HC Deb 29 October 1919 vol 120 cc748-50

I will just say a word about the paper presented in respect to the "Normal Year." Let me begin by saying what the "Normal Year" is, and what the "Normal Year" is not, and if I can convey it in speech I will speak of the "Normal Year" always in inverted commas. In the first place, let me say what it is not. It is quite definitely not next year. I said in my Budget state- ment that next year could not be a normal year, and that the year after that might probably not be a normal year. In the second place, let me say that the "Normal Year" will not correspond—and the House must realise it—with the expenditure of any particular year. It is a standard by which the House can measure what it is doing. It is an attempt to present on the basis of our present taxation and true revenue, and on the basis of expenditure which is within the knowledge, and in almost every case has received the approval, of the House, a picture of what our financial situation will be, and the value of it is that the result is to show that, assuming taxation to remain the same, assuming the conditions set out in the White Paper to be complied with, revenue and expenditure in a normal year would almost exactly balance. The value of that Paper is that the House may understand that every time they sanction fresh expenditure they are upsetting that balance. If they chose to sanction new expenditure they are rendering it necessary to impose additional taxation. It is an effort to help the House to see the situation clearly and to know at every stage and in every decision which it takes what is the bearing of that decision on the future taxation and burdens of the country.

I must make one observation about the balance sheet itself. I have seen a suggestion that it would have been more skilful of me to have shown instead of a deficit of £2,000,000 in the "Normal Year" a surplus of £2,000,000. The implication of course was that this was a fictitious statement made by me for my convenience or for the convenience of the Government. I wish the House to understand that the figures in that statement, whether of expenditure or of revenue, are figures given to me by my advisers. The House knows with what care the revenue estimates are framed and with what amazing accuracy they are generally realised. I have not added any figure to the estimate of receipts which my advisers anticipated. I have not withdrawn from the Paper any expenditure which my advisers thought on the hypotheses set forth in this Paper would come into payment in a normal year. The only thing I have done has been to refuse to take credit for a doubtful increase of revenue which was suggested to me by the authorities and which I thought was based on hypotheses that might not be realised. As far as men who have no party interests, and who do not go and come with Governments, but have a more intimate and complete knowledge than any other people outside Government offices can have—as far as such men can make a forecast-, that is a true and honest forecast unaffected by any result it may have for the Government or for myself.