Tobacco (Customs Duty).

Part of Orders of the Day — Customs and Excise – in the House of Commons on 25th April 1939.

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Photo of Mr George Tomlinson Mr George Tomlinson , Farnworth

I have listened with interest not only to the Budget speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer but to the many interesting speeches that have followed. 1 understand that it is unusual for the Debate to range over a wide field on Budget Day, but I am glad that we are getting away from that tradition of the House, because of the fact that several hon. Members sat for the greater part of 21 hours on the last occasion of the Budget discussions and were unable to make a contribution. The desire to express an opinion upon what has been described as the nation's balance sheet, ought to be fulfilled on the first day when the opportunity presents itself. The hon. Member opposite said that this is an orthodox Budget, but the way in which he described it left me guessing as to its orthodoxy. If this is orthodox finance, then 1 suggest that it is because of its orthodoxy that it met with so much approval from hon. Members opposite.

I was intrigued by the way that the Chancellor of the Exchequer successfully balanced his Budget, but running through my mind all the time was the thought of thousands of people who week after week have to attempt to balance the family budgets. The task of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with all the resources available, was child's play compared to the balancing of the budget which was brought to our notice by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) of a man who with 10s. a week was called upon to face expenditure of 25s. or 26s. That man has a much more difficult task than the Chancellor of the Exchequer has had to-day, and he does not receive nearly so many plaudits or encouragement in the balancing of his budget.

It has been pointed out that we are incurring these vast debts and raising such huge sums of money in order to defend our country, and at the same time we are making appeals to people to come forward and render national service. I am one of those people, I may be in a minority, who believe that you ought not to contract new debts until you have paid your old ones, that before you enter upon new obligations you should liquidate those that are outstanding. How does that apply to the State? There are many men to whom the State owes obligations. I have had a letter from one of these men during the past month, and I have sent him the reply of the Minister of Pensions to-day. That man gave four years of his life in the service of his country, and was shot through the forearm. He was supposed to have had his debt for the injury he suffered liquidated at the end of a given period; but he has developed, as a consequence of that war wound, a disability which is preventing him from obtaining employment with the labour market in its present state. Men who are sound in wind and limb are finding it difficult to obtain employment in some directions, and this man, who is a painter, finds that he is not wanted. The reply that I have received from the Minister was in very good English, in such good English that the man is almost expected to apologise to the Minister for having troubled him to inquire into his case. The consequence is that the man receives nothing. The debt of the State has been liquidated.

Anyone connected with that man who is appealed to at the present time to volunteer in the interests of this country will not be an enthusiastic volunteer. It seems to me that they will be about as enthusiastic as volunteers for National Service as certain hon. Members may feel enthusiastic about the Budget. Their attitude may be somewhat like that of the minister who looked round his congregation at a prayer meeting and said: "We are doing badly, but thank God the Baptists are doing worse." They may feel inclined to say that, bad as the Budget statement is so far as we are concerned, the position must be much worse in Germany and other places. When it is suggested that the nation should be brought to a pitch when it will be worth while making some sacrifice for it, it is suggested that there is no money in the kitty. Old age pensions must remain as they are because there is no money, but we can always spend money on armaments. There is always money for armaments when it is wanted, but never money when it is required for the uplift of the worker. The suggestion is that it must be found. The hon. and gallant Member for Armagh (Sir W. Allen) asked where the money was to come from; the Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us to-day where some of it does come from.

I heard the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) say he was sorry that the Budget statement was not an annual balance sheet but was only a statement which dealt with income and expenditure. He wished that we could have an annual balance sheet. We can get some very interesting figures from the report of the Inland Revenue Department for the year ended 31stMarch, 1938, and they give us one side of the nation's balance sheet with respect to a large number of people. The report deals with the returns of people who were called upon to pay Income Tax. The hon. Member asked where the money was to come from. There is only one place from which money comes. It is obvious that the only place where you can get money is where it is. It is not much good looking elsewhere. Here are some of the people who might be called upon to find some of the money about which we were speaking. I discovered among the returns that last year 539 people in this country had incomes of £40,000 per year or over, which means that they were in the millionaire class. I do not want anybody to get up afterwards or during the next three days and tell us about the money that we take from these people. It is not the amount that we take from people that matters but the amount that is left with them.

Before I came to this House I never had the very pleasant task of paying Income Tax. I am paying it now, and I do so quite cheerfully. I always said that I would pay Income Tax cheerfully if ever I got the opportunity. The people who would pay cheerfully are usually those who never have sufficient money to give them the opportunity of paying. Do not talk to me about the poor taxpayers. I cannot weep crocodile tears about the effect that these taxes will have upon the people who are called upon to pay them. After all, these people are never in penury when they have paid the taxes. The Inland Revenue people are not very bad after all. I never had much to do with them before I came here, but I find them very accommodating. I know that they are not accommodating because they happen to be dealing with me. It makes a difference to come here, but I do not suppose that it makes all that difference.

I find from these returns that we had 95,000 people in the country whose incomes exceeded £2,000 a year. They are subject to Surtax. Their incomes for the year amounted to £483,000,000. I do not want to work out the percentages because that would take too long and I do not want to keep the Committee waiting. The point is that there is a source of revenue for the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say this afternoon that he had prevented some of the mice from running down the hole which he had stopped up last year. He was dealing with the question of tax-dodgers, or tax-evaders, which I think is the proper term, and he said he had found that as he stopped up some holes clever people were making other holes. He referred to the calling into being of the one-man companies. I can assure him that I wish him well in his task because people who are seeking to evade taxation of any kind ought to be discouraged. I have a very kindly feeling in my heart, because I know that most of the voters in my constituency will not lose any sleep because the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to prevent the setting up of these one-man estate companies in order to prevent tax evasion. I wish that the people at the top of the social scale who have money to burn— it is there we see them burning it regularly—would realise the position of the unfortunate people who are called upon time after time to balance their budgets and to attempt the impossible task of making ends meet when foodstuffs are rising in price and when the increase in the cost of living far outweighs over a period any improvement that takes place-in their meagre wages.

I was in thorough agreement with one phrase used by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson). He described this Budget better than anyone else has done. In one sentence he said that it was a pathetic monument of human folly. I wish that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been on the Front Bench to hear the hon. Member, because the right hon. Gentleman seems to me to be one of the humans whose folly has led to the bringing in of this colossal Budget. I am as certain of one fact as I am that I am standing here: References have been made in this Debate to the so-called financial crisis of 1931, but I am certain that the policy that has been followed by the Government since that date has rendered necessary this colossal Budget. If that is not so, how was it that in spite of the -so-called world crisis, or the financial crisis, there was at that time no talk of air-raid precautions? Instead of talking of armaments we were talking of disarmament, and instead of a Budget of £1,000,000,000 we were talking in terms of domestic needs of the community and not of war scares, which have developed while the present Government have been in control.