HC Deb 17 April 1934 vol 288 cc927-35

Motion made, and Question proposed, That—(a) as from the eighteenth day of April, nineteen hundred and thirty-four, the customs duties in respect of sugar, molasses, glucose and saccharin consigned from and grown, produced or manufactured in a colony or other country to which section two of the Finance Act, 1932, applies, shall be at the rates specified in the following two sub-paragraphs instead of at the rates theretofore chargeable—

(i) in the case of sugar accompanied by a quota certificate issued on or after the said eighteenth day of April, the duties shall be at the rates set out in the following table:

Article. Rate of duty.
s. d.
Sugar of a polarisation exceeding 99 degrees the cwt. 2 4.7
Sugar of a polarisation exceeding 98 degrees but not exceeding 99 degrees the cwt. 1 6.3
Sugar of a polarisation not exceeding 76 degrees the cwt. 0 9.6
Sugar of a polarisation exceeding 76 degrees and not exceeding 98 degrees Intermediate rates varying between 9.6d. and 1s. 6.3d. per cwt.

(ii) in the case of sugar not accompanied by such a certificate and in the case of molasses, glucose and saccharin, the duties shall be at the preferential rates, respectively, chargeable under Section eight of the Finance Act, 1925, and Section four of the Finance Act, 1928, on sugar, molasses, glucose and saccharin being Empire products:

(b) the quantity of sugar in respect of which quota certificates are issued shall not in the financial year ending on the thirty-first day of March, nineteeen hundred and thirty-five, and subsequent financial years exceed three hundred and sixty thousand tons:

(c) in the case of sugar and molasses produced in the United Kingdom from material on which there has been paid a Customs duty at a rate chargeable by virtue of this Resolution, drawback shall be paid in accordance with the provisions of Section four of, and the Second Schedule to, the Finance Act, 1928, except that in the application of the said Schedule to sugar and molasses produced as aforesaid from sugar on which there has been paid a duty at a rate chargeable by virtue of sub-paragraph (i) of paragraph (a) of this Resolution, the scales set out in the following tables shall be substituted for the scales set out in Part II of the said Schedule:

Scale applicable in case of sugar.
Degree of polarisation. Rate or amount of drawback.
Of a polarisation exceeding 99 degrees. Where the rate of duty paid was 2s. 4.7d. the cwt., a drawback at the same rate.
Where a rate of duty less than 2s. 4.7d. the cwt. was paid, a drawback at the rate of 1s. 7.4d. the cwt.
Of a polarisation not exceeding 99 degrees. A drawback equal to the duty chargeable under sub-paragraph (i) of paragraph (a) of this Resolution on sugar of the like polarisation.
Scale applicable in case of molasses.
Nature of molasses. Amount of drawback.
s. d.
If containing not more than 50 per cent. of sweetening matter and weighing not less than 14 pounds to the gallon …the cwt. 0
If containing more than 50 percent. but not more than 60 per cent. of sweetening matter the cwt. 0 7
If containing more than 60 per cent. but not more than70 per cent. of sweetening matter the cwt. 0 9
If containing more than 70 per cent. but not more than 80 percent. of sweetening matter the cwt. 1
If containing more than 80 per cent. of sweetening matter the cwt. 1

And it is hereby declared that it is expedient in the public interest that this Resolution shall have statutory effect under the provisions of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act, 1913.—[Mr. Chamberlain.]

5.23 p.m.


It is not customary on these occasions to have a long Debate but to exchange a few courtesies and remarks and leave the main Debate to be opened to-morrow. I do not intend to do other than follow the usual custom to-day. I should like to congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the brevity and businesslike manner of his statement. It was a statement with few flourishes. There were a few high lights, and, until the end, low lights, and he got through his Budget statement in the shortest time that I can remember. I should like to congratulate him on the matter of his statement but I regret that I am entirely unable to do so. I think it is quite the meanest Budget on record. The right hon. Gentleman has been wonderfully generous at other people's expense. There were some hon. Members who thought that we should have cheered wildly when we heard some of the announcements of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but we were rather too wary to be caught like that. We know our Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The short point I want to make is that for all the sufferings of the unemployed he is getting off by a cheap contribution of something like £3,500,000, not much more than the concession he is giving to the motorists. The poorer members of the community even among Income Tax payers are being put aside for the claims of the rentier class. It is a shifting of taxation from the direct taxpayer to the indirect taxpayer. The proportions are being altered against the indirect taxpayer, against the consumer, year after year, and even when dealing with Income Tax the right hon. Gentleman continues to inflict the greatest burden on the poorest. After all, the surplus which the right hon. Gentleman has is derived from the sufferings of the poorest in the community.

