§ Adjourned Debate on Amendment to Second Reading [12th May]—continued.
§ *(9.0.) MR. GEORGE WHITELEY
I think it is admitted that this tax will have to be mainly borne by the poorer classes, and, in view of the action the Government took in regard to the cheque tax at the instigation of the bankers, it is apparent that they are sacrificing and subordinating the interests of the poor to the demands of the rich. This imposition of a bread tax is a great step to take, and its importance cannot possibly be exaggerated. It means that the universal and generally accepted policy, not only of the Liberal Party, but likewise of the Conservative and Unionst Party, and, indeed, of the whole country, is being reversed. It has not been sanctioned by any election, it has never been placed before the electors of this country, it has never been adjudicated upon, and the Government has no authority whatever 111 for taking such a step. If it had been predicted at the election of 1895, or at the last election through which we passed, that the Unionist Party would ever seek to impose a tax on bread or the chief foodstuffs required by the people, such a prophecy would have been laughed to scorn. It would have been derided as absolutely ridiculous and impossible that any Government, whatever amount of agricultural support it had, would take such a grave step. If it had been mentioned at the last election, if it had been before the country at the election of 1900, I venture to say that the Benches so well occupied on the other side of the House by the Unionist Party would have displayed many a gap, and many hon. Members who are ornaments to that side would have been, like snakes in Iceland, conspicuous by their absence. In this Budget Bill before the House I believe the Government have developed a new and increasing growth of their Protective tendencies. We had last night a very able speech from the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for South Shields, who described to the House how, in his opinion, there were three staple articles of food consumed by the people of this country. My hon. and learned friend, for a lawyer, was somewhat modest in his views; I, myself, think he might well have enlarged the number of articles to five, which I should enumerate as follow:—Meat, butter, tea, sugar, and bread. When we embrace all these, we practically cover the chief articles of food. I lay at the door of the Government the charge that, either by their legislation or by their administration, by Acts of Parliament passed through this House, or by fresh taxation imposed on the people of this country, they have, in the case of meat and butter, enhanced the prices, and as regards sugar, tea, and bread, they will have directly increased the cost to the consumer. The House is well aware that they began their Protectionist crusade by an attack on meat. In 1896 there was introduced into this House the Diseases of Animals Bill, and it was in the discussion on that Bill that the first note-jarring discord occurred between myself and the present Government. By that Act the importation of store Cattle is prohibited into this country. It was argued——
§ * MR. SPEAKER
I think that a general review of the financial policy of this country is hardly germane to a discussion on an Amendment which relates only to the corn duty.
§ * MR. GEORGE WHITELEY
Well, Sir, I accept your ruling, of course, I will pass from that, and will confine my remarks to the tea, sugar, and bread duties. I will leave meat and butter alone, although I submit that my contention as to tea, sugar, and bread applies equally to butter and meat. The tea tax has been increased by the Government to the extent of 2d. on the pound, and that increase is maintained by the present Bill. The sugar tax is entirely novel and new. It represents one halfpenny per pound, or 4s. 2d. per cwt. It is a fresh tax placed on a food article largely consumed by all classes of the community. Now we come absolutely to the climax. The Government have not scrupled to propose to the House a tax upon bread. We have been called the pro-Boer party throughout the country; I think we might well now be designated as the pro-bread Party. I am quite willing to allow hon. Members on the opposite side of the House the right to claim for their motto—Half a loaf—a mutilated loaf—is better than no loaf at all. I believe the Liberal Party, how ever, are on safe ground in adopting as their sign and countersign this motto—The loaf, the whole loaf, and nothing but the loaf; so help us the people of England. The Government has been increasing taxation upon these five necessary, chief articles of food in this country, and at the same time they have been granting doles to various classes in the country. In the first place, they granted to the agricultural element a dole to the extent of £2,000,000 a year; and in the second place, they made a grant of £750,000 to the voluntary schools, as well as a further £100,000 a year in relief to the clerical tithe-owners of their rates. I notice that, in response to a speech by my right hon. friend the Member for West Monmouth, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was most agile in his argument. He danced all round that speech. He tiptoed round the arguments which the right hon. Gentleman had elaborated to 113 the House. He gave some half dozen reasons why tea could not bear additional taxation, why sugar, beer, and tobacco also could not fairly be expected to pay any more. He was, in fact, very much like a Scottish dancer doing the sword dance, avoiding the keen edge of the weapons. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth asked the Government, instead of imposing a tax in bread, to repeal the Rating Acts now in force in this country, and again I venture to point out that, whether it be landlord, or farmer, or tenant, in the long run the person who reaps the advantage from this relief is the owner of the land. The man working upon the farm—the poor labourer who is receiving 13s a week—is to be taxed additionally upon his tea, sugar, and bread, and he is to pay an enhanced price for his meat and butter in order to maintain these doles for the very men who own or rent the land on which he labours and spends his life. Whatever the Government can urge in favour of this tax, this supreme point they cannot overcome; that, had they chosen by one clause of the Bill to repeal this system of grants, and to withdraw these doles to various sections of the wealthier classes of the country, it would have been entirely unnecessary at this juncture to impose any fresh taxation on the food of the people. I remember at the election of 1895 a good deal was said about the "bread and butter" policy advocated by the Conservative Party—a policy which secured for them a considerable number of votes; yet by your legislation the outcome of your bread and butter policy during the last seven years has been to enhance the price both of bread and butter. Here we have a noble battle cry—half rates to the landlords and parsons, and a bread tax on the working men. How it must appeal to all sympathetic and right-feeling people!
Throughout these debates I have been struck by the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary from those Benches, but, as there is in his place a distinguished relative, I may, perhaps, without discourtesy be allowed to refer to him. I wish to say I have a considerable degree of sympathy and commiseration for the right hon. Gentle-man. In two legislative proposals of the 114 Government this year, the right hon. Gentleman has been compelled to turn his back on great principles which throughout the course of his political life he has professed. In the first place, on the principles he has always advocated in regard to our educational system and our board schools; and, in the second place, he is now brought face to face with the question of Protection versus Free Trade. The right hon. Gentleman has been obliged by the Government with which he is associated to consume both of those principles. Now, this is a very hard task for him. Manchester is supposed to be the Mecca of Free Trade, but if there can possibly be a city of which one could say proxime accessit, it should surely be Birmingham. The right hon. Gentleman is the prophet of Birmingham, which might well be described as Mecca Junior. I do not wish to deny that the right hon. Gentleman has the qualities of a great statesman, but greater statesmen have come from Birmingham before the right hon. Gentleman himself appeared on the scene, and who in this House, and on this side of the House, will hesitate to acclaim the great work done by John Bright. Yet the Cabinet of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham is now a most distinguished ornament is about to deal the first foul blow at the great lifework of John Bright. Hon. Members opposite have been arguing that this tax does not mean Protection, and we had yesterday a speech from the hon. Member for Oldham which put that view forward. I would venture to tell the hon. Member that if he were to go down to Oldham at the present time and solicit the suffrages of the electors there on this Budget Bill of the Government, he would be rejected by 2,000 or 3,000 votes; and I say, further, in this respect he is not representing, but misrepresenting the opinions, views, and ideas of the people of that large and populous industrial centre. The First Lord of the Treasury has told us that this tax is not Protective. Can it be denied that to the extent of one shilling per quarter it is Protective?
§ * MR. GEORGE WHITELEY
I suppose the hon. Baronet really means that corn growers are rated, and he does not distinguish between rates and taxes. But would point out that the owners of all hereditaments are rated in the same way as corn growers are; indeed, the owners of hereditaments in towns are far more heavily rated than corn growers. I say that this tax is Protective to the extent of 1s. a quarter, and, whatever special pleading, arguments, or contentions may he put forward on the opposite side of the House, it is absolutely certain that this Protection does extend to 1s. a quarter. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has told the House that he expects to get £2,650,000 a year from this duty, but the House knows perfectly well that that will not be the full amount extracted from the pockets of the people. They will have to pay at least £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 sterling annually, and the difference will go into the pockets of the landed interest of this country.
It has been argued that the tax will not increase the price of food, and that nobody will be any the worse for it. One is reminded by that of the lines in "The Jackdaw of Rheims"—Never was heard such a terrible curse,But what gave riseTo no little surprise,Nobody seemed a penny the worse.According to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, nobody is going to be a penny the worse in this case, yet the fact remains that you are going to take £4,000,000 out of the pockets of the people. It would seem almost as if the Chancellor of the Exchequer has lighted upon what may be called a philosopher's stone, that he has found it possible to obtain some Tom Tiddler's ground, and pick up his money as plentifully as he chooses without anyone being injured thereby. It may be suggested that if one shilling is not enough to make any difference in 116 the price of food, successive shillings will also not do so, and so it may be possible that year after year we shall have an extra shilling put on this duty. We are told that it is possible to accustom oneself to taking large doses of poison, such as arsenic, if one commences by taking it in homoeopathic doses and gradually increases the quantity, and that seems to me to be the plan of campaign adopted by the Government in regard to this corn duty, and, indeed, in regard to all their duties which they are imposing on the food of the people. I do not think the House will deny that bread is a prime necessary of life. On bread and water a man may barely live and exist, surely people should be able to claim to exist in this country without being taxed in the manner proposed by the Government.
I venture to submit that this is not a fair tax. It falls upon the poor; it is the poor who eat bread to a large extent, and therefore it cannot be suggested that the tax falls equally on all classes of the community. Nobody regrets, in this House, more than I do the sentence which fell the other night from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a sentence which will become almost a classic—the sentence in which he spoke of a man being able to live on 13s. a week, plus a few additional shillings earned by members of his family—that a man, his wife, and three children could live on that amount, and could enjoy meat, butter, and everything else that one wanted. I agree with my hon. friend the Member for Market Harborough that no man, however high, his position, ought to utter such a heartless remark. Some time ago a little pamphlet was published describing how a lady could dress on £15 a year. I think we may expect to have a similar work issued under the auspices of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, showing how a man, his wife, and three children can live like fighting cocks on 13s. a week. The Government promised the people of this country old age pensions, and in lieu thereof they have given them a bread tax. I think they have made a very great mistake. I was down at Bury during the election very recently, and I had the honour of addressing there a number of meetings, and I can assure the 117 right hon. Gentleman that the feeling is very strong there in regard to this imposition. The electors have shown that it is necessary to put their foot down upon these proposals for reviving the corn duties, and they have declared that in their judgment the great necessaries of life should be sacred from taxation now and henceforth. I know the Conservative Party very well in this House, and am fully convinced that there are many hon. Members representing boroughs who are in full sympathy with the working classes, and regard this tax with a dislike almost amounting to loathing. There are a vast number of hon. Members animated by these views, and yet, in consequence of the excellence of Party Discipline, they will be bound to vote for the tax, and they will accept and swallow it with a wry face. Neither this Bill nor the Education Bill has a prospect of an easy passage through this House. I can say in regard to this Bill that it will be opposed clause by clause, sentence by sentence, and comma by comma, and if we are not successful in defeating the proposal of the Government, we shall, at least, create such a feeling throughout the country as to make it impossible for the Government to declare any vacancy for some time to come.
§ *(9.30.) MR. HOLLAND (Yorkshire, W.E., Rotherham)
I do not consider it necessary to offer any excuse for addressing the House on the question which is at present engaging its attention. I think an Opposition which sat down quietly when it was proposed to impose a tax upon bread would prove itself not worth its salt. Whether any new arguments can be used or not by each succeeding Member who addresses the House, at least there is this advantage: that the new speaker comes from a new place, and can express the views entertained in that part of the country and can show the House that this tax is attracting more widespread interest than Members on the other side of the House have any idea of. I am sure it is the experience of many hon. Members on this side of the House that they have been inundated with letters from their constituents expressing the strongest opposition to this tax. I was, in common with others in the House, much gratified by the announcement made by the 118 Chancellor of the Exchequer of the abandonment of the cheque tax. That, obviously, was due to the strong representations made by business men in this House, for the voice of that section of the community is strong and effective here; but to those sitting on the Benches, on this side I submit that there would have been much greater gratification if, instead of withdrawing the cheque tax, the corn tax had been withdrawn, on the ground that that is a tax which affects the poorest of the people, whose voice is not directly heard in this House. The fact of their voice not being directly heard is all the stronger a reason why the House should show the utmost solicitude in seeing that no injustice' whatever is done to them. I remember some time ago, in a speech which Lord Rosebery delivered in Manchester, there occurred this sentence—Of all the mad things we have heard in our day, the re-enactment of the corn law is the maddest we can possibly conceive.Yet, mad as that act appeared to be in the mind of that enlightened statesman, it has proved to be an act of which the present Government is not altogether incapable. I agree cordially with the generally expressed opinion on this side of the House that the greatest blot the Budget contains is the corn tax we are now debating. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in making his proposals, has had a hard task to fulfil, and we on this side of the House may thank our stars that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol is presiding at the present time at the Treasury, rather than some of the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen; near him, for, bad as we think the Budget to be, it is possible to conceive that it would have been a hundred times worse if some of those hon. Gentlemen had had to prepare it.
