Question again proposed,
That the Customs Duty chargeable on tea until the first day of August, nineteen hundred and twenty-nine, shall cease to be chargeable as from the twenty-second day of April, nineteen hundred and twenty-nine.
§ Mr. WILLIAM GRAHAM
My right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) yesterday surveyed the Budget in its larger and more important features. The general practice of the House, on the second day of the Debate, is for speakers to direct attention to subjects which have not been so closely considered or studied but which are, nevertheless, of vital importance to the whole structure of our public finance. In that spirit this afternoon, I approach what I think the House generally will regard as three or four leading considerations which emerge from the Budget statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and will undeniably form much of the material on which the coming General Election must be conducted so far as financial matters are concerned. Let us direct our attention first of all to the economic position of the British people, because in the introductory passages of his speech the Chancellor of the Exchequer alluded to the growth in the consumption of certain commodities, by which purchasing power is commonly reckoned, and referred to the development of the silk, motor and newer industries and the price level or increase in purchasing power in this country, all of which, he said, were designed to show that, as compared with 1924, there had been a material improvement in the condition of the British masses. The fundamental weakness of the right hon. Gentleman's statement on that point was that it ignored the appalling sacrifices made by millions of our people since the conclusion of the European War, and even during the period between 1924 and the present day. For two years after the 256 European strife was over, we had an artificial prosperity in Great Britain. All these considerations are appropriate on the present occasion, because we are at a distance of 10 years from the Armistice, and we are at the end—and grateful to be at the end—of a Tory Administration.
For two years after the War concluded there was, as I say, an artificial prosperity, and several of our economists though that we might pass to the period of reconstruction with no particular industrial dislocation. I confess that I never understood how anybody could take a view of that kind. We had increased the national indebtedness of Great Britain from £650,000,000 to £8,000,000,000. We had raised very large sums by direct and indirect taxation during the War. We had sacrificed 750,000 of our personnel who were either at or approaching the very height of their industrial power and strength. We had 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 men who had suffered disablement or disease. But in the purely economic field an important fact was overlooked by critics who took that curiously distorted and optimistic view. How often is it recalled that during those years of peak War expenditure from 1914 to 1920 this country spent more than it had spent during the whole of the 2¼ preceding centuries of our experience? That fact has been brought out by one of the most distinguished of our financial authorities. It is true that our industrial system bent but did not break under the war strain. But not even the power of Great Britain could stand up to destructive and unproductive expenditure of that kind without a marked reaction upon the lives, the happiness, the comfort, and the employment of millions of our people. From 1920 onwards, during the whole of the eight years through which we have just passed, we have been struggling with unemployment, with partial employment, and with social and industrial distress.
Of course, the object of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was, as it must be on the eve of a General Election, to put the best complexion possible on the existing state of affairs, but, supposing we turn at this point to the acute analyses of two leading economists in this country as to the position of our national income, purchasing power, and other considerations, 257 what do we find? We find, taking the year 1924—and all analyses of these matters can deal only with a period some years before the date at which they are made—that the total income of Great Britain in post-War conditions is put at rather more than £4,000,000,000. Other authorities place it at about £3,800,000,000, but this afternoon I shall take the round figure of £4,000,000,000. Broadly, how is that income distributed? Beyond all challenge, what we call the actual wages field, under existing conditions, represents not much more than £1,600,000,000 of that total. That is to say, less than one-half of that vast total goes to the overwhelming majority of our people. That is the first broad consideration.
What have these people endured during the eight years of depression? It is true that prices have fallen from the peak point of about 160 points above the level of July, 1914, to about 65 or 70 points above that level to-day. That is the broad measurement of the increase in the cost of living in retail prices. But during that time unemployment climbed to its peak of 2,000,000 people out of work, and for some years now and, certainly, during the bulk of the lifetime of this Government, there has been a steady unemployment figure of at least 1,250,000. Side by side with that unemployment, there has been a loss of between £650,000,000 and £700,000,000 per annum in wages, affecting 7,000,000 or 10,000,000 of the British people; and the real test for the Chancellor of the Exchequer is whether the purchasing power of that suffering section of our community has been safeguarded by the improvement on which the right hon. Gentleman relied to such a large extent in his speech introducing the Budget.
It is common ground among economists and among people who do not belong to our movement—people who present a purely colourless and impartial view of matters—that the real income and purchasing power of a considerable section of our people has fallen or has been adversely affected. Accordingly, in all our studies of taxation, it ought to be a kind of first duty, a primary responsibility to try to do the best we can for that section of the community. Of course, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has, so far, met them in the abolition of the Tea Duty but do not let us forget, 258 while we are grateful for remission, that the Tea Duty is only £6,000,000 in a field of taxation of £20,000,000 to £21,000,000 remaining on what are strictly the foodstuffs of the people and not their luxuries, their comforts, or anything of that kind. That is the amount of taxation on the actual foodstuffs on which the people from day to day depend.
It is the duty of the House of Commons with the great electoral responsibility which it has to 27,000,000 people at the end of next month, to have regard to the continuing loss of that section of the community to which I have referred—to the impairment of their purchasing power, to the decline in physique in many cases, and to the other hardships which they have endured. Therefore, that part of the case falls to be placed alongside of the Chancellor's declaration, in order to present a complete picture of the condition of our people. I think the House of Commons will admit that a partial statement of selective prosperity in individual industries and the choice of certain figures, whether from the Post Office Savings Bank, or from building societies, or wherever they may be taken, can only represent the truth within limits. We must view the picture as a whole, and the fact remains that for millions of our people there has been that loss to which I refer. That loss continues, and the Government have made no real impression upon it from one end of their administration to the other.
The next point to which I pass is the position of our expenditure and our Debt, and here again it is perfectly fair to take the record of the Government at the end of very nearly five years of stewardship. I sometimes wish—if I may say a word here on behalf of the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons—that the bound volumes containing all the evidence given at our careful and laborious proceedings were more closely studied both by Members of this Assembly and by the outside public. For all practical purposes—although that Committee's review is, in theory, a post mortem examination of the Appropriation Accounts—under existing conditions it is very nearly the only effective analysis or 259 study of British expenditure from year to year. And, notwithstanding the manner in which the work is compressed it does at least give a complete picture in each year. It gives a kind of broad survey, it shows where great blocks of our expenditure are found, and, if in practice it is excluded from the field of policy to an increasing extent it has touched even that corner of the problem.
What are the facts for the British people in existing conditions? The Chancellor of the Exchequer has separated the Road Fund and the Post Office as self-supporting items, and we make no complaint about that better and more businesslike division of our accounts, but to-day I will take them on the combined basis for the purposes of easier post-war comparison. The vast expenditure of the actual war period has gone, but every industrialist and every social reformer is asking what is to be the load that Great Britain is to carry in post-war conditions? I think most Members of that Committee, irrespective of party, and other students of the problem would admit that, unless there is some great change in policy, we are not likely to have an aggregate burden, Road Fund and Post Office included, of much less than £820,000,000 year by year in Great Britain. That is four and one-eighth or rather more than four times the pre-war Budget. But the important consideration for us is the relation of that post-war Budget to the burdens which are being carried by other competitive countries in the world, and in particular by the United States of America and by a recovering Europe, to whose recovery we have undeniably made substantial contribution. The only chance that this Government, or indeed, from one point of view, any other Government, would have of a general reduction in that vast expenditure would be some fall in the price level, because the Government themselves are always in the market as important purchasers of goods and services. Who in this House would forecast any general fall in world prices in existing conditions? In point of fact, if it is true that we are attaining a post-war stability in terms of the gold standard, prices are settling down, and that influence on our Budget I 260 should prefer to regard, for safety purposes, as static. And, if it is not, we are not going to get much relief under that head.
In the £820,000,000 of expenditure, or under deduction of about £80,000,000 or £85,000,000, if we knock off the Post Office and the Road Fund, what are the leading items? I am all in favour—and my colleagues are in favour—of the avoidance of any mere administrative waste. It is no part of our case to spend our resources in that way. We want them for remunerative purposes. But the two great items are the Debt service and the cost of armaments. You have about £365,000,000 in the Debt service and nearly £120,000,000 in armaments; in short, £470,000,000 or £480,000,000 out of an effective £760,000,000, on this revised basis, goes to those two great charges overwhelmingly associated with the European strife. To dismiss armaments first of all, I do not suggest that your personnel, as reviewed by that Committee upstairs, in any of the three Services can be regarded as large. I do not make that suggestion, because it would be incorrect, but I do say that even when you make allowance for an advance in prices following the War, this country cannot afford £116,000,000 of admittedly unproductive expenditure to-day. Accordingly we, on our side, will do everything in our power to contribute to world peace and world understanding in order to get this vast expenditure progressively reduced until we see it on the basis of nothing more than the kind of ordinary police force that it should be.
Take the question of the Debt. Before we go to the country in a General Election, what is the controversy with which we shall be confronted? I have not the least doubt that hon. Members opposite will remind the electors that we have fought two elections on the capital levy and that they will also tell the electors that we propose a Surtax on investment incomes above £500 a year. But that does not end the story. The substantial position of the Debt at the present time—and I am speaking here of the Debt generally—is that, on the Chancellor of the Exchequer's own scheme, we are committed to a laborious process of liquidation or settlement over at least the next 50 years, and he has already driven a wedge into that period by undermining 261 the Sinking Fund in the first year of the new fixed dispensation. He could only adhere to a 50 years' programme if that Sinking Fund provision had been rigorously applied. If by any chance his Administration continued, that would be only one of many raids that would take place. So we are perfectly justified in saying that, for the remainder of this century—make no mistake about it—for the next 50 or 60 years, for all that remains effectively of the 20th century, this is going to be a great burden upon the British people, unless we are prepared to stand by the choice of some immediate call, which, in our judgment, would inflict no real hardship on anybody, would fall on the people well able to pay it, and would contribute to an improvement of national credit and debt reduction on the one side, and make an additional provision for our social services on the other.
The simple choice, in economic terms, before the people is this: Are you prepared to make a call upon that undeniable power in your large incomes, or in your substantial incomes, for this purpose, and so seek to improve your national credit by speedier Debt reduction as one part of your policy, or are you going to risk the long term obligation which puts your credit at an enormous disadvantage in the economic councils of the world? That is the simple economic choice, and the only valid reply that hon. Members opposite would have would be this, that the extra charge under a tax of that kind would be a greater dislocation, or disadvantage, or hardship, or wrong, or weakness, in employment, than the method which we propose. But who could say that in existing conditions?
I beg the Committee to turn to the last Report of the Board of Inland Revenue in this country, and they will find that there are large blocks of income flowing from trusts and syndicates to certain sections of the community which that section does not itself profess to earn. That income is built increasingly upon the destruction of the competitive element in the market, upon which hon. Members opposite and the Government so confidently, to all appearances, rest their case. You get confirmation of that in the ordinary practice and structure of the Estate Duty. I will mention no names in this Debate—it is unnecessary—but in re 262 cent times 10 members of a family connected with one of the largest industrial combines in this country left £21,500,000, the richest of them £4,500,000 and the poorest, if he may be so described, £750,000. They did not profess to have earned that in ordinary competition. Those vast sums flowed to them very largely from an undeniable monopoly, from the results of steady trust growth in this business to the extinction of every competitive element. Incidentally—and this is a valuable commentary on the economic principle which divides that side of the Committee from our own—have we this free competition on which theoretically the Government will fight this election? Is it not the case that the real choice in a very large part of the industrial field to-day is between the syndicate, the combine, and the trust and some efficient or democratic form of public ownership in our midst? It is not a choice with the old-fashioned competition. I will pass from that at once, because I should not be in order in pursuing it further. You have these great blocks of income, and all that we have said, is that for a purpose whose urgency nobody disputes, namely, the speedier reduction of our Debt, we should not make a call within limits on these undeniable resources.
I pass to another consideration. I am saying nothing here that is not within the broad facts of our external debt, and I am not making reference to any later part of this Debate, but what is the position of our external Debt? The aggregate volume is £7,700,000,000 of the total Debt. The amount outside this country has always been described as rather less than £1,000,000,000, and of course it is due almost overwhelmingly to the United States of America. The short position is, and here I am only recording facts, that under the Balfour Declaration, after we had borrowed about £2,000,000,000 mainly as a channel during the War for our Allies whose credit was not so good as our own, we wrote off at a stroke £1,000,000,000. That fact should be clearly borne in mind; it was an initial sacrifice by the British people, for which they are taxed under existing conditions, and it falls to be remembered in any analysis of this problem later in the Debate. Then what did we say? We said that as regards 263 the £900,000,000, or the round £1,000,000,000 remaining to the United States, we undertook in that Declaration not to expect more from the Allies—that is mainly Europe—than we ourselves have undertaken to pay to America.
The Committee should observe that there is a modification on that point, and that is that it includes the German reparations. That is a point which is very often overlooked. The aggregate sum from the continent of Europe, Germany included, is only to provide what we have undertaken to give until 1984 to the United States of America. What have we undertaken to give? So far as I can remember, the right hon. Gentleman during the five years of his administration has never brought out the real character of that American debt. It is summarised by the Hon. George Peel, who is not a Member of our movement and whom I can quote with perfect freedom, in his "Economic Impact of America." We have undertaken to repay up to 1984 the £900,000,000 odd, plus £1,300,000,000 of interest, or a total of £2,222,000,000. That is one element of our external Debt alone. That is a burden for industry and for millions of our people—over £2,200,000,000 over the next 60 years, alongside of which in point of time these European settlements will run so far as they have been achieved.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer recently described the gap between what we are getting in annual amounts from Europe and the £33,000,000 to £38,000,000 which we have contracted to pay America. He hoped that some day Russia will make good all her part of that gap. All that I say on that is this. Does any impartial Member of the House of Commons believe that this is the beginning and the end of the Allied debt arrangements attributable to the European War? If so, a large part of the industry of Europe, and particularly of Great Britain, is going to struggle vis-à-vis the United States under great obligations during the whole of the remainder of the present century. Immediately after the War a great opportunity was lost for inter-Allied debt cancellation. All of us in any part of the Committee can never close the door, however difficult it may be to get it 264 reopened, to that consideration of the future, and, while it is true that there is a very slight growth of opinion in America along those lines under existing conditions, still we want to see it develop, because it is a thousand times better for world recovery and improvement of employment and the happiness and comfort of our people if we can get it arranged on a general cancellation basis. Let us keep an open mind on a problem of that kind.
I want to turn to another consideration, and here again it has a very close bearing upon the employment of our people, and upon the price level. The Chancellor of the Exchequer took credit for returning to the Gold Standard, and he pleaded that that had the substantial support of the great body of opinion in this House, and so far in the country. Of course, it is a highly controversial question, and I am not going to suggest that there is agreement in any party as to all the principles of the Gold Standard. Some of the attacks upon it have proceeded from the Federation of British Industries, not to say anything of the attacks from sections of Labour and Socialist opinion. But taking the facts, there was that opportunity in 1925 to make this return, and in any case it was made. Now we are passing out to what we expected would be true, and that is to a stabilisation of the European price level. We are gradually working up to that, and the unfair advantage of certain European exporting countries based on a depreciated exchange has tended to disappear, and there is perhaps one hopeful element in the situation.
Let us, however, pass across the Atlantic, and observe what is happening in the United States. I am not interfering for a moment in the domestic affairs of another country; I am only speaking of them as they are related to the position in Great Britain. The broad theory of the comparatively new Federal Reserve system in that country was that it would give to America with all her innumerable banks, many of them small and unstable, spread over that vast continent, the advantages of the centralised banking under the Bank of England that we enjoy in this country, and that it would prevent undue speculation, and that, so far, it would also safe 265 guard us against that heavy transfer across the Atlantic which is a large part of our recent problem. The Federal Reserve system has not achieved that result. The plain truth, as we all recognise it now, and industry is compelled to recognise it, is that it issues more or less academic warnings which are flagrantly disregarded by a considerable section in America It covers only part of the field. It can make its rates effective only in a portion of that great and vast element of speculation in America which proceeds from day to day, and, although recently outside rates bounded up, they had no effect in checking that speculation, and our Bank Rate is dragged up to 5½ per cent. in the midst of industrial depression, and we get a further curtailment of enterprise and work in this country. In short, we have to recognise that in that rate we are for all practical purposes being dragged to-day at the heels of American speculation. That is the plain and simple truth. I am afraid that that is a very human point for millions of our people. How are you going within the limit of the existing industrial system—we hold no brief for it, and want to see it changed, but we are compelled to recognise that we live under it at the moment—how are you going to achieve any real results in bringing down unemployment drastically and firmly if you are exposed to this risk? We have only narrowly avoided another point upwards in the Bank Rate, and I venture to think there is a considerable body of opinion in all parts of this House which is very apprehensive regarding the position, and whether, in fact, we will be able to make the necessary preparation sufficiently far in advance for the autumn drain.
There is one underlying consideration of this proposal to which I have heard no reference at all in this Debate. If the world is anchored to gold, as much of it is, is it not odd that we have heard hardly any reference to the metal itself, although it constitutes so vital a consideration? The late Professor R. A. Lehfeldt, a brilliant student of the problem, whose tragic death in South Africa we all deplore, pointed out that the world's resources in gold were £2,200,000,000; but he also directed attention to what we all know, or should recognise—the revolution in the gold 266 holding of the United States of America pre-War and post-War. Before the War the United States held only about 20 per cent. or 25 per cent. of the available supplies; to-day they hold 43 per cent. I am not going to make the suggestion at this Box that America has used that large gold holding for any artificial inflation, or what we call a speculative boom, in the ordinary sense of the term. In point of fact, America has to a very large extent sterilised that gold, but, if it be true that she has sterilised it, what becomes of the position of the rest of the world? If this actual gold metal is the backing of currency and credit, every authoritative opinion has pointed to the urgency of some kind of international commission which will secure its most beneficent and its most unselffish international use, and I ask the Government this afternoon, after all these conversations of Mr. Montague Norman in New York, and his visits to the Continent and other countries, what reply has the Treasury to give us on this vital element in our industry and commerce? After all, it is not merely a matter of our credit. This is a question affecting price levels. It affects everything you do in your expenditure and in your revenue, in your taxation and in your purchasing power—behind all there works unseen a great, invisible but powerful force, affecting the employment and the happiness of millions of our people. But we have had no statement about it in this House, and I do not think we ought to pass from the last Budget of this Administration without an announcement under that heading.
A central charge against this Budget is that it has no direct and emphatic bearing upon the problem of unemployment. The position can be quite clearly, simply, and I trust accurately, summarised in this way. A million and a quarter of our people are registered as unemployed, and so far as we can judge, and so far as the Government are concerned, there is no sign of early improvement in that state of affairs. The Chancellor of the Exchequer urges that we have to look to a revival of our export trade and of our general industry to absorb that unemployed mass. I will deal with that point in a moment. For all practical purposes, he rules out the devices of loans, mortgaging assets, or 267 anything like that to provide immediate employment, even with admittedly remunerative schemes, which I understand to be the essence of the controversy in some sections, at least, of the Liberal party in existing conditions.
Let us take the position of the right hon. Gentleman on the export trade. The House has available for the study of this subject seven volumes issued by the Balfour Committee. Whatever we may think of their conclusions, those volumes contain some very valuable material. Before the War we had 14 per cent. of the world's overseas trade. That figure fell to 9 per cent. or 10 per cent. in recent years, and to-day it is not more than, perhaps, 11.5 per cent or 12 per cent. New manufacture is springing up in India, Canada, and other countries of the world. Industrially, the Far East is awakening in many respects. The Balfour Committee's evidence shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that only by the most laborious means have we any chance of recovering even that 2 per cent. which as translated into volume of commodities and services, would affect the employment of a considerable body of our people.
Is it unfair to ask the Government what they are doing in regard to the use of British credit towards the stimulus of that overseas trade? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwich (Sir H. Young), whose speech yesterday I had not the pleasure of hearing, though I have since read it, made a plea for development within the Empire. I imagine that that would take us back to either some kind of credit or cash assistance, or at all events to a comprehensive programme which could hardly avoid a call upon the public resources of this country. The only experiment, for what it is worth, that we have enjoyed in post-War conditions is the £75,000,000 guaranteed under the Trade Facilities Acts in so far as they applied to undertakings within the Empire and overseas, and provided a demand for commodities in this country; together with what we have done, to the tune of never more than a limited number of millions, within the £26,000,000 aggregate of our export credit scheme. The Chancellor of the Exchequer urges, "Ah, but you cannot take the risk of prejudicing British credit by additional guarantees 268 or loans. You must keep an eye upon your conversion programme, upon the burden of your debt." What we set against that is this, that under these Trade Facilities schemes, in which you only gave guarantees, you have not had a call upon your resources in respect of failure for other than a perfectly infinitesimal sum. I doubt if that call has amounted to £150,000 out of the £75,000,000 guaranteed. There is not the least doubt that those schemes provided employment for a very considerable section of our people directly, and for a fair section indirectly.
Is it not true that we have, perhaps, made too much of the remarkable strength of our credit? I want to say, and I think I speak for my colleagues on this side of the House, that I would never be a party to giving even the most slender support to any misuse of British credit which was going to give us inflation, speculation and a rise in price levels such as would hit millions of our people in Great Britain. On the other hand, when we have made that statement, do not let us forget that credit is a relative term. It is not an absolute consideration. It is no encouragement to us in Great Britain to be told that our credit is incomparably better than that of most other countries in the world if at the same time we have a million and a quarter of people out of work, a proportion of whom we could employ if we were prepared to make a perfectly legitimate use of our credit, even as the chairman of the Midland Bank has recommended, within the limits of the gold standard. Are the resources of the country exhausted on that point? If so, it is a black outlook for a considerable section of our industry. The Government have closed down those Acts. It is quite true that they have modified the Export Credits scheme, but our case has always been that we could with perfect safety use that further in the way of giving firm guarantees—subject to one consideration, and here the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman) did not dispute our point—that we ought not to put publicly-owned credit or cash behind privately-run industries in this country and abroad unless we safeguard for the masses of the people at least a proportionate share of the assets which their contributions create.
269 4.0 p.m.
Of course, that will be immediately regarded as a Socialist proposal, but it is nothing more than a discharge of our duty as stewards and trustees in the use of our credit and cash in Great Britain. This country is pouring out subsidy after subsidy into the existing system, and it was admitted on Monday that it has made no impression on the volume of unemployment. That is rather a lamentable review of the situation. I suggest that in that way and other ways you can use your credit—and that applies to your export trade—and that a great deal more could be done in that way if we had time to detail it.
Here we come to the real test. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says: "I rely upon the recovery of our export trade and industry at home. I will do all I can within the limits of the Government proposal to spend £60,000,000 on roads, a certain amount on telegraphs and guarantees for electricity and devices of that kind." A proposal enters the field that by way of loan or otherwise he should mortgage the resources of at least one fund in this country, the Road Fund, to the tune of £200,000,000 to provide employment for a substantial number of people. I am not concerned for the moment with the political parties and their attitude in this Debate. Let us view it simply as an economic proposition. I venture to believe—we have advocated it from these benches, and it was recognised by Mr. Garvin in the pages of the "Observer" months ago as the great policy at home and abroad—that an invincible case could be made out on these lines, that if you do not find the money for this or the credit for this either in actual cash or in guarantee, if you are not prepared to take a big view of your industrial responsibilities, you are in any event going on pouring out money in actual relief. You will spend the money inevitably, and I can give financial proof of that this afternoon from our review of our post-War conditions. Since the War concluded we have spent in Great Britain not less than £650,000,000 to £700,000,000 in mere relief, and I challenge any hon. Member on the other side of the Committee to tell me of one capital asset you have created for the people or anybody else in that melancholy effort.
270 If that be the state of affairs, the sooner we get down to a business-like proposition the better. Will any hon. Member say to me that out of an aggregate annual income of more than £4,000,000,000 in Great Britain you cannot provide adequate and remunerative employment for 1,250,000 people? If so, it would be an economic and social failure unworthy of the traditions of this country. Hon. Members opposite will never, in my judgment, stand up to the consideration of the effect of this policy. You have that unemployment problem on the one hand. You have a great, unsatisfied, legitimate demand, not for the comforts of life, but for the barest necessities, and all the devices in the Budget and in the industrial practice of hon. Members opposite have never succeeded in bridging that gulf.
