HC Deb 02 June 1943 vol 390 cc229-43
Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)

I beg to move, in page 4, line 6, after "etc.)," to insert: and in the case of games where a charge is made to spectators. The object of this Amendment is to remove what I consider a genuine grievance. Under the law at present there are two classes of entertainment. The first is charged at full duty, the second at reduced duty. The second class includes stage plays, ballet, concerts, lectures, music-hall, variety performances and circuses. These are entertainments which are not necessarily of a particularly high class, but of which the performers are actually present and taking part. The relevant words of the Customs and Excise notice say that they are entertainments where all performers whose words or actions constitute the entertainment are actually present and performing. I would submit that games in which professionals are playing can be classed as entertainments coming under this head. At present, this discrimination hits the professional player very hard indeed, and also the spectators who go to watch professional matches. Smith may go to a circus, he buys a ticket for 11½d., and the Chancellor demands from him ½d. by way of taxation. Jones may go to a football match; he buys a ticket costing 10½d. and this time the Chancellor demands no less than 7½d. from him. That is grossly unfair. It puts the person who goes to watch a match in a far worse position than a person who goes to watch a circus or music-hall or variety entertainment. What is the reason? The reason may be said to be that we wish to encourage drama, lectures and other entertainments of the higher sort, but you cannot class circuses and music-halls under that head. Secondly, the reason may be said e) be that football and cricket clubs are making great profits. I cannot speak for cricket but I must admit that I represent a constituency which has a famous football team and I can speak for football. Not one of the 72 football clubs that took part in the matches this year has paid a dividend, and 16 others have shut down altogether, so it can hardly be said that football is a profitable entertainment at the moment. I will not speak about my own club, but Tottenham Hotspur have lost no less than £13,000 in the past season. It may be said that the players are very well off, and can well afford any loss as a result of this duty. But this is not so. In the Cup final which was played on 1st May this year, the Chancellor took a little profit for himself. He took £7,250. That is not a bad sum for an hour's hard work, done by somebody else. The people who did that work, the football players, took £42. For the football players, £42;for the Chancellor, £7,250.

As a matter of interest I looked up the Chancellor's record in "Who's 'Who." I failed to find any particular sporting activity to his credit. It may be that he was very shy, and did not choose to say what his sport was. Looking at his figure, I do not think it is football; it might be ballroom dancing or figure skating, or something like that. But whether or not he is a footballer or a cricketer, I appeal to him to realise that these two games play quite a considerable part to-day in keeping up the nation's morale. Of course, there are many other factors and I would not for a moment suggest that if there were no cricket and no football we would lose the war to-morrow. Of course not. But the fact that there are such games to which people can go and relax when they come out of the factories, and where men in the Forces can go, helps to keep up the nation's morale. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to remove from this particular form of activity the very grievous burden which is placed upon it by the law at present. I hope that if he cannot accept this Amendment he will at least say that he realises that a very grievous burden is placed upon cricket, football and other games, which are playing a very important part in our national life, and that he will himself look into the matter, and see whether something cannot be done to remove this burden.

Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward (Kingston-upon-Hull, North West)

I think that everybody in the Committee will agree that the sum of £42 divided between 22 players at a Cup final for the extremely high exhibition of skill that they have given is hopelessly inadequate. But does the hon. Member suggest that if the Amendment is carried, these players will receive one penny more? I very much doubt it. It will all go into the pockets of the clubs. I admit that if there was any guarantee that the players would have the benefit of any reduction which the Chancellor of the Exchequer was prepared to give, I could back the Amendment with much more enthusiasm. The very high standard of skill which is exhibited in an Association football match is worth a much higher rate of remuneration than the players are now getting, but until we can have some guarantee from the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Mover of the Amendment that the proceeds, as a result of the Amendment, would be distributed among the players and not among directors and shareholders, I am afraid I cannot see my way to support the Amendment.

