§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM rose to ask His Majesty's Government the number of valuers appointed under Part III of the Finance Act, 1931; the 253 cost of the same up to now; and if, in view of the urgent necessity of reducing unnecessary expenditure, they will repeal Part III of that Act, which imposes a new Land Tax, which is not likely to produce any revenue for years, and dispense with the services of the land valuers already appointed; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to ask the Question which appears in my name on the Paper. I put this Question down a short time ago because I understood that the noble Lord, Lord Strachie, who had a similar Question on the Paper about three weeks ago and had postponed it until to-day, was, unfortunately, not well and might not be able to be present. As it seemed to me to be an important matter which needed discussion I ventured to put a similar Question on the Paper in my own name. I understand that though Lord Strachie is much better he is not well enough to be present and, therefore, I propose to ask the Question.
§ The Question really resolves itself into three parts. The first is: Should expenditure on this matter be stopped now? The second is: Will the land values yield any revenue? And the next is: Should not; the Budget be balanced, not by increased taxation but by reduced expenditure? With regard to the first (should this expenditure be stopped now?) I would ask my noble friend Lord Templemore, who I understand is going to reply for the Government, if the Government have not made up their minds as to what they are going to do, whether they should now stop expenditure and not renew it until they have decided whether they are going to repeal the section or whether they are going to continue it. It does not seem to me that at any time, especially at this time, it is wise to con-time expenditure when you do not know whether you will eventually do something which will justify that expenditure or whether you are going to repeal the object for which you incurred that expenditure, and so throw more money into the gutter. I hope my noble friend will be able to satisfy any anxiety upon that point. It cannot be said of me that I have suddenly taken up this question of expenditure. For many years I have endeavoured to call the attention of those people who sit upon Front Benches to the 254 fact that it was desirable in the interests of the nation to stop this great expenditure. I am not accusing any particular Party of being worse than any other, though I am inclined to think the Socialist Party were worse than the Conservative Party; but all Parties were to blame. People who sit on Front Benches are, after all, only human—and humanum est errare. Therefore I think I am justified in saying that they have erred, and that the only reparation they can make is to do something to do away with their errors and to take another and better course.
The next question is: Supposing this land valuation is carried out, is it likely to raise any revenue? We can only judge of the future by the past, and the past in these matters is extremely interesting. If your Lordships will allow me, I will make a short quotation from a speech in another place made on July 14, 1920, by Mr. Chamberlain, now Sir Austen Chamberlain. He was alluding to Mr. Lloyd George's Valuation Act and this is what he said:
What are the facts? The taxes have yielded £1,300,000 in the course of the years they have been imposed. There is duty assessed, but much of it assessed on a wrong basis, to the extent of another £500,000. That is a maximum yield to date of something below the figure of £1,800,000.
Now, if your Lordships will listen to the following words:
The cost of the valuation and collection which was estimated by my right hon. friend's (Mr. Asquith's) Government at £2,000,000 in all, has been £5,000,000. We have spent £5,000,000 to obtain a valuation which is useless for any other purpose in life.
I am most happy to hand to my noble friend the quotation if he wishes to verify it.
§ Having spent £5,000,000 in order to get £1,800,000, it does seem to me, especially at this particular moment, it is rather rash to go and spend more money when, as far as we know, the result will probably be the same as the result of the last land valuation. It is a little striking to remember that when the Bill was introduced the cost was estimated at £2,000,000, whereas as a matter of fact it turned out to be £5,000,000, and in my experience extending over a good many years in another place I have always found this. When any Government bring in any measure 255 which is going to cost money, they always put the cost at less than it turns out to be, and when it is a measure which is going to impose taxation upon the people they always put the amount of the taxation yield at a higher figure than it turns out to be. Therefore, in those circumstances, I do not think we can place very much reliance upon any statement that is made as to what these taxes, if they are carried out, will yield.