What differentiates this particular tax on corn from any other imposition is this: that it makes the shoe pinch in a way that no other tax whatever does. In Common with a previous speaker, I had the privilege of taking part in the recent campaign in Bury, Lancashire, and I can testify that there was no question mentioned at the meetings by any speaker which was so eagerly seized upon by the audience as the mention of this bread tax. The Chancellor of the 119 Exchequer, in proposing a measure of this kind, has indeed touched the great industrial centres of the country to the very core. In Lancashire, indeed, it is impossible to touch the people in so tender a place as to touch them on the question of Free Trade. The Manchester Chamber of Commerce, on 18th April last, passed a resolution, on the motion of Sir Frank Forbes Adam, who is a non-party man, expressing regret that the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have been made to impose a duty on imported grain and flour, and kindred products. The resolution goes on to say that the directors of the Chamber are convincedthat this infraction of the custom and practice of Free Trade is fraught with possibilities of serious damage to the economic interests of this country, and is likely to strengthen the cause of Protection at home, in our own colonies, and in foreign countries.The Manchester Chamber of Commerce is essentially a non-partisan body, and those of us who know anything about it are not in the least surprised that it should have passed such a resolution, inasmuch as its members remain staunch to the principles of Free Trade, and no wonder, seeing that that Chamber was Mr. Cobden's instrument in carrying the repeal of the corn law fifty years ago. I know that in that Chamber they still recall the old battles which they and their forefathers fought and won on that occasion—won, as they supposed, once for all. They still recall the mighty effort that was needed then to get the door of Protection shut, locked, bolted, and barred, and they will not readily forgive any Government which unlocks and unbolts that door and opens it ever so little; for they will hold the Government in so doing to be guilty of dislodging Free Trade without a mandate from the former impregnable position it has occupied, and, by that act, inviting the onslaught of Protectionists from every quarter of the land. I cordially agree with the remark made last night by the hon. Baronet the Member for Exeter, when he said of this corn tax that he regarded it as a stepping stone to Protection. He went on to say that no man would infringe so important a principle for so small a result if he did not intend to 120 proceed further on the same lines. That is at the bottom of a very great deal of the suspicion and opposition to this tax which is entertained in the country at large, We have had, ever since the war broke out in South Africa, enormous charges to meet, and does anyone suppose that this country would have been so well qualified to meet and discharge those enormous expenses had it not previously, for scores of years, been enriched by the Free Trade policy which was in vogue in this country? And just as Free Trade benefitted this country in a hundred unlooked-for ways, I hold that the evils of upsetting that policy will be more far-reaching than they have ever been anticipated to be by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Even in this proposal we are now considering, I am sure the Chancellor of the Exchequer never anticipated that it would operate as it has been proved it is likely to operate, in restraining trade to so great a degree. I could cite many instances in which there will be a distinct penalty inflicted because of the imposition of this corn tax. I know that in the great staple trade of Lancashire there are processes in connection with weaving which necessitate the use of various kinds of flour and other cereals in the preparation of size. There are innumerable concerns which will be penalised to the tune of several hundreds a year on account of the imposition of this corn tax. I am able to state, on the authority of the Chairman of one textile concern, that it will be penalised to the extent of £3,000 or £4,000 a year, and I know another textile concern which will be penalised to the extent of between £2,000 and £3,000 a year from the same cause. Not only in the textile trade, but in many other trades, I great hardship will be suffered. In the trade for manufacturing wall-papers, and other trades which I hardly like to mention, because it would suggest that one was imparting some of the secrets of the trade in mentioning anything of the kind, the effect of the tax will be felt. I understand that even in the boot and shoe trade there will be some increase in the cost of production because of this corn tax. In the cheap floorcloth trade also, the tax will penalise manufacturers, as some of the ingredients used will come within its range.
121 As has been shown by some of those who have addressed the House already, these taxes in restraint of trade, tend not only to limit employment on the one hand, but also to reduce wages on the other, and if less is earned by working men, and at the same time the purchasing power of the wage is reduced, it is obvious that a double hardship will be inflicted on those who are engaged in the manufactures. It was contended by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that there would be no rise in the price of bread in consequence of this tax, but that position has had to be abandoned as quite untenable. We know that a substantial rise has already taken place. I know very well, of course, that the Chancellor contends that the rise is not caused by this tax merely, but it is obvious that the tax is a contributory cause of it, and that it has hastened the advance; and that being so, we are entitled to lay all stress possible on the rise that has taken place. Why? Because the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, in his Budget speech, mentioned with approval the result of the sugar tax which was imposed a year ago. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer was entitled to say that although a half penny per pound was put on ill the shape of a sugar duty, the advance in the retail price of sugar was not more than a fathing—if he was entitled to make political capital out of that statement at the expense of his opponents it is equally open for us to make political capital when the advance in the price of bread appears to be greater than on the face of it the amount of the duty would warrant. On a previous occasion when this Budget was discussed I remember that a speech was made by the hon. Member for one of the Divisions of Glasgow, in which he contended that the price of bread would be controlled by the question of supply and demand and would be entirely independent of any question of the cost of production, but surely if the cost of production is increased, and if that increase cannot be recouped in any other way by the man who produces, it will fall upon the consumer. I imagine that the position of the case is somewhat like this—when the number of buyers and the number of sellers are equal, then an average of profits may be made, but if the number of buyers should exceed the number of sellers then prices will rise and profits 122 will increase. But on the contrary, if the number of sellers should exceed the number of buyers, then prices will fall and profits will diminish. If I happen to be myself a seller, and my cost of production is increased, I advance my price-as the result, and if I am unable to obtain that extra price from the consumer, what happens? I take it it is this—I remain a seller no longer, I retire from the field, and thereafter, if the number of buyers and sellers have up to that point been equal, and I retire, then the number of buyers will exceed the number of sellers, and the price must rise to cover the extra cost of production; so that, from that point of view, I think it is clear that the cost of production is an element which must be taken into consideration in fixing the price.
I notice that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his speech, declared that, so far as he knew, no one had suggested that the consumption of bread would decrease in consequence of this tax. I quite agree with the speech made last night by the hon. and learned Member for the Launceston Division, as to some of those who are consumers of bread. He said in the course of his speech that in the case of some when bread became dearer more bread would be used, because the increase in the cost would deprive the consumer of the power of buying more expensive articles of food. I think that may be true of some consumers, those who are tolerably well off, but I do not think it true of the poorest class of consumers. What must happen in those cases where they have had difficulty to make both ends meet is this—if the loaf hitherto charged at 4d. is to be charged 4½d., hundreds of thousands of families in this country who used to buy nine loaves will in future be able only to buy eight loaves, and, pro tanto, some will have to go hungry who were not hungry before. I know that there was a case cited in Mr. Rowntree's book dealing with this particular point. In the course of Mr. Rowntree's investigation he found that there was one family in which the outlay on food indicated a very much smaller percentage than in other families. When he investigated carefully into the cause of the diminished expenditure, he found it was because of threatened proceedings for the recovery of a debt which was 123 hanging over that family, and in order to provide for that the family itself had to go on short rations. In the incidence of direct taxation now, nearly every shopkeeper has become a Government tax collector, and we have it on the authority of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, in a circular issued before the Budget was announced, that out of every £1 the working class spend at their establishments on sugar, tobacco, and tea, 6s. 0¾d. went in duty. That was before there was any talk of a tax being imposed on corn. I do hope that the Government will take the advice already given them by some hon. Members on that side of the House, and will treat this bread tax as a kind of impost which may be dropped out of the fiscal scheme altogether in the event of a favourable result being achieved from the Peace Conference at present going on in South Africa, and to which we all heartily wish complete success.
§ (9.50.) MR. KNOWLES (Salford, W.)
I desire to say a word in favour of the tax. The hon. Member who has just spoken referred to it as a tax on the food of the people. Personally, I have always spoken against any taxation being imposed on the food of the people, and I still take my stand upon that statement. But the hon. Member gave reasons to show that the tax was not absolutely on the food of the people. He said that this tax would affect the bleachers, because there would be certain products taxed under this proposal which would affect the sizing of goods. Then he said there were certain mysterious trades, of which he did not give us details, but evidently not trades connected with the food of the people, which would be taxed. He also stated that in some way or other the bootmakers would be affected, so that apparently the tax will not fall absolutely and exclusively upon the food of the people. There was one subject, however, to which he did not refer, and that was the war. During the past two years we have had exceptional expenditure in connection with this war, and the voters have returned this Government to power with its enormous majority in support of the war, and in support, I 124 take it, of the taxation which has been necessitated by the war. If that is so, I take it that the people of this country are to some extent willing to bear the taxation which has been necessitated by the war. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has put taxes upon the rich people of the country. We have had our income tax raised this year to 1s. 3d. The point which it reached at the time of the Crimean War was 1s. 4d., which was, I believe, high water mark for that tax. We have taxes upon beer, wine, spirits, sugar, and coals, and I have not heard any hon. Member on the other side suggest any article upon which we should have put fresh taxation or further taxation. But these taxes upon sugar and upon coal were imposed when the market was a falling market; yet people are paying at present less for their sugar and coal—and coal is a subject which interests me personally and peculiarly—than before the duty was imposed. And in similar circumstances there will be no difficulty with regard to the corn tax. Moreover, the tax is imposed not on British corn, but on foreign corn only, and to that extent it is a benefit on our farmers and milling population. People who are always pretending to be friends of the farmers ought to be willing to pay this tax, which, after all, is infinitesimal. It will be distributed in all directions, especially on the foreigner, in such a way that the people will not feel it in the least. I would like to ask any hon. Gentleman one question, viz., What is the normal price of bread? I read a newspaper article, written by a gentleman in the suburbs, which said that in London, which is within a stone's throw, the price of a 4lb. loaf was 4½d. and 5½d., while in Esher they were paying 6d. That was long before the tax was ever thought of. in my own part of the world, I asked a baker the price of a 4lb. loaf, and he said 6d. Then I asked him, "Did all the bakers receive that price?" when he replied, "No, only two." The Bury election is a great gain to the Party opposite; it is one of the solaces to which they are not accustomed. Certainly, if I were on the other side, I would run the coal tax, and the "tax on the food of the 125 people," for all they were worth. But the explanation of the result of that election is that the candidate on our side was not a local man, and that the co-operative societies, which are not always associated with the working man, raised the prices of their bread and flour. I want to do all I can to support this tax, which I do not regard as in any other sense than for the good of the people.
§ *(10.0.) MR. CHANNING (Northamptonshire, E.)
The hon. Member for Salford has explained the defeat of Mr. Lawson at Bury is somewhat far-fetched. He was defeated because he had changed sides, no doubt on perfectly honest grounds. But it was singular that another hon. Member had been speaking in condemnation of this tax, the hon. Member for Pudsey in whose case a change of opinions equally conscientious had been followed not by defeat, but by victory. The hon. Member made the astounding statement that the income tax is exhausted, and that that is a sufficient justification of the taxation of the poor man. The Secretary to the Treasury made an able and interesting speech this afternoon, in which he made a last bid for support from those behind him for this corn tax. The hon. Gentleman said that those who had benefited by this large expenditure on the war should pay a share of that expenditure. I would like to ask him, as one acquainted with the great manufacturers of warlike materials, whether, if you went to the great Elswick Works near Newcastle, or, to come nearer home to an establishment like Kynoch's at Birmingham, during the last three years since the beginning of this war, it is the partners and owners of the factories, the directors and shareholders, or their workmen who have benefited most. I venture to say that the wages of the workmen in these factories have not been raised, if at all, in anything like the same proportion as the enormous profits of the directors and shareholders. The whole of this lavish expenditure for armaments is expenditure for the classes, and goes to provide place and pay and promotion for the sons and brothers of wealthy members of the landed and propertied classes. It has brought no gain to the working classes; while we have seen our soldiers and 126 their families sent into the workhouses. I challenge anyone to say whether there has been any increase in the wages of the working classes on account of the war, except, perhaps, for a short time in connection with the Contract Department. There are, in fact, many industries in which the wages are not so high as before the war. The argument of the hon. Gentleman is therefore false and untenable. I quite agree that it is reasonable that all classes should bear their fair proportion of national burdens. But I deny that the working classes have not already been bearing their share, and more than their share, of taxation. Assuming that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was right when he stated, as he did state in the Budgets of 1901, of 1900, and of 1899, that by the addition to the tea tax and the sugar tax he equalised the proportions of direct and indirect taxation, I ask whether this tax on food represents anything like a fair addition to the taxation of the working classes, and is balanced by the addition of a penny on the income tax. But assuming, for purposes of argument, that those statements were true, I challenge the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary to the Treasury to show that this tax imposes an equal burden on rich and poor.