Mr. A. Edwards (Middlesbrough, East)

My hon. Friend whose name is attached to this Amendment with mine pointed out that neither the clubs nor the players would benefit from this concession. Very few clubs are making any profit, and many of them only sufficient to cover expenses. They are making a gallant effort to save a very important national game in this country. It may not be that we shall lose the war, as my hon. Friend said, if football and cricket stop. But this Committee would agree that without cricket and football the morale of war, country, which means so much in the would not be quite the same. It must surely be worth while trying to save it. I thing that it is just plain cheating on the part of the Chancellor. Here is a great national game which most industrial centres in this country at any rate greatly appreciate, and the workers are able to relax when they are able to watch a game to which they have become so attached. The point that the money should go to the players is not valid. The players do not ask for it. In fact, they ask for nothing out of this, only that the Chancellor shall not ruin both the clubs and the prospects of this game, by unfair taxation. The whole point of this taxation is that it is not equitable and fair. Whether the Chancellor indulges in ballroom dancing or skating or whatever he does, he should do something so that this great national game can be preserved and that clubs should not have to suffer very severe financial losses. Everything should be done that the Chancellor can do to preserve the clubs, the players and the recreation, which means so much to the workers in our industries.

Mr. Wilmot

I would like to support what has been said regarding football, but it is also true of cricket. I am a member of the famous Surrey Club, and the financial position of cricket is very serious. The Chancellor is looking very sympathetic but one is apt to be deceived by his charming smile. If, however, he is looking kindly upon this proposal, he must not forget cricket as well.

Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)

Not one of the three hon. Members who have supported the Amendment has given the Committee any reason to believe that this tax acts as a deterrent to attendances at football matches. That is the criterion which has to be applied. Therefore, until that information is produced, if it can be produced, the Chancellor of the Exchequer should adhere to the rate of taxation.

Mr. A. Edwards

It can be proved by the effect upon attendances.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Assheton)

There is no Member of the Committee who would not like to do what he can to help cricket and football, and I think many hon. Members are as keen to do it as the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) and the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards), both of whom have very good reasons for appreciating the particular sport of football. I would like to remind the Committee of the reasons which lay behind the action of the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the time, when he introduced this particular relaxation. The object of giving a reduced rate of tax for the living stage was to help the living stage in competition with the cinema, and that still stands as the justification for it. I do not think that anyone would suggest that the living stage can really be compared with football and cricket in the sense that the people who go to see football and cricket matches would be seduced from their allegiance to football and cricket in favour of the cinema. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] Because I do not think that, on the whole, human nature works that way. The reason for making the concession, which the Committee, I am sure, wishes to see continued, is to protect the living stage. There is one point of which I would like to remind the Committee. If a concession were made for football, we should find very soon similar concessions being asked for horse racing and many other forms of activity in which many other Members of the Committee take an interest. I am very sorry, therefore, that the particular Amendment must be rejected.

Sir W. Allen

All of us would, no doubt, be delighted if it were possible to have these various taxes reduced, but what weighs with me is the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer must get his money. I would be delighted if the tax on beer and tobacco could be removed and if the Chancellor of the Exchequer could arrange with the various tobacco people to supply a special tobacco for the old age pensioners, but evidently all this cannot be done. In considering all these various taxes, we must have regard to the payment for the war, and the only way to do it is by these taxes. If in the course of this Debate in Committee the Chancellor of the Exchequer could see his way to do anything to alleviate permanent taxation, we should be delighted, but in the meantime we must support him in his endeavour to raise money to pay for this stupendous expenditure in which the country is engaged. I am satisfied on the whole that the Chancellor is doing his utmost and his very best in very difficult circumstances to get money necessary for the payment of the war.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Bossom (Maidstone)

