HC Deb 16 June 1931 vol 253 cc1633-63

With regard to the first Amendment on Clause 20—in page 21, line 4, at the end, to insert the words: Where any land unit has been included or would, but for any exemption given by law, have been included in an assessment to Income Tax under Schedule A of the Income Tax Act, 1918, as amended by any subsequent Act, for the year corresponding with the year of charge for land value tax under this Act, there shall be deducted from the land value of that land unit as ascertained in accordance with this Act the sum of four times the annual value determined, or but for exemption given by law would have been determined, for the purposes of the said assessment for the said Schedule A of the land, tenement, hereditament, or heritage, the land, on which such land, tenement, hereditament, or heritage is situate, is the land comprised in the said land unit. Where the said sum, namely four times the said annual value, is equal to or exceeds the land value of the said land unit as ascertained by this Act there shall be charged on the owner of such land unit a tax at the rate of one-eighth of a penny for each pound for the land value of that land unit. I have considerable doubt in my mind as to whether this Amendment is in order at this particular part of the Bill. Clause 20 deals only with reliefs from tax; that is to say, with those cases in which remissions are granted of the whole or part of the tax after it has been assessed and charged. This Amendment, however, does not deal with reliefs at all; it proposes that the land value of a unit on which the tax is charged shall be reduced in certain specified cases for assessment purposes. I am not Ruling now that the Amendment is out of order on the Bill, but I have grave doubts as to whether it is in order at this particular stage of the Bill, and also as to whether, if the Amendment were passed, it could be inserted in Clause 20. I have no desire, however, to deprive the Committee of the opportunity of discussing this issue and shall be glad to hear arguments for and against before giving my Ruling.


I should have thought, myself, that it was certainly clear—I do not say abundantly clear—that such an Amendment as is proposed from these benches falls well within the ambit of this Clause. As you will see, this part of the Bill deals with Exemptions and Relief; that is the heading of the Clauses; and this, of course, is clearly a case of relief from the impact of the tax. Therefore, although perhaps, if the matter were very strictly-argued on highly technical assumptions, it might be held that the Amendment should properly come on Clause 14, it seems to me that the arguments upon it ought to be heard here.


I do not know what your Ruling will be with regard to this Amendment, but I should like to join with my right hon. Friend in suggesting that it is in its proper place here. When I come to deal with the Amendment, I shall hope to show the Committee that in every sense of the word it is a relief from the tax which would otherwise be imposed on the owner, and, therefore, subject to what you say now, I propose, with your consent, to move the Amendment.


My point is that Clause 20 deals with relief subsequent to assessment. As I understand the purpose of the Amendment, it is to alter the basis of assessment. This Clause does not deal with assessments at all. The Clause which deals with assessments is Clause 14 and that appears to be the appropriate place for all matters dealing with assessments.


Under this Amendment relief is given to the owner in these circumstances, that, where you have in the assessment a certain position, namely, that four times the annual value equals or exceeds the true amount of the capital value, then no tax is payable. To put it in other words, if, after the assessment has been made, you discover that these two figures are equal, or that four times the annual value exceeds the other figure, relief to that extent is given from the tax. That is why I thought that this was the proper place for the Amendment, as it is a genuine case of relief from the taxation which would otherwise be imposed. If I might explain the way in which it works—


The hon. and learned Member has not really dealt with the point. I distinctly-pointed out that this Clause simply deals with relief to be given after the general assessment has been made. As far as I understand this Amendment, it is intended to alter the general assessment, and in that case it does not fall within the scope of this Clause.


I do not wish to argue with the Chair, because, naturally, from past experience, I know how futile that is; but there can be no doubt whatever that this Amendment would be in order as a new Clause. There is no question whatever about that.


I have stated quite definitely that I have not ruled that the Amendment is out of order on the ground of inconsistency, or that it cannot be moved under the Bill. This Amendment may be perfectly in order in its proper place. What I am ruling now is that this Clause deals with relief, and does not deal with assessment. The Amendment does really seek to alter the basis of assessment, and, consequently, it is out of order on this particular Clause. Therefore, as no case has been put to the contrary, I must rule definitely that it is out of order.


I beg to move, in page 21, line 5, to leave out Sub-section (3) and to insert instead thereof the words: (3) Every person assessed to the tax in any year shall be entitled to relief from the tax for that year to the extent of the first ten shillings of the aggregate of the tax in respect of all land units on which he is assessed.

This Amendment, which is indeed purely a relief, is directed to the point of the 10s. exemption. Under the Bill it is provided that, where the amount of taxation payable by any person for the year of charge does not exceed 10s., no attempt is made to collect that tax and the person shall be exempt. The tax of 10s. is, of course, the equivalent of a land value of £120 and the effect, therefore, is that, if any person has a unit of which the land value does not exceed £120 for the year of charge, he is exempt. But, on the other hand, if a unit has a land value which exceeds, even by £1, the figure of £120, that unit is liable to tax. I was not going to discuss the general question of the desirability of an exemption of this character, because no one has used more robust language about the undesirability of making exemptions of this character in a tax than the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself. When the tax of 1909 was under discussion, he explained how extremely undesirable it was to say that a person should secure exemption solely on the ground of the smallness of the amount which he was going to have to pay. Appreciating that the right hon. Gentleman has defended this exemption on purely practical grounds, merely taking the ground that it was not worth while for the Exchequer to spend any time or money in recovering a tax of such a small amount.

I am not concerned at the moment to discuss the principle of the exemption, but I am concerned to discuss the method of exemption. Does it not seem very unreasonable that, if a person has a land unit of which the value is £119, he should pay nothing at all, but that, if he is the owner of a land unit valued at £121, he should pay 10s. 1d. tax in the year? The effect of the Amendment would be always to reduce the amount of tax by the sum of 10s., which is the amount of the exemption. That is not a novel or an unreasonable principle. It already obtains in relation to a number of other taxes. It obtains to a certain extent with regard to Income Tax, and practically entirely with regard to Super-tax. It is altogether unreasonable to leave things standing as proposed in the Bill. In the hope that the Government will give the Amendment a friendly reception, I will confine myself at the moment to moving it and will reserve anything that I have to say to a later stage of the discusion.

