HC Deb 18 June 1941 vol 372 cc777-9

In computing the profits of any trade or business for the purpose of excess profits tax there may be deducted in respect of any accounting period a sum equivalent to any expenses incurred in the fulfilment of any statutory obligations in relation to the employment of women if it is shown to the satisfaction of the Commissioners that the introduction of women into the trade or business is due to the present emergency. —[Mr. Wood-burn."]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Woodburn

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

This new Clause has been moved with a view to relieving certain circumstances which are seriously keeping back production. The Minister of Health is urging firms to employ women labour, and while it is the case that many firms have already been employing women in large numbers, there are cases in the engineering industry where they have not been employed at all. If firms have to employ women, it immediately entails launching out in considerable expenditure on sanitary arrangements and other things required by Statute. In the case of small firms this is a very heavy burden, and some firms are deliberately not employing women because it means that by doing so they will have to sustain a very severe loss. In the case of a firm covering a large expanse, such as a foundry, garage, or engineering works, they may have been compelled to spend between £500 and £700 on black-out, and if, in addition to that, they are now being asked to spend£1,000 in providing special accommodation for women employès, it may be the straw which will break the camel's back. I have come across cases recently where firms have deliberately not accepted the recommendation of the Ministry of Labour to employ women because of these difficulties.

I recognise the difficulty of drafting a Clause to meet the case, and I have no hopes that the Clause I have drafted will be one which will meet the situation from the point of view of the Treasury; but I have moved it in order to bring this point to the notice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The same thing arises in regard to canteens. Some firms have been asked to put up canteens for their workers, and the same principle has arisen, with the result that workers may refuse to work late at night because they have no food. It is most important, if the Government are to enact that firms should build special accommodation and these canteens, that they should make some arrangement for firms which cannot afford to proceed with the work which incurs a definite loss on themselves. We have to assume that industry after the war will require to carry on in much the same way as it is doing to-day until some broader schemes develop, and therefore it is important, from the point of view of the employment of workers after the war, that firms should be in a condition to carry on and, if they are placed in such difficulties that they are left with buildings for which they have no need and with debts which they cannot pay, we may have ruin spreading to a large number of (he small specialised industries which form a very important part of the country's affairs.

Captain Crookshank

I am obliged to the hon. Member for raising the point, because there ought not to be the difficulty about it to which he referred. I will state what the position is, and those who are interested will be able to read it for themselves, and, if they have any further difficulties, they can bring them to our notice, but as at present advised there should be no difficulties. With regard to expenditure of a revenue character, the expenses are automatically allowed as a deduction, in accordance with the the ordinary principles of the Income Tax laws, but it is the capital expenditure about which the hon. Member is particularly worried—sanitary accommodation or canteens or whatever it may be owing to the employment of women. If they will refresh their memories by consulting paragraph 3 of Part I of the Seventh Schedule, Finance Act (No. 2), 1939, they will see what the provisions are. They are to the effect that, where any buildings, plant or machinery have been provided after the beginning of 1937 for the purposes of the trade or business and have become obsolete or cease to be required after the war, presumably because women would not be employed, any loss in the value of those assets ascribable to conditions prevailing as a consequence of the war will be allowed as a deduction in computing profits. Obviously the cessation of the employment of women after the war in a factory which has had to have buildings erected during the war for the purpose of employing women is exactly one of those factors which would fall to be considered within the rules laid down in the Schedule. The case was meant to be completely met, and I think it has been met. If there is any doubt after hon. Members have looked at it, and they will let me know, it may be considered at some future time, but I do not think there will be any necessity.

Mr. Woodburn

Although this information has reached me and others, what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said will certainly place me in a position, if it is put forward as an objection to increasing the employment of women, of calling firms' attention to it. It seems to me that it meets the case.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.