I have never had much fiscal sympathy with the consumer, of luxuries, and particularly of foreign luxuries. It is to the primary comforts and to some extent virtual necessities of the mass of the population that we should now turn our attention. I have already spoken of the immense boon of at least £160,000,000 a year conferred upon the wage-earners by the reduction in the cost of living. Compared with that universal easement, anything the present surplus can bestow must necessarily be small. We reduced last year the tax on sugar at a cost of £3,000,000 of revenue, and it is to tea that I now turn with feelings of good will. The Committee know, from the annual Debates in this House, that I have long desired to effect some reduction in the Tea Duty. There is no other comfort which enters so largely into the budget of the cottage home, or the still humbler budgets of the old, the weak, and the poor. The reduction or the removal of the tax on tea has been asked for in a
long succession of Parliaments. Its mitigation would always have been regarded by social reformers of every party as an auspicious milestone in the history of the Custom House. There has been a tax on tea ever since the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and I am glad to think that the reign of His Majesty King George the Fifth will witness the total, immediate, and, I believe, final abolition:
And while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups That cheer but not inebriate wait on each, So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
I said that the remission would be total and I have said so advisedly, and, although over three-quarters of the tea drunk in these islands is produced within the British Empire, Javanese tea enters to a great extent into the cheapest blends used by the poorest people. To maintain for preferential reasons a tax on this foreign tea would therefore exclude from the benefits of remission the very class for whose sake, most of all, this serious sacrifice of revenue is being made.
§ I am not dealing in the present Budget with the duties on coffee, cocoa and chicory, and although the cocoa group has usually moved up and down with the Tea Duty, there is no essential reason why they should be inseparably connected, and there are Gladstonian precedents for the independent treatment of tea. The cost of the abolition of the tax on tea is £6,150,000 in the present year. The repeal will date from the 22nd April next. I have every reason to believe that an effectual reduction of 4d. in the lb. in the price of tea will reach the consumer immediately. With the abolition of the Tea Duty, the proportion of our revenue raised from comforts, that is to say the remaining breakfast table duties, coffee, cocoa, chicory, sugar and also from matches, falls from 4.43 per cent. under the Labour administration to 2.91; by far the lowest percentage ever known.