I beg to move,
That this House condemns the legal and social arrangements whereby large fortunes are inherited by a very small minority of the community as being morally indefensible, economically wasteful, and productive of gross and unjustifiable inequality; and, in view of the important proposals which have been made for the reform of this system, a Select Committee should be appointed to inquire into such proposals and report thereon.
I shall, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, keep one eye upon you and one upon the clock. Since this Motion has been placed on the Order Paper, I have received scores of letters, from the Highlands of Scotland down to Land's End in Cornwall, making suggestions and proposals for inclusion in my speech to-night in submitting this Motion to the House; and, in fact, if I included all the suggestions and proposals and contents of pamphlets about the taxation of inheritance that have been sent on to me, I suppose I should be here right over the holidays. I am going to state my case in my own way. I have also seen in the Press that in this Motion we are departing from the Motion submitted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) some three years ago. I want to point out at the outset that this is incorrect and untrue. When the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer moved his Motion some three years ago, it created quite a sensation among different sections of the community all over the country; but the Motion moved three years ago reaped a very great harvest during the last General Election. Notwithstanding hon. Members opposite, and also the decaying Liberal party had entered into a pact — I see that their benches are now vacant — and are spending their 81,000,000 political fund paying their deposits in by-elections — notwithstanding even the Red Letter, my right hors. Friend had 5,500,000 of the most intelligent electors in the country support
ing his policy. We are in a transition stage, moving from Capitalism towards Socialism, and one of the most important questions with which we have to deal at the present time is that of the inheritance of these large fortunes by a small minority of the community. The Motion I am moving has received same attention from the Press, and has created a stir among those who inherit these large fortunes. But although this question has been talked about on platforms, and articles and books have been written on it, this is the first time that a Motion of this kind has been before the House and the country.
I am going to try to show how the national wealth of the country is produced, how it is inherited and how it is distributed among the population. There are at present, according to the last census, 42,000,000 of population, and there are 10,000,000 people, according to the statistics, living on the poverty line. There are over 1,000,000 who are walking the streets seeking employment in order to get a few shillings to feed the hungry folk at home. According to the figures given by the Minister of Health last week, you have over 1,400,000 people drawing parish relief. The 42,000,000 of population can be divided into three sections—the working class, the middle and upper middle class and the wealthy class. The working classes are compelled by law to provide for health, for unemployment, for old age pensions, and for widows' and orphans' pensions. It is estimated that the national income of the country, according to Sir Josiah Stamp—I believe the Parliamentary Secretary will take him as an authority—is something over £2,000,000,000 per annum, and in order to develop my argument I will call this a pool where the different trades put their products from time to time.
I will take the miners producing the coal and putting it into the pool, the iron and steel workers producing their steel and putting it into the pool, the. cotton spinners producing their cotton and putting it into the pool, the agricultural labourers producing their produce and putting it into the pool, and of course others who give their services to the State. The number of people whir are insured under the Health and Unemployment Insurance Acts, roughly speaking, is 15,000,000. There are at least 15,000,000 women and children who are dependent upon the insured person. That accounts for 30,000,000 out of the 42,000,000 of population. According again to the authority of Sir Josiah Stamp, 30,000,000 of the population take out of this pool a third of the national income in wages, and the other two-thirds are taken out in rent, interest, and profit by the other 12,000,000. The rich and landed classes are able to obtain these large fortunes, and are in a position to hand them down to their children from generation to generation. In fact the landed interest take in unearned increment £250,000,000 and £6,000,000 in royalties from the land alone year after year.
The 15,000,000 insured persons are not permitted to remain insured persons if they earn over £250 per annum. It is estimated that the average wages paid to the workers of the country per week amount to about 38s., but in order not to exaggerate my case, and to give full value to the £250 I mentioned, I am going to assume that each working man receives £5 per week. If that were the cast he cannot be classed among those who can accumulate a large fortune during their lifetime. In fact if out of the £250 he was able to save £50 per annum, he would not be able to save more than £1,000 in 20 years, not enough to buy a decent Rolls-Royce car, not even sufficient to buy a yard of land at its present price in some parts of the West End of London. I have lived among the working classes for nearly 60 years—I am sorry to give my age away —but the most I have been able to see a working man get together during his lifetime is the building of his own little house. In fact some of the trade unions have been assisting their members by making loans at a very low rate of interest. My own society has been lending money to its members, to my knowledge, for the last 20 years at per cent. Some of these men at the present time have been compelled to sell their little houses, because they cannot pay back the capital and interest to the society. Then we have the right hon. Member for Swansea West (Mr. Runciman) who, speaking recently, said that we have 17,000,000 capitalists in this country. He included the working classes among the capitalists. That is simply begging the question, simply trying to deceive and bluff the public. We have not the money so far as the working classes are concerned.
I want to look at the other side of the picture, and see how the two-thirds are distributed from the national pool among the other 12,000,000. I will take Professor Clay as my authority. I suppose the Financial Secretary will accept Professor Clay as an authority. I will not deal with thousands or with hundreds of pounds, because the stupendous figures of millions that these rich people have in their possession will be sufficient for my purpose. Professor Clay, writing on the distribution of capital in England and Wales, gives striking figures. He says that 13,500,000 persons have an average holding of only £68, that 2,099,700 persons have a holding of only £260, that 1,026,200 persons have a holding of £727, that 791,500 have a holding of £2,585, that 236,900 have a holding of £12,993, that 41,180 have a holding of £50,486, that 7,100 have a holding of £251,408, and that 537 people have a holding of £1,247,672 Therefore, 537 persons in this country have an average holding of £1,247,672 as against 13,500,000 working classes who have a holding of £68 each.
These are stupendous figures. The number of estates assessed for Estate Duty in the years 1922 and 1923 were as follows: Two estates were assessed at a, net capital value of £8,000,000; nine estates were assessed at £17,000,000; 162 estates were assessed at £21,000,000; and 25,000 estates were only assessed at £4,000,000. One man or one estate at the top of the ladder had £4,000,000, while 25,000 people or estates at the bottom of the ladder were only assessed at the same amount. That means that one man at the top had £4,000,000, while 25,000 people at the bottom had only the same amount. These amazing and astounding figures, showing the inequitable distribution of wealth in this country, are a blot on our civilisation, and not creditable to the people who have professed to govern this country in the past. According to the returns of Income Tax and Super-tax, these wealthy people are growing richer and richer every year. The aggregate total income of Super-tax payers in 1913–1914 amounted to £175,000,000. In 1923–1924 the figure was £510,000,000. These figures were given in an answer on the 31st March, 1925, by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. This vast amount of wealth is accumulated and handed down by the owners to their successors, in order that their successors may live idle lives and be parasites on society.
We wish to change the whole of our present system. The inheritance of these fabulous fortunes is unfair, unjust and morally indefensible. A son or daughter may inherit £1,000,000 at one stroke. That means £50,000 per annum income if the money is invested at 5 per cent. in War Bonds or in some other property. That is a drain upon the national pool, without having contributed anything towards it and without having given any service to the State. This is one of the most inequitable and dangerous features of our present capitalist system:
Where some live to starve and toil, While others share the wine and oil.
In the Motion which we propose we suggest that this matter should be submitted to a Select Committee, and that they should deal with the proposals that have been submitted by experts in the past. Our first proposal is this: John Stuart Mill, the great economist, proposed as far back as 1848 to limit the amount which any one individual may inherit.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden), in a recent article in "Reynolds's Illustrated Paper," proposed to limit to £100,000 the amount which any individual might leave at his death; everything above that figure was to be taken by the State. Regnano, the Italian economist, has proposed that Death Duties should be graduated according to the number of times that property has already been inherited. Thus a man might be allowed to inherit a -certain proportion of wealth from his father, but a smaller proportion from his grandfather and nothing at all from his great grandfather. So all inherited portions would be limited to three generations. It has also been proposed to prohibit inheritance except by dependants and near relatives of a deceased person. It has been proposed that all inherited wealth acquired for the State by taxation should be applied to a reduction of the War Debt.