I beg to move, in page 4, line 10, at the end, to add: (2) Subsection (3) of section one of the Finance Act, 1935, shall apply to a zoological park or garden which belongs to an individual and to which the public are admitted for payment, in like manner as the said subsection applies to the entertainments therein mentioned. I was very gratified to hear the remark which has just been made by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury when he said that this provision was made with the intention of encouraging the living stage as against the cinema. My Amendment applies to almost the smallest concern of its kind in the country. I believe that there are only two such zoos in the country. They are so small that the money that the Chancellor will get is hardly worth discussing, and I do not intend to occupy the Committee long. if the people who own these two zoos would form themselves into a society, they would not have to pay any tax at all. No tax is paid by zoos run by societies. The owner of one of these zoos is chairman of several other zoos, and he does not pay tax in the one case but pays it in the other. This seems to be divided up between the living and the dead. The Regulation says: All the performers whose words or actions constitute the entertainment are actually present and performing and the entertainment consists solely of one or more of the following items, namely, the stage, the ballet, form of music, a lecture, a recitation, a music hall, a variety entertainment, a circus or a travelling show. If these animals are put into a ring and made to run in a circle, the proprietor pays the reduced rate of tax, but if they are allowed to stay in their cages, he does not get the reduction. It is rather a paradox. When this Regulation was made it was not known that there were these two very small incidents in our national life. I would call the attention of the Chancellor to the fact that they are really educational and that, being educational, they should not have to pay any tax at all. The individual on whose behalf I have put down this Amendment is not desirous of avoiding taxation and recognises that at the present time the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to raise the money he requires, but he does not see any reason why he should have to lose a certain amount of money if he is entitled to have his zoo added to this list. The animals, instead of running round and round, just walk to and fro in their cages. I hope that the Chancellor can see his way clear to accept this Amendment.

Mr. David Adams (Consett)

I trust that the Chancellor's usually extremely hard heart will not be softened on this occasion. If there is one anachronism to-day in the advance of education and knowledge, it is the continued prevalence of zoological gardens where the larger wild animals are retained in captivity. This is an act, in any evens, of great cruelty, and when one is compelled to take children to such places there is a revolting feeling that great hardship is being inflicted on these animals.

Mr. Bossom

I would like to explain that in this particular zoo these animals are not in cages, as the hon. Member is indicating. They are accommodated outside where they are allowed the greatest freedom and can demonstrate all their movements. The monkeys are the only animals in cages, not the large animals, so that the reference of the hon. Member does not apply in this case.

Mr. Adams

Am I to understand that the larger animals in cages are not affected by the proposed Amendment? If that be so, certainly no one who has visited these zoos can say the animals are as contented and happy in these circumstances as they would be in their natural state. To-day the film, the museum and the written book provide an abundance of opportunity for those who desire to study in a most intimate manner the wild life of the world, and. for that reason I hope that there will be no concession granted which will enable this form of cruelty more readily to continue.

Mr. Assheton

I do not expect that the Committee will want me to enter into an argument with the hon. Member on the general merits of zoos, but I would like to say a word to my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom), who takes such an interest in the particular zoo in his part of the world. Naturally we have looked carefully at the proposals he has made to see if anything ought to be done, but I am bound to say that the Chancellor came to the conclusion that the case was not very strong. The hon. Member will have heard me say, when dealing with the last Amendment, that the object of this concession is to assist the theatre against competition from the cinema. I do not believe that the particular show which the hon. Member has in mind is suffering from competition from the cinema. Therefore, I do not believe that it comes within what I may call the original terms of reference for this concession. In addition to that, the hon. Member himself almost pointed out to the Committee how his difficulty might be avoided. If this zoo was managed by a committee rather than an individual, it could come within the terms of the Finance Act, 1916, which provides for: Entertainments provided for partly educational or partly scientific purposes by a society, institution or committee not conducted or established for profit. In view of that, I do not expect the Committee will wish to support the Amendment, although I am sure we are all glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone has had the opportunity of stating his case.