§ The third point I think, if I may venture to say so, is the most important, and it is this: Should the Budget be balanced by increased taxation or by reduced expenditure? In my humble opinion we do not want any more taxation. We are suffering at the present moment from a great deal too much taxation. It is quite impossible for this country ever to return to the position in which it was twenty years ago if everybody's income is mulcted by Income Tax and Super-Tax so that he cannot save anything: and if at his death a large portion of his capital is taken and spent for revenue purposes, this is depriving his successor of capital and is depriving the State of what I think everybody will agree is absolutely necessary, and that is that there should be capital in the country. I remember Mr. Arthur Balfour saying in the House of Commons—I am afraid noble Lords on the opposite side will not agree with this—that what we are suffering from is not too many rich men but too few rich men. That I think is an absolute fact, and it reminds me of what the American Ambassador, Mr. Page, said in a very interesting book which he wrote and which I commend to noble Lords sitting opposite. He said that one of the reasons of the commercial prosperity of this country was that we had for many centuries been able to save money, and consequently that we had a large reserve of capital which we could use, while America, being a young nation, had not had that advantage, but as soon as America was able to save money in the same way that we had done then America would compete with us in our commercial undertakings.
§ What has happened has been that we have dissipated our money, and we now have very little left. It may have been a good thing to have spent the money that we have spent upon various so-called 256 social reforms. But I think where politicians have made a mistake is that they have apparently been under the impression that there was some hole in the ground to which they could go and dig out money and hand it over to people in return for their votes. Of course there is nothing of the sort. What has taken place is that the money of the few hard-working and saving portions of the community has been taken from them and handed over to the thriftless, and (shall I say?) more lazy portions of the community. The result if this sort of thing goes on will be that there will be no money left to take, and the people who have been receiving these various gifts under the guise of social reform will find there is nothing for them, and the country will be faced with bankruptcy.
May I, in regard to that, quote a few remarks made a few months ago—I think before the May Report—by Sir Ernest Benn? He said this:
At the death of Queen Victoria our Expenditure and public Debt were both covered at least twenty times by private income and private property. We were therefore in a very strong and very sound position, capable of facing any human emergency. To-day public Expenditure is 40 per cent, of the total National Income, while public Debt and obligations are equal to or bigger than the total of the national wealth, public and private. We are just outside of the bankruptcy line and quite unable to meet any emergency that may arise.
§ I think those words are very true and I think that they ought to command the attention of everybody in this House and in another place who has any power to control public expenditure. The situation is indeed serious. The value of the pound I see to-day, according to the evening newspapers, is only 13s. 4d. How much longer are we going on spending money and allowing our resources to shrink? I apologise for having been so long, but I think the situation and the matter is so serious that I earnestly hope that, now that we have a National Government whose object is simply and solely—or is stated to be—the national welfare, we shall turn over a new leaf and economise instead of spending as we have done in the past. I beg to move.
§ LORD DYNEVOR
My Lords, I realise that this National Government has only recently been formed, and that Ministers have many pressing questions to deal with and may not have had time to give to detailed consideration of the question 257 of the Land Taxes. This being the case, the Land Union have no wish to embarrass the Government, particularly as no forms for valuation have yet been issued to the public. On the other hand, we do view with grave anxiety the fact that not only is a costly valuation to be undertaken but that there is also a liability for the payment of very heavy taxation by investors in land and real property. Especially is the liability of an additional Income Tax of 1s. 8d. in the pound on holders of ground rents a crushing burden having regard to the increased taxation in the second Budget for this year which was recently passed.
The difficulties and the unfairness of the valuation to which references were made in the House of Commons last Session, far from being modified, have greatly increased. First, there is the instability of market values due to the fluctuation of the pound. Secondly, there is the fact that the Town Planning Bill which was before Parliament last year, has not been pressed, and the question of town planning has to be taken into consideration as a restriction when making a universal valuation. Therefore immense difficulties must arise. The same state of affairs applies, only in a lesser degree, to the question of land drainage. It had been the intention of the Land Union to raise this matter when either questionnaires or valuation forms had been issued to property owners, but now that the matter has been raised in your Lordships' House we are anxious to make public our attitude on the question without in any way wishing to embarrass the Government unduly. We fought the proposals in the House of Commons last Session. I spoke against the Bill on Second Reading in your Lordships' House, and we are opposed to the taxation of land values.
§ VISCOUNT NOVAR
My Lords, my noble friend who made this Motion and I became familiar with the subject in another place. At that time we took opposite views of it. Mr. Lloyd George's scheme was at any rate fair up to a point and I thought it was justified. It recognised all existing values but it had certain disadvantages. It cost, as my noble friend has said, £5,000,000 and it stopped all private enterprise in building, which its one of the results from which this country has had to suffer as much as any- 258 thing else. That was the result of that Act. My private experience of it was this. Being a supporter of the Act I and one or two friends of mine sent in our own valuations of what our land coming under the Bill was supposed to be worth. I had the figures all worked out in my own office but they were not accepted. I think sixteen valuers came down and spent some weeks on the job, which must have cost a vast sum of money, and they came to exactly the same conclusion as my agent. That was the way money went and the way it will go under this new proposal.
