§ Sir H. Williams
I beg to move, in page 13, line 15, to leave out "five," and insert "ten."
This Amendment, and the consequential Amendments, raise a very important issue. The Bill, as it stands, is obviously incomplete, because it is designed, up to a point, to compensate all who have suffered damage, but it does not provide all the money, since obviously it may well be that five years of contributions, together with the 50 per cent. paid by the Treasury, will not produce enough. Later, therefore, there will in all probability be another Bill to change five years into a greater number of years. I am not suggesting that my Amendment really represents the length to which I would desire to go. At this stage, I propose merely to double the period and halve the contributions. Actually, if you halve the contribution, the number of years ought to be more than doubled, because interest is a thing which exists whether in a capitalist system or Socialist system, because it is a payment for a deferment.
Frankly, I do not much like the finance of this Bill. I should have preferred a Measure which would have laid down that all property should be liable for an indefinite number of years to a contribution more moderate than the 2s. which is proposed, and which would have gone on until the whole cost had been discharged, incidentally authorising the War Damage Commission to borrow in those years in which their income was less than their expenditure. It would then be possible to be more generous in regard to compensation than is proposed at present in certain directions. I want to turn this into an insurance Bill, and since we have no actuarial basis for contributions in advance we are building up our actuarial basis by having contributions after the event. I would like to see contributions going on until the War Damage Commission was able to report to the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the 870 day that everybody had been compensated and that no more contributions were required. That goes a bit beyond my Amendment but I am satisfied that it is a better scheme financially than that which is before us. The Chancellor is resisting Amendments which, in his heart of hearts he likes, on the ground that he has not got the money. My proposal would give him the money, because it would attach to all property a liability to contribute until such time as the whole cost had been met. That might mean contributions over a period of 10, 15 or even 25 years. I do not mind that, because what people want is the knowledge that having incurred these losses, they will be compensated, and compensated at the proper time, which will vary much according to a variety of circumstances.
I realise that my Amendment is rather challenging in principle. I realise that there is to be another Bill before many months are out; I have not the slightest doubt that the Chancellor will ask the Committee to reject my Amendment today, but it does not necessarily follow that he will reject in perpetuity the principle underlying my Amendment. Ultimately, I believe that circumstances will force him, or whoever may be responsible in the future, to go back to the principle I have been enunciating, namely that all property which is safeguarded by this Bill should have attached to it for an indefinite period the liability to provide, together with such contribution as the Treasury may think fit—and personally I would reduce the Treasury's contributions—a sum which people could afford to pay for a long period of time rather than the more oppressive charge of 2s. in the £ which many people cannot afford to pay.
Later on the Order Paper appears an Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Balham and Tooting (Mr. Doland) to the same effect. There are a great many empty properties at this moment. The owner of such a property gets no income yet has to pay 2s. in the £ on Schedule A. There are some people who will be quite unable to meet the charges under this Bill. If, on the other hand, it is reduced to 1s. in the £ payable over a period of 10 years—although in reality I would not propose 10 years, but X years, X being as long as may be necessary—I think it will he much more workable and will impose less hardship on great numbers of people. I 871 hope that the Chancellor will ask his advisers to examine the project I have now put before him and the Committee. I cannot expect him to accept it under this Bill. We have to get this Bill into law at the earliest possible moment. But we know that before August we are to have another Bill, and there will still be time to recast the finances.
I beg and beseech the Chancellor to consider this proposal then. As he knows, I was for three years before the war one of a group of Members who were urging upon the Government the vital necessity of an Air Raid Insurance Bill. He may remember one occasion on which he honoured me with a speech in my constituency. He was less restricted then than he is at the moment by the associates among whom he sits, and he made a very powerful plea in the interests of Conservatism in South Croydon. I appealed to him then to go back and persuade his colleagues in the Cabinet to introduce an Air Raid Insurance Bill. I think it is a tragedy that he did not do it then. I said to his predecessor—now Lord Simon—"As soon as there is serious air raiding, the policy of the Government will collapse." It has collapsed. They said that they would pay no compensation until the war was over. This Bill is evidence of the complete failure of the Government on this question up to now. If the Bill had been introduced when I suggested it, there would have been a lot of money in the kitty now. I only hope that the Chancellor will show that he is not closing the door.
