HC Deb 30 April 1919 vol 115 cc175-6
The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Chamberlain)

It is fifteen years since I first held the office which I occupy to-day. I did not seek it then, and I accepted it on the present occasion with diffidence and with reluctance. It is never an office which, to my mind, is easy. It is always one of considerable difficulty, and the difficulties of to-day are more than ordinary. When I consulted my right hon. Friend and predecessor (Mr. Bonar Law), whose support to-day I am sorry not to have, owing to his engagement elsewhere, he, with his habitual cheery optimism, told me that he thought the position was more difficult at that moment than at any time during the War. I think there is some truth in the statement. We all know what has happened since the signature of the Armistice. There has been a détente in men's minds. In the military sphere armies which would have fought on without a murmur, if that had been necessary, for another year in order to secure victory, began to grumble at being retained with the Colours, and to call for immediate demobilisation, and the same thing has occurred in the civil sphere and in the financial sphere. People who during the War strove their utmost to save and to place their savings at the disposal of the Government are less willing to make those sacrifices now, and less willing, if they do save, to give the State the first call upon their savings. People during the War accepted the immense burdens of war without grumbling, and the House of Commons passed them with the minimum of criticism. But both the House and the people are in a different mood to-day, and I am called upon at one and the same time to remit or to repeal the taxation which was imposed and to remedy all the grievances which have been cheerfully endured in these years of stress and strain, and, not merely to resume the civil expenditure which was interrupted under the stress of war, but to provide the means for creating within a few months or a few years a new heaven and a new earth; and the same people who call upon me for fresh and large expenditure in every special field expect me at the same time to accomplish vast reductions in expenditure. I can work no such marvel, and unless I can have not merely the good will, but the assistance, of Parliament, the task which confronts me is one which no man can complete.