HC Deb 29 October 1919 vol 120 cc754-5

But the House may desire, and we may all agree, not to content ourselves with the Half per Cent. Sinking Fund, but to make an immediate and exceptional effort to reduce our debt, and particularly the Floating Debt. Two large schemes for that purpose have formed the subject of considerable discussion. The first is a general Capital Levy: a general levy upon the capital of the country. Will the House pardon me for dwelling for a moment on my personal position? I considered this question before I took office, not merely as Chancellor of the Exchequer, but before I joined the War Cabinet, and I came to the conclusion that a general levy on capital was not in the interests of the nation, that it was an unfair allocation of burdens, that it was injurious because it encouraged individual extravagance and deterred saving, and because, if the House once adopted that expedient, even for so good a purpose as reducing the National Debt, the public would feel that they had no security that, the expedient would not be repeated for quite other purposes and with no such excuse. Further, a general Capital Levy must have a most deterrent effect upon the influx of foreign capital into this country, and this is not a time when we want to deer foreigners from investing here.

Having considered a Capital Levy carefully, I formed my own personal judgment about it when I was not a Minister of the Crown. It so happened that at that moment I was asked by the War Savings Committee of the London borough in which I live to make a speech on behalf of the War Savings campaign which was then being conducted, and I was particularly requested to speak about Capital Levy, because the apprehensions about it, I was assured, were deterring people from making an effort to save in response to the appeal which the then Chancellor of the Exchequer had addressed to them. Accordingly, I expressed a reasoned opinion to the people to whom I was making a personal appeal to contribute their savings to the service of their country. During my own campaign in connection with the Victory Loan I was constantly brought up against the obstacle to the success of my efforts which was aroused by the advocacy of a Capital Levy (sometimes by a misunderstanding of what the advocates meant and what they proposed), but in any case I was brought up against the difficulty which that was putting in my way, and I was challenged, or not challenged, but invited, to express my opinion on the subject. I called attention to the fact that I had already expressed my opinion on the subject, and that I saw no reason to change it.

After that, the House will pardon me for saying that if this House ever desire a general Capital Levy they cannot and they will not expect me to carry it out. I would not, and I could not, attempt to bind Parliament. No man and no House of Commons could do that, but I regard myself as in honour bound to those to whom I appealed not to make myself a party to it, because, in the course of my appeal, I told them, with the reasons, that I was opposed to it. As far as I am concerned, therefore, the general Capital Levy is out of the question, and I believe that in that matter I speak the general mind of the Government.