§ Sir K. Wood
It will save time if I say a word on this and on the general considerations that arise in connection with payments of contributions, as laid down in the Bill. I have given most anxious consideration to these proposals. They involve heavy payments by property-owners. It is interesting, in the light of criticisms of my last Budget, to note the many representations which are being made to me to-day, not only in connection with these proposals, about the many burdens now resting on property-owners. If heavy burdens are imposed upon property-owners by this Bill, many substantial benefits are conferred upon them. Our policy is, as far as possible, to protect property, and, within reasonable limits, to secure compensation for war damage, 872 as set out in the Bill. The State is under an obligation to make considerable payments in addition. That is being done, not in the interests of a section of the community, the property-owners, but in the national interest. Property and the home are of the greatest value to the individual. To large numbers of people they mean almost everything. Another consideration is that property forms an important part of our national economy. I must, as a prudent man, ensure payments in respect of property under this Bill. I must ensure that these payments are made in a reasonable time. I do this really in the interests of the property-owners themselves. As my hon. Friend has said, this Measure only ensures protection until August. No one can say what the amount of damage may be between now and August, or after August, but obviously, in the times in which we live, that matter has to be taken into account. I therefore have to have regard to the financial position that may arise both in respect of contributions from property and from the State after August. If I adopted my hon. Friend's proposals and extended the period, I might then ve[...] well find myself after August in the position of having to inflict a much harder blow upon property-owners than I desired to do, although it would be in the national interest that it should be done. It might very well be the best course to adopt, if further contributions have to be made, that those contributions should be over a further extended period after the first five year period. If, however, I were to extend the first period now I should be making it very difficult indeed for me to adopt that proposal, because I might very well be extending the time for payment so long ahead, that it would be impossible to regard it as a practical proposition.
Therefore, the first thing that I say to the Committee is that I must ask them to support the financial proposals generally in the Bill. They have been very carefully thought out and on the whole—and I have received many deputations—while naturally people would like to have the burden lessened, they have been regarded as fair and reasonable both between the property owner and the State itself. I must ask the Committee to support my proposals. As my hon. Friend has said, I shall have to bring further proposals before the Committee, which 873 I hope will be nothing like the extent and character of this Bill, which one sees only once in a generation or once in a great war. But I shall obviously have to consider the whole financial aspect of the matter afresh in the light of the experience which will then be available, and then I shall have to have regard to all that has been said.
I want to say in conclusion, because the many deputations who have seen me have invited me to make this statement publicly as I do now, that it is obvious that in the times in which we live, contributions will press very heavily indeed upon certain individuals and sections of the community. You cannot get blood out of a stone and, as far as the Inland Revenue are concerned, I can assure the Committee that they will behave with consideration and fairness towards people who find themselves in difficulty in connection with these contributions. I have noted both in my Ministerial capacity and in private life the helpfulness of the authorities in cases of this kind and, finally, I can say that, in connection with this Bill, consideration and fairness will be applied to those who find the burden too heavy or impossible. Having said that, I must ask the Committee to support me in these present financial proposals, believing, as I do, that they are fair and that they are the utmost I can do today. In the times in which we are living things are very uncertain and we must he guided by future events, but I will have regard in any amending legislation to the important financial aspect of this matter. I have no wish to impose unnecessary burdens upon any section of the community, because so many are having to bear still heavier burdens, but at the same time we must ensure that in this legislation we must work on reasonable and fair lines as far as we can. It was with these matter in view that we carefully framed this Clause and I hope my hon. Friends who have other Amendments which are seeking to amend the proposals will accept my advice to-day and support the proposals I am now making.
