8 APRIL 1876, Page 6


THE Budget Speech this year was a very sensible and a very dull one. Sir Stafford Northoote has many claims to respect as a statesman, but originality is not one of them, and this year his materials were of the least exciting kind. He had nothing to give away, and nothing of any importance to ask. Last year he calculated that the Revenue would be £76,625,000, but as every branch of receipts rose except the Excise, he obtained £77,131,693, or a million and a half more than his calculation. As, however, the expenditure increased like the revenue, unexpected sums being voted for education, for Naval expenses, for the Prince of Wales's journey, and for some outstanding accounts between India and Eng- land, till it reached £76,421,773, the total surplus was only £710,000, an amount which would delight M. Loon Say, or any other Continental financier, but which in this oeuary Mr. Gladstone has taught us to consider small. Next year even this surplus, however, would be exchanged for a deficit, but that Sir Stafford Northcote takes more money. Commerce is declining, the country has sustained some severe losses, and the Chancellor does not expect to receive more than 177,270,000, or a trifle more than in 1875-76. Out of this sum he has to spend £78,044,000, the expense of the Services having increased by two millions and a half, and as, of course, he cannot do this, he proposes to add another penny to the Income-tax, and so to convert the expected deficit of £774,000, or counting a loss of £26,000 from the abolition of a worrying little tax on boys casually em- ployed to do odd jobs, £800,000, into a surplus of £368,000, an amount which will not allow of many supplemental estimates.

There is very little to object to in this statement, and indeed, very little to discuss, except the method in which Sir Stafford Northcote proposes to meet his expected deficiency. He is not responsible for any portion of the increased expen- diture. The extra sums given to the Army and Navy are given to make those Services more efficient, in accordance with a national demand, and if they are not more efficient that is not the fault of the Exchequer. The extra grant to the Civil Service is mainly the result of the increase in the grants for Education and for Local Taxation, and it is only on the latter item that there is any serious doubt as to the expediency of the policy pursued. In any case, Sir Stafford has (A- to find the money, and he finds it without any juggling; and without in- terrupting his scheme for the reduction of the Debt,—which, be it remembered, he still estimates at his 'fixed figure of £27,700,000 a year,—by an increase of a penny in the Income- tax. We doubt if anybody will seriously object. The Chan- cellor might, no doubt, have obtained the amount from whisky; but with the Excise already decreasing, it would not have been wise to run the risk, and as the income-tax was only twopence, the additional penny will not be severely felt. To make it as light as possible, Sir Stafford extends the limit of total exemption to £150, and allows persons with less than £400 a year to deduct £120 from their calculation. The first exemption is reasonable, and the second looks so, though in practice the deduction is less of a relief than it seems. The man with £400 a year under Schedule D deducts his £120 and saves his 30s. easily enough, but the man with the same income from annuities, land, or houses has already paid the money, and although he can get it back from the Treasury, he usually finds that the demand for it, with the necessary filling-up of forms and making official applications, consumes too much time. That, however, is inevitable, and the schemes for improving the tax have very little to do with the Budget. Mr. Hubbard may be as right as we believe him to be wrong in wishing the tax changed to a per-mange upon property, or Mr. Gladstone may be as right as we believe him to be wrong in wishing it abolished alto-

; but a Chancellor of the Exchequer owes his first duty

to the Treasury. and, till that is full, is wise in abstaining from plane not certain to be accepted by the House. - Parliament has repeatedly rejected Mr. Hubbard's proposal, and this Parliament was elected to reject Mr. Gladstone's, and there is nothing to be done on Budget night except treat the Income- tax as a weapon to be used, if used at all, without being re- smelted first. No financier with a deficit will try such re- smelting without pressure from the country, and the country, As matters now stand, obviously does not care a dump. A few thoughtful men perceive that the Tory Ministry is spending lavishly, and not giving us anything considerable in return except the luxury of hearing Mr. Disraeli make childish little speeches in defence of silly projects for "increasing the splendour of the Crown," but neither electors nor representatives seriously care about the Budget, as long as the Treasury is full aad the Income-tax well under sixpence in the pound. Economy has been overdone till everybody is sick of the word, and until the time of scarcity arrives, the country will depend on the Chancellor of the Excheqer to defend the Treasury. Sir Stafford Northcote is, we believe, genuinely anxious to perform that function, but it is a little difficult to fight a whole Cabinet without some help from without. Sir Stafford contents him- self with resisting, as far as he can, and with insisting that, at all events, Parliament shall know everything. He has arranged, for example, that Parliament shall know exactly how much is lent and borrowed under Improvement Acts, such as the Sani- tary Laws, and has put the Suez-Canal annuity under very bright light indeed. He does not intend evidently that these four millions shall be lost in the general Debt, and all his efforts for its reduction therefore discredited, but puts the charge of the Suez Loan as a definite and perceptible item into his Estimates. That is honest and wise, and the only serious charge the economist will hereafter have to make against-Sir Stafford Northoote individually is that he does not worry his colleagues quite enough about supplementary estimates. In a country where vireartents, as the French financiers call them, are not allowed, there will be supplementary estimates, but a Chancellor of the Exchequer should always regard them, if not as immoralities, at least as offensive breaches of financial etiquette. India never gets justice from the British Treasury, so we have nothing to say about that £500,000 paid on military account this year, but we rather suspect if Mr. Lowe had been Chancellor, and the Duke of Argyll Indian Secretary, that debt would have been "left owing" till some year of surplus.