§ The duty of Customs payable on tea until the first day of July, one thousand nine hundred and fourteen, under the Finance Act, 1913, shall continue to be charged, levied, and paid until the first day of July, one thousand nine hundred and fifteen, 437 on the importation thereof into Great Britain or Ireland (that is to say):—
|Tea, the pound||fivepence.|
§ The CHAIRMAN
The first Amendment on the Paper, has, I apprehend, been put down to prepare the way to the other Amendments which follow. I do not, however, think this is the place to move an Amendment for that purpose. Perhaps the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto) will now move his first Amendment.
§ Mr. PETO
I am not sure that I rightly understand your ruling, Mr. Whitley, as regards the Amendment to leave out the words "continue to." The words in question I understand are held to relate to the duty on Customs, and possibly to tea generally, and not to the specific words "fivepence" which terminate the Clause. Am I correct in my interpretation?
§ The CHAIRMAN
There are two views which I might have taken—one a narrow view and the other a broad one. The narrow one would be to say that if the Motion were made on the words "continue to," the other Amendments would be ruled out. Therefore, I prefer to take the broader view and not the narrow one.
§ Mr. PETO
I beg to move after the word "Ireland," to insert the words "at the following rates."
I have a further consequential Amendment, which defines the rates which I propose to insert. The first is that where the value on importation exceeds 1s. the pound it should be 5d.; where it exceeds 9d., and does not exceed 1s., that it should be 4d., and where the value does not exceed 9d. I propose 3d. We have proceeded in the matter of the Income Tax upon a system under which we graduate the heaviest of the direct taxes. Now the Tea Duty is infinitely the heaviest of the indirect taxes, and it appears to me that it will be difficult for the Government to resist the argument that if it is right to graduate the direct taxation, as we have done, in order to place the heaviest burden upon the larger incomes, surely it must be equally right, while we maintain the necessity for indirect taxation, like the Tea Duty, that this duty should also be graduated upon the same principle. That is the principle of my Amendment, and I want to show that, quite apart from the principles which underlie the Amendments which follow mine and deal with other methods of re- 438 during the Tea Duty, there is a very good case to be made out for my Amendment, quite apart from the principle of Colonial Preference, and entirely apart from the principle of the more general lowering of the tax from 5d. to 4d. or 3d., as proposed by the hon. Member for Dudley (Sir A. Griffith-Boscawen) and the hon. Member for Altrincham (Mr. Hamilton).
Quite apart from all this, I think we have a very good case for a reduction of the Tea Duty on the cheaper grades of tea, no matter where they are grown. It seems to me that in this matter we may get a certain amount of information of a very simple sort if you take the catalogue of any large grocery firm who stock a large number of different kinds of tea. There you will not find, as a matter of fact, that the cheapest tea is by any means always Colonial tea, and you will find that there are teas of all grades which come from India, Ceylon, and China. It is undoubtedly a fact that some of the very cheapest-tea—in fact, all the cheapest teas—are what are called blends. I take, for instance, the list of the Army and Navy Stores. I have studied their list for 1913 and for the present year, and I find that they do not cater for the poorest of the poor, and their lowest price tea is 1s. 3d. per pound. That tea is called a blend. The second cheapest tea at 1s. 4d. is a blend of Ceylon and China tea, and the third at 1s. 5d. is a blend of Indian and China tea. Now if we want to place a lighter burden upon those who can only afford the cheapest tea, we cannot do it better than by dealing with it upon a perfectly simple plan. It may be said that my proposal will constitute an ad valorem tax, and that it would be troublesome to collect. We may also be told that the tea-brokers in Mincing Lane are not in favour of that course. I have taken steps to find out, and I find that as they do not to any material extent pay the Tea Duty, what suits them best is to have the simplest possible thing, whether it is fair to all classes or not. If we are going to legislate only for the convenience of those who handle the tea in ports, I have no doubt it could be said that Mincing Lane does not like all these proposals, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be correct in continuing the tax at 5d. I do not, however, think that that is a sound argument. I do not think there would be any real difficulty in actually collecting the revenue on the basis of the Amendment I am putting before the Committee.
439 If it is said that there is any difficulty about finding out what is the value on importation of tea which involves a declaration that the Import Duty might be charged at 3d. instead of 5d., all tea above a certain value might have to be sold, as many commodities are on the Continent, in packets bearing a stamp which would be the difference in value, and would authorise the retailer to sell it, say, at 2s. a pound, in order to make it perfectly clear to the customer that the tea had paid the proper tax of 5d. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where is that done?"] I am told it is done in the case of tobacco and other articles where it is found easier to collect the revenue by requiring a stamp to be put on the back of the article. [An HON. MEMBER: "Which country?"] In France. At any rate, if there happened to be any difficulty in collecting the tax, there are other ways which the ingenuity of the Customs Department might adopt by which this extra or Super-tax on the higher price teas might very easily be collected. May I point out to hon. Members behind me below the Gangway that this Clause in the Finance Bill applies equally to Ireland as it does to this country, and I think we ought to have their support in any proposal which would make tea not only cheaper where it is drunk most largely by the poorest of the people, but would also make it better. The idea of the grocery store in any neighbourhood where people are poor is to put a decent sound shilling tea upon the market. They know perfectly well the even money, 6d. for a half-pound packet or 3d. for a quarter-pound packet, is not only simple but attractive, and it is what the people they cater for really demand. I want to make that shilling tea not only a possibility, but a sound, wholesome drink when it is bought. I am perfectly certain that this diminution of 2d. in the pound in the Import Duty will bring a really sound shilling tea within the reach of everybody who cannot afford anything of a higher price.
The Army and Navy Stores do not list anything under 1s. 3d. Under my proposal what does that mean? We will assume that the 5d. tax is entirely added to the price of tea. It does not matter for my present argument whether that is absolutely correct or not, but as nearly as it is in any commodity and in any tax that would be the case. Assuming, there- 440 fore, that it is added, that means that the value on import of that particular tea would be 10d. Under my proposal it would be charged 4d., and instead of being a 1s. 3d. tea, it would be 1s. 2d. Let us take tea, the value of which on import was only 1d. less—that is 9d. What happens there? I propose that the tax should be only 3d. Therefore you immediately get this, that a tea only 1d. less value on import, tea which is considered good enough to list in such a catalogue as that of the Army and Navy Stores, would become a shilling tea. I think that is the way to look at it, because this particular Amendment does propose to deal with people who cannot afford to pay a very high price. Once you realise my wish in putting this Amendment forward and secure a really sound, wholesome shilling tea, no matter where it comes from, what happens? The present duty on sugar is equal to a fifth of a penny in the pound, and that, translated in retail prices, means a farthing. That would mean that the price of the cheapest sugar will be 2d. per pound, whenever hon. Members opposite get their way, or whenever those on this side of the House, who have another method of dealing with the duty, get their way, and we manage to reduce, or the trade manages to reduce, the price of cheap sugar to a flat twopence, a quarter of a pound will cost a halfpenny, and the man or woman who goes to buy what is the smallest quantity of this practically essential commodity will get a quarter of a pound of tea, and a quarter of a pound of sugar thrown in for nothing, if the Committee passes the Amendment I now propose. I think that is going right down to the details where we ought to go, and it illustrates exactly how it would operate.