The Secretary to the Treasury said that if we begin to take off the taxes on the poor we must commence with the taxes on tea and sugar. I have no patience with those taxes on the necessaries of the poor, and would take all of them off tomorrow. The hon. Member for Wansbeck, in his very admirable speech, dealt with this question. I can supplement the information he gave, and show that he very much understated the incidence of this tax on the working people. In my own constituency the addition to the price of flour is 2d. per stone, the price of the 280lb. sack of flour has risen 4s. That represents double the figures given by the hon. Gentleman. I have had furnished to me several family budgets from my own constituency. In Welling borough, for a working class family, a boot and shoemaker, with wife and seven children, whose wages amount to 27s., the expenditure on bread, flour, and rice was 5s. 2¼d. per week. The duty on that amount represents an 127 income tax of 1.85 of 1d.; that is to say, it is nearly double that put upon the rich income tax payer. In another case, of a man with a wife and six children and 22s. per week as wages, the increased price paid for bread, flour, and rice is equal to an income tax of 2d. in the pound. In a third family, consisting of a man and six children, the extra price paid for food is equal to an income tax of 2½d. in the pound. But that in each case is only the bare proportionate amount of the tax. What the consumer has to pay is twice, or three or four times that amount. The real contribution to the revenue of these people is an income tax ranging from 6d. to 8d. in the pound, as against the penny of the rich man. A fourth family in another town, consisting of man, wife, and nine children, with 27s. a week wages, consume 30 half loaves and a stone of flour per week. The baker has added a halfpenny and there is 2d. on the stone of flour. The increase is equal to an income tax of 7d. in the pound. The hon. Member for Market Harborough dwelt on the woes of the agricultural labourer with only a wage of 13s. a week. I proved the other day, from Mr. Burnett's return, that in some cases 35 per cent., or one-third of the income of an agricultural labourer, was expended on bread and flour, and that the tax Worked out as an income tax of 1s. 3d. in the pound. Again, I should like to know what income tax you are putting upon the sweating dens of London by this tax, where the women get 2½d. for making a pair of trousers, and have to maintain themselves and two or three starving children upon a piece of bread and a red herring. Hon. Gentleman opposite say that the poor will not feel this tax at all, but my contention is that, through it, the working classes will pay six, seven, and eight times the additional income tax you are imposing on the rich man. The hon. Member for South Tyrone spoke of the West of Ireland. I remember a visit which I made some years ago to the Arran Islands off the coast of Galway. I went into house after house where the only furniture was an old box and a sack of straw as a bed, and where the wife and three or four pinched and delicate children were cowering round a tiny fire of cow dung, and the water 128 boiling in the single iron pot to make Indian meal porridge. The Government are proposing to tax these poor wretched people at a rate which may be 10s. in the pound, for all that they or the Tory Party know or care. Such a tax is an intolerable wrong,
It is said that this is not a Protective tax. I say it is a Protective tax of the most stringent kind. I have calculated that this tax will be equal to a bonus ranging from 3s. 9d. to 4s. per acre on the wheat, barley, oats, beans, and peas of this country. Over the arable area of 9,000,000 acres, it is a moderate estimate that it will add 3s. an acre to the rents. It is nothing more than another dole to the agricultural landowners of about £1,350,000 a year. I contend that the whole policy of the present Government since 1895 has been to wage a seven years war against the just and fair taxation of the poor of this country, and that their intention has been to increase expenditure in order to create pretexts for extending the area of taxation. The hon. Gentleman says that this tax is not a Protective tax; but Sir Wilfrid Laurier said the other day—England's new policy is Protection, but not a large measure of Protection. Of that I do not complain, but rather rejoice, for now the field is clear for arranging in June a system of larger trade between all parts of the British Empire, which will meet the views of the great majority of the people of Canada.I should like to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what, after that opinion, becomes of his statement, made over and over again, that he had nothing to do with the harum-scarum wild-cat schemes of Imperial Tollvereon tariffs which have fascinated the imagination of the Secretary for the Colonies. It appears to me that the right hon. Gentleman has followed a course exactly reversing the policy of sponging off the slate, which seems to be the favourite maxim of the day. He has departed from the best lessons of finance, the best deed of patriotic devotion to the country by perhaps the greatest man of the last century—certainly the greatest man the Conservatives produced in the last century. Sir Robert Peel. Peel had the supreme glory and distinction of educating his Party up to the greatest reform of the 19th century; and 129 he did so, not only by his own close reasoning, and by his knowledge of financial and economic laws, but by listening to the best men of his own Party, and by increasing their number, until, against the united resistance of the Lord George Bentincks, instigated by Mr. Disraeli, he was able to carry this reform in face of an opposition as great as any man had ever to contend with. The right hon. Gentleman, on the contrary, has listened to the worst elements in his Party. He has abandoned the principles of Conservatism in the last century, and he has given away his own principles and ideas in order to carry out the policy of a Budget like this.
I condemn this Budget root and crop. I wish to protest against the policy which has landed us in this Stygian morass. I denounce the timid and evasive machinery which has plunged us deeper and deeper in this quagmire. Still more do I denounce the financial strategy which has, in the interests of dominant classes, not only struck the note of an extravagance not even this rich nation can keep up, but has riveted these burdens on the people as permanent heirlooms of national recklessness and insolvency. Most of all, I protest against the policy which for seven years has been persisted in by the right hon. Gentleman, of endlessly increasing the expenditure of the country in order to create a plausible pretext for transferring the burdens of the rich to the shoulders of the poor. I say that it is a dishonourable and lamentable policy. It seems to me, looking back upon the history of the last few years, that Toryism has forgotten some of the noblest lessons it taught itself and Europe in the last century. Look at the glorious doctrines of Canning, and the policy he adopted of emancipating Greece and of generous sympathy with the South American Republics, and then look at the miserable record of this war for destroying small nationalities in South Africa, which has helped to plunge us into this financial position. There is a fall from what was a noble tradition to what seems to me to be the basest and the worst of political blunders Until the last few days, the Tories could have boasted, at least, that, although Cobden and Bright had preached the doctrine of Free Trade, and had converted 130 large masses of the people into demanding a policy of Free Trade, it was a Conservative Minister, the best, the noblest, and the wisest of Conservative Ministers, who carried out that great reform, from which the whole prosperity of the country for fifty years has been derived. I wish to have this opportunity of entering, on behalf of my constituents, not merely a protest against the gross injustice which imposes on a poor man, and even a man earning 25s. a week, an income tax six or eight times greater than has been imposed on the rich. I protest against this tax as an injustice to the poorest and weakest of the community, and against the whole policy of this Budget as a policy of class subvention, a policy of transferring the burdens of the rich to the shoulders of the poor.
§ (10.26.) MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down represents, I believe, one of the Divisions in the county of Northampton. I am quite certain, however, that, whatever else he may represent, he does not represent, in the speech he made tonight, the views of any very great number of voters in that constituency. Still loss, I am sure, did he represent the views of any voters in the county of Northampton when he described the proposal made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer as a dishonourable proposal, which should not be made in this House. Whatever may be the merits or faults of the Budget of my right hon. friend, as submitted to the House of Commons and the country, I think the right hon. Gentleman will be almost alone in his opinion that my right hon. friend, either now or on any other occasion, has over proposed anything that can be characterised as dishonourable to the House of Commons.
§ * MR. CHANNING
I wish to say at once that I used the word not in the sense it is being interpreted by my right hon. friend; nothing was more entirely foreign to my intention. I meant discreditable statesmanship, and did not mean anything else.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
The hon. Gentleman will hardly expect that I could have penetrated into his innermost thoughts, and could have known what he meant by the expression he used; but, of course, 131 I gladly accept his disclaimer. We have had a long debate on this question, and I think it has been thoroughly threshed out; and, if I may say so with great respect to hon. Gentlemen opposite, the conclusion I have come to, after listening to the debate on this stage of the Bill, is that three or four points have been established by my right hon. friend and others which no one on that side of the House, up to the present, has attempted successfully to refute. I should say, in the first place, it has been proved to demonstration that wheat in this country is subject to constant variations of much more than 1s. a quarter, and that, at the same time, the price of bread does not follow these variations, unless and until the price of wheat has altered by the considerable number of shillings. I think it has also been shown that one reason for this, at all events, is that the price of bread depends much more, at the present time, on the cost of manufacture than on the price of the raw material. [An HON. MEMBER: No.] Hon. Gentlemen dispute that. Then, let them go to the bakers, and let them examine the accounts, which I have no doubt will be put before them with perfect truth and accuracy, and they will find out that what I say on this point is literally true and incapable of contradiction. I think also that my right hon. friend has conclusively shown that there has been no universal, and not even a general, rise in bread since the imposition of this tax, and that whore there has been a rise, it has been due to exceptional circumstances, and not to the imposition of this tax.
The fourth point I will maintain against all comers is that it has been shown that there will be, and can be, no permanent rise in the price of bread from the imposition of a single 1s. on wheat. Is there any hon. Gentleman on this side of the House bold enough to dispute this? [Several Hon. Members : Certainly.] Well, I understand there are. Will they be good enough to answer me this question? We are now in the middle of the month of May; in a very short time we shall have the harvests, not only in this country, but over great portions of the world, completed. After that, there will be a great quantity of wheat coming forward, and our position then will be very different in one respect to what it is today. Our stocks of wheat 132 are now low, but then, in all probability, we may look forward to the fact that there will be more or less of a fall, and in the natural course of things, unless something extraordinary happens, there is absolutely certain to be a fall of at least 4s. or 5s. a quarter. Do hon. Gentleman who disagreed with me just now maintain that if there is a fall of 4s. or 5s. in the price of wheat, there will not also be immediately a fall in the price of bread? I ask hon. Gentlemen, do they deny that? No, they do not. Then, what becomes of their argument and contention that the imposition of this duty will lead to a permanent rise in the price of bread? There is an end to their argument. On the contrary, if they admit that the price will be maintained, what does that mean?—that it is the action of the bakers, not the imposition of the 1s. duty, that will cause it. I own I have been always more or less suspicious about our friends who are engaged in that particular business. I always thought, entirely as I approve of the imposition of this duty, that when the time came, in all probability, the bakers would take advantage of it. They have had their chance, and they have taken advantage of it. I do not know that we can complain very much, because it is their business. It reminds me of the affairs of a certain household in Egypt, of which I suppose we have all read in scriptural history, and in which the chief butler and the chief baker got into very considerable trouble. They were summoned out of prison to appear before their master; the chief butler was re-instated in his position, but, unless my memory deceives me, the chief baker was hanged. I do not know what his offence was : I do not think it is recorded in history; but I always thought it very hard on the baker. What I want to say of his English brothers is, that if there be an English baker who has so little conscience as to raise the price of bread either a halfpenny or a farthing because of the imposition of 1s. a quarter on wheat, all I can say is that, in my humble judgment, he fully deserves to share the fate that befel the baker in the Egyptian establishment some 3,000 years ago. Is there any hon. Member on that side of the House who has attempted to deny, or will deny, that there are these constant variations in the price of 133 wheat in the English market, not only from month to month, but from week to week, and that with these constant variations the price of wheat does not alter in the slightest degree until they Teach 4s. or 5s. a quarter? That is a notorious fact, which cannot be denied; and therefore to attribute this rise in the price of bread to the imposition of 1s. duty is really, with all respect, the greatest rubbish and nonsense in the world. My right hon. friend said that there was no universal, not even a general, rise in the price of bread through-out the country. Can anyone deny that? My right hon. friend quoted to the House, most conclusively, the Return of 284 co-operative societies throughout England who sell bread; of these there were only thirty-three in which the price of bread had risen at all, and in one it had actually fallen. Why did not an hon. Member get up and refute these statements, if they could be refuted? The hon. Member for the Wansbeck Division replied to this argument, I believe, by saying that it was not so much a question of wheat as a question of Hour. But that argument is completely answered by the one I have ventured to advance to the House, and which I will undertake to say will very shortly prove to be true, viz., that the price of wheat, under all the circumstances it is possible to forsee, is certain, very shortly, to fall. Of course, the price of flour depends entirely on the price of wheat, and unless I am entirely wrong, the hon. Gentleman's argument as to flour will fall to the ground equally with the other arguments which have been advanced.