§ Sir H. Williams
I do not wish to prolong the discussion, but I hope the Treasury will examine the points I outlined because I want to change the financial basis, although I know it cannot be done in this Bill. With regard to the question of hardship, I listened to what 874 the Chancellor said, but however kind and generous his officials may be, they have to enforce the law, and I do not see in what way we can solve the problem to which reference is made in the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Balham and Tooting (Mr. Doland) which comes later. As I have said, the Treasury officials are reasonably kind up to a point, but there comes a time when they must say, "Please pay up," and unless the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Balham and Tooting is accepted some people will find themselves in a situation of the utmost gravity. However, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir Harold Webbe (Westminster, Abbey)
I beg to move, in page 13, line 24, at the end, to insert:In any case where it is shown to the satisfaction of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue that the payment of the contribution by the five annual instalments would involve hardship, he Commissioners shall have power to spread the amount by instalments over a longer period not exceeding ten years.I move this Amendment in the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Balham and Tooting (Mr. Doland). It is an Amendment which makes specific and definite provision for those cases in which in the opinion of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue payment of contribution at the rate set out in the Bill will obviously involve hardship. I should be the last to under-estimate what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has said about the kindness and consideration with which officers of his Department deal with persons who find difficulty in meeting their obligations but, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) has said, they have a responsibilty. They have to carry out the law, and the consideration which they can show must always be limited by that fact. I suggest also that it is hardly reasonable that such a great responsibility should be placed upon the officials of the Inland Revenue. There are bound to be many cases where great hardship will arise, and where it will indeed be against the public interest and against public policy that extreme pressure should be brought to bear upon a contributor whose business activities and whose efforts in other directions may be very seriously hampered if he has 875 to meet such a large charge. It is with the intention of trying to some extent to soften the blow to people in that position, and to provide some definite line of amelioration, that I move this Amendment, to which I hope the Chancellor will give consideration.
§ The Attorney-General
I think that when the Committee consider this Amendment, they will agree that it could not possibly be accepted. It would introduce an entirely novel conception into the Income Tax law, and it would mean that the Inland Revenue would have placed upon them, not only the very large burdens which this Bill will impose on them, but would have to have a very large staff to conduct inquiries of rather a means test character in order to investigate cases of hardship that were put forward. It is true that, although it does not arise only under this Bill and under this contribution, war conditions bring unexpected and unanticipated financial losses to some people. Under the ordinary Income Tax, a man may find himself suddenly deprived of the source from which he had hoped to pay his Income Tax, owing to some circumstance due to the war. As my right hon. Friend said in dealing with an earlier Amendment, the administration of this contribution will be carried out with the same care with which I think it is generally recognised the administration of Income Tax collection is carried out. When people have fallen on hard days, undue pressure is not exerted. In war circumstances the number of cases where hardship might arise if undue pressure were exercised will obviously be larger than in peace time, but I do not think that one could possibly introduce into the Bill a principle of the kind suggested in the Amendment. The matter must be left to be dealt with by administrative measures.
§ Mr. R. Morgan (Stourbridge)
If contributions were allowed to accumulate, could not interest be charged at the rate of 2½ per cent.?
§ The Attorney-General
If Income Tax is not paid over a period of time, I suppose ultimately it becomes a charge against all of a person's assets. If a person goes on long enough not paying his debts somebody will probably make him bankrupt. Nobody proposes to make people bankrupt if they are unable to pay this contribution 876 because of war circumstances, but if it went on mounting up, I think it would be rather useful to make it a definite charge.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Silkin
I beg to move, in page 13, line 32, to leave out "or."
The purpose of this Amendment and the Amendment which follows it on the Order Paper is to include in the lower rates of contributions, housing institutes built by housing associations on housing estates. For a long time, housing associations have been encouraged by local authorities to provide these institutes for the benefit of their tenants. They are used for games and recreations. They are not, of course, used for open-air games, although in some cases they are surrounded by open spaces which can be used for recreation, in which case, I agree, they will come within Sub-section (3, b). However, there are housing institutes which may not be surrounded by open spaces but which, nevertheless, are used for recreation. These associations are philanthropic associations, and I feel there is as good a case for treating such properties preferentially as land used exclusively for the purpose of open-air games. It may be that this point is already covered, but if not I hope the Chancellor will see his way to accept this Amendment to include housing institutes.
