Ordered, That the Orders of the Debate postponed till after the Notice of Motion for leave to bring in a Bill further to provide for Elementary Education.—( Mr. Disraeli.)
Elementary Education Bill
Leave First Reading
rose, amidst cheers, to bring in a Bill to make further provision for Elementary Education. The noble Lord said, he hoped that the kindness with which he had been received was a good omen of the friendly spirit in which this great and important subject would be dealt with by the House. Many of his friends had asked him whether he was fully aware of the great importance of the subject which he opened, and the risk which Her Majesty's Government would have to encounter in touching it. He could assure those who put the question to him that after the experience he had had during the past two years no one could be more fully alive to the importance and the gravity of the subject than he was; but, on the other hand, having watched the constant calmness with which it had been treated since 1870, he did not think that the risk Her Majesty's Government would have to run in dealing with it would be very great, because he was satisfied that both sides of the House would meet any measure affecting the education of our children in the most careful and most considerate manner, and in a most determined spirit, to shape it in a form that would meet the requirements of the country. He was also quite sure of another point—namely, that the parents of this country would look with disapprobation on any one who attempted to turn this great question into anything like a Party matter. It was of far too much importance to the interests of the working classes and the employers of labour in the future and to the interests of the country at large to be treated as a Party question. He, for one, should, on the part of the Government, endeavour to rob the subject of anything like a Party character. He had no doubt the Gentlemen opposite would aid him in preserving that spirit of impartiality throughout their debates on the subject. He should at the outset like to lay before the House a sort of picture of the posi- tion in which the Government had found themselves with regard to education when they looked upon the matter with a view to action. The Lord President and himself had given the question their most anxious, careful, and constant attention for a long period. They had looked at it primarily in the interest of the children; and, secondly, in the interest of the country as a whole. They had received considerable assistance from different sources in the course of their labours. There was, in the first place, the mass of evidence bearing on the subject which had been collected by the Factories Commission, whose Report had only recently been laid before the House. They had also the advantage of the judgment of that most able body of Commissioners—whom he took that opportunity of thanking for the untiring labour, ability, and zeal they had displayed, although he did not entirely concur in all their recommendations, and he was satisfied that both sides of the House must be proud of such Colleagues as the noble Lord the Member for the West Riding (Lord Frederick Cavendish), the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Knowles), and the hon. Member for Tralee (The O'Donoghue), to whom the country owed a deep debt of gratitude. They had also had the assistance of the elaborate Report of the former Commission on the Employment of Women and Children in Agriculture. They had taken the opportunity also of consulting all Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools with regard to the treatment of the leading features of this measure. The measure, therefore, would not fail from lack of information on the subject on the part of its framers. They had, in addition to all this evidence, received an infinite number of communications on the subject from persons of all shades of political opinions, many of whom were of influence and experience, and Her Majesty's Government had carefully considered the suggestions which those communications contained. As to the Government measure itself, he wished at once to warn the House that it did not pretend to embody a proposal for a general re-construction of our educational system, and further that it did not pretend to be a reversal of the policy of the Act of 1870. The House would agree with him that it would be very hazardous for any Government to attempt to reverse a policy which had received the formal approval of the country, unless they had the strongest evidence that the national policy had undergone an entire change. Now that the franchise had been lowered it would be most unwise to lead the people to believe that there would be a general reversal of policy whenever there was a change of Government. That could only be justified on the ground of a great change in the national wish, and it would be the height of pedantry to say that when the country came to the conclusion that a mistake had been made, it should be tied down for all time by the judgment of a past Parliament. But there should be no change in the broad lines of a policy without the nation clearly wished for the change. Her Majesty's Government felt that they should carry out what they believed to be the deliberate wish of the nation as experienced in three Sessions of Parliament—that no child in the country should hereafter enter on the struggle of life without having those simple tools needed by our present civilization to enable him to work his way hereafter, and that he (Viscount Sandon) took to be the determined and final and settled wish of the whole country, and not merely of a particular section. He knew that some people had demurred to that being the deliberate wish of the country, but he thought he could test it by taking the case of an individual child. Suppose the child came before a farmer at the Board of Guardians, and that the child was found unable to read or write or do the simplest sum in arithmetic, would not the farmer speak in the strongest manner of the gross and culpable neglect displayed by the parents of that child? Take the case of an employer of labour. He doubted if one employer of labour could be found who would not speak in equally strong terms of parental neglect if, when sitting on the bench of magistrates, a child was brought before him totally ignorant of the elements of learning. Take the case of a country gentleman at petty sessions. From his knowledge of those gentlemen he had not the slightest doubt if an agricultural child came before him in a state of gross ignorance he would remonstrate strongly with the parent as to his gross and culpable neglect. If they would not tolerate a single child being kept in a state of gross ignorance, why should they tolerate whole masses of children being kept in a similar condition? To go further, they had had several debates in Parliament on the subject, and Members would recollect that there was a remarkable concurrence of opinion on both sides that this great measure of universal elementary education ought to be dealt with. It might be said it was all very well to talk in the abstract; but was there any tangible evidence that the country was willing to make sacrifices for this object? The evidence was overwhelming. Nothing could afford stronger evidence of the wish of the country than its willingness to spend money. Since the year 1839 there had been spent upon school buildings the sum of £13,000,000, of which £8,000,000 were expended, before the Education Act of 1870, collected by voluntary effort, and £1,700,000 granted by Government. The annual Government grant amounted to £1,000,000, a similar sum was obtained from the school fees paid by the parents, and £660,000 was collected by voluntary subscriptions. Therefore it appeared on every side that the country was in thorough earnest upon this question. The result of this expenditure had been to provide school accommodation for the enormous number of 3,150,000 children. He asked the House to look at the manner in which the wish of the country on this subject had been met. There were only two classes of schools which they had to take into consideration. First, there were the private adventure schools, which were set up by private individuals for their own profit. Those schools were very numerous, and generally exceedingly bad. They were kept by people who generally knew nothing about learning. They were often very crowded, and very mischievous to the children. Then there were the public elementary schools which received the Government annual grant, and which were obliged to have a conscience clause and certificated teachers. There was another class of schools which were efficient, but which received no Government money, and were not under Government inspection. These for his present purpose might be put aside, because they were so few, and were year by year diminishing in number. There had been a large decrease in the attendance at the private ad- venture schools, and they were now dwindling. The number of private adventure schools in the year 1871 was 6,153; in 1875 the number was 4,849, being a decrease of 1,304. The number of children attending private adventure schools in the year 1871 was 151,955; in 1875 the number was 130,571, being a decrease of 21,384. He hoped those schools would ultimately disappear altogether. How did children attend and take advantage of school accommodation in obedience to the wishes of the nation? They ought, at the lowest calculation, to have 3,250,000 children in daily attendance at their schools; whereas they had 1,800,000, so that there remained 1,450,000 to be accounted for. He thought they could not account for them even in the private adventure schools, and he was at a loss to say where those children were. With regard to the 1,800,000 under instruction, did they get sufficient instruction from their schooling? There, again, he thought the figures were not satisfactory. Only 200,000 of them offered themselves for examination in the three upper Standards, and 800,000 for examination in the three lower Standards. He need hardly ask how many of the children passed who offered themselves for examination in those Standards. The result, therefore, was not at all satisfactory as to the schools which had been provided at so much expense for the children of this country. He thought he had a right to say that the quiet, sober wishes of the country had been very greatly disappointed in this matter. What sort of education was it that the sober, quiet, right-thinking people of the country wished to be supplied to the children of the working classes? He had not a shadow of doubt that it was the settled sentiment of this country that sound elementary instruction should be provided for ordinary children, and that all talent and merit should have an opportunity of rising. That was no novel doctrine. It had prevailed ever since the revival of learning in the time of the Reformation. That he believed to be the wish of the country, and since he had been in office the Education Department had shown its anxiety to meet that wish by the very large improvements introduced into the Code last year. Assuming that it was the wish of the country that all children of talents should have an open career before them, he thought the sentiment of the country with regard to children who had no particular talents—and he believed they constituted the great bulk of children—was that, at any rate, a simple modicum of learning should be secured to them. He thought the kind of education which the country wished to be given to the great mass of children who had no particular ability or aspirations was very well sketched by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), who had said—
He (Viscount Sandon) could not forget the very earnest desire of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) to secure a solid education to the children of this country. At a time when people were running wild about fanciful schemes of education that right hon. Gentleman had the courage to say that he wished, above all things, that all children should receive the simple elements of instruction. He (Viscount Sandon) would ask the House seriously to consider whether it would be right on the part of the State to create artificially, he might say, by State regulations, a whole population whose great ambition would be merely to wield the pen instead of the plough or the shuttle, as if the former occupation were superior to the latter. He could hardly think that any nation in its sober senses would for a moment lay down that as its object; nor did he think it would be a matter of State policy to bring the whole working classes into the idea that there was something very superior in using the pen to the implements of a mechanic or artizan. The education that the country wanted was ready for all the children of the country. We had schools open for all the children of the country. We had teachers, and in almost all the schools the teachers were well able to give instruction. Everything was there except the children to whom we wished to give the benefit of this education. As the wish of the country was perfectly clear and education was perfectly ready for all classes of children that desired it, he should like the House to run over quietly with him, if they did not think he was occupying too much of their time, the law with regard to the labour and education of children. By the action of school boards under the Education Act of 1870 bye-laws had been passed with regard to the compulsory education of children to a very large extent. At the present moment the children of a population of 10,000,000 out of a population of 22,000,000 were kept from work and kept in school to the age of 10. They were only free to labour on receiving a certificate of having passed a certain Standard, and they were then subject to a modified half-time system, unless they received a certificate of having passed another standard. How was that provision enforced? It was enforced by visits to the homes of the children by attendance officers, who looked after children in all the streets and alleys of a town, by bringing the parents before magistrates, by fines, &c. By the Scotch Act of 1873 the duty of a parent was declared to be to provide for his child elementary instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic from five to thirteen years of age, unless a certificate were given by one of Her Majesty's Inspectors that the child was able to read and write and had a knowledge of elementary arithmetic. Under the Scotch Act all reasonable fees were paid for poor parents out of the poor rate. The Act to amend the Scotch Education Act of 1873 enacted that the children of out-door paupers from five to thirteen years of age must go to school unless a certificate of having passed a Standard had been obtained from one of Her Majesty's Inspectors. He then came to the factories and workshops, putting aside textile factories. No child could be employed under eight years of age. There was no education certificate required at eight years; but from eight to thirteen years there must be half-time certificates. In the glass, metal, and fustian trades there were special later ages. Then, in mines no child could be employed under 10 years old; but there was no certificate needed at 10 years; and certificates of half-time attendance were required up to 12 years. Next came the Textile Factories Act (1874), by which no child under 10 years could be employed. No certificate was needed at 10, so that the child might begin to work at 10 in complete ignorance. The child must then continue half-time attendance up to 14 years of age unless he got a certificate of proficiency in reading, writing, and arithmetic. It should be noticed that the Factory rules were primarily sanitary; education, he imagined, being their secondary object. He next came to agricultural gangs, in which no child could be employed under 10 years of age. Then there was the Agricultural Children Act passed in 1873, but which only began in1875. Under that Act no child could be employed under eight, and not then be employed unless it brought a certificate of 250 previous attendances (or six months). After 12 months' labour it must have a certificate of school attendance for another 250 times, or it could not work under 10 years of age. After another 12 months' labour it must attend school for 150 times, and get a certificate, or it could not work under 12 unless it had passed Standard IV. That Act was enforced by a fine of £5 on the employer of the uncertificated child. As no one was bound to enforce the Act, it was put in force in only some 11 or 12 counties, and was there generally worked by the police. He had given the House a sketch of the Acts which regulated the education of children up to the present time. The great mass of the children now in employment were hampered as to the age at which they might go to work; in many trades the limit was fixed at 10 years, and none could go to work without some certificate of school attendance, or without having passed a certain Standard. Did those Acts give sufficient security that the children of this country went to school? They illustrated, he thought, the English habit of very slow and cautious progress in those matters; and they also read them the lesson that, in all their operations, they could not be too gradual. But they also gave the impression of general confusion, general inconvenience, and very inadequate results. They had, for instance, a school board on one side of a river and none on the other side; and parents might cross the stream and escape from its rules. Again, between the different kinds of labour—that of textile factories, of workshops, and of mines—they had constant conflict and confusion, the employers frequently complaining of the injury inflicted on their various industries by the inequalities as to age and other matters; while, for the parents, nothing could be more vexatious than to find that, on a change of their abode, they were brought under different rules. Why should a parent, in choosing a particular industry for the employment of his child, be hampered by having to calculate how far his choice would be affected by these conflicting rules? What they wanted in these matters was simplicity and uniformity of arrangement. Let him recapitulate the state of things at which they had arrived. They found themselves in the face of a country which had made enormous sacrifices for education; and, while he acknowledged that the employers of labour had made sacrifices, that the country gentlemen had made sacrifices, that the ministers of the various Nonconformist bodies had made sacrifices, he must never omit to bear his testimony to the enormous pecuniary sacrifices which the clergy of the Established Church often, from their miserably small incomes, made on behalf of education. The ministers of all denominations had done much in that great work, but he still claimed the palm for those of the Church of England. They had done all in their power, not to shut the book of knowledge to the working classes, but to throw it widely open to them. With those great sacrifices, schools had been provided for 3,150,000 children; yet these schools were attended day by day by only 1,800,000 children. They had the great irregularity that he had described, which was very much caused by the neglect of the parents, by the great value also of the children's wages, and likewise by the absurdly low fees charged in the schools for the excellent education they gave, for when the parents saw how ridiculously cheap the education was they often treated it as of no worth. On the other hand, he found in case after case which had been brought before him from all parts of the country, that where the fees had been raised to a sensible amount there they got a regular and fixed attendance. Looking, then, at the irregularity which caused their sacrifices to produce so small a return, he thought he had made out a case to show that some further legislation was really needed, and that any Government which did not bring forward some scheme for amending that state of things would be grossly neglecting their duty. How were they to deal with that great difficulty? There were different modes of doing so. They might propose universal school boards and tell them they must adopt a system of universal direct compulsion. That, of course, was simple enough. But then they had to remember that, although that proposal had been brought before the House three times, 164 Members was the largest number which had ever been found to vote for it. And even out of those 164 some, whom he called the leading spirits, said that they voted for universal school boards with the simple wish that the children might be sent to school, and that they would readily accept any machinery that was offered in the place of the school board. His right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. Forster) expressed that opinion very strongly; and the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett) stated, if he rightly understood him, that, if they could secure the primary object of getting the children to school, he did not care how they attained that object or what schools they had to attend. Now, as to universal school boards, the House, he was sure, would not think that he had ever shown an undue hostility to school boards. On the contrary, on many occasions he had defended their action in regard to bye-laws when he thought them right, and he had