This proposal I consider to be simple robbery. There is no justification for it at all. I should say that I served on Lord Dune din's Titles Commission and from what I heard there I should judge that the valuation for this scheme will cost a good deal more than it did for Mr. Lloyd George's Bill. Not only will great cost be put upon the Government but great cost will be put upon the private owner. The private owner is practically used as an unpaid agent by the Government. In Scotland that is much better known than it is here because the whole of the Small Holdings Act in Scotland uses the landowner as an unpaid agent of the State to do all its work. In this case also the cost will be put upon the private owner. I also entirely agree with what my noble friend who made the Motion has said, that it is reduction in expenditure, not increase in taxation, that will count to the credit or discredit of this Government. Like the noble Lord who spoke just now, I am very well disposed towards giving the National Government plenty of time to decide upon its course in every direction, but I do say that it is reduction in expenditure by which this Government will be judged, and by which not only will this Government be judged, but by which the finances of this country will stand or fall.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
My Lords, may I make one or two observations before the representative of the Government replies? I desire to associate myself entirely with the remarks which fell from the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, though I am not quite sure that I shall find myself in agreement with the manner in which he described—I think the phrase was "those people 259 who sit upon Front Benches," which is not altogether quite in accordance with Parliamentary tradition, associating the names of the noble and learned Viscount (Lord Hailsham) and others who sit with him. The question really which disturbs me, and which, I think, disturbs a great many other noble Lords who are connected with the problems of land and land administration, is this. We have had during the last two or three years, under the late Government, for various reasons which we need not go into, a fresh attack upon the landed interest. There is this proposal which the noble Viscount, Lord Novar, has described as "simple robbery." What we are concerned to know is this. This Government is overwhelmingly Tory—it calls itself national but its complexion is the Conservative complexion—and we desire to know whether these measures which were passed by the last Government are going to be implemented by the present Government or not.
I must confess that on a measure of the sort which is being discussed tonight, and for which the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, the present Viscount Snowden, was mostly responsible, I am surprised, considering what a source of interest and concern it is not only to noble Lords in this House but to all those who are responsible throughout the length and breadth of Great Britain, that the noble Viscount has not taken the trouble to come down and personally give us an explanation of the principles and reasons on which he felt justified in asking Parliament to pass this Act some years ago. The matter, however, is now left, I hope, in the hands of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, and I ask if we might have a definite reply, if possible, to this question. We are, and nobody knows better than the noble and learned Viscount, as the representatives of land in this country placed in a position today so overwhelming and so difficult, in the circumstances of the financial liabilities imposed upon us, that we find the greatest difficulty—almost overwhelming difficulty—in managing the responsibilities and liabilities imposed upon us.
The noble Viscount, Lord Novar, said that the Government used his representatives in Scotland for the purpose of collecting its rents. It is practically the same in England. To-day, really, we are in the 260 position of individuals who are collecting rents on behalf of the Government, and handing perhaps one-third or one-half and sometimes even two-thirds to the recipients at the Treasury. We do not complain. Such is the financial position of the country that all citizens have to bear their share, and if it falls heavily upon us Heaven forbid that we should complain; but we are carrying that enormous burden, and we are entitled to know whether, in addition to that, we are going to have the machinery of this penal legislation—noble Lords described it as "plunder" and "robbery" but I call it penal legislation—imposed upon us, and our subordinates, between now and the next twelve months. If we are to have to face it, then let us know, but if we are not surely the noble and learned Viscount can inform us and the country that this extra responsibility and liability and extra work on those who are toiling for us will not be demanded. If he can do so I can assure him that it will be a source of immense relief to all those associated with the agrarian industry.
I do not want to go into the merits of the financial side. Lord Banbury has told you, and we well remember, in years gone by, that a similar system of taxation was invented when for every twenty shillings you spent you hardly got back ten shillings. Whether that is true to-day, and whether some fresh source of revenue can be extracted from the soil, I am not in a position to judge. The noble and learned Viscount is in a position to know. Personally, I doubt it. I see nothing but a derelict countryside with great houses closed and farms, especially in the Eastern Counties, entirely left vacant. I see the tenantry and husbandmen left in a state of destitution, and many without any prospect of work. To impose fresh taxation upon that portion of the community appears to me to be the greatest folly that could possibly be committed, and it can only be proposed by those who desire from a vindictive spirit to destroy the system of landlord, tenant and labourer which exists to-day.
