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 Donald Maclean Mr Donald Maclean , Peebles and Southern

I think the House is entitled to congratulate itself that it has had the opportunity of listening to a speech so distinguished by its honesty of purpose and frankness of expression, and that we are very much indebted to my hon. Friend. I would further say that, both in him and in my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the House is fortunate in having two Members who do not hesitate to say what they think. In these financial questions nothing is quite so important as that, so that we may know really where we are. With regard to the stage to which the House is now addressing itself on this very important question, I think it should be recollected that we are dealing simply with the Resolution stage, and that this is quite the right time to ventilate the subject in a general way. The real time for fighting out the objections to any tax arises, after the further preliminary stage of the Second Reading of the Finance Bill—which is another opportunity for general discussion—in the Committee stage of the Finance Bill. The time that the House has spent in discussing this tax has not been without its utility, but I would impress upon my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that, in his approach to the Committee stage, which cannot be very long deferred, he should have careful regard to the objections which have been stated, not only in the House, but outside it, to this tax. We have had several years' experience of its working, and during a large portion of that time very genuine and legitimate grievances were not expressed by the business community, owing to the fact that we were at war. I think that is a point which should be properly borne in mind by those who are responsible for the taxation of the country. Since we have arrived at a stage at which there are, at any rate, no active military operations, due regard should be paid to the business objections to such a tax. I want to say at once that I entirely agree with the view of my right hon. Friend that there is no way of avoiding this tax this year. You have to provide the alternative, and I have not heard it yet. [AN HON. MEMBER: "The Corporation Tax! "] That may be one alternative, and I have heard some of the arguments about it, but it does not seem to me, with the profound changes in our fiscal system which will be necessary, that we can raise the money by that proposal in this financial year; and the money must be raised.

The tax, in my view, is a bad one. I have never hesitated to express that opinion, and indeed my own personal knowledge and experience of its working are amply confirmed in that view. I hope the Government will seize the earliest opportunity of devising a proper substitute for such a tax as this. It destroys inititive, it leads to dishonesty and is fruitful of extravagance—three bad points at any time, but never quite so bad as under present conditions. I shall not feel justified in voting against the Government on this Resolution. I appeal to a large number of Members, whom I do not charge with purely interested motives in the matter at all. They are taking a public view, and the fact that a man is engaged in business does not necessarily disqualify him from taking a disinterested public view. I really think that kind of charge is made much too carelessly and most unjustly. No one suggests that a member of the Labour party is seeking a purely personal end when he discusses questions of wages and hours. The assumption, and a very sound assumption it is, is that he is acting from his point of view in the public interest. If we let go of that assumption that hon. Members taking part in our Debates are not actuated in the main by public motives this House becomes unbearable. You must assume that. I am very proud of being a Member of the House of Commons, and I am very much attached to its great traditions, and that is one of the best of them. I press upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, believing, as I do, that this tax must remain for this year, that in the Committee stage, which we shall approach with disinterested public motives, he will give the most careful regard to recommendations which may then be made to him, after the collated experience of five years' working of this tax, and see whether he cannot give such ameliorative provisions in the new Statute as will remove, not all, but as many as possible, of the legitimate business grievances against this tax which operates not only, as I believe, harshly on the individual, but in a really detrimental sense to the business community, and therefore to the nation as a whole.