of the Crown, and what is the first thing you do? You come to a poor, wretched family, whose whole income is £23, and you put a war tax first upon tea, then upon tobacco, then upon sugar, and now you come down and put a war tax upon bread and the poor man's meal. That was the instance of a family "in ordinary circumstances," so described in the Report of the Congested Districts Board.
Let me now take a family in the worst possible circumstances. The receipts and expenditure of a family in the poorest possible circumstances are as follows—Receipts : Eggs, £1 3s.; sixty days labour at 1s.; herding cattle £4; total receipts, £8 3s. On the other side, the total expenditure for meal is £5 17s. Now, is it not appalling that in the case of a family whose whole receipts 68 amount to £8 3s., and whose whole food is manifestly this meal, you are going to impose upon that family an additional burden of about 6s. a year for your new war tax? Sir, it is absolutely monstrous, for as poverty increases so will the burden of this tax. And why? Because the poorer the family in those parts of Ireland the larger will be, relatively, the expenditure upon meal. If you take a family in fairly good circumstances, like the first one I mentioned, you will find that the expenditure on meal is £7 14s. out of an income of £23; while in the last case I mentioned, the really poor case, the expenditure on meal is £5 17s. out of receipts amounting to £8 3s. Therefore, the more bitter becomes the poverty, the more this tax will tell upon the people, and to imagine that Irish representatives for any conceivable reason, having seen, these people subject to a war tax on tea, sugar, and tobacco, will now consent to an additional tax upon meal, which takes the place of bread—to imagine that we shall give our consent to such a thing would be to conclude that we had no heart whatever for the sufferings and the unhappy condition of our countrymen. I have looked through these twelve cases, and here is a table showing the extraordinary proportion that meal: bears to the whole expenditure in each family. The House will find, as I read these few figures, that as poverty increases and the total amount diminishes, the amount spent upon meal increases. In case No. 1 the total expenditure is £37, and the percentage spent upon meal is 21 per cent. In the next case the total expenditure was £11, and the expenditure upon meal 31 per cent. The next case showed a total expenditure of one family of £30, and the proportion spent on meal was 30 per cent. In another case the total expenditure was £42, with 31 per cent. expenditure upon meal. And so the cases go on steadily increasing until we get to the twelfth example, in which the proportion spent on meal is well over 54 per cent. Under these circumstances it seems to me not only a mean thing to be afraid, in the face of the clamour of your bankers, to stand by your cheque tax; not only is it a mean thing, in the face of the demand of the well-to-do people, to take off 69 this small tax which you proposed to put on cheques, but it seems an incredibly unjust and heartless thing to insist upon putting this tax upon the staple food, and practically the only food, of the poorest part of the whole population in Ireland.
I will say nothing tonight upon the broad question, which we have discussed more than once in this House, of the financial relations between Ireland and Great Britain. I abstain altogether from a discussion of that question, because the Government have agreed to give us a separate day for the discussion of this matter, and I do not think that it would be fair, when they have made that concession, to needlessly complicate the discussion on the Budget by the introduction of this topic. Therefore, I do not intend to dwell upon it at all, further than to say that in addition to the individual hardships which I have pointed out in the examples I have given, we—and when I say "we" I am speaking practically for all Ireland, because about 95 per cent. of the Irish representatives take practically the same view, and it is held by all classes and creeds in Ireland—hold the view, which is founded upon the Report of a Commission of your own, consisting of a majority of Englishmen, and drawn up after hearing the evidence of all your greatest financial experts, that faith has not been kept with Ireland on this question of taxation, and that we are taxed as a separate entity far beyond our relative taxable capacity. That, of course, is an additional reason why we should object to this tax.
Finally, there remains for Ireland the broad consideration to which I referred at the commencement—the consideration that the war which is being waged is the object of this increased taxation. I will say nothing at this stage upon the war except this: that in time to come I think probably the people will recognise that one of the proudest things which Ireland has to boast of will be the memory of the part she took in this crisis which arose over this war. I know that there are heated feelings on the subject in this House, but I ask hon. Members to look at it from this point of view. Do you think that we were such fools as not to know the risks we were running in taking the attitude we did with reference to this war? Do you think 70 the Irish people so stupid and so brainless as not to know that in standing as they did on the question of the war on the side of an oppressed nationality, on the side of what they believed to be right and justice and liberty, they were imperilling, for the time being at any rate, the achievement of many of those objects on which Ireland has set her heart? No, Sir, the Irish people realised that to the full, and, although I am one of those who believe that in the long run no people have ever lost by the exhibition of self-sacrifice and devotion to high principle, I know that for the time our attitude has raised a cloud of prejudice around our country and our cause. I say that in time to come Ireland will have nothing more proud to boast of than the memory that, when selfishness seemed to rule all the nations of Europe, who, when they sympathised with the Boers, held their peace and made no effort to rescue them from their impending doom, Ireland, poor and oppressed Ireland, for the moment at any rate, risked everything in order to stand by a cause which they believed to be sacred and just, and which I am convinced for my part will triumph in the end. We cannot vote a shilling for this war. We have refused to vote a shilling from the commencement, and even if we believed that it was a just tax, even if we believed that Ireland was not paying more than a fair share of Imperial taxation, still we would vote as one man against this tax, because it is imposed for the purpose of raising further money to prosecute an infamous and unjust war.
§ (4.35.) MR. ELLIOT (Durham)
I do not follow what was said by the hon. Member in his eloquent speech on the effects of Free Trade in Ireland. We are told that it was a terrible grievance to the Irish people that it was carried out in Ireland. Surely Free Trade, which has worked for the advantage of the people of this country, also appeals to the Irish people. The hon. Member must view this policy one way or another. He cannot say that this is an injustice to Ireland while the people of that country get the benefit of the policy. He has referred to the financial relations of the country with Great Britain. I will not 71 go into that question, but I will say that I differ from the hon. Member upon it. I wish that Irishmen, when they discuss these subjects, would stand on the same footing with Englishmen, and not consider it a grievance to be treated in the same manner as Scotchmen and Englishmen.
§ MR. ELLIOT
I am a Free Trader, and I do not go the length of the hon. Member and say that the policy has been productive of evil to the Irish people. Instead of saying that Free Trade has been a benefit or a grievance in particular parts, they should extend their views a bit and look at it all round. If you take the country district by district, and parish by parish, you will very likely find that Free Trade had done injury here and there, but you will see that on the whole the blessings of Free Trade have been greatly and widely spread. I say that the hon. Member who has just spoken should not exclude from his view the hundreds and thousands of Irishmen who are prospering in this country, for instance, in connection with the great industries of Lancashire. He should not forget that Irishmen as well as Englishmen are infinitely wealthier in many parts of the world in consequence of the introduction of the Free Trade policy. It is my duty to remind hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite as concisely as I can what it was the Free Trade policy of Sir Robert Peel accomplished. I can give the result of that policy in a couple of sentences. The result of his action, carried further as it was by others, was to make of the whole world a granary for the United Kingdom. Before that, the laws were framed with the view of excluding corn from the markets of England, for the express purpose that those who grew corn in England should make a good thing out of it. Nothing in the tax proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer will lessen the character which the world holds as the granary for the United Kingdom. Not a single quarter of corn will be excluded, and, that being so, what is the use of again and again repeating the cry that the Government are harking back to Protection? Nothing of the kind. Protection of that kind does not consist in raising a duty upon corn. It 72 may be a politic and a wise thing to do. The great mass of corn that now comes into the country surely may be taxed to afford the Chancellor of the Exchequer some direct pecuniary advantage in view of the enormous advantage which British subjects derive from these imports. Why is that to be altogether excluded from contributing to the necessities of the nation?
I could not help being struck throughout the debate with the utter neglect that has been shown to the situation and the circumstances in which we stand. If I were standing up in a University debating society and the question were propounded, "Should there be an import duty on corn?" I would very likely argue the contrary proposition. Nobody maintains that it is specially desirable that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should put his hand into the pocket of the country in this way, but we must look at the circumstances of the case. When we do so I maintain there is enough to make the people pause when they consider the growth of our normal expenditure and of war expenditure in recent years. During the whole period that he has been in office the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been warning the country of the steady growth of normal expenditure, and he has been meeting the difficulty systematically by extending the basis of taxation. The right hon. Member for East Wolverhampton, in suggesting further taxation on beer and tobacco, does not seem to see that we have reached a state of things in which a new departure is to some extent necessary. I get every day Protectionist literature which seems to me to be utterly fallacious in its character. The signs of growing prosperity and wealth are treated as signs of national decay. I cannot accept that. I read the other day in a document that the British public in 1874 paid £900,000 for foreign watches, and that two years ago they paid a sum approaching £2,000,000 for foreign watches, and I am asked to despair of the condition of things in this country. I would ask the gentlemen who send that literature—Do they suppose that the individuals who made the watches in 1874 are doing nothing because we buy £2,000,000 worth from foreigners now? They have gone into businesses which thirty years ago were not dreamt 73 of—it may be the making of bicycles or electrical machinery to supply the wants of the British public. The British public apply themselves to that which they can make with the greatest advantage, and import that which other nations can make more cheaply. I deprecate the Protectionist language made use of in this House. To my mind the real question throughout those debates has been not so much one of political principle but of the highest political expediency. The difficulty and doubt was whether, if the Government raised this sum of money, perfectly rightly and properly, by this means their action would not raise the expectations of those who are avowed or unavowed Protectionists, and that it would be difficult in the future to resist opening the door still further. I had a copy of his speech sent me by my right hon. friend the Member for Sleaford. I must say I was one of those unduly suspicious persons as to the Free Trade principles of the right hon. Gentleman; but when I read his speech I found him again and again talking of the bad old days of Protection and the evil days of the corn laws. That is very satisfactory, and if the agitation now going on has brought conviction to the other two Gentlemen suspected of Protectionist leanings, I do not think that we need very deeply regret this agitation.
