May I, in the first place, say how much I regret the fact that I was not able to be present when the Chancellor made his speech earlier today, but I had to give evidence to a Committee upstairs. I certainly quite agree that it would be better if, instead of our pouring money away down a great many side lanes, the Chancellor had the courage to cut a shilling off the Income Tax. Whatever the noble Lord might think, I would never suspect the Chancellor of not having the courage to go as far as that, but it certainly would take a lot of courage.
We have heard this afternoon a good deal about the higher grades of income. We have had some very astonishing but very interesting speeches about monopolies and that kind of thing. I am not going into that, though I would point out that there is one mistake which has been made in a number of speeches, and that is the idea that the Chancellor has something to give away. The Chancellor has nothing whatever to give away. All that he can do in his Budget is to refrain from taking as much as he is taking at the present time. The idea that the Chancellor can give anything away is absurd.
I want to speak about a section of the community which has not actually been mentioned this afternoon, and which has had very little notice taken of it in this and other Budgets. This is the very large section of the community living on small or comparatively small fixed incomes, and they represent many tens of thousands of people in this country. There are people of that type in almost every constituency, but, undoubtedly, in a constituency such as mine, they are in much more considerable numbers than up the country. There are men and women, some of whom have retired on pension, others of whom have retired on small means, possibly bought by themselves or inherited, but, in any case, living on fixed incomes which they cannot hope, in the ordinary case, to increase at all. These individuals today, I believe, are suffering more seriously than any other section of the community. They had, before the war, their £200 or £300 a year, and they have had piled on their shoulders a considerable weight of taxation. They have seen their income considerably reduced by taxation, but, in the main, they have not grumbled very much, though I have had a few letters from them.
The fact remains that the buying value of their income is far lower than it was before the war, apart from taxation. These are the people who are suffering most today, and, although I could make out a case for incentive on some other lines, I say that these people, taking the country as a whole, have had none of the increases of wages or profits, but are just living on the same income as they had before the war. Whatever the Chancellor may be able to do now—and I doubt if he can do much this year—these people, above all other people in this country, are feeling the burden of taxation most, and they are certainly far from being the least deserving people in the country. Many of them have spent a lifetime in the service of the country, some of them in the Civil Service abroad, and they are now feeling the pinch far more than other people.
May I now say a word on dividends, which seem to be rather in the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite just now? I have never understood, and my constituents have never understood, why it is that hon. Gentlemen opposite think that dividends which produce income and taxation are wrong. They are always telling us that it is wicked to do this and that, but, actually, there are very few people in this country who do not take up a dividend of some sort and who do not rejoice in it. On one occasion, I remember that I was saying what I wanted to see, and I put this point, both from the Income Tax point of view and the individual point of view: "Give us far larger and far more dividends everywhere. Particularly, I want far larger and far more dividends of the type which comes from capital pure and simple, and is the largest distribution of capital in this country, and that is the dividend from the co-operative society." The more we can get more dividends distributed among the people, the better it will be for them, and that is why I think it is wrong to draw a very strict line between income which comes from capital and income, not always necessarily any better deserved, which comes from other sources.