HC Deb 01 July 1927 vol 208 cc765-9
Lieut.-Colonel WATTS-MORGAN

I beg move, in page 2, line 9, at the end, to insert the words ( ) where the total amount of the duties payable by a moneylender exceeds one hundred pounds the Commissioners of Customs and Excise shall remit any excess over that sum or, if the duty has been paid, repay such excess and In the Standing Committee I argued that the provisions of the Clause as it stood were unreasonable in relation to large corporate companies. When a company was formed with a large number of branches I said there should be a maximum placed on the total amount of duty it had to pay. I do not propose to weary the House with the same set of arguments that I used in Committee, but I am entitled to point out that pawnbrokers are dealt with in a very much fairer and more reasonable way than are moneylenders. There are insinuations being passed around that I hold a brief for the moneylenders. I am speaking individually and for myself alone, and I do not desire that my party should be considered in any way responsible for the remarks that I make. Any statement I make I make entirely because I was asked to be a member of the Select Committee of both Houses which conducted an investigation into this subject—a very early investigation, it is true, and not a very complete and detailed one. I wish to make that explanation. If there is any Member of the House who thinks that I hold a brief for the moneylenders, I would assure him that there is no foundation for it. I shall have something further to say on that subject later.

My sole point in moving this Amendment is that I want the spirit of fairness and impartiality to be exercised towards all people who are in any way connected with the moneylending business in this country. The pawnbroker will get his licence, and he will be able to trade as a moneylender for £7 10s. The hon. and learned Member for South Shields (Mr. Harney) has attempted to reduce the licence duty of the moneylender from £13 to £10 by putting on the Paper an Amendment to that effect. Even had that Amendment been carried the moneylender would have been called upon to pay £2 10s. more than the pawnbroker, although trading under similar conditions. Even with the £100 which I propose as the maximum duty payable by a moneylender, he will be able to get only six licences, while the pawnbroker will be able to get 12 licences for the same sum. Cases could be cited and examples given where the same practice as I seek to establish is already in operation. The legislation with regard to joint stock companies and other companies could be cited. I hope that the promoters of the Bill will be prepared to do something in the direction of the proposal of my Amendment.


I beg to second the Amendment.

There is another Amendment of mine further down to make the total duty payable £50 instead of £100. I have been a Member of the Standing Committee that considered this Bill, and I am concerned only to get a workable Measure. The Bill has been greatly altered in Committee, but there are a few things remaining to be done and this is one of them. As the Bill stood originally, if there were three partners with 10 branches they had to pay for thirty licences at each. That was £450 for one firm. There was a certain advance made to meet our views, and it was this. The promoters said that if there were partners with a number of branches, licence duty would be charged only in respect of the number of branches. In other words, if there were three partners with 10 branches, instead of their paying for 30 licence duties they would have to pay for only 10 licence duties. That was a concession. But the fact remains that such a firm would have to pay £150 for the 10 branches. There is a difference between the branches of a moneylender's business and the branches of a pawnbroker's business. The pawnbroker carries on an independent business at each of his branches; they are so many separate businesses, and he pays a licence for each. On the other hand the moneylender does the whole of his business from the central office; it is the central office that finds the money and lends it, but the branches are convenient places to which clients can go.

In these circumstances it is only fair that some limitation should be put upon the amount of duty that has to be paid. It has been stated by the Proposer of the Amendment that pawnbrokers are in a more favourable position. Of course they are. I am not saying a word against pawnbrokers, but I am none the less in favour of this limitation. I do not know whether it would be convenient for me now to say a word on the first Amendment on the Paper, which has been passed over but is really involved in this Amendment. It was a proposal that the licence duty should be reduced from £15 to £10. That would still leave the duty payable by the moneylender £2 10s. higher than the duty paid by the pawnbroker. If there are ten branches, they represent a payment of £100 a year which is a very fair amount to ask anybody to pay for carrying on an admittedly legal business. This Bill presumes that moneylending is a perfectly legitimate business, as, of course, it is. It is a part of the commercial activities of the world. In another part of the Bill it is insisted that moneylenders must be persons of good character so that here you have persons of good character carrying on a legitimate business to meet the requirements of the public, and in the circumstances I submit a license duty of £10 is quite sufficient, with a total maximum either of £100 or as I suggest, £50.


The promoters of the Bill do not feel that they can accept this Amendment. The figure of £15 is a compromise figure. At the Joint Select Committee which originally considered this question, a figure of £15 was accepted and, when the Bill came to be drafted, the figure of £15 applied to every member of a partnership firm in addition to every address at which the partnership carried on business. It was found, on working the matter out, that this was really oppressive and, by another compromise, it was agreed that the amount of £15 should only apply to the addresses, no matter how many partners there might be in the firm. There was a further concession made with regard to pawnbrokers. The pawnbrokers' licence is £7 10s., but if he desired to take out a moneylender's licence, as practically every pawnbroker must do if he deals in sums above £10, he then would have had to pay an additional £15. A concession was made in this respect—that he should only be required to pay half the amount of the moneylender's fee, so that for £15 he could get both his pawnbroker's licence and his moneylender's licence. The promoters consider that it would be inadvisable to depart from the compromise arranged in the Joint Select Committee and debated at great length in the Committee on the Bill. The proposal to reduce the fee from £15 to £10 was then defeated, and I hope it will be defeated on this occasion. The pawnbroker has to pay £7 l0s. in respect of each address at which he carries on business. The publican pays a licence, duty for every public-house which he owns and an ad valorem duty, in addition, and I do not think it can be considered unfair to moneylenders that they should pay on each branch at which they conduct business. Surely it would scarcely be worth the moneylender's while to open a branch unless he could afford to pay this licence thirty in respect of it. Under the Amendment, a moneylender, for £100, would get seven licences, and then as many more as he wanted. That would seem to be unreasonable and unfair.


This Amendment ought not to be accepted. As the hon. Member who has last spoken pointed out, every publican who has more than one business has to pay licence duty on each business in addition to other duties, while the effect of the Amendment would be that a moneylender could set up a business in every town and only pay £100. I take it that moneylenders are business men and only set up a branch where they expect to get business. If they could obtain all the business they desired by having only one establishment, they would only have one establishment; and the fact that they consider it necessary to have branches indicates that those branches are going to attract clients.


I hope the promoters will resist the Amendment which would fix the revenue derived from this body of people at a maximum of £100. As the last speaker has said, a moneylender for that sum could have a branch in every town and in every thickly populated district in every town.


I would also point out that if this Amendment were carried it would involve unfair competition as against the small moneylender who has only one establishment.

Lieut.-Colonel WATTS-MORGAN

Having regard to the remarks of the promoters I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.