I am perfectly certain that it is a reform which would meet the justice of the case, and in a vast number of cases it would simplify, and, if I may use the word, sweeten the lives of the very poorest of the people, because they would get the sugar for nothing, whereas now they have to pay a halfpenny for it, or rather more. It would have a very good effect, quite apart from the effect of other proposals put forward by other hon. Members with regard to the kind of tea that would be grown and produced. At the present time there is an absolute scramble to get in tea at a low enough importation price to carry this huge tax of 5d. and still command a retail price 441 within the reach of very poor people. The result is that we do not get Ceylon tea as many hon. Members think as the cheapest grade of tea, but we get these blends, as they are called, and we get the rubbish grown in China mixed with the decent tea grown in our Empire in order to get it down to these low prices. Therefore, our own tea is condemned in these low qualities not because of itself but because of the horrible stuff mixed with it. Hon. Members who have had any experience of tea growing and the whole of the process know perfectly well that the tendency, if you get great pressure, is to produce a cheap, heavy, bulky tea by means of what is called coarse plucking. That means that practically a lot of wood is sold with tea, and what is called red leaf and big leaves, which have very little value, and the finer plucking of tea is discouraged. That is all brought about to produce a heavy bulk of tea to bear this huge impost of 5d. in the pound. My proposal would open up more tea plantations, because there would be more demand for genuine tea, and people would have to find a different use for the rubbish if we can reduce the price of the lower price tea.
The last argument that will be put forward against this Amendment is that it might have certain points that would commend themselves to hon. Gentlemen opposite; but, as a matter of fact, it would cost a great deal too much. We have been listening to a Debate in the last three hours which has dealt almost entirely with the intricacies that have arisen in the disposal of the revenue which the Government find they cannot use for the purposes they originally intended it. We have been told repeatedly before that anything like a reduction in the Tea Duty from fivepence to threepence would mean £2,000,000 a year. The Tea Duty in the year 1912–13, which is the last year for which we have available figures, was £6,161,000. It might be true in an ordinary year, that nothing like a reduction costing £2,000,000 could be contemplated, and I do not propose such a reduction. I should be very pleased to make it all right for the Chancellor of the Exchequer by charging a higher duty on the higher price tea, but that would not be in the rules of order, and therefore I am bound to put it as a mere reduction graduated clown to meet the income as the Income Tax is graduated up in the other scale. There is no doubt that tea of the import 442 value of below ninepence in the pound is only a fraction of the total amount of tea imported, and it is perfectly true, as was brought forward in the Debates on this question in 1912 and last year, that by no means all the working classes ask for the cheapest tea. I am quite aware that there are a great many, and I am thankful to say it is so, of what are called the working classes who are connoisseurs of tea, and they or their wives insist on having the particular blend of tea that happens to suit their palate best, whether it costs a few pence more or less. That being so, there would still be a large demand for tea which has the very modest import value of 1s. or even a little above 1s. per pound, and all the teas above 1s. per pound—that is, anything above what is known as eighteen-penny tea—would pay the full tax at present.
I find that the vast proportion of the teas which are catalogued are very much higher than that. There are very few of them which run below one and sixpence. Nearly all of them run up to four or five shillings, and two and sixpence, one and tenpence, and two shillings seems to be an ordinary price. All those teas will still pay fivepence under my proposal. I do not know whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be prepared to give us any sort of estimate what the effect of this proposal would be. It is impossible for any private Member, like myself, to estimate closely, but, if I might hazard a suggestion, it could not cost anything like £1,000,000 to give this relief. Probably £500,000 would cover the whole of the cost of the reduction I propose. If I might make an appeal to hon. Members who sit below the Gangway opposite, I do think, considering the very strong line they took with regard to the Sugar Duty, that we have here something which is really not contentious, which certainly is not too costly for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and which would not commit them to any of the pernicious doctrines, as they regard them, of Colonial Preference or of Tariff Reform. It is simply a flat proposal to do what hon. Members are always talking about—to regulate the tax in accordance and in proportion to ability to pay. It seems to me an obviously simple, elementary proposal that we ought, even if we are going to abolish the food taxes, to begin with a fair, reasonable graduation of the tax, and have something which is not a penal tax upon the cheapest grades of tea.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
The hon. Member will forgive me for pointing out that the proposal he makes is not a novel one. It has been dealt with almost annually when the Tea Duty has been under discussion in this House, and it has always been resisted on two main grounds. The first is the difficulty of administration. The duty would, I presume, be charged on delivery of the tea from bond, just as it is now, and it would be absolutely impossible, in the absence of a simultaneous sale of the particular tea which has been cleared from bond, to assess its value. A fictitious value would have to be guarded against. You could not follow the tea into the hands of the retailer and charge the duty on the retail price.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
As the tea is cleared from bond, that administrative difficulty would occur. The next argument is that, although an ad valorem duty on tea is always argued as penalising the higher price tea for the benefit of the lower price, it is not true to say that poor people drink bad tea, and that, therefore, you would not really be graduating the tax according to ability to pay. The hon. Member for Wiltshire asked for calculations as to the cost of his suggestion. I am informed, as the result of an examination of the current circulars of tea brokers, that the bulk of tea is priced at not more than 9d. per pound, ex-duty. The revenue would, therefore, lose 2d. per pound on a large proportion of the tea imported and, under the stimulus of the reduced duty, this proportion would rise. On most of the remainder of the tea a penny would be lost. The estimate of the tea revenue in the current year is £6,450,000, of which about £4,800,000 falls to be collected from July 1st onwards. If you assume that 2d. is lost on 70 per cent. of the import and 1d. on 20 per cent., and I think these are low estimates, the loss this year would be £1,550,000. The hon. Member for Wiltshire suggests that this is but a small amount for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make up. I do not believe, however, that either my right hon. Friend or the House will take the same view of a little item of a million and a half. But it is not necessary for me to attempt to find a new argument to answer the hon. Member, because I hope, and I hope with confidence, that the right 444 hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire (Mr. Chamberlain) will support the Government in the Division Lobby this evening on this Amendment, and thus justify his own admirable arguments against similar proposals in past years. It was he who pointed out, in the year 1905, that in 1834–5 there was an attempt to graduate the Tea Duty into three rates—1s. 6d., 2s. 2d., and 3s.