I said nothing at all about wheat. I said that the co-operative societies principally dealt in the sale of flour—not bread.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
That is precisely what I have been endeavouring to submit to the House. I greatly regret I did not hear the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, whom I have heard on so many occasions deliver speeches which seemed to me to be very much to the point. If I may detain the House for a moment more, I wish to say a word or two in reply to some statements which fell from my hon. friend the 134 Member for the Harborough Division. His contention, as I understood it, was that the 1s. duty on wheat would transfer a sum of money equal to £1,600,000 into the pockets of the farmers. I have two things to say on that point. In the first place, I think my hon. friend has altogether forgotten that in the great majority of cases a crop of wheat is invariably grown at a loss. I do not mean to say that in some particular farms, where the soil is particularly good, and where there is an exceptionally heavy crop, wheat may not be grown at a profit, but in the great majority of cases at present prices to grow wheat is always a loss to the farmer, and were it not for the straw, which is absolutely necessary for farm operations, wheat, as a matter of fact, would not be grown in this country at all. If that were the case, what would be the position of the labouring man, of whom my hon. friend is an enthusiastic champion? As a matter of fact, what may happen is that the duty may possibly reduce the farmer's loss; it will not do anything more than that. As for putting anything into his pocket, that is the wildest fiction that can be imagined. There is another side to this picture. What does the farmer lose when the price of wheat falls, as it probably will fall, as I have already pointed out, very shortly, and as it has constantly fallen in the past few years, 4s. or 5s. a quarter? Perhaps it may fall a good deal more, because at the present time the price of wheat appears to be unusually high. Supposing, for the sake of argument, that my hon. friend is right—though I must guard myself against any admission that he is—what would be the loss to the farmer? According to my hon. friend's estimate, it would be £48,000,000. I am old enough to remember—and yet it is not so many years ago—when the common price of wheat was 50s. a quarter, and it used to be held then that unless it was something like 50s. it did not pay to grow it. The farmer was then in a very different state of prosperity to what he is now, and I can speak as to the condition of the labourers from my own personal knowledge and experience. They had good, constant, and regular employment, and their work, and the 135 skill with which they performed it, were a credit not only to themselves, but to those who employed them also. They had high wages. [An HON. MEMBER : "Oh!"] I beg the hon. Member's pardon, I am speaking about what I know myself. In those days, the wages in the greatest wheat-growing county in England, namely, Lincolnshire, were from 17s. to 18s. a week. The labourers were happy, they were thoroughly well content, and, what was even more important, their ambition at that time was to excel in agricultural work, and they did excel. The last thing they desired or wanted was to scuttle away from the country to the towns. But I remember also that a few years later one fine morning wheat was quoted on the Lincoln market at 17s. a quarter. I do not say that was not an excessive fall, or lower than at most places, but it would be safe to take the average fall in wheat at that time to be 20s. a quarter throughout the country. From 50s. to 20s.—a fall of 30s. in the price of wheat; and by a simple rule of three, if the estimates of the hon. Member for Harborough are right, you can estimate what the loss to the farmers was. It was £40,000,000, and because a shilling duty is to be imposed, which will not give them £1,600,000, there is this outcry against my right hon. friend. Even this pittance is grudged to one of the most hard-working and deserving classes we have. I have taken the hon. Member's estimate of the differences in prices between these days and what they were at the time to which I refer, and what is the condition now of the labourer on whose behalf he pleads? Were they so much better off with the fall of wheat to these excessively low prices to which I have referred? The whole thing is on record. In those days, when wheat fell in that unparalleled manner, the labourers were standing about idle by hundreds in all the agricultural districts—out of work, receiving no wages at all. There was heaps of work to be done, and which ought to have been done; but the farmers were unable to pay the wages. All these particulars are to be found in the Reports of the Commission on Agriculture.
I have called attention to this branch of the subject in order to show, in reply to 136 the hon. Gentleman the Member for Harborough that, however he pleads on behalf of the interests of the working man whom he thinks will be injured by this duty, there is another side to the picture. I am quite prepared to say that, even supposing that this duty would fall upon the labourers and the working, classes, as hon. Members opposite contend. I utterly dispute their proposition that the working classes would refuse for a single moment to pay their contribution; towards great national needs and great national purposes and objects of which they approve; and it will be found, before this question has been much longer debated, that hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House have found a mare's nest, not for the first time, and that this cry is an Unreal cry, and this agitation is an unreal agitation, from which they will gain nothing as a Party.
§ (10.53.) MR. CHARLES ALLEN (Gloucestershire, Stroud)
I do not intend to follow the right hon. Member for Sleaford into the question of whether this is a real cry or whether the Liberal Party is likely to win or lose by it. I merely wish to say a few words in emphatic protest against the imposition of this tax. My first and chief, objection to it is the old objection that has been referred to by so many speakers—that in all cases where the price of bread and corn is raised, the increase must inevitably fall upon the poorest of the poor. I doubt very much, whether there are many Members in this House who know what they pay for their bread. I myself have not the slightest idea, and it does not much matter to us; but those who will be hit by this tax are the working classes, the casual workers, the jetsam and flotsam of the working world, and their wives and families. The wives and families will be hit for the reason that health is the workers' only capital, and the wage earner must be fed, if the wife and family starves. If hon. Members of this House were able to look at life from the standpoint of 13s. a week, this tax would be swept away as easily as the cheque tax. My second objection is that this tax will encourage Protectionists all over the world, and discourage Free Traders. One 137 slight fact will remind the House that England, forty years after she freed the food of her people, has levied another tax upon it. It encourages Protectionists at home. We all heard the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Central Sheffield when the tax was first announced, and the hon. Member was quite right; he recognised that the Government, so long trembling on the brink, had at last taken the plunge. There is one great merit in this tax, it gives us a clear cut issue on which we can vote aye or no. The Chancellor of the Exchequer claims the right to tax the food of the people, we on this side deny that he has that right. That is a clear cut issue, and not all the authority the right hon. Gentleman possesses can make that issue different.
§ *(10.58.) MR. BELL (Derby)
I rise once more to offer a few words of protest against the imposition of this charge upon the working man's food. I ventured, on the last occasion that this subject was under discussion, to reply to hon. Members opposite who said they would challenge the Liberal Party if they were in power, to go to the country on the particular issue. I suggested that the present Government would not venture to test the country on it, and said that if a test should be taken they would have a serious awakening. I did not at the moment anticipate that my prediction could be fulfilled as it was on Saturday last at Bury. But so it is. There are one or two points that I have not heard substantially raised during the discussion—one in particular, though this was just mentioned by the right hon. gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division. He suggested just now that the fluctuations in the price of flour and bread have been of considerable nagnitude—in some instances to the extent of several shillings—without in any way altering the price of bread. Well, as I understand there are bases in all these things, I know that in the regulation of wages between employers and workmen there is what they call a sliding scale. These sliding scales have a basis, and from this basis up and down are the wages regulated. I take it that bread also has a basis from which the 138 bakers and the confectioners regulate the prices up and down. In this instance the basis has been raised by the imposition of the Government tax. And as a baker said to me only yesterday in discussing this very question, "The imposition of this tax will affect me to the extent of £2 10s. per week." And he asked me, "Do you think it fair that I should have to pay that £2 10s. a week out of my own pocket?" I told him candidly, "No." I say the same here, and I venture to assert that there is no hon. Member on the other side of the House who supports the tax who would care to pay £2 10s. a week out of his own pocket however patriotic he may be. I only raise the point to make these few words of protest, having regard to the position and necessities of a very large section of organised working men in different parts of the country. Now, Sir, I do not know why the organised workers of Newcastle, through the Newcastle Trades Council, should appeal to me. Probably they sent round a general circular letter and appealed to their own Members as well as to me. At any rate I have received a resolution from organised workers at a special conference called to consider this question—of workers from Darlington, York, Sheffield, and various other large centres. I wish to point out that I referred their appeal back to their own Members—that is to say, I told the men of Sheffield, Newcastle, Darlington and so forth, that it was useless for them to appeal to me to oppose a tax whilst they return men who are favourable to and advocate it. [Opposition cheers.] This is perfectly correct. I am not going to conceal the fact. I might as well be as candid with hon. Members of this House as I am with working men outside. However, the Resolution passed at Sheffield is of rather an important character, and hon. Members representing Sheffield may have received it. The concluding sentence in that Resolution is—That we warn our local Members that we will remember their action at some future day.[Opposition cheers.] As I say, I referred the matter back to them and said they must settle it with their Members.
§ * MR. BELL
I will forward the hon. Member a copy of the Resolution from my office tomorrow, so as to put the matter right with him. It is possible that the Sheffield men may not have sent the Resolution to their own Members. However, they sent it to me, and, as I say, I see no reason why men in other constituencies should trouble me instead of their own Members. Now the tax on grain and flour I do not regard from its present value or basis. I look on it as every other tax that has been placed on anything during the last six or seven years—that is to say, I expect to see it raised every year. From my own personal observations I have not observed an instance during the term of office of the present Government in which they have abolished or reduced any tax which they have put on. The tendency, on the contrary, has been to gradually increase them year by year. And now the first step is taken in taxing the bread of the people.
An hon. Member on the other side (the Member for Salford, I think) said that no suggestion had been offered from this side as to how the money could be raised to replace this tax. I made a suggestion before, though it was laughed at by hon. Members opposite. I mention it again, even though the laughter be repeated. There are land values, way-leaves, and royalties which may very well have a tax placed on them, and which hitherto have been free from impost. I know this is not acceptable to hon. Gentlemen opposite, but at any rate it is a suggestion. Here is another suggestion. Hon. Members opposite are continually saying that because the working classes of the country approved of the war they ought to contribute towards the cost. I agree with that, and I venture to say that if the tax were levied upon those who supported the war, very few men who are represented by us on this side of the House would have much to pay. I would ask hon. Gentlemen opposite, the great supporters of the war from beginning to end, whether they are 140 prepared to pay proportionately, according to their incomes, the amount paid by the working classes on our side? If so, I would point out a way in which the-money required for the expenses of the-war might be easily raised. I have suggested it many a time before, but not in this House. I would suggest that the war tax, instead of being placed on the food of the people, should be placed on the earnings of the people. Let every one pay a war tax of 1d. in the £ on their incomes, commencing at £1 a week and' going upwards. In that way the 6,000 widows of the men who have lost their lives in South Africa would escape the tax, for they are receiving less than £1 a week. But the workman who earns 652 a year would pay 4s. 4d. at the rate of 1d. in the £. I mention this as a basis. A gentleman who received £10,000 a year would have to pay £40 odd. He would have to pay his proportion with the man-who receives £1 a week. He would, in this way, pay his proper share of the cost of the war he has supported all through. I venture to say that if the Government adopted my suggestion, and levied this war tax—it would be very much resented by hon. Gentlemen opposite, but, at any rate, it would have the merit of taxing all equally. The gentleman receiving £10,000 a year is quite as well able to bear the tax I propose as is the working man earning £50 a year. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not accept the proposal, or, if he did, it would not receive the support of hon. Gentleman who support the proposed taxation to meet the cost of the war.
