§ Brought from the Commons and read 1.
§ Standing Order No. XXXIX. considered (according to order).
§ Moved, "That the said Standing Order be suspended for this day's sitting."—(The Marquess of Lansdowne.)
§ *EARL SPENCER
My Lords, last night I thought it my duty in the very few words I then addressed to the House to protest as strongly as I could against the action of His Majesty's Government in bringing up a Bill of this great importance at so late a period of the session, and in compelling this House, or trying to compel this House, to pass it through all its stages in the course of an hour or two. I said that I should repeat my protest to-day, and I think that this is the proper 5 time, when the suspension of the Standing Order is moved, that I should do so. This is not the first time that I have protested against Bills being brought up from the other House for your Lordships' consideration at the very fag end of the session, but the present is one of the greatest scandals in this respect that I can recollect.
Let me just describe what has occurred. We came here to-day without having any intimation on our Votes that we were to discuss this Bill. We had it foreshadowed in two facts. First, there was the fact that we were to meet at the unusual hour of three o'clock instead of a quarter past four; and, secondly, there was the fact that the Standing Order which prevents the several stages of a Bill being taken the same day was to be suspended. That was the only notice we had on the Votes of the House as to this Bill being brought before your Lordships' House to-day. After our arrival this afternoon we observed some communication going on at the Bar between the Clerk at the Table and a gentleman whom we know represents the House of Commons, and presently a Paper was brought to the Table tied up in green silk. We subsequently learned that this was the Bill which has lately been passed in the House of Commons—the Finance Bill; and, thereupon, the noble Marquess the Leader of the House moved that it be read a first time. Now, my Lords, that is a very strong order indeed. Your Lordships are obliged to discuss a Bill of the greatest national importance without having notice of it on your Votes. Peers who look at their Votes to see what is coming on in your Lordships' House would not know, unless they learned it from another source, that this Bill was to be brought up.
We all know that we in this House cannot amend a Money Bill, but we have a perfect right to discuss it, and a full right to throw it out if we so will. I need hardly say that I am not going to propose that the Finance Bill should be thrown out, but I do claim the right of this House to discuss a measure of this great importance. Why is it that the Government have taken this course and placed your Lordships in this most undignified position? It is stated that the Bill must become law before 1st August, and there- 6 fore, as the House of Commons does not sit to-day later than half-past five or six and does not sit on Saturday. the Government wish your Lordships' House to pass it through all its stages, if possible, within one hour, so that the Commons may be summoned to hear the Royal Assent given to it. I very much doubt the pressing necessity for passing the Bill through your Lordships' House in this hurried manner. I have in my hand a "Manual of Procedure in the Public Business of the House of Commons," prepared by the Clerk of that House, and in Article 239 I find these words—When the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made his annual financial statement, he moves, in Committee of Ways and Means, the Resolutions required for continuing, imposing, remitting, or reducing taxes, or otherwise regulating the collection of the revenue. These Resolutions require confirmation by Parliament, but when any such Resolution is to take effect at once it is, by usage, brought into operation as soon as it has been passed by the Committee of Ways and Means.These Resolutions, as a rule, name 1st August as the day to which they refer, but I find that has not always been the practice.
Though 1st August has been named as the day when the Resolution comes to an end, and when it requires confirmation by Parliament, that has not always been followed by the immediate passing of the Finance Bill. By Section 1 of the Finance Act, 1895, the tea duty was continued till 1st August, 1896. By Section 1 of the Finance Act, 1896, the tea duty was continued from 1st August of that year to 1st August, 1897; but the Finance Act of 1896 did not receive the Royal Assent until 7th August. I would ask His Majesty's Government to explain why, in face of that fact, it is now necessary to force this Bill through by 1st August. I submit that there is no case for such action. If, however, the contention of the Government that the Bill must receive the Royal Assent before 1st August is correct, then I think they are open to very grave censure for not having arranged their business in such a way as to allow of this measure coming before your Lordships at an earlier period, so that we might have proper time to consider it. It certainly strikes me that the system of conducting business in the other House must be exceedingly careless 7 when such a thing as that against which I am protesting can happen.
I would remind your Lordships that it was not always so. In 1894, when the Liberal Government was in power, the Finance Bill was read a first time on 19th July, and a second time on 26th July. It was committed on 27th July, and read a third time on 30th July. And that Bill, it should be remembered, embodied the great system of death duties with which the name of my right hon. friend Sir William Harcourt is so intimately connected. In 1895 the Bill was read a first time on 27th May; the Second Reading was on the 28th and the Royal Assent was given on the 30th. In 1896 the Finance Bill was read a first time on 30th July; it was read a second time and passed through the remaining stages on 4th August without discussion. In 1901 the First Reading was taken on 18th July; it was read a second time and the Committee negatived on 23rd July and the Bill was read a third time on the 25th. In 1902 the Bill was read a first time on 26th June—a much earlier period; the Second Reading was taken on 3rd July, and the Third Reading on 4th July. In 1903 the Bill was read a first time on 25th July, and on 29th July it went through its remaining stages. The Government have managed their affairs in the House of Commons in what I venture to think is an exceedingly slovenly way, and in a way that has placed your Lordships' House in a very difficult and serious position. It is impossible for this House to debate a great measure of this kind in the circumstances in which we stand, and I strongly protest against the suspension of the Standing Order as proposed.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR (The Earl of HALSBURY)
My Lords, I sympathise with a great deal that has been said by the noble Earl. It has been the subject of debate more than once that Bills come up from the other House in circumstances which make it impossible for your Lordships to discuss them. I do not feel as strongly as the noble Earl does on this particular occasion, because, although I agree that three stages were taken as a matter of form on the occasions to which he has referred, I doubt whether the noble Earl will find that there was much debate.
§ *EARL SPENCER
On one occasion I made a speech of considerable length, and other noble Lords on this side have spoken.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
I was speaking of what has been the common practice. On a great many occasions it has been a mere matter of form. I lament it very much, and I think the noble Marquess the Leader of the House will lament it too. There are times when there are great debates in the House of Commons, and it is impossible to hurry them; and it has been with great exertions and at some cost to health that even now this Bill has been brought before your Lordships. I quite understand that if the Resolution had been reserved to a later period the difficulty would not have arisen, but the Resolution limited the period to 1st August.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
All I can say is that, apart from that Resolution, I do not know what power there was to collect any taxes whatever after 1st August. That is one of the problems which I confess I cannot solve. If there was no real power to do it, no one knew anything about it, and the taxes were collected in the ordinary course; but they had no right to do it after the determination of that period. That is the condition in which we are, and I think this House is not responsible for it. It is a state of things that does sometimes occur, and I have very often expressed the feelings which the noble Earl has given utterance to on occasions when there really was something to discuss. and when, at the end of the session, we were informed that, although there were some matters in a Bill which were obviously erroneous, its going back to the Commons would be fatal to it, and we have been compelled to accept the Bill. I have more than once thought that it would be much more convenient if some of the Bills of a public character were initiated in this House. I hope the noble Lord will not himself take a course which could only result in public inconvenience or encourage his followers to do so. Whatever has been 9 done on previous occasions, when nobody knew anything at all about it, now that the noble Lord has called attention to the determination of the period on 1st August, somebody will find out that he need not pay any tax on that date. I ask your Lordships not to resort to extreme measures on this occasion, and I hope the difficulty will not occur again.
§ LORD JAMES OF HEREFORD
My Lords, I do not wish to enter into the question as to this Bill becoming law before 1st August. Whatever questions may arise in consequence of this being a. Finance Bill, I hope your Lordships will think that we are justified in taking advantage of this opportunity to make a clear and distinct protest against the way in which this House is treated. As my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack has said, he has been very emphatic in his condemnation of this practice, which is really having a most serious effect. I would remind your Lordships of what occurred recently in the case of the Factory Bill. That Bill effected more than 100 amendments in the law, and there were Members in your Lordships' House most qualified and most anxious to deal with that subject; yet Lord Belper, who had charge of the Bill, had to announce that if this House made one single Amendment in it, there was not time for the House of Commons to consider it, and the Bill would be lost. There were some Members of your Lordships' House who were prepared to say that, in the circumstances, the Bill should not pass; but my noble friend on the Woolsack and I made a most pressing appeal to your Lordships not to punish the operatives who would be affected by the rejection of the Bill. The Bill was passed, but your Lordships' hands were so tied that you were unable to make the slightest Amendment. The late Lord Salisbury, who had the honour of this House at heart as much as any man, joined in deploring this state of things—a state of things which I venture to think ought never to exist. The majority of the House of Commons desire to see this House continue in its strength; but if we submit to be treated as if we were nobodies, if we are not to bear an equal responsibility with the House of Commons in legislation, the 10 time will come soon enough when others will think of us as we allow ourselves to be thought of, and the country will tell us that we are a Chamber without utility and without influence in the country.