—and he said that the discrimination then in force would not be applicable in the circumstances of to-day. That attempt, said the right hon. Gentleman,to graduate the Tea Duty really broke down, because the Customs authorities found it impossible properly to distinguish between the different teas, and whatever theoretical attractions it might have to the hon Gentleman, it would prove harassing and annoying to the trade. It would require them to entrust an enormous discretion to the Customs authorities which could not be exercised without criticism, and which might in the end result in poor people having to pay a far higher price for their tea than they did now.I take that from the peroration of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, but on looking through the Report, I find that almost every argument used by the hon. Member for Wiltshire this afternoon is answered in it. The right hon. Gentleman appealed to the Irish Benches behind because he had discovered that the Irish people drink tea. The right hon. Gentleman said he had consulted an hon. Member from Ireland as to what he thought would be a fair price to charge upon the tea consumed in that country, and the hon. Member replied that he could not answer the question off-hand, but it might be taken for certain that the poor Irish peasant generally drank a good tea and would not be put off with poor rubbish. Then he described to the House a deputation he had just received, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, from those interested in the tea trade. He said that at first they were reluctant to answer a question which he put as to whether they would like an ad valorem tax on tea. He said they did not give a definite answer at first, and simply told him it would be impossible to collect such a duty, but subsequently they begged of him, with all the emphasis at their command, not to do it. It is very rare that we on these benches, in these days, get such emphatic assistance from the Front Bench opposite, and I am quite prepared to leave the case with these valuable quotations from the right hon. Gentleman's speech.
§ Sir A. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
It is rather amusing to hear a right hon. Gentleman opposite arguing from a Liberal 445 point of view against an ad valorem duty on tea. With one statement he made I cordially agree, it is not a novel proposal. I have heard it for a good many years, and I first heard it from the Liberal Benches. I remember a celebrated by-election which took place about the year 1890, in the Market Harborough Division of Leicestershire, and on that occasion a gentleman who I believe is now the Member for the Division, was standing as a Parliamentary candidate for the first time. He issued a celebrated election card in favour of ad valorem duties. I am sorry I have not a copy, but I remember its contents very well. It began like this: "What the Liberals propose to do." It pointed out the iniquity of the present system of duties which resulted in the rich man's champagne paying much less than the poor man's beer; the rich man's cigars paying so much less than the poor man's tobacco; while as to the rich man's tea, it stated that the poor man's tea paid something like 100 per cent. more, and it ended with these words:—If you wish to right these wrongs, vote for the Liberal candidate.I think, curiously enough, that was the first year the Chancellor of the Exchequer first got into the House. Possibly he may have won his election on that cry twenty-four years ago. That, at any rate, is what the Liberals proposed to do twenty-four years ago, and it is what they are opposed to doing in the present year. The right hon. Gentleman could give us no better argument against the proposal than certain Departmental objections. If the Government really wished to give this amount of relief to the poor who drink tea in large quantities, they would quickly get over these Departmental objections. They have had in connection with the Budget to get over much bigger difficulties, or rather they have tried to get over them, than the Departmental objections which have been urged by the hon. Gentleman to-day. Then, it is said, and I think it is true, that the poor do not always drink the cheapest classes of tea. But, after all, on this principle of Liberal finance, why should we not give them an opportunity of drinking the cheapest tea that can be got? Why on earth continue this system which puts an ad valorem duty on the poor man's tea 50 or 60 per cent. or more than the duty on the expensive teas consumed by other classes? Only the other day the Chan- 446 cellor of the Exchequer went down to the South-East of London and said:—What I want to do in my Budget is to tax the rich.That was on a Saturday. On the Monday he comes back and takes a penny off the Income Tax. If he has got too much, money, as no doubt he has, why did he not do something for the poor? The Market Harborough election was the first by-election in which I ever took part. I remember that the ad valorem duty on tea was specially argued in favour of by the Liberal candidate, and I now call upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer to fulfil a pledge made twenty-four years ago by voting for the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I rise for the purpose of stating very briefly, but with perfect frankness, what the policy of the Labour Members will be upon this and upon a number of similar Amendments which are going to be moved on the Committee stage of this Bill. But, first of all, I want to say a word or two in regard to the merits of this particular proposal. I realise the difficulties of carrying out the idea which is embodied in the Amendment, and I think they were very well illustrated in the speech of the hon. Member who moved it, because the most striking feature of his observation was the manner in which he devoted his ability to suggesting a scheme by which this proposal could be carried through. Probably we should all agree that, theoretically, ad valorem duties are desirable, and that there are special commodities to which that principle can be applied without risking any serious economic disadvantages. But so far as I understand the application of this proposal to tea, the practical difficulties are almost insuperable. However, we shall refuse to support this Amendment, not because of the practical difficulties of embodying the idea in legislation, but for other very important reasons. When I spoke at some considerable length in Committee of Ways and Means on the general Budget, I said the Labour party welcomed heartily the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to increase the taxation upon large incomes and upon large estates. I entered upon that occasion, as I have so often entered in this House, a protest against the continuance of the high proportion of taxation which is paid by working people of this country; and in announcing the policy the Labour Members are going to take upon this 447 Amendment, and upon Amendments to the Budget generally, I want emphatically to say that we do not in the slightest degree recede from the position the Labour party has always taken up upon this question of indirect taxation, and especially upon the question of taxation upon food.
