Orders of the Day — Excess Profits Duty.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 28th April 1920.

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Photo of Mr Albert Green Mr Albert Green , Derby

That comes to the same thing. With great respect I submit that the Chancellor of the Exchequer might very well, having regard to commercial considerations and the condition of this country and the Continent, have budgetted for a still further reduction without seriously interfering with the commercial prosperity of this country. I have recently returned from a commercial tour in France, Switzerland, Germany, and Austria, and I have had my agents there, and one is still out in Belgium and another in Germany. I have had their reports, and I have seen a lot of things myself. I have been in communication and in touch with the leaders of commerce in those areas, and from what I have seen, and from the reports which have been made to me, I am satisfied that those countries are not commercially in a position to compete with this nation at present, and if as a nation we pull together in the right and proper manner, we have an opportunity of building up our commerce and trade and industry in such a manner that it will be the greatest and most glorious trade that this nation has ever had. But if we fail to take that opportunity; if by strikes, on the one hand, or by differences of opinion on the other hand, we have quarrels between masters and men, then a proposal of this character is calculated to bring forth agitation from the workers, who are not satisfied with the present condition of things; and if we fail as masters and men to work together and take advantage of the opportunity which presents itself, then we, as a nation, will be lacking, and as a House we shall be lacking, in our duty if we support this Amendment to-day.

Our opportunity is to-day, and each day that goes by that opportunity, as years go on, will get less and less. We can budget to-day for the payment of £230,000,000, but if that amount is left for another five years we could not pay off the same amount. Hon. Members recognise that we can pay off £230,000,000 this year, but if we do not pay it this year, and if we leave any portion of it for another five years, then it would take considerably more to redeem the same amount of our national indebtedness. Further than that, in another five years it is quite possible that those areas which are now so devastated, and those nations which are not yet commercially in a position to compete with us, will then be competing very severely, and we shall be in a much worse position for reducing our National Debt, because we shall then be up against competition much more severe than that which exists to-day. The hon. Member who seconded this Amendment put forward cases of great hardship, and yet, in the same speech, he said that this tax was pressing upon the consumer because the manufacturer had to pay more for his materials, and prices had to be increased by 10 per cent. on account of the tax. While he speaks of cases of hardship and handicap to the manufacturers because the duty does not allow them to make that standard of profit which they used to make, he tells us that prices have increased by 10 per cent. on account of the duty! He referred also to the firm with a huge pre-war standard, and to their extravagant expenditure. I think that such a statement is a reflection upon our Income Tax surveyors. There may be isolated instances of the kind which the hon. Gentleman has named, but, speaking generally, I think we should find throughout the country that the Income Tax surveyors take careful account of the firms with which they have to deal; they compare the items which are contained in their books year by year, and if they find any extraordinary difference between one year and a previous year, then they naturally make further inquiry as to why it comes in. It is perfectly certain that, unless there is a reasonable explanation, these differences are not allowed, and that they are subject to the Excess Profits Duty. Then we have had the case of three partners who started in 1913, and also of those who served in the War. But what are the facts with regard to new businesses? The new business started to-day is entitled, before becoming liable to the Excess Profits Duty, to make 11 per cent., plus the directors' salaries, and so on. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] And, having regard to the difficulties in which we find ourselves as a nation, I submit that the possibility of making 11 per cent. before becoming liable to the Excess Profits Duty, and then sharing with the Government what may remain to the extent of 40 per cent., is a matter upon which we ought to congratulate ourselves, having regard to the trials and troubles through which we have passed. We must be prepared to make sacrifices to help the nation, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in carrying through this Budget in a right and proper spirit, in order that we may generate a spirit of contentment right throughout the country, and enable us as a nation to recover our position financially. This is a Budget for posterity. We must budget for posterity. We must take our share of the burden which exists to-day, and we must take it in a proper and reasonable spirit, prepared to make the sacrifices for the sake of our children. We ought not to shirk our burdens in any way at this particular moment. We should not seek to shelve our burdens on to future generations, and on these grounds I hope this House will support the Chancellor of the Exchequer.