§ WAYS AND MEANS—Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Mr. Raikes, when, a few weeks ago, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) asked me, on the occasion of our bringing forward certain Supplementary Estimates of expenditure, how I thought the year then current was likely to close, I told him that, although I was not then in a position to bring forward my Budget, I hoped the year would close in a fairly satisfactory manner. I stated that, though undoubtedly there was under some heads of revenue signs of failure, there were compensatory circumstances connected with others, and that, upon the whole, I saw no reason to apprehend that the year would end otherwise than satisfactory. Since that time undoubtedly there has been no improvement in those branches of the revenue to which I referred as being then in an unsatisfactory condition. I allude, of course, to those great branches of revenue—the Customs and Excise. While the returns from these branches of revenue have been less than was anticipated, I am happy to be able to say that the Statement I have to make as to the result of the financial year now last past 990 —the year 1876–7—is one which reasonably answers the description which I ventured to give of it some weeks ago.
The Budget Estimate of revenue last year was £78,412,000, but the actual revenue has been £78,565,036, or an increase on the Estimate of £153,036. On the other hand, the expenditure, which was estimated in the Budget Statement at £78,043,845, has turned out actually as an expenditure of £78,125,227, which is an excess over the Estimate for the year of £81,382. The result, therefore, is, that the surplus, which was expected last year to be £368,000, turns out to be £443,000. Comparing this with the financial results of former years of great prosperity, it is not what would be called a brilliant result. But, on the other hand, having regard to the circumstances of the year just past, and to the condition of trade and industry of the country generally, I think we may congratulate ourselves upon the result being what it is.
I will now briefly state both what the yield of the different items of revenue has been, and also what the result of the expenditure has been, under each head. Hon. Gentlemen are already aware, I have no doubt, by the publication in the newspapers, what the revenue has produced; but, at the same time, it is convenient that I should re-state it upon this occasion. The estimate of revenue from Customs for the year 1876-7 was £20,250,000, but the actual receipts only amounted to £19,922,000, or £328,000 less than the Estimate. On the other hand, the Excise Duties, which were expected to produce £27,624,000, actually produced £27,736,000, which is a revenue in excess of the Estimate amounting to £112,000. The Stamp Duties, which were expected to produce £11,000,000, only resulted in a revenue of £10,890,000, or £110,000 less than the Estimate. The Land Tax and House Duty, which were estimated to produce £2,500,000, actually yielded £2,532,000, or £32, 000 more than was anticipated. The Property and Income Tax paid amounted to £5,280,000, as against an Estimate of £5,268,000, which gave an excess of £12,000 over and above the Estimate. The revenue of the Post Office for the year was estimated at £5,950,000, but it produced £6,000,000, or £50,000 more than the Estimate. It was estimated that the Telegraph Service would yield 991 £1,325,000, but it produced £1,305,000, or £20,000 less than estimated. The Crown Lands were estimated to yield £395,000; but, as a matter of fact, they produced £410,000, or £15,000 in excess of the Estimate. I may mention, in passing, that the revenue derived from Crown Lands exceeds, for the first time, the amount granted to Her Majesty on account of those lands when the arrangement for the Civil List was made. The miscellaneous revenue, which was estimated at £4,100,000, produced £4,490,000, or £390,000 more than the Estimate. I may say a very few words upon the principal variations in these Estimates. With regard to the Customs, the falling off has taken place in several articles, but more especially in spirits. The total revenue from spirits, which was estimated at £5,956,000, resulted in only £5,769,000. The next great falling off is in tobacco, which fell off from an Estimate of £7,950,000 to £7,775,000. There is a falling off also on wine, and a small falling off on tea. Upon one or two articles, especially upon currants and raisins, looking at the magnitude of those heads, there were considerable increases; and this is satisfactory, because those are articles much in use among the poor as luxuries, and therefore they afford some kind of indication of the consuming power of the poorer classes. In regard to the Excise, there again is a very large falling off in some branches of the revenue. Spirits were estimated at £15,150,000, and they produced only £14,875,000. But, in the case of the Excise, there was a compensatory recovery of duty upon malt. Malt, which was estimated at only £7,750,000, actually produced £8,040,000; and this large increase from malt has more than covered the decrease from spirits and has converted a deficit in the Excise into a surplus. I may say, with regard to malt, there were peculiar circumstances, which made the yield an exceptionally good one. The lateness of the barley harvest of 1875-6 threw into the year 1876-7 a part of the duty which, if the harvest had been early, would probably have been collected in the preceding year. On the other hand, the early harvest of 1876-7 brought into that year certain produce which, perhaps, might otherwise have belonged to the year on which we are now entering. Therefore, the year 1876-7 was fortunate, so far as malt 992 goes, at both ends. There is one other item of revenue upon which the Committee may wish for an explanation. They will hardly care for the slight variations upon other items; but I have no doubt that they will have been struck with the very large increase upon the Estimate in the case of miscellaneous revenue. That is an item which we often see described as a very mysterious item; and I believe there are many persons who have a very imperfect notion of what the miscellaneous revenue of the year really does include, and how far it is a source of revenue which admits of being accurately calculated. Well, Sir, the fact is that, with regard to the miscellaneous revenue, it is divided into a large number of heads. In the first place, there are fees received from the Public Offices; fees received from the County Courts, as well as old stores of the Army and Navy; and there are payments that are received from the Government of India in respect of the settlement between this country and India for the troops, which we pay for in the first instance, and which are paid for ultimately by the Government of India. Then, again, there are generally the extra receipts which come in from the different Departments of which my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury spoke so fully the other day. Again, there is a very important item of interest on public loans. We now lend largely to local authorities, and the interest from those loans comes, by the arrangement made three years ago, into the Exchequer under the head miscellaneous revenue. There are other items to which I need not specially refer; but, in the current year, or rather in the year just expired, there have been considerable increases on one or two of those heads. There has been a large increase, as my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury pointed out, in the estimated receipts from the Civil Departments and the Revenue Departments. There has been an increase of £54,000 in the interest on public loans; it was estimated at £600,000, and the amount really received was £654,000. That is dependent upon the amount to which our loans went and the time of year at which they were got. There is one item upon which a very considerable addition was received; I mean fees from County Courts, which were estimated at £380,000, 993 but the amount actually received is £519,000, being about £140,000 more than the Estimate. The explanation of that is not that there was a larger amount of fees received in the whole, but that the practice with regard to foes in the County Courts is that the Treasurers of the County Courts receive the money as it is paid in from time to time, and then at certain periods there is a settlement with the Treasury, and the Treasurers pay over the money in their hands to the Government. This year the time for making these payments to the Treasury has been somewhat accelerated. This acceleration of the time for making these payments has not been brought about, as some hon. Members may perhaps imagine, in the interest of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for, in fact, he knew nothing about it. It was a suggestion which was made by the gentlemen who are connected with the Department of the business of the Treasury for the convenience of the Service. I fully admit that this addition to the revenue of the country was not inconvenient in the circumstances, and the consequence of the alteration has been, that in the course of the last financial year, instead of receiving County Court fees for four quarters we received them for five quarters, and thus the revenue under this head of Miscellaneous Civil Services has been increased by £140,000. This, of course, is an operation that cannot be repeated—it being, in point of fact, something like the one that was carried into effect by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe), when, being Chancellor of the Exchequer, he received five quarters' Income Tax in one financial year, with this difference only—that we did not take a single sixpence out of the pockets of the public a day earlier than they would have paid it in ordinary circumstances. All that we did was to take the balances out of the hands of the Treasurers of the County Courts sooner than they would otherwise have been taken. Not a single person who paid fees was affected by the settlement being made earlier, and, as I have said, this was a transaction entirely for the convenience of the Department, and not in the interest of the revenue. The result of all these transactions has been that the miscellaneous revenue exceeded the Estimates by £390,036.
994 Now, with regard to the expenditure of the past financial year, it has been very close indeed—only £81,000 above the amount at which I put it at the time of the Budget Estimate. No doubt hon. Members may be surprised at this result, because they had notice that in the course of that period Supplementary Estimates of no inconsiderable amount have, at different times, been asked for; and, if the money voted in these Supplementary Estimates had all been spent, in addition to the amount voted for the ordinary supplies, no doubt the expenditure would have been considerably greater than it is. I think that the expenditure, if you had taken all those Supplementary Estimates, would have amounted to £79,020,000. But hon. Members who have watched the course of our finances are aware that, although under our present system Supplementary Estimates must be asked for, still there must also be certain savings, and this year the amount of those savings has been very considerable, and they will, within about £80,000, equal the amount of the Supplementary Estimates. Taking the various items under their respective heads, we find that the Estimate for the Permanent Charge of Debt was placed in last year's Budget at £27,700,000, and that the expenditure under that head was precisely that amount, because any surplus which might arise from the slight variation in the interest of the Debt and of the balances, is applied under the present plan to the redemption of Debt. The Estimate under the head of Interest on Local and Temporary Loans was £160,000, whereas the expenditure was £142,921, being a saving of £17,079. The Interest, &c., on Exchequer Bonds (Suez) was estimated at £150,000, and was actually £149,912. The other Consolidated Fund Charges were estimated at £1,590,000; the expenditure was £1,595,040. The Charge for the Army had been estimated at £15,421,600; the actual expenditure was £15,251,355, being a saving of £170,245. The Estimate of £170,000 for Charges Defrayed on account of Troops in India had been exactly met by the expenditure. The expenditure by the Army Purchase Commission was estimated at £514,200, whereas only £498,362 was actually expended, showing a saving of £15,838. The next item to which I need allude is that which comes under the head of the 995 Miscellaneous Civil Service, the Estimate for which was £13,913,901, whereas the actual expenditure was only £13,333,851, showing a saving under this head of £617,099. [Mr. CHILDERS: You are giving the total grants, not the Estimates.] I beg pardon; the right hon. Gentleman is right. I am comparing the total grants of the year with the results. The expense of collecting the Customs and Inland Revenue was estimated at £2,783,834, the actual expenditure being £2,766,279; the saving effected being £22,880. The estimated charge for the Post Office was £3,187,406, the sum expended being only £3,159,218; the amount saved being £28,188. For the Telegraph Service the Estimate was £1,161,148, the expenditure was £1,141,000; the sum of £20,148 being saved. The expenditure on the Packet Service was £850,889, giving a saving of £1,041. The sum taken for the Navy was £11,372,000, and the actual expenditure £11,364,383; being £8,000 less than the total grant. The total Estimates for the past year, therefore, amounted to £79,020,000, while the total expenditure amounted to £78,125,227, showing a total saving of £895,566. I w ill not dwell further upon this point at present, although I may, perhaps, have occasion again to refer to it before I sit down, because doubtless the Committee, like novel readers, are anxious to get on to the end of my story, and to ascertain as quickly as possible what is going to be done.