There are two ways of looking at this Finance Bill, and there are two lines along which we might go. We might consider every Amendment which is brought forward upon what may be called its particular merit, regardless of the wider issues involved. And then we might consider the matter as a whole. The choice we make determines the policy which we adopt, and the Labour party on this occasion are going to look at this question from the broad point of view, and that broad point of view which will determine our policy will be the consideration of the Finance Bill as a whole. I may say, in passing, that in deciding to adopt this policy, we have the authority of no less a person than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire, who, speaking a few years ago upon an Amendment which I myself moved for a reduction of the Tea Duty, which he refused to support, gave many other reasons for his refusal to support it. He said he could not take the responsibility upon himself, and, under the circumstances, he could not vote for a reduction of the taxes which the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed to keep on unless he had an opportunity of presenting an alternative scheme as a whole. He had to take the Budget as a whole or leave it as a whole. That is what the Labour party propose to do upon this occasion. Broadly speaking, the purpose of this Finance Bill, apart from the reenactment of certain Customs and Excise Duties, is to increase the rates of Income Tax and to increase the Death Duties. The Labour party heartily support both these proposals, and we have advocated this method of raising the additional revenue that may be required, both in this House and in the country, for a good number of years. Therefore we are not going to be so false to the principles that we have advocated as to vote against these proposals when the Chancellor of the Exchequer has the courage to make them and embody them in a Bill.
But I want to give reasons of a rather more general character. It is not easy— 448 indeed, I think it is impossible—to consider the Amendment which is now before the Committee, apart from other Amendments which are on the Order Paper, dealing with the reduction of the Tea Duties, and I may say, in passing, that the variety of Amendments upon this subject shows that the Opposition has not a united policy in regard to it. The hon. Baronet who preceded me (Sir A. Griffith-Boscawen) referred to an election held long ago in which the question of ad valorem duties figured prominently. I would put this question to the hon. Member: Has he at any time during the past twenty-four years advocated ad valorem duties as a fiscal policy of general application? I do not believe he has. We have already had quoted in the course of this Debate the opinions of the financial Leader of the Tory party on this question, and he himself condemned it. I remember another occasion, subsequent to that mentioned by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, when the right hon. Gentleman in terms almost as emphatic as those quoted denounced the proposal to levy the Tea Duty on a system of ad valorem duties. That is the point I want to put before the Committee, because it amply justifies the policy the Labour party are going to follow on the Committee stage of this Bill. I take it that the real purpose of the Amendment, as expressed by the hon. Gentleman who moved it, is to reduce the amount of taxation paid by the poorer part of our population.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
The hon. Member nods assent. Then I put to him this question—having already pointed out that the variety of Amendments with regard to the Tea Duty put upon the Paper by Members of the Opposition show that they have no common or definite policy upon this question, for while the hon. Member advocates an ad valorem scale, others are proposing a simple reduction of the Tea Duty, and others are proposing Imperial preference—What is the Tory policy on this question? We have a right to put that question, and a right to a definite answer, an official answer and a responsible answer from the Tory party before we go into the Lobby to support an Amendment of a private Member, for which the Tory party, as a whole, will take no responsibility whatever. The hon. Gentleman said that he proposed this Amendment as a method of relieving the taxation of the 449 poorer part of the population. Is that the Tory policy? Is it the Tory policy to reduce not only the rate, but the total amount of the taxation which is paid by the working classes to-day? We must have an answer to that question. We know what the answer will be. Have we not been told for the last year or two that the policy of the Government during the last few years of raising a larger proportion of the national revenue from direct taxation and a smaller proportion from indirect taxation was a bad policy and a policy not approved of by the Opposition? No hon. Member opposite will have the courage to dispute the fact that the working classes of the country do, and always will, pay a larger part of the revenue which is raised by means of indirect taxation. Therefore, I ask if this Amendment is moved, and will other Amendments for the reduction be moved, as the beginning of a definite and official policy on the part of the Opposition to lessen the amount of taxation paid by the working community? Unless we get an answer to that question the Opposition has no right at all to expect our support for any such proposal as this.
As a matter of fact, we know what the policy of the Opposition is upon this matter. We know it is not their policy to reduce the amount of indirect taxation. We know it is not their policy to lighten the burdens put upon the working people. Their policy is, and this is the real inwardness of the Tariff Reform Amendment, to broader the basis of taxation so that the amount of taxation which is paid by the well-to-do will be lessened and that the burden will remain heavier on the poorer people. If we were to support a proposal like this brought forward from the Opposition Benches, what we should be doing in reality would not be voting for the reduction of the amount of working-class taxation, but supporting a proposal which is not a real and honest proposal for the reduction of working-class taxation. What will happen if the party opposite should come into power? The hon. Member for West St. Pancras (Mr. Cassel) was very frank, but he was not very discreet, this afternoon, when he admitted that his purpose in moving the Amendment to the Instruction was really to turn out this Government.
§ Mr. CASSEL
May I say, by way of personal explanation, that that is not at all what I said. The Chancellor of the Exchequer asked me whether I would take 450 similar trouble to raise a point of Order if my own party were in power? In answering the right hon. Gentleman, I told him in the first place, to wait and see, and that secondly, it would be a consideration which might weigh with me, although incidentally, that it might have the effect also of turning out the Government.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I thought what the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) said would lead us back to something that is done with. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West St. Pancras (Mr. Cassel) was quite right in making a personal explanation, and I do not quarrel with him. I hope the hon. Member for Blackburn will not pursue the subject too far.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I will not do that. I was only going to refer to the matter in a sentence to lead up to another relevant point. I think I reproduced the words of the hon. and learned Gentleman much more accurately than he has done just now. He said he would be rendering a great service to the country if he could succeed in turning out this Government. I am not going to say that a great service might not be rendered to the country by turning out this Government, but I can say, with a great deal more assurance, that a very disastrous service would be rendered to the country by turning out this Government and putting in the Opposition. That is the possibility which we must keep in mind. I say that the real inwardness and purpose of this Amendment is not to lessen the amount of taxation paid by the working people, but to reshuffle indirect taxation. That is what will happen should the country ever suffer the misfortune of a Tariff Reform Government. I can quite believe that there will be a reduction of the Tea Duty and possibly the abolition of the Sugar Duty, but what will be substituted for them? People can live without tea. As a matter of fact, I think the people of this country drink far too much tea Sugar is more of a necessary, but people can live without sugar. What is it that the Opposition would substitute for a reduced Tea Duty and for the abolition of the Sugar Duty?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am afraid the hon. Member is raising a very big question, and I must ask him not to go beyond the particular Amendment now before us.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I shall bow to your ruling, Sir. I was only trying to point 451 out the real inwardness of this Amendment, and to give the reasons why we are not going to be drawn into the trap.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member is, of course, entitled to make a revelant reply to the arguments and proposals of the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto), but I must ask him not to raise a wholly new issue which might well be the subject of a Debate on another occasion.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
My point is this: Supposing we were to vote for this Amendment and for the Amendments which are to be moved in Committee, what might be the result of our vote? It might be that we should destroy the Finance Bill, and destroy the possibilities of securing those increases in the Income Tax, Death Duties and the like which are proposed; and, what is more important, we should not get the money for certain services which we are anxious to see financed to a greater extent than they are financed at the present time. Those are the reasons why the Labour party will not support this Amendment, and will support no Amendment moved from the opposite side for the reduction of the Tea Duty, or of other indirect taxes. The hon. Member who moved the Amendment said that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, by not giving the Grants to local authorities, had a surplus. If we were to support this Amendment, is he prepared to say that he would support a proposal for leaving the Income Tax at the figure originally proposed? If we could get an honest commitment on a question like that, the position might be altered. I know that some hon. Members opposite will attempt to make political capital out of the policy I have been putting before the Committee this afternoon. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am not in the least afraid of that. I know my own people in the country. I know something of their intelligence, and that they have the intelligence to understand Tory tactics. Therefore hon. Members opposite are perfectly at liberty to go down to my Constituency and say what 452 they like. My record on these questions is perfectly well known there, and so is the record of every one of my colleagues. The people will understand why we vote as we do. They will understand that why we are taking this course is because we want the additional money which the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposes to raise under this Finance Bill, and because we want to see these great social services subsidised to a much greater extent from national resources. That is the reason why we adopt this policy on this Finance Bill.