In 1895 the great Tom Ellis—I believe that if he were alive he would be sitting on the Labour benches to-day, and I hope to have his son sitting with us after the next General Election—suggested a tax of 95 per cent, on inherited wealth in order to prevent any man who had great wealth from dictating the actions of the living after he had passed away. That is a very sensible proposal. These and other suggestions should be investigated by a Select Committee. We make that proposition to the Government. A proposal made by my old dad over 50 years ago should also be taken into consideration. [Laughter.] Hon. Members need not laugh. He went through the mill as I have done. Over 50 years ago, when the miners were going through the same trouble as they are going through to-day, and when the tinplaters in South Wales were fighting for a living wage, there was a dispute of which I have a slight recollection, and I remember the great mass meeting that was held in Neath, were Thomas Halliday, who then led the miners, and Lewis Afan, who led the tinplaters, and my old dad, who had been a persecuted Nonconformist and a victimised trade unionist, were among the speakers. My old dad spoke in the Welsh language. The words are worth repeating in this House to-day. I wish I could give them in Welsh:
He said that the capitalists of the country considered profits and dividends far more valuable than human life, that we ought to consider human life first, and profits and dividends second. He said that whether you go to a first-class hotel, to a first-class railway compartment or to the stock exchange, the two words that the capitalists liked best in the dictionary were "profit" and "dividend." He added that this country was not to be made by profits or dividends. It should be made up of happy men and happy women and happy children, and the only way in which that happiness could be brought about was by labour having its legislative share of the wealth which it created, in common with the great capitalists of the country. That was the suggestion. We ask the Government to accept our Motion and to assist in working, act for individuals, but all for each and each for all. If they do that this country will be able to bring up a healthy race of people, and the people will be able to live sweeter, nobler and happier lives.
I beg to second the Motion.
One need make no apology for drawing the attention of the Government to a method of taxation which would afford them some relief, if only it were put into operation. Word is going round that to-morrow night we are to have an all-night sitting. I suggest that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer in framing his Budget had at least dealt fairly with the situation and had drawn the revenue for the year from the source whence it was possible to obtain it, it is more than likely that the huge controversy which appears to be raging around Clauses 1 and 2 of the Economy Bill would be moderated to a considerable extent. It cannot be denied that the country wants revenue. I do not think there is a more unhappy person at the moment than the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is faced with the problem of finding revenue for carrying on the country. The Motion certainly points the way to the raising of that revenue. It has been suggested that the Ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer was responsible some two or three years ago for making a proposal similar to that which we are now discussing, and that the proposal had received the assent of nearly 6,000,000 voters at the last General Election. We can quote something even more substantial than that in support of this form of taxation, which is certainly the root of the proposal. That is the cm torn which has been established by this House. Since 1894 it has been the custom, in framing the financial arrangements for the year, to pay marked attention to Death Duties and Legacy Duties. In to-night's newspapers there are published substantial figures showing that a remarkable total of revenue has been secured by this method. Therefore there is no necessity to defend the principle and the establishment of it.
If there are so many people outside the House who acclaim the method, if this House for 30 years has gone on approving the method as each Budget has come along, no. apology is necessary in recommending strongly the suggestions that the Motion contains. From 1894 to 1907 an 8 per cent maximum was imposed in Estate Duty, but from 1919 up to the present we have been a little more ambitious, and we now make an imposition of 40 per cent. in this respect. We suggest an extension of that system. We make no secret of our proposal; we ask the House to consider an even more drastic imposition upon legacies left to people who, in the main, have done nothing whatever to justify the right of succession to these benefits. May I give the House an illustration of which I have some knowledge. There is an important textile establishment close to where I live which employs thousands of people. Two or three years ago returns were published in the local Press showing that the average dividend earned by this establishment was more per employé than the average wage paid to the employés.
As the hon. Member for Shipley says, the dividend figure was twice as much as the wage figure. It is a sad thing, even under a capitalist system of society, that we should have to admit a case where the ratio of profit earned by an establishment is greater than the wage which is being paid to the employes. That ought not to be tolerated in a country which professes to have any regard for the principles of Christianity. Recently one of the heads of this establishment died. I regret his untimely end. I believe all those who belong to that quarter were very sorry to hear of the sad circumstances attending the death of this gentleman. He left his estate to his eldest son, who had just attained his majority. Well over £1,000,000 was left to a person who had done absolutely nothing, or comparatively nothing, in the making of the wealth which he inherited. That person is entitled to have deducted from his inheritance a sum based on the rate of percentage which governs Estate Duty, but I suggest that in a case of this kind a much higher imposition might reasonably be made.
Let us take another form of bequest, and I am glad to give this illustration, because the comparison serves to bring home the inhumanity of the system under which we live, and the disregard which even this House has, for deserving cases. It will be within the memory of hon. Members that just before Christmas, we had the loss of the Submarine M.1. Ques tions have been put to the First Lord of the Admiralty regarding the inadequate pensions which are being paid to the dependents of men lost in that disaster. I know of the case of the widow of a chief petty officer who lost his life on that occasion. She is left with an 11 year old girl, and the bequest which this House makes in the form of a pension to those people is £1 0s. 6d. per week. That is a wicked proposition. The First Lord of the Admiralty should, at least, see to it that if these men have to pay the penalty, those whom they leave behind are adequately provided for. There are two different forms of bequest—one a bequest which has been accumulated from profiteering in the textile system, and the other e bequest which, to my mind, reflects grave discredit on this House.
I suggest that from the Chancellor of the Exchequer—and no doubt the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is associated with the right hon. Gentleman in this view—we have had a very clear demonstration of acceptance of the principle of this Motion in the removal from Super-tax payers of an imposition of £10,000,000 a year, and the transference of that burden on to the Estate Duty. We consider it was wicked in the first instance to excuse the Super-tax payers to this extent. At a time when we are faced with unemployment, sickness and old age requirements and education needs, it seemed to me monstrous to relieve the 89,000 Super-tax payers of this sum. At all events we did so. The House approved of the proposal, and this additional charge was put upon those people who — as we contend—ought to make an even greater contribution. The hon. Member who moved this Motion suggested certain methods. I think that before we secure complete control of all that is bequeathed to a recipient we ought not to go beyond two generations. We have heard a great deal about the making of sacrifices. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is never tired of saying to Members on this side of the House that the people whom we represent ought to be prepared to make greater sacrifices. What happened with regard to the imposition of the present rate of duty upon estates? A person who enjoys the receipt of an estate of £5,000 concedes only £150, ar at the rate of 3 per cent. A person who receives £100,000 concedes only £20,000, leaving a very comfortable balance of £80,000. I think we are entitled to ask that further consideration should he given to the question of securing more of the wealth which is transferred in this way.
One of the Amendments on the Paper suggests that the House should declare itself in favour of the wider diffusion of capital. One can hardly conceive, after our experience of Tory Government, that hon. Members opposite are favourable to that policy. The bulk of the financial legislation of the past 15 months has not been directed towards to a wider diffusion of capital in so far as the mass of the people is concerned, but has been directed rather towards giving still more to those who already possess an undue share of this world's goods. This Amendment also declares that the Motion would tend to impoverish the community. Heaven help the community, if it is to be impoverished to a greater extent than it has been in the last few years ! Another Amendment raises the question of thrift. We know all about the question of thrift. The thrift has always to be practised by the people with whom hon. Members on this side are more particularly associated, because they have no other opportunity except to exercise it in a very careful way and with hardship to themselves. I want to suggest that in carrying this Motion to-night the House will at least be doing a favour in the direction of seeing to it that by increased taxation upon legacies and bequests, and so on, there would at least be an opportunity of providing much greater revenue for the country than there is at the present moment.