Mr. Bossom

In view of the rather hardhearted attitude o{ my hon. Friend, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Frankel (Mile End)

I beg to move, in page 4, line 10, at the end, to add:

(2) The said subsection (3) of section one of the Finance Act, 1935, shall be extended to apply to an entertainment consisting solely of a football match where all the players are of amateur status, and the foregoing provisions of this section shall apply accordingly. There has been quite a sporting atmosphere about the proceedings so far, and I am wondering whether it is too much to hope for a sporting reply from the Chancellor. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dug-dale), who moved a previous Amendment to get a reduction of Entertainments Duty for professional clubs, I am asking for a reduction to be made for wholly amateur clubs. I am confining my Amendment to football amateur clubs, although I would not object if amateur cricket clubs were included. Some figures have already been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, and I would like to give one or two others. If a charge of 6¼d. is made for admission to an amateur football club's match, the tax is 7d., making a total of ¾d., but if an individual afterwards transfers to the stand for any reason—and often a reason is rain—the charge is 6d. more, and the extra tax on that 6d. for the stand is 7¾d. There is a further anomaly. An admission charge of 11½d. to the theatre carries a tax of ½d., making the full charge is., but 11½d. charged for an amateur football match carries a tax of ½d. It has been said in connection with Amendments to previous Finance Bills that a reduction of taxation was sought in order to benefit the living stage against the cinema. That may be so, but I wonder whether the Committee would not agree that amateur football clubs do a great deal of important work for the country and ought to be included, at least under the educational heading, if not the scientific heading.

I am not a great exponent of football and never have been, but I should imagine that there is educational and scientific value in most amateur sportting games. I make this appeal not because clubs are not patriotic and do not want to pay their share of taxation, but because they may not be able to pay and may have to close as a result of this increased taxation. It has already been pointed out to-day that there is no evidence that as the result of increased taxation fewer people go to these sporting matches. Am I to understand that the Chancellor is waiting for a number of clubs to close as a result of this increased taxation before he will grant the relief for which I ask? There is not a lot of money involved here, and I am sure the Chancellor would wish to encourage all young people to go in for sport and to help those who run these amateur clubs, without charge, because they believe they are helping the country.

Sir A. Lambert Ward

If the Committee could be assured that this Amendment, if carried, would apply only to small amateur clubs who are impecunious, and to whom this tax would make a considerable difference, there would be a great deal of sympathy with it, but the hon. Member who has moved it appears entirely to have ignored the fact that if this Amendment were carried, it would relieve from tax the gigantic sporting contests that used to take place at Twickenham, Inverleith and Cardiff Arms Park, where the crowds were well able, to afford to pay the tax and make their contribution towards the expenses of the nation. The hon. Member may say that that does not apply now, and that the Twickenham Rugby ground, for instance, is to-day closed. That is true, but there have been matches all through the winter at the Old Deer Park at Richmond which have been watched by very large crowds, the majority of whom could well afford to pay the small amount of extra tax which is being demanded. There is another difficulty which will face the Chancellor if he accepts this Amendment. Hitherto, there have been two Rugby football unions, the amateur and the professional. To-day both play to all intents and purposes as amateurs under the aegis of the Rugby football unions of the various Services, and the question will arise whether a match in which there were members of the Rugby Union and the Northern Union was an amateur match or whether it was an amateur team. In view the circumstances and difficulties, I think the Chancellor will be well advised not to give way.

Mr. Frankel

I am not appealing for the big clubs. I am speaking mainly on behalf of a county football association which has 50 or 60 small teams associated with it. There are many county associations like that all over the country.

Sir A. Lambert Ward

But the Amendment would also bring in the big international amateur football matches.

Mr. Tinker (Leigh)

Generally I have sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Mile End (Mr. Frankel), but on this occasion I do not think I can support his Amendment, because I can see the tremendous difficulties which its acceptance would create. I have attended international amateur matches between Scotland, England and Wales which have been attended by huge crowds who could well afford to pay almost any charge.

Mr. Frankel

My hon. Friend's constituency must be much richer than mine.

Mr. Tinker

I have also been to Rugby League football matches, and I would rather see the Rugby League professionals have some concession than the amateurs. What my hon. Friend has in mind, I think, are the lowly amateur clubs, but there is the difficulty of defining them. As you get higher into the scale, how could the Chancellor decide who was to pay the extra tax and who was not? I hope that on reflection my hon. Friend will not press his Amendment, because the difficulties are immense, and I do not see how they can be overcome.