So much for the financial side. I am not in a position to judge. The noble and learned Viscount is in a position to judge and he can help us enormously by giving us some kind of assurance that 261 this legislation which was passed by the late Government, and with which he cannot have the slightest sympathy whatever, may possibly not be put into operation, and so enable us, who are anxious to make our administration as cheap and economical as possible, to have some assurance that those terrible responsibilities and impositions which would occur as a result of this measure may not be imposed upon us in the future.
§ LORD MARLEY
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, who moved this Motion, did so with all his usual charm and inconsequence. He ranged over practically every subject with which National Government concerns itself, from social services to Queen Victoria, national health and every other imaginable interest of the House. We obtained one certificate from him for which we are profoundly thankful, and that is that those who sit on the Front Benches are human. I do not know whether that extends to the Cabinet, and what we are trying to find out to-day is whether the National Government Cabinet have come to a decision with regard to the question of the continuance or cessation of the valuation for the purpose of the Land Tax. In the case of the Labour Cabinet—of course I do not know what goes on inside Cabinets—I imagine there was a sort of air of a temple, and members spent their time burning incense to gods, perhaps sometimes from our point of view false gods, who in the end did not do us very much good. Inside the National Cabinet there may be another aspect of affairs, but my own impression is that they are spending their time playing "beggar-my-neighbour." One side of the Cabinet offers a tariff if the other side of the Cabinet is allowed to have some voice in what is going to be done in India. The first side of the Cabinet offers a food tax if the other side will allow them to carry the London Passenger Traffic Bill, and so on, between Orders in Council and the Statute of Westminster, we get the card playing game of the exchange of one thing for another.
With regard to the Land Tax, we do not know yet what is the position, but we hope that the noble Lord, Lord Templemore, who, I understand, is going to reply for the Government, will 262 put very clearly before us the decision of the Government on this matter. Before I came in I looked up a very pleasant history of your Lordships' House written by Walter Bagehot and he reminded us that Disraeli had called Sir Robert Peel's Ministry an "organised hypocrisy," and said that the ideas in its head differed from the sensations of its tail!I am not sure that that does not to some extent apply to the present Cabinet—the sensations of the tail differing from the ideas of the head; and perhaps the reply of the noble Lord will reveal whether this is so. We on this side have been taught by distinguished statesmen, economists and politicians to support taxes on land values. The present Prime Minister has told us that land is a vital monopoly. He said:It is from the land that we derive all the primary raw materials. It is the soil which the agriculturist needs, it contains the oils and the minerals of all our vast mining, quarrying, smelting trades; upon it must be built our factories, our warehouses, our houses. It is still, with the exception of the high seas the foundation of our transport industry. The owner of the land is thus in the position of a man who holds the keys of life, and he consequently can exact the maximum toll as his price. He does so. Rent, therefore, tends to absorb every social improvement that can be turned into advantage in the exchange market.The Lord Privy Seal has also taught us a good deal about land taxation. He said:The landowner has the monopoly of a commodity universally needed. He is able to exact rent from those who use it. The factors which determine the rent are not created by individual effort. It is monstrous that individuals should be allowed to appropriate the large increases of value which have not been created by them. If the landowner appropriates an increased share of the wealth of the commodity there is so much less for division amongst the remainder.That is the idea of the Lord Privy Seal.
§ LORD MARLEY
We do not know. Perhaps we shall hear from Lord Templemore whether it is the head or the tail hat is deciding the policy. Another supporter of the present Government is Mr. Winston Churchill, who has also been a convinced supporter of the taxation of and values. After all, the reasons for his taxation have not been clearly stated to your Lordships' House this afternoon 263 and I should like to think that the heart of Lord Templemore may be softened by the few words I have to say and induce him to return a favourable answer. Land, as is well known, may well be kept out of use by the owners until a higher price can be secured. There is the attempt, if you have land, to keep hold of it and pay no rates, or very little rates, until a considerably higher price can be obtained. And in this connection I ask the indulgence of the House for a moment or two to quote Mr. Churchill, who has so clearly put the whole position in regard to this matter. He said:There is a man who keeps a large plot near a growing town idle for years while it is ripening; that is to say, while it is rising in price through the exertions of the surrounding community and the need of the community for more room to live.