This is not a question affecting this Government only; it is a habit that has grown up. Although the difficulties that exist in the House of Commons in carrying business through may drive a Minister to take a course which he cannot always control, surely some effort should be made to allow us to take a greater part in the responsibility of legislation. Why is it that in this session not one measure of the slightest importance has been initiated in this House? Why should we be treated as if we were incapable of dealing with these questions? By the action of the other House there has been taken from us the possibility of our doing anything. I do not blame this Government particularly, or individual members of it; but surely everyone who desires to see this House honoured and its utility maintained ought to take every opportunity of protesting against the course that has been pursued towards it.
The EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, I venture to associate myself with the protest which has just been made by the noble and learned Lord. I speak not so much with reference to this Bill, because I do not suppose there is any noble Lord likely to move its rejection, but with reference to the precedent which is created, and because, so far as I know, it has never before been stated in this House that a Bill brought in at three o'clock must be passed through all its stages by half-past five.
The EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
It is perfectly true that in the Orders of the Day the Commission is announced to sit at four o'clock to give the Royal Assent to this Bill; but, as a matter of fact, your Lordships are given till half-past five—namely, two and a half hours—in which to discuss this Bill. This is the strongest practical illustration that I can imagine of the necessity for the protest which was raised by Lord Newton last year, and which has been repeated 11 this year, with reference to the management of the business of this House, and the way in which this House is treated during the last fortnight or three weeks of the session. When the noble Lord opposite (Lord Newton) introduced his Motion I added a few words, giving my own experience of the last three weeks of the session in this House. If any noble Lord attends this House at all, the last three weeks of the session is the time for him to attend. There is very little business to transact before then. Shoals of Bills are presented to this House during the last three weeks of the session, and with regard to them appeals are made, such as the noble and learned Lord opposite told us were made in the case of the Factory Bill, and noble Lords are implored to withdraw all opposition.
The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has to-night made a speech of a very apologetic character. He agrees with a great deal of what was said earlier by the noble Lord who leads the Opposition, and I believe he agrees with a great deal of what I am saying now, and with what Lord Newton has said in former debates; but it is not merely sympathy that we want. Sympathy is a very fine thing in its way, but what we want is some practical illustration of that sympathy. During the remaining two or three weeks of the session Bills will be brought up here, and we shall be adjured to pass them without being given any opportunity whatever of amending them or even of considering them. This House has before now postponed the consideration of a Bill on the ground that there was no time to take it into consideration. Such a Motion was made by the late Lord Redesdale. It was a Scottish Education Bill or something of that sort which originated in this House. It was largely altered in the other House, and was brought up again to this House about the 9th or 10th of August. Lord Redesdale moved that it was then too late to consider those Amendments, and the House affirmed his opinion by, I think, a majority of something like twenty votes. I hold that with regard to Bills which may be brought up to this House during the remaining weeks of the present session, noble Lords who really wish to show that they attach some practical 12 value to the independence of this House, and to its taking a proper part in legislation, would be acting perfectly within their rights in moving to postpone the consideration of the Bills then brought up. I cannot understand why it is not possible to introduce more Bills in this House. The noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack said it would be a good thing if that were done.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
I was going to ask the noble and learned Lord whether he would not intercede with the noble Marquess the Leader of this House, and get some Bills initiated here. It is not sufficient to say one wishes to see them introduced; some practical steps should be taken to get them introduced. I believe the Licensing Bill, which has just been referred to by my noble friend Lord Newton, was eminently a Bill for consideration by this House. It would have been wholly unnecessary to interfere with any part of the compensation or money clauses, but I venture to say that in this House most valuable debates would have taken place with regard to the principle of the Bill. If the Bill had been introduced in your Lordships' House, I believe it would have been almost as forward in the House of Commons as it is at the present time, and your Lordships would have had ample time for its consideration. I wish to renew my protest against the way in which your Lordships' House is treated during the last three weeks of the session, and this is going to be one of the very worst sessions in that respect. I cannot remember a Bill ever being forced down our throats in a period which may be an hour, and which must not be more than two and a half hours. It is the most practical application of the guillotine that I ever remember. I hope the noble Marquess, who has at heart the honour and the dignity of this House, and who leads the House with such universal approval, will bear in mind the rights and privileges of this House, and will in the next session of Parliament, at all events, set a better example than has been set during the 13 present session in the way of introducing Bills in this House.
§ *LORD COLERIDGE
My Lords, your Lordships' House is in rather a peculiar position, because we are asked to pass a Bill which no Member of this House has ever seen. What mischief may lurk under that green silk band I know not, but at any rate, until the Bill is seen we cannot reasonably be asked to pass it. Let me remind the House of the manner in which matters have been conducted by His Majesty's Government. The Committee stage of the Finance Bill began in the other House on 20th June. The Prime Minister said it was absolutely necessary—and I presume he did not say that without some grounds—that the Bill should be taken on 20th June, and no later, and that it should be discussed de die in diem. It was discussed on the 20th, 21st, and the 22nd of June. Then, my Lords, there was a gap, and the House of Commons heard no more of the Bill until 18th July. Now, with what face, speaking respectfully, with what excuse can the noble Marquess come to this House and plead for urgency when His Majesty's Government have not used the expedition that might have been used in the other House?
One of the weeks during which there was this suspension of discussion on the Finance Bill was occupied with Ascot. Will the noble Marquess say that that was an adequate reason for suspending any discussion on the financial business of the country? Another week or fortnight of that period was occupied with the Licensing Bill. Now that Bill is a very important measure; but, after all, no Bill is so important as the Bill which enables the Government to levy taxes. I have no doubt that the Prime Minister, if the truth were known, felt that he was more secure of his majority on the Licensing Bill than he was at that particular time on the Finance Bill, because the Licensing Bill affected great interests, and the interests of the many are apt to be overlooked in the interests of the few. The noble Marquess cannot say that the Government have shown that despatch of business which entitles him to come and ask us to pass through all its stages a Bill we have not seen.
14 I do not know what the awful consequences to the Government will be if we do not pass this Bill through in the allotted time. The noble Earl on the Woolsack thinks no taxpayer need pay in the interval between the ceasing of the operation of the Resolution passed by the House of Commons and the coming into force of the statutory measure authorising the levying of the tax. I do not know how that would be; but there is one simple way out of the difficulty. The Government have a vast majority in the House of Commons and a still larger majority in this House, and no delay need accompany the passing of a Bill of indemnity. I have no doubt it would be carried by acclamation in both Houses. When, for instance, in South Africa acts were done under martial law which the civil law did not recognise, it was found necessary to pass Acts of Indemnity, and these were passed without opposition. That is an excellent precedent for this country; and it seems to me that the difficulty might be got over in that way, and that, therefore. the need for this speedy passing of the Bill is not so urgent as the noble Marquess would lead us to believe.
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
My Lords, I cannot understand why the noble Marquess, in asking us to suspend the Standing Order, did not give us reasons why this is necessary, because it does seem to me that in taking the course proposed His Majesty's Government are establishing a precedent. My noble and learned friend behind me has reminded the House that we have not even been permitted to see the Bill which we are asked to pass through all its stages to-day. His Majesty's Government appear to have taken the view that as this Finance Bill is introduced with the authority of a Conservative Government, therefore it is one which does not excite any question of public interest. Reference was made by the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition to what took place in regard to the Finance Bill which introduced the death duties: and I cannot help thinking that if this House acts on the principle involved in this Resolution it would be perfectly possible for any Government, a Liberal Government perhaps, to introduce proposals of a most stringent and radical 15 character into a Finance Bill, embodying principles opposed to the view of the predominant Party in this House, and by deferring the date demand the rapid passage of such a Bill through all its stages to avoid the disorganisation of the financial arrangements of the country.
