§ Motion made and Question proposed, That
- (a) Income Tax shall be charged for the year beginning the sixth day of April, nineteen hundred and fifteen, at the rate of two shillings and sixpence in the pound; and Super-tax shall be charged for that year at double the rates mentioned in Section three of the Finance Act, 1914; and
- (b) The like provision shall have effect with respect to the Income Tax so charged, including Super-tax, and the annual value of property as had effect under Section two of the Finance Act, 1914, with respect to the Income Tax thereby charged for the year beginning the sixth day of April, nineteen hundred and fourteen, and the value of property during that year; and
- (c) It is declared that it is expedient in the public interest that this Resolution shall have statutory effect under the provisions of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act, 1913.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The right hon. Gentleman concluded his speech on the same note on which he began, and it was the right note. He began and finished his 1019 speech by drawing our attention to the magnitude of the task which is incumbent upon us, and to our power to fulfil it. I think I may say gratefully of the right hon. Gentleman that from the beginning of this struggle he, at any rate, has never spoken smooth optimism to the people, but has constantly tried to keep before them the necessity for putting forth every exertion of which they are capable. It is our desire on this side of the House to strengthen his hands in that matter and to give him all the assistance that we can, and that he will allow us to give, and to reinforce the lesson which he preaches with all the powers at our command. The right hon. Gentleman devoted an interesting portion of his speech to an examination of the special financial difficulties of a British Minister as compared with a German Minister under the present war circumstances of their respective countries. I do not want to say for a moment the British Chancellor of the Exchequer has not difficulties enough to face, and it may be that in some special fields or some special portion of the field his difficulties are not only different from but greater than those of the German. But do not let anybody suppose from what the Chancellor has said that even as Finance Minister he would care for a moment to change places with what I may call his opposite number in the German ranks. Great as are the problems which he has to face, the difficulties of the German Minister of Finance are much more real. They go much deeper, and the capacity of his country to overcome them is much less.
The right hon. Gentleman said in this connection that he thought it was time that our Allies made up their minds what part they wish this country to play in the great struggle in which we are all engaged. I hope, though, that we have not waited until now to exchange ideas so frankly and so freely with those Allies that their respective Governments are already well aware of the part which each must play in order that success may be most quickly accomplished. I quite agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that you cannot make indefinite demands on this country: first for fighting men; secondly, for industrial assistance in the provision of supplies and munitions of all kinds, and lastly, for financial assistance for the Allies, as well as for the bearing of our own separate burdens. You cannot ask for unlimited exertions or unlimited contributions from this country in all three 1020 particulars. That is beyond the power of any nation to give; and at any given point it must be for the Allied Governments, and particularly our own, after full and free discussion with the Allies, to decide in what channels our efforts can best be directed, and by what use of those resources—and I do not grudge any resources we possess for the purpose—we can best help forward the common end. If I have a criticism to make against the Government in this connection, it is not that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should now draw our attention to the fact that to a certain extent these different demands war one with another, and that their complete fulfilment in every case is not possible, but that the Government themselves have been too slow to perceive that their right hand was working against their left, and that in their recruiting campaign they exercised no discretion as to the men whom they were taking, and took no steps to see that they were not disorganising most important industries—or, I will not say that they took no steps; that would be wrong; but they took insufficient steps, and, I think, took them too late. Certainly, they took steps too late, and they took insufficient steps to see that their demands in one direction did not clash with even more important demands in another.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in connection with these matters, dwelt on the various financial obligations which we have to fulfil to ourselves and to our Allies, and on the means we have for fulfilling them. I am not going to follow him through the very interesting economic arguments which he addressed to the Committee. With part of them I agree, some part of them I am inclined to dispute. But I make one general statement, which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will accept as fully as any Member of the House. We are not going to win the War by economic arguments, however sound. We are going to win the War by hard fighting, and by nothing else. No diversion of our manufacturing energies, or of our energies in manufacturing for export in order to lessen or assist the financial burdens, will counterbalance any failure to put forward our greatest possible effort in the real theatre of war. In other words, no strengthening of our financial position will counterbalance weakness in the field.
Before I leave these large general questions and turn to some of the more detailed observations of the Chancellor, I 1021 think I am entitled to remind the Committee, though I do not want to provoke old controversies, that not once or twice, but year after year for the last five or six years, I have warned this House of the gigantic burdens that a great war would throw upon us, and have lamented the whittling down or the using up of the resources which ought to be available to enable us to meet those burdens. I do not make that statement now in order to revive old controversies, nor to pose as a prophet who finds some happy prophecy in course of being fulfilled. I do it because I hope that it may add weight to my testimony when I support the Chancellor of the Exchequer in saying that this is a time when the House of Commons—and not the House of Commons only, but every public authority and private individual—must exercise the most rigorous economy in their expenditure. I confess I am disappointed that the Government have not found it possible to make larger reductions in our domestic expenditure and to produce smaller Civil Service Estimates. I confess, I think, that they ought to have been able, even at some temporary cost of things which all different sections of the House hold dear, to restrict that expenditure in this great strain of war. I hope that even now they, as a whole and departmentally, will use every effort to keep their expenditure below their Estimates, and to save to the nation what money they can. I urge particularly upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Treasury that it is their duty to watch the other Departments in this matter. If my information is correct, some of the other Departments, which are concerned with our ordinary domestic reforms, are inclined to forget that the War is our master, and that for the time of the War everything must give way to its successful prosecution; and even if they are restricting the expenditure of the Government, they are not endeavouring to restrict the expenditure of local authorities, but are even in particular cases trying to force local authorities into immediate expenditure on purposes, which I do not say are not desirable, but which can be very well postponed without injury to the country for twelve months, or for such time as the pressure of the War exists. I hope that the Treasury will be a vigilant watchdog in this matter, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will instruct his officials to keep him informed of what is being done, and that he and his colleagues in the Cabinet will support them to the 1022 utmost of their ability in any reduction of expenditure or postponement for which they press.
I am going to deal very shortly with the references to taxation which the Chancellor has made to-day. The right hon. Gentleman singled out for special attention the buoyancy of the Income Tax and Super-tax, and the general readiness with which it has been paid. I was glad to hear him say that. I think it is a good omen for us, and also that it contains a lesson which the Chancellor and the Committee may perhaps be willing to lay to heart. No man likes to pay taxes; with no man are taxes popular; but for a great purpose recognised as national, where every man is contributing his share according to his ability, the Chancellor must see that he has the good will of the great mass of the tax-payers in every walk of life, and that they are as anxious to assist him in this struggle as he can be to receive their assistance. It is a great thing that that lesson should be borne in mind—to carry with you the good will of those who are taxed in the sacrifices which you have to ask them to make. I will not discuss the slight changes which the Chancellor of the Exchequer foreshadows. Of course, everything depends on the exact application of them; but, speaking in general terms, I think that all that the Chancellor of the Exchequer suggested was wise.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I said nothing about the endowment question, as I did not know exactly what the Chancellor of the. Exchequer intended. I think that that is perfectly right, subject to an examination of the exact form of the proposal. The Chancellor of the Exchequer then passed to the Death Duties, and to the rather tragic tale of the number of estates which had passed inopportunely, owing to the death of their holders in the War. I renew the appeal which I made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer more than once last Autumn, that he should just a little extend the concession that he made in regard to the passing of such estates. He has done nothing for collaterals. It is quite possible to do something. The Chancellor of the Exchequer regards a collateral out of the direct line of succession who comes into an estate by the death of a brother or a cousin at the front as a lucky man who has had a windfall, and who can well afford 1023 to pay the utmost farthing. That is one way in which you can look at the question, but it is not the whole position. You really must look at it also—if I may press this on the Chancellor, and I think it will appeal to him—from the point of view of the estate and from the point of view of family feeling. There are cases in which holder after holder of an estate has made sacrifices year in and year out to maintain the estate as it was handed down to him to do his duty by the people who live there, and to let the estate pass with the name, whether to his children or to his collaterals, in the same condition in which he inherited it. I do not think that it is too much to ask that under the circumstances of the present War, and in view of the ready and great sacrifices that the class for which I am appealing are making in this War—in view of the way they are paying by their lives—that they should not be asked to pay this exhorbitant toll in their estates as well. The Chancellor of the Exchequer can be generous. When he is fighting he can be hard. I hope, in this matter, he will be generous. I am sure that the generosity he has already shown in this matter has been widely appreciated and universally approved by public opinion. I do not believe he would have a harsh critic anywhere if he consented to carry the matter a little further, and deal with these comparatively few cases in which the estate passes to collaterals.
This Budget is, like everything else, as he says, abnormal. It is not merely wholly abnormal in its figures, but in its procedure. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has proposed no new taxes to-day, but the other day he proposed large additions to certain of our taxes. Under normal circumstances, any such proposals would have formed part of the Budget Statement, and there are considerable inconveniences in having them dealt with apart from the Budget Statement, or introduced in anticipation of the Budget Statement. But that special treatment of them, at any rate, marks one fact that we have to bear in mind. They are not proposed for revenue. The Chancellor has proposed them as War measures—what I may, I think, call police measures for the purpose of the War—and not as revenue measures at all. So far as the revenue is concerned, there is little, revenue which the Chancellor expects to get from his proposals. Broadly speaking, the revenue which he meant to get from 1024 the trades concerned, or the consumers of the articles concerned, he took last November. The figures which he gave to-day, as to the decrease in the consumption of beer and the increase in the consumption of spirits, may cause him and all of us to doubt whether the enormous increase which he then made in the taxes on beer was a very wise change. That change, I quite believe the Chancellor, was done for the purpose partly of obtaining revenue, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer did what he thought was sufficient, what he intended to be sufficient, to guarantee the traders concerned against loss by the change. Though the taxes were imposed partly for revenue, whether they were socially advantageous and, in the long run, wise, I think there is some reason to doubt after the figures which have been given to-day. Beer has gone down and spirits have risen sensibly, and I think everybody will say who knows anything about it that spirits have risen because they are being drunk in substitution for beer.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Social reformers do not, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not, congratulate themselves on any such change.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Islington had listened to the Chancellor of the Exchequer with the same attention that I had the pleasure of bestowing upon his speech he would know.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The Chancellor of the Exchequer expressly stated that he made allowance for forestalments, and he eliminated that in the calculation to which I am referring. I want to say a few words—I must say a few words—on the new taxes on alcohol which the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed on Thursday last. They were proposed, not for revenue, but as a war measure of police, or a police measure of war. I cannot correlate or co-ordinate them with the other proposals which were sketched by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the same day. In this matter of expediting or increasing the supply of munitions of 1025 war, and the taking away of every hindrance that stands in the path, I do not believe there is a dissentient voice in this House.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me? [HON. MEMBEKS: "Order, order."] I am sorry to interrupt, but it is a point of Order I wish to raise. Are we going to take a general discussion on the Spirit and Beer Duties which were proposed on Thursday last, or are we to wait for the Report stage of the Resolution?
§ The DEPUTY - CHAIRMAN (Mr. Maclean)
The practice in the Committee is to take a general discussion on the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I see no reason at all why that practice should be departed from.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I cannot, as I said, co-ordinate the two parts of the programme which the right hon. Gentleman took on Thursday last. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman would find a very general consensus of opinion as to the restrictions which the Government may find it necessary to apply in districts where there has been an abuse of the present supply of liquor. I confess, however, that I think that the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and perhaps of some of his advisers, has been too exclusively centred on the effect of alcohol, and that they have given too little thought to other factors in a situation which we all deplore. For my part, I say now, publicly—I think I have said it sufficiently often in private—that I think it is a mistake to ask men to work continuously seven days a week. The Government ought long ago to have stopped Sunday labour in the munition factories. Their problems would have been less difficult at the present time if they had done so. It is no answer to that to say that particular men are irregular, or that they have worked short hours, as the Chancellor told us all the other day. Remember, you have recruited masses, hundreds and thousands of your best workmen throughout the country, and that you are drawing upon men who are less efficient than those who have gone away. You have got to take many factors into account. Still, after all is said and done, I am not here to say that there is no evil, and that one of the factors in the evil is not the abuse of drink. If I have a bad toothache, and I go to the dentist to have the tooth taken out, he does not blister me all over the body, from the sole of my foot 1026 to the crown of my head; but that is what, it seems to me, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is proposing to do.
He says the evil is confined to small sections of the workmen and to certain localities, and in order to remedy it he seeks, not only for powers to deal with the liquor traffic in the areas concerned as he thinks best, but he seeks to impose absolutely penal and crushing taxes on the makers or vendors of those alcoholic drinks, and on the consumers of them in every other part of the country, on other classes and sections of the population which are innocent of the sort of thing of which he complains. There is no proportion between the evil as described by the right hon. Gentleman and the remedy as propounded in these taxes. I cannot help feeling that the taxes themselves are an excrescence on the scheme, that they are a sort of postscript written in hastily at the last moment, and that they would never have been presented to the House of Commons in the form they have if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had had time to really understand what he was doing, or to consider the bearing of his proposals. Suppose, for instance, these matters had been thought out before. We had the ordinary Resolution which was put from the Chair on Thursday imposing this gigantic new Surtax on all the urgently needed medical drugs into which alcohol enters. The Chancellor of the Exchequer did not defend that. The moment it was mentioned he said exceptions would have to be made. Does not that show to the House the lack of thought with which these proposals were brought forward: that the Resolution should even have been made in that form? I wonder whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time he made his proposals had any real knowledge of their effect upon the trade?