Some people suggest that if we attempt to interfere with inheritance, the development of industry will be hindered. I suggest that that is hardly a good point to make. I happen to be associated, as I believe every one of my colleagues is associated, with the great co-operative movement. We make no apology for that, because we think it is a very sensible way of improving the gospel of the diffusion of capital. There is another and greater point to its credit, that at least it does prove the diffusion of surpluses which are created by the trading of the people themselves. There is no accumulation such as I have related which has happened in the textile establishment in the district from which I come. We would suggest that probably the methods of the co-operative movement might be closely followed and thus make sure that in the future when legislation can be pi omoted on those lines, that there is gting to be a possibility, not of the poor being kept poor, but rather that their status is going to be raised.
I beg to move, in line 1, to leave out from the word "House", to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words
while anxious to promote by any means in its power the wider diffusion of capital, declines to support a Motion which, if effectual, would tend to impoverish the community.
We have listened to two very interesting speeches from hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member who has just sat down seemed to direct his remarks to one main proposition, namely, that these very desirable objects were to be attained by tightening up the death duties to the paint of extinction of capital within a couple of generations. I think that very fairly represents his argument. I will return later on to a consideration of that point. The first point which the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on whatever side of the House he may sit or to whatever Government he may belong now or hereafter, has really to consider, above all others, is how he can best raise his revenue with least disturbance to national credit or to communal or general or national prosperity. By the Resolution which has been moved by hon. Members opposite the House is asked to condemn as morally indefensible, economically wasteful, and productive of gross inequality, certain legal and social arrangements whereby large fortunes are inherited by a small minority of the community. That is the general sense of the Resolution which has been moved. As to the moral indefensibility of the system, I confess I should hesitate to set myself up as a censor morum in competition with the two hon. Members who have preceded me. I would only in passing say that I cannot understand how this House is to attempt to influence social arrangements except by legal enactmmts. So, leaving the social arrangements on one side, I shall proceed to ask what are those legal arrangements which it is desired to oppose, and which the House is asked to condemn.
I suppose that, if the House is prepared to condemn these legal arrangements, it will also be prepared to amend them. I have listened very carefully to what both, hon. Gentlemen opposite had to say, and I confess that, as it seems to me, the speech of the Mover of the Resolution consisted to a very large extent, in the early part at any rate of his speech, of a large body of very familiar statistics which repeatedly re-appear in a certain class of text book. The whole argument of the hon. Members seemed to narrow itself down to this, that there is in the country a certain reservoir of wealth, that that reservoir is very carefully concreted, but out of it there flow certain streams. Much the largest stream goes to a very small number of people; a second goes to the moderately wealthy people; and a mere trickle goes to the vast majority of the nation at large. But the reservoir is a concreted reservoir—what the hon Member for Pontypool (Mr. T. Griffiths) referred to as a pool of wealth. I find the Resolution consists of rather vague generalities supported by speeches which, if I may say so respectfully, seem of very questionable validity. I will do my best to meet the arguments as presented to the House. What was the cause of complaint which was made by both hon. Gentlemen opposite" Is it a cause of complaint that large fortunes are inherited, or is it that large fortunes are accumulated, or do they object to both? [HON. MEMBERS "Both."] Very well; to both the accumulation and the inheritance. I am perfectly well aware, as the hon. Member for Pontypool reminded us, that certain classical economists, including Mr. John Stuart Mill, while justifying the right of bequest deny the right of inheritance. That has always seemed to me a peculiar position to take up. I would like to know whether the hon. Member for Pontypool really claims to ride off on that rather subtle distinction. Is he prepared to justify the accumulation of a large fortune and then condemn the inheritance of that fortune? I think he is neither, if I may say so respectfully, so subtle nor so simple as to advance that argument. No. As he has told us in answer to my question just now, and as hon. Gentlemen opposite have told the House, they object to the accumulation of large fortunes as being economically wasteful, to use the actual expression in the Resolution, and as being economically prejudicial to the community at large.
That is the point on which I want to join issue directly with hon. Members opposite, and I shall endeavour to maintain that, on the ground of economic advantage, not to the individual—I am not thinking much about the individual; hon. Members opposite think a great deal of the individual, but I am not thinking so much of the individual as they are—but to the community, there is everything to be said for the accumulation of big fortunes. Let me take a very simple case which was reported a short time ago. Such cases are constantly reported, but this happened to catch my eye in a newspaper. The paragraph to which I refer recited that Mr. Jones, we will call him, had lately died, [An HON. MEMBER "Jack Jones?"] No, not the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones). We should very greatly regret his decease, but a Mr. Jones lately died, leaving personalty valued at £70,000, and the paragraph added that Mr. Jones, who began life as a grocer's assistant, was the head of a well-known firm of, let me say, in order to conceal his identity, jam manufacturers. The question that I want to put, with all the seriousness that I can, to hon. Members opposite is this: Was it better, I do not say for Mr. Jones, or Mrs. Jones, or the little Joneses, but for the community, that Mr. Jones should have accumulated and bequeathed a fortune of £70,000, or that he should have died a grocer's assistant, and left, let us say, 27s. 6d., or any sum which hon. Members like to suggest? I want hon. Members opposite te face that question.
Let us assume that he was a jam manufacturer. The question that I want to put to hon. Members opposite—and I am glad that they should apply themselves closely to this question —is: Did Mr. Jones do good or ill by founding a big business and leaving a large fortune? Was it good or was it bad for the community? My Amendment boldly affirms that Mr Jones was a benefactor to the community, and that he did well by founding a business instead of remaining a grocer's assistant, and that he did well by accumulating a fortune of £70,000. Personally—and my Amendment affirms it—I should like to see everybody die worth £70,000.
Or, failing that, £7,000, or even £700, but, generally speaking—and this is the point that I want to submit—the bigger the fortune the better for the community. Why? For the very simple reason that the bigger the fortune accumulated the more it tends to cheapen one of the first requisites of production, namely, capital. I know that hon. Members opposite think they would get on very well without capitalists. I am not disputing that for the moment, but I do not think many hon. Members opposite, since they have begun to think out these matters, are prepared to affirm that they would get on without capital. They draw a distinction—I have heard them do it over and over again—between capitalists and capital, but if capital be, as they admit, affirm, and insist, an indispensable element of production, it is perfectly obvious that the cheaper the capital, the easier and the better for production, and especially for that element in production which is supplied by manual labour. It is equally obvious that capital will only be cheapened if you get an abundant supply of it. The question which, as reasonable men, we have really got to consider is this: How are you going to obtain that abundant supply? I submit that there are only two possible methods of obtaining it: Firstly, by the creation of new wealth—Mr. Jones, when he made his £70,000, was creating wealth—and, secondly, by the accumulation of it, by the saving of the largest possible proportion of the wealth which has actually been made. Mr. Jones, before bequeathing it, must have saved it, In other words, you can reduce it to two words, "Enterprise," and the word to M hick hon. Members opposite so strangely object, the word that occurs in the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr, S. Roberts), namely, the word "Thrift."
Now I pass to a very important question. Is it better—and again I am thinking of
the interests of the community—that you should have one fortune of £70,000 or 10 fortunes of £7,000? I think that my hon. Friends opposite who are economists will probably reply at once that, from the strictly economic point of view, it does no really very much matter. I am not sure that the balance of advantage, again from the strictly economic point of view, is not in favour of the first alternative, namely, the single fortune of £70,000, because there is less chance of the dissipation of that big fortune, but I am perfectly ready to admit and to insist that, when you pass from purely economic considerations to social and political considerations, then the advantage is all the other way, and that is why I have framed my Amendment in the terms that I have actually employed. It will be observed that my Amendment affirms that the House
while anxious to promote by any means in its power "—
I am not sure that its power in this respect is very effective, but still
to promote by any means in its power the wider diffusion of capital, declines to sup-poi t a Motion which, if effectual, would tend to impoverish the community.