I, with all deference to what has been said, very much doubt if any serious financial disturbance would arise through not acceding to the proposal of His Majesty's Government. It is absurd to suppose that the Bill now before the House has not in it great questions of principle. If it did not contain such questions, on what conceivable grounds did the House of Commons debate it at such length? It is said that the opposition in the House of Commons was purely obstructive; but I would point out that upon the question of protection—which I hope I and others will have an opportunity of discussing later this afternoon when the Second Reading is moved—a great deal of the opposition to the Bill came from the Ministerial side of the House. I do contend that if your Lordships' House is to be considered an independent Second Chamber, it is desirable that we should take some stand to maintain our rights. If this Assembly is to be looked upon merely as a sort of adjunct to the Carlton Club it is perfectly intelligible, and in itself intelligent, that Bills of this kind should be brought up when introduced by Conservative Governments, and that we should be asked to accept them without any discussion or deliberation at all. In moving that the Standing Order be suspended, the noble Marquess did not say a single word in explanation of, or justification for, that Motion. It is presumed that your Lordships will do exactly as the Government ask, that you will suspend the Standing Order without debate, and pass the Bill through all its stages, so that it may receive the Royal Assent before the adjournment of the House of Commons. Although it may seem somewhat strange that noble Lords on this side of the House should stand up in defence of the rights of this Assembly, yet it does seem to me that so long as the House of Lords exists, and so long as the members of the Opposition are obliged to sit in an Assembly in which they are in a considerable minority, they 16 should be treated with a semblance of respect and consideration.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, it is with some gratification that I have heard from noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon sentiments which I have myself expressed on previous occasions, but I confess to feeling considerable regret that these sentiments have not been expressed earlier. When on a recent occasion I drew attention to the state of business in this House, not only did nobody say a word in support of my contention, but the Leader of the House, amid the plaudits of the Assembly, pointed out to me that there was practically no hope of ameliorating the condition of things, and that we must be content to exist in our present circumstances. I rise more for the purpose of endeavouring to show, if I can, that the Prime Minister is not so much to blame as he is supposed to be. I will admit that at first blush it looks as if this House had been treated with extreme contempt, I might almost say contumely, by the Prime Minister, because he has left the discussion of the Finance Bill over until the last possible date, and if the contention of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack is correct, has left us with at the most two and a half hours for discussing this Bill, and passing it through all its stages. I cannot help wondering what would have been said by our Party if we had had to endure this at the hands of the Party opposite.
But, as I say, I am anxious to make the best case I can for the Prime Minister, and to prove, if possible, that he is not so black as he has been painted, and I will do it by asking the Leader of the House whether it is not the case that under the old Finance Act power is taken to levy duties up to 1st August, and that it is not absolutely necessary for the present Bill to become law at this sitting. 1st August is next Monday, and, so far as I am aware, the old Finance Act as in operation until 1st August. The new Bill will come into operation on 1st August, and there will be no interval between the two. I wish to ask the noble Marquess the Leader of the House whether I am correct in this assumption; and, if I am, there is obviously no neces- 17 sity for passing the Bill through all its stages during the present sitting.
*THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (The Marquess of LANSDOWNE)
My Lords, the only reply I am able to give to the noble Lord is that we are advised that the course he suggests is not one which could be adopted consistently with the provisions of the Act of Parliament. I rise really with the object of adding my expressions of regret to those of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack at being obliged to ask your Lordships to take so unusual a course with regard to this Bill. There is a consensus of opinion on this subject and I do not dissociate myself in any way from what has been said as to the inconvenience of passing Bills of this importance so hurriedly through your Lordships' House. I should, however, like to notice for one moment the remark of the noble Earl opposite that this result might have been avoided, if it had not been for what he called the slovenly manner in which business had been conducted in the House of Commons. I find that the discussion of this Bill occupied seventeen days in the House of Commons, or three and a half weeks of Parliamentary time; and although I feel that I am scarcely in a position to carry the war into the enemy's country, I would ask him whether some of the delay that has taken place may not be attributed to the extreme anxiety shown by the noble Earl's friends to discuss not only this measure, but other measures which have been simultaneously before the House of Commons.
As to the position of your Lordships' House in reference to money Bills I do not think there is any controversy. It is open to us, if we like, to throw out a money Bill. It is, I believe, even open to us, if we choose, to amend it. I believe there is a case on record where an Amendment was actually inserted; but as a matter of practical politics we all know that the insertion of an important Amendment in a money Bill by this House would lead to the abandonment of the measure when it went back to the other House. Therefore we may regard the insertion of an Amendment as equivalent to the rejection of the Bill. The case is different when we come to the question of discussion. When the noble Earl claims for this House the right 18 of discussing a money Bill at length, it is rather interesting to recall cases when we on this side of the House have upheld this doctrine, and it has been disputed by noble Lords opposite. The noble Earl referred to a debate which took place in 1894 on the Finance Bill of that year. If he will refer to that debate he will see that Lord Rosebery deprecated altogether the idea that the House of Lords should have anything to do with money Bills. In those days, therefore, noble Lords opposite took a different view, and we appeared as champions of the rights of the House of Lords. I have no doubt some allowance must be made for the different conditions under which the subject is approached according as we sit on one side or other of the House. I am not familiar with the precedent to which the noble Earl referred, but it certainly is the case that, in the Act of last year, it is clearly and distinctly laid down that certain taxes shall continue to be charged, levied, or paid until the first day of August this year, and in our view that does render it necessary that the new legislation should come into effect before the arrival of that day.
§ *EARL SPENCER
August was also mentioned in the Act of 1895, but the Act of 1896 did not become law until 7th August. The same conditions obtained then.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Even assuming that that was so, it does not follow that the transaction was regular, or that it is desirable to repeat it on the present occasion, There is one suggestion which I would make to the noble Earl. I quite admit the desirability of discussing in this House the financial position of the country, and the great problems which arise in connection with it. But is it quite clear that it is only upon the introduction of the Finance Bill that discussions of that kind can take place? It always seems to me to be rather astonishing that we in your Lordships' House, whose time, after all, is not so fully occupied, should not avail ourselves of the opportunities which are within our reach for raising what it seems to me would be extremely useful discussions upon such questions as the financial position of the country. I have heard it said, very recently, that it is only in 19 the House of Lords that full opportunities are really given for such discussion. I do not see why the noble Lord or any of his friends should not at any moment, had they desired it, have initiated a debate on the general financial prospects of the country. I did not, however, rise for the purpose of disputing what was said by the noble Lord opposite as to the inconvenience complained of. On the contrary, I may assure your Lordships that we shall make it our business to prevent a recurrence of a state of things similar to that which we are discussing this evening. We have taken already one step which, it seems to me, is a practical one in that direction, because in the Bill of this year we have substituted for the date of the 1st of August the 1st of July, so that there will at any rate be a little more elbow room another year. I can assure your Lordships that I am deeply concerned for the honour of your Lordships' House, and that I should be the last person in the world to desire that any slight or indignity should be offered to it.
§ LORD BURGHCLERE
My Lords, I shall only interpose for a few minutes in this discussion. I have heard a rumour that some of my friends are proposing to take a division on the Motion now before the House. On an ordinary occasion I would be the last man in the world to register my vote against a request by the responsible Government of the day to suspend certain Standing Orders in order to enable them to carry on the Government, but if there is an occasion in which we ought not to take the situation in which we are placed lying down I think this is the occasion, and if my noble friends go to a division I shall certainly join them in the Lobby. It is perfectly true that your Lordships have no power to amend a money Bill, but we have the power to end it, and if we never attempt to exercise that power it seems to me that it would be better that Finance Bills should never be referred to this House at all. That would make the course of the Government a great deal easier, and I think it would place us in a position of greater dignity than we are in on the present unfortunate occasion. I do not rise for the purpose of making a speech on this subject, but 20 only to explain my own position in regard to the matter. In order to register my protest against the position in which we are continually being placed year after year at this period of the session, when it is quite impossible for your Lordships to discuss the various Bills that are sent up with a proper sense of your own dignity, I shall, if my noble friends divide upon this Motion, follow them into the Division Lobby.