lost no opportunity of expressing—what he believed to be the fact—that the country owed a very great debt of gratitude to the gentlemen serving on school boards—whether they liked the policy or not—for their self-devotion to the task of providing schools and getting the children into them in the large towns of the country. They had done a great work; they were called upon by Parliament to do it, and it would be exceedingly shabby, because of a little wave of unpopularity, not to acknowledge their labour to be honest and good. But that did not alter the view of the Government as to the very serious danger which hung around any proposal for creating a system of universal school boards; for there might be universal school boards without board schools. Surely no one would think of establishing all over the country so costly a machinery, inflicting everywhere the turmoil, the expense, the animosity of feeling, and, perhaps, the disturbance of triennial elections, in order to create a municipality merely to get the children to school. He imagined that such a machinery would be far too large except in the towns. Moreover, they had been told that it would not be unreasonable to ask that a board school should be within reach of every parent in the land; that it would not be unreasonable to ask that no Government grants should be made to any schools except those which were under the management of the ratepayers; and also that it might be profitable to the cause of religion, and would not be unreasonable, to insist on all school-board schools being secularized. So that, if the Government were to propose a universal system of school boards, trying in a feeble manner—because the restrictions would be swept away—to confine them only to the duty of securing the attendance of the children at the schools, he believed they would be sounding the knell of every voluntary school in the country, and the proposal would probably lead in the long run to the one thing which he believed the country would detest and abhor—namely, one general system of secular instruction. He put aside, therefore, at once and for ever the proposition of universal school boards as the way of meeting the difficulty. Should they, then, oblige existing local authorities to pass bye-laws for universal direct compulsion? Hitherto direct compulsion had not been enforced in any part of the country, excepting by those who directly represented the ratepayers; that was to say, no locality had put itself under the law of direct compulsion unless at the will of the people of that locality. Direct compulsion meant constant visits to the houses and streets where the people lived; it meant a large body of visitors and attendance officers, who had the duty imposed upon them of going constantly to the parents and questioning them as to the attendance of their children at school. That was what he might call a system of domiciliary visitation. Now, if people wished to put themselves under that system, he had nothing to say against their doing so; but it would be a very serious thing for Parliament to say as the law of the land that this system of constant visitation should be imposed upon the people. He was sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite did not like direct compulsion in itself, and only regarded it as a means to an end. Supposing they were to establish direct compulsion and put it into the hands of the local authorities, was it quite clear that, as time went on, they might not be affecting very largely the national character of the English people, who had always prided themselves on their independence? It was not a sufficient argument to say that direct compulsion existed in foreign countries. It might or might not be good for them; but he had always understood that one of the points on which we plumed ourselves as a nation was that we were accustomed to be led instead of driven. Parliament would be, consequently, taking on itself a great responsibility if it decreed that there should be a constant interference with the habits of the people, and that parents should be relieved of their proper responsibilites. He put the system of direct compulsion aside therefore as unsuitable for this country. Supposing, then, they endeavoured to solve the difficulty by having one Act for the country and another for the towns—adopting, say, the 10 years' limit for town industries and in the country giving effect to the Agricultural Children Act by providing some authority to enforce it? Well, in that case there would be a fatal inconvenience to the employers of labour, and a tendency to make children shift from town to country, and vice versâ. That system, therefore, would not be very sound. Moreover, was the Agricultural Children Act of such a nature that the Government would be justified in adopting it as their own? As the House was aware, children under that Act had to be provided with three certificates of school attendance—first at 8 years of age, secondly at 10, and lastly at 12. It was impossible in speaking of that Act not to give a meed of praise to his hon. Friends the Members for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) and Leicestershire (Mr. Pell), who in a most gallant manner stepped forward and determined to do their best to secure the advantages of education for the whole of the agricultural children. But it appeared to him that Parliament would not be justified in inflicting that Act permanently on the farmers of this country; and, after all, what did we gain by having two periods of 250 attendances and one period of 150 attendances? Did they insure a fair knowledge of reading, writing, and arithmetic on the part of the children? He was sure the House would agree with him that that system was not one which ought to be made permanent. There would be a vital evil in dealing with the question merely as one of labour, because if Parliament did not interfere with the schooling of idle children, parents would have a strong inducement to keep their children from work. Children then, being neither at school nor at work, would in all probability become bad and mischievous, and that by legislation. None of those plans, in short, appeared to the Government satisfactory, and he would now run rapidly over the proposals which the Government had to make to the House. In the first place, he would say that, profiting by the example of the Factory Acts, they intended that their course should be a very gradual one. The Government had looked very carefully over the evidence given by Messrs. Redgrave and Baker before the Factories Commission—who, he supposed, were about the best judges of the labour and educational condition of the country—and were more than ever impressed with the necessity of dealing with the subject very gradually and cautiously. Their proposals, therefore, would not not come to their maturity for five years—namely, till the year 1881. He might also say that no child now 11 years of age would be affected. As to the school board system, they proposed that all localities might have a school board in the same way as they might have them now. They left that to the free choice of the locality, and they retained the power to oblige localities to have school boards if they did not supply sufficient school accommodation. They proposed to repeal, while adopting certain portions of the Agricultural Children Act. Then, Town Councils and Boards of Guardians might pass bye-laws, just as school boards now could, for a parish on the requisition of its inhabitants, providing for compulsory school attendance on full or half-time, but they could have no power to establish or maintain schools. The Government, in other words, were of opinion that the representatives of boroughs who were now entrusted with the duty of asking for a school board, and, therefore, of enforcing compulsion if they liked, might very well be en- trusted with the powers of a school board themselves; and that Boards of Guardians, who were now practically rural municipalities, might well be entrusted with the passing of bye-laws not merely on their spontaneous suggestion, but for any parish in the Union which asked for such bye-laws in the same way as it now asked for a school board. A meeting of ratepayers in a rural parish might at present ask for a school board, and therefore for compulsion. The Government proposed that that same meeting of ratepayers should be able to say—"We should like to have bye-laws for compulsion. We asked the Board of Guardians to pass those bye-laws, and we wish to have them without the burden of a school board." So far the whole country was put on the same footing as to the power to have bye-laws for compulsion. Now came a more important provision. As the House, no doubt, felt much more was wanted to secure instruction for all children. The Government, therefore, proposed that no person should be allowed to take into his employment, under the same penalty as was provided in the Factory Acts, any child under 10 years of age, or any child of 10 years of age and under 14, without a certificate. That certificate might be one of two things. It might be a certificate of efficiency in reading, writing, and arithmetic, ascending to Standard IV, or it might be a certificate of attendance, for 250 times in five previous years in not more than two public elementary schools. The reason for this alternative certificate would be obvious. It was impossible to shut their eyes to the fact that there were a great number of stupid children. If they looked at the evidence of the Factory Commission they would see that the leading Inspectors had all acknowledged this fact—that in any legislation with regard to education they must make allowance for what they called "dunces." Now this double certificate would have a very important effect of securing the very regular attendance of all the children up to 10. The parent would not like to risk his child passing in the Standard form prescribed for children of 10, and he would wish to have two strings to his bow, and to secure that he should, in addition, regularly attend for five years. On the oilier hand, he would not trust to the 250 attendances in each of the five previous years, because he would fear that illness might come, and thus the parent would have an inducement to push on the instruction of the child. What was wanted was to fix the responsibility of the child receiving instruction primarily on the parent, with whom it ought to rest; and the whole key of the present Bill was that, instead of its being the parent's interest to keep the child from school, and to dodge the compulsion officer, in order that he might earn a trifle, this Bill would alter the law, and not only make it the parent's interest to compel the child to go to school, but to question the child how he was getting on with his reading, writing, and arithmetic, because he would tell the child—"I want the help and support of your labour as soon as you become 10 years old." The effect of this clause would therefore be of the greatest importance, and he repeated it might be said to be the very key of the Bill. Of course, there must be certain exceptions to the clause. One standard lower would be accepted for a certificate where half-time had been secured under the Factory and Workshops Act, &c., Acts, and where any local bye-laws secured the attendance of children at half-time up to 13 years of age. He need hardly say, further, that it would be necessary to accept reasonable excuses such as were to be found in the Education Acts. The clause, for example, would not be enforced on parents or employers where there was not a public elementary school within two miles. The Government did not wish to take a pedantic course or to prevent the employment of children, who were attending school, in occasional jobs such as pulling turnips or keeping away the crows, and the Bill would not interfere with their casual employment at any odd times, so long as that employment did not interfere with their efficient instruction. The clause went on to make another exception with regard to the employment of children during the hay harvest, the grain harvest, and generally during the ingathering of the crops. This was a reasonable and a large exception; but it was necessary, in order to obtain the result they desired, to avoid anything like pedantry in the treatment of the children. The House might ask how the certificate was to be given. It would be a great convenience to the employers of labour if they could simply say, when a child sought employment—"Where is your labour pass?" The employer in that case need not inquire whether a child had passed Standard IV., or whether he had satisfied the law as to the proper number of school attendances. All he would have to say would be, whether in town or country—whether he was a farmer, manufacturer, or any other employer of labour—"Where is your pass?" The question then arose how the child was to get this pass. It was proposed that the one certificate should be given by the teacher at examination, and that the State should supply a very simple card such as had been recommended by Mr. Redgrave, upon which should be stated the age of the child, and that this card should be given to him when he had either passed the standard or had made the proper number of attendances. This would be a great relief to the employers of labour, and especially to farmers, who would much prefer this labour pass to the duty now imposed upon them of asking children, it might be, three times over—"Have you got your certificate?" He was aware, with regard to the 10 years' limit, that it was very important, and the House would, perhaps, allow him to quote the evidence, which showed the necessity of establishing a general uniform age below which a child should not go to labour. Thus Mr. Redgrave was asked—"What I would wish to see in this country is that every child should be able to read, and to comprehend what he reads; that he should be able to write, and to write so well, that what he writes can be read; and that, at the same time, he should know something of the simple rules of arithmetic, which might enable him to keep a little account of the many transactions which may happen to him in the course of his life."—[3 Hansard, ccxxviii. 1289.]
"Would you recommend a general uniformity of age for commencing labour on any account?" He replied:—"Certainly, including agricultural labour."
"What would be that limit of age?—Ten years, subject of course to exceptions in the case of trades, which I mentioned before.
Mr. Redgrave also stated that children tinder 10 were little employed in agriculture—"What are your reasons for selecting the age of 10?—Because it seems to be the general age which is selected throughout the country."
"As to the question of agricultural labour, your belief is that there are hardly any children employed in agriculture at the age of eight?—The law says eight years of age; but the fact is no children are employed in agriculture at that age. In the Census Returns the numbers are as small as possible.
He had himself inquired very carefully into this subject, and although some children of less age might be employed in certain manufactures, the testimony as to women and children was that the best feeling of the farmers and the labourers was enlisted in declaring that under 10 no children need be habitually employed in agriculture. He now came to the enforcing authority. This would be, in the first place, the school boards, which might continue to exist, and which would have the same power as at present of enforcing more stringent provisions than would be found in the present Bill. They must not, however, go below its provisions. The other enforcing authorities would be the Town Councils and the Boards of Guardians, both of which might, if they pleased, act by committees. The Town Councils would be able to appoint a School Attendance Committee, and the Boards of Guardians might appoint a special committee for the Union, and also, if they pleased, for every parish in the Union. That was a matter for the local authorities to settle among themselves; but in all the regulated industries of the land—such as factories, workshops, and mines—the Government Inspectors, and not the local authorities, would enforce the Act. It would be undesirable that the employers of labour should be annoyed by the visits of two classes of Inspectors. The Government Inspectors would therefore alone be responsible for the working of the Act in these great industries. The House would wish to know how security would be taken that the local authorities should examine any deficiency on the part of the employers and look after the children. He proposed that the same strong powers should be taken as under the Education Act. The Education Department had the power of declaring the school boards in default if they neglected their duty, just as the Local Government Board had a similar power in regard to Boards of Guardians; and if the provisions of the Act were not carried out it would be the duty of the Department to see that this should be done for a period of two years. The responsibility would then again fall upon the local authorities. This default was not, however, likely to occur, and he had the fullest confidence that the provisions of the Act would be carried out by the Town Councils and the Boards of Guardians. The Town Councils were well informed as to the wants of their respective boroughs, and no body of men were better acquainted with the needs of their districts than the Boards of Guardians throughout the country. There was still another point of great importance—the case of neglected children under 10 years of age. It might be said that this Bill held out a great inducement to this class of children to avoid labour and remain in idleness. On the contrary, he was not aware of any class of persons more intolerant of the idle, wandering, good-for-nothing class of children than Town Councils and Boards of Guardians. The employers of labour knew that these children generally came to no good. The ratepayers looked upon these children as certain to increase the rates, and the farmer viewed them as ne'er-do-wells, who robbed his orchards and became poachers afterwards. That was the class of child they had to deal with. He hardly knew what to call them; he would venture to use—not in the Act, of course, but in the observations he had to make—the old English term "wastrel." If it appeared to the local authorities that the parents of any child who was under the Act prohibited, from being taken into employment continued habitually and without excuse to neglect to provide such reasonable instruction as would enable it to obtain a certificate, or such child was found habitually wandering about, it would be the duty of the local authorities to take certain steps, which he would presently explain. But those children were not to be dealt with under 10 years of age, unless there was a school within two miles reach, or if the child was kept away from sickness or any other unavoidable cause. But if no reasonable excuse could be given for absence, the local authority was bound to take this action—first, warn the parents of the wastrel children that they ought to be sent to school, or otherwise comply with the Act; and if the parent did not see that the Act was complied with he was brought before a Court of summary jurisdiction. Here came in the only direct compulsion in the Bill. The Court might then order regular attendance in some school, and a fine of 5s. might be imposed. But whether a fine was imposed or not, the local authority might commit the parent, on further default, to an industrial school. [Laughter.] He meant commit the child; he was not sure that it would not do the parent good. Then they made an alteration with regard to the Industrial Schools Act, which they had been urged to do, and said that the managers, on the application of the local authority, might give a licence to the children to leave after one month, instead of 18 months. That had been strongly urged upon them by some of the school boards, which urged the temporary seclusion of the child in an industrial school without going to the extent of 18 months. The Bill made provision that any person might call the attention of the local authorities to cases of neglected children. The whole object, then, was pretty clear—they put the whole responsibility for the education of the children in the hands of the existing authorities in the locality; they had not only to carry out this Act, but they were responsible for carrying out the Industrial Schools Act, and in this way they hoped to strike a greater blow than had been hitherto struck at that class of wandering children who so long had been the despair of those who cared for their welfare. Now as to the modifications which they proposed to introduce. The Act would come into full operation in 1881. In 1877 children of nine years of age, and not those of 10, would be prohibited from employment. In that year the Standard which the child would have to pass would be only the second, and the attendances would only be for two previous years. For safe progress they felt it essential to begin very low, and he would strengthen that by quoting from the evidence of Mr. Redgrave, who was asked—"They are employed at nine, are they not?—Very few indeed under 10. When Mr. Pell brought his Motion forward I went fully into the question and prepared statistics for Mr. Cross, and I was surprised to find how very few children under 12 were employed in agriculture."