§ Captain Crookshank
As I understand it, this Amendment deals with institutes for social and recreational facilities, with the difference that the games are played under cover and therefore do not come within the proviso (b) which refers to land mainly used for outdoor recreation. These institutes are built by housing associations, and I agree with the hon. Member they serve a very useful purpose. Some of them, however, may conceivably come within the charity relief classes under Clause 29. If they do not come within that provision, then I find it very hard to see—and so does my right hon. Friend—that they are different in any way from ordinary buildings. The reason why I do not think they can be assimilated in land used for open-air recreation, is because of the difference between land and buildings. No one would say they would fall within the definition 877 of land. It would really mean that we were trying to get in another class—it may be a very minute one—graded at sixpence instead of 2s. I am told that even if one could accept this Amendment, it could not be limited to this particular class of institute. There are many other institutes which fulfil a similar deserving purpose, but do not happen to have been built by housing associations. I am sure anyone would be able to think of similar cases and it would be a little difficult to make a special class just to distinguish between a boys' club built by a housing association and a boys' club built by someone else. On the whole, while agreeing with my hon. Friend as to the useful contribution to our public life which these institutes make, the problems which their case raises are too complicated to introduce them into this Clause.
§ Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)
Do ordinary village institutes come under the 2s. or the sixpenny provision? They are often used for purely social purposes and cover a considerable amount of work which is most useful in the public social welfare.
§ Captain Crookshank
They are on the higher scale. The institutes that I know of are buildings. They are not land used for games.
§ Mr. Silkin
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not finally close his mind to this pica, because, in the ordinary way, these housing associations would be exempt under Clause 29. By the accidental fact however that they have to let their dwellings at a rent, they do not fall within it and are not regarded as charities, although in every other sense of the word they are charities. I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will look at the position again.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Major Neven-Spence (Orkney and Zetland)
I beg to move, in page 13, line 32, at the end, to insert:'or(c) shootings or fishings.878 The object of this Amendment is to secure that the rate of premium payable under Part 1 of the Bill in respect of shootings or fishings shall be 6d. in the £ the same rate as that prescribed for agricultural properties and for properties devoted to open-air games, open-air racing or open-air recreation, instead of 2s. In the case of shootings and fishings, as in the case of agricultural properties, I think it will be conceded that a large part of the annual value of the subject is really attributable to the land and not to any buildings that may be on it. Again, fishing and shooting are, of course, closely analogous to those purposes indicated in paragraph (b), that is, they are used for recreations of various sorts. I do not know what reason prompted my right hon. Friend to include those things under the lower rate. I suspect that it is a "hangover" using the word in the best sense from the days when he filled the office of Minister of Health with such distinction and efficiency, and that he desired to do nothing to discourage people in any way from getting as much exercise as possible in the open air. I suspect he was also fortified in his decision by realising that he was underwriting what was probably a relatively good risk. One cannot conceive of very great damage being done to these subjects, and least of all perhaps in the case of shootings and fishings, which are very widely spread. One can visualise a bomb falling into a salmon pool or destroying a covey of partridges, but the damage done would not be of the kind that a man would be called upon to repair. Nature would do what was necessary.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend does not wish to discriminate between those who use different kinds of woods for recreation. There are those who wield the ash and those who wield the willow. Others use the green-heart and others the steel rod at the end of a piece of walnut. They are all engaged in exercise in the open air and should come under the same heading. My right hon. Friend might think that my point would be met by substituting the word "sports" for "open-air recreations," but that would not cover it because I have another point which I wish to stress. I have used the words "shootings and fishings" because I wish my right hon. Friend to consider the necessities of a humble class of people 879 scattered all around the coast engaged in a hard-working and exposed life and making a meagre living. Those are the men engaged in salmon-fishing. It would be very hard on these not very well-off men, if they had to pay the higher rate while adjoining them was a farmer, well-to-do and perhaps wealthy—if I may be forgiven for suggesting that a wealthy or well-to-do farmer exists—paying on the other scale. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that there is such a farmer. He would pay only the 6d. rate and the man on the foreshore, living in an indifferent house and earning a meagre living, whose all-in-all is tied up in his salmon-nets and cobles, would pay the higher rate. His circumstances are such that he should be put on the same basis as those engaged in agriculture.