§ EARL CARRINGTON
My Lords, I should like to be permitted to say a word or two on this subject, on which I feel very strongly. I am certain every noble Lord on this side of the House will receive in the way in which it was meant the expression of regret which emanated from the noble Marquess the Leader of the House on account of the impasse in which your Lordships find yourselves. As I understand this matter, if this Bill is not passed by Monday next the taxes which are now being levied under the Resolutions passed by the House of Commons will be illegally levied, because the old Act of 1903 only gave the Crown power to levy the taxes sanctioned by the Resolutions of the House of Commons up to 1st August. If, therefore, the Government continued to levy these taxes without the Resolutions having been confirmed by the Bill before the House, they would have to have recourse to a Bill of Indemnity.
When I first landed in New South Wales in 1883 the Government were turned out within seven days; another Prime Minister and Government were elected, but they only remained in office a fortnight. Then there was a third Government which lasted six weeks. These changes had one advantage, inasmuch as they made the Governor acquainted with almost every politician of any standing in the colony; but they had this great disadvantage, that very little public business could be done, and one result was that the different Oppositions had a playful habit of refusing supplies. The Leader of the Opposition in each case did the best he could to obtain supplies for the Government, but miserably failed in that laudable endeavour, and the result was that all the Ministerial salaries and the different salaries I in the colony were paid by monthly 21 Supply Bills. Of course, that was illegal, and it had to be remedied, when the staple Government came in, by Bills of Indemnity. Therefore, if this Bill is not passed by next Monday I take it that the taxes that will be levied will be illegally levied, and the Government will have to have recourse to a Bill of Indemnity. No doubt that would take some time to pass the House of Commons, and it would delay public business, but it would not be the fault of the Opposition. The Government ought to have thought of that before.
I submit that it is not respectful to this House to bring in a Bill at the last moment, and, as it were, to force it down the throats of your Lordships. The noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack spoke of the public inconvenience that would be caused if the Government did not get this Bill by 1st August. He concluded with a most pathetic appeal to your Lordships not to say anything this time, and he was good enough to assure us that such a thing should not happen again. With all respect, I submit that the procedure of the Government in the case of this Bill is not an isolated case. It is part of the systematically contemptuous manner in which this Government has treated Parliament, relying on the support of a majority which was elected on a false issue. That is the real reason why the House of Lords is placed in the present position. This majority, I repeat, was elected on a false issue, and they have received abundant proof of the displeasure of the constituencies in the country. As I believe this is the real reason of the present deadlock, perhaps I may be allowed to say a word or two on these false issues. They have a distinct bearing on this Bill and on the finances of the country. I would remind the House that Mr. Balfour said in Manchester in 1900—
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
May I venture to remind the noble Earl that the Motion before the House is that the Standing Order be suspended for this day's sitting? I think my noble friend's observations are scarcely germane to that Motion.
§ EARL CARRINGTON
I am entirely in the hands of the House, but I do most 22 respectfully submit that this is a matter of the gravest importance. Seeing how small numerically is the band of Liberal Peers in this House, I do think that some little consideration and some little latitude might be allowed to us when we are standing up, not only for the rights of this House, but for what we think are the rights of the country at large.
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
I rise to a point of order. I gathered that my noble friend was showing that we are in this position owing to the incapacity of the Government to administer the affairs of the country in the House of Commons. He was giving instances to show their incapacity in that direction. Surely that is in order.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
The noble Earl is mistaken. The topic was the false issues raised before the constituencies at the last election, and I think it will require some ingenuity to bring that within the present discussion.
§ EARL CARRINGTON
It is, I contend, these false issues whieh have brought about the present deadlock; but, as I said a moment ago, I am entirely in the hands of the House, and if the House wishes for some reason that this debate should not go on, I will bow to that decision. But I do, at the same time, enter the strongest possible protest against not being permitted to go into this subject, which I consider, though I may be wrong, to be entirely germane to the matter before the House. The position in which we are now placed is, perhaps, the last instance of the systematic dictation of His Majesty's Government to both Houses of Parliament. I understand that the original proposal was that we should have met last night at midnight as soon as the Bill had passed through the House of Commons. I suppose that some noble Lords would have been sent down at half-past twelve or one o'clock in the morning, armed with a big revolver, to point it at the devoted heads of the few members of the Opposition who were present, telling them in plain language that they were to pass the Bill. Owing, however, to the protest made not only by noble Lords who sit on this side of the House but by the noble Lords who generally support the 23 Government, that course was not persisted in. I ask whether it is right, whether it is decent, to ask the House to rush this Bill through all its stages in the course of a few minutes? There is one great reason why this particular Bill should have fair and proper discussion.
§ Standing Order No. XXXIX. having been suspended, Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Marquess of Lansdowne.)
§ *LORD COLERIDGE
My Lords, I desire to say a few words on the Motion now before the House. The occasion is one on which I think it is not immaterial to draw some attention to the growing expenditure of the country. The figures are somewhat startling. There are two reasons why I think attention should be drawn to the Budget—firstly, because of the growing expenditure of the country, and, secondly, because, as my noble friend Lord Carrington in his concluding words told us, for the first time for fifty years the Budget discloses taxation of a protective character. Without going any further into reasons, that is sufficient reason of itself why we on this side of the House at any rate think it right to draw public attention to the nature of the Budget of this financial year.
The expenditure to which I would draw attention is of a most alarming character. In 1894, when the Liberal Government were last in power, the expenditure upon the Navy and Army together did not Earl Carrington. 24 It is the first Budget savouring of protection which has been introduced into Parliament for the last fifty years.
equal the expenditure on either one of those branches now; that is to say, the present expenditure on either of these services exceeds the total expenditure on both branches demanded by the Government in 1894. Now, my Lords, does that correspond with either the increase in the population or the increase in the wealth of the inhabitants of the country? It corresponds with neither. It is an enormous advance in the weight of taxation upon every individual member of the community. To show how this expenditure has been growing, I may mention that between the years 1894 and 1899, the first five years of the Conservative Government, there was an increase in the annual expenditure of the country of £15,000,000 sterling. That was a large increase and one calculated to make every man who had financial economy at heart pause and reflect; but it was as nothing compared with the corresponding increase, since the year 1899. From 1899 to 1904 in addition to that £15,000,000, we are now faced with an extra expenditure of £35,000,000 a year. Every financial authority on either side of the House, of whatever economic or political opinion, is agreed that this is a dangerous state 25 of affairs and cannot be permitted to continue without risk to the financial stability of the country.
I am discussing a Bill that I have never seen, but Iassume, from the form in which the Finance Bill was reported to the House of Commons after it had been amended in Committee, that there is an increased tax of 2d. placed upon tea. Let me first deal with the question of tea, which is, after all, one of the most innocuous and essential elements of food. It is a drink that everyone must wish well to, that everyone must desire should be shared as largely and as economically as possible by the whole population. It is an article of necessity which everyone who has the interests of the poorer people at heart would desire to relieve as far as possible from any burden of taxation which would tend to increase its price. The tea duty was increased from 4d. to 6d. by Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, and it was increased, as he stated at the time, not as a permanent tax. He thus described the reasons for its imposition—This extra 2d. is purely, in my opinion, an exceptional tax levied for the purposes of the present war.Therefore, my Lords, the financial authority for the time being of His Majesty's Government, in asking the House of Commons and the country to accept his Budget, admitted the grave result of putting an extra tax of 2d. a lb. on such an article of necessity as tea. He excused it on the ground that it was a temporary tax imposed for a temporary purpose, leaving everyone to infer, as this House and the House of Commons did infer, that when that temporary necessity had passed away the temporary tax would be remitted.