I do not want to end on a pessimistic note. There are certain people who go-about saying that, having regard to all the post-War burdens, this country is down and out. I do not believe that we are anything of the kind. We have a great and a generous people. Their industrial skill has generally increased. Their ability, power and disposition have also improved, and they are struggling for the liberation of all the personal capital within their breasts. Because I believe that we on this side are the true custodians of that great ideal of social, political and industrial progress, I am satisfied that sooner or later—and I believe sooner rather than later—nothing will prevent our triumph in the State.
§ Mr. MOND
I have listened with great interest to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham), and one point which struck me particularly forcibly was that, while he found many things in the Budget that he would have liked to have changed, and while he showed us many things the other party would have put in if it had been making up the Budget, he did not really criticise the things that have been put before the House in a practical way. He has tried, as other Members have tried in this Debate, to make out that during the past five years this country has not increased in prosperity. He has produced arguments to show that we are not better off, but worse off than we were before. I say 271 that that is an entirely fruitless argument. Anyone who has been in constant touch with current facts and figures, must surely be well aware that we are definitely moving on the road to prosperity, and that in the past five years we have made some progress in that direction. It has been arrested prosperity, it is true, seriously impaired by events which have been sufficiently referred to during the course of this Debate, and which I have no need to refer to again, but which can never be lost sight of by anyone who is looking at any national index of finance, commerce or industry.
The right hon. Gentleman was at one point trying to defend economically the proposals of the surtax. I think I might fairly criticise the right hon. Gentleman as the first or second diluter-in-chief to the party. More red-blooded proposals have been put forward at earlier stages, proposals which have not, perhaps, been so carefully considered economically, and the right hon. Gentleman proceeds to try to justify them on economic grounds. I do not feel that it is our business to discuss the surtax this afternoon, but the Estimates that have been made of it vary from £65,000,000 to £200,000,000, and the money has been allocated two or three times over. I do not think it is a proposition that can be seriously considered as a method of national finance. The right hon. Member for Central Edinburgh attempted on another occasion to digress from the matter before us this afternoon when he brought up the questions of rationalisation and nationalisation, and though it might be interesting to follow in the footsteps of a close relative in another place in a debate which he had with the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden), I think, in the circumstances, I had better leave these matters out of consideration. The arguments for and against are well known, and, as a matter of fact, were settled on the occasion to which I have referred, and have never seriously been brought forward again.
The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in bringing in his Budget on Monday, spent some time in lauding the benefits of the gold standard, and while I am not one of those who decry the gold standard as a useless and an 272 obsolete method of controlling our national finances, I do not consider that the gold standard, which is simply a piece of machinery, not an article of faith, but a pure convenience, should be allowed to become our master. There seems to be a great deal of confusion of thought among many people on this subject. I think it is necessary that one should clearly recognise that there are two aspects of this question. The first is the question of placing our currency on a gold reserve basis, and, secondly, the question of a free gold market. While these two matters are undoubtely connected, they are by no means dependent on each other. The Chancellor of the Exchequer named, among other matters which the gold standard benefited, that a bill of exchange on London had regained its old renowned popularity as a piece of commercial paper as a result of the reintroduction of the gold standard. Although the general stability of sterling may have some effect in increasing the general regard in which the City of London is held, and had the effect of attracting people to draw bills on London, the fact remains that those who wish to make use of bills of exchange must go where accepting houses afford facilities. It is well known that our financial and banking system in the City of London is such that there is no place in the world where bills of exchange are so well dealt with, and, whether or not we returned to the gold standard, in my view the bill of exchange on London would have reverted to its previous position.
Although the bill of exchange and bill broking is an important business, and although it creates commercial contacts in many parts of the world of great value to British industry generally, it must not be regarded in any way as a large employer of labour, and really contributes nothing to productive industry. It would be a great pity, therefore, if the main industries of the country should run any risk whatever of being involved for the benefit of financial transactions, however interesting, however lucrative and however important in our general scheme of finance. But whatever may be said of the effect on London as a bill market of placing our currency upon a gold reserve, the return to free gold could not in any way improve or worsen the bill of exchange in our market, and while the bill 273 of exchange is not affected in this way, industry is very seriously affected.
There is one point with which I am in Agreement with the right hon. Member for Central Edinburgh. There is no doubt that had the situation which we saw in New York a few weeks ago continued, it would have been impossible for us to have maintained the free export of gold. Nobody would have contemplated at this juncture of our industrial life that we should have seen our Bank rate rising to six or seven per cent., and it is necessary for us to take some steps to prevent this continuous rise. Not even the most devoted admirer of the Gold Standard can believe that it is right to adhere to that standard under conditions in which we run the risk of giving a severe check and set-back to the trade and commerce of this country. Our population is not so much concerned with financial transactions, and they are far more interested in productive industry. It seems to me to be ridiculous that the financial centre of a great industrial country such as this should be all agog over the question whether or not a few million pounds of gold are on one side of the Atlantic or the other. The Gold Standard is a matter of convenience, and it seems ridiculous that a country such as ours should be so stubborn upon a question affecting a few million pounds of gold when we are dealing with thousands of millions in productive industry and commerce.
I support in every way the remarks which have been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon the question of sound money and finance. The right hon. Gentleman has done a great thing during his period of administration by bringing us back to a pre-war basis and making certain that our currency is entirely sound. There could be no greater mistake than to abandon the Gold Standard until we have devised some other method of adequately controlling our currency and credit. Up to the present, the Gold Standard is only one device for meeting the difficulty, and I hope it does not mean that that is the only method which will be brought forward. I urge the Chancellor of the Exchequer to set up an inquiry in conjunction with his Treasury experts and informed opinion of the City of London 274 and experts in industry as to whether they cannot devise some better system for controlling our national finance. We cannot depart on a matter of this kind from something which we know is safe to something which may be dangerous.
Some of our leading financial writers have had much to say on this question, and we have to find a solution. I think ours is the country which can most usefully do some good work in the direction of solving this technical difficulty, and in this way we are in the position to confer a great benefit on the financial world at large. But, whatever may be said of the stability or instability of our national credit or national currency, I do not think anyone who has studied the examples of the world will deny the importance of foreign opinion in regard to our national financial system. I tremble to think what the effect would have been if either the Liberal party or the Labour party in this House had been called upon to bring in Budgets on the basis of their declared and accredited policy in regard to this important question.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley suggested yesterday that if his party came into office they would go back on the settlement which has been made with foreign countries. That seems to me to be an incredible suggestion. Coupled with the resolution of the Independent Labour party, a body of which the right hon. Gentleman opposite was recently a member, that seems to me to put forward a financial position that would make it impossible for the right hon. Gentleman to bring his policy to fruition. Suggestions of that kind would not tend to further the cause of peace in Europe, and I am afraid such schemes would earn for this country the name of "the Shylock of Europe." The proposals suggested by the Opposition, taken in conjunction with their proposals in regard to the Surtax clearly show the trend of the policy of the party opposite. The Labour party seem to have no settled view on these questions, and to-day they have no real settled policy. They have neither imagination nor inspiration. They are drifting without a rudder and without a compass. They have not that mass of public opinion behind them which they had some years ago when they believed in their cause. 275 The policy of the Labour party now consists of little financial proposals jumping up without any correlation, and this is symptomatic of that type of proposal.
I am pleased to-day that I am not called upon to support the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). Those proposals startled me considerably. It appears to me that the £200,000,000 which it is proposed to borrow under the right hon. Gentleman's scheme will only be the first instalment required for his Administration. That sum of money would be rapidly spent, and further large sums would be required. Someone in that Administration would have a happy thought, and the Government would return to the money market to borrow more money in order to stave off the day when the disastrous result of such a policy would be bound to show itself. I am sorry to find that some of those whom I have looked upon in the past as financial purists should be involved in proposals of this kind. Those proposals are dangerous in the extreme, and they are likely to do far more damage than good if ever they come to be carried into effect. A policy of the kind suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs and the policy of the Labour party might do some-damage to foreign opinion in regard to our stability, but for the fact that the people abroad have realised that the proposals which have come from both of the parties opposite are not intended to deceive the people of other countries but only to deceive the people of this country.
Turning from finance to industry, there are one or two matters of first-class importance which I should like to raise. It is well known that the steel industry in this country has been suffering for some years from extreme depression. Many of our steel plants are out of date and require to be rebuilt. A good many of them are badly situated and the money required for reconstruction is not easily forthcoming. I do not think any responsible Government can easily face the danger of allowing the steel industry to come to an end. No leaders of any party responsible for the government of the country would dream of doing that. On that point, all parties are agreed. The question is at what time should the 276 Government intervene? My own view is that the time has come now for Government intervention by proposing a Safeguarding Duty on iron and steel which would be a great benefit to that industry.
There are other problems to deal with which are far more complicated and which it is not practical to attempt to assist by the same method. The proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer are of such a nature as to give other industries considerable assistance. We all know that there are certain costs of production on industry which no technical skill or economy of management can change or alter. In the past, among such costs were included the rates. In the future the rates which now fall upon industry will be borne by the Exchequer, and that proposal will give a suitable stimulus to British industry. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is to be congratulated on his Budget and upon his remission of taxation where he has been able to make any. The right hon. Gentleman can feel assured that, as a result of the Debates in this House, no one has been able to criticise what he has put in the Budget, although some have criticised what he has left out.
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
I am placed at a disadvantage in following the hon. Member who has just spoken, because I am not sure whether it is the custom to offer the usual congratulations to an hon. Member when he makes what may be called his second maiden speech in the House of Commons, and more particularly when he makes that second speech from a different quarter than that from which he made his first maiden speech. I am sure that I shall express the opinion of the whole Committee when I offer the hon. Member my congratulations on the adroitness with which he has covered up his change of opinion. I do not propose to deal at length with what the hon. Member said about the Gold Standard and the stability of our currency. Perhaps the next time he speaks he will deal more fully with our financial stability and not our political stability.
I was very interested to hear the hon. Member castigate us for proposals which he has himself supported in the past. Our proposals are very similar to, if not identical with, the proposals put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member 277 for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in 1922 and 1923, when I believe the hon. Member was a supporter of that Government; or at any rate, I know that his distinguished father supported that Government. I should be the last person in the world to introduce any note of dissension, but I felt more than a passing interest in the concluding passages of the hon. Member's speech when he referred to the iron and steel industry. I am puzzled to know what mental process has enabled him to make the pronouncement he has made on that subject this afternoon. There is an old saying, which I remember as a very small boy was depicted on picture postcards upon which there was the inscription:When father says 'Turn,' we all turn.I find it very difficult to find anything more substantial than that in the suggestion which the hon. Member has made with regard to the iron and steel industry, because many hon. Members opposite, the majority of whom have been much longer steeped in the doctrine of Protection than the hon. Member for East Toxteth (Mr. Mond), have been very dubious about this duty on iron and steel, even at a time when the iron and steel trade was in its worst stage of depression. If I am correctly informed, that worst stage of depression has now passed. Less iron and steel is being imported into this country than there was, the proportion of finished articles is getting less, and I am told by people engaged in the iron and steel trade that they are at last, in many cases, able to sell at prices comparable with those of our foreign competitors in the case of the less finished products as well. I believe that to be a correct statement of the position of the iron and steel trade at the present moment. Still, the hon. Member for East Toxteth, like all converts, is more thorough and more zealous even than the older adherents of the faith to which he has recently attached himself. He tells us that no one has been able to criticise the Budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but very effective criticisms were made both from the Front Bench above the Gangway and from these benches during the Debate yesterday, and I am going to content myself with referring to only three things.
The first also follows upon an argument used by the hon. Member for East 278 Toxteth. He referred to the commerce of the world, and I want, without going into details, to remind the Committee of the very half-hearted facts which the Chancellor of the Exchequer put forward yesterday in favour of the Silk Duties, which have been in force during all this Parliament. I want also to remind the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, who is going to reply to this debate, that in 1926—and he will, of course, remember that these Duties were imposed in 1925—the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his Budget speech, pointed out that there had been predictions from this side of the House that, when the Duties were imposed, they would lead to an increase in price. Those predictions, said the Chancellor of the Exchequer then, had not been justified, and there was great rejoicing on the benches opposite; but in the next sentence he pointed out that, although there had been no increase in price, the imposition of the Duties had undoubtedly intercepted what would have been a further reduction in price. I am not blaming the Secretary of State for War, who, I believe, has always been a Protectionist, and probably remains so to-day. I do not blame many hon. Members opposite who have suffered all their lives from this particular delusion. But I do blame the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because when, during the last four years, he has talked about imposing taxes for the purposes of symmetry, when he has used arguments of that kind which even the most half-witted tariff reformer would be ashamed of, he has used arguments which he has known to be false.
What the hon. Member for East Toxteth has just said about the commerce of the world is very much to the point, because this Government, during the five Budgets which they have brought forward, have continually violated all the principles that have been laid down by every conference of economic experts from every nation in the world which has met since the War, and particularly those principles which were laid down by what has come to be known as the Economic Conference of Geneva. One of the great disservices which this Government have rendered to the people of this country is that they have in a multitude of various ways hampered world trade, for, because this country is more dependent upon world trade than any other, 279 they have hampered this country more than any other nation in the world.
Lastly, I want to say a word about the final disappearance of the Betting Duty. The Betting Duty, I imagine, represents the most humiliating chapter in the whole history of the British Exchequer. It has been attacked on various grounds. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour) takes one point of view, and others take other points of view in opposition to this tax, but, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer decides that a certain form of amusement, or, to use what I think was his own word, damnation, should be taxed, that is his business; he has a perfect right to do it. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he decided upon the Betting Duty, was told, by the very people whom he proposed to tax, of all the mistakes that he was going to make. He was told, first of all, that he could never get a revenue of £6,000,000 out of the betting community. He did not believe it; he tried to get his revenue of £6,000,000. He was also told that he could never get that amount, or even one-half of it, by a tax upon turnover, because there would be wholesale evasion. There was wholesale evasion—there was such wholesale evasion that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was driven to an expedient to which, I venture to say, no Chancellor of the Exchequer in British history, certainly within the last 200 years, has ever resorted. He actually gave instructions—and he has never denied this charge, which I have made before—he actually gave instructions to his revenue officials that there were to go on collecting the tax from those who were willing to pay, but that they were not to try to collect it from those who were evading it. That is the pass to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has brought the British Treasury. But, of all the episodes in this chapter, the worst was the last. There could have been nothing more shabby than the manner in which he finally got rid of this tax. I have his words here. He pointed out what I have just said, that the tax had been a fiasco, and he said:It is being paid exclusively by the honest bookmaker—who has been unable to avoid it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th April, 1929; col. 49, Vol. 227.]280 I do not hold any particular brief for bookmakers, but I will say this, that, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer's professions of political principle and faith had been as reliable or as trustworthy as the nod or the look of 99 bookmakers out of a hundred, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would bear a better character for political stability than he does to-day. As I have said, there has never been any tax worse conceived or worse carried out; there has never been any tax which, when it was dropped, was dropped in such a shabby way.
So far from flinching from the challenge which the hon. Member for East Toxteth has laid down, we say with the greatest possible confidence that, when we take the matter to the country, the country will say that the proposals which we have made are the first real attempt at a contribution towards the great unemployment problem. It is not for hon. Members to jeer at us in one breath and in the next breath to say that they thought of it first. That is what they have said, because, while the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday deplored the possible results of a loan of £200,000,000, the echo of his words had scarcely died away before he was boasting of the £400,000,000 which he himself had spent, not in similar, but in much less efficient ways, for, of all the stupid ways of spending money, the Sugar Subsidy was the most stupid of all. We do not flinch from this challenge; we are perfectly certain that, when we take our proposal to the country, the country will say that at any rate it is an honest and a real attempt to deal with what is the most pressing problem of our time.
§ Sir ASSHETON POWNALL
It has been my privilege to sit for several hours of each week during the whole of this Parliament next to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham). Whether our juxtaposition has mellowed my views in regard to his political opinions, or whether it has softened his views towards mine, I cannot say, but I do know that in a good many respects I found myself in pretty general sympathy with what he said this afternoon. I should like, however, to say a word or two on two points in his speech. He spoke of the great wealth left by all the members of a certain 281 family in recent years as exemplifying the difference between wealth and poverty. He did not, however, mention, though I think it would have been better if he had, the fact that on death almost half the total wealth of those individuals passed to the State. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the sum of £21,000,000. Those individuals in their lifetime paid Income Tax and Super-tax to the amount of half, or rather more than half, of their total income, and on death one-half passed to the State, the total amount being six or eight times more than was paid before the War. When I have been asked, while abroad, how we manage to balance our Budgets, I have pointed out that the difficulties of a rich man in this country are very great. He pays 50 per cent. in Income Tax and Super-tax if he lives, or 40 per cent. on death. Which is he to choose? With regard to this particular family—the name has not been mentioned, but we all know it—I think I am right in saying that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb) was a member of a Committee which stated that there was no sign of profiteering whatever in the operations of this family, which has made such large profits. I think it is only fair that that statement should be made.
Furthermore, I want to join issue with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Edinburgh, and also with the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence), with regard to the unemployment figures which were given yesterday. The hon. Member for West Leicester rather suggested that the return to the gold standard had been responsible, in some measure at all events, for the amount of unemployment that we have had in recent years. May I invite his attention to the figure for April, 1926, one year after the introduction of the gold standard? There had been a steady decrease month by month in the unemployment figures, from the 1,250,000 which was the figure we inherited in 1924, until, in April, 1926, for the first time in some years, it actually fell below 1,000,000. I am not going to speak of what took place on the 30th April, 1926, and in the succeeding months. The Chancellor of the Exchequer alluded to it several times the day before yesterday, and I gather that it 282 is rather a sore point; but if, in one year after the introduction of the gold standard, you have a material decrease in unemployment, and if, after the events of the 1st May, 1926, you have a big increase, surely it is only fair to say that the decrease was caused by the introduction of the gold standard, and the increase was caused by the events which took place later.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
The period to which I carried the figures was the late autumn of 1925, when the unemployment figures were particularly high. Of course, the hon. Member has not forgotten that the immediate effect of the coal subsidy, which was given in the autumn and winter of 1925, was very much to reduce unemployment, but I do not think he has made any allowance for that in the statement he has made.
§ Sir A. POWNALL
That would make a difference, but not to the extent of a quarter of a million. Anyhow, it is only fair to remember that unemployment was at its lowest figure immediately before the unfortunate general strike and coal dispute. I differ from the late Financial Secretary to the Treasury with regard to what was said by his late chief, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden), with regard to the French and Italian indebtedness to this country. At the present moment a Commission is actually sitting abroad which is going through and revising what are called the Dawes Annuities, with a view to getting a final settlement, for all time during the currency of these international loans, of the debts arising from the War. What will be the feelings, of the British representatives when they see in the papers to-day that the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer who, within the bounds of possibility may be Chancellor of the Exchequer again in a few months time—I put it no higher than that—proposes to render waste paper a financial agreement solemnly entered into by the country as a whole? What use is it negotiating on behalf of the country now if that may be the state of affairs? What also is going to be the position in France and Italy, if they find agreements entered into by responsible statesmen in this country regarded as waste paper. Furthermore, what is our position vis-à-vis the United States?
283 These agreements were entered into by Mr. Bonar Law at the end of 1922, when the Republicans were in power. They provide for interest payment at the rate of 3 per cent., and afterwards 3½ per cent. What will be the position in a few years time supposing the Democrats come into power? Are they going to be in the same position that the right hon. Gentleman claims for the Socialist party? Are they going to say, "3½ per cent. is not sufficient. We demand 4 per cent., 4½ per cent., or 5 per cent." If this country, which is the pivot of all these international agreements in view of the Balfour Note, starts tearing them up, what will be the position, not only in Europe, but throughout the world as a whole?
The Balfour Note was before the Socialist party came into power in 1920. By the Balfour Note, we stated that we did not ask any more than we have to pay. When the Socialist party was in power during nine months of 1924, did they make it quite clear to the world that they did not agree with the principles of the Balfour Note? Surely it is only honest for a Government which disagrees with what its predecessors have done to say, "We do not agree to it, and we are going to demand more from France and Italy, and other debtor countries than we shall get under the Balfour Note." It seems a most unfortunate utterance. We know that certain sections opposite are in favour of the repudiation of war loans and other matters, but this is not national repudiation, it is international repudiation, and, inasmuch as the whole security of Europe is built up on the principles of the Balfour Note and Agreement, it will be infinitely more important than anything merely affecting national indebtedness.
With regard to the Budget, I must congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the great ingenuity with which he has, with relatively a very small amount of money to play with, scattered his benefits from the country hamlet, where extra postal facilities are required, to the harbours of East Scotland, where more dock facilities are required. To make £8,000,000 or £10,000,000 go further than he has done would tax human ingenuity to the very utmost. I am sorry for one thing. In constituencies like mine there is a very large section of what is 284 called the black-coated brigade whose spending power is greatly reduced since the War. I should have liked, had it been possible, to see some further relief given to the smaller Income Tax payer, who is paying 4s. in the £ instead of 1s. or 1s. 2d., as he did before the War. I agree that my right hon. Friend has in recent years done a great deal with regard to rebates for this class. The figures he gave were very interesting, and have assuaged my disappointment that nothing was possible with regard to the smaller class of Income Tax payers. The outstanding feature, as I see it, of the Chancellor's five Budgets has been the fact that, without any increase in direct taxation, he has managed to finance the large sum of £80,000,000 which was the direct consequence of the troubles of 1925 and 1926. He has shown very great ingenuity in doing so, and I thank him, on behalf of a constituency where extra Income Tax would have been very severely felt, for managing to carry on without any extra direct taxation notwithstanding the £80,000,000, which as we consider was no fault of our own, which the country has had to bear in the last three or four years.
With regard to the floating Debt, the events that have occurred recently in America show the all importance of funding at the earliest possible moment as much as ever we can of our short-term indebtedness. Many of us who were in business in 1907–8 can remember the American crisis, and the effect it had on money rates. In a much smaller degree we had an American crisis two or three months ago, and we had an increase in the Bank rate of 1 per cent. in consequence. My recollection is that in 1907–8 the Bank rate went up by two, three or even more per cent. If anything of that sort happens owing to speculative activity in America, it is bound to react upon us and to lead to our having a deficit of many millions instead of a small surplus. It shows how utterly Futile are the panaceas put forward by the Liberal party, because the total amount we have now available for investment is very much less than before the War, and notwithstanding the increase of the savings of the people, if you are going to divert £100,000,000 or £200,000,000, you are automatically going to take this money, which is badly wanted for industry, and make it 285 impossible for us to fund the 1929–47 Loan, which is the only chance of a big saving in our national expenditure in the next few years, re-borrowing money, for which we now pay 5 per cent., at 4¼ per cent. It is all important that we should be absolutely conservative, not only in the political but also in the financial sense.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I rise to offer a few observations on this subject, which is usually left to a comparatively small and select section of ex-Chancellors of the Exchequer and persons who are associated with banking and commerce. I include myself among that august band with that amount of timidity which is suitable for one of the commoners. I was very interested to see how this Committee, when it finds placed before it a difficult case from this side of the House, proceeds straight away to waive it aside and say, "That is not what we are talking about. We are talking about something else." My right hon. Friend the Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham) put up a case against the Chancellor's Budget, and against the whole financial operations of this Government during its period of office, which is unanswerable. I do not propose to allow the subject of discussion to day to be carried away on to any of the minutiae of the Budget propositions, but to endeavour, as far as I can, to keep it to the essential propositions laid down by my right hon. Friend. I am not in agreement with those who think we are making national progress when income and expenditure, as shown on the national balance-sheet, come down. I think a nation that is developing, a nation that is prosperous, a nation that is really assuming some powers of central control over its industrial and commercial affairs, will show year after year a bigger proportion of the total national income passing into the hands of the public purse, and passing out of the public purse into the pockets of the people. I want at the very outset to dissociate myself from the view that a mere reduction in national expenditure is an index of developing national prosperity in any way, and therefore I am not criticising the Chancellor because during his period of office he has not reduced taxation or appreciably cut down the total amount of income and expenditure of the nation as a whole.
