HC Deb 14 June 1915 vol 72 cc516-20

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 3rd February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."


My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not, I am sure, desire to deprive me of the opportunity of making one or two suggestions in regard to the Finance Bill, and certainly when he came to the Table with his dispatch box, full of the most valuable information, I naturally assumed that it was his intention to move the Second Reading of the Finance Bill. There can be no question that in every quarter of the House and among every section of the people of this country there is a willingness to bear to the very full the financial burden which must necessarily arise from the enormous expenditure that we have to face in connection with this terrible War, provided that there is something like equality of sacrifice.


On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Is the hon. Gentleman entitled, on the Motion for the Adjournment, to discuss the Finance Bill?


I do not think the hon. Gentleman is entitled to make the speech which he ought to have made on the Motion for the Second Reading. I think he must reserve that for the Third Reading. He is entitled to explain why he did not rise.


I am afraid, Mr. Speaker, that it is useless attempting to proceed if I am not allowed to make the suggestions in regard to the Finance Bill which I had intended.


May I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he proposes to make a statement to the House on the Third Reading?


I anticipated that my hon. Friend (Sir J. Walton), who had written to me upon the subject, intended to open the discussion on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill. A number of my hon. Friends had asked me whether I intended to make a speech first, and in every case I replied in the negative; but I had mentioned to you, Mr. Speaker, that my hon. Friend (Sir J. Walton) intended to speak upon the Bill. No one was more surprised that I was when he did not rise, and the Second Reading was taken without any debate. Perhaps I may be allowed to say this: Had there been an opportunity for me to speak I should not have thought the occasion appropriate to enter into the larger financial questions which are usually discussed upon the Finance Bill. The Finance Bill for this year only provides approximately for one-quarter of the expenditure of the year. There must be, at no very distant date, another occasion when by other efforts means must be taken for providing funds for paying for the War. I mean, of course, by some form or other of borrowing. Then, of course, we shall have a full survey of the whole expenditure and revenue of the year before us, and that, I think, would be a more appropriate occasion for dealing with the general finance of the country than the Second Reading of a Bill like this, which, as anyone who has read the Bill will see, is quite of a formal and technical kind. I think, therefore, that my hon. Friend will yet have, at no very distant date, a better opportunity than this of raising the whole question of the expenditure on the War.


May I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether it is the intention of the Government to bring in the revised Finance Bill foreshadowed by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer when he made his annual statement earlier in the year? As some hon. Members pointed out at that time, the taxation of to-day is insufficient to pay even the interest on the debt created by the War, and in view of the artificial state of prosperity caused by the large sums poured out by the Government on Government contracts many of us feel that that prosperity should be taxed by the Government immediately. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer would give us some idea as to when the Finance Bill, No. 3, will be introduced it would satisfy our minds on the subject. Perhaps I might further ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he is quite happy regarding the general financial situation? In times of peace the Treasury dominates the policy of the War Office. So far as I can see to-day the War Office is dominating the policy of the Treasury. Naturally that position is quite wrong, because ultimately the Treasury have to meet the bills drawn by the War Office. We are to-day raising several millions of men. We are to-day financing our Allies to the extent of several millions of pounds. Can this continue much further without endangering our financial position? I wish to put that point to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to ask him if he will endeavour to bring pressure to bear upon the War Office to stop recruiting, say, in the coal areas. As we learned, by question and answer, to-day the War Office is still taking from the coalfield miners who are wealth producers, and this at a time of grave financial difficulty. I desire to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer these two questions, and I trust that we may get some answer.


I desire to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when the Committee stage of the Finance Bill will be taken, and I shall be glad to know whether, on that occasion, he will be able to afford us an opportunity for discussion?