He spoke vaguely about light and heavy beers. Does he know the proportion of the Trade which falls within the limits which he has assigned? We talk largely about lager beer as a light beer. Is it a light beer within the meaning of the taxes of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Lager beers are heavy beers, or a great proportion of them are, as judged by these taxes. I have got figures from three of the biggest firms in the United Kingdom as to how their industry and their output will be affected by the Chancellor's scale of taxes. What I may describe as the standard article manufactured by Guinness's would fall under the highest rate of Sur-tax, and I believe what is true of Guinness's is 1027 true of nearly all brewing done in Ireland. If I turn to Burton, I have the figures from two great firms there. Their names I will give to the right hon. Gentleman if he wants them. There would be perhaps no harm in mentioning them, only I have not received permission to do so. As to one of them, 95 per cent. of their total output would be subjected to a heavier Sur-tax. Over four-ninths would be subject to the heavier Sur-tax of 36s.; three-ninths would be subject to the Sur-tax of 24s.; two-ninths to a Sur-tax of 12s., and only one-ninth would be slight enough to pass at the light rate.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I have made a mistake, perhaps, in copying my figures; but this I can say, only one-ninth would pass at the old rate and four-ninths would come under the heaviest scale of Sur-tax. That is as regards beer. This is not taxation; this is annihilation. It is not adjusting the taxes to deal with a small section of the population who are abusing their opportunities; it is crushing for everyone concerned, whether a man has abused his opportunities or whether he is as innocent of that as the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself. Then look at wine. No one pretends that the munitions of war have been interfered with by the sale of wine in this country. In order to provide us with a platform argument when we go to our constituencies; in order that we can say we are not taxing their drink when we are not taxing our own, on wine a perfectly crippling duty is to be imposed. I really think that that line of argument verges dangerously close to cant. I really think we are not honest with ourselves when we provide ourselves with a political argument of that kind for platform use, when really there is nothing in the substance or fact of the case made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that justifies his proposal. Just look at it. I am informed that a hogshead of claret hitherto charged £3 would now have to pay £12; that a hogshead of Australian wine hitherto charged £3 would now have to pay £12.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I will say a word about champagne if the Chancellor of the Exchequer wishes me. A kind of port, hitherto charged £17 5s., will now be 1028 charged £67. The Chancellor of the Exchequer asks me about champagne. I have not the figures for champagne, but I am informed by those whose business it is to know the trade, who have studied the trade, that any of us who think you can raise the price of champagne by something over 3s. a bottle—
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
By 30s. a dozen, without enormously reducing consumption, makes a great mistake. Mind, these taxes are not proposed for revenue; they are proposed in order to expedite the manufacture of munitions of war. The taxes are devised on that ground. At whose expense? At the expense of the drinkers in the country. I am one of them. I am not going to complain on that ground if the measure is otherwise wise; but that it is at the expense of our Allies, the French, at a time when a great part of their ordinary market is necessarily closed, and when they have a chance of increasing their market here, which is at this moment more valuable to them than it has ever been since 1870, and at the expense of our own Dominions, two of whom have built up some trade in light wines, that may altogether be crushed out by such duties as the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposes. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said some time ago that he thought there was some impatience that the Government had not moved earlier in the matter of excessive drinking, but that it was of the utmost importance in this matter that the Government should not go in advance or beyond public opinion, but should carry general assent with it. That is a wise saying, and I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself must see that he has gone in these taxes far in advance of public opinion, that he has made suggestions which his argumentative case does not enable him to support, and that he will have to revise profoundly the taxing proposals which he has made.
If I may venture to offer a word to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I would say to him, "Take the trade into your counsel. They are human like the rest of us. They are Britons like the rest of us. They are not insensible to the appeal of patriotism. They are making their sacrifices already, and they are ready to make more, if, on their further sacrifices, the successful prosecution of the War depends." I do not 1029 believe the Chancellor of the Exchequer will find them in an unreasonable mood, but I cannot see how it is possible for them to sit down under proposals such as he has made; and I cannot see for myself how it is possible for us in this House, with every desire to aid and not to embarrass these proposals, to do otherwise than actively oppose them, if he continues to press them upon the House. I am quite sure that in every part of the House, and in every part of the country, there is a profound anxiety as to the supply of munitions of war. The warnings uttered by Lord Kitchener and by the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself ring in our ears, and the soothing syrup administered by the Prime Minister in an unhappy moment at Newcastle does not reassure us. I believe it to be true that in the past we have been very short of necessary munitions of war. I believe it must be so again in the future unless we increase the supply, and my Friends and I have every desire to co-operate with the Chancellor of the Exchequer if it be possible to secure those ends. We hope he will meet us and the interests concerned in the same reasonable spirit, and that he may put before us proposals which he can carry with general assent and work with the good-will of everyone.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I take the course of getting up immediately and not waiting for the Debate to develop, because I feel that the words used by the right hon. Gentleman are words that I must make an observation or two upon at this stage. I was not aware that he intended to raise a debate upon this subject at the present stage, and I think it has obvious inconveniences at the present moment. The right hon. Gentleman has suggested that I should meet the trade and discuss the whole question frankly with them, but he knows perfectly well that I have been very anxious to come to an arrangement with the trade. I have had opportunities of meeting some of the leading men, both of the brewing trade and the distilling trade, during the last fortnight or three weeks. I did think I should have been able to effect some arrangement that would have given us such a control of the liquor trade during the War as would enable us to avoid evils such as those of which we have good reason to complain in some districts. However, for the time being we were unable to effect any arrangement; but I must say this, and I am bound to say it, that I agree with every word the right hon. Gentleman said about the spirit and temper of the trade. 1030 There is no man in this House who has fought them harder than I have; but I am bound to say that they met the appeals which I made to them in a patriotic spirit, in an attitude of mind which could leave nothing to be desired from the point of view of anybody who is trying to help this country along. I feel bound to say that as an old political opponent of theirs. I say more than that. If there is a failure, I do not think the blame rests upon them. I am bound to say so, and I think it is due to them. I look forward to the pleasure of meeting them to-morrow. They have asked me to a deputation. I think there is a deputation from the brewers, and I think one has been asked for from the distillers as well. I met them once before, and I hope to meet them again. If I may be allowed to say so, I do not think it would be very helpful if we entered into a prolonged argument upon the merits if I have to meet them, and that is why I am getting up at the present moment.
Of course, I recognise fully that what is possible under ordinary conditions for a Government to do, you cannot do now. Every section of the House must accept responsibility for the action of the Government in this War, and the last thing you can possibly do is to embark upon an embittered controversy which arouses all sorts of passions and suspicions, and throws us back upon a condition of things which could do no harm, perhaps, in time of peace, but which would be infinitely mischievous when national unity is so essential. The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly right: I have never underestimated the gravity of this War. I would not call myself a pessimist, but I do not think I have ever indulged in foolish hopes. I feel in every fibre of my being what a serious task we have before us. I feel how terrible the results would be if it were conceivable that for some reason or other this country should fail to accomplish its great purpose. It has entered into this War in the spirit of chivalry, to defend every righteous motive that can impel a nation on. If it failed, there is a prospect for Europe and a prospect for mankind which is a sad one indeed, and I should grieve beyond measure if anything I did should, in the slightest degree, give an encouragement to the enemy which he ought not to get—that it should in any way give any hope or joy to the enemies of our country. The House of Commons may depend upon it that no personal pride 1031 will stand for one moment between the accomplishment of unity and the purpose which we have in view. But I do also ask that the Opposition have their responsibility, and it is a very serious one. These proposals may be the right proposals or they may be the wrong proposals. I have not concealed from the House that I should have wished to have obtained complete unity to approach this matter from another point of view: naturally this is the second best. I must say that in every approach made to them the Opposition have shown the utmost disposition to assist, and I have certainly talked the matter over with the leaders of the Labour party as well. I should very much like the House to realise that it has a responsibility of its own. It is not a question of whether the evil has been exaggerated, but the question is whether it is an evil. I should like to appeal to all sections on this matter. I am not wedded to any proposals of my own, and if anybody has any that would do the thing much better I should be very happy to adopt them. I do hope, however, that each Member will realise that he has got a responsibility to the country as a whole. Controversy on a large scale I certainly would not face, because it would injure the country. It would create new evils. I do not ask for a response at the present moment, but may I make this appeal to all sections that they will assist the Government in doing something, and something substantial, to curb this great evil? Whether the increase in the consumption of spirits is due to the beer tax or not, it is a fact. I want the House to remember that. As far as I understand there is practically unanimity about giving us control in the munition areas. The first thing I want to ask the House is this—if I may be permitted to do so by consent—I should like the House of Commons, if there are negotiations to take place about taxation, at least to give the Government power at once in the munition areas, because that involves the setting up of a Committee to investigate the conditions on the spot. This Committee, I hope, will get the assistance of all sections, and especially the representatives of labour, to examine the problem in these particular areas, and recommend to the Government the best method of dealing with it. I should like, if, the House of Commons will consent to allow us, to get that Bill at the earliest possible moment. I cannot set up the 1032 Committee for the purpose of investigating the problem in those areas until that is done. I hope there will not be much discussion on the matter to-day. On the other hand, I do hope that the House will not only give us complete powers with regard to munition areas, but that they will enable us to cope with the difficulty we have undoubtedly experienced with regard to alcoholic liquors. That is the only appeal which I make at the present moment, and that is why I go out of my way to get up immediately after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite to say what I have said in order to prevent anything being said on one side or the other which might make a settlement almost impossible.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I apologise to the House for the fact that another Member of the Front Bench has risen so suddenly, but I feel after what the right hon. Gentle man has said that it is right that I should say a word or two as to the spirit in which we approach this subject. I wish, first of all, to let the Chancellor of the Exchequer know that my right hon. Friend did not make the reference he has made to this subject with any desire to start the controversy to-day. The House will remember that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke last Thursday I did not feel able to follow him, or to express in any way the views of the Opposition, and after consultation with my right hon. Friend to-day we came to the conclusion that it was absolutely necessary now that we should give some indication to the House and the country as to what our views are. That was the sole object, and it was in no spirit of controversy, that my right hon. Friend rose to-day. I can only say with absolute knowledge, and I speak for the whole of my Friends, that we approached this subject in precisely the same spirit in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer approached it. I was convinced from the beginning that what he said on Thursday was true, and that he had in view one thing only, which was the successful prosecution of the War. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not think I am controversial in saying that he has his own methods. He carries things through by energy and by sometimes creating an atmosphere, and an atmosphere had been created in this case which had its inevitable effect. I knew that was his sole object, but, of course, it is possible, in a matter of this kind, to say anyone else may be mistaken, and it was a certain and quite 1033 evident fact that he had failed, I will not say to convince the House, but to inspire them with his own enthusiasm as to the paramount importance of the question and therefore it was necessary for us to regard it with a certain amount of caution.
I say to-day, and I think it is the only essential thing we want to say, that I agree with what my right hon. Friend said about the tendency to omit other considerations in regard to short time. I agree with that. I am sure there is an evil, and that to some extent—how great I do not know—that evil is aggravated by the system under which drink is obtained in those areas. That is an evil which we are bound to do our best to remedy, but the remedy must not be out of proportion to the evil. I am absolutely convinced that if those taxes are proceeded with on anything like the present basis you will have throughout the length and breadth of England an agitation precisely of the same kind as we had in regard to the Licensing Bill of 1908. I have every evidence of it now, for since I have been sitting here I do not know how many telegrams I have received, and I have been inundated with deputations. Whether it is right or wrong, the very fact that this whole industry—and it is a big industry—itself is going to be roused to a perfect passion of excitement and resentment against these proposals is in itself a reason for saying that it will be doubtful whether the good you get by your remedies would not be more than surpassed by the harm you do in creating a feeling of dissension and aggravation. That is one aspect of the question, but there is another. I hope my hon. Friend will not think me quixotic if I say that I do not sympathise with the attack that has been made upon the Chancelor of the Exchequer about calumniating our workmen. The right hon. Gentleman is a very old political hand, and he knew as well as anybody knows to-day that that kind of thing cannot be said without it being used against him, though myself I think it is very natural that in the enthusiasm with which he proposed his case workmen should see signs of an exaggeration of that case, and to some extent dislike it. But, while I think that is perfectly natural, I am certain he has not said a word on that subject which was not influenced by the belief that this was a great evil, and that it was his duty to remedy it. I give him that credit.