§ LORD MARLEY
I cannot say. I expect the noble Duke knows better than I do. Mr. Winston Churchill also said:They speak of the profits of land and the land monopolist as if they were the fruits of thrift and industry and a pleasing example for the poorer classes to imitate. We do not take that view of the question. We think it is a dog-in-the-manger policy.And he went on to describe his plan for dealing with the matter. In just the same way we believe that the taxes on land are a good proposition because we know that the increased value of the land has been created by the community. Mr. Winston Churchill also said:A portion, in some cases the whole, of every benefit which is laboriously acquired by the community is represented in the land value and finds its way automatically into the landlord's pocket. If there is a rise in wages, rents are liable to move forward because the workers can afford to pay a little more. If the opening of a new railway or a new tramway or the institution of an improved service of workmen's trains or the lowering of fares or a new invention or any other public convenience affords a benefit to the workers in any particular district it becomes easier for them to live, and therefore the landlord and the ground landlord, one on top of the other, are able to charge them more for the privilege of living there.264 I do not know how wealthy the landlords are; one is very sorry for their extreme poverty. But as the noble Duke has said, there is poverty universally, and admittedly some landlords have had an unfair share of the increases of the value of the land, and it is only fair that they should share in the taxation that is necessary. Municipal authorities are often exploited when it comes to the acquisition of land, and it was only a few months ago that the Lord Privy Seal quoted cases in which land had to be acquired by local authorities for schools or for other purposes. I know Lord Banbury is concerned with industry, and I will say that by taxes on the land you are going to benefit what is, after all, the staple wealth of Great Britain.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
But you must then get something out of the taxation of land. I do not think you will get anything.
§ LORD MARLEY
The noble Lord differs from the Lord Privy Seal in this matter. The Lord Privy Seal only six months ago, in introducing the taxation of land values in the House of Commons, said it was the main feature of his last Budget. He said:The scandal of the private appropriation of land values created by the enterprise and industry of the people and by the expenditure of public money has been tolerated far too long. We are taking a step that will be approved not only by the Labour and Liberal Parties, who have long advocated this reform, but also by large numbers of Conservatives …I hope I see them here this evening. There is a very disappointing response. I hoped that at least there would be some cheers from noble Lords opposite to this excellent suggestion of their Lord Privy Seal. The quotation goes on—… whose sense of justice is outraged by glaring examples of the exploitation of the public by private land monopolists. The present system stands in the way of social and economic progress, inflicts crushing burdens on industry, and hinders municipal development.Another member of the present Cabinet, the President of the Board of Education, in this connection said:The Liberal Party welcomes that part of the Budget which deals with the taxation of land values. It is a proposal which has been far too long delayed.Another member of the Cabinet, the Home Secretary, also said on the occa- 265 sion of the first Budget debates in the louse of Commons:.…we rejoice that the right hon. gentleman is proposing to carry into effect a reform which has been advocated by us for to many years—the taxation of land values, if only this country had been provident enough in 1848, when John Stuart Mill advocated a tax on these lines—if only this method had been adopted seventy years ago, what princely revenues would now be accruing to the State and local authorities without hardship to anyone!This measure has also been supported by the Lord Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, the Secretary of State for Scotland, and, I understand, by the President of the Board of Trade. So we are getting a pretty strong representation in the Cabinet for the principle of the taxation of land values. In these circumstances I hope that the Cabinet has been able in the course of its exchange and interchange of one policy for another to stand firm on this question of the continuation of the valuation of land for the purposes of the taxation of land values, and that the noble Lord, Lord Templemore, will be able to assure the House that there has been no change of opinion on the part of so many of those who hold Cabinet rank in the National Government.
§ LORD TEMPLEMORE
My Lords, before I reply to the question of my noble friend I should like, if he will allow me, to offer him my sincere congratulations on his eighty-first birthday. The noble Lord seems to me to get younger every year. As he said, he is a critic of every Government which holds office—I hope, in our case, a friendly critic—but, although he sometimes annoys us, I can assure him on behalf of the House that we could ill spare his services in our councils. Beginning with the speech of the noble Lord, I think we have had a very interesting and useful debate. It has not only ranged over the question of these particular Land Taxes, but we have had, it seems to me, a very wide financial debate, with the speech of Lord Dynevor expressing the views of the Land Union, a most useful and exceedingly friendly contribution from Lord Novar, and an informative speech, spoken, I know, from the bottom of his heart, from the noble Duke who sits on the Cross Benches. I hope that 266 your Lordships will not expect me to go too deeply into these matters, and I hope that the noble Lord opposite will not expect me to answer in great detail the points raised by his speech. He gave us some very interesting historical accounts of the opinion of Disraeli about Sir Robert Peel, and then he went into the subject of the Cabinet, and said he did not know what goes on inside Cabinets. Neither do I. He spent most of his time, not so much in dealing with this question of the Land Taxes but in proving what a bad Government this present one is.
