HC Deb 02 July 1923 vol 166 cc113-20

Entertainments Duty within the meaning of Section one of the Finance (New Duties) Act, 1916, as amended by other enactments, shall not be charged in respect of payments for admission to the British Empire Exhibition to be held in or near London in the year nineteen hundred and twenty-four.—[Sir W.Joynson-Hicks.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


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

This is the last new Clause which I move, and it is one which I trust will be accepted by all parties in this House. It is one which I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity of moving. After the concessions which we have made to-day in regard to trade exhibitions, I think that it would ill become us to demand the Entertainments Duty from those visitors from overseas, or from our own country, who visit the great Empire Exhibition which will take place next year. A portion of this exhibtiion will consist of a great trade exhibition, but, as the House knows, there is an amusement section, and there is also a stadium in which various contests of skill and otherwise are expected to take place. While I am going to ask the House not to impose the Entertainment Duty on the entrance fees to the exhibition itself, the duty will, of course, be charged on the entertainment portion. Anyone who has to pay for a different form of entertainment, or amusement, or who pays for seats in the stadium, where there may be athletic contests, or pays for anything of that kind which would be purely in the nature of an entertainment, will have to pay the duty, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer thought, and I think that the House will agree, that, after the concessions which we have made this afternoon, it is only right that our fellow countrymen who come from the great Dominions to take part in the great exhibition next year should not go away feeling that Great Britain had imposed on them an Entertainments Duty on what would be an Imperial exhibition. On the other hand, if they go in for what is purely an entertainment inside the exhibition, they should be charged the Entertainments Duty. That being so, I move this Clause, not merely as an act of justice, which I think it is, but also as an extension of welcome to the vast number of Dominion visitors who will be coming next year to this great exhibition.


I think we all agree with what the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary of the Treasury has said as to a desire to give a warm welcome to our visitors. Everybody desires to do that, but really, was not the right hon. Gentleman beating the big drum somewhat when he talked in the way he did? Surely a welcome to visitors from the Dominions is not to be expressed by saying that they need not pay Entertainments Duty, for if one is concerned to go to a cheaper part of the exhibition—though I do not know exactly what the tax will be—you may save 2d. or 3d., and that is the way we are going to make a happy Empire! We are going to make our friends from across the seas like us by giving them 3d. in the 1s.! It is a most ridiculous proposition. We all desire to give our visitors a welcome, but this solemn moving of a New Clause to allow one particular enterprise relief from the Entertainments Duty is a singularly strange way of going about it. We have had Debates on the Committee stage which have shown that the Entertainments Duty pressed very hardly upon very poor people. If the right hon. Gentleman had had some proposal, specially-devised for a special occasion, some really well thought out proposal which was going to reform the operation of the tax, there would have been a great deal to be said for it. But this particular proposal is a bit of flap-doodle.


I trust that this extraordinary concession will not receive the assent of the House. We have seen and heard a great deal about this British Empire Exhibition, and after all we have seen and heard I think it is obvious that this concession is not devised in the interests of the Dominions at all, or of visitors from the Dominions, but is devised in the interests of this extraordinary undertaking itself. A great many of the people of the Dominions, it is true, will be visiting the Exhibition, but they will be a very small number relatively to those who do not come from the Dominions. Apparently, the bonds of Empire are to be tightened, and the affection of our Colonies are to be won, by giving them 2d. in the 1s. when they enter the Exhibition. Of the millions who will go to Wembley it may be taken that a very small percentage will be from the Dominions. Really you are going to relieve people who go to Wembley for amusements of various kinds into which it is not necessary for me to go into detail. We know the Empire Exhibition is in deep water, but we are going to give £14,000 to its secretary for reasons which have not been disclosed to the House


"The ex-secretary."


The general manager!


The general manager. Possibly this concession is intended to make up for the £14,000 which the Exhibition is going to sacrifice. It probably does not amount to that. You therefore save the risk of the guarantors being called upon for the £14,000. Money sacrificed by incompetence in appointing a secretary who, although perfectly competent, has been got rid of. I hold that this proposal is a bad one, and obviously the right hon. Gentleman did not really believe the sentiments he was putting forward. I know he believed the sentiments when he talked on the question of Imperial Preference, and that he believed it would go a great deal further; but when he introduces the same kind of sentiment in favour of this trumpery proposal, then it is really too much even for his most ardent supporters to accept. We have seen a great many strange things done. There was the fat lady that we heard of at the agricultural shows, because of which the Agricultural Society has been barred from getting relief from the Entertainments Duty. We have here, however, a proposal that is in every way ridiculous and absurd at the present time, in relieving this extraordinary exhibition. I hope that a proposal so supported, a proposal with nothing to recommend it, but which simply means a present given to this particular undertaking, will be abandoned, and that the suggestion that this is going to be a concession in favour of the Dominions will be treated with the contempt which it deserves.


I desire to support what has already fallen from the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle) and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Sir J. Simon). In respect to the Imperial Exhibition I do not wish to be called ungracious or to adopt an attitude that would be considered in any way ungracious by our relatives and friends overseas. But when pleas have been made for the relief of taxation of our own people here, and declined, it does seem ridiculous that this corporation should be allowed to escape taxation. I agree with the hon. Member for Penistone in respect of the gentleman he named, the winter of whose discontent has recently been made glorious summer in the forms of Treasury notes. I agree that he is probably at the bottom of this suggested concession. I cannot in the least see why the Exhibition should afford to compensate a gentleman to the extent of £14,000—a matter we have discussed and asked questions about—I do not see why that entertainment should be allowed to escape its fair share of taxation. I agree with those who have spoken in opposition to the proposal that it is not worth while, and ought not to be considered by the House; and I hope that the House will see that if the smaller entertainments for children under 14 years of age are to receive no relief, we should not relieve gentlemen who go to the Imperial Exhibition, most of whom will be fairly well able to pay their way. We need not relieve them of the Entertainments Duty while insisting on keeping the tax at the figure it is, a figure which weighs heavily upon the juvenile section of the population.