I, for one, have been pleased at the general strong testimony given in these debates as to the absolute necessity of retaining firmly our Free Trade principles if we are to sustain the commerce and industry of the country. It is on these main lines that I hope the House of Commons will regard this question. I know that certain differences will crop up. Encouragement seems to have been given to our Colonies, and perhaps even to foreign Powers, to haggle for commercial tariffs. Imperialists, like Unionists, differ from one another. There are some Imperialists who are so parochially minded as to he jealous of trade by foreigners. I have the old and pleasant hope of dealing with foreigners as possible customers; and when I am told that we should only buy corn from some countries where the Union Jack flies, I begin to question whether that is real business. It seems that there are some Imperialists who cannot emancipate themselves from a narrow way of looking at questions. 74 This is the greatest commercial nation in the world; we trade with everybody for our own sake and for theirs, and to say that we should not spread our trade and commerce wherever we can is not patriotic. I hope that Imperialists will not spread their views too far in that direction. I cannot help referring to the speech made by the hon. Member for Exeter, who admitted that he had nothing to suggest except economy. But his economy seems to be founded on the principle of hesitating to pay your bills. True economy is to keep down expenditure, and when peace is established in South Africa to cease borrowing money to pay current expenses. I trust that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not accept the very bad advice given him by the hon. Member for Exeter to go on borrowing. Surely it cannot be said that our English working men are unwilling to bear their share, their fair proportion, of the cost of carrying on the business of the country and of the war. I do not wish to go into the policy of the war, a question which is not now before us; but I believe that the English working classes are quite equal to rising to the occasion, and to paying their share of the enormous expenses of the war. For, after all, they are Englishmen, and the credit of the country is their credit. Therefore, do not let us adopt the tone that all this is a question of taxing the unfortunate poor or the widows. What we are mainly concerned with are the industrial classes who are at present prosperous, and I believe that in the long run their true patriotism will toll. I believe that our friends opposite have gone on an altogether wrong tack, and that there is no other alternative but to raise the tax in question. I venture to praise the Chancellor of the Exchequer for his quality of honesty, and I maintain that this is a perfectly straightforward and honest Budget, and that it will receive the support of the country.
§ * (4.55.) MR. BLACK (Banffshire)
A great deal has been said in the course of the debate as to who it is who is to pay the tax, and I would like to hear a satisfactory answer to that question. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has wriggled a good deal to get out of the idea that the consumer will have to pay the tax. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman has taken that 75 attitude because he feels that if the consumer has to pay the tax it must be a bad one. On what grounds does he try to shift the tax from the shoulders of the consumer on to those of somebody else? Fortunately we have a dictum of the right hon. Gentleman when he was introducing the sugar duty—I want a tax," said he," which everybody will pay, not only those who are privileged to pay income tax or the death duties, or those who indulge in alcohol, or tobacco.Now, does that dictum properly describe the tax which he is now imposing? Is there any difference in the corn tax and the sugar tax? Everybody is to pay this tax, independently of their taxable capacity. I wish to draw attention to the fact that the debate has proceeded on the wrong assumption as regards proportion of direct and indirect taxation. The Secretary to the Treasury gave us some figures and some percentages, but I do not know where he found them. According to the figures presented by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the total taxation to be raised this year was £131,858,000. Of that sum £68,000,000 is to be raised by indirect taxation, and only the balance of £63,000,000 by direct taxation, and while the indirect taxation is intended to be permanent, the direct taxation is, to a large extent, only temporary. The hon. Member for Oldham spoke of the tremendous increase that has taken place in the ratio of indirect taxation as compared with direct taxation. It is a great pity that he did not verify his references. Under the influence of Liberal administrations Parliament did decrease indirect proportion to direct taxation, but under the influence of the present Government the proportion has been entirely reversed, and that without regard to taxable capacity. Has the hon. Gentleman ever heard of taxable margin? Are the people who are to pay this tax possessed of a taxable margin in their incomes? How much taxation falls on the ordinary working man's household at the present moment? The total indirect taxation of the country amounts to £1 13s. per head the population; that means that the household of the average working man pays £7 10s. per annum in taxation, and if you add the middleman's profit it would amount to £10 per household of the working man. What do we find his 76 capacity to pay is? Frequent reference has been made to Mr. Rowntree's book. He states that in the prosperous city of York, the average working man's income is about 25s. per week or £60 a year. That is a very high average if you apply it to the rural districts and to the country as a whole. The agricultural labourer earns nothing like that sum, and I think I may say, speakingly broadly, that the unskilled labourer does not earn more than 18s. a week and certainly less than £1. If it is a fact that he has to pay £10 for indirect taxation you are levying upon that man one-fifth of his income.
Turn now to the case of a man of average moderate means, say with £1,000 a year. What taxation does he pay? He pays about £62 10s. in income tax, and in indirect taxation between £20 and £30. If he equalises the death duties and insures against them, perhaps he will pay £30 or £40 more. Therefore, roughly, he pays about one-ninth or one-tenth of his whole taxable capacity. But the working man has no taxable margin at all. Mr. Rowntree says that for an average family of two grown-up people and three children receiving not more than 21s. 8d. per week, it cannot be too clearly understood or too emphatically repeated that, whenever such a worker indulges in any expenditure upon anything but necessities of life, he can only do so at the cost of his own physical deficiency, or at the cost of the ordinary requirements of members of the family. He has no taxable margin at all, but when you turn to the other scale I have mentioned it is nearly all taxable margin. Reference was made by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to the rate of increase in wealth during the last fifty years. He said that fifty years ago 19s. 8d. per head was paid in indirect taxation, and now it is something like 30s. per head. But what has been the increase in wealth? During that period the wealth of this country has increased by three times its former amount. Fifty years ago the accumulated wealth of this country was put at £4,000,000, but today it is about £13,000,000. So that if direct taxation were to bear the same ratio as it did fifty years ago, it should not stand at 30s. but at £3. I commend that aspect of the matter to the right hon. Gentleman.
I pass from that to consider how far this tax is protective. I have not heard it stated in the course of this debate how 77 far the corn laws really affected the price of broad. The corn laws were not objected to because they did good to a certain section of landowners or farmers, but the reason was that they raised the price of bread in this country. How much did they raise it? The amount by which they raised it must have had some relation to the amount they brought to the revenue. Does the right hon. Gentleman concede that? I think he must. Has the right hon. Gentleman looked back to see the amount produced by the corn duties of 1840? I believe at that time the corn duties produced something like £1,100,000. That was all they brought in, and I want to know if the corn duties then raised the price of bread, how can it be said that the raising of £2,500,000 by this tax is not going to raise the price of bread? At that time the raising of £1,100,000 raised the price of bread, and now the Chancellor of the Exchequer is doubling and nearly trebling that amount, and is he going to stand up in the House of Commons and seriously say that this duty will not raise the price of bread? The duty he is proposing is more objectionable than the Protective duties under the corn laws, because those duties were only levied when wheat was cheap. They fixed a certain average, and the duty was only paid when the price of wheat was below that standard. The moment the price of wheat went up, the duty fell. Not even a registration duty was then exacted, whereas the duty which the right hon. Gentleman is putting on is fixed, and it is a permanent burden and addition to the price of wheat. In that respect this duty is more objectionable than the corn duties which were abolished. Hon. Members opposite appear to speak as if the repeal of the registration duty was an extravagant giving away of the revenue. I will tell the House why that duty was repealed. It was because our imports of grain began to grow so great that really the Government of the day were compelled to repeal the registration duty because it became almost as great a burden upon the food of the people as the corn laws themselves. It followed that if the corn laws were bad, then this registration duty was bad. The people of 1869 felt that if there was good reason in 1842, and again in 1845 and 1846, for repealing the corn laws, there was an equal reason for repealing the registration duty in 1869.
