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On the following day Mr. Courtney (Bodmin, Cornwall) delivered a weighty and conclusive reply to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's arguments, putting before the House the essential need of paying off the debt in time of peace. Its repayment, he showed, constituted a war fund, as the money so employed could be used in the payment of the interest on a new loan. From a commercial point of view it was equally incumbent upon us to diminish the burden of the debt, and in the keen struggle for commercial supremacy which was going on and would constantly increase, it was of the greatest importance to help the next generation. Sir Wm. Harcourt followed with a more conventional speech. In his opinion, the policy of expansion was the source of all our evils, and the Government should test the wishes of the taxpayers in this direction by making them pay its cost. Instead of that, by suspending the sinking fund the Government wished the taxpayers to believe that the policy of expansion was a cheap policy. He reminded the House that the Liberal party had preferred to run the risk of incurring unpopularity by imposing fresh taxation rather than having recourse to this expedient. Sir Wm. Harcourt also expressed his disapproval of the decision to increase the tax upon light and cheap wines, and criticised very closely the financial proposals. Referring to the suggestion that the Savings Banks' funds might be invested in other securities besides Consols, he expressed disapproval of any change of the kind, and showed how difficult it would be to find other first-class securities that would serve the purpose. Indirect taxation, he held, was unjust to the poor among the community, and there were still. kinds of property which remained untaxed. After a prolonged discussion, Mr. Goschen (St. George's, Hanover Square), a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, closed the debate. He justified the increase of expenditure that had taken place in the last four years. He asserted that the sum granted in aid of agricultural rates had gone into the pockets of the agricultural ratepayers and not of the landlords. With regard to the voluntary schools grant, he showed that if it had not been given a great burden must ultimately have been laid upon the taxpayers and ratepayers. As to the increase of expenditure on the Army and Navy, he observed that pressure had been put upon the Government to strengthen those services from both sides of the House. The result had been that we had been able to make satisfactory settlements in different parts of the world. Referring to the proposal for the reduction of the debt payment, he reminded the House of the similar operation which he conducted in 1887, which had not compromised the safety of the sinking fund; nor, he added, would the present proposals bring it into danger. He explained also at some length the results of his great conversion scheme. Sir H. Fowler's amendment was then negatived by 280 to 155, majority, 125; and the bill read a second time.
The committee stage of the bill (May 11) found the Government in a more yielding mood, although they absolutely refused to consider Mr. Broadhurst's (Leicester) suggestion to reduce the tea duty from 4d. to 2d. per lb. Sir Howard Vincent (Sheffield, C.) urged that colonial wines which from their alcoholic strength would come under the new act should be exempted altogether. The Chancellor of the Exchequer opposed the idea on the general ground as involving a return to the vicious policy of preferential duties which this country had abandoned forty years ago. He pointed out, moreover, that the appeal for exemption came with ill grace from two colonies, Victoria and South Australia, which imposed heavy import duties on English manufactured articles. Sir Howard Vincent's amendment having been negatived by 192 to 57 votes, Mr. Courtney (Bodmin, Cornwall) then moved for a reduction of the proposed duty of 3s. per gallon on still wine in bottle. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that his intention was that the more expensive lighter wine should pay some extra duty, but after consideration he had determined to accept the amendment, and later on to propose a surtax of 1s. per gallon on still wines imported in bottle. The effect of the change which he proposed would be a reduction of 6d. per gallon on the amount which he at first provided for, and there would be a slight loss to the revenue. The total tax on still wine would be an alcoholic rate of 1s. 6d. plus a surtax of 1s.; the same surtax being imposed on spirits imported in bottle. Mr. Harwood (Bolton) then moved that on wine not exceeding 26 degrees proof spirit the duty should be only 1s. per gallon. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, was unwilling to make any concession towards the policy of preferential treatment, but he was willing to accept an increased tax of 3d. per gallon on wines not exceeding 30 degrees of proof spirit, instead of 6d., as originally proposed. The result of the changes would be that the Exchequer would lose 110,0001. on the estimated increase of the wine duties, while the additional duty on spirits would not produce more than 40,0001. or 50,0001. Although the Finance Bill was under discussion on several subsequent occasions, no further changes of importance were introduced.