§ Sir J. D. REES
The hon. Member who has just sat down tried, with his accustomed skill, to prove that any reduction of the taxation of the working classes is only honest when it proceeds from a Government that he keeps in office. I am not competent to answer the question he put as to the policy of the Tory party on this question. I should like to ask him a question: Is it right to keep in office a party which has piled tax upon tax on the working men, whose interests he is supposed to represent? If I were to proceed further on this line, I am afraid I should infringe those rides of order which it is my constant effort in life to observe. I should like to come close up with this proposal. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto) used the argument, for which everyone must have respect, that as the Income Tax is graduated, therefore the Tea Duty should be graduated. I cannot follow my hon. Friend in finding anything satisfactory in the present position of the Income Tax and its graduation, which has reduced the City to despair and the finances of the country to confusion. I am afraid my hon. Friend has slightly underrated the very strong objections which exist to his proposal for an ad valorem tax on account of the extreme difficulty there would be in carrying it out in the form he proposes. If an ad valorem tax is to be imposed, it would be far less disturbing to commercial interests if it were in the form of a 55 per cent. ad valorem duty than it would be on a graduated scale. He said that the tea brokers—he might have added the tea producers also—object to this proposal. That is very true. If he had consulted those gentlemen with delicate palates who taste tea without swallowing it in order to detect the difference between one kind and another, he will know it is exceedingly difficult for the 453 most expert tea-taster to fix the prices—in fact, they cannot do it. Whenever they endeavour to put a price on a certain class of tea, it frequently happens in the market afterwards that the valuation of the greatest expert is found to be as much as twopence or threepence out when the tea actually comes to be sold. I submit to my hon Friend, from whom I am sorry to differ, that he has not taken quite sufficiently into account the very practical effect of the tax which he proposes to introduce. Presuming that it could be valued exactly, as to which I express great doubt, on behalf of those who know what they are talking about, supposing the tea was valued at ll¾d., supposing it was close up to twelvepence in the opinion of the valuer, there would immediately be a very great difficulty, and those who were called upon to pay the tax might have a reasonable objection to raise against the valuation on which that tax rested, which is absent now when a flat rate of 5d. is imposed. Then I wish to represent to the Committee that the differences in a graduated scale like this are not really reflected in the price of the tea. That is a fact that anyone who has any practical acquaintance with the subject knows to be the case. I cannot exactly explain why it is, but I think it is on the whole, because people will not take a great deal of trouble over a very small profit. At any rate, that is the character of the British people. The middleman, the retail man and the consumer all seem to be of one mind in that respect.
Then my hon. Friend's argument about people getting the poorer classes of tea was met by the hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench with a quotation from the speech of my right hon. Friend, which I submit is absolutely indisputable. He said that it is not necessarily such a disadvantage as it appears that they cannot get absolutely the cheapest class of tea. That is true, because the lowest priced tea is not the cheapest. In Russia, for instance, it is well known that the duty on tea is exceedingly high, and the people are the greatest tea-drinkers in the whole world. As they pay a higher price for tea than is paid in this country they use the tea-leaves over and over again. In an English cottage tea is made and the tea-leaves are thrown away. In a Russian cottage they are saved and used over and over again, and for a higher price the poor man gets less value for his 454 money than he would if he paid half the price for tea consisting of these rough cuttings which my hon. Friend justly said were no doubt resorted to for the purpose of making up these shilling canisters and other abnormal and, from the trade point of view, unjust packages of tea—I mean teas at prices which do not pay. If that is considered to be a strange statement to make, I would submit that it is perfectly well known that shilling canisters of tea were sold by companies like the Maypole and other wholesale companies, whose chief business was in margarine, at prices at which really did not pay those who sold them. If it is supposed that at present actually wood from the tea bush is used for making up the cheapest tea, I submit that there my hon. Friend rather overstated the case. I do not think they have yet come down to selling wood for tea.