There are two points in that Amendment. First, I am extremely anxious, as I affirm in the Amendment, to promote the wider diffusion of capital. But I would venture to observe that already capital, I am thankful to know, is much more widely distributed in this country than is commonly supposed. I was amazed to hear the hon. Member for Pontypool say that the utmost a working man can do is to purchase his own house through a building society.
The hon. Member for Pontypool referred to a very remarkable speech made by the right hon. Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman). It so happens that I obtained figures from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley, who was at that time Chancellor of the Exchequer, which went a very long way towards substantiating the figures quoted the other day by the right hon. Member for Swansea. [An HON. MEMBER: "What are the figures?"] Of course, I am prepared to give the figures. The Post Office Savings Bank deposits amount to £285,000,000, that sum being distributed among no fewer than 12,000,000 depositors. The deposits in trustee savings banks amount to £83,000,000, distributed among 2,282,000 depositors. The smallholders of the National Savings Certificates-500,000 of them—have, in the aggregate, £223,000,000. Government stocks held by smallholders amount to £189,000,000. The share of the ordinary life assurance funds held by small investors is £340,000,000. The friendly and industrial life assurance funds amount to £130,000,000. The building societies return their deposits at £140,000,000 among 1,000,000 members. Other registered provident societies, it is estimated, amount to £300,000,000 and the employes' shares in approved societies amount to £60,000,000, making a total of £1,750,000,000. But that by no means exhausts the investments of the small investors. The hon. Member for Pontypool referred to investments in small house property. I remember a few years ago it was mentioned by the hon. Member who is now Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health that the investments in small house property by non-Income Taxpayers, that is to say, people who at that time, before the War, had less than £160 a year, amounted to £600,000,000. I have so far taken no account of the investments in railways, which are mostly in very small amounts, there being 800,000 investors in railway stock. There are more investors than there are employes on our railways. I have taken no account although, I think, that is a less important item—of the smaller investments in ordinary industrial concerns, banks and so on. But I believe it is within the mark to say that the invested funds of small investors in this country to-day total over £2,000,000,000, distributed, as far as I can ascertain among about 15,000,000 investors, and I, at ally rate, rejoice in the fact that it should he so. That is a development in which, I think, anyone ought to, and will, rejoice who wishes well to the common weal. I think it one of the most healthy and one of the most hopeful symptoms in our whole national life to-day.
On a point of Order. May I ask whether the line which is now being developed by the hon. Member is in order on a Motion which deals with large inherited fortunes, whereas he is discussing small fortunes?
I am speaking to the Amendment. This is a development which, I think, should rejoice anyone who wishes well to the common weal. People talk about the smallholder in France. They talk about the peasant proprietor in France as a great social and political force making for the stability of the State. I venture to suggest that the small investor in England is in an equally strong position as the smallholder in France, and my Amendment suggests that the more widely these fortunes are diffused, the better for the community at large. I will return for a moment to the main Motion. I suggest that if the Motion were carried without my Amendment you would at once impoverish not individuals but the community by the discouragement of inheritance. The Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford suggests that the proposals from the other side are calculated to check the practice of thrift. Human nature being what it is, I think that men will not practice thrift; they will not save on any considerable scale if their savings are to inure solely to their own benefit. Men save as a rule far less for themselves than for other people, and it is surely one of the most generous traits in human nature. What I want hon. Members opposite to consider is this: Do they want to discourage or do they want to encourage this amiable trait in human nature? My submission is, that if the ideas which have animated the Motion moved from the opposite side to-night were to obtain prevalence, and were to succeed, they would inflict not only a grievous social wound but they would achieve a result economically disastrous to the community at large. I repeat, that it is the community, not the individual, for whom in this matter I am entirely solicitous. I cannot help feeling that much of the two speeches, especially the first of the two, to which we have listened to-night, were animated by a feeling of envy of individual fortunes and dislike of the riches of an individual. The riches of the very rich, as a matter of fact, constitute in reality a communal fund. In the last analysis there can be no escape from that conclusion. This Motion talks about people leaving £1,000,000, £2,000,000, £3,000,000; where does the millionaire leave them? He does not leave them in old stockings; he does not leave them in brass-bound boxes; he does not even leave them? in golden sovereigns in the coffers of a bank. He leaves them in the form of warehouses, of ships, of factories, of machinery and of industrial capital of every kind.
I wish there were less of that. I wish we had more industrial capital and less Government stock. If it were not left in the way I have described it, it would not produce a revenue and it cannot produce a revenue without conferring conspicuous benefit upon the whole community. It is not, therefore, in the interests of a few millionaires, in whom I am not deeply interested; it is not even in the interests of the 90,000 payers of Super-tax, it is in the interests of the whole community, the middling folk, the poor, and, above all, in the interests of the poorest that I resist this Motion and propose the Amendment that stands in my name.
I beg to second the Amendment.
In his able speech the Mover has very fairly covered the whole ground and, as is natural on such occasions, he has dealt with many arguments with which I as the seconder had intended to deal. I want to look at this question in detail from one point of view, that is, its effect on trade; by that I mean its effects on savings, using the word "thrift" for savings. I think it can be fairly maintained and can hardly be gainsaid that civilisation could not exist unless it had been for people in the past saving—that is, not consuming everything they produced. If it had not been for that we could have had no civilisation, no wealth, no buildings, no ships, no flocks and herds except wild animals, and we would have been a race of savages fighting with each other in the struggle for food. All wealth is the product of thrift and the result of saving. That being so, it is necessary and desirable that the visible wealth of the world should increase and that saving must go on if it is to be maintained, and anything that is to be a serious check upon saving is going to be a serious 10.0 p.m. damage to civilisation. May we for a moment consider what is undoubtedly the mainspring of the instinct of saving? There is a very small minority who have the instinct of acquisitiveness, simply because of a desire to save—people who collect stocks and shares in the same way as others collect china and postage stamps. They are, however, a very small minority; the majority of people save, in the first place, to protect their own old age and that of their wives, and, when saving gets beyond that point of absolute self-protection, then the saving is in the interests of the children. If it were not for this family affection and the saving which is based upon it, we should have probably little civilisation, and we could not have anything like the civilisation we have at the present time.
An hon. Member has dealt with the question of Death Duties. He said it was only an extension of a principle which had been already accepted. I think the acceptance of the principle of Death Duties can be based on this, that it is a toil paid on inheritance as a contribution towards the community that provides the law and the circumstances by which that property can be peacefully handed over to the successor. It is right, in my view, that some toll should be paid, but it should be qualified by this, that the taxes should be in the main productive that they will not extinguish the inheritance, that they will not be vindictive and that they must be reasonable in amount. I think the present high scale is unreasonable in amount and tends in a very great degree to check the practice of thrift. I will go further than the hon. Member for York (Sir J. Marriott) with regard to the wording of the Motion. The Motion says that these inheritances are morally indefensible, economically wasteful and productive of gross and unjustifiable inequality. I think the Motion itself is morally indefensible. I do not want to suggest any motives which perhaps hon. Members opposite do not realise are really at the back of their minds, but I think it is true that this attack is based upon envy and upon dislike of seeing other people having things which others have not got.
The chief basis of Socialist argument in the country is to hold up those who are rich to the hatred, envy and malice of their fellows. I contend that there is behind this, therefore, as far as morality is concerned, a breach of the Tenth Commandment that "thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's goods," and it also comes, if put into practice, near to being a breach of the other Commandment about not expropriating your neighbour's goods. With regard to its being economically wasteful, I maintain that the inheritance of large fortunes is, economically, perfectly sound. I maintain that the more millionaires a country has the better off that country is. There is no better example of that than America, where you find there are more millionaires than in any other country in the world, and yet a big majority of their working people are able to drive to their work in their own motor cars. That shows that it is not incompatible to have in the same country such wealth, distributed much more widely among the different sections of the community.