The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir Stafford Cripps)

I am sorry at so early an hour to have to disappoint the right hon. Gentleman for the second time, but I am afraid we cannot accept the Amendment. The real reason he has himself explained. The object of this exemption was a matter of convenience. It is not an exemption granted on the same principle as the exemption under the Income Tax Acts. The object is to eliminate the collection of small sums. If the Amendment were adopted, you would still have the pennies and twopences where there was 10s. 1d. or 10s. 2d. to collect, and you would be no further forward as regards the matter of convenience if you left it without the 10s. exemption at all. The object of the exemption, as my right hon. Friend explained on the Second Reading, is in order that there shall not be put upon the Commissioners the liability to collect such small sums that the cost of collection substantially amounts to as much as the tax collected. [Interruption.] That is a different question altogether. If two units belong to one man, he will not get the exemption if they are both 6s. taxes, because in the aggregate the tax will be 12s. Therefore, one cannot exempt from valuation these small units, because they depend entirely on the ownership of them. There may be a person who owns a little plot in Scotland, one in Yorkshire and another in Devonshire. Between them the tax may come to more than 10s., in which case he will not be exempted. It is where the total tax payable only amounts to 10s. that he will be exempted, and the reason for that is purely the cost and trouble of collecting very small sums. If the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion were adopted, the difficulty as to the collection of small sums would be exactly the same as if there were no exemption at all.


We have here an unexpected opportunity of making the Chancellor of the Exchequer publicly eat his words, as we have long wished to do. We have long wished to have an explanation of his changed attitude on this very important matter. Of course, we now realise that it is a matter of convenience that this exemption is be made, although in his original speech he said, with almost a knowing leer, that it would exempt the majority of the working-classes. I do not know whether that latter remark had any basis in principle or whether it was merely a comment on the situation which arose, but it has been commented upon very adversely by all fair-minded people. It is not difficult to attribute to the right hon. Gentleman a desire to please his supporters in this matter. I know that it is not the custom to impute motives, but, unless he wished to please his supporters, it is a little difficult to see why he made that addition to his plea for expediency. There could be no more interesting occasion than this, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer is considered to be, as we all know, the Iron Chancellor. His supporters on that side of the Committee are continually comparing him favourably with the rest of his colleagues. They say publicly and privately that the Chancellor at any rate is a man who never changes his mind and is prepared to stand by the principles for which he always stood; a man who entered public life in the service of a great cause and is prepared to go on throughout his career on exactly the same lines. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, at one time, was one of the most redoubtable opponents of these particular taxes in this country. He was prepared to enter into this controversy on the side of nationalisation. He was prepared to deny every—


The hon. Member must realise that we cannot have a general discussion on every Amendment, and that we must keep to the subject matter of the Amendment.


I am very sorry, and without more ado I will quote the exact and precise words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a similar situation in which he took exactly the opposite view in 1913: on a similar proposal of exemption introduced by the right hon. Gentleman for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George): The Land Taxes were recommended to us, because it was intended that they should tax something that was not the creation of any individual, but the creation of the community, and for the time being the Chancellor of the Exchequer said he was content to take 20 per cent. of that for the State. Now he proposes to abandon that principle altogether, and he practically says that it is wrong for a rich man to take something which is the creation of the community, but it is not wrong for the poor man to do so."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st August, 1913; col. 1008, Vol. 56.] He was putting words into the mouth of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer as a matter of principle. Even then it was a matter of convenience, as he said at the time, and it was found to be impracticable or inadvisable to raise from large numbers of the working class of this country so small a sum. The Chancellor of the Exchequer at that time did it as a matter of expediency, as the right hon. Gentleman, indeed, said, and I think that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer knew that this was so, but he was able to put it upon the ground of principle at that time. The Chancellor of the Exchequer then went on to say—I have not the exact words—that the whole principle of land taxation had broken down and should be abandoned in favour of powers to acquire land.


The hon. Member is raising matters which would be in order upon the Second Reading of the Bill, but not upon this Amendment.


I think that I am perfectly entitled to ask for an explanation of the right hon. Gentleman's spiritual Æneid in this connection.


The speech to which the hon. Member refers was given upon a question which had nothing at all to do with land valuation.


I am amazed at the right hon. Gentleman's statement. I shall await with interest and in expectation the subsequent explanation of the right hon. Gentleman. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer will go on to deny that he took the opposite point of view to which he takes now on that occasion, I shall be satisfied with such an explanation of his spiritual Æneid, but I do not think that it is possible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to explain on the line which he has adopted his words of 1913 in justification of this particular exemption. I think that he would be compelled to explain that in the time which had elapsed he had changed his mind and in the end had found that it was practicable and consistent with principle to put a burden upon the wealthier classes of the community and not upon the poorer classes of the community. On different and more general lines it is possible that there might be a great deal that is beneficial in land taxes. One of the most deplorable symptoms of modern legislation is that the burden of taxation is more and more put upon a few shoulders and less and less upon the whole of the community. There are many who think that the community at large should have a stake in the country and that to broaden the burden of taxation would be to increase the sense of responsibility in the country. Had the Chancellor of the Exchequer been faithful to his principles in this matter, and had he been consistent when he said that God gave the land to the people and that anyone who attempted to take or keep the land away from the people was guilty of theft, whether it might be a small or a large amount, he might have applied this system of taxation as a great beneficent system extending over the whole face of the community, increasing the sense of responsibility—


The hon. Member must not discuss the general principles of the Bill on this Amendment.