I must first give the Estimate of expenditure for the year 1877-8. In the first place, there is the permanent charge of the Debt. That is now £28,000,000. According to the arrangement which was entered into two years ago, we have raised the sum which is to be applied to the charge of the Debt to that which is to be its maximum amount; and I may say, in passing, that the system appears to be working in a very satisfactory way. I will give some details on the subject in a few minutes. Now comes the Interest, &c., on Local Loans. The expenditure under that head last year amounted to £142,921, and we now propose to take £220,000 in respect of it. Then comes the charge for the Suez Canal Loan, which last year amounted to £150,000, and in respect of which we now ask for £200,000. The other Consolidated Fund charges, which last year amounted to 996 £1,595,040, will this year come to £1,600,000. The charge for the Army, as it is intended to present it, will be £14,538,700, as against £15,251,355, the amount of the expenditure last year; showing a decrease under that head of £712,655. The difference, of course, is effected by the exclusion and separation of the home charge for the Forces in India. That will be taken separately, because it does not really belong to the Army expenditure. It is a matter of account which is entered on one side and on the other—therefore the Army stands at £14,538,700). The charge for Home Forces in India will be £1,000,000 this year, as against £170,000 expended under this head last year, while £500,000, practically the same amount as last year, will be required for the purposes of the Army Purchase Commission. For the Navy £10,979,829 will be required, showing a decrease of £384,554 compared with the charge of last year. That Estimate does not provide for any change being effected in that branch of the Service. The charge for the Civil Services will be £13,726,198, which will be an increase over that of last year of £392,347. The charge under the head of Customs and Inland Revenue will be £2,767,165, being within a fraction the same as that of last year. That for the Post Office will be £3,261,461, being an increase over that of last year of £102,243. The cost of the Telegraph Service will be £1,232,814, showing an increase of £91,814; while the charge for the Packet Service will be £767,877, being a decrease of £83,012. The total Estimates for the current financial year will, therefore, amount to £78,794,044, as against a total expenditure last year of £78,125,227, showing a net estimated increase of expenditure of £668, 817 which we shall have to meet. I cannot give a very brilliant account of the prospects of the revenue for the current year, because it would appear that we can no longer rely upon that growing increase in the revenue to which we have been so long accustomed, and which seems to be the normal law of the revenue of this country in ordinary circumstances. Under ordinary circumstances and in ordinary years there can be no doubt that the growth of population and the accumulation of wealth does bring in a considerable addition to the revenue which is derived from the ex- 997 penditure of the people; but I am afraid that we must admit that at the present time there is not so satisfactory a condition of trade—there is not so satisfactory a condition of the consuming classes o this country as to induce us to form an: very sanguine estimate. At the same time, I do not think there is any reason to take a very desponding view of the situation. There are many signs which would lead one to hope that the resource of the country are still untouched, and that the great consuming power of the people, which has stood us in such good stead in former years, is only temporarily less powerful than it was. We are, in fact, in the position of those who on the sea coast watch the rise of the tide. They see one wave follow another, and, although sometimes a succeeding wave does not roll higher than its predecessor still the tide advances; and so I hope and trust will be the case in respect to the revenue of this country. But we have, of course, to look from year to year at each separate wave, and not a the general advance of the tide; and therefore, in consultation with those of my experienced advisers who watch these matters and who are able to form a excellent judgment—as I think the result has proved—of the probable forecast of affairs, I have been obliged to take moderate estimates of revenue. The Customs, from which I last year received £19,922,000, I now put at only £19,850,030. These figures represent decrease of £72,000. In former years, extending up to last year itself, it had been the happy privilege of Chancellors of the Exchequer to think they might venture to add something to the revenue derived from Customs. I am not, however, able to venture to add anything on this occasion; on the contrary, I am obliged to take an estimate a little below the actual yield. With regard to the Excise, I am obliged to be still more moderate in my Estimate. The Excise, which last year yielded £27,736,000, I only estimate this year at £27,500,00, or £236,000 below the amount which actually yielded last year. With regard to Stamps, the actual revenue in 1876-7 was £10,890,000, and I am now obliged to take them at an increase of simply £30,000, making the amount derivable from that source £10,920,000. The Land Tax and House Duty, which yielded last year £2,532,000, I take this year at 998 £2,560,000, there being an increase of £28,000. Then comes the Income Tax. With regard to that tax, hon. Members will remember that last year we raised the rate from 2d. in the pound to 3d.; and of course the financial effect of this was to bring into the year which has just expired four-fifths of the revenue at the increased rate. But the first part of the year's remanet was carried over from the year before, and was of course a remanet at the rate of 2d. Therefore, as the tax has to be taken for calculation at the full rate of 3d. now for the whole year, we have a better remanet coming over to us from last year; and, therefore, I am able to anticipate more revenue from the Income Tax in the course of the present year. The revenue from that tax last year was £5,280,000. I take the estimate for the Income Tax in the coming year on very nearly the same assessment as it was taken on last year. Generally speaking, there is progress in the Income Tax, as in other sources of revenue; and I venture to anticipate that the amount of assessment upon which the duty is calculated will be higher in each succeeding year. But in the present case we do not take it at much advance. I think the increase in the total assessment will not be more than about £10,000; and the effect of that is, that I estimate the Income Tax during the present year at £5,540,000, or £260,000 more than that tax yielded last year. Next comes the Post Office, which yielded last year £6,000,000. This year I am advised to take it at £6,100,000, being well satisfied that is a safe estimate. The Telegraph Service produced last year £1,305,000; I take it this year at the round figure of £1,300,000. Perhaps I might as well take it at £5,000 more or £5,000 less; but I prefer to take it on the lower side. The Crown Lands I take at the same sum as 3 last year—namely, £410,000. Then we come to our old friend, miscellaneous revenue, and the Committee will see that a good deal depends on the amount at which we can fix that revenue. I must remind the Committee, with regard to the miscellaneous revenue — and, indeed, with regard to some portions of the expenditure only—that the State is now becoming a great banker and a great money-lender, and that we are continually going on making advances on public securities, in return for which 999 advances we are continually receiving payments. We are also carrying on the various kinds of business which bring money into the miscellaneous revenue, while at the same time they appear on the other side of the account. Now, Sir, the miscellaneous revenue on the present occasion will exhibit signs of a good deal of business of importance; and I will therefore, instead of giving at once the whole amount of the miscellaneous revenue in gross, mention some of the principal items we shall have to take. In the first place, there will be the interest on Public Loans, amounting to £750,000. Then there will be the annuity which we receive from the Khedive of Egypt in respect of the shares of the Suez Canal—£199,000. These two items, therefore, come to £949,000. Next there will be various items of fees in Public Offices, except County Courts, which I take at £278,000. The County Court fees I take at £388,000; the store receipts for the Navy at £217,000, and the store receipts for the Army at £600,000. As to the Indian revenue, I take the effective charges at £500,000, the non-effective at £400,000, and the arrears at £100,000. The commutation of pensions will be £230,000. The extra receipts from the Civil Departments will, it is estimated, be £300,000, and those from the Revenue Department £266,000. There will also be received £100,000 from the Mint, and there will be various savings on grants and small receipts which will bring the total amount up to £4,840,000. The grand result of these several calculations is that we shall have in the current year a revenue of £79,020,000. The expenditure, as we saw just now, is estimated for the year to come at £78,794,044, and, as we have got an income of £79,020,000, we find ourselves in excess of income above expenditure of £225,956. In these circumstances, I think I may say that we have a Budget ready made to our hands. With an expenditure of £78,794,044, or nearly £78,800,000, and an income of £79,020,000, showing an estimated surplus of £226,000, I think it is pretty clear that we neither ought to think of taking off taxation or of putting on taxation. There is one rule which we ought to act upon—namely, "Let well alone."
Now, Sir, I will venture just to make one remark on the amount of the large revenue which we are now contemplating. 1000 It is said we are taking a very large sum out of the pockets of the people. Undoubtedly we are taking a large sum out of the pockets of the people; but when we have a revenue of £79,020,000, it must be borne in mind that that gives a very exaggerated idea of the real amount of revenue which is charged to the taxpayers. You must deduct, as not forming any part of the charge on the taxpayers, the Post Office revenue, which is received for services rendered; also the Telegraph Service, the Crown Lands, and a large amount of miscellaneous revenue, together with the fee stamps and patent fees, which likewise are considerable. Taking all these items together, you will find that they come to no less than £13,400,000, and that of the amount of £79,000,000 of which we speak, only £65,600,000 is really charged on the taxpayers. The fact is that the large increase which occurs in the figures of our revenue and of our expenditure is an increase which easily deludes the unobservant portion of the public; because a great deal of it depends upon a better and improved system of book-keeping, and on bringing into account matters which formerly were not reckoned at all. Take, for example—though it is a comparatively small matter—the change which was made three years ago with regard to the interest derived from the loans which we make to public bodies. That formerly was not reckoned at all as income; now it is so reckoned. Formerly it went into the Exchequer; it lay there undistinguished from other Exchequer balances; and it was used in such a manner as these balances might be used; but it did not appear in the revenue of the year. Now, however, we bring it into the Exchequer, and this year it adds £750,000 to our revenue without, in fact, imposing a single sixpence of charge on the taxpayers. In former times, too, many officers were supported by the fees which were paid by the public. These continue to be paid, but instead of going to the officers of Departments, they go into the Exchequer; and, on the other hand, the Exchequer pays the officers by salary. That is a good and economical arrangement, but it has the effect of swelling the accounts on one side or the other; and hon. Members must not, therefore, run away with the idea that a mere increase in the figures of our balance-sheet im- 1001 ply that much more, or indeed, any more, money is taken out of the pockets of the people. I think it is very much better we should pursue in every way we can that system; that we should, as far as possible, endeavour to make our accounts as clear as we can. With that view, I have proposed in the present balance-sheet to make a distinction with respect to the modes in which those miscellaneous payments are received. It seems to me to be inconvenient that we should have these enormous sums, which puzzle everybody, continually increasing under our eyes, and deluding people by giving the impression that we are receiving money in some mysterious manner. It would be inconvenient to give in too great detail the receipts under the head of Miscellaneous; but there is one item which I think ought to be separated, and that is the interest on loans for local works. Last year, when we introduced the new system with regard to the interest on local loans, we were anxious that that interest should not form any part of the great item of £28,000,000, which constituted the permanent charge for Debt. We, therefore, in order to keep the matter clear before Parliament and the country, divided the interest for Debt into the permanent charge I have just mentioned, interest on local loans, and the charges for the Suez loan. I propose, in the account of income that we should give, after the item of Crown Lands, "interest on advances for local works and interest paid by the Khedive on account of Suez shares, £950,000," and then miscellaneous will stand at £3,890,000. The figures, of course, are the same.
