HC Deb 27 June 1938 vol 337 cc1658-60

"Stamp Duty shall cease to be chargeable under the following headings in the First Schedule to the Stamp Act, 1891, namely, ' DOCKET made on passing any instrument under the Great Seal,' GRANT or LETTERS PATENT,' and WARRANT under the sign manual.'"—[Sir J. Simon.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

10.25 p.m.

Sir J. Simon

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

Hon. Members no doubt will be familiar with the Schedule to the Stamp Act, 1891, but, none the less, I think I had better give a short explanation of this new Clause. A committee was appointed in October, 1936, to inquire into the fees and duties which were payable to public funds on the occasion of honours and dignities conferred by the Crown, and on appointments to Office under the Crown. That was in October, 1936. That committee issued an interim report in April, 1937, dealing with part of the matter, and it has now issued a final report. As regards the first report, it recommended the abolition of a lot of these charges and fees in connection with honours and dignities under the Crown, and its recommendations were carried into force in the Finance Act last year.

Now we have the Committee's final report, which deals with less important things, under the general heading of appointments to offices under the Crown. Here again, for some years past fees have been charged when persons have been appointed to certain offices under the Crown. There does not seem any obvious reason, when a person has been selected because he was thought to be a meritorious person to hold an office under the Crown, that he should be required to pay a fee for it, and certainly it is very much better that he should be appointed without any particular burden being put upon him, for his income may be small. I think the Committee generally will agree that we should get rid of these fees. The Chancellor of the Exchequer parts very unwillingly even with the smallest item of revenue, and if the Committee agrees with me now, I shall lose something like £2,000 a year. This is collected in a series of small fees from a number of people who are in due course appointed to various offices under the Crown, and the recommendation is that we should put an end to these fees. That is the provision contained in the Clause, which I hope the Committee will accept unanimously.

10.27 p.m.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

I do not propose to raise any objection to this new Clause, but I cannot help wondering why what is apparently a very trivial matter was left out of the Committee's first report. It would seem natural that when they were getting rid of the fees of larger offices, this very small sum should have fallen into the same category. I would like to know the reason why it was omitted. I should like also to know what loss of revenue the Chancellor suffered under the provision of the Finance Act, 1937, which dealt with the larger fees. I do not suppose that any hon. Member would wish to retain these ancient things when they represent such a small revenue to the Chancellor and when, in fact, they militate in this case against comparatively small people who are not necessarily getting large emoluments.

10.28 p.m.

Sir J. Simon

In reply to the right hon. Gentleman's first question, I believe the explanation why we should take two bites at the cherry—I agree that the second is a very little one—is that the Committee hastened to make its interim report before the Coronation, or before any list connected with it, and this small matter was left over and was dealt with by the Committee after the Finance Bill of last year was passed. I agree that it would have been natural to deal with the whole matter at the same time, but I have given the reason why that was not done. With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's second question, as to how much loss resulted from the proposal adopted last year, I am not quite sure that I can give him an answer. I had better not speculate about it, and I do not think I have available anybody who can tell me. I fancy that there is a difficulty here, because, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, there were cases where the fee was strictly chargeable and was remitted, and other cases where it was exacted. Therefore, it would be a chancy calculation at any rate, whether small or great. For my part, I am glad that it has come to an end, for the system is completely archaic, and I do not think it is right in a democratic State.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.