Much has been said of the immense importance of taxing the poorer people's food. I am afraid that many hon. Members are unable to appreciate the difficulty of living upon a few shillings a week. I am prepared to admit, and I have always been broad-minded enough to admit, that many hon. Gentlemen on the other side are actuated by good intentions, and think they are doing things which tend to the advantage of everybody, without causing much suffering to any one. It is perhaps for want of knowledge of what it means to live on 15s., 16s., or 18s. a week that they have taxed the poor to the extent of 6d. a week in this instance. Sixpence a week, I believe, will be about the average extent to which this bread tax will affect the poorer working man Those who receive a better wage—the 141 better class of artisan who receives £2, £3, or £4 are able to get something else besides bread to eat, but the very poorest class who earn only from 15s. to 18s. a week, with a family of three or four or five children, eat bread at every meal the whole year round, consequently they are the people who have to subscribe the greatest portion of the tax. I do, therefore, enter my protest against this tax. And I may say that this is not an agitation inspired by demagogues at all. It is spontaneous for the working classes. All their meetings in different parts of the country have been held spontaneously—called by the men themselves. And I may say that they are even going to have a National Congress in London on the 27th of this month to discuss the question. All this has not been worked up so far as I am concerned, because I have not been to any constituency, or made a single speech in reference to this matter outside the House. So that I am free from the charge of having inspired the working classes from outside, in order to get them to rise up against this tax. But from the information I have received from organsied workers in all parts of the country, they feel this tax extremely, and mean to resist it with all their power. Unfortunately, they have not the opportunity of showing their resentment in the way they would like to do—at the polls. But they will not forget it when the opportunity does come. I feel convinced that hon. Members representing important industrial constituencies, who are advocates of taxing the food of the poor today, will have cause to regret it in the future. Having offered these few words of protest I shall register my vote against the imposition of such a tax.
§ (11.11.) MR. RUNCIMAN (Dewsbury)
I happen to be one of those who, according to the description of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford, are bold enough to dispute that this tax will be beneficial to the country, and to protest against its imposition. I will not follow him into the ancient history of the butler and the baker, for, although he has told us whom the baker may be in this debate, he has given us no analogy with regard to the butler. It is a pity there is no representative of the baking class in the House, because it is quite likely that bakers would be very 142 well able to take care of themselves, and that, instead of bearing the onus of having increased the price of bread, they would be able to throw it on the Government who put this tax on wheat, and consequently caused the rise in bread which is now afflicting the working classes. The right hon. Gentleman drew a pathetic picture of the decay of wheat-growing in Lincolnshire, and he said it would not pay to grow wheat were it not for the straw. That is almost the equivalent of saying that it would not pay to breed cattle were it not for the beef. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh, but you cannot grow wheat without straw, and it is because both the straw and the corn are valuable that you are able to make a profit on your farms. Why separate them? Even if it is a mere by-product of the industry, it is very often by by-products that industries live.
The Government have had some curious supporters in the course of this discussion. They have had the support of the hon. Member for King's Lynn, who declared that he was neither a Free Trader nor a Protectionist. This is absolutely certain, that he is neither a supporter of the Government nor a member of the Opposition. They have also had the support of the hon. Member for Oldham, who declared last night that although he loves economy he despises economics. Perhaps he will pardon me for saying that that was quite apparent. He need never have been placed in the unfortunate position of having to defend this tax if he had not last session been one of those who voted away millions of money per annum under the Eating Acts. I am not one of those who wish to run the Empire on the cheap, but neither do I wish to run the Empire with no regard for economy. We ought to be careful about parcelling out millions of money per annum when there is no pressing necessity and no justification for it. I quite agree that the masses of this country should be made to feel the cost of the war. One of the best principles of politics is that in a democracy it should not be possible for a people to run a war on the cheap. I hope war will never be cheap. But, in order to bring homo with full effect the lesson of the cost of the war, the Government should have chosen a direct tax. They 143 might have adopted the plan which has been tried in America and other countries with great success. They cannot, however, ear-mark a tax purely for war purposes unless they are prepared to introduce a poll tax, and I do not wish them any particular happiness over the experiment.
We have had much discussion as to the proportion of direct to indirect taxation. It has been proved over and over again that the amount raised by indirect taxation has gone down, and I for one certainly do not look upon that as a retrograde sign. The Secretary to the Treasury this afternoon, in his able defence of this tax—perhaps the most able in the course of the debate—declared that the country is more able now than during the Crimean War to bear a greater burden of indirect taxation. If that be the case, it is an argument in favour of the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton that an addition should be made to the tax on beer and spirits rather than a tax be placed on corn. We are told of the necessity for broadening the basis of taxation. That is a cry we heard last year when the Chancellor of the Exchequer placed, not on a broad basis, but on one section of a particular industry, an export duty, which has been no particular benefit to the trade concerned, and which certainly has not added to the right hon. Gentle-man's financial reputation. I am not going into the question of whether or not this tax will be paid by the foreigner. It has been pretty clearly proved that he will not pay it. But if he did, it would not be very creditable to us to shift our burden on to his shoulders. [Ministerial laughter.] It appears that Gentlemen on the other side do not wish to bear their own share of the cost of the war. I adopt an absolutely different attitude. So far as I have supported the war, I am prepared to pay my quota, and I do not ask the foreigner to bear any portion of the burden. But suppose the shareholders of an American railroad are bearing a portion of the tax, they do not happen to be the only carriers of corn to this country. There is the shipping which brings it across the Atlantic, and I hope, for my own sake, none of the burden of the tax is going to fall on the shipping as well 144 as on me as a consumer. But take the case of tobacco. Tobacco can be bought abroad at about 1s. a pound, and there is a duty of something like 3s. 6d. on it. Will some hon. Member opposite proceed to prove that out of the 1s. which the foreigner gets for the tobacco he pays us the 3s. 6d. duty?
It is unnecessary to go into the question of whether the tax is so small that the consumer will not feel it. We may take a more economic basis. There is no doubt that if this tax is to be raised in this country the consumer will have to pay it. The remarkable economic theory was propounded by one of the Members for Glasgow that the tax would make no difference in the price of bread, because the price of bread depended entirely on the law of supply and demand. He has altogether misread the law of supply and demand. If you add to the cost of bread, if you add this tax to the producer—which the Government claim will be the result—it will naturally tend to dissuade him from sending his products into the English market. That would tend to decrease the supply, and if you decrease the supply you must certainly raise the price. Suppose the tax were 27s. a quarter instead of 1s. The hon. Member would claim that the price wheat would bring in this country would not be over 27s.; that is to say, the producer would get nothing, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer 27s. The hon. Member is closely interested in the iron ore trade; I would like to ask him whether he would believe that the cost of iron ore would remain the same even if an import duty of 5s. per ton were put on iron ore. It has been stated by the Secretary to the Treasury that if the tax were put on at Buenos Ayres or at Liverpool no difference would take place, and that it must in both cases fall on the one person concerned, viz., the producer. May I point out that if a tax were put on wheat at Buenos Ayres it would be an export tax, while if it were put on at Liverpool it would be an import tax, so far as we are concerned, which naturally makes all the difference in the world.
I wish to draw the attention of the Chancellor to an important fact in connection with the buying and selling 145 of corn which has not been mentioned in the course of the debate. I will take the case of a cargo of wheat landed in Liverpool, which costs roughly about £30,000 (say, 20,000 quarters of wheat). That cargo will be financed to the extent of about £5,000 in cash by the merchant who imports it, and the remaining £25,000 will probably be provided by a bank in Liverpool or elsewhere. Under this tax the merchant will also have to provide an extra thousand pounds in cash wherewith to pay the tax, and that means putting another thousand pounds capital into his business. He is not likely to do that without making a ten or fifteen per cent. return on the thousand pounds of added capital, so that we shall not only have the added cost of one shilling a quarter on wheat imported, but also the added profit which the merchant rightly claims.
The ground on which we on this side of the House object to this tax is that it is founded on a bad principle. May I illustrate that by pointing out that the taxation which is raised from the labourer with £40 a year must of necessity be drawn from the necessaries of life; that that which is drawn from the shopkeeper with £400 would be drawn from the comforts of his life; while that which is drawn from the merchant with £4,000 a year would be drawn from his luxuries; and that drawn from the capitalist with £40,000 would be drawn from nothing but the accumulations of further capital. Therefore, we hold that greater than the largest sacrifice which in practice it will be found possible to demand from the richer person is any sacrifice exacted from those who have nothing but necessaries on which to depend. This tax also falls more on the poorest. From our Census Returns I gather that the largest families are, on the whole, the poorest. It therefore happens that the largest families, who in their way are a great benefit to the country, are penalised more by the tax than those of smaller dimensions. I do not wish to labour the fact of the contribution that they have recently made in finding the wherewithal to fight our cause in South Africa; but, much as we have praised the colonies for sending men to fight our cause, still more ought 146 we to praise the poorer classes of this country who have supplied us with soldiers. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said a few days ago that to impose an additional house duty would be cruelty indeed. But an additional house duty is not one-half so cruel as a new bread tax. Our objections are : that it raises the price of the whole quantity of corn consumed in this country, that it takes more from the consumer than it gives to the Exchequer, that it adds forty-two articles to the list of duty-paying articles, that it exacts more from the poor than from the rich, and in this case is even worse than a poll tax of so much a head on every man, woman, and child in this country, that it is adding a burden to industry as well as to labour, and tends to restrict the buying power of the people.
§ 11.26 SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
At the end of our prolonged and most interesting debate, it is not my intention to occupy the time of the House by renewing, restating, or controverting any of those elaborate economic arguments by which, I am afraid, a good many of us must be somewhat bamboozled by this time. The debate has been a complete debate in every respect but one. There has been one remarkable and most important phase of opinion, which has been almost unrepresented in the course of the debate, and I believe it is a phase of opinion which has more really to do with the subject matter of the debate than any other opinion whatever. Where are the Protectionists during this debate? I think there has been one reference by the Member for Newcastle, who could not conceal his exultation over the prospect of a return to Protection. And then there was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford, whose faith in this matter is beyond cavil or dispute. But he appeared tonight rather as some other animal in sheep's clothing, because his efforts were directed, not to prove to the House how good a thing this proposed tax is as a measure of Protection, but to prove to the House that it was no measure of Protection at all, and, in fact, that it would not be felt by anyone. That confirms what I have said, that we have not had the Protectionist aspect of the question presented to us. [Ministerial cries of "There is none."]
SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNEEMAN
If my right hon. friend had been as constant in his attendance here as I have been. I think he would have found that the net of relevancy has meshes large enough through which to admit the question of Protection. But it is evident that the word has gone out on the other side of the House that this dangerous love for Protection, and this dangerous expectation of Protectional results from the present action of the Government must be suppressed. Curiously enough, the other day I came upon a description of Mr. Cobden's maiden speech in this House in the year 1841. He writes to his brother to say—I was induced to speak last night about nine o'clock. We thought the debate would have been brought to a close. The Tories were doggedly resolved from the first not to enter upon any discussion of the main question. My speech had one good effect. I called up a——I will not quote the word [Cries of "Quote."] No, I will leave it to the imagination—I will say "a Member"—Who let fly at the manufacturers, very much to the chagrin, I expect, of the Leader of his Party. It is now thought that the Tories must come out and discuss, in self-defence, the Free Trade question, and, if not, they will be damaged by the arguments on the other side.This is, therefore, an old constitutional practice by an old constitutional Party. But they do not carry it out well. If they wanted to have some guide in the art of muzzling, to whom should they go more properly than to the President of the Board of Agriculture, who knows more about the subject than any one else? But they ought also to have begun earlier. Why did they allow the exultant shrieks of the Member for Central Sheffield on the first introduction of the Budget, which gave away the whole case? I observe he has been away; I do not know whether a mole is being examined at Gibraltar, or what other public functions of a useful kind he is performing which unfortunately keep him from the House. Then, too, the muzzling should have been thorough. Would the House believe it—who is the person of all persons who has been 148 muzzled? It is the President of the Board of Agriculture himself. I do not know whether hon. Members have noticed a very remarkable speech by this Cabinet Minister at Norwich on Saturday last, in which he said—To call this tax on our flour a tax on food was preposterous, it would do a great deal to bring back the milling industry to this country. He confessed that from that point of view he would like to see even a higher tax.That is a candid and outspoken defence of the tax from the Protectionists' point of view. The only marvel to me is either why the President of the Board of Agriculture did not keep that opinion to himself, or why some other member of the Government has not joined in expressing it.