78 In another respect this tax is even more objectionable than the duties under the corn laws. Under the corn laws the amount of wheat imported bore a comparatively small proportion to the total consumed in this country, and therefore the duty had not the same effect upon price. At that time the producers in this country practically fixed the price, but now the port of import fixes the price. While in 1840 the natural price of wheat in this country must have had some influence on the price at the port of import, now the proportion of wheat imported is very large, and it has a much more important effect upon the price and will keep it up to a much greater extent. Further, under the old régime a very large portion of this country was under the plough, and, in so far as there was any benefit to be derived from Protective duties by the producer, that benefit was spread pretty well all over the country. Therefore, so far as this duty is protective, it is restricted in its operation. A certain proportion of landowners will lose by it, because they will have to pay the tax upon their feeding stuffs. A certain number of landowners (because by an infallible law what is the loss or gain of the farmer in the first place will ultimately accrue to the landowner) will neither lose nor gain, because what they pay extra for feeding stuffs will go on to the price of wheat. One-fourth of the agricultural producers of the country will gain relatively by the amount that wheat has increased in price, and I put that at about £600,000. The total increase in the price of home-grown wheat will be about £1,200,000, produced by a rise of 1s. per quarter, and about £600,000 would represent the gain of the people who are growing wheat exclusively. What does that mean? It means £600,000 upon one-fourth of the agricultural rental of this country. The rental of this country is about £50,000,000 a year, and one-fourth of that is a little over £12,000,000; therefore £600,000 means 1s. in the £ on the rental; and so, by the operation of this duty, you are going to pay the income tax of these people at the expense of the poorest class of the community.
My third objection to this tax is that it is really unwarranted and wanton, even according to the right hon. Gentleman's own scheme of finance propounded in introducing his Budget last year. Upon 79 what ground did he put his tax upon sugar? Let us look for a moment at his Budget speech of 1901, and I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will seriously dispute this point. I would like to know whether in producing his Budget of last year the right hon. Gentleman had in his mind this idea of going a step further in the direction of introducing a tax on the food of the people. Is this tax simply a development which has taken place since then, or had he in his mind at that time, having dealt with sugar, the taxation of corn this year, and is he going to deal with beef and bacon next year? I think from the expression upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer's face that he is going to take this course. The right hon. Gentleman in his Budget speech pointed out that the ordinary expenditure had since 1896 increased by £28,000,000, whereas the revenue had only increased by £16,000,000, which left an excess of expenditure of £12,000,000. That was his justification last year for increasing taxation. He said that the great difficulty with which he had then to deal was not the war expenditure but the ordinary expenditure of the country, and therefore, in imposing additional taxation to meet the additional expenditure of the present year, he thought we were bound to make some endeavour to put our financial system upon a proper basis so as to enable us to increase our revenue. How did the right hon. Gentleman produce that £12,000,000? He increased the income tax, which produced an additional £4,700,000; he placed a duty on sugar, estimated to bring in £5,100,000; and he put an export duty upon coal, estimated to realise£2,100,000. If these taxes had proved to be unproductive, I agree that the right hon. Gentleman would have been justified in increasing indirect taxation according to his scheme of finance. But what is the position this year? He said last year that we had a deficit of £12,000,000. This year nothing of the kind has taken place. I am not misrepresenting the right hon. Gentleman, I think. This year, he said, all is changed, and he congratulated the country on the stoppage of the growth of ordinary expenditure.
§ * SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I said the ordinary expenditure had not risen so much as in the previous year.
§ * MR. BLACK
Well, the growth is quite small—something like £1,600,000, and this he got out of the greater productiveness of his sugar tax. The sugar duties proved more productive-than he anticipated. The right hon. Gentleman estimated they would produce £5,100,000; they produced between £6,000,000 and £7,000,000. The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing his Budget, said—I am, therefore, endeavouring now, as I endeavoured last year when I asked the Committee to raise additional taxation in order to meet the charges of the war, so to frame that taxation as that when peace returns, and it is possible also to return to ordinary expenditure, we may have no difficulty in setting it on a basis which will be equitable to all the taxpayers of the country.A very excellent sentiment, but how does the right hon. Gentleman apply it? He says—If during the war we be not shrink from bearing the part of the cost of the war which we fairly ought to bear, then at the end of the war must come the reduction of taxation, On previous occasions it has always been felt that the income tax payers had the first claim to such a reduction.That is what he means when; he speaks of making taxation equitable. The working man is to pay, the income tax payers are to be released. That is the characteristic policy of those of whom the right hon. Gentleman is the lineal successor—the landowners of this country. Their land was given to them in olden times on condition that that they should be responsible for the defence of the country, but as times go on they slide a bit of the burden on the shoulders of the people to relieve their own. That has gone on for ages past. The right hon. Gentleman does not belie his ancestry. We find the Government making the war the excuse for raising; the ordinary taxation of the country in order to raise on a scaffolding of war enthusiasm a burden of taxation on the food of the people, so that when the war is over they may remove the scaffold and leave an edifice of Protection and food' taxation standing. I venture, however, to predict it will collapse at the first touch of high prices and low wages and bury the present Government in its ruins.
§ *(5.18.) MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
I do not know any event which has given rise to such a remarkable speech as that delivered by the hon. Member for Waterford a few minutes ago. That speech probably impressed the House more than any other that has been delivered during this debate. I rise, not representing the class for which he pleads, but to reinforce the arguments he addressed to the House. Two things must strike the House as being remarkable. One is that although this debate has taken three days, only one representative of Ireland has taken part in it, and the other is that although Ireland has no love for Free Trade in the abstract, the Irish representatives on that side of the House representing the poorest part of the people of Ireland announce their intention of voting against this proposal. Why is it that Ireland, while in favour of Protection, is going to vote against this Bill, and why is it that in a three days' debate only one Irishman has taken part in the discussion? I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not draw any conclusion from the latter circumstance. At all events he knows Ireland well. He knows she suffered from Free Trade in the past. We were a corn growing country, and we have been turned into a cattle ranch, and now I contend we are going to be hit harder than any other class by this proposal. If the proposals were frankly Protectionist, I suspect many of us Irish Members would find ourselves in a difficult place. I am a convinced Free Trader, and should oppose this proposal under any circumstances, but that is not the position of the great majority of the Irish Members and the Irish people. If the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer are Protectionist, then we ought to know what the proposals mean. Is the bread tax a war tax? That is the first thing I desire to know. I have sat through these debates and Ido not now know whether it is a war tax or a tax for present emergencies. If this tax is simply to be raised as a necessity and given up when peace is reached, so far good; but if it is to be part of a policy of broadening the basis of our financial system inaugurated in 1895, under which the national taxation has gone up £40,000,000 82 sterling, the right hon. Gentleman ought to admit that it is a permanent tax, and then we could draw our own conclusions. If it be a war tax let him say so, and though many of us will think it is the worst that was ever imposed, it will not be a national step back towards Protection. If, on the other hand, it is to be a permanent tax we shall know what it means. Let me say this, you can do some electoral business if you frankly call Protection to your aid, but you will never gain anything by a twopenny-halfpenny policy like this. What is the position of Ireland at this moment in regard to this tax? I have been entreated from every part of Ulster to vote against these proposals. It is curious that the North and South should be united in this matter; they are not always united, but this tax hits the farmer probably harder than anybody else in Ireland. It brings nothing to him—corn has not been grown for years, and milling has become a lost art. Driven to cattle-raising, they import meals and offals in large quantities, and all this is now to-be taxed. The real truth is, there is not a farmer raising cattle, a peasant raising pigs, or a poor woman raising poultry, who will not feel this tax. My hon. and learned friend the Member for Waterford referred to a communication which came to him from the north of Ireland. I presume it is the same as that which came to me from Portadown.
§ * MR. T. W. RUSSELL
That is not a place he has much communication with, and it means that the farmer who has a farm for which he pays £12 rent will have to pay as much through this tax as the rates on his farm, and that is said to be a relief to Ireland. Ireland has to compete with Denmark in butter, but food stuffs go to Denmark free, and in Ireland we must pay this duty. The same with pork. We have to compete with Denmark and the United States, where these feeding stuffs go in free. All the feeding stuffs are now to be taxed. But while the feeding stuffs that go into Ireland are to be taxed, it is a very strange coincidence that those mainly used by the English farmer—linseed and cotton seed cake—are to be free.
83 So far as the Irish farmer is concerned, he knows what this tax means. He knows it is a veritable tax for him, and that it will handicap his industry in the future. Let no agricultural representative from the North of Ireland make any mistake as to what he is going to do if he votes for this tax. My right hon. friend the Member for East Wolverhampton was taken to task the other night for calling this a mean tax. He did not put it half as strongly as he might have done. Take the West of Ireland, a district which nobody knows better than the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself. I unreservedly subscribe to the doctrine that every class, whether rich or poor, that has called for and approved of this war ought to be made to feel it. But you cannot apply that argument to the West of Ireland. So far as the great majority of the people of Ireland are concerned—I regret it, but they have a right to their opinion—they have given no support to the war; they have passionately protested against it. You talk about maize and Indian meal. We call it yellow meal in Ireland. It is an article upon which you would not feed your dogs, and which your dogs would not eat. [A laugh.] This is no laughing matter to these poor people. The food upon which you feed your animals happens to be the food of great numbers of these poor people in the West of Ireland. Am I to be told that this great and rich country, with its enormous resources, will stoop so low as to put a tax upon that yellow meal which those poor people are compelled to use as an article of food? I say the right hon. Gentleman was right in calling that a mean policy, and the country will take the same view.