The war is over and we are in times of peace, put this year His Majesty's Government, instead of not remitting the 2d. in the £ that was imposed by Sir Michael Hicks-Beach for the purposes of the war, are actually adding another 2d., bringing the tax upon tea up to 8d. per lb. Having regard to the price of tea in the market, that is an extraordinary proportion. It is 75 or 80 per cent. of the whole price of the tea in the market. I need hardly say that that is a great burden upon the people, and for such a tax some unusual 26 and unprecedented reason ought to be forthcoming. Take the income-tax, which is felt by the rich, and particularly by those persons who are between rich and poor, viz., the professional classes who are hoping to put enough money away to provide for old age. The income-tax was 8d. in the £. It was raised during the war in the same circumstances, the same reasons being given for its increase, to the amount of 1s. 3d. Mr. Ritchie, after the war was over, remitted 4d. of that tax. The income-tax then stood at 11d.—a high rate, but still a substantial reduction as compared with the 1s. 3d. that had been imposed as a temporary war tax. Now, what does the present Chancellor of the Exchequer do in regard to income-tax in the Budget before us? This is, as I say, a time of peace. Not content to permit the income-tax to remain at 11d. he adds another 1d. to it, with the result that the income-tax now stands at 1s. Altogether the taxation of the country since the year 1894 has increased by 57 per cent.
Now, if I take the ten years between 1892 and 1902 I find the following figures most eloquent of the state of things to which a long course of His Majesty's Government has reduced the financial condition of the country. The increase in expenditure has been more than four times the increase in population; that is to say, we ought to be four times as rich as we were ten years ago if the taxation of the country is to be borne with equivalent sacrifice on the part of the taxpayer. The normal expenditure of the country has increased by £49,000,000 a year since the Conservative Government came into office in 1895. I do not pretend to be a financier, but I am sufficiently acquainted with figures to understand these, and I ask noble Lords whether they do not think these figures disclose a state of things at which every lover of his country ought to feel somewhat alarmed. Will the noble Marquess, when he responds in this debate, reassure us on this point and give us some hope of a relinquishment of taxation in future? Is this to go on in a sort of arithmetical progression, or what is to be the end of the growing discrepancy between the wealth of the country and the amount of taxation that is imposed on the people? 27 I have said enough, I think, to show the seriousness of these figures. But there is another reason why I think this particular Bill ought to be fully considered and discussed. For a period of over fifty years every Budget that has been introduced into this country has been, as far as possible, free from any imputation of protection. There are some people who suspect—I do not know whether rightly or wrongly—that the particular tax upon tobacco which has been the subject of considerable debate in the other House was not introduced so much for the purpose of balancing expenditure and revenue as for the purpose of introducing a new principle into the taxation of the country, and we cannot overlook the fact that it is imposed by the son of the head of the protectionist movement in this country.
Let me examine for a moment into the incidence of this tax on tobacco. Originally there was the same duty upon the importation of tobacco whether stripped or unstripped, viz., a duty of 3s. A duty was then imposed of 3s. 3d. upon stripped tobacco, so that the man who imported stripped tobacco had to pay 3d. more than the man who imported unstripped tobacco. Clearly, my Lords, the effect of that tax must be to restrict trade, and any taxation, the object of which is to restrict trade and not enhance it must, I submit, be of a protective character. It was imposed so that the man who stripped tobacco here should be protected against the importation of stripped tobacco from abroad. Therefore, my Lords, it amounted to a protective tax of 3d. per lb. on stripped tobacco. Of course, from that 3d. there must be deducted the cost of stripping tobacco in this country, which we are told is a trifling amount—about per lb.; therefore the remaining 2½d. is clearly in the nature of a protective tariff.
At first the Chancellor of the Exchequer denied with some heat that there was anything of a protective character in this tax; but the case which was made against its imposition by persons who had imported tobacco of the particular character in question into bond, and bought it, therefore, at a higher price, was so strong that the Chancellor of the Ex- 28 chequer conceded by way of rebate a certain proportion, I think it was 1½d., on the existing stocks of stripped tobacco. That concession is a very significant one. because it amounts to practically an admission that, so far as it goes—and I admit it does not go very far—the tax is clearly of a protective character. Why, in spite of the strong opposition which it encountered in the House of Commons, this tax was maintained for the admittedly miserable results to the Budget which will now be found to accrue, is hard to conceive, unless there is some important reason at the back for the maintenance of this tax. It could not have been in order to balance revenue and expenditure, and therefore my conviction is that it was the protective character of this impost which tempted the Chancellor of the Exchequer to adhere to it in spite of all the arguments that were used against it. If that is so, it is a very significant fact; and it is quite right that those of us in this House who have always been free-traders should draw public attention to the nature of the year's Budget.
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 31; Not-contents, 11.23
|Halsbury, E. (L. Chancellor.)||Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.)||Clonbrock, L.|
|Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.) (L. President.)||Harris, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Hatherton, L.|
|Salisbury, M. (L. Privy Seal.)||Lucan, E.||James, L.|
|Waldegrave, E. [Teller.]||Kilmarnock, L. (E. Erroll.)|
|Argyll, D.||Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.) [Teller.]|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Macnaghten, L.|
|Bath, M.||Cross, V.||Oxenfoord, L. (E. Stair.)|
|Lansdowne, M.||Hutchinson, V. (E. Donough more.)||Raglan, L|
|Camperdown, E.||Sid mouth, V.||Robertson, L.|
|Cawdor, E.||Balfour, L.||Windsor, L.|
|Cromer, E.||Belper, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Portsmouth, E. [Teller.]||Coleridge, L. [Teller.]|
|Carrington, E.||Emly, L.|
|Chesterfield, E.||Gordon, V. (E Aberdeen.)||Hawkesbury, L.|
|Crewe, E.||Burghclere, L.||Shuttleworth, L.|
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I am sure the House will not expect me to make a financial statement analogous to that which the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes in the House of Commons, but I think it due to your Lordships that I should follow in a few words what has been said by the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down. He has pointed to what I think we must all of us regard as a danger—I mean the great growth of our national expenditure; and he will forgive me for saying that he has made, with reference to that subject, the very kind of speech which I suggested a few minutes ago might be made at any time during the session by any noble Lord desiring to call the attention of this House to that most important subject. The noble and learned Lord, I understand, was alarmed to find that although the war had come to an end the large expenditure which followed upon the war had not terminated, but surely he must be aware that expenditure of that kind is not expenditure which you can suddenly shut off at a few weeks' notice. For example, there is one permanent item 29 of increase growing out of the war expenditure. I refer to the interest on the large increase to the public indebtedness which was occasioned by the war itself—an addition, if I remember rightly, of something approaching £150,000,000.
As to the other items of increase, it is quite true that in the last ten years all the principal items of expenditure have risen rapidly; but there is a great deal to be said in explanation of the circumstances under which that increase has taken place. For example, I see that the expenditure on the charge of the public debt has increased during that period by £4,000,000, That is partly interest on the new war debt, and partly interest on those large public loans which have lately been contracted for military and naval purposes and also for various important public works. Then there is the increase in Army expenditure. That has risen in ten years by no less than £11,000,000. I agree with the noble and learned Lord that we should spare no effort to diminish that expenditure, and it is with this object that my right hon. colleague the Secretary of State for War is endeavouring to discover some means of giving this country a cheaper but also not less efficient Army, and he has, I think, a right to appeal to both sides to assist him in bringing about that most desirable result.
The principal cause of increase of expenditure is. however, the Navy. The expenditure on the Navy has in ten years increased by very nearly £20,000,000, or by no less than 111 per cent. I admit that that is an augmentation which may well alarm us, but who is going to propose that the naval strength of this country should be reduced? It is interesting to turn for a moment to see what other nations are doing. I see that in the same period of time our naval expenditure has increased by 111 per cent. the naval expenditure of Germany has increased by no less than 140 per cent., that of Russia by 143 per cent. and that of the United States by 174 per cent. Well, my Lords, that at any rate is, I think, a prima facie explanation of the increase of the expenditure on the Navy. Take one other item—the increased expenditure upon education. That has risen in ten years by £5,500,000, but I am sure the noble and learned Lord would be 30 the last person in the world to grudge the expenditure incurred on that most important subject.
