HC Deb 25 April 1929 vol 227 cc1138-43

Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."


I was just dealing with the question of the Sugar Duty, on which the hon. Member for Peckham told the House that its remission would have been of much more value to working-class families than the remission of the Tea Duty contained in this Bill. I say that the effect of the differentiation made in the last Finance Act, amounting to a farthing a pound, has been almost miraculous. It has reduced the imports of refined sugar by 200,000 tons a year; it has increased the imports of raw sugar by half-a-million tons a year; it has reduced unemployment in the refining centres, and, the consumer has received, not only the farthing a pound promised for a period of two months, but also another reduction of a farthing a pound. Sugar is selling at a halfpenny a pound cheaper, and we are producing it in this country to the immense advantage of those people employed in the refining industry. In other words, cheaper sugar is being sold, in the manufacture of which British labour is employed to a great extent. The hon. Member for Peckham deplored that we had not entirely swept away the Sugar Duty. I say that, in dealing with the Sugar Duty, the remission which the Chancellor made last year has done more for the working class of this country than any benefit which they could have received from the complete remission of that duty.

I want to make one reference to the speech of the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague). He belittled the amount of the savings of the working classes and poorer people in this country, which were referred to in a speech earlier this aftenoon. He said that it was absurd to say that a man who only owned his back garden, or a man with a small deposit in the Co-operative Society or the Savings Bank had joined the capitalist class. That line of argument is like rejecting a seed because it is not a tree. We are only beginning. I foresee an enormous development of capitalism in this country, and I am quite sure it is on those lines that we shall see a sound development, and not on the lines, advocated by the hon. Member for West Islington, of a general distri- bution of the existing pool of wealth Not only is that utterly impracticable, but it has been shown by Sir Josiah Stamp that, if the whole wealth of those who possess more than a certain sum was divided up, it would produce a ridiculously small addition to the average weekly budget of a working-class family. That shows the fundamental difference between our point of view. The point of view of hon. Members opposite is to say that you will have no sound finance, no cure for unemployment, no improvement in the conditions of the working classes of this country until you sweep away the whole of the present system. That argument appeared quite clearly in the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for North Lanarkshire (Miss Lee). It was ably dealt with in the speech of the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Sir F. Meyer), who pointed out how deplorable it was to use a line of argument which practically says that it is a shocking thing that a great new industry like the chemical industry should distribute a dividend of 10 per cent. I might add that a very large number of shares in that industry are owned by the workers themselves.

If you look to America, you see an enormous development there, even in the last eight or nine years, in the holdings by the working classes in securities of all kinds, and you see even the creation of their own banks to carry on industry. It will be quite clear to any hon. Member who studies these subjects that it is on such lines of a wider distribution of a new production of wealth and the assistance of all classes working together that we shall attain an increase in the national revenue which will enable Chancellors of the Exchequer in the future to reduce the burden of taxation upon the individual and upon industry. I felt that on this question of the Tea and the Sugar Duties it was necessary to correct the figure given by the hon. Member for Peckham and to show that the real advantage to the working class family is very substantial. Taking this Bill as a whole it has met with no criticism from the House. No one can suggest that any party in the House is prepared to divide against the Bill or any Clause of it. That is the best possible proof that the Chancellor has dealt with the Surplus that he has at his command in the best possible way in the interests of all classes.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

The hon. Baronet, I suppose, has now-rejoined the shortly-to-be-attenuated ranks of the Conservative party, and the only comment I have to make on his remarks is that apparently the brilliant speech of my hon. Friend the Member for North Lanark (Miss Lee) so dazzled and fascinated him that he missed the whole point of the hon. Lady's reference to Imperial Chemicals. Her complaint was not that they distributed 10 per cent. on a very large capital, but that under derating this great monopoly received a gift of a large sum torn from the general ratepayers and taxpayers of the country. That was the point of the brilliant and fascinating speech of the hon. Lady. I agree with what the hon Baronet said about the encouragement of thrift. We want people to get a little capital put by for a rainy day, but we object to one man bequeathing £1,000,000 or more to a, perhaps, ne'er-do-well son, with all the power of the use and tyranny of that unearned wealth. That is the great difference between us. The hon. Baronet stands for a system which provides a wealthy privileged class, by inheritance, and we do not.

I wish to add to the protest already made against the unconstitutional and vicious act of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in introducing two Finance Bills. My constitutional soul is ravaged. It is not only unconstitutional, but unparliamentary. The hon. Baronet apparently is pleased at the abolition of the Betting Duty, but I have a protest to make against what has taken place. To differentiate between different telephone users as a class and to put a £40 tax on a little struggling bookmaker is a most unfair procedure. What I really rose to say relates to the Railway Passenger Duty Clause. I was astonished at what we were told by the Minister of Transport to-day art Question time. It was bad enough coming to some unwritten agreement, some gentlemen's agreement, with the railway companies, that the money they received, capitalised to the extent of £6,500,000, should be expended on the improvement of transport facilities, but the Minister admitted, with regard to level crossings, that he had seen no plans, that he did not know what the companies were to do or when they were to do it. The railway companies may delay for years before they use this capital sum. They may put the savings to general revenue and not expend the money for years. What is the use of this £6,500,000 scattered over the railway systems of the country? The railways have a capital value, I believe, round about £2,000,000,000. What improvements can be made? That improvements are needed is admitted.