§ Captain Crookshank
I do not want to go into the controversy of the rich farmer and the poor fisherman, but I do not expect my hon. and gallant Friend will be surprised when I tell him that my right hon. Friend does not feel inclined to accept the Amendment. If the Schedule A assessment includes sporting rights, then, where the land is agricultural land, as defined in Clause 68, it would pay at the 6d. rate. Where it is not within that definition it would pay the 2s. rate. On the other hand, if the Schedule A assessment does not include sporting rights and there is a separate rate, which I think applies largely to commercial fishing, it would fall to pay the 2s. rate as laid down in the earlier Clause. I do not think it would be profitable at this time of day, when we have so much to do, to discuss the interrelationship of open-air sports, games and fishing. My right hon. Friend has considered all the implications, but does not think that, in the nature of things, fishing should be given the preferential rate.
I should like to be clear about what the Financial Secretary has said. Special provision is made by the law in England that sporting rights shall be separately valued for rating purposes where there is a let separate from the occupation of the land. Did he say that where those rights are with the occupation of the land, and the land is agricultural, the rate is 6d.; and that it was only where there was a let, on a separate lease, 880 that the 2s. rate would be paid? I understood him to mean mat. Where sporting rights are not severed from the ordinary agricultural rights on the land there is no reason why those sporting rights should be charged at the rate of 2s. instead of 6d. To talk about sporting rights sounds very capitalistic, but are they really a capitalistic matter, and are they likely to suffer any damage at all? One may get a bomb in a pond where people go to fish in the summer, or it may be dropped in a river for which sporting rights have been paid. What would be fair, I think, is that the rate should be 6d. where the shooting rights are enjoyed by the agriculturist working the land, and as. where the sporting rights are let separately.
§ Sir J. Mellor
I wish to ask my right hon. and gallant Friend the Financial Secretary whether in his argument against this Amendment he really contends that the sporting values are in any way risked?
§ Mr. Woodburn
I suggest that in the public interest it is not advisable to encourage anybody to keep for sport land which might be turned to agricultural use, and if there is such land used for sporting purposes, as is the case throughout Scotland, the rate on such land should be retained at 2s. in order to induce people to put that land to its proper use, the production of food. On the general question, I do not think that people should contribute only in proportion to the benefits they are likely to get. It is a question of raising money from the whole population on as fair a basis as possible, in order to make payments to those who suffer damage. The argument that certain properties should be exempted from payment stands on the same footing as the old suggestion that blind people should not be asked to pay towards the lighting of the streets because they get no benefit from it.
§ Colonel Sir George Courthope (Rye)
I had not intended to speak, although I should oppose this Amendment, because I do not think one wants preferential rates for sporting rights, but I have been brought to my feet in some alarm by the explanation given by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Financial Secretary. In a great many cases it is not a question of sporting rights being alternative to agricul- 881 tural uses, because they run concurrently. Most of the agricultural land in the country has a certain amount of sporting rights value. If the person to whom land is let for farming purposes also enjoys the sporting rights over it there is no separate assessment for the sporting rights; there is a separate assessment only when the sporting rights are in different hands. I will take the case of my own little estate in Sussex as an example. About half of the land is in my own occupation. I farm it and I retain the sporting rights and there is no separate assessment for the sporting rights. The other half is let to farm tenants but the sporting rights are reserved, and in that case there is a separate assessment of the sporting rights. What will happen on most agricultural estates is that there will be a certain number of farms where the sporting rights will be charged at the 2s. rate, and others, lying among them, charged on the 6d. basis, and that is likely to lead to a good deal of confusion and difficulty in the assessment committees. All I ask is that the Financial Secretary should look a little closely into the matter.
§ Captain Crookshank
Surely, if confusion will be caused, that is the last thing that anybody wants.
Will my right hon. Friend look into that particular point? How can you separate the sporting rights when there are no sporting rights?
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment made: In page 13, line 37, leave out "structures," and insert "works."—[Sir K. Wood.]
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.