286 I regret that he is not in his place to hear the word of thanks I propose to offer him, the only one I think I ought to offer, but I am sure the Financial Secretary will convey it to him. I offer him my thanks for the remission of the Tea Duty. It is a personal and selfish interest. I am probably more addicted to tea than anyone else in the House of Commons. I have no alternative beverage. Therefore, I appreciate very much the additional 3s. which he will throw into my pocket in the course of the year. The average man, I gather, consumes nine pounds per annum, and that is nine fourpences which are going to be handed back to the average man. I am slightly above the average in my consumption, but a large proportion of it is partaken of in the Smoke Room and the Tea Room of this House, and I would suggest to the Chairman of the Kitchen Committee that in view of this remission, and also the reduction in price of granulated sugar, it might be an appropriate opportunity for taking a penny off the price of a pot of tea. While I am about it, I might perhaps suggest that there will be no harm in putting two cups into the pot instead of one and a half. That is the one bit of selfish gratification that I am able to derive out of the right hon. Gentleman's Budget statement, beyond the pleasure and gratification that we always derive from his dialectic displays.
May I say this, apart from my joking references to the reduction in the price of tea, which, I hope, will be passed on to the consumer, that it is a fact that a very large proportion, an overwhelming proportion of the tea that is consumed in this country comes from our own colonies. It is produced by citizens of the British Empire who sweat under tropical suns to provide us with this little luxury. I wish that some method could be devised by which some part of the relief that has been established by this removal of the Tea Duty could be passed back to those black brothers of ours who produce the tea. I direct the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to a possible field of operations, which, I think, would in the ultimate not be unhelpful to the general industrial and commercial welfare of this country if we would use our influence to improve the working conditions of citizens of the British Empire who are working even under worse conditions than ourselves. I leave that one spot in 287 the Budget which is a matter of satisfaction to me. I understand, but only from the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that it was an aspiration of the late Mr. Gladstone that this tax should finally be removed, and I hope that wherever he may be he is aware that his ideal has now at long last been achieved.
I wish to get down to the proposition which I laid down at the start, that mere reduction in national income or expenditure is not in my view anything for this House to congratulate itself upon. I think that the national income and expenditure should be a steadily increasing amount. I mean to say the amount that comes into the Exchequer and passes out of the Exchequer. It is essential to the development of our industry and in direct line of progress towards establishing the central national direction of our industrial and commercial affairs which becomes obviously increasingly necessary. The Prime Minister, if I mistake him not, when he came into office, came in with the view that private enterprise, or as we prefer to call it, capitalist industry, only required to be left alone and it had within itself powers of recuperation which would very speedily restore it to a state of health after the debilitating effects of a long continued war and post-war conditions. That, I believe, was the theory upon which the Prime Minister and the Cabinet entered upon their task here, and they said, "Give us a rest from legislation; give us a rest from disturbing interferences by Government with private industry." But, in spite of the fact that that was their theory, their period of office has been marked by one long continued series of operations by which the Government have been compelled for one reason or another to interfere with the conduct of industry.
We were not long back in this Parliament before we had the tremendous interference which was put into operation by the passing of the Electricity Supply Act. That was a direct attempt by the Government to centralise, coordinate, and direct the development of this industry and to control in some measure the distribution of the electricity that would be produced. Then we had 288 the interferences with the coal industry, first in the nature of the subsidy, and then the regulation of miners' hours; and we had a long range of interferences with particular industries by Safeguarding Duties—the interference with the motor industry, and the interference with the artificial silk industry. There was the interference with agriculture by the setting up of a special agricultural loan system and so on. [An HON. MEMBER: "Films."] These are only a few that I am mentioning from memory—films, broadcasting, cables and a whole lot of other things. One could turn up a tremendous record of occasions when the Government which disbelieved in State interference with private industry entered into private industry in one form or another.
I contend in support of my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Edinburgh that, when the Government establishes credit or helps to develop assets for any particular industry, the State has a right to have some say in the assets that it has helped to create, and has a right to expect to draw some share of the profits of those assets into the public purse. Therefore, I put it that we have a right to look forward in the future, not to a diminishing annual Budget, but to an increasing annual Budget. That does not mean to say that any increase in the Budget is to be justified and that any reduction is to be deprecated. It is a matter for further congratulation, I think, to the right hon. Gentleman—I am sorry that I have to add another congratulation—that the public accounts are now presented in a way that makes them much more understandable by the common man at this period. I think that further steps can be taken in this direction so that the ordinary citizen in the street can have the Budget statement in front of him and understand exactly what he is working on. I would like to see the whole of our public expenditure shown in four different sections—Debt charges, armaments charges, the cost of administration of the public departments of one kind or another, and social services in an entirely different compartment.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I admit that it is all there and that it approximates to that view, but it should be brought out in direct and different ways so that he who runs may read what are the true facts and not depend upon the Conservative and Liberal posters which seem to me to throw up the wrong things in a much too high a light. When one examines these four compartments of public expenditure, he finds that the big, heavy item is Debt charges. Then comes war charges or preparation for war charges. The cost of public administration and of the running of the various departments is, I believe, down to a very low level. I think that it is true that succeeding Governments have gone through department after department and have combed out unnecessary staff and have cut it down very nearly to the lowest possible level. An examination of that side of the public work would show that public administration is carried on at a smaller percentage charge than is ever achieved in ordinary private enterprise. I would like to say also that there seem to be no redundant or unnecessary departments of State. I remember that the Government very foolishly, as the result of a newspaper agitation, got themselves rushed into the position of declaring that they proposed to abolish three Ministries. I congratulate the Government, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in particular, that the three Ministers are still there. Although they were abolished very definitely I think, two years ago, I am glad to say that they are all still there doing work very efficiently, and I hope that they will long be spared to us to carry on useful work. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] The higher command will be altered.
I do not say for a moment that there are perhaps not some fields of economy still open in the matter of salaries of the higher paid officials in the departments. There are probably economies that could be made there. There could certainly be substantial economies made in the salaries of Cabinet Ministers. I do not see the Home Secretary looking as enthusiastic about this proposal of mine as he usually does about my proposals, but I do think that in a period of national stress there should be some reduction there. There could be other reductions among the higher paid permanent officials. I think that the Judicial Bench is over 290 paid. I have said so in this House. I think the diplomatic people are overpaid, and I have said so in this House. I do not suggest for one minute that any saving that could be made there would make an appreciable reduction in the total cost of running this branch of public business, because any minor saving that could be made there, ought to be more than swallowed up by improving the position of the tens of thousands of public employés who are very badly underpaid. I do not think that there is any serious economy that can be made there. Frankly, I do not think that as long as our present banking system continues we are going to have any serious reduction made in the National Debt charge.
When I came into this House I was young and innocent. I was modest and humble. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes, you have forgotten it. I was willing to learn, and I sat at the feet of the financial experts, and year after year they stood up and made their prophecies about what was going to happen in the realm of finance next year. I have been here since 1922, and when the prophecy was not fulfilled in 1923, I began to have my little doubts about their expertness. I said: "Perhaps it will turn up in 1924." And again my hopes were blighted, and so on, year after year, until about 1926, when I said to myself that I had better stop placing my reliance on these experts and rely more on common sense.
The policy of the Government, we were told, was so directed that we should ultimately get cheap money, that money would become very plentiful, that because there would be an over-supply of money in the market money would be cheap, that we should get it for next door to nothing. Then, we should be able to make our conversion loans at great advantage to the State, and we should be able to make our national developments of one kind or another, because money would become cheap in the great era of plenty. I watched for that, and I saw money becoming dearer every year. As we approach the condition where cheap money should be available, according to the theories of the experts, money becomes more dear. I read in the economic text books a fascinating theory, that the cost of money was regulated, as is the case in every other commodity, by the 291 law of supply and demand, and that it was conceivable that money might some day become so plentiful that we should be able to borrow it for nothing. Some of the more optimistic of the theoreticians said that it might pass from that zero position into the negative position where people would actually pay somebody to use their money for them; that it would pass from positive interest, through zero, into a negative interest. There is no sign of that happening. There is not even an approximation to zero.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Not in our time, and not under the present system. The whole assumption of that argument was that we were operating in a free market of free borrowers and free lenders, thousands of us competing with one another. There is no free market. The market is closed. Reference has been made—I do not know why there should have been such extreme delicacy in certain speeches about mentioning names—to some near neighbours of mine in the west of Scotland who have had a surprising death rate in their family during the last year, and have consequently thrown millions of pounds into the public Exchequer in the form of Death Duties. I assume that the reference was to the great firm of J. & P. Coats, Limited. Why they should not be mentioned by name, I cannot understand. [Interruption.] Then I assume that the reference was to W. D. & H. O. Wills. It is immaterial. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer has had something from both families. It would be as fantastic to imagine that the market would become glutted with cotton thread or with cigarettes as to imagine that in a highly centralised industry like the borrowing and lending of money you could have a market so flooded that the people who have control of the lending would lend at a figure that was not remunerative.
It is obvious to all of us that productive industry has gone through years of tremendous suffering and the working-classes have made tremendous sacrifices. In industries like Baldwins, Limited, Armstrong Whitworth, Limited, Beard-mores, in Glasgow, the directors have been compelled to confiscate the capital entrusted to them by their shareholders: confiscation of capital by boards of 292 directors, under a capitalist system of society, with the approval of the law and with the best advice of the financial experts. While productive industries have been confiscating the capital of their shareholders, in a wild attempt to put themselves on a sound and businesslike footing, the banking combines have drawn their interest and dividends steadily every year. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Tell me of one that has not. I spoke to a director of a big bank yesterday. I said, "You are getting 25 per cent.," and he replied, "No, only 18 per cent." Imagine it! Only 18 per cent.! What about the shareholders in Beardmores, Armstrong Whitworths and Baldwins? What would 18 per cent. have meant to them?
That crew, the banking combines, are not going to give you cheap money so long as they can get a substantial return on their capital by lending money in a niggardly fashion and charging high rates of interest for it. I put it to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this nation should get control of its financial machinery instead of placing the whole population, the working-class and the employers in productive industry in the clutches of the Shylock moneylender. That is where we are to-day. Fancy, that small group of people, acting according to some fantastic laws that they say operate, some rule of thumb method, calculating what the price of money must be with reference to the movements of gold and the total amount of gold! Gold! That, again, if I do not misunderstand the position, is governed by another combine. The gold commodity itself is produced by another highly organised combine, who can decide the amount which they are going to produce. This great nation is under the thumb of that small group of financial magnates. You have to bow the knee to them. Our schemes for the rehabilitation of industry can be made nugatory by them.
We sat in this House for five or six weeks, in Committee, working out the details of a De-rating Bill that was supposed, rightly or wrongly, to give relief to productive industry to an extent that was calculated by one right hon. Gentleman to amount to 3½ per cent. We sat for weeks hammering out the details of that scheme in order to convey to productive industry relief to the extent of 293 3½ per cent., and before the legislation became the law of the land, before we had been able to convey the relief to the persons for whom it was intended, a small group of financiers, sitting round a table in the directors' room, raised the Bank Rate by 1 per cent., an act which I am perfectly convinced can be shown very easily to have placed upon productive industry a bigger burden than our de-rating relief was conveying to them. If our nation is really going to assume the responsibility and control of its own affairs, if it is going to tackle that tremendously heavy item of £350,000,000 of debt charge, if we are to get cheap money so that, ultimately, we may reduce and extinguish that debt, we must have control of the financial machinery and own the banking system of this country. I shall be told that that is a Socialist point of view and therefore it must be ruled out of court.
In the next part of my speech I am going to speak about the reduction of the Army and the Navy. There will be loud cries from the Government side about any suggestion to do away with the Army and Navy. I am prepared to agree that a large proportion of my associates on this side of the House will not be very enthusiastic about any drastic handling of this subject, but I am perfectly certain that there is no man sitting on these benches who is not wholeheartedly with me in the desire to pursue an international policy that will make the extinction of the Army and Navy possible. Not one man. But what an outcry there will be! Hon. Members opposite will say: "Do away with our Navy! Do away with our Army! What use is a nation without these great implements of defence? You cannot risk leaving yourself exposed to all the dangers that would arise for any nation that has not a Navy and an Army." I put it to the House that the ownership and direction of the banking system in these days is of far more importance to the real life of the nation, to the day-today life of the nation and, in the ultimate result, plays a greater part in the question of peace and war than the existence of the Army and the Navy. The ownership of the banks, the direction of the banks, is of more importance to the welfare and safety of the nation than is the Army, the Navy, 294 or the Air Force. I leave that point with the suggestion that there is no hope for this nation of getting rid of any proportion of our great burden of debt unless the nation is prepared to shoulder the responsibility of running and directing its own banking system and using the credit and productive power of the nation, through the banking system, for general national purposes instead of for the profit of a few shareholders.
I come now to the question of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. In the Debate hon. Members have slid over this point. I note that the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that we have now got the cost of defence down to £117,000,000, or thereabouts, and that we have got it down to the bare level of safety. I was in this country in 1914. I remember the early days of the War. I remember the speeches that were made at that time. I did not believe the stories that were told about that War being a war to end war; but there were tens of thousands of young fellows in this country who did believe it. Friends of mine, old pupils of mine, came to me with flashing eyes, with hearts full of hope. "We have joined the Army. We are going out to fight, not for any petty little thing, but to fight for world peace and world security." They believed that when they made their sacrifice no other human being would ever again be called upon to make the sacrifice. Out they went, and many of them never came back. Many of them came back shattered and maimed. Now, 10 years after the War, the horror of it has died down somewhat. The crudities and ugliness of it do not obtrude themselves upon us so strongly, and we sit here and quite calmly believe that when we are spending £117,000,000 on the implements of destruction we are down to rock-bottom. I am not going to accept that. I have met men from Sweden, from Denmark, from Holland, and from Switzerland, countries which have no defences worth talking about—
§ Mr. MAXTON
I see them strong and healthy and satisfied, going about their daily work and their common tasks without the dread or nervousness which seems to hang over this nation, and over every other nation which has armaments. They 295 are quite safe. The Noble Lord says that they have no responsibilities. I wonder what responsibilities we have.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I wonder for whom we are doing it, and against whom we are doing it? [An HON. MEMBER: "The Bolsheviks!"] It was the Germans before, and before that it was the French. Now it looks as if it was the United States of America, which would be a world tragedy in every sense of the term. This nation of ours has the foremost responsibility for the maintenance of and competition in armaments, and if we were brave enough and great enough to say that without respect to what anybody else did we were going to take bigger risks than ever for world peace I believe it would create a great and immediate response from the nations of the world, and this menace, this horror, would be removed from human life altogether. That is the other big item; armaments!
Then we come to the social services. I have heard it said in debate after debate and read it in article after article that there is a strong feeling in Conservative circles that if you carry public social services to too great an extent that you demoralise the people by giving them doles. I agree with that to this extent, that you demoralise people by giving them inadequate doles, and I want to see the social services of this country developed and extended to a point which they have never reached before. There is a great taxable margin in the realm of super-tax payers still to be explored, still to be used. I was amazed to find that in spite of the perpetual wailing of the super-tax payers that the burden of taxation on the super-tax payer as a super-tax payer is only about two shillings in the £—a disgraceful and shocking state of affairs. It means that 94,000 people—does the Secretary of State for War question it?
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Sir Laming Worthington-Evans)
I was not questioning anything.
§ Mr. MAXTON
The right hon. Gentleman had a very querulous look on his face. It means that 94,000 people last year walked away with £540,000,000. 296 That is more than the nation pays in War Debt, five times what we are paying in armaments, and more than we pay on our social services. It means that 94,000 people, the population of one comparatively small town, walked away with £540,000,000 and we, the representatives of the common people are supposed to accept that as being the settled and final state of society. I do not accept it. Not one of the men who puts these millions into his pocket does not do so by the social efforts of the whole community. It has become impossible to pick out particular articles and say, this man is responsible for producing that, and this man is responsible for producing this; the total wealth production of this nation is the result of the corporate efforts of its organised citizens, and the wealth that is produced should go back into the public purse and then flow out into the homes of the people making it absolutely certain that every citizen in the land has an income which will enable him to live in physical efficiency and comfort. I do not intend to make any prophecies about the future. I am, glad that every hon. Member who has spoken has been optimistic in regard to the future. They believe that the future is full of hope. I do so too. Only this week there came back to this country Major Segrave who accomplished the amazing miracle of travelling 230 miles an hour; there came back from India an aeroplane which has accomplished the journey in amazing time, and a voyager at the South Pole has been listening to a wireless concert in New York. All these things have happened this week, and they are all evidences of the capacity of man to master the laws and forces of nature.
In the face of these facts the human race has every right to be optimistic about the future of the world, but nobody knows how industry, trade and commerce, is going to develop in the next few years. A process called rationalism is proceeding in industry, but we do not know what rationalism means in the minds of the people who are trying to carry it out, and a number of those who are trying to carry it out do not know, in their own minds, what they are doing it for. It is absolutely wrong that this process should proceed and the nation, the organised state, should have no concern about the ultimate end. I do not know what is 297 going to come out of all this. The Chancellor of the Exchequer does not know, nobody in this House knows. I know what I want to come out of it, and in that respect I am in advance of many hon. Members opposite. I know the form of society that I want. All we can say is this, that the changes which are taking place will mean a greater production of goods with a smaller expenditure of human labour; greater production and swifter distribution. All these changes mean that tremendous displacements and disturbances are going to take place and that heavy burdens are going to fall mainly on the common people. It is the duty of this House here and now to say that while these changes are taking place in the forms of our industrial organisation that the burden shall not be borne by the poorest and the weakest.
The Committee will let me finish by saying this. During these last years there has been lacking an ideal for our nation. As a nation we do not know what we want to be at. The right hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Runciman) used a phrase yesterday, which I will not attempt to repeat in its actual phraseology, I do not want to score a point against him, about the payment of unemployment allowances, however necessary from the point of view of the relief given to human beings, creating no permanent assets. That is where I differ with the right hon. Gentleman. It seems to me that there lies the ideal for this nation; some definite thing for the nation to strive after; some worthy object to achieve. The creation of decent human beings is the creation of the most important national asset, and the whole of our public policy should be directed towards creating this asset in abundant quantities and the finest quality. We want men and women of sound physique. This nation knows how to get them. It can get them whenever particular financial opportunities are present. We want to get men and women of sound character; and we can get men and women or sound character if we direct our efforts to that end. We want men and women of intelligence and skill. The whole of our national power and effort should be directed towards this one aim and object, the creation of a population of strong, healthy, courageous and intelligent men and women. Germany in pre- 298 War days set about the creation of a nation of fighters, and did it. Japan, in the earlier days, set about changing the nation, awakening Japan from her oriental slumber and placing her alongside the progressive nations of the world. By a definite and co-ordinated national effort both these nations achieved their objective. I ask the Government to regard as the function of our national expenditure and the object of our efforts in this House, the creation of a population of men and women who can stand before the world and be pointed out as British, not a weed among them. That is the contribution I have to make to this Budget Debate.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
I should be trespassing too long on the patience of the House if I endeavoured to follow the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken in his long voyage from the South Pole to India or on the various topics that he touched upon. Perhaps it would he better if I confined myself to the Debate which has taken place upon the Budget and if I endeavoured to deal with some of the questions that have been asked. There has been a prolonged discussion again this year upon the alteration of the Sinking Fund. I do not complain of the discussion being prolonged, because this Fund is naturally one of the most important parts of our financial system and should be discussed and understood by all those who are responsible for the finance of the country. Last year a not dissimilar discussion took place, and I replied at some length in order to set before the House in detail the nature of the Sinking Fund and the provision that had been made. So, perhaps, I may be excused for being somewhat shorter now. I wish to remind the Committee, however, of some of the statements that were made last year.
The permanent arrangement made last year and passed into law by the Act then passed, provided for a fixed debt charge of £355,000,000 a year, to which was to be charged, in the order following, for different sets of payments, first, the debt interest other than the debt interest on Savings Certificates; secondly, the specific Sinking Fund attached to various loans, amounting to about £50,000,000; thirdly, the interest on Savings Certificates; and, fourthly, any balance after those three sets of payments had been 299 made was to be applied to the Sinking Fund. If in any year the sums were insufficient to provide for the payments in the order in which I have given them, power is contained in the Act to borrow for the payment on Savings Certificates.
That is the permanent arrangement of the fixed debt charge. But last year an addition was made to the £355,000,000 of a sum of £14,000,000, which was a little in excess of the transfer of reserve from the currency note account. So the fixed debt charge for the year just passed, instead of being the permanent amount of £355,000,000, was £369,000,000. The Chancellor of the Exchequer last year divided up that £369,000,000, and he told the House that he anticipated that £304,000,000 would be used for the payment of interest, leaving £65,000,000 for the Sinking Fund. That division was, as he stated, an estimated division. No actual undertaking was given that precisely those sums would be applied in those ways. I was asked a specific question by an hon. Gentleman opposite. I replied that if the interest was higher than anticipated during the year, the actual sum available for the Sinking Fund would be lower, but if on the other hand, the interest were lower, the residue which would be available for the Sinking Fund would naturally be higher. The results of this year show a variation of the estimate by £7,500,000. The right hon. Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman) asked me to say how that £7,500,000 was divided. He thought that the greater part of it was probably used for additional payments of Bill interest and a smaller part for other purposes. I propose to show him exactly how that figure was divided.
The amount allowed in the £304,000,000 for Savings Certificates, for interest, was £13,500,000. I am now giving round figures as near as possible to the half million. Actually the expenditure on interest on Savings Certificates was £18,000,000. That is a difference of £4,500,000. In addition, Treasury Bills cost £2,500,000 more than the estimate, and the remaining debt cost 8 million pounds. So that the £7,500,000 of variation in the method of applying the fixed debt charge is accounted for, as to £4,500,000 in interest of Savings Certificates, and £3,000,000 as additional in 300 terest on Floating Debt in the way that I have described. The excess of the Savings Certificates is really a matter of no financial importance. It has some importance because it enables hon. Members opposite to criticise our estimates. But it has no actual financial importance. The trouble with the Savings Certificates is that there is roughly £121,000,000 of accumulated interest in connection with those certificates. If the holders of certificates last year had claimed only the £13,500,000 as estimated, the heap of unpaid and accumulated interest attached to the Savings Certificates would not have been increased, but because they have claimed £4,500,000 more the liability remaining is reduced by that £4,500,000, and the heap of unpaid interest on certificates is reduced to that extent.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
I suggest that the real fact is that the accruing interest for any one year is in the neighbourhood of £20,000,000. What has happened is that if only £13,000,000 had been claimed, the accruing interest would have increased by £7,000,000, but in the existing circumstances, £18,000,000 having been paid, it has only increased by £2,000,000.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
I am not sure that I follow entirely what the hon. Gentleman says. It is not easy to follow a series of figures that I have not been able personally to consider. All that I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that to the best of my knowledge what I am now saying to the Committee is absolutely accurate. While it is material in one sense, it is only material in a minor sense how much was paid out of this fixed debt charge for interest on Savings Certificates. If it had not been that owners of these Savings Certificates came this year to present them for payment, that sum would not have been paid out of the fixed debt charge but would have remained a liability to be paid whenever holders of those certificates brought them to us. Surely that is exactly what I did say.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
If I did not say so, I meant to say so, and I am glad of the interruption of the hon. Gentleman because it has now enabled me to say what I did mean to say.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
It is rather an important point. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is in the main a book-keeping transaction. What was wrong in his statement was that he said that if the £13,000,000 had been paid off, then there would have been just the amount still owing for interest, the same, but as it was £18,000,000 it had been reduced. That was incorrect. It has been increased in either case, by £7,000,000 if £13,000,000 had been paid off, and by £2,000,000 if £18,000,000 had been paid off.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
If the hon. Gentleman has made it clear I am grateful to him. Let me put the matter in another way. The Chancellor of the Exchequer last year hoped that £78,500,000 would be available fox the Sinking Fund and the Savings Certificates. Actually there is available £75,500,000. For the Sinking Fund only there is a definite sum of £57,500,000, and that is in addition to paying nearly £4,500,000 of the accumulated arrears of Sinking Fund inherited from past years. Is that clear? Let us compare these figures with 1924. In 1924 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) provided for a Sinking Fund of £45,000,000, plus £7,000,000 for interest on Savings Certificates. It was not £7,000,000 that was really required, but about £18,000,000. He was therefore short by £11,000,000. Consequently the sum of £45,000,000 that he provided for the Sinking Fund was short by £11,000,000, and the only Sinking Fund that he actually provided was £34,000,000. I ought to add that there was a concealed Sinking Fund which brought the right hon. Gentleman's figures up to between £39,000,000 and £40,000,000.