But is there not a lesson to be derived from all that. I am not going to refer to 1034 the speech of the Prime Minister as a matter of controversy at all, but he went to Newcastle for the express purpose of stimulating munitions of war. He spoke in the very district where every factor that was important should be brought to the notice of those who are directly concerned. He did not refer to drink at all, and I think I know the reason. I think he was probably warned by those who knew the feelings of the workmen that to refer to it would do more harm than good, and create a feeling of resentment. Is that not a warning to us all? Are we not bound to see that in whatever proposals we put forth, or whatever restrictions we, suggest, they are not of a kind which will seem to the great mass of sober, industrious work men as going beyond the necessities of the case, and as being unreasonable in the restrictions they impose. I think I have said enough to show that we on the Opposition side start out with the desire not to hamper the Government if we can help it. That is our desire. I can sympathise with what the right hon. Gentleman has said about permission to set up these Committees. I do not know whether it will be possible for him—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I think he is rather trenching on the Debate which—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!" and "Agreed, agreed!"]
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am sure, Mr. Maclean, you will understand that it was only in consequence of the appeal made by the right hon. Gentleman that I referred to this matter. I can quite sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman's desire to get these Committees to work at once, and I should like to help him to do it, but I think it will be impossible to get that part of the scheme which directly bears on the problem discussed in an atmosphere of unity and with a desire to agree until there is some certainty that the other part of the proposals are not going to be prosecuted. I think that is the danger, and though I quite admit that it is impossible to get the other matters settled by Thursday, he must keep it in view, and if my hon. Friends would agree I should myself be willing to let him get the first stage of setting up the Committees on the distinct understanding that the House of Commons parts in no way with its complete control over the whole proposals, and that our assent to whatever we do agree to is subject to agreement on the other matters as 1035 well. That is the view I take about it. I would like to say, in conclusion, that, after all, the easiest way to do this is to carry with you the co-operation of the trade. I said to the deputations which saw me yesterday, "Do not come to me; go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and make terms with him." And I say to him now that the way to get this thing done, without friction and without injury, is to do it by co-operation, so far as it is possible, with those who are directly affected by the proposals he is making.
§ Mr. JOHN REDMOND
I do not intend to raise or to take part in what the right hon. Gentleman has characterised as the bitter controversy in this matter, but in view of what has occurred this afternoon, in view of the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he is going to reconsider this matter, to see the trade, and so forth, I think it is essential for his own purpose that he should have a clear and a full statement of the views of large sections of Members in this House on all the material points. I am in agreement to a large extent with what has been said by the Leader of the Opposition. So far as the Bill dealing with areas is concerned, I said on Thursday, and I repeat, that I cordially approve of it, and, if the right hon. Gentleman could withdraw his proposal as to the two taxes, I for my part would willingly see the Areas Bill passed into law to-morrow. That is not what the right hon. Gentleman, however, has suggested. If he does suggest that, and he will come down to the House and withdraw these two taxes, then, so far as I am concerned, he is quite welcome to get the Bill dealing with the areas passed at once, and I sincerely hope that it will be effective.
I feel bound to avail myself of this opportunity to explain to the House the views which are held by large bodies of Members with regard to these taxes. I have conversed on the matter of these taxes with very many Members of all political parties from different portions of the country, and I have not come across one friend of the proposal. Why is that? It certainly is not that Members are unwilling to make any sacrifice that may be necessary in order to remove whatever obstacle there may be in the way of getting ample and rapid munitions of war. On the contrary, my own opinion is that on a proved case, and with what seems likely to be an effective remedy, much more drastic proposals 1036 than those of the right hon. Gentleman would probably receive far more favour than his present proposals. It certainly is not because the Government has made no case, because it is clear to me that in some places—probably they are very few—and amongst some workmen—I am sure that they are very few—there is a slackness, and that slackness is due in some degree to the excessive use of drink. But we cannot accept the case, the full case at any rate, which was put before the House by the right hon. Gentleman without the most careful inquiry.
We cannot accept the case which is set out in the White Paper, and for my part I must be allowed to say that I think the issue of that White Paper was a lamentable mistake. The issue of that White Paper has done a very serious injury to this country. Such drinking as does exist could have been largely dealt with, and I think should have been dealt with long ago, under the drastic powers the Government possess under the Defence of the Realm Act even as it stands, and, if he desires now to pass his Bill obtaining still more drastic powers to deal with the question under the Defence of the Realm Act, then, as I said before, I am quite willing that he should have them. He could have got that, and he could have got it, I believe, without any controversy, probably without any debate; I am almost sure that he could have got it unanimously without parading before the world what the nations of the world, who do not go into these matters and do not understand the disclaimers of the workman, will undoubtedly regard as the shameful story disclosed by the White Paper.
If the new taxes have no friends, it is not therefore because people are unwilling to do what is necessary to stop an evil that has been proved, although the case put forward has been possibly grossly exaggerated. No, it is because nobody believes—I, at any rate, have met nobody who believes—that this proposal as to the taxes is in itself a remedy for the evil. The increasing of the price of whisky will not prevent the drunken workman, whose picture was so luridly drawn the other night by the right hon. Gentleman, from earning, as we are told, larger wages than he ever got in his life before, and it will not prevent him from getting what he wants. You require much more drastic measures to deal with a workman of that kind. You will not increase your output 1037 of armaments by inflicting a blow upon the trade of your Ally, France. You will not be increasing your armaments or putting down this liquor evil, such as it is, by giving a severe blow to the trade of Australia, whose gallant sons are fighting for you to-day upon the battlefield.
No, my belief is that your only safe course is to stick to the plan of dealing with this question by areas. Take the most drastic powers you like, and then, when you find an area where you are satisfied the necessity arises, put those powers into operation in the most drastic way. Seize the public-houses, close the public-houses, prohibit the sale of drink altogether, do anything that is necessary in those areas, but do not propose a remedy of the kind suggested by the Chancellor of the Exchequer which, instead of meeting the evil, simply penalises everybody in every part of the country and penalises especially those workmen who are working over hours and who are not indulging in excessive drinking.
I therefore oppose these taxes root and branch on the broad ground that they are no remedy for this evil. But perhaps the House will bear with me if I put the case from the point of view of Ireland. I have spoken generally. Let me put the case of Ireland. Apart from the effectiveness or non-effectiveness of this remedy, we say that so far as Ireland is concerned it is absolutely unnecessary for any war purpose, and, if it is unnecessary, it must therefore be unjust and oppressive. On Thursday last, when I spoke upon this question, I had not then had the opportunity of consulting my colleagues. I have had that opportunity now. We have given this matter the fullest consideration, and to-day we came to a conclusion which I think I ought to read to the House. Here is the resolution we arrived at to-day:—That, while we declare the perfect readiness of the Irish people to bear their fair share equally with the people of Great. Britain of any burdens shown to be necessary to bring the War to a speedy and victorious termination, we strongly protest, against the proposed taxation of spirits and beer, because (1) it differentiates against Ireland, by inflicting on some of her chief industries, without compensation, a burden greater than is entailed upon Great Britain; and (2) that, whatever case necessitating restrictions may have been made out against, a small section of workmen in certain districts in Great Britain—and upon that we express no opinion—no case whatever has been made out, or has even been alleged, against any section of the workmen of Ireland, amongst whom we rejoice to know that there is no excessive drinking or slackness; that no case has been made out for the necessity of the proposed taxes, or to prove that they would be effective as a remedy for the evil alleged to exist; and, as they are grossly unjust and oppressive to Ireland, we resolve to oppose them by every means in our power.1038 Let me shortly deal with the two propositions contained in the Resolution. We say that this is a proposal which, if put into operation, would differentiate against Ireland and would inflict upon Ireland a hardship greater than it would inflict upon Great Britain. How do I prove that? This doubling of the tax on spirits would undoubtedly destroy the distilling industry of Ireland. I have met the great distillers of Ireland and have discussed this matter fully with them. They have assured me that if these taxes were passed they could do no distilling at all next year, and, doing no distilling and with the loss of sales, they are of opinion that scarcely one of their firms could possibly survive. The distilling trade means far more for Ireland in proportion than the distilling trade means for England. Our industries, the House ought to remember, have been ruined in the past. One by one they have disappeared, and this distilling industry is one of the few remaining.
I listened with great interest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he spoke about the increased income of this country during the War—when he spoke of the hundreds of millions of borrowed money that have been spent here in this country during the War. Yes, but they are not being spent in Ireland. This money is being spent here. The money that is spent in Ireland is not a drop of water in the ocean compared with what is spent here. You are doing some shipbuilding in Belfast, you are making a few explosives at Arklow, and you are buying some woollen goods from some of the small manufacturers in Ireland; but, apart from that, the bulk of the hundreds of millions of borrowed money you are spending on the War is being spent here, and is increasing the income of the people of this country. Therefore, even if your War proposals did seriously injure one particular small industry in England, it would not be half as serious an injury in proportion as destroying in Ireland one of our only remaining industries, namely, the distillation of whisky.
Consider also what this stopping of the distilling in Ireland means. We are an agricultural country. The destruction of the whisky trade would mean a very serious injury to agriculture in that country. I have here a document—I will not trouble the House with it, but I will allude to one or two facts in it—supplied to me on behalf of the Irish distillers. They 1039 point out that they spend on salaries and wages in Ireland about £400,000 a year, on freights and so forth about £150,000 a year, and on the purchase of cereals in Ireland £1,000,000 a year. Think for a moment what the stoppage of all that means! They have sent me also a long list of all the different trades, the bottling trade and all the other trades, that will be affected. One of the strangest things in the document is that among the people in Ireland who are protesting strongly against this are the dairymen, especially in Dublin, who say that if you stop distillation they will be deprived of the grain from the distilleries, which is the food for their cattle during the winter, and that it would entail very great losses upon them. In a hundred different ways, if this trade were destroyed, you would injure countless thousands of men who would be driven out of employment.
If you take the question of beer, this proposal would differentiate against Ireland quite as much. Let the Committee consider for a moment this point. The manufacture of beer in Ireland is a very large business. It employs many thousands of men in many trades in the country. The last figures I have seen show that 3,417,000 barrels of beer was the output; that is largely all export trade to this country. If this proposal is carried, no one who is acquainted with the trade will deny that Dublin stout and porter will be entirely put out of the market in this country. It only holds the market to-day because of its pure quality. It is made entirely of barley and hops, and none of those substitutes which are used in the making of lighter beers are used in stout or porter. Irish barley, such as this stout is largely made of, is unsuitable altogether for the manufacture of the light kind of beer which the right hon. Gentleman desires to be manufactured. If Ireland is to attempt to compete with the light beers in existence in England at this moment, she must brew it not from barley at all, but from those other substitutes used in the manufacture of light beer, and the beer so manufactured will lose all the characteristics of Dublin stout and porter. They will be embarking on a new trade and manufacturing a new article, and in so doing they will have to compete with men who have been long established in that trade. I am told this morning by a representative of these gentlemen that it is impossible for them to manufacture light beers which would have any of the characteristics of Irish 1040 stout. It would not froth like stout, or be like Irish stout at all; therefore, so far as the brewing trade in Ireland is concerned, your proposal would practically put an end to it. Guinness's lightest porter—single X—at this moment has a gravity of 10.57; therefore the full 36s. Super-tax would fall on every single barrel of beer brewed by this firm. In Ireland the Sur-tax therefore means the ruin of the brewing trade. In England the injury, no doubt would be great, but I do not believe it would be comparable to the injury that would be done in Ireland.
I tried to look up the effect of this proposal on shares. Perhaps the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) will be able to tell the Committee how that stands. But the quotations I have seen show that there-has been an enormous drop in Guinness's shares. In some of the English brewery shares there has been no drop, in others there has been a drop that might, in ordinary circumstances, be deemed considerable. But it is nothing like the drop in Guinness's, showing, therefore, it is anticipated that the injury done to the brewing trade in this country is nothing like that which will be done in Ireland. Translated in £. s. d. the drop in Guinness's amounts already to nearly a million and a half of money. When people speak of Guinness's—the name may not be popular in politics in Ireland, for Guinness is something to hit and injure—they forget what Guinness means. Guinness stock—millions of it—is held by people all over Ireland: small people, widows and others, have their sole income in many cases derived from Guinness, and if you destroy the value of Guinness shares you are injuring innumerable perfectly innocent people.