We oppose this tax, first, because we believe it to be harsh, cruel, and ill-placed in itself, and injurious to the community; and also, in the second place, we believe it to be contrary to the sound policy of Free Trade upon which this country has prospered for the last generation and more. On the other side the considerations by which the tax is commended to the House appear to me to be these—that there is no Protection about it, that no one will feel it, and thirdly, and rather inconsistently, that the people ought to be made to feel it, and that it is a slur upon the high character and patriotic spirit of the people to suppose they will resent the imposition of this tax which they will not feel. We object, in the words of the Resolution, to any tax upon the necessary food of the people, and I recall with satisfaction that I was at all events rash enough to oppose the additional sugar tax last year on this very ground. The right hon. Gentleman has more than once in a kindly way reminded me of the fact that my prophecies of a very great advance in the price of sugar have not been fulfilled. But why have they not been fulfilled? Because the price of sugar has naturally fallen—[Ministerial laughter.]—from natural causes, from the nature of the beet harvest and other causes—the price of sugar has fallen so that the additional duty imposed by the right hon. Gentleman has not been felt. But the people have paid it all the same, and if it had not been imposed they would have had cheaper sugar. It is the 149 most absurd contention that if you put a duty like this on an article of common consumption no one pays it. It may be smuggled up as you like in the fluctuations of price, in the accidents of harvests, good or bad, and in demand and supply—we were told it was all a question of demand and supply—but neither demand and supply nor any other cause can obliterate the element of the duty which you have put on. You may depend on it that, whether in increasing the price, or deteriorating the quality, or preventing the reduction of the price, the duty put on is paid by the consumer. And what we say is that this tax is placed on the food of the poorest. Such I argued last Tear was the case with sugar; the tax was a heavy burden on what has become a necessary food, of the women and children especially. But bread is even more widely necessary than sugar, and there are other things which create a difference between them from a fiscal point of view, because sugar is not so directly open to the possibility of being the subject of Protection.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
Tea in the same way; but I deny that tea is in the same degree necessary to life as bread is. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman himself eats a great deal more bread than he drinks tea. We assert that this is a burden which will fall upon the poorest in the community. A great deal of time has been spent on the argument that all classes of the community ought to pay something. The Secretary to the Treasury, in his very comprehensive and able speech today, dwelt for a long time on that point. But the argument as to equalising taxation so that all classes may contribute does not meet our point at all. We are quite willing that all classes should pay your taxation. But this is a tax which falls with peculiar severity upon those of the whole population who are least able to bear it. It is no answer to us to tell us that all classes should pay their share, 150 Then it is said that those especially who applauded the war should help to pay for it. To begin with, this is not put before us as a war tax; but, passing; from that, are we sure that those who will suffer most from this tax are those who have applauded the war. My right hon. friend the Member for Montrose last year said, and I entirely agree with him, that the tax-gatherer is the great schoolmaster. I quite agree with him in this sense, that there is good reason for not borrowing everything and for putting enough on taxation to bring it home to men of all classes what are the real meaning and effect of the policy you pursue. That is the sense in which my right hon. friend spoke. But that is a very different thing from putting: on a punitive tax, as it were, to punish particular classes because of the course they have taken; in this case it will not apply to the right people. It applies especially to the women and children, who have had no voice-whatever in the matter. I say that these are the poorest among us. Thirty per cent. of the population has been: shown to me in a state hovering on the verge of poverty, if not actually plunged into it, and it is these people who will suffer. Let the House realise for a moment what this ½d. a loaf means. We talk in a light way about ½d. a loaf but for an ordinary family that means 5d. per week, and 5d. a week on what we may call a workhouse scale of allowance of bread; 5d. a week sounds very little, but 5d. a week means a week's wages in the year of an ordinary workman, and it means two week's wages-in the year in the case of the dwellers in Arcady, with whom the Chancellor of the Exchequer is acquainted, who have always beef as well as bread, and who have so much bread, as he told us, that they habitually waste it.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
Oh! you did not couple the two together, but the same class, these poor people verging on the border of starvation, wasted it.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
I took the right hon. Gentleman as having said that. This tax, however, is a permanent element in the cost of the article. It survives through all fluctuations, and there fore on that account deserves our consideration. When it is said by hon. Members that this tax is paid by no one, I would only express my astonishment that such a mine is not worked to a greater extent, and if this tax can be put on without being paid by any one, then why do not you increase the tax considerably, in order to have this great advantage?
Sir, I have been speaking of the objections to the tax on the ground of its particular incidence, but now I come to the other aspect of it—that it breaks into the principle of Free Trade, the established fiscal principle of this country. It is with regard to this matter that I have said there have been academical arguments which are enough to confuse most people, but one thing is practically certain. So far as it operates it is Protective. Who, therefore, I should like to know, really thinks it is the simple and unsophisticated thing it is represented to be by those who commend it to our approval? If I wanted anything to prove to me that it is not this simple and unsophisticated thing I have it in the evening newspapers of this day. I find an account of a remarkable discussion in the Canadian House of Commons last night. The Leader of the Canadian Opposition said that the Opposition were prepared to support a Resolution asserting their belief in the advantages of a system of mutual trade preference within the limits of the Empire. [Ministerial cheers.] Now, not in any set speeches, but by the ordinary method of expressing opinion and sympathy in the House, these gentlemen, whose silence I was commenting upon, have become vocal. Sir Wilfrid Laurier—and there is no man more respected and admired in this country—in reply, stated his views on the question of Imperial defence. He declined to give any pledge that the Government was going to do anything in that direction. 152 The telegram goes on—As to the commercial relations, the Premier said that he was going to England to discuss them on the invitation of the Imperial Government, and he could not conceive that Mr. Chamberlain would invite the colonial representatives to discuss that subject unless the British Government had something to propose. There was now a duty on wheat and flour—this duty that we are discussing now—which placed Canada in a position to make offers which she could not make in 1897. A step has thus been taken which would make it possible to obtain preference for Canadian goods.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
That is nothing against him. "A step had been taken." This Bill is the step. Sir Wilfrid Laurier says he could not conceive the invitation to a Conference unless there was something to propose. Is this the beginning of the something? Is this the foundation laid for that something? I have observed that throughout these discussions the Secretary of State for the Colonies has not been prominently present. We are entitled to demand to know now, in the clearest terms, is this your policy, is this policy which the Prime Minister of Canada, in the interest of his country, naturally and properly foreshadows to be the policy of our Government? Are the free ports of England to be shut up by preferential duties? This would be a tremendous departure from the traditional policy of this country, and we are not going to have it smuggled into existence in the form of this innocuous little, imperceptible, intangible duty on corn. This aspect of the case gives an importance to the subject before us even greater than that which it had before. There was a strong case before. Now there is an urgent, an imperious, a vehement case. I repeat the demand to know whether this is the policy which you intend that the House of Commons and the country should adopt.
§ (11.50.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The House will be relieved to hear that at ten minutes to twelve o'clock, after the long, 153 exhaustive, and interesting debate which we have had for two nights, following upon another debate on the same subject, which lasted also two nights, I do not mean to occupy their time by either discussing the fallacies, as I conceive them to be, in economic theory which have been so freely advanced in certain stages of this debate, or refuting the historic fallacies which have been so admirably dealt with by my hon. friend the Secretary for the Treasury in that able and interesting speech with which he delighted the House carlier in the afternoon. In the very few words that I have to say to the House I shall leave on one side the points with which I have dealt myself in an earlier speech, and which have been fully threshed out by hon. Members who have spoken in the debate. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down evidently takes far more interest in what may be described as the Protectionist argument which has been used on the other side than he does in the sentimental or philanthropic arguments of which I shall have a word to say before I sit down. He touched on those, but the main stress of his contention turned upon the idea that in proposing this tax the Government had, in the cant phrase of the day, inserted the thin end of the wedge of Protection into our fiscal system.
The right hon. Gentleman has a theologian's acumen in discovering the mere suspicion of heresy. He says this is a Protective tax, and I was challenged by a colleague of his earlier in the evening to say what was a Protective tax. I gave an answer across the floor of the House, on the spur of the moment, on which I really do not think I can improve. I said that a Protective tax was a tax that protects. What is a tax that protects? A tax that protects is a tax which discourages imports and encourages homo manufactures; and unless you can show that as the result of this tax fewer quarters of corn will come in from abroad than now and that more quarters of corn will be grown ill this country than now, it is not Protective. This tax may prove to be all that hon. Gentlemen opposite say. It may prove to be that it will starve the widow and the orphan; but whatever else it is, it is not a Protective tax, and all these insinuations that are 154 made that we are introducing a fundamental change of our Free Trade system are excessively ludicrous, not merely for the reasons which I have just stated, but because this tax was the invention of Free traders and was supported by a Free Trade Parliament. Further, it was recast by one of the greatest Free Trade Ministers this country has ever known, and I believe that the Corn Law League itself dissolved itself in a halo of glory on the ground that its work was done.
What has the right hon. Gentleman to say to a simple statement of historical fact? He has seen a statement in the evening papers that in the Canadian Parliament Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the distinguished Prime Minister of Canada, has stated that he is going over to England—to Britain—on the invitation of the British Government in order to dsicuss the relations between the colonics and the mother country. Well, Sir Wilfrid Laurier's mission to this country has absolutely nothing, direct or indirect, to do with this tax. This tax was put on for fiscal reasons. It was put on because in our judgment, and, I believe, in the judgment of the great majority of this House, it is necessary that a greatly increased revenue should be raised in the course of the present year, and because in our judgment this was a tax that was a fair tax, having regard to the needs of the country and the general incidence of taxation on all classes of the community. The right hon. Gentleman told us that this tax must raise the price of wheat and other forms of corn, though I do not think that he went the length of another right hon. Gentleman, who naively sought to prove that not only will the tax raise the price of corn practically by the amount of 1s. which we impose, but by the profit of the middleman. The law of supply and demand will always raise the price, but the law of supply and demand will have no effect in keeping down those profits of the middleman, and they actually believe that the Hitting on of a duty of 1s. will raise the income of every baker and dealer in the country. That is really a very foolish doctrine, and not quite worthy of the intelligence of the Gentleman who advances it. It seems to be thought that if fluctuations exist those fluctuations are due to the very small duty, and that it will not only 155 increase the price of the commodity, but permanently add to the income of all the middlemen between the corn-grower in the west of America and the bread eater in the towns of this country. Does the middleman always gain by the rise and never lose by the fall? I do not think that arguments of that sort ought to be advanced by hon. Gentlemen when dealing with the incidence of taxation.
I have listened with great interest and attention to this debate, and I have a few suggestions to make for the special benefit of those hon. Gentleman opposite who have not had the advantage of hearing all the speeches. I have a few short suggestions to make, which, if they are followed, will enable them to make excellent speeches against this tax when they come to discuss it on the platform during the course of the Whitsuntide holidays. [An HON. MEMBER: We have already done that.] It is on the model of what has been done that I am suggesting the instructions which I shall read to the House. Well, Sir, in the first place, I would say that, if you are an Irish Member attacking this tax, you ought to say that it is not a Protective tax, and that if it is not, it is no good to Ireland. If, on the other hand, you are an English Member, you ought to say it is a Protective tax, and, being a Protective tax, it is a very bad thing for the workers of England. So far, there is a slight divergence between the opponents of the tax. Now I come to the points upon which they may happily agree. I would then advise them to look into the old speeches against the corn laws as they existed before Sir Robert Peel's reform, choose all the most violent adjectives which were appropriate to a great tax on corn, which brought the price of corn up to 80s. a quarter, to borrow all the epithets which were used to describe the effect of wheat at 80s. a quarter on the prosperity of the working classes, and then to transfer all those arguments, all those epithets, unaltered, to a 1s. duty on corn. I do not think that anything was said in reference to the state of the corn laws before they were abolished which is at all stronger than that which 156 I have heard said tonight or last night against a shilling duty on corn imposed by Sir Robert Peel, approved by Mr. Gladstone, and never criticised by Mr. Cobden. Let them describe how this will add to the poverty of the poorest of the people. Let them describe how it will add to the burden of the widow, how it will interfere with the sustenance of the orphan. While they may remember all these arguments, there are some things which it will be desirable for them in making these speeches to forget. They must forget that after all there were philanthropists before they were in existence, that Mr. Gladstone was not indifferent either to the widow or to the orphan, that this House of Commons, dealing with a condition of things in which wages were lower and the price of corn higher, in which, I venture to say, there were as many persons then as there are now interested in the prosperity of the working classes, never thought that this duty would have that effect, that it never occurred to them that they were oppressors of the widow, tyrants of the orphan, and it was left to their successors and to some of their colleagues to make the discovery, the financial, fiscal, and philanthropic discovery, hidden from the unenlightened eyes of Sir Robert Peel, Mr. Gladstone, and Mr. Cobden.