That figure is strictly comparable with the figure of £57,500,000 which is the net sum available this year for the purpose of Sinking Fund. The right hon. Gentleman provided something under £40,000,000, and we are providing £57,500,000. I suppose that the temptation on the right hon. Gentleman and upon the right hon. Member for West Swansea to criticise this Sinking Fund is too great to enable them to leave it alone. The fixed Debt charge is, after all, the well known method of providing for the interest and for redeeming debt. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out last year, if 302 this were persevered in by successive Chancellors of the Exchequer, within 50 years the whole of the debt of the country would be redeemed. Also the fixed Debt charge is automatic in action. In an automatic fixed Debt charge you have to be prepared to take the rough with the smooth. This year, interest rates having been higher, the actual sum available for Sinking Fund is rather lower. Another year interest rates may be lower and the amount available for Sinking Fund will be higher. You are bound to take the rough with the smooth, relying upon the fact—and it is a fact—that within a period of 50 years the whole Debt will be repaid if the £355,000,000 is maintained.
Really there is something more to commend the fixed Debt charge than has yet been observed. When the interest is high, there is a lesser Sinking Fund, but if the interest is low there is a greater Sinking Fund. That is the very time when you want to deal with debt. It is applied at the right time, because, when the interest is lower, there is a better chance of bringing about a conversion of the higher interest-paying debt, and at that time you want to strengthen your Sinking Fund, and you want then to make it apply in the most powerful possible manner. I pass from the Sinking Fund to the question of the rates of interest, for which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea blames the Government. He blames the Government as being the cause of the high interest rates. He says that the real reason for them is that the Chancellor has not actually been wiping out debt—that he has been creating debt as rapidly as he has been wiping it out. As the Chancellor himself stated, in our desire to induce a speedier return to prosperity and to diminish unemployment, we have ventured on a very considerable capital outlay in the last few years. We have initiated carefully considered schemes of housing, roads, and telephone and other developments. Altogether, the central and local Governments have provided some £400,000,000, which has been used for capital purposes.
Some of that money has come out of revenue, but, naturally, the greater part has had to be borrowed, and, no doubt, it is true that if no borrowings by the Government and by the municipal authorities 303 had taken place, the rate of interest would not have tended to rise. It might even have been lower. But is that the policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea? He opened his speech with what seemed to me to be a rather half-hearted approval of the plans of his leader, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). He said by way of approval that he thought that hundreds ' of thousands of unemployed would be given work as a result of his right hon. Friend's proposals, and he added for our information that those proposals were supported by the whole of his political associates. I said it was rather half-hearted because he hastened to add:I have never hesitated to say either here or elsewhere that there can be no permanent cure for unemployment except a general revival of trade in the country, in particular of our foreign trade."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1929; col. 141, Vol. 227.]But our foreign trade, as the right hon. Gentleman well knows, is built up by the money that we are able to lend abroad. Each year during the last few years the balance of trade, and the fund available for lending abroad, has been gradually, slowly, even painfully, increased until last year there was a balance of £149,000,000. How is it possible for the right hon. Gentleman to support the proposals of his leader? He complains that we borrow. He complains that the Government have been raising the rate of interest, and yet he supports—or he says he supports, and I am sure he does—his leader, whose proposals require borrowing, not on the scale on which we have borrowed, but borrowing £100,000,000 or £150,000,000 a year in addition to that which we have borrowed. There are experts besides the right hon. Gentleman who support these proposals. Mr. Keynes supports them, but he is very logical. He sees the difficulty. He supports them even though they would stop or interfere with the export trade. He quite realises that. He warns you further that if you are going to borrow in that way, you have to be prepared to pay a rate of interest in competition with foreign borrowers. Mr. Keynes' opinion is worth having. Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to 304 support his leader's proposals if they necessitate loans obtained in competition with foreign borrowers? Is that going to reduce the rate of interest payable by the Government in respect of these schemes?
The right hon. Gentleman wants to have the best of both worlds. It would have been all right if he had not explained how he is going to do it, but he has explained how he is going to do it. He does not approve of financing measures for dealing with unemployment out of borrowed moneys, but, he says, there is a sum of £60,000,000 now being distributed among the unemployed. He is not quite right in that figure. It is not £60,000,000. Last year, which was one of the worst years for unemployment, the amount actually distributed among the unemployed was £44,300,000. Of course, the difference is only a matter of £16,000,000 and the right hon. Gentleman shrugs his shoulders.
I do not dispute the figure at all, but what about the Poor Law relief of able-bodied unemployed which is going on all over the country?
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
May I show the right hon. Gentleman how it is proposed to work out his scheme? He is going to use this sum for the purpose of financing the plans of his leader. He is going to use the £44,000,000 now distributed among the unemployed for the purpose of financing road schemes—and not content with that, he is going to rehabilitate the canals out of the same sum of money. I wonder what is going to happen to the other unemployed, who are not given work upon road or canal schemes. At the best, even assuming that you could employ 5,000 people for every £1,000,000 used, you would be employing 220,000 people and you would be leaving out many more who have contributed week by week in insurance in order to get the right to have payments out of the Unemployment Fund. You would be taking money which is now distributed among them in order to advance the plans of the right hon. Gentleman's leader. The right hon. Gentleman must make up his mind which way he is going to have it. He will find it impossible to be the economist he is and also a supporter of his leader.
305 Is it true that the Government are responsible for the higher interest rates? That is the charge which has been made against us. I say that, notwithstanding our borrowing, it is not true. From the introduction of the Budget last year, right down to the increase in the Bank rate in February of this year, interest rates have decreased, and Government and gilt-edged securities have increased in value. I take just a few examples. Four per cent. Consols in March, 1928, yielded £4 12s. 9d. per cent. On 31st January this year, before the Bank Rate was put up, they yielded £4 11s. War Loan went from £4 18s. 6d. to £4 16s. 8d., and 4½ per cent. Treasury Bonds from £4 15s. 6d. to £4 14s. 2d., showing that right through, after the Budget, after the Sinking Fund proposals were known, after the policy of borrowing by the Government and the municipalities was in operation, loans and gilt-edged securities went up and the rate of interest went down. What did cause the rise in the rate of interest? Everybody knows that it was nothing done by the Government. It was an extraneous circumstance altogether. It came from causes originating, not in this country but in America.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me a question about some minor changes which were announced by my right hon. Friend in his Budget Speech for the simplification of accounting. These changes were the appropriation in aid of Votes of receipts from fee stamps and contribution towards the cost of teachers' pensions, direct payment to the National Debt Commissioners of interest on unemployment borrowings and the adjustment of certain minor interest payments which appear on both sides of the Exchequer Account. The answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question is that these changes were made in the accounts of 1928, and they were, of course, continued in the accounts of 1929. Further, in every paper that has been published comparing the results of 1928 and 1929 with those of previous years, the changes have been carried back retrospectively so as to get a strictly comparable basis. I think that is the real point which the right hon. Gentleman wished to know. The necessary adjustments will be found in detail on page 2 of the White Paper No. 85.
306 I will now deal with a statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden). He said:When Members opposite are telling their constituents about the reduction of the Tea Duty I hope at the same time they will tell them about the £38,000,000 a year of indirect taxation which has been imposed upon the people during the last five years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1929; col. 122, Vol. 227.]I have always admired the right hon. Gentleman's audacity, and I have always suspected his accuracy, but I think now he has excelled himself. In the £38,000,000 he is including £15,700,000 from the Oil Duty, although that amount is directly balanced by the reduction in local rates. Is that part of the £38,000,000 an additional burden if it is balanced by a reduction of rates? I am certain that if somebody put £16,000,000 into one of my pockets I should forgive him for taking it out of the other, but the right hon. Gentleman does not take that view. He thinks it is an additional burden. He also includes £2,000,000 in respect of increases in the rate of duty on heavy motor vehicles in 1926 when, in fact, that did not go to the Exchequer at all, but to the Road Fund. The balance of his £20,000,000—the correct figure is £19,000,000 as the Chancellor said—includes the Betting Duty, the alteration of which had been announced before the right hon. Gentleman spoke. That leaves a figure of £17,500,000 out of his £38,000,000 to be accounted for. How is this £17,500,000 built up? As to £6,000,000, it is increases on wines, tobacco and matches. These taxes are not compulsory—not on everybody. They are much more than offset by the reductions in the Tea and Sugar Duties, which amount to 10⅓ millions. Then there is £6,000,000 on silk and artificial silk, £3,750,000 on the McKenna Duties, and £1,750,000 on Safeguarding Duties.
Let us examine these, and let us see the burden that has been placed upon the working classes by these duties. What burden does real silk represent? The average import prices for piece goods wholly of silk have fallen from 4s. 1d. per square yard in 1924 to 2s. 10d. in 1928. There is not much extra burden when the prices are reduced. But there is another side to this question. There is the employment given. Exports in value have 307 remained steady, but the net imports have declined from £22,000,000 to £14,000,000, and one prominent Continental firm has set up a large factory in Scotland for the weaving of real silk and is employing some 300 British workers there. That is something to go on with; it is better than nothing.
Let us look at artificial silk. The home price for artificial silk yarn has fallen by 35 per cent., so it is not very easy to find the burden there, when the price has been reduced by over one-third. The right hon. Gentleman said that the price of artificial silk yarn was 50 per cent. more here than the price of similar yarn in Continental countries. I have had inquiries made about that, and he is quite wrong. For a comparable standard yarn the prices in this country, exclusive of the 1s. Excise Duty, range from 3s. to 3s. 9d. The same standard yarn on the Continent had very nearly the same range, from 2s. 8½d. to 3s. 9d. There is a superior quality of yarn sold here at 4s. 3d., exclusive of the Excise Duty, but it is different in quality, and the proof of that is that there is a large export of that higher-priced yarn into foreign countries and that they pay the higher price in those countries, which they certainly would not do unless the quality was different from that which they can get at home. So, instead of the price being 50 per cent. higher here, as the right hon. Gentleman suggests, the range of prices is more or less the same, with the exception of that one superior quality yarn.
Now let us consider for a moment the social and industrial effects of this duty. The import of foreign artificial yarn has sunk to a quarter. British exports have increased by 50 per cent. Home production has been doubled. Some 20 or more British companies have been formed since July, 1925, to produce artificial silk in this country, seven Continental firms have established subsidiary companies in this country with the same object, and there has been a large increase in employment. The 46,000 people employed have now reached the higher total of 70,000. That is not throwing a burden on the people of this country. On the contrary, it is doing something considerable towards giving people employment in a skilled trade.
308 Then there are the McKenna Duties. As regards motor-cars, there have been substantial declines in prices; net imports have fallen, and exports, by value, have increased. Two important foreign manufacturers have already established factories in this country since 1925, and two others have announced their intention of doing so. Those are additional to the Ford Company, which has, however, floated a subsidiary company in this country with a capital of £7,000,000, and is putting up a new factory at Dagenham, in Essex. The prices of tyres have, on the average, been reduced by 15 per cent. since the duty was imposed in April, 1927, and, of course, these reductions in prices are partly due to the lower price of rubber, but, on the other hand, they are also partly due to the increased competition in this country, because the new tyre manufacturers have now reached the productive stage. Since the duty was put on, six factories have been established in this country by foreign manufacturers, four of which are already in production. There does not seem to be much burden on the people of this country either from the tax on motor-cars or from the tax on tyres, but, on the contrary, a great deal of additional employment has been given in those industries.
I could, if I had time, give a great many other instances of good and satisfactory results from the Safeguarding Duties, but when the right hon. Gentleman says that when we go on the platform in these next few weeks and remind people that the Sugar Duty has been reduced and the Tea Duty abolished, we should also draw attention to the £38,000,000 of increased burdens, as he calls them, I venture to think that £17,500,000 only can be so described, and, as to each one of the duties, I shall be delighted to remind the audience, not only that they have been imposed, but that they have been imposed with an enormous addition to employment and without harm to any industry in this country. I am so glad to be able to meet the right hon. Gentleman and agree to do what he desires me to do.
I turn now to the settlement of foreign debts. The right hon. Member for Colne Valley, in attacking the financial record of the Government, said that no more scandalous transaction had ever been carried through by a British Minister 309 than the settlement with our foreign debtors, and he proceeded to quote, somewhat inaccurately again, figures purporting to show that the United States had extracted out of France and Italy better terms than we had. His figures, if corrected, show that France's debt to us was £600,000,000 and Italy's £560,000,000, while the total payments due under the agreements with France and Italy are £800,000,000 and £248,000,000. France's debt to the United States was £827,000,000 and Italy's £420,000,000, while the total payments due under the funding agreements are £1,407,000,000 and £495,000,000 respectively. These figures of the payments due under the funding agreements by Italy and France to America are merely a lump sum total of all the annual payments to be made, year by year, over a period of 62 years, without any regard for the time of payment. In other words, the right hon. Gentleman has calculated that a payment of £10,000,000 made this year is equivalent to a payment of £10,000,000 due 60 years hence. He ought to know better. A fairer basis of comparison is to take the present value of the various settlements, and on this basis the French settlement with America represents 49 per cent. of their debt and the settlement with this country represents 47 per cent. of their debt; similarly, the settlement which was made by us with Italy is only slightly more favourable to Italy than that made by America.
The right hon. Gentleman made another mistake. He said that if we had the same settlements with our debtors as America has made with hers, we should have been getting £50,000,000 a year instead of £20,000,000. What are the facts? Up to date we have received a total of £30,000,000, whereas the United States have received £21,000,000, and in the current financial year we expect to receive £14,000,000, while the United States should receive £7,000,000. If we adopted the principle recommended by the right hon. Gentleman and applied to our debtors the same settlements as America has made with hers, we should receive, not £50,000,000, as he suggests, not £14,000,000, which we shall get, but only £6,000,000. All things considered. His Majesty's Government are satisfied that the existing agreements are a fair equivalent to the American settlements. These agreements were submitted to this 310 House and were discussed in this House. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman criticised them with some of his usual acidity, but he did not divide the House against them.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON EVANS
Because the right hon. Gentleman did not divide. He could surely have voted against them if he had wished.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
The agreements were submitted in the form of a White Paper, but the Government never brought them up for discussion before the House, and it was only on the initiative of the Opposition that a Debate was arranged.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
The right hon. Gentleman does not mean to say that if his leader had wished to have these put down, he could not have done so, that he had no opportunity of expressing his dissent from the action of the Government. Of course he had. At any time, if his leader had supported him, he could have had a motion of censure down, which would have stopped the Government, if he had succeeded, in carrying out these agreements. I am entitled to say, therefore, that these agreements were entered into with the general assent of an overwhelming majority of the House, and it is really too late now for the right hon. Gentleman to stigmatise these arrangements as discreditable or as still to be open for discussion. The agreements undoubtedly represented very large concessions on the part of this country, but, personally, I think my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was perfectly correct in taking the cash he did, even at the cost of the right hon. Gentleman's censure.
Now I come to the most serious aspect of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and I want to be very careful to pick my words. We were all greatly surprised and startled yesterday by the statement that the right hon. Gentleman made that he and his party would, 311 if returned to power, hold themselves free to repudiate the fundamental principle of the Balfour Note, namely, that Great Britain should take no more from Europe by way of debts and reparations than she requires to pay her own obligations to the United States. This principle has been for seven years the foundation of the treatment of European debt problems by every Government that has held office here. It has come to be generally recognised throughout Europe as a just and unchallengeable principle. It has been embodied in formal articles in both the agreements made for the settlements with Italy and with France. The settlement with Italy has been ratified. The settlement with France has not been ratified, but France has paid punctually, and we have every reason to believe will continue to pay the important sums agreed upon between the two countries.
The principle of the Balfour Note is the foundation of our policy towards the expert inquiry now proceeding in Paris. Great hopes have been attached to this expert Commission, not purely in the regions of finance, but as a further contribution to the appeasement o[...] Europe and the liberation of Germany from foreign occupation and financial control. It is surely a wanton and reckless act, in no way called for by anything that has occurred, for the right hon. Gentleman and his party now to threaten to repudiate the principle on which every forward step towards European reconstruction and peace has been taken. If such a declaration were persisted in, and Europe is led to believe that British policy in future may aim at obtaining larger payments from Europe on account of debts and reparations than are required from her by the United States, the utmost injury will be done not only to British interests, but to the wider interests of world peace. The Leader of the Opposition is, I believe, speaking later this evening in this Debate, and I ask him formally whether he accepts and endorses the declaration of the right hon. Member for Colne Valley, and if this constitutes the official policy of the Labour party?
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I do not, of course, rise for the purpose of dealing with the whole speech of the right hon. Gentleman, 312 but I must at once make some reply to the latter part of that speech. I must first of all say that I suppose I ought to be flattered that any observations of mine should have been the subject of a Cabinet discussion and of the Cabinet memorandum presented to the Committee. I do not intend to make any apology for what I said yesterday, or intend to withdraw a single word. I must express my surprise at the prominence and the attention that have been given to my remarks, for that was by no means the first time that I have made that statement in the House of Commons. I suppose that the reason why the party opposite, and I suppose the inspired Tory Press this morning, have given this prominence to my remarks, is because they realise the failure of the Budget as a whole, and they are anxious to discover some other electioneering stunt. If they want to raise this question of debt settlements, I shall be the last person to complain. The first people who ought to be anxious that the true facts of these transactions should be hidden from the country are those who are responsible for them. What is the policy of the Labour party? The policy of the Labour party in regard to debt settlements has often been stated. Our policy is that we would favour an all-round cancellation of debts and of reparations. That policy was enunciated in the concluding sentences of Lord Balfour's Memorandum. Probably hon. Members opposite, if they ever read that Memorandum, will have forgotten many of the points in it, and I may be pardoned, therefore, if I recall these lines to their recollection. He says:Speaking only for Great Britain, they content themselves with saying once again that, so deeply are we convinced at the economic injury inflicted on the world by the existing state of things, this country will be prepared, subject to the just claims of other parts of the Empire, to abandon all further rights to German reparations and to all claims to repayment by Allies provided that the renunciation will form part of a general plan by which this great problem can be dealt with as a whole for a final and satisfactory solution.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir Austen Chamberlain)
Why is it infamous?
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
It was not to that part of the Note that I applied the epithet "infamous," but to the other 313 part. I will come to that in a moment. That policy in regard to debts and reparations was the policy of the Labour party before Lord Balfour incorporated it in the last part of that Note. That is our policy still, but that is not the policy upon which our debt agreements and settlements have been based with the Continental nations. It is the other suggestion, the other proposal in Lord Balfour's Note, that if such a settlement as this, an all-round settlement, a cancellation of debts and reparation could not be secured, then we were to attempt a generous, magnanimous, spectacular policy of renouncing all claim to reparations and put upon ourselves a burden for the benefit of our Continental debtors—it is to that part of the Balfour Note that we are opposed, and to which we have always been opposed. The party opposite very often taunt this party with being the friends of every country but our own, but at any rate I am sufficiently of an Englishman not to be content to see my country and my people bled white for the benefit of other countries who are far more prosperous than ourselves. I come to what I said yesterday, to every word of which I stand. I see that many of the newspapers this morning have headings something like this: "Mr. Snowden repudiates Allied debt agreements." I did no such thing. What did I say? I will read every word of it.We have never subscribed, let it be remembered, to the principle of the Balfour Note. I think that was an infamous Note—as I said just now, that part of the Note which has been corporated in the Allied Agreements. Then the Chancellor said:The Labour party?and I said:The Labour party. Certainly we did not. And we should hold ourselves"—and this appears to be the word that has given rise to so much comment and advertisement—And we should hold ourselves open, if the circumstances arose, to repudiate the conditions of that Note."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1929; cols. 120–1, Vol. 227.]There is not a word there or a suggestion about the repudiation of the Allied debt settlements—[Interruption]. "If the circmstances arose." What are the circumstances which are likely to 314 arise, the circumstances which are bound to arise? Do the Government think that the present condition in regard to international debts and reparations is likely to be permanent? Is there any man who thinks that the debt agreements which have been made are going to remain in force without change, without modification, for the next 60 years? No! What is happening at the moment? The Expert Committee are sitting in Paris, and they are just as much concerned with the question of inter-allied debts as with the question of reparations settlement. A day on two ago statements appeared in the Press giving what purported to be the plan that had been submitted to Germany, and there, in future, German payments were to be divided between payments required for interest upon Allied debts, and payment for reparations simply. Therefore, this Expert Committee have re-opened the whole question of Inter-allied Debts, and whatever conclusion they come to now will not be a final settlement. The question is bound to arise, because we shall discover, as the years go by, where certain features of the settlement then existing are injurious to many of the parties who are associated with them. I went on—and let me repeat it in spite of the jeers of hon. Members opposite:And we should hold ourselves open, if the circumstances arose, to repudiate the conditions of that Note.Then the Chancellor of the Exchequer intervened, and I replied. May I say this—and hon. Members opposite will probably jeer again—that all that I said upon that point was spoken on the spur of the moment? It was not a considered statement, because it arose out of what the Chancellor said, but if I had had time to think—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"]—No, there is going to be no apology. I am not an apologising sort. If I had had time to think and to prepare the statement, I could not have improved upon a single word. Now, what did I say?Does the right hon. Gentleman"—that is, the Chancellor of the Exchequer—then maintain that an agreement which is made by a Government supported by a party which happens to have a temporary majority in the House of Commons commits every other party in the State to the confirmation and the acceptance of that agreement in the future? If that be so, it is a doctrine to which I cannot subscribe."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1929; col. 121, Vol. 227.]315 Well, now, what is wrong about that? Is there anything in that statement which is not in conformity with the policy in international relations? Is it not the common practice, the almost everyday practice, at the Foreign Office to enter into communications with foreign Governments in regard to the revision of treaties, the amendment of treaties, which have been found to be either a hardship or unworkable, and is the practice of denouncing treaties altogether unknown to the Foreign Office? It is perfectly absurd to say that an agreement which is made by a country or by a Government with another Government binds all future Governments to accept it and never to seek by negotiation for change in the conditions. Now, that is our policy. That is what I meant, indeed what I said, when I said:if the circumstances arose.If we were in office and the question of an amendment or a revision of Inter-Allied Debts arose, we should consider ourselves to be free to enter on those negotiations for revision without the halter of the Balfour Note tied around our necks.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I think we really must have a little more information about this subject, and must look into it a little more closely. There was one moment during the statement of the right hon. Gentleman when I thought he was going to do what everyone in this House, I think, almost in every quarter, would have liked to see him do—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
—admit that on the spur of the moment he went beyond what prudence requires and what is demanded of anyone who has the responsibility of having held high office under the Crown and of being among the official leaders of a party aspiring to office and to power. But the right hon. Gentleman only held out this hope in order to dash it to the ground. He said in the most brazen manner that even if he could have considered these matters with the utmost care, and cold and deliberate study beforehand, he could have found no form 316 of words more exactly capable of expressing his meaning than those which he used. Very well. Then let us look into these words with searching attention. I am anxious, above all things, that we should arrive at a perfectly clear understanding of what is the official policy of the Labour party in regard to the Balfour Note and the debt settlements. We have a right to know it. The country has a right to know, the House has a right to know, and the world has a right to know, what is the view which the official Opposition takes of the contractual and responsible and plighted obligations of the State. The right hon. Gentleman said, according to the OFFICIAL REPORT, which he has quoted:We have never subscribed, let it be remembered, to the principle of the Balfour Note. I think that was an infamous Note.I was astounded at that remark and I naturally asked—it naturally occurred to me to inquire—who was "We"? I said:The Labour party.The right hon. Gentleman then said:The Labour party! Certainly, we did not. And we should hold ourselves open, if the circumstances arose, to repudiate the conditions of that Note.The right hon. Gentleman has now given some account of the Note. He read out from it some admirable phrases with which he said he agreed, but he has not at all told the House what was the condition of the Note which he had in his mind that rendered it infamous and called for repudiation.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Pardon me. Let me go on a moment to the three or four lines in his speech before those I have quoted. I am astonished that the right hon. Gentleman should like to have those lines quoted, in a sense of relief to him, because they are the gravamen of the case against him. Three or four lines previously, which I carefully omitted to put to him till this moment, he used these words:Perhaps the worst feature of all in the agreements which the right hon. Gentleman has made is this: That if ever we get more from those annuities and German reparations than our payments to the United States we have to reduce the amount of the annuities to be received from our Continental debtors."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1929; cols. 120–1, Vol. 127.]317 It was to that, he said, "We have never subscribed." Let us see where we are. The right hon. Gentleman said the policy of the Labour party is to welcome a general cancellation of all these debts. How does he reconcile a wish for the general cancellation of all these debts with this strident assertion that he will insist, if he has the power, on reclaiming more from ruined Europe, wring harsher terms from ruined Europe, from Germany, from all the other countries on the Continent, even over and above the sums of money that we have undertaken to pay in our duty to the United States? That is the point which I am going to invite, and which the Government invite, the Leader of the Opposition to deal with.
