HC Deb 30 September 1931 vol 257 cc448-50

Question again proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."


I was saying that all taxes, by whatever names they may be called, are taxes leviable upon the wealth of those who possess fortunes merely through the maldistribution of the wealth produced. As long as the House of Commons ignores that basic fact, and as long as the canons of taxation are such that every Government believes it to be its right and duty to penalise men who make incomes, or men who have larger incomes than others, it is inevitable that we should be faced with such a situation as that which faces us now, when the finances of the country are breaking down, and devices have to be resorted to in order to find money to meet the emergency. I agree that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been on more than one occasion left as an isolated figure in the House warning the country of the disaster that was coming. I knew, long before the Chancellor made his public pronouncement in the House that this crisis was inevitable. It was self-evident to any serious student of economics, and that this House should have dilly-dallied as it has done for years, as if there were not matters of consequence ahead, always has been to me an astonishing reflection on the mentality of this Chamber, if I may say so without disrespect.

I congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on his courage in those days, and I should like to add that some of those who are sitting beside him to-night gave him but little encouragement or support when he was in that isolated position warning the country of the trouble that was coming on. I would say this also with regard to the present Prime Minister, who is asking us to assist in raising new revenues to meet these emergencies. For two years I sat on the benches behind the right hon. Gentleman, and I noticed how he seemed to carry on as though everything was all right and nothing was going to happen. It was left entirely to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to face the odium of the task of warning this State where it was going. It would be out of order for me to go more deeply into this matter, but we have inevitably got into this trouble through our own carelessness and inability as representatives of the people of this country, and we cannot wonder at the attitude of men and women in the poorer orders of society. All that they know is that they have a great struggle to live. Their daily problem is how to meet rent, rates and the cost of food for their children during the coming week, and, in their condition of poverty, looking at the vast displays of wealth in other parts of our cities, they conclude that it is a holy and sacred thing for a Chancellor of the Exchequer to impose heavy taxation upon those whom these poorer people believe to be the controllers of vast fortunes.

The vicious consequences of blind and stupid taxation have driven almost every civilisation that the world has ever known into a. morass or a revolution. Let anyone examine item by item this Budget which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been compelled to bring in wader the plea that it is an emergency Budget, necessary to meet the exigencies of the moment. Although the questions of unemployment, the breakdown in the exchanges, the Gold Standard, and so on, are deflecting public attention at the moment, no serious student of economics can deny that, although this Budget may be an emergency measure to raise money for the moment, its economic effect will he to put still further pressure on industry, and perhaps to bring about more unemployment. It is a sad reflection that 615 men who claim to be here as Members of the House of Commons are not attuned to what is implied by this taxation, not in the present year, or last year, or the year before, but over a vast series of years. You have continued to tax industry, you have continued to tax wealth, and you have only made the distribution of wealth more inhuman and more unjust.

As I have said, I do not agree with those who ask that more and heavier taxes should be levied on people with certain incomes, and who seem to think—I am not blaming them for it; perhaps they have not had time to study these matters—that the best thing to do is to put heavy taxation on men with fortunes but I and others, when we have stood alone in the House and asked the House to come back to social justice and proper canons of taxation, have been jeered at. I remember being laughed at when I tried to bring the House back to a realisation that there was a just basis for taxation, and I said to the House, "Very well; do not listen to my suggestions with regard to taxation, but go your own merry way with your taxation on industry and your taxation on incomes, and, as sure as you are in this House, a crisis shall come upon you." It is with you now, and, while you may go on thinking that what some of us asked you to look at was merely a cranky notion of taxation, unless you change your canons of taxation the Budget that you are passing to-night is only the precursor of more serious Budgets that you will have in the future, and you will not be able to placate the disinherited and the unemployed when this House enacts heavier and more powerful exactions from the wealth of those whom you consider to be the better-off members of society. Therefore, while I have no enthusiasm for this tax as a tax, I do not agree with any of the speeches that have been made with regard to it from any quarter of the Committee. All of them have been indicative of muddle-headed thinking, merely accepting the old vicious canons as inevitable and rightful ways of raising money. If you go on like that, I say, "Good luck to you for the moment, but God help you in the future."