Take the case of Hull. We have for years been pressing for the removal of half-a-dozen level crossings that are checking the development of our city and causing delays and loss. We Save at last come to an arrangement with the St. Davids Committee and the railway company concerned and the City Corporation. The companies are putting down £100,000 for the purpose, but nothing can be done until a Bill has been introduced, and that cannot be until a new Parliament is in being. To that great work of freeing the city the railway company will give only £100,000, and the rest of the money, the greater part of £1,000,000, will have to be found by loan. We have a far greater need, and that is a railway means of crossing the estuary of the Humber. A generation ago, in a more venturesome age, when the companies were more prosperous, a Bill went through the House to enable us to construct a tunnel under the Humber. That scheme would absorb the whole of the £6,500,000. The father of the hon. and learned Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Grotrian) is honourably remembered in Hull for the great part he took in this matter. But the reactionaries in another place threw out the Bill by a handful of votes. We have progressed a good deal since those days, and whereas a railway means of Crossing the river is required, we also need a means of taking motor-cars across.


This is really carrying the discussion too far on a Finance Bill.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I was only using an illustration to show that in this particular part of Yorkshire the whole of the £6,500,000 could be expended on a double road and railway bridge or tunnel. The sum is a mere drop in the ocean compared With what is required in transport alone. As to Clause 3 of the Bill, we welcome it as a starving man would welcome a ginger biscuit when what he really wanted was a good beefsteak. Clause 4 repeals the Tea Duty. Just after the information became known that the duty would be repealed, my wife was in Hull, going about amongst the working-class households, and she was told the following: That the very week-end when the duty come off cheese went up a 1d. a pound, flour 2d., and the rates 7d. or 8d. or 9d., and the unfortunate working-class housewives were 6d. down on the transaction. A lot of use that is! Those people were not talking politically, but as the mother of one family would talk to another. They were talking economics, not politics. There you have a little picture of what those boasted concessions of the Budget are. The people who control food through their rings and monopolies and mergers and cartels see that the little extra spending power of the people goes into their pockets. I am, talking, not of the retailers, but of the great wholesalers who control the price of food at its source. Until we can have some really effective method, through a Food Council with enlarged powers, for example, the effect of these concessions will be lost by the people who need it most.

I must say a word about another proposal in the Bill, which, apparently, was drawn up at the last moment without preparation or study. I refer to the bagatelle of £30,000 thrown to the fishing industry. I have not noticed that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South-West Hull has congratulated the Chancellor of the Exchequer about that yet, and the reason is that to the trawling industry it means very little indeed. The bulk of it will go to Scotland, and the English herring industry will get practically nothing.


We shall get our little bit at Hartlepool.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

Nothing whatever. When the hon. Member looks into the matter and sees the trawl owners they will bear out my statement. The money is to go to the exploration of the sea. But that is going on all the time now. It is like a man who, having an ornament on his mantlepiece, suddenly produces it and says to his wife: "Look what I have bought you to-day, my dear," and he gives it to her. This is mere window-dressing. It is something that has been in the shop all the time, but it put into the window to make those outside think that the stock has changed. Of course, the exploration of the sea is a great scientific work and is valuable. The Scottish fishermen are to get something. As for the unfortunate fishermen of Devon and Cornwall, the in-shore fishermen who gives us the recruits for the Navy and the lifeboats, whose living has been torn away from them by the War and other recent developments—there is very little for them. The £30,000 distributed as is proposed is of very little use to the fishing industry. I have pleaded on many occasions for help for this industry, but have been disappointed.

As to the Budget as a whole, it is to me most disappointing. There is no imagination in it. There is nothing in this Bill to help employment or trade. There is nothing on the grand scale, nothing worthy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, I thought, in his last Budget would produce something that succeeding generations would talk about. I thought he would be remembered as a man who had gone outside the beaten tracks of politics and had found something that would give encouragement to the struggling people, who are trying to work through post-War difficulties and the long-continual trade slump. I can assure hon. Members opposite that if they pretend that we on this side welcome an increase in unemployment, they do us a very great injustice. We want to see the trade of the country improve and men getting to work, whoever gets the credit for it. The proof of that is the fact that again and again—

It being half-past Seven of the Clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the CHAIRMAN of WAYS and MEANS under Standing Order No 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.