We have had seven years of these arrangements on the Continent of Europe. Ever since the Balfour Note was written this country has been able to go into any international gathering with clean hands and a good conscience. There has not been any foreign country, even poor little countries from whom we had to demand payment of their war debts, countries which appealed in piteous terms for mitigation, to which we have not been able to say, "We have never taken and never will take a penny more from Europe than what is required, on the other hand, from ourselves." That has been the foundation of the decent relations of the people of this island and the Government of this country with all the Governments of Europe, and it has been, if not the sole foundation, at least the underlying principle, the accepted condition, of every one of those steps which have been taken in order to place the affairs of Europe on a more peaceful and solid basis. At this very moment in the international discussions which are proceeding among the Committee of Experts, of which, as my right hon. Friend has said, such high hopes are entertained—whether they will be realised or not I cannot tell—there is a recognition on the part of others and an assertion on the part of this country that the principles of the Balfour Note must be maintained; and, above all, we place the proud principle that we ourselves will make no profit or advantage out of this. We will take no more from our Allies or from our beaten enemies than is required to pay 318 our obligations. And here is the right hon. Gentleman, who comes forward as an advocate of a peaceful policy, who tries to make out that he and his party represent the true spirit of the League of Nations, deliberately saying that if the Labour party have power and office they will hold themselves free to repudiate the agreements that we have made with Italy and with France under which no more will be taken from them than is required by the United States, and will use his power, so far as he can, in order to extract larger sums of money and make a profit out of those terrible transactions.
There is one other remark which I must make before I sit down. The right hon. Gentleman used a word, a most offensive word, about a friendly nation and our nearest neighbour. He accused that nation of being "bilkers," or of "bilking"—an offensive, slang term from the gutter, used in order to convey hatred and contempt for a nation with whom we have the closest, most intimate and friendly relations, and with whom we have been through the most terrible ordeal of history. What is the use of using such a term? If any Member of a Government had used such an expression about a nation with whom we have relations, undoubtedly it would have been considered a fatal step in his career, and I think we have a right to ask of the Leader of the Opposition some similar attempt to preserve courteous relations between us and the—[An HON. MEMBER: "Russians."] We have no relations with the Russians.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
What about the £100,000,000 you spent in Russia. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] Order yourselves!
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
At any rate, I hope the last word has not been spoken on this matter. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has a responsibility. He has played a distinguished part in the appeasement of Europe, I have testified to it on other occasions. I have never failed to testify, nor has my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, to the great contribution of the Agreement of London which inaugurated the Dawes Scheme. He tells us again and again that he hopes and expects to be again entrusted with power. 319 Whether that be so or not has yet to be determined, but at any rate for his own sake and for the sake of his party, for the sake of the cause of Europe, I invite him to give a more loyal and faithful answer to the question which has been formally put to him than we have received from the right hon. Gentleman.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MacDONALD
I am in a bit of difficulty as I have to speak later on, and I want to know whether this is an interjection in the Debate or a continuation of it. Perhaps I had better speak later on and deal with the general subject, but, in the meantime, I would say that I had hoped that right hon. Members opposite, while protesting such wonderful adherence to a careful and delicate handling of the situation, would not descend to tub-thumping humbug about it. I have always paid my tribute to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary for what they have said about what I did in 1924, and I should like to continue to do it, but, if the right hon. Gentleman imagines that the sort of rhetoric he has used to raise nothing but prejudice and to make a mere electioneering point, and in doing it to encourage the making of bad blood—[Interruption]—between France and ourselves. The speech we have just heard is nothing but an encouragement for the making of bad blood and a situation more difficult than it is in order to advance purely partizan considerations. [Interruption.] Hon. Members can take up any attitude they like. One is indifferent to it, but I utter a most solemn and sincere protest against the tub-thumping method of the Chancellor in the speech which he has just delivered. The subject of inter-Allied debts will be dealt with by me in due course.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
The right hon. Gentleman in his few observations has inquired whether this is an interruption or a continuation of the Debate. We have been discussing for the last hour or so by far the greatest question that has been discussed in this House for some time past. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) yesterday described the 320 document which for seven years has been before the world as the accepted statement of the policy of the British Government as an infamous document. Today, he has explained that not all of the document is infamous, and he has defined the particular clauses to which he thinks that epithet can justly be applied. They are those clauses in which Lord Balfour, then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, informed other nations that His Majesty's Government would require no further payment in the form of reparations from Germany or repayment on account of War debts from our former Allies than was required to cover the payments we have ourselves to make to the United States. It is that pledge to take no more than we need to pay the debt exacted from us that has been the basis of every step in the financial reconstruction of Europe since the pledge was first published, and for all the political structure of peace to which those financial agreements formed a necessary prelude, and it is this document, that we will not take more from others than we need to pay our own debt, that the right hon. Gentleman yesterday for the first time announced to the world was an infamous agreement which he will repudiate whenever he has the authority.
I am not going to use any street corner or tub-thumping language—I leave that to other people—but I say deliberately, as Foreign Secretary, that no worse day's work has been done in any Parliament, no greater injury has been caused to the progress already accomplished, or which we hope to accomplish in the next few months, than in the rash words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley, and I beg the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Labour party, who has held the office I now hold, and who knows the difficulty and delicacy of the international situation, to speak before this Debate ends words of reassurance to the world, telling them that, whatever party is in office, England will keep her word, so that the world shall continue to have faith in our good name.
I do not rise for the purpose of offering any comment upon the statement made yesterday or to-day or of expressing any judgment on the agreements which have been entered into 321 either in Europe or in America. There have been grounds in the past for criticism of all these, but we wish to make it clear here and now, not only in this House but in the hearing of Europe, that so far as we are concerned we should not depart from the doctrine of continuity of contractual international obligations entered into in our name by the Government of the day whether we agree with that Government or are opposed to that Government. It seems to me of the first importance that we should not neglect that expression of view in order that the world may realise that once Great Britain has put her name to an undertaking, she will carry it through in spite of vicissitudes of political fortune.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
The House has passed through a sort of electioneering thrill and crisis and the leading combatants have thrown themselves into the struggle with all that avidity we should naturally expect in view of forthcoming events. I desire to make a reference to the Betting Duty and particularly to the way in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his announcement. He said:Here was a project which had behind it a greater backing of public opinion, so far as the newspaper Press expresses public opinion, than any other project of taxation of which I have hoard. Newspapers as widely separated in view as the 'Morning Post,' the 'Star,' the 'Spectator' and the 'Church Times' ardently advocated the duty on betting…. That duty is being paid exclusively by the honest bookmaker—who has been unable to avoid it. The very fact that he has paid the tax has placed him at an invidious disadvantage compared with more slippery and unsubstantial rivals. I shall say with the great Burke, 'If I cannot have reform without injustice I will not have reform.' "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th April, 1929; col. 49, Vol. 227.]The reading of that statement did not convey anything like the impression that the Chancellor of the Exchequer usually succeeded in making. Here was a great statesman, one who had been led along a new line of taxation upon which he had been supported by those various Press organs, including the "Church Times," quite frankly saying that the Government were going into it and were going to share in the gains arising from it. When I heard him speaking a minute or two ago with all that earnestness and fervour which he can assimilate, I could not help contrasting it with his attitude 322 on the former occasion. He told us that on this question the world had been startled. Anyone who knows the Chancellor of the Exchequer can quite understand the rhetorical flights into which he can throw himself in regard to any political situation.
Let me take the other picture. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that the whole project of the Betting Duty was a fiasco, but, he says, "We are going to stick to it in some way, and make some money out of it." The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the bookmakers as a "volatile and elusive" community trying to escape taxation, and he described one section, of them as being still more desperate in their efforts to get rid of any taxation on betting. That shows the depth of political degradation to which a statesman can sink for the sake of office. Why have we not heard about the unemployed and the betting business? What employment is there in this business? No less than £300,000,000 a year is expended on a procedure which cultivates this appalling evil in our midst. This is a terrible drag and a terrible embargo upon the masses of the people, and it retards especially anything in the way of finding employment.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer devoted his speech on Monday last very largely to sheer electioneering in his endeavour to bring about the intervention of the leader of the Liberal party, but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) ignored the right hon. Gentleman's efforts in that direction. The Chancellor of the Exchequer taunted the leader of the Liberal party about his idea of raising £200,000,000 on loan in order to find employment for the people. Has the right hon. Gentleman ever applied his mind to the fact that the money which is now going in the direction of the bookmakers' class with whom he is politically associated is a huge national wastage. I should have thought that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who a few moments ago gave us such a demonstration of his intense anxiety to prevent an international disaster, would have given some consideration to that fact. I should have thought that he would have been willing to condemn that national wastage in the same language as he has criticised the 323 words which have fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden). If we had had another type of Churchill, I am sure he would not have adopted the policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and we should have had a man closely devoted to the application of a principle and the conservation of the best interests of the nation, the grouping of the collective moral forces, who would have appealed to all parties to constitute a united front against the continuation of the betting evil. Instead of taking that course, the right hon. Gentleman pursued the broad road, and, in playful fashion, he referred to the Leader of the Opposition as being "a parasite of damnation." The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in explaining why he proposed the withdrawal of the Betting Duty, saidIt is in the common interest that we cannot afford to have the ideals of great parties debased in this manner. We must not lead the weaker brethren into temptation. We must not expose a young, new, callow, half-fledged organisation to the seductions to which, in their immature state, they will infallibly succumb, and it is out of consideration largely for that, and for their reputation, that I have decided that the turnover duty upon betting should be immediately repealed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th April, 1929; cols. 49–50, Vol. 227.]That is all in the vein of a political criticism of the Opposition party. We all recognise that the early approach of the General Election was the special reason for taking that line of criticism and comparison in order to make a reflection upon the Labour party. I should like to have seen at the earlier stages of this Betting Duty the same position taken up seriously by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I should have thought that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have been anxious that the Labour party as well as any other party should be saved from falling into the declivity into which we have sunk as a nation.
Criticisms were made from the Labour Benches concerning the remission of the rates in the case of breweries and tobacco manufacturers. At any rate, that criticism has gone home because the Conservative party thought it would be a damaging factor against them at the election from a moral standpoint. Consequently, this expert political juggler says, "I will rearrange that business." 324 The Chancellor of the Exchequer received a strong protest from some of his colleagues below the Gangway regarding a suggestion which he made to meet the difficulty, and he was told that the representatives of the brewing trade would refuse to accept it. The result was that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made an arrangement with the brewers, distillers, and tobacconists, under which he would give back to them exactly the amount which he took from them under the de-rating proposals. This has turned out to be a two-fold advantage to the brewers, as was pointed out by the right hon Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley in his brilliant speech yesterday, in which he showed very clearly to those who have an inner knowledge of the liquor traffic that what the Chancellor of the Exchequer suggested is merely a remission of duty to the licence holder which would be passed on to the brewers and manufacturers.
There has not been the same consideration shown to the ordinary trader, although the Chancellor of the Exchequer has succumbed to the appeals made for the half-bottle. Appeals have been made from time to time by the publicans and traders that something should be done to relieve the situation for the trade in order to get more business, but the right hon. Gentleman's answer has been, "Nothing doing just now." The man who is merely the cat's-paw of the great brewing and distilling interest, whose name is over the door of the public-house, can still be kicked out and is being kicked out in the same ignominious fashion as their own customers are put out from time to time. The Chancellor of the Exchequer proceeded to deal with this question as if he were a temperance reformer. We heard a good deal of that kind of thing at one time in Dundee, but it was soon dissipated. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said yesterday that there had been a considerable change in the temperance position, and the people were not consuming so much liquor as they used to do; and he finished up by announcing the abolition of the Tea Duty.
The right hon. Gentleman did not take any cognisance of certain facts, and one of them is the heavily depressed condition of our legitimate industries in contrast 325 with the booming brewery businesses to which he has given some additional relief. We all know that whenever a Chancellor of the Exchequer is able to report that our legitimate industries are booming we shall have a much larger liquor bill. The liquor trade have made over £24,000,000 profit in the last few years. If the change is made which has been asked for by the trade undoubtedly the liquor bill will go up as it has done in every such cycle in the past. Nobody on the Front Bench will contend that bookmaking is an established productive industry. It is sweeping in millions of money as sheer waste. Betting and the liquor business are two of the most formidable factors in the depression of our employment market to-day. The Government bring forward these little proposals and schemes in the Budget for handling the situation, and the Liberal party have some sort of proposals. The Labour party, apparently, have reached the stage when, after having considered every kind of resolution that can be thought of, they have concluded that the best thing to do is to relegate the whole matter to a Royal Commission—a marvellous piece of strategy!
The late Mr. Keir Hardie said that, if the Labour party could not face the drink question, their sincerity would be tested, and they would fail in regard to other great national issues. I listened this afternoon to the speech of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), and I agree with a great deal of what he said about our financial business. The Secretary of State for War or any other Member of the Government can argue about this part of the Budget against the other part, but there is not a shadow of doubt that the financial system upon which what we call our civilisation works is, on the authority of Professor Fisher, an international swindle. I have quoted the authority of Professor Fisher before in the House, and I had the agreement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley that Professor Fisher is a very able man and that I was not unduly emphasising his authority.
Bankruptcies, unemployment, and the whole catalogue of disaster on a colossal scale, can be and are produced because of the power of the force, insignificant numerically, which controls the financial and banking interests of our country, and can play ducks and drakes with the 326 whole interests of our nation at large. When we are going to get rid of this tremendous weight that presses upon us in regard to our National Debt, it is difficult to say, but I am impressed by the comparison which was made some time ago, and not for the first time even then, that, while we conscripted young men in the heyday of their life and sent some of them to their doom, while others were damaged for life physically, while businesses were brought to a termination, here we have in our National Debt system a continuous plan of payment to people who have profited substantially by the whole business of the War.
The hon. Member for Bridgeton made a wonderful contribution when he showed what had been done by Germany in utilising her millions of men as a powerful fighting machine, and in the same way by Japan, whose people had been brought out of their oriental slumber and made to fight, to struggle, and to take their place among the nations of the world from a physical standpoint. I make this further logical deduction from the speech of the hon. Member for Bridgeton, that what we can do and what we have been doing in the world of science, illustrated, as he says, during the past few weeks by Major Segrave's great feat of driving a motor at 231 miles an hour, by the flight from India, and so on, sets before us an ideal; but there must be something more. The Hon. Member's climax was right as far as it went, but I submit that we must build our nation on a foundation of righteousness; that we must lead our people along the paths of sobriety, moral principles, courage and devotion to the highest interests of mankind; that we must not say that, no matter to what sort of immorality the nation may fall, the nation is prepared to go as far as its so-called leaders in regulating the business that produces criminality.
The basis upon which the election will be conducted is what is likely to tickle the people, what the people are likely to be seduced to accept, what the people are likely to agree upon; and the Government are going to give their souls and their bodies to get votes and to win seats. That is the plan of the Government concerning the betting business, and there was no answer to the Chancellor of the 327 Exchequer from the Labour party when he gave the challenge that they were not going into the Lobbies with the intention of prohibiting the betting business. He gave the exact answer himself to anyone who should dare to say that it could not be stopped. He said that it could be stopped; he showed how it could be kept down. It was an encouragement to us that in this House we had extracted from the Chancellor of the Exchequer a statement of the correctness of the position, which we maintain against all parties in the House, that we must stand up against the iniquities of our time, in our time, now.
My conception of the future of our country is not in the optimistic vein that I have heard from both Front Benches. I do not like the look of our position at all; I do not think that things are shaping well; I think that, so far as operations in the political sphere are concerned, we are losing the solid foundation of moral principles. We have not the faith, we have not the courage, to stand up to these things and tell the people what is absolutely essential. We fear, we quiver, we surrender, because of the prospect that we may lose votes. It has been said that man shall not live by bread alone, and I submit that neither should the politician live by votes alone. I admit that this does not sound practicable, that it does not sound like what are called up-to-date politics, but the only basis upon which we can build is Christ Himself, the Way, the Truth and the Life, and we may rest assured that that Government or that party, of whatever nation, which cannot follow Him, is bound to go under, as other nations have in the, years that are past.
§ Captain EDEN
No doubt the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour) will forgive me if I do not attempt to follow him in his description of the good or evil effected by the liquor trade in this country, and still less in the religious references with which he concluded his speech. I would rather hark back to the opening sentences of the hon. Member's speech, for, after all, they were, I think, those which concern us most at the moment. He expressed some little surprise that a few moments before there had been a dramatic incident in this 328 Chamber, but somehow I do not think that that surprise would have been shared by the Leader of the Opposition. I was in the House yesterday when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) made his speech, and I heard his observations in reference to the Balfour Note. I thought I must have misheard, but this morning, when I got my copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT, it unfortunately confirmed my impression, and I do not think that the Leader of the Opposition could have been very surprised when the Secretary of State for War asked for some further light as to the meaning which lay behind the words of the right hon. Gentleman yesterday. Let it be confessed that, so far as we have had any explanation, the explanation makes the original statement more unfortunate even than before.
The reason why we on this side, like, I have no doubt, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Buxton), who is now on the Front Bench opposite, feel some anxiety as to the effect of the words of the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, is this: There is no one who does not appreciate the sense of relief that was felt throughout Europe when we achieved a settlement of inter-Allied indebtedness. It is not a very pleasant thing to be owed money by one's friends, and it is even less pleasant to owe money to one's friends. Both forces were at work in Europe until quite recently, when the final settlement of inter-Allied indebtedness removed at least that problem from the sphere of our international difficulties. Surely, however, this further fact has to be remembered, that, supposing that we had not achieved, as the right hon. Gentleman would have us believe, such results in that settlement as the United States of America had achieved, we should, were we to be so unwise as to re-open this issue at the present time, undoubtedly do our trade infinitely greater harm by re-opening the question than any benefit we could ever hope to reap, even were we to receive full payment of every farthing owed to us. Anyone who has watched the course of international relations in recent years cannot but have been relieved to see this unpleasant problem removed from our midst, and it is to me incredible that one who has held such a high office as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for 329 Colne Valley should once again deliberately drag this issue up and expose us to all the uncertainties and consequent dangers which must inevitably follow.
That, however, is not by any means the worst of the right hon. Gentleman's statement yesterday on inter-Allied indebtedness. His discussion of these terms was bad enough, but very much worse were his observations on the Balfour Note. The Balfour Note, ever since it became the basis of British policy in the matter of inter-Allied indebtedness, has also formed the basis of discussion in Europe aimed at the achievement of progress in this matter of post-War economic reconstruction. In fact, the Balfour Note may be called probably the chief, at least one of the chief, foundation stones upon which the structure of economic Europe has been rebuilt since the Armistice. Now the right hon. Gentleman, by what he deliberately said to-day, has struck a blow at this foundation stone and, if he has not sent the building toppling, it is only because he has not yet the power or authority apparently to do so, but he has certainly shaken it, and I deeply regret the consequences of those words. I sincerely hope the Leader of the Opposition will repudiate every word of this statement. I cannot see what other course lies open to him, in view of his own record when he was at the Foreign Office.
I should be sorry indeed to think that all this work, so long and so carefully achieved, was now to be lost. It would be surely a pity if we were to repeat the history of 10 years ago. Ten years ago the right hon. Gentleman who sits at the corner of that bench went to the country with the slogan, "Make Germany pay." I hope the Leader of the Opposition will not substitute for it, "Make our friends pay, and pay more than the terms we have agreed with them a short while ago." This question is so much more important than the ordinary matters we may discuss within the scope of the Debate, that I must apologise for adding, even from so uninformed a source, some words to the discussion. I only further add this. If the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer feels such resentment at the terms granted to France and Italy that his ire boils within him, that is bad enough, but it is perhaps excusable. But when he combines sud 330 denly and most unexpectedly a John Bull aggressiveness with a Shylock sinister cynicism, the combination is not one which the country would approve or which will raise our credit abroad. Particularly, I deprecate such a sentence as this:If it had not been for British help, financial and human, France would not be an independent country to-day."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1929; col. 120, Vol. 227.]If it had not been for French resistance, would Great Britain have been an independent country to-day? What is the use, when you are making a common effort in a common cause, to cash your effort for it in terms of money? That, unfortunately, is the mistake which underlay the speech which we heard yesterday. I could not help feeling that if the right hon. Gentleman had come forward in the War days more wholeheartedly on the side of the Allies he might not have felt so bitterly now against France.
I will not add anything further on that subject It is a relief to pass from the mischief of the right hon. Gentleman to the relief we enjoy in the Budget. We all welcome the abolition of the Tea Duty. Some of us welcome it more than others. Some of us welcome it sincerely, while others welcome it with the fear that those outside may welcome it still more, but whatever the particular attitude which tempers our welcome, we are all glad of the relief. May I add that, as we are to enjoy this relief, the time is probably opportune to draw attention to the share of the burden borne by direct taxation. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor said we cannot expect any relief from direct taxation until we can effect some conversion operation. Are we not in danger there of entering a vicious circle? It is undoubtedly true that a high rate of direct taxation militates against the purchase of gilt-edged securities. Money tends to seek methods of capital appreciation which are more easily found in more speculative stocks than in gilt-edged securities. So long as you have high direct taxation, so long at the same time will you discourage investment in gilt-edged stock. Are we not in danger of entering this vicious circle and, if that is so, how are we to cut it? There seems to be only one way and that is for the next Conservative administration during the next five years to devote its efforts continuously to reducing, fragment by 331 fragment, our expenditure until such time as it is in our power to make a material, though small, reduction in the actual burden of direct taxation. Otherwise we must remain in this position that we must try to convert our loans profitably, that we cannot do so while the present burden of direct taxation is so high, and that we cannot reduce the burden of direct taxation because the rate we have to pay for our loans is so great. We must cut that circle, and we can only do it in that way.
But there are perhaps other directions, in addition to the direct reduction of taxation, in which the Government may assist industry. May I suggest one or two which come to my mind? We are living in a world where competition for such markets as are available is becoming increasingly severe. To take one example, in the United States, Mr. Hoover, while at the Department of Commerce, instituted an attempt to secure a greater portion of the world's trade for American exports. It is hardly to be supposed, now that Mr. Hoover is President of the United States, that he will be any less anxious than he was before to further the interests of American trade. Equally, with steady recovery, Germany will enter more effectively into competition. There is nothing, of course, injurious in all this. The greater the production the greater the efficiency and the greater the development of the wealth of the world. But are we quite sure that we are in a position to secure a maximum share of that wealth? I sometimes wonder whether it is true that our financial and our industrial interests are working as closely hand in hand as perhaps they might. Are we sure that they always work side by side and do not sometimes get in each other's way, or even turn and snarl at each other, while the prey escapes and falls a luscious morsel to some better regulated jaws? At least that is a matter which deserves our earnest consideration for, if it is true that our financial industrial and fiscal policy is not being closely coordinated, we are deliberately placing a handicap upon British industry in a world where competition is very keen. It is arguable whether it is sound or unsound financial policy to set aside any portion of foreign loans raised in this country to be used exclusively for the assistance of British manufacturers I believe the 332 correct academic view is that you should never attempt to earmark the use to which any foreign loans are being put, because the normal result of economic forces will be that those loans will accrue to you in your export trade. That is probably generally true, but is it absolutely true to-day?