I have been pressed by Ulster farmers, not in my constituency alone, but all over the province, to vote against these proposals. I do so, first of all, because I believe they are the initial step back to Protection, that the Government will not be able to stay where they are even if they wish to, and that the Protectionists will press them forward and compel them to go further. I will be no party to taxing the bread of the people, or the food of the poor. You may tell me that the tax upon tea involves the same principle. Anyone who remembers the old controversy on Free Trade knows the 84 answer to that argument. I shall oppose the tax at every stage, because I will be no party to taking even one step on the fatal road of Protection. I shall oppose the tax, because it is unjust in its incidence on the country, a part of which I represent. When this proposal was first made I do not think the people knew what it really meant. It is easy to speak of a tax on corn and flour, but nobody ever imagined it meant a tax on bran, Indian meal, pollard, and offal. The moment the people realised that they spoke out against it. Finally I oppose the tax because it is a mean tax, as it is placed on the food of the poorest of the poor, which they have trouble enough to get without taxation.
§ *(5.37.) MR. LOGAN (Leicester, Harborough)
I am bound to say I never expected to live to see any responsible Minister get up in this House and propose such a mean tax as one upon the bread of the poorest of the poor. Leaving for the moment the question of Protection and Free Trade, I should like to look at this matter simply as a tax, as a means of collecting money. Looked at from that point of view I say that it is about as clumsy and extravagant a tax as any man could devise. This is a new tax affecting imports to the value of millions of money at every port in the country. It will consequently necessitate a large increase of staff, and, in many cases, an increase of warehouse accommodation. Again, the amount of red tape and circumlocution which will be necessary to collect the tax must impose considerable restrictions and inconveniences upon the importers of corn into this country.
The tax is also a wasteful tax. It represents a tax of 5d. per cwt. on flour, or 1s. 0½d. per sack. A sack of flour makes about ninety 4lb. loaves. Therefore, supposing a baker puts ¾d. on each 4lb. loaf, the consumer will pay 1s. 10½d. to allow of 1s. 0½d. going to the Exchequer, that is, 45 per cent. of the amount paid by the consumer will be wasted. But, supposing, as is already the case in many places, the baker charges an additional ½d. per 4lb. loaf; the consumer will then pay 3s. 9d. for every 1s. 0½d. which goes into the Exchequer. I think I am therefore justified in saying this is a wasteful tax.
85 Then one word on the question of who pays this tax. On the first night of this debate the junior Member for Leicester said the consumer would not pay it, but the producer would. The Financial Secretary this afternoon also appeared to favour that way of looking at the matter, If that is so, why do not these hon. Gentlemen propose that the duty should be 5s. instead of 5d., so that we may collect £30,000,000 from the foreigner, and not a mere £2,500,000? There is no doubt in the minds of the poor people as to who will pay the tax. The right hon. Gentleman says he must have the money. I know he must, but there are many better ways by which he might have got it. The Financial Secretary reminded us of the various increased expenditures which necessitate increased taxation. But he failed to remind us of one increase—the money that he and his friends have given to their own political friends and supporters, the landlords and parsons, in the Rates Act. When seeking for additional money it would have been better if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had repealed those iniquitous Acts which take from the poorest of the poor money to pay the rates of one of the richest classes in the country. The Financial Secretary also told us of the money that has been laid out "to peg out claims for posterity," and to open up new markets for our people. Let me tell him that the best market in the world is here at our own doors. Nearly one-third of our entire population are today in receipt of wages which do not enable them to develop their full physical forces. If we want markets, let us set to work and clothe and feed our own people. There is no occasion for us to spend our money all over the wide wide world to find markets when we have them in our teeming poor populations at home.
Then, Sir, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer objected to repeal those Doles Acts, why did he not increase the income tax? I know that is an unpopular thing to say, but I am not here to say popular things. I am here to say that if it is a question between the poor man and the rich man it is the rich man who ought to be taxed. To say that our income taxpayers cannot pay any more is to say that which is not correct. According to the Income Tax Returns, the income taxpayers under Schedule Dare paying upon gross profits of £120,000,000 a year 86 more than they were fifteen years ago. I take the period of fifteen years because that is covered by the statistics. As our manufacturers are making today £120,000,000 a year more profit than they made fifteen years ago they ought not to have grumbled, and I doubt whether many of us would have grumbled if some little additional tax had been put upon those incomes instead of upon the food of the poor widow and orphan. There is one other source of income which some Chancellor of the Exchequer will have to tax sooner or later, and it is the income derived from land values in the neighbourhood of our towns. The Chancellor of the Exchequer knows that in the neighbourhood of every town in England there are enormous quantities of land which today are bringing in thousands of pounds per annum where they only brought in hundreds per annum a very few years ago. This land has increased in value from £100 to £1,000 per acre, and this increased value is not the result of anything that the nominal owner has ever done. On the contrary, in very many instances, that increased value has risen in spite of the owner, and in spite of his efforts to thwart the development of a town. And therefore I say that those increased land values, which are the creation of the community, belong, in all fairness and common honesty, to the community, and offer a fruitful source of taxation. I only hope that the right hon. Gentleman opposite will be the first to tax that source of income.
There is one advantage in taxing land values which commends itself to my mind, and it is that this is the one tax which cannot very well be shifted off the shoulders of the rich man on to the toiler, for I hold that it is the toiler who eventually pays every form of taxation which is imposed in this country, and I have yet to learn how it would be possible to run the affairs of this mighty nation upon the past labour of men if you excluded present-day labour. I hold that it is present-day labour that runs the whole thing. I am bound to confess that I do not believe that it was to get a paltry £2,500,000 the Chancellor of the Exchequer imposed this tax. I believe this tax has been imposed for the purpose of getting in the thin end of the wedge of Protection. I am not sure that this tax commends itself to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this light, but it does to the Colonial Secretary, for, 87 if I am not very much mistaken, he looks forward to adding to the glories of the Colonial Office by doing a little reciprocity deal with our colonies. I say that this tax is Protection pure and simple, in spite of what the Secretary to the Treasury said this afternoon. He asked us what is a Protective duty? A Protective duty is one which raises the price of home-grown stuff, and that is what this tax will do. The effect of this tax will be to put 4s. per acre on to the rental value of every acre of land in this country that grows wheat today. It is sufficient for my argument to know that the man who owns 1,000,000 acres of land which are growing wheat to-day will be £400,000 per year better off for this tax. [Ministerial laughter.] Hon. Members opposite laugh, but I do not suppose a single one of them will deny that the price of the 8,000,000 quarters of wheat which we grow in this country will be enhanced to the extent of 1s. per quarter by this tax. We also grow 8,000,000 quarters of barley, and the value of that also will be enhanced. We grow in this country 16,000,000 quarters of oats every year, and altogether what we produce is something like 32,000,000 quarters of corn. Therefore, it seems to me perfectly obvious that if you put 1s. a quarter duty on imported corn, you will raise the value of home-grown corn to the same extent. Consequently, under the operation of this tax, there will be something like £1,500,000 per annum going into the pockets of the owners of ploughed land in this country.
We often hear this question argued as if it were a farmers' question. But it is not; for whatever benefits the agriculturist must, in the long run, benefit the man who owns the land. The farmer is the landlord's bailiff working piecework, and anything which benefits the farmer must benefit the man who owns the land. I contend that this tax is Protection pure and simple. I have read in the history of this country the awful misery and desolation caused in the homes of our poor people by Protection, and I could not rest until I had denounced this tax. There are very few people alive today who suffered under the old bad Protectionist laws, but let me remind this House of a short resolution passed by the City Council of London in 1842, 88 after long years of Protection, which shows what was the condition of the country at that time. I feel sure that there is not a single hon. Member on either side of the House who wishes for one moment to return to such a condition of things. The following, resolution was passed on December 8th, 1842, by the Common Council of the City of London—The increasing depression in the manufacturing, commercial, and agricultural interests of this country, and the widespread distress among the working classes, are most alarming. Manafacturers without a market, shipping without freights, capital without investment, trade without profit, and farmers struggling under a system of high rents with prices falling. The working, population is rapidly increasing, and there is a daily decreasing demand for its labour. Union houses overflowing as workshops are deserted, corn laws to restrain importation, and inducing a starving people to regard the laws of their country with a deep sense of their injustice.I dread a return to those days. We have heard something in this House during this debate about the labourer and his 13s. per week, but in those days it was not 13s. a week, for many of them had to live upon 7s. or 8s. a week. Let me tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who I think spoke rather lightly of the lot of a man living on 13s. a week, that life upon 13s. a week is a very hard life indeed, and that no man who has not tried it has any right whatever to speak lightly of it. This 13s. a week for a man and his wife and three children means 4½d. per day for each individual member of the family to house, clothe, and feed themselves, to say nothing of anything else. I say that for men who enjoy everything that a kind Providence can shower down upon them to venture to talk lightly of such a man's life is the purest cant. I go-further, and say, Sir, that it is the refinement of cruelty to tax that man's bread. I daresay I may possibly shock many hon. Members here when I say that for the life of me I cannot understand how any hon. Gentleman who is going to sit down to a sumptuous dinner tonight, and take his share of wine which may cost 10s. 6d. per bottle, can find it in his conscience to vote for a tax upon the bread of the poorest of our poor; it utterly passes my comprehension.
