HC Deb 22 April 1913 vol 52 cc280-2

The only other matter to which I wish to call the attention of the Committee, and then I have concluded, is the provision with regard to the National Debt. This year we propose no new taxation. We cannot afford to reduce taxation. We do not propose to disturb the provision made for the reduction of National Debt. When the present Government came into office, we were confronted with three or four classes of capital liabilities. There was the old-established National Debt, which one Chancellor of the Exchequer after another had been laboriously trying to grind down and wear out. There were the loans effected for warlike operations in South Africa; there were the liabilities for naval and military works, and works of a non-productive character. Then there were the loans for telephones and works which produced a profit. I do not propose dealing with those loans, because they were a commercial asset and produced a profit. When the Prime Minister was Chancellor of the Exchequer he reversed the policy of previous Governments in respect of naval and military loans and instead of borrowing for works of that character he placed them on the finances of the year, so that since then we have the double burden of paying off liabilities incurred for works of that character and of paying out of the finance of the year for the erection and completion of works for which formerly Governments borrowed money. This year, for instance, we have got for Rosyth, a great permanent work, and works of that character, £1,500,000 on the Estimates.

What have the Government done since they came into office? I see a sort of suggestion that we have manipulated the Sinking Fund out of existence, and that we have managed always to defer paying debts, and at least there is one enlightened Member who is still of that opinion. Let him wait for a moment and hear what we have actually paid off. Take the actual dead-weight debt we have already paid off. Take the amount by which we have reduced other capital liabilities bearing interest—I am leaving telephones out—take the sum we have in hand now for the reduction of debt; take the sum we have provided in the Budget of this year which will be applied to the payment of debt. In the absence of any unforeseen circumstances, by this time next year we shall have reduced the national indebtedness by the sum of £102,000,000. That is a feat in debt reduction that no Government has ever approached before, and this is not a paper reduction. It is not an ingenious manipulation of figures. It means that next year we shall be paying less interest in respect of our Debt by £2,600,000 than we were paying when we came into office. The Government have reduced taxes on food by nearly £5,000,000. They have reduced taxes on small incomes and agri- cultural and cottage repairs by £2,500,000. They have provided £12,000,000 more for National Defence. They have provided £20,000,000 to make provision for the aged poor, the sick, the infirm, and the unemployed. At the end of the next financial year we shall have reduced the debt by £102,000,000. Trade is at its best, unemployment is at its lowest, wages are at their best, profits are at their highest, home and oversea trade have attained dimensions they have never yet approached, and the business, commerce, and industries of this country enjoy a productivity and a prosperity which have rarely been witnessed in the history of this country. [Ministerial cheers.]

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