It is only with the leave of the House that I can reply to the questions that have been put. As my hon. Friend (Mr. Mason) knows, the time limit of the Committee stage is now settled by Statute, and I can only say that within that time limit the Committee stage will be taken. In reference to the questions of my hon. Friend (Mr. Collins), all the topics which he has mentioned would, I think, be more appropriate for discussion when we consider the means of raising Revenue outside this Bill. It is clear, as he says, that the Revenue raised under this Bill is quite inadequate to meet our expenditure, and we shall have to take other means of a more unusual kind to meet that expenditure. When we get to the discussion of those means all the topics which he has raised ought, I think, to be brought under the consideration and careful review of this House. He is undoubtedly right when he says that we are undertaking financial responsibilities which are almost beyond our powers to-day, but the occasion is not now, though it must be quite shortly, and, though I would not wish to limit myself to a precise date, the opportunity for full discussion cannot now be long deferred.


On a point of Order. Might I ask for some guidance? With this Bill before us have we the opportunity of discussing the use to which this money will be put, and the question whether we have had an adequate return for the money already expended on purposes such as this is meant to supply? That is to say, shall we have an opportunity of debating, in a word, the general conduct of the War?


This Bill is a Finance Bill and relates to the levy of taxation, and not to its expenditure. The discussion must be confined to the best method of raising the money required, and the method of spending it will come up on the Estimates.


My right hon. Friend knows that there has been a great deal of discussion upon Section 2 of the Act of 1912, and in reference to the question of amendment by this Bill I want some information as to when we shall have an opportunity of bringing the matter forward, so that it may not be pushed through without discussion.


If my Hon. Friend will kindly put his views before us on the subject they will certainly be carefully considered before we get into the Committee stage. Of course, this is a Committee point.


I am quite well aware of that.

Sir J. D. REES

Will the right hon. Gentleman say when the question under Clause 2 about the decision of the Excise Officers as to the age of whisky will be taken?



Sir J. D. REES

Not now?




Might I ask whether a discussion on the question raised by the hon. Member below the Gangway (Mr. Lynch) as to the method of expending the money would be in order on the Vote of Credit which I understand is going to be taken to-morrow? I should think that any discussion of that sort would be in order on the Vote of Credit. There is only one question as to which I would like to give notice to the right hon. Gentleman—that I desire to move an Amendment on the Committee stage. The Amendment is intended to prevent the waste of time which is incurred by the valuation officers under the Land Valuation Clauses. Only to-day a gentleman called at my house. I gave him every possible facility and he spent his time seeing what the value of my house was six years ago. I do not know how you are going to make out what was the value of my house in 1909. It was very different then from what it is now. It seems to me to be a very great waste of the time and the services of a very eminent and very capable gentleman, and I should have thought that after the War it would be no harder to find out what the value of my house was in 1909 than it is at the present moment. In those circumstances I intend to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that this matter should be postponed. I do not want to introduce any controversial matter and, therefore, I shall limit my Amendment to the postponement, and shall not suggest the abolition of the Land Clauses, which might possibly be considered to be a violation of the truce and the introduction of controversial matters. I shall, therefore, endeavour to secure the passing of an Amendment which will postpone the valuation until after the War is finished, so that the services of these eminent gentlemen may be devoted either to the making of shells or to some other service which will be more useful to the country than going round trying to find out what was the value of houses six years ago, a thing which is useful neither to the country nor to anybody else.


I had intended to put forward a very modest proposal as to the method of the payment of Death Duties, but like others I was rather taken by surprise at the shortness of the Debate on this Bill. My only reason for rising now is to say that I approached the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, the Minister of Munitions, on that subject, and I thought that the right hon. Gentleman might care to know beforehand the proposal which I must now endeavour to formulate in the shape of an Amendment on the Committee stage.


I hope that tomorrow the right hon. Gentleman will deal with the Amendment which the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of Londone said he was going to move, and will be able to give us full information as to the position with regard to land valuation in this country. We have had various statements made at various times, and it has been stated that the valuation was nearing completion, and I would like to know exactly how the matter now stands, especially in view of the fact that a new source of revenue has to be opened up.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at One minute before Four o'clock.