The result of this tax would be, as far as Ireland is concerned, injury to the farmers. Their barley would be unsaleable. This year a larger crop of barley has been sown in Ireland than ever before. That crop, when it comes to be reaped, will be unsaleable if this proposal is carried. Thousands of men will be thrown out of employment, tillage will be stopped. Emigration—and this is something to which the right hon. Gentleman ought to give some weight—emigration, which last year for the first time since the Great Famine, showed a considerable drop, will necessarily increase if you drive all these people out of employment on the land. All this is to be done without any compensation. When listening to the right hon. 1041 Gentleman on Thursday I was greatly interested to hear him say, "We have come to the conclusion that where you are taking away a man's property, or his livelihood, you must give him fair compensation." Again, he said, "We must see the people are not damaged, and do not suffer in consequence of any action which is taken." That is all very fine, but that does not apply to the property which you are taking away from these people, if you pass these taxes. It does not apply to the livelihood you are taking away, or to the injury done them. It only applies apparently to the operation of his Bill in the particular areas to which he was alluding. In all that I am saying—although I have no right to speak for anyone except my own colleagues, representing the majority of the Irish Nationalists Members—I believe I am voicing the opinion of all political parties in Ireland.
I have carefully watched the newspapers and I notice that the "Irish Times," which represents the Unionists in the South and West of Ireland, goes exactly on the same grounds as I have gone, and is giving bitter opposition to the contention of the right hon. Gentleman. It says that by its proposals, if logically applied, the Government propose to kill the remaining industry in the one part of the United Kingdom which does not produce munitions of war. Mr. Lloyd George told an Irish deputation last week that he had not the slightest charge to make against Irish people in respect of war work, and yet Ireland is to be specially penalised for the sins of a section of English skilled artisans. And in a subsequent article which appeared in the same paper they argued on the same lines strongly against it, saying that all parties in Ireland would unite in protest against this method. I was interested in seeing that the Press in Belfast takes the same line. The "Northern Whig" has opposed this, and in much more controversial terms than I have used it has dealt with the right hon. Gentleman's proposals. The "Belfast News Letter" has done the same.
To me this is not a question of the trade or of trade interests. It is a question of the interests of Ireland as a whole. I have received communications, not merely from the licensed trade, from brewers and distillers, but also from every conceivable public body in Ireland, from county councils, district councils, chambers of commerce, and public bodies everywhere. Some of the strongest protests I have received 1042 have come from, teetotalers, and only to-day the Catholic Bishop of Killaloe (Dr. Fogarty), according to a speech reported in the Dublin papers, spoke of the dismay and bewilderment with which he read the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he added, that, jealous as he was for the total abstinence cause, that was not the way to make people sober, and he was afraid it was the old story of crushing Ireland's trade under the wheel of English interests. That is the kind of feeling this is arousing in Ireland amongst, all classes and kinds of men. As I have said, so far as the Bill is concerned we are willing to give the most complete powers even to-morrow, to the right hon. Gentleman, but so far as these taxes are concerned we say they are ineffective as a remedy—absolutely ineffective—and that they differentiate unjustly against Ireland. You have made out no case on war necessity for dealing with the question at all in Ireland.
That last observation brings me to my concluding argument. In Ireland, as the right hon. Gentleman is aware, we have, very little of the manufacture of munitions at all. But he will be the first to admit, that the workmen in Belfast are doing their work well, that there is no excessive drinking there, and no necessity whatever to impose any penalty on them. The same thing applies, so far as the transport trade is concerned, to the city of Dublin and elsewhere. It also applies in Arklow, where they are manufacturing explosives. If you leave these places out—and admittedly there, is no case there—then there is no other spot in the whole of Ireland where they are making munitions of war at all, and to tell me that you can go to the Irish people down in Tipperary or Limerick, or anywhere else, where they are flocking to the recruiting sergeant and filling up your regiments, and can say to the people, "We admit you are doing your duty, we admit that you are temperate, we admit that there is no excessive drinking, and that you are not standing in the way of the output of the munitions of war, but there are a few men on the Clyde or elsewhere who are doing it, and, therefore, you must be punished"—to tell me that that is either a just, wise, reasonable, or patriotic thing to do, passes my comprehension. Ireland to-day, I repeat, and from the day war was declared, has done and is doing her duty—in sobriety, in hard work, in recruiting, and in gallantry on the field. Ireland to-day is willing to make 1043 any sacrifice that is proved to be necessary in order to enable you to get your full supply of munitions. But I do beg the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I do beg the Government, not to let Ireland think that her reward for that is to be that this Parliament will inflict upon her, without the smallest war necessity, great injury to all classes of her people—an injury far greater than is inflicted on England—for a cause which, even if it exists in England at all, admittedly is non-existent in Ireland.
It is well, I think, that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to reconsider this whole matter he should have these views put clearly before him. I hope he will listen to them sympathetically. I tell him in advance it is no use proposing to us a compromise by taking the tax off beer and leaving it on whisky. That would intensify the trouble. [A laugh.] It is not a laughing matter to us. Whisky is the beverage of Ireland, and I put it to hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway, would it not be a still greater injustice to Ireland if beer, which is the commodity drunk in this country, were to be entirely relieved of the additional taxation, and whisky, which is consumed in Scotland and in Ireland, were to be taxed? I say, if that were offered to us as a compromise, we not only would not take it, but we would regard it as adding insult to injury. But, short of that, if the right hon. Gentleman will only stick to his reasonable proposals for dealing with the liquor traffic in any district where it can be proved that workmen are shirking their work, and shirking it through drink, I am prepared to give him omnipotence—to give him power to do all he wishes. But, I say, stick to that main principle and do not, in order to punish a few men—far fewer than people imagine—who are guilty of this misconduct, penalise the whole population of the country by inflicting hardship on them and in particular upon Ireland.
§ Mr. ARTHUR HENDERSON
I have risen because I find that the silence of my hon. Friends on these benches has already been misinterpreted. I do not see why some of the statements that were made in the preceding Debate on this subject should have been made with regard to the silence of the Labour party. The policy that we adopted in the preceding Debate, and the policy we shall adopt in this Debate, is consistently the policy that we have 1044 pursued throughout the past nine months. Along with the Opposition, the majority of us on these Benches determined that we should do nothing calculated to prevent the Government from pursuing the War to a successful issue. It appears to us that we have reached this stage; that it is necessary for us to tell the Government, if there is to be a continuance of the policy we have pursued, that it will be essential for them to continue the policy which characterised them during the earlier stages of the War. It appears to us that there has been a very serious departure from that policy. One essential to the success of that policy that has been followed from the declaration of War is that there must be, as far as possible, an entire absence of the spirit of controversy. In the issue that has been raised in connection with the new taxes, and the other proposals contained in the Bill to amend the Defence of the Realm Act, an altogether unnecessary element of controversy has been introduced. That has been extended in connection with the publication of the White Paper. The statements of an ex parte character contained in that White Paper have been regarded by the workmen of this country as nothing short of a libel upon their position. We know that in the speeches made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the subject he has always taken care to point out that any censure he might have expressed applied only to a minority of the workmen. We do not disguise that from our minds for a single moment. But no one can examine the White Paper, no one can analyse the statements that are made, especially the ex parte statements made by some of the officials of the several Departments which are printed there, without feeling that the libel affects much more than a small and insignificant minority of the workmen concerned. Some of the statements appear to go directly against the interests, not only of the Government, but of the country in a crisis of this character, and until some method is found whereby the other side of the case can be stated, it will be impossible for the Government to expect from us a continuance of that solid support which we have endeavoured to give during the whole period of the War.
Let me, for a moment, turn to the statement of the case against the workmen of the country. I do not mind saying that not only we on these Benches, and not only the leaders of the organised trade union movement in the country, but the 1045 overwhelming majority of the workers as well, are prepared to take the same stand in regard to this great liquor problem during the War crisis as they have taken towards the War and the policy of the Government during the whole period of the War. Their patriotism cannot be questioned, their loyalty has been the admiration of the entire population; they have worked, in many cases, even to the point of sacrifice, and if they could be convinced, and if we on these Benches could be convinced, as we must be convinced, that any proposal, whether it be by the amendment of the Defence of the Realm Act or by increased taxation, is an absolute necessity for the successful completion of the War, then we will go forward whole heartedly behind the Government in applying that policy. But what do we find when we turn to the case that some have attempted to make out against the workmen? We find that all the evidence adduced is the evidence of employers or of officials. The workmen's side of the case has never been stated and, what is more, it has never been asked for.
This question came up during the three long weary days we sat at a conference trying to solve the question of the relaxation of customs and trade conditions. I was associated with that conference which was held at the Treasury on 17th, 18th, and 19th March. We had there one of the largest and most representative gatherings of trade union officials that I have been associated with for some time. They were all inspired with one desire, namely, to carry the War through successfully so far as the Allies were concerned. The question of intemperance was brought before us by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Unanimously we agreed to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, first of all, to prove his case. We were aware that it might be said, "Yes, but the harm is going on." One case was brought before us. We were solemnly told of an important ship that was required for service being held up. The society whose men were involved determined to have an inquiry at once. What was the result of that inquiry, over which the head manager of the yard concerned presided? The names of the men who were supposed to have been guilty of losing time were brought forward, and in the case of name after name the manager had to admit that it ought never to have appeared on that document. Why? Because the men 1046 whose names were there were legitimately ill and under the doctor, and he admitted that the names ought to have been immediately withdrawn and should no longer be part of the charge against this particular union. When in the only case that was brought to our notice at the three days' conference this sort of statement cannot be backed up, even by the manager of the yard from whom the first statement is issued, it cannot be expected that we should have reliance upon other figures produced from the same ex parte sources as those contained in the White Paper. It cannot and it ought not to be expected that the trade unions will lie down under these charges, which are bolstered up by these ex parte statements.
That is the position. I want to say here that we, as a party, are prepared to do everything we can to assist the Chancellor of the Exchequer to get to know the real facts of the case. The Committee that was appointed by this three days' conference, and which has since been appointed by the Government as a Committee to assist in the acceleration of the output of munitions of war, met yesterday. We had the White Paper before us and we examined these statements, and the Committee unanimously came to the conclusion that they ought to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as hon. Members will have seen in the resolution which appears in the Press to-day, that before proceeding with these remedies he should give the workmen of this country who feel that they have been maligned, an opportunity of stating their side of the case. I am sorry the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not in his place, because I had intended to press this question upon him.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Acland)
made an observation which was inaudible in the Reporters' Gallery.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I said "refreshment" in all sincerity. I am sorry I did not say "tea" instead of "refreshment." I do not know why the Front Bench is so thin-skinned on this question. I am sorry it was necessary for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to leave when I was going to press this point, because, after all, we know this question is a thorny one. I have 1047 been through it twice. I went through the attempt made by the previous Government, headed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Balfour), to deal with the licensing question, and I took a very great interest in the Debates of 1908. We all know it is a very difficult question, but to tackle such a question in a war period the Government ought to have been certain that it could have kept to the spirit of the truce that is supposed to exist, and that it could have carried every party in the House with it. To start by getting up the backs of the men upon whom we depend for the supply of munitions is, in my judgment, one of the most unfortunate things they could have done. Therefore, I want to press this point, that it would be better to spend the next two or three weeks or even a month in getting to the bottom of this case. The suggestion which has been made in our resolution is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Government should appoint a small Committee of Inquiry, allowing the workmen to have representation upon that Committee, because there is the necessity of putting questions to those who come to give evidence in order to get the fullest information. I feel convinced that if this policy could be adopted and a small Committee were sent down to the districts in which the shipyards and the works which supply the munitions are situated, to which reference is made in the White Paper, and the matter were thoroughly investigated, whatever policy the House was asked to adopt as a remedy, our case would be infinitely stronger from the fact that we should be able to carry the men with us as a result of their having had an opportunity of stating their case. I should also like to suggest, after the warning which has been given from the Front Opposition Bench and by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. J. Redmond) in the name of the Nationalist party, that instead of going forward with remedies that satisfy nobody—the remedies, I believe, satisfy no party and no section of the community, and they are distinctly controversial—we should have an inquiry and get the evidence from the workmen. Then some form of Select Committee could be set up, upon which ail parties in the House would be proportionately represented, to try to get an agreed remedy and a remedy for the War period only. I believe that in that way lies a solution of the difficulty. I am quite certain that neither the proposals 1048 in the Defence of the Realm Bill, nor the taxing proposals, go in the direction of a final or satisfactory solution of the great difficulty that has been raised. I hope therefore, the Committee will assist Members on these Benches in trying to get this inquiry. We think we are entitled to it and I hope we shall hear, before the Debate closes, that the Government have determined to adopt some course similar to that which I have suggested.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. W. O'BRIEN
We are all ready to act in the spirit of the appeal of the Chancellor, and I am only sorry that he failed to make that appeal last Thursday night. At all events, human nature being what it is, I think some of us may be allowed to congratulate ourselves that after the last few days' outbreak in Ireland, and after the declarations which have been made to-night from the Front Opposition Bench, it looks as if our little minority of five the other night would be a majority before many nights have passed. At all events it is perfectly certain that it will be if the Leader of the party which sits behind me persists in determined opposition to these monstrous new penalties upon Ireland now that he is backed up by the two unequivocal declarations we heard to-night from the Front Opposition Bench. After all, it is not the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. John Redmond) who is in power in this House, or at least who ought to be. A determined word from him at the right time would have averted these proposals, as in the Budget of 1909. I do not desire to inquire too closely or in a critical spirit why that determined word was not spoken last Thursday, when these Sur-taxes were rushed into law at a few hours' notice and before any man in the House outside, the Treasury Bench had even read the Resolutions. There is one thing for which Ireland is perhaps indebted to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that is that he has at last found something upon which all of us in Ireland will be forced, whether we like it or not, to take united action. For my part I can promise that we will not quarrel about who deserves the merit if it should turn out in fact that the Chancellor is content with the practically unlimited control of the munitions areas, as to which I think we are all agreed, and if he will promptly and in their entirety drop the Sur-taxes, both as to whisky and beer, like the exceedingly 1049 sensible politician that he is. For the rest, I will not go back upon the ground which was traversed last Thursday. I am content to wait until we see what practical fruit will come of the hint—for I am sorry to say it was not very much more—thrown out by the Chancellor to-night, and we will be content in the meantime to wait and see and to keep our powder dry.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
I think the Committee may congratulate itself inasmuch as we have, in this Government at all events, one man who, whether the subject is popular or not, never hesitates to take the course which he thinks best in the interests of the country. During the time I have been in this House I was never more struck than when last Session the Chancellor of the Exchequer, against all his native prejudices and against all his life's work in this House, took action which was at all events distasteful to the people of Wales; and on this question that he brought before the House last week I feel certain that no man, except one with great courage like him, would have cast what is, after all, his political future into the frying pan only and solely because he thought it was in the interests of the country to do so. I think he has made a mistake. A man who makes no mistakes never makes anything, and he has been working, as we all know, at very great pressure for months past, and I am certain he has not been able to give that time to the consideration of these proposals that tie has brought before the House which he would have done in normal times. Let the Committee remember this: He was furnished with reports of a character which showed that something should be done. He is the only Member of the Government who ever gets out of the stereotyped position in which they always put themselves, because this Government is a Government of Committees. Whenever they get into a difficulty, whenever they want to deal with a problem, they appoint a Committee. My right hon. Friend finds that ammunition has not been coming forward and he takes what he thinks an heroic step. The steps he took are really, in my opinion, not in any way calculated to promote the production of munitions, because the man who wants to get drink, and the habitual drunkard will still get drunk tinder the proposals that he has brought forward.