There are two conditions which make us doubt it. The first is this. It is not the practice of our competitors. The United States to-day earmarked a certain proportion of foreign loans which are only to be spent on the produce of American industry. Does not that raise a different position? There are countries in South-East Europe which are gradually emerging from the post-War depression and beginning to establish themselves and looking round in search of loans. Should we not, in granting those loans, be careful to ensure that British industry derives the maximum benefit from them? These are important considerations. I will suggest one more. Whether it is right or not that any percentage of the foreign loans raised in this country should be earmarked exclusively for British production, it must be undeniable that the greater the amount of these foreign loans the better, and every encouragement should be given to the raising of them in London. So far from encouragement, there is actually a tax in force which discourages the issuing of foreign loans in London. There is a 2 per cent. tax on all foreign loans raised in England. Is there any connection between the fall that has taken place in the number of loans floated in London and the existence of that tax? Since the War the Argentine has borrowed £70,000,000 in New York and nothing in London. No one can tell me that that is because the countries of South America do not want to float their loans in London. So far as sentiment enters into it, public opinion in South America is not anxious to incur any more commitments than it can help in New York and would infinitely prefer to borrow the money in London. Can it, therefore, be that it is due to the incidence of this 2 per cent. tax that these loans are being floated in New York instead of London? If it is true that trade follows loans—and I think it is axiomatic—there is something extremely disconcerting in this position where you see loans being raised in New York and trade 333 moving to New York. The Colwyn Committee dealt with that question and said:We have not viewed the Stamp Duty with much favour. If the 2 per cent. duty on bearer bonds be detected as having a material influence on foreign loans, then the rate of duty should be lowered.We shall have next year, I presume, another Conservative administration introducing another Conservative Budget. In the meanwhile will my right hon. Friend concentrate his attention upon considering whether or not the effect of this duty should be further examined? The closer relationship of our financial, fiscal and industrial operations is so vital to our success in a highly competitive world that the Government might do well to turn their attention even to these two small aspects of an all important question.
May I make one general observation? We have heard some criticisms of the Budget in the last few days. As I have listened to them, it seemed to me that hon. Members opposite were rather prepared to criticise my right hon. Friend for having failed to achieve the impossible than to examine the actual proposals which he had been able to carry through with the meagre material at his disposal—not quite the same thing. We should not altogether lose sight of actualities. Hon. Members opposite, when they give us a vigorous criticism of our financial proposals, do so sometimes with a titter, if not in their voices at least at the back of their minds, realising that they, too, bear some share of responsibility for the actualities within which the Chancellor has to confine his efforts. They, of course, fully appreciate that. I wonder sometimes whether they should not come down to the Budget Debates bearing in mind their £80,000,000 responsibility, like the burghers of Calais, barefooted, with ropes—silken ropes if you like—round their necks, offering a humble apology to my right hon. Friend, not for a gallant defence but for a supine ineptitude in the hour of crisis which has cost the country so great a price. Every Socialist administration, and not only every Socialist administration but the Socialist party In the present generation, should listen to every Budget upon its knees until it has made atonement for the losses which it has brought about. I trust that 334 the country when it comes to judge this Budget will judge it not as the ideal which a Conservative administration would have preferred to bring in had times been normal, but as a sensible, carefully calculated effort to do the best that lay in their power with such means as Socialism has left to the country.
§ Mr. BROMLEY
I might not have taken part in this Debate but for the earlier remarks of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Captain Eden). I am not greatly surprised at them, because we quite realise, in view of the grave danger to the Conservative party of the approaching General Election, that when the Front Bench lions roar, the smaller quadrupeds are bound to roar in the same strain. As a member of the Labour party, I want to protest against these Pecksniffian, dramatic gestures because my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) has let a breath of fresh air and truth and common sense into our international relationships. It is nauseating to some of us to see statesmen hold up their hands, which in the past have not, possibly, been as clean with respect to diplomatic relationships as they would have us believe, in pious horror at some straightforward speaking from the Labour side of the House. I do not think that the right hon. Member for Colne Valley will need my defence or the defence of anyone but his own ability and power, but I do want to repeat that it is nauseating to hear this sacrosanct declaration of the faith of Great Britain in the past.
I will say at once that there is no one more jealous of the honour of Great Britain than the Labour party. It has not been the people of Great Britain who have made international agreements and secret treaties which have led this country into bloody and unexpected wars. It has been a few imaginative officers of the Government. The Labour party will quite safeguard the country's honour. It will safeguard the honour of the whole-nation—not so much the honour of statesmen who make treaties and understandings, upon which the people of this nation, or even the Members of this House know nothing whatever. It is within the recollection of all of us that since the Great War many reputations both of military men and of statesmen 335 have come toppling down, and little of the truth has filtered through to the public. Some of us on these benches know more of the truth than has filtered through to the public. I do not consider that all British statesmen have held up the dignity and unsullied escutcheon of Great Britain. Because the right hon. Member for Colne Valley undertakes to criticise some agreements in the past, this nauseating Pecksniffian attitude is taken up. Are we always going to stick to the word of Great Britain? Are we never going to make alterations when things are discovered later on by a new Government If right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite think that by this apparently imaginary dignified position which they take up they are going to frighten the Labour party when they come into office after the next General Election from righting wrongs which have been done, they are under-rating the calibre of those who will lead our party after May next.
The right hon. Member for Colne Valley has had the effrontery in the view of the Government Front Bench to criticise some of their settlements of loans and to suggest that they are not fair to the people of this nation. If they will be honest to the constituents they represent, all Members on both sides of the Committee or, if we consider the Liberal party, on all sides of this Committee know that the settlement of our Italian debt was a disastrous bungle on the part of the statesmen of this country. The settlement of our debt with France was an absolute mistake as far as the interests of the common people of this country were concerned. Even the settlement of the American debt brought about by the Prime Minister is known by every financial expert of this country to have been a financial disaster to Great Britain. Are hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite going to suggest that, it the Labour party feel that taxation is pressing upon our people, that the people of this country are in degradation because of the taxation placed upon them, they shall not do anything to relieve them because of the bungling of our statesmen? We have heard about statesmen who, in the past, have upheld unsullied the word of Great Britain.
We heard something a few years ago about making Germany pay for the War. 336 This was going to an ideal country after the War. The hon. and gallant Member for Warwick and Leamington referred to taxation in this country and to the references with regard to fighting and paying which had been made by the right hon. Member for Colne Valley. Is he aware that of all the nations engaged in the War the taxation per head of the people of Great Britain is double, and in one case nearly treble that of the people of the other countries? Is it not sometimes necessary to let a breath of fresh air and common sense into these matters? Is it not true that Great Britain sacrificed blood and treasure? We heard that certain individuals won the War. I have heard it said that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) won the War. The same person, under a different name, won the War that won the battle of Waterloo—Bill Adams or Tommy Atkins. We heard that certain Generals won the War, and that America won the War. I have an idea that nobody won the War. We appear to be paying for it, at any rate.
Now that the right hon. Member for Colne Valley dares to let in a breath of-fresh air in regard to this dubious and not always honest diplomacy, right hon. Gentlemen on the other side protest against this with dramatic gestures and with trembling hands. It is a good Election stunt, possibly. I would suggest that five years of misdeeds are not going to be wiped out this time by a dramatic gesture. We come to a position of holy horror on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite because of the straightforward statements which have come from a statesman on this side. I do not wish to rake up old things, but have we—I do not mean the people of these islands, but our statesmen with their secret diplomacy—always kept our word? Have we always kept it to smaller nations? Have we evacuated Egypt yet? I hope that the Labour party, when they come into power, if there is wrong done by bungling statesmen in regard to the settlement of the Italian, American or other debts, will have the courage not to cling to the old worn-out and not always honest traditions of political life, but will be honest to the people they serve. I leave it at that.
Reference was made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who left the Chamber immediately he had delivered his speech, 337 to certain kinds of difficult taxation. I think he tried to emphasise what we have heard so frequently, like King Charles's head, that the strike of 1926 caused taxation, brought about unemployment and so forth. Some of us remember the issue of the "Bankers' Magazine" in January, 1927. It is not a political publication, and it is certainly not published to make propaganda for the Labour party. It examined, as it does at the beginning of each year, 365 stocks and shares saleable on the Stock Exchange, that little gambling den which has not yet been taxed, and which gambles in stocks and shares and in the lifeblood and humanity of this country. The "Bankers' Magazine," making its examination after this supposed disastrous year, showed that coal, iron, steel, oil, shipping, banking, insurance and other shares, those very stocks and shares of industry most affected by shortage of coal, had risen in value to their owners by £79,000,000 during 1926. Some of us remember and take notice of these things and are not caught with this chaff as to what disastrous things happened or were caused by what occurred in 1926.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke about the Argentine loans not coming to London now. It was a question of trade following the loans; I think it used to follow the flag. We have not forgotten why the raising of loans is difficult in this country. We know about the people who prate so much about Empire. Only a few years ago, within the lifetime of the present Parliament, some of the Dominions wanted loans in this country at a reasonable figure. I think they wanted them at about 95, paying 5 per cent., but they could not get the money in England. A loan to Austria, paying 7 per cent. at about 90, was found to be over-subscribed by 9.30 in the morning. Do hon. Members think: that every Member of the Labour party is ignorant about questions of finance? It has been said that this Budget has to be as it is because loans cannot be raised in this country and have to be taken to America, whereas it is because of the grasping financiers of this country who talk about Empire, and do not loan their money to the Empire at a reasonable figure, but loan it somewhere else where a bigger figure can be obtained.
The last speaker blessed the Chancellor of the Exchequer for removing the Tea 338 Duty, That is an old policy of the Labour party. The great Liberal party promised a free breakfast, but it was a piece of electioneering and was never intended. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in a Labour Administration was in office for 100 days. We hear a great deal from the other side of the House that the Labour party did not do this, that or the other. They forget that we were in office only 100 days. The other parties have been in office 100 years and have done nothing but do the people of this nation. If Labour had been given an opportunity, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer and his supporters know that not only would the Tea Duty have been removed but the duty would have been removed from other things. Therefore, the blessing which was voiced by the hon. Member opposite because of the reduction of taxation on tea ought to have been extended to this side of the House.
He suggested that money was to be found for trade; I forget his exact words. I would have reminded him had he been here now, and I would have reminded the Chancellor of the Exchequer had he been present, and I would remind their colleagues, that when they talk so airily in millions they do not realise that there is a possibility of trade being revived in this country, of unemployment being reduced, of direct and especially of indirect taxation being alleviated if the millions which are now spent on luxuries were spent on trade. Millions of pounds, derived from the production of the workers of this country, are to-day spent not on things which bring real wealth and well-being to this country, not on anything which improves the trade which hon. Members opposite profess to be so desirous of resuscitating, but in other directions. It has been estimated that grouse shooting costs £5,000,000 a year, that fox hunting costs £9,000,000 a year, that stag hunting, otter hunting and a few other beautiful sports of people who are idle and who ought to be using a pick and shovel instead of following their blood lusts, cost a few more millions. Then there are millions of pounds derived from the products of the workers of this country—not the products of the people on the Stock Exchange—which go abroad for the buying of fine wines, which the workers never drink for the 339 buying of fine jewellery, fine furs and feathers, wonderful statuary, beautiful pictures, to adorn the mansions of the rich, beautiful ornaments to adorn the bodies of the well-to-do.
That is not wealth for the community which produces it. Hon. Members opposite smile. It is all very well for them to smile. It is a good joke for them, because they are in a position to enjoy the joke, but I represent people who are in the position of getting the other end of the stick, and the joke is not quite so humorous to them. The hon. Member said something about a titter at the back of the mind. I can understand the titter that is on the faces of the hon. Members opposite, but I cannot understand a titter at the back of the mind. It may be some peculiar kink in the Conservative party which we may learn more about at the General Election. This is no laughing matter for our people. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his supporters talk about the hundreds of millions of pounds that are wanted for trade, and so forth, let me remind them that we do not forget that those hundreds of millions of pounds are now being squandered on things which, from the point of view of the exchange of commodities between nations, is worth nothing to this country. We know what happens in industry. We find industry being over-capitalised and our people having to work harder and harder in order to produce more interest and dividend. We know what happens with much of that money. It goes abroad to the slave nations of the world. By means of the profits which are made here, they are able to produce goods abroad and to undersell the workers in the British Empire in the cotton goods and other goods which they produce.
I would not have taken part in this Debate had it not been for the continuous, nauseating attitude about sacrosanct diplomacy, into which never a breath of fresh air is to be allowed to enter. If I thought that there was to be no breath of fresh air brought into the political Government of this country, no real easement for the working class, the middle class, the small shopkeepers, who are ground under the heels of our present system; if I thought that there was to be 340 no honesty, no fairplay in our relations with foreign countries, I would not belong even to the Labour party, and certainly not to the other worn-out, disreputable parties which have tried to represent the people of this country. The right hon. Member for Colne Valley needs no one to defend him; he is able to defend himself against much weightier intelligences than he will find on the other side of the House. Speaking as one of the rank and file of the Labour party, I sincerely hope that when Labour comes to real power, not for a 100 days but for a 100 months, I hope that we shall bring more fresh air and more honesty and truth into our dealings than have been shown by the other parties, less of the old diplomacy, less of secret agreements, more open agreements, agreements between peoples and not between statesmen, and that we shall see the people of other nations and of our own nation understanding how they have been gulled and sold into bondage, and when they hold up their hands in indignation, they will have to be considered.
It is not a question of war, it is not a question of brow-beating when we talk about the possibility of rectifying the debt settlements which are pressing the people of this country into unemployment and over-taxation. When that possibility is met with such dramatic gestures from the other side, it makes one almost tired and almost inclined to give up hope of any justification of honest belief in politics. I hope that when the time comes for dealing with these matters, not only these debt settlements but other things will have the breath of fresh air brought into them and that they will be dealt with openly and above board in the eyes of the world. If it were not tragic it would be amusing to see the dramatic gestures of right hon. Members opposite. All the time that the nations are professing to be good friends, we know that they are spying on each other, stealing documents and doing all sorts of undesirable things below the surface. Would the gallant people of this country back that kind of thing? Not at all. Yet those sort of things go on under the present system of diplomacy and statesmanship. I hope that the Labour party will bring some fresh air into these matters and that they will deal with many of the cobwebs that require to be swept away.
§ Lord APSLEY
I will not try, in fact I found it rather difficult, to follow the hon. Member who has just spoken in his defence of the policy which was announced to-day from the Front Bench of the Labour party. In my humble opinion honesty is the best policy, and a repudiation of debt, whether external or internal, has never done any good to those who have done so. It is true that it has been done before. I am told that Scotsmen repudiated the debt for the ransom of their King, and I believe that the United States of America repudiated debts incurred for various States in that country during the civil war. At the same time I doubt whether it can be shown that the repudiation of the debt brought any good to their people in the next generation. The hon. Member gave a discursion on the subject of business and art. He announced that art as a squandering of the nation's wealth. I am afraid he cannot have been received into the Bloomsbury set of the Labour party, because if he had he would surely have some conception of art as applied to industry; just as a thoroughbred race horse is the perfection of the breed to which horse breeders try to attain.
If you do away with ideals what can you do? Is the world composed of nothing but teapots and Ford cars? Is there no such thing as perfection? If that is so it would be a sorry day for British industry. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) gave us some illuminating figures on Super-tax and announced, amongst other things, that it was only levied at the rate of 2s. in the £. I confess that I am at a loss to understand where he got his figures, because I had an idea that Super-tax on large incomes is well over 10s. in the £. There was a time during the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in introducing the Budget when I saw a light of anxious expectation go through the House. The right hon. Gentleman had just explained to the Committee how the Income Tax payer up to £1,000 a year had been given considerable relief during the last few years, and he then went on to say that nothing more could be done at the moment for him. Then he came to the Super-tax payer, and it was at that moment that I saw this movement of excitement throughout the House, as though the sun had suddenly 342 come through the mist and brought a ray of light into the dark place. It was not only on this side of the House, it was also on the other side of the House, and I seem to remember the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson) particularly elated by the announcement. I do not know the reasons for the hon. Member's elation, and for that of other hon. Members sitting by her. I cannot think that they had any thoughts of the imminence of a General Election, and I am compelled to believe that she and other hon. Members were, like myself, very humble students of economy during their leisure hours.
The Super-tax is an unjust tax. It is unjust because it taxes the income which has already been paid in Income Tax. The excuse that it falls on the wealthy does not affect the question of justice at all, and an unjust tax always results in one of two things: evasion or revolt. For many years those affected in this country cheerfully evaded paying Benevolences under the Tudor regime, and the imposition of Ship Money brought about the final revolt. It is an unjust tax, and there is a saying which has lived for many centuries and never been disproved that oppressive taxation on the rich is paid for by the poor. If I may have the indulgence of the House I will endeavour to illustrate how that may occur. Take one case in the country and another in the town. Hon. Members opposite no doubt frequently take trips around the countryside in their holidays, and no doubt they have had opportunities to admire the countryside, which we believe is equal to any in the world. They have no doubt passed through villages such as you cannot find in any other country. I wonder whether during the course of their peregrinations it has ever occurred to them why some villages are different from others. On the one hand you will find a gem of architectural beauty, houses in perfect symmetry, and the inhabitants well dressed, prosperous and happy. You go to another village and there is a look of shabbiness about the whole structure, houses built without forethought or apparent care, patched up in any sort of way, roofs patched with bits of corrugated iron and fences with rusty barbed wire. Has it ever occurred to them to wonder why this difference should exist? 343 The first village is probably owned by a big landowner who has still sufficient resources to carry out those repairs which are constant and necessary, and without which no structure can survive. In the other case, the landowner has been impoverished, or is dead, and his property has been sold. Consequently it has been found impossible to carry out those repairs which ought to have been done.
If the tenants themselves have become the owners of their own property, they may be obliged to wait for a few years until repairs must be done. That is one of the cases where the Super-tax comes hard, and especially at this time of the year when repairs, repainting, and rebuilding are necessary. In such villages men get the job of painting gates and repairing gates, they get work as labourers and as gardeners, and in every other form and capacity, besides those who follow their ordinary avocations of agricultural labourers. If the landowner is prosperous the wages for these repairs go to these men, and, as every village is a little entity in itself, the money paid in wages circulates around the village in the purchase of cigarettes, beer, food, groceries, and clothes, and in this way brings prosperity to the whole village. If you cut off the fountain you get an immediate slackening of the current. Just at this time of the year, when it is most important that all this work should commence, the demand for Super-tax arrives, and the moral effect of that is worse than the material, because plans which have been made have to be considerably curtailed. It is not the landowner who suffers. He merely has to do without and allow those things to remain undone which he knows ought to be done, and they will have to be done some time or other, if not by him by some other landowner and will probably then cost three times as much. The people who suffer are the inhabitants of these villages, and it is immediately reflected in the houses of the villagers themselves.
Take the other case affecting the town worker. Take Mr. Robinson, who is the manager of a large electrical firm in the north of London, earning a salary of £3,000 a year, supplemented by an additional £2,000 of trustee investments in the names of himself and his wife jointly. He lives at Potters Bar in Hertfordshire, 344 and comes daily to his work in London. He plays golf on Saturdays and at appropriate times of the year he takes his family for a holiday—at those times of the year when buds are just beginning to burst forth, when there is a look of freshness in the air, when the minds of young men are beginning to turn towards two-seaters, and the minds of young ladies towards silk stockings and new frocks. Mrs. Robinson, too, is thinking of re-furnishing that spare room that ought to have been re-furnished last year, and Mr. Robinson is thinking of buying a new wireless set or wireless gramophone like that he saw in a neighbour's house. Then comes the demand for £700 Super-tax to be paid immediately. It is true that he has claims against the Income Tax authorities for what he has overpaid previously, but they do not pay down on the nail. Nor do they cancel out their debts against his. He has to wait until October before he gets his money. The money he had hoped to spend is gone and all the dreams of Spring have to be very considerably curtailed.
I shed no tears on behalf of Mr. Robinson. I hold no brief for him. He again has to learn "to do without," as all of us have to learn at some time. What I want hon. Members to consider is the effect of Mr. Robinson's affairs on their own constituents. British working men and British craftsmen are the finest in the world. They produce the best work that we know, with the possible exception of that of the Czechoslovaks. Our own Dominions apparently, perhaps through lack of experience in their politicians and civil servants, have not yet discovered that fact, but the Americans have. And that is why they are continually raising the British quota and bribing our best workmen to go to America for high wages. The fact that our workmen are the best workmen in the world leads to the result that the majority of our industries are engaged in what is known technically as the production of quality goods. It is a horrible term, but I have to use it.
Cheaper articles such as are bought by the poorer classes in this country come mainly from abroad, and for very obvious reasons. On the one hand, on the Continent they have cheaper labour, a cheaper mode of life, and they can turn out articles more cheaply than we can. In America there is a huge internal 345 market which gives facilities for mass production of cheap articles such as we can never attain. The cheaper articles used in this country come mainly from abroad and we take refuge in the production of so-called quality goods. Who buys those quality goods? Not the poorer classes, not even the small Income Tax payers, but the Super-tax payers. No matter whether they be motor cars or wireless sets or textiles or electrical machinery, the quality goods are bought by people who have sufficient money to buy them. If you impoverish your Super-tax payers, you also impoverish those who make the quality goods; you impoverish the best workmen and craftsmen of the country, and drive them either to America or into unemployment. That is a matter which will have to be considered very carefully by the party opposite, even, I hope, before they embark on their electoral campaign. Certainly I hope they will consider it before the time, three or four years hence, when they take a responsible part in the Government of this country. They have two alternatives. They have to find a substitute for those who buy the goods that we produce, or they have to get clear of their Free Trade ideals and keep out the cheaper classes of goods which other nations bring into this country.
There is one other matter to which I hope I may get a reply from the Front Bench. It is a matter which will undoubtedly receive some attention during the next few weeks. I refer to beer. As we all know, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken off £400,000 from the brewing industry under the de-rating proposals. That is because he knows that the brewing and tobacco industries are flourishing. But the right hon. Gentleman thought the scheme would be unfair to other industries, and he proposes to reimpose what he had remitted, and to do so by an increase of the Licence Duties. I think we should examine the proposal. I am prepared to accept the contention, so far as the tobacco industry is concerned. In every way the balance-sheets and the general condition of that industry show that it is in a flourishing state. The consumption of tobacco appears to be increasing year by year. But in the brewing trade, although the balance-sheets show very considerable and ever-increasing profits, 346 I understand—the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said it—that the consumption of beer is decreasing and has been decreasing for a few years. I know nothing about the brewing trade, but I do know something about the newspaper trade. I know that whatever my balance-sheet might show, however prosperous a concern might appear to be owing to the revenue from advertisements in a prosperous year, if my circulation chart is going down there is something wrong with the paper, and I know that I am not giving the public what it wants. I see no reason why the brewing industry should not be affected by the same principles and the same danger signals. I am impelled to believe that the profits of the brewing industry are not from the consumption of beer, but from the increased cheapness of production.
My interest in beer is not simply that of a consumer, but that of the producer of the stuff from which beer is made, namely, barley. I am impelled to believe that the increased cheapness in beer production has been caused by the importation on a rapidly growing scale of foreign barley, maize and other substitutes for the British barley from which beer was formerly brewed. This matter has been raised in the House on previous occasions, but we have had nothing but evasive answers. The brewers have assured us and even the Minister of Agriculture has told us that beer cannot be brewed from British barley alone, but that it must have foreign barley as well. Yet we have had examples in this House of beer brewed exclusively from British barley. I admit that I have tasted better in country villages, but still I am perfectly certain that good beer could be and is brewed from British barley, and I only wish that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had taken this opportunity to do something which has been pressed for from all sides of the House—that is to do something for British agriculture, when reimposing any taxation on beer or putting on any fresh taxation by relieving from that taxation those brewers who use only British barley and British hops.
I believe it would cost nothing or very little in the first few years. I asked a question on that subject recently but, in the reply to that question, the issue was evaded. Perhaps the figures were not available in the Government Department concerned but I believe that the loss to 347 the Exchequer in the beginning would be very small. I admit that it would gradually increase as brewers found that it paid them to use British barley but the benefit to the farming community would be immense. Except in Lincolnshire and one or two other favoured places, wheat has always been a gamble in British farming. It comes off, perhaps once in seven years at the most, but barley has been a stable and steadfast friend of the farmer and has led to the employment of labour in the country districts and the fact that it has ceased to pay is entirely due to the falling off in the brewing and distilling market for barley in this country. I hope when the Finance Bill is taken in this House the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, no doubt, will be dealing with it, will consider this question in a more friendly way than it has been considered heretofore.