The Chancellor of the Exchequer and my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, in reply to questions from all quarters of the House and speeches urging a reduction of the Entertainments Duty—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up!"]—refused it on the grounds that the Treasury could not afford to make the concession. Here the right hon. Gentleman is asking the House to make a very large concession to the British Empire Exhibition. The duty bears hardly on a good many working people in this country in respect of many, many entertainments, and here the proposal is to subsidise a very large number of affluent people in respect to an exhibition which, as my hon. Friend knows, is likely to produce a very large amount of money. I have had the opportunity of criticising the management of the British Empire Exhibition, and the right hon. Gentleman knows that a very lengthy inquiry was undertaken. At that time figures were placed before him showing that it was expected that at least 30,000,000 or 40,000,000 would pay for admission to the British Empire Exhibition. The Entertainments Duty, on that admisson, money would probably come to something like a quarter of a million of money. I do suggest to my right hon. Friend that if he has any concession to make that he ought to give it to the permanent industry of this country rather than to this problematical adventure at Wembley. And I say it on these grounds: that I do not think the Exhibition is going to be largely patronised by our friends from the Dominions. Even if so, I feel sure they would rather see the relief given to a permanent industry of this country than this adventure encouraged where, after all, it is not a question of people who are proposed to be out of pocket, but a large number of wealthy people who have guaranteed the expenses. They can afford to make a loss far better than the people of this country.

Captain W. BENN

May I ask the Financial Secretary whether he has any estimate of what loss to the Revenue there will be from the remission of this duty? Can he give us any idea at all of what he is losing by this? Secondly, is there any precedent at all in the fiscal legislation of this country for remitting to one particular person or enterprise their portion of a tax? The thing is entirely unheard of, that we should pass a Clause in the Finance Bill which says that So-and-so or such a corporation shall not pay a tax. I have never seen anything of the kind in any Finance Bill. I do not believe there is any precedent for such a Clause. In respect to the right hon. Gentleman's defence of this Clause, I cannot imagine anything worse than what he said, that people coming from across the seas shall not have to pay 2d. to an exhibition! But the right hon. Gentleman forgot to add that if they go into the exhibition free of tax when they want to get to the entertainments which really amuse them or interest them, the fat lady, or try your strength, or try your skill, or other of the many things of the sort, they have to pay the tax. That, surely, will be a great grievance which may tend to dissolve that tie which the right hon. Gentleman is so anxious to create by the remission of this duty. There must be some other reason than that given by the right hon. Gentleman for his action. The reason, I suppose, is a desire to subsidise the exhibition. That may be a perfectly desirable thing to do, but if we desire to subsidise an exhibition, then the Treasury should come forward and ask Parliament to vote a certain sum of money in aid of the exhibition. That would be straightforward and a far more desirable way than by introducing an entirely new precedent into our fiscal practice by exempting, by name, one corporation or another.


I was rather impressed by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary when he moved this particular Clause, for it seemed as though the hard financial expert had softened into a man of sensibility in his desire to knit the Empire together. But I trust that little breach which has been made in his heart will be healed. Appeals have been made which seem to me worthy of attention to remit portions of the Entertainments Duty. In the course of these discussions on the Finance Bill Members in all quarters of the House have mentioned instances of how hardly the Entertainments Duty bears on particular entertainments of one sort or another. This is the only case which apparently is going through, but I should like to remember the contrast with some of the other concessions for which we have asked in vain. I am interested, not financially, in certain matters where we suffer very much from the Entertainments Duty. I am interested in the performance, with- out profits, of good dramas, and we should like to get a Clause exempting these particular things if winter comes.


In view of all that happened during the Committee stage, I think this is a perfectly monstrous proposal. On previous occasions in Committee the Government have said to the entertainments industry "We will not relieve you from taxation," and now it is proposed to pick out one particular entertainment which is likely to afford enjoyment to 30,000,000 or 40,000,000 people, and to this particular exhibition you say, "We will take off the Entertainment Duty" and in that way you are making a perfectly invidious distinction to what we know is already a flourishing industry, while you refuse this concession to industries that can hardly pay their own way. It is a thoroughly invidious proposal to relieve this particular exhibition in this way, thus reducing the price of admission from 1s. 3d. to 1s., making the exhibition an additional attraction to the general public, thus taking them away from other entertainments which have to pay the tax, and which are very hardly hit. In view of the fact that appeals were made from all quarters of the House to relieve the entertainments industry generally from taxation and those appeals were refused, I should like to know from what quarter the appeal to make this proposal came.


May I say at once that I am very disappointed at the way in which this proposal has been received, because I thought it was a proposal which would commend itself to all quarters of the House. I observe, however, that that is not the case. The right hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir J. Simon), who is in charge of the Front Opposition Bench, made the statement that he was opposed to this Clause, and, under those circumstances, I am not disposed to press the matter by putting on the party Whips. It being the view, apparently, of those who have spoken in this Debate, that it is not desirable to pass this Clause, I shall not press it, and I may say at once that there was no request from anyone made to me that this Clause should be brought forward. It was one which we thought would be received favourably, even by the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn), but, as he thinks that it will create an evil precedent and does not commend itself to his greater sense of taste than I possess, I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.