He replied—"Would you not be in favour of some educational standard to be exacted from the child at the age of 10, before he is allowed to go to work as a half-timer?"
This was fully borne out by the condition of the people in the great centres of industry. In 1879 and 1880 they would rise to Standard III., and in 1879 the attendance would be required for three previous years, and in 1880 for four previous years. So in 1881 no child would, be employed under 10 years of age, and not then without a certificate of having passed Standard IV., or of having made 250 attendances in five previous years. Before closing this part of his remarks, he would point out what Standard IV. did. It secured that a child could read with thorough intelligence, write small hand, and do the four rules of arithmetic and compound rules as far as money was concerned. He thought that was a very good outfit for the child. He might sum up as follows:—1, school boards as now, if desired or ordered; 2, direct compulsion, full or half time, if localities desired, in hands of existing authorities; 3, existing local authorities constituted as protectors and guardians of children to be superseded if in default as such. There were two or three subsidiary proposals which he had now to lay before the House. Those who were aware of the working of Government grants must know that there was one weak point which was felt by hon. Members on both sides of the House. The poorer districts had the least aid given to them. In places like Bethnal Green, where they could not ask for large fees, and where they could not get subscriptions, there the Government grant, however well the children might do—and, happily, in Bethnal Green, as among the agricultural children, they did very well—because they happened to be poor, was cut down. This was a matter that did not affect voluntary more than board schools. It was one of simple justice, or, rather, endeavouring to remove an injustice. They had endeavoured to find a test as to poor districts, and to see if they had any precedent to go upon. They looked into the Act of 1870, and they found there the definition of a poor district was where a 3d. rate on the property produced less than 7s. 6d. per child the extra Parliamentary grant was made to board, but not to voluntary schools. If they looked again at the Scotch Act of 1872 they would find that where the rate produced less than 7s. 6d. per child an Imperial grant was made. If they looked further into the Scotch Act they found that the relief was given to voluntary as well as to board schools in every poor county, such as Inverness, Argyll, Ross, Orkney, and Shetland. They found, therefore, in those Acts something to guide them as to what had hitherto been considered to be a poor district. They took a somewhat similar standard of the poverty of a district, but they did not propose to go so far as the Scotch Act. They proposed that the Parliamentary grant in poor districts should not be reduced unless it was twice as large as the income produced from local effort. He would endeavour to show the House how that would work. In an ordinary district they gave £1 to meet £1 from the locality. In poor districts £1 would be given to meet 10s. If a school's maintenance was £120 now, they gave £60 grant to meet £60 fees, rates, or subscriptions; but in poor districts for £40 of fees, rates, and subscriptions they would grant £80. As to the poor districts, how did the Bill propose to deal with them? They would take London generally by Unions. In towns above 5,000 population they would take ward divisions, or areas with separate rates, or special divisions suggested by the municipal authorities approved of by the Local Government Board and the Education Department. Smaller boroughs would be dealt with as Unions, and the parishes would be the units of the whole country. This was the proposal which the Government had to make on this difficult and important question. They felt bound to try to meet a great injustice. The actual sum of money to be granted would not be vary large, but it would be distributed in the poorer parishes where it was most needed."I think you may be able to do that eventually; but, unless you had the very lowest possible standard, you could not do it now."
I am sorry to interrupt my noble Friend, but I do not quite see how the poor districts are to be defined.
Where a 3d. rate produces less than 6s.
Perhaps there will be no objection to explain how in places where there are no school boards it is to be ascertained that a 3d. rate would produce only 6s.
said, he had, perhaps, better ask the right hon. Gentleman to wait until he saw the clause. The point was a difficult one, but they had tried to face it, because they thought there was a real injustice and there seemed to be a precedent in former Acts. With regard to existing school boards, it was proposed to remove what was believed to be a very great grievance. At present if a by-vacancy occurred in a school board, it was obliged to go to the expense of an election; and there was this additional anomaly, that while the principle of cumulative voting came into operation at a General Election, the effect of it was lost at a by-election, so that a gentleman who was elected under it to represent a particular section of the community if he died had not the chance of being returned at a by-election. [Laughter.] That remark was worthy of some of his hon. Friends in another part of the House; but, of course, it was understood that the party who secured representation by means of the cumulative vote had not the chance of doing so at a by-election. The cost of a by-election was also very serious, amounting in one town to £1,200 and in another to £1,500. To obviate this outlay and inconvenience it was proposed that a school board should have the power of filling up a casual vacancy. There was another provision which might be considered a tentative one. They had lately in their provisions respecting education, acted on the system of forcing parents to drive their children to school, and also that the child might go to labour at the age of 10. They proposed that where a child took a double certificate—where a child at 10 years passed Standard IV. and also had a certificate of attendance for five years—they proposed to give it a honour pass. That would be a great encouragement to the more intelligent and orderly child. That honour pass would give the child a free education for the next three years. This was proposed as a mark of distinction more than a money benefit, and it was supposed that the number who would gain this honour pass would not be very large. All the middle class schools held out this sort of encouragement to deserving children, and the Government thought it would create a sense of emulation and dignity in many of the schools; and those who possessed a certificate of that character would occupy a somewhat higher position than the others. He had now gone through the principal provisions of the Bill, and desired only to make a few general remarks in conclusion. The country had set its mind on the instruction of the people as a necessity. It had made sacrifices year after year, and yet those who were at the head of the Education Department had to admit that there were more than a million of children who were getting no species of education at all. Our system had been built up gradually. It had been the work of men of high intellectual attainments and of all shades of politics. It had been built up not only by politicians, but by that remarkable class of men—the Inspectors of Schools. They were a distinguished body, not only for the work they had done, but for the Reports which they had made. The school system had been built up not only by them, but by those in the Education Department, who, though not so well known, clearly deserved a meed of public praise. It remained now to put the coping-stone on this great work; and it must be done with caution and care, for if we attempted to overweight the edifice of which others had laid the foundation, we might endanger the stability of the stately building of national education. He would leave the Government measure to the judgment of the House; but he would claim for it certain qualities. While it was cautious, it was bold; it was comprehensive; it was straightforward; and happy would be the Government which should be successful in placing the coping-stone on this great work. He might say happy would be the Parliament which, in a sound and sensible spirit, reconciled the claims of the great industries of the country with the more pressing claims of the poor children. Whatever might be the fate of the measure, the more it was examined, the more, he believed, it would be appreciated. He hoped, at any rate, the House would never forget that they had to get rid of that great canker of gross and brutal ignorance which was a disgrace and a shame to our people. They had also to take care that the door was kept open to talent from whatever quarter it might come. Further, if the measure should pass, he would entreat hon. Members to remember it was not their business to depreciate the dignity of hand labour. While we held high the intellectual standard, let us not undervalue the labour of the hand as compared with that of the head. But, whatever legislation they might adopt, he hoped that nothing would be done to strike any blow at the religious teaching of the people. He hoped and believed that would remain one of the main features of the education of this country. He wished he could express more than a hope; but he trusted that any proposals would be carefully watched which would tend to undermine the provisions for religious teaching. Further than that, they had kept steadily in view that, however great their wishes and aspirations might be, and however great their zeal for education might be, they must take care that they should do nothing to destroy that self-reliance, that independence, that sense of responsibility which in the past had nerved the nation to its greatest successes, and without which we could not hope for the vigour that would enable us to command the world in future. The noble Lord concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.
said, that although the noble Lord had explained his measure in so full and able a manner, it would be difficult to understand it fully until it was printed and in the hands of hon. Members. For the same reason he could not say he had formed any positive opinion on it. He had heard with the greatest possible pleasure the opening remarks of the noble Lord, because they showed that he and the Government had fully comprehended what was required in an amending Act. They had attempted certainly to meet the attendance difficulty; but he was rather disappointed afterwards to find that the Government had not proposed to enforce by positive enactment the obligation upon the parent to see that his child was taught, but how far that might really be done by the clauses he could not tell till he had seen the Bill. He could not, however, mention the provision that no child under the age of 10 was to be allowed to work at all without expressing his gratitude to the noble Lord. He thought the country would be quite ready for that enactment; but he believed he understood the noble Lord also to say that no child above 10 should be allowed to work unless he produced a certificate of having passed a certain Standard, or of having made 250 attendances for the five years previous. There would be many children in that position, for there was a time—namely, the period between the ages of 10 and 13, when they had no right to say to a child that because his parent had neglected his education, therefore he was to be idle.
Any child that is continuously, and habitually, and without reasonable excuse, not sent to school is to be dealt with by the local authority; so that is provided for.
understood the effect of that clause would be direct compulsion throughout the kingdom, and if they really enforced that duty there could be no objection to put it in a form that might render it more palatable to those whom it immediately concerned. He confessed, however, he was still of opinion that a great many of the difficulties of that part of the subject would have been met if his noble Friend had been ready to declare that there was to be an enforced attendance throughout the kingdom. There were other important provisions in the Bill of which it was impossible to form any distinct opinion until they saw the measure in print. With respect, for instance, to poor districts, how could they be ascertained where there was no Board? He looked with jealousy on the idea of giving up the principle that the locality must find as much money as the central Government. By relaxing this principle they would run great danger of establishing a bureaucratic system or of fostering extravagance in the districts, because they would be spending not their own money, but the taxes. Doubtless the Government would have regard to this difficulty. He was exceedingly anxious that an amending Act should be passed this year, and he thanked the Government for attempting to meet the difficulties of the ease. He was so anxious they should be met that he was sure he could speak for a good many besides himself when he said that every assistance would be given to the Government to enable them to carry their Bill, if it really met these difficulties. While he was anxious that the second reading should not be unreasonably postponed, he yet hoped it would not be taken so soon as to deprive hon. Members of a fair opportunity of communicating with their friends on the subject.
said, he had listened with attention and with a great deal of interest to the statement of his noble Friend. He was glad his noble Friend had sought to meet the difficulty with respect to poor districts, which at present were very badly pressed. The great defect of the Act of 1870 was, that by it the House abrogated its own responsibility as to religious education, and threw the question whether children should be virtuously and godly brought up upon the shoulders of a chance majority of local elections, decided possibly upon side issues, and liable to be disturbed every three years. It was a most important question to decide. He considered the children of the country should receive a religious education. It was not because their parents might be found indifferent to it that the children should be neglected. It might be said, why did they not provide for a religious education in 1870? He regretted that the Liberal Government, then in power and with a large majority, had failed to do so, and to make it a part of their policy. Things, however, had changed, and he hoped religious education would no longer be neglected. He would take the case of Birmingham, where there were 7,000 children in the schools who never had their minds impressed with a word of prayer. He trusted that the time had arrived when the school boards would be compelled to adopt religious education as a part of the instruction to be given to the children; for he quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford in his speech at North Tawton, that parents generally were anxious that their children should be instructed in the Bible and the great truths of Christianity. He took it that the people of Birmingham were very anxious to have the question settled, and Parliament should decidedly step in and settle it. He thought the House might call on Her Majesty's Government to consider whether this important matter should not be introduced in the Bill. His noble Friend stated that the country wanted simplicity and uniformity in the matter of education. They had got it as far as regarded secular education: he called upon his noble Friend to go a step further and give it in the matter of religious education. His noble Friend was anxious to place the coping-stone on our educational system; but the system would not be completed unless that stone also were placed upon it.