As regards the Question of my noble friend, it refers, of course, to the provisions of the first Finance Act, 1931, which dealt with the question of land values taxation. In answer to the first Question on the Paper as to the number of valuers appointed under Part III of that Act, up to date, the number of additional staff is 700. In answer to the second part of his Question, the cost up to date to the Inland Revenue is about £120,000, which includes £60,000 spent by the Inland Revenue Department, and £60,000 spent by two other Departments, the Office of Works and the Ordnance Survey Department. The estimated cost of the first valuation when the Budget was introduced, a valuation which it was estimated would be completed in time for the assessment and collection of tax in 1934, was between £1,000,000 and £1,500,000, and it was stated that the additional staff to be engaged on a temporary basis for this work would not exceed 2,000 in number at the maximum point, of whom one-half would be technical and one-half clerical officers. A Supplementary Estimate of £290,000 for the current year's expenditure by the Inland Revenue Department for this work was authorised by Parliament in July last.
I here come to a point which I hope will bring comfort to my noble friend, who wanted to know if anything had been done to lessen the cost. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer—that is, of course, the present Lord Privy Seal—said in the House of Commons on September 17 last:The engagement of staff required in connection with Part III of the Finance Act, 1931, is now proceeding. The number so far engaged is 205, and their cost during this financial year is estimated at £27,713. I 267 may say, however, it is proposed to reduce the expenditure on the valuation during its initial stages, and thus to effect a considerable saving on the sum provided by Parliament for the current financial year.In accordance with that statement steps have been taken to restrict the engagement of additional staff so as to reduce the expenditure by the Inland Revenue Department on this work during the current financial year to about £140,000. In addition to the expenditure by the Inland Revenue Department, amounting to about £60,000 to date, expenditure has been incurred by the Office of Works and the Ordnance Survey Department in providing office accommodation and maps. Sums amounting to £110,000 have been voted by Parliament for expenditure on those two services in the current financial year, of which about £60,000 has been spent to date.
I have answered, I think, in full the first two parts of my noble friend's Question. When I come to the last part I am exceedingly sorry, but I dare say I shall not satisfy my noble friend. If I do not he must remember that I am one of those people who, at the moment, sit on Front Benches and also that I am only human. I regret that I am unable yet to give any answer except to say that the matter is under the consideration of His Majesty's Government and that my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has expressed the hope that he will be able to make a statement on the subject in another place before the House rises for the Christmas Recess. May I add, in conclusion, that I have been exceedingly impressed, and I am sure my noble friends on the Front Bench have been exceedingly impressed, by the feeling in your Lordships' House, on this side of the House at any rate, upon this matter.
§ LORD TEMPLEMORE
I am sure of that, and I think I may say that I will undertake to bring this particular matter as soon as possible before my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer for his information.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, I only wish to intervene for a very few moments to express my great disappointment at the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Templemore. I cannot help sympathising with the view 268 expressed by the noble Duke on the Cross Benches. It is the uncertainty that is so unsatisactory. Let us have it one way or the other. I do not blame the noble Lord who had to answer on behalf of the Department. I blame the Government for leaving the matter in this nebulous and unsatisfactory state. As we see matters at present, in all probability they do not intend to continue with this valuation or to levy the tax. The preponderance of Conservative opinion in the Cabinet makes that pretty well certain. After all, if the present Cabinet were to drop the Home Secretary, the Lord Privy Seal and even the Prime Minister, it would not very much matter to them. We know that. They have an enormous preponderance of votes in another place. There is a very strong opinion against this Tax in the Conservative Party. Why cannot they have the courage to come down to this House and say so? It would be very much more satisfactory and we should know where we were. Landowners throughout the country would say: "We are relieved of this possible burden in the future." And we should only have one more step towards a completely Conservative policy.