Mr. Woods

I am quite certain that my hon. Friend the Member for Mile End (Mr. Frankel) did not see the implications of his Amendment, especially with regard to the dispute between the Rugby League and the Rugby Union and the stigma attaching to professional status. Although there might be difficulties in accepting this Amendment as it is worded, there is a problem behind all this which I know interests the Chancellor not only as a financier but as a man concerned with the health and development of the young people of our country. Years ago we had to raise funds and pay rent for grounds for schoolboy football. Now those days have gone, and municipalities make provision for grounds. We are assured of full opportunities being available up to school leaving age, but immediately afterwards, in many areas, the only way in which sporting proclivities are carried on is by forming a team and raising funds from the public, partly by charging for admission to matches. If this was not done, clubs would cease to exist. I think the Chancellor might give an assurance that where the charges are small and sufficient merely to cover the expenses of maintaining a club's facilities, they would have some consideration.

Mr. Assheton

I do not expect the Committee will be surprised to hear that the Chancellor does not feel able to accept this Amendment. It has really been answered by the case made from this Box on the last two Amendments which were moved. There is a great deal of sympathy for amateur football and cricket clubs, but here is a case where the differentiation asked for could not possibly be accepted. The grounds on which the original concession was made were the protection of the living stage against the cinema. I do not think there is any reason to suppose that amateur football or cricket needs protection against the cinema, and in view of that I am sorry to say that we are not able to accept the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)

Before we part with this Clause I wish to enter a protest which I have done before on Finance Bills against Entertainments Duty in war-time. At such a time Entertainments Duty is a bad tax. Two hon. Members have said that the Chancellor must find money for war purposes, and one suggested that in some way or other only a portion of the cost of the war was being paid at the present time. That is entirely a misconception; we are paying for the whole of the war as we go along. There is no doubt as to how the Chancellor gets his money. The position is this: There is production on the one side, which provides the wealth of the country which is needed for war purposes, and all he has to do is to prevent the consumption of any article or anything else which in any way interferes with the total war effort. The more you can cut that down, the greater is the direct effect upon the war.

One of the effects of a tax is to act as a deterrent. For example, the taxes on tobacco, beer and spirits should cut down consumption, and that is right, because a good deal of labour and material is required. It is right that the consumption of spirits, beer and tobacco should be cut down. But that cannot be so with regard to entertainments. Entertainment, instead of being deterred, should be encouraged, and the Government recognise that with regard to certain forms of entertainment, because all the time they are encouraging entertainment to the troops and inside the factories. Why not, therefore, encourage it throughout? They realise that entertainment is necessary to maintain morale, and I protest against the continuance of this tax in time of war. Unfortunately it was first introduced in 1916, in the middle of the last war, before rationing had been introduced; therefore we were proceeding upon an entirely different principle from that on which we are proceeding now. I wanted to utter that word of protest before we part with the Clause.

Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)

I think the Government are getting into a false position in this matter. On the one hand certain entertainments are to be taxed, while others are to be subsidised. Only recently the Minister of Production announced that a payment was to be made to the Performing Rights Society and that a substantial sum must be raised by taxation, lest the entertainment of the people be reduced for providing "Music while you work." Similarly, we are glad to see that the Government, by means of a Government-assisted enterprise, have re- opened the Theatre Royal at Bristol, It seems to me that they should make up their minds what is to be their policy on entertainment. Either tax it or encourage it, but do not tax it where you can and refuse to make any concession and pass over the money that you raise to the Performing Rights Society, and send Ministers to speak, as you yesterday sent the Minister of Labour on the second anniversary of Workers' Playtime. Do please be logical.

Sir Irving Albery (Gravesend)

I do not share exactly the views of the last two speakers. I dislike the Entertainments Duty altogether, whether in war or in peace-time, but, as it is war-time, one must judge it in this way, that the tax has not deprived the population of entertainment. People are going to the cinema and theatres more than they ever did before. It cannot he said that entertainment has been reduced. On the other hand, there are some things about it which I should like to see altered. I had a few words to say about this in the Budget Debate, and I understood that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was going to look into the question of the differentiation that has been made in taxing certain forms of theatre enterprise. I was glad to hear him say he was going to set up some kind of Committee to decide what sort of entertainments were suitable for exemption on the ground of their educational value. That is one side of it.