Again, look what a valuable asset the wealthy man is to the community. Look at the way in which at the present time he contributes during his lifetime about 10s. in the. in direct taxation, and after his death he contributes anything up to 50 per cent., if you take the Death Duties and Legacy Duties combined. To use the analogy of the reservoir which was used by my hon. Friend who has just spoken, he is a reservoir that collects and accumulates wealth, which is drawn off in two main streams, one of those streams passing straight into the Exchequer, and the other going out by means of investments to irrigate trade and industry and to produce prosperity all over the country. I feel that he is not an economic waste but an economic asset.
As for unjustifiable inequality is it possible in this world to get equality? Is it desirable to try for equality? I hardly think it is. I think the law of nature shows that inequality is the main basis of progress, and that if you tend towards equality, then you tend towards a sterilised dead level. I always think that that great French motto of "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity" contains in itself a very great paradox, because I never can see how you can get, at the same time, liberty and equality. If you are going to have equality you must sacrifice liberty and also all human effort and energy.
It gives me very great pleasure to take part in the Debate this evening, and to support the original Motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Griffiths). I do not wish to detain the House with any statistics, and I would prefer to dwell rather on that part of the Motion which says
That this House condemns the legal and social arrangements whereby large fortunes are inherited by a very small minority of the community as being morally indefensible, economically wasteful, and productive of gross and unjustifiable inequality.
I should like to make a reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. S. Roberts). In his opinion, the Members on these benches and probably the Socialist movement throughout the land is moved by envy. Indeed, he went on to say that envy, hatred, and malice were the chief ingredients of our work. I have probably attended 10 Socialist gatherings for every one he has attended, and probably 50 would be nearer the mark, in all parts of the land. I was engaged myself in this particular work for over 30 years, and I can say quite truthfully without fear of being challenged by any person living, that there has not been in my mind or in the minds of people I have listened to, or whose works I have read, any sort of envy, hatred and malice, or uncharitableness as far as our work is concerned. I want to make that observation not merely to the hon. Member for Hereford, who I think has entirely misunderstood the motives behind that work, but to distinguished people like. the present Bishop of Durham who recently made a somewhat peculiar observation about class warfare and class hatred existing in the Socialist movement. We are moved by an entirely different motive in our work, and I should be more disposed to say that we are moved by a very great moral impulse at the extraordinary and atrocious injustices which have been imposed on most deserving people who are the wealth-producing sections of the community. Wealth is
produced by labour upon raw material and by the intelligence and physical and mental effort of the community, less idleness. The thing which moves all, and not merely those who are avowed Socialists, but all people with a sense of justice, is the shocking conditions which prevail to-day and, as in ancient and modern society, the enormous share of national wealth which goes to those who neither toil nor spin, and not to those whose labour, mental and physical, creates the wealth of that community.
I happen to have had a rather long industrial experience, somewhat longer than the Member for Pontypool, and I want to call attention to one or two questions which I may give as illustrations and which I should like hon. Members opposite to justify if they can. I remember one instance which occurred in this country in the North of England a little more than 30 years ago where an employer of labour, a mining engineer, wrote a letter to the "Times" newspaper in October, 1893, with regard to a great industrial dispute which lasted for 16 weeks. In that latter he made this observation that while the miners in the South of Yorkshire had been working for starvation wages he knew for a fact as one of the o. iginal lessees of the collieries, that those collieries had been gold mines and not coal mines, and that he knew of one instance where the present capital was 15 times larger than the original capital supplied and there had not been a single penny put since the original capital was supplied. I would like to know if there is anybody here who can justify a. condition of industry where men of great physical capacity are working at a very dangerous and labor ions occupation and are not receiving sufficient wages to enable them to pay their way, while a comparatively small body of men are making fortunes beyond the dreams of avarice. What applies to that particular mining area applies virtually to every mining county in this country.
If you take South Wales, or Lancashire or Yorkshire or Scotland there has been during the last 50 years a number of men who began life at the bottom, penniless, and who were humble workmen like ourselves, who died with fortunes of from a quarter of a million pounds to three or four million pounds. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members say, "Hear, hear." Why not Because they were making it out of the underpaid labour of the workmen, What is more, they often make it while knowing that the men have been working under conditions of labour which made m hat are called accidents a deadly certainty from time to time. They were making fortunes out of risks the men were running. How can anyone justify conditions like those? Before hon. Members cheer a statement like that, it is as well they should know that those mho say these things are speaking from personal experience and know it is true. What is the good of talking about the sixth commandment, "Thou shalt do no murder," when under our modern commercial system thousands of people are stain in this country and other countries every year.
We have heard a great deal about America. One of the outstanding men in the United States of America during the last 50 years was the late Mr. Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie Brothers and Company from 1881 to 1888—eight years—made an average dividend of 40 per cent. per annum. They made £16,000,000 of capital out of these dividends on an original capital of £5,000,000. Then we have had a statement by the late President Wilson, in his last volume of essays, published in 1016, about the conditions under which men were working in the steel trade in America. He was speaking of facts which, he said, had been disclosed in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and speaking of the worst schedule,
Schedule K, which operates to keep men on wages they cannot live,
Don't you know that there are mills in which men are made to work seven days a week, 12 hours a day, and 365 days in the year, and they are unable to pay their bills at the end of the year?
Can one hesitate to alter the laws of inheritance where conditions of labour such as those prevail? What is the good of talking about slavery being abolished. Slavery has not been abolished in this country.
On a point of Order. May I ask for your guidance? If an hon. Member of this House gives way to another hon. Member, surely the hon. Member is entitled to finish the question he was going to put to him?
The hon. Member says. I dare not listen to him. I shall be very glad to meet the hon. Member in his own division to discuss the question. I would very gladly have given way had the question arisen out of some observation I had made, but no word of Russia has crossed my lips, and will not cross them from beginning to end. It was an entirely irrelevant observation which the hon. Member made. Reference has been made to America, and I want to quote the opinion of the late Mr. Carnegie on the question of fortunes and the disadvantage to the community. He said:
To the elms whose ambition it is to. leave fortunes and to be talked about after death, it will be even more attractive, and, indeed, a somewhat nobler ambition, to have enormous fortunes paid over to the State from those fortunes.
Any person of observation must have noticed many cases themselves, and they must have read of the very demoralising: effect which unearned wealth has upon certain sections of the community. They are recognising that very strongly in America, and we should recognise it here in the same way. There are a vast number of young people who have left to, them sufficient money that they do not require to spend any part of their life in useful service to the community, and they are very often demoralised by the process. I think it would be a very wise thing if we could change the system under which we are living so as to ensure that this kind of inheritance should pass to the community, because it is wealth unjustly acquired.
Nearly all forms of wealth perish very rapidly. Food, clothing, furniture, and all commodities of that kind are kept in existence, not by preservation but by reproduction by the people who produce them in the factories and the workshops, and not by the inheritors of this form of wealth. Even more permanent forms of wealth pass away. What these people are entitled to do is to have a claim upon the labour of those who create wealth. Most of this wealth has been produced by people who have had to submit to laws in which 5 per cent. of the community have not had any voice in making. I object to a system like that in the interests of the community as a body, because it is very unfair and unjust to the community.
Reference has been made to the amount of money accumulated by the working classes. If you accept the figures given by the hon. Member for York (Sir G. Marriott) you will find that if every man receiving £5 a week as wages—that is a wage far in excess of what the average working man receives—saved £2 per week, or £100 a year, he still would not have the £70,000 to which the hon. Member referred, and no working man is ever able to save anything like that sum. We have been urged to pursue a policy of thrift under all circumstances, but as a man who has tried to spend the little I have earned usefully and wisely, I object to saving at the expense of my family. That kind of thrift is a thing which ought not to be advocated. I for one am entirely opposed to it, and I have always tried to spend my money to the best possible advantage. I am satisfied of this, that, if this Motion which has been submitted by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool were submitted as a plebiscite to the community of this nation, vast numbers of people who do not support Socialistic proposals would be found to be entirely against this general principle of bequest and inheritance as it exists at the present time.