The remedy seems to me to be a very simple one. The Government, under the 1050 Defence of the Realm Act, have power to take possession of all munition works, and in fact of all works which they think necessary in the interests of the State and of the nation. If the Government want to take charge of all these armament works they could then deal with the habitual drunkard and slacker. The men in Sheffield engaged in armament work have, during the past nine months, worked not at ordinary pressure, but at extreme high, pressure. Mr. Vickers, the head of the Sheffield firm, tells me that never at any time in his recollection have the men worked so magnificently as during the last nine months, and he feels actually ashamed to go through the works and see these men working, not only on Saturdays and Sundays, but continually long hours, to get forward the necessary ammunition. Mr. Charles Ellis, of John Brown's, has made the same statement publicly in the Press in Sheffield. At Cammell's works in Sheffield the same statement has been made by their managing director. Therefore, we have to face the fact that there are certain areas where there has been no drunkenness whatever. That being the case, we are brought up against the fact that there are only certain limited areas where drunkenness takes place, notably the Tyne and the Clyde, these being the two chief centres where the evil exists. All of us who have had any connection with business on the Tyne know perfectly well that even in normal times there is always an amount of drinking prevalent among the black squad in the shipyards. Men who do out-of-door work do not tend to regular hours. The best class of workmen, and a very large number of outside workers have gone to the War; therefore, the best class of men are not at present being employed on Government work. What is the remedy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? He is going to say to all the surface men in my Constituency, and to all those who work in the mines when they come out of the pit or come from the furnace choked with coal dust, "you shall not have your pint of beer when you get home."
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
My Constituents are not going to pay 5½d. for a pint of beer when they come home from work. They all have a pint of beer, and when they have their dinner they have another pint. Then they wash themselves after that, and many of them, a good many more than ought to, go to the public-house and have another 1051 pint. I have been brought up and have spent my life among working men. The ordinary working man drinks more than he can afford to do; but at the same time no man works for the pleasure of working, and the bulk of the working men when they have done their work choose to spend their earnings, as they are entitled to do, in a certain proportion of drink. Men working in London and men doing hard manual work are in two entirely different classes. Men engaged in furnace work or in mines want beer.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
If the hon. Member went into a mine and got choked up with coal dust he would find a glass of beer would do him no harm, at all events when he came out.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
Throwing all the necessary material into the furnace, and if he has been a hard manual labourer working on feeding a furnace and has had no beer he is one in five hundred. I happen to be associated with the manufacture of iron, and if my hon. Friend is one of those rare men who, in the height of summer, do not care to quench their thirst except with water, he is a rarity. At all events, we have to take workmen as they are. Working men feel that they are entitled to have this refreshment, and they have thought that my right hon. Friend cast a slur on them in the speech that he made last week. That is because they do not understand what he actually said. I think he has been unfairly treated by the Press, and more particularly by the liquor traffic, in the misrepresentation that has taken place by people saying, that there is a general attack on the sobriety of the working men of this country. My right hon. Friend never said anything of the kind. But be that as it may, I think, and I said so in this House, that last autumn he made a mistake and he would have done much better not to increase the price of beer, because the only result, as we pointed out, was that if the price of 1052 beer was put up to 3d. a pint men would take to spirits instead. A quart of beer does no man any harm so long as he drinks in moderation. I have known men who drank six gallons on Saturday night. To a man doing hard manual work it does not do the slightest harm whatever. Let us come to the practical point. I do not want to go into the question of the habits of the working man. The Leader of the Labour party goes about the country in my Constituency and elsewhere accusing me of attacking working men for their drinking habits. I am always being held up as a scourge for talking in such strong language as to the way they drink. It seems to me to-day that I am in the position, after having fought all my life for temperance measures, of being an advocate of drinking. That is not so at all.
But to come to the practical issue, I am not going to vote for any of these proposals. I shall vote against them. I do not want to see any compromise whatever. The price of beer to-day is 3½d. per pint. Does the Chancellor know the average specific gravity of beer consumed in the public-houses in the Midlands, where I come from, is 70 per cent.? I assure my right hon. Friend that a collier will not drink swipes. A collier or a mine worker is more particular about the quality of the beer he drinks than about anything else. The Chancellor of the Exchequer does not understand the British working man. He may understand the Welshman, but the English working man is as particular about the quality of his beer as he is of anything in his ordinary vocation and life. I assure the right hon. Gentleman the collier will not, and the men who are doing manual work will not, tolerate the quality of their beer being interfered with. Some men choose to drink light beer. Light beers are much better for everyone than heavy beers. But if the Chancellor thinks he is going to prevent men who are earning high wages having the beer they like by putting on a tax, he is very much mistaken. That would be no remedy of the evil.
I think the Government should take charge of the districts where munitions are being manufactured. Where you get a certain proportion of the men who do not do a fair day's work you should put these workers under military law, and if these men do not attend to their work, then you must treat them as you would do if they were actually serving as soldiers. 1053 An ex-Member of this House made a proposal of that kind—I mean Mr. Bottomley—and it was a very sensible suggestion. He said the men who slack and become habitual drunkards and do not attend to their work ought to be tipped on the shoulder by the Government and told, "You are a soldier, a soldier to work, not to fight at the front, but to be under military law until such time as you behave yourself." That was an admirable suggestion, much more calculated to give the Government the munitions they require than are the proposals they have put before the House. It is no use blaming the working man for the Government not getting the ammunition. The Chancellor said in his speech that in the early part of this campaign he became convinced, "that it is more a war of munitions and material than men, and a very distinguished Frenchman said to me the weight of ammunition in this War will count more than the weight of men."
Let me tell the Chancellor this, there are works which I know myself, large engineering works, on the War Office and Admiralty list, capable of making munitions of war which up to December last never received even an inquiry from the War Office for the making of munitions, or even for any supplies whatever, and in fact I know of a letter in existence written last November by one of the Departments, saying, "The Government has plenty of shells and there is no necessity to take steps." Who is to blame for that? It is for the Government to find out. It is not the Chancellor's Department; the quarrel lies with the War Office. The War Office evidently were satisfied last November that ample shells were being made. It is absolutely untrue to say, as was said by the Prime Minister, that the operations in the field were not being delayed by want of material, because all of us who have friends coming back from the front hear them complain that they were limited in the amount of ammunition they were allowed to fire. Therefore the Government must press forward this thing. Let them take the practical step I have suggested, and I am sure they will get their munitions, but if they proceed to have any compromise on the matter I at all events, shall vote against them, although at this time we all want to work in harmony.
There is only one other matter I would like to say a word upon. I am one who eagerly desired to hear the Chancellor say 1054 he would put a tax upon the immense war profits that are being made from the necessaries of life, such as bread, coal, etc. I have been urging him all the time to tax coal profits, and I hope that the intimation that he gave in his speech—I think he said if the War went on for another six months the Government would have to reconsider their decision, and tax war profits—I hope this intimation that the Government may tax war profits will be given effect to. The neglect of the Government to tax war profits is an invitation to everybody to rob the public to the utmost. The Chancellor, in fact, by doing nothing in this direction, when prices are at the height they are to-day, is giving encouragement to every single manufacturer and dealer to obtain the most they can from the public, because they know the profit is going into their own pockets. If the Chancellor had stated definitely that he was going to tax all profits in excess of the average earnings over the last three years, that would at all events have given some satisfaction to the country, and would have been much better than to place such a tax as he proposes to do upon the liquor industry. I hope even at this late hour when we get into Committee that he will move a Resolution increasing the charge in the manner I have indicated. We are entirely in the hands of the Government. All I can urge is that the Government should not rest quietly and allow people who gamble in the necessaries of life to enrich themselves by war profits, of which the Government take no share, because they say it is a difficult matter to do so in detail. That is not what I thought of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I hope even now at this late hour when we have had his autumn Budget, we shall have a full and carefully prepared scheme in which the nation will take from these people what they have been swindling the country of by charging these high prices.
§ Lord CHARLES BERESFORD
The first speech I ever made in this House in 1874 was in defence of the working man being able to get his beer. I am now a total abstainer. I have been so for some years and I entirely agree with the objects of the teetotalers. Their object is to get more sobriety, but I respectfully submit to them that they go the very way to work to defeat their object. As far as the Chancellor of the Exchequer's proposals go, I think there is no sense of proportion in them whatever. There 1055 is an evil existing and we all want to cure it. Take Portsmouth alone. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said some flattering things about Portsmouth. There is no drunkenness there. Why should Portsmouth suffer because of a few people on the Clyde and the Tyne? I believe the real solution of this difficulty will be to get hold of the areas where the munitions are made, and if those areas, through drink, do not turn out what is required to keep our men fighting at the front, they ought to be taken over, by the Government. The public-houses in them ought to be taken over, but do not try and stop the people's drink. Take over the public-houses in these areas and have good whisky and good beer and something to eat. What happens to these men is that they are overworked, and the more efficient they are the more they are overworked because of the slackers. These men want their beer, and they must have it, and they want their whisky. I sympathise with the object of the hon. Member who says he has worked opposite a furnace, but I do not sympathise with his method. Perhaps he may have spent the whole day swinging a seven-pound ball over his head. Lots of these men at the end of the day are dead-beat, and if they did not get something to drink they could not do it again next day. I have handled men in all sorts of circumstances, and I have often seen men after a gale of wind in the old sailing ship days, who, if you had not given them a tot of rum, would not have been all right next morning. Do you suppose men who are in the trenches for four days, frost-bitten, tired-out, beaten, would be alive now if you had not given them a tot of rum? I maintain they would not.
What the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to do is to get hold of the areas. There I am entirely in agreement with him, but do let us be reasonable. Let the teetotals and licensed victuallers and all the rest—we all want to get rid of this evil—let us do it properly. It is not what you do, it is the way you do it that matters. Let the Chancellor get hold of the areas, let him put a prohibitive tax on one-year-old and two-year-old whisky, let three-year-old whisky remain as it is, let him have good beer and good whisky for the men in these areas that he is going to take under his control. Let the men be fairly treated with regard to the liquor and the food they get. No man in the world dead-beat can get up in the morning with an 1056 empty stomach and go and drink the filthy stuff that is often sold without eventually having a greater craving for it than he would have if he was given good liquor. I am quite certain that this thing can be handled well.
Although the hon. Gentleman opposite does not agree with me, I am as earnest as he is. I am a teetotaler as he is. I would do anything to improve the sobriety of the nation, but do let us do it in a commonsense businesslike way. We must have some sort of compromise. For goodness sake do not let us have hot arguments in this House at a moment when we are at War, the gravity of which is not properly appreciated either in this House or the country. There is an evil. Let us all get together and put it right, and do not let any of us speak disparagingly of the working man. The working men are doing splendidly. They have joined the Army in their thousands, and in most places they are working overtime and all the time. They want this drink. Do not try and stop it altogether. Let them have a proper amount of drink, but let it be drink that, is good and wholesome.