There remains the other side, on which I hope my right hon. Friend will let us know what his views arc. I pointed out that the tax in the past has laid itself open to' various forms of abuse and evasion. I hope we are not going to regard this only from the point of view of its educational value, but also from the point of view of the profit motive. It is obviously quite unfair that some entertainments should escape a large portion of the tax if the financial machinery is so arranged that there remains for the people principally concerned a profit motive which in fact escapes tax, I have heard of very large sums which have accrued to lessors of theatres who had let them on a rental basis plus a percentage of takings untaxed, and of salaries to performers plus a percentage of the takings untaxed. My right hon. Friend will see that commercial managements could not offer anything like the same terms when taxed. That is a matter of some importance. Also we have got into a rather curious position, because some forms of entertainment are actually being subsidised indirectly through the Board of Education. Does it not come to this, that the entertainments which are mostly patronised by the public are presumably those which the public most appreciate? After all, I take it that the real reason for subsidising is to enable a form of entertainment to be given to the public which they do not appreciate enough to pay for themselves. If the matter is allowed to go too far along present lines, we shall get an amateur dictatorship running the drama of the country, and that is most undesirable. In the past the theatre has gone through good times and sometimes very bad times, but on the whole it has stood up quite well and has compared favourably with the theatre in other countries.

Sir K. Wood

I should like to say one word in view of the observations of my hon. Friend who has just spoken. I appreciate what he has said. The Financial Secretary and I have been looking into the matter, and I have asked him to pay special attention to some of the points to which my hon. Friend has referred. It is not an easy problem, but the Financial Secretary and I must look with rather more detail and particularity into the machinery part of it. I understood my hon. Friend to say not that there is any question of fraud but that there are cases on which the statutory provisions bear rather curiously. He may take it from me I shall give due regard to that. On the other hand, one wants to encourage as far as one can the legitimate stage. It is true that special facilities have been given by the Government for the troops and for munition workers under special arrangements. I should have thought that that was a perfectly proper and reasonable thing to do, and I should not think it inconsistent that an Entertainments Duty has been placed upon cinemas. I cannot always follow my hon. Friend's mind, but, speaking for the ordinary men and women in the community, I think they would see nothing illogical in the situation.

It is right that the Committee should be informed that when I had in mind this further Entertainments Duty I saw the representatives both of the theatre and of the cinema. There was never any hesitation on their side. As long as I did the fair thing and saw that there was a reasonable allocation of the duty between the various grades of seats, there was no grumbling or hair-splitting or suggestion that there was any inconsistency in what the Government had done. They responded admirably to my suggestions, and said that if we thought they could assist still further, they would be only too glad to do so, and I have myself seen in the last few weeks that the tax has made no difference whatever to the attendance at cinemas or theatres. I had in mind the poorer sections of the community, and I purposely saw to it that the extra tax should not apply to the lower priced seats. In the result, at any rate in London, never have there been such great audiences at all the theatres One could only hope that more frequently the pieces that one saw would be worthier of the audiences that attend them. Apart from that observation, I am sure that in no respect has this tax interfered with the audiences. The same observation applies to the cinemas though, incidently, the same criticism also applies to many of the productions that one sees there. It is only fair to say, however, that the proprietors of both theatres and cinemas would be only too glad if they could put forward better productions. They have their difficulties, as we have. I am sure that the great majority of the people will support me in saying that there is no ground for criticism of a tax of this kind, in view of the exemptions applying to the lower-priced seats. I think the people of the country are quite willing to pay the extra tax, and I am glad that there has been no interference with their entertainment. J. hope the country will continue to enjoy this form of relaxation, for there is no reason why we should live in a state of gloom during the war. We would not help the war effort by doing that and I am glad to see that there are large audiences at theatres and cinemas, and that their size remains unaffected by the worst I have done.

Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Clause 7 ordered the stand part of the Bill.