I am not ashamed of saying that I think this is a mean and cowardly 89 tax, because it proposes to collect from the poorest of the poor, who can least afford to pay it, money which the richest among us could easily pay without feeling it in the slightest degree. I thought, Sir, that the lowest depth of political morality had been reached when the right hon. Gentleman proposed last year to tax the poorest of the people in order to pay the rates of the wealthy landowners, but this proposition goes still lower when it proposes to tax further the very necessaries of life of the widow and the orphan. I hear Gentlemen talk glibly about living on 13s. a week. All I can say is that I wish some of them would try it. If they would try it for a short time, I venture to say that they would get such a knowledge of one side of the financial conditions of the country that they have not got at the present time. I go further, and say that if any appreciable number of them would try it for one week, let alone a lifetime, this tax would not stand for a single hour. The noble Lord the Member for South Kensington yesterday foreshadowed some imaginary tax which he had in his mind's eye, and which he said every man would be proud to pay as a portion of the glorious inheritance of being an Englishman; but I would ask the noble Lord this : if I were a man with 13s. a week, and had to support a wife and family, what would he consider my share in the glorious inheritance of the British Empire? Then the noble Lord went on to tell us how we were to save our souls. I should like to tell him that though the diffculties may be great in finding a correct solution of that all-absorbing problem, unless I have read my Bible wrongly, the road to salvation does not lie in taxing those who are ahungered, athirst, naked, or sick. Our poor may in their folly and ignorance have shouted for this war, but I venture to say that posterity will support me in stating that they are the very last persons on God's earth who should have been taxed to pay for it.
§ (6.0.) MR. COHEN (Islington, E)
The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken seems to claim for hon. Members on the other side of the House a monopoly of compassion towards those who 90 are in troubled circumstances. Let me tell him, and others who have made use of that argument before, that we who support this tax are not less solicitous for the welfare of the people, and not less compassionate towards those who have a hard life, than those who make such remarks about taxing what they call poor people. I have listened attentively to the debate for two days, and nothing has struck me more than the fact that although hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and especially the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton, said it was going to unite the Liberal Party, it certainly has not united the views they have expressed on this tax. They have condemned this tax, certainly. Some of them have condemned it because they say it is Protection, while the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton said—and perhaps he will allow me to say that I respectfully agree with him—that no majority of 130 will ever enable any Government in this country to restore the principle of Protection. It is not possible for the right hon. Gentleman on the one hand to entertain the belief that Protection cannot be restored, and for his colleague the hon. Member for Poplar to say that they resist this tax because, forsooth, of their apprehension of that Protection, and at the same time to claim to be united. I avow myself as staunch, and I hope, as convinced a Free Trader as any hon. or right hon. Gentleman opposite, and the question which I ask myself and which I have not heard answered is this. If it is Protection, whom is it going to protect? We heard from the hon. Member for South Tyrone, and the hon. Member for Waterford, that this tax, if it is not going to ruin, is going seriously to prejudice, the Irish people. Certainly I think it will be costly to the Irish farmer and to the English farmer, but how can you say in the same breath that this tax is going to be costly to the British farmer, and claim for it that it is Protection in the interest of the British farmer? I support the tax, because I believe there is not in it a shadow of Protection whatever. I am not so timid as the right hon. Gentleman seemed to be of the great principles of Free Trade; that by the enactment of a small tax which has no 91 shadow of Protection about it, we need fear that a Protective duty of 4s., 5s., or 20s., as some Gentleman said, will be hereafter rendered possible in consequence of that.
But there is one more reason which has been alluded to in all those debates which particularly interests me. It is the growing—I would almost say the appalling growth—of the expenditure of the country : the growth of the normal expenditure, and the growth of the Debt in consequence of the war, and the importance, in my opinion, of restoring the operation of the sinking fund, and the reduction of the Debt as soon as peace is restored. How can that machinery be put in operation again, unless there is a basis of taxation which will enable that to be carried out? My right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer foreshadowed this five years ago in his Budget speech of 1896, when there was no question of war, when he felt, as every Chancellor of the Exchequer must feel, the importance and the serious results of the growing expenditure of the country. He said, on the 16th of April, 1896—Now I think the Committee will see that if our expenditure goes on increasing we shall he within measurable distance of the time when our choice will he between diminishing or putting an end to the reduction of our National Debt, or resorting to an increase of taxation.We are face to face with that situation today, with this difference, that the Debt has been increased enormously on account of the war. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire said the other day that he did not believe we should see the sinking fund restored. I differ. I think we shall and I hope we shall. I believe the imposition of the coal and sugar taxes last year and of the registration duty on corn this year, is but a necessary step towards the restoration of those wise laws for the reduction of our Debt which the exigencies of war have obliged us to suspend, but which it will be our duty to restore in future.
Can anybody believe that the normal expenditure of this country is going to be seriously reduced? I am quite certain, and I think the right hon. Gentleman opposite will agree, that there has been no Chancellor of the Exchequer in modern times who has more lamented the increase of expenditure and who has more avowed himself an ardent economist 92 than the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his individual capacity, can exercise a very small effect on the expenditure of the country. He can save a few thousand pounds here and a few hundred thousand pounds there on the so-called cheese-paring economies of the Treasury, but that is about the limit of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's power as Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is the Government of the day and the House of Commons of the day who alone can control expenditure. I am not one of those who believe that the expenditure of this country can be very much reduced. If hon. Gentlemen opposite differ—I do not think many of them do—and if they say we ought to spend less on education, less on the Navy, and less on the Army, let us go to the country upon that issue, and let us see whether the country is with us or with them; but unless you do believe that the country is desirous of reducing the defensive forces or the educational expenditure, then I say it is the duty of any Government, I care not which one, to take care that the taxation of the country shall be raised to a level sufficient, firstly, to meet the expenditure of the country as voted by the House of Commons, and then to meet the expenditure required for the carrying out what is necessary in connection with the sinking fund. That is alone before us today. We have not to consider whether the House of Commons has been right, or whether even the nation has been right in the expenditure it has approved. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has to supply the means to carry out the policy which has been voted by Parliament. But I venture to say that when peace is restored he has to restore the operation of the sinking fund in the reduction of the Debt which he has been obliged to incur, so that the enormously increased Debt shall be speedily reduced. I certainly approve of the taxation which my right hon. friend, with great courage, has put before the House. I believe it will be welcomed by the country, and I do not think any of us need fear the issue which I am quite sure will be raised in the country about the taxing of the bread of the people.
§ (6.15.) SIR ROBERT REID (Dumfries Burghs)
I think the economic aspect of this tax has been, if not exhausted, at all events very fully discussed, and I will only say one word about that side of the question. I do not understand the position of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. I do not understand why the farmers will not be injured as well as the poorer part of the population, for the farmers are consumers like ourselves. It is rather upon another side of the question that I wish to say a few words. We have not yet heard whether this tax is intended to be permanent or purely a war tax. I have very little doubt that it is intended to be the beginning of a series of taxes of this character, which, starting with one necessity of life, corn, will gradually be extended to articles of manufacture and to the whole range of products to which Protectionists desire to see taxes of this kind applied. It is on that ground that I wish to make my protest against this tax, because I think it will not do considerable damage by itself. But it is true also that it is a war tax. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has put it perfectly plainly that this tax would never have been thought of, and never would have been imposed, if it had not been for the war. The policy of the war may be light or wrong—I think it is wrong—but this is the price the people have to pay for it. Taxes ought to be assigned to their causes. I should like to see it impressed on the minds of every man, woman, and child that this tax is appropriated to the war, which is the parent of the tax.
