§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day For the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (THE EARL OF CREWE)
My Lords, I need not detain the House at any great length over the Finance Bill, but it is desirable that I should say a few words to explain to your Lordships the form in which this year it comes before the House. The Bill deals only with certain provisions for the finance of the year it deals with the Tea Duty, with the Income Tax, and with provision for the Sinking Fund, and it also contains clauses dealing with some smaller matters relating to finance—clauses which are of the nature of concessions, mostly of a technical character, in relation to other taxes and licences. It covers all the ground which is not covered by those taxes which are permanent, and which until they are repealed by Act of Parliament form part of the law of the land.
Your Lordships will note, therefore, that the course which we are adopting on this occasion differs in material respects from that which was recommended to us by the noble Marquess who is not in his place, the Leader of the Opposition, at the time when the Finance Bill of the previous year was before the House, just a year ago. At that time we were asked to pass an Act of Parliament legalising certain taxes, but 918 leaving all the rest of the financial provision of the year uncertain and undecided. That, of course, is not what we are doing now, because this proposed plan, as I say, if and when your Lordships are good enough to pass the Bill, will complete, so far as the raising of taxes is concerned, the entire financial provision of the year, so that the Budget itself is not split in the manner in which ii was proposed that it should be split a year ago, although the debate on the Budget is undoubtedly split, and this fact has been a matter of comment in another place and may possibly be made a matter of comment here.
But, my Lords, I. think you will agree that the particular point of dividing the debate upon the Budget, although not the Budget itself, into two is one which concerns us here very much less than it concerns the other House. The arrangement made is so far as those taxes are concerned which form part of the permanent provision for raising money, that the debate upon them in another place and the possible moving of Amendments should be postponed until after the meeting of the new Parliament. That course, whatever objection it may be thought necessary to take to it, does not materially concern us here, because it is always open at any time of any session for any of your Lordships to draw attention, either by Question or by Motion, to any subject connected with the finance of the year which you may think worthy of comment. It has not been the custom, and we in this House say it has never been the right, of your Lordships to amend the Budget or to suggest Amendments to the Budget, and consequently I think I am not overstating the case when I say that the postponement of the power of criticism and of amendment so far as regards such subjects as the Licence Duty, the Land Taxes, and others, although it may affect the cow se of debate in another place, does not place us here under any disability of any kind.
The justification for the course which we are taking this year depends and must depend, upon the opinion we hold as to the necessity for a Dissolution of Parliament at this particular moment. On that point I know very well we are not agreed. Your Lordships opposite hold as I understand, that no Dissolution of Parliament was necessary in the immediate future. Therein you differ categorically from the 919 Leader of your Party, Mr. Balfour, who, although he maintained that it was not necessary that His Majesty should be asked to dissolve Parliament now, stated his opinion that a Dissolution of Parliament was inevitable within a few weeks or months; and if that was so, and taking it for the moment as an agreed proposition, we are prepared to maintain, assuming it to be the case that a Dissolution could not be long deferred, that in asking His Majesty to dissolve Parliament now rather than in January or in the early spring we have taken a course which is the most convenient for the country. We are told that the course we have taken is one which is disastrous owing to the disturbance of Christmas trade and the upsetting of the ordinary course of events at this season which is approaching one ordinarily given up to holiday. But I venture to say that if it had been known that a Dissolution was certain although somewhat slightly deferred, that disturbance, unfortunate as we all agree that it is, would have been greatly increased. All the objections which can be taken now to a Dissolution and to an election—which I may remind your Lordships will be over so far as ninny parts of the country are concerned by the end of the first week in December, and practically in all parts of the country by the end of the second week—and all disturbance caused thereby would have been vastly increased by the knowledge that an election was soon impending and by the state of agitation and commotion which would necessarily have accompanied that knowledge. I believe, therefore, that in advising the Crown as we have, we have, assuming, of course, that a Dissolution was necessary at all, adopted the most convenient course. I ask your Lordships to read the Bill a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Crewe.)
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, I do not rise to make a speech on the somewhat extraordinary apology which the noble Earl has just addressed to the House for the unprecedented course which has been taken in regard to this Bill. Your Lordships will have in recollection all that was said last year as to the effect on the finance of the country of the delay of the then Budget even for the purpose of submission to the constituencies. What has been the 920 course since the return of the present Parliament? There was at first a marked indisposition on the part of the Government to submit the Budget on which they had gone to the country to the verdict of the House of Commons. That was overcome after months of what appeared to us unreasonable delay. The new Budget was consequently put off to a period of the year for which no precedent existed, and. as time went on every obstacle was again interposed in the House of Commons to the discussion of that Budget and to bringing to solution questions which it was well known would be very dangerous to the followers of the Government. An adjournment was made to the autumn, and then when the time came to make good all this provision a portion only is dealt with. An attempt was made to divide the Budget, leaving out those portions on which there was controversy in the present House of Commons and dealing only with those on which there was more or less agreement in the Party which supports His Majesty's Government. Your Lordships do not intend to vote on this question, and therefore I forbear from making any observations, except merely to enter our protest against the treatment to which we have been subjected in this matter in not being allowed to discuss, as we have a right to do, the finance of the country as a whole—treatment which has never before been meted out to Parliament, and which has obviously been dictated by a desire on the part of His Majesty's Government to avoid troublesome questions. Having entered this protest against the course which the Government have taken, we do not propose to trouble your Lordships further with regard to it.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a.
§ Committee negatived: Then (Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended) Bill read 3a, and passed.