HC Deb 18 June 1941 vol 372 cc771-4

For the purpose of relief of assessment to Income Tax in respect of children, any child who, because of mental or physical disability, is incapable of employment shall be deemed to be a child of less than fourteen years of age. —[Sir H. Williams.']

Brought up, and read the First time.

Sir H. Williams

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

I want Income Tax relief to be extended in respect of any child whom the parents have to maintain, in exactly the same way as in the case of aged dependants. It is of the same principle where there is a state of complete dependency of this kind and where people are therefore subjected to special expenditure. I have one particularly bad case in mind where people who are not at all well off are in the position that they have to maintain a child who is mentally quite incapable. It is a terrible burden on these people. In other cases they may be maintained in homes, and in some cases people may have to employ a special nurse, but generally these cases represent very substantial hardship. I realise to the full the difficulties of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is always trying to resist leakages in his revenue. These things did not matter so much until the Income Tax reached the oppressive limits of today. There are hardships upon some people which are really intolerable, and it is in the light of such circumstances that I move this Clause.

Mr. Tinker

I would like to support the new Clause. I did not realise, before my hon. Friend mentioned it, the difficulty in respect of the child incapable of looking after itself owing to suffering from some physical or mental ailment. It seems to me that in such cases there ought to be some protection, and it is unfair that parents should have to bear the whole of the burden. Now that taxation has been extended to cover smaller incomes a working-class family may come under the burden of Income Tax with a child to support such as in the case described by my hon. Friend. It would be rather a big burden for such a working-class family to have to meet the cost. This sort of thing would not appear to be a very big burden if it were confined to members of the wealthy class, who would have the money with which to pay, but I can see that this may hit members of my class, and I want something to be done to help them. This is a good proposal, and that is why I join the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams] in supporting it. I would not join him if it had not been a good Clause, because I am always suspicious when he brings anything before us. On this occasion I realise the soundness of his proposal, and that is why I am supporting it.

Mr. Woodburn

I would like to say, speaking in support of the new Clause, that the only thing about which I am in doubt is whether it would include a person who might be considered a child up to the age of 30 or 40 years. I would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he is going to accept this Clause, to deal with this in order legally to include all these people. I do not think that we should find this sort of thing confined to one section of the population. It is very sad when it occurs in a family, and however poor a family may be, it is remarkable how they try not to part with a child of this character. I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make a concession of this kind in order to help to relieve this hardship.

Captain Crookshank

The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has by implication showed the difficulty of this Clause. He said that he hoped that it would mean that a person would be considered a child up to the age of 30 or 40 years. Well, of course, we all agree that we are dealing now with a very sad case. That is common ground. What is the position with regard to these allowances? At present the parents of a child under 16, or a child over 16 who is undergoing education, or, as we said in the Finance Act of 1938, is receiving certain forms of vocational training, receive an allowance of £50 per annum. But now we come to the difficulty which the hon. Gentleman does not quite appreciate. This allowance of £50 is given to children because they are still being educated and have not gone out into the world. But the allowance for dependent relatives who are infirm, incapable and so on is not £50; it is £25, and I cannot see how we would have the anomaly that would inevitably arise —

Sir H. Williams

I am quite ready to do a deal on that fact.

Captain Crookshank

But the deal is much too expensive for us to contemplate in present circumstances. The whole question of dependants' allowances has been frequently argued. The Royal Commission of 1920 came to the conclusion that there should be no change, and that position has since been maintained. On reflection I think the hon. Gentleman the Member for Eastern Stirling (Mr. Wood-bum) will see that it is quite impossible to accept a proposal that the parents of a child who get an allowance of£50 per annum during an educational period— presumably the child would not receive any education if he was half-witted— should continue to receive that allowance indefinitely thereafter while other dependent relatives receive an allowance not of £50 but of £25. It is not really possible to allow that particular anomaly to arise, and because we cannot deal with that general problem now, in view of the great calls which have been made in all directions on the Budget, I hope my hon. Friend will not press the Clause, having seen the difficulties which I have explained.

Sir H. Williams

There is always a difficulty when a private Member tries to draft a new Clause, particularly under the pressure which most of us are undergoing. I think it would be better to treat these people as dependent relatives, and I do not want my right hon. and gallant Friend to think he will save money by refusing, because the people who have made desperate efforts to maintain these mentally incapable children will no longer be able to go on doing so. They will have to avail themselves of the public services, where they will get it done for nothing. In effect, the cost to the State will be much greater than if the concession was made. People who were able to carry out this task when Income Tax was lower than it is now will now have to hand over responsibility to the appropriate local authority or public institution. So the burden on the State will be far greater than it would be if you encouraged these people to make this effort. I believe that in the long run it would be an economy to the Exchequer to do this, and although I ask leave to withdraw the Clause I would ask my right hon. and gallant Friend to think again in the light of the point I have just made.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.