If I rightly understand the principle of the Amendment, it is to call attention to the exemptions which are given to a large part of the community over the whole face of this taxation. Therefore, one is in order in saying that it is wrong that a certain part of the community should be taxed in this way and that the rest should not be taxed in this way. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he really was a man of principle and cared about this proposal of his, should have applied it to the whole of the community irrespective of whether it was expedient or too expensive.


The real object of the Amendment is to secure a general relief to the extent of 10s. The question of exemption does not arise on this Amendment.


I think that it would be difficult to deny that this further exemption is in its very terms intended and expressed to call attention to the great exemptions which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given. If you rule me out of order—


I need only refer the hon. Member to the terms of the Amendment. It is a simple and a plain matter. I take it that the object of the Amendment is that everybody should be exempted to the extent of the first ten shillings.


Is not the object of the Amendment to remove the distinction between the rich and the poor which the Chancellor of the Exchequer formerly denounced as permitting robbery if committed by the poor while robbery was not permissible by the rich?


In reply to the point raised by the right hon. Member, the whole principle of the Bill might be raised, if I allowed the discussion to go on without some restriction.


We are discussing the omission of Sub-section (3) as to whether you should have an exemption of 10s., which is a rather different point from the point in the Amendment.


The Bill says that certain people who are chargeable to tax in respect of land having a value of less than £120 are to be exempt. That is to say there is to be an exemption for everybody whose total duty payable does not exceed 10s. The effect of my Amendment is to give everybody an exemption of 10s. I certainly suggest that in those circumstances there ought to be no objection raised to my hon. Friend.


I am not ruling out of order the arguments applying generally, but I have ruled out of order criticism of the tax. That does not arise on the Amendment.


I, personally, am content to keep my arguments within your Ruling, and I say that the arguments which I have been raising start at the bottom of the scale of value instead of at the top. It is the same subject matter. I have been pleading for equal treatment for all. I suggest that you should extend a little further, 4.0 p.m. or all the way up the scale, the exemption you have given to a limited class of the community. I say that the Government have no basis at all for the refusal of this Amendment, because they are giving an exemption on grounds of expediency to a very large class, and they are not extending it to others. There can be no basis of fairness in that. There may be a basis of expediency, even of political expediency, but there can be no basis of a right and a proper principle which ought to be applied. Therefore, I think that we should have a further answer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has escaped from the dilemma in which he was placed by escaping from the Committee, and I think that a further reply is needed from the Government on this Amendment. There really can be no answer to it, except that it may be inexpedient to work, and it may let off from taxation a large number of people in this country whom nothing would induce to vote for the Labour party.


I am sorry that the learned Solicitor-General found himself unable to accept the Amendment of my right hon. Friend. I cannot say that the arguments which he put forward impressed me very much, particularly his argument about convenience, because we on this side of the Committee well know that it is not merely convenience which made the Chancellor of the Exchequer give this original exemption. The main reason why the right hon. Gentleman gave this exemption was purely a matter of political expediency. After all, what did he say? As right hon. Members opposite appear to be much interested in the matter, I will add the further information that this relief will relieve practically the whole of the dwellings owned by the working classes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th May, 1931; col. 56, Vol. 252.] I am quite sure the Chancellor of the Exchequer would never have added that little tit-bit, unless he had really got in his mind that his object was not the collection of the tax, or to make easier the valuation, but simply because he knew that if this tax were imposed on everybody, there would be little chance, indeed, of any hon. Member on the opposite side being returned to this House again. That was the real reason why that original exemption was given, but I would like to point out to the learned Solicitor-General that those words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that practically the whole of the dwellings owned by the working classes in this country would be exempted, are not-correct, because there are a large number of working men in this country who have put their savings into houses, and own one, two or sometimes three houses. [Interruption.] Are hon. Members under the delusion that that is not so? For these reasons, I do think it might be possible for the Government to accept this Amendment.

It seems to me that the whole of the Debate on the Land Value Tax is being carried on on behalf of the Treasury in a manner in which most Debates are not carried on. When Amendments are moved on Finance Bills, and particularly Amendments dealing with taxation, I think it has been the invariable practice of the Minister who is answering for the Treasury to say that either he can or cannot accept an Amendment, but the reason, as a rule, why he rejects an Amendment is because he says that it will cost the revenue far too much. In refusing Amendments to this Finance Bill, no defence on those lines has been adopted from the Treasury Bench, for the simple reason that, for the first time in history, I think, the Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted, when bringing in his Budget, that he could not possibly tell how much revenue he was going to get, and would not even make a guess. I wonder if since that time the Treasury have made a guess, and whether it would be possible for the Solicitor-General, who, apparently, is always answering for the Government, to tell us how much money would be lost to the State if our Amendment were accepted. I cannot believe that it would be a great deal. After all, as my right hon. Friend who moved the Amendment said, this is merely following out the practice of the Income Tax, and is no new principle. There have been many Amendments going about lately in which both sides have given up their principles. Which party has given up most, of its principles, I will not at this moment hazard a guess. Nevertheless, it is rather difficult for as at this moment to discuss some of these Amendments, because what has happened? Clause 19 has, very properly, been postponed, and, owing to the extremely inefficient advice given to hon. Members below the Gangway by their so-called experts, an Amendment has been moved out of order. Therefore, we have to discuss these Amendments at short notice, mainly on account of the extraordinary inefficiency of that advice. The Government might have accepted this particular Amendment. They cannot say that it is going to cost much. They are going to value the whole of the property in any case, and, unless they accept this Amendment, they will have a great deal of trouble with the electors.


No one, of course, will deny that there is much validity in the contention which has been put forward as to the inconvenience in the collection of small amounts, but because it is inconvenient to collect small or almost negligible amounts of tax, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer called them when introducing the original proposal, that is no reason, when without inconvenience that can be done, why the same measure of relief should not be extended to all landowners. After all, whether there is or is not to be exemption, there is to be, as the Noble Lord has said, valuation and assessment, and it is only at the point of collection that a differentiation is made. We are all familiar with the Income Tax assessment when allowance is made, as a matter of routine, m respect of well-defined matters, and there should be no difficulty at all, I submit to the learned Solicitor-General, when presenting an assesment for Land Value Tax in writing off an allowance of 10s.

