HC Deb 29 April 1909 vol 4 cc505-6

Now I come to my direct taxation. It must be obvious that in meeting a large deficit of this kind I should be exceedingly unwise if I were to trust to speculative or fancy taxes. I therefore propose, first of all, to raise more money out of the income tax and estate duties. Income tax in this country only begins when the margin of necessity has been crossed and the domain of comfort and even of gentility has been reached. A man who enjoys an income of over £3 a week need not stint himself or his family of reasonable food or of clothes and shelter. There may be an exception in the case of a man with a family, whose gentility is part of his stock in trade or the uniform of his craft. Then, I agree, often things go hard.

Then when you come to estate duties what a man bequeaths, after all, represents what is left after he has provided for all his own wants in life. Beyond a certain figure it also represents all that is essential to keep his family in the necessaries of life. The figure which the experience of 70 years has sanctified as being that which divides sufficiency from gentility is £150 to £160 a year. A capital sum that would, if invested in safe securities, provide anything over that sum ought to be placed in a different category from any sum which is below that figure.

There is one observation which is common to income tax and the death duties, more especially with the higher scales. What is it that has enabled the fortunate possessors of these incomes and these fortunes to amass the wealth they enjoy or bequeath? The security ensured for property by the agency of the State, the guaranteed immunity from the risks and destruction of war, ensured by our natural advantages and our defensive forces. This is an essential element even now in the credit of the country; and, in the past, it means that we were accumulating great wealth in this land, when the industrial enterprises of less fortunately situated countries were not merely at a standstill, but their resources were being ravaged and destroyed by the havoc of war. What, more, is accountable for this growth of wealth? The spread of intelligence amongst the masses of the people, the improvements in sanitation and in the general condition of the people. These have all contributed towards the efficiency of the people, even as wealth-producing machines. Take, for instance, such legislation as the Education Acts and the Public Health Acts: they have cost much money, but they have made infinitely more. That is true of all legislation which improves the conditions of life of the people. An educated, well-fed, well-clothed, well-housed people invariably leads to the growth of a numerous well-to-do class. If property were to grudge a substantial contribution towards proposals which ensure the security which is one of the essential conditions of its existence, or towards keeping from poverty and privation the old people whose lives of industry and toil have either created that wealth or made it productive, then property would be not only shabby, but short-sighted.

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