Hon. Gentlemen have told us that this is an unjust and oppressive tax. Let them remember that every tax in its isolation, and considered by itself, is an unjust tax. If the whole burden of the country was thrown upon the income tax, the income tax would be a grossly unfair tax. If the whole cost of the Empire were to be borne by the death duties, that would be grossly unfair. You cannot judge a tax by itself. You must judge it as part of a very complex and elaborate system of taxation. I would remind the House that it has been stated and not contradicted—for it is incapable of contradiction—that if you look at our fiscal system as a whole at the present time, and compare it with what it was when this tax was first imposed, and afterwards reconstructed by Sir Robert Peel and Mr. Gladstone, you will see that the burden of direct taxation upon the rich bears a far greater proportion to the whole burden of taxation now, than it did in those days. [An HON. MEMBER : 157 Not in Ireland.] I am not dealing with that portion of the United Kingdom separately, but I am taking the United Kingdom as a whole. The general system of taxation, including this tax, is incomparably more favourable to the working classes of this country—to the poor, to the widow, and to the orphan—now, than at the time when this tax was first imposed.
Some phrases dropped from this side of the House have been interpreted by hon. Gentlemen opposite to mean that in our view this tax is to be regarded as a penal tax—a kind of punishment for those who voted for the war, and support the general policy of the Government. I need not say that this is not the view which any one on this side of the House entertains. There is no question of penal taxation. I suppose that such instruments of fiscal oppression have been known in the past; but no Chancellor of the Exchequer is likely to propose them in the future. Our view is simply this. We think that, especially under modern conditions of political power, the whole of the country—embracing in that word every class in the country—is responsible for the action, of the Government supported by the majority of the country. The country may be wrong, and the Government may be wrong. The country may ultimately repent of the course which they have pursued, and turn out the Government. But the only system on which we can safely go, now that the working classes have the political power in their hands, is that we all form elements in one great community, and that each must bear its fair share of the whole charge. We repudiate absolutely, not merely in the name of the present holders of power, but in the name of all sound finance and politics, the idea which has been in its naked enormity announced by more than one speaker—that you ought not to impose taxes which are really universal in their embrace, and to which every class and member of the community contributes. I say that you ought to touch every class and member of the community, and there seems to me the grossest inconsistency among those political theorists, calling themselves democrats, who claim that the whole power is to be thrown into the 158 hands of the masses of the population, and who at the same time say that the masses of the population are to throw the whole burden of fiscal responsibility upon small minorities who, electorally speaking, have very little chance of making their voices heard. All that we, on this side of the House, desire is that the general system of taxation shall be a fair system, that the burden shall be distributed over the whole community. If there be anybody who takes a different view, if there be those who think that the cost of a great war, the cost of a great Empire, is to be borne, not by the community at large, but by a small and wealthy section of the community, all I can say is they differ substantially from us, who say—Let the system of taxation be fair, let none escape from it, and we, at all events, will be content.
I do not know that I need say more in defence of this tax. We have been told that it is a mean tax and that we lack courage in proposing it. To my thinking, no course would be so moan, no course so cowardly, no course so utterly unworthy of those who conceive that they have behind them the confidence of the people, as that in carrying out the policy that the people have approved—[" No "]—that in carrying out the policy we think the people have approved—they should endeavour to do it at the cost, not of those whose mandate we believe we bear, but at the cost of a small and comparatively helpless minority—["Oh, oh!"]—in the country whose interests ought to be as dear to this House as those of any other class who are under our control. This tax has the great merit, as we think, of not interfering with trade—["Oh, oh!"]—not interfering with trade, of not being difficult to collect, or not losing or wasting any important portion of the amount derived from the people on its way to the Exchequer; and while it has these great advantages it raises the large sum of £2,500,000 for the Exchequer, and we do not believe in its incidence it bears with undue severity on any portion of the population of this kingdom.
§ (12.13.) Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question.
|The House divided :—Ayes, 296; Noes, 188. Division List No. 169.|
|Acland-Hood,Capt.SirAlex. F.||Cubitt, Hon. Henry||Heath,James(Staffords. N. W.)|
|Agg-Gardner, James Tynte||Cust, Henry John C.||Heaton, John Henniker|
|Agnew, Sir Andrew Noel||Dalkeith, Earl of||Helder, Augustus|
|Aird, Sir John||Dalrymple, Sir Charles||Henderson, Alexander|
|Allhusen,Augustus H'nryEden||Davies, Sir Horatio D (Chatham||Hickman, Sir Alfred|
|Anson, Sir William Reynell||Denny, Colonel||Hobhouse,Henry(Somerset, E.)|
|Archdale, Edward Mervyn||Dewar, T.R(T'r H'mlets, S.Geo.||Hogg, Lindsay|
|Arnold-Forster, Hugh O.||Dickson, Charles Scott||Hope,J.F.(Sheffield, Brightside|
|Arrol, Sir William||Dickson-Poynder, Sir John P.||Hornby, Sir William Henry|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Dimsdale, Sir Joseph Cockfield||Houldsworth, Sir Wm. Henry|
|Bailey, James (Walworth)||Dixon-Hartland, Sir Fr'd Dixon||Hoult, Joseph|
|Bain, Colonel James Robert||Dorington, Sir John Edward||Howard,John(Kent,Faversh'm|
|Baird, JohnGeorge Alexander||Doughty, George||Howard, J. (Midd., Tottenham)|
|Balcarres, Lord||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Hozier, Hn. James Henry Cecil|
|Balfour,Rt.Hon.A.J.(Manch'r||Doxford, Sir William Theodore||Hudson, George Bickersteth|
|Balfour, Capt. C. B. (Hornsey)||Duke, Henry Edward||Jebb, Sir Richard Claverhouse|
|Balfonr, Rt.HnGerald W (Leeds||Durning-Lawrence, Sir Edwin||Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick|
|Balfour, Kenneth R. (Christch.||Dyke, Rt.Hon.SirWilliamHart||Jessel,CaptainHerlbert Merton|
|Banbury, Frederick George||Elliott, Hon. A. Ralph Douglas||Johnstone, Heywood (Sussex)|
|Barry, Sir Francis T. (Windsor)||Faber, Edmund B. (Hants, W.)||Kennaway,Rt.Hon.SirJohnH.|
|Bartley, George C. T.||Faber, George Denison (York)||Kenyon, Hon.Geo.T.(Denbigh)|
|Beach, Rt. HnSirMichael Hicks||Fardell, Sir T. George||Keswick, William|
|Beckett, Ernest William||Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edward||King, Sir Henry Seymour|
|Bentinck, Lord Henry C.||Fergusson, Rt Ha. Sir J (Manc'r||Knowles, Lees|
|Beresford, Lord Chas. William||Fielden, Edwai'd Brocklehurst||Lambton, Hon. Frederick Wm.|
|Bhownaggree, Sir M. M.||Finch, George H.||Laurie, Lieut.-General|
|Bignold, Arthur||Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne||Law, Andrew Bonar (Glasgow)|
|Bigwood, James||Firbank, Joseph Thomas||Lawrence, Joseph(Monmouth)|
|Bill, Charles||Fisher, William Hayes||Lawrence, Wm. F. (Liverpool)|
|Blundell, Colonel Henry||FitzGerald, Sir Robert Penrose-||Lawson, John Grant|
|Bond, Edward||Fitzroy, Hon. Ed ward Algernon||Lee, Arthur H.(Hants, Fareham.|
|Boscawen, Arthur Griffith-||Fletcher, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Legge, Col. Hon. Heneage|
|Boulnois, Edmund||Flower, Ernest||Leigh-Bennett, Henry Currie|
|Brassey, Albert||Galloway, William Johnson||Leveson-Gower, Frederick N. S.|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Gardner, Ernest||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. R.|
|Brookfield, Colonel Montagu||Garfit, William||Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine|
|Brown, Alexander H.(Shropsh.||Gibbs,Hn.A.G.H(City of Lond.||Long, Col. Charles W.(Evesham|
|Bull, William James||Gibbs, Hon. Vicary (St. Albans)||Long, Rt. Hn. Walter (Bristol, S)|
|Burdett-Coutts, W.||Gordon,Hn.J.E(Elgin&Nairn)||Lowther, C. (Cumb., Eskdale)|
|Butcher, John George||Gore, Hon. S. F. Ormsby-(Linc.)||Lowther,Rt.Hon.James (Kent)|
|Carlile, William Walter||Gorst, Rt Hon. Sir John Eldon||Loyd, Archie Kirkman|
|Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edw. H.||Goschen, Hon. George Joachim||Lucas, Col. Francis (Lowesfoft)|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Goulding, Edward Alfred||Lucas, Reginald J (Portsmouth)|
|Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lancs.)||Graham, Henry Robert||Lyttelton, Hon. Alfred|
|Cavendish, V. C. W (Derbyshire||Gray, Ernest (West Ham)||Macartney, RtHnW.G.Ellison.|
|Cayzer, Sir Charles William||Green, Walford D (Wednesbury||Macdona, John Gumming|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Greene, Sir E. W (B'ry S Edm'nds||MacIver, David (Liverpool)|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich)||Greene, Henry D.(Shrewsbury)||Maconochie, A. W.|
|Chamberlain,Rt.Hon.J.(Birm.||Greene, W. Raymond-(Cambs.)||M'Arthur, Charles (Liverpool)|
|Chamberlain, J. Austen (Worc'r||Grenfell, William Henry||M'Calmont, Col.H.L.B.(Cambs|
|Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry||Gretton, John||M'Iver, Sir Lewis (Edinburgh W|
|Chapman, Edward||Groves, James Grimble||M'Killop, James (Stirlingshire)|
|Charrington, Spencer||Gunter, Sir Robert||Majendie, James A. H.|
|Churchill, Winston Spencer||Guthrie, Walter Murray||Malcolm, Ian|
|Clare, Octavius Leigh||Hain, Edward||Manners, Lord Cecil|
|Coghill, Douglas Harry||Halsey, Rt. Hon. Thomas F.||Martin, Richard Biddulph|
|Cohen, Benjamin Louis||Hambro, Charles Eric||Melville, Beresford Valentine|
|Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Hamilton, RtHnLordG(Midd'x||Meysey-Thompson, Sir H. M.|
|Colomb, SirJohnCharlesReady||Hamilton, Marq. of (L'nd'nd'rry||Middlemore, Jno. Throgmorton|
|Colston, Chas. Edw. H. Athole||Hanbury, Rt.Hon.RobertWm.||Milner, Rt. Hn. Sir Fred erick G.|
|Compton, Lord Alwyne||Hardy, Laurence (Kent, Ashf'rd||Milvain, Thomas|
|Corbett, T. L. (Down, North)||Hare, Thomas Leigh||Mitchell, William|
|Cox, Irwin Edward Bainbridge||Harris, Frederick Leverton||Moles worth, Sir Lewis|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Haslam, Sir Alfred S.||Montagu, G. (Huntingdon)|
|Cripps, Charles Alfred||Hatch, Ernest Frederick Geo.||Montagu, Hon. J. Scott (Hants)|
|Cross, Herb. Shepherd (Bolton)||Hay, Hon. Claude George||Moon, Edward Robert Pacy|
|More, Robt. Jasper (Shropshire)||Remnant, James Farquharson||Tritton, Charles Ernest|
|Morgan, David J (Walthamstow||Renshaw, Charles Bine||Tufnell, Lieut.-Col. Edward|
|Morrell, George Herbert||Renwick, George||Tuke, Sir John Batty|
|Morton, Arthur H. A.(Deptford)||Richards, Henry Charles||Valentia, Viscount|
|Mount, William Arthur||Ridley, Hn. M. W. (Stalybridge||Walker, Col. William Hall|
|Muntz, Philip A.||Ritchie, Rt. Hn. Chas. Thomson||Wanklyn, James Leslie|
|Murray, Rt Hn A. Graham (Bute||Roberts, Samuel (Sheffield)||Warde, Colonel C. E.|
|Murray, Charles J. (Coventry)||Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)||Warr, Augustus Frederick|
|Murray, Col. Wyndham (Bath)||Rolleston, Sir John F. L.||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Newdigate, Francis Alexander||Ropner, Colonel Robert||Webb, Colonel William George|
|Nicholson, William Graham||Round, James||Welby, Lt.-Col. A. C E (Taunton|