I have no doubt that the Committee will wish to know what has been the result of the National Debt transactions in the course of the past year. The total amount of the Funded Debt, as it stood on the 31st of March, 1876, was £713,657,517. Since that time we have borrowed, under the Acts for the purchase of the Telegraphs, sums amounting to £284,406, which gives a total of £713,941,923. Against that there has been—debt cancelled by the new Sinking Fund, £642,000; life annuities, £810,000; and other sums, bringing up the total amount cancelled to £1,592,733;This sum for convenience assumes that the new Sinking Fund had all been applied in the purchase of stock by the 31st March.1002 so that the Debt, which stood at the beginning of the year at £713,941,923, is now only £712,349,190. As to the new Sinking Fund, I said just now that the scheme was working satisfactorily. The Committee will bear in mind what the scheme was. It was to set apart a fixed sum, which last year amounted to £28,000,000, to cover, in the first place, all the charge of interest and management of the Debt, and then the balance, whatever it might be, was to go to the redemption of stock. At the time I proposed the plan I was asked to lay upon the Table of the House a calculation showing how that would work in each year. It was rather a rough calculation; but I estimated that by means of the new Sinking Fund the amount of Debt which would be redeemed on the 31st of March, 1877, by its operation would be £764,700. The amount, however, is in point of fact more, being £939,728; so that the amount which has been applied to the reduction of the Debt is £175,028 more than we anticipated. The Sinking Fund, which it was estimated would be sufficient this coming year to purchase £700,000 of stock, will, we reckon, be sufficient to purchase about £900,000 worth. Therefore the scheme is working satisfactorily.
I will now, with the permission of the Committee, state what the increase and diminution of Debt and Capital Expenditure has been during the three years the present Government has been in Office. For that purpose I must, of course, take into account the depreciation in the value of Terminable Annuities. Of course, right hon. Gentlemen opposite will understand that I am not claiming for ourselves any particular merit in this matter; I am merely stating what has been the operation of the transaction. Shortly after we came into Office, on the 1st of April, 1874, the capital of the Funded Debt was £723,514,005. It is at present £712,349,190. The value of the stock in Terminable Annuities was then £51,289,640; it is now only £49,297,103. The total public Debt, therefore, which, when we came into Office, was £774,803,645, is now reduced to £761,646,293. It must be stated, on the other hand, that the Unfunded Debt has been considerably increased. When we came into Office it was £4,479,600; it is now £13,943,800; so that the result on the whole transaction is that the 1003 public Debt, which on the 1st of April, 1874, stood at £779,283,000, is now £775,590,000, showing a decrease of £3,693,000. But the Committee must not forget what has been done during the period of which I am speaking besides that reduction of Debt. During that time we have spent £4,000,000 in purchasing the Suez Canal shares. We have lent to local bodies in excess of what they have repaid £7,417,000; we have spent on barracks and. fortifications, &c., £1,950,000; and on account of the abolition of Purchase in the Army, £1,582,000; besides £599,000 for the Telegraphs, making a total of over £15,000,000, while the Debt has been reduced to the extent of £3,693,000, and the Exchequer balances have been diminished during the three years of which I am speaking by £1,454,000. I think, in considering what I may call the capital expenditure and the balance-sheet of the nation, we ought to do that which any person, considering the state of his own affairs, would do—namely, look not only at the state of our Debt, but also the state of our assets. When we came into power in March, 1874, the Debt amounted, as I have stated, to £779,283,000. Counting advances in the nature of assets, our outstanding investments were £15,300,000, and deducting this from the Debt we may say we had a net liability of £764,000,000. Now, at the present time, the Debt being £775,000,000, the amount of the advances, including the value at cost price of the Suez shares, is £26,800,000 — therefore, the national balance-sheet is better in the three years by £15,200,000. As to the balance in the Exchequer, I said last year that it had been brought down low, but not lower than was safe and profitable, and then it was £5,819,000; but this year it was £5,988,000, or £169,000 more. Now, let me observe that the diminution of the balance since we came into Office is entirely accounted for by the excess of the loans out of the Exchequer for local purposes; that is to say, the excess of the advances over loans being £1,658,000, the diminution of the balance has only been £1,454,000. We have exchanged money for investments bearing interest. Well, Sir, with regard to the loans themselves, I shall not trouble the Committee. My right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board 1004 is about to make the Budget Statement on behalf of the Local Government Board, and he will state the amount that will be required for local loans. I will only mention two points in regard to them. In the first place, with regard to the amount we have to ask for. Last year the demands for advances made upon us by local authorities was £9,821,000; but we found that that amount was enormously overstated, and that £3,432,000 only was required. This year that demand will be £10,550,000, and we have considered that that, too, is overstated, and we have considered that it will be sufficient to provide for £4,000,000. I should say, for the benefit of hon. Gentlemen from Ireland, that these statements in regard to local loans do not include advances in Ireland. These are kept on a separate footing. The amount expected last year was £450,000, but the actual amount was not quite so great. In the coming year the Estimate under that head is £750,000. My hon. Friend the Secretary for the Treasury is about to introduce a Bill, in many respects similar to that introduced last year, for the purpose of assimilating, as far as possible, the law respecting loans in Ireland to that which is in operation in Great Britain. It is necessary to pass that measure as quickly as possible, and I hope we shall have the assistance of hon. Irish Members with that object; because the funds at the disposal of the Board of Works in Ireland for general purposes are very nearly exhausted, and the works will come to a standstill unless something is done.
There is one other point I should like to mention in connection with the subject of loans—I allude to the system of Treasury Bills which we have lately inaugurated. I need not go into the details of the system; but I may observe that the result of the experiment has been exceedingly satisfactory. We desired to raise, to begin with, £2,200,000, and we advertised through the Bank of England for that amount, to be subscribed by means of bills at three and six months. Tenders were received for £970,000 in bills at six months, the prices varying from £2 15s. to £1 5s. per cent, and for £2,384,000 in three months' bills, the prices varying from £3 to £1 12s. per cent. We accepted £561,000 in six months' bills, at an average price of £2 4s. 9d., and £1,639,000 in three 1005 months' bills, at an average price of £1 14s. 9d. While speaking on this subject, I cannot avoid making a passing allusion to the name of a gentleman who took a great interest in this as in many other economical measures, and who, by his able advice, contributed not a little to the successful adoption of the scheme in question; but who has very recently, to our regret, been removed from us, and by whose death I am sure England has sustained a great loss. I refer to the late Mr. Walter Bagehot, who was well known to Members of this House, and whose reputation extended over the country. Let me also acknowledge the handsome manner in which the Governor and Directors of the Bank of England assisted us in this matter.
There is still another subject to which I wish to refer. It is time, I think, that something should be done to put an end to a scandal which has often been thrown in the teeth of Chancellors of the Exchequer—I mean the increasing deficiency upon the Savings Bank accounts. There has been a great misconception in the mind of the public as to the nature of the deficiency, and fears have even been expressed that the funds of the depositors were in some way in danger. Of course, everybody who knows anything of the matter is aware that there is no ground whatever for such an apprehension. Perhaps I ought to apologize to the Committee for making this observation; but these things are read outside, and it is desirable that there should be no mistake on the point in the mind of the public. There is not the slightest suspicion that the funds entrusted to the Government are not equal to any call that may be made upon them. At the same time, as a question of accounts, and as one affecting the Exchequer, the matter is in an unsatisfactory and not altogether a creditable position. I ventured two years ago to deal with this question. I fell into an error in the manner in which I desired to deal with it. I am not now going to raise the question; but I think I may venture to say that it was somewhat misunderstood at the time. What I propose now is of a very much simpler character, and is not intended, I may say, to be of the nature of a great measure of Savings Bank reform. I merely wish to stop the leak. Before long it will probably become the duty of Parliament to consider 1006 the whole position of these banks, and to determine whether any changes should be made in the arrangements under which they are conducted. But I do not want to enter into these questions, and I hope I may be allowed to bring forward the humble proposal which I have to make without being compelled to go into the wide general question. I will not touch the question of the so-called capital deficiency. That is difficult to ascertain. But what we can ascertain and deal with is the excess of interest paid or credited year by year by the National Debt Commissioners to the Trustees of Savings Banks, over and above the interest earned by the National Debt Commissioners on the funds in their hands on account of the Savings Banks. That is easily ascertainable. It is stated at the end of every year, on the 20th November. I propose that year by year that sum should be brought under the notice of Parliament with the view of having the amount voted. I propose, also, that where there is an excess on the other side—as there is in the case of the Post Office Savings Banks—that is to say, where the interest received is in excess of the interest credited—we should bring the surplus into the Exchequer as revenue. The actual state of things will thus be kept before the eyes of the House and of the country, and whenever Parliament should wish to deal with the matter, there will be no difficulty in dealing with it. Now, I find that in the last year, the year ending November 20, 1876, the excess of interest paid or credited by the National Debt Commissioners to the Trustees of Savings Banks was £72,776, and that the excess of interest paid or credited to the Trustees of Friendly Societies was £49,647, making between the two an excess amounting to over £122,000. On the other hand, I see that the excess of interest which is stated to have been earned by the Government in respect of the Post Office Savings Banks is £159,000. From that sum, however, considerable deduction must be made, because the postal revenue bore a great amount of charge in respect of those banks which it ought not to bear. A correspondence is now going on to ascertain what deduction should be made. It will bring it to a sum not very different from the amount I propose that we should vote in respect of the deficiencies. There- 1007 fore, the financial effect of this operation, so far as the Budget is concerned, will be, I may say, nil. There will be about as much voted in Supply in respect of the deficiency as will be brought into the revenue by the profit on Post Office Savings Banks. I hope the plan will commend itself to the judgment of the House.