The noble and learned Lord referred to the increase in the tea duties. It is much to be regretted that an article which is almost a necessary of life to our fellow-countrymen should be taxed, or that the tax should be increased. but we always endeavour to divide increased burdens as equitably as possible between direct and indirect taxation, and it seemed to us that a moderate increase on the tea duties was upon the whole a most reasonable way of obtaining additional revenue from indirect taxation. The only other item referred to was the tobacco tax. I will not follow the noble and learned Lord into the mysteries of the tobacco trade, but at any rate we are firmly of opinion that the tobacco duties are no more protective in their object and character than the old tobacco duties which, I believe, were imposed for the first time by Mr. Gladstone. I do not know that I can usefully detain your Lordships with further remarks on this subject, but I certainly do admit that the noble and learned Lord is justified in calling attention to the rate at which the national expenditure is progressing, and I can assure him that there is no matter which His Majesty's Government have more at heart than that expenditure should be kept within reasonable limits.
§ *EARL SPENCER
My Lords, I am in rather a peculiar position to-night: I have not taken part in the division, and I will explain why. The noble Marquess, with his usual courtesy, sent to me two or three days ago to ask whether I would agree to this arrangement of having the debate at three o'clock, and the subsequent Commission the same afternoon. I rather hastily, perhaps, assented to the proposal, but I took care however, to explain to the noble Marquess last night that I was not responsible for more than my personal action. I support my noble friends, however, in dividing against the suspension of the Standing Orders. Now, as to speaking on this question, I had intended to have spoken earlier and to have gone into the whole subject with which this great Bill deals, 31 but I was not able to because I had exhausted my right of speech in discussing the question of the suspension of the Standing Orders. I am rather diffident now about saying anything on the general subject, but I confess I feel so strongly on the point that I most gladly support the views which have been put forward by Lord Coleridge and other noble Lords as to the gigantic growth of the national expenditure. It is very serious indeed when we reflect that the expenditure of the country, though we are at peace, is increasing; and it is not only the expenditure of the country which is increasing, but the national credit which is decreasing.
No one more desires to see a strong Navy than I do, but the time has come when we must seriously consider the great yearly increase in the Naval Estimates. A great effort should be made to reduce them, or to prevent their increasing at the rate at which they have been increasing of late years. I believe I am right in saying that the naval expenditure of this country exceeds by £6,000,000 the naval expenditure of France, Germany, and Russia. These are very alarming figures, and I cannot help thinking that without really diminishing the effectiveness of the Navy some check on the growing expenditure might be made. I notice one remarkable fact in regard to the finance of the Governments of Lord Salisbury and Mr. Balfour. They have proposed three taxes, all declared in turn to be simply revenue taxes, while each in its turn has been proved to be protective. I refer to the corn tax, the sugar tax, which was consequent on the Sugar Convention, and the tobacco tax. The last-named has already changed the current of trade in the tobacco business. For the past five years the average amount of stripped tobacco imported in the month of June has been 2,459 casks, but in June of this year, after the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was made known, it fell to 344 casks. I maintain that that, therefore, is a distinctly protective duty. While maintaining the importance of our having adequate time for the discussion of a Bill of this magnitude, I thank the noble Marquess for his statement with regard to the earlier date at which the similar Bill 32 of next year will have to be passed; and I, for my part, am satisfied with making the urgent protest which I made last night and which I have repeated in the two speeches I have delivered this evening.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, the exceedingly brief and, if I may say so, unsatisfactory nature of the reply made by the noble Marquess to the cogent remarks of my noble and learned friend Lord Coleridge make me anxious to press His Majesty's Government for some further reply to the Questions which have been addressed from this side of the House. The noble Marquess, I believe, would be one of the first to admit that there was little in the way of justification of, or excuse for the growing expenditure of the country in the remarks which he addressed to your Lordships. The enormous increase during the past ten years of no less than £48,000,000, a sum of money which, so far as we can see, and so far as we have received any assurance from the other side, shows no sign of decreasing in the future, is a matter which demands debate and consideration at your Lordships' hands.
There is one aspect of the matter which has not been touched upon in the course of the debate this afternoon to which I may be allowed to allude. Your Lordships will no doubt remember that when the first intimation of the tobacco duties became public some remarks were made by Members in another place with regard to the way in which the knowledge that this tax was going to be imposed by the Government seemed to have leaked out. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and, I think, in concert with him, the Prime Minister indignantly repelled any attack on their personal honour. No attack on their personal honour had been made by anybody, and it seemed to me exceedingly weak for any member of His Majesty's Government, when attacked for what was, at the worst, perhaps, only an indiscretion on the part of the Minister or of some clerk in his office, to take refuge in a plea of personal honour. I can assure your Lordships that for myself, having the pleasure to recognise in the Chancellor of the Exchequer a native of my own county, and having known him for many years, I feel it would be impertinent on anybody's part to make 33 any kind of accusation against his personal honour. At the same time we say that it does seem, having regard to the imports of tobacco this year compared with last year, that some inquiry ought to take place into this matter. Your Lordships may need to be reminded of the fact that the imports of tobacco during March and April of this year were, I think, more than double the imports of similar goods during March and April of last year. If that is so, it surely is some reason why inquiry should be made into the matter, and it would, I think, be wise on the part of His Majesty's Government if they appointed some Departmental Committee to inquire into the matter and report to your Lordships.
With regard to the growing expenditure on the Army to which reference was made by the noble Marquess, I am sure I may say, on behalf of the large majority of people throughout the country, that they would not grudge the growing expenditure upon the Army if they were sure that the country was getting an adequate return, but they are forced at the present time to conclude, having regard especially to the speech which was made in another place last night by the present Secretary of State for India, that not even His Majesty's Government have complete faith and confidence in their own Army reorganisation scheme. In view of the exceedingly surprising attack which was made by the Secretary of State for India upon his colleague, we are, I contend, fully justified in asking His Majesty's Government for more information with regard to their scheme for the reorganisation of the Army.
The noble Marquess made reference to the expenditure upon the Navy in other countries. It is a familiar device of some noble Lords on the other side to use percentages, but percentages by themselves are not conclusive. I may remind your Lordships of certain percentage statistics with regard to teetotal soldiers. A Return was moved for and obtained with regard to the numbers of soldiers in a certain campaign who wore the blue ribbon and how they fared, and the Return came back that 50 per cent. had died of wounds and 50 per cent. of disease. That was an alarming Return, but a closer examination of the figures showed 34 that there were only two soldiers to whom the Return referred at all, and, therefore, while only one soldier had died of wounds and one of disease the alarming Return was made to Parliament of 50 per cent. dying of wounds and 50 per cent. of disease. I say, therefore, that we are entitled to ask from the noble Marquess something more than mere percentages in this matter.
The figures the noble Marquess gave us were that the expenditure of this country upon the Navy had increased £20,000,000, I think, in the last ten years. But what we complain of is that the total expenditure of the country has gone up no less than £48,000,000, and we have in this way only £20,000,000 accounted for. Some ten years ago, although some doubt was expressed with regard to the preparedness of the Army by noble Lords on the other side and by their colleagues, no doubt that I know of was expressed with regard to the efficiency of the Navy; and if the Navy was efficient ten years ago, we need some explanation as to why it should have required another £20,000,000 to be spent upon it during the last ten years. The question of education is one on which I find myself in hearty agreement with the noble Marquess. who said that the £5,500,000 on education was an additional sum to which noble Lords on this side would not take exception. I only wish that we spent still more money upon education. We should not then hear so much of the ruin of British industries nor of the way in which our exports were declining in neutral markets.
Turning for a minute or two to the question of the tea duty, I should like to emphasise what was said by my noble and learned friend beside me with regard to the incidence of taxation in this matter. The increase in the income-tax and the increase in the tea duty as compared with one another do not, in the opinion of noble Lords on this side of the House, constitute a fair distribution of the burden. The proportion of the expenditure of the working classes which is spent upon tea makes them contribute to a far higher proportion than those who have to pay the extra penny on the income-tax. Therefore it is that we see in this addition to the tea duty one more sign of the desire of His Majesty's Government to favour 35 certain sections of the community at the expense of the community as a whole.