Of course I feel that in opposing this Amendment, anyone who wishes to see taxation lowered is in a difficult position. I am in the same position in that respect for the moment, but for very different reasons, as the hon. Member (Mr. Snowden). The hon. Member (Sir A. Griffith-Boscawen) referred to the Harborough election. It does not come to my recollection exactly what occurred there, but I can remember the time when it occurred, when I myself was Vice-President of the Anti-Tea Duty League, and I believe that the policy then which found favour amongst those with whom I was associated, at any rate on these benches, was not to introduce an ad valorem scale like this or like the scale proposed by the hon. Baronet (Sir R. Cooper). There has never been, so far as I am aware, any considerable body of Members upon that side who favoured a reduction of the Tea Duty in the form in which my hon. Friend (Mr. Peto) has put it forward. I wish I could support it. I should like to do anything to support any Amendment against the Government whose financing has reduced the country to confusion and has introduced the utmost waste and disorder. I would go any length I could, but I should be bound, if I voted, to vote against this Amendment on the ground that while it would not, I think, really benefit the poor, it would most certainly disorganise trade and would lead to infinite confusion. If you got off 2d., as you would under this scale, upon the lowest class of tea—and a vast amount of tea is priced under 9d.—and if you could keep 455 that 2d. off, there would then be very much to be said for the proposal in so far as regarded the reduction of 2d. on the cheapest class of tea. But I can see no chance whatever. No doubt if that could be taken off and kept off there would be a great advantage, I believe, to the poor and to the tea producers, and the tea consumers all round. But I see no prospect whatever of that. This taxation will no doubt be wanted, and there will be no prospect now of relief, because after the fate of the Budget there is no prospect of the Chancellor of the Exchequer getting together by any means that large accumulation which would enable him to take off these taxes in order to purchase votes at the next General Election. That he would do that if he could I firmly believe, but I think he will not be able to do it. I do not think in any way he will be able to carry out that policy. I do not believe that if 2d. were taken off the reduction could be maintained unless some extraordinary hopes are entertained of reducing our expenditure or bringing in other sources of revenue. For these reasons I shall be unable to support my hon. Friend's Amendment.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I think the hon. Member has shown a good deal of rough common sense in washing his hands of the Amendment. This principle of suggesting a graduation of the tax on great articles of food like this, which is becoming a hardy annual, deserves a few moments consideration. We ought to try and bear in mind the speech in which it was submitted to us. The hon. Member did not make one suggestion as to how the great difficulties which the Amendment would create could be overcome. How will he fix the price of tea at 9d. or 1s., or any other price which he suggests? We know the various methods to which he might have recourse, but they would be equally difficult, if not impossible. With regard to the other Amendment which is on the Paper for an ad valorem duty, when it comes to 55 per cent. we see that a great and important trade would be hopelessly demoralised in trying to fix any such price. How will it be done? Suppose the Customs fix the price—and said this tea is worth 3s. 4d. a pound, and it must pay 55 per cent. Suppose the Customs fix the price at 1s., and said, "You will have to pay a duty of 5d.," the greatest injustice might be done to the owner of this tea, 456 and the trade would be embarrassed. The hon. Member did not suggest any method of getting over these difficulties. He does not appear to know that everything which he suggests in this bad Amendment was the law in this country for perhaps a hundred years. Why did not the common sense of the people of England give up these ad valorem duties, especially on tea? Because they were found inimical to the interests of all classes of people. Very bad tea adulterated in every way was brought in to get the lower duty. There was no stimulus to produce good tea, and thus the greatest injury was done to the consumers in this country by the bad system which Parliament had gradually to abolish. Mr. Gladstone was the first great statesman who realised that a flat rate does not really present any objection which hon. Members appeared to attribute to it, but offers the greatest advantages. I suggest a moderate rate on articles of food, if there must be any taxation, and I should like to see it all abolished. Why is it that a moderate flat rate is the best in the interests of the people generally? It is because the people are interested in a good quality being brought in, and if you penalise the improvement of quality, as you do by a graduated tax, the people suffer. The growers are afraid to make experiments with a view to improving the standard generally, because they will be penalised and will have to pay a heavier tax, and bad food is presented to the people for consumption. That will be the effect so far as the public are concerned.
Of course, if we look at it separately from the point of view of the trade, the greatest disorganisation would arise from any attempt to graduate the tax. For instance, to come to the point of 9d., at which the extra penny was to be charged, it would be better for an arrangement to be made by which the value should be raised to even 10d. a pound, because if it were sold at 9d. it would only cost 1s., whereas if it were sold at 9¾d. or 10d., with the 4d. duty it would cost 1s. 2d. So there would be a great inducement to fraud, and in every transaction above the lowest flat rate there would be a great temptation to a combination between buyer and seller to defraud the revenue, and the thing would be quite impracticable in working. That was why, when the hon. Member was asked to quote a country in which it was applied, he could only mention tobacco in France. That is a Gov- 457 ernment monopoly, and the Government there can do anything it likes with tobacco, and the public get a bad tobacco as a result. There is not free competition in tobacco in France at all, and I do not think the experience of that country with regard to that article would encourage this House to go on in the direction that the hon. Member suggests. The hon. Member says that if a low rate was adopted, a burden would be taken off the backs of the poor, but he did not argue that out. He did not show how the poor would benefit at all. He thought the poor would get tea at 3d. a pound duty instead of 4d. or 5d. That assumes that the most economical article for the poor to buy is this lowest quality which would come in at 3d., whereas, of course, it is much more economical to get better tea at even a slightly higher price. The hon. Member said that at present there is a scramble to push in tea of any quality at an even duty. Is there not a scramble to send in tea, no matter how good or how bad it is, at 5d. per pound duty? The hon. Member himself would create a scramble. What he proposes would give a premium on bad qualities of tea. It would give a check to experiments in the growth of that most important food for the people, and there would be other bad results which I do not think I need elaborate at any great length to the Committee.
The hon. Member based his appeal in support of the Amendment on the fact that there is a graduation of the Income Tax. There is no relevancy between the Income Tax and the Tea Duty. In the case of the Income Tax there is no commodity at stake, but tea is a great article of food in every home. I think that the graduation, even of the Income Tax, may be carried too far, and I am glad that there is some prospect of an inquiry into the whole question. The more simple the Tea Duty can be kept the better an instrument of revenue it will remain. I cannot sit down without referring to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden). It would not be fitting and respectful to speak on all these Amendments to-day, and one may as well take the opportunity of saying what he has to say in the fewest words possible on this Amendment. If this were a proposal to reduce the tax upon tea, and if we could give effect to it in a practical way, I would be glad to give attention to it. I am one of the supporters of the Government who have kept loyal to them while the present 458 heavy tax remained by the assurance they give from year to year that we must take a broad view of the situation, and leave it to the Government to reduce the tax as soon as they can. I would be glad to see a reduction of the Tea Duty as soon as possible if it could be done, but the reduction must not upset the flat rate. If a reduction could only be secured by making one of the experiments in regard to the establishment of an ad valorem rate, or a rate which would penalise tea from China, which is an excellent quality of tea, I believe that the game would not be worth the candle, and that it would be better to leave it where it is. I hope the Government will take into consideration the necessity of the trade and try to bring the Tea Duty back to fourpence. That would give a relief which would be greatly welcomed by the trade generally, and certainly by the supporters of the Government in this House.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I listened with very great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden). We always listen with interest to his speeches, and one of the reasons for that is that he is, usually candid. I think he was not quite so candid to the House as usual. He told us that he and his Friends are going to vote against all these Amendments with respect to the Tea Duty, because, in his opinion, if they were carried, the Finance Bill would be jeopardised—in fact defeated—and that was a contingency which the Labour party could not agree to under any circumstances whatever. But what has been the attitude of the Labour party? Did they vote for the Bill on the Second Reading? They did not vote for it. [An HON. MEMBER: "There was no Division!"] The objection of the hon. Member is a purely technical one. We on this side moved the rejection of the Bill by a reasoned Amendment. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] A reasoned Amendment was moved on the Second Reading of the Bill, and if that had been carried the Bill would have been rejected. If hon. Members opposite were really anxious to attack the Bill, their course would have been to have voted for that Amendment. I think, therefore, we are forced to the conclusion that the attitude of the whole of the Labour party as to the Finance Bill is, to say the least of it, exceedingly lukewarm. It is not merely the fate of the Finance Bill they have in mind; it is the fate of the 459 Government. It is the policy of the Labour party to support the Government at all costs. I have no objection to the hon. Member for Blackburn and his Friends voting against this Amendment if they think it a bad one, but I think that what we can protest against is their saying What they approve of a particular Amendment, or that they approve of the principle on which a particular Amendment is based, but are not prepared to vote for it, and must vote against it, otherwise the fortunes of the Liberal Government would be in jeopardy.