The suggestion made in this Amendment is that every person shall be entitled to relief from tax to the extent of the first 10s. If any taxpayer becomes liable, as the result of valuation and assessment, to pay not 10s. but £10 under the Bill as drawn, there is not the least difficulty, on the ground of inconvenience, in amending his form of assessment by stating that he will pay this tax upon £10 less a statutory allowance of 10s., which is precisely the procedure adopted in every Income Tax assessment in respect of the first £225 or £250 of income as regards a reduction in the rate of tax borne. It is a procedure with which the Income Tax authorities and the taxpayer are completely familiar, And although, as I say, on grounds of convenience, that may be a perfectly sound reason for not collecting the tax below 10s., it has no application at all to the point raised by this Amendment.

Let me say to the learned Solicitor-General that, from the point of view from which I regard this matter, it is not a matter of very much importance from the financial point of view whether the individual taxpayer is exempted from the first 10s. or not. What is of importance is that if there is to be an exemption, it should be applicable to all taxpayers. If the learned Solicitor-General had said, as he has failed to say, that the financial result of conceding this Amendment would be fatal to the whole scheme underlying the Land Tax proposals, that is an entirely different matter, but, on the question of finance, the Solicitor-General has maintained an absolute silence. If he has any arguments on those lines to advance, naturally the Committee will give them the greatest consideration, but the argument on the ground of convenience seems to me to be entirely irrelevant, if I may be permitted to say so, to the Amendment under consideration.

My object in rising, however, has not been merely to attempt to make that point. It would be wrong, in my judgment, that it should go out to the world that, in the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other speakers, the result of the exemption of the 10s. will be to relieve practically the whole of the dwellings owned by the working classes. I do not know, and I would venture no assertion at all with regard to the dwellings of the working classes in the country at large. There are other hon. Members who are far more able than I am to check the validity of the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I am able to speak with regard to the position in London, and with regard to that position, the result of the imposition of this Land Tax must be, not to relieve the working-class dwellings, but to have two—I will not say direct, but indirect and immediate effects. One is to reduce the amount available in the hands of landlords for expenditure upon repairs of working-class dwellings, and the other is to send up the rents, except in the case of those dwellings subject to the operation of the Rent Restrictions Act. The benefit of the Clause, in so far as there is substance in the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it will grant relief to owners of dwelling houses, will apply only to the owners of land on which those houses are situated. The benefit of this Clause can only apply to those who own the land. As regards tenement dwellings and weekly dwellings, it will not be of any benefit to the working-class person. It will fall upon him, and in the end it will be paid out of his pocket. It is for the reason that I feel the abatement is misleading as regards large classes of the working-class population of London that I could not allow it to go unchallenged, and therefore I have trespassed upon the patience of the Committee.


Does the hon. and gallant Member speak on behalf of the Liberal party, and may we expect their support in the Lobby?

Lieut.-Colonel Sir FREDERICK HALL

I have listened to a good many explanations by the Solicitor-General and certainly he endeavoured to get out of a very difficult position, but with all the care that he exercised he could not state that he had a good case to make. We often hear about one law for one class and another law for another class". Irrespective of whatever the Chancellor of the Exchequer may have said subsequently it is clear that when he made his speech on the Second Reading he plainly indicated that the intention was to give a benefit to a large number of people who were supporters of the Socialist party. It is nonsense talking about the inconvenience that there would be in regard to collecting these small amounts. Take the position in regard to licences paid under the British Broadcasting Association. Of that fee of 10s. a part is retained by the Postmaster-General, which means the Government, and a part goes elsewhere. The suggestion of the Government with regard to the inconvenience of collecting small amounts may suit a certain number of their supporters, but it will not suit the bulk of the people throughout the country. They will realise that this has been done to suit the supporters of the Socialist Government. As to the idea that it is going to be a relief given to the working classes, I would point out that a man may have a small freehold house, the value of the ground being £140. It may be that his next-door neighbour does not own his freehold, but pays ground rent on the basis of £8 or £9 a year. It is well recognised that ground rent is worth at least 20 years' purchase. In the circumstances, the man who owns the leasehold house pays no Land Tax, but the owner of the freehold property has to pay 1d. in the £ on the basis of £140, while a man who owns a house the land of which is worth only, say, £110 or £115 has not a sou to pay. That cannot be reasonable.

Unless the Government want to say that they desire to excuse certain people from paying tax because they are supporters of the party to which they belong, it is only equitable that they should accept our Amendment. The Chancellor of the Exchequer let the cat out of the bag, unintentionally. He did not mean to say what he did. Have the Government any desire to be equitable? If it is inconvenient to collect the first 10s., let them say that where the amount is in excess of 10s., where the amount chargeable is, say, £10 they will give credit for 10s. My hon. Friend was anxious to know whether the views expressed by the hon. and gallant Member for North-East Bethnal Green (Major Nathan) were the views of the Liberal party. We submit that our Amendment is fair and equitable. I have no doubt my right hon. Friend will press it to a Division, and I shall look with a certain amount of suspicion as well as pleasure to see what action the Liberal party takes.


I hope that the Amendment will be pressed to a Division. Living close by Dulwich, I hope that the people of Dulwich will read the speech that we have just heard, and that the people of London will take note of the statement from the Liberal benches. What is there that is not equitable in the Government proposal? It is asking that those who have a possession which is not worth more than £120 shall be exempt from the payment of the 10s. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I am asked why, and I think the question is asked by an hon. Baronet who represents an Edinburgh constituency. The reply is, that it is for the same reason that the people who have not a sufficient income are not asked to pay Income Tax. Hon. Members opposite were forced to agree to that; they cannot help themselves. We are now dealing with people whose possession does not demand from them that they should pay more than 10s. Hon. Members opposite would have us believe that they believe in equity. They say that if you are a wealthy man and you are possessed of 100 or 1,000 units of land—[An HON. MEMBER: "Or two!"]—or two, if you like, but 1,000 units is more in mind at the moment—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Marjori-banks) said, "You are penalising the wealthy."