I would only draw attention to one, other curious feature of the statement. We have heard extraordinary little of the fact that we are not paying the interest on the American Debt. I do not in the least object to our not paying the interest, and I hope to see a time when the world will throw off the burden of the moneylenders to a greater extent. I welcome the attitude on the other side of the House that although we owe this money we are not going to pay it. I hope that a token payment will be introduced more widely. I only hope that the right hon. Gentleman's statement will be as welcome in America as it is in this country. Let me draw attention to one interesting page in the statement, page 6, in reference to the melancholy list of our bad debts. We have had no reference to them at all. I shall not detain the Committee further except to say that we shall oppose this Budget. We regard it as an insult to the unemployed, from whom millions and millions have been taken, that they are being given, in exchange, a few paltry words of thanks, a few words of insolence and £3,500,000 and told that they must rest content.

5.30 p.m.


It has been the custom in recent years to abstain from controversial discussions on the first day of the Budget statement and to reserve to the following and succeeding days any general criticism or elaborate comments upon the Chancellor's statement for the year. I, for my part, shall conform to that convention. I was sorry last year that the Leader of the Opposition, whose continued absence we all greatly deplore, departed from that custom and engaged in a somewhat long criticism of all the proposals which had just been laid before the Committee. I am glad that to-day my hon. Friend the Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) has returned to the earlier practice although he could not resist the temptation of making a few comments, some of them, in our view, somewhat exaggerated, with respect to the particular proposals laid before us to-day. My purpose in rising is to express what I feel sure is the universal feeling of this Committee, a feeling of appreciation of the manner in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day has performed his most onerous and responsible task. For the manner of presentation we all can have nothing but praise although, with respect to the substance of the statement, the approval of some of us may be qualified.

As I have said, I shall resist the temptation to engage in any critical discussion on this occasion, but I cannot refrain from expressing in a single sentence the surprise that some of us feel at the fact that the Chancellor, having laid down the general principle that the resources at his disposal would allow him to relieve, to the extent of one half, the burdens imposed by the National Government of 1931, should have, quite rightly in our view, made an exception with regard to the unemployed and restored the whole of the cuts—of that we entirely approve but, on the other hand, has made no restoration of the allowances to the smaller Income Tax payers, while he has removed not one half but the whole of the additional 6d. imposed on the standard rate of Income Tax. That is all I wish to say upon these matters. The Chancellor's statement was comprehensive, clear and admirably simple. We have indeed changed the style of Parliamentary presentation from what it was in the 19th century. There is in the Budget statement nowadays little rhetoric. Modern taste rejects the ornate, whether in Parliamentary oratory or in architecture. We have had to-day a speech of severe simplicity and of the most admirable lucidity. I am sure that the whole Committee congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon his statement and thank him cordially for the manner in which he has presented it.

5.34 p.m.


I rise with the spokesmen of the various other parties—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] The cheers from above the Gangway which have greeted that remark appear almost as restrained as the Chancellor's announcement. I rise not to enter into any controversy on the Budget statement but to offer, with the others who have spoken, my congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman. I do so fully and without any reservations. The other party spokesmen have made reservations. They presumably expected more from the National Government than I did. Their political associations and philosophies are probably more in harmony with those of the National Government than mine are and I came here to-day expecting nothing either from the National Government or from the capitalist system. I have heard the announcement of the restoration of the cuts to the unemployed and for that I thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer without reservation. But I do not admit for one moment that he is the only person responsible for that situation having been reached to-day. One of the great principles of democracy, I think, is that a great many forces contribute to a final result. I have been completely open in my congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman and, therefore, I hope he will not refuse some share of the credit to the 2,000 unemployed men who came as hunger-marchers to London and stated the view that these cuts ought to be restored. I am sure at this stage of the afternoon after his arduous task the Chancellor would rather have a cup of tea than any more bouquets, and I conclude at this point.

5.36 p.m.


I have on previous occasions been allowed to say a few sentences following on the Budget statement, as chairman of the Income Tax Payers' Society. On their behalf I wish to thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the relief he is affording them from a burden which they have borne so long and so patiently. I entirely associate myself with the restoration of the cuts and I do not wish to be misunderstood in that respect. In the criticisms which have been made on the Chancellor with regard to Income Tax, however, I think hon. Members have forgotten that the burden of Income Tax and Supertax is greater at the present time than it was during the War, and it is a very serious matter for the country to be living under war taxation in time of peace. While we are grateful that something has been done to relieve that burden, I trust that in the forthcoming year steps will be taken, in the interests of the country, even more than in the interests of the Income Tax payer to see that this war rate of taxation is reduced to a proper level.