I saw a statement only the other day that something like £440,000,000 per annum passes in the form of inheritance and bequest in this country. In South Africa, some 50 years ago, according to the late Lord Carnarvon, who was High Commissioner in South Africa, the diamond fields were obtained from the Orange Free State on the payment of a sum, after dispute, of less than £100,000, but from those very diamond fields there was taken wealth to the value of £4,000,000 per annum for many years in succession. Can anyone possibly justify that condition of affairs in South Africa, having regard to the conditions under which people work in the diamond mines? I believe a very rapid change is taking place in the public opinion of this nation in regard to these questions, and I have very great pleasure in supporting the Motion of my hon. Friend.
While I profoundly dissent from the terms of this Motion, nevertheless I am very glad that the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Griffiths) has put it on the Order Paper, for it does, indeed, raise the fundamental issue which separates the party of the hon. Member from the party to which I myself have the honour to belong, and I feel that my party, so far from shirking this issue, should, whenever it is raised, jump at it with open arms. The hon. Member, in his Motion, asks us to subscribe to the doctrine that it is fundamentally immoral to own wealth that has not been earned by the sweat of one's own brow, and, indeed, I think that, as has been said in the course of this Debate, the real intention of the Mover of this Resolution was to embrace a very much wider proposition. I believe that, if we on this side of the House had refused to face this issue, we should have allowed the storm troops of the party opposite to rush our first-line trench, and establish there a position from which they could encroach upon and steadily undermine the whole defensive system of the capitalist order of society.
I can certainly congratulate the hon. Member upon the skill with which he has chosen his battle-ground to-night, if it was his intention again to raise the issue which was so ably dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Coins Valley (Mr. Snowden) three years ago in this House. There are many Members in this House, and many people in the country, not necessarily of the same political persuasion as hon. Members opposite, who believe that the right of inheritance is indeed the keystone of the capitalist order. I believe that that right is so inextricably interwoven with the existing order that it is impossible to separate it, and, therefore, hon. Members opposite are perfectly right in selecting it as a jumping-off place for a general offence against capitalism. I suggest that this Motion has been put upon the Order Paper to-night as a pretext, and I shall endeavour to put before the House some reasons for that supposition.
In the first place, there is the method of indirect attack. I do not think hon. Members opposite will deny that the major part of their propaganda in this country is directed towards bringing to birth in this country a, kind of mentality which is utterly alien to the capitalist order, and, indeed, utterly opposed to it. Surely, if we are to have any sort of society, and if that order of society is to function properly, it can only do so if those who are called to live under it believe in it. If we may presuppose that certain things are necessary in order to make a system of that sort work, however imperfect it may be, we must suppose that those who live under it believe that it is right for a man to strive for himself, that it is right for him to accumulate wealth, and, having accumulated that wealth, to bequeath it after him to others, who may consolidate and even enlarge it; but, if those who live under this system deny these things, and endeavour to get rid of them root and branch, I think we must necessarily withdraw from that order of society the very motive power which alone can keep it in operation.
Reference has been made in a report, recently published, to the decline of the great agricultural industry. This decline has been ascribed to an alleged break down in the system of landlordism, and that breakdown in its turn has been ascribed to the inability of the land-owning class to provide the agricultural industry with the necessary amount of fixed capital. If hon. Members are looking for the reason why landlords are no longer able to subscribe capital to the same extent as formerly, they may, possibly, find it in the weight of Death Duties, which have been levied on agricultural property for the last two or three decades, which have resulted in the breaking up of many properties and in other cases have placed burdens upon them out of all proportion to their ability to bear them. if they could bring the country to the opinion that the Death Duties ought to be increased undoubtedly they could hasten this process and instal the State as a partner, not only in the agriculture industry, but possibly in every industry in the country, because suppose you were to increase the Death Duties from the already very high maximum point of 40 per cent., in the case of a man who died, those called upon to administer his property would find themselves faced with one of two alternatives. Either they would have to endeavour to carry on the undertaking with a heavy burden of debt hanging round their necks, which would make it impossible to expand the business, or even to foster or maintain it at its present level, or else they would have to admit the State as a kind of sleeping partner in the business. That would happen all along the line, and eventually we should probably have the State as a sleeping partner in many industries, and that condition I think would make it inevitable for the State to take over industries on most disadvantageous terms.
The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. S. Roberts) made reference to the reflex action that may arise from the adoption of the principles now before the House. If a man is deprived of the desire to benefit his family, or of the laudable ambition to found a family, he will not endeavour to increase his fortune, with the result that the State will probably he a loser. That has been said on many occasions and by many able economists years ago when the Death Duties were not at their present level. Since that time they have been greatly raised, and yet we still find that large fortunes are often made by men who have no near relations to leave them to. The Mover of the Resolution quoted a very famous economist. May I give him a Roland for his Oliver. Hon. Members opposite may not agree with the opinions of Professor Bastable, but at any rate they will admit that from the orthodox economic point of view he is a very sound authority. He deals with the point in two sentences which are very pregnant and which have a value in this case. Have we not after all already reached the breaking point? Surely hon. Members opposite will admit that if we go on raising the duties we must come to a breaking point. We must come to a point at which actually the State receives a diminishing return from the increased duties.
I would draw the attention of hon. Members to what is, perhaps, one of the hidden effects which has arisen from the operation of these duties, but which is not attributed to its real cause and source. A great deal of reference has been made in this House to the vaunted luxury expenditure which we see in London and other parts of the country and very often, I regret to say, side by side with poverty in its most distressful form. I do not believe that this luxury expenditure can be entirely attributed to one class of the community, and least of all can it be ascribed only to people of our own blood and our own kith and kin. Many wealthy visitors come to this country, and find this country a most desirable playing ground.
It is the general concession of opinion that to-day money is spent on what we may call the passing whims of the money which should not be so spent. Is not this one of the indirect effects of the operation of these duties which is really concealed at first sight? Have not hon. Members heard remarks from their friends who say that they do not find it worth while to attempt to enlarge their fortunes nowadays, because the State takes such large amounts in Death Duties, and that during their lives the State takes so much in high rates and taxes? Have not hon. Members opposite heard that a good deal of capital is transferred abroad already? They ought to remember that capital is not a citizen of any country and that it respects no frontier. I do not ask hon. Members opposite to believe that I think we can avoid Income Tax Super-tax or Death Duties, I believe that these taxes are inevitable, but at the same time they are great evils, although it may be an unpopular thing to say, I believe that the Death Duties are the most pernicious and the most economically unsound form of taxation ever introduced into any country. Notwithstanding, I recognise that they are inseparable from the times in which we live.
Hon. Members opposite do not ask us to agree with the Motion before the House because it is necessary for revenue, but on quite different grounds. The say that it is morally wrong to own any wealth which has not been acquired by the personal exertions of the person inheriting that wealth. That is the ground on which they ask us to agree to the Motion, and not because it is necessary for the purpose of raising fresh revenue. If what they had at the back of their minds was that it is right to redistribute taxation as between direct and indirect taxation, there might be something to be said for their thesis; but there are many hon. Members who will not agree that the proportion of the burden between direct and indirect taxation is unfairly balanced.
This Motion shows the fundamental difference between hon. Members opposite and hon. Members on this side of the House. As the bon. Member for York (Sir J. Marriott) said in his very able speech, there seems to be some extraordinary idea among certain hon. Members that capital is a fixed and limited thing. I believe that hon. Members opposite regard such men as Henry Ford or the late Lord Leverhulme as the sort of men who should be hunted down and treated as a kind of criminal within the law, to be chivvied from pillar to post. If the State cannot possibly prevent these enterprising men from accumulating big fortunes in their own lives, it is suggested that the State should, at any rate, take care to see that they are not permitted to hand on these fortunes to their own kith and kin who, given the same dynamic force, might extend and consolidate the fortune.