What will be the effect of this tax on those who will have to pay it? It is quite clear that to those who are well-to-do, it will be imperceptible; they will not feel it. But to the very poor, as has been established in this debate, it will be a most serious tax. In the first place, my hon. and learned friend the Member for South Shields pointed out that in the East End of London one-third of the population were insufficiently fed, some of them occasionally, many of them generally. Then we have had from my right hon. friend the Member for East Wolverhampton, who is a high authority, that to a man whose 94 wages are 12s. a week this tax means a tax of 6d. a week. We have heard-from the hon. Member for Waterford a most touching description of the misery and want in which the people in many parts of Ireland live. I trust that hon. Gentlemen opposite will remember that our duty to the people of Ireland is at least as great as to our own people. The hon. Member for South Tyrone has also made reference to the effect that this tax will have on the poor in the North of Ireland. To my own knowledge cases quite as distressing arise in Scotland. There were sent to me from a charitable institution not long ago some particulars of the condition of the people in many parts of Glasgow. There was one case in particular of a woman who was bringing up a grandchild, and the two together had 3s. 6d. a week to live upon, and out of that they had to pay 1s. in rent. In the rural parts of Scotland, what is allowed for out-door relief, which is very common in that country, though uncommon in England, is 3s. per week. Now, upon these poor people, so numerous in the East End of London and elsewhere, of whom one-third are on the verge of starvation, and in constant want, this tax is cruel and inhuman. It is a tax that drives them to hunger; it is a tax which leads them from partial starvation to greater starvation; it is a tax which ought not to be imposed except from dire necessity, and there is no dire necessity here, or anything of the kind. There is some confused notion in the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite that those who have supported the war ought to pay for it, and there are some of my own friends with whom this argument finds peculiar favour. They say that those who have been responsible for such a deplorable affair as this war has been, ought to be made to feel the effects of it. But this tax squares ill with any theory of retributive justice, for the very poor, who will feel it most, have seldom any votes. To begin with, they are largely composed of women and children. Then, the people as a whole have been largely misled in regard to this war; they have been committed to it by the unwisdom of the Government. They are unable to 95 master the huge volumes which contain the story of the negotiations prior to the war, even if these were accessible to them. Again, they were asked to support the war because it was in the interest of the country. There is no basis in justice in imposing a tax of this kind. I will not myself believe that, after hearing what was said in this debate, the Chancellor of the Exchequer likes to put it on the people.
Is the tax necessary? I am not going to enter into that argument, for it is a considerable argument; but I am not satisfied with the right hon. Gentleman's explanation as to why beer cannot bear this tax, and I do not think anybody has been satisfied with it. Why should there not be an increase in the death duties? I do not say that the death duties are very high for people who are rich, or moderate for people who are not very rich; but anything is better than to put a tax of this kind on a class of people who are on the verge of starvation. Suppose that the death duties were increased for millionaires from 18 to 22 per cent., or even 25 per cent., or if all the people whose estates amounted to upwards of £1,000, were taxed, these death duties would make up all the money required without anyone feeling it at all.
Lastly, let me ask this question: Is this a politic tax? I do not mean politic from the point of view of Party, although. I think the right hon. Gentleman will find out soon that he has not done wisely from a Party point of view. I judge of it from the point of view of the public interest. The noble Lord the Member for South Kensington made a speech yesterday, which I listened to with great interest, in which he said that all persons would welcome, from a lofty, ideal point of view, the call to make personal sacrifices for the purposes of the war, and for the purpose of maintaining our great prestige. I suppose that some who hear me sympathise with the noble Lord's new Imperialism, although it is rather a refined term. I have nothing in common with the methods of the new Imperialism. I have nothing in common with its materialism, nor with 96 its violence, nor with its intolerance of the free expression of the opinions of other men. Still less have I any sympathy with levity as to the awful issues of peace and war. But I share with the noble Lord, and every other person of my acquaintance, sober pride in the greatness of this country, and the most earnest desire to see it unimpaired. I do not want to see feelings encouraged which may grow up in this country, such as was pointed to by the hon. Member for Market Harborough, if we call on the people for sacrifices greater than human nature can bear. I ask what sacrifices are we expected to make? Well, the sacrifices the Government are asking from rich men are practically nothing. There are many rich men in this House, many men well oft'; and, whatever the effects of this tax may be on those who make their business in trade, do they really suffer anything from this Budget? Have their comforts and their luxuries been in the least impaired through anything imposed by way of taxation by the Chancellor of the Exchequer's recent Budgets? I think candour will oblige them to acknowledge that that is not so. Even those of only moderate means—working men with from 30s. to £3 or £4—have made some sacrifice, but it comes to very little, and has involved no very great sacrifice of comfort. The people of this country have shown that they are prepared to sacrifice anything in reason; but from the class from whom so many brave men have already made sacrifice of life and limb, the class who are willing to make any other sacrifice in reason, it is asking too much to expect that they should see their wives going with insufficient food, or to hear their children crying for food when they have nothing to satisfy them with. I say that that is a sacrifice these men will not make for any ideal, which they ought not to make, and which you have no right to ask them to make. And that is the sacrifice you ask these poor people to make by this tax. I believe, myself, that the very ideal which the noble Lord most cherishes, and has most eloquently put before the House, is in danger of being shattered if you tax the necessaries of life.
*(6.30.) MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
The hon. Gentleman who has 97 just spoken, with all the sentiment and feeling he invariably displays, has, I think, exaggerated the effect of this tax. Lot me remind the hon. Gentleman that he is incorrect in stating the full effect of the death duties. It is possible to get at present not merely 18 but 19 per cent. from the millionaire. We have had some extraordinary incursions into the regions of economy and morality in the course of this debate. The right hon. Gentleman opposite suggested that this tax would re-establish the state of things which existed in 1842. No, Sir; if it re-establishes anything at all, it will re-establish the state of things which existed in 1868–9, between which and the state of things in 1842 there is an enormous difference. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that in the intervening years the corn laws were abolished, and that when in 1846 that occurred the Corn Law League dissolved itself on the professed ground that its work was done, although this very tax, now proposed to be re-imposed, was still left. Why then was this tax of 1s. a quarter abolished? It was abolished purely in the name of abstract science and speculation. I will quote Mr. Lowe on the subject. He said in 1869 when he proposed the abolition—Surely there is such a thing as faith in politics as well as in religion; and if we cannot, at this time of "lay, trust enough to the doctrines of political economy and Free Trade to believe that when you raise nearly £1,000,000 sterling from the poorest of your people you do an immense amount of mischief, what is the use of abstract science and speculation at all?Therefore, it was in the name of abstract science and speculation that this 1s. tax was taken off, not at all in the name of the food of the people. Nevertheless, the food of the people is concerned. This proposal amounts to putting 4 per cent. ad volorem on the food of the people. That is an appreciable sum, and amounts as far as it goes to Protection for the home grower. I am bound to admit that. There is no question about it. Take 6200 worth of corn, £100 of it grown at home, and the other abroad. You add £4 to the foreign-grown corn, and do not add anything to the homo-grown. Clearly you give an advantage to the home grower. It is idle to contend that this is not a tax on food, and an appreciable tax, and a tax to some extent Protective in its character. But, even then, I think the 98 Chancellor of the Exchequer has a reply, because if there is one thing I have learned from that branch of political science called political economy, it is that as long as your motive is pure you may pat on any tax you please. If a Minister raises a tax with the sole intent of protecting his own people, that is Protection, which is anathema maranatha ; but if he puts on a tax for the purpose of raising revenue, then he is pure, the Free Trader absolves him, and the shade of Cobden rises and blesses him. That is the Chancellor of the Exchequer's motive; as to whether it is an adequate motive, I will say a few words later.
We have had imported into this debate very high morality. The noble Lord the Member for South Kensington has spoken about duty, and the other noble Lord, the Member for Greenwich, speaking to us in the transcendental language of the mediæval cloister, told us that it was absolutely necessary that we should do what was right and noble, and not what was sordid and profitable. When I heard him say that, I thought that he had mistaken his vocation, and that, instead of being a Member of this House, he should have been, in the month of October last year, a curate preaching a weekly sermon at Hatfield. I have said that, in my opinion, the Chancellor of the Exchequer may plead the language of Free Traders themselves as a justification for this tax. I confess that, at the beginning of the session, seeing the prospect of a long-continued war, and knowing, more or less, the state of the Exchequer, it did seem to me that the psychological moment had arrived for reimposing in 1902 the 1s. tax on corn taken off in 1869 in the sole name of abstract science and speculation, and not on Free Trade grounds. I am occasionally a Free Trader myself; I am occasionally a Protectionist, and occasionally an Exclusionist. Occasion is the life of politics. At one moment the sound statesman may practise a virtue which in another moment becomes in him a vice. It is all a matter of occasion. At one time, with Adam Smith, I am prepared to be a Protectionist; at other times I am prepared to be a Free Trader—as, indeed, I hold myself to be more or less at this moment; but, apart from all questions of Free Trade or cloistered morality, I hold 99 it is not a good thing to put a tax on bread if it can be avoided. I believe a sound principle of taxation is to let the hand of the labourer go free, to let the implement in that hand go free, and to tax the pocket into which goes profit from the unshackled energies of the man who works. Therefore, I very much regretted the necessity which I thought there was for taxing bread. I felt, and I was told, that there was an emergency, and that we were in financial straits; but since the Chancellor of the Exchequer conceived this tax there is a promise of dawn which may bring him to the day of peace. I believe if it does not, there will be a strict account called for in the country. That does change the nature of the emergency, and the nature of the necessity which the Chancellor of the Exchequer might plead when he first conceived this Budget.