The hon. Member for Bridgeton congratulated himself and the House on the fact that no reduction had been made in the Civil Service Departments which, in fact, carry out the administration of this country. I regret that I am unable to agree with the hon. Member in his congratulations. The Prime Minister not long ago appealed to industry in this country, saying that amalgamations of companies and rationalisation and simplification of methods must be brought about if industry—especially in the heavy industries—was to be restored. The Prime Minister set the example himself, and his appeal was answered almost immediately with effects which are obvious to-day. I cannot help wishing that the Government had followed that example which the Prime Minister so rightly feels must be followed by industry if we are to survive the competition of the rest of the world. Many sincere supporters of the Government were much dismayed at the beginning of this Parliament by the fact that there was a Cabinet of 22 and there were agitations and demands that simplification and reduction should be brought about during the life of this Parliament. At one time I thought that the Government were going to do so. As the hon. Member for Bridgeton has said, it was actually announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a Budget speech that three Ministries were to be reduced. I have no doubt that the reasons were 348 just for delaying that important measure. One cannot reform hurriedly, and hurried reforms seldom bring about good results, but that does not mean that the need for reform is not still there. No one knows it better than the members of the Civil Service themselves.
It is futile and idle to argue this question as I have often heard it argued both in this House and outside, on the basis of the actual cost to the country of the wages of the Civil Service. That has nothing to do with it whatever. The majority in the Civil Service are paid nothing like what they ought to be paid, but the saving would arise in the work that is done. No one knows better than the members of the Civil Service themselves that there are too many people doing the same jobs. Nobody knows better than they do that simplification and amalgamation are as essential in the government of the country as in industry. The stock example is that of the proposed Ministry of Defence. I hope whatever Government takes on the responsibility of carrying this country through the later stages of the transition period towards prosperity, will be strong enough to take up this question in no uncertain way, and that they will bring about an amalgamation and concentration of work which will ensure that the Government of this country will be conducted on a much more economic basis and in a much simpler and less wasteful manner.
§ Mr. ELLIS DAVIES
Most of the Members of the House witnessed a rather dramatic scene earlier in the evening when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, presumably for electoral purposes, indulged in a good deal of the rhetoric to which we were accustomed a few years ago when the right hon. Gentleman occupied a rather different position. I can associate myself partly at any rate with the words which fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman). I understood him to refer to the continuity of contractual obligations. I think most Members would agree to that principle, but the difficulty is this—that as far as I understand the negotiations which have been carried on with France, there is no contract of any kind with that country. It is quite true that the Chancellor of the Exchequer entered into some nego 349 tiations with the Government of France, but if any agreement or understanding was reached, it has never been accepted and confirmed by the French Senate. There have been two occasions on which the subject could have been dealt with and the agreement—if there is one—accepted by the French Senate. As a matter of fact, the Government of France have deliberately abstained from submitting these proposals to the French Parliament for confirmation, and one can only assume that they have not done so because they are under the impression—perhaps rightly—that those proposals would not be confirmed by the representatives of the democracy in France.
There is another question that I think we ought to face. We have heard a great deal about contractual obligations and the honour of this country, and I am all in favour of observing the agreements into which we have entered, but the history of this country in the last 60 years, say, has not always been a history of the observance of our contracts and treaties. For instance, we broke our agreement with regard to Schleswig-Holstein in 1869, and anyone who has perused the Letters of Queen Victoria will have discovered that we broke our agreement in those circumstances owing to a difficulty with regard to France. In regard to the debt due from France to us, if the right hon. Member for the Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) desired to repudiate an agreement, the position is that there is no agreement to repudiate, but there is an understanding between the two Governments, and certain payments are being made by France.
What is the position in France? France has an immense standing army, maintained at enormous expense. France has no unemployed at the present time. The industrial position in France is probably better than it ever has been. France, instead of paying her debts, has built an enormous fleet of aeroplanes and has a much larger fleet of aeroplanes than we have; and, in addition, France has supplied herself, as we all know, with a very large number of submarines. Are we not, in this country, with 1,500,000 men out of work, and with the landowners incurring great expense on their cottages and suffering pressure arising from the Super-tax, as was stated by the Noble Lord the Mem 350 ber for Southampton (Lord Apsley)—are we not, in these circumstances, and in the absence of any agreement with France, entitled to go back and to say that we want a little more than was originally intended under the Balfour Note?
§ Mr. DAVIES
That arrangement, whatever it was, has never been submitted to the French Chamber or the French Senate for confirmation.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Arthur Michael Samuel)
It has not been ratified.
§ Mr. DAVIES
If it has been submitted, it has been withdrawn without being ratified by the French Government, and consequently there is no agreement which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley can repudiate. But why should we not go to France, in view of her prosperity, in view of her lack of unemployment, in view of the fact that she is in a position to spend an enormous sum upon her army—infinitely more than we are spending on ours—and say, "We have spent these millions, and as a result we have 1,500,000 unemployed in our country, and our trade is depressed"? The Chairman of the Powell-Duffryn Colliery said in South Wales the other day that we lost our markets in South Wales and the coal industry is suffering because France is receiving reparations coal from Germany and outdoing us in the markets of South America. I have no lack of sympathy with France, but she is to-day in a position in which she may well be asked to reconsider the agreement and, in the light of the industrial depression of this country, to reconsider the payments which she ought to make; and in any event she ought to have entered into an agreement to make these payments, but she has so far refused to do so.
May I now deal with one other point raised by the Noble Lord who spoke last in regard to the difficulties of the Super- 351 tax payers? There is no obligation on any man to pay Super-tax unless he is in receipt of an income on that scale, and the total number of Super-tax payers in this country, out of a population of 45,000,000, is not quite 100,000—only 97,000. Let me give another figure which may interest the Committee, and that is that the total number of people in this country, out of 45,000,000, who make even £500 a year is less than 500,000. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the wage-earners?"] I am not talking of them: I am talking about the clerks, the shopkeepers, the farmers, and the smaller professional men, and I am quite sure that it is not realised in this country that there are not more than 500,000 people, including all these classes, who are able to make £500 a year.
What is the position in regard to taxation? We are constantly told that taxation is much too heavy, that it is hindering the development of industry, that it is really doing away with the high ideals and aspirations and ambitions which hold men to strive for the accumulation of wealth. But there is no evidence of that, and, as a matter of fact, if you compare the amount of wealth left at death before 1914 with the amount left last year, you will find that there has been an increase of £200,000,000. If you look at the Inland Revenue returns or read your daily newspaper, you will find that, notwithstanding this enormous taxation, which is supposed to be crushing the wealthy in this country, estates are proved at £800,000, at £1,000,000, at £2,000,000, at £6,000,000, at £11,000,000, and even one at £14,000,000. What is the good of coming down here and telling us that taxation is crushing the ambition and the accumulating ability of the industrialists of this country? It is not true. Taxation practically is not touching the wealthy of this country, but it is crushing the poor. [Laughter.] The hon. Member opposite may laugh, but let him bear in mind, as I said, that there are not 500,000 people in this country with £500 a year, to begin with. The local rates of this country amount to £173,000,000 a year, and by whom are they paid? They are paid upon every factory, every shop, every hovel, however poor it is, because the rates are included in the rent.
352 I am glad the Chancellor of the Exchequer is abolishing the Tea Duty, because, after all, there will remain £19,000,000 of taxation on the food of the poor of this country even when the Tea Duty has been abolished, and £19,000,000 out of the income of the poor is infinitely more excessive than a Super-tax at 6s. in the pound on a man who has £50,000 a year. My contention goes further than that. I say that none of these statistics published by the Treasury afford any real index either to the income of the country or to the amount of wealth possessed by the wealthy classes, and I will prove it. Immediately the Super-tax was imposed in 1909–10—it was only 6d. in the £ on an income of £5,000 a year—lawyers were engaged in preparing covenants by which rich men paid certain annuities to their wives and children in order to escape the Super-tax and they did it very effectively. It took the Treasury 10 years to find out what was taking place, and they have never been able to get behind these agreements.
Let me prove it from another standpoint. Wealth is being continuously passed by the rich to their children during their life so as to escape the Estate Duties. There was a case the other day of a young lady who was drowned in the Atlantic under tragic circumstances, and she left £500,000. She did not earn it; it was not the accumulated saving of her wages; it was given to her by her father who, by making that gift, escaped the Estate Duty that would have been payable on his death on that amount; and in all probability by paying his daughter that amount he varied the rate of the Estate Duty that would have to be paid on his estate; he also escaped Super-tax on the income of that money, and also the Income Tax. The Treasury knows, and every rich man and lawyer in this House knows, that there is constantly going on in this country the transfer of enormous sums of money during life from parents to their children and grandchildren, with the result that there is no record in the returns of the Inland Revenue of that wealth. I suggest—I do not suppose for a moment that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will accept it—that there is an enormous source of income which could be obtained without increasing any burden if the right 353 hon. Gentleman would impose a duty on property which passes during the lifetime of the owner.
I am very glad of the principle which the Minister of Health has introduced in the de-rating scheme. He has introduced the principle of the transfer of the burden of local rates from industry to the Imperial Exchequer, and consequently on to wealth, and I hope that whatever party comes into power, be it the Labour party or the Liberal party, at the next Election, they will accept the great principle laid down by this Government of transferring the burden from industry, and extend it and transfer the rates from cottages, and from shops on to the Imperial Exchequer, and facilitate the transfer of wealth at the same time.
§ Mr. BARCLAY-HARVEY
I do not propose to follow all the arguments of the hon. Member for Denbigh (Mr. Ellis Davies), but I am glad that we have had another example of the unity of the Liberal party as expressed by himself. It seems that even in South Wales the Liberal Members cannot agree; Wales is the stronghold of the Liberal party, and, if they cannot agree there, I think that the prospect of a Liberal Government in the next Parliament is even more remote than I had imagined.
§ Mr. DAVIES
What I said was that, so far as contractual obligations were concerned, I agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman), but I attempted to show that there is no agreement binding as between France and this country. The Financial Secretary admitted that the agreement which the Chancellor of the Exchequer made in France had not been confirmed by the French Senate.
§ Mr. BARCLAY-HARVEY
The hon. Member opened his remarks by saying that he wished to dissociate himself from the remark of the right hon. Gentleman—
§ Mr. BARCLAY-HARVEY
At any rate, I do not think that the agreement in the Liberal party is very close; and I maintain the point with which I started, that there is not that cordial unity in the ranks of the Liberal party that we were given to understand existed. I want to refer to 354 one or two of the remissions which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been able to give us in the Budget. I wish to thank the Chancellor for what he has been able to do for the rural industries, both by the ante-dating of the relief to agriculture, by the assistance to harbours, particularly in Scotland, and by the relief to rural telephones. I have always believed that one of the reasons why there are not a larger number of rural telephones, particularly in Scotland, is that the cost is too high for the ordinary farmer, and we appreciate anything which will bring the cost of these telephones within the region of the farmers' income. It will pay the Chancellor well to reduce the cost of these telephones, because it will considerably increase the number of subscribers in the rural areas. Another thing which the Chancellor has done to assist the country districts is the further amount of money which he is making available for the improvement of the roads. We must realise, however, that there is a definite point beyond which we cannot go in spending money on the roads. After all, what is the position of the transport industry? We have one of the finest road systems in the world, and probably one of the most efficient railway systems. While road transport is an extremely important industry, it is only one, and we cannot afford to spend more than a certain amount on it.
Therefore I very much welcomed the other steps which the Chancellor has taken in the matter of transport in the relief given to the railway industry. The railways are not by any means fully occupied, and they can carry far more goods and passengers than they do. One of the difficulties with which they are faced is that the freights and the passenger fares which they have to charge are very high, and this, to a certain extent, is a discouragement and handicap on trade. Instead of spending more money on the roads, we should do something to assist the railways to improve their efficiency and to reduce their freights. If we did that, we should do something of more value to the industry of this country than we should do by spending vast sums on our road system, which is already so highly developed. That would be a thoroughly justifiable thing for the Government to do. If we look back to the 355 history of the railways of this country, we find that Parliament has played no inconsiderable part in the shaping of the system. In the early days Parliament encouraged by all means in their power unlimited competition between the railway companies. Parliament, no doubt for good reasons, has made very stringent rules for the control of the railway system, and these have proved costly, and have undoubtedly added to the expense of the railways. As the result of the system which has been followed, many miles of railways have been built which could profitably have been left unconstructed. As an illustration of that, I would recall the instance of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, which was refused permission to amalgamate with the then Great Northern Railway, and that led to the construction of the Great Central line to London. Coming down to more recent times Parliament has put a great burden on the railways by alterations of wages and hours.
I am not quarrelling with either the hours or the wages paid; I only state it as a fact that it has made a difference and has increased the cost of running railways. Then Parliament re-organised the railway system of the country and amalgamated the companies. Nobody will deny that the amalgation of many of the smaller companies was desirable, but I believe that in some cases, possibly, amalgamation was overdone. I would say in passing that it is curious to note that since the amalgamations the two most progressive railway companies have been the two smaller ones, even though one of them is the often much-maligned Southern. Parliament gave safeguards to the railways by the Act of 1921 with a view to helping them to keep up their revenue to the revenue of the standard year. That plan is already breaking down; the railways are already failing to earn the revenue they ought to earn to secure the revenue of the standard year. I say that as Parliament has put all these burdens and handicaps on the railways—quite fairly, I am not complaining of what Parliament has done—Parliament is fully justified in assisting the railways to reduce their operating costs and thereby lead to a reduction of freights in order to assist industry.
356 It is a matter of regret to me that more money was not available in the Budget to enable the Chancellor to do more for the development of the Colonies. It is more important to spend money on building roads in the Colonies and thereby open fresh markets for the industries of this country than to lay out the colossal sums which some hon. Members opposite suggest should be spent upon the road system of our own country, and I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman presents the Budget next year, as I have no doubt whatever he will do, he will be able to make provision for loans for the development of the resources ofour Colonies.
§ Mr. KELLY
I am not going to follow the last speaker, except to make a slight comment upon his concluding observation. He evidently thinks the Chancellor of the Exchequer is once again going to change his party, because only that would give him the opportunity of presenting a Budget to this House after the General Election. Reference was made earlier to a statement which has been characterised as the most serious thing uttered in this Debate. It shows the mind of the party opposite. The Foreign Secretary seems to put poverty and unemployment in a very secondary position, and perhaps in a still lower category even than that, in stating that a phrase used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) was the most serious thing which had been uttered. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has every reason to be ashamed of himself for not having dealt with poverty and the unemployment problem. [Interruption.] An hon. Member is expressing sorrow over the interruption, but I can assure him that I am delighted with the interruption and with the cheers which have greeted the entry of my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley, whom I am supporting for all I am worth.
I wish the Committee to ask themselves why the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not take advantage of the opportunity which presented itself to deal with widows' pensions in a better way. Many widows who are denied pensions might have been found pensions out of the surplus, and there is also the case of the women who reach the age of 65 but are denied a pension because that is not the 357 age of their husbands. As regards industry, I can see nothing in the Budget which will help any of our industries, nothing which will help forward the trade revival which we require. I hope the people outside this House will realise how much untruth there is in the statement that the figures as to the cost of living and wages show that their standard of living has improved since 1924. Knowing how many commodities which are needed in the home are left out of account in the computation of the cost-of-living figure, one can only say that it is absurd and foolish—indeed, a stronger word might be used—to say that the cost of living has gone down. Those in the Civil Service whose wages vary with the cost-of-living figure know that their position is worsened as each period of revision comes round. The Budget cannot afford much satisfaction to the Government, and we shall be quite ready in the weeks that lie ahead to face the country on the Budget and also on the statement which was made by my right hon. Friend earlier in the evening.
§ Mr. BEVAN
As a new Member of this House, I have listened to this Budget Debate with the greatest possible interest. I have heard from time to time from the other side of the House expressions of surprise at various statements which have been made in the House. I share their surprise, but the surprise in my case arises from grounds very different from theirs. It was not with surprise, but with a feeling of respectful appreciation that I listened to the Chancellor when he laid before the Committee his statement as to the financial position of this country; and it was with satisfaction that I learned—and I hope that most of the hon. Members of this House learned—that, of the surplus at the disposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the greater part was to be applied in relief of all classes of the community, though of course that relief goes more to some classes than to others. But the surprise in my case arose when I heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) describe the Budget as a shameless piece of election bribery. If it is bribery to abolish the Tea Duty, how shall we describe a promise to provide a free breakfast table—a promise to provide a free breakfast table from funds which are to be 358 obtained by taxing and by cruelly taxing, one section of the community for the benefit of another, and to provide it out of funds which if those funds are appropriated to all the directions in which promises have been made, will be insufficient even to provide a free breakfast table? The party will be going to the country, perfectly true, on this Budget, as it will be going to the country on every piece of legislation passed by the present Government through the 4½ years of its office, and, if the Budget can be truly described as electioneering bribery, then every piece of Conservative legislation throughout the life of the present Parliament, may be similarly described.
It is our record, and it is a record upon which we are going with confidence to the country, and with no fear of the result. This Debate, unfortunately, and I say unfortunately most deliberately, has provided another matter upon which we are going to our constituencies. From this Debate has emerged the policy of the Labour party, spoken to in no uncertain terms by the right hon. Member for Colne Valley yesterday and repeated without withdrawal or apology or regret to-day, a policy which the leader of the Labour party was given the opportunity of disowning, an opportunity which one would have thought he would have been glad to have taken. He rose in his place, but he neither blessed nor cursed, but was content that this House should wait to some time this night to hear whether he approved the policy as put forward by the right hon. Member for Colne Valley. That is a matter upon which we shall go to the country. When I say "We," I have no right to speak for anyone but myself, but in my constituency I shall put that to the front, and I am confident that, if the Budget itself is not an electioneering asset, to use the language of some of the hon. Members on the other side of the House, the statement made by the right hon. Member yesterday and repeated to-day is a matter which must impress the electors of every constituency in this country; and I venture to think that every thinking man and woman in this country will hesitate, not once or twice, but again and again, before he gives his vote to a candidate who stands as a member of a party which has announced its intention if the occasion arises—that means if it suits the 359 party—to repudiate the word given by the Government of this country, the breaking of which would not only be the grossest breach of faith, but would destroy British credit throughout the world.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
It is a very good practice in this House that on various occasions, like the occasions of births and of deaths in our personal relations, we should for a moment forget our party differences; and one of those occasions is when an hon. Member sitting on any side of the House gives us the great pleasure of listening to a maiden speech. I venture not to break that very good tradition of this House, although, while congratulating the hon. Member on making his first appearance here, I would venture to say that as he becomes more and more intimate with the House, he will learn a good deal as to House of Commons procedure. He has a very great and I am sure well-deserved reputation in other walks of life, and from other floors. Thank goodness I have never had the opportunity to meet him face to face before, but when in the course of time he acquires that knowledge of the House to which I have referred he will not be so rash as he has been in the speech which he has just delivered. I am sure the hon. Member will not resent the attempts which I have made to give him good advice.
I came down to the House this forenoon in a somewhat innocent frame of mind. My right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) delivered a speech yesterday which for its energy, its analysis, its accuracy and its forcefulness could not have been improved upon. My right hon. Friend used certain adjectives, and we all do that. In this respect, two of my right hon. Friends provide every now and again very substantial intellectual fare, and they seem to take their adjectives out of the mustard pot. Can it be imagined that these adjectives have become a serious question of party politics? If so, hon. Members are quite entitled to nurse that delusion, but I am not interested in them at all. I use adjectives myself, and I shall continue to do so.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in making his Budget speech, quoted from a speech of mine a hot phrase, and he 360 is always ready to do so when the spirit moves him. To my amazement, this matter has developed into high party politics, and one right hon. Gentleman—I do not know if he has a bad conscience—felt it necessary almost literally to stand up in a white sheet and say almost in the words of the sinner, "Please, Mr. Chairman, I and my friends are not of those publicans." The Foreign Secretary and myself have been occupants of an office—[Interruption.] I hear one of the stage phrases of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "The hunt is on." I am exceedingly obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for showing his hand, and now we can appreciate what the nature of this attack means. The Foreign Secretary and myself have occupied an office where, if a man has never been taught discretion before, he is taught discretion there—[Interruption.] I hear a very characteristic interruption from the hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir C. Oman).
§ Mr. MacDONALD
I never question the word of an hon. Member, and I sincerely apologise for the mistake which I have made. We have had two statements made on this subject. I would like to say that I do not follow the Foreign Secretary in the line which he took up. This question has developed into an accusation that my colleagues and myself, if we formed a Government, would not honour the signature of this country. Nobody knows better than the right hon. Gentleman opposite how much substance there is in that suggestion.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
I did not make that suggestion against the right hon. Gentleman, but that is the only inference to be drawn from the words used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden).
§ Mr. MacDONALD
I say quite candidly that if any misrepresentation, misinterpretation, or misunderstanding can reasonably arise on this question it is my duty to remove it. The Table which 361 divides us is very wide, but it is not sufficiently wide to represent and symbolise the difference in principle between us. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite know perfectly well that no man has a simpler or easier task to do than to fulfil the duty of stating, and being able to say, that my right hon. Friend's action requires nothing more to be said. Such a suggestion is a grave injury to my colleagues and myself who were in the Labour Government. [Interruption.] If hon. Members care to make that anything approaching an election or a party affair, they are at perfect liberty to do so. In the same places where they make that accusation against myself and my colleagues, we shall appear. I do not at all object to requests being made for a statement on this point, but, when the statement is made, then I say that, so far as I am concerned, I leave it there. The statement that there has been any idea of repudiating agreements that bear our signature, except under the condition under which all agreements may be revised and new agreements made, has, I say, no foundation whatever, and I say also that no one knows better how we stood by those agreements than right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Take the case of the settlement that was made with America. I have never concealed my criticism of the Prime Minister in regard to that. I have always said that he made a bad settlement. I have said that his settlement was bad in two ways—it was a bad financial settlement, and it was a bad political settlement. The Prime Minister, when in a more subordinate position, was authorised by his Government to put, or his Government on his advice put, its signature to this agreement, and many times in this House and outside I have said that, so far as we are concerned, until that agreement is changed by mutual consent, we shall pay every farthing under that agreement, whatever burden it may impose upon this country. That policy is going to continue.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
This is a matter which is really of very great importance, and it ought to be discussed without any heat. I accept altogether what the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has said, but what I invite him to do is to reconcile what he has said with these words. [Interruption.] It is 362 a perfectly simple point, and a very grave point. The ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer said yesterday:Does the right hon. Gentleman then maintain that an agreement which is made by a Government supported by a party which happens to have a temporary majority in the House of Commons commits every other party in the State to the confirmation and the acceptance of that agreement in the future? If that be so, it is a doctrine to which I cannot subscribe.I have heard with very great pleasure the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition that he has definitely repudiated that remark.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
I emphatically repudiate that method of dealing with statements made in this House. What did my right hon. Friend say? [An HON. MEMBER: "Twister!"] I am afraid that that interruption reflects more upon the maker of it than upon those against whom: it is made. My right hon. Friend's statement was that agreements made are not going to be sacred againt revision. Is there any objection to that?
§ Mr. MacDONALD
Is there anything in the statement which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has quoted that is opposed to that suggestion?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Certainly. The statement is introduced by the word "repudiate" in the paragraph preceding:And we should hold ourselves open, if the circumstances arose, to repudiate the conditions of that note."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1929; col. 121, Vol. 227.]
§ Mr. MacDONALD
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong. He is quoting a statement regarding the conditions of the Balfour Note, and between the quotations that he makes regarding the Balfour Note there is a long interruption by himself raising another matter. The statement of my right hon. Friend as to the Balfour Note was, as he explained this afternoon, that the conditions he had in mind which we were prepared to repudiate were conditions which did not in any way exclude negotiation. [Interruption.] I am, indeed, very sorry to deprive hon. Members of what they doubtless regard as an electioneering advantage, but, after all, hon. Members have no business to go to the country 363 upon statements which are not true. I say that my right hon. Friend never had in mind any condition other than those which I have just laid down, and I want to say, further, so that there may be no doubt about it, that, so long as I occupy the position that I do, there shall be no repudiation. [Interruption.] Whatever may be the reception that that statement receives from certain Members on the back benches, I am amazed that it has been received in that way by right hon. Gentlemen opposite, who know perfectly well that there is no shadow of change in that declaration. I want to say—I was interrupted in the middle of my sentence—that I am taking no credit to myself in that matter. My sentence was to finish in these words—and hon. Members can have them, and the country will have them—that, in carrying out that policy, I know perfectly well that I shall have the Hearty, loyal support of every colleague of mine. [Interruption.]
