HC Deb 15 April 1929 vol 227 cc66-8

In this very lengthy statement, during which the House has shown me such exceptional consideration and indulgence, I have thought it right to lay forth fully the financial situation, but I have not attempted to deal with the wider issue of Imperial and social development which will naturally constitute the main portion of the programme upon which His Majesty's Government intend to submit themselves to the country. I have confined myself to that considerable range of business which directly affects the finance of the present year. The main policy which we should pursue in the new Parliament will be set forth by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, at what may be called an early and a suitable occasion. I should like, therefore, in presenting my fifth Budget to add a very few words of general summary. Anyone can see that the coal disasters of 1925 and 1926 created a situation very different from that with which I hoped to deal. If I could have foreseen the lamentable course of events, I should certainly not have remitted 6d. from the Income Tax in 1925, but once the standard rate had been reduced to a clear cut figure like 4s. in the £, it would have been very injurious and very vexatious to raise it again. Neither did I wish in any way to detract from the great remissions of in- direct taxation which had made the Budget of my predecessor in 1924 memorable. The last three years have been a struggle on my part to avoid reimposing either oppressive direct taxation or trenching upon the relief of the taxation of the comforts of the people which he had given. In this, I claim to have been successful. I have maintained, upon the average of the five Budgets, payments to the Sinking Fund and upon the accumulated interest of Savings Certificates substantially greater than those which were made in former days.

The successful re-establishment of the Gold Standard will still be regarded as a memorable event long after the exertions and sacrifices it has entailed have been forgotten. The preferences upon Empire products, notably upon wine, sugar and tobacco, have been carried to the furthest point that they have yet attained with a remarkable accompanying growth of inter-Imperial trade. I have spoken already of the remissions of taxation which it has been possible to effect. As far as expenditure is concerned, the upward trend has been stopped. It has proved beyond my power to reduce it as much as I had hoped. At any rate, it has been controlled, and it is £6,000,000 less, on a strictly comparable basis, than it was five years ago. Notwithstanding all this, the means have been found to inaugurate and to finance for periods extending far beyond the lifetime of the present Parliament the two most considerable Measures of domestic reform with which I am acquainted, namely, the immense extension of the Pensions and Insurance scheme in 1925, and the relief of productive industry and the rating reform scheme of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, in 1928.

I feel that the corner in our economic fortunes may well now have been turned. There are no causes, apart from fresh causes of our own making, which should prevent the next four or five years being easier and more fruitful than those through which we have made our way. The future lies freely in our hands. Reviving trade, lower unemployment, expanding revenues, cheaper money, more favourable conditions for debt conversion, lie before us at this moment as reasonable and tangible probabilities. We can by wisdom and public spirit bring them nearer and realise these long sought for advantages. We can by faction, violence, and folly drive them far away again. The future is inscrutable, and it is equally vain to prophesy or boast, but for my part I have faith in the fair play and august common sense of the British nation, and to their judgment now, and in later years, I submit with confidence the financial record of a Conservative Administration.