said, he had listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Lord, and he hoped the House would aid in making the Bill as complete as possible. But he confessed that he was disappointed in what he heard from the noble Lord in reference to the question of compulsion. The noble Lord expressed his apprehension that the whole scheme might break down if compulsion were enforced. But in Scotland they had universal school boards and universal direct compulsion, the result being that the Scotch were doing their work well, were educating their people, and everybody was content. He could not see why they should be lagging behind Scotland for the next few years, or why Scotland should possess advantages which England could not lay hold of. But whatever the noble Lord might do, he hoped he would not follow the advice of the hon. Baronet (Sir John Kennaway) and introduce anew the religious difficulty. The noble Lord said he would accept Amendments; and if that were wisely done, the Bill might be made the coping-stone which the noble Lord desired, but not if the recommendations of the hon. Baronet were adopted. He believed it was most desirable that children should be trained to a love of virtue and of God, and he felt that the school boards deserved credit for what they had done in that way. But if the noble Lord failed in that, he apprehended he would find himself in hot water. The noble Lord had stated it was the intention of the Government to repeal the Agricultural Children Act. He should be glad to know whether this Bill would also override the Workshops Act? [Viscount Sandon intimated that it would do so.] He thought that the noble Lord had adopted the right line in fixing 10 years as the minimum age for children to work; but he thought it would not have been difficult to have provided that during the period from 5 to 10 years, when the child could not work, the local authorities should take care that he should go to school. With regard to a certain standard of attainments, he thought that the educational certificate should set forth the age of the child, so that it should be ascertained by reference. Children were taught by their parents to be untruthful as to their age; and if a child in certain districts were asked the question he would reply—"Do you mean my school age or my factory age?" With regard to hand labour, he hoped the House would do nothing to discourage it. It was of the greatest importance that children should be taught a good manual trade. It was not by education alone that they could all succeed. Look at France, for instance. A man with a certain amount of education in France got 20 francs in an office, whereas he would get 40 francs in the mines if he applied himself to the work or at the trade of a carpenter. The fact was that their education was defective. He heard a farmer in Devon object to education because, he said, if a young man could write nothing would do but he must be a policeman or a railway porter. If, however, all the young men were educated they could not all be policemen and railway porters. He asked the noble Lord to turn his mind to a country where every child was educated, and where every child passed not only the Fourth Standard, but the Sixth Standard. Switzerland, they were told, was likely to rival England in her manufactures. The Government in that country saw that no children should go to work until they were 14 years of age, and they were now bringing in a Bill for that purpose. He should be happy to assist the Government in making this a better Bill, and no Party consideration would induce him to throw any obstacles in its way.
asked one question, and would make one single appeal—Was it not possible for some further provision to be made in this Bill for the better education of blind and deaf-mute children? And he made the appeal on behalf of those little ones because, while they needed help even more than either sighted or speaking children; they were most of them unable to participate in the advantages of the former Act, although their parents necessarily had to contribute their full quota to the school-board rate wherever there was one, as well as to all other burdens local and imperial.
understood from the speech of the noble Lord that the agricultural interest was to be placed on exactly the same footing as all other industries, as far as education was concerned. Now he for one, must protest against that, because, while all other industries could regulate their employment, it was impossible for agriculture to do it, because it was dependent on the weather and daylight. It was impossible to apply the same rule to agriculture as to manufactures. What he particularly objected to was that no agricultural child should be put to work until the child was 10 years old. It was quite true, as had been said by the noble Lord, that children did not go to work habitually till that age, but the word habitually made all the difference. There was certain work on the farm which was done cheaper and better by children than by anybody else, and probably would not be done at all if they did not do it. The noble Lord had misinterpreted the provisions of the Agricultural Children Act. That Act did not provide that there was to be an alternative year's work and an alternative year's schooling. It laid down the principle that the schooling was to go on when the work was not going on. The Factory and Workshops Acts were originally passed to maintain the health of the children employed, but no such regulations were necessary in the case of agriculture, because the Royal Commission reported that the health of women and children employed in agriculture only suffered from exceptional causes, as under the gang system. The idea of half time in the agricultural districts was simply preposterous and ridiculous. It would never work. He should not have objected to absolute compulsion in the case of children from five years old up to the time when they were employed in agriculture; but he objected to what he understood to be the provisions of the Bill on this head, and did not think that Boards of Guardians in the agricultural districts would be the best persons to enforce these provisions.
quite agreed with his right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), that it was inconvenient to discuss the Bill in its present form; but there was one important provision on which he should like to make a few observations—namely, the clause relating to what the noble Lord called "wastrels." He (Mr. Play air) understood that if a parent habitually allowed his child to become "a wastrel" he was to be fined 5s., and afterwards, if the fine proved ineffectual, the child might be sent to an industrial school. [Viscount Sandon: The child may be sent there without fining the parent.] Virtually, then, the child and not the parent would be sent to prison, though it was the parent who was chiefly responsible. The industrial school was really a prison where children on the verge of crime were detained; and would the interests of education, which people should be led to regard as a good and worthy thing, be served by associating these children with others on the verge of crime? In his opinion, the whole system of industrial schools in this country was being carried out in a lax way, and it had been his intention early next Session to call attention to the growth of these schools as an ease to the poor rates, and to the unsatisfactory results there produced. The proposal of the Bill was a mode of bringing compulsion to bear upon the "wastrels" which he considered an extremely dangerous one, and one which would want more satisfactory arguments to recommend it than they had heard so far.
insisted that the principle of sending children to industrial schools was not a new one. The London School Board were in the habit of sending hundreds of children to them, and the effect of the alteration proposed in the Bill would be to limit the period for which children were sent to these schools. Instead of being mischievous, therefore, the change introduced by the Bill would be a beneficial one. There was another point which required attention. Out of some 1,650 school boards in England and Wales, between 200 and 300 had no schools. It was now proposed to authorize Town Councils and Boards of Guardians to pass compulsory bye-laws; but if this were done, surely the people of the districts in which these school boards were situated should have some power of getting rid of them. He regarded school boards as a necessary evil; but where they existed without schools and compulsory powers were entrusted to other bodies, he failed to see why these boards should be allowed to continue. Again, about 260 school boards, including that of London, had passed bye-laws, not only allowing children to read the Bible, but giving them such religious teaching as was suitable to their capacity. Now, he did not want to rouse anything like a religious war; but did it not follow logically that in the schools where religious teaching was allowed the Government should take care that the results of this teaching should be tested by in- spection, as in the case of reading, writing, and arithmetic? He wished to add his testimony of high approval of the Bill shadowed forth in the speech of his noble Friend.
said, he did not wish to find fault with the Bill which had been so clearly and eloquently described by the noble Lord, and which on the first blush seemed to be a most excellent measure. There were three points, however, on which he desired further information. If the Guardians and corporations were empowered to discharge the functions now exercised by school boards, the country would want to get rid of the school boards. He would, therefore, ask whether the noble Lord proposed to take a power of dissolving school boards? He understood the noble Lord to define a poor place as a place where if a rate of 3d. were imposed, it would not produce 6s. per child, and to say that for every pound raised the Government would give £2. This provision he approved very much indeed, because it tended to benefit the voluntary and religious schools. Again, he understood that if a child got a double certificate, the fees of that child were to be paid, not out of the rates, but by the Government. In the case of honour passes this was a good provision, but it was the first step towards free education, and in that light it deserved serious consideration. He wished to know whether any rules would be made respecting the school which the child should go to in such a case?
said, he thought it was important that political economy should be taught in the schools, as the masses were liable to fall into error on that subject. At present the error was in the nature of a struggle between labour and capital. This was detrimental to the interests of the country, and he hoped the noble Lord would consider whether he could not provide some prize for proficiency in a study which would do so much good to the nation.
said, he rose not to make a speech, but to deprecate the making of speeches at this stage of the Bill. The noble Lord (Viscount Sandon) had made his points so very clearly, that it would be easy to single out isolated points in the Bill, and discuss them. But such a course would not be useful. For until the House had seen the Bill, and grasped the combined effect of these isolated provisions, it would be impossible to pronounce an opinion upon them. He hoped the noble Lord would be able to announce that the Bill would be in Members' hands within a day or two, so that ample time for consultation with friends and constituents would be allowed after the second reading. He would point out an error in the noble Lord's speech as to the provisions of the Agricultural Children Act, which required continuous schooling as a condition for continuous work, and not, as the noble Lord had stated, alternate years of schooling between alternate years of work. He would congratulate the noble Lord on having opposite him the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) who had had experience of the difficulties of the subject, and who, in common with all on that side of the House, would consider the Bill in a fair and impartial spirit.
considered that this discussion was not purposeless and useless, as stated by the hon. Member who had just spoken, but that it would indicate to the Government the opinions of the House on the subject of the Bill. He wished to express his decided approval of the way in which the noble Lord had dealt with the question of compulsion. The religious difficulty was one which he believed could very easily be got over. He remembered that under the Revised Code of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) instruction in the Bible was one subject for which a grant could be earned. He much wished that that system were revived, as he believed it would meet the views of the vast majority of the community. He was of opinion that what was proposed in the Bill as to poor districts would really be a just measure of relief; and he trusted that they would all, on whatever side they sat, co-operate with a view to make the measure practical, useful, and satisfactory, not merely to the working classes, but to the nation at large.
said, he thought that it would have been well if the Canadian plan had been adopted. If compulsion, either partial or total, should be combined with heavy rating, education, instead of becoming popular, would be considered by many people a very great evil. The only way of making education popular with this class was to make it cheap. Nothing was more remarkable than the waning popularity of school boards, and the weariness of school board elections. In the presence of the necessity of contributing to the rates for educational purposes, voluntary contributions were falling off to a very serious extent.
thanked the noble Lord for having adopted so many of the recommendations of the Commissioners, but thought that the measure of the Government, as shadowed forth by the noble Lord, was full of inequalities. He asked how far the noble Lord proposed to assimilate the educational provisions with the various Labour Laws, many of which were very dissimilar one from another? He understood that the general provision was that only children over 10 were to be allowed to work; but was it proposed that the different provisions of the Workshops Act, the Mines Act, and the Factories Act should all remain in force? He could hardly think that it was intended that all these different provisions should be allowed to remain. It was proposed that a child should be allowed to go to work who had passed a certain standard of education, or who had attended school a certain number of times; but might this attendance be in any school whatever? [Viscount Sandon: Public educational schools.] He was glad to hear it. Would the Bill extend to Ireland? And, if so, how did the noble Lord propose to deal with children who came over from Ireland to seek employment?
observed, that those who had laboured to secure that agricultural children should be educated and that the law of the land should be obeyed had had no easy time of it, and had not received as much assistance from the Government as he thought they might have expected. If all parties had long ago laboured honestly for the spread of education all the country over, there would be no need now for the stringent measures imposed upon them. The country party in that House had done their duty in this matter honestly; but he was afraid the result had proved the effect of their labours to be somewhat imperfect. He gloried in being able to give his assistance to the promotion of the object in which they were now engaged, and hoped that when the Bill had been passed into law its provisions would be honestly carried out.
said, he hoped that encouragement would be given by the Government to the use of training ships. These institutions were maintained by voluntary effort, and that kind of support would be stimulated and encouraged by the recognition of the Government and of Parliament being extended to it.
said, he thought that the voluntary schools had a right to sympathy on the part of the Government and of Parliament, for they had been doing the work of education when others had been only talking about it; but he did not find in the proposals of his noble Friend as much encouragement as he thought they deserved. Voluntary schools represented not only the principle on which the education of the country was conducted before the question became popular, but also the principles of economy and the strong religious feeling of the country. There was no security that religious education would continue to be given in board schools, which were managed by boards variously constituted and armed with the power to stop religious education at any time in the schools over which they had control. In the voluntary schools alone was there security for permanent religious instruction, and he hoped that the noble Lord would not turn a deaf ear to the Amendments which would tend to improve the condition of voluntary schools. He thought that some explanation was required in reference to the system of giving relief to poor districts. Would a school in a poor hamlet be assisted though the parish might not itself be poor? The question as to taking power for the extinction of boards also deserved attention, and a provision to that effect ought to be included in the Bill. Again, he should like to know whether "honour passes" would be given in voluntary schools; and, if so, from what fund they would be provided?
thought the present mode of conducting education in board schools did not provide for the simple and unsectarian religious instruction that all must desire to see afforded, and he hoped the attention of the Go- vernment would be directed to this point. Comparing the number of children attending voluntary schools with the number attending board schools, he contended that the voluntary schools constituted the national system, and that it was the board schools rather than the voluntary schools that should be regarded as a "temporary expedient," and that on these grounds the voluntary schools deserved the careful consideration of the Government and the generous support of the House.
, said, it was quite competent for Birmingham or any other district to have religious teaching in the schools if they thought it desirable. There were voluntary religious schools within reach of the children attending the board schools, where parents could send their children if they wished them to be taught sectarian religion at school; and if they did not avail themselves of those schools their not doing so showed that they did not value them so highly as had been stated. The burden of the religious instruction given in Birmingham board schools devolved upon the members of two or three leading non-conforming sects, the members of the Church of England having stood entirely aloof from it. There had not been sufficient time to form an opinion of the work that was being done under these difficulties, and therefore he hoped the House would suspend its judgment upon that experiment. He asked when the Bill would be in the hands of Members, and he expressed a hope that time would be given for the country to consider its provisions.
said, that in the guarded criticisms which had been passed upon the Bill he could not help noting an under current of feeling in its favour, and that was, perhaps, more full of promise than an enthusiastic chorus of approbation. The Bill would be in the hands of Members on Saturday or Monday—he could not absolutely promise it on Saturday, owing to an accident which had befallen the draftsman—and the second reading would be fixed for the 12th June. As to the virtual repeal of the Agricultural Children Act, he had already expressed his sense of the service done by it. The hon. Members for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Reed) and South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) were pioneers who had achieved success, and if this Bill passed, it would be partly owing to the work they had done. The Act was a good measure for its purpose, but it was not one that could be expected to be permanent. He would remind the House that the proposal to commit "wastrel" children to industrial schools would only take effect in the last resort. Of course, the the Bill did not contain any provision for the abolition of existing school boards; if it had, he should have been certain to mention it. He did not see that the honours pass entitling to free instruction would tend to free education any more than Exhibitions and Scholarships at the Universities, in the middle-class schools, and in the schemes of the Endowed Schools Commissioners. The teaching of political economy or any other subject in the schools was a matter to be dealt with in the Code. The hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Birley) had made suggestions which were highly valued by the Government. The 10 years system would apply to the whole of the country. No existing Act or power of local authority could put the children in a less advantageous position as regarded education than they would be in by this Bill; but the Bill would not interfere with existing provisions which put them in a better position, nor would it prevent local authorities making further provisions for education. He thought the noble Lord (Lord Frederick Cavendish) who asked whether the provisions of the Bill would extend to Ireland would agree with him that it would be dangerous to undertake an Education Bill for England and Ireland at the same time. In reply to the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell), he must remark that it would have been unwise of the Government to have introduced fresh legislation with regard to the agricultural children until it was seen how the recent measure operated. The object of the present measure was to cast responsibility as far as possible upon existing local authorities, which would add to their importance, while its effect would be to reduce the cost of getting children into the schools to a minimum. The hon. Member for West Kent (Mr. J. G. Talbot) had referred to the grave and important subject of religion; but the House would see that that was not a matter on which he ought to touch at the present moment. The Government were much indebted to the hon. and gal- lant Member for South Essex (Colonel Makins) for having sent them a very important scheme, and he was sorry that he could not now go into the reasons that had induced them, after very careful consideration, not to accept it. The expense of the "honour passes" would be but small, while the proposal would operate very beneficially upon promising children. Should the attempt fail, it would die a natural death at the end of five years. In conclusion, he thanked the House for the very friendly reception they had given to the measure, and he trusted that hon. Members would consider the Bill very carefully as soon as it was in their hands. He could assure the House that Her Majesty's Government would be prepared to give all Amendments which were in harmony with the main principle of their Bill their very best attention. On the whole, he hoped they would be able to pass a measure which would be perfectly satisfactory to the parents of children, to the employers, and to the country generally.
said, the compulsory attendance of children at school in the agricultural districts until they were 10 years of age would give great dissatisfaction in the agricultural districts, because it would greatly reduce the incomes of poor persons, many of whom were widows with barely sufficient means to maintain their families. It would also be very inconvenient, and create an increase in the amount of wages to be paid for labour. He hoped the noble Lord would re-consider that provision of the Bill.