Now, my Lords, let me turn to the question of South Africa, for, after all, we had expected to receive in the relief of the taxation of this country a large sum of money from South Africa. Noble Lords opposite have probably conveniently forgotten that only twelve months ago we were told that South Africa would be in a position to pay back large sums of money to this country before very long. The amount which was, I think, to be paid at the beginning of this year was £10,000,000. I do not think that we have received any sufficient or adequate explanation for the non-payment of that sum, and meanwhile the taxpayers of this country are obliged to go on paying the interest upon this £10,000,000 instead of this as a lump sum being added to the Sinking Fund.
The Sinking Fund, again, demands urt her consideration than was given to it by the noble Marquess. It is, after all, one of the best barometers of the prosperity of the country. If large sums of money are available year by year for the Sinking Fund then we may be sure that the country as a whole is in a prosperous condition. We regret that His Majesty's Government have not seen their way to do something more for that fund. The noble Marquess made mention of the public works which had been carried out during the past ten years. I should like to ask the noble Marquess, or some other representative of His Majesty's Government, a Question with regard to the fund out of which these public works are paid for. As I understand it—and if I am wrong some noble Lord opposite will, no doubt, be able to correct me—large numbers of these public works are paid for out of the moneys of the Post Office Savings Bank. If that is so, and imagining, without wishing for one moment that such a thing should happen, that the Post Office Savings Bank were obliged to realise their assets, the unhappy people who had deposited their money in the Post Office Savings Bank would find themselves presented with a quarter of a mile of the Uganda Railway or some equally useful article, because the deposits are used by His Majesty's Government in order to carry out various measures of public usefulness. I think that is an 36 expenditure of the public money to which attention should be directed. I am not at all sure that it is in accordance with the soundest finance that such large sums of money should be spent in public works all over the world instead of being applied to the purchase of Consols in this country; if any noble Lord on the other side of the House believes that the finances of this country have prospered under His Majesty's present Government, I think the price at which Consols now stand in the market ought to disabuse his mind.
It was only a comparatively short time ago that the late Marquess of Salisbury mentioned Spain as being one of the decaying nations of Europe. It was a shorter time ago that we found that the public funds of this country had gone down below the public funds of that decaying nation. That seems to me to be a matter which demands the earnest attention of His Majesty's Government. There was another aspect of the matter referred to by the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition. I refer to the Sugar Convention, which, of course, arises under the Bill now before your Lordships' House. I could wish that a discussion on this measure and a defence of it had been undertaken by noble Lords opposite on some occasion when Viscount Goschen could have participated in the debate, for there are many people who regard the Sugar Convention, not only as being a measure of dangerous finance, but also as being a working model of protection. I think we are entitled to know in what way the Convention which was passed last year has benefited the people of this country. The price of sugar to the ordinary consumer has gone up, but it does not seem that the sugar producers of the West Indies have reaped any advantage from the enhanced price of sugar to the people of this country. We even find that less sugar from the West Indies has come into this country during the last few months than previously. Therefore we are entitled, I think, to ask His Majesty's Government whether, under such circumstances, they do not see their way to promise that in another year at least some remission shall be made in the sugar duties.
One of the most important reasons why noble Lords on this side look on this 37 Bill with hesitation is the doubt which we feel with regard to the financial views of His Majesty's Government. Time after time discussions have been initiated in this House, with the idea of eliciting from the noble Marquess some definite profession of faith with regard to the fiscal system of this country. In the absence of clearer and more definite statements we are obliged to draw our conclusions from the provisions of the Finance Bill for this year, and it is indeed difficult for some of us to reconcile the professions of noble Lords opposite with the taxation which is imposed on the country during the current year. We have the noble Marquess declaring that he is against any taxation of food, and yet we find an increase in the tea duties. We ask whether it would not have been possible to find some other source from which the necessary money might have been drawn. Although I am afraid it is no use expecting at such a late period anything more definite from the noble Marquess than we have had in the past, still I would urge him, if he can see his way to do so, to say something more definite with regard to the taxation of the food of the people than we have yet been able to extract from him.
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
My Lords, I did not happen to be in the House when the noble Marquess the Leader of the House was speaking, but I understand that he alluded to the question of the growth of the military services of the Crown. Well, my Lords, that seems to me to be a matter which really does demand the most serious consideration. The military services of the Crown ten years ago cost £35,500,000, and now they have reached the appalling figure, which has to be provided out of revenue alone, of over £66,000,000. My noble friend Lord Beauchamp referred to the remarks made by the noble Marquess opposite in regard to education. We entirely endorse the views he expressed, and heartily rejoice at any wide expenditure on education. But I would remind your Lordships that while the total expenditure on the Army amounts now to the enormous sum of over £66,000,000, the sum which we spend upon education does not amount to £15,000,000.
38 Reference has been made to the state of the National Debt. The National Debt has been increased through the policy of the Government in South Africa by over £159,000,000, and not one penny of that Debt is covered by the Bill now before your Lordships. On the other hand, are still have what is a most serious and cruel imposition upon the middle classes—a war income-tax in times of peace. As my noble friend has said, we have also to face the fact that Consols, which represent the credit of the country, have fallen in a greater ratio than the leading securities of any other nation. I look upon that as a very serious matter, because Consols represent the credit of the country. They represent the rate at which the country can borrow, and our great strength in regard to the war in South Africa was not so much our military preparedness as the credit of this country which, owing to careful and prudent administration of its finances, stood so high.
I wish to call attention to the statement made by the noble Lord and others to the effect that this Budget contains the germs of protection. There can be no denying that that is the case. You cannot have a more clear and visible proof of this than the portion of the Budget which deals with the duty upon cigarettes. There is no Excise duty placed upon cigarettes; it is an import duty only. Now, what is the position of affairs as regards cigarettes? A new duty of Is. per lb. has been imposed upon all foreign cigarettes. This brings in as additional revenue the paltry sum of £20,000 a year. But who pays 90 per cent. of this duty? Ninety per cent. of this duty is paid by the consumer. That is a distinct, a clear, and a definite protective duty, and it is a most remarkable illustration of what protection means. It only brings into the country a revenue of £20,000 a year, which is hardly worth considering, but the consumer is taxed 90 per cent of the duty. It has also raised the price of home-made cigarettes. These, you may say, are not in themselves large matters, but they are interesting now when the whole question of protection and free trade is being considered We feel on this side of the House that 39 it is most important that every opportunity should be taken to show that this Budget introduces a totally new system of taxation.
My noble friend Lord Beauchamp referred to the £30,000,000 promised to be paid to this country as the contribution from the Transvaal. Lord Milner told us that the finances of the Transvaal were in such a condition that the taxpayers of this country must abandon their claim for this £30,000,000, but more recently I read a report of a speech by Lord Milner, in which he alluded with cynical contempt to the crocodile tears that had been shed over the condition of affairs in the Transvaal. He went on to say that affairs in that Colony were not half so bad as they were represented to be. if that is so, I should like to ask, when is this £30,000,000 to be repaid to the taxpayers of this country?
I do not think it is possible to exaggerate the anxiety which exists throughout the country respecting its finances. We. have had figures as to the enormous increase inArmyexpenditure—yet I venture to say there is no one in your Lordships' House, not even the noble Marquess who leads it, who dares avow what the proposals of the Government are with regard to the Army. In addition, it must be remembered that we have an automatic
§ Bill read 2a accordingly.
§ Moved, That the Bill be committed.—(The Marquess of Lansdowne.)
§ The Earl of Portsmouth.40
§ increase in the Navy Estimates. It may be said that your Lordships have no right to interfere with the details of Finance Bills. Your Lordships are some of the largest taxpayers in the country, and it really is monstrous to say that we have no right to consider this question of taxation. Any unwise and wasteful expenditure of money chiefly falls upon the owners of real and personal property; and there is a very strong feeling that while we have on the one hand this growing and enormous expenditure, we have not received from the Government any definite basis or system for confronting or dealing with it. This is merely a makeshift Budget. We have no proposals treating seriously the very grave increase in the National Debt, or the growing expenditure of the country. I do not know whether noble Lords will wish to divide the House on this Bill, but it seems to me a grave question whether some of us on this side ought not to enter our protest, not only as to the conditions under which we are asked to consider this Bill, but as to the Bill itself, considering its totally novel and mischievous principles.