We must remember that many fortunes are not built up in the life of one man, but are created in the course of two or three generations. If the State had stepped in and taken a very large portion of the estate at the end of the life of the first founder, possibly these fortunes-would not have accumulated. Hon. Members opposite think that that is a good thing. We differ from them. Do hon. Members believe, for instance, that if the creative imagination of Henry Ford or Lord Leverhulme had never been applied to the mobilisation of inanimate materials, which has resulted in those magnificent factories, without that guiding genius those factories would still have come into being, and that instead of being the property of one man or two men they would be owned by the thousands who now draw from them their means of livelihood? If such are hon. Members' convictions, we may well ask whether there is such a thing as a sensible Socialist. Should we not rather ask whether there is such a thing as an honest Socialist?
I am certain that there are many hon. Members opposite who know perfectly well in their hearts, though it is not politically expedient; that they should say it with their lips, that capital is not a Axed and limited thing, but that it is like a snowball, which perpetually increases in bulk with the speed of its momentum, and that these great commercial magnates, who conjure from nothing vast fortunes not expressed in heaps of Treasury notes, but in some hive of industry, are not men to be extirpated, but are rather the greatest asset a country can have. We know perfectly well that very large sacrifices are demanded from the country to-day. Sacrifices have been demanded in life, and the saerifices in money cannot be compared with them. There is also the terrible cloud of unemployment, the dark pall of which is hanging over the country today. But that is not the extent of our sacrifices. We know that the taxpayers are called upon to-day to bear a burden of debt which is without parallel in the history of this or any other country. When one considers that fact, and the way in which the taxpayer has borne his burden, while the taxpayers of other countries, not so far away, have shirked their burdens, it seems to me that hon. Members opposite, instead of putting down such a Motion as this, should sometimes accord a word of generous recognition to the British taxpayer for the way in which he has squared up to his burden.
I think that my hon. Friends the Members for Pontypool (Mr. Griffiths) and South Bradford (Mr. W. Hirst), who brought forward this Motion, have rendered a great service in ventilating a matter which is of fundamental importance, but which in the past has been greatly neglected, as indeed it seems to be neglected to-night by Members of the Government, who have not thought fit even to put up a junior Whip to reply on their sick. I am very glad to see that, although they do not propose to intervene in the Debate, at any rate, a Minister takes enough interest to listen. What we propose to-night is that a Select Committee should be appointed to inquire into the various proposals to which my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool has alluded, and also any other proposals which might be made, with regard to the inheritance of large fortunes. The hon. Member for York (Sir J. Marriott) declined to support a Motion which "if effectual would tend to impoverish the country." The effectual part of the Motion is that which asks for the appointment of a Select Committee, and I am surprised that an educationalist like the hon. Member should be so much afraid of the spread of knowledge and the ventilation of ideas as to oppose that very mild proposal.
We submit that great inherited wealth is the purest form of unearned increment in the economic world and the most impossible of justification. We submit that it is demoralising, particularly to those who inherit these great fortunes. We are making no attack upon moderate fortunes. We are merely saying that these swollen fortunes, running into millions, inherited by a small section of the community, are a source of demoralisation to those who receive them, just as they demoralise the standard of life of the community as a whole. If I may draw a contrast which is relevant to the Motion between war debt which its transmitted by inheritance, often in large blocks, from father to son, and war pensions which are not so transmitted, submit that there we have a contrast which runs right through our economic system. You immortalise the claims of wealth, which the claimant himself has done nothing to create. You have a long line of dukes, for example, living generation after generation on mining royalties and urban ground rents, contributing in most cases no valuable service to the community. They are typical; they are an example of the kind of thing which this law of inheritance, in its extreme form, continually promotes. In 1914 all the men who won the Battle of Waterloo were dead, but the debt contracted at that time had not been paid off, and the heirs of those who lent money it order to defeat Napoleon were still drawing interest up to a few years ago. At the present rate of travelling, in another 30 or 40 years very few recipients of war pensions in connection with the Great War will be left alive, but equally, at the rate at which the Govern ment propose to reduce the War debt, the debt will still be with us practically undiminished in bulk, and will continue with us for more than 150 years transmitted from one generation to another.
The last speaker feared that the Death Duties were ceasing to be productive. I am told that the reason why the yield has fallen a little short of the Chancellor's estimate is that we have had a very mild winter and mortality has been low among millionaires as among other sections of the community. No doubt we shall get back in the future all that we have lost in the immediate past in this respect. If I may underline one part of the Motion which has been somewhat neglected by hon. Members on the other side, I shoud say that we stress the fact that it is only a small minority of the community who receive these swollen fortunes and that, in itself, gives the answer to the suggestion that we cannot carry out the proposals which have been mentioned by the hon. Member for Pontypool. Those who died last year leaving fortunes of over £100,000 numbered only 431—a relatively small number. On the estimate of Professor Clay already referred to, the total number of people in this country owning more than,£100,000, is something over 7,000—a very small minority, upon which a watchful eye could be kept by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury with the aid of his officials. The number is hardly larger than that of those Communists who are watched with such a jealous eye by the Home Secretary. It might easily be arranged for some of the Home Secretary's police and private detectives to be lent to the Treasury to prevent evasion of the law by the rich. Had I time to develop the argument, it would be easy to show that the administrative difficulty of the further control of these great inherited fortunes is comparatively trivial, since small minorities are always comparatively easy to handle. What we are attacking to-night is an economic system under which the inequalities which arise are magnified and accentuated by a system of law which is completely out of date. The speech of the hon. Member for York contained a reference to the works of John Stuart Mill, written in 1848. The hon. Member found the doctrines contained in that book very advanced.
The hon. Member, quoting him and referring to him, said it was a dangerous doctrine which John Stuart Mill had put forward in 1848. The point is that those ideas which my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool has put before us are so novel as to have a very disturbing effect on the minds of hon. Members opposite, some of whom are unable to imagine that we have brought this Motion forward with any other feeling in our minds than hatred and uncharitableness. We are quite content to leave the educated public outside to judge which of us has the stronger case in this matter. I am reminded of a remark by Dr. Johnson, when, referring to primogeniture, by which the first son took the whole inheritance and the others had to work for their living, he said there was one advantage in that system which was that it made but one fool in the family. If the eldest son worked for his living as well, the number of fools might diminish. [An HON. MEMBER: "Are you the youngest or the eldest? "] The answer is, if the hon. Member will allow me to give it, although it is not relevant, but it will satisfy curiosity, I am both the eldest and the youngest son of my parents. I desire to draw the attention of the House to the fact that within the last five years the steady increase in the amount of those large fortunes is very striking, and is in contrast with the steady decrease in the wages of the great mass of the population. Anyone who has studied the answers given in the last few days by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary to questions on this subject will see the steady increase in these fortunes, which contrasts very strongly with the continual diminution in the wages available for the majority of the people. The policy of the present Government is encouraging the tendency for the rich to grow richer and the poor to grow poorer. Our proposal is to reverse the engines in that respect and to make the poor less poor, even if one of the incidental results of this policy should be to make some of the richest of the rich a little less rich than at present. When I read, on 13th February, quite recently, that Henry John Brinsley, Knight of the Garter,
Duke of Rutland, who left £930,000, very nearly a million, in his will, remarked:
I leave nothing to any hospital or charitable institution, as the heavy and intolerable Super-tax renders impossible any such act on my part,
I am reminded of the saying of the right her. Gentleman the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, who sits for the Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden), that in these cases we must think, not only of what is taken by the State, but of what is left behind for the lucky ones who inherit it. Judged by that, standard, at any rate, this proposal to remove by taxation all inherited fortunes in excess of £100,000 is a very mild proposal indeed [Hon. MEMBERS: "Oh"]. At any rate, it. seems mild to us, if not to the Noble Lord
opposite, who is no doubt looking forward to inheriting a good deal more than £100,000. In conclusion, I submit that we here to-night are launching a frontal attack upon one of the most indefensible features of that economic system to which we, as Socialists, are opposed, and which it is our intention to attack by all constitutional means at our disposal, of which the Motion that I am supporting to-night is an instalment, and by no means the last word that will be spoken in this House on this subject.