Motion agreed to.
Bill to make further provision for Elementary Education, ordered to be brought in by Viscount Sandon, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Mr. Secretary Cross.
Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 155.]
Customs And Inland Revenue Bill
( Mr. Raikes, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. William Henry Smith.)
Bill 124 Committee
Order for Committee read.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—( Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)
, in rising to move the Resolution of which he had given Notice, observed, that on the 31st of this month there would be not only the famous equine contest of the year on Epsom Downs, but on the same day would be celebrated the Centenary of the publication of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. A distinguished Finance Minister of former days would take the chair at that celebration, and another distinguished Finance Minister would discourse with eloquence upon the sagacity, wisdom, and truth of the principles inaugurated by Adam Smith. He would seriously invite the distinguished men who proposed to be present upon that occasion to give their opinions to the House on the subject now under consideration. Adam Smith had laid it down that the people of a State ought to contribute towards its expenses as nearly as possible according to their respective abilities—that was to say, in proportion to the incomes they respectively enjoyed under its protection. The proposals now made in regard to the Income Tax he regarded as being in direct violation of that maxim. It had been suggested that in proposing those additional exemptions and remissions the Government were seeking to gain popularity; but popularity hunting was the resort of feeble and expiring Administrations, and, judging from recent divisions, the present Government was strong enough to stand upon its convictions of what was right, without condescending to unworthy compliances. He found the explanations of those proposals in the warm sympathetic sentiments of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That right hon. Gentleman had told them that the persons who would be specially benefited by those remissions would be the struggling members of certain professions, including clergymen and clerks, widows and unmarried daughters. If the right hon. Gentleman had meant industrial struggling by brain or hand, he could have agreed with him; but by including widows and unmarried daughters he meant also social struggling to obtain more comforts and enjoyments than their means afforded. He (Mr. Hubbard) maintained that while it was the part of legislation to give every possible relief to struggling industry, it was not the part of legislation to attempt to equalize the gifts of Providence. The principle of the Income Tax required to be well understood. Being a tax levied for the benefit of the whole community, it should be levied upon everyone in the same proportion, so that his means remained proportionately the same as before. There were certain qualifications to be applied to that special rule. The means of subsistence with regard to unskilled labour must be considered. In the earlier periods of the Income Tax a deduction of £50 was allowed as being the measure of the cost of subsistence for unskilled labour. Subsequently that deduction had been raised to £60, and at the last revision of the tax it was still further raised to £80. That limitation of £80 was, in his opinion, most liberal, for £80 a-year was rather more than 30s. a-week, and, as everybody knew, 5s. a-day for unskilled labour was ample compensation. He knew of no sound argument either in favour of carrying the total exemption from the tax up to incomes of £150 or in favour of extending the benefit of the deduction to incomes of £400. It had been argued that whereas artizans earning £3 a-week or £150 a-year, were mainly untaxed, they should remain untaxed; but that the same exemption should be carried into other incomes of £150 a-year also. He differed from the assumption which laid at the bottom of that argument. He knew that in certain establishments mechanics receiving about £3 a-week had to be returned, by their employers to the Inland Revenue Office, and they were not untaxed. It was absurd to say that these exemptions ought to be made because of the increased cost of living. With respect to the area over which direct taxation would range if the changes proposed by the present Government were carried into effect, taking the Income Tax under Schedule D, he found that 437,000 had been charged Income Tax, and of these only 220,000 were paying on £100 and upwards, and the result of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's proposal would be still further to reduce the number who would be taxable. Look, again, at the stockholders under Schedule C. The number of these was 231,000. The number of those paying under £100 was 192,000, but the proposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer would reduce the 39,000 now taxable by 12,000, and only 27,000 would in future be liable to taxation. If they turned from the funds to the land the conclusions were equally unsatisfactory, for it might be calculated that there would be a great diminution in the number of landowners of the country liable to taxation if this scheme were passed. Here was a population of 27,000,000, half a million of whom were the chief contributors to the taxation of the country, while, at the same time, the number of electors was 2,500,000. How did this tally with the maxim so constantly urged upon them that there ought to be an affinity between electoral privileges and contributions to the taxes? Why should the line be drawn so as to include only one-fifth of the whole of the electors? If a sweeping change were to be made, all these questions should be gone into. The tax as it stood was bad enough, but the Chancellor the Exchequer was going to render it still more mischievous, and he thought the House ought to express its opinion in such a way that the Government might be led to re-consider its position. If this Resolution were carried the Government and the House might take such steps as they deemed to be necessary for the public interest. If they withdrew the exemptions, they might either reduce the amount of the tax as it stood, or make the proposed concessions in some other way. There was hardly any alternative that he would not prefer. Besides, the introduction of these exemptions would lead to great administrative inconvenience. The assessors of Income Tax now knew very well who were entitled to relief; but if fresh lines were drawn, new difficulties and new conflicts would arise. This was an occcasion when Party predilection should give way to a sense of justice. He would earnestly entreat the House to vindicate on that occasion the principles of the great political economist whose centenary was about to be celebrated. In conclusion, he asked the House to rescue their legislation from the danger of Socialism.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it is inexpedient to extend the range of absolute exemption from Income Tax to incomes of £150, and to extend the limit of partial exemption from incomes of £300 to incomes of £400, inasmuch as these additional exemptions would injuriously affect the equable proportion in which all incomes of like nature should be assessed,"—(Mr. Hubbard,)
Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question.
said, he must give a preference for the scheme proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The view which they took of exemptions would, of course, be influenced by the opinions they held as to the desirability of the Income Tax being permanent or not. He thought those who, like himself, believed that the Income Tax was an essential and a vital part of our financial system, and that it was desirable to retain it at a moderate amount as a great instrument of financial power, would generally be found in favour of exemptions, thus throwing overboard some of that unpopularity which affected the principle of the tax generally and putting it upon a more secure foundation. As regarded the principle of exemption, he thought the fallacy which ran through the argument used against it was that it seemed to be assumed that the whole taxes of the country were levied direct. A great portion of Revenue was raised by indirect taxation, and when they came to the lower scale of incomes, especially of the labouring classes, in point of fact they spent a larger percentage of their incomes in articles which paid taxation than the man of larger income did. One great argument in favour of the Income Tax was that the tax was an instrument of great national power. By the simple expedient of adding 1d. in the pound the Government could easily raise a larger sum than foreign countries could obtain without great stress and inconvenience. The other great argument was that the tax was the means by which they could in tolerably fair proportions equalize the incidence of taxation upon the middle and lower classes of the community. The broad conclusion was that with an Income Tax producing £5,000,000 direct taxation the equilibrium between direct and indirect taxation on the different classes was very fairly maintained. If they abolished the Income Tax, they would destroy that equilibrium. The exemptions, then, he viewed as made on a fair basis and not on any Communistic principle. That being so, it seemed to be a simple question of degree whether they should draw the line at £100 or £150. He desired the Income Tax to be maintained, and he therefore wished to relieve it from the unpopularity which attached to taxing a large number of small incomes for the sake of realizing a comparatively small amount. He had been alarmed ever since the right hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) proposed the repeal of the Income Tax as part of the programme with which he appealed to the country at the last General Election, and, entertaining this alarm, he desired to defend the citadel of our financial system by every fair and legitimate means. It was consistent with principle and precedent to go back, as they were doing, to what might be called the old and accustomed limit which accompanied the tax for a series of years, and which had the authority of eminent statesmen in its favour. Under these circumstances, he should give his vote against the Motion of the right hon. Member for London.
said, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich had asserted that he was opposed to the existence of the Income Tax, and the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz) had in a letter which was published in a newspaper stated that he did not know a single person who was a friend to the Income Tax. He begged to undeceive the hon. Gentleman, for he (Mr. Sandford) was a friend to that tax, and he should be sorry to see property relieved of it and an equivalent burden thrown on Customs and Excise, or, in other words, on the shoulders of the working classes. When the tax was originally imposed by Pitt it was a graduated Income Tax; and it was altogether too late to say that exemptions from it rested on principles of socialism. Exemptions had been adopted by every Parliament and by every Minister by whom the tax was laid on. In his opinion the principle of exemptions was only just, because wealth did not contribute its fair share to the taxes of the country. The burden of the tax fell most heavily on the possessors of small incomes which did not rise with the price of commodities when the wages of working men did rise. Even indirect taxes were levied with some unfairness. Inferior tobacco paid 100 per cent, and the better class of cigars from 10 to 20 per cent; cheap claret paid 15 per cent, and the better quality 2 per cent; beer paid 50 per cent; spirits, 100 per cent; inferior tea, 23 per cent; and superior tea, 10 per cent. Thus the burden of indirect taxation fell unequally on the poorer classes, and it was only stern justice to exempt them from the Income Tax. He would have preferred that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have exempted altogether incomes under and up to £150, and should have taken off £120 from incomes up to£400; but as they had so many amateur Chancellors of the Exchequer he would not add another to the number, and would support the proposal of the Government.
said, he was the last person who would wish to abolish the Income Tax, although he certainly desired to keep it as low as possible.
said, that the question to consider was why the extra 1d. had been placed upon the Income Tax, and how the surplus to be obtained from it should be applied? In about six years nearly £7,000,000 of taxation had been removed from sugar, and 68,000,000 lb. in 1874, and 97,000,000 lb. in 1875, had been used for brewing. This had been caused in a great degree by the malt duty increasing the price of malt. This and other remissions that had been made would mainly benefit those who would come within the proposed exemption from the Income Tax. During the past four or five years some £3,000,000 had been added to local taxation, and the people who paid that had the first claim to the benefit to be derived from any surplus that there might be in hand. If the right hon. Gentleman carried his Motion to a division he should feel very much inclined to support him.
looked upon this question of abatement and exemption from the Income Tax as one of a very serious character and he was very glad that it had been raised. He believed that there was a considerable amount of opinion upon both sides against these exemptions. No doubt the effect of them would be to create favour for the scheme of the Government for the increase of the tax; though it was possible, as had been alleged, that the proposal of these concessions had been made entirely upon its own merits. If, however, this was so, why was it not made in 1874, when the Government had a magnificent surplus of £5,500,000, the legacy of their prede- cessors, and reduced the tax from 3d. to 2d. It looked very like a bid for favour that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer added to the aggregate amount of the Income Tax, two out of three persons who paid under Schedules D and E would pay less when the tax was increased than they paid at the present moment, whilst the remaining one-third would pay more. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) made exemptions, but he made them on be half of a more necessitous class, and when he had a surplus, when he was reducing the tax and giving relief to all who had to pay it. But it was difficult, if not impossible, to find a principle upon which the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer were to rest. The right hon. Gentleman proposed to extend exemption from Income Tax to all incomes under £150 a-year. The reason assigned was that wages had considerably increased, so that more wage-earners came within the range of the Income Tax as it at present stood. It seemed to him a very odd kind of proceeding because men's wages were raised, and their incomes were increased, to exempt them from the payment of the Income Tax. And what was the reason why the Chancellor of the Exchequer had fixed on £400 as the sum below which the abatement was to be made? The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that a man having a pound a day ought to have an abatement, but that to place the figure at £400 would look better. His right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone), and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, concurred in viewing the Income Tax as an "emergency" tax to be resorted to in time of war; or urgent demand. The right hon. Member for Greenwich had contemplated abolishing it altogether in ordinary times; while the right hon. Gentleman preferred to keep it alive at a low figure, holding that it was important not to destroy its structure. But then it should be maintained as an efficient structure, not only actually but potentially. What, however, was the plan before them? The changes proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer involved, as he told the House, a surrender per penny of the tax of £130,000 a-year. But if an emergency arose and they had to raise the tax to 1s. the loss would amount to £1,560,000 a-year; and if they had to raise it to 1s. 6d., it would amount to £2,340,000. But if to the proposed exemptions and abatements they added existing exemptions and abatements, which the right hon. Gentleman the other night told the House were £150,000 per penny of the tax, the total surrender would be, on a 1s. Income Tax, £3,432,000 a-year; on 1s. 6d. Income Tax, upwards of £5,000,000. Another objection to undermining the tax, besides diminishing its productiveness, was that the more they made it a tax which was to be voted and imposed by the many on the few, the more the objections which the many would have to war or other extraordinary expenditure would be diminished. Sir Robert Peel fixed the Income Tax at £150 when many articles were subject to taxation, which since that time had been made free. Therefore, men were in a better position to pay the tax. Did the right hon. Gentleman consider the need for the addition to the tax transitory and confined to this year? If so, he ought to beware how he undermined the structure of the tax on account of a million or so which he wanted for a particular year. But if the right hon. Gentleman did not consider the need temporary, but saw the tide of expenditure rising against him, still more ought he to beware how he undermined the structure of the tax, because in that case he might require next year another penny. If the Income Tax was to be kept alive at a low figure in ordinary times in order that they might resort to it in an emergency, it must be kept alive on a broad basis, in order to make it as productive as possible, without invidious exemptions and distinctions. It might be that such exemptions were popular, and that at this time of political apathy the classes who were injuriously affected by them were indifferent. But it was the duty of Members in that House to look beyond the popularity of the moment, and not to be apathetic, but to consider the ulterior consequences of these exemptions. The representations of the Opposition might be ineffectual; but it was all the more incumbent on Members opposite who held the same opinions to express them freely, because, by so doing, they at all events might hope to influence the Government.
