House of Lords Rejects the 'People's Budget': November 30th, 1909

By Cavendish, Richard | History Today, November 2009 | Go to article overview

House of Lords Rejects the 'People's Budget': November 30th, 1909


Cavendish, Richard, History Today


Brought up in poverty in Wales after his father's death when he was a baby, David Lloyd George grew up with a magnetic personality and a profound sympathy with the poor. He visited the House of Commons when he was 18 and confided to his diary that he viewed the assembly in the same spirit as William the Conqueror must have contemplated the England of Edward the Confessor.

In 1890 he became Liberal MP for Caernarvon. When the Liberals won the general election of 1905 with a hefty majority he said it was essential that the new government must do something 'to cope with the social condition of the people, to remove the national degradation of slums and widespread poverty and destitution in a land glittering with wealth'.

Lloyd George was appointed chancellor of the exchequer in his mid-forties in 1908 by the previous chancellor, H.H. Asquith, who moved up to be prime minister. His first task was to see the 1908 budget, which had been prepared by Asquith and which introduced old-age pensions, through the House of Commons. By 1909, when his own first budget was due, the Liberal government was in trouble. Much of its reforming legislation had been blocked by the House of Lords and radicals like Lloyd George feared that the fledgling Labour Party might steal its thunder. At the same time, the need for more battleships to counter the looming threat from Germany made it harder to find the money for further reforms.

The new chancellor's response was what he called a budget 'to wage implacable warfare against poverty and squalidness'. It became known as the People's Budget, was supported in Cabinet by both Asquith and Winston Churchill and was introduced in the House of Commons on April 29th in a dreary speech by Lloyd George, who droned on for more than four hours. Usually a masterful speaker, he was tired and suffering from a throat infection. The budget's contents, however, were far from boring. Income tax and death duties were both raised and a new supertax at sixpence in the pound levied on the amount by which incomes above 5,000 [pounds sterling] a year (equivalent to more than 350,000 [pounds sterling] today) exceeded 3,000 [pounds sterling]. The most controversial proposals, however, were for a capital gains tax on the 'unearned increment' in the value of land created not by the landowner but by the community at large and duty on the capital value of undeveloped land.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Lord Rosebery, the former Liberal prime minister, called the budget 'a social and political revolution of the first magnitude' and it created a fierce adverse reaction among rich landowners, in the City and in the House of Lords. …

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