§ Continuation of Duty on Tea
§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ "That the customs duty charged on tea until the first day of August, nineteen hundred and twenty-five, shall continue to he charged on and after that date until the first day of August, nineteen hundred and twenty-six, that is to say—
§ Tea… … the lb. … four pence And 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."90
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Following the very sensible method of previous years, I shall do no more, at this stage of the Budget proceedings, than offer a few brief observations on the statement which the Chancellor or the Exchequer has just submitted to the Committee. Mr. Asquith, as he was a year ago, speaking after the Budget statement, then said that the first day of the Budget proceedings was consecrated by custom to non-controversial speeches. That is a very admirable precedent, and one which I would like to follow, but, unfortunately, the right hon. Gentleman's speeches do not always lend themselves to non-controversial discussion. I shall, however, in the few moments for which I shall occupy the Committee, try to avoid being controversial, and shall reserve to a later occasion the taking advantage of the many opportunities of controversy which the right hon. Gentleman's proposals provide.
I am quite sure that it is the wish of every Member of the Committee, and it is certainly my own desire, that at the earliest possible moment we should offer to the right hon. Gentleman our most hearty and sincere congratulation upon the great rhetorical and argumentative triumph which, as we expected, he has achieved upon the occasion of his first Budget speech. There are special circumstances of a rather romantic character associated with the right hon. Gentleman's appearance as Chancellor of the Exchequer. I sometimes wonder if the ghosts, the spirits of former occupants of the Treasury Bench, still hover round the scenes of their earthly conflicts. If so, there is one spirit which to-day will share in a very abounding measure the high satisfaction of the Committee at the right hon. Gentleman's success.
I do not propose, as I have said, to deal on this occasion with the points of the proposals which the right hon. Gentleman has made. I shall reserve that to a later but a very early opportunity, when one has been able to examine more in detail the actual character of these proposals. I think it is necessary that in a few matters arising out of the Budget statement the position of my friends and myself should at once be made clear. When the right hon. Gentleman announced, ii. that portion of his speech dealing with the disposal of his estimated revenue, 91 that he proposed to increase the scale of the Estate Duties, I thought, "Well, there is at least one thing upon which I shall be able heartily to congratulate him and assure him of the support of my friends in carrying that proposal into law." But unfortunately his later proposal for the reduction of the Super-tax. and the application of the increased yield from the Estate Duties, has deprived me of that pleasure. I think I may say, however, that we shall give our hearty support to the proposal he submitted for a further relief on earned incomes in the lower ranges of the Income Tax scale. Thatisa proposal which has often been inside by Members of the party sitting behind me, and I am sure we shall not in opposition oppose a proposal which had our sympathy when we were in office.
I think it is necessary, too, that I should state also now some of the proposals put forward which are likely to be strenuously resisted from this side of the House. We cannot be expected to approve the right hon. Gentleman's proposal for the reduction of the Super-tax, neither can he, I think, expect that we shall support the proposed reduction of the Income Tax applying to the general rate of Income Tax. He has certainly made one or two proposals which were not anticipated. It has, of course, been rumoured in the newspapers that he was going to re-impose the McKenna Duties, and in that respect rumour has been justified by the event, hut no one suspected that the right hon. Gentleman, especially with his record as a Free Trader, was going to use his first Budget for the imposition of what are purely protective duties. I shall await the later stages of the Debate to hear the Prime Minister justify his support of these import duties and the proposed duties upon raw materials and manufactures with the very definite pledges he gave the House last December that there would be no avenue open in this Parliament for protective duties except through the machinery of the Safeguarding of Industries Act. I want to make this statement in regard to these duties, and particularly in regard to the re-imposition of what were called the McKenna Duties, and I hope the trades who are going to get a temporary protection Ly these duties will take notice of what we say. At the very first opportunity when we 92 have the power we shall repeal the duties the right hon. Gentleman now proposes to impose. In regard to his proposals for the extension of Imperial Preference, I understood him to say they will cost in a full year about £1,750,000.