Of course, they are perfectly free to support the Government at all costs if they want to do so, but I think that their constituents and supporters in the country should realise the fact that the independence of the Labour party does not exist at all, and that they are servile followers of the present Liberal Ministry. The hon. Member for Blackburn also objected to the Amendment on the ground that my hon. Friend (Mr. Peto) was not sincere in moving it. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] I apologise if I have misrepresented the hon. Member. If I understood him aright, he accused the Tory party of insincerity on this subject. I do not know whether my hon. Friend (Mr. Peto) pledged himself in favour of a reduction of the Tea Duty or not, but I am certain that the Members of the Labour party did. I could read to the House, if they dispute that fact, the pledges they gave in their election addresses, and also on the platform, that they would on all occasions vote against food taxes. This is one of the food taxes. That being the case I do not think it lies in the mouth of Members of the Labour party to accuse us of insincerity. If my hon. Friend did pledge himself to vote in favour of a reduction of the Tea Duty, he is carrying out that pledge this evening, and hon. Members opposite are repudiating their pledges by voting against the Amendment in order to keep the Liberal Government in office. Therefore, while we frankly admit the absolute right of Members of the Labour party to vote in favour of food taxes to their heart's content, and to vote with the utmost obedience and regularity in support of the Liberal Ministry, we claim that that disentitles them to pose as the Independent Labour party. If they do so, they are making a fraudulent pretence in seeking the suffrages of the electors at an election.
§ Mr. SANDYS
Although a great deal of criticism has been directed to the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Blackburn, there are one or two additional observations I wish to make with regard to the policy of the Labour party in respect of this particular proposal. First of all, the hon. Member had no ground whatever for the suggestion he made that the proposal of my hon. Friend (Mr. Peto) was not an honest proposal. [An HON. MEMBER: "He never said anything of the sort."] I think the hon. Member did use that expression, and when he refers to the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, he will find that I am right. He laid down the policy which should guide the Labour party with regard to this particular Amendment. He emphasised the administrative difficulties to which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lough) has referred. The hon. Member is perfectly well aware that when any innovation is going to be introduced which may be attended with inconvenience to the Government there are always administrative difficulties which may come in the way. I think if the hon. Member had no other reason to lead him and his party to vote against the Amendment, he would not have been inclined to support the argument in regard to the difficulties of administration in connection with this proposal. One remarkable point made by the hon. Member was that the Labour party did not in the least degree recede from the attitude they had taken up on this question for a great many years past. I well remember a speech made by the Noble Lord (Viscount Wolmer) during the course of a similar Debate last year, in which he quoted word for word from the election addresses of a large number of Members of the Labour party, showing that they gave specific promises to those whom they represent that when they came to this House they would vote for a reduction of the Tea Duty.
§ Mr. SANDYS
I really think that was an interruption which was hardly worthy of the hon. Member. He perfectly well remembers the speech which was made on that occasion, and no attempt was made by any Member of the Labour party to dispute the accuracy of the quotations containing the election pledges given by his hon. Friends. What the hon. Member 461 now says—and I think it is rather a new light—is that it is impossible for him and his Friends to consider particular Amendments on their merits. What he regards are the broad issues at stake in the whole of the Finance Bill. If that is so, and if Amendments are not going to be considered in the Committee stage, what is the object of having a Committee stage at all? The hon. Member's argument seems to me to be completely destructive of the method in which this House has dealt with legislation in the past. He said he could not support the Amendment because he was in favour of an increase in the Income Tax and the Death Duties. He is not prepared to assist the poor. All he desires to do is to injure the rich. I do not think I have misrepresented the reasons given by the hon. Member with regard to the policy which his party were going to pursue. May I suggest that there was another reason, admirably stated in a speech by the hon. Member himself, which was reported in the "Christian Commonwealth" of 22nd April this year? I hope the hon. Member will interrupt me if the quotation which I am going to read is in any way incorrect:Mr. Philip Snowden, Labour M.P., Blackburn, said his colleagues would not deny that there is hardly ever a meeting of the Labour Members in the House which does not minutely examine every Resolution to be discussed, to see whether it is likely that the Tory party will support it. They never discuss the question in the party meetings as to how they shall vote upon a particular proposal. The question that dominates all others in those meetings is, 'Will it be safe to do it?'When the hon. Member was in a franker mood he portrayed with great accuracy what I was endeavouring to describe, namely, the motives which very often influence the party to which he belongs. The paragraph continues:—He told the Conference that on one occasion a discussion was to take place upon a Labour Amendment. The Labour Whip came in at the eleventh hour to say that the Liberal Whip had informed him that he had not got a sufficient number of men in the House to carry the Division, and feared that the Tories would vote for the Labour Amendment. It was therefore decided to move the adjournment of the Debate in order to allow the Liberal Whip to get sufficient men to defeat the Labour Amendment. The Debate was adjourned, and the Labour Amendment, by the connivance of the Labour party, was later defeated.8.0 P.M.
