HC Deb 30 April 1919 vol 115 cc190-1

Before I explain the methods by which I propose to raise this large sum there are two subjects on which I must speak, and I think it will be convenient that I should deal with them now. I refer first of all to the Land Values Duties. I do not need to remind the Committee that at the time of their birth these duties were the subject of fierce and prolonged debate, and, as fate would have it, the Prime Minister and I took opposite sides. There is a certain delicacy in a Chancellor of the Exchequer touching the handiwork of his existing chief, and it is not made easier if the Chancellor of the Exchequer, before being a Minister serving under the Prime Minister, was one of his most active opponents. But fortunately on this occasion I have the benefit of the advice of the Prime Minister instead of having to face his opposition. I am glad to be able to say at once that the Prime Minister and myself, no less than the rest of our colleagues in the Government, are entirely agreed as to the course that ought to be pursued. Hon. Members interested in this subject know that from the first the Revenue yield of these duties has been disappointing. But that is not all, and it is not the worst. For one reason and another, in consequence in part perhaps of the original character of the taxes, in part of the inherent difficulties of attempting at one and the same moment to carry out all over the country a new and unparalleled valuation and simultaneously to raise revenue upon it, and in part, and in no small part, owing to decisions of the Courts, the legal propriety of which I must not be thought for a moment to question, the taxes by now have become unworkable. In certain cases duty is declared to be leviable in circumstances in which Parliament never intended to exact it, and in which admittedly it would be unfair and contrary to the public interest to levy it, and legislation to reverse the judgment in question was only held up in consequence of the outbreak of war. In other cases the taxes, owing to other decisions, cannot be levied, nor can even a valuation be made upon which any tax could be levied. The result is, as I say, that the taxes in their present form are unworkable. They must either be amended or repealed; they cannot be left indefinitely as they are. But if I were to attempt the task of amendment or repeal at this moment, in the present divided state of public opinion on the subject, and in the absence of full knowledge as to the facts of the case, I should be inviting, as we hope on the eve of the conclusion of peace, a recrudescence of all the old controversies, which we have forgotten during the War. Under the circumstances, the Prime Minister and I joined in recommending to the Cabinet that before action is taken the present position of the duties should be referred to a Select Committee of this House in order that they may explore it and may recommend a course of action in regard to it. We hope that such a careful inquiry, before which all parties can be heard, may secure something in the nature of common agreement as to the best course to pursue in future. It is fair that I should add that whilst neither the Prime Minister nor I wish to prejudge or to attempt to prejudge the decision which such a Committee may form upon the duties or upon any taxation which may be introduced in their place, we both think it is of importance that there should be a trustworthy valuation of the land of the country available for public purposes whenever it is required.