I do not think I need trouble the Committee with any further observations. I cannot say that it has been my fate or fortune to bring forward a brilliant Budget; yet I think it may be regarded, in the circumstances of the time, as not altogether unsatisfactory. Hon. Gentlemen are well aware—for the fact has forced itself upon the attention not only of commercial circles, but of the whole community—that the times are, and have been, very unfavourable. The depression of trade which has kept down the elasticity of the revenue for the last two or three years still, unfortunately, continues, and there are but faint and feeble signs—if, indeed, any signs at all—of that revival of commercial prosperity for which we earnestly look. I do not think the depression is confined to this country. In other countries we find that the state of things is even worse. But this, at all events, we may say—that the country is at present bearing with considerable firmness the charges which are laid upon it in order to maintain a sound financial system. I think no one can look candidly and impartially into the financial system of this country without admitting that in its general principles—and I believe I may go so far as to say even in its minute details—it is a sound system. I do not say that improvements might not be effected here and there. From time to time we have endeavoured, as other Governments have endeavoured, to bring about improvements. On the whole, however, I think the country may rest satisfied that its finances are in good order; that its taxation is not exceedingly burdensome; that there are existing resources which, if necessary, could be called upon, but which we hope it may not be necessary to call upon; that we proceed year by year upon the sound and wholesome system of maintaining the public credit, that we are reducing on a moderate but systematic plan the National Debt—in short, that the country is being main- 1008 tained in a position which I may designate as one of financial strength. There is no desire on the part of the Government to put any unnecessary strain or pressure on the taxpayers of the country. We desire, above all things, to keep down the cost of government in every possible way consistent with efficiency. We desire, in every possible way, to keep down the demands made for either naval or military expenditure to the amount strictly necessary to keep the great Services in an efficient condition. We believe that the Government of this country and the military and naval Services of this country are worth the money that is expended upon them. We believe that the country is in a sound and healthy condition in case we should be called upon unfortunately to enter into struggles such as we do not care to contemplate. But we are convinced that our strength lies in endeavouring to husband and nurse our resources, and in endeavouring, as far as possible, to keep taxation steady and uniform, and not to disorder them by great fluctuations or great alterations in our system of revenue or expenditure. We believe there is nothing more important to a country than that there shall be reasonable certainty as to what the country shall have to pay and how it shall be called upon to pay it. Therefore, although it is not a very brilliant result for a Chancellor of the Exchequer to arrive at, I may say that I find some consolation—and I may even say that I rejoice—that I am in a position to say that though you have at present only a small surplus, yet there is no deficiency, and if there is no chance of any remission of taxation, there is, on the other hand, no necessity for any addition.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, towards raising the Supply granted to Her Majesty, there shall be charged, collected, and paid for one year, commencing on the sixth day of April, one thousand eight hundred and seventy-seven, in respect of all Property, Profits, and Gains mentioned or described as chargeable in the Act of the sixteenth and seventeenth years of Her Majesty's reign, chapter thirty-four, the following Duties of Income Tax (that is to say):
For every Twenty Shillings of the annual value or amount of Property, Profits, and Gains chargeable under Schedules (A) (C) (D) or (E) of the said Act, the Duty of Three Pence;
And For every Twenty Shillings of the annual value of the occupation of Lands,
Tenements, Hereditaments, and Heritages chargeable under Schedule (B) of the said Act,—
In England, the Duty of One Penny Halfpenny;
In Scotland and Ireland respectively, the Duty of One Penny Farthing;
Subject to the provisions contained in section one hundred and sixty-three of the Act of the fifth and sixth years of Her Majesty's reign, chapter thirty-five, for the exemption of persons whose income is less than One Hundred and Fifty Pounds, and in section eight of 'The Customs and Inland Revenue Act, 1876,' for the relief of persons whose income is less than Four Hundred Pounds.
§ MR. CHILDERS
It is almost impossible for a person who took down a few vague figures on a moment's notice, to discuss the position in which we find ourselves after the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but the general result is, that after three years we have no remission of taxation, but a slight increase of taxes through the steady increase of the public charges. This is a large question, as the Budget itself is, and must be considered after we have had reasonable time to consider the statement which has just been made. In the first place, I must congratulate my right hon. Friend on the attainment of that happy position which my right hon. Friend the Member for Chester (Mr. Dodson) predicted would be the most desirable in which any Minister of Finance could find himself—namely, that the most sensational Budget would be one in which there was no change at all. Before asking one or two questions, I wish to say with respect to the statement which has just been brought before us, that in certain respects the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be received generally with satisfaction. Such, in my opinion, is the suggestion made about the savings banks, which, whether it is accepted or not, is a simple and business-like proposal. I must also congratulate him upon the admirable suggestion on the disposition of the miscellaneous revenues. There are other points of detail in which the statement will be satisfactory, and these give evidence of the success of some of the minor legislation which has recently boon passed. An example of this is the formation of the second sinking fund, which, as far as the figures go, has been thoroughly satisfactory. I must look to other points for details, but this has been done without any inter- 1010 ference with the regular system, which, as far as I am concerned, has given me an agreeable surprise. I want, however, to say a few words about the income and expenditure of last year, and to call the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to that very remarkable portion of the receipts which shows an increase of £100,000—the exact amount is £153,000—which arises entirely from one particular item of revenue. But that has nothing whatever to do with the taxation of the country, which falls short of the estimate through a miscalculation. The calculation, for example, upon the miscellaneous receipts was that there would be a yield of £4,100,000, while the actual income was £4,490,000, so that these items were under-estimated by £390,000; but, if they had yielded no more than was anticipated, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would find himself in a deficit of close upon £250,000.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
remarked that if the miscellaneous receipts had produced no more than the estimate, the result might have been disappointing, but there would have been no deficit because of the saving on expenditure.
§ MR. CHILDERS
That is a polite explanation, and no doubt "disappointment" is a good term for deficit. However, I want to point out to the House what it must have noticed from the analysis of the four quarters of the year. The result of the revenue in the three divisions of Customs, Excise, and Stamps was such as ought to be well studied by the House and the country, and is well deserving of any explanation the Chancellor of the Exchequer can give. In the first part of the year the Customs, Excise, and Stamps give £482,000 more than in the corresponding part of 1875-6. The Chancellor of the Exchequer anticipated these would give £113,000 more —that is to say, in the first half-year the Customs, Excise, and Stamps gave £369,000 more than was estimated in the Budget. In the second half of the year, while the Chancellor of the Exchequer anticipated they would produce £113,000 more than in the corresponding period of 1875-6, they really produced £582,000 less—that is to say, the last half-year fell off by no less than £695,000. If we analyze these figures we shall gain the following results:—In the third quarter of the year, the 1011 Customs, Excise, and Stamps gave a result worse than the Chancellor of the Exchequer's anticipations, at the rate of £1,250,000 a-year, and in the fourth quarter they gave a result worse than the Chancellor of the Exchequer's anticipation at the rate of £1,530,000 a-year. Therefore you have this result—that whereas in the first half of the year the revenue was fairly progressive, and the great items of revenue gave signs of improvement, in the third quarter they fell short of the Budget Estimates at the rate of £1,250,000, and in the fourth quarter at the rate of £1,500,000. Now, it appears to me that this is a matter for grave consideration; and, although I am the last person in the world to take upon myself to question the Revenue Estimates which the Chancellor of the Exchequer submits to the House on his own responsibibility after consulting with the Heads of the great Revenue Departments, yet I think it is quite right to criticise them, and perfectly right to put to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the question that, considering that in the fourth quarter of the year the Estimates have fallen off at the rate of £1,500,000, are you safe in only estimating a falling off in those items at the rate of something over £200,000? The Chancellor of the Exchequer will be able to explain that; but it certainly would seem that the diminution in the revenue under those sources is proceeding at so rapid a rate as hardly to justify him in anticipating so slight a decrease in the revenue. There is another point connected with the receipts of last year to which I wish to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention. Two years ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained that one item had been postponed from the end of March to the beginning of April. Though there was something remarkable in that, it passed; but there is now a remarkable state of things with respect to the aggregate revenue received at the end of the last financial year and at the beginning of the present year. In the third week of March the revenue received was £1,366,000; in the fourth week it was £1,766,000; but in the first week of April it was only £1,068,000 —that is to say, that in the last week of March the Chancellor of the Exchequer received more than in the first week of April by no less than £700,000. It may 1012 be said that there is some difference between those two weeks on account of Easter occurring; but that is not the case, because each of those two weeks included five revenue days, and therefore they might be fairly compared together. The fact, therefore, that in the first of those five days the right hon. Gentleman received £700,000 more than he did in the following five days, is a circumstance that requires to be explained. In the year 1872 Easter day fell on the 1st of April, as in the present year, and then the last week of the financial year had five days, and the first week of the new financial year had also five days. The comparison between 1872 and 1877 is therefore complete, because in the former year, as in the latter, an additional income tax was imposed. I find that in 1872, in the third week in March, the total receipts were £1,522,000; in the fourth week, £1,422,000; and in the first week in April, £1,631,000. Taking the income tax receipts for the same three weeks of 1872, they were in the third week £234,000; in the fourth of five days it was £337,000; and in the first week of April it was £302,000. But in 1877, in the third week in March, it was £311,000; in the fourth week £339,000; and in the first week in April only £76,000. Now, Sir, these figures, unless some explanation can be received, leave this conclusion—that in the last week of March, 1877, somebody took very good care that there should be a large amount of revenue paid into the Exchequer to the detriment of the first week in April. I should think that something like £400,000 was artificially got into the Treasury to the detriment of the first week in April. Thus the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been able to frame a satisfactory Budget as to the accounts of last year, because he had £390,000 miscellaneous revenue more than he had expected, and £400,000 tax revenue more than he would have had if the receipts of the last week in March and the first week in April had followed the ordinary and natural course. But I want to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer for some information with reference to the expenditure of last year. In the first place, he congratulated the Committee on the fact of the expenditure of last year being so much below the aggregate of the Appropriation Bill, 1013 and he said the original Budget Estimate was only exceeded by £80,000. But I would remind him that it was the rule and practice of the former Government, almost without exception, to keep the expenditure of the year within, and considerably within, the Budget Estimate. I know of only one year, while my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone), and my right hon. Friend the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) held the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer, in which the Budget Estimate was exceeded. Whereas, all we can congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon this year is, that it is only a little exceeded, and that the excess is only a small one as compared with the very heavy expenses of the years 1874-5. I also notice that a Supplementary Vote for the Army is taken, and yet the Army expenditure is under the estimated sum. It is remarkable that in the Army Estimates they should have so miscalculated as to come down for a Supplementary Vote of £100,000 or £200,000. Well, Sir, I think I have said all that can be said as to the amount of expenditure of last year. We know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has miscalculated his revenue, and that he has got £400,000 or £500,000 at the end of March which ought to have been at the end of April. Of course, that is all the better for the new year; but I do not think that, without additional explanation, such an unusual circumstance should pass. Now, Sir, I come to the revenue and expenditure estimated by the right hon. Gentleman for the present year. I have already pointed to the very small diminution he has allowed in receipts, and I think some explanation is required why he has only allowed £278,000 diminution in the three great heads of Customs, Excise, and Stamps, as during the last quarter it has fallen off at the rate of £1,500,000 per annum, and during the last six months at the rate of £1,300,000 or £1,400,000 per annum. To justify an estimated improvement on the present rate of income of £1,000,000, requires some evidence. I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman will give it us. I congratulate him heartily on the success of his Government; but in another matter must congratulate him on its non-success. I congratulate him most heartily on the non-success of the 1014 Prisons Bill last year. If it had succeeded, he would have come to us today for £400,000 or £500,000, instead of having a surplus of £226,000. Therefore, he may be thoroughly congratulated on having escaped what would have been a most humiliating position. But there is another new charge besides that for the Prisons Bill, as to which we ought to have some explanation. After a very long delay, the Committee on Army Promotion and Retirement has reported, recommending certain steps which will lead to an aggregate expenditure of something over £1,000,000 a-year; and even deducting the present charge, there will be an increase of something like £500,000 or £600,000 per annum. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to have told us where and to what extent it is probable the charge will affect this next Budget. This proposal has been before the Government nearly a year, if not a full year. The Secretary of State for War is pledged to carry it out in principle, if not in detail, and if adopted during the present year it will certainly add £300,000 or £400,000 to the expenditure. There goes the surplus at one blow. When, therefore, the Chancellor of the Exchequer put before us these figures, I cannot help thinking it would have been more prudent if he had warned the Committee and the country that such a charge might happen, must happen, during the year, the Government having pledged themselves to bring in a measure to carry out the views of the Commission. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will explain how this is, for we ought to know whether this surplus of £226,000 is a real surplus, or whether he has not in petto, if he has not already in reality, and in fact, a charge which will eat that up, and also, in all probability, land him in a deficit. The right hon. Gentleman referred also to the state of the account with respect to the Funded and Unfunded Debt, and in respect to this I must congratulate myself on having last year formed an Estimate which is correct within about £100,000. I ventured to form an Estimate last year which was looked upon, if not inside the House, outside of it, as a very unfair one to Her Majesty's Government. I ventured to say that, so far as I could estimate, the aggregate Funded and Unfunded Debt 1015 would stand at the present time at £775,000,000. According to the figures of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the figures stand nearer £776,000,000 than £775,000,000; and therefore we are entitled to say we did not exaggerate in our comparison of the reduction made by the Government and that made by ourselves when in Office. After making full allowance in that calculation for assets which ought to be credited to the Government in showing their net liability, let me remind the House what those figures are. Allowing for additional taxes and the improvement in net indebtedness, the present Government, in four years, have reduced the National Debt by £14,000,000, while the late Government in five years had reduced it £40,000,000. In fact, it was the reduction of over £8,000,000 annually against £5,000,000. I put forward these figures believing them to be right; but I shall be very glad to have them corrected. When we hear so much of the Sinking Fund and the great progress made by the present Government in the reduction of the Debt, I like to look at the sum total of the whole, and not at the number of different channels through which the reduction has been effected, to see how much the Debt has been reduced rather than to look at the number of weapons employed. No doubt, we had only three weapons employed; while you have four. Our three weapons reduced the Debt at the rate of £8,000,000 a-year, while your four reduced it at the rate of only £5,000,000. I give these figures in order that, if wrong, they may be corrected; and I think when we come to debate the Budget, after full consideration of these figures, we shall be able to do so with some advantage to the country.