Last year when the Chancellor of the Exchequer reduced the Beer Duty because it was ceasing to be a revenue-producing tax I ventured to 'suggest to him that the same consideration applied to the Income Tax. I am glad that this year he has recognised that fact and I am sure that, from the revenue point of view, that is a most wise recognition. Although the amount of tax received this year exceeded the Budget estimate, it was £22,000,000 less than had been received in the previous year. It has steadily diminished during the last three years and is £59,000,000 less than it was three years ago. It is interesting to recall that 60 years ago when Gladstone introduced his Budget he received the cheers of the House for reducing the Income Tax from 3d. to 2d. in the pound. We are much obliged to the Chancellor for the statesmanlike Budget which he has opened to-day. In spite of the critical remarks made by the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition, I am sure it will he received by all classes of the community as an eminently fair one and one which does credit to the Chancellor and the Government.

5.38 p.m.


It seems almost a presumption to add to the congratulations already offered to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the very clear statement which he has made to the Committee, but I would like personally to thank him and to say how some of us who sit on these benches appreciate his action in making the first return to prosperity the occasion for restoring the cuts. Two years ago, some of us had to take a very difficult decision in asking the unemployed to accept the cuts. It is a special satisfaction to me that the first duty which the Chancellor has undertaken in this Budget has been to restore those cuts. I am sure, to the unemployed, it will matter little from what source the money comes. The chief thing for them will be that they will receive the larger payment in the future. In regard to the Income Tax there is a great deal to be said for the action of the Chancellor in taking off sixpence. Although his action may be open to the criticism already made that Income Tax payers are still at the disadvantage of being deprived of certain benefits which they had two years ago, yet I cannot help thinking that the interest of trade and the general interest of the country will best be served on the lines which the Chancellor has taken.

5.40 p.m.


I also congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I would add that we must congratulate ourselves on the fact that we had a citizen in this country like the late Sir John Ellerman whose estate contributed so much to the Revenue. That is something for the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) to keep in mind. That the un- employed and the community in general should benefit to such an extent from that estate seems to be some justification for what the hon. Member chooses to call the capitalist system. The Dollar Exchange Account and one or two other things have assisted and in this Budget, although we have the vista of prosperity open to us, prosperity has not yet been reached. We are, however, on the road.

May I mention a typical Highland industry for which the Chancellor has done nothing. I refer to the persecuted industry of distilling. It used to belong to the Highlands. The Highlander made his own whisky and sold a little of it and then he was told by the Government of the day that it must all be kept to the distilleries and private distillation was prohibited. Now the distilling industry has shrunk as much as the beer industry. It is down to less than one-third of what it was before the War. An article which costs a shilling or two to make is taxed to about 20 times its value. It was originally intended as a medicine and is meant to be used for medical purposes, but poor people to-day who are suffering from illness cannot afford that medicine. I wish that fact were more generally recognised and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer by a reduction of the duty on this article would make it possible for the sick poor to get it when it is ordered for them by a medical man. I am satisfied that if he reduced the whisky duty to such an extent as would enable whisky to be sold at 10s. a bottle—so that a man would not have to destroy £1 to the extent of 12s. 6d. in buying a single bottle—about double the quantity would be sold. In that case a man would have two bottles instead of one. There would be no loss to the revenue and it would add a great deal to the comfort, well-being and health of the people.

It would also help Scotland, because as I have said this is a typical Scottish industry. In my constituency there are a score of distilleries and there are many in other parts of Scotland, numbers of these have been standing idle. America, I am glad to say, has now learned the lesson of prohibition. We all know how unreasonable the Americans have been in this matter. Now they have had their lesson and we have seen there the effects of prohibition. We are enforcing prohibition in this particular matter by taxation, and we are only enforcing it on the poor people. We injure the industry and the people, and I think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should take the earliest opportunity of bringing the duty down to more reasonable proportions. It was all very well in the days when Chancellors had nothing else to tax. They simply clapped it on beer, whisky, and tobacco, but now they have innumerable articles that can be taxed. A lightening of this duty would assist the agriculture of Scotland, for it should be remembered that barley is taxed at the rate of £300 an acre at the least. Apart from that matter, I congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but speaking as a man from the Highlands and from a distilling county, I am deeply disappointed that Scotsmen have again to to be subjected to this overwhelming burden.

Question put, and agreed to.

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