The annual gathering of the Primrose League at the Albert Hall (April 19) attended by 10,000 delegates representing 15,000,000 members was a somewhat strange occasion to defend the financial policy of the Government; but Mr. Balfour, who presided in the absence of Lord Salisbury, seemingly remembered that he was expected to make special reference to his official position as First Lord of the Treasury. He began however by explaining that the objects of the league were to maintain the constitution, religion and the British Empire. The first was in no immediate peril; and the Government had done its best to keep the clergy and preserve religious education. Thirdly, as to the empire, he would not survey the past year's
intended to re$00,0001. Perholew, was
e debt too!educe the oz. policy of the been, but that
foreign policy, but would draw their attention to a recent controversy between two schools of financiers. It was a fundamental truth that empire rested on two foundations—adequate defence and sound finance. It was admitted, he thought, that our defences were stronger than they had ever been, but the Opposition had attacked the financial policy of the Government because they intended to reduce the 7,000,0001. set apart for the reduction of the debt to 5,800,0001. Perhaps the true fault of the Budget, from an Opposition point of view, was that it did not inconvenience the taxpayers. But he must remind them that those who professed to value the empire must be prepared to pay additional taxation for it if necessary. In 1845 there was a correspondence between Sir R. Peel, then Prime Minister, and the Duke of Wellington, then Commander-in-Chief. The relations with France were then uneasy, and Lord Palmerston had declared that a French invasion could not be resisted. In that correspondence the Duke of Wellington thought that England could not defend its own shores, and that it would practically be hopeless to defend our colonies. Sir R. Peel, while not going so far, did not think home defence satisfactory, and admitted that the protection of the colonies was beyond our power. But thirty years of peace had done little to diminish the debt of nearly 800,000,0001., and though much was necessary for defence the condition of finance was prohibitive of any complete scheme. Now not only Great Britain but the colonies were safe from attack; all the liabilities of the Crimean war had been paid off, besides 200,000,0001. of the old debt, and the condition of every class, especially the working classes, had improved, as was shown by the rate of wages; by the consumption per head of luxuries and of necessaries ; by all the statistics with regard to the housing of the working classes ; and, above all, by the diminution of pauperism.
If the discussion of financial questions at such a gathering seemed incongruous, very striking and instructive were the proceedings of a meeting held at the Mansion House (April 21) under the presidency of the Lord Mayor (Sir J. Vose Moore), to appeal for support for the social work of the Salvation Army. With a few words of introduction, reminding his hearers that the Salvation Army assisted daily upwards of 18,000 persons, the Lord Mayor called upon “the General” to explain the work of his army. Mr. Bramwell Booth said that their object was to rescue what was called the worthless class. In business the prevention of waste often meant the difference between poverty and affluence, and he believed it would make a great difference to the nation if the worthless people in our midst could be turned into honest citizens. It was a monstrous thing that the workhouses should be harbouring thousands of able-bodied paupers who lived and grew fat at the public expense. The cost of the various agencies carried on in this country by the Salvation Army last year was 150,0001. but 143,0001, of that amount was found by the persons who were benefited. The Earl of Aberdeen bore testimony to the splendid results which had been accomplished by the social work of the Salvation Army. He had visited the farm colony, and, as one who knew something of agriculture, he was highly pleased with what he saw there. It was gratifying to learn that a tract of land had been secured in Western Australia for the over-sea colony. Lord Monkswell also had visited the farm colony, and was gratified with what he witnessed. The Salvation Army undoubtedly understood how to do the greatest possible amount of good with a small sum of money. Mr. Cecil Rhodes, who took the place of Lord Loch, could only speak to them of South Africa, where the work of their organisation came before him in a very practical way. The Parliament there was asked to make a grant in aid of the work, and he was a member of the Cabinet to whom the matter was submitted for consideration. Statistics were called for, and it was seen that the Salvation Army afforded a home for the waifs and strays-for the homeless—and that it was through the medium of their agencies