This is another instance of what I mean by the unsatisfactory nature of this so-called National Government. I would so infinitely rather have a Conservative Government with clear-cut views than this present Government.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDEThe noble Lord who made this Motion entirely agrees with me on this point, I am sure. You know where you are then. It is entirely a matter of the tug-of-war inside the Cabinet taking rather longer than usual. We know where all the force is—on one side of the rope. The other side of the rope is very weak indeed. The Prime Minister's head is in a sort of nooze in the middle. It is a most uncomfortable position—and that is the present Government!
§ I think it is very hard on the noble Lord to be made to come down to your Lordships' House on an occasion of this sort, where an opportunity was given to him. and his friends to say: "We are going to give up these Taxes. We do not agree with them. We do not want 269 them, our friends do not want them, and this is a very good opportunity of putting the stopper on altogether." Instead of that, he is made to come down here and give one of those replies which leave us all in uncertainty, with nobody pleased. I thought it necessary to utter these few words of protest because I had hoped for something clear on the subject. However, I do not want to intervene between your Lordships and the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, who, I think, wants to make some remarks about the Motion.
My Lords, in dealing with the Motion which stands on the Paper in the name of my noble friend Lord Banbury and in my own name, I should like to associate myself with everything said by my noble friend in proposing the Motion. I am afraid I must disassociate myself completely from the objection made just now by the noble Lord opposite. For my own part, if 1 may say so in passing, I think that what struck the attention of the House was the Party feeling indulged in by those speaking from the Front Opposition Bench on a matter which, I suppose, was intended by them, when occupying a different position, to be dealt with as a national question on national lines. However, if they prefer to consider the action that was taken when they were in a different position as a Party question and not to deal with the subject on national lines, I presume we may take their criticism at its proper valuation.
At the same time I am bound to confess that I am disappointed with the reply given by my noble friend Lord Templemore. Apart from any question of this, that or the other member of the Cabinet or the composition of the Government, this Government was returned to power to deal on national lines with the questions that lay before it, and this question was obviously one with which it will have to deal on national lines. While we are prepared to understand that there must be some delay in coming to a decision on this and some other matters which certainly would benefit by being dealt with promptly, at the same time I agree that it would be of the greatest help to those who, like myself, are concerned with the question of land and agriculture, of a speedy announcement could be made with regard to the policy of the National Government. It is not our desire, as 270 has been hinted by one of your Lordships on this side of the House, to inconvenience the Government, but the condition of affairs, as the noble Duke has said, is such that it would be of the very greatest assistance to the agricultural interests to know at the earliest possible date where they stood.
The incidence of the proposed Land Tax is one which is bound on investigation, I think, to have a considerable adverse effect upon the agriculturists of the country. From the way in which the Bill was passed, even as amended in another place, I think your Lordships' House, especially after this debate, would feel some legitimate suspicion in regard to this land valuation. Apart from the quotations already made to your Lordships, I should like to read a few words uttered by the late Solicitor-General at Birmingham in July last. He is reported to have said:That (the taxation of land values) was a greater reform and a greater step forward than some people realised. He hoped it would not be long before they got real nationalisation of land, and then the last vestige of the old and antiquated feudal system would be dead.I believe that somewere between 10,000,000 and 12,000,000 hereditaments will have to be dealt with by this valuation, and I should like to remind my noble friend and the Government that, on the previous attempt to value the land of this country, it took some five years to secure the valuation of about three-quarters of the land. No doubt, if this valuation is persisted in, it will take a considerable time before any results, useful or otherwise, can be secured from it. I would appeal, therefore, to my noble friend and the other members of the Government to postpone at any rate the continuation of this valuation beyond the date at which it must inevitably commence as things stand at present— January 1 of next year.