That is the point which seems to me to be the substance of what has been nibbled at, and suggested, and confessed by the least experienced Members of this House; but there is another point. I cannot remember whether it was the Foreign Secretary who said it—I believe it was not, and I will modify the form of the sentence I am going to utter. Someone has suggested that what my right hon. Friend had in mind, in his reference to the Balfour Note being possibly not the very last word, not a sort of unalterable Scripture, on British financial international policy, was that he had an idea of making a profit—[Interruption.] I am told that it was the Chancellor of the Exchequer said it; I had really forgotten who it was.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
I shall leave it with a point of exclamation at the end of the sentence. There never was any intention or suggestion of any such thing. What is the use of right hon. Gentlemen closing their eyes and their ears to what is being talked about from John o' Groats to Land's End? They know perfectly well that from John o' Groats to Land's End everyone who is pondering over the industrial position of the country, who is disturbed by unemployment, who is dis 364 turbed by the closing apparently of foreign markets against our goods for economic reasons, is wondering whether the burden of War debts has been placed fairly upon our shoulders. There are certain things which apparently right hon. Gentlemen want to regard as things which must not even be discussed. If they think they are going to play that game, they are very much mistaken. What was in my right hon. Friend's mind—I am simply amazed that there should be any doubt about it—was whether, when the conditions of the Balfour Note are considered, not as a generous gesture of this country, not as a sort of demonstration of vacuous sentimentality, but as a hard business proposition, the conditions of that Note are or are not rather inimical to this country. Why are we going to be debarred from considering it? The only question that comes in is no question of profit. Foreign Secretaries and Chancellors know perfectly well that, to quote an expression for which right hon. Gentlemen there and right hon. Gentlemen here are equally responsible, if we were to adopt a policy which would mean in the end that the pips were going to be squeezed until they squeaked and could squeak no longer, even then there would be no profit for this country. The Labour party's position has been laid down perfectly fairly on this subject again and again. I have not very much time. I am unfortunately not endowed with a staff, as hon. Members opposite are, and one has to do one's own investigation on these matters, but in 1923 I find the Labour party conference passed a resolution, quite unanimously, which begins with these words:The Conference renews its repeated declaration.The declaration, which is apropos the suspicions and red herrings which have been raised to-day, runs as follows:That this country should adopt a generous attitude in the matter of inter-Allied debts as part of a general settlement of the reparations problem.10.0 p.m.
That has been our policy up to to-day. [Interruption.] Hon. Members will have to be very careful or they will embarrass themselves. I said, not up to yesterday but up to to-day. I have not finished my sentence. I will repeat it, so that it may be presented to the right hon. Gentleman. That was the policy of the Labour party 365 up to to-day and that will continue to be the policy of the Labour Government after the next Election.
From that, I pass to a consideration of the Budget. The Budget was produced, by the consent of everyone—every newspaper, every speaker, every organ of the Tory Press—for the purpose of trying to save the fortunes of the Tory party. I am perfectly satisfied with the result. [Interruption.] Perhaps the disappointment of right hon. Gentlemen will require a few minutes to cool down. I am always an accommodating person in this House, and I am willing to suspend operations until they have concluded their interruptions. The Budget was produced for the purpose of reviving somewhat the drooping fortunes and prospects of the Tory party. I am perfectly satisfied with the result. Take the Tories' own Press. How has this wonderful attempt to give the Tories a chance of restoring the confidence they have lost succeeded? So far as one can make out, they say, "The poor Chancellor has made the best of a bad job," or, "It is a poor thing, but for the sake of party prospects we really must make up our minds to make the best of it." The "Times," under the guise of being a national organ, is the most faithful handmaiden that the Tory Government have in this country. It says:Mr. Churchill looks a little bizarre"—I think we agree—under the self-imposed halo of the economist.That is one of his great stunts. He proposes to go to the country as an economist. The "Times" goes on to say regarding the rating relief and the suspense account, these arrangements for providing for further charges in respect of rating relief by putting certain sums of money into the suspense account:It is rather a dubious practice.The "Times" says that there are two points of electioneering value in the Budget, and of one of them, the agricultural one, which, by the way, is going to cost £2,500,000 is of very doubtful value. Really, if the right hon. Gentleman is going to spend public money in order to get a Tory majority, he ought not to squander public money. If he has to spend public money even legitimately, for goodness sake let him do it efficiently. He has no right to spend £2,500,000 of 366 public money, and then fail to effect the object which he had in view when he decided to make the expenditure. It goes on to say that his estimate of income this year is so doubtful that his successor—and again I quote—Would be wise to prepare for some disappointments.It proceeds:So far as the arrangements of debt redemption are concerned, they seem even less likely to be fulfilled than they did last year.A similar remark is made regarding the Sinking Fund provision, and the article ends with a sigh of relief that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has resisted some of the temptations that it was sure were present to him to indulge in extravagant window-dressing exploits. When we take away the censures of the Budget from the bulk of the Budget what is left? Absolutely nothing. This is typical of the cold welcome that the Chancellor's Budget has received from his own friends. When we remember the tremendous political stakes that are at issue, when we remember that if he could have given them the chance of being enthusiastic-about him, all the impulses in their hearts would have been to say "Hurrah," without any reserve—when this is the sort of welcome that he and his life-saving Budget have received, what a miserable performance it must be really in the hearts of his impartial and independent critics. He has failed. He has failed as a Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he has failed as a politician. He has failed as the custodian of our national finances. He has failed as the spender, illegitimately, of certain portions of our national finance for partisan purposes. I do not know how far the right hon. Gentleman has been listening to the speeches of his supporters in this House, but that is the sort of critical spirit. In spite of the tremendous effort to pump up this little bit of praise which has been apparent in the majority of the speeches delivered here to-day it must be regarded as disappointing. He is a sporting character. There is nobody whom I admire more than the Chancellor of the Exchequer as a good, rollicking, sporting character, and it must have impressed him immensely to find that the first result of his Budget was to depress the betting fortunes of his party on the Stock Exchange by five points.
367 I can imagine the last interview of the Chancellor of the Exchequer with the Prime Minister, how he assured him that as soon as he finished opening his Budget he would see the fortunes of the Tory party go up and up like a well hit index at a village fair. What a terrible depression! What a sad heart the Chancellor of the Exchequer must have had yesterday morning when he found that the figure of 285, I think it was, before be unfolded his life-saving Budget fell when he sat down to 280! Really, our praise must honestly be withheld, but our pity flows copiously to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the misfortune that his great effort has produced. I should like to offer pity to the Prime Minister as well as to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. My right hon. Friend discussed the Budget the next day, and my right hon. Friend's keen anatomical genius came out in a most wonderful way. [Interruption.] Yes, that was the adjective I used. I hope that there is going to be no political crisis over it. I hope the hon. Gentleman will be good enough to allow me the privilege of addressing the Committee, and will not bring the matter before the British Medical Association. He dissected it and cut the bone from the marrow. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us that he has produced surpluses, which, as a matter of fact, are deficits. He has told us that he has made ends meet, and under the critical review of my right hon. Friend we discover that the "meeting" has been effected not by honest taxation, not even by very doubtful borrowing, but—and I am quoting my Tight hon. Friend—by theft.
The right hon. Gentleman delivered to us a most admirable homily on the economic disadvantages of the development of the country on loans. I never could quite understand the mentality of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. How any man could have delivered that homily, when one of his most deliberate actions was the raiding of a fund which did not belong to him, and which he had no more business to raid than he would have to raid my own bank balance, without treating me on an equality with other citizens, I cannot understand. How a Chancellor of the Exchequer who has been guilty of that major crime against sound finance and State probity 368 could have delivered that pretentious lecture upon the economic unsoundness of developing the country by loans, I do not understand. That is how he makes his ends meet. It is not a question in his case of building roads, developing national resources, draining marshes, and that sort of thing; it is merely a question of making the credit side balance with the debit side, and he could not even do that without committing raids which my right hon. Friend quite legitimately described as theft.
My right hon. Friend proved conclusively that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that great genius of finance, has been using capital for current income. He proved that the right hon. Gentleman has made his Sinking Fund apparently come up to the standard that he laid down himself, by transferring from other and independent accounts credits that ought to have been left in those accounts. He proved that so far from strengthening national credit during the four-and-a-half or five years of his tenure of office, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer claimed to have done, he has weakened and not strengthened it, and he is handing over the evil results to his successors. That is rather a pitiable record. Into the mysteries of high finance I am not going to enter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] No. I am not qualified to do it. I am rather in the position of a second in the fight than a principal. [Laughter.] Yes. I have made a present to the right hon. Gentleman of one of those words which he may like to misinterpret, but those who have acquaintance with me know what I mean by the expression.
As was inevitable in the Budget speech, it was more an election manifesto than a Treasury financial statement. The right hon. Gentleman attacked with striking rhetoric and accustomed irrelevance, certain proposals which have been made for dealing with the unemployed. One of the curious features of this Budget is that he seems to forget that there is anything like a special unemployment problem in the country. One of his own followers, the right hon. Member for Norwich (Sir H. Young), made a suggestion to the Prime Minister, and I hope that the Prime Minister has read it and that it may be embodied in the statement which he is going to make tomorrow morning. I do not know whether 369 the right hon. Member for Norwich was giving advice or was using information, but I can assure him that in his two points he has already been forestalled. When he talks about money for the development of the Crown Colonies, I should like to ask him whether he has read "Labour and the Nation." I was interested in what the right hon. Gentleman said, and I am interested in the further development of his idea. He will find it all laid down, with sufficient fullness for his further guidance, in the pages of "Labour and the Nation."
When he proceeded to draw a distinction between us and his own friends by telling us, on partial information only, about the Ghezireh Plain and the cotton grown there, he quite forgot, or he never knew—I am sure he must have forgotten—that we had as big a finger in that pie as anybody. When he went on to inform the Committee with a sort of mid-Victorian complacency that this was an extraordinarily magnificent example of how efficiently State credit could be given to private enterprise and how private enterprise can still remain private enterprise after the operation, he apparently forgot that the syndicate which is operating that irrigated plain in the production of cotton is under conditions which were imposed upon them by us. The Despatches which I sent to Lord Allenby on this subject, when agreeing to the covering guarantee of £3,500,000 in order to complete the Makwar dam which enabled this irrigation to take place, contained four conditions. One was that the market for the cotton was to be independent of the will of the syndicate, and the second was that the prices which the syndicate charged for this cotton had to be watched, because syndicates—I am not quoting—cannot be trusted to settle prices that are fair to the buying public. I therefore suggest to the Prime Minister that before he faces his followers tomorrow he will get somebody to produce to him the White Paper which contains the Despatches and which was published in February, 1924.
The barren position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was apparent to anyone who knew the quotation he read from Dr. Cunningham about railway development in this country. I am sorry to say that when I saw that book produced in front of me it made me aware of the 370 tremendous number of years that have elapsed since I read it first, but as soon as he started reading it the passage sprung back to my memory as though I had only read it yesterday. The right hon. Gentleman completely misunderstood that passage. The situation is perfectly simple, and I refer to it not for debating purposes because there is no experience in the economic development of this country which supports the Labour party more in its unemployment policy than the incidents referred to by Dr. Cunningham, and which were quoted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to imagine that Dr. Cunningham's point was that there was too much railway building; that too much credit was given in the actual development of railways. That is not the point at all. What brought about the very serious crisis in the English financial position was not the over-demand for sleepers and rails, and trucks and carriages and engines, but the speculation of private enterprise in trying to exploit the situation. It was the right hon. Gentleman's pet idea of how industry should be conducted. It was no question of money being withdrawn from an ordinary industry, but of being put into an industry which was saturated in a legitimate way with money.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer who approaches the railway experience in order to find some sort of wisdom to guide him in criticising or constructing a financial policy, is an extremely foolish man. What happened was that on account of the feverish speculations and the great advertisement that was given to railway development, money was put in, not for railway development, but as speculation on railway shares. The legitimate railway development was the very reason why this country tided over the economic difficulties then facing it. The right hon. Gentleman forgot to tell us about the famine existing at the time, about the dry summer that had devastated the agricultural areas, about the Irish difficulties. He forgot to tell us about Peel's Budget of that year. The right hon. Gentleman, I know, will never charge me with doing anything that is offensive in any way to him, but really, with all due seriousness, his treatment of that passage from Cunningham was most deplorable in every sense Does the right hon. Gentleman imagine, or is he going to 371 tell the country in some South Batter-sea again, that as a result of the development of road building and so on, as in the Labour party programme, we are going to increase speculation? He knows perfectly well that the great guarantee against speculation in the future transport development of this country lies in the fact that it is being controlled by public authorities. He knows perfectly well that every economic influence and power that brought such disasters upon England during the terrible railway crisis, was owing to unregulated private enterprise and speculation, and that every one of them is guarded against by the proposals that we make.
It was not exactly at that time, but under precisely the circumstances that were operative in those days that Mr. Gladstone made a very notable pronouncement. Mr. Gladstone said that he would no sooner trust railway proprietors on railway matters than he would trust Gracchus to speak on sedition. The right hon. Gentleman has failed to understand the feature of the railway development. From our point of view the statement of another economist is important. After having listened to the right hon. Gentleman and having been somewhat amazed by his superficial knowledge of the material that he was handling, I took the trouble to look up another economist who dealt with exactly the same situation—Professor Thorold Rogers. [Interruption.] It is all very well, but this has the most direct bearing upon our proposals regarding unemployment. Referring to Peel's Budget, he said:The revenue would have suffered seriously had it not been for the impulse given to railway enterprise and the demand for labour, paid generally at high rates. Great Britain was put in the hands of navvies and the directors of the works found out that one well-paid workman was worth two ill-paid persons.There is our policy as opposed to the policy of hon. Members opposite. All this time both the Whig and the Tory parties were opposed to railway development at all. They told exactly the same absurd stories about the evil effects of railway development that the Government are now telling about the evil effects of the application of the Labour party programme to the problem of unemployment. That is not all. They were both opposed 372 to Sir Thomas Brassey's policy of high wages in those days. Of course, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is laughing. The Chancellor ought to know his own state of mind if it is shown so plainly upon his face. They were opposed in those days to the policy of high wages; and just as the Prime Minister laid down the policy that low wages and long hours could be made the basis of a reconstructed national policy, so they did the same in those days. I say that in the House of Commons and not over the wireless where there can be no answer. Sir Thomas Brassey's policy of high wages rested on the assumption that high wages did two things—first, that they increased the efficiency of the workmen, and, secondly, that they created a home market which was just as valuable as a foreign market. That policy was opposed by both Whig and Tory of those days—by people holding the same order of views as that which characterises most of the right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Front Government Bench. I must thank the Chancellor for reminding me so "timeously," as we say in Scotland—so appropriately—of a magnificent historical parallel of precisely what we have in our minds for the future development of our country. One would like to go further into the matter. We have had once again that amusing statement by the Minister of War about safeguarding. What is one going to say about if? Of course, if it is a matter of mere political clap-trap on one side or the other, all right, but, if we are going to put real, sound, substantial economic issues before the country, what is one to say of a Minister who states that he will prove that safeguarding has not an adverse effect upon prices and whose proof is that since safeguarding has been introduced in certain industries prices have gone down?
§ Mr. MacDONALD
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will do himself the service of reading his own speech tomorrow. The second argument is, "Look what the McKenna Duties have done to develop artificial silk and motor car production." He was asked yesterday if he would be good enough to produce figures showing the development of those new industries before Safeguarding. Why 373 was it not done? I know that the Minister of War is always an accommodating gentleman. I know very well that he has not withheld the information from the Committee to-day because he did not fully appreciate the courtesies of Parliamentary procedure. I venture to say that he cannot produce those figures, or that, if he does produce them, they will prove that his economic argument, based upon bare statistics, is absolutely unsound and inadequate. I confess that I sat by my fireside and I heard the right hon. Gentleman deliver that wonderfully complacent broadcast speech, which I am glad to say secured for the Labour party the vote of one of my friends who was very doubtful up to then about the effect of Safeguarding upon new industries. One of the things the right hon. Gentleman said was that Mr. Ford had brought his factories to Essex on account of Safeguarding. I must confess that I had an evil intention when, I hope very politely and without inconvenience, I interrupted the Minister of War this afternoon. If I inconvenienced him, I apologise.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
Thank you. I was very much afraid the right hon. Gentleman was going to pass on without mentioning the name that he mentioned in broadcasting, and, therefore, I asked him if he would give me a case, and most conveniently and confidently he said "Mr. Ford." The Minister of War apparently did not know, or, if he did know, he was very careful to withhold the fact, that Mr. Ford's negotiations for the land upon which his factory is being built were made in June, 1924, and I am sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes such frequent references, such horrified references, to 1924 that his colleague the Minister of War has not been able to forget the fact that that was the time when the Labour Government was in office. Furthermore, he must not forget that the transaction was effected at a time when the McKenna Duties were actually off, or, rather, when the announcement had been made quite definitely that the McKenna Duties were coming off. But that is not all the story. The right hon. Gentleman has thrown a remark across the Floor that he had great prevision, but that does not fit 374 the story, unfortunately for him, because Mr. Ford's first intention was to go to Cork, and he only left Cork when he found that the South Ireland Government was going to pursue a Protectionist policy. I admit, if it be any satisfaction to hon. Members opposite, that if they go upon mere figures, and if they imagine that they can put the figure "7" in 1924 and the figure "9" in 1926, and imagine that seven and nine are of the same value it is in favour of Safeguarding.
But I must apologise. I had no idea I was taking up so much of the time of the Committee. I will just finish by stating that this Budget is really a "Hands up!" Budget; it is a Budget of surrender. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, met by bookmakers, said "Hands up! Kamerad!" He was met by the brewers and he said, "Well now, look here, we cannot keep up the arrangement that we made in the De rating Bill, so let us come to an arrangement. I will take your advantage off by one proposal, and then I will vote £1,000,000 for the retail licensees, and out of the £1,000,000 you will get at least £800,000. Hands up! Come along!" He was met by the landlords, and it was again a case of "Hands up!" regarding agriculture. There is no "hands up" for unemployment, no "hands up" for widows' pensions, and no "hands up" for sound finance. So far as I am concerned, I am perfectly content to leave the Budget where it is. During the weeks that will elapse between now and the Election, I shall thank from the bottom of my heart my old friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer for presenting us with such a valuable asset, and with such a magnificent opportunity for increasing the majority that we will register against the Government.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am sure that there is no one, in whatever part of the Committee he sits, who has not extended a full measure of sympathy to the right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition. For my part, I think that I may express a very general opinion when I add to that measure of sympathy a mead of admiration, first of all for his loyalty, and secondly for his skill. His loyalty and his skill together have enabled him to treat the matter before the Committee in such a fashion that, in the first place, 375 he covered up the fatal indiscretion of his colleague in vague platitudes and, in the second place, he placed a solid wad and pad of three-quarters of an hour of verbiage between him and the very simple and calm issue upon which Parliament and the House of Commons is determined to have a perfectly clear decision.
I am not going to take up the time of the Committee unduly, and I am not going to try to raise the temper of the Committee by anything I shall say. I am only going to ask for a perfectly clear and definite response because certain issues were raised yesterday. I hoped that they were raised inadvertently, but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) came down here to-day, and made it perfectly clear that it was no question of words chosen on the spur of the moment. He made it perfectly clear that it was his deliberate, solid political position. I should like to remind the Committee that I gave the right hon. Gentleman a friendly warning yesterday. I am on record in the OFFICIAL REPORT. The moment that he used this fatal word "repudiation," which in 24 hours had tinkled round the globe, I rose, and he was rather reluctant to give way, but I think that I put it to him in an absolutely calm, and not an irritating manner, whether he had not better just think it over and put it a little differently. [Interruption]. Whatever I have to say I am going to say.
The right hon. Gentleman came down here to-day and repeated and reiterated what he had said yesterday, and that raised a very grave issue. After all, the whole modern feeling is that great parties, great countries and great communities are not to be brought into squabbles or controversies or confusions on account of any pique or pride of individuals. The whole tendency of the modern age is that individuals must subordinate themselves to the general movement of large communities. We cannot have our relations with our nearest neighbour destroyed and impaired by the prejudice and ill-feeling, personal ill-feeling, of a single individual, however eminent he may be, nor has anyone a right to twist or distort the foreign policy of a party or of a country merely because in the course of his political activities he has been led into taking up an utterly untenable and 376 indefensible position. Let us just see exactly where we stand in this matter. I am not going to take up the time of the Committee unduly. There are two points at issue, only two points at issue. The first is the point which the right hon. Member for Colne Valley unfolded yesterday when he said to me:Does the right hon. Gentleman then maintain that an agreement which is made by a Government supported by a party which happens to have a temporary majority in the House of Commons commits every other party in the State to the confirmation and the acceptance of that agreement in the future? If that be so, it is a doctrine to which I cannot subscribe."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1929; col. 121, Vol. 227.]Now I understand that is completely withdrawn by the Leader of the Opposition. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Well, is it or is it not? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer!"] I am not out to press a party point against a Parliamentarian whom I admire as I do the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley; it is too important for that. This is the vital basis of the credit of our—[An HON. MEMBER: "Election!"]—No, you are really wrong if you think that. It is the vital foundation of our national credit. Is it to be understood that, whatever Government is in power, the honourable obligations into which this country has entered will be honoured, however inconvenient they may be, and will faithfully be carried out? That is what I understand to be the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.]—It is so? Now come, he can give an answer to that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer!"] I ask that, not to humiliate the right hon. Member for Colne Valley, but to increase the efficiency of the general policy of this country. Anyhow, I will not push it further; but I take it that the statement made in so very few sentences, clear cut, crystal sentences, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman) on behalf of the Liberal party does define definitely the position which is now adopted by the Leader of the Labour party.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
In your own words. Now let me come to the second point. The right hon. Member for Colne Valley described the Balfour Note as an "infamous" document, and of all the 377 adjectives that might have been ill-chosen there was hardly one which could have been selected in the dictionary which less described that statesmanlike document, a document which has bean accepted throughout Europe as the statement of a just cause and which has reconciled nations who have felt that the payment of their debts was a cruel infliction upon them when they were seeking to recover from the War.
The right hon. Gentleman said yesterdaythat if ever we get more from those annuities and German reparations than our payments to the United States, we have to reduce the amount of the annuities to be received from our continental debtors. We have never subscribed, let it be remembered, to the principle of the Balfour Note. I think that was an infamous Note."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1929; cols. 120–121, Vol. 227.]I understand—and must have an answer—[Interruption]—that the position of the Labour party is that they agree with the principle of the Balfour Note that we are to take no more from Europe than we have to pay to the United States. Is that so, or is it not so? After all, the country and the world is going to read this discussion, and are you not going to say whether your policy is to take more from Europe than America extracts from us or not? I have never seen a situation where a great leader of a party has been unable to say. [Interruption] I am going to put it to the right hon. Gentleman directly—it is extremely important—whether or not they are going to take more from Europe than the United States take from us? Any man who takes a part in politics must be prepared 378 to face the responsibility, and no man on those benches has the right to make a statement except on the basis that he may be responsible. I am not going to take "No" for an answer. [Interruption.] I beg the right hon. Gentleman to give me a definite answer to the question—Is it clearly understood that the policy of the Labour party is not to take more from Europe than we have to pay to America? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer!"] I do not wish to obstruct the right hon. Gentleman, but has it really come to this, that the Leader of the Opposition dare not rise in his place and give an answer to that simple question? I must admit that the resources of interrogation and argument are exhausted, and I commit and commend to the attention of the country the fact that the Labour party and the late Prime Minister of this country are incapable of answering a perfectly plain and simple question, which has been put to them although it is one which affects the livelihood of the people of this country, and the Leader of the Opposition sits there without daring to open his mouth.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow; Committee to sit again To-morrow.
§ The remaining Government Orders were read, and postponed.