HC Deb 15 April 1929 vol 227 cc49-51

However, there is one of the new taxes for which I am responsible which has been a failure, which, indeed, has been a fiasco, and which obviously has caused more trouble than it is worth. I mean, of course, the duty on betting. Here was a project which had behind it a greater backing of public opinion, so far as the newspaper press expresses public opinion, than any other project of taxation of which I have ever heard. Newspapers as widely separated in view as the "Morning Post," the "Star," the "Spectator" and the "Church Times" ardently advocated the duty on betting, and many of those who had studied the subject with great attention thought a revenue of £6,000,000 or £7,000,000 a year, or even more, could be obtained from the taxation of this highly-luxurious dissipation. In practice, however, the duty has failed. The volatile and elusive character of the betting population, the precarious conditions in which they disport themselves, have proved incapable of bearing the weight even of the repeatedly reduced burdens we have tried to place upon them. It has become plain that the collection of this duty in this shape has been vitiated because it has not worked fairly. It is being paid exclusively by the honest bookmaker—who has been unable to avoid it. The very fact that he has paid the tax has placed him at an invidious disadvantage compared with more slippery and unsubstantial rivals. I shall say with the great Burke, If I cannot have reform without injustice, I will not have reform.

I must admit that in considering this question I have also been influenced by a sense of obligation towards the Labour party, particularly towards the Leader of the Opposition. It is scarcely a year ago since the right hon. Gentleman told the country that His Majesty's Government, in deriving advantage from the duty upon betting, had become a parasite upon damnation. Scarcely a month ago the right hon. Gentleman, seduced by the spectacle of 100 bookmakers' motor cars at the Battersea election, showed himself only too ready to become a parasite upon damnation. [An HON. MEMBER: "It damned your candidate!"] It is in the common interest that we cannot afford to have the ideals of great parties debased in this manner. We must not lead the weaker brethren into temptation. We must not expose a young, new, callow, half-fledged organisation to the seductions to which, in their immature state, they will infallibly succumb, and it is out of consideration largely for them, and for their reputation, that I have decided that the turnover duty upon betting should be immediately repealed. [An HON. MEMBER: "How about the motor cars now?"] I shall, however, continue to levy the personal licence duty of £10 upon all bookmakers, and, in addition, a licence duty of £40 a year upon every telephone installed in a bookmaker's office. The yield of these licence duties is estimated at £500,000 a year. We have as a monument of the betting tax, thanks to the zeal of the hon. and gallant Member for Abingdon (Major Glyn), the healthy machinery of the Totalisator, and upon this will be imposed a tax of one-half per cent. of the takings, which I have been led to believe is a fair equivalent to the licence duties upon bookmakers. The cost of these changes will be £850,000 in the current year and £900,000 in a full year.

It will be convenient for me at this point to deal with several minor but not necessarily uncontroversial topics. I have only one new tax to impose this year, and it is a very small one. I have been told that the fact that the rating relief, as given to brewers, distillers and tobacco manufacturers, is capable of being used by people of unscrupulous character and low mentality—such as are certainly not present in this House—as a means of prejudicing the scheme for giving rating relief to productive industry. Here, again, it is our duty to help our weaker brethren, and not to place a stumbling block in their path. Luckily, there is a convenient method which does not mar in any way the general symmetry of our rating reform scheme or the principle on which it is based. Manufacturers' licence duties have now long been levied, though at very low rates, upon brewers, distillers and tobacco manufacturers. I propose to raise those duties so as to take away from these industries the equivalent of the relief they will obtain under the de-rating scheme. There is not the slightest reflection or stigma upon those industries; on the contrary, some of their leading representatives have publicly stated that they do not wish to benefit by the de-rating proposals, and it is very much to their credit that they have made that statement. The date of the imposition of these increased duties will be arranged, as the Scotch would say, "timeously" with the currency of the relief, and therefore these three industries will neither gain nor lose by our proceedings. The relief they would obtain in the normal working of the de-rating scheme is now estimated at £480,000; and the manufacturers' licence duties will be raised as described in detail in the White Paper, so as to produce a new revenue of like amount.