This Clause deals with those who are well able to pay and who ought to have been paying long ago, if Parliament had been fair. We propose that the country should demand payment from those who can afford to pay what they ought to have been made to pay in the past. I can well understand the strong feeling that is felt on the other side. Of course, I do not blame them for endeavouring to save the wealthy, but I am hoping that the people of this country will realise, when they read the speeches that are being delivered from the other side, that they would like to put the burden, if it were possible, upon those least able to bear it. I hope that the matter will go to a Division, so that we can point out to the people that the party opposite have endeavoured to impose a charge upon people who are least able to afford it and are endeavouring to take the burden from the shoulders of those who are best able to bear it.


The hon. Member, if he will permit me to say so, has fallen into a double error. He has failed to appreciate the principle upon which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has sought to justify the tax, and he has failed to understand the effect and scope of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's exemptions and reliefs and the particular exemption or relief which we are discussing. If the hon. Member does not accept my statement—


I do not.


Let me say something, first of all, as to the principle of the tax. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says that land was given by the Creator to the community and that its value is not the creation of man but of the Creator, or of the community. It is, therefore, a fit subject for special taxation, and he proposes to levy a tax upon the land value accordingly. If you justify the tax on land on the ground that nobody has a right to own it and that if they are still permitted to keep a kind of ownership they must pay toll to the State for it, surely that principle applies to whoever owns the land whether he is a very rich man or a very poor man and whether he owns much land or little land. The only difference that you are entitled to make is that you tax him according to the value of the land which he owns. You cannot on that principle justify the exemption. I am not going to elaborate what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said on a previous occasion, because I understand that a right hon. Friend of mine proposes to take the matter up later. It is sufficient for me at this point to say that the argument he adduced against the exemption given by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) is fatal to the exemption which he proposes to make on his own tax. It destroys the principle on which it is based. It makes it no longer a tax for permission to hold something which belongs to the community but a tax on certain people for permission to hold land from which other people are exempted.

I come to a further point made by the hon. Member. He said that the exemption is upon the same basis as the Income Tax exemption. It is not in the least the same. The Income Tax exemption relief is in relation to the total wealth of the owner. This exemption has no relation to the total income of the person taxed, but it has relation only to the amount of income which he draws from a particular class of property. He may own £100,000 in Consols and also a plot of land of £120 value. He pays nothing under this tax in relation to the land of £120 value, but, if another man owns a plot of land worth £120, and that is everything that he owns in the world, he will have to pay.


That applies to Income Tax.


No, it does not. I might introduce the hon. Member to an elementary knowledge of income Tax, but all that I can hope to do within the limits of what I shall be allowed by the Chair is to introduce him to an elementary knowledge of the Bill and to the particular part of the Bill which we are now discussing. The hon. Member will see, therefore, that his defence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's exemption, and also of the limitation of that exemption, is without foundation. If it is to be justified at all the Solicitor-General must come to his rescue and, with his usual skill, find better reasons than those which the hon. Member has been able to produce.


It is a pleasure to hon. Members on this side of the Committee to see one hon. Member opposite un-muzzled. I am quite certain that hon. Members opposite really want to understand the Bill, although I believe that many of them have not yet read it. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) attempted to make one point, and it was this, that the Amendment was moved for the purpose of benefiting the wealthy. I want to give one or two examples which will explain to the hon. Member how it will work the other way. I put down an Amendment on the Order Paper which, unfortunately, has been passed over, or it may have been postponed, which would have served the same purpose as the present proposal. The cases I had in mind were these. In many rural areas there are mills where the housing accommodation has been provided by the owners of the mills, at an uneconomic rent. These houses are occupied by the men and women who work in the mills. The object of my Amendment was that whether they were assessed as single units or aggregated together they should be exempt from this tax where they were all in the occupation of the employés at the mill. This was not with the idea of benefiting the owner of the mill, but in order to save the rents of the employés being raised. This land tax will not fall on that employer but on the employés who live in the houses upon which the tax is to be paid. I hope the hon. Member for Rochdale, who knows cases of this kind, will realise what this proposed exemption means, and that if ever my Amendment is considered by the Committee he will vote for it. This is not a, tax upon the rich as the hon. Member suggests, but it will mean an additional 10s. a year on the rent of employés living in houses under these conditions.


I only desire to explain why I intervene in this Debate. I did not hear, as I was engaged on some Scottish business, the speech to which we who take exception to the view expressed on the opposite side of the Committee are supposed to subscribe, and I enter this caveat, that not having heard that speech I cannot be taken as subscribing to it or otherwise. I intervene because it appears to me that if this exemption is not a mere sop to the supposed supporters of the Government, if this is not really a sop to a certain class of property owners—I do not like to think that this Government would do anything like that—there must be some other reason for it. It may be that the reason is this, that it may be unfair to tax property which is only taxable up to 10s. because of oncosts and other charges. If that is so, surely it applies to all property however valuable it may be. There may be adequate reasons why all property should be exempt for the first 10s. It is impossible to say that just because a man does not happen to own property of more than £120 in value that he should be exempt, unless it is sheer bribery.

If the principle is right the first 10s. exemption ought to be applied to all kinds of property. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) has said that he did not propose to deal with the remarks of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in August, 1913, and, therefore, I will leave that matter to more competent hands, merely saying this, that there was a very definite attack made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he was not the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon the proposals of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). No more scathing attack has ever been made, and yet we find the right hon. Gentleman now eating his own words. I do not like to think that this is mere bribery—I always like to take a very charitable view of my opponents—but unless some justification is put forward we are bound to say to our constituents that the Government are bribing people who will support them, but at the same time they must beware that their assessments are not put up the year after this Bill becomes law and they find that they are still in the net.