There is nobody in this country can talk of prohibition. I remember when I argued on that point. It was on the part of my own country, Ireland, and I brought up the Forbes Mackenzie Act. That Act was a very well meaning one, but there was more drunkenness in Scotland after it came into operation than ever before, because they bought a bottle instead of getting a tot. Do not let us go into these controversies and make the question more bitter than it is. I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will think over my suggestions—first, the areas; second, the heavy tax on one-year-old and two-year-old whisky; third, let the men have good beer and good whisky, and proper food at cheap prices. They should be able to go out from their work and get their glass of beer and their food at the same time.
§ Sir ALFRED MOND
The interesting discussion which we have had shows the intense difficulty which confronts the Chancellor of the Exchequer or anyone else who comes to deal with the question of drink. In view of the fact that we are all anxious not to force controversies, there are many things which I might say on another occasion which I prefer not to say this evening. Speaking as a humble private Member, what I feel, and I think what a great many people outside this House 1057 feel, is not that we are so particular as to what remedy is applied, as that it is high time that something was done. It is now nearly two months since the Chancellor of the Exchequer warned the country that drink was doing us more harm than German submarines. What would the country have said about the Admiralty if for two months they had taken no steps against submarines, but had simply gone on talking about what they were going to do? That is the position in which we are today. The White Paper which has been published fills me with absolute melancholy. The idea that the admiral of this great Fleet, who during the long winter has been in the North Sea warding off furious attacks on the heart of this country, should wire home to the First Lord of the Admiralty that the efficiency of the Fleet was being imperilled, and that responsible officials of the Admiralty, including the First Sea Lord, should have said on their own responsibility that the efficiency of our Fleet and the supply of munitions are being endangered by drink, and that we are still going on talking as if there was nothing the matter, as if we were discussing the old question of prohibition, or whether people should drink whisky or beer, fills me with despair. Are we to wait until the Fleet is at the bottom of the sea before we wake up to the urgency of this question, while we continue to talk about such things as the profits of breweries and distilleries?
I cannot conceive an admiral like Admiral Jellicoe sending a telegram of this kind; I cannot conceive responsible Admiralty officials, who are neither politicians nor temperance fanatics, sending in report after report, unless they are certain of their facts. The hon. Member for Barnard Castle made a very eloquent speech. But the upshot of it was, "let us have another Committee of Inquiry, which will waste another four or six weeks or two months, while we are to discuss whether or not it is 10 per cent., 5 per cent., or 3 per cent. of the men who get drunk. Why are the working men so sensitive about criticism on this subject? Everybody in the country knows that the great mass of the working classes are sober and industrious. Everybody who knows anything knows that there is a certain section which in these conditions perhaps more than in any others will take too much alcohol. What we are concerned with is to stop the minority doing this harm to themselves and to the country. What we 1058 are asking the majority to give up is not a necessity of life, but to give up something which is not necessary to them. We are asking millions of men to go and fight, and perhaps be shot, for their King and country, and yet when we say to people, "Do not have a glass of beer for a few months so as to help them," they say, "That is a sacrifice which we cannot make." It is inconceivable that the whole nation would not feel that if it could save the life of one man by not drinking a glass of beer or whisky for twelve months, they would sooner not touch it again than have it on their conscience that one man was killed who might have been saved.
It seems to me that this is the only aspect in which one can conceive this question. I am not concerned with discussing the question of taxation of areas. I am very much impressed by the fact that one of the most important officials talks of prohibition, and I am still more impressed by the fact that the head of every big shipbuilding firm in this country, not one of whom I imagine is a teetotaller, and not one of whom certainly has appeared on any temperance platform, men who employ thousands of working men, men who are doing work for the Government, responsible men whose names are known over the wide world, have come to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and asked for total prohibition. It is an enormous responsibility for us to take, in view of representations like these, to sit still and do nothing. It is an enormous responsibility for us to take, because we are afraid of constituents or of political consequences, to do nothing. Personally, I am prepared to vote for any measure, however extreme, and whatever the consequences may be if it is demanded, as it is demanded, by these people. We have heard of the example of Nero who fiddled while Rome was burning. He has been held up to us as an example of futility. It appears to me that we are like an orchestra of Neros, fiddling while the Empire is in danger. I hope that this orchestra will soon be brought into harmony, and will soon play but one tune. And I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there is a growing impatience amongst all people in the country who are sacrificing their husbands, brothers, and sons in this great campaign, if, as we read in these Government publications, munitions of war are being withheld because of drinking, and that no steps are being taken to put an end to such a state of affairs.
1059 I desire now to refer to another subject of a very different character. As the War has shown, one of the things in which we are deficient in this War—and a thing which is very important—is our scientific equipment. One of the difficulties in connection with our national dyeing scheme, which has been discussed at such length, and which everybody realises, is the want in our great universities and teaching institutions of endowment for research. We find the same thing to some extent—if not to the same extent—if we touch on the question of high explosives and other departments of scientific research. It may seem a curious moment to make a request on the subject when we are spending hundreds of millions of pounds on the War. But it is just because we are spending so much that it may be possible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to find the relatively small amount of money that is required in order to assist our universities and technical institutions to train and educate a larger number of English chemists. It is a perfect fallacy to assume that there is anything in the German intellect which gives the German any superiority over the Englishman in the scientific field. It is perfectly untrue that the German has got any kind of monopoly of intellectual fitness in this respect.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. Maclean)
I do not see the relevancy of this portion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Sir A. MOND
Perhaps I have wandered away from what I was going to say. But I was going to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer that, when arranging the expenditure of the year, he should, if possible, do something for the endowment of science.
§ Mr. T. M. HEALY
The right hon. Gentleman has just given the Chancellor of the Exchequer the option of taxing Ireland, and I wish to liberate my soul on the question of alkaline. I cannot conceive of any more mischievous form of manufacture, or one more requiring control, than the manufacture of alkaline, and anything which the Government can do to take profits from that industry, especially so far as it is not of native growth, I shall cordially support. The right hon. Gentleman seems to have broken the truce suggester by the Chancellor of the Exchequer 1060 himself. I do not intend to pursue a controversial tone regarding this matter, and I was very glad indeed to hear the hon. Baronet opposite suggest that there should be nothing in the nature of taunt or recrimination if these taxes were abandoned. For my part I intend to pursue that line. I think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he drops them, will not meet with a single taunt or a single reproach from any of those who have been opposing that taxation, because we all recognise the tremendous work which he has been doing during the past eight or nine months. Though occasionally there has been cause for protest in regard to selecting Ireland as a basis for operations, certainly as far as I am concerned, I shall never cease to feel grateful to him for the courage which he has displayed in connection with this War ever since it broke out. Nobody has admired more than I the splendid speeches that he has made to stir the pulse of the country. But what I would suggest is this: If the proposals which in his zeal he has made, and which we condemn, are withdrawn, so far as we are concerned there will be no more said about them.
However, I am not satisfied that he would have brought in these proposals but that he thought he had the support of the hon. Member for Waterford. He undoubtedly must have been misled in his interviews during the last three or four weeks. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I do not desire to say a word to raise any controversy to-night, and if I am trencing upon any matter of this kind I will drop it. That being so, I desire to ask a question on procedure. There is down to-night, as I understand, the Report of the Ways and Means Resolution. Is this Report to be gone on with? I criticised very strongly this unfortunate Provisional Collection of Taxes Act of 1913. It is put on the necks of the Government every time this question of the Budget comes up. The last time, over the collection of the Income Tax, we showed the Government that it would have these effects. The Act provides that this Resolution shall cease to have statutory effect if it is not agreed to, with or without modification, by the House within the next ten days after the Resolution is passed in Committee. If these Resolutions are not passed the public are being overcharged. It is, therefore, desirable that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should take the earliest opportunity of jettisoning them if he intends to get rid of them. All over the country to-day the 1061 public are being charged for alcohol practically at the rates suggested on Thursday last. The public, if it takes anything out of bond, can recover from the Government, but the simple people up and down the country who are being charged extra for beer or spirit can never hope to recover from the person who is selling to them. Therefore, I think that the Government ought in this matter to make up its mind to get rid at once of this power of taxation.
There is, however, one remark which I would make to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I would see without any objection an extra tax put on spirits made in patent stills. Twenty-five years ago, when Mr. Goschen put 6d. on whisky, I contended strongly that different treatment should be meted out to the distillate in pot stills made from a mixture of malt and grain from that which was applied to the product of the patent still. It is immaterial to the patent still worker how soon he puts his whisky on the market. He can sell the whisky next day practically. He has the great advantage of being able to use in his wash all kinds of substances which the pot-still maker cannot use. I, for my part, think that the tax should be confined to patent still whisky. This Government is not responsible; the then Government was. I tried to extract from the Treasury again and again at that time what were the dishonest materials which brewers and distillers were using to sophisticate their production, and the Treasury, or the Excise Department, refused to give that information. I think that if distillers and brewers were compelled to give the materials and ingredients which they use, it would be a great deal better for honest men. Furthermore, there is a great deal of difference for the workman between bad whisky and bad beer, and good whisky and good beer. But this House, led away, I think, by what is called Free Trade conceptions: "Whatever the beer or whatever the whisky, it is all bad alike; it does not make the smallest difference how a man gets drunk, if he gets drunk." But as soon as the War breaks out you find out that there is a great deal of difference between good whisky and bad whisky, good beer and bad beer, when people are unfortunately led into misconduct.
As to the position taken up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, anything he does to penalise patent still spirit, which in my opinion is certainly not worthy the name of whisky, I should cheerfully vote 1062 for, because the patent still man can put his product on the market next morning, whereas pot still whisky has to be kept five, six, seven, or eight years. The Canadians leave patent still whisky in bond for two or three years, or until it is properly ripe. I think it would be a good thing for the people of this country if one result of the War was that the Excise compelled the brewers and distillers to tell us what ingredients they are using, and penalise those who employ decoctions, and so, to some extent, give advantage to those who are using honest articles, whether in breweries or distilleries. A Dublin magistrate, in 1867, on finding there were no "drunks," in closing his Court, said it was something serious if there are no "drunks in Dublin." That phrase fell from the lips of a paid resident magistrate of the British Government. When anyone says that the Irish always seem to be standing up for brewers and distillers; in fact, what they are standing up for, is the principle, that if you allow an industry in that country, if you promote it, if you legislate for it in that country, if you licence it in that country, you should not destroy that industry without proper and adequate compensation. That is the line we have taken. Do not destroy these men's industry without compensation, as I am sorry to say this Bill would have done. I do not want to conclude without thanking the Conservative Opposition for the stand they have taken in this matter. They have taken a sensible stand; it is due to them that this tax is to be withdrawn; it is due to the firm line they have taken that Ireland will owe that result; otherwise, I am sorry to say, we should have been left a very small minority in this House.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
(indistinctly heard): I arise to appeal to the Committee to be allowed to get the Resolution on the Income Tax, because that Resolution has nothing whatever to do with either the whisky or the beer duty. It is usual to allow a general discussion, but I would suggest that it would not be helpful at this stage to carry it on. The speeches which have been delivered express the views, I think, of the different quarters of the House, and will be very valuable to the Government from that point of view. I have nothing to complain of in the tone of the speeches I have heard. But my suggestion is that we should be allowed to have the Resolution on the Income Tax, and if a general discussion is required we could postpone the other Resolutions to a 1063 later date. The Income Tax Resolution we must get, because this is the last night upon which it can be moved. The others it is not necessary to get until, I think, some time in June; therefore, there would be no inconvenience to the public service in postponing them, for the purposes of a general discussion.
§ Mr. RONALD McNEILL
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that if the Income Tax Resolution is passed now there will be no further opportunity of discussing the taxation of spirits and beer?
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
No, there will be two opportunities for that discussion, one on the Report stage of the Resolution, which will have to be moved within the next ten days as from last Thursday—ten Parliamentary days—and there will be the opportunity for a general discussion on the Tea Resolution. The usual rule is to allow a general Debate on all the proposals of the Budget to be taken upon a particular Resolution. The one I suggest is the Tea Resolution, on which everything can be discussed. But that is a matter for arrangement between the parties of the House. It does not matter to the Government on which Resolution the discussion is taken.
