The Week i n Parliament
WE had had the usual Press talk of feverish interest in the Budget, of early morning pegging out of claims for seats, and the rest of it. But none of all this was reflected in the atmosphere of the House when it gathered to hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Chamber was not even full. Something was due to the Chancellor's health : members felt that it was not the occasion for the sort of Parliamentary boxing match which in other circumstances we should have relished. What followed from Mr. Neville Chamberlain and Mr. Lloyd George was purely complimentary and formal. The Chairman warned the Committee that this method of substituting a printed for an oral statement must not be taken as a precedent. One wondered, however, as one saw the way in which it enabled the Budget statement to be abbreviated, and made, not the somewhat theatrical display which these occasions have usually been in the past, but the sort of businesslike statement that a chairman of a commercial corporation would make to his board of directors, whether the method ought not to be permanently adopted.
• The Chancellor of the Exchequer gave few. visible Signs of his bad illness. When he came to deal with the revenue tariff proposal he was the old biting pug- nacious. Snowden that the House loves. The refusal,- once more, to have any truck with any tariff, of any kind, evoked one of the very few outbursts of cheering from the Labour benches' which marked the' speech. And that fact is a curious one. It prompts one to ask whether Victorian Free Trade, presented as a sort of religious dogma, is to find its final defence among the older element of the Labour Party (it is notorious that the younger element give Very qualified allegiance to the doctrine).
Here was a Labour Chancellor pleading as earnestly as the best Gladstonian Liberal for economy, for lightening the burden of taxation, speaking as the mouthpiece of a Party which for a quarter of a century has been urging that taxation is one of the means by which a more equitable distribution of the nation's income should be secured. He justified this course on the ground that nothing should be done which might have a psychological effect of checking a return to prosperity—the prosperity, that is, of capitalist industry, the making of profits, which so many 'Labour champions have so often declared never should be made.
Few of the Opposition speakers could resist the tempta- tion to taunt the Chancellor with the fact that he had adopted methods which in the past he, had held up to scorn. Mr. Chamberlain's speech—urbane, .quiet, clever —was little more than this. And as nearly. two . whole Parliamentary days were spent in going over this same kind of ground, the comparison with a Board of Directors (we were dealing with finance remember) came once more irresistibly to mind. Could one imagine the directors of a great industrial concern, at a time of universally admitted crisis of the worst kind, spending whole days on tu quoque debating points ? The reflection was prompted the more irresistibly in that this is at bottom a " postponing ". budget. No new departure . which concerns this year has been made : even the Land Values Tax which has so cheered the heart of Colonel Wedgwood (also back in the House after a long illness) can only take effect in several years' time.
One of the most substantial criticisms of the Govern- ment was that of Mr. F. E. Wise, in a speech which made one wonder. once more why he is where he is on the slopes with the Clydesiders ; and why, somehow, he does not cut more ice in a Parliamentary sense. It is doubtful whether the real income of the country is lower than it was ; whether its taxable capacity has been reached, as the Government implies ; and particularly doubtful whether taxation is to-day heavier in this country than in Continental States. His speech brought home the con- tradiction I have already referred to. The members who do believe in the Chancellor's policy will vote against him ; and those who do not will vote for him. GUARDIAN,