said, he thought there was considerable difficulty in ascertaining the exact issue raised in this interesting debate. The arguments put forth with so much force by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Hubbard)told against there being no exemptions whatever rather than against the particular ones recommended in the Bill now before the House. Up to the present time, however, so long as there had been an Income Tax at all, there had been exemptions. Every Government who had been responsible for an Income Tax had felt that to propose to tax the lowest form of income—that arising from labour—was to propose something which could not possibly be carried into practical effect. Sir Robert Peel exempted incomes under £150. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) having made great changes in other taxation, by which the lowest incomes were benefited, brought down the exemption to £100. Another right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) gave some relief on incomes up to 300 a-year. The principle, of exemptions, therefore, had been recognized by every statesman and every Chancellor of the Exchequer who had dealt with the Income Tax up to the present time, and the question now was not whether there should be any exemption, but whether the particular proposals in the Bill were so radically bad that the House should reject them altogether. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hubbard) said it was improper that any class of the community should escape taxation, and there was no Member on either side of the House who would not heartily concur in that principle. But even if it were desirable to do so, it was admitted to be practically impossible to get at the wages of labour. The suggestion had been thrown out that the Government might go to employers, and not only ascertain the amount of wages paid, but, through them, stop the Income Tax on the weekly earnings of working men in their service. Now, it was not within the power of the employers to make any such stoppages, and he was quite satisfied that to attempt to carry any legislation of this kind into practice would end in miserable failure. Strong as the statement might appear, he believed it absolutely impossible to collect an Income Tax from labour throughout the country. You could not reach a labouring man, because his weekly wage was not based on the certainty of annual employment. For a week or a month he was employed in one place, and then he disappeared, to be employed in another place, or not to be employed at all for some time. How could you fairly deduct from such a man a given proportion of his weekly wage? If, then, it was impossible to tax weekly wages, even though these might amount to £150 a-year—and of late working men's incomes often came up to that sum—surely it was most unfair to tax the clerk and struggling professional man upon incomes of no larger amount? If so, it was not unfair to extend the existing exemption to £150, and thereby the object of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Dodson) was met, for much was done to keep alive the Income Tax for future use in times of emergency by fixing it on a basis which was just and reasonable in itself, and which excited no opposition in the country. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that if the tax were raised hereafter in time of war to 1s. in the pound, exemptions would amount to a very large sum, and the productiveness of the tax would be greatly impaired. But would the Income Tax be the only tax to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have recourse in such an emergency? In such an emergency the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have to say to the House—"There are other indirect taxes which must be considered, and other sources of income which the House must be asked to provide for us;" and these taxes would fall directly and immediately on the persons of small incomes who would be exempted from the direct payment of Income Tax. Had any calculation ever been made of the proportion of taxable articles that must be paid by the father of a family who consumed tea, malt, and spirits, who lived in a house which paid house tax, and who was liable to rates and the other charges incident to a small income? The course which the Government asked the House to adopt would, he believed, be justified by the result. It might be true, as the right hon. Gentleman had remarked, that some people would pay less than under the present system, but the question was whether, on the whole, the adjustment was a reasonable and a proper one. In various ways exemptions from, taxation had been re- cognized by the House, with a view to relieving those who were not too well off in the world, and he hoped, therefore, that the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be accepted.
said, the Secretary to the Treasury had made out an excellent case for absolute exemption up to £150, which used to be called the territory of labour, and which ought to be excused, but he had not said one word as to the proposal of the hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. Hubbard) against extending the exemption from £300 a-year up to £400, which was the real question now before the House. He wished to say that he thought it was an extremely inconvenient practice to bring forward Resolutions in a Budget, and get the House to accept them before they had the opportunity of discussing them when embodied in a Bill. If there had been a previous discussion, much of the difficulty which they must all experience in dealing with this question would have been avoided. For himself, he would say that he had always been in favour of a general rule of taxation and no exemptions; but the Income Tax was of an exceptional character in itself. They had admitted that there should be certain exemptions, and everyone knew that the greatest hardship was felt by the small payers of the tax. Incomes of £100 and £150 felt the pressure excessively, and there should be no cavilling up to that amount, but there he thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have stopped. He saw no reason why the limit which had been partially carried up to £300 should now be extended to £400, The exemption of the lower class of incomes—which were, in fact, mere living incomes—was no doubt a great advantage, especially in rural districts, where people knew each other's affairs, and where there was a dislike to appeal for remissions or reductions. The result was that the assessors were in the habit of gradually and steadily increasing the amount of the tax without any real reason for doing so, and the taxpayer submitted in silence. He was an Income Tax Commissioner, and when those additions were made he always called upon the assessors to show on what ground they made the addition, without asking the taxpayer what he had to allege against the increase. It was most unfair and unjust to keep on increasing the tax on the simple responsibility of the officer with out knowing whether or not he had just grounds for doing so. While he perfectly agreed in the entire exemption of incomes under £150, he saw no reason why there should be even a partial exemption up to £300, and if they assented to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer he would ask—why not extend the partial exemption to £500?
maintained that there should be only one real ground of exemption—namely, the difficulty of collecting the tax after it had reached a certain low figure. He declared that all exemptions were objectionable and vicious. He had that day been sitting for three hours in the City of London receiving appeals from householders who claimed to be rated to the Inhabited House Tax at 6d. instead of 9d. in the pound or totally exempted. He agreed with the hon. Baronet (Sir Walter Barttelot) that there were no good grounds for a partial exemption up to £300; and if the exemption was extended to £400, why not to £500, to £700, or even to £1,000?If they did that they would ruin the Income Tax, and adopt the dangerous and revolutionary principle of a graduated tax.
said, he thought they were greatly obliged to his right hon. Colleague (Mr. Hubbard) for having brought forward this most important question. The Secretary to the Treasury had not, in his opinion, done justice to the Government by confining his argument to the case of the small taxpayers, and leaving untouched the different case of the larger taxpayers, except by saying that they could make their wishes known in that House, while the smaller taxpayers could not. That appeared to him to be a very dangerous argument indeed. The House should in all cases decide on the taxation necessary to meet the wants of the country, and then levy it equally, without any reference to the representations of classes or interests who might have the power of making representations to that House. The hon. Member admitted that logically there should be no exemption at all; but he argued that all Governments had admitted the principle of exemption in the case of the smaller incomes. That was true; but the novelty in this case was that the Government proposed to carry the figure at which exemption would end to a higher point than it had ever been carried before, while, at the same time, the income taxpayers above that point were to pay additional taxation. He did not see how that course could be justified—to increase the taxes of one class at the very time when they were decreasing the rate of taxation in another. The figures placed before the House by his right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers)—and they had not been challenged—showed that the number of persons who would be benefited by the plan of the Government were 400,000, while there would be only 170,000 above the line of £400—that was to say, that the great majority of the payers of Income Tax under Schedules D and E were to have a remission of taxation at a time when about one-third were about to have the charge upon them increased. Finance of that kind was, he maintained, dangerous and impolitic, and by no means Conservative. Indeed, he must call the proposed exemptions not exemptions at all, for they would, so far as numbers were concerned, be the rule. Now, according to the statements of the Prime Minister, as quoted by his right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract, an increase in direct ought to be paralleled by an increase in indirect taxation, and that argument the Chancellor of the Exchequer had attempted to parry by saying that it was one which might be applicable when the Income Tax stood at 4d. but not when it was only 2d. in the pound. It struck him, however, that the principle that where there was a general increase of taxation it was desirable that it should be felt by as many classes in the community as it could be made to cover, and not that it should be levied on one particular class, was applicable to both cases. That was the interpretation which he put on the statement of the Prime Minister that direct and indirect taxation should proceed together, while the way in which the Government acted up to that statement was by proposing that there should be an increase in direct taxation only, and that the addition thus made should not be paid by all taxpayers who contributed to the Income Tax, but by a portion of them only. He could not help thinking that, although the Chancellor of the Exchequer might, as was said, be disposed to be warm and sympathetic, it was scarcely the time to exhibit those feelings towards one class of the community when he was putting the screw upon another; and the circumstances were, he contended, now very different from those which existed in 1853 and in 1873, when remissions of taxation were made. He regretted, he might add, that any man occupying the position held by the Secretary for the Treasury should have admitted—for his language amounted to that—that, although there might be large remissions of indirect taxation, greatly benefiting those on whose behalf they were made, nevertheless, even in time of war, it would be impossible to retrace the step with respect to the Income Tax which the Chancellor of the Exchequer now invited the House to take. He did not know whether the hon. Gentleman had seen in the newspapers that the question was one which had been debated in the colonies, in France, and in other parts of Europe. If so, he should like to ask him whether this country was to set the example of an increasing class of exemptions with the view to relieve those whose incomes were between £100 and £150 a-year? For what did the Government want the additional 1d. of Income Tax? They did not want the whole sum to provide for additional expenditure. The Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted that he required this additional 1d. in order that he might have a surplus to redeem the promises he had made in providing further relief for local taxation during the present year and next year. The House was, therefore, going to vote the additional 1d. of Income Tax partly to meet a deficit, partly to meet prospective promises in the relief of local taxation, and partly in making exemptions in order to render the Income Tax more popular. The hon. Member for Orkney (Mr. Laing) said that the Government threw over board the unpopularity of the Income Tax by these exemptions, and that opinion was endorsed by the Secretary to the Treasury. They had, therefore, come to this—that in their present state of prosperity, with a Conservative Government in power, having at their command a majority of 100, they could not maintain an Income Tax except by cutting off from liability all incomes below a certain amount. They were so afraid of imposing taxation on those on whose votes they relied for maintaining that majority that they had recourse to this immoral and dangerous proposal. Although he indulged at times in a little Party language—[Ironical cheers]—just as the cheers he now heard were Party cheers, and just as hon. Gentlemen opposite also occasionally indulged in a little Party language—yet they must admit that he had to-night abstained from saying anything of a Party character. He had only supported one of his Colleagues for the City, and he had used no stronger language than his right hon. Friend had done. He confessed he did not think the proposal of the Government was either wise or Conservative. Was it Conservative to say that they would relieve the majority, on whom until now it was a responsibility to pay this tax, and to throw it upon the minority? Was it a Conservative proposition to say that, because a Party was able to make itself heard in that House, therefore they would deal differently with them from the rest of the community? He had never heard a less Conservative proposal. He would freely admit that it was a philanthropic, a warm, and a sympathetic proposal, but it was not Conservative. It was not advisable to introduce too much philanthropy into politics. The proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer might win the Government considerable applause, but philanthropy in finance was thoroughly dangerous. There was no step more likely to promote democratic agitation than to grant exemptions which would lead to demands for further exemptions, in which there was no principle and no bottom, and which could be argued from precedent to precedent until they reached that graduated Income Tax which was the dream of many Socialists and Communists. If those observations were warmer than those with which he commenced his speech it was because hon. Gentlemen opposite wished that a warmer character should be given to his observations. He would admit that his right hon. Friend and Colleague had made an unpopular proposal; for no doubt among the 440,000 persons exempted there were probably an immense number who were borough electors. Well, he would share in his right hon. Friend's unpopularity, and, should he go to a division, he would gladly "tell" with him, so that, irrespective of political differences, two Members of the City of London might on this occasion make a protest against the proposal of the Government.