But there is more than that. I have been at some pains to look into the accounts of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and there is one item which does seem to me to show that there is no necessity, either for this tax on corn, or even for an increase in the income tax. There appears at the foot of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's accounts an item which I have never seen in this balance sheet before—£17,750,000 for contingencies. He asks us, in other words, in Ways and Means, to provide him with that amount for contingencies. But Supply knows no such thing as contingencies. Supply is a definite vote of a definite sum for a definite purpose; and the proper purpose of Ways and Means is to find the money voted in Supply, and not to go beyond it. To ask us to give £17,750,000 more than has been granted to the Sovereign for the specific purposes described in Ways and Means, without any Vote before us, is surely putting the cart before the horse, and means a constitutional innovation of the most serious character. Let me show how the account stands. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has to find for the Consolidated Fund Services and Supply £170,700,000; his revenue, as he calculates it, will amount to £148,300,000. In addition, he has already issued a loan of £32,000,000, and, therefore, he has already got in hand £180,000,000, and that without imposing a single extra tax. Without the corn 100 duty, the ill-fated cheque duty, which I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has abandoned, or the increase in the income tax, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has therefore already got in his pocket £10,000,000, as to which there has been no consideration by the House, and no vote of the House. Indeed, we have no account as to what he means to do with it, except that if he does not want it for the war, he will expend it in a very beneficial manner, which will please everybody. That is not the way in which this House should be treated in Ways and Means. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has already £10,000,000 surplus without extra taxation, then he proposes to take another £5,000,000 by extra taxation, and altogether, if his proposals are assented to, he will have £15,000,000, not a farthing of which has been voted in Supply. It seems to me that that state of things makes it extremely doubtful whether the right hon. Gentleman is justified in asking the House to vote this duty on corn. There are objections to it, not on Free Trade grounds at all, but on the ground I have stated, namely, that it is a matter of high policy not to tax a hand of the worker. My original objections were overcome by what I considered the financial straits and emergencies of the time, but after an examination of the accounts of the right hon. Gentleman, I confess I shall have the very greatest possible hesitation in giving a vote to add £5,000,000 to the £10,000,000 he already possesses.
§ *(6.43.) MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
I am not in the habit of unduly obtruding myself on the attention of the House, but I feel this is one of the occasions on which I should not like to give a silent vote. In all our previous debates on South African affairs, and on every phase of the war, I have remained silent. Not because I have not a very clear and very firm conviction as to the rights and wrongs of the war, but I did not wish it to be thought that I was hampering the hand of the Government or interfering with the work they were carrying on, and I remained silent. But, Sir, tonight I feel I should like to utter my protest, both on my own account and on account of those I have the honour to represent in this House, against the 101 proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to tax the food of the people. I protest emphatically against the allegation that was made in the previous debate by the First Lord of the Treasury, and repeated again tonight by the Secretary to the Treasury in his very able and lucid speech, namely, that the crisis which has compelled the Chancellor of the Exchequer to seek new sources of revenue is a crisis which was created by the working classes, and for which they ought to pay.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
If I might interrupt the hon. Member, I never suggested, or intended to suggest, that the working classes were more responsible than any other class of the community. All I said was that the nation at large, including the working classes, was responsible for this policy.
§ * MR. FENWICK
I am quite sure I am not misrepresenting the right hon. Gentleman when I remind the House that the right hon. Gentleman said that he refused to believe that the working classes were unwilling to bear their share of the cost of a crisis which they had created and endorsed. I deny that they created the crisis; the crisis was of your own creation. It is perfectly true that they endorsed the policy—a thing which I regret, and which they now regret. I object, therefore, in their name, against the price of their food being increased in order to meet a crisis which was not of their creation. I agree with my hon. and learned friend who has just addressed the House that there is no basis of justice in the proposals now made to tax the food of the people. The working classes have not shown themselves unwilling to make sacrifices. They have made great sacrifices; they have sent their sons to the front, who have given their lives not in hundreds but in thousands. And what reward do you offer to the widows and children they have left? You tax their food when their breadwinner is not here to protect their interest. I regret to say they were beguiled, by scheming investors and ambitious politicians, to endorse a policy which they now bitterly regret. That is my opinion.
Now, Sir, I listened very carefully to the whole of this debate, and I have been very much surprised to hear many hon. Members opposite, from the Chancellor 102 of the Exchequer downwards, declare that this £2,650,000 which he hopes to realise by the corn tax is going to affect nobody. Nobody is to be a penny the worse for the imposition of this duty. Now, I do not speak as a student of economy, but I have been, in my humble way, a keen observer of practical affairs, and I will tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer what, in my opinion, will be the effect of this step. The result will be to increase the cost of living to the poorer classes of this country. I have been somewhat surprised to hear the references made, in a somewhat light spirit, by hon. Gentlemen opposite to this tax. I do not wonder that they should regard it as a very harmless thing. They have never passed through the ordeal which many of us, I am sorry to say, have had to go through. Nursed themselves in the lap of luxury, roared in homes of comfort and plenty, they have never realised what it is to feel the pinch of poverty and to go short of bread. It has been my misfortune, in my early lifetime, to have experienced these things. I can remember that when I was a pit lad I had to work thirteen hours a day, and my only refreshment was a piece of bread and a bottle of cold water; and that experience which came to me in the early days of my life made me determine when I entered public life that I would resist to the utmost of my strength and ability any attempt to legislate the effect of which would be to increase the cost of the poor man's bread. Let the House distinctly understand that this is not a war tax. No one has got up on that side of the House in the whole course of the debate and defended it as a war tax. My hon. friend who represents the Tyne-side Division of Northumberland, in reply to a correspondent The other day, said that this was essentially a war tax. It is nothing of the kind. It is a tax rendered necessary, in the opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government, to meet the growing expenditure of the country—the ordinary expenditure. Nor is it a tax that is likely to be first considered when the war is over—for the Chancellor of the Exchequer has reminded us that on previous occasions the income tax payer have been the people who have received the first consideration; and, although the Member for Tyneside pledged himself that when the war was over, and exceptional expenditure is 103 no longer required, he would be willing to vote against this tax being re-imposed, I think I have shown that he himself is likely to receive consideration before his constituents are attended to. The hon. Member for the City of Durham, who spoke early in the debate this evening, said he looked on these proposals at first with some amount of anxiety, but on following the debate he had been very much consoled by the fact that the Protectionist Party had taken so little part in the debate. That is a feature in this debate which fills me with a considerable amount of fear. These Gentlemen are wise in their day and generation. Their interest today is to lay low and say nothing. Let the tax be imposed, and, once we have made a start in that direction, it will be easy to press on future Chancellors of the Exchequer in that direction. The junior Member for Newcastle-on-Tyne practically said as much last night. He said the tax was the beginning of a new policy in the direction of Protection, and I can well understand that hon. Members who believe in that policy can afford to remain silent on an occasion like this, and allow this tax to be carried silently through the House, because there will be less difficulty in the future in making it more Protective.
Let the House be under no misapprehension with regard to this tax : small as it is, it is a Protective tax. In 1869 The Times newspaper said with regard to the old registration duty—The tax, small as it is, is a Protective duty, and that it is sufficient to condemn it.It is because I believe it is a Protective duty, and will increase the price of the food of the people, that I shall resist it at every stage. The junior Member for the city of Newcastle went on to say he thought the tax might do good by encouraging the growth of more corn at home, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer has replied to that, because he declared that the effect of this tax would not be to bring any more acres under grain than there were at the present time. I have only one thing more to say to the hon. Member for Newcastle. He said the tax would gain the approval of the country as a whole. I do not believe it. You have again and again told us—What Lancashire says 104 today, the country will say tomorrow. I quite believe that what Lancashire said yesterday, if you give us an opportunity to test the country, the country will say tomorrow. Let me remind the House of what took place on Saturday last at Newcastle, where a large representative conference was held of all the trades and co-operative societies in the North of England. It was attended by 450 delegates, representing 250 societies. By an overwhelming majority, with only two dissentients, according to the newspaper report, though I am told by one of my hon. friends who was present that it was unanimous, a strong resolution was passed condemning the proposal of the Government to tax the food supply of the people. The right hon. Gentleman referred to certain inquiries he had made of co-operative societies. Out of 284, only 32 had raised the price of bread. But bread is not an article very largely dealt in by co-operative societies. In the North of England it is the universal practice for the wives of working men to buy their flour from the store or the grocer and bake their own bread. Can a single instance be found in the North of England in which they have not had to pay more for their stone of flour in consequence of this tax? The tax itself represents a little over 1s. per sack. But the working man's wife in many cases has to buy her flour in small quantities—by the half or even quarter stone. But suppose she buys it 14lbs. at a time. Every time the grocer, miller, or store manager retails that small quantity, he imposes an additional price much more than is represented by the tax. The First Lord of the Treasury shakes his head. He is not the head of a household; he is not a family man; he has not had so much experience as some of us have had in matters of domestic economy. What we find from actual experience is that the price of flour has increased to the consumer in many cases by 1s. 6d. or 1s. 9d. per sack. That is a serious increase. The right hon. Gentleman, when introducing his Budget Resolution, said that his ideal of a tax was that it should yield the greatest revenue with the least injury and inconvenience to the community. This tax is not likely to come up to his ideal. He has been singularly unfortunate in his choice of a tax if he desires to achieve his ideal. 105 More than twice as much as the Chancellor of the Exchequer expects to receive will be taken out of the pockets of the consumer.