I should like to say one or two words on the discussion. I am not going into the controversial part of the speeches which have been delivered. My hon. Friend the Member for the Mansfield Division (Sir A. Markham) as usual had a dig at everybody in every quarter of the House, but he did it in a very genial way, and he has mixed up a good deal of very shrewd common sense in what he has said. In regard to an alternative proposal, the hon. Gentleman's alternative to our proposal is martial law.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Somebody would have to decide that matter, and it is a question whether the workpeople of this country would not be prepared to pay a little more for their whisky rather than come under martial law. However, that is a matter upon which I should be very much interested to hear the views of hon. Members at the proper moment. If anything has emerged from the discussion, it is that there is general agreement about powers being given, and I would point 1064 out that these powers, which it is proposed to give, are not merely powers to restrict, but they are powers to provide decent accommodation for the workmen in those areas where Government work is being done. My criticisms on the workmen have been quoted and referred to, but I pointed out on Thursday, and stated distinctly, that a good deal of trouble arises owing to men taking even a small quantity of alcohol on an empty stomach. I pointed out that there was no provision of decent food for them in those areas; and one of the things I want to take powers for is to provide decent food, refreshments, stimulants, and accommodation in those areas. My hon. Friends will notice that I have actually made provision in the Budget for the expenditure of a large sum of money for that particular purpose. It is almost impossible to satisfy everyone, and some of my temperance friends may disapprove of it. But we must do the best we can under the circumstances, and I agree with the Noble Lord opposite, and certainly approve of that part of his speech in which he said that the men wanted more food, and that those who took stimulants should get them of the very best, and get them within reason. We are not merely taking those powers, but we are making financial provisions for special accommodation of that kind, either within the works or outside of them, or close to the works. Inquiry shows that there is often very considerable difficulty in setting up accommodation of this kind inside of the works. The works are now so congested that we must make the best of local conditions in these cases; but it does involve closing houses, and also involves taking over some of those houses, in order to provide those refreshments ourselves. But we cannot do all this until we obtain the power to do it, and I want to make it perfectly clear that the Bill has nothing whatever to do with the tax.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Oh, yes, certainly; I hope before the Bill leaves the House to give a general indication as to who will adjudicate upon it. I should have thought that the hon. Member for Exeter's Commission could take charge of that, with probably the addition of one or two Members who have experience in compensation and other matters. I appeal to the House and my right hon. Friend to allow 1065 us to proceed with this part of our scheme, because it is a matter which the workmen themselves want, apart from others. Our proposal is to get these powers, and then to set up local committees in those areas on which workmen will be represented, so that whatever steps will be taken will be taken on local advice, where the workmen will have the same opportunity as anyone else of expressing their feelings. I do hope, if it is possible, that the Government will get those powers speedily, because there is a good deal in what my hon. Friend says, namely, that if this is an evil, we ought to proceed against it at once. It is generally agreed that there is no adequate accommodation for the men to get food and sustaining material when they are thoroughly exhausted, and that they should get it under conditions which would prevent those who are rather inclined that way from taking too much stimulant without any food, and thoroughly bad stimulants. I come to the other suggestion—that we should draw a distinction between patent still whiskies and whiskies which are distilled out of British produce. That is a suggestion which I considered in 1909, and I am still very favourably disposed towards it. When we came to debate it somehow or other it broke down. I do not remember why, but it is one of the things I shall certainly consider. It has been urged on me a good deal in the discussion of the last few weeks. I am told most of the harm is done by the fiery, raw, crude stuff, which has the additional disadvantage of being very cheap, so that, therefore, they can buy a very considerable quantity at considerably low prices. That is a thing which, of course, we shall consider. I would also say, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield, that it is undoubtedly in the interests of this country to discourage the more alcoholic beers, but when he talked about beer of 70 gravity, I do not think anybody except my hon. Friend knows of it.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I can assure my hon. Friend it is something the Excise 1066 never heard of. I wonder under what conditions that beer is brewed? The average of beer in this country is 48; I believe the strongest beer is drunk somewhere in the Midlands, and that lies between about 50 and 57.
§ Colonel HALL WALKER made some observations which were inaudible.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I think you will find it is a very exceptional brew. There may be a few men in Yorkshire who drink beer of that exceptional quality of 73, but they are very, very few. At the present moment there is a discrimination against beer of high gravity, so that a man is paying more now for heavier beer than lighter beer. It is purely a question of scale. If my hon. Friend thinks my scale is too steep, I am perfectly prepared to discuss it, but, at the same time, I think he agrees with me that it is desirable, as a matter of public policy, to so arrange your taxation that you discourage the more alcoholic beers in favour of the lighter beers, and that is the whole principle of my proposal.
§ Mr. WILLIAM O'BRIEN
Is not the right hon. Gentleman rather trenching on exceedingly controversial matters in proceeding to argue at this hour of the night a preference for light beers brewed in England, as against the heavier beer which forms five-sixths of the make in Ireland?
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I will accept the warning of the hon. Gentleman, and I shall not press any further that particular topic. There is one other thing I should like to say. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. A. Henderson) said that in the White Paper there had been a general attack on the workmen. I do not think that is fair? It is a sort of thing that is very easily said and very difficult to disprove. I do not think it very fair. I am sure my right hon. Friend would like to be fair and reasonable to those responsible officials who are undertaking very responsible and anxious work. They may be right or wrong in their view, but let us take the charge or statement they make. Their statement is not a statement that the working classes of this country are guilty of alcoholic excess of drinking. Their charge is that there is a considerable amount of slacking in certain trades. The whole of the men employed in those yards only amount to about 130,000.
§ Mr. A. HENDERSON
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to misrepresent me, as I have no desire to misrepresent the officials. Whoever has given him the statement that I said that the officials made a general charge against the workmen, is not correct. What I did say was that they have made a statement against the workmen that the workmen themselves thought was larger than the minority that was sometimes represented. I am in the recollection of the Committee.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I will accept at once the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. I am very glad, because his speech did convey the other impression. I think this is very important. There has been no charge against the working classes of the country at all. On the contrary, I stated, and it seems to be necessary to repeat it, in the very first statement I made on the drink question, that the vast majority—and I used the words "a vast majority"—of the workmen of this country were putting every ounce of strength into their work. That does not state that the position is not a very grave one, and one which will have to be dealt with. I do make a final appeal to the House to allow us to have the Resolution, and I should very much like if those responsible for the arrangements of the various parties could see their way to enable us to proceed at once to inquire into the best method of dealing with the munition areas, and as to the setting up of Committees for the purpose in order to get some sort of idea of the expenditure that will have to be incurred, and as to the employment of architects and professional men for the purpose of seeing what accommodation should be set up in order to do it better. I do hope we shall be allowed to proceed on Thursday.
§ Mr. A. HENDERSON
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman this question? In view of the statement that has been made in the White Paper, is he prepared to give some form of inquiry in order that the workmen may have the opportunity of stating their case?
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I should like to hear from my right hon. Friend what kind of inquiry he suggests, and then I shall certainly consider it and place it before my colleagues.
In answer to a question by my hon. Friend behind, I may just say we have provided in this year's Estimates for the purpose of research and of increasing 1068 the steps which will enable us to deal with special manufactures on which we were dependent too much on foreign countries.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The Chancellor finds himself in a difficult position, and he entered on a wide field of discussion. If he will excuse me, I do not propose to follow him at all on that line, except to say that I cannot prejudge what may happen next Thursday, but I commend the suggestion made by the Leader of the Opposition, which I think will meet his requirements for that purpose. All I desire to do now is to support the appeal which he made to the Committee to give him the Income Tax Resolution to-night, it being understood—subject, Sir, to your permission, which we must have—that the Tea Duty Resolution will be reserved for another occasion when the general discussion on the whole Budget of the year may be renewed. I think that will give the House ample opportunity of discussing the questions which they would wish to raise. I cannot but think that there may be some advantage that everybody, and especially the Chancellor of the Exchequer, should have a little time to consider the representations which have come from all quarters of the House to-day before we carry the discussion further. I should be hopeful in that way that we might arrive at something like a general agreement as to the way to deal with this difficult question.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I also think we ought to meet the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the spirit of his earlier appeal this afternoon. I think he was a little controversial in his second speech; I think the House should accept the Resolution on the understanding that we are to have an early opportunity of resuming the Debate.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I am supporting the appeal to pass the Resolution on certain conditions. There is a point I want to raise, and that is as to light wines. The Chancellor appears in that case to forget, the principle he lays down in connection with beer. The Liberal party has an old tradition about that as to which I should like to remind the Committee on the later stage. To-night the Chancellor has asked us not to continue the Debate because he has to receive a deputation, and to get more information. I support that suggestion, it being understood that the whole 1069 subject will be resumed at an early date, and that nothing will be prejudged in the matter.
§ Mr PETO
Although over four hours have elapsed since the opening remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham there has not been a word said in reference to the Income Tax proposals which the Chancellor of the Exchequer now asks the Committee to agree to. There are two or three points about which I must say a word or two. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham referred to the War concession in regard to Death Duties, and we were told that it cost £101,000. My right hon. Friend appealed for more generous treatment in that particular matter. I would like to support that appeal, and to remind the Chancellor of the Exchequer that when the concession was made last autumn it had to be calculated on the 3 per cent. tables. The value of money is very different from that, so that he did not really give any adequate relief. But there is a much larger question, namely, that of Income Tax on officers' pay. I do not believe that there is a single member of the civil community who would wish that officers should be asked to pay double Income Tax on their small pay—a tax which is larger than any addition which has been made to their pay. Since the Income Tax was doubled, naval officers are, in every rank except one, in receipt of very much smaller pay in war time than they were before the War began. Therefore I am not satisfied with the Chancellor's statement that the matter has had sympathetic consideration, and that no concession could be made unless a similar concession was made to soldiers in the ranks. That does not follow, because, in regard to the articles with which they are concerned, private soldiers have been practically exempt from any increased contribution to the revenue at all. I mention the matter not because I wish the officer to be treated better than the private, but because you ought not to treat the officer in the matter of taxation very much worse than the private is actually being treated. This Income Tax question is all the more important now because the tax has been doubled, and the Chancellor has foreshadowed that a further demand may have to be made in the course of the year. When the Income Tax reaches such a figure that it contributes to the revenue £103,000 000, it is absolutely necessary that we should make sure that it is in fact a 1070 tax on profits. At present it is nothing of the sort, as it includes wasting assets and other elements which ought to be taken into consideration.
I have been asked to raise these matters by a great organisation, of which no doubt the Chancellor of the Exchequer has heard—the Income Tax Reform Association. Although we are not pressing for any consideration in this matter now in time of war, we do ask that as soon as peace is restored the question of the Income Tax should be seriously taken into consideration, and that a suitable body should be appointed to revise the incidence from top to bottom. It would not be right for this Resolution to be passed as if the matter were one of no moment, knowing as we do that the present incidence of the Income Tax is not fair, just, or wise. I certainly could not allow it to be passed without entering a protest, and asking that some consideration should be given to the matter at the earliest possible moment. With regard to Income Tax on officers' pay, I hope to be able to move a new Clause, which I am sure will receive sympathetic consideration in every quarter of the House. I do not ask for anything for one class that is not freely given to another. I simply ask that those who give their services without any consideration of pay at all should not be penalised and made to pay a large part of their own pay themselves by deductions made therefrom beforehand. Rebates to which they may be entitled are really an impossibility in war time. We all know the trouble of filling up the necessary papers. How can men fighting in the field fill up these forms? The War Office ought to co-operate with the Treasury in this matter. It is only right to point out that so strong has been "the lure of drink" upon the Committee this afternoon that, whereas we have been supposed to be debating the Income Tax Resolution, as a matter of fact for four and a half hours not a single word has been said about it. Hon. Members who desired to discuss the drink question have had their opportunity, which has been pointedly denied to me until this late hour.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I am not sure that the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Peto) has such good ground for complaint as he thinks. The first Budget Resolution is always used for a general discussion on the Budget, and the fact that the particular topic has not attracted the attention of the Committee is not unusual, although it may be 1071 a matter of regret. But I am glad the hon. Member raised the point, because I totally object to these Front Bench arrangements. Because the two Front Benches want to go to dinner they calmly tell the rest of the House that the discussion has gone on long enough, and they may go home to bed.