said, he was sure no one could object to the tone of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down—that it certainly could not be objected to on the ground of its having infused a little life into what had been for some time a rather dull debate. The speech of his hon. Friend the Secretary for the Treasury, which was of a reasoning and temperate character, did not compare in vivacity with some portions of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, but no one could object to Party feeling in that House. He thought they were a good deal too scrupulous in the matter, for he did not see why persons engaged in the conduct of business which raised questions between Party and Party should be so very squeamish about using language of a Party character. There was, however, one thing to which he did object in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and that was when divesting himself of a Party character he put himself in the position of a Conservative, and from that point of view spoke on the question now before the House. Now, throughout the whole of this discussion, and especially so in the speech of his right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Mr. Hubbard), they ran the danger of falling into a kind of argument which was both dangerous and inconvenient. They had been promulgating theories which, however plausible they might be, were not capable of application. He was not disposed to enter into a discussion with his right hon. Friend as to the merits of the quotations he made from Adam Smith, or as to the precise construction to be put upon the doctrines laid down by that great and distinguished man; and used as these arguments had been by his right hon. Friend on this and other occasions, and by other Gentlemen who had taken part in this debate, he feared they might be led to follow them up carelessly to very inconvenient conclusions. The point upon which the argument of his right hon. Friend turned seemed to be this—that they could make taxation perfectly equal and just to all persons, and, moreover, that this particular tax could be made so that it would bear equally upon all classes of persons. Taking that as his starting point, his right hon. Friend said by these exemptions they were destroying that equality, and therefore he condemned the exemptions. In arguing thus his right hon. Friend had this advantage over the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he was able to discuss theories and lay down abstract propositions without running the risk of being asked to put them to the test of application. If difficulties arose his right hon. Friend could get over them by a mere shrug of the shoulder; whereas if he(the Chancellor of the Exchequer) indulged in such speculations he might get into serious difficulties. If the Income Tax were made the sole tax they would have to raise it to so high a figure that complaints would certainly come from those upon whom it most pressed, and there would then be a real danger of the bugbear with which they were now threatened—that of a graduated property tax. Their proposal was not, he thought, open to the objections that had been urged against it. Arguments might be used against it which would give it the appearance which hon. Members opposite had attributed to it; but he could not see how the tax, with the proposed exemptions, differed in any degree in principle from the tax as it had existed from the first. He could not see that the extension of exemptions changed the principle by one jot from what it was under exemptions proposed in former times. In Pitt's time, when the tax was first suggested, it had a direct reference to the amount of the assessed taxes paid, but it very speedily took another form, founded always on the principle of certain exemptions from the smallest incomes. When Sir Robert Peel introduced it in 1842 the limit was fixed at precisely the same point which was now reached—that was, £150a-year—and it must be remembered that at the time Sir Robert Peel did that, he was taking off considerable burdens of taxation from persons who did not possess that amount, and the Government were being taunted, as had always been the case, when alterations were made in taxation, that in taxing some persons they were relieving others. Sir Robert Peel's exemption continued until 1853, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich reduced it from £150 to £100, and what was the reason he gave for fixing it at the lower figure? It was in order to exempt what he called "the territory of labour," which he defined at £100 a-year. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) put it to the House whether that territory of labour was not better defined by the sum of £150 than by the sum of £100. The key to what the Government proposed was that they believed that men living by wages did in great numbers make wages fully equal to £150 a-year, but could not be made to pay the tax. His right hon. Friend said they ought to be made to pay it. In theory this opinion might be a sound one, but the difficulty was how to get them to pay. There was a discussion the other night upon this very point, and three or four employers of labour confirmed his statement that it was not only inconvenient but impossible to exact the tax from men who were living by wages. A working man receiving £3 a-week might be thrown out of employ before a month was over, and might not, therefore, get £150 in the year, and it was practically impossible to make him pay. This being so, great injustice was done to the class who were living side by side with these working men, who were obliged to keep up a better appearance, and who, living in fixed residences, could not escape from the tax. It was not from any sentiment, softheartedness, or philanthropy, but from a sense of the justice and prudence of the course they were taking, that the Government proposed to exempt such persons from the tax. Another reason given by the officers practically concerned in the collection of the tax was that it was among this class of persons in receipt of small incomes that the greatest amount of difficulty and friction was met with. He had been asked—"Why do you now extend the exemption to £150? Why did you not do so two years ago?" The reason was that two years ago the Government had but just come into office, and that it was very difficult to treat the Income Tax definitively. He had then stated that he did not think the Government would be justified, on so short a notice, in making any definite proposals, and that they reduced the tax by 1d. in the pound having regard simply to the requirements of the year, and reserving any other question. As a matter of fact, the figures upon this very point were then taken out; but the Government thought it inexpedient to deal with the question until they saw the real position of the country. They had now come to the conclusion that, taking into account the probable condition of the country for some time to come, it was desirable to maintain the Income Tax at a low figure, and keep it in reserve as an emergency tax. He stated in 1874, and he repeated it the other day, that the arrangements were made on the faith of their having a true picture of the necessary expenditure of the country presented to them as left by their predecessors; and when, after more careful inquiries, they found that this expenditure must be increased, they saw that to keep the Income Tax at 2d. was to keep it at too low a rate. In fixing the amount of the tax it was not a question of popularity or sympathy, but what was the real strength of our financial system, and the strength and power of appealing to that tax in cases of emergency depended on its being put on incomes as now proposed. As to the number of persons to whom the exemptions applied it was difficult to give any positive answer, many persons being taxed under more than one Schedule; but he was prepared to accept the general and rough statement that had been put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), that between 200,000 and 300,000 persons would obtain entire remission, and about 200,000 would receive benefit from the exemptions. [Mr. CHILDERS: Between 400,000 and 500,000 would be benefited.] Probably the number might be 450,000 or 460,000 altogether, or say 500,000, of whom one-half perhaps would have the benefit of total exemption. No doubt a certain number of persons were freed from the Income Tax; but if it ever became necessary to raise large sums by taxation for any particular purpose, other kinds of taxation would, of course, be resorted to. It might be theoretically wrong to increase taxation in a direct form only; but that principle ought not to be pushed too far in practice. For his own part, he did not think a Finance Minister ought to lay down and slavishly adhere to any abstract doctrines. What he ought to do was to endeavour to raise his taxation in the way most in accordance with the general interests of the country, and the least injurious to trade and credit. The whole aim of the Government was to give solidity to our financial system. They were endeavouring to put the Income Tax on a footing which would enable them to raise it without difficulty in a great emergency, and they were endeavouring to deal with the Debt of the country in such a way as both to keep its credit good and to have a reserve to which recourse might be had in case of necessity. By reducing the pressure upon struggling professions the Income Tax would be made more tolerable, and by making it more tolerable it would be rendered more available. As to remissions, it was as well to bear in mind what the history of the tax had been. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich first proposed a 7d. tax on incomes above £150 and a 5d. tax on those between £150 and £100, they heard very little about the evils of graduated taxation, and that system, with some variation, continued for nine or ten years. At last, in 1863, the right hon. Gentleman, acknowledging the unfairness of the tax, introduced the principle of deductions, fixing the deduction at that time at £60 a-year. Subsequently he again spoke of the pressure of the tax on small incomes; and although he did not himself propose any further dealing with it, the Chancellor of the Exchequer under him as Prime Minister did again in 1872 propose a further extension of the system. The ground on which it was proposed was the inconvenience arising from too sudden a jump from the point at which a man was exempt from Income Tax. A sort of graduated system was introduced, on very scientific principles, according to which the sum of £60 was to be deducted where the maximum of exemption was £200, and £80 where the maximum was £300. It was now proposed that the amount deducted should be not £80, but £120, because of the arithmetical proportions of those figures, and that the deduction should be carried up to the higher figure of £400, instead of £300. The real key to the proposal was the deduction or remission of the tax up to £150, and, as the natural corollary to that, the deduction of £120 instead of £80. The principle on which the whole proposal rested was identically the principle on which these remissions had been founded for many years past. Some of the criticisms they had heard he thought could hardly be said to have been advanced seriously. He thought the criticism that it would be right to do this if they were reducing the tax, but wrong when they were raising it, was very difficult to follow or appreciate. They had been told that this was an emergency tax, and that they ought to take care not to do anything which, if the tax were raised to 1s. or 1s. 6d., would sacrifice a considerable amount of the revenue we might get from it. But if that argument was to be held good for anything, we ought to do away with the exemptions that already existed. By putting the Income Tax on the basis on which the Government proposed to put it, the House, instead of giving a stimulus to what he regarded as a most dangerous policy—namely, that of a graduated tax—would carry out further the exemptions which tended to prevent that danger. In conclusion, he hoped that the House would adopt the scheme of the Government instead of the view put forward by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hubbard), which, though ingenious in theory, would not be found suitable in practice.
I can assure hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House that I am sincerely anxious to relieve them from the necessity or occasion of listening to me in any statement or argument upon this important question; and, after listening to the speeches that have been made it occurs to me that I may possibly, by putting a question at the outset, relieve the House altogether from that necessity, and remain, except in so far as the very few words I am about to say, a silent Member on this occasion. I noticed that the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury in his speech confined his defence absolutely and exclusively to that portion of the proposal of the Government which raises the limit of total exemption from the Income Tax from the sum of £100 to £150 a-year; and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, following the Secretary of the Treasury, delivered a careful and elaborate defence of that single portion of the proposal which raised the limit from £100to £150, and although he offered, amidst what I may call the emphatic silence of hon. Members on that side of the House, some apology for the remainder of the proposal—namely, that of raising the deduction from £80 to £120, and the maximum under which that deduction applies from £300 to £400—though he made that kind of apology for these portions of the proposal which I fully admit decency required, yet, on the whole, the impression left on my mind was that it was not disagreeable to him, at all events it was not intolerable to him if at once we were to offer him some assistance in throwing overboard that portion of his cargo, and that it might shorten our proceedings if he were to give us an explicit explanation on that point. I think I am justified in asking my right hon. Friend whether he is prepared to assure us that provided the House is ready to adopt the alteration of the limit of absolute exemption from £100 to £150 he on his part is ready to abandon the two other proposals of raising the deductions from £80 to £120, and the limit of incomes upon which that deduction is to be made from £300 to £400. I make no excuse whatever in offering my right hon. Friend and the House a distinct bribe on the subject, because he will get away at least half-an-hour earlier from a discussion which I myself wish to avoid.
I will not stand in the way of my right hon. Friend proceeding with his argument.
Though I esteem the statement of my right hon. Friend as a very high personal compliment, yet I would willingly forego it if he would explicitly state what I think he has implicitly done in the observations he has made. I really think he might as well spare himself the trouble, whether I am right or wrong, of pushing those two portions of his proposal, because unless I mistake the genuine feeling of the House itself it is a feeling of dislike to those two proposals. Therefore I must, under protest and under compulsion from the Members of the Government who will not relieve me from the necessity, proceed to state why I think this is an important matter, and upon what footing I place the remarks I have to make. I do not think it necessary to answer many of the points in the speech of my right hon. Friend, because I am extremely anxious to keep out of this discussion whatever belongs to the distinction between the two Parties in this House; but one observation of his I must meet with a mild protest and objection. He objected to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen), on the ground that he had assumed and taken upon himself to denounce this measure from a Conservative point of view. Says my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer—"You have no right to denounce this measure from a Conservative point of view. What have you to do with Conservatism? What do you know about it? Hold your tongue on the subject." But my right hon. Friend forgets, I will not say the established slang, but I will say the established formula of each of the two Parties. A Conservative when he goes to his constituents says—"I am a Conservative, but I tell you also the Conservatives are the best of Liberals." If he is a Liberal, he will say—"I am a Liberal, but I tell you also the Liberals are the best Conservatives." I know from my own personal experience that the professions of my Friends on this side of the House are perfectly sincere. But the right hon. Gentleman says it is impossible for the language of a Conservative to be also that of a Liberal, or that the language of a Liberal can be that also of a Conservative; and, therefore, I am afraid he thinks that the corresponding professions by Gentlemen who sit behind him have not at all the same character and stamp of sincerity as undoubtedly belong to those made on this side. Let us get rid, however, of expressions of this kind. Sir, I feel this is an occasion on which the entire responsibility of the decision that is to be given lies with the majority in this House. You, the Members of the majority, have it in your power to carry the proposals of the Government. For us, it is no very difficult matter to make our protest, and to point out what we conceive to be the rights of the case, and the danger of the course on which you are inviting us to enter. If the communications that have been going on upon the Treasury Bench have led to an alteration of intention, and if the right hon. Gentleman is now prepared to say he will dispense with this portion of the proposition, I beg that the right hon. Gentleman will interrupt me at any moment. I shall be most happy to acquiesce. But I wish it to be clearly understood that the decision of this question is wholly and peculiarly in the breasts of the Conservative majority of this House. There are occasions—we have had occasions even in the present Parliament, on which the persistent and determined adhesion of the minority to their opinions—wherethey felt they had a very strong case in their hands and a very special duty incumbent on them, in particular where even that minority, however divided and disspirited it may have been at the commencement of the present Parliament, has been enabled to procure from the majority an ultimate concurrence in its views. But this is not one of those cases. It is, undoubtedly, not as Liberal Members of Parliament in particular that we are called upon to oppose a measure the obvious purpose of which is to relieve the larger and more numerous classes of society at the expense of the more limited and wealthier. That duty belongs to us as men of honour, and, I think, as prudent men. Of course, these considerations apply equally to the majority; but the Members of the majority, according to the professions they make with an unequivocal sincerity, are likewise the special guardians of all matters which have to do with the security of property in this country. Therefore I am very glad that this debate has not been carried on from this bench or from this side of the House, and that the Motion upon which we are apparently about to take a decision has been made by one of the most staunch and respected Members of the Party opposite. I could have wished that there had been more numerous speakers from the independent benches of that Party; but, still, I think it is very likely that a great number of Gentlemen who are sitting opposite are carefully considering in their minds, even at this moment, what vote they shall give. Let me point out the nature, in a technical and formal sense, of the vote which we shall be called upon to give. You, Sir, will put from the Chair, the Question that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question, namely—the words for your leaving the Chair, and our going into Committee. If that Question is carried, we then affirm the whole plan of the exemptions of the Government as it stands. I do not mean to say we deprive ourselves of the power of subsequently correcting the vote, but we give an affirmation to the plan by determining, against the Motion of my right hon. Friend, to go into Committee without giving any adverse opinion on any part of the plan. Therefore, let it be understood that those who vote for the words proposed to be left out to stand part of the Question, vote for the system of exemption as it is now proposed; that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has declined to make that separation of the parts of the system which I have humbly and enticingly solicited, and that, on the contrary, by voting with my right hon. Friend we shall in no way forfeit or prejudice our right to accede to that portion of the plan which alters from £100 to £150 the limit of exemption, but shall simply get quit at once and finally of the other two portions of the plan to which objection is felt. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has entered into the history of the tax, and though I think there are one or two points upon which he is not perfectly accurate in his statement, I need not follow him into them, because they are not material enough to require that I should endeavour to present my statement of the facts. But apart from the historical narrative, the case, it appears to me, stands thus. We have complained of the right hon. Gentleman's proposals mainly on three grounds: First, we maintain that you cripple the tax in time of war. It has been shown that the present exemptions cost a great deal, and the exemptions proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer nearly double that cost. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says—"You have no right to mention the present cost, because if you think the exemptions are illegitimate they ought to be got rid of." I cannot admit that plea. The present exemptions are admitted because the considerations that recommend them, and which make them matter almost of necessity, are considerations of such weight and urgency as even to make that cost worth incurring; but what we contend against my right hon. Friend's exemptions is that they nearly double the cost without any of this necessity at all, and that if you suppose a case in which the tax is raised to a high rate, or to its maximum, the deduction from its efficacy becomes an enormous deduction. If the tax were raised to the amount of 2s., at which it stood for many years together during the revolutionary war, the total deductions from the tax by the exemptions would be very little short indeed of £10,000,000 a-year. If the sum of 2s. should seem to some Gentlemen a visionary sum, I may remind them that even in the Crimean War, which only lasted a little more than a twelvemonth as to its active operations, and when we had peace within two years from the time war was declared, even in that short and most fugitive war we raised the tax to the sum of 1s. 4d. Then, in the next place, we say this is a mode of securing the perpetuity of the tax. But the hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Treasury says that is perfectly true, and that is the merit of the proposal. He stated for the first time from the Treasury Bench that the tendency of this proposal to perpetuate the tax was one of the merits which had commended it to the approval of the Government. The hon. Gentleman since he has been in office cannot have had time to refresh his memory on the subject of the declarations of the manifesto or counter manifesto issued by the Prime Minister at the time of the General Election. The hon. Gentleman has forgotten that at the time when it was my duty to point out that we had a state of things in which we could part with the Income Tax, and we recommended parting with it, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire disputed entirely our title to make ourselves the patrons of the abolition of the Income Tax, and said—"The Liberals are those who have always kept on the Income Tax; the Conservative Party are those who have always striven to take it off." The Secretary of the Treasury, forgetful of the solemn declarations of his Leaders, which amount almost to the profession of a political creed, says that because this proposal tends to the perpetuity of the tax it is considered as one of its recommendations in the eyes of the Government. It has been truly said that this is a proposal by which, I will not say you bribe the majority, but by which you induce the majority of the actual taxpayers to acquiesce in the increase of the tax by making that increase positively and absolutely beneficial to them. You encourage them to run in upon the minority, for you are going to make the increase of the taxation of the minority re-imburse and compensate the State for the relief you are going to give to the majority. Is that a safe principle? What does my right hon. Friend say upon that? He says it was the very thing Sir Robert Peel did in 1842. I take issue with him. I ought to know something about that, for it was my duty to fight the tariff of 1842 through the House of Commons. He forgot that the tariff of that year was not directed to the remissions it made to the relief of the great articles of consumption bearing upon the subsistence of the people. It was directed to the liberation of trade by the abolition and the reduction of duty upon raw material. Let my right hon. Friend mould his proceeding upon the basis of Sir Robert Peel, and we shall have very little to object to in it. My right hon. Friend says it does not signify whether you make these exemptions when the tax is increased or when it is diminished. I protest against that doctrine. I have serious doubts whether we were right in 1872 in raising the maximum up to which the deduction was allowed from £200 to £300; but I say it is a totally different thing to do what is done by my right hon. Friend—namely, to purchase the relief of one man under the same act and law at the expense of another, who is called on to pay for the relief as well as his own share of the tax. I must say a few words to the House, and especially to the majority, upon the nature of this proposal as to the principle it involves. My right hon. Friend showed a not unnatural disposition to get rid of the discussion of principle under the name of theory. It is not at all a bad plan—and my right hon. Friend seems to have adopted it in his speech—when you find the discussion of the principles of finance to be inexpedient to disparage and denounce them as theories, and as not fit to be entertained in an assembly of practical men. However, I do not think the theories of finance at all irrelevant to the discussion of practical measures of finance. Those who have been soundest in the theory of finance have been those who have brought about all the practical improvements in the practice of finance. I object to these two proposals, putting them in a totally different category from the first of the three proposals—namely, that which raises the limit of exemptions from £100 to £150 a-year. I do not desire to join issue with the Government, and do not now make appeal to the House on any limited and narrow ground such as would be the subject of discussion so long as it was confined to £150 a-year. It is true that was the original minimum of the Income Tax, and it would be idle to attempt to reproach any Government that thought that circumstances made it desirable to return it to that limit. I should only have to say I thought the time was unfortunately chosen, for I do not think a period when a tax is raised is the right period to give relief to a large class of payers of the tax. But I do not desire to enter into that, as I do not think it involves any principle of taxation. The question raised with regard to the other two classes is of a totally different character. Besides the number which my right hon. Friend admits will be entirely relieved from the operation of the tax, another 200,000, having incomes between £150 and £400 a-year, will be relieved under Schedules D and E. That number is an absolute and considerable majority of the entire number of persons paying Income Tax above £150 a-year. The portion upon whom you are going to increase the tax does not consist of more than 150,000 or 160,000 persons; the portion upon whom you are going to diminish the tax, after putting aside those whom you are going to relieve from it, is about 200,000.Schedules A, B, and C contain an uncertain but very large number of persons that ought to be added to those figures; and this, as everyone acquainted with the tax must know, must largely increase the majority of those whom you are going to relieve, and largely reduce the minority on whom you are going to place increased burdens. Is this a safe proceeding? What is the virtue of this figure £400? I never but once happened to hear the figure 400 introduced as a figure of cardinal virtue and power in matters of finance. The people of England are eminently Conservative in matters of taxation and finance. We do not find the labouring classes in this country desirous to enrich themselves at the expense of the State or their richer neighbours. But once I did read a pamphlet that did appear to be full of the most mischievous trash, but the very proposal in the pamphlet was to a certain extent in sympathy with the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer; for the writer laid down this fundamental doctrine—that every man ought to have a fixed minimum income secured by the State, and he was led evidently by the same directing genius that has moved the mind of my right hon. Friend; only he applied his principle more largely and consistently, to fix upon the income which should be secured to every man by the State the sum of £400 a-year, £200 for the maintenance of his wife and family, and £200 for his own recreation, enjoyment, and satisfaction. My right hon. Friend said—"If you object to exemptions on £400 you object to exemptions altogether." If that is to be said, what argument could be used when some future Minister, who was still more warm and sympathetic in his nature than the present one, raised the limit to £500 a-year. Is there a danger in this way of handling the Income Tax, or is there not? That is the question which I wish in all sincerity and earnestness to address to every one of you who sit on the opposite side of the House, because I know those on this side of the House do not desire to have it addressed to them. I do not wish to preach to the converted. I am far from thinking that with the dispositions that prevail in this country the theories of Socialism and Communism have for us the real danger which they present on the Continent of Europe. I believe we may commit many faults, and play a great many pranks—dangerous and mischievous pranks—and still the good sense of the people of England would save us from Socialism and Communism. But they are evils of such a character that I should like to keep the margin between us and them as broad as possible, and I object to these proposals because it trespasses on that margin. I will endeavour to prove what I say. Of all the taxes on our Stature Book the Income Tax is the only tax through which it is possible that Socialism or Communism, or anything like them, can, in the nature of things, find an entrance into our system. It cannot be done by indirect taxation, indirect taxation seeming to hit all alike, while it probably hits with greatest severity the poorer classes. It cannot be done through our stamp laws, for, speaking generally, they are rigidly impartial. For the most part, though they may fall on the property of the country, they fall upon it within measure, and I have never heard it spoken of as unjust that the property of the country should pay largely and liberally for the advantages it derives from government. I do not believe it unjust that the rich man should pay more liberally than the man of lower position. But the unrestrained adoption of that doctrine is full of danger to the State; and I ask whether it is wise for us to give the smallest scintilla of countenance to that doctrine by adopting any proposal such as that now before us, unless on grounds very much stronger than those stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary to the Treasury? Take the case of those other taxes which fall upon property—the succession and legacy duties. These duties can never be made the means of introducing gross inequalities, because the very nature of them, requiring the realization of the property in order that the money be paid, absolutely forbids the doing of injustice. On the contrary, in the Income Tax we have a law admitting of being dealt with in a very different manner, and in one which would have given satisfaction to the Commune of Paris. We have only to strike the pen through the figure in one line, and in lieu of that to insert some other figure. It is the real and only avenue through which these dangerous principles can be introduced. Of course, I do not mean that the Chancellor of the Exchequer intends to introduce these principles. He is as much opposed to them as we, though not more; but I am not speaking of intentions, I am speaking of the tendency of the right hon. Gentleman's proceeding. It has always been felt that the Income Tax had its dangers. In the old Income Tax there were various forms of exemption, which, when it was renewed in1842, it was felt to be wise to get rid of. Since that time we have endeavoured to stand on a principle. It is intelligible, and the Income Tax has boasted of its equality—at least of its theoretical equality. It is a blot in it, and starts from a basis where it can be shown that it sins at its outset against its own first principles. At the same time, it was felt impossible to levy the tax upon the smallest incomes. It was impossible to levy it upon the wages of labour, and that led to the principle that the wages of labour should be exempted. This, then, is the principle upon which the tax has stood from that day to this. It was necessary to ascertain the proper point of transition from the wages of labour to those incomes that were taxable in the sense that they could be got at, and as very cruel anomalies arose it was thought better to graduate the transition. This is the history of the mode in which the subject has been dealt with. If it has been dealt with too liberally, I feel confident I shall carry your assent when I say that is not a reason for going forward. It is, I say, an additional reason for stopping short. If we have already done too much, it is a reason for not doing more. It is impossible to say that incomes between £150and £300 a-year are now unjustly taxed, and it is impossible to say that the revenue officers have found any difficulty in levying upon these incomes. It is impossible to say with regard to incomes between £300 and £400 that any of those considerations can apply which originally dictated the exemption of incomes below £150. Now, Sir, this is not a question upon which we should indulge a mere sympathetic feeling. If sympathetic feelings are to govern our discussions you may surrender tax after tax, and limit after limit, and your operations will never come to an end. We should adhere to the wise practice of former years, when necessity was the cause of exemption; and if we have given too liberal an interpretation already, and have come too near a danger, that is a great reason why we should come no nearer. These are considerations of such importance that I have felt it my duty to lay them before the House. I have no disposition to push my views with regard to the class of incomes between £100 and £150; but I earnestly hope these classes of exemptions now proposed by the Government will receive careful attention, and that Gentlemen speaking from the other side of the House, and with more authority and more favour than I can command, will back the appeal I have made and save us the necessity of any division on the question now before us.
said, he was opposed to the first part of the Amendment, but he was favourable to the second—namely, that it was inexpedient to extend the limit of exemptions to incomes of from £300 to £400. He could not, however, assent to the doctrine of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich, who asked them to vote for the Amendment, as he believed the effect of carrying it out would be fatal to the Bill. In Committee every Member could give effect to the opinions which he entertained.
said, he would vote for the exemptions, not because he approved them altogether, but because the principle upon which they were founded approached what was right. In his opinion, incomes under £300 should be entirely exempt. The right hon. Member for Greenwich seemed to have forgotten that the poor man paid in indirect taxation much more in proportion than the rich man paid.
said, nothing could have been more clear or convincing than the arguments of the Chancellor of the Exchequer with respect to the exemptions up to £150, and though there was some objection to raising the sum to be deducted from £80 to £120, yet that objection was not very material. He felt, however, that there was a strong objection to make the deductions from incomes under £400 instead of £300; and he thought the right hon. Gentleman himself was not altogether satisfied with that part of his proposition. If, therefore, he voted against the Motion of the right hon. Member for the City, he desired to guard himself against being precluded from voting against a portion of the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
trusted the Government would not at that stage of the Bill make any change in their proposals. It was entirely without precedent for a Government to make promises of remission of taxation in a Budget speech and then of their own accord to depart from the pledges they had given. There was no new principle involved in what the Government proposed—it was a step, and a very short step, in the direction taken by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. They were now told that by fixing on the limit at £400 they were touching the verge of Communism; but that they were quite safe when the limit was £300. He was not frightened by any such assertion. He hoped the Government would not depart one jot or tittle from their proposal. At an election which had recently taken place in the North of England the constituency had received the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman with the greatest favour.
said, he did not wish to prolong the debate, but he would say a word as to the effect of the Amendment. If the hon. Member (Mr. Floyer) thought he was more likely to obtain his object by opposing the proposals of the Government in Committee, he was of course at liberty to do so, though he could surely accomplish this result more effectually by supporting the Amendment. But the hon. Member (Mr. J. R. Yorke) was under a misapprehension in supposing that the Amendment, if carried, would stop the progress of the Bill. The only result would be to negative the Motion that the Speaker do "now" leave the Chair; and if the Amendment were then carried, it would be in the power of the House to amend it.
The House divided:—Ayes 241; Noes 121: Majority 120.
Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.
Bill considered in Committee.
Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.
Burghs (Scotland) Gas Supply (Re-Committed) Bill—Bill 120
( Sir Windham Anstruther, Mr. Orr Ewing, Mr. Grieve, Mr. William Holms.)
Order for Committee read.
moved that the Order for the Committee be discharged for the present in order that the measure might be referred back to the Select Committee.
said, he did not wish to offer any opposition to the proposal before the House, but he thought it right to point out some important changes which had been introduced into the Bill in Committee. If it re-appeared before the House again in the shape it now was, it would be his duty to trouble the House at much greater length on the matter in pointing out the remarkable provisions which had been inserted in the Bill,
would like a more definite statement of the proposals in the Bill which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Raikes) considered so objectionable.
Order discharged; Motion agreed to.
Bill re-committed to the former Select Committee, with reference to Clauses 2, 3, 6, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 43, 45, and 57, and Schedule B.
Customs Laws Consolidation Bill
Considered in Committee.
(In the Committee.)
Resolved, That the Chairman be directed to move the House, that leave be given to bring in a Bill to consolidate the Customs Laws.
Resolution reported:—Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. RAIKES, Mr. WILLIAM HENRY SMITH, and Mr. CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER.
Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 154.]
Prevention Of Crimes Act Amendment Bill
On Motion of Sir Henry SELWIN-IBBETSON, Bill to amend "The Prevention of Crimes Act, 1871," ordered to be brought in by Sir Henry SELWIN-IBBETSON and Mr. Secretary Cross.
Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 153.]
Poor Law Rating (Ireland) Bill
On Motion of Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, Bill to amend the Law for the Relief of the Poor in Ireland in respect to rating and chargeability on Poor Law Unions, ordered to be brought in by Sir Michael HICKS-BEACH and Mr. SOLICITOR GENERAL for IRELAND.
Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 156.]
House adjourned at half after One o'clock.