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Yes. If the right hon. Gentleman is sacrificing £1,750,000 of revenue in one direction he must find a substitution for that abandoned revenue, and therefore it means that he is either imposing that taxation upon the British taxpayer or he is failing to relieve the British taxpayer to that extent when he might have done so. Our attitude in regard to Imperial Preference may, I think, be very briefly stated in this form, that where preferential duties, or remission of duty upon imports from the British Empire, are not of a protective character, and where the preference does not. accrue to the Dominion producer, we are not opposed to a reduction or to the total abolition of these duties. But that does not apply in the proposals the Chancellor of the Exchequer is about to make. These duties are protective in their character. The amount of protection may vary. I had last year to go very fully into the matter. I know that the question as to whet-her a preferential duty upon tobacco is wholly protective or only partly protective is a very debateable point, but no one disputes that it is to some extent at any rate of a protective character, and therefore, the right hon. Gentleman may look forward to the most strenuous opposition we can offer in regard to these proposals, the proposal to reduce the Super-tax, the general reductin of Income Tax, the duty upon what he calls articles of luxury, the raw material of what is not an unimportant British industry, silk, and the re-imposition of what were called the New Import Duties.
I am simply amazed at the audacity of the party in office, after the experience of the last nine months since these duties were repealed, and the only explanation I can suggest is that they are not satisfied with having increased the number of unemployed by 160,000, hut they are 93 determined to ruin an industry which the repeal of the duties last year greatly benefited [Laughter.] I shall be delighted in the later Debates on this question if hon. Members opposite will support their amusement by a few facts. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne), when he followed me 12 months ago, spoke of hundreds of thousands of people who were going to be thrown out of employment. I shall be very glad to hear him substantiate that by the facts of the present situation in the motor car industry. I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind and complimentary references to myself and the achievements of my Budget in the earlier part of his speech, and I am sure I ought to be the last person to say that those compliments and congratulations were not very well deserved. That Budget, I think, in the matter of estimating was an achievement of which anyone would have a right to be proud. I sincerely hope the right hon. Gentleman will be as successful in that respect at the end of 12 months as I had the good fortune to be. I re-echo, and I am sure every Member of the Committee re-echoes the hope which was expressed by the right hon. Gentleman in the eloquent words with which he concluded his speech, that his proposal may have the effect of doing something, not merely to alleviate suffering in the country, but to restore trade to its former state of prosperity.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down that this is not the occasion to subject the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to anything like detailed or considered examination, and I shall therefore postpone any observations I may have to make upon the character of the scheme until I have had an opportunity of examining it in greater detail. He has himself told us that a good deal of supplementary information, which may not merely cast a, very considerable light upon his proposals, but which may affect their very character, will be contained in documents which will be found in the Vote Office, and which will necessarily take a very long time to peruse. I simply rise in order, as an old Chancellor of the Exchequer and a very old friend and associate of the right hon. Gentleman, to 94 compliment him upon an exceedingly masterly performance. He had a very difficult task—no one knows it better than an old Chancellor of the Exchequer—and he has discharged it, in the opinion of everyone, in a way that fascinated anti enthralled the House of Commons and added to the admiration which everyone has for him. That is really what I rose to say, but I may add that I rejoice that he has given his powerful adhesion to the policy of utilising the resources of the country for the purpose of relieving undeserved distress. With regard to the actual character of the proposals he has put forward it would be premature for me to express an opinion, but I am delighted that he has taken the task in hand. The whole of his scheme betrays, as we should have expected, an ingenious, resourceful and exceedingly audacious mind.
