HC Deb 18 April 1907 vol 172 cc1192-3

That may seem to be a digression, but it really has, as the Committee will see, a very direct bearing upon the concrete proposals I am now going to make. I repeat if we are to have social reform we must be ready to pay for it, and when I say "we" I mean the whole nation—the working and consuming classes as well as the wealthier class of direct taxpayers. An important practical inference at once arises. If these two objects, the strengthening of our national credit and the provision for social reform, are to be the governing aims of our policy, large as my estimated surplus may seem to be, I cannot deal with it in such a way as to involve any permanent diminution of revenue of a substantial character. That puts at once on one side more than one suggestion which, in other circumstances I might yield to, for the remission or repeal of particular taxation. For instance, I have been urged, in the course of the year to repeal almost every tax, but I have been urged with particular insistence to deal with what are called the war taxes. What are the war taxes? They cover a pretty wide area of ground. They include 4d. on the income-tax, the whole of the sugar duties, one penny still of the tea tax, and all the extra imposts on tobacco, beer, and spirits, amounting, I suppose altogether, to something like £20,000,000 sterling. From this point of view, although they are all war taxes, each of them is equally entitled to consideration. What is a war tax? A war tax is not a tax put on to last during a war and to come to an end the moment peace is concluded and your Army is withdrawn from the field. It is a tax which is put on to meet the extra burden imposed on the country by waging war; and so long as that extra burden remains—and it remains, as I have shown to the Committee, to the tune of something like £130,000,000 of extra debt—the claim that the war tax qua war tax can be removed is, in my opinion, an inadmissible claim. I will just say two or three words about one or two particular duties with regard to which special appeals have been made.

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