that those who had been in prison or destitute obtained a fresh start in life. The practical outcome of the opinion of that Parliament on the work was a vote in aid, and it had been continued ever since. He was told that in fifteen of our colonies grants were now made by the different Parliaments towards this social work, not on a sentimental basis, but as a practical return for the good work done in distant parts of her Majesty's empire. He had been told that members of other religious organisations in this country objected to details of the Salvation Army's work; but let them put those details aside and recognise that the work that was being done was for the betterment of humanity. Lord Justice Rigby said that, although he might be far behind the majority of those present in his knowledge of the everyday working of the Salvation Army, he hoped he was not far behind them in his sympathy with its work. For many years he had the honour of being consulted by the Salvation Army in matters which fell within the scope of his profession, and so he possessed rather special information as to the way in which the funds entrusted to it had been administered, and also on the question of its constitution. He remembered the time when it was supposed that, though the leaders of the movement might be really earnest in their desire to do good, they could not be expected to have those prudential qualities which would turn to the best account the properties which they had. He soon found, when he had to do with them, that a man might be an enthusiast without being a visionary, and bold without being reckless.
By a coincidence the Mansion House meeting was followed (April 24) by a revival in the House of Commons of the old-age pensions question. At the general election promises were made by candidates on both sides without counting the cost of their fulfilment, but each side wished to throw upon its opponents the unpleasant duty of explaining this fact. A mass of evidence had been taken on the subject, but it all pointed to the impracticability of the schemes proposed, but it was only natural that the Opposition should affect indignation that the Government could not legislate without further inquiry. The Government probably wished to do something, but they hardly knew what, except that they would not risk their chances at the next election by proposing a scheme of which the cost would fall on the voters for the benefit of the non-voters. There were several schemes from rival philanthropists before the House, and their respective authors doubtless regarded them as panaceas. The Government therefore moved for a committee to consider and report upon the best means of improving the condition of the aged and deserving poor, and of providing for those of them who were helpless and infirm, and to inquire whether any bills dealing with old-age pensions, and submitted to Parliament this session, could with advantage be adopted. Mr. Asquith, on behalf of the Opposition, said that he and his friends had always recognised the urgency and gravity of this problem ; but many of them were not satisfied that any scheme yet put forward was both practical and adequate. He went on to attack Mr. Chamberlain for having tried to make party capital out of old-age pensions, and promptly endeavoured to make capital out of his rival's failure. Mr. Chamberlain, speaking in support of the motion, said that it was not in the power of anybody to propose a final scheme at the present time, and that whatever might be done must be regarded as largely experimental. The proposed committee would enter upon this inquiry with a great advantage, previous inquiries having cleared the way. He went on to say that for his own part he had only invited discussion on the
In thiques mortc harde werd hiem subject, and had made “a proposal ” of his own. To which Mr. Asquith retorted that the proposal in question was sufficient to maintain an action for breach of promise. Mr. Lecky (Dublin University) followed in a weighty speech, urging that this question of pension was one of the most dangerous that could be raised. It meant the undertaking of an obligation which could not be met in the event of anyone of several possible contingencies, and could not be left unfulfilled without provoking a social catastrophe. Mr. Logan (Market Harborough, Leicester), a Radical “forward," was by no means deterred by this warning, and moved an amendment declaring that the further inquiry could shed no more light on the subject, and called upon the Government to make such proposals as they deemed good. Mr. Balfour, while opposing the amendment, explained that the Government would not consider themselves bound to wait for the report of the new committee before bringing forward a scheme of their own, of which they would accept the responsibility. The appointment of the committee was then agreed to by 263 to 93 votes, but the actual nomination gave rise to considerable discussion (May 1),