I should have preferred—I am only expressing now a cursory opinion—if he had undertaken a larger share of the responsibility for the State, having regard to the very heavy contributions which fall at present upon both employers and workmen under the special conditions under which we are labouring, and out of which we shall not issue for some time to come. I think it would have been better if the State had boldly and courageously undertaken a. larger share of the contributions, especially having regard to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has seen his way to reduce the tax on large incomes. I am also glad that he has steepened the scale of Death Duties. I have always been in favour of extracting revenue by that process rather than by increasing the tax upon incomes. It is a. piece of luck for anybody who inherits a fortune, and I do not think it is too much for him to pay a contribution, a very heavy contribution, to the State. I am sure that most of us would be delighted to pay 50 per cent. if we could get the rest. I am, therefore, very glad that the right hon. Gentleman has adopted that policy.
I very much regret that he should have thought it necessary to introduce the very controversial Protectionist issue. He is not getting very much out of it except, perhaps, what is necessary for his political supporters. It is, really, rather making provision for the widows and orphans of Protection, who suffered 95 very heavy bereavement in the General Election of 1923. I think it mars a very great scheme and a very great conception to introduce this old quarrel about Protection, for the very small revenue which he is going to get out of it. I am not, however, going to enter into arguments at the present time; it would be quite out of place. I am only giving a very general indication and a superficial view of the proposals which the right hon. Gentleman has put forward.
I am, frankly, delighted that he has undertaken the completion of the scheme of insurance. As he knows very well, in 1910-11, we found it impossible to cover the whole field. We were very disposed to include widows and orphans, but it was far more than we could compass at that moment. State insurance was a new idea. We bad to recommend it to the nation, and it was a very difficult task to carry it through. It was not particularly popular, because everybody had to contribute, and a scheme where everybody has to pay is, naturally, not very popular. For the moment, it was as much as we could do to carry the Health and Unemployment scheme through in a, truncated form. I am very delighted that my right hon. Friend, who was associated with me at that time in carrying through that scheme, has in his first year of Chancellorship undertaken the completion of the scheme. I congratulate him very much upon the courage which he has shown in undertaking that task.
I hope that before the scheme leaves the Committee he will consider the suggestion I am putting forward, that he should not put as much upon the contributions of the employers and the employed during this very had p rind of unemployment, when the contributions are excessively high. I hope that he will see his way to make the contribution from the Exchequer a little higher. I think, on the whole, he has estimated his revenue rather conservatively, and that he would he in a position to find a good deal more. For the moment, I confine myself to these few observations. After full examination of the scheme I shall be in a better position to give a considered view.
§ Mr. REMER
I only rise for a few moments to ask a question with regard 96 to manufactured silk. I happen to represent the largest town engaged in manufacturing silk in this country, and I take the opportunity of thanking the right hon. Gentleman for doing what I have been trying to put before successive Chancellors of the Exchequer for the last six years, during which I have had the honour to be a Member of this House. He is the first Chancellor of the Exchequer who has looked upon the matter in a favourable light. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has condemned him for raising the Protection issue, but I can assure him that he will have strong supporters on this side of the House. My object in rising is to put a specific.
question. I have read carefully the White Paper put in the Vote Office, in which it is stated that there is to be 2s. 6d. per pound on artificial silk yarn as an Excise Duty and 3s. per pound as an Import Duty. Can the right hon. Gentleman give me an assurance that, on the question of exports or re-exports, there will be a remission of that duty?
§ Mr. J. JONES
I do not pretend to be an expert on the Budget. My budget is a very limited one. Therefore I cannot speak with great authority. I would like to ask the Chancellor how he intends to enforce the compulsory contribution upon workers, men and women, in addition to the present contribution they are already paying under the National Health Insurance Act? It is very easy to talk about a contribution of 4d. from people who have 4d. to spend, but I would like the right hon. Gentlemen who have been endorsing the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to tell us how the ordinary workman, the casual labourer in the East End of London, is going to double his contribution That is what it means. The man has to pay. It is deducted from his wages.