§ MR. J. G. HUBBARD
wished to congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the exceedingly satisfactory character of the Budget he had just delivered to the House. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had explained, and even apologized, for not having made a brilliant Budget; but, for his part, he had an intense dread of brilliant Budgets. Consummate eloquence and very intricate reasoning were only required to recommend doubtful measures, or to conceal matters which ought to be known. The best argument and the best logic in a Budget speech was the 1016 logic of figures, and, if they were satisfactory and clear, no other eloquence was required to recommend the Budget to the House. In that respect he gave his right hon. Friend great credit, for nothing could be more thoroughly clear and transparent than his Financial Statement. Everybody could follow it from beginning to end, and not only did it lay clear the accounts of the past year, but it promised to make future Statements still more clear by improvements in setting out both the revenue and the expenditure. In both of these particulars there was great room for improvement. To put miscellaneous receipts under different heads was a great improvement in itself; and, if he might suggest, it would be still better if the Post Office and Telegraph Departments were taken by themselves, not as taxes, but as industrial occupations, undertaken by the Government for the general advantage, in the management of which, after paying all the expenses of administration, there remained a very large surplus to the credit of the account. If his right hon. Friend was challenged with having made certain miscalculations in his Budget, and was told that it was only by an accident that he was saved from a deficit, the accident being that while he overrated his receipts on one side, he underrated his expenditure on the other, he should reply that an offence of that kind was always treated by the House as of a very venial character, as it was impossible for anyone not a prophet to foretell what would be the product of the great sources of revenue, or what would be the exact amount of expenditure under unforeseen circumstances. The very close proximity of the amounts he had laid down with those of the revenue and expenditure entitled him to the credit of great accuracy, both as regarded his own figures and those of the individuals on whom he depended for the compilation of his materials. He had nothing to say as to the contents of the Budget, but he did wish to say something as to its omissions. His right hon. Friend had said the financial system of this country was essentially sound and safe. He quite agreed with that statement, and the reason was that they did not spend more than they had. Their expenditure was guided by principles of moderation and caution, and the result was seen in the very high 1017 credit that this country enjoyed—far superior to that of any other country in the world. But while he gave high praise to their financial system, he must say that our fiscal system was entitled to no praise at all. Our fiscal system—meaning by that the system by which the revenue was raised—was full of imperfections of the most serious character. So long as the Imperial taxes remained subject to the present law which regulated their levy, he thought they could hardly say that our system was one which did not need amendment. One would hardly expect the Chancellor of the Exchequer to enter on the consideration of amendments of our fiscal system at this stage of the Budget; but his right hon. Friend could easily ascertain the feeling of the House on those points in which that system was unequal and required amending; and he (Mr. Hubbard) trusted that the opportunity might be afforded in the course of the present Session. In the meantime, there did not seem to be any other point on which the Budget, as regarded the finances of the year, required serious amendment. He approved of the new statement of accounts with regard to savings banks, because it suggested the possibility of their further improvement by the adjustment of the interest allowed to depositors. He would now content himself with bearing his testimony to the clearness, the general ability, and the satisfactory character of the Budget, reserving for some future opportunity his right to criticise various points of detail contained in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement.
§ MR. BAXTER
said, it had been stated that the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not well be criticised on the night of the Financial Statement; but on this occasion there were no proposals to discuss, and he desired to take advantage of this opportunity, because very few opportunities were afforded them, of saying a few words in regard to the financial position of the country, which he did not think was quite as satisfactory as the Chancellor of the Exchequer was disposed to consider it. The statement of the right hon. Gentleman had filled his mind with a good deal of apprehension. It was perfectly obvious—indeed, the right hon. Gentleman confessed it—that the revenue of the country had entirely lost, 1018 at all events for the moment, all the elasticity which had characterized it in a most remarkable manner for many years past. It was declining in many very important branches, and he was afraid that that decline was only beginning. His right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) said he would be the last man to criticize Estimates brought forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, of course, was well advised; but last year, in a discussion which took place on a Motion proposed by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands), he (Mr. Baxter) ventured to doubt whether the hopes of the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to revenue would be realized; and, notwithstanding his demurring to the statement made by his right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract, it appeared that this year they had been saved from a deficit—not a large one—by the exertions of the income tax collectors, and by that remarkable windfall of £400,000 of miscellaneous receipts which had not been anticipated. The revenue from Customs and Excise during the last two quarters had fallen off greatly. He believed the Customs yielded £328,000 less than the estimate of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Stamps were £110,000 less; and that ought to be a note of warning to the House. Now, the point on which he expected that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have said something, but on which he was disappointed, was this—that it was not the first year or two of bad trade that told upon the revenue. Experience had proved over and over again that the commerce and industries of the country might be in a very depressed state indeed, carried on in many instances without any profit, and in some cases even at a loss; and yet the wages-earning portion of the community might not suffer during that time, and the revenue not be seriously affected. It was only after a considerable period had elapsed, especially at the end of a term of bad trade, and oven when the prospects of trade and commerce were beginning to brighten, that the revenue from the Customs and Excise began to diminish. That was the stage at which he was afraid they had arrived. He had not the slightest wish to criticise the Budget in any Party spirit; but he was convinced that many 1019 persons were taking a far too sanguine view of the commercial prospects of this country and the prospects of the revenue. He did not know any great manufacturing industry of this country at present making a large profit, and he knew that many of them were carried on at a very serious loss. He heard the other day that the Spring purchases made this year in London by country houses had been on a much reduced scale in comparison with the purchases made during the last 10 or 12 years. He was sorry to say he could speak from personal experience of the state of the foreign markets for manufactured goods. They never were worse. The Chancellor of the Exchequer made a general allusion to the depressed condition of the markets of the world. Perhaps that might, in a great measure, be the effect of the two great wars; but, be that as it may, there could be no doubt that the commerce of the world was at present in a most unsatisfactory state. We were largely dependent on the United States of America. It was our greatest market. What was the present condition of that country? So far from there being any improvement, the Customs there had gone down greatly, and were still diminishing. The rate of wages was also falling, and many of the factories in New England were closed. He observed only yesterday a statement issued by the trades unions in America to the effect that there were no fewer than 2,000,000 of people out of employment in the United States. There was not a merchant in that House who did not know how very severe had been the depression in the other great markets in which we were interested—such, for instance, as Chili and the River Plate. They had suffered very heavily, and he need not tell hon. Members that in India, China, and Japan not only had there been no profit, but very severe losses had been sustained, and that the trade there at present was in a state of collapse. If they added that to the state of Europe, the poverty of Germany and the dangerous condition of the markets of the Levant, the House would see that there was no prospect before us of improved trade and a buoyant Exchequer. Under those circumstances, it behoved a great nation like England to put its house in order and look its financial position fairly in the face. He was 1020 sorry to think that it had not been done by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that night. He did not think the right hon. Gentleman clearly comprehended the main facts of the present state of trade as affecting the financial condition of the country. In a time like this, when trade was very bad, and likely to be bad for a considerable time to come, he doubted whether the right hon. Gentleman's calculations with respect to the income tax would be realized. He doubted very much whether the Government would get £260,000 more from that source than they received last year, because, in times like the present, the commercial portion of the community did not contribute in proportion so much to the income tax as did the proprietors of land, professional men, and annuitants, and if the depression continued they would have to resort to new taxation. The state of the revenue of the country was such as he anticipated that there would be nothing to remit and that nothing would be wanted; but he was satisfied that if they went on spending money as they had done they would have next year to face a very large deficit, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have to meet with additional taxation. They had but very few resources to fall back on; and, much as he deplored the difficulty they had to get the people to realize the financial state of the country, and to listen to economists, there were various indications afloat which showed that it would be a very dangerous experiment for any Government, whether Conservative or Liberal, to attempt to add very much more to the taxation of the country in times of profound peace. The estimated expenditure, as far as he could make out, was £668,000 more than that of the past year. From his place in Parliament he wished to protest against this continual increase in the expenditure of the country. Year by year, especially when the Gentlemen on the opposite side were in power, the expenditure went on increasing; and his belief was that before many years passed it would be found absolutely necessary to reduce the expenditure. Other countries had reduced theirs. The United States had most conspicuously reduced their expenditure with a firm and unsparing hand; and, although some right hon. Gentlemen sitting beside him might not concur in his view, he held that there 1021 was nothing in the world to prevent us from following the example of America, if we only had a little more moral courage. With regard to the Civil Service Estimates, the Secretary of the Treasury had shown a very careful hand. When he (Mr. Baxter) had the honour of holding that Office, he endeavoured to bring in those Estimates at an early date; but his hon. Friend (Mr. W. H. Smith) had outstripped all his Predecessors in that respect. The effect of that course would, however, appear to be to swell the Supplementary Estimates to a large extent, and so to disturb the calculations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to compel the right hon. Gentleman to lay before the House, in his Budget, a statement which was not absolutely correct. It was quite clear, as far as the Estimates for the Civil Service were concerned, for the general government of the country, they could expect very little reduction; but he did hope that the present financial condition of the country would put an end to the modern plan of transferring the burden of taxes from the localities to the Imperial Exchequer. That plan had resulted in many instances in removing the burdens from counties and placing it on the towns; and, if the plan were persevered in for another two years, it would make a very miserable man of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But if we wore really to reduce our expenditure in any sensible proportion, and so prevent additional taxation, we must, after all, come to the military expenditure—to what the present Prime Minister had called "bloated armaments." During the 22 years he had been a Member of the House he had watched very closely all financial questions; and in almost every one of those years the House was told that when such and such a change or reform had been brought about the Army expenditure could then be reduced. Our foreign policy had been quite changed; we did not now interfere, and quite properly, in every dispute on the Continent, but reserved ourselves for great occasions; we had equipped a Volunteer force, very numerous and efficient, which the House was repeatedly told would enable us to keep down the military expenditure. We had also a Navy, which was open to criticism, but he felt perfectly satisfied that it could hold its own against any combined Navies in 1022 the world. But what was of more importance than that was that they had passed measures which had produced good feeling, contentment, and happiness among the great body of the people; and yet, notwithstanding these important changes, the expense of the British Army was as great as it had ever been before any of them was effected. He considered the vast expenditure was indefensible. He was not advocating the abolition of a standing Army; but what he desired was that, having altered our policy in many respects, and having left the Colonies to defend themselves, we should not do as had been done—namely, add charges to the military expenditure. He had only one word more to say, and that was to deplore the fact that the House of Commons appeared to have abdicated its ancient and honourable function of keeping down the national expenditure, and had become the chief source of the additions that were made to it. He was delighted with what had fallen from the Secretary to the Treasury the other night on this subject. During the time he (Mr. Baxter) held Office at the Treasury nothing annoyed him more than that the very men who criticised the Estimates in detail, which would save perhaps a thousand or two a-year, went to the Treasury and urged the adoption of schemes which, if adopted, would have cost millions of pounds. One of the dangers we were now incurring was that the Representatives of the people should look with apathy at a rapidly-growing expenditure, which might lead to financial embarrassment. No man could be more delighted than he would be if next year, or the year after, the state of the finances of the country wore better than at present; but he must say that the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer had produced a very serious impression on his mind, and he was very much afraid that the prospects of the trade and commerce of the country were not so good as the right hon. Gentleman imagined.