Unfortunately, being engaged on other public business, I was not able to hear the reply of the Solicitor-General to this Amendment, but I have been informed of the arguments he put forward, and I want to say just a word or two about them. I put down this Amendment, indeed I drafted it, and I should like to tell the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) why the proposal in the Amendment is infinitely preferable to the proposal of the Government in the Bill. The Government propose to exempt entirely all people owning land the value of which would not render them liable to a tax of 10s. That would have this effect, that if anyone owned a house or a piece of land just under £120 in value he would pay nothing, but if the value of the land was just over that amount he would have to pay something just over 10s. Certain general principles of taxation have been followed in our Income Tax which have been designed for the purpose of avoiding these anomalous sudden jumps. It is obviously difficult to justify the fact that because one piece of land is in an area which gives it a trifling additional value it should be subject to the tax, whilst another piece of land, exactly similar, is subject to no tax at all.

Under the Income Tax everybody is allowed to claim exemption on the first £135 of their income. If anyone has an income of one or two pounds over that amount the tax collected is very trifling, and I have never heard that there is any special difficulty about it. It seems to me to be better to exempt the first ten shillings of the tax in the case of everyone, whether they are paying 10s. or £100. The principle is already well established in our Income Tax law, it is one which people understand and, more important, it is one which the Chancellor of the Exchequer can justify. The Solicitor-General, I understand, answered the Amendment by saying that the exemption was designed expressly to save the expense and trouble of collecting trifling sums from a large number of people. That is a specious argument, which seems to carry a certain amount of weight, but the Solicitor-General admitted that you cannot tell whether a unit of land is or is not above or under the £120 value unless it is valued; and it is the valuation which is the expensive matter. That has to be done in any case, and it is therefore a comparatively trivial matter if the land is a few pounds over the £120 to calculate the amount of the tax to be demanded. Comparing the advantages and disadvantages of the two methods, that is the method proposed by the Amendment and the method in the Bill, undoubtedly the balance of advantage and equity and justice is with the Amendment.

The hon. Member for Rochdale seems to have entirely misunderstood its effect. I do not propose to charge anybody with any tax which the Government do not propose to charge. All I wish to do is to do away with the ridiculous anomaly of two people with almost exactly similar sites one of which is paying 10s. 3d. tax and the other no tax at all. No one can justify that. We are not proposing to tax people if the site value of their house is under £150. What we are doing, and the hon. Member for Rochdale will have to admit that he is wrong, is to say that where the site value of a house is a little over £120 that the tax collected should be only 6d. as against the 10s. 6d. proposed to be collected by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We are therefore proposing to give a much greater exemption to working-class owners, to small house property, than that proposed by the Government.


May I point out to the hon. Member that that is not what hon. Members opposite are suggesting? They have suggested that no one should be exempt.


No, that is not what the Amendment says. I am telling the hon. Member what the Amendment will do, and what I intend it to do, if it is accepted. It will grant a much greater exemption to small householders than the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Take the case of a person whose land is worth £180. The Chancellor of the Exchequer proposes that he should pay 15s. I propose that he should pay 5s. The tax will be graduated right through, with the exception of the first £120 of land value, or 10s. a year. I founded my Amendment upon the well-known principle of the Income Tax which has been worked for years. I cannot resist a brief reference to the wider question that has been debated on this Amendment, of whether there should be any exemption or not. That is what the hon. Member for Rochdale suggested.


No, no!


It is a very curious thing that we should have this proposal of exemption of the small landowner, from the Chancellor of the Exchequer of all people. It shows what a wonderful power there is in the inversion of two figures. In 1913 his opinion on this question was exactly the opposite of his opinion in 1931. If hon. Gentlemen would like to have the exact words used by the right hon. Gentleman, I have them here. I must say, in justice to my Amendment, that that question has nothing to do with the proposals that I have put before the Committee. My proposal is a fairer one than that of the Government. I do not believe it would cost another farthing in tax collection. Finding out what the site is worth is work that will have to be done in any case. It will cost no more to collect a few pence or 5a. than to collect 15s. The only difference will be that in three years' time, when the tax comes to fruition, undoubtedly the Chancellor of the Exchequer will collect a little less than he proposes under his scheme. The people concerned will be the great mass of small house owners. The arguments put forward by the Solicitor-General today were either not thought out with his usual care, or they were not so solidly based that they cannot be shaken by superior arguments.


The right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) suggested that if we on the Government side were really true to our principles, there would be no exemptions at all. The object of the Amendment under discussion is to extend the scope of exemption, and to say that the exemption of the first 10s. shall apply not merely to those who hold one unit of land worth £120, but to those who may hold 100 units, each worth £120. I cannot understand the attitude of mind of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. They have been charging us with class legislation. They say that the scheme of the Bill is merely a sop to the small man, the working man, that by limiting the exemption we are holding out a sop to those who we think would vote for us in return for a sop. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite do not object to the 10s. remission to the man who holds only one unit of land worth £120, but they want to extend that 10s. remission to the man who holds a much larger area of land.


Suppose the figure is £121?


I am not on that point at the moment. I am not going to be led up the garden. My point is that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite do not object to the 10s. remission for the man who holds land worth £120, but they want to extend it to the man who holds land worth £120,000. They say in effect, "If the Exchequer has a sum of money to give away, let it give it away broadly to everyone. Do not limit this benefit to the small man. In other words, do not put up a means test." Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite who object to a means test for the landowners are asking for a means test for the widow, and they suggest that we ought to have a means test for the unemployed. I hope that the Amendment will be rejected. It may be true, as the right hon. Member for West Birmingham said, that the tax ought to go on everyone without any limitation or exemptions; but then we do not live in a perfect world. We have to face economic circumstances created, not by ourselves, but by a system which right hon. Gentlemen opposite represent, and any small concessions which are made by this side to ease the burden of the workers, are not in the nature of a bribe, but in the nature of justice to the people whom we represent.