|Division No. 105.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Hayes, John Henry||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Ammon, Charles George||Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Hirst, G. H.||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Slesser, Sir Henry H.|
|Barnes, A.||Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)||Smillie, Robert|
|Barr J.||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Batey, Joseph||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Smith, H. B. Lees- (Keighley)|
|Beckett, John (Gateshead)||Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Snell, Harry|
|Broad, F. A.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Bronley, J.||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Stamford, T. W.|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Kelly, W. T,||Stephen, Campbell|
|Buchanan, G.||Kennedy, T.||Stewart, J. (St Rollox)|
|Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Sullivan, Joseph|
|Cape, Thomas||Kirkwood, D.||Taylor, R. A.|
|Charleton. H. C.||Lansbury, George||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Clowes, S.||Lawson, John James||Thurtle, E.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Lee, F.||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Compton, Joseph||Lindley, F. W.||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.|
|Connolly, M.||Lowth, T.||Varley, Frank B.|
|Cove, W. G.||Lunn, William||Viant, S. P.|
|Dalton, Hugh||MacDonald, Rt. Hon.J. R. (Ab'ravon)||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)||Mackinder, W.||Waish, Rt. Hon. Stephen|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||MacLaren, Andrew||Warne, G. H.|
|Davison, J. E. (Smethwick)||March, S.||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Day, Colonel Harry||Maxton, James||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Dennison, R.||Montague, Frederick||Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney|
|Duncan, C.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Westwood. J.|
|Dunnico, H.||Naylor, T. E.||Whiteley, W.|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwelity)||Oliver, George Harold||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|Gibbins, Joseph||Palin, John Henry||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Gillett, George M.||Paling, W.||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Lianelly)|
|Gosling, Harry||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Groves, T.||Potts, John S.||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Grundy, T. W.||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Windsor, Walter|
|Guest, J. (York, Hemsworth)||Riley, Ben||Wright, W.|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Robinson, W.C. (Yorks, W.R., Elland)||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Hardie, George D.||Rose, Frank H,|
|Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||Saklatvala, Shapurji||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Hayday, Arthur||Sexton, Jamas||Mr. T. Griffiths and Mr. D. Grenfell.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Barnett, Major Sir Richard||Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Barnston, Major Sir Harry||Broun-Lindsay, Major H.|
|Albery, Irving James||Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Brown, Brig.-Gen.H.C, (Berks.Newb'y)|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Betterton, Henry B.||Bullock, Captain M.|
|Allen J. Sandeman (L'pool.W. Derby)||Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Burman, J. B.|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Blades, Sir George Rowland||Burton, Colonel H. W.|
|Apsley, Lord||Blundell, F. N.||Butt, Sir Alfred|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent,Dover)||Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward|
|Atkinson, C.||Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Caine, Gordon Hall|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Campbell, E. T.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Briscoe, Richard George||Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Brittain, Sir Harry||Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton|
|Chapman, Sir S.||Hilton, Cecil||Raine, W.|
|Charteris, Brigadier-General J.||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)||Ramsden, E.|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Holland, Sir Arthur||Rawson. Sir Alfred Cooper|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Holt, Captain H. P.||Reid, Capt. A. S. C. (Warrington)|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.)||Remer, J. R.|
|Cohen, Major J. Brunel||Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar)||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)|
|Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Hopkins, J. W. W.||Ropner, Major L.|
|Cope, Major William||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossely)||Ruggles-Brise, Major E. A,|
|Couper, J. B.||Horlick, Lieut.-Colonel J. N.||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Courthope, Lieut.-Col. Sir George L.||Howard, Captain Hon. Donald||Rye, F. G,|
|Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islington,N.)||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M.(Hackney, N.)||Salmon, Major I.|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Hudson, R. S. (Cumberland, Whiteh'n)||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend)||Hume, Sir G. H.||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick)||Huntingfield, Lord||Sandeman, A. Stewart|
|Crookshank,Cpt.H.(Lindsey,Gainsbro)||lliffe. Sir Edward M.||Sanders, Sir Robert A.|
|Cunliffe, Sir Herbert||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.||Sanderson, Sir Frank|
|Curtis-Bennett, Sir Henry||Jacob, A. E.||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley|
|Curzon, Captain Viscount||Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)||Shepperson, E. W.|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Kidd. J. (Linlithgow)||Skelton, A. N.|
|Davidson, J.(Hertf'd,Hemel Hempst'd)||King, Captain Henry Douglas||Slaney, Major P. Kenyon|
|Davidson. Major-General Sir J. H.||Lamb, J. Q.||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R.||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Lister, Cunliffe, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester)||Little, Dr. E. Graham||Stanley.Col.Hon. G. F. (Will'sden, E.)|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||Loder. J. de V.||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Dean, Arthur Wellesley||Looker, Herbert William||Steel, Major Samuel Strang|
|Dixey, A. C.||Lucas-Tooth. Sir Hugh Vere||Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H.|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||Luce, Major Gen. Sir Richard Harman||Streatfeild, Captain S. R.|
|Erskine, Lord (Somerset,Weston-s.-M.)||MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen||Strickland, Sir Gerald|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Macdonald. Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Falls, Sir Charles F.||Maclntyre. lan||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser|
|Fermoy, Lord||McLean, Major A.||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid|
|Fielden, E. B.||McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John||Templeton, W, P.|
|Ford, Sir P. J.||MacRobert, Alexander M.||Thorn, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)|
|Forrest, W.||Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Fraser, Captain Ian||Malone, Major P. B.||Tinne, J. A.|
|Gadie, Lieut. Col. Anthony||Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Ganzoni, Sir John||Margesson, Captain D.||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Gauit, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton||Mason, Lieut.-Colonel Glyn K.||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.|
|Gee, Captain R.||Merriman, F. B.||Wallace, Captain D. E.|
|Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham||Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark)||Warner Brigadier-General W. W.|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden)||Waterhouse. Captain Charles|
|Glyn, Major R. G. C.||Mitchell, Sir w. Lane (Streatham)||Watson. Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)|
|Goff, Sir Park||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.||Watson. Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisie)|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Moore. Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)||Watts, Dr. T.|
|Greene, W. P. Crawford||Moore, Sir Newton J.||Wells, S. R.|
|Gretton, Colonel John||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Wheler. Major Sir Granville C. H.|
|Grotrian, H. Brent||Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury)||Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)|
|Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Gunston, Captain D. W.||Murchison, C. K,||Wilson, M. J. (York, N. R., Richm'd)|
|Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Nall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Joseph||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)|
|Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Winby, Colonel L. P.|
|Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad.)||Nuttall, Ellis||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Oakley, T.||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)||Pennefather, Sir John||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Hawke, John Anthony||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)||Womersley, W. J.|
|Henderson,Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)||Perkins, Colonel E. K.||Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater)|
|Henderson, Lieut.-Col V. L. (Bootle)||Perring, Sir William George||Wood, E. (Chester, Stalyb'dge & Hyde)|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Cot. Arthur P.||Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)|
|Henn, Sir Sydney H.||Phillipson, Mabel||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||Pielou. D. P.||Sir J. Marriott and Mr. S. Roberts.|
|Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Power, Sir John Cecil|
|Herbert, S. (York, N. R.,Scar. & Wn'by)||Radford, E. A.|
Question, "That those words be there inserted in the Standing Order," put, and agreed to.