After what has already been said to-day I do not wish to deal with the larger issue of whether a Land Tax is good or not, but I would emphasise, if I may once again, what has been said by several noble Lords, the desirability from every point; of view that we should have some early pronouncement from His Majesty's Government on this matter. So many figures have already been quoted to your Lordships that I am not intending to in- 271 flict any more upon you, but I would suggest to His Majesty's Government that after all, only a short time ago, in an effort to secure economy, with regard to the grant to a very important movement, the value of which has been proved and the success and utility of which have been demonstrated, an economy has been made by ceasing to make the grant that was paid last year to the assisted allotments that were promoted some three years ago by the Society of Friends. They have issued an appeal in the Press which I am sure your Lordships will have noticed with great sympathy, for the sum of £30,000 in order that that most excellent work can go forward. It is a scheme, as I have said, that is a proved success. It is a scheme under which allotments have been afforded to something like 64,000 unemployed men, whose activities have been directed in a most useful way, with an expenditure on the part of the Government of some £23,000. The estimated value of the vegetables and other produce was something like £400,000, if not rather more. I suggest to His Majesty's Government that it is a thousand pities, in the effort to make small and yet important economies, they should be prepared, on the one hand, to withdraw a grant of this nature, and, on the other hand, be prepared to spend, or acquiesce in the spending of something like £110,000 on valuers and machinery for carrying out the valuation. I would remind my noble friend, if I may, that that appeal in respect of the particular small scheme that I have mentioned is backed by no less a person than the present Minister of Agriculture, Sir John Gilmour.
I would therefore once again, if I may, urge the Government to give at the earliest moment possible some decision upon the matter of this valuation. It is due to commence on January 1 next year, and, if nothing better could be done, I would venture once more to suggest that the valuation should at any rate be postponed so that time may be given to deal with this matter in a thorough and fundamental manner. I appreciate the information my noble friend has given us with regard to figures. The size of them will have astonished many who were not aware of what they were, and will have justified my noble friend, and I hope myself, in bringing forward this Motion in your 272 Lordships' House. Perhaps I should add, before sitting down, one word of explanation. My noble relative Lord Strachie is extremely sorry that ill-health has prevented him moving this Motion which was at one time down in his name on the Paper. As my noble friend Lord Ban-bury has said, he is not able to take part in the discussion to-day. May I associate myself with the remarks, as I am sure all your Lordships do, of my noble friend Lord Templemore with regard to the noble Lord, Lord Banbury. He is a man who seems younger in years than he is, and I envy his clarity, his activity, his utility in your Lordships' House. I can only hope that this debate that was inaugurated by him to-day may be of benefit both to the agricultural community, with whose interests I am most particularly concerned on this occasion, and to the country as a whole.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Templemore and my noble friend Lord O'Hagan for the kind and flattering remarks they have made about my humble self. May I also venture to congratulate my noble friend Lord Templemore upon his speech? I think I am right in saying that this is almost the first time he has made a speech on an important subject from that Bench, and I venture to say that it will be by no means the last time. I am reminded of what I understand Disraeli once said to a junior member of the Government sitting on the Front Bench. Some rather awkward question had been asked, and Mr. Disraeli did not want to reply. He turned to a junior member, and said: "Get up and say something. Never mind what you say but say something; only be careful that you don't say anything of any importance." I think my noble friend Lord Templemore, if that was said to him by my noble friend below me (Viscount Hailsham), has fulfilled that task in a most admirable manner. May I venture also to supplement what the noble Duke said? I am rather astonished that the noble Viscount, Lord Snowden, is not here. I am not sure that I do not know the reason of his absence. I think the noble Viscount thought that noble Lords opposite knew something of his record, and that if he came he would have to answer for that record, and it 273 would be better perhaps as a member of the National Government not to remember what he said on another occasion when he took rather different views.
My noble friend Lord Templemore has not said anything about Papers. I do in my Question ask for Papers. I presume that my noble friend did not say anything because it would be a little inconvenient to lay the Papers. Whether that is so or not I do not propose to press for Papers, because I think the House has shown, at any rate for once, that the majority of noble Lords agree with me and in those circumstances I do not think it would be necessary to go to a Division. I am not quite certain whether I caught my noble friend's remarks as to the amount of money that has been spent. Am I right in saying that they have spent up to the present time £120,000?
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
Am I also right in saying they cook under the Financial Resolution power to spend £290,000?
§ LORD TEMPLEMORE
May I by leave of the House say that they took under the Budget a Supplementary Estimate of £290,000, but this was then reduced to £140,000? That was the estimate, and up to date £60,000 has been spent by the Inland Revenue Department, and £60,000 by the Office of Works and the Ordnance Survey preparing maps.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTH'AM
As I understand it, the original Supplementary Estimate was £290,000. That has been reduced to £140,000, and out of that £140,000 only £120,000 has been spent. May I implore the noble Lord not to spend the other £20,000? Let us at any rate show that we have some regard for economy, though the amount is not large. Let us follow the debate this evening by limiting the expenditure to £120,000. I do not propose to insist upon my Motion, but I will not withdraw it. I would rather it was negatived.
§ On Question, Motion negatived.