§ On Question,
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 42; Not Contents, 8.39
|Halsbury, E. (L. Chancellor.)||Feversham, E.||Harris, L.|
|Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.) (L. President.)||Lauderdale, E.||Hatherton, L.|
|Northesk, E.||James, L.|
|Salisbury, M. (L. Privy Seal.)||Selborne, E.||Kilmarnock, L. (E. Errol.)|
|Waldegrave, E. [Teller.]||Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)|
|Argyll, D.||Lawrence, L. [Teller.]|
|Devonshire, D.||Colville of Culross, V.||Lovat, L.|
|Cross, V.||Methuen, L.|
|Bath, M.||Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)||Newton, L.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Oxenfoord, L. (E. Stair.)|
|Sidmouth, V.||Raglan, L.|
|Ancaster, E.||Robertson, L.|
|Camperdown, E.||Armstrong, L.||Sherborne, L.|
|Cawdor, E.||Balfour, L.||Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.)|
|Cromer, E.||Clonbrock, L.||Windsor, L.|
|Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.)||Colchester, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Beauchamp, E. [Teller.]||Portsmouth,E.||Emly, L.|
|Carrington, E.||Shuttleworth, L.|
|Chesterfield, E.||Coleridge, L. [Teller].||Sudley, L. (E. Arran.)|
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
We have been told that a change has been made, and that 1st July has been substituted for 1st August next year. I would ask the noble Marquess to explain at what part of the Bill and in what clause 1st July is substituted for 1st August.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
As I understand, it is intended to substitute 1st July for 1st August as the date up to which taxes may be continued.
§ EARL CARRINGTON
I should like to ask the noble Marquess how this will affect the income - tax. There is no mention, so far as I can make out, of any change such as that proposed, in Clause 7, Part 2, of the Bill.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
In the Act of 1903 the wording is that the taxes shall continue to be imposed, levied, and paid till the 1st day of August. It is the presence of these words which, in our opinion, obliges us to finish these proceedings before 1st August. In the Bill now before your Lordships the provision is that the taxes shall be continued, levied, and paid till the 1st day of July. It is quite clear that the words "1st of July" will give us more elbow room.
§ EARL CARRINGTON
There are no such words in Part 2 with reference to income-tax. I ask, Does this apply to the income-tax?
§ *THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (The Earl of SELBORNE)
I am sure it will be a source of satisfaction to the noble Earl to know that it does not apply to income-tax. In regard to income-tax the date remains the 6th of April; it always has been so.
§ *LORD COLERIDGE
As I have never seen the Bill, I desire to ask the noble Marquess a Question. As I understand, there has this year been appropriated £1,000,000 from the unclaimed dividends account. Now that money clearly does not belong to the Government. It is unclaimed money belonging to some persons unknown. I understand that the majority of it is now to be devoted to current expenditure. I may, of course, be speaking inaccurately, but the noble 42 Marquess has given me no opportunity of studying the Bill in all its details. Not having seen the Bill, I ask whether it contains any authority to the Government to take this £1,000,000, which is the property of some persons unknown, or, at any rate, not the property of the Government, and whether there is any authority in the Bill to devote that money to current expenditure? I presume that that would want the authority of Parliament just as much as the levying of the tobacco tax, the tea duty, or any of the other taxes.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (The Marquess of SALISBURY)
It is perfectly true that £1,000,000 is taken for current purposes, but I can assure the noble and learned Lord that we do not intend to defraud anybody. A charge for that sum will be maintained on the Consolidated Fund under a separate Act of Parliament which has already been passed.
§ On Question, Motion negatived.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a."—(The Marquess of Lansdowne.)
§ *EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, I ask your Lordships whether the silence on the other side of the House tends to the dignity of this Assembly. The occasion is one which demands something more in the way of reply than we have yet received from the Government. We have attempted to put before your Lordships the serious condition of the country's finances. At the most the noble Marquess has occupied ten or fifteen minutes in his justification of the increased taxation. I cannot imagine that in regard to an important matter of this kind His Majesty's Government can think they have given enough time for its consideration. Here is the House of Lords asked to consider a Bill which has not even been circulated. Although I know well enough the constitutional position of this House with regard to the Money Bill, still I cannot think it is in accordance with the dignity of your Lordships' House that We should be asked to read a Bill and pass it through all its stages when it has not even been printed and circulated. If the noble Marquess will not answer the Questions 43 which have been addressed to him, perhaps he will be good enough to explain from what source is drawn the money for the expenditure on the Uganda Railway of £67,000, on the Land Registry Buildings of £16,000, on the New General Buildings of £162,000, and also the expenditure on the Public Offices in Dublin. There are other items upon which I should like information, but I have no wish to waste the time of your Lordships. I would ask the noble Marquess to explain from what sums the amounts I have quoted are to be spent.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
The points which the noble Earl has raised are no doubt very interesting ones, but they relate to questions of detail. If the noble Earl will ask me the Question on any other evening I shall be glad to provide him with an Answer.
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
Perhaps the noble Marquess will be good enough, if not on the present occasion at any rate in the near future, to tell us whether we may hope for some definite promise as to the payment of the £30,000,000 which the Government have undertaken shall be paid over to us by the Transvaal.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, I rise on a point of order. I should like to ask whether the date on which this money may or may not be paid has any bearing on the question of the Third Reading of the Finance Bill.
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
The noble Earl seems to have constituted himself a sort of master of the ceremonies of your Lordships' House. He is a very mournful one on this occasion for he rose with a most mournful countenance. My question is quite pertinent because the finances of the country are necessarily dependent upon the contributions which are promised. A contribution of £30,000,000 from the Transvaal is certainly not a negligible asset in considering the question of the debt of the country; and it is a question which, if we cannot discuss it now, we can never discuss. When we are dealing with the finances of the country we should know what the assets are. I demur to the 44 suggestion that the question of the contribution of £30,000,000 from the Transvaal cannot appropriately be discussed on the: Finance Bill.
§ *LORD COLERIDGE
My Lords, I am the last person to wish to obstruct the business, but I would appeal to the noble Marquess for a reply to the pertinent Questions raised by my noble friend Lord Beauchamp. Many questions of detail involve most important principles; and the fact that they are details does not exonerate the noble Marquess from the obligation cast upon him by his position as Leader of the House of answering Questions pertinent to the Bill before us. My noble friend has pointed out that there are certain items of expenditure amounting in all to the sum of £7,305,000. Naval works are accountable for £3,318,000; Military works for £2,950,000; telephones for £780,000; the Uganda Railway for £67,000; the Land Registry Buildings for £16,000; the New General Buildings for £162,000, and the Public Offices in Dublin for £12,000, the total being £7,305,000—which, if a detail, is a very considerable detail. My noble friend has asked the Leader of the House whether or not that sum of money is forthcoming from the Savings Bank deposits—a most material question; and I should have thought the duty would have been cast on the noble Marquess of answering it now. He says he will answer it on some future occasion if the Question is put to him. Surely that is not the way in which the noble Earl should be treated. I entirely associate myself with the Questions put by the noble Earl, and I respectfully ask the noble Marquess for a reply.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I understand that the whole of these items of expenditure have been authorised by various Acts of Parliament. I make no apology for not being able to reply offhand to these Questions. I cannot give the information now, but if the noble Lord will ask me for it on Monday, I shall probably be able to give it.
§ EARL CARRINGTON
My Lords, I submit with great respect that when Questions are asked by noble Lords in this 45 House as to the expenditure of millions of public money, it is scarcely courteous to them to put them off and say an Answer shall be given on Monday, after the Bill has become law. This is one of the most important Bills that can come before this House. We are a commercial nation; our commerce and trade are everything, and we are naturally anxious to know how these millions are being spent. Millions of public money are at stake, and are being voted as if they were twenty-five shillings or half-a-crown. This is a proper protest to make, and I ask the noble Marquess whether he cannot answer the very pertinent Questions asked by my noble friend.
On Question, Bill read 3a, and passed.