97 We can provide pensions for certain people without those people paying anything at all. The widows of admirals do not pay contributions, but they get pensions. The widows of generals do not pay contributions, and they get pensions. The widows of other people in high authority get pensions without contribution, but when it comes to the workman, he has to pay. It is all very well saying that the employers pay, but how do they pay? The employer puts the amount on the cost of the production, and in the end Bill Garlick foots the bill. Whether it is insurance or the price of labour or the price of materials, the workman in the end has to pay. We have an instance of that at the present time. The railway companies say that they cannot carry on; that they cannot pay their dividends. Because their shareholders demand their pound of flesh, the workmen have to go through the mill. Dismissals have to take place and short time has to be worked.
Who is going to pay the bill for the new insurance scheme, the biggest item in the Budget? We are told of widows' pensions. Yes,wewill make you all widows before we have done with you. The working man will have to foot the bill. Who is going to guarantee the benefit? We should like to know that. I am not in the position of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. He is an ex-Prime Minister. I am an ex-nothing. I should like to ask him who is going to find the means whereby we can guarantee benefits to the people who pay. The workman, the State and the employer have to pay. We want national insurance whereby the whole nation will guarantee people against adversity The cost should be met by the nation when our people fall by the roadside, just as in war. You did not ask the soldiers to contribute and you did not ask the sailors to contribute. You gave them pensions because they fought for the nation? Why cannot you give pensions to the workers because they have worked for the nation? The soldiers and the sailors could not have fought in the war had it not been for the material which was provided by the workers.
We ask that the workers shall be guaranteed a proper standard of living. When they and their wives and children are down and out you say, "You must contribute before we will give you a pension." They have already contri 98 buted their skill, energy and ability. Now, they are told that they must come into this contributory scheme. When you wanted men to fight in 1014 you did not ask them to contribute towards a pensions scheme. You promised them that if they gave their bit you would do your bit, and you have done it to a very large extent. Now, the soldiers of industry who fight on the battlefields of labour are asked to pay more than double what they have previously paid. We, or at least some of us, protest against that. Let us all put our shoulders together, and let us say that the nation must be responsible. I am only able to say what the ordinary workman thinks, and I do say that this scheme of contributory pensions is not going to be accepted by the workers in this country.
If we are going to be compelled to pay out more than we are paying at the present time, there is going to be a fight against it. If the workpeople are to contribute, all the people who are getting pensions from the State ought to be compelled to contribute. A large number of them are practically getting pensions when they are in their cradles. They are born with pensions. We have to be 70 before we get a pension. The Chancellor of, the Exchequer has taken 6d. off the Income Tax. That remission of taxation to some Members of this House will mean a thousand a year. Fourpence a week to the workman means pinching himself, his wife and his family. Therefore, we protest as far as we are able against the policy that the workers have to contribute still more. The workers outside will say that we are not going to have any more contributory schemes. If the nation is to be one, we must all hang together. We contribute enough already. I drink beer, and I am paying more than my share of national taxation. Some of those who drink tea pay nothing, or next to nothing. The workers in this country will have no more of these impositions of contributions to a national scheme of restoration. Consequently, I appeal to the House not to accept some of the proposals that have been made. Contributors are opposed to the principles of working-class organisations and, therefore, I Oppose it.
§ Mr. W. GREENWOOD
I welcome the Budget as a whole, and, if my congratulations will be acceptable to the Chan- 99 cellor of the Exchequer, they will be given to him on what I think will be an epoch-making Budget. But I wish to refer to what I regard as a great inconsistency in reference to the proposals for the re-imposition of the McKenna Duties. I understand that, although the McKenna Duties are to be re-imposed, the motor car tyre industry will be excepted, as it has been, in my opinion, with great injustice, for the past five years. Owing to the exigencies of the War, there was an exception made, and for the period the McKenna Duties were enforced motor car tyres were the only accessories of motor cars that were not subject to them. Complaint has been made about that by the industry ever since. It is an industry that has suffered a great deal from unemployment. I, personally, know of two factories which have been closed down, and of a large company in liquidation simply because of the unfair incidence of foreign competition in this particular industry. And I would appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or, in his absence, to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, to have this matter gone into very carefully, to see whether this glaring injustice and grave inconsistency cannot be removed.
