§ "That it is expedient to amend the Law relating to National Debt, Customs, and Inland Revenue (including Excise)."
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the House do agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I do not propose to raise the general Question, as we have only ten minutes in which we can discuss this Motion, but I think it necessary to call attention to an extraordinary statement made by the Secretary to the Treasury on the Committee stage of this Resolution. I was not present in the House—having been engaged in the country—when the right hon. Gentleman made the speech to which I have to call attention, but he is reported to have used these words:—The land valuers in the various districts throughout the country are meeting property owners in a manner totally different from that prophesied in the pamphlet of the Land Union, and the result of it is exhibited in the rapidly declining subscription list of this unfortunate body.That is a rather remarkable statement to come from the Treasury Bench. I really do think that, occasionally, the right hon. Gentleman does not quite know what he is saying when he addresses the House. He makes very strong statements. He has interrupted me once or twice in a manner 2147 not too courteous, although I am quite certain he desires to be courteous. But, having made a statement which is absolutely without foundation, I thought it very desirable the right hon. Gentleman should have an opportunity of contradicting it. A letter was consequently written to him immediately after the statement, on 1st May, by the secretary of the Land Union. I have a copy of it in my hand, but I will only read the concluding sentence:—Your statement is absolutely contrary to the facts, which are that the subscription list and membership of the Land Union have steadily and continuously increased since its inception and are still increasing. … I hope you will be good enough to withdraw the statement at the earliest opportunity, now you are aware they are wholly untrue.Of that letter no acknowledgment even has been received, and the statement has not been withdrawn. It is very unusual, and I should perhaps apologise for bringing up such a matter. It is the last thing I would desire to do, but I have no alternative. The right hon. Gentleman in his place, as a Minister of the Crown, makes a statement attacking a body which is opposed to him in a political matter. He makes the definite statement it is an unfortunate institution whose subscription list is declining. It is pointed out to him that that statement is absolutely without foundation—that it is exactly contrary to the facts. He is given an opportunity of withdrawing it, but he does not even acknowledge the letter which he receives or attempt to withdraw the statement which he has made. I think I have a right, on behalf of the Land Union, and of everybody in this House, to complain that such action should be taken by the right hon. Gentleman. I would make every excuse for any statement of that kind being made in the heat of debate, but I can find no excuse whatever when a correction is given him in the right manner for his not taking the opportunity to withdraw it. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be good enough to give some explanation.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
I should very much regret if it were the general opinion of the House that I was customarily guilty of discourtesy, or of making strong statements, or of interrupting. I rather think that if one Member has a right to complain of interruption and of strong statements being made against him it would be myself, in view of certain recent events that have happened in the House. I am not aware of any organised attempt to shout down any other Member represent- 2148 ing this Front Bench. But, after all, these are personal and trivial matters. As to the letter which was addressed to me, I certainly have no intention, nor should I ever have an intention of answering a letter couched in language which I regard as insolent. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself had brought the question to my notice, as he does now, and if he had said of his personal knowledge that I had made a wrong statement and that the subscription list of the Land Union was increasing—
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
As I understand the hon. and gallant Gentleman tells me that the subscription list of the Land Union is increasing, instead of decreasing, then I frankly accept his statement and withdraw my statement that it is decreasing.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
If time permitted I could give the reasons why I made that statement, but I cannot do it now. I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman should be content with the withdrawal.
§ Mr. JAMES HOPE
I want to ask the Secretary to the Treasury if he really wishes to take this Resolution to-night. The Chancellor of the Exchequer at Question Time led us to believe he was going to explain various matters in connection with the Revenue Bill. In answer to my hon. Friend, the Member for Ayr (Sir G. Younger), he said that if this Resolution was reached he would indicate the Amendments of the law which it was proposed to introduce. These are very complicated matters and we certainly expected, when the Resolution was reached, to hear from the Chancellor of the Exchequer some detailed statement on the point. The right hon. Gentleman has not found it possible to be here, and even if he were present it would not be possible for him in the short time which still remains to make such a statement. I would therefore appeal to the right hon. Gentleman whether he really desires to take this now, or whether he will not defer it till such time as the Chancellor of the Exchequer can make a statement upon it.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
I heard the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that it might be desirable to authorise various trivial Amendments.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
The right hon. Gentleman indicated all the substantial points of the Revenue Bill on a previous occasion. This Resolution is being introduced for the benefit of the Opposition, or rather of the critics of the Government. I think I might repeat what Lord St. Aldwyn said in introducing a similar Resolution:—The Resolution is not necessary from the Government point of view at all, and if hon. Gentlemen do not want it we will drop it.This is necessary if hon. Gentlemen wish to criticise the Revenue and Excise Taxes other than the Income Tax and Tea Duty. It is because we think it fair to give hon. Members the opportunity for criticism that they desire that we have brought this Resolution forward, and I do not believe, even if my right hon. Friend were here, he would have any substantial revelations to make to the House.
§ Mr. CASSEL
I can only quote what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in the course of his financial statement on 22nd April. The words he used were:—I will not now indicate the Amendments which we propose. I shall have to do so when I move the Resolution."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd April, 1913, col. 280, Vol. LII.]It will be seen that the right hon. Gentleman put it, not as a matter which he could do, or not, as he liked, but he used the words, "I shall have to do it when I move the Resolution." When the Resolution was moved in Committee the Chancellor of the Exchequer really did not indicate all the changes he proposed to make in a manner which every Member of this House could understand. I was present throughout, and listened to what he said with great care. I am unable to say which Amendment he expressed his willingness to accept. He certainly told us he was going to accept Amendments from this side which would do away with what we suggested was the effect of the Lumsden case, but we do not really know what Amendment he is willing to accept, and he never really indicated what he intended to propose. I do not wish, however, to stand in the way of the Resolutions being taken to-night, but I must say I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has carried out what he said on 22nd April—not only what he said, but what he admitted he was bound to do.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in upon the said Resolution by the Chairman of Ways and Means, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Mr. Masterman.
§ REVENUE BILL,—"to amend the Law relating to Customs and Inland Revenue (including Excise), and for other purposes connected with Finance." Presented by the Chairman of Ways and Means, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Mr. Masterman; to be read a second time upon Tuesday, 27th May, and to be printed. [Bill No. 175.]