HC Deb 28 June 1916 vol 83 cc942-5

It shall be lawful for any person occupying lands of an annual value not exceeding fifty pounds sterling for the purposes of the game of bowling only to elect to be assessed to the duties of Income Tax chargeable under Schedule D, and in accordance with the rules of that Schedule in lieu of assessment to the duties under Schedule B, and such election shall be signified as provided by Section eighteen of the Customs and Inland Revenue Act, 1887, provided that, in the current Income Tax year, it may be so signified at any time before the seventh day of February, nineteen hundred and seventeen.

Clause brought up, and read the first time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."

Bowling is very largely played in Scotland, though not so largely played in England. There are probably between four hundred and five hundred bowling clubs in Scotland. The larger part of the membership of these clubs consists of the poorer classes and the working class. The large majority of these clubs are on ground very near their homes—that is to say, they are allowed to use ground on which a bowling green is made, or else they become holders at a nominal rent. The proposal in this Clause would not allow them to escape the tax, but would give the clubs, whose rent is covered by £50, the option which the farmer has and which was given him in 18S8 for the first time, to make their return for Income Tax either under Schedule B as occupier, or under Schedule D as a profit-making concern. I have had returns from more than half the clubs, over two hundred of them, and, broadly speaking, about three-fifths of them, or between three-fifths and three-fourths of them, made no profits at all, and in most of these cases, indeed, they are run at a loss. It is very hard in cases where a club consisting of men of the poorer class, who are allowed to use a piece of ground as a bowling green —which, after all, is a good healthy recreation—at a nominal rent of 5s. or 10s. a year, indeed it may be only 1s., that they should be assessed on the real value of the ground, it may be at £30 or £40, on which they would have to pay a very large tax, as occupiers, of 5s. in the £.

They are not in a position to pay the tax, and the effect will be that these clubs will become extinct in a great many eases, and no revenue will accrue, as a result of it, to the Exchequer. The game of bowling will appear to the great majority of Members, perhaps, as rather an old man's game than a young man's game. Undoubtedly, however, a very large number of younger men, men of military age, do play the game, and, speaking partly from personal knowledge and also from what I have been told, there is no doubt that bowling clubs in Scotland—and I have no doubt it is the same in England—have contributed very largely to our Army, and a great many of their members are serving at the front at the present time. That in itself makes it difficult enough to keep the bowling green going, because you cannot allow a bowling green to go back, or abandon it for a year or two, without having to incur expense to again get the turf into order. For these reasons I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to accept the suggestion in this Clause, to give this option in the case of the poorer bowling clubs, those with a rent under £50. It would only affect occupiers' taxes; where they are the owners, they would have to pay the owners' taxes. Still, as regards the occupiers' tax, they should have the option of making a return, if they so choose, on the profits they make, which after all is fair. It is not as if they were running a rich club, or a money-making club; these clubs are purely for the purpose of recreation, so as to enable the poorer classes to enjoy a healthy game, as they do greatly enjoy this healthy game of bowling.


I think my hon. Friend has made a fair and reasonable case, and I hope the Government will do something to meet it. I do not think one can imagine a better agency for maintaining the industrial output than healthy recreation, and this proposal contains a suggestion which meets that object. I hope the Financial Secretary will be able to meet the case.


I support the Clause, which simply asks for a privilege which has already been granted to farmers for some years. These clubs have great difficulty in making ends meet, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give the proposal his attention and endeavour to grant what he is asked.


When I saw the Clause on the Paper I am bound to say that as a responsible politician I felt bound to put one or two arguments in answer to it. These bowling greens are valued under Schedule D on the full annual value, and it is suggested that the owner or owners should have the option of paying the tax under Schedule B instead of Schedule D. If the bowling green belonged to a private owner, whose habit and pastime it is to entertain his friends and guests at a game of bowls, he gets no income, and he is exempted from the tax altogether. In regard to these clubs it is true that possibly the income derived from the bowling greens is smaller than their annual value, but I cannot really believe that the hon. Member who is responsible for this proposal thinks that this, of all times, is the right time to give an opportunity to the State to express encouragement of the game of bowling, nor can I understand, except as regards its locality, what there is to differentiate these bowling clubs and the game of bowling from boat races, cricket, football, lawn tennis, golf, gardens, parks, or any other game or places by means of which people get health and recreation, and where the profits are small. I believe that if the Committee were to put this matter to a Division hon. Members would find themselves in a very roomy and unpopulated Lobby.


There is one weakness in the argument of the right hon. Gentleman. He took the case of the owner of the bowling green who, he said, will escape the taxation altogether; but I would point out that the owner has to pay Income Tax under Schedule A. This is the case of a separate bowling green on which there is a very heavy rental, and I can see no reason why the suggestion in the Amendment should not be accepted. The point of the right hon. Gentleman would have been a good one if it had been a right one, when he said that the owner would get off paying the tax, but the fact is that the owner pays under Schedule A and not under Schedule B.


I will take back that word, however, and substitute the word "occupier," and then the whole of my speech will be true.

Question put and negatived.

The following stood on the Paper in the name of Mr. HEWINS:—