§ Mr. B. SMITH
Without going into the virtue or otherwise of the Budget, there is a point to which I wish to refer. There was a Committee under the Road Fund Board which, as I understand, unanimously recommended that hackney carriages which are licensed to carry only four people, and have hitherto been paying on the basis of six people, should pay on the basis of four people. The Commissioner of Police lays down that a hackney carriage in London cannot carry more than four people, whereas in the past such carriages have been paying on the basis of six people. The Committee, I know, made this recommendation to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but nothing has been said in the Budget speech with regard to accepting the recommendation of the Committee to reduce the standard from six to four people, which is the limit of the carrying capacity of hackney vehicles, and to reduce the taxation from £15 to £12 in London and from g12 to £10 in the provinces. I would like to know whether the Treasury have con- 100 sidered this matter, and whether the Financial Secretary can give us any information on the point.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I would like the Financial Secretary to make clear one or two points in reference to the scheme of compulsory insurance. I understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer to state that, when the time comes for his scheme to begin to operate, a widow with children is to receive 10s. per week for herself with 3s. per week for the first child and 3s. per week for subsequent children, but that when the children reach the age of 14 the widow will no longer be entitled to any pension. Is that a true interpretation of what the Chancellor said? If so, then it seems to me that the greater part of the sympathetic words which he used in reference to the down-and-outs would be more or less wasted. The woman who has reared a family, who has devoted herself to the domestic side of life, and sends her children into the world at the age of 14, will be more dependent on some form of charity or pension at the age of 50 or 55 than she was at the age of 30 or 35, and for such a woman the pension scheme will be far less than what we anticipated when we were listening to-the details of the scheme. I would also like to know if I am correct in understanding that the Old Age Pension is to be payable at 65 years of age on 1st July, 1926? I had hoped that that was the intention of the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that we have not been misled on that particular point.
I wish to make one or two observations on this particular scheme as to how it is not likely to materialise in the sense submitted by the Chancellor. The very basis of the scheme is that pensions shall never be payable at any time at any age under 65 years over the next 50 years. Does anyone imagine that, with the intricate scientific machinery which we have and the general progress which we are making in science, we can keep pace with the unemployment problem, and at the same time compel men to continue working until they are 65? It. seems to me that, just as the necessity has arisen for the age limit to be reduced in 1925, by the same rule, long before we reach 1975 we shall want the age reduced below 05 years. It is also a fallacy to base the financial consideration upon the slow diminution of expenses on pensions for 101 ex-service men over the next 50 years. Are we to understand that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not too optimistic, when there are 6,000,000 in the world under arms at the moment, when European nations are spending to-day on way and preparations for war £100,000,000 more than they were spending in 1914, in believing that we are going to have 50 years of military peace I hope that his optimism is fully justified, but if the Prime Minister, in his reply to a question to-day, expressed his inner feelings, he has little or no belief in the possibility of peace being with us for any very long period.
I hope that the Financial Secretary will at least clear the air so far as the payment of pensions to widows is concerned, and also in a reference to the period within which the pensions at 65 years of age will begin to operate. The Chancellor with great feeling told us of the poverty-stricken homes where insecurity ever haunts the worker and his wife, and said that he was going to do something for the old man and the widow and orphans of the worker, and all the other people who suffer undeserved poverty. The Chancellor took typical case of an individual 35 years of ale who dies prematurely—shall we say—early next year, and the widow and the three children, all under five years of age, are going to be in receipt of a glorious income of 21s. per week. It is impossible to think that the present rents can be paid, and that the widow can buy food and clothes for herself and her children out of a guinea a week. That shows that the pension scheme is not going to meet the elementary needs of either the widow or the orphan.