|Nicol, Donald Ninian||Sackville, Col. S. G. Stopford-||Welby, Sir Charles G. E. (Notts.)|
|O'Neill, Hon. Robert Torrens||Sadler, Col. Samuel Alexander||Wentworth, Bruce C. Vernon-|
|Palmer, Walter (Salisbury)||Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)||Wharton, Rt. Hon. John Lloyd|
|Parker, Gilbert||Sandys, Lieut.-Col. Thos. Myles||Whitmore, Charles Algernon|
|Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlingt'n||Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)||Williams, Colonel R. (Dorset)|
|Peel, Hn. Wm. Robt. Wellesley||Seely, Maj. J. K. B (Isle of Wight||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Pemberton, John S. G.||Seton-Karr, Henry||Willox, Sir John Archibald|
|Penn, John||Sharpe, William Edward T.||Wills, Sir Frederick|
|Percy, Earl||Shaw-Stewart, M. H. (Renfrew||Wilson, A. Stanley (York, E. R.)|
|Pierpoint, Robert||Simeon, Sir Barrington||Wilson, John (Glasgow)|
|Pilkington, Lieut.-Col. Richard||Sinclair, Louis (Romford)||Wilson-Todd, Wm. H. (Yorks.)|
|Platt-Higgins, Frederick||Skewes-Cox, Thomas||Wodehouse, Rt. Hn. E. R. (Bath)|
|Plummer, Walter R.||Smith, Abel H. (Hertford, East)||Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm|
|Powell, Sir Francis Sharp||Smith, H C (North'mb. Tyneside||Worsley-Taylor, Henry Wilson|
|Pretyman, Ernest George||Smith, James Parker (Lanarks.)||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-|
|Pryce-Jones, Lt. Col. Edward||Stanley, Lord (Lancs.)||Wrightson, Sir Thomas|
|Purvis, Robert||Stewart, Sir Mark J. M'Taggart||Wyndham, Rt. Hon. George|
|Pym, C. Guy||Stone, Sir Benjamin||Younger, William|
|Quilter, Sir Cuthbert||Stroyan, John|
|Randles, John S.||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)|
|Rasch, Major Frederic Carne||Talbot, Rt. Hn. J. G (Oxf'd Univ.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Ratcliff, R. F.||Thornton, Percy M.||Sir William Walrond and|
|Rattigan, Sir William Henry||Tollemache, Henry James||Mr. Anstruther.|
|Reid, James (Greenock)||Tomlinson, Wm. Edw. Murray|
|Abraham, William (Cork, N. E.)||Clancy, John Joseph||Fowler, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry|
|Abraham, William (Rhondda)||Cogan, Denis J.||Fuller, J. M. F.|
|Allan, William (Gateshead)||Condon, Thomas Joseph||Furness, Sir Christopher|
|Allen, Charles P. (Gloue., Stroud||Craig, Robert Hunter||Gilhooly, James|
|Ambrose, Robert||Crean, Eugene||Goddard, Daniel Ford|
|Ashton, Thomas Gair||Cremer, William Randal||Grant, Corrie|
|Asquith, Rt. Hn. Herbert Henry||Crombie, John William||Grey, Sir Edward (Berwick)|
|Atherley-Jones, L.||Dalziel, James Henry||Griffith, Ellis J.|
|Barry, E. (Cork, S.)||Davies, Alfred (Carmarthen)||Gurdon, Sir W. Brampton|
|Bayley, Thomas (Derbyshire)||Davies, M. Vaughan-(Cardigan||Haldane, Richard Burden|
|Beaumont, Wentworth C. B.||Delany, William||Harcourt, Rt. Hon. Sir William|
|Bell, Richard||Dewar, John A. (Inveniess-sh.||Hardie, J. Keir (Merthyr Tydvil|
|Black, Alexander William||Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles||Harmsworth, R. Leicester|
|Blake, Edward||Dillon, John||Harwood, George|
|Boland, John||Dougan, P. C.||Hayden, John Patrick|
|Bolton, Thomas Dolling||Douglas, Charles M. (Lanark)||Hayne, Rt. Hon. Charles Seale-|
|Brand, Hon. Arthur G.||Duncan, J. Hastings||Hayter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur D.|
|Brigg, John||Dunn, Sir William||Hemphill, Rt. Hon. Charles H.|
|Broadhurst, Henry||Edwards, Frank||Holland, William Henry|
|Brown, George M. (Edinburgh)||Ellis, John Edwaid||Hutton, Alfred E. (Morley)|
|Bryce, Rt. Hon. James||Emmott, Alfred||Jacoby, James Alfred|
|Burke, E. Haviland-||Evans, Sir Francis H (Maidstone||Joicey, Sir James|
|Burns, John||Evans, Samuel T. (Glamorgan)||Jones, Wm. (Carnarvonshire)|
|Buxton, Sydney Charles||Farquharson, Dr. Robert||Joyce, Michael|
|Caine, William Sproston||Fenwick, Charles||Kearley, Hudson E.|
|Caldwell, James||Ferguson, H. C. Munro (Leith)||Kitson, Sir James|
|Campbell, John (Armagh, S.)||Ffrench, Peter||Labouchere, Henry|
|Campbell-Bannerman, Sir H.||Field, William||Langley, Batty|
|Carew, James Laurence||Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmond||Lay land-Barratt, Francis|
|Cawley, Frederick||Flavin, Michael Joseph||Leamy, Edmund|
|Channing, Francis Allston||Flynn, James Christopher||Leigh, Sir Joseph|
|Leng, Sir John||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)||Soames, Arthur Wellesley|
|Levy, Maurice||O'Dowd, John||Spencer, Rt. Hn. C. R (Northants|
|Lewis, John Herbert||O'Kelly, Conor (Mayo, N.)||Sullivan, Donal|
|Logan, John William||O'Kelly, James (Roscommon, N||Tennant, Harold John|
|Lough, Thomas||O'Malley, William||Thomas, Abel (Carmarthen, E.)|
|Lundon, W.||O'Mara, James||Thomas, David Alfred (Merthyr|
|MacDonnell, Dr. Mark A.||Palmer, George Wm. (Reading)||Thomas, F. Freeman-(Hastings|
|Macnamara, Dr. Thomas J.||Partington, Oswald||Thomas, J A (Glamorgan, Gower|
|MacNeill, John Gordon Swift||Paulton, James Mellor||Thomson, F. W. (York, W. R.)|
|MaeVeagh, Jeremiah||Pearson, Sir Weetman D.||Tomkinson, James|
|M'Crae, George||Perks, Robert William||Toulmin, George|
|M'Hugh, Patrick A.||Power, Patrick Joseph||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|M'Kenna, Reginald||Price, Robert John||Wallace, Robert|
|M'Killop, W. (Sligo, North)||Priestley, Arthur||Walton, John Lawson (Leeds, S.|
|M'Laren, Charles Benjamin||Rea, Russell||Walton, Joseph (Barnsley)|
|Mansfield, Horace Randall||Reckitt, Harold James||Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Markham, Arthur Basil||Reddy, M.||Wason, Eugene (Clackmannan)|
|Mather, William||Redmond, John E. (Waterford)||Weir, James Galloway|
|Mellor, Rt. Hon. John William||Reid, Sir R. Threshie (Dumfries||White, George (Norfolk)|
|Mooney, John J.||Rickett, J. Compton||White, Luke (York, E. R.)|
|Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen||Rigg, Richard||Whiteley, George (York, W. R.)|
|Morley, Charles (Breconshire)||Roberts, John Bryn (Eifion)||Whitley, J. H. (Halifax)|
|Morley, Rt. Hn. John (Montrose||Roberts, John H. (Denbigh.)||Whittaker, Thomas Palmer|
|Moss, Samuel||Robson, William Snowdon||Williams, Osmond (Merioneth)|
|Nannetti, Joseph P.||Roche, John||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid.)|
|Nolan, Joseph (Louth, South)||Runciman, Walter||Wilson, J. W. (Worcestersh. N.)|
|Norman, Henry||Russell, T. W.||Yoxall, James Henry|
|Norton, Capt. Cecil William||Schwann, Charles E.|
|Nussey, Thomas Willans||Scott, Chas. Prestwich (Leigh)|
|O'Brien, James F. X. (Cork)||Shaw, Charles Edw. (Stafford)||TELLERS FOE THE NOES—|
|O'Brien, Kendal (Tipp'rary Mid||Shaw, Thomas (Hawick B.)||Mr. M'Arthur and Mr.|
|O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Sheehan, Daniel Daniel||Causton.|
|O'Brien, P. J. (Tipperary, N.)||Shipman, Dr. John G.|
|O'Connor, James (Wicklow. W.||Sinclair, John (Forfarshire)|
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ (12.29.) MR. JOSEPH WALTON (Yorkshire, W. R., Barnsley)
I beg to move the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Joseph Walton.)
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I recognise that it is impossible to try to force the House to come to a decision this evening on the Second Reading of the Bill; but it will be greatly to the convenience of the House if it is understood that the debate shall be a limited one and that the Government will get the Loan Bill tomorrow by half past seven o'clock. [" No."] The time after nine o'clock will be occupied with a very important discussion, and the evening will not be available for discussion of financial business for which we are responsible ; 164 and therefore I do not see how we can avoid coming back on Thursday in next week for the consideration of Supply. Unless this arrangement is come to the House cannot avoid reassembling on Thursday of next week for a Supply day, and taking Friday for Government business. Perhaps the five hours available tomorrow may be sufficient to take the Second Reading of this Bill and the Loan Bill also. [" No."]
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
I am aware that several of my hon. friends desire to discuss the general financial position of the year on the Motion for the Second Reading of the Finance Bill. As for the Loan Bill, there is no urgent necessity for its being taken before Whitsuntide. I think, therefore, that if the right hon. Gentleman gets the Second Reading of the Finance Bill tomorrow he may be content. I desire 165 to use this opportunity to strongly resent the tendency which the right hon. Gentleman displays of threatening on the approach of the holidays to curtail them unless he gets a certain amount of business done. I do not think it is quite respectful to the House to say to us, in effect, that if we are good boys and do what we are told we shall get an extra day's holiday. That is not the way in which the House of Commons ought to be treated. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have been content to take Thursday for Supply and let the Loan Bill stand over, so as to allow the House to have a week's holiday in order to return in a good humoured frame of mind on Monday week.
§ * SIR M. HICKS BEACH
As to what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the Loan Bill, it has been the regular practice of Parliament to proceed with a Loan Bill as rapidly as possible after the introduction of the Resolution with regard to it. We have postponed this Bill to a later date than usual. It is absolutely necessary that the Bill should become law before the 1st of July, and I think if hon. Gentlemen will consider the business we will have to transact between now and that date they will see that the time at the disposal of the Government is not very long. We will have to deal with the Committee on the Finance Bill, which, after what we have seen, is not likely to be a short matter, and there are also other matters; but the Loan Bill is a pressing necessity. I think the right hon. Gentleman has entirely misapprehended the action of my right hon. friend. Our business is to do the business of the 166 country, and if we cannot do the business of the country without trenching on our holidays then we must trench on them. The choice is with the House itself. The holidays will have to be curtailed if business cannot be transacted in any other way.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I cannot understand why the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that the Loan Bill is a pressing necessity. The important part of the Bill is the loan, and the right hon. Gentleman has got the money. The discussion and examination of the subject of the loan is an important matter, and ought to be, not at length, but substantially, discussed. All the Government need do after the holidays is to place at the disposal of the House a day for the Loan Bill, instead of putting down the Rules or even the Education Bill, The Chancellor of the Exchequer has got his money easily, and I think he ought to be satisfied with that, and that he might meet the views of everybody, and do the business of the country, and yet not insist in squeezing into one morning sitting the discussion of the Finance Bill and the Loan Bill.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not think it is worth while that we should continue this discussion. I have explained the position of the Government, and I assent to the Motion.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman will bring the House back on Thursday week as we all wish?
MR. A. J. BALFOUE
Yes, Sir, unless we are more fortunate than I am 167 afraid we will be after what has occurred, I shall be under the painful necessity of bringing the House back on the Thursday-after Whitsuntide. Supply will be taken on that day, and on Friday the consideration of the Rules will probably be resumed.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Debate to be resumed to-morrow.