§ MR. O'REILLY
rejoiced that the taxpayers of the country were not to be subjected to another turn of the screw. The right hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter) had only expressed what was the feeling of a large proportion of our follow-countrymen—what had been called "an ignorant impatience of taxation." The burdens of the taxpayer were rising, 1023 and there was no prospect of their diminishing. They had heard this evening expressions of commiseration for the Chancellor of the Exchequer for having met with a declining revenue. He utterly disputed the accuracy of that statement. The revenue had not declined during the four years the present Government held Office. It was true the revenue was no longer advancing "by leaps and bounds," but it was not diminishing. In 1873-4 the revenue was £76,500,000; next year, under the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, there was a prospective surplus of £6,000,000, and the right hon. Gentleman cut off some considerable sources of income, and yet the revenue was £75,000,000. In 1875-6 it was £77,000,000; in 1876-7 it was £78,500,000, and for the coming year it was estimated at £79,000,000, thus showing a steady progressive increase every year. But if our revenue had increased our expenditure had increased far more. In 1873-4 it was £73,500,000; in 1874-5—the first year in Office of the present Government—it was £74,000,000; in 1875-6 it was £75,500,000; in 1876-7 it was £78,250,000; and in 1877-8 the Budget Estimate was nearly £79,000,000; and he thought there would be very little change out of that amount when the Bill had been paid. There was no extraordinary or unforeseen reason to account for this increase. There had not been any war, and so far as the cost of the abolition of Purchase was concerned, the Government was only carrying out the plans of their Predecessors. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: And paying for them.] Their Predecessors had also to pay for them, and the only Minister who at all showed a disposition to commit the country to an increased expenditure, when he talked of phantom ships and a paper Fleet, had yet been able to remedy all that by an expenditure of £50,000. It was not the Chancellor of the Exchequer that they had to complain of, but the Colleagues by whom he was surrounded. The right hon. Gentleman should have known that his Colleagues were likely to bring forward increased Estimates, yet his general financial policy was open to this criticism—that he had not only, in his first year of Office, given remission of taxation, but actually cut up by the roots an important source of revenue, the sugar duties. In 1874 he discounted the full anticipated increase of 1024 revenue, and he had done so ever since, bringing us to the extremely narrow margin of expected surplus at which we had now arrived. Last year he found himself short of revenue, with the necessity of increased taxation, and proposed just that increase of income tax which he thought sufficient, but cut up by the roots a very considerable source of revenue largely extending the exemptions from income tax, and thereby reducing its revenue-producing power. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer had left the income tax on its old footing we should be safe this year; but in that case, again, the right hon. Gentleman had given up a source of revenue. But what he (Mr. O'Reilly) wished particularly to point attention to was, that it was not a declining revenue we had to complain of, but an inreasing expenditure.
observed that the right hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter) had pointed to the increase of expenditure, and had uttered the usual lamentation over the extravagance of a Conservative Government. Now, the increase of expenditure this year was £660,000, and he (Mr. Gorst) would be able in a very few words to dispose of the whole of that increase of expenditure. In the first place, there was an extra charge of £300,000 for the extinction of the Debt. There went at one stroke of the pen one-half of the increase; then there was an increase in the interest for local loans and the Suez Canal Loan of £127,000. There was also an increase in the revenue departments of the Post Office and Telegraphs of £194,000. Was that increase an evidence of extravagance? Why, it was expected that from that increase there would be more business to transact and more revenue received. Adding up these sums they arrived at a total of £621,000; so that the whole increase for which Her Majesty's Government were responsible was £48,000; and, as matter of fact, he did not believe that there was any such increase at all. Hon. Members had heard that the Government had adopted an improved system of keeping the accounts; but if Gentlemen opposite attempted to make political capital out of that fact by charging the Government, in the way which had been done, with increasing the expenditure, they would be doing their best to put an end to that improved system of accounting. He 1025 strongly protested against any Member of the House—and especially against a Gentleman so conversant with public accounts as the right hon. Member for Montrose — making use in Committee of arguments on this subject which he must have known to be fallacious.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
said, he regretted that the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just spoken had imputed to the right hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter) an attempt to advance fallacious arguments in order to deceive the Committee and to make political capital. That was an unusual charge to put forward in the House, and he was sorry that his right hon. Friend to whom reference had been made was not now present to reply to it. His right hon. Friend was explaining the expenditure of this year as compared with that of 1873. As to the credit taken for the present Government in regard to the extinction of Debt, why that process was no novelty. The late Government extinguished the Debt in a far greater ratio than the present Government had done or could ever hope to do. The growth of expenditure in connection with the Post Office and Telegraph Departments had also been spoken of; but that was a matter with which the late Government had also had to deal. He did not think the Chancellor of the Exchequer was to blame for the increased Estimates. He had no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman would be very thankful to some Members if they were a little more critical of the expenditure of the country; but the fact remained that there was to be an outlay of £26,000,000 on the Army and Navy at a time when the cost of materials for those Services was less than it had been on the average of the last 20 years, and when, in some instances, it was but one-half of the price which obtained in 1873. He could not believe that the Estimates which had just been brought forward would be realized a year hence. A state of matters had now been arrived at when, he thought, it might fairly be said that the prosperity of the country was ebbing. His conviction was that we had entered upon a bad period—a period which would show a decline in the revenue, and which would prove that the anticipations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer were fallacious. In connection with his present Budget the right hon. Gentleman 1026 had evidently been saved from a large deficit by a piece of good luck and by a great whip in all the Revenue Departments—a whip which could not be borne time after time without making matters uncomfortable for somebody two or three years hence. Where did the Chancellor of the Exchequer look for an augmentation of the revenue? He looked to the income tax for an increase of £260,000; but he (Mr. Mundella) was sure that the Secretary of the Treasury would not share that sanguine expectation. Then, with respect to the Customs and Excise, there could be no doubt that in those two great items of income a decline was to be anticipated. The consuming power of the great mass of the people was enormously decreasing. Many of the working classes had come to the end of the savings which they had accumulated during years of prosperity, and to the end also of their credit; and what did that mean? It meant a decrease in the power to purchase exciseable articles, and perhaps the will was also less. He believed the national conscience was awakened to the sin of drinking, and therefore they might look to a decline in the revenue from the sources of Excise. But the manner in which this matter was regarded reminded him of a couplet which he might render—To revenue be very kind,To expenditure be very blind.As he had indicated, he believed the Chancellor of the Exchequer desired to keep the expenditure of the country as low as possible; but the spending Departments were too strong for the right hon. Gentleman. He trusted, therefore, that the economists in the House would demand from the Government a decrease of expenditure. They must remember what would probably be the increased cost under the Prisons Bill; the Retirement and Purchase from the Army, and Deferred Pay schemes.
§ MR. STORER
said, he was not prepared to "rush in where angels fear to tread," and that he doubted much that even angels, unless they were occupants of front benches, would be anxious to rush into a "Budget." He did not blame the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the depression of the agricultural interest of this country; but he wished to know why it was that when the English farmers were charged a penny in the pound for income tax the Irish and Scotch 1027 farmers were let off at three-farthings in the pound? The Irish Members were constantly complaining that they had not equality, and calling for it; but he saw no reason why there should be inequality in this matter, to the disadvantage of the English farmer. It operated, in fact, as a bonus to the Irish landlords to raise their rents. He hoped the Government would take the matter into consideration. It had often been said that the Irish and Scotch farmers did not make the same amount of profits as the English farmer did, but it was notorious that the contrary was the fact. Something had been said as to the depression of trade, but no allusion had been made to the depression of agriculture in this country. Never at any period that he could remember had it been so depressed as during the last three or four years. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that although his revenue from spirits had decreased, he had been saved by malt. Then he had been saved at the expense of the farmers; for the malt tax was a tax upon the agriculturist—a burden upon the production of corn and meat and dairy produce. In fact, agriculture—that was, tillage—was fast falling into a condition which would cause it to be driven out of the country altogether, for every day the land was being more and more laid down in grass. He hoped that Her Majesty's Government would not be unmindful of these facts, and would take some steps to remedy the evils to which he had referred.
§ MR. W. HOLMS
said, it had rarely occurred that a Chancellor of the Exchequer had the fortune to come down to the House and produce a Budget in which revenue and expenditure were so nearly balanced as on the present occasion. In these very exceptional circumstances, and in this year of financial tranquillity, it would have been of great public advantage, he thought, had the Chancellor of the Exchequer taken into consideration the change which had taken place during the last 15 or 20 years in the incidence of taxation, by which its burden had been to a large extent removed from the shoulders of the rich to those of the poor. He would not then enter into the subject, but should direct attention to it on next going into Committee of Ways and Means.