§ Mr. BOOTH
And I hope the springs are strong. As far as we are concerned I do not think that any Member has left this Chamber to go to bed. I have risen largely to protest against this growing practice of the Front Benches making speech after speech—we have had six speeches in four hours from the two Front Benches this afternoon—and then calmly saying to the rest of the House, "You may say something injudicious; therefore we hope you will not speak." There is a considerable amount of cant about that, as well as disrespect to the House. I am not prepared to agree that the Liberal party, except for the Front Bench, should be perfectly silent. The teetotalers have not had the courage to speak. The general rank and file are entitled to say that we have nothing to do with this lying fabrication called the White Paper. I believe scarcely a single page of it. As for the figures of the employers—and I speak as a large employer of labour—I do not believe them at all. They do not mean the same things to the writers of them as the House will interpret them to mean. Unless they were cross-examined about their figures, I say that the country would be ill-advised to pay the slightest attention to them. I guarantee that when our Labour friends and the trade unionists have before them the men who furnished the figures and are able to cross-examine them, the whole fabric will fall down and every statement will be disposed of. I have had a lot to do with cooked statistics. I have been fighting them the whole of my life, and I could wish for nothing better than getting a position with substantial remuneration for fighting them. But I think I can leave this matter entirely safe in the hands of the trade union leaders. I have made a good many inquiries, nearly all from employers of labour, and I have found not the slightest support for this libel upon the 1072 working classes. It is no use for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that it does not libel them generally. It does. Take the report, on page 10, of Captain Greatorex. He does not give the slightest hint that he is referring to a minority in the whole of that report—which he admits he has no right to make. It is a libel upon the whole of the working classes to which he is referring. There is not the slightest hint that he is only dealing with a section. Take one of his phrases alone. He uses' these words:—The present, deplorable indifference of the working men to their duty.I say, when a man makes a statement like that about the Tyne, what is the use of him saying that he is referring to an insignificant minority, and that he is not libelling the whole group of workers? Those words cannot bear the interpretation that they deal with the minority. If any of us who are politicians were to go to any of these Army or Navy officials and begin to criticise their formations and their tactics they would rightly resent it. Yet these men, with no special training, with no knowledge of those who employ large bodies of men, and with no knowledge of the large bodies of men who work in the closest comradeship, go into problems which perplex the most careful inquirer and then give offhand their opinions to the wide world, so damaging our working classes. These problems require trained investigators, and not men who are merely Royal Naval captains or Anglo-Indian colonels. These problems require those who attempt to look at them in a calm and judicial way. For these men to say when the working classes shall take a glass of beer and when they shall not, and generally to judge them, is distinctly preposterous, and so far as I am concerned I utterly repudiate it.
Even granted that the case is as they say, and that they have found something which troubles them in one or two places, I object that they should come into my Constituency, which is far from the sea, with no munition works, and tell the working men of Pontefract what they are to drink and when they are to drink it. It is an interference which we will not stand. I am not at all hostile to any temperance propaganda, but I do say it is a confession of weakness that directly men find the least trouble in these matters they apply to the House of Commons for a remedy. They would not have done so in the old robust days. If a 1073 man was found drinking in a public-house when he should have been at work, either the manager or the foreman, or the manager of the public-house, would have been courageous enough to have told him his fault, and probably to have turned him out. The present method—and expensive for him—of trying to make him loyal and patriotic is wrong. The whole thing is absurd from beginning to end. Teetotalers do not want these taxes. The trade does not want the taxes. Certainly the moderate drinker does not want them. Who does? I have not found a single Liberal Member. I am an admirer of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I think at any rate I have shown some little measure of attachment to him from time to time, but I have not found one single Liberal Member of any degree, of any shape of thought, who supports these proposals. The simplest thing is for them to be withdrawn.
I do not quite agree with the Front Opposition Bench that it is simply an arrangement to be made with the trade. That was one suggestion from the Front Opposition Bench that I did not like today. I liked the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, and a large part of the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, but when the right hon. Gentleman suggested that Members of Parliament were not the right people to deal with this, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself should deal with these vested interests, I do not agree. So far as I am concerned I hope I shall always have the courage to vote against any measure which is unjust against a lawfully conducted business. I have always felt that whatever my private views may be on any question, I have no right, because I happened temporarily to be a Member of Parliament, to injure the business of another man when it was lawfully conducted. I apply that dictum to the licensed and allied trades, as well as to others. With all deference to that point of view which calmly suggests that some bargain must be made to-morrow or the day following between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and some interested people, I say it is not treating the House of Commons with that respect which it ought to have. After all, we have to consider the great public. I do not say that the licensing trade would not have the public in mind. I do not say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not have the public in mind, if they were to meet together as representing the different sections, or that 1074 there might not be general confidence in a joint meeting; but if they are to meet together simply as representing opposing interests, then I ask what about the great public of this country? Are they to be interfered with right and left because there is a little trouble on the Tyne or the Clyde?
I do not see that the case has been at all made out. The Chancellor of the Exchequer hinted, in connection with a conference, at the beer trade, at the spirit trade, and at the distillers. I would remind the Government of another great body of tradesmen, those belonging to the allied trades. What about the maltsters? What about the numerous people who supply articles to the public-houses and to the trade generally? They are not licensed. It is not likely that they will get compensation. It would be a very unfortunate state of things if some arrangement were come to whereby the brewers or spirit dealers were silenced by large compensation and no interest at all was taken in those allied trades and the very large number of their employés! After all we, of late years, have made brewers and the licensed people improve their premises, and to provide better premises and better accommodation, and this is fining such people in providing those. Therefore I say, on behalf of the brewing and allied trades, that there should be no general settlement admitted which is supposed to take in and review these circumstances of the country, unless these allied trades, perfectly innocent and perfectly lawful trades, are properly considered. I know in pressing this forward just at this point I am somewhat at a disadvantage, but these have not been named in the course of to-day's Debate, and I want to say, quite candidly, that though I will willingly support the Government when it deserves it, I can be as awkward as any other of the 670 Members here if it does not. For anyone to come into my Constituency and kill one of its lawfully conducted businesses in connection with the allied trades—well, I object. I object, not because those concerned are supporters of mine, because probably most of them would try to keep me out. That, however, is no reason for injustice.
If the authorities are prepared to turn these trades topsy-turvy in the light-hearted fashion proposed, then I say they are only piling up trouble for themselves. Why are we to do this in the middle of a great War? The difficulties of the drink and of the temperance question are many. 1075 There are social circumstances. It wants calmness, courage, and a great deal of care before we legislate on this question. To attempt to do it in a hurry in the middle of the War in this haphazard way, on the ex parte statements of employers, who want to find an excuse for their own mismanagement, and upon the suggestions of Army colonels and Navy men in a hurry who do not understand the question, is to me abhorrent. I appeal to the Government to take time for reflection. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made one of the biggest mistakes of his life. I am a warm admirer of his, but I felt humiliated at the position in which he has to-day appeared before the House. It is not altogether his fault. He is working at very high pressure. I am perfectly certain he has been sincere in what he has done. But he has been misled. His facts are wrong. His heart has to some extent run away with his head. I hope the Government will allow themselves time for reflection, and that they will remember they have not only to consider the trade and the Front Opposition Bench, but the great British public which is prepared to make enormous sacrifices to carry on this War, but is not prepared to support ill-considered action which has no connection whatever, either with the conduct of the War or with the provision of munitions.
§ Mr. LYNCH
It is very difficult to rise at this hour to say a few words in a Debate which is reaching its termination, especially as I gather that the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech foreshadowed that, before the House meets again to debate the matter, he will have entered into that previous discussion which he should have undertaken before he first introduced these measures. There is one point with which I thoroughly agree with the last speaker, and that is with his desire to assert, or reassert, the position of the private Member who has become more and more a Zero in this House, and whose opinion never seem even worth taking. It has been said that a speaker in this House pours forth in a stream the opinions of his own constituency. If I were to give to the House at the present moment what I have received from my Constituency, I would proceed not to pour forth a stream of talk, but a perfect torrent of denunciation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for having introduced this measure. Although my remarks on this occasion will be brief, yet if those proposals are introduced 1076 in the form in which they now stand, then I for one am determined to break all bounds and to oppose them with the utmost energy, not only as regards these proposals themselves, but to carry the war into the enemy's territory, and to ask, after all, is the working man alone responsible for the manner in which this War is dragging on a slow and somewhat unsatisfactory course, and how much of the weight of that responsibility rests on the incapacity of that Front Bench? I say if these proposals are presented again in the form so disastrous to Ireland we have heard to-night, I will, in the most ruthless and determined fashion, drive home that point. However, the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke in a conciliatory way, and I take it that is an adumbration of the desire to consult and obtain the opinion of the House so that he may present his projects as non-contentious. I hope sincerely he will arrive at that conclusion by considering, as he has not hitherto done, the great interests of Ireland.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
My only reason for detaining the House a few minutes is to say a few words of protest. To-day we have had presented to us a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in which he tells us that the cost of the War for a year will amount to over one thousand million pounds, and he makes a statement which must dash to the ground hopes which reformers have held for many years of improving the conditions of the people and laying an appalling burden on future generations. Yet the Debate which follows upon that great devastating statement runs on the line of whisky distillers and brewers of stout in Ireland. I do think that that statement was worthy of better consideration than that. To my mind the Chancellor of the Exchequer exercises a certain amount of courage in pointing to the financial difficulties ahead of us and the seriousness of the undertaking on which we have embarked from a financial point of view. I think he might have gone even further still and presented to the House the possibility of more than a future year of war, and asked us to take that also into consideration. It seems to me that the duration of this War, the cost to this country, and the sacrifices it will have to make are largely determined by the policy of the Government in relation to that war. It seems to me that if we go blindly on without stating the specific objects we wish to obtain, there 1077 is no limit whatever to the cost to this country. I desire, therefore, to express a hope that the Allies will, as soon as possible, state the specific object for which we are fighting, so that we shall have the possibility of creating in Germany itself a desire and a demand for peace, and that we shall not go blindly on fighting without a specific object in view, because, until we have a specific object in view, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is unable to present to this House any estimate whatsoever of the cost that is likely to be inflicted.
As regards the proposal on which this Debate has centred, I rather fear the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the first place, finding a difficulty created, I think, by our unpreparedness, due to the sudden twist in our foreign policy from a pacific basis to a foreign entanglement, threw the burden of that difficulty upon the workers of this country. I do not think there can lie found any justification whatever, or only a very limited justification, for the charges that have been levelled. At any rate, I know from information I have received from engineers on the Clyde, for instance, that it is largely overstrain, and the workers there have to fear this. They know their employers. They fear—and it is a natural fear—that if they speed themselves up, and work to the very utmost of human endurance, that is going to be taken by the employers as the standard demanded of them in the future. I do not think I have ever made a speech in favour of temperance reform; in fact, I got into difficulties with some of my supporters on one occasion for not having supported a measure of temperance reform. But any measure the Government likes to introduce, however drastic it may be, in order to create a condition of greater sobriety in this country, I shall support, not so much in the interests of war, but in the interests of peace. Such a grave and terrible decision as this should be in the hands of a sober population, and if the Government, with the object of increasing sobriety, takes the responsibility of making certain proposals, then I shall support these proposals. But I doubt the proposals made are the best, or whether, with that object in view, they are sufficiently drastic. But I would not support on the ground that any section of the workers are not doing their utmost to fulfil the duties imposed upon them.
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
I trust I shall be in order if I venture to remind the House that certain words which were spoken not long ago on another subject by the President of the Board of Trade are very apposite to this case. Turning to a Gentleman on the Labour Benches, the President of the Board of Trade said, "I implore you not to try to introduce the millennium in the midst of this great War." I venture to suggest that those words are very appropriate to the proposals which have been put forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. This is not the time, in my humble opinion—and I claim the support, of the President of the Board of Trade in his opinion—in which to take steps to introduce the millennium. To that extent I differ with the previous speakers. I am as anxious as other hon. Members to support temperance, but I suggest that this is not an appropriate time to bring forward any question except in so far as it is connected with the War. If the proposals made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer are not really calculated to assist us in carrying this War to a successful conclusion, then I do not think that they ought to be supported, no matter how excellent they may be in themselves. Representing as I do a very large labour and working-class constituency, I would like to support the views which have come from hon. Gentlemen opposite to the effect that before we believe all the statements which have been made in the White Taper, that the other side of the case should be heard. I think that is only fair. I acknowledge on behalf of my Constituents with gratitude the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was careful to explain that that horrible letter which he read in this House was the letter of a morbid dypsomaniac, and he was careful to explain that he did not regard the writer of the letter as a type. I think everybody representing a working-class constituency is entitled to ask if the writer of that letter was not a type, why was it read in this House? I presume if the Chancellor of the Exchequer were here the answer would be that he specified that it was not a type, and that he was reading it out as an illustration of an exception. We all know there are such exceptional workmen, and no one disputes it, although we all deplore it, and we should be glad to stop those exceptional men from behaving in that exceptionally bad manner.
I ask the representatives of the Government to bring it before the consideration 1079 of the Government that it is an old-established rule, not only in this House and in this country, but in every legislative assembly in the world, that when you begin to legislate on the basis of exceptional cases, bad laws are always produced. That is the history of legislation in the world, as admitted by the greatest historians. Therefore, on the grounds of the words which I quoted which were uttered recently by the President of the Board of Trade, on the grounds of the verdict of history upon legislation passed in order to deal with exceptional cases, I urge most strongly on the Government that they should listen very carefully to the voice of the constituencies. I have nothing to do with the trade, and I am not talking of the trade, but the Government should listen to the voice of the working men of the constituencies on this subject, because I quite agree with what has been said this afternoon, that if you have the sympathy and the good will of the working men you will do far more to win this War quickly than if you alienate their sympathies and create in them a feeling of irritation against the Government.
§ Question put, and agreed to.