I protest against the tax, because it will operate with undue severity upon the poorer of the working classes. Many of my constituents will be severely hit by it. Last year you taxed our industry, and you tried to persuade us that the tax would come out of the pocket of the foreigner. Our experience does not exactly correspond with that declaration. I do not charge the Chancellor of the Exchequer with being wholly responsible for what I am now going to mention, but since May last the miners in North-umber land have suffered reductions in wages to the extent of 17½ per cent. The noble Lord opposite spoke lightly of the effect of the coal tax. Would he consider it a light matter if his income were reduced by 17½ per cent? The last reduction, which came a month ago, was caused entirely, in my judgment, by the 1s. export duty on coal. It comes to this : In consequence of your tax upon the miner's industry, you have reduced the aggregate of his earnings, and you now propose to reduce the purchasing power of the smaller amount of wage which remains, Upon that ground I strongly protest against the proposal. Last autumn, in addressing a meeting in Bristol, the Chancellor of the Exchequer called attention to the fact that the miners in Northumberland and their employers had not found the coal tax to have any effect on their industry. Quite so, but that was because our contracts were exempt up to the end of December. The moment it became operative, at the beginning of January, the wages of onr workmen were affected. I was surprised at the letter the right hon. Gentleman instructed his secretary to write to the two secretaries representing the workmen and the employers who called his attention to that statement. "We agree as to the fact," said the right hon. Gentleman," but I said nothing as to the reasons for it." In all fairness and honesty he might have pointed out to his audience that the reason the duty had had no effect was that it did not become operative until the end of the year.
§ * MR. FENWICK
On a very infinitesimal portion. I may remind the right hon. Gentleman that I am talking of what I know. I know what goes on in the North of England, particularly in the mining industry. I would not speak with so much confidence of any other industry, but I do speak with confidence of this, because I have had official connection and dealings with it now for more than twenty-five years. An infinitesimal portion of the coal bearing the duty came into the ascertainments in the months to which I have referred.
In conclusion, let me say that already the effect of this proposal has been to increase the price of bread stuffs to the poorer people of the country. The hon. Member for Waterford gave some interesting statistics showing how wages affected the food of the people. I recently looked over a Return issued by the Labour Department of the Board of Trade in 1889, relating to the workmen's wages and the cost of living. The workmen's budgets there given show clearly that when you come to the people with the lower salaries an increased proportion of the income is spent on bread. There was the case of a workman with an income of £28 12s., more than 60 per cent. of which was spent on meal and flour. As you go up the scale, the proportion spent on meal and flour grows smaller. It therefore comes to this: that this tax will fall with greater severity upon the poorer classes, and for that reason I shall object to it at every stage. We have been twitted for not making any counter-proposals. On a former occasion we were told that it was not our duty to prescribe until we were called in. If, however, I made any proposal, it would simply be that you should withdraw the doles given to privileged classes and persons, by which means you would obtain more money than you can possibly get by the proposal now under consideration.
*(7.15.) MR. J. W. WILSON (Worcestershire, W.)
I recognise the great difficulties in which the right hon. Gentleman is placed in bringing this Budget Bill before the House, but at the same time I cannot help thinking that his choice in the matter of this corn tax has been a most unfortunate one. I have listened carefully to almost every 107 speech which has been made, and I do not think it is worth our while, as business men, and men of common sense, to discuss any longer whether this impost is going to be felt on the price of bread or not. It does not appear to me to matter much whether statistics are brought forward to show that during the last three weeks bread has risen or has not risen in some places, because the state of this trade, and of this trade in particular, is such that the commodity goes through so many hands that it is impossible that the effect could be felt from one extremity to the other of the trade in such a short time. If you put 1s. upon the permanent cost of bringing corn into the English market, I cannot help feeling that it will produce a permanent increase in the price. When this tax was taken off many years ago the bulk of our corn supply was produced in this country, but who will contend today that the fixing of the price of corn does not lie in the hands of those who import the corn? It stands to reason that the British farmer will get all he can, and we know what low prices he has been obliged to take. Therefore I am reluctantly compelled to believe that the effect of this tax will be felt by the consumers of corn, bread, flour, and other articles which are consumed in this country.
§ The question we have to consider is—What is the object of this tax? There are four questions which I wish to ask, and the first is—is it Protection? That point has been argued, but the arguments used do not seem to me to be exactly to the point. I feel confident that this tax will not satisfy the Protectionists nor the agriculturists in the long run. I feel certain that the extra price which the home producer will get for his wheat will be largely written off in other ways. This tax will not satisfy Protectionists like the hon. Member for Central Sheffield, because he wants to put a tax on manufactured articles. I do not believe that a sincere Protectionist will argue in favour of a small duty on corn which is not going to affect the farmer but which is a duty on the raw material—the chief raw material. My next question is whether this tax is going to be used in the interests 108 of our colonies or with any idea of giving preferential terms to certain products from our colonies, a policy which to my mind opens the door to a frightful source of friction, and which would be a very unwise step. I wish to know if this tax is put on in an emergency as a war tax, for I notice particularly throughout this debate that very little allusion is made to this point, and it has-not been definitely stated that this is a definite tax for one year. There is-a good deal to be said in favour of meeting our debts as we go along, and as promptly as we can. I feel that this-can hardly be said of the policy we are pursuing, for I cannot believe that this machinery is being set up simply for the purpose of getting this £2,500,000 for one year only. It has been argued that the working men of this country supported the war, and therefore they ought to pay for it. But have they not paid for it by taxes on beer, tobacco, sugar, and other articles? Have they not paid for it by their lives, and are they not paying for it now by the losses they have suffered? Will they not have-to feel it in the future more than they have done in the past? We shall have back again in this country from South Africa, before long, 200,000 men, and unless trade is in a buoyant state I fear that in many parts of the country there will be a great difficulty in making both ends meet in the matter of weekly wage. From this point of view I feel that this is an ill-advised tax, and I would have much preferred that another penny had been added to the income tax. I he right hon. Gentleman told us that the income tax during the Crimean War rose to 1s. 4d in the £. Are the people of this country less able to pay 1s. 4d in the £ on the income tax than they were then? Of course they are more able to pay it now, and the comparison is absurd. The Party opposite has been charged with not suggesting anything which might be taxed as alternatives, but I feel that if the raising of this£2,500,000 had been scattered over several articles the country would have felt it less and would have actually paid less than they will pay under this corn tax, because for the £2,500,000 which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going 109 to get from the tax on corn I believe the country will have to pay a very much larger sum.
I am compelled to come to the conclusion that the object of this tax is to widen the basis of taxation permanently. I feel that this is a tax upon the poorest of the people, and there will always be the argument that if 1s. duty does not produce a great deal of effect, the addition of another 1s. will not, and we shall thus be landed gradually into Protection of the very worst sort in this country. I feel that we are sacrificing one of the greatest checks upon expenditure, and this tax in the future may be found a very useful one when Chancellors of the Exchequer find themselves in difficulties. I feel that I cannot give my vote tonight in favour of this impost, for the reasons which I have stated. I have felt the strain of Party loyalty as much as anybody in this House, but, nevertheless, I have supported the Government in a great many cases. In this case, however, I have no hesitation in placing principle above Party.
§ *(7.25.) MR. GEORGE WHITELEY (Yorkshire, W.R., Pudsey)
We have heard so many excellent and able speeches, so exhaustive in their character, that it has become very difficult to say anything that is very novel or fresh with regard to the measure now before the House. Amongst those speeches, the one which we have just heard from the hon. Member who has just sat down is not the least interesting. If I had to describe one of the speeches delivered yesterday, I should call it the fratricidal speech of the hon. Member for Exeter. Whatever characteristics we can ascribe or deny to the Government at the present juncture with regard to the introduction of this Budget, there is at any rate one quality which I will not gainsay the Government possesses in a large degree, and that is the quality of courage. This is not, in my judgment, a cowardly Budget. It may be cowardly in its effect but I do not think it is cowardly in its conception. The right hon. Gentleman has described this as a punitive Budget. He says that the public have backed up the Government in a loyal manner in carrying out this war, and, therefore, the 110 public are to be punished for their efforts and endeavours in this direction. This is an instance of what I should call splendid ingratitude.
With reference to the dropping of the cheque tax, the tax was a proposal of an infantile and nursery character, but if it had been persisted in, I should have supported the Government as a protest against the action of their own followers. I am at a loss to understand the frame of mind of hon. Gentlemen opposite who object to a cheque tax, but who, without any qualms of conscience, will readily support a tax upon the food of the people. This is the case of the rich and influential man, because he can make a noise in this House, obtaining his own way, whereas the case of the poor is ignored. Whenever the interests of the frock-coat clash with the interests of the smock-coat, then, unfortunately, the smock-coat has to go to the wall.
It being half-past Seven of the clock, the debate was suspended until the evening sitting.