§ MR. ONSLOW
said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had stated that as far as India was concerned she paid £1,200,000 of the miscellaneous revenue. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman, what amount had been paid on that account by India last year, and whether this was to be a permanent charge on the revenues of India? The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Childers) had taunted Her Majesty's Government with having done nothing to lessen the burdens of the country. Well, though there might have been no reduction of Imperial taxation, there had been considerable reductions of local burdens. On the two items of police and prisons alone the burden of local taxation would be considerably lessened. As far as the present position of the country was concerned, he thought the Government might take some credit to themselves for having a surplus of £226,000, small as it was, instead of a deficit. Considering the stagnation which prevailed in all branches of industry, the country, he believed, would be satisfied with the Financial Statement the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been enabled to make.
§ MR. WHITWELL
said, he was not disposed to take much account of the remissions of local taxation to which the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Onslow) had referred. He especially alluded to the saving under the Prisons Bill; for it should be remembered that saving, if any, would not occur till next year. He (Mr. Whitwell) did not see how the depreciation in the trade of the country could be met by the next year's revenue. With regard to the expenditure on superannuations, any hon. Member who attended to it must see that it was alarmingly increasing, and could not be met by the ordinary mode. The cost of the collection of the Customs showed an increase of £12,000, and that of the Inland Revenue an increase of £56,397, with no addition to the revenue. He thought the consolidation of those two Departments would prove beneficial to the finances of the country. The revenue of the Customs was collected at an enormous cost, and might be greatly reduced by consolidation of the Departments. He looked with great regret at the depression of the trade of the country, a depression which hung like an incubus on the 1029 people, and was a disheartening dead weight. The condition of things in the East called upon the Government to act in a decided and definite manner, and they ought to determine that peace should prevail, and that promptly.
§ MR. THOMSON HANKEY
called the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the high rate of duty levied upon manufactured silver. It appeared that although the manufacture of all other articles had increased, yet the manufacture of silver had decreased by nearly 20 per cent. That trade generally had been very much depressed, but not through the want of energy and skill. He considered that if the duty were decreased there would be a large increase of employment in the trade—indeed, he would suggest, looking at the total amount of the duty£100,000—that it should be taken off altogether. As to the depressed state of the country, he might say that the poor rates collected were considerably less now than in the years of high prosperity—and that being so, he could not believe that the poorer classes were in such a depressed state as some persons seemed to imagine. That, he thought, argued well for the future. He must offer his congratulations to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the position he had been able to take up. He could not admit that his view of our financial prospects was over sanguine. He believed the revenue would be permanently maintained in the same progressive state which had been indicated for a good many years past.
§ MR. CHADWICK
congratulated the Government on the early period at which the Budget had been introduced, and also on the fact that the revenue had been made to balance the expenditure. But whilst saying that he ventured, looking at the present depressed state of trade, to predict that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had over-estimated the sum he was likely to derive from Customs and Excise, he felt almost certain that the right hon. Gentleman's calculations would not be verified. He submitted that the incidence of the income tax and the mode of assessment were most unjust and inconsistent; and he believed that this tax could be made one of the most equitable and reliable, as it was one of the most necessary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but no 1030 person at present appeared anxious to deal with it. There was no just ground for making a difference in the assessment on farms in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and there was no justice in not allowing fair deductions for depreciation in mills and manufactories, while deductions were allowed upon ships and railways. The incidence and present mode of assessment under Schedule D was felt to be highly arbitrary and unjust by manufacturers and merchants and by professional men, and those having incomes of a precarious character, or dependent on life, or short leases. The Income Tax Returns were, in many cases, grossly incorrect, and he contended that if the tax were properly levied, £250,000 a-year more would be produced to the Exchequer, notwithstanding the making of those allowances for depreciation and those equitable adjustments to which he had referred. This was a question which he ventured to urge upon the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary to the Treasury, and he trusted that it would receive their serious consideration.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
This discussion has been an exceedingly interesting one. No doubt there are many Members of the Committee who are willing and able to add to the information that has already been given to us, but I venture to appeal to them to allow this discussion now to close. We are all here as advocates of economy, and that economy should extend not only to our money, but to our time. I wish to remind the Committee that the hour is advancing, and that my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board has an important Statement to make on the subject of the local taxation of the country—a subject which we are very anxious to take this evening with the Budget; and, moreover, it is essentially necessary for the conduct of Public Business that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War should he able to proceed with the Mutiny Bill and get it through Committee to-night. I must therefore request hon. Members to allow me to answer the remarks which have been made in the course of this discussion, and I earnestly hope my right hon. Friend may be allowed to make his Statement, and that any comments upon it may be 1031 deferred to some more reasonable opportunity for discussion. In reply to the right hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), I have to state that of course an opportunity will be afforded for a thorough examination and criticism of the financial plans of the Government at the various stages of the Bill which will have to be introduced. At the present moment, however, as the Government are proposing no change whatever in the taxation of the country, there is nothing to resist in connection with their proposals. Criticism, of course, it will always be open for hon. Members to apply, and criticism taking the range not only of our estimates of revenue, but also of the expenditure of the Government, we shall be quite ready to meet; and I think it would be most profitably and conveniently applied on the second reading of the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill. What we are asking now is simply a renewal of the annual taxes which fall in, and which must be renewed. I suppose nobody would, under the circumstances, propose that we should have less than those taxes, and I suppose nobody is prepared to propose that we should have more; and, therefore, under these circumstances, whatever criticism hon. Members may be disposed to indulge in, I think we might to-night be allowed to pass our proposals, and defer any discussion on the general financial position of the country to another opportunity. I must here take the liberty of thanking the Committee for the very kind and friendly manner in which my Statement has been received, and I can assure hon. Members that I very much appreciate the language which has been used. Most certainly the criticisms that have been made upon our plans and the questions that have been asked are exceedingly fair, proper, and useful; and I have not the slightest ground for complaint in respect of them. Now, the first point that I noticed in the speech of the right hon. Member for Pontefract, was that he made the observation—which I was obliged to challenge at the moment—that if it had not been for the unexpected increase of the miscellaneous revenue I should have had a deficit. I do not think that expression "a deficit," was fairly used. My right hon. Friend was quite right in saying that if it had not been for the increase of the miscellaneous, my revenue would 1032 have fallen short of my Estimate; but a deficit, I take it, is the difference between the income and the expenditure, and if the income had been less than the expenditure I, of course, should have had a deficit. But my surplus at the end of the year is £443,000, and the increase of the miscellaneous is only £390,000; and, therefore, if I had not had that increase I should have had a small surplus of £50,000, owing to the savings upon expenditure. Some hon. Members have expressed doubts as to the correctness of the estimates of revenue which I have submitted to the Committee. This is the fourth Budget which I have had the honour to submit to the House, and on every occasion I have found that the estimates of revenue have been challenged as they are challenged to-night. I can only say that they have been prepared with great care and with the great experience which the heads of the Revenue Departments possess. Although I will not say, and although they would not say, that in every particular respect the Estimates will be fulfilled, yet we submit them with confidence. Hitherto we have not landed the country in a deficit, and I trust we shall not do so this year. There are circumstances and events which may be stronger than ourselves; but I submit these Estimates as carefully and honestly prepared Estimates—with the full belief that they are a reasonable forecast of the year. Of course, we know that trade is bad; of course, we see that there is at present barely, if at all, any idea or prospect of a revival. I can, indeed, see some signs; but I do not wish to insist upon them. I see some signs in the imports; I see some signs in what the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Hankey) referred to, in the condition of the poor rates; I see some signs in the expenditure on articles other than spirits and tobacco, which are popular among the lower classes. But I do not wish to insist upon these points. I admit that our position is a difficult one, and that we should be quite wrong if we attempted to aggravate the condition of the country by imposing a tax. That would be the most foolish thing that we could do. As to the expenditure of the country, every endeavour—and I can honestly say the most earnest endeavours—to keep it within proper limits will be made. I think the wisest course we can pursue is to keep the taxation 1033 quiet and steady at the point at which it is; and I firmly believe myself that the result of the year will show that we have not taken an over-sanguine Estimate. The right hon. Gentleman opposite comments upon the very great differences between the receipts of the revenue within the last two weeks of the last financial year and the first week of the present financial year, and he points out that there was a large increase in receipts within the last two or three weeks of the last financial year. Now, I am not prepared to explain altogether what may have led to that increase. There are, no doubt, circumstances which would account for it; but I can only say that it is certainly not due to any pressure put on by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for I have been standing still in the matter. But with regard to the Income Tax, I had a statement furnished to me the other day by the Board of Inland Revenue, notice having been already taken by them of this large increase. It appears that, in the first place, years of new assessment must be compared with other years of new assessment, and, therefore, you must not compare the year 1876 with either of the two preceding years. You must go back to the year 1874. In that year, when also there was a new assessment, circumstances were very different. The Act of 1876, under which a new assessment was to be made, was passed as late as the 1st of June, so that there were only seven months available for the business of printing and issuing forms of assessments, returns, &c., making the assessment, hearing the appeals, and completing the multifarious business connected with an assessment of upwards of £6,000,000. For the greater part of this work the Government had to depend on the local agencies. Therefore, it was evident that there was a great deal of work to be done, and to be done through machinery over which we had not much control. Then, last year, there was not only this question of the Act being passed rather late, but there were two other difficulties. First, there was an uncertainty as to whether the Valuation Act—which would have made a great difference — might be passed; and, secondly, we had a new system of exemptions. The consequence was, that undoubtedly the assessment and then the collection fell into arrear, 1034 and that, towards the close of the financial year, there was great uneasiness felt as to whether the proper amount of revenue would be brought into the Exchequer. There was some pressure, of which I myself was not cognizant, put by the Board of Inland Revenue on the collectors to bring in the amount of revenue to the Exchequer which was due at that time. The result is, not that they brought in one sixpence more than they were entitled to bring in, but that they brought in what it was calculated they would bring in—namely, four-fifths of the assessment decided upon. If they had not done so, we should have had to come with short returns to this Committee, and I should have had to explain that the Revenue was deficient in these circumstances and that it would be obtained next year. [Mr. CHILDERS here interposed a remark which did not reach the Gallery.] I think my right hon. Friend must know better than to place an implicit faith, as some other Gentlemen do, in the weekly Returns. There is, I think, no fallacy so great, even among the racing prophets, as the fallacy into which Gentlemen fall when they predict the results of the revenue from these weekly statements. I do not see in his place the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella), who made rather a sharp attack upon us to-night; but I excused him, because I felt he was one of the disappointed prophets who had proved to be wrong, going down as he did to the city of Carlisle to prophesy that we should have a deficit of £1,000,000, perhaps upon the faith of these weekly Returns. If my right hon. Friend (Mr. Childers) makes himself uneasy as to the Returns of a particular week, let me commend to his attention the Return which will appear this week. It is equally fallacious, but it will surprise my right hon. Friend. Then my right hon. Friend said—"How is it that you have an Army saving, and also an Army Supplementary Estimate" The answer is, that the Army saving belonged to a different year, being a surrender from the year 1875-6. The surrender had reference to one year and the Estimate had reference to another. Again, my right hon. Friend desires information respecting the Army Promotion and Retirement. I am not at the present moment able to say much about that. We are not yet in posses- 1035 sion of the matured views of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War. A great deal, of course, depends upon his discretion; but the subject has not escaped my attention in the consideration of our position. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter) gave us a sound and salutary admonition upon the propriety of keeping down our expenditure. Well, I can only say, for myself and for the Treasury, that we thank all those who have impressed that upon the House; and I do most cordially thank the right hon. Gentleman for having pointed out how it is that Members of this House, though they are quite ready to come forward as critics, are also quite ready to come forward as horse-leeches, and entail upon us a considerable amount of expenditure. But the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose undoubtedly did charge us with going on this year with a course of reckless additions to the expenditure at a time which I am afraid he only too truly said was a time of unsatisfactory prospects. He charges us with adding £660,000 to the expenditure this year; but he was admirably answered by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) who pointed out that we are not doing anything of the sort; that we were adding £300,000 for payment of Debt—which is investing money in Consols; we added £127,000 to the interest we pay for loans—which is investing money in good securities of the different local authorities; and again, the expenditure for the Post Office Telegraph Service is not adding to the expenditure, being only an outlay to produce a revenue. The same principle might be carried further with regard to some of the extra receipts in the Civil Service Estimates. But I also wish to point out to the right hon. Gentleman and others who have spoken, that if we are increasing expenditure upon these heads, it is not entirely due to to our own proceedings, but to the proceedings of our Predecessors. They are in the happy position of a gentleman who has given a good dinner to some of his friends and has, of course, obtained a great deal of popularity from his guests, and then has left somebody else to pay the bill. When they talk of this addition to expenditure I ask how many of these things are we answerable for? There is a charge of 1036 £500,000 for Army Purchase. Who, I should like to know, is it that is responsible for the abolition of Purchase in the Army? I do not say whether the abolition was a good or a bad thing; but it is a legacy which has been left us by our Predecessors in Office. Again, there is a great increase in the Education Estimates. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite take great credit to themselves, and very naturally so, for all that they have done on the subject of Education; but we have to pay for it, and it is, under the circumstances, I cannot help thinking, a little hard to accuse us of profligacy in our expenditure because we carry out their work. I recollect that when two or three years ago the Sultan of Zanzibar was in this country there was a rather good story told of him. It was said he was shown a picture of the Good Samaritan, and that he remarked the parable was one which applied to himself; that the poor man who wanted to be lifted up was the slave to be relieved, and that the excellent man who was relieving him was the English Government, and that he himself was the person who would have to bear the burden of the body. I do not wish to make that comparison; but it seems to me, I must say, rather hard that the right hon. Gentleman opposite should take all the credit of their Army Purchase and Education measures to themselves and throw upon us the responsibility of bearing the charges which they entail. The right hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) made an extraordinary attack upon us for taking off the sugar duties and extending the exemptions of the Income Tax. This I regard as a curious attack, because I thought the removal of the sugar duties was a relief to the consumer, and therefore an act for which we should have deserved some commendation rather than blame. As to the Income Tax, I may remark, in answer to the observations of the hon. Member for Longford (Mr. O'Reilly), that I calculated it would produce with all the exemptions at the rate of £1,835,000 per penny, whereas it may hnve produced £2,020,000, making a difference of something under £200,000. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottinghamshire (Mr. Storer) spoke of the depression of the agricultural interest. I am sorry to say, I must admit that the depression of which he speaks is real.
1037 It is not, however, I can assure him, a matter to which the Government are insensible. Since we have been in Office we have endeavoured, without adding to the other burdens of the country, to do what we could to relieve the rates. We have not had the means of doing more, and I am sure it would not be right, in the present state of the revenue, to ask the country to submit to more taxation for the purpose of relieving the agricultural interests of the country. It is to us a matter of great interest—not for any personal reasons—but because we believe that it is the great support of our manufacturing and commercial industries. The home trade is of great importance, and everything that is for the benefit of the agricultural interest must be for the benefit of the manufacturing interest also, of whom the farmer is the best consumer. My hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Onslow) asked a question as to how much more India had to pay this year. The amount is, I think, £330,000, and the reasons for the payment are of a temporary character. There are certain arrears of £100,000 which have to be paid, and the capitalization of pensions amounts to £230,000. Those are all the explanations I have to offer. I can only say, in conclusion, that I am much indebted to the Committee for the kindness with which they have received my Statement. I still entertain a very fervent hope that we shall find that our Estimates, which have been very carefully prepared, will be realized. But there are things beyond our calculation, and. I can only say we have done the best we could; and I am fully convinced we should have done wrong if, for the mere purpose of holding out a larger surplus, we had meddled with or increased taxation. It is a matter of very considerable importance as regards Public Business that we should be allowed to go on rapidly with the Business to night; that my right lion. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth) should be allowed to make his Statement respecting the Local Finances of the country; and that then we should take up the Mutiny Bill, as it is really essential it should pass without delay.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, that the right hon. Gentleman had in a most good-humoured way made a three-fold demand on the Committee. He asked them to conclude the debate on the Budget, to 1038 hear the Financial Statement of the President of the Local Government Board, and then to take up the Mutiny Bill. They were all anxious to meet the views of the Government; but they had reason to complain that the Business had been so arranged that they were unable to have an exhaustive debate on any of those important subjects. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: Not at this stage.] The meaning of that was that the statements of the Government were to go forward to the public, and remain uncontradicted for weeks, and that when all the interest in them had passed, the discussion was to be resumed. The proposal of the Government to pass to other Business, if adopted, would lead to a bad precedent. There was in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Statement much to discuss, to examine, and much which they wished to know; and he wanted to know if they were to have an opportunity of further discussing the Budget in Committee of Ways and Means? He wished, he might add, to direct attention to one point in the observations which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had just made. The right hon. Gentleman stated that he had been left the legacy by the late Government of the abolition of Purchase in the Army; but the late Government, in 1873, when they were responsible for the finances of the country, took the sum of £800,000 for Purchase in the Army, whereas the present Government only now asked for £500,000. He should like, too, to know what the country would have to pay for the Army Promotion and Retirement Scheme. [Mr. GATHORNE HARDY: That is your burden too!] [Ministerial cheers.] Our burden too! Hon. Gentlemen cheer that statement, which is entirely unsupported by argument. The position in which the Government placed them was this—They had a Budget with a margin of something over £200,000—a very small margin indeed in such times as these— and there was a scheme before the Government of which no notice was taken; but which, if carried out, would require hundreds of thousands of pounds annually. They asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer for an explanation, and he said, mysteriously, that he had taken the matter into account. Did the Government expect, or did they not, that in the year 1877-8 they would be called 1039 upon to contribute in any way sums of money for Army Retirement and Promotion? If so, why did not the Chancellor of the Exchequer take the House of Commons into his confidence, and tell them where he expected to find the means? Looking at the present state of the Continent—which might be enjoying profound peace for all that was said to the contrary in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman—they did not know, with regard to trade, how far customers abroad would be able to take the goods manufactured in this country. Were there not financial and commercial dangers on every side? And yet they were expected to put up with the smallest possible balance, and to have contingent liabilities hanging over their heads, with regard to which liabilities they knew nothing. If it was true that the preceding Administration imposed on the country the particular burden to which he had been referring, it was also true that they provided for the part of the expense which fell upon the time with which they had to deal. They introduced no reform without being prepared to pay the cost; but the present Government were found giving a boon one year, and leaving for future years the task of finding the necessary resources. This was the case with regard to the Prisons Bill, the deferred pay to the Army, and a number of other matters. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, therefore, was not well advised in taunting the Opposition with the legacies they had left. When the present Government went out of Office, and left their Successors the legacies of those future charges to which he had referred, he hoped they would follow the example of their Predecessors, and leave them also a legacy of £5,000,000, with which to meet those charges. He wished to know what course the Government would take with reference to the continuance of the debate.
§ MR. HIBBERT
joined in the wish that the debate might be continued, if not at that time, on some other evening; for, having come recently from an election contest, he could say there was no subject on which the country felt more strongly than that of the growing national expenditure. He did not think Governments should taunt each other with leaving heavy legacies for their Successors to pay. The present Ministry 1040 had added largely to the expenditure since they had been in power by their grants in aid of local taxation; and those grants would be a heavy burden on their Successors if ever there was another change of Government.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Undoubtedly, if it is the desire of the right hon. Gentleman and others opposite to have a full opportunity of discussing the Budget in Committee of Ways and Means, they shall certainly have it. No better reason could be given than the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert), who comes from his late election contest impressed with those misrepresentations in regard to our expenditure which are so industriously propagated, and which we wish to show are untrue and without foundation. Therefore, we will take the Income Tax Resolution, and defer the Resolution as to the duty on tea until next week, or the week after next, when the discussion can be resumed. That will enable my right hon. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth) to make his Statement to-night, after which we can take the Mutiny Bill, which it is essential should pass through Committee without further delay.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
was willing to assent to that arrangement, on the understanding that an opportunity should be given, on the second Resolution, of continuing the discussion on the Statement of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. WHALLEY
concurred in the observation of the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert) that the financial policy of the Government in regard to the agricultural interest, by transferring the burdens of local taxation to the Imperial Treasury, was objectionable. With regard to the Income Tax, he believed that Schedule D was immoral, and most injurious to the mercantile and manufacturing classes of the country, and should be altered or amended as soon as possible.
§ SIR JOHN LUBBOCK
contended that there had been a steady and continuous increase in the Imperial expenditure for the past few years since the Conservative Government had been in power. If it was intended to take the Mutiny Bill, he thought they should not also be asked to take the Statement of the President of the Local Government 1041 Board, but that that statement should be deferred till another occasion.
Resolution agreed to.
Resolved, "That, towards raising the Supply granted to Her Majesty, there shall be charged, collected, and paid for one year, commencing on the sixth day of April, one thousand eight hundred and seventy-seven, in respect of all Property, Profits, and Gains mentioned or described as chargeable in the Act of the sixteenth and seventeenth years of Her Majesty's reign, chapter thirty-four, the following Duties of Income Tax (that is to say):
For every Twenty Shillings of the annual value or amount of Property, Profits, and Gains chargeable under Schedules (A) (C) (D) or (E) of the said Act, the Duty of Three Pence;
And For every Twenty Shillings of the annual value of the occupation of Lands, Tenements, Hereditaments, and Heritages chargeable under Schedule (B) of the said Act,—
In England, the Duty of One Penny Halfpenny;
In Scotland and Ireland respectively, the Duty of One Penny Farthing;
Subject to the provisions contained in section one hundred and sixty-three of the Act of the fifth and sixth years of Her Majesty's reign, chapter thirty-five, for the exemption of persons whose income is less than One Hundred and Fifty Pounds, and in section eight of The Customs and Inland Revenue Act, 1876,' for the relief of persons whose income is less than Four Hundred Pounds.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow;
§ Committee to sit again To-morrow.