The hon. Member who has just spoken has taken rather a wide brush. There are many landowners who do not own £120,000 worth of land. There are many small landowners with £350 or £360 worth, and it is to their rescue that the Mover of the Amendment desired to come. It is true that the hon. Member did not wish to be "led up the garden," but I would like to hear him deal with the point of the small unit worth £121 or £130. Sooner or later the owner of such a unit is bound to ask for an explanation why he should pay 10s. or 11s. on his unit while his neighbour gets off scot-free. Countless cases of that kind will arise and hon. Members opposite will have to give an answer to them. It will not be sufficient for them to tell their constituents, "Do not lead me up the garden," even if they have one.

I want to deal with what I call the convenience theory advanced by the Solicitor-General. I understood him to say that in cases where the cost of collection is likely to be far in excess of the amount realised, the State does not desire to levy the tax. That is a principle which is applied to a great deal of taxation and it has resulted in the abandonment of such taxation. According to the argument, the position is this: The Solicitor-General tells the taxpayer "It is inconvenient for the State to collect a penny or sixpence; therefore we will collect 100 per cent. more." That surely is not an argument which a taxing authority can advance. I can understand the point of view that it is not worth while collecting these small amounts, but it is not an argument for a tax to say that, because the amount of the tax is too small to collect, 100 times the amount will be collected. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) seemed slightly at a lose to understand the provisions of the Bill, but after he had heard the Mover of the Amendment explain the Amendment he could have had no illusions on the matter. The hon. Member was mistaken in the earlier stages of his thought because he defended the tax on the ground that it was like the Income Tax Act, not levied upon persons who had no income over—


I defended the exemption on the ground that certain people whose general income is below a particular figure are not called upon to pay any Income Tax at all.


I quite see that point. I wonder how the hon. Member explains the analogy of the Income Tax Acts, for, no matter what your income, whether it is £200,000 a year or whatever it is, you still get the benefit of the £135 exemption. In that case all taxpayers great and email are placed on exactly the same level in regard to exemptions. It may be that we shall get another speech from the Liberal benches, to follow the very able speech of the hon. and gallant Member for North-East Bethnal Green (Major Nathan). The principle enunciated in the hon. and gallant Member's speech will prove quite unassailable. It is probable that it will cause great trouble to the Liberal party, and necessitate more comings and goings between their headquarters and Downing Street, and that another formula will be called for, or whatever else is the best method of squaring the circle.

5.0 p.m.


I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly), for apparently his speech was so valuable that every right hon. and hon. Gentleman opposite who has followed him has found it necessary to comment on the speech. No tribute to the speech could be greater than that. Speaking as a new Member of only two years' standing, I always understood, long before I came here, that the party opposite were the party of the rich, and if I needed corroboration of that belief, I have had it overwhelmingly during the last two years. The history of our laws has proved that very conclusively.

May I now deal with the charge made by the hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Sir P. Ford), who has left the Chamber, against the party to which I have the honour to belong, of bribery of those people whose land has a capital value of not more than £120? One would suppose that the 8,000,000 voters who voted for this party at the last election were comprised entirely of comparatively poor people. My experience is that the poor people have yet to be educated to vote for this party for their own advantage, and that very often they vote blindly for the party opposite. If there is anything in the charge of bribery, I think it is very misplaced, and I ask hon. and right hon. Members opposite to give us the credit of alienating a large number of people who might be expected to vote for this party at the next election, because the Government are adamant on this point. I confess that I have some personal sympathy with the arguments that have been advanced by the party opposite, because I myself would benefit very greatly if the Government made the concession asked for, and I ask the party opposite to regard me as an average member of the people who vote Labour at election times and to give us credit for the personal sacrifices that we are prepared to make.

Speaking with the comparative irresponsibility of a back bencher, I would go much further than that and accept the charge, if it is a charge, that this is a deliberate attempt to relieve those people whose wordly wealth in land does not exceed £120 worth. I at any rate would plead guilty to alleviating their position in the matter of taxation, and I hope that our Front Bench will never be ashamed to confess than we are the party of the poor. Already the poor, as such, pay far more Income Tax—I should say taxes in proportion to their income—than any other class of the community, and I should be proud to believe that we are deliberately legislating for the amelioration of the lot of the poorest of the land. I recognise that I am following here a great Member, known by many elderly Members of this august Assembly, in my predecessor the late Sir Charles Dilke, who always claimed that one of his ambitions was to enable the poor man to stand up to the rich. I trust that in that respect at least I am not an unworthy successor.


The hon. Member is leading the Committee into a general Debate.


I am sorry. I hope that from subsequent. Debates concerning this Bill it will be known throughout the country that, while Labour is in office., if not in power, Britain's poor will be defended.


The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Vaughan) started his speech by telling us that he had not been in the House very long, and that he had always understood that the party on this side was the party of the rich. That is a fallacy which is held by very many Members on the Labour benches, and it is instilled into them before they stand for Parliament. I may say that my constituency is entirely a working-class constituency, and I hope and trust that I represent it, as a Conservative, just as well as any Labour Member could do. I have always tried to represent my constituents and to do all that I can for them, and I think I represent them just as well as could any Labour man. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in introducing his land tax proposals in Committee, made this statement: By this Measure we assert the right of a community to the ownership of land. If private individuals continue to possess a nominal claim to the land, they must pay a rent to the community for the enjoyment of it, and they cannot be permitted to enjoy that privilege to the detriment of the welfare of the community. … The land was given by the Creator, not for the use of Dukes, but for the equal use of all His people."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th May, 1931: col. 48, Vol. 252.] I submit that the Creator did not give the earth to the community; probably the community was given to the earth, because the earth appeared considerably before the community. But, assuming that an individual who owns £120 worth of land has a perfect right to own that much land without being called upon by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to pay a certain rent to the community for it, where is the principle in a man who owns £121 worth of land being called upon to pay a toll to the community? It is a question of principle. If every person in the country has a right to £120 worth of land, then the Government should accept the Amendment.