If the income does not meet the needs of the home the widow must ask some other form of relief, and will she have to ask for a supplementary sum from the Poor Law guardians? If so, does not this proposal seem to be toying with insurance in comparison with the great scheme of insurance of which we heard from Conservative candidates during the last Election? Why should we have, for instance, one widow, the widow of an ex-service man who happens to have one or two children, receiving 10s. a week for one child and 6s. a week for other children while, under this Insurance Scheme, we are to have another widow, 102 equally as unfortunate in the loss of her husband, whose income is only going to be half that of her next-door neighbour widow I do not think that this scheme is going to meet the bill at all. It is merely going to be another very small instalment, and will do nothing towards the abolition of either Poor Law or pauperism or all that these particular things stand for.
With regard to the general Budget statement, it is only what one might have expected from this Government when there was £37,000,000 to be allocated that £33,000,000 should go into the pockets of Income Tax payers, or Super-tax payers, while the workers are promised that, if they will only pay 4d. and 2d. extra per week, they shall, if they live to be 65 years of age, have a glorious income of 10s. a week. The Chancellor says that they will not be probing into the various sources of income of the individual when he reaches 65. They will even permit him to work, if he desires to continue to render physical or mental service, but the individual whose earnings never permit him to save, who has nothing when he reaches 65 except his limbs to work with, will be compelled to work as he has to do to-day at 70, because he could not possibly exist on the pension. Therefore, I submit to the Financial Secretary that unless some great improvement on the statement that has been made to-day is made in the Bill, I shall not be one of those who will be prepared to compliment the Chancellor of the Exchequer. want to suggest that the burdens of those who can best bear them are being alleviated, whilst those who can carry no further burdens receive no tittle of relief under the terms of this Budget. It is true that Income Tax calls for a tremendous sum from Income Tax payers, but it is also true on the opposite side of the balance-sheet, that whereas we used to pay £19,000,000 for interest on the National Debt service in 1914, we are to-day called upon to pay £305,000,000 for interest, and the people who pay the direct Income Tax are very largely the people who receive the £305,000,000 per year interest. Therefore, one merely cancels out the other. It seems to me that in actual practice, the workers of this country, or industry as a whole for that matter, will benefit very little.
§ Mr. HERBERT WILLIAMS
I doubted whether to get up, but listening to the speech just delivered, one would hardly have realised that it is only an hour since the Chancellor of the Exchequer finished the introduction of one of the most remarkable Budgets, at any rate, since 1009—a Budget which contains more definite statements, more notable changes, and more real promises for the future than any Budget which has been introduced since 1909, when we had a Budget which excited great interest. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down attacks the proposals with regard to pensions for widows with children and widows without children, and with regard to Old Age Pensions at 65, because they are inadequate. They may be inadequate. You never get everything at once. Is not there at least some gratification that the position is better to-day than his Government left it when they introduced their Budget? Surely it is better. There is a definite provision—not adequate to cover all cases—that will cover many cases, and will relieve many hardships and create a degree of independence. But all we get is carping criticism of a kind which is difficult to understand.
There are just one or two points I want to raise. I shall be quite brief, because there are many Members who want to go home. Last week, in another Parliament, a Budget was introduced, and certain reductions in taxation were made. That Government is a Government in relation with our Government, and under Article 5 of the Treaty of Agreement certain arrangements should be come to with regard to the liability for the National Debt of the old United Kingdom, and the liability for the war pensions, which were also a liability of the old United Kingdom. At the present time, I think I am right in stating, we are receiving no contribution whatever from the Irish Free State in respect of her share of the National Debt, and in respect of her share of the war pensions, because her liability in respect of these two items has not yet been determined. I would ask the Financial Secretary to urge upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if the Irish Free State is in a position to make the very large remissions of taxation which she mad,, the other day, that she ought now to be in a position to consider seriously bearing her 104 share of the common National Debt, and the common burden for war pensions, the whole of which at the present time we bear.
We heard with interest the Chancellor's proposals for increasing the Death Duties for certain classes of people, and diminishing the Super-tax for, roughly, so far as it could be done, the same class of people, and I am a little doubtful whether the proposals were as satisfactory as he seems to think them to be. Death Duties are in my opinion a very evil form of taxation. They are a taxation of capital. They fall irequitably, and they come at difficult times, and frequently great extensions of businesses have been prevented through the sudden incidence of Death Duties. It is now proposed to increase these and to balance that burden by some remission of Super-tax. While we all feel the value of the arguments used by the Chancellor, in urging that those who were earning large incomes from their brains should be given every conceivable encouragement, yet, or the other hand, I think we should realise that there are some dangers in the proposals with regard to the increase in Death Duties. I say this as one who has not directly or indirectly had the privilege of paying any Death Duties. I feel that we ought to rejoice beyond measure that the full amount of preference that can be given within the scope of our existing tariff is being given, and I feel certain that the Budget introduced this afternoon w ill give wide satisfaction to the country among all classes of people, among both sexes, and among people of all parties.
Mr. ROSSLYN MITCHELL
I hope I shall not be accused of captious criticism if I pass a few remarks on the speech that we have heard from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because in one or two things that he said he seemed to go directly in opposition to the line of my own thought, and in one or two other items I should like to suggest supplements to what he said. First of all, he spoke about a return to the gold standard, as if an increase in the value of the pound sterling in relation to the dollar was the one and only criterion of our national prosperity. I should like to point out that every step, every degree that the pound sterling approaches to the value of the dollar, it goes further away from all the other currencies of Europe, Asia, and Africa. in other words, the 105 nearer the pound sterling approaches the dollar the more difficult it becomes for the purchasers of our goods to be able to buy them. If we were purely a mercantile arid financial nation, then I should agree that as we got nearer to the dollar with the pound sterling we should become more prosperous. But in so far as we are a manufacturing nation, dependent upon foreign customers to purchase from us goods which we produce, it is quite untrue to say that the approach of the pound sterling to the dollar is a standard of our prosperity. It means, as a matter of fact, a prosperity for one portion of the nation at the expense of the other portion. It means a prosperity for a small and non-creative portion of the nation at the expense of a very large and creative portion of the nation. It is only a few years ago since the pound sterling, if judged by the dollar standard, was worth about 8s. 6d. to 10s.
Thirteen shillings. Make it so. It does not affect my argument. What has been the result of the gradual development of the value of the. pound sterling to "look the dollar in the face "as was said by a former Prime Minister? It has meant that, judged by goods, the capital debt of this country to its creditors has risen from 13s. to 20s. That is to say, that for every ton of goods which was handed to this country in its time of need, this country has now to pay hack 11 tons. It means, further, that every manufacturer who is dependent upon equality and stability of exchange in other countries is handicapped by the fact that our money is developing further and further away from the value of the money with which our purchasers have to buy the goods, and, as in former years it was frequently stated by hon. Members on the other side of the House in the country, that one of our great difficulties in the United States was that we had to purchase from the United States with an inflated currency here, so it is equally true that. in the eyes of the purchasers of our goods we are, by deflating our currency and raising it to the standard of the dollar, inflating their currency in accordance with the standard of the pound sterling. That is the first observation I want to make. 106 Secondly, I observe in the accounts what I consider a fatal weakness to any collectivist system. I see that the Post Office accounts are stated as part and parcel of the ordinary revenue and expenditure of the nation, and that this collectivist enterprise, which is supported entirely by the people who use it, has paid over to the ordinary revenue of the country £4,000,000. We are living in a time where municipal enterprise and collectivist development are progressing very greatly, and it would be an absolutely fatal principle if we were to allow it to go abroad that a collectivist enterprise is warranted upon any other basis than this, that the surplus from its operations should go back either to those who give service in it or to those who consume its product. It. seems to me contrary—I suppose because of my association with the collectivist city from which I come—to the whole spirit of collectivist enterprise that the Post Office, having a surplus on its operations, should not give back that surplus to those who created it hut should hand it over in the form of a partial reduction of Income Tax or some other method to those who may have had nothing whatever to do with the creation of the surplus. That seems to me to be a fatal weakness.
I observe also that there is no figure in these accounts to represent the services which the Post Office renders to all the other Government Departments. Why should a collectivist trading department like the Post Office supply other Departments of the Government with all Post Office facilities without having entered in the accounts the amount which those services represent? I would go further and say that on a pure basis of accounting every Department of the Government ought to pay to the Post Office for the services which the Post Office rendered; the finances of the Post Offices ought to be credited with that sum of money and the services given by the Post Office should be costed to the consumers in accordance with the general surplus after those services have been estimated. But I see another thing. I see that the Chancellor of the Exchequer takes credit in the revenue accounts for what he calls "Special Receipts," which are really the sale of capital assets. My own representative, the right hon. Member for Hill-head (Sir R. Home) sold vast quantities of capital assets, against which, in the 107 Government balance sheets, there appeared liabilities for the money borrowed for that purpose of buying those assets. He sold the assets and credited his year's revenue with the amount as if it had been ordinary revenue. I notice that in the White Paper issued to-clay there is still, under the heading of "Special Receipts," a sum of £30,000,000, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer says is to come from the sale of capital assets. That is bad finance. Nobody can defend a statement submitted to a corporation or to a company or to Parliament in which the scale of capital assets is considered as ordinary revenue.
I pass from criticism to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will consider one or two small supplementary proposals. In the first place, his insurance scheme, complete as it may be considered, is lacking in one element. If you want to remove uncertainty and distress from the homes of the poor, you must make provision for the sudden demands that are made upon their resources by the occurrence of a death in a house. In the scheme which has been outlined to-day I foresee innumerable cases of people who will pay all through their lives but who will have a very remote chance of benefiting. I have no objection to that; I think that corporate payment by the whole of the individuals for the risk, is a good one. But I wish that in his insurance scheme the Chancellor of the Exchequer would include a small sum sufficient to cover the cost of a funeral where death occurs. At. the present time it is being done by people paying almost from the day of their birth to their death into companies which make enormous profits out of the payments which are made. It should be, as in some of our Dominions, a national scheme to which all should contribute and from which all should get benefit. I am sorry, too, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not included in his scheme for widows' pensions other than those who are already under the Health Insurance Act. It is not fair to judge the financial standing of a family by income. We have had mentioned to-day people with incomes of £2,000 and upwards. What a vast difference there is in the financial position of, say, a professional man with £2,000 a year from his own profession, an income which he creates year by year with 108 probably very little capital behind it, and the position of another person who has an income of £2,000 a year from investments, showing a very large capital basis-upon which his financial position rests. It is the same with people.
I would like to say a word from these Benches on behalf of that great mass of people who stand between the artisan and what are known as the middle classes, that great mass of people who are living a life of very strange convention, of very strict probity, of very definite and' ardently pursued ideas of respectability, hut who live so near to the verge of their incomes that it is impossible for them to accumulate any capital. If death comes to. a husband in that sphere of life, the widow is in a most tragic position. She has her children being educated in a certain kind of school. She is keeping them there perhaps a little longer than other people would do, and all of a sudden everything goes when the husband. dies. Why cannot some scheme be arranged whereby she also can Co introduced into this insurance? These points are points that occurred to me after listening to the very brilliant speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There are other items to which reference will he made later, and upon which also I have very distinct and definite ideas. But these points I thought it right to mention to the House at this early stage when there was general latitude for roaming over the whole field.
§ Question put, and agreed to