The hon. Member does not seem to disagree with that account of his speech. It seems to me that on that occasion the hon. Member indicated more clearly the real motives which guide the conduct of the Labour party in these delicate matters than he did in his speech to the House this afternoon. I certainly desire to support the Amendment of my hon. Friend. I was 462 not particularly impressed by the difficulties which the right hon Gentleman suggested lay in the way of this proposal. I certainly think that, if effect were given to such a suggestion, it would have a very beneficial effect upon the working classes of this country, and would enable them to obtain at a lower price a better class of tea than they can obtain at the present time. For these reasons, and because he is justified in saying that the policy generally of the party to which we belong is to do everything which we can to reduce the cost of living to the working classes of this country, I shall certainly support the Amendment of my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. BARNES
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, like the prophet of old, must be disposed to say, Oh that mine adversary hath written an article! I do not know that he sticks to all the words that have been quoted from the article in question, which has not been read to the House. For my part, I do not see what is the matter with it, and I do not see in what respect it is inconsistent with the speech which was made a little while ago by my hon. Friend. However, he is quite able to look after himself, and therefore I may leave him and say a few words upon the speeches to which we have been treated by the Noble Lord and the last speaker. From what I can gather the gravamen of the charge brought against us is that we voted in such a way as to keep the Liberal Government in office. I venture to put that the other way about, and say that the gravamen of the charge against us is that we have voted to keep the Tories out of office. My simple comment upon that is we should be fools if we voted otherwise. My mind is easily made up with regard to the Amendment now before the House. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn—I did not hear the whole of his speech, but have no doubt that he put our case much more forcibly than I could do—I may say that we are going to vote on this Amendment and all other Amendments with our eyes not only upon the particular Amendment, but upon the whole political situation. I submit that that is a common-sense position to take up. We have been over eight years in this House, and during the major portion of that time, or, at all events, during the last two or three years, we have been burdened with certain questions which have more or less blocked the way of social and political reform during the last twenty or thirty years. We now 463 have a chance, under the cumbersome provisions of the Parliament Act—which has been too much lauded from my point of view, because it involves too great a delay in passing laws under its provisions—to get certain measures through. Cumbersome as is that Parliament Act, we have at all events now an opportunity, under its provisions, of clearing the political board by passing certain measures of which we are in favour, such as the Home Rule Bill and—
§ The CHAIRMAN
A general review of the political situation does not come within the Amendment to which the hon. Member is speaking.
§ Mr. BARNES
I will leave that, but I thought that I should be justified in saying something of the reasons why we are going to vote against this amendment, seeing that those reasons have reference to all the matters in question which the Government are pledged to carry into effect. But leave out the Home Rule Bill, the Welsh Disestablishment Bill, and other proposals of which we are entirely in favour, and let us come to the Budget. Here again we should be fools and false to our constituents, if we voted upon a single Amendment, no matter how good that Amendment may be, upon its merits, in the strict and narrow sense of the word, if, by voting for it, we wrecked the Budget which, on the whole, gives effect to principles which we have long advocated. That puts our position in a nutshell. The Noble Lord has twitted us with certain declarations which we have made in election addresses and on platforms. I do not know whether he has got me on that list or not, but I am not very much concerned if he has. Inconsistency is to my mind a very minor cause of offence in politicians. I make that observation in all sincerity. I may have said sometime that I would vote against the Tea Duty. I do not believe that I did. I invite the Noble Lord to put me in the box if he can.
§ Viscount WOLMER
As the hon. Member has challenged me directly on the point, and he might like an opportunity of replying, I think that I can read to the hon. Member a quotation from a speech which he made last year, which I think still holds good. On 7th May, 1913, the hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division said:—I look back upon the last few years, during which we have been promised the abolition of these indirect 464 taxes, and I think that the time has come to put some of these professions into practice. The Tea Duty is one of the most iniquitous and unjust forms of indirect taxation, because it bears particularly hardly on the poorest of the poor.
§ Mr. BARNES
I endorse every single word that has just been read. I am somewhat proud of the fact that I should put that so well as I appear to have done on that occasion. But the Noble Lord just stopped short of something that I thought possibly he might be going to say. He has not said that I was going to vote in favour of an Amendment like this. I believe that if he looked a little further into that book he would have put me a little more deeply into the box, because I have said, and I am going to stick to it, that I would cast no vote in favour of maintaining the present Tea Duty as against any proposition to reduce it from the flat rate of 5d. or 6d. to something else, and, if the Noble Lord wants really to put me in the wrong box, let him bring forward a proposition of that sort and see what I shall do. I make no promise. But I might be in a little more awkward position than I am now. There is absolutely nothing inconsistent between what I have said as quoted, or in what might be quoted, and my voting against this Amendment as I am going to do, because there are those practical objections against this Amendment, even on its merits, which were referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington. He tells the House, with the practical knowledge which he possesses, that effect would not be given to the objects which the hon. Member has in mind by adopting this Amendment, but that the poor would probably still have to pay the 4d., and possibly have to pay the 5d., upon the tea which they would buy. Therefore, on the merits of this particular Amendment, I do not think that I am in any way pledged by my previous declaration to vote in its favour. The Noble Lord can tell my Constituents, even if he wishes to quote anything stronger still than what he has now quoted, that I shall still vote against this Amendment, and in favour, as he would say, of the Liberal Government, but, as I would say, against the tactics of the Tory party. I would still vote against this Amendment because I want the Budget, and every part of the Budget, because I know that in the Budget there are proposals in regard to housing, public health, proper provision for child life, and for drawing on the sources of 465 taxation possessed by those who are best able to bear it, and I prefer to consider the Budget as a whole rather than any particular Amendment on any single point such as this.
§ Mr. E. WOOD
I should not have risen but for the last remark of the hon. Member. He said that the reason why he is not going to support this Amendment is because he desires the Budget on the ground that it draws Income Tax from those who are best able to bear it. This Amendment is not a simple question of reducing the duty on tea as such. What we are really discussing is whether the surplus money in the hands of the Chancellor should be applied in reduction of the Tea Duty or in reduction of Income Tax. I confess that it seems to me an amazing position for the hon. Member to take up, in one and the same breath to say that he supports the Budget because it draws money from wealthy people and that at the same time he is prepared to vote against a provision that might have the effect of diverting the surplus from the relief of the wealthy to the relief of the poor.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Is the hon. Member's proposition to the Committee not to give temporary Grants to local authorities, but to reduce the Tea Duty?
§ Mr. WOOD
I have made no proposition as yet. If the right hon. Gentleman waits, I shall be prepared to make one. What I say is that it appears to me to be inconsistent that the hon. Member who supports the Budget on the ground that it gives relief to the poor and draws from the pockets of the wealthy should be prepared to support the reduction of the Income Tax rather than the reduction of the Tea Duty. My answer to the Chancellor is that he has between £2,000,000 and £3,000,000 with which he is able to remit taxation. If the right hon. Gentleman will come down with a firm proposal that he is prepared to take a penny off tea, which would be something like £1,000,000, then I will be prepared by my vote to show him how I will regard his proposal.
It being a Quarter-past Eight of the clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means, under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.