The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) cited the Income Tax. He knows quite well, or he ought to know, that so far as Income Tax is concerned there is a flat rate of allowance made to all people who pay the tax, whether they have £1,000, £5,000, or £20,000 a year. That is the principle for which we are asking in this Amendment, and I should have thought that, as that principle has already been admitted in the case of Income Tax, it should also be admitted here. Hon. Members opposite and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are always saying that an investment in land is different from an investment in any other sort of property. I should like to quote one little sentence from a passage written by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in "Socialism and Syndicalism," as follows: The Socialists may claim that there is no real difference between land and capital of a fundamental character. So we see that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has two views. He has one view which he writes in "Socialism and Syndicalism," and another view which he expresses in this House. The principle on which we proceed is that if one person who owns a unit of land, however small or however big, has, in the opinion of hon. Members opposite, a right to a certain portion of land without paying a toll to the community for that land, then every person in the country has just as much right to have one particular portion of land worth £120 as any other person, whether he owns one, two, or three units of land.

A man may have certain savings, and instead of investing them in War Savings Certificates or in company shares, he decides, without thinking of the Socialist party and their tax on land, that he would like to invest in a few cottages. He lives in one cottage and owns, perhaps, three or four others. Then this land tax comes along, and the land on which he lives is not worth more than £120, but, if the whole lot of the cottages which he owns are taken together, he finds that the amount of land which he owns, including the land occupied by the cottage in which he lives, amounts in value to more than £120. His neighbour, on the other hand, Jives in a house next door of the same size, the value of which is under £120. Does not the Committee think that it would seem extremely unfair to the person who lives in the cottage on land worth £120, and owns one or two other cottages next door, that he should have to pay the tax, not only on the other land which he owns, but also on the land which he himself occupies, which is exactly the same size as that which the man next door owns, but on which that neighbour does not have to pay anything at all? If there is going to be any principle, it should be that everybody has a perfect right to own £120 worth of land. If the principle which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has laid down is carried to its logical conclusion, then the Government can do nothing but accept the Amendment which has been moved from this side.


I am sorry that the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Vaughan) is not now in his place as I wished to answer the very interesting claim made by him that he represented the poor. He made the remarkable statement that the Income Tax bears most heavily upon the poor; he seemed to forget that a man with £9 a week and two children does not pay any Income Tax at all.


The hon. Member corrected that statement. In the first instance he used the words "Income Tax" but he corrected himself immediately, and he said that the poor paid, in taxation, more than any other section of the community.


The OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow will prove which of us is right, but I certainly understood the hon. Member to say that the poor paid Income Tax. But what I am most interested in knowing is how the hon. Member will be able to go down to his constituency and say, as a man who represents the poor, "We have agreed to a resolution of the Liberal party which will let off from this taxation the landlords of Bond Street but is not going to let off the man owning land worth only £121 a year." I think the hon. Member would have considerable difficulty in staking out a claim in the Forest of Dean as the representative of the poor on that statement and I hope to be in his constituency in a very short time to point that out. I should like to ask the hon. Member for Erdington (Mr. Simmons) how he is going to justify the proposition that a man owning property worth £125 a year should pay 10s. 6d. a year, while the man who owns property worth £120 a year should get off the tax altogether. That is the real issue.


It would be easier to justify that, than to justify a man owning property worth £100,125 being exempted. You have to take the whole lot of exemptions together.


The proposition which we are putting forward can easily be justified on the present principle of Income Tax, and the flat rate which is applicable in that case to-day. Will hon. Members opposite go to their constituencies and say that the small property owner with a property of £120 a year is to get off, while the man with only £6 a year more is to pay. As I say, we shall gladly take up that challenge and I am looking forward to going down to the Forest of Dean to point out that the hon. Member for that division has to-day agreed to letting off the landowners in Bond Street while he is not going to let off the people in his own division who own properties of £121 a year. We are told that God gave the land to the people, and to the chosen. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I do not know if the railway companies are looked upon as being among the chosen. I think it is a new principle that people who own fully-developed property, judged by the Liberal standard, should be looked upon as "the chosen" to the extent of seven-eighths—


The hon. and gallant Member is now anticipating a future discussion.


I only wish to point out that the rich landlord is to be let off by hon. Members opposite who claim to look after the poor people, and that those who own property of small value are going to be taxed by this Government.


I do not propose to repeat the arguments which have been so forcibly put from this side of the Committee in favour of the Amendment, and indeed I should not have risen at all had it not been for a remark made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer which, I think, merits a little further examination. As to the Amendment, of course we are not making ourselves in any way responsible for the provision in the Bill to which this Amendment is offered. We do not consider that there should be any exemptions at all. But, accepting the view that the Government take, that there are to be exemptions, we desire that those exemptions should be made general and not confined to one class. Earlier in the Debate my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Marjoribanks) quoted some remarks of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on a previous occasion which appeared to be inconsistent with the attitude taken up by the right hon. Gentleman on this Bill.

What the right hon. Gentleman said here was that the Bill was an assertion of the right of the community to the land, and that anybody who had nominal possession of the land ought, therefore, to pay tribute to the community. Yet, in spite of that statement, he introduces a provision which makes an exception, not in the case of people with little wealth, as so many hon. Members opposite mistakenly believe, but in the case merely of people who have no more than a particular amount of a particular kind of wealth. As my hon. Friend was speaking the Chancellor of the Exchequer, interrupting him, said that the speech from which he was quoting had been made on an occasion which had nothing to do with land values. This is not the first time the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made a somewhat unfortunate interruption. We recollect his remark about allotments which was subsequently shown by his colleague, the Minister of Agriculture, to be the reverse of the facts. I have had put in my hands the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Debate in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer made the speech quoted by my hon. Friend, and I find this heading to the Debate: