§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
On a point of Order. Could you, Mr. Speaker, give us some indication of what Amendments you are going to call, and, particularly, whether you will call the Amendment standing in my name and the names of other hon. Members?
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Assheton)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
Four weeks ago, my right hon. Friend introduced into this House a Budget which, I think, will make history. In the last 50 or 60 years, there have been probably half a dozen Budgets which have made no changes in taxation. The last one was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in 1913. This year's Budget will make history because, in the fifth year of the greatest war the world has ever seen, the existing high rates of taxation already cover such a proportion of our expenditure that no further increase has been considered necessary. I suggest it is no mean achievement that as the war has increased in intensity, necessitating an ever-growing annual rate of expenditure, the proportion covered by taxation has increased. It has increased from 35 per cent. to 41 per cent., 44 per cent., 51 per cent. and 52 per cent., as the years of war have gone by. Those are the progressively increasing proportions of our expenditure which have, in fact, been covered by taxation.
The benefits of our physical efforts in the war are not difficult to recognise, and never have been. The benefits of a sound financial policy, on the other hand, are very much more difficult to recognise, and I suggest that perhaps to most hon. Members these benefits were less obvious. Did it really matter, for example, that we should raise a half, rather than a third, of our expenditure out of taxation? Was it really necessary, or important, that we should have to save so hard and lend so freely to the Government? Surely, it is 596 one of the most heartening aspects of the war effort that our people should have recognised the vital consequences of the financial policy we have been asked to support. I suggest that, now, the benefits of this policy are plain for all to see. Coupled, of course, with the various economic policies which have been adopted, the rigorous financial discipline which the country has imposed upon itself has been responsible for the fact that the war effort has been able to progress smoothly, unhampered by that instability, unsettlement and anxiety which are quite inseparable from the evils of inflation. To realise this, does not mean that we can rest upon our laurels in the financial sphere, any more than we can in the military sphere.
If, by great sacrifices, the benefits of a sound financial policy have been hardly won, they might, by some slight relaxation, be very easily lost; and in refraining from imposing any increases in the compulsory burdens of taxation the Chancellor, of course, assumes that there will be no falling off in the magnificent voluntary effort which the country has made in response to the war savings campaign. In connection with that, I see my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) just moving away from his seat, but I think it only right that I should take this opportunity of saying something to him in respect of what he said the other day in this House. He is continually laughing at the War Savings Campaign and ridiculing those who take part in it, and he made a statement the other day which excelled all the others which he had previously made in this House, and I must say that the House was not pleased to hear it. In addition to that, he made a statement which was entirely incorrect. He suggested that one great insurance company had put £2,000,000 as a subscription into some provincial War Savings Week. I have taken the opportunity of examining the facts and I find that the statement of my hon. Friend is wholly incorrect, and I suggest to him that he should be careful in what he says. I am reminded of some words of a predecessor of mine in the office that I hold—Mr. Sheridan, who was Secretary to the Treasury some time ago.
§ Mr. Assheton
Yes, and he observed to an hon. Member thatThe hon. Gentleman is indebted to his memory for his jests, and to his imagination for his facts.I suggest that that might well have been applied to my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich.
§ Mr. A. Edwards (Middlesbrough, East)
Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that there is something uncomplimentary in that remark? Is it not flattering?
§ Mr. Assheton
I will leave the hon. Gentleman to form his own conclusions. To come to the main body of the Bill, the first five Clauses provide for a number of adjustments in the customs and excise. My right hon. Friend referred in his Budget Speech to the proposals in regard to the Beer Duty and the Sugar Preferences, and I will deal with some of the other changes. Clause 3—Entertainments Duty on season tickets, &c.—is to ensure that the duty chargeable on season tickets shall not be greater than that chargeable on separate payments for admission to the same entertainments, and it arises out of an anomaly to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wycombe (Sir A. Knox) was good enough to draw my attention in a Parliamentary Question. Clause 4 provides that vintage port may be bottled for home consumption in a bonded warehouse.
§ Mr. Assheton
We are hoping that more will come in after the War. At present it is not permissible to bottle wine in bond for home consumption, but vintage port has a very special claim for consideration because of the very high rate of duty and of the fact that it requires to be matured in bottle for many years. Clause 5 also deals with alcoholic beverages. I note that the noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) is not in her place. This Clause is to meet the possibility of a new export trade development. It is thought that there are possibilities of an export trade in cocktails made by mixing gin with British made vermouth, and for this purpose, cocktails will be made up at the bonded warehouse. Whereas the gin is already relieved from duty under the existing law, it appears 598 that this is not the case with what are technically called the "sweets"—that is to say, wines made in this country—when they are mixed with the gin.
Clause 6 deals with armorial bearings and carriage duties, and that has already been referred to by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in opening his Budget. Clause 7 does away with the requirement for the posting of certain public notices on church doors with regard to the issue of licences for dogs, armorial bearings and carriages—a practice which it is now thought no longer serves a useful purpose.
§ Sir Alfred Beit (St. Pancras, South-East)
Does this also mean that in future there will be no notices regarding Income Tax assessment posted on church doors?
§ Mr. Assheton
This does not affect Income Tax at all, but I have informed my hon. Friend already about that. There have been some modifications with regard to that question recently. I hope that this Clause will not have any adverse effect on attendances at church; I do not think it will. Clauses 8 and 9 raise no question of principle but they cure certain minor defects in the provisions of the Finance Act, 1942, with regard to the suspension of justices' liquor licences in cases where the licensee's business has been discontinued owing to the War.
In Part II, Clauses 10 to 18 deal with amendments to the Purchase Tax law, which four years' experience has shown to be desirable. Some of these Clauses—10, II and 14—are needed to block loopholes whereby tax is being evaded. Clause 13 enables the Treasury not merely to alter the limit below which registration is required for Purchase Tax purposes, as they can at present, but to abolish it altogether. The exemption limit has, I am sorry to say, been used by certain ingenious persons as a means of evading tax, but if the Treasury make an order under this Clause, it is subject to an affirmative Resolution of the House of Commons. Clause 15 gives justifiable relief to registered traders against the double charge of tax which may arise in certain exceptional circumstances, and it is a Clause entirely favourable to the subject. None of these Clauses dealing with the Purchase Tax extends the tax to any new classes of goods.
599 Parts III and IV deal with Income Tax. Clause 22 was explained by my right hon. and learned Friend, the Attorney General, on the Report stage of the Resolution. The effect of it is that where a British subject abroad claims relief in respect of personal allowances, he will be given the proportion of the personal allowances which his income liable to British Income Tax bears to his total income. Clause 23 deals with the sale of copyright for a lump sum, and that was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in his Budget speech. If the work took more than one year, but less than two years to produce, the lump sum payment will be spread over the year of receipt and the preceding year; and if it took over two years to produce it will be spread over three years, namely, the year of receipt and the two preceding years. The purpose of this spread is to avoid the hardship that would arise in the charge to tax if the lump sum payment were deemed to be income of the year of receipt although, in fact, it represented the work of a number of years.
§ Mr. Colegate (The Wrekin)
Will my right hon. Friend give some indication of how the position is to be met? A work of this kind may have been produced in a year or two years, but the subject may have been thought over for years before the author finally started to put his thoughts on paper. Has my right hon. Friend thought out any regulation on that subject?
§ Mr. Assheton
Some consideration has been given to that aspect of the subject, but it would be more appropriate to discuss it on the Committee stage.
§ Sir H. Williams
Has my right hon. Friend read Sheridan's Biography on the matter, because he would find himself better informed if he had done so?
§ Mr. Assheton
There is one point I want to make. Attention has been called to the practice of publishers in making to authors an advance payment in respect of royalties, which payment is not returnable in any event, but is taken into account towards payment of royalties if the issue of the book exceeds the figure correspond- 600 ing to the advance payment. It is felt that any such advance payment, which is not returnable in any event, should be treated as a lump sum within the Clause, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is prepared to accept an Amendment on the Committee stage to make that clear.
Clause 24 deals with maintenance orders, and provides that small weekly payments made under orders of court in separation and divorce and affiliation cases shall be payable in full and not be subject, as they are at present, to deduction of tax, any liability to tax being recovered by direct assessment on the recipient. This, I think, will be a convenience, and it certainly removes some administrative difficulties in connection with the issue of warrants by magistrates for the payment of arrears. There has been some complication in the past, because it has not been easy to decide for what sum the warrant should be issued. This Clause will clear up that difficulty.
Clause 25 ought to be very popular with the House, and particularly with my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson), who, I am sorry to see, is not in his place. It deals with the simplification of procedure. In order to explain this proposal adequately I should first have to explain how very complicated the present procedure is, and that would take a long time, and I think, therefore, that it would be more appropriate if I, or someone else, were to do this on the Committee stage. The Clause concerns the machinery for carrying out assessments under Schedule B and Schedule D, and lest any hon. Member should have any anxiety on the point, I may say that it does not involve any interference at all with the jurisdiction of the Commissioners of Taxes either in the making of the assesments or in the hearing of appeals. The assessments will continue to be made by the local Commissioners, but the Notices of Assessment will in future issue from the office of the inspector of taxes, where the clerical work in connection with the scheme will be carried out. The new system has been tried out experimentally in certain districts and has proved a great success.
Clauses 26 to 30 deal with the allowances for expenditure upon scientific research, a matter to which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor referred at some length in his Budget speech and on which he proposes to make some further ob- 601 servations when we come to the Committee stage. I know how warmly the House welcomes this part of the Bill, and it has been received with enthusiasm in the country as a whole, not only for itself but because it is a sign of the very great interest which my right hon. Friend takes in everything which will contribute to helping industry to be in the very forefront of technical proficiency after the war.
Clause 31 deals with Excess Profits Tax and carries out the proposal to increase Excess Profits Tax standards other than the profits standard by the sum of £1,000. This, I think, has been generally welcomed, because it relieves the incidence of the burden on the small man. As my right hon. Friend indicated in his Budget speech, the increases in the standard which may result from this addition of £1,000 will operate forwards and not backwards for the purposes of determinating "deficiencies."
§ Mr. Hammersley (Willesden, East)
Could the right hon. Gentleman elucidate that point? The words are:Otherwise than by reference to the profits of the standard period.Does that mean that not only a capital standard but a substituted capital standard would be eligible for the extra £1,000?
§ Mr. Assheton
Yes, I think there is no doubt about that, but when we come to the Clause in Committee we shall have an opportunity of exploring it more fully. If my hon. Friend wants a further description of the operation of the forwards and backwards provision I should be very glad to give it to him. Where the profits of any year fall below the standard, any Excess Profits Tax paid by the concern in previous years on the profits exceeding the standard falls to be repaid by reference to the amount by which the profits have fallen short of the standard. The addition of £1,000 to the standard may result in a deficiency or in the increase of a deficiency that would otherwise exist, and in any such cases the deficiency will be broken up into two parts: that part which would have existed if there had been no increase in the standard and that part which is attributable to the £1,000 increase. Of course, only the former part will rank for repayment of Excess Profits Tax paid in the 602 past. The deficiency due to the £1,000 itself will rank for relief against any Excess Profits Tax that may become payable in the future.
§ Mr. A. Edwards
When the Chancellor spoke he said that it would be £1,000 increase for each standard. In a newspaper the following day it was stated that it was clear in the case of director concerns that it would be £1,000 per director.
§ Sir H. Williams
Can the right hon. Gentleman say why Clause 31 starts now and Clause 32 is retrospective?
§ Mr. Assheton
Clause 32 deals with tax avoidance. Like all Clauses on that subject, it is very complicated. The House must not blame the Government for that, and much less the Parliamentary draftsman, who is often accused of being obscure. The complexity of Clauses dealing with tax avoidance is due to the complicated methods engaged in by people to avoid tax, and we must put the blame for it on the ingenious minds of those people. I only wish they would use their ingenuity for some much better purpose.
§ Sir John Wardlaw-Milne (Kidderminster)
Surely the right hon. Gentleman is not going to pass over Clause 32 as lightly as that. I think he will admit that the Clause changes entirely the phraseology of the Finance Act, and it is a change to which the House strongly objected on a previous occasion.
§ Mr. Colegate
Will the right hon. Gentleman also deal with the point made in "The Times" to-day, because the very serious interpretation which is there put upon this Clause would mean that a great many hon. Members might oppose it? We should have a full explanation.
§ Mr. Assheton
I did take the opportunity of reading that in "The Times" to-day. I have not had very much time to think about it since, but the short answer to the sort of criticism which is made and which may be made by certain hon. Members must be that Sub-section (3), which is the Sub-section which troubles hon. Members, does not empower the Commissioners to presume tax avoidance as a main purpose except where the main benefit of the transaction 603 is a reduction in the tax. The taxpayer can still point to other important motives which may have operated. What the new Sub-section does is to throw upon the taxpayer the onus of showing that he had some other main purpose, whereas under Section 35 of the Finance Act, 1941, as it stands, the Commissioners of Inland Revenue have to establish that the avoidance was the main purpose. While the effect of the new Clause will be to strengthen Section 35 of that Act, the Commissioners of course have the power to make this determination. The Clause does not operate automatically, but operates when the Commissioners bring it into operation.
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
The right hon. Gentleman has not touched the main point. The phraseology allows the Commissioners to operate when it is one of the main causes instead of "the" main cause, which is a tremendous change in itself; and, further, this Clause is retrospective and means that all past settlements may be re-opened.
§ Sir H. Williams
If a man delays publication of his book by one day and he is liable to Excess Profits Tax then is the relief given on the earlier Clause avoided?
§ Mr. A. Edwards
The introduction of a single word, which was secured under great pressure from this House, made a vast difference to many businesses, and I think it is up to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to show that his purpose is not to reverse that concession. As I read the new Clause it does reverse it. It would seem that there is a determination not to allow us to get away with the concession.
§ Mr. Assheton
Of course, we cannot go into too much detail now, but I would say that when my right hon. Friend the late Chancellor accepted the Amendment of the Clause in 1941 he did point out most clearly that if circumstances led him to change his mind, on account of the way in which members of the public continued to take advantage of the law in order to avoid tax which ought to be paid, he would be obliged to come back to this House. My right hon. Friend the present Chancellor feels that he is in that position now. I have no doubt that when we come to the Clause in Com- 604 mittee a considerable amount of debate will arise, but I do not think it is possible on Second Reading to go very closely into the details.
Part VI deals with Estate Duty, and in particular the basis of charge in respect of a deceased person's benefits from certain companies. The changes proposed are the result of representations made by the Law Society showing that in certain cases the existing law operates somewhat harshly and produces results which are really out of accord with the intention of the Statute. Clauses 33 and 37 correct certain technical defects in the existing rules for the computation of the proportion of assets to be charged and of the net income which is a factor in arriving at that proportion. The corrections will chiefly be in favour of the taxpayer, though not always so. Clause 40 deals with certain tax difficulties which arise from the operation of the trading with the enemy legislation. It will enable the Board of Inland Revenue to proceed now with the assessment and collection and also the repayment of tax, as cases arise. Up to now, since the enemy's beneficial ownership is temporarily in suspense, there has been no power to charge or collect tax on income accruing to an enemy's account. It will be remembered, of course, that for this purpose enemies are, broadly, persons of every nationality who are so unfortunate as to be at present resident in enemy countries or countries occupied by the enemy.
The object of Clause 41 is to encourage the conversion of bearer securities into registered form. Clause 44, which is the only other Clause I will mention, increases the fixed debt charge from £355,000,000 as fixed by Statute to £420,000,000, and gives power to borrow, if necessary, for the contractual sinking funds. I was asked earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) what was the reason for this alteration, and I then made it clear that the increase in our national debt is the reason for the alteration, and not any increase in the rate of interest paid upon it. I think I have now covered the main Clauses of the Bill.
§ Sir A. Beit
Before my right hon. Friend concludes, can he deal with the promise that there should be greater depreciation allowances for factories and the like?
§ Mr. Assheton
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor made it clear that those provisions would not be included in this Bill. The only provisions he promised in this Bill were those dealing particularly with the expenses of research.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)
When the right hon. Gentleman rose to move the Second Reading of the Finance Bill, he pointed out that it was some considerable time since we had had a Finance Bill in which there was no substantial change in taxation and that, although such a thing was not without precedent, at any rate it was unusual. I think the same statement applies in regard to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury moving a Second Reading of a Finance Bill. That, also, is not without precedent, but it does not very often happen, and I should like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon the lucidity and incision of the speech which he has just made. We have got a very good idea of the Bill as a whole, from his description, and both now, on the Second Reading, and later, on the Committee stage, we shall be able to consider its provisions in detail, and I gather that, with the probable exception of one Clause, the Bill will have a comparatively easy passage.
The House has already expressed its views with regard to the major line which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken on his Budget and I think it is no disrespect to his proposals, or to the excellent speech of the Financial Secretary, if I do not go into any details to-day, because it seems to me, as I think it seems to the rest of the House, that, in the main, those are matters for the Committee stage. I will refer only to the one detail which, undoubtedly, is going to raise a good deal of discussion, namely, the retrospective Clause—Clause 32—and to say that, so far as I and those for whom I speak are concerned, we are very anxious that there shall be no avoidance of tax where it really should be paid. Avoidance means that honourable taxpayers, who are not prepared to descend to discreditable means for getting out of their liability, have to bear a larger share of the taxation burden, and while, therefore, we shall watch with care to see that no provisions are introduced which will have a deleterious, injurious or improper effect, we shall be willing to support the Chancellor in any reasonable proposals for 606 dealing with tax avoidance. Further, where that tax avoidance has taken place since the legislation was introduced, in view of the, warning specifically given, we are not averse from retrospective application of the present provision.
Having made those remarks upon the actual proposals within the four corners of the Finance Bill, I propose to devote my speech to a somewhat wider outlook. I propose to turn to the future prospects of the financial position of this country, of the budgetary position of the State, and the prospect of the reduction of taxation in the years to come. I am encouraged in that by the fact that the Chancellor, himself, in his Budget speech, really devoted a considerable part of his remarks to the future. He did not attempt to form too exact a figure for the expenditure of the current year, and he was looking to the future in the provisions that he was making for businesses and their taxation. It is, of course, for too early to forecast the date of the ending of hostilities, and it is even too early to lay down, publicly, any post-war injunctions for the people of this country in the matter of finance. But coining events in the financial world must cast their shadows before, and it is not too early, therefore, for the Treasury to have in its pigeon-holes, ready for bringing out at the appropriate time, a good deal of matter concerned with what is likely to take place when hostilities cease.
I remember, and I think other Members of this House will share the recollection, that when war was declared in September, 1939, there was at once introduced to us a spate of legislation and Orders which we carried through with the greatest rapidity. These had undoubtedly been prepared for some considerable time in advance in Government offices and had been thrown upon us in a few hours when the appropriate time arrived. In that matter, therefore, I only want to ask the Chancellor whether he will give the assurance—as I have no doubt he will—that in the Treasury there has been compiled for immediate use when hostilities cease a number of reports, of injunctions, of recommendations which he and the Treasury will put out for public propaganda when that auspicious moment arrives. When I go back in thought—as we all must—to the year 1918, when the previous war came to an end, I realise 607 that there were in this House, and still more in the country as a whole, a considerable number of pathetic illusions. People thought that the official end of the war would follow within a short interval, after the actual termination of hostilities. They thought that prices would cease to go up, and would almost immediately begin to go down, and that goods would cease to be in short supply. They thought that the expenditure of the State would shrink rapidly to what it had been before the war, and they believed that taxation could, and would, be reduced very speedily—if not completely, at least very largely—to its pre-war level.
I remember a business-man, in particular, talking to me in the middle of the last war, who said: "Well, of course, I do not suppose we shall get quite down to the level of Income Tax at 1s. 3d. in the£ which we paid before this war began; I think we may have to face Income Tax at 2S. 6d. in the £ for a very long time." In point of fact his expectation was lamentably unfulfilled because all those, what I have called, pathetic illusions were very different from reality. It was very many months after the termination of hostilities before the official end of the war took place. So far from prices falling, they continued to rise and rose to a considerable extent for a long time after the war came to an end. Goods, instead of being immediately available, became scarcer, and it was a long time before they came into abundance again. Though the State did contract its expenditure, and even though the capital assets of the State were sold and credited to revenue, the fall in the total amount was gradual and, of course, expenditure never came back to anything like what it was before the war. With regard to taxes, they were reduced, at first, but it was found that they had been reduced far too soon and had to be put up again, I think, in the following year.
Large numbers of those Members of Parliament who are present here to-day and a large proportion of the public have memories long enough to recollect those things. As I have already said, I think the Treasury should have in readiness propaganda about them, which should be used at the right time, possibly through the Treasury, or through the Ministry of Information, in order that the public may be in no uncertainty as to what is likely 608 to arise. There are reasons why the situation may be even worse on this occasion than it was in 1918. I have been visualising in my own mind the ending of the European war, but we must not forget that even when that comes about there will still, in all probability, be the war against Japan however long that may last. There will be the need for policing Europe which will be a much more serious proposition than it was on the last occasion. There will be need for feeding, clothing and providing other things for the liberated countries, whose plight has been much worse physically than our own. There is the fact that this has been much more a total war than was the war of 1914–18. There will, therefore, be a greater pent-up demand for manufactured goods.
Finally,—and I think this is a factor which the Chancellor will have to bear in mind with very great care—there is, so far as I can see, an immense amount of hoarded money, in hard cash. It is quite true that throughout the country many people have come forward with their Treasury notes and bought savings certificates, but the figures of the circulation are certainly alarming in their possible effect upon post-war events. I think it is not over the mark to say that the actual currency in the possession of people throughout the country is in the nature of £20 to £25 per head of men, women and children in this country. Though some of it may be in the banks, a great deal of it, I am sure, is put away in odd places and may be called out when the end of the German war comes. That is without taking account of the post-war credits, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be obliged to hold up for some little time in case they cause an inflation in the transitionary period.
I hope that the Cabinet have thought out and come to a decision upon post-war priorities. I am not going to enlarge on that, because that would quite clearly take us outside the scope of this Debate but in so far as priorities involve their opposites—which can only be called, I think, "posteriorities"—the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have to be very careful with regard to them. They are the things that will not begin to be manufactured in abundance when the European war ends. Therefore, the quantity of them, so far from increasing, will probably decrease. They will become still 609 more scarce, and the Chancellor and the President of the Board of Trade will have to put their heads together to make sure that the demand for those things, reasonable in some way, of people who have wanted those things all through the war years, and who will imagine that they can buy them with great ease when the European war is over, shall not cause the prices of these goods to leap up, to the great detriment of the people who need them most seriously. All that I have been envisaging relates to the interim period while the dams that have held up production are being removed, and until the head of water ultimately let loose has reached the consumption area. That may be, in some cases, one or two years; in others it may be three, four, or even more years. I do not propose to look further ahead into what I may call the later period. I am confining my attention solely to the transition period when the danger will be inflation—the later period will be the opposite, a plethora of goods and a deflation which we shall have most carefully to avoid, but I do not propose to look as far as that.
What are going to be the effects on the expenditure of the State when the European war is ended, with the Japanese war perhaps continuing for a little time? Some of those effects will be downwards, reducing expenditure, some of them will be more or less stationary, while in other cases there will inevitably be further increases of expenditure. The first main head under which there will be a reduction of expenditure is in the cost of the manufacture of munitions for, though the Japanese war will involve the use of considerable munitions—assuming it is still continuing—undoubtedly there can be some substantial reduction. It must be remembered, however, that even on that point something will have to be said on the other side. The workers who have put their backs into it for all these years are tired and exhausted. They will be entitled to some reduction of hours without a very great reduction in pay, they will be entitled to have holidays, of which they are greatly in need, for their health and it will be some time, therefore, before the reduction in the output of munitions reflects itself in any very great saving to the Treasury. There is the saving of transport costs. There again however the transport of an increased 610 amount of material to the Far East, the Pacific, will mean that that reduction will not be as great as some may expect.
There will be the reduction of the capital outlay on factories, aerodromes, and buildings of that kind, but of course we are not spending even at the present time on the capital production on factories what we were in the earlier stages of the war. So that is a change which, to a certain extent, has already taken place. Then there is the release of individuals from anti-invasion or anti-aircraft services, fire services and the various other services of that kind which will involve a reduction, but I do not think it will be a very large figure. Then there are our supplies to Russia. If Russia is not by that time engaged in war with Japan, there will be no need to send supplies to Russia and that will mean a considerable saving. Finally, there will be the stoppage of Lend-Lease in reverse, so far as the United States is concerned. The House will recollect that a large part of the cost of the American Forces now here has been borne by this country. With the ending of the war in Europe, no doubt a considerable saving may be made in those directions. All these are to the good but I am not sure that they will bulk very large in the whole picture.
Then there are the stationary items. There will be the pay and allowances for the Services which will continue at the present level until there is any substantial demobilisation, and I do not see any substantial demobilisation for a good many months after the hostilities of the European war have come to an end. There are also the subsidies which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has had to pay on the necessities of life. I do not see those being reduced until the situation has substantially improved, and that may be some little time after hostilities come to an end. Those two items, and others, will amount to a very considerable figure.
Next we come to the items which, unfortunately, will be going up. We must bear in mind that the later stages of the war may, unhappily, involve considerable casualties, and the sums which the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have to find, ultimately, for the Ministry of Pensions, so far from going down, will undoubtedly rise. There is the service of the debt which, in this year, has risen by no less 611 than £65,000,000. The debt will continue to rise, and we must therefore face a considerable increase in that item. Then there are the housing subsidies. The country is absolutely determined that there must be houses built at the very earliest possible moment, and no one supposes that those houses will be built without some subsidy from the State. That will involve a quite substantial sum. I do not know how it will be with regard to Canadian gifts that have been made during these years. It may be that when the hostilities in Europe come to an end, having gratefully received all that from Canada in the past, we cannot look to a continuation of assistance on that scale indefinitely. Then there may be a further item in regard to the service of what is now our debt to India, which is taking the place of the debt that India used to owe us in the days gone by. Then there will be gratuities and bonuses on demobilisation. There will be the social services which this country is absolutely determined to have. There will be the additional cost of education. There will be, if the Royal Commission reports favourably, the increase due to equal pay.
Quite obviously I am not in a position to undertake the addition and subtraction sum involved by all those items. There are many other points, too, which I have omitted but which other hon. Members will doubtless have in mind. However, my broad conclusion is that for a period certainly running to 12 months after the close of hostilities, possibly longer, we cannot look for any appreciable fall in the expenditure of the State. Even if the war against Japan ends before the further year is out, after the end of the European War, many of the considerations which I have expressed will continue to operate. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that the first peace Budget, will still be of the order of £5,000,000,000 to £6,000,000,000, and that will still leave an immense gap between tax revenue and expenditure. This will be aggravated if there is any drop in the total income of the country as a whole, which would result in a lower yield from existing taxation. Therefore, I do not look forward with any confidence to a very early prospect of a reduction in taxation.
We have to remember that the Chancellor has already made one promise 612 directly and one promise, I think I may say, inferentially. He promised 20 per cent. refund of the Excess Profits Tax which has already been paid, quite apart from any question of a reduction in the amount of Excess Profits Tax in the current or future years. The refund to which I am referring, of course, is for the promotion of business and it will only be paid in so far as that is actually the case. The other promise, which I think he made inferentially, relates to that part of our present taxation which is in the nature of a forced saving—what is known as the Keynes' principle, adopted during the war to be repaid after the war. Leaving out of account for the moment any repayment of what is known as postwar credit, the Chancellor of the Exchequer obviously will not be able to retain these taxes, which are in the nature of forced loans for very long after the war comes to an end. Therefore, both those items—20 per cent. on Excess Profits Tax and the discontinuance of the forced loans—will use up quite a considerable amount of money before any question of actual reduction in taxation comes into view at all. Therefore, I am forced to the conclusion, as I have already said, that for reduction of taxation proper, the House and the country will have to wait for some time.
I am exceedingly sorry to have to paint such a gloomy picture. I would like to be able to enlarge upon the great financial progress we shall make when the war is over in the matter of taxes, but I think I know the British public. While they would like to have a rosy picture painted for them, it must be a real picture and not an imaginary and false one. The one thing we must never do with the British public is to "lead them up the garden," and tell them that wonderful things are going to happen, knowing that when the time comes, those things will fail to happen altogether. I think we in this House, who perhaps are nearer to the financial facts than the public outside, ought not to fail in our duty in the matter. We ought to be sure that the British public know the truth, and the truth is that we cannot hold out any great hope that the expenditure of the State will fall very rapidly, that we shall be able to do without considerable loans in the early stages of the post-war or transitional period, or that there can be any substantial reduction if, indeed, any at all in 613 taxation for the first year or two after the end of the European war.
I do not want to end on this pessimistic note. Though I take the view I have just expressed about tax reduction, my views of the situation as a whole and with regard to the financial position of this country are optimistic. I do not subscribe, and I have never subscribed, to the view that we shall be a poor nation after the war. I have never taken the view, and I do not take it, that we have to go back to a lower standard of life. I refuse to accept the view that we cannot have decent housing for our people or that the social services have to be cabined and confined by a narrow financial machine. I refuse to limit educational advance and I would think it very improper to refuse equal pay on the ground that the country could not afford to provide it. These things that we must have are part of the essential capital building of the future of this land. We may have to meet them for a time by borrowing, just as we have met part of the cost of the war by borrowing.
To take an analogy, it is not the companies which are doing badly that expand their capital most. It is the companies which are prosperous. A prosperous, enlarging company is constantly calling upon the public to subscribe further to its assets, either by lending on debentures or by subscribing for new ordinary shares. In my view, it is precisely the same, though differently adjusted, in the matter of the nation as a whole. So long as the productive power of this nation is capable of producing the things that the people want, it is not the duty of the head of the finances of the country to prevent that taking place. Among the most important national assets are not merely material well-being, but human well-being and the mental and spiritual development of the human material. The precise method of book-keeping that is necessary towards this end is not of importance, whether we pay for it in taxation or whether we pay part for a time through borrowing. In the old days the highwayman was alleged to meet the travelling merchant with the words,"Your money or your life." The antithesis to-day is different. The nation says, "Give me life and I will find the money when the proper time comes."
Mr. Robertson (Streatham)
I am sure that the House is grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) for the thoughtful and instructive speech which he has just made. I share his views entirely with regard to the future of the world. If our people are prepared to work, as I am sure they are, I have complete confidence in the future. I think that the majority of hon. Members will agree that the Finance Bill is our most important annual Bill. It provides for the public revenue of the State, and its provisions affect every citizen. Parliament rightly devotes a great deal of time to it, from the Budget stage right through to its final stages, until it becomes the law of the land.
My belief has always been that taxation is levied on the people by the Finance Bill expressing the decisions of Parliament, but I have discovered that that is not always so. At least one Government Department has used delegated legislation as a means of imposing private taxation on industry. I refer to the Ministry of Food, which took over from the Board of Trade the control of the cold storage industry on the outbreak of war. The control operated smoothly for a long time and still does, subject to what I have to say. On 2nd September, 1939, the President of the Board of Trade, through the Food Defence Plans Department, which later became the Ministry of Food, inaugurated this control, which put every cold store in Great Britain under the supervision of area officers with a department at the headquarters of the Ministry. These stores were carried on in the usual fashion by the managements and their staffs, but they took their directions in regard to the reception and clearance of produce from the Ministry's officials. In 1941, this system of private taxation was inaugurated under a Statutory Rule and Order, No. 268, known as the Cold Storage (Control of Undertakings) (Charges) (No. 2) Order, 1941. That Order was never debated in the House and it was never agreed to with the trade. The trade, like so many other trades in this country, was a conglomeration of individual units owned by firms, individuals and companies.
I am speaking of a tax imposed on a cold storage proprietor and his employees, and I can find nothing in this Bill, or in any other Finance Bill, which gives a Government Department the power to levy private taxation. If you will permit me, Mr. Speaker, I will endeavour to keep within the bounds of Order in explaining this important matter. It is a question of vital principle as to whether this House is solely to levy taxation on the people, or whether a Government Department, using delegated legislation which is not subject to discussion in this House, is to be allowed to impose taxation.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am afraid that that discussion will go far too wide, and I am bound to rule that it is outside the scope of this legislation.
In view of your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, I am bound to bring my remarks on this matter to a close. I do so by stating that this system has the effect that firms, individuals and companies who would have the privilege and responsibility of paying Excess Profits Tax under this Bill and its predecessors, are not allowed to pay that tax because money which should have gone for that purpose is diverted to other uses within the ambit of the Ministry of Food. Taxation, instead of going to the Exchequer, remains within a Government Department and is used to subsidise certain stores. That expenditure is concealed from this House. I submit that, like all other expenditure, it should be discussed and debated in the House. I cannot in view of your Ruling, Sir, carry that important matter any further but I hope that I have the interest of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer so that he will protect the rights of the citizens and of Members of this House to decide what taxation should be levied. We go through this Bill with a fine tooth comb, every Clause is debated before the Bill is approved, yet concerns within my own knowledge have been deprived of very large sums in the return of the 20 per cent. of E.P.T. Bringing my remarks on this vital matter to a premature end, I will come to another matter of importance.
616 My right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh, in his excellent speech, spoke of expanding companies and the need for new capital. He suggested that if the Chancellor gave these companies encouragement they would expand greatly for the benefit of themselves, their employees and the country. I believe that we have in the horse-power tax a striking example of how a great potential export trade has been strangled and almost destroyed. In winding up the Budget Debate, the Chancellor gave some reasons for maintaining the horse-power tax. One was that the small traders got benefits. As a small trader, I would like to submit to him that they are perfectly prepared to pay the legitimate expenses of running motor vehicles and all other expenses, so long as their competitors have to pay the same. It is wrong to suggest that because small traders get some advantage we should maintain a horse-power tax which is strangling our export trade. Anyone who has travelled can see the poverty of the export trade in British cars. I remember landing 16 years ago in Newfoundland, which is one of our most loyal Dominions and our oldest Colony. My friends there apologetically referred to the one British car on the island, which was owned and used by the Governor-General. He had to use it because he was a British official. That was not pleasing to hear. One can go the length and breadth of Canada and fail to see a British car. One sees all kinds of cars, mainly American and German, but never a British car.
The Chancellor said in his Budget speech that if the trade representatives would go and talk to him he would be prepared to give the matter further consideration. I submit that he should not wait for people to go to him. The facts I have related can be confirmed all over the world. Everywhere you go you see the car that the American turns out for the world and his wife, roomy and of a moderate price. The car which is turned out in Detroit and Windsor for use in the United States and North America is seen also in India, North Africa and in all other countries. It sells because it is mass produced on great production lines. It is the old story of the cheap penny newspaper and the penny post; if you turn out enough you can turn them out cheaply. In our country the horse-power tax compels the manufacturers to make 617 a small car, a very excellent car. We have to make that type of car because the people cannot afford the high taxation on the bigger car. The rest of the world is not compelled to use this smaller car, however, and they will not use it. They have shown that clearly during the last 25 years. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not wait for the trade to come to him, but that he will give inspiration to the trade and take the matter into his own hands, and say, "This piece of domestic revenue which is produced by the horse-power tax is a matter of small moment compared with the enormous importance of work and wages for our people after the war."
We will only get the kind of world to which my right hon. Friend referred by exporting our goods; we cannot get it by taking in one another's washing. The United States sell over £50,000,000 worth of cars per annum, and we did not sell £7,000,000 worth. We are both father and mother of all engineering countries, and the best cars in America are made by engineers from this country. In their factories you hear the accents of the counties of England and Scotland. When this war ends we will have a great force of men and women highly skilled in engineering. There have been many factories built in this war which will be capable of being equipped for the manufacture of motor cars, and which should be used for that purpose. The cause of 3,000,000 unemployed took me into this House, to help, not to criticise, and I cannot conceive a better opportunity than that which lies before my right hon. Friend in getting rid of this inquitious horse-power tax and so encouraging our great export trade to take a share of the world market.
I now want to say something about this horse-power tax in relation to the individual. This is the proper place to air grievances, and this grievance is a very real one. At the present time the only cars which have the right to be on the road are those which are engaged on essential work for the war effort. We can forget those. There are other cars which are being used for essential business purposes, and those for whom I have the greatest sympathy are those which are being run for essential domestic purposes, that is to say, families which live some distance away from shops and stations, where there is no public transport service, get an allowance for petrol with which to 618 obtain the necessities of life. Do hon. Members realise that many of these private car users receive less than five gallons or less of petrol per quarter? That is all they are entitled to; they do not want any more. There is no pleasure motoring in this country. They realise that these restrictions are rightfully imposed but the effect of this 25s. per unit horse-power tax on the user of a ten horse-power car, who is getting five gallons of petrol per quarter, means that he is paying a tax of 13s. 3d. per gallon on his petrol. This House did not pass legislation in 1939 with the idea of inflicting on any citizen a tax of 13s. 3d. per gallon on petrol for essential needs. I want, again, to stress the fact that the only cars which have the right to be on the road are those being used for essential needs.
This is not a question of luxury motoring, or of rich men; it concerns those who are compelled to use a car and are authorised to use it. This tax which was increased just before the war—I think it was in July, 1939—has become a savage tax to those users of motor cycles and motor cars. Many of these people are retired people, some have been injured, many have small incomes and because they could not afford to live near shops and stations went out into the country where they could buy land cheaply and bring up a family in good fresh air and conditions. Now they are being taxed unmercifully. If these men and women had been organised, as the great trade unions are organised, this wrong would not have been allowed to continue. I raised this point once before with the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor and was told that this tax was the equivalent to a wireless tax. That is not so. There can be no relationship at all between this tax and a wireless tax. You can get a wireless programme at any hour of the day or night but you have to pay the horse-power tax on a car with drastically reduced use. There are many people who cannot afford this tax who simply have to find the money if they are to get their daily bread.
I hope the Chancellor can do something for these people and that he will bear in mind that when noble speeches are made from the Front Bench we applaud them only because we believe in the justness of our cause, its idealism, and we cannot subscribe to anything that is wrong. A young infantry officer, a member of my old regiment in the 51st Division, came 619 to see me some days ago at the time soldiers' pay and allowances were being debated in this House. He told me that it is only idealism that can keep an infantry officer going in the face of mortar, machine-gun and artillery fire and all the other hideous things of modern warfare. It is not discipline that causes a young lieutenant or captain to lead his men into the jaws of death. He knows full well the risks. It is his belief in our cause. I say that this tax is wrong. I was never the intention of Parliament that any individual should pay 13s. 3d. a gallon on petrol and I strongly urge my right hon. Friend to put this matter right. The people concerned pay their full share of all other taxes, and it is wrong that they should be victimised in this manner.
§ Sir George Schuster (Walsall)
My right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) painted a broad, fairly gloomy—but I think true—picture of the things to which we have to look forward, and I agree with him that we have to look forward to a long period of very high taxation. That makes it all the more important that taxation should be levied in a way which will not restrict the proper development of the country. Last year a few of us from all parties put down a Motion for the rejection of the Finance Bill on the broad ground that the existing system for taxing industrial profits might weaken the financial structure of British industry and discourage its healthy development. Personally, I should like to repeat all the arguments I used on that occasion for there is nothing in the present Finance Bill, as regards the taxation of industrial profits, which meets the points which I then raised. But of course, since then, we have had the very memorable speech from my right hon. Friend, on the introduction of his Budget, and that we must take into account. I think I may claim that my right hon. Friend, in much better language than I could find, did, in fact, confirm all the grounds on which I have based my own arguments last year. His proposals fell, broadly, into two parts—first, those affecting scientific research and, secondly, his wider plan for the rearrangement of industrial taxation.
My right hon. Friend has included in this Bill specific provisions affecting expenditure on research, and I welcome 620 them very much. I only wish he had not found it necessary to say that they would not become operative until after the appointed day. I would like to urge very strongly that they should become immediately operative because although I know that with the present restrictions on resources there is not a great deal which can be done, I think it would be advisable that such research work as is possible should be undertaken at once, and that those who can undertake it should not be influenced by the consideration that if they wait until after the appointed day they may be more favourably treated.
However, I want to concentrate today, mainly on the question of the taxation of industrial operations, and most earnestly to beg my right hon. Friend to go back over his own arguments, to examine searchingly the objective which he has set before himself and to consider whether the proposals which he has outlined are really adequate to attain that objective. In fact, my speech will be a sort of Litany to my right hon. Friend, and I put it in that way because, as I said in a Budget Debate, I feel he has the right conception of the objective and I have confidence that if he can be convinced that any steps are necessary to attain that objective he will have the courage to take them. I understand that there are now to be discussions between the Board of Inland Revenue and representatives of industrial organisations and accountants' institutions. I want to ask my right hon. Friend to allow the very widest latitude in those discussions, and not to keep them restricted to arguing about mere mechanical details, within the limits of a rigid plan.
Beyond this I want to start with a general plea that my right hon. Friend should take a wide view of this matter. Looking at the position merely from the point of view of his interest as a tax-gatherer, the Chancellor, even in that narrow capacity, is a partner to the extent of something much more than 5o per cent. in the profits of industry. It must, therefore, be good policy for him to see that industry is helped to operate profitably. But of course, his interest is much wider than that. He is interested not merely in tax revenue but in the general prosperity of the country, I hope that his appreciation of that will dominate all his thoughts on taxation policy.
621 Turning to specific points, the question of over-riding importance is whether, before striking the figure of what are to be regarded as profits liable for taxation, industry is to be allowed to set aside from its gross earnings an amount sufficient to keep its capital equipment up-to-date and progressive. I have deliberately stated the question in a broad way—the way in which it ought to be asked. But really two quite separate questions are involved. The first looks at the position from an accounting and cash value point of view. It is a simple question of amortisation, a question whether the deductions allowed are adequate to provide, in the Chancellor's own words, "for the amortisation of money expended on assets used in the making of profits." The second goes beyond this and asks whether, if British industry is to keep its place, it is enough merely to maintain the cash value of its capital assets, and whether it should not be allowed to set aside from its gross receipts enough to do more than that. We have to consider this Bill and the Chancellor's proposals in relation to both those questions.
Take the first question. What is wanted is that if I, as an industrialist, have a capital asset which cost, say, £10,000, I shall find that when that asset has become useless, either because it is worn out or has became obsolete, I have been allowed, as part of my working expenses, to accumulate £10,000 available to replace it. The Chancellor's new proposals make it quite clear that, so far as concerns plant and machinery, that need is to be met, and that there is to be no doubt about it. The new initial allowance, the ordinary annual depreciation allowances and the final obsolescence allowance, which is now to be given unconditionally, make it sure that there is the right to accumulate 100 per cent. of the original cost.
All that, with this extra clarification, is very much to the good. But it does not cover the whole matter. An important practical aspect is that a business will only have the money required for this purpose if it has the profits from which to set it aside. Thus, if I take my £10,000 asset, if obsolescence has come quickly, perhaps £5,000 will have been written off and the remaining £5,000 has to be found in one lump as obsolescence allowance. The profits for that year, however, may 622 not be high enough to make such a sum available. In such a case I shall be told that the new proposal for the 20 per cent. initial allowance will have greatly helped. Taking that into account, it may be said, it is not likely that the residual value to be covered by the final obsolescence allowance will be unduly high. I admit that there is great force in that point, and I certainly am not one of those who belittle the proposal for the initial 20 per cent. allowance. It is extremely useful and very wisely conceived, though I look at it as covering a rather different kind of need, which I shall mention later. In any case the point I want to make now is that, in considering these allowances, it is not enough merely to establish that they cover 100 per cent, of the cost. The timing of the various instalments is also a most important factor. Those instalments should be allowed to fit in with the times when profits are available to cover them.
I want therefore to urge that the law and practice should be simplified and that firms should be allowed to set aside what they think right in any year, subject of course always to the proviso that, so far as concerns these simple amortisation provisions, the total of the annual amounts set aside should never exceed the full original cost of the asset. That, I believe, is substantially the practice in the United States. It is a practice which must save an endless amount of argument and all the complication of separate capital accounts kept for each asset by the Revenue authorities, which do not agree with the accounts that the business keeps for its own purposes. Further, provided that the total amount to be set aside is limited, my suggestion cannot in the long run affect the Revenue collected. There is only one possible way in which it might conceivably do that, and that is if the rate of taxation varies greatly and if undue sums are set aside when the rate of tax is very high. I suggest that, if there is any fear of that, it would not be difficult to devise safeguards against it. So I want to urge strongly more elastic procedure in that matter.
Turning from that, there is another very great defect, as I see it, in what I have described as the simple amortisation side of the proposals, namely, that buildings are still to be treated as something different from industrial plant. The Chancellor has broken through the old absurd position.
623 He has admitted that buildings, even those that do not contain vibrating machinery, do depreciate, but he still wants to draw a distinction, which I believe to be untenable, between buildings employed in productive industry and other business premises. Also he still calculates on a full 50 years life in all cases, even for the former class, and there is to be no final obsolescence allowance for any kind of building [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend now tells me there is to be a final obsolescence allowance for buildings. I am delighted to hear it. It is extremely good news. I do not think it has been generally understood. I have discussed it in the City and it has not been generally understood that there is to be a final obsolescence allowance on buildings. In spite of this welcome assurance, I still want to urge him to look into the question of buildings again and allow it to be explored. He has said that, in the case of buildings such as factories, he includes "buildings associated therewith, say for the welfare of the staff or the storage of raw materials or goods produced."
What then is to be the position? If a large manufacturing concern provides storage for its own raw materials which are awaiting treatment it can write off its warehouses at the rate of 2 per cent. per annum; but an independent warehouse company providing warehouse accommodation for a number of smaller manufacturers or for exporting merchants would not be allowed to do so. That would be most unfair. Further, the whole distinction rests on a fallacious conception of productive industry. Storage, transport and distribution, right down to retail distribution, are essential processes in effective production. If we start making that kind of distinction we run the risk of treating the ancillary processes as of no account, and that may be a very dangerous illusion. Beyond that, I submit that to take 5o years life for industrial buildings is too long. One of the greatest defects of British industry compared with United States industry is that in this country buildings have not been renewed sufficiently. In America, if the process or flow of production has changed they put up suitable buildings. This has been one of our great failings in the past. If a final obsolescence allowance will be available, that will help to get over one of the 624 difficulties and we may hope to get away from the old position, which has encouraged the continuance of both industrial and domestic slums. That position has really been very short sighted even from the Revenue point of view, because maintenance charges on old buildings continued too long in existence has involved excessively high deductions from taxable profits.
I now turn to the second main aspect of the matter. All that I have said up to this point has covered no more than the amortisation of the money originally expended on capital assets. But is that enough, if British industry is to have, in the Chancellor's own words, "a fair chance to meet the challenge which the future holds for all of us?" Is it enough that, when a piece of plant which costs £10,000 has to be scrapped, a sum of £10,000 should be available within the assets of the business? There are two points to consider. First, there is the obvious point that, owing to a rise in prices, the provision of a new plant to perform exactly the same purpose as the old may cost more than £10,000. That, without a shadow of doubt, will be the position with which British industry will be faced after the war. Firms which have not built up substantial reserves over and above the proper provision for depreciation on the cost price of their plant will find that they cannot get new plant to do the same work as the old without increasing their capital account. That may create very serious problems for large sections of British industry.
It is in that connection that I thought the Chancellor's proposal for a 20 per cent. initial depreciation allowance would be so valuable. If I have a piece of plant which originally cost £10,000, and if to replace it is going to cost £12,500, I shall be allowed to treat that additional £2,500 as expenditure to be charged against profit and I should not have to raise new money and write up the asset in my balance sheet. That would be immensely helpful, but I am still left with two questions. Will a 20 per cent. margin be large enough; and shall I have the profits against which to charge the money?
I want to ask the Chancellor to consider both these questions. As to the first, 20 per cent. will not be enough. Replacement costs will be up by at least 50 per cent. As to the second, I want to urge, looking beyond the mere post-war replacements, that this initial allowance will be 625 much more valuable to business concerns if they are allowed to build up the permitted margin, whatever it may be, out of profits in anticipation of replacement during the life of the original asset. This brings me back to the whole question that I have spoken of as the timing of these allowable deductions. I ask my right hon. Friend not to dismiss the point hastily. Incidentally, I should like to throw out another suggestion and ask him to consider whether the E.P.T. refunds could be allowed to be set against this what I may call "the over-price element" in postwar replacements, at least to the extent of the permitted initial depreciation allowance. That, of course, would mean that to that extent you would get the 20 per cent. in full, and not 20 per cent. less one-half for Income Tax. I put that forward as quite a fair and sensible suggestion. I hope my right hon. Friend will consider it.
But there is a much wider aspect to consider than the mere question of the higher cost of identical replacements. If British industry is to keep its place in the march of human progress, it will require not merely to replace existing equipment but to improve it. There will, in fact, be a need to make mechanical equipment play an ever-increasing part in the process of manufacture. Unless this can be done we shall find no sure basis for competitive power in export markets nor for improving standards of wages and working conditions, nor for reducing costs to consumers, nor, finally, for releasing human energy to other more valuable activities, such as education and cultural pursuits. That is a vital consideration and it is vital that it should be properly understood. This progressive improvement can only be achieved by allocating to capital equipment year by year part of the current production of British industry. Unless we are going to rely on foreign loans to provide us with resources—which of course we cannot—that is obvious, indisputable, and generally admitted. But what needs to be appreciated is that, with taxation of personal incomes at the levels which we have now to anticipate, we cannot rely on getting the allocation of an adequate share of current production through the medium of private savings from the income classes which have hitherto provided the main flow of investment.
What then is to happen? Are we to rely upon savings over the whole range 626 of incomes down to the lowest, perhaps put into Government securities and then allocated by the Government for industrial equipment and development? Or are we to make it possible for those who are conducting industrial enterprises, great or small, to set aside year by year, from the gross receipts of industry the resources necessary for live industrial growth and development? I try to take a balanced view of these matters. I certainly do not exclude the former alternative. I think there are some things which will never be done on the scale which the national interests require unless the whole credit of the community is mobilised behind them. But what I do feel, with absolute and unqualified conviction, is that in the conditions of this country, with its complex industry and trade, it will be utterly disastrous to rely upon this method alone. Therefore, we need the second method. The question then is, how far it can be made possible by taxation policy.
That brings us to the old familiar proposal that profits which are ploughed back into an undertaking for further development should be relieved partially or wholly from Income Tax. That proposal has apparently been rejected by the Chancellor. I say "apparently" because what he rejected was the idea of relief to "industrial profits that are not expended, but are placed to reserve for the future development and extension of the business." He did not commit himself to any absolute refusal to treat as expenditure, money actually spent on keeping an industrial enterprise in line with contemporary progress. What I want to ask him to-day is that he should not say that he has said his last word on this subject. I ask him to let it be examined with the widest latitude. It really touches the heart of our problems. Past experience is no guide at all to what will happen with Income Tax at from 8s. to l0s. in the£ which we must expect. And this is the kind of thing on which it will be almost impossible to get the exact evidence required by the admirable and precise mathematical minds at Somerset House.
The effects of these influences may be intangible, but none the less such influences will be at work and they must be taken into account. What I have in mind may not affect powerful large concerns which have been able to build up 627 great reserves in the days when taxation was lower. But it may be at work over a very wide range of medium-sized or new business and thus affect some very vital parts of British industry. I raised this matter many times with the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. I asked him again and again to have a fundamental review undertaken and to appoint for this purpose a small committee of experienced men with an independent chairman—such a man as Mr. Justice Uthwatt, whom I actually suggested. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to be frightened of getting landed into political controversy. I always thought he was wrong. I am absolutely certain that the objective which I have in mind, if the problem were fully ventilated would receive the full support of the Labour benches. It must be in accord with all that they want, because there cannot be any improvement of standards unless progress in industrial equipment is encouraged and maintained. Therefore, I renew that request to my right hon. Friend that he should have this matter reviewed in the most fundamental way.
I must bring my remarks to a close, though there are many other matters to which I should have liked to refer. I will refer very briefly to two of them. One is the treatment of wasting assets. That is vitally important. The Chancellor has recognised the importance of dealing with capital costs of acquiring and developing mining properties. But his proposals refer only to new expenditure. If the change which he proposes is justified, why should it not be introduced to cover existing assets as well? He may, of course, reply that all he wants to do is to encourage new business, but I beg him to consider the position of some of the larger mining undertakings in overseas territories which are, at present, worked by British companies, many of them with very large American capital invested in them. I beg him to consider the danger that these companies may find themselves forced to change their domicile, and to reflect what that will mean in loss, not only to tax revenue but to future business in the supply of mining machinery from this country.
Lastly, I want to mention the question of double taxation and its effect on our export business. I have not time to go 628 into the whole of the matter. I will only say that I have been into it with people who are closely concerned and that I believe there is a strong prima facie case for examination. I hope that the Chancellor will give the matter his attention. All the matters which I have mentioned are of vital importance to the future of this country. I have brought them forward, not as an advocate for rich men but because I want to see this country working fruitfully with results that can be shared by the whole community. Tax personal incomes as much as you like. I shall not complain. But do allow industry to build itself up progressively, remembering that standing still means stagnation and that it is only by moving forward that we shall keep our place.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
I have always listened to the hon. Member with interest, but the speech which he has just made leaves the impression on my mind that he is the defender of big business and private enterprise. I may be wrong.
§ Mr. Tinker
Yes, and that is where I differ from the hon. Member. If we spend our time talking about big business and private enterprise, we shall remain in the position which we are in at present. If private enterprise cannot get on, it comes to the State and asks for help. The suggestions made by the hon. Member went in that direction, because he said: "Provide us with money with which to carry on." He also used the specious argument to the Chancellor, that the State was in business, and that therefore for the State to work properly it had to be a co-partner with private enterprise. The hon. Member and I differ. I say that private enterprise must be controlled by the State. I do not object to the hon. Member's speech. I speak for the beliefs that I feel are right, and the hon. Member is right in speaking for his side, but he is open to criticism when he does that kind of thing. I feel that he is speaking on those lines every time he gets up.
In regard to the speech made by the Financial Secretary, I heard the statement that the Chancellor is facing heavy weather. In this financial Measure he is not. It seems to have had one of the easiest passages that a Finance Bill has ever had. The Financial Secretary was able to make reference in the course of his remarks to vintage, port.
§ Mr. Tinker
My purpose in speaking is to draw attention to tax evasion. Some time ago, I drew attention, in the course of a Budget Debate, to certain people who were evading Pay-as-you-earn. The small man in business, I saw it stated in a newspaper, was not making returns about his employees, so I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer to watch the matter more closely. Since then, I have come across a more glaring instance which ought to be dealt with. I refer to a rather shocking statement in the "Financial Times" of Tuesday, 9th May. It is to the effect that directors, who have been getting salary previously, are being paid off with a lump sum. Had the money been paid yearly, it would have been subject to Income Tax, but the lump sum is not subject to Income Tax. The paper's financial expert says—and when we get it in the "Financial Times" it is well to pay attention to it:A lump sum payment to an employee, including a director, as compensation for loss of office, is not taxable. The reason is that the payment is in return for the giving up of the right to receive further annual profits, and is therefore capital. Where, however, the terms of a person's employment give him the right to a lump sum payment on termination, whether by resignation, death or any other cause, such payment is regarded as deferred remuneration and is taxable.Here is the way in which it was dealt with in -the House of Lords. I want this Finance Bill to put the matter right:The subject of lump sum payments to directors was considered by the House of Lords, in February, 1943, in the case of Wales v. Tilley. A limited company agreed in 1937 to pay its managing director a salary of £6,000 per annum, and undertook, in the event of his ceasing to hold that appointment, to pay him a pension of £4,000 per annum for ten years, following such cessation. In 1938 a new agreement wag concluded whereby the managing director agreed to release the company from its obligation to pay the pension and to continue to serve as managing director at a reduced salary; in consideration therefor, the company agreed to pay him £40,000.It was ruled by the House of Lords that that was not subject to Income Tax.
When we see a loophole of that character, it is for us to amend the law and 630 strengthen it so that people cannot evade it. I have had personal experience of this matter. During the last Budget period I drew attention to a case in the Lancashire coal industry, in which employers were paying certain of their people by lump sum payments which were not subject to Income Tax. The Financial Secretary said that he would examine the matter. How can we expect a body of wage earners who are being called upon to pay weekly, and who have no alternative as the money is taken from them, to be content when they hear and see statements like these, in which huge sums of money are paid to directors, which sums would have been taxable if they had been paid as salary?
§ Major Procter (Accrington)
Is not the hon. Gentleman confusing one thing with another? These payments are treated as a capital sum received. The company pay out that amount, as the capital sum, which they are not allowed to set off against their profits.
§ Mr. Tinker
Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member will follow my argument. If this was paid by wages or salary year by year he would have to pay Income Tax upon it. It is said to this man, "We will settle with you. We want to re-form the company again, to sell our shares at a higher value." So they say, "Instead of you getting £4,000 a year for five years we will pay you £20,000." That is not subject to Income Tax because it is paid as a lump sum.
§ Major Procter
If the company paid, as the hon. Member suggests, £4,000 per annum then that £4,000 would be used as a set-off against the company's annual profits; therefore the company would not be making a capital payment.
§ Mr. Benson (Chesterfield)
Does the hon. and gallant Member really suggest that this £150,000 is to be paid out of the earnings of the company? Obviously it is paid out of the capital assets produced by the sale and is not liable to tax.
§ Mr. Tinker
The whole matter is a complicated one. I am drawing the attention of the Financial Secretary to the ruling in the High Court from the point of view that it is for us to strengthen this Bill so that there cannot be evasion in that way. When we find an obvious loophole our duty is to see what we can do to patch it up.
§ Mr. Hammersley
Did I understand that my hon. Friend was saying that he is against compensation for loss of earnings being free of Income Tax? A wholesale condemnation of that kind goes very much further than the particular case of loss of profit in respect of directors, and would have application in a much wider field.
§ Mr. Tinker
In this matter of high finance I am not an expert, but when my attention is drawn by the "Financial Times" to what is obviously wrong, it is my duty to draw the attention of the Financial Secretary and the Chancellor to it to see if it can be remedied. When we are telling our people that Pay-as-youearn is a sound thing, they say, "Why are you allowing these people to get away with big sums of money by being paid in another way?" All that I am asking for, seeing that we have in the Bill a Clause to strengthen the hands of the Treasury in preventing tax evasion, is that the Financial Secretary and the Chancellor should examine this point closely and see if there is any way by which it cam be prevented. Why the whole amount should go free of Income Tax I do not know. The ingenuity in higher circles in avoiding Income Tax is far greater than at the bottom. They do not respect the law as we do. Therefore, it is our duty to draw the Chancellor's attention to matters of this kind.
We have tried to deal with the taxation of land values by way of Amendment times without number, and it has been ruled out of Order. I want the Chancellor to examine this point because I have a statement here from a paper which I obtained from the Labour Press Service. It states:A 'ramp' in house building prices in Scotland was revealed in the Commons on 9th May, following questions put by Labour Members to Mr. Tom Johnston, Secretary for Scotland. Mr. Hector McNeil (Greenock) asked how many of the 1,000 houses authorised 12 months ago had been completed, and if there were any upon which actual construction had not begun?632 Here is the statement:Mr. Johnston said that 4 houses had been completed and 87o were under construction, including 220 which had been roofed over. The slow rate of building was due to the high tenders for building. One series came in for £1,815 a house! Obviously that is a ramp, and I do not propose to lend my assistance to it, Mr. Johnston said.The point I am making is this: Are these high prices for the houses due to an increase in the price of land? If that is the case obviously something should be done on that particular point. There will be tremendous building after the war is over, and every building that goes up increases the land value. If the community creates value by building, if that land increases in value due to no effort of the landowner but due to the needs of the State, is it right that the increased value should go to the landowner? We say the only way out is through the State owning all the land. I trust this is a point to which the Chancellor will address himself, and try to put it right.
There is one matter I wish to ask about which comes under the Financial Statement. There have been a lot of references to "sterling" and "sterling areas." I asked several of my friends what they meant by the term "sterling." None of them knew what was meant by it. Will the Financial Secretary enlighten us as to exactly what it means? Let us have a few words of instruction to Members of the House, so that we shall know where we are. If I were to ask a half-dozen hon. Members what they mean by "sterling" I fancy I should put them in a difficulty. What is meant by the term "sterling area" and the changeover to what is called the Gold Standard? Let us have some knowledge, so that we can go to our constituents and not be tied up when we are asked questions on this particular point. These are interesting points, and I hope that the Financial Secretary will be able to deal with them.
§ Major Procter (Accrington)
I wish to intervene for a few moments to request the Chancellor to consider, or shall I say reconsider, the extension of Pay-as-you-earn so that small shopkeepers and other small men of business may be brought under this beneficent scheme. We know that it has been of great advantage to workpeople to pay as they earn, although I fear it will not be long before Income Tax will be disregarded psychologically, 633 and the workman will feel that the amount he gets is his wages, and that Income Tax is something that is paid for by the boss. Nevertheless, it has been of great value. Whoever thought out the Pay-as-you-earn scheme is deserving of high commendation. My local Chamber of Trade, a very wide awake body, have thought that it is not beyond the wisdom of the Chancellor to widen the ambit, to round off the scheme so that there are no rough corners about it, and bring in the small men who are running businesses, in the same way as the small man who has only his labour to sell. They are not critics who simply criticise. They have come forward with a constructive suggestion. If the House will bear with me I will read four short paragraphs dealing with these suggestions. They suggest that, if the Chancellor accepts this for small shopkeepers,a coding notice should be issued in the same form and on the same basis as is done on Schedule E, that is, that the personal allowance should be modified to take into account other sources of income, including Schedule A charges. Should these exceed the total personal allowance the excess should be carried forward and added to the amount arrived at…under the suggestions as set out in the next paragraph. This next paragraph proposes that the small shopkeeper taxpayershould prepare an estimate of his income for the ensuing year. This would normally be done in consultation with his accountant, and would take into account the results of the last year of trading, and the probable trend of business in the year to be assessed. This estimate could, if the Chancellor deems it necessary, be filed with the Inspector of Taxes, but this procedure is not essential to the working of the proposals.If some change of circumstances during the year arose, that is the prospect of considerably increased earnings or the contracting of a bad debt of serious proportions, the estimate could be adjusted, and payments adjusted accordingly.The estimated income would then be divided by 52, or 12, if it were preferable to deal with it monthly…s or in the case of a business subject to seasonal fluctuations, in some other appropriate fashion. These amounts would be dealt with week by week, the totals accumulating as under P.A.Y.E. and tax on the cumulative amounts calculated from the existing tables.The sums thus 'deducted' from the assumed profits would be paid to the Collector of Taxes along with those deducted from employees wages, but shown as a separate item as under Schedule D.634At the end of the year, or when the accounts for the trading period were available, a final balance would be struck between the amount paid and the actual liability, a procedure which is provided for in the existing scheme of P.A.Y.E. An adjusting payment either way would then be made.They have also worked out how this applies in various concrete cases. I understand that this system, which would be called "the self-assessment system for small business men," is already in operation in the United States. It means that the small business man would assess his probable earnings for the ensuing year, taking into account what he has earned in the past, and any adjustments or alterations could be made week by week. I do not profess that my local Chamber of Trade are experts in these matters, but they are good citizens. They are working this out in their democratic way and bringing their influence to bear in a democratic way. That is the glory of democracy, that institutions of this sort find an expression in the highest legislative Assembly in this country. The small shopkeeper may have difficulties in the future; he may be living in a false prosperity; he may think that his profits which he is making now are going to last for ever; and then, in a slump, he will have a huge tax payment to make. Therefore, I ask the Chancellor to try to work out some scheme so that men who are selling other commodities than labour may be brought under the beneficent provisions of this legislation.
§ Mr. Leslie (Sedgefield)
The hon. and gallant Member for Accrington (Major Procter) has dealt with proposals put forward by his local chamber of commerce for overcoming difficulties that confront small shopkeepers in estimating income for taxation purposes. I hope that the Chancellor will take those proposals into consideration. I want to deal with a subject that will bring revenue to the State and, at the same time, mean a saving to local authorities. So long as land monopoly exists, how are we to undertake great and much-needed housing schemes and new industries? Industry enhances the value of land, and the landlord does nothing; but when a local authority desires to purchase land for public purposes, a ransom price is asked. One local authority wanted to purchase land for a fire station. That land as rated at 45s. an acre, but the landowner asked £1,500 an acre. If the land was worth £1,500 635 per acre, why should it not be rated at that value? In Wandsworth, land, rated at £14 per acre, cost £9,450 per acre—equivalent to 675 years' purchase. Take the case of a store in Piccadilly. It pays 20S. a square foot in ground rent—that is, over £1,000,000 an acre. In Brentford, land was wanted for housing. The owner wanted £4,500. The district valuer valued it at £750. It went to arbitration and the local authority had to pay £3,230.
Happily, the British Dominions are free from land monopoly. In Queensland, 95 per cent, of the land is State-owned. That is an object lesson to the Mother Country. It demonstrates why the Dominions are so far in advance of us in social legislation. Land was meant for use, and not for abuse. In the vicinity of the towns, before the war, land could be seen lying idle, non-rated or rated only on agricultural value. The same thing will be seen when the war is over. Allotment-holders will be displaced, and the local authorities will be prevented from using the land for housing, unless Parliament takes steps to control the selfish greed of the landlord class. One glaring case happened in the Highlands, where 50,000 acres were purchased in Inverness-shire by a London investment company, which hitherto had been interested in theatres. This land includes crofters' holdings. Undoubtedly, the investment company had in view the passing of the Bill authorising a hydro-electric scheme for the Highlands. That would mean that industry would be established, and they would get a profit. The same sort of thing is likely to happen in the towns if some restriction is not put upon this land speculation. Here is what Lord Astor, the Lord Mayor of Plymouth, had to say recently. The Lord Mayor of Plymouth, who is rightly concerned about the future of blitzed Plymouth, said:Public ownership of land in a city is vital to its replanning. Hitler has given blitzed towns an unexpected chance, which the Government must not spoil by a lack of vision and courage. Parliament should demand immediate legislation; otherwise, vested interests will soon diminish our prospects of the best results.I think these are very wise words from the Lord Mayor of Plymouth, who knows what it would mean if, when they replan Plymouth, they have to pay heavy compensation to the landowners. Land for which the owner demands a ransom price 636 ought to be taxed at the value which the landowner asks when he sells it. This would bring additional revenue to the State, or it would make landowners more chary of seeking unreasonable prices for land which was required for public purposes; and, also, it would stimulate the use of land for the needs of the community.
§ Mr. Erskine-Hill (Edinburgh, North)
I think if one were asked what type of Finance Bill would go down best with this House and the country, the answer would be a Bill which, both in substance and words, brought this most important type of legislation into line with modern ideas. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) adverted to the Act of 1918, which was supposed to make a great change in fiscal law. Unfortunately, it only consolidated the old law, which really meant that the law from which the Chancellor was operating the proper taxation of the people of this country was a law, roughly speaking, 150 years old, which had only been consolidated since then. The Macmillan Commission, whose Report is very familiar to the House, went into that, and explained their difficulties. I will advert only to two very short passages, to remind the House what that Commission's findings were. Paragraph 6 of the Report says:As regards our method of procedure, we recognised from the outset that our terms of reference, while exhorting us to aim at intelligibility, uniformity, and simplicity, nevertheless imposed such limits upon our powers of suggesting alterations in the existing law as made it difficult to achieve that aim, even were it otherwise possible for us to do so.Paragraph II says:While the Act of 1918 rendered the service of bringing together and rearranging in a single Statute the material contained in 52 previous Acts, it did little to eliminate overlapping or inconsistent provisions…And again:This Statute, therefore, which at the present time is the principal Income Tax Act, is mainly a body of law enacted more than a century and a quarter ago, and adapted to the economic, social, and commercial conditions of that time.The Chancellor has himself to thank for my intervention, as it is made largely because I see in this Bill, for the first time, signs of a real attempt to sweep away anachronisms and to keep our system as far as possible in line with the 637 progress we have made in other branches of national life. The Bill itself provides for the removal of two anomalies. First, there is the old Armorial Bearings Duty, which ought to have been abolished a long time ago, I think; if only because, for many years, its collection must have cost a great deal more than it brought in to the Exchequer. The time is long past when officials of the Inland Revenue should be searching about to see whether forks or spoons have crests upon them. Similarly, in the case of notices at the church door. I was not exactly clear what the position was. No doubt, the Chancellor will explain it. I think that the present Bill relates to dog licences and nothing else; but I understand that two years ago important alterations were made to stop the old-fashioned habit of the citizen receiving a notice of the tax which was due by having the fact posted at the church door. In future, I hope, it will be possible, in all cases, for the Board of Inland Revenue to make use of His Majesty's mails to inform people exactly what tax is due from them.
There is another important feature of this Bill for which I am grateful. That is the allowance for scientific research, which is a definite step forward in bringing the taxation system into line with modern methods. I think that this changed attitude gives great cause for hope. It has been said that it does not apply, for instance, to market research. I hope that it does. It is of vital importance that an opportunity should be given for the scientific exploitation of markets for our industry. If the measures of social reform which are wanted in most quarters of this House are ever to come to fruition, they must be based on sound trade. I believe that greater certainty in matters of taxation would be of the greatest possible assistance to trade. I would like to congratulate the Chancellor on the publication, yesterday morning, by the Board of Inland Revenue, at his request, of the very important memorandum which the principal Associations of Chartered Accountants presented to the Departmental Committee which is considering post-war fiscal reform. I agree very much with what is contained in that memorandum, and particularly with the view that any tax should bear a relation to the ordinary idea of commercial and industrial accounting, and not be based on technicalities, which the 638 ordinary man of business does not understand, and which are not related to what is the best accountancy practice. I think, with those who put forward the report, that the maintenance and development of industry after the war would be encouraged by more closely relating taxation assessments to commercial profits.
I believe the Chancellor has a great chance. He has taken bold steps in the short time which he has been in office. He has brought forward the Pay-as-you-earn scheme, which, although not working with complete success, is working remarkably well. It has been a great act of courage, both for him and also for the Inland Revenue Department, but I would ask them further to take their courage in both hands and try to achieve that much wider relation of taxation to modern conditions in trade and industry which I believe he and they are perfectly well able to perform themselves. For that reason, and because of my confidence, I am not asking the Chancellor to set up a Royal Commission before he can go into the question. I would much prefer that the Board of Inland Revenue, with the Chancellor's help and assistance, would put before this House something which would represent large and definite progress, so that modern conditions can apply and so that we may forget about that large number of Acts of Parliament which are all built up into a patchwork quilt not intelligible to the ordinary citizen.
I will say only a ward about the particular form of words used in these Acts. I was most interested and amused to hear my right hon. Friend to-day, in dealing with Clause 25, the sub-title to which I think reads "Simplification of Procedure," explain to the House that the matter was so complicated that he hoped to be able to explain it at a later stage. I know it is difficult in these matters not to use terms of art. I know that there is very much litigation when you have antiquated Acts which have been the subject of hundreds or thousands of court decisions. Dog does not eat dog, and I shall not complain if my profession gets the benefit of a continuation of complicated development, but I do say that, in the interests of trade, simplification is absolutely essential, and I know that the Chancellor will have the support of every right thinking hon. Member of this House if he takes a bold line and tries to improve 639 things in a way in which no Chancellor has ever faced this particular problem since the Department of Inland Revenue was first created.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)
I have listened to my hon. and learned Friend's advocacy, with which I entirely agree, of the simplification of Income Tax law, but what is the real trouble is the difficulty of defining what is an income. I find that all sorts of people have quite strange ideas on that subject. I have met all sorts of friends—I am not going to reveal their names to the Chancellor—who have said, "I have never returned that; they were casual earnings." A vast number of people think that casual earnings are not income. If I go to a horse race, which I have not done during the war, and back a horse which comes in first, that is capital appreciation, so far as the Chancellor is concerned; but, if I do it every day of the week and I am successful, it becomes income. All our complications of Income Tax law arise from the difficulty of defining what is income. We must bear that in mind. I would like to tell the Chancellor that, while he was away, opening the Second Front or whatever it is that Chancellors do when they are not in the Chamber, the Financial Secretary made a very good speech, but he said something which rather distressed me. He said that, under this Bill, the notices on church doors with regard to the tax on dogs are to be removed, but that the notices with regard to Income Tax will be retained. I would like to tell him that I love my dog but not my Income Tax collector, and, if I go to church, I would much prefer that he should leave the dog notice on the board, and not the Income Tax one.
§ Sir H. Williams
Well, the right hon. Gentleman said something about taking one away and not the other. Why does he not copy the Postmaster-General, because he only collects 7s. 6d. per dog? The Postmaster-General collects 10S. per wireless set. The Postmaster-General is much more polite, because he sends a postcard once a year to remind us. Unless I am reminded by the dog itself, I sometimes forget to go into the post office and pay my 7s. 6d. A postcard would be much better than a notice posted on a church door. If I had my way, I would 640 abolish the 7s. 6d. licence altogether, because a great many people have their dogs put away because they cannot afford the tax. It is a very inefficient tax, and I think that, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer inquires, he will find that it costs him is. to collect 7s. 6d. I know that, in the case of wireless, before the war the cost was also Is. to collect 10s., and it may have gone up again. Income Tax is so good a tax because so little—no more than one per cent.—is wasted in collection.
I had prepared for to-day a brief and powerful speech, but a correspondent wrote me a letter in which he said "I see that you, unlike other Members of Parliament, talk a certain amount of sense in the gas-house "—that is what he calls it, but I do not agree with what he said. He gave me a list of several things—a list of new financial liabilities that are being increased or are already proposed in Parliament. I do not like the order, but I have not had time to rearrange the list. The first item is war pensions after the war. Up to now, thank goodness, the liability in that respect has been small as compared with the last war, because our casualties have only been one-fifth. Next comes the interest on the new National Debt—already a large item, which would be a very much larger item except that, for the moment, the Chancellor has succeeded in extracting large sums of money from various institutions on what are, in fact, nominal rates of interest. When, in due course, that money is put on a permanent basis instead of a temporary one—I am not asking the Chancellor what he is paying, but it is probably one half or one per cent.—the investors will want three per cent., and that means a vast new burden. The fixed debt charge was fixed at £355,000,000 per annum in 1925. At that time we were making repayments to the United States, which in 1931 they asked us not to do, and there were all sorts of other items, but it is perfectly clear that the permanent debt charge, when this war is over, will be £300,000,000 more at least. But when the country really settles down, and when interest starts to be paid on National Savings Certificates, on which the Chancellor is paying virtually nothing at the moment, because people are buying them freely and not cashing them, and interest is only paid when a certificate is cashed an enormous liability will have to be met.
641 The next thing on the List is payment for war damage to property and chattels. There is a contingent liability there, but I will not say much about that. Now we come to compulsory savings, this business of post-war credits, I think, a most stupid scheme. I have got a couple of these certificates worth £65 each. I regard them as an asset, but they are actually a liability. What is going to happen if there is any serious demand for the money? The Chancellor will not be able to meet that demand, and can only pay out by borrowing more money. We are accumulating tremendous liabilities with these things.
Next comes the 20 per cent. business under E.P.T.—a colossal liability. It is true that the Act says "as Parliament may hereafter determine," which means that we can make such conditions that not many people will get it. Not one public company has included in its balance sheet this 20 per cent. E.P.T. I read a speech the other day in which it was stated that all the shelves will be empty when the war is over, but that we shall have plenty of savings with which to buy things. National savings are not savings; they are money already spent. They are an asset to the individual but a liability to the community at large, and if there is an attempt to cash large numbers of certificates the Government can only meet it by borrowing new money from other people. The State has not got a bob. People think the State is a wealthy institution. It is not. All the State has got is power to bring along a Bill and collect money from the general body of the community. Everybody praises the President of the Board of Education because he has got his Bill through. I do not attach much importance to the Education Bill, because nothing is going to happen for four or five years, and nothing can happen until we have trained masses of teachers. Therefore, I am very glad that no early financial obligation is going to be incurred —£80,000,000 a year for the purpose of keeping people at school until they reach the old-age pension age.
There is another body called U.N.R.R.A., through which we are going to feed and clothe a great part of the population of Europe. Who are to do it? [An HON. MEMBER: "You and I."] No, we shall not be in a position to do it. We are entering into these unlimited commitments, and nobody is adding them up. I 642 asked the Chancellor if he would produce a document similar to that produced by Sir Austen Chamberlain. I agree that the latter was produced when the last war was ended. I do not see how the War Cabinet have the courage to approve anything involving war expenditure unless they have some idea of the resources they possess.
The next item on the list is the extra cost of the Diplomatic Service, which is what my friend calls "chicken feed." Next comes extra financial help for the Colonies, which is a good investment, but, again, the money has to be found. Then there is the new health scheme. I am a little embarrassed about this, because the author is the joint Member for Croydon with me. Quite frankly, I do not like it very much, or any scheme whereby you turn doctors into clerks and whereby, already, responsible people have decided not to have their sons brought up as doctors. [An HON. MEMBER: "Shame."] Nobody with any sense would go into this profession if it is to be a salaried civil service, because people with enterprise believe in earning a decent living and not being State slaves. The health of the country will diminish very much if we have only mediocre people, instead of first-class people, becoming doctors.
Then there is the Beveridge social security scheme. I am glad to observe that the Social Security League has closed its offices and been transferred to the private residence of Sir William Beveridge. I saw a notice in the Press to that effect yesterday. I presume that the enthusiasm has somewhat diminished and that those who have been paying the rent have vanished. That is rather helpful. There are a lot of other items. There is the new Water Bill dealing with rural areas. This is a very good idea, but it is going to cost a lot of money. There are the new prefabricated houses to be put in hand by the Government. I am all in favour of every effort being made to provide housing accommodation. I understand that the reason that the State are to own these houses is that, if anybody else owned them, there would be a risk that they would be kept going too long. They are to be temporary, and are to be demolished at a comparatively early date. As they will cost as much as permanent houses but will have a life of only 10 years, obviously it is very bad business. The Chancellor of the Exchequer shakes his 643 head. Then obviously they are going to last longer than 10 years, and that will cause a little annoyance. Everybody is committed to agriculture, which must be made prosperous. If food is to be cheap, somebody has to fill the gap. At a cost of how many million pounds a year? The people whom I have consulted do not know. They are all agreed about the policy, but nobody is agreed who is to pay these millions. I have not the slightest doubt that, when they awake from their dream, which will be about three months after the termination of hostilities, three-quarters of this stuff we are all talking about so loosely will go overboard. We cannot finance it, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer knows it.
The right hon. Gentleman realises that the greatest problem with which we shall be faced when the war ends will be the cost of the switch-over from war production to peace production. In some factories it will mean no difference at all, because what they are producing in war time is the same as they produce in peace time; but many other factories will have to clear out old plant and put in new plant, and the good provision in this Bill is the generosity that is being applied to those who will have to carry out the switch-over. The other day the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a speech—I want to use the phrase which is customarily used on public platforms—on the policy of full employment. That just means nothing whatever; there is no policy of full employment. There is only an objective. [An HON. MEMBER: "There is in Russia."] We can have full employment if we degrade the standard of living to that of slaves. Let me be a slave-master, and I will give full employment under the most degraded conditions. [Interruption.] I am talking about the phrase that is used by leaders of all political parties. It is a phrase of undiluted nonsense. There is no policy of full employment. There has been no economic discovery made since that period, when, almost week after week, we used to have a Debate in this House about solving the unemployment problem. Did we succeed?
§ Sir H. Williams
The hon. Member who has just said "No" the loudest, spoke more frequently than anybody else.
§ Sir H. Williams
No, because his advice was not worth taking, and they could not understand it, anyway. What is the use of pretending that there is a policy of full employment? I know of no such policy. We shall probably avoid the mistake that we made in 1919, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said, "We will make the pound look the dollar in the face." That followed on the Report of the Cunliffe Committee. That was a very interesting document describing the Gold Standard in all its brutal realities. The fundamental mistake was made of going back to the old Gold Standard at the old parity of 4.86 to the £. That terrible deflation which began in the summer of 192o continued steadily until the Gold Standard was restored on 27th April, 1925. I remember something very interesting happening. It happened so long ago that in referring to it one can speak about a meeting in Committee Room 14 upstairs. I received a notice that Mr. Reginald McKenna was to address Members of all parties on the future economic financial policy. The room was packed. Mr. McKenna made a speech clearly advocating a return to the Gold Standard. As I was an innocent Member at the time I did not realise that all this was part of the propaganda preparatory to an announcement being made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, now the Prime Minister of this country. Though I almost favoured the restoration of the Gold Standard at some sort of parity, I was dubious about being too much in a hurry. When Mr. McKenna sat down I asked, "What are you going to do about the consequent unemployment?" That rather wrecked the meeting. The older people there took me on one side and said, "You are a stupid young man; when there is an arranged meeting like this, you should not ask stupid questions."
§ Sir H. Williams
No, it was an all-party meeting. These people were all in the front row, and they wanted to get the approval of Philip Snowden. Though at that time I was dubious about it, it turned out rather better than expected. Between 1925 and 1929 industrial production in this country increased by 10 per cent. 645 [Interruption.] Hon. Members should listen to it; it is worth listening to. The number of people hi employment four years afterwards was 750,000 more, despite the incredible mistake of the long period of deflation. Now it is alleged that the coal dispute of 1926 was due to what happened on 27th April, 1925. That is incorrect. People will forget past history. I go back to the occupation of the Ruhr Valley in 1923, by the French, which completely destroyed, for the time being, the bulk of German coal production. Ultimately, there was a settlement of that case. It was not until late in 1925 that, first of all, the development of coal production in Poland, which was to some extent a new feature, and the restoration of coal production in the Ruhr Valley brought about the circumstances in which there was a heavy fall in the export prices of British coal. The crisis of 1926 may have been influenced, as I believe it was, to some small extent by it. There was, roughly, something rather less than a 10 per cent. change in the wholesale price level when the Gold Standard was restored.
§ Sir H. Williams
I would not have said this, but for interruptions. I think I can keep within the bounds of Order by saying that there was a general change in the wholesale price level. The price level of coal was different from the rest. At the present time the situation is different. We ought not to commit ourselves to a policy until we know where we are. We do not know what we shall be faced with as regards invisible exports after the war and how we can restore our export trade. All these things have to be considered before we can come to any conclusion on some kind of stable exchange rate. I am satisfied that we should have a stable exchange rate in due course. If I got into the train at London with 2s. and when I got to Manchester they gave me is. 8d. in coppers for it, everybody would say that it was quite mad, yet they are perfectly willing to say that that sort of thing is quite sane, if I travel from Dover to Calais. We went to have some kind of stability.
I have spoken a long time but this has been partly due to interruptions—although I always enjoy interruptions. I interrupted the Financial Secretary on 646 Clause 31, which contains some very important concessions to small companies. The other day I saw the accounts of a small company, which, by new methods, is selling an article of popular consumption at the same price as everybody else, but because it is very efficient, it makes a very large profit in relation to its turnover. The net effect in the case of that company is that out of every 72 parts, 71 parts go to the Chancellor, and one part is retained by the proprietor of the business. I only mention that fact—and I am willing privately to tell the right hon. Gentleman the name—in order to show the extent to which the State is a sleeping partner in every business—in some new businesses to an overwhelming extent. Some of these small new businesses will be helped by concessions in Clause 31, and they are grateful.
I come to Clause 32. When the original Section 35 of the Finance Act, 1931, was introduced, I took some part in making representations to Sir Kingsley Wood on the ground that they would be very repressive and that all sorts of proper transactions in the interests of traders and the community might be regarded as transactions for the avoidance of taxation. Sir Kingsley Wood on that occasion was convinced by the arguments some of us produced and as a result the words "the main purposes" were introduced. I forget whether the Government proposed then or whether the Chancellor accepted them as a result of my representations. We are now going back on that. The result is that a great many transactions already settled are liable to be reopened. At some stage one ought to know the rules of the game. I do not think that the Chancellor ought to be like the captain of the cricket team who, when be has lost three wickets, alters the rules and says, "Those three fellows have not been bowled out." That is, in effect, what he is doing. The Treasury apparently think that if they pass an Act of Parliament it must be moral. That is carrying the doctrine of the State really further than I like. Two or three years ago the Chancellor made the declaration that if people tried to be funny, he would legislate retrospectively. Unless there is a very strong case, which the Chancellor can produce, he ought not to expose the great mass of decent and honest traders to the inquisition represented by Clause 32 in its present form. 647 I have taken up more of the time of the House than I intended, but I hope that the Chancellor will look very carefully into Clause 32.
§ Mr. Owen Evans (Cardigan)
We have heard in the course of this Debate some extraordinary speeches, among them those of my hon. Friend who has just sat down and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence), but it seems to me that we can comfort ourselves by saying that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has laid down certain plans with regard to industry and we have some confidence that they can be put into operation. The Chancellor has as much right to assume, as the hon. Member for south Croydon (Sir H. Williams) has to assume, that we cannot do any of these things. I think we might choose to back the Chancellor in this respect.
I do not propose to detain the House for more than a few minutes, but there is one observation should like to make at the outset. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) spoke with considerable authority on questions regarding taxation of industry, of which he has obviously made a close study. He based his speech on the fact that we have had in this country, so far, a system of complete private enterprise. He was attacked by my hone Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), who said that the hon. Member for Walsall always defended private enterprise, and spoke on the assumption that private enterprise was to continue. I think that it is time we faced realities in this House on the question of industrial organisation. The fact is that all the industries of this country are, for good or evil, conducted under what is called a system of private enterprise. The whole of the industry of the United States of America, which is comparable with ours and with which we shall have to be in competition after the war, is also conducted according to a system of private enterprise. So is every industry in our Dominions, and I venture to suggest that it is not a question to-day of whether private enterprise or Socialism is the right method of organising industry. We must accept the fact that there is private enterprise in this country. I submit that even those who believe that we shall eventually have an organisation 648 based on Socialism, will agree that it is far better for the future of this country, whatever system we are going to have, that industry should be in a good state, and that, whoever takes it over, it will be more valuable in a good state than it would be otherwise.
The Chancellor said in his Budget speech that he "offered the mixture as before." That meant, I take it, that he thought the patient was doing pretty well on the old mixture, and that he was not going to offer him any other mixture at all. There has been very little change, and I assume, therefore, that the Chancellor is satisfied that the treatment of the patient is sound and beneficial. But he has issued some warnings on how the patient is to behave in the future. He is not to be allowed to over-eat, over-drink or over-dress. Austerity is to continue, and I think that no one in this House will quarrel with that. It has been pointed out that there will be a shortage of supplies of all sorts of things and huge demands, not confined to this country, for products made in this country. Prices and wages must not be allowed to chase each other, but the Chancellor has, in his Budget and in the Finance Bill, indicated some very important changes. Some ingredients will be taken out of the mixture, and, no doubt, some others will be put in.
May I refer to one part of the Finance Bill which everybody welcomes wholeheartedly, that referring to scientific research? It is a great step forward, and I think it will have the effect of focusing the attention of industrialists, who do not now spend enough money on industrial research, on the paramount need of such research if industry is to be maintained on the highest possible standard. May I call the attention of the Chancellor to one or two points in the Clauses with regard to industrial research? If I understand the provision in the Finance Bill correctly, I am sorry to find that there is some degree of discouragement—that the contributions of universities for fundamental research are not regarded as expenses for taxation purposes, and that the only research so regarded is that related to the trade or business carried on by the contributor. I think I am right in that, and I should like to say how sorry I am that a distinction has been drawn between scientific research in relation to the industry carried on by the 649 owner of the business, or by the company, and the scientific research of a fundamental character, carried out in university laboratories. If I am wrong, perhaps the Chancellor of the Exchequer will correct me when he replies. This is very disappointing, because all those who are engaged in industry are familiar today with appeals from universities for contributions, for providing better equipment in their laboratories, and increasing the scope of scientific research of a fundamental character. Those contributions are not now allowed as deductions from taxation and I understand, if I read the Clauses correctly, that they will not be allowed under the Clauses in this Bill because, in order to qualify for relief from taxation, the research carried out must be of a character related to the industry carried on by the contributor.
I think it a pity too that this proposal is postponed to a future date. The appointed day depends upon Parliament. I submit that, even to-day, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must know of some very important researches carried out by industry, and not directly connected with the business of a particular company, but concerned with important projects in connection with the war. I heard only recently that in order to provide research in relation to a very important product in connection with the war, substantial equipment had to be purchased in laboratories for carrying out the tests which were required by the Government, or by those interested in the product in the Government service. I do not know whether an estimate has been made of what the cost would be if this proposal were introduced now, but the effect of the provision postponing the appointed day will be to influence those in charge of research laboratories to postpone expenditure for such research until after the appointed day. May I appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to reconsider this matter and ask him, where possible, in matters relating to the war or to the industry concerned, to expedite the appointed day as much as possible, and, if possible, change the provision of the Bill in that respect.
I want to refer to one other matter. I agree entirely with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall regarding the provisions for better allowances for depreciation, and the initial allowance particularly. But I do venture to add my support to his view that something more 650 is required in respect of distribution of profits—money which is not distributed wildly in extravagant dividends or anything of that kind, but carefully kept in the business and carefully applied to the tools of that business. After all, equipment, machinery and plant are the tools necessary to earn the profits in the business, and to earn the taxation which eventually finds its way into the Treasury. I venture to say that it is a fallacy for the Chancellor to argue that that would be exempting savings from taxation. That is the argument, I think, which I understood him to use. Such moneys, I submit, are not savings of the same character as personal savings. They are set aside for the purpose of securing the development of a business, and I ask the Chancellor to give further consideration to that point. The wish has been expressed by the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson) in various speeches which I have heard or which I have read that we should have a Socialist-controlled industry. But we must face reality in this matter, and I feel that, so long as we have private enterprise in this country, we must create conditions under which industry can flourish to the advantage of the community.
§ Mr. Hely-Hutchinson (Hastings)
I am very glad, Mr. Speaker, that you have allowed this Debate to range over so wide a field, because it has given the House an opportunity of hearing such views as those put forward by the right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) on the subject of post-war Budgets and post-war Government finance. I should like to touch on that subject myself and later, hope to acquire merit with you, Sir, by mentioning one or two matters in this Bill.
In the last war there was a trio at the Palace Theatre who used to sing a song which went "Après la guerre, we'll have a good time everywhere," which I heard many times; and I think my right hon. Friend has done us a service in reminding us that, if we go out for a good time immediately this war is over, we are likely to be disappointed. I think we have to face not only a, continuation of a high rate of taxation but also, to my very great regret, a continuation for some time of what are known as controls—rationing, licensing, the restriction of imports and the fostering of exports. If we do not, we are going to have a catastrophic rise, not only in prices but also in money rates.
651 I thought my right hon. Friend rather overstressed the dangers existing from the present amount of currency. Currency naturally expands as the incomes of people expand, and I do not think that currency has expanded, in amount, very much more than the aggregate of incomes has expanded. It has a little; but I should imagine that the amount in the form of hoarded currency is more of the order of £100,000,000 or £200,000,000, whereas we may turn to an equally spendable form of money—bank deposits, which stand more nearly at the figure of £4,000,000,000 at present. I thought possibly my right hon. Friend was straining at the gnat a little, after having swallowed the camel, when he mentioned his fears about currency. But there are other things we have to consider—not only the enormous volume of spendable bank deposits, but such things as the release of money for War Damage Payments, the 20 per cent. refund of Excess Profits Tax to which the right hon. Gentleman made reference, the Income Tax credits to which he also made reference. Also, there are many industries which have managed to save cash albeit they have held back on replacement and depreciation. They have invested that cash in Government securities, and there is a very large volume of Government securities coming on the market when the war is over, when those industries will want to use that money for rehabilitation.
When we add all these together, we realise that one of the greatest difficulties with which my right hon. Friend and his successors will be faced will be the control of the Government bond market after the war. The whole problem will find its reflection there, and one rather feels that the sum of the problem is going to be that the Treasury policy will have to be designed towards synchronising the release of purchasing power with the production of goods. That involves an enormous task because one of the noticeable things in the war has been, that in order to produce a financial effect, measured in the money rate or in the exchange rate, or in the price level, the measures we take are not purely financial. They are more in the category of what we might call physical measures—rationing, licensing, and so on. It is those controls which I am afraid will have to continue for a time. I share the right hon. Gentleman's optimism for 652 many reasons, but for one in particular. I think there is abundant evidence in the papers which have been issued from the Treasury in the last three or four years, that my right hon. Friend's advisers in the Treasury know exactly what they are about. I think one of the most reassuring features of Government finance during this war is the abundant evidence that the Chancellor has been well-advised by his technical advisers.
One difficult problem with which we shall have to deal will be the new psychology which will follow the warless willingness to make sacrifices, less willingness to accept controls and restrictions. That is going to create a far harder problem, when we are trying to induce people to pay taxes and to save money, than the purely mechanical problems with which the Treasury is faced now. I hope that in making a nice balance between the release of restrictions and controls, and the keeping of purchasing power in line with the goods available, my right hon. Friend will always keep in mind what has been stressed many times before, namely, the importance of exports. Our standard of living depends on exports. Our exports depend, in the main, on the enterprise of Englishmen, on the enterprise of our merchant adventurers, and during the last four or five years our merchant adventurers have been very much cooped up by this restriction and that, by this control and that. They want to get out again all over the world. They want to get to the wide open spaces in Canada and America. They want to trade with India and the Far East. They want to go to Africa. They want to go rolling down to Rio again on their lawful occasions and to "bring home the bacon" in more senses than one. And then they want to come home again to this lovely island in which and for which we live. I hope that will be one of the principal and cardinal points in the policy of the Government after the war—the fostering of exports.
Now, Sir, perhaps I might address myself to the Bill. I apologise for having wandered a little over the face of the globe. The interesting thing about this Bill is the fact implicit in it. It leaves the rate of taxation alone and it deals largely with administrative matters. Thus, it reflects the great change which war time finance has wrought upon Income Tax. Income Tax is now a people's tax. It is 653 no longer a question, as I said once before, only of big game hunting against the rich. It is now a people's tax and the problem facing our taxing authorities now, evidenced first in the introduction of deduction at source and then, more recently, in the introduction of Pay-as-you-earn. The great problem facing them now is amending the Income Tax law, and reframing its administration so as to make it effective as a people's tax, which is what it is going to be in the future. Further simplification is undoubtedly ahead of us and I hope that the first sign of that simplification will come in the course of this year in the modification and improvement of the provisions for Pay-as-you-earn.
The other item in the Bill to which I would like to make reference, as has already been done by other speakers, is Clause 32. I will not go over the ground again, by reminding the Chancellor how strongly many of us have insisted on the limitations which were put in the 1941 Act, but I would remind him of what really frightens us about the present proposal. We want to help him in every way to catch those people who are tax-dodging. We all know what that means. But we are a little afraid that the officials are taking what is, to them, the easiest course. They are asking us for more powers than we would normally give them, because they would find it so terribly difficult to catch tax-dodgers if we did not give them powers far greater than we ought to give them. We are all on the look-out in this House for what we call bureaucracy, and there is a little danger sometimes, I think, that a civil servant whose business is that of a tax gatherer, is a little apt to regard tax gathering as an end in itself.
§ Mr. Hely-Hutchinson
Yes, they were. We are going to ask my right hon. Friend for very specific assurances as to the application of this Clause and to give us assurances as to the right of appeal there may be to the courts. What is now necessary is, of course, brought about by the high rate of taxation. In Excess Profits Tax, in Income Tax, in Surtax and in Excise there is, owing to the high rate of tax, a tremendous incentive to evasion or avoidance. Consequently it 654 pays some of these very clever people to exercise their ingenuity. Here is another case where, if the full advice of the Treasury had been followed some two or three years ago; we should not be in the present mess. When the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Kingsley Wood, decided he must, for political reasons, bring in an Excess Profits Tax and make it 100 per cent. he was advised, I am informed, by his advisers at the Treasury first, that a differential tax was a bad tax and, secondly, that a too per cent. tax was always difficult to work in practice. Our present dilemma is merely an example of the fact that if you do one foolish thing, you very soon find yourself up against the necessity for doing more foolish things.
§ Mr. Hely-Hutchinson
If I were to give up drinking whisky and drank water alone, three quarters of the economy would be in tax. Can it be said that in drinking water, I am a tax dodger? I can quite understand that anyone who comes from North of the Tweed might say that so unnatural an action as drinking water deserves its own punishment. But I hope that my right hon. Friend will go very carefully before he places these tremendous powers in the hands of the tax gatherers.
§ Mr. Hely-Hutchinson
With that single exception I have mentioned, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the Bill and wish it a speedy passage.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
When I heard the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Hely-Hutchinson) refer to the importance of the continuation of certain controls when the war ended, I could not have agreed with him more. I was particularly glad when I heard him say that he thought it important for the release of purchasing power to go step by step with the return to normal production. I was disappointed, however, that he did not say that the artificial absence of purchasing power at a later stage, should not be allowed to interfere with increased production—in other words, he did not enunciate that there must always be enough money in circulation to enable the people to purchase all the goods they are capable of 655 producing. If he had said that, I should have felt much happier.
§ Mr. Hely-Hutchinson
Is it not the case that money does not circulate, but is circulated by the people?
§ Mr. Stokes
I allow that. The hon. Member went on to say that our standard of living depended on exports. If he means that we cannot grow bananas and oranges here and therefore, if we want them, we have to send goods away to get them back in exchange, I agree; but if he means a return to what was, before the war, known as a favourable balance of trade, then I entirely disagree with him. A favourable balance of trade was regarded by our pundits as a state of things in which you send more wealth out of your country than you bring in. Obviously that is completely "phoney"—if that is a Parliamentary word. I would agree with the hon. Member if he were to say that exports are important to us, but they are important only in so far as they enable us to bring in the equivalent value of goods in exchange; they are not to be used for the purpose of buying up the capital assets of other nations overseas.
I would not really wish to return to the business of "Salute the Soldier" had not the Financial Secretary in his opening remarks to-day referred to it. I happened to come into the House the other day when a discussion was going on and, without having prepared myself for the fray, made an impromptu speech quoting as an example a rather ridiculous affair which had taken place in a borough the name of which I did not mention. To-day, the Financial Secretary said that the Prudential had never subscribed £2,000,000 to any borough, and that therefore my figures were all wrong. I accept the rebuke that my figures were out of proportion—the right hon. Gentleman did not warn me that he was going to raise this or I would have obtained the referenve—but I was only illustrating. I apologise to the Prudential for misrepresenting them over this particular case, but I know for certain that they have subscribed a good deal more than £2,000,000 elsewhere to these loans. They have £400,000,000 available, and they have subscribed millions more elsewhere. What I was trying to illustrate was the nonsense of 656 the whole business. When the Financial Secretary said that the House did not think very well of my speech, that was a parody of the truth. The House roared with laughter and, when I went out, I was asked what the laughter was about, and had to explain that the House realised the humbug of the whole thing. The Chancellor himself knows it. If he does not, let me quote what was advertised in my constituency the other day:Our savings…are the insurance that, in the last great battles, our men will have the arms and equipment they need in full measure and overwhelming superiority over the Axis.If I were advertising goods in that way I should expect to be run in for making false statements. If it is true it implies that if people do not subscribe our men will be without weapons when they go to the Second Front. Of course it is not true. If it is necessary for this money to be made available in order to win the war, why does not the Chancellor take it? I have all along realised the importance of savings and of not spending money when goods are in short supply, but I have always advocated that the important thing is to put money on deposit at the bank and leave it there. If the House wants authority for that I will quote Lord Kindersley. He said, in reply to a letter I wrote to him:I do not disagree with your expressed belief that it does not make a pennyworth of difference whether anybody subscribed to these Savings Groups or not, provided they bank their money and do not spend it. The governing factor is embodied in the last few words.I see that the Chancellor nods and that he agrees to that. That is what I have been beseeching him to do for years. Why does he not start a campaign of truth among the people and tell them what is involved instead of all this ridiculous nonsense, which the people themselves are beginning to realise it to be? May I quote another case which was given to me just before I came into the House? In the "Salute the Soldier" week a case of whisky was put up for auction and the highest bidder got it for £1,000. The result is that the community will have to pay 2½ per cent. on £1,000 for ever, and the purchaser gets the case of whisky as well as interest on his investment. The whole thing is utter nonsense. The more he pays for the whisky the more the people will have to pay him.
657 I would like to reply to the speech of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), whose attitude of mind in these matters I have long ceased to expect to coincide with my own. To-day, however, he did appear to be about to stumble on a great truth when he said that the interest on the National Debt was mounting steadily and was, indeed, mounting so high that we would have to borrow money in order to pay the interest on it. We have known that for years. It has been going on for generations. He made a mistake when he said that the service of the Debt was £200,000,000. The Chancellor has said that it was over £1,000,000 a day, and I believe that if the war went on till the end of this year it would be at the rate of £600,000,000 a year. That is equivalent to something like 2,000,000 men working for a year and handing over all their wages in order to pay it. The sooner the humbug of this money business is exploded the better. The hon. Member for South Croydon said that all the Chancellor could do to get money was to bring in a Bill like this and collect it all from the people. While that is true it is only half true. He will still have the gap which he cannot collect. What does he do then? He allows new money to he created. What happens when he is asked about it? He says that he does not know how much new money is created. In answer to my questions he says that he does not agree with my figures and that he does not keep the kind of record which would give him the answer which would enable him to answer my question. As a pure business proposition, the Chancellor ought to be able to say how much new money is created.
I got up to speak on the Amendment in my name, and other names, on the Order Paper dealing with the land question. I regret, Mr. Speaker, that you did not see fit to call it. I look forward to the day when you will see fit to enable me to divide the House on this issue because we are talking in the air until we deal with this fundamental problem. The fact is that this land issue, the whole question of what is to be done with the land and land values, has been completely sidestepped by the Government. They have had all sorts of Reports like the Uthwatt, Scott and Barlow Reports, but nothing has been done. I would not be very satis- 658 fled if the Uthwatt Report was implemented, because I do not think it goes nearly far enough, and merely suggests buying out the robbers for having robbed the people in years past. The Committee could not do what it set out to do because its terms of reference were wrong. One of the things it was asked to do was to stabilise the value of land, and that is the one thing you cannot do. Therefore, the terms of reference made the whole work of this Committee abortive.
We have heard a great deal about full employment. My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon said that that was nonsense and did not make sense to him. I look at it in a different way. What I want is not full employment, because that conjures up in my mind conditions of slavery and everybody being dragooned to do things. What I want is full opportunity. The difference between full opportunity and full employment is the difference between freedom and slavery. I want to deal with the obstructions to full opportunity. I will not discuss the, monetary system. That is a minor obstruction, but it is far from being accepted as it is by the common man. To me the great obstruction to full opportunity is the land monopoly whereby the landowners are allowed to control and own the sources of wealth and the raw materials of the world free and unmolested, and to collect their full value of it for themselves. We have appealed again and again to successive Chancellors to do something about this. I have asked the present Chancellor and his predecessor on numerous occasions to do something about it and to remove what I call the obstruction to the flow of the life-blood of the body politic. Money can only make that blood flow more freely when it is in motion, but the land monopoly stops the flow altogether. The Chancellor will be well aware of that from representations that have been made to him in the past 12 months by no less people than the Lord Mayors and Mayors of the blitzed cities. They have complained to him that they cannot even begin to rebuild their cities and get hold of the necessary sites because the Government will not come to a decision.
What is to be done about the land question? It is the same old story. Enslave the men, shove them into the Fighting Forces, but leave property alone, and 659 particularly land property. Touch everything else but that. The land question always has to be shut out. I want to give some examples, and for fear of being twitted by the Chancellor about what I have said on the "Salute the Soldier" week, I would tell him that all my figures are authentic. I quote them from a book, "Why Rents and Rates are high," published by the United Committee for the Taxation of Land Values. We are going to spend vast sums of money on housing, but what do we find? Always the same obstruction with regard to the land. When the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) was Minister of Health in 1938, he spoke of the purchase of land for the five years ending 31st March, 1938, and said that local authorities under the Housing Acts had spent no less than £8,00,000 to buy 35,000 acres of agricultural land for housing schemes. It was derated land and was paying no contribution of any kind to the community, yet before it could be got hold of for housing, the people had to pay no less than £200 an acre for it. I could quote innumerable examples of that kind. On slum clearance here is a glaring case from the London County Council. In four years the Council bought land at Bellingham, Roehampton, Becontree and St. Helier, which had a rateable value of £7,305, and they purchased it for £835,826. At five per cent. that land should have been paying taxes of £40,000 a year, but it was purchased for Ito times its rateable value. If that is not obstruction of slum clearance I do not know what is.
Then comes the question of green belts for the recreation and health of the people. An example is to be found at Bush Hill, Middlesex. The county council bought 107 acres of Bush Hill Park Golf Club for £70,000, which is equal to 700 an acre. That was not even to build on it, but in order to prevent anybody building on it. Then we come to education. In the four years 1935–7 290 acres for 105 sites were purchased for £218,000, which is again £700 an acre for land which was idle and derated. Whenever one challenges the Chancellor to say whether the purchase money for this land was subject to taxation he will not tell you. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred it is not because it is all regarded as capital apprecia- 660 tion, but land is not capital and the appreciation in value results from the work of the people and not the work of the landlord, but the landlord gets it. We hear great talk about those tin shanties, the Portal houses, but where are they going to be put? They have to stand on land, and you cannot say they are cheap until you know where they are going. Have any arrangements been made for the land for them?
With regard to the whole question of speculation in land, the Chancellor may say that it is not going on so much now because the Government have fixed a 1939 ceiling. In fact, however, it is still going on. I was amused on Sunday to read an article in that great newspaper, the "Sunday Express," by a correspondent named Michael Stuart, called, "Why do we allow the dons to grab the land?" He went into an examination of what Oxford and Cambridge had been doing in the past. I am a great believer in the universities and do not blame them for what they are doing, for they are acting within the law, but here are some interesting facts. Oxford is the proud possessor of 179,000 acres, not around Oxford, but in 47 different counties. Cambridge owns 115,000 acres in 39 counties. They never pay any Estate Duty because they never die. The revenue that comes in is staggering. The revenue from the land which Oxford alone owns amounts to £470,000 a year, all tax free because the university is a benevolent institution. It has so much revenue now that it goes on buying land and increasing its stranglehold—sells a bit at high value, and reinvests in more at low. I want to quote an authority on this question of land, the present Prime Minister, with whom I very rarely agree, although I feel that 30 years ago he and I would probably have been in the same party. He said then—I believe it was in 1907:Land monopoly is a perpetual monopoly, and it is the mother of all forms of monopoly.That is true. It is all very well for people to smile and say, "What is the difference between land and everything else?" The great difference is this: Motorcars, houses, armchairs and the like are all products of wealth. They are all brought about by the effort of man on raw materials. But who creates land value? Not the owner of the land, from his ownership. In so 661 far as he is a worker he does contribute, but the value which attaches to land is created by the community as a whole, and nobody else. Why should not this value be collected for the people? It might be said that it is not much, but if the land of Great Britain were used properly it would bring to the landlords in economic rent £500,000,000 per annum. That is what could be collected and the extent to which it is not collected is the measure of the hardship landlords are inflicting on the community by not allowing the land to be used for the best purpose.
It is argued that we must not introduce this tax because it is so expensive to collect. That is an absolute lie. I do not say that anybody intentionally lied, but it is so. The Chancellor knows that he has Treasury officials willing and ready to put it into operation, officials who believe that it ought to be put into operation. The cost of collection would be about £2,000,000 per annum, a negligible figure. I agree that in the first year you would not get a vast margin over that but in the end you would collect £500,000,000 a year simply for this cost of collection, amounting to £2,000,000. Compare that with the ridiculous army of officials which the Chancellor has going round the country now, collecting money from the people's efforts. Think of the financial pundits, armies of them, who would be set free if we were to have a simplification of procedure along the lines which I have just described.
I want to quote the Prime Minister again, on this question of landlords:He the landlord, renders no service to the community, he contributes nothing to the general welfare, he contributes nothing even to the process from which his own enrichment is derived. It is monopoly which is the key note and, where monopoly prevails, the greater the injury to society the greater the reward of the monopoly will be. See how all this evil process strikes at every form of industrial activities. The municipality wishing for broader streets, better houses, more healthy, decent, scientifically planned towns is made to pay, and is made to pay in exact proportion, or to a very great extent in proportion, as it has exerted itself in the past to make improvements. The more it has improved the town the more it has increased the land value and the more it will have to pay for any land it may wish to acquire. It is not the individual I attack. It is the system. It is not the man who is bad, it is the law that is bad.
§ Mr. Stokes
Weil, he was speaking the truth. I put this to the Chancellor. I do not know whether it was his ambition, as a young man, to be a Chancellor of the Exchequer; probably he stumbled into it by mistake. But if he had given his thoughts in the past to this problem of taxation he would have stumbled upon certain truths. First, that taxation should bear as lightly as possible upon production. Every one of the Chancellor's taxes in this Bill bears heavily on production, some more than others. Every one of the taxes we are discussing tends to prevent production. To illustrate what I mean I would like to tell the House a story about a Sultan of the East, who was a rich man and who had a large area of fairly fertile soil. He wanted money with which to pay his armies to attack somebody else. He put a tax on fig trees; the result was that the farmers did not like it and cut down the fig trees except those necessary to feed themselves, so that the income from the tax fell and his army starved. His Grand Vizier said, "You have done this the wrong way round. You have discouraged these people from producing wealth. Why do you not tell them that the land will grow many fig trees and then put a tax on the land according to its value?" He did, and what happened? The farmers planted more and more trees, everybody had plenty in abundance and, the army grew fat and went away to conquer the enemy.
Secondly, a tax should be easily and cheaply collected. This is. Thirdly, a tax should be incapable of evasion. We have heard much about tax evasion today. You cannot evade this tax. It is quite impossible. You need no detectives to get it. Finally, a tax ought to be a fair tax. What is more fair than to collect for the benefit of the people the value which they themselves have created—land value? I quite understand that the Tory Party do not like it, and I suppose they will not bring it into being until they are forced to do so. As I have said, I do not want what is called "full employment"; I want full opportunity to employ myself, and for each other man to have the right to do likewise in the way he chooses. The only way to put this matter right is to tackle the fundamental cause of unemployment, as I have suggested; otherwise we shall achieve nothing. Just another story and then I will sit down. It con- 663 cerns the test employed in a lunatic asylum to make sure that new inmates are really "cracked." The test is that a new inmate was led into a bathroom where the taps are pouring forth water into the bath—pouring wealth into the landlords' pockets. He is then given a bucket and told to empty the bath. If he turns the taps off before he starts, he is considered curable.
§ Major Peto (Birmingham, King's Norton)
I find myself out of agreement with most of what has been said by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), but very much in agreement with nearly all of what was said a little earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams). On that account, I am even more diffident in rising than usual because what I propose to do is not to nag the Chancellor about what is in the Bill but to point out something which is not in it. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon, I do not seek to get more money for the country but, like so many others, to take a little bit away. Perhaps because I am a back bencher I have more opportunity for contact with the people in my constituency than my right hon. Friend has for contact with his constituents.
I am very much perturbed by the very bitter feeling in the country amongst old age pensioners and widows. No doubt in common with many other Members, I receive letters not only from my own constituency but from other places too on the subject. There is a feeling amongst these pensioners that they are paying Income Tax on their pensions. I know that is a fallacy. I have been told so by no less a person than my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, but the fact remains that they think they are. I know that we all pay Income Tax above a certain income level, but these people are living fairly near the margin.
Would it not be worth considering, either now or at some future date when the finances of the country are under a less tremendous strain, deducting the amount of their pensions from the assessable income of pensioners? They suffer more than the rest of us, especially in war. They find it sometimes prohibitive even to buy tobacco at 2s. 6d. an ounce. Widows, including war widows, to whom 664 our hearts must go out more than to any other class, except mothers who have lost their only sons, suffer more than is necessary. They have to go through life without a companion and without the support of someone they have been accustomed to lean upon. They have to earn their living and, if they are patriotic, they go out to war work. Again, old age pensioners have subscribed for their pensions for long periods and if their pensions are brought into assessable income, whether they are wrong-headed or not, they feel it most keenly. If I were in my right hon. Friend's shoes, which thank God I am not, I should feel very seriously about this, and this feeling of bitterness is throwing sand into the works, and no one wants that to happen if it could be stopped. They feel that they have earned their pension, and so they have.
I urge my right hon. Friend, if he possibly can, to give some measure of hope, even at some distant date, to this vast class of people that he will help them in this direction by deducting their pitiful pensions from their total earnings before they come up for taxation. He will thus be doing something which will not only render him more popular but will do a great deal to remove the bitterness that exists. As old age comes on, frailty and loss of earning power become increasingly evident. My right hon. Friend has not reached that stage yet, but it will come to him and to me and to all of us at some time or other. Widows have a lonely furrow to plough, and it is difficult for them to hold their own world, small though it may be, on their own shoulders without help from others. These troubles are not compensated for by a small State pension. I urge my right hon. Friend to ease the burden of old age if he possibly can, and to hold out some small modicum of hope that the way of the widow, rough and stony as it is, may be made a little more smooth.
§ Mr. Hammersley (Willesden, East)
Since the war the Budget Statement, and the Finance Bill which implements it by legislation, have come to be looked upon as an index and a guide to the economic policy of the Government. The general future economic position of the country is really becoming very plain. There are certain high lights which are now admitted by practically everyone who studies the likely economic 665 position in the post-war years. There is going to be a material decline in our external resources, with a loss of about £1,000,000,000 in foreign investments, and an increase of £2,000,000,000 in our external liabilities. This material decline in out external resources is one of the high lights of our post-war position. An associated factor is the need for a greater volume of exports. That situation leads to two deductions, one affecting our internal policy and the other our external policy. One is that we have to have the highest possible standard of industrial efficiency, and the other is that there should be an international currency arrangement to maintain the stability of prices. In other words, first we have to produce goods at the right price or, to use more modern terminology, at the lowest expenditure of man-hours, and secondly, we have to transfer those goods to their markets.
The hon. Member says "the lowest cost of man-hours." Does not taxation enter into price?
§ Mr. Hammersley
The point I am making is that you have to produce goods with the maximum efficiency, and maximum efficiency must involve the least use of labour to the production of any particular quantity of goods. I put those two points in that order, production first and transport second. It is unfortunate, though it may be inevitable, that the Government have tackled the second problem first. I have only one criticism to make of the Bill, which I consider a most excellent Bill, and that is in connection with the matter of priority or, more accurately, the question of timing.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has realised the potency of high taxation. Taxation is being used in a restrictive sense. It is being used to control inflation and to limit purchasing power, but it could also be used—my right hon. Friend recognised this—as a very powerful incentive by any material reduction of taxation, in directions which are considered to be nationally desirable. In the restrictive sense, we have the consequences of high taxation now, and in the second sense, that is to say as an incentive to improved industrial efficiency, all these proposals are postponed until some indefinite time. The incentive to improve efficiency is most important, in 666 connection with the necessity to have improved plant and equipment after the war. Many industries are old-fashioned. The industry with which I have some close acquaintance, the British cotton industry, in comparison with a modern industrial country, is probably the most old-fashioned in the world. It is necessary that there should be a modernisation of plant. The Chancellor of the Exchequer realises that, and he proposes a 20 per cent. depreciation allowance on new plant and 10 per cent. on new buildings. These depreciation allowances, which are a reduction from assessable profits, are only to become available some time when the war is over. I submit that there must be cases in which some new plant can be put in now. Those cases are probably few, and limited by the fact that most of our resources are directed to the war effort. In spite of that, there is no doubt that we can gradually build up now, and improve our equipment and our plant. I submit that there is a case for making depreciation allowances on new plant available to the industrial community now. It cannot be in the best interests of the State that all this expenditure should be postponed and that industries should be queueing up in a long line, waiting for the words: "Now you go."
There is another consideration to which I would draw the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It has to do with the depreciation of old plant—not with the depreciation of old plant that is to be scrapped. I realise that when you scrap old plant you get obsolescence allowance. I refer to old plant which is to be replaced by new plant costing three or four times as much as the original. There is a very notable case. Take the case of the cotton spinning trade. I have in mind the case of a company owning two mills. It is desirable that one of those mills should be brought up to date. I have had an approximate quotation for bringing that plant up to date: it is £500,000, for one of the two mills. The capital of that company is £160,000. I would like the Chancellor of the Exchequer to bear that point in mind, because it is a typical case for Lancashire. The company has a capital of £160,000, and in order to bring up half its plant to complete modernity it would have to spend half a million. Where is the money to come 667 from? I suggest that there should be a special ear-marking during the war years of a depreciation allowance, based not on the written-down value of the plant as it exists to-day, but on the replacement value of that plant. Of course, that increased depreciation would not be made available to the company or the industry unless the replacement took place. I am suggesting, in other words, that, during the war, if machinery is to be replaced by improved machinery, costing three or four times as much, there should be a depreciation allowance on the value of the machinery for replacement purposes. That figure is easily ascertainable, because most companies insure their machinery on its replacement value.
There are several arguments that could be brought forward in justification of this submission. First, with E.P.T. at 100 per cent. during the war years, the building up of a fund to make those replacements is practically impossible. Secondly, it is not necessarily the industries which have a good E.P.T. position, and therefore can keep their profits, which will find it necessary to replace their plant at very much higher values than pre-war. For instance, there are many mills in the Lancashire cotton industry which are compulsorily stopped under the concentration of production. Mills and factories of that kind have no means of collecting a reserve from which it would be possible for them to buy new machinery to keep their equipment up to date. Thirdly, and this is a point of importance, a manufacturer is forced to rely on his fixed assets to produce his profits. Those fixed assets remain in the organisation at the price which he paid for them, whereas, a retailer is using his fixed assets, which are continually changing in value. The values are constantly being brought into touch with the market price of replacement. It seems fair that there should be some relationship between the treatment of manufacturing firms and that of retail firms. It is clear that the assets which the retailer uses are constantly being brought into touch with modern replacement costs. What is beyond dispute is that, without the modernisation of its equipment, British industry will gradually decline.
In his Budget speech, the Chancellor of the Exchequer made an observation which particularly struck me. He said that the Government could not make the export 668 trade. He indicated that it was the business of manufacturers, merchants and workpeople to make the export trade. There is a good deal of truth in that, but that statement is a long way from being the whole truth. You cannot have a good export trade without planning, and you cannot plan in a vacuum. What trades are expected to do this great amount of export after the war? In what quantities and in what markets are they to sell their goods? What is the general over-all picture of the export trade? Only the Government can have that knowledge and can inform us. Are they in actual touch with the trades which will be called upon, in the future, to do the export? Take as an example again the cotton industry, about which I know most. The pre-war consumption of cotton goods throughout the world worked out at about 6 lbs. per head per annum. Against that over-all consumption, the figure for the United States and Great Britain was 21 lbs. per head per annum. If we are to have, as we all hope, an expansionist policy, a full employment policy, it is conceivable that world consumption of cotton goods would go up from 6 lbs. to 9 lbs. per head per annum. In that case it would not be possible to supply the requirements of the world in cotton goods, with all the present existing machinery working normal full time.
This is a rather astonishing state of affairs, but it is just a statement of fact. If you built up quite a reasonable general increase of consumption in cotton goods, the spindleage of the world would not be able to supply the requirements, and that is not making any allowance for spindles which may be damaged during the war. It is desirable, if the Government have a view on this expansion policy, for them to consult the trade and make arrangements with the trade, and it may be, if necessary; to consider working two shifts in the future against the present entirely different picture where production is less than 40 per cent. of the productive capacity.
I have mentioned two ways in which the export trade can be helped, through taxation and through planning—giving the industry a target. The second point which concerns me is the facilitating of exports through international currency arrangements. There has been a certain amount of discussion in the newspapers recently as to whether the proposals put 669 forward by the experts mean a return to the Gold Standard. What is quite clear is that what is intended is not a return to the old Gold Standard system. What is anticipated is something quite different. Giving my own personal view I would say that the old Gold Standard system required a country on the Gold Standard to stick to the rules regardless of economic conditions, whereas the new proposal is one which says in effect that if the conditions change then the rules are changed.
I would remind the House that the slump of 1929 was caused not merely because we were on the Gold Standard. It was caused by a combination of two factors. There was a world shortage of dollars. That combined with our being on the Gold Standard, caused the slump. That is a simplification, perhaps an oversimplification; it does not contain the whole picture. I do not pretend it does but I do not want to detain the House. I am making this particular point that there were two factors, the Gold Standard and the shortage of dollars, and it may well be argued that the unemployment in those days was the by-product of a struggle to earn the means of exchange to conduct the essential quantity of international trade. In the present plan, as I understand it, if there is proved to be a shortage of a particular currency, then it is possible for other countries, whose currencies are not short, to depreciate their currencies. Moreover, it is not only possible but it may be obligatory on such countries to limit imports from the country, the currency of which is scarce. In fact it is clear that what would be necessary, and what is envisaged in the plan, is something very different from the old Gold Standard, something which would prevent competitive currency depreciation, something which would enable the country whose currency was in short supply to be in effect differentiated against.
It is beyond dispute that when hostilities come to an end the United States will have achieved the greatest concentration of power and wealth that mankind has ever known. Her production has already doubled, and she is supplying Lend-Lease at the rate of £2,000,000,000 per annum. Although her war output is taking some 55 per cent. of her total output, she has found it possible, although she is supplying these tremendous quantities of 670 goods on Lend-Lease, to increase her own internal consumption by some 22 per cent. Machine power has gone up some four times; there are already signs of overproduction of steel, of magnesium and of copper. In other words, she has built up a most mighty engine of production. On the other hand, the rest of the world, particularly Europe, is starving. We in this country, although we have increased our production by 25 per cent., have done so at a cost of decreasing our internal consumption by over 20 per cent. So it is clear there is going to be a Europe and a world in general, starving for food, goods and machines, and only one country which will be in a position to supply them when the war is over. That is the United States. If, therefore, no arrangements are made after this war, the disequilibrium which exists at present will be greatly accentuated by the natural process of everybody taking exports from America, without having means to pay for them. If this currency plan for freeing exchanges and for stabilising currency were to come into force immediately after the war on the assumption that there was an equality between the nations, where in fact no equality exists, then this disequilibrium would get out of hand and countries would have to go bankrupt. I believe that this fact is recognised in the plan. I believe that the plan is not intended to come in—
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
May I ask the hon. Member, before he leaves that question—I think it is desirable to bring this out in this House—whether he suggests that this condition of affairs in America will be permanent? Does he take the view that America is the only big factor in the world? In 10 or 15 years' time Russia, with her population and inventive genius, might be ahead of the United States.
§ Mr. Hammersley
I appreciate that. I am pointing out what will happen immediately after the war. I am dealing only with the transitional period. I am pointing out that the plan does not come into force in what is described as the transitional period, and it could not do so. In fact, the plan most definitely says that it does not come into force in respect of any country unless that country is satisfied that it has means at its disposal to maintain an equilibrium in its balance of payments. The plan to my mind is of 671 great value, in that it brings home to America the essential truth that during this transitional period the rest of the world will have to take measures of discrimination against her in order that these other countries can build up their exports in order to earn dollars.
§ Mr. Stokes
Does the hon. Member, in his vision of what the future holds, preclude the possibility of a continuance of a form of Lend-Lease?
§ Mr. Hammersley
I should imagine that after the war Lend-Lease will come to an end; that is my assumption. I am suggesting that in this interim period America itself will appreciate the necessity to encourage reciprocal trade arrangements arrived at with a view to getting the maximum amount of international trade whose finance does not require dollars. It seems to me, therefore, that this currency plan although it is put first by the Government really comes second, and that the possibility of its practical application depends upon whether, during the transitional period, this country can build up its export trade. That is why I urge that the Government should not merely envisage making plans in future to use taxation to help, but should gradually bring those plans into operation now. I hope that the Chancellor will think most carefully about the argument which I have put forward.
§ Mr. A. Edwards (Middlesbrough, East)
I listened carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for East Willesden (Mr. Hammersley). I wonder whether I understood him aright: that, on this question of depreciation, he proposed that the cotton industry should be allowed to place that increased replacement price as a charge against profits?
§ Mr. Hammersley
I suggested that, during the war years, the depreciation, which is now on the basis of the written-down value, should be on the basis of replacement value, but that the difference between the written-down value and the replacement value should not be given to the companies until, in fact, the companies have brought their plant up to date.
§ Mr. Edwards
I am very much concerned about this. Some of us on this side have difficulty in addressing the House because we feel that we have a system which ultimately will succeed the other one, and which will be more efficient, but we realise that in the meantime we have to make the best of the present system. I agree that, at present, we have to keep our equipment at the highest possible level of efficiency. Recently I talked to a gentleman who controls one of the big combines, and we discussed the difference between the attitude of some of us, at any rate, in my party and that of this gentleman and his friends. I said that I was not much concerned about our big combines: I felt that they were doing most of our work for us, and, when the majority of the people Thought that we should take control, it would be easy to take over their shares. Until the majority of the people were intelligent enough to do that, it was necessary to keep them running efficiently. I hope that it will not be thought that we are against spending money on capital equipment, but I think that the Chancellor should reintroduce a Bill, which we once had, for limiting dividends. With the limitation of dividends, I think no harm will come to us. But—and this is a subject which the hon. Member for East Willesden understand—if you increased your capital value, which at some time would be sold, at Government expense, it would be very unfair. There was a period in the industrial history of this country which was positively disgraceful. To write up the value of equipment ten times, and receive public money, and then write off old p ant at Government expense, is a very serious matter.
§ Mr. Hammersley
I think the hon. Member has got his facts wrong. The over-capitalisation of the Lancashire cotton trade—with which I am very familiar—was not done by taking public money, in the sense of money belonging to the Government; it was, in fact, a question of taking money which was the property of the private investor. The whole of that loss has been borne by the private investor, and the capital values have since been very much reduced.
§ Mr. Edwards
I understand; it was taken from innocent people, and not from 673 people with their eyes open. I will take another industry, which was accused not long ago, by Sir William Beveridge, of charging 7s. 6d. for 6d. worth of value. They came out with a brochure, protesting very vehemently that Sir William Beveridge had exaggerated, and that, as a matter of fact, they had charged only 10 times the value, and not 15 times. That industry was over-capitalised, and it will remain a scandal for a long time in our industrial history. I wonder if I understood my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) aright. He read a letter from Lord Kindersley. I will not dwell for long on this subject. Lord Kindersley in this letter said that this matter of war savings would not affect the conduct of the war in the slightest degree; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed with that.
§ Mr. Stokes
He said that that was so, provided that the people put their money on deposit in the banks, and Ieft it there.
§ Mr. Edwards
In which case the Government would get the money for 1⅛ per cent. instead of 2 per cent. That is a serious admission. Those of us who have objected to this method of raising money have been very sincere. We feel that it would be much better to tell the people of this country the honest truth, instead of exaggerated stories, which are an insult to their intelligence. We are told that, while big investors are responsible for most of the savings, working people are encouraged to put in their few pounds. If there was an honest savings effort, we should, perhaps, get only 12 per cent. of the present figure, but it would be an honest figure. These figures are not an honest statement. Recently a young man, who was riding on top of a tank in my constituency, said: "The men in Burma are being handicapped because they have not sufficient tanks: give your money freely." That young man honestly believed that the more money he collected from my constituents the more tanks our men would get. If you tell people things that are not true, the time will come when you have to tell the truth, and people will not believe you. That is all I have to say on that point; I think that we are pretty nearly all agreed.
Hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), have been talking about what we can afford, and so forth. It would help 674 if they would try to think of what we can afford, and what we cannot afford, in rather different terms. I am connected with a little business in my constituency, on which, I believe, the first bomb to be dropped in England fell—bombs fell in Scotland before that, but I think this was the first in England. This place was demolished, and all the records, all the accounts, bank' books, and everything of that sort, were destroyed. We carried on very well, with little inconvenience. If all the documents concerned with finance in this country were lost, and we retained our labour and our industrial equipment, we should have lost absolutely nothing. I remember reading a silly statement during the war, when a ship coming to this country, bringing British currency, was sunk. It was said that £2,000,000 worth of British currency had been sunk, and that that was a serious loss. We had not lost 2d. worth of paper; yet people lave so got into the habit of thinking in terms of currency, that they cannot bring themselves to think in terms of real wealth, which is labour and materials. I think it must be agreed that the total value of any commodity is nothing but labour. The cost of every commodity, whether it be a tank, a pair of stockings or a pair of shoes, is 100 per cent. labour and rent. Rent and rackets I know there are, but, generally speaking, there is no other value than labour. Raw materials are not worth anything at all until labour is applied to them. There is much foolishness being talked about what we can and what we cannot afford.
Exports were touched upon by the last speaker. He talked about our merchantmen going abroad and fighting for markets again. Last year, I met a gentleman who has just come back from South America, where he had gone to fight for new markets. In the midst of his negotiations in South America, when things were going well, his permit expired and the Foreign Office demanded that he should pack up and come straight home. He was not allowed an extension. What is the use of telling us that we shall have to go out and fight for new markets if the Foreign Office compel such men to come home?
I do not agree, however, that we have to fight for markets at all. There is a lot of stupid talk about that. I do not believe that it pays us to export any more than the total value of our imports. 675 Perhaps the sensible thing to do would be to advocate Lend-Lease after the war. That would be a splendid thing. If you had universal Lend-Lease for 10 years, you would be practising something very important, that we were taught 2,000 years ago, that is was more blessed to give than to receive. In many ways this is proving to be the case to-day. America found, after the last war, when she lent abroad, that, when she could not collect, she had to give. She might as well have given in the first case. I predict that Lend-Lease will continue for a long time to come. We are now learning how much better off we are. When we were supposed to be building up the great fortunes of this Empire, we lost more than 50 per cent, of the money we invested. Over a period, we expended £12,000,000,000 abroad, and lost £6,000,000,000 of that. You do not have to be very clever to lose £6,000,000,000.
§ Mr. Spearman (Scarborough and Whitby)
I think I agree with most of what my hon. Friend says, but does he not agree that, before America came into the war, her assistance was very valuable to us?
§ Mr. Edwards
Oh, yes, but I am saying that the lesson of the war is that you must give the people things which you can afford. It would be certainly the best thing towards securing full employment. The hon. Member for South Croydon does not believe in full employment. What does he mean? The hon. Member said: "If I were a slave master, I could provide full employment." Seriously, it is open to question whether the slave masters did not keep their people in better condition than we keep ours under this system. We so neglected and starved our people before the first war that, when they were called up to fight for the country, five out of six were rejected. Many of the Members here to-day, because they could not provide jobs for them, starved them. When our greatest experts said that it took 52s. to provide the bare necessities of life, they paid the miners 49s. When these men were rejected for the Forces, it was recorded on their papers that the cause of rejection was mal-nutrition. That just means starvation. The hon. Member need not sneer at the people on this side, because it is under his system that these 676 abominable things happen. I am very doubtful if the slave masters behaved worse to their slaves than we have behaved to our fellow men in certain periods of our recent history.
The hon. Member went on to sneer at the idea of a national health service. He said that doctors must be paid what they are worth, and that only in that way should we have perfect health in the country. He also suggested that people should make all they can out of their professions. I suggest that the hon. Member should advocate the same thing in the Church. We might then have early salvation. Then he had another sneer at people who want to provide plenty of water, as if that was not a reasonable thing. We do not spend as much money on providing water as we spend on providing beer. There may be a difference: One may be more important than the other. I have never tested it myself, and I am probably biased.
The Financial Secretary spoke in glowing terms of great sacrifices—I think he was referring to industrialists and wealthy people—being made in the conduct of the war. I believe the soldier may come back to this country, after having won these battles, and ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer a simple question. He may say, "The Prime Minister was honest with us; he promised us nothing during the war but blood, sweat, toil and tears, and they have been given in abundance." The soldiers may come back to find people like the hon. Member for South Croydon saying that the reward for that is that they must tighten their belts, because the people at home, as the Financial Secretary said, had made sacrifices. They may ask you how it is, if they made sacrifices while the soldiers had been away, that we owe them more money at the end of the war than at the beginning—something like £20,000,000,000 instead of £8,000,000,000. They will be curious to know how it is that we are still owing very much more though pretending that these people made sacrifices, and why the men who fought the battles will have to tighten their belts to pay the interest, which, the Chancellor of the Exchequer tells us, is the first charge on the community. I am never going to advocate repudiation of the National Debt. The hon. Member for South Croydon talks about the difficulties, but I say that the Chancellor will have to find the money to 677 pay this interest. When a conjuror produces rabbits out of a hat, he must have a tangible asset round about somewhere, in the shape of a rabbit. It is nonsense to talk of not being able, after the war, to pay for all these things.
There is a question which I would like to ask the Chancellor, and I think it is one in which many people will be interested. We welcome his proposals to allow money to be charged for scientific research. If a company, as a result of that, was able to develop a valuable patent or process, it would mean that the Chancellor would have a 50 per cent. interest. If at a later date they sell the process or patent is the Chancellor going to tax that? It will be a very serious omission if he does not provide for that. Under another Clause he is providing that when a copyright is sold literary people are to be taxed on income, and I should have thought that the same Clause could have been applied to patents also.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Anderson)
The hon. Member has overlooked the fact that I dealt in my Budget speech separately with expenditure on research and with patents. Patents, I stated, are a wasting asset, quite outside the scope of research.
§ Mr. Edwards
But someone is spending a lot of money on research work and will ultimately patent the process as a result. That is bound to happen. Am I to understand that, if a company develops a process and the patent is sold for £100,000, the Chancellor of the Exchequer gets no part of it? He should at least be entitled to take 50 per cent., and he should give a second thought to the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) referred to compensation for loss of office, a question which is causing a good deal of trouble. It was rightly argued that it does not affect the Chancellor, but that does not alter the fact that the individual is receiving a considerable sum of money which could never possibly accrue to him otherwise, and the Chancellor draws nothing. It may lead to very serious malpractices. There is the case of Napiers, in which several directors received sums of money for loss of office. It was worked out that the chairman of the company should receive £10,000—
§ Mr. Henry Brooke (Leswisham, West)
The Government did not take over the concern. Did not the English Electric Company take it over?
§ Mr. Edwards
That is correct; I am sorry. The Ministry of Aircraft Production made the arrangement, but I was only dealing with payments for loss of office. This is a matter to which the Chancellor should give his attention. That chairman drew £10,000 a year, and received a sum of money. Had he received that sum as salary he would have had to go on drawing £10,000 a year until he had reached the age of 103. There will be a lot of elderly gentlemen in the future retiring from office with capital sums in order, I think, to avoid tax. It is a capital charge in the long run, but it is a very serious matter if the Chancellor is to ignore cases where people can draw capital sums and avoid taxation.
I remember discussions in the House in which it was said the inspectors had to prove that it was a main purpose before they could use their discretion with regard to tax avoidance. Very many people were being victimised and the putting in of "may" relieved many hard cases. That was a concession dearly bought under great pressure in this House. It will be a serious matter if the House allows it to be taken from it so easily. The provision in Clause 32 is a complete reversal of that concession. It is as though the Inland Revenue have said, "They have taken it from us now, but we will get it back directly." The Minister of Supply once took a case to the Law Courts and the Law Courts decided against him. He said, "All right, I will get another law passed to-morrow," which he did. I have a very high regard for the people in the Treasury, and it is all the more important that they should not try to reverse the decisions of this House when they have been thoroughly threshed out and discussed here, and I hope that the Chancellor will give further consideration to that matter.
§ Sir Peter Bennett (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
I only wish to raise two points which have been referred to during the course of the Debate. The first is that which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) and developed by the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. O. Evans)—the question of the 679 words "after the appointed day" with regard to the writing-off of capital spent on scientific research. We understood when the Chancellor introduced his Budget that the general concessions with regard to depreciation of capital and buildings were for post-war development, but we did hope that the concession with regard to this capital allowance for scientific research would come into operation straight away. I am aware that the argument of the Chancellor might be, "You cannot spend any money now and, therefore, we are not holding anything back." If that is the case and there is nothing to be gained, I suggest that these words might be left out with advantage. The war will come to an end, and there will be a time when labour will be available, and when laboratory extensions and the preparation of special plant can be put in hand. It would be to the advantage of the country that this should be done without any delay whatever when the opportunity comes.
Concerns with which I am in touch are at present laying out their plans in view of the interest taken in the drive to improve our scientific and research work, and are making definite plans for considerable expenditure and are waiting for the moment when they can put them into operation. I feel with the hon. Member for Cardigan that nothing should be done to prevent these schemes being put into operation. There will be, the type of mind which will say, "We had better not start now as it will not be allowed, but if we wait until after the next Finance Act or the appointed day it will come under the concession when this will be allowed as a charge." I suggest, if there is no reason against it, that this concession might be made straight away so that there may be no delay whatever in carrying out the work necessary to catch up the leeway.
The second point with which I wish to deal is that mentioned by the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson)—the question of motor car taxation. I have been wrestling with this problem now for a great many years, and I would remind the Chancellor and the House that, when we talk about the difficulties of the British motor industry and competing overseas, we often concentrate on the incidence of the tax and overlook the amount. The reason our motor industry has been so 680 handicapped in competing overseas has largely been due to the heavy amount of the tax. As long as I have been connected with the industry, the rate of tax has been going up. When I first started motoring, we had to take out a carriage licence and that was all we paid, but since that day taxation has been steadily growing until there has been inflicted upon the motor trade, for the benefit of the nation at large, increased registration charges growing higher and higher, and increased petrol tax. The result to-day is that we have driven the British motor manufacturer to design a small car because he must keep down the cost to those who use it.
The best way in which the motor industry could be helped to compete overseas would be by reducing the amount of the taxation. Whether that can be done or not, I do not know. I am only saying that if we have this heavy taxation on the British motor car, it will affect its design, keep it small and. make it difficult for us to compete overseas. There is no mystery about it. I heard a very famous man from one of the Dominions talking about it the other day. He said that he had urged one of the leading British manufacturers to make a car to suit the market of his particular country. He said, "You never did, you let the Americans make a motor car to suit our market." It is quite false. The Americans never made a motor car to suit the Dominions market; it was made to suit America, and it was the surplus which sold overseas. With an output of between three and four million cars this surplus was more than the total volume of production of this country. Consequently, it is the motor car which we make for home which settles what we can make for export.
In his Budget speech the Chancellor said he would like interested parties to come along and present a concrete solution which he would consider. I am afraid it will be a very long time before we shall have complete agreement on this subject, because there are differing points of view. The people who purchase and drive private vehicles have a different point of view from those who run commercial vehicles and from those who run public service vehicles. The people who make the car itself have a different point of view probably from those who use them. So I would urge the Chancellor not to 681 expect unanimity on this, any more than he will on any of the subjects which we have discussed in this House. I would suggest that when the proper points are put before him he should take the proposals, look at them, and, when he can see that a reasonable scheme has been put forward which will dovetail into the general arrangements, that he does not wait for unanimity but uses his own judgment and that, whatever he does he reduces the overall taxation and then puts into operation a scheme which will be submitted to him to enable designers to make a vehicle larger in size and more readily sold overseas.
§ Sir Arnold Gridley (Stockport)
I would like first to reinforce in a word or two the plea made by the hon. Member for Edgbaston (Sir Peter Bennett) for greater elasticity in the way the Chancellor intends to apply the help he proposes to render to industry in the matter of research. We all welcome the fact that we may subscribe to research Organisations. That is a step forward but, during the war, a great many entirely novel developments have taken place. Many machines with devices which are almost Heath Robinson in character, shape and form, have been developed, and we have learned a great many new things which have proceeded to certain stages. By carrying that work forward another stage or two we may be able to create after the war new industries of some importance, just as after the last war what is now a very great industry in this country—wireless—was born. It may be necessary to spend a certain amount of money, perhaps on small building extensions and on additional plant, but we cannot proceed to do that unless we can justify to the Government Departments concerned an application for a licence. Therefore, if we can prove that a licence is necessary for the capital expenditure, why should we not be allowed to have the writing down now instead of having to wait till the appointed day?
I would like to refer to one statement made by the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards)—who I see is not in his place—about real wealth, which he put down as 100 per cent. labour. I would agree with that definition if, "labour" is used in a wide term. In the term "labour," I assume he would include the inventor who makes dis- 682 coveries, the man who invents new machine tools, the salesman who goes out overseas and sells those machine tools and provides work for labour in this country, the management in our factories over here—which is very often hard labour—and, of course, the operatives in the factories who work the machines. If by that he means labour, then I think few will be found to disagree with him.
There is one other point, not dealt with in the Finance Bill, to which I beg the Chancellor to turn his mind in the course of the current financial year. He has often said—and I am sure he says it most sincerely—that he is anxious to do everything he can to help industry to get back into its post-war condition as speedily as possible, and he has done much in his Budget to help those of us who are responsible for industrial employment. If, however, we are to compete with some other countries, I think the time has arrived—especially when taxation is at as high a figure as it is now, and high as it must remain for many years to come—when the question of double taxation requires serious attention. There are many reasons I could submit to the House in support of this request, but I intend only to take two or three minutes on my theme of employment and the importance of finding full employment, or full opportunity after the war, in accordance with the definition of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). If we are to compete with the countries where the conditions so far as double taxation is concerned do not exist or are easier than ours, then we have a formidable hurdle to get over, and we ought to remove that difficulty for the industrialists in this country.
I would only refer to one other point made by the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough, with which, no doubt, the Chancellor will deal, the question whether the Government are to have any advantage out of patents which may be the results of discoveries during the war and which may be sold. My experience is that the discoveries during the war have been very largely the result of the work done in the workshops of the country. Where they are likely to be helpful in creating new or modern machinery or other devices for the help of mankind after the war, I cannot conceive that the undertaking in whose works these discoveries have been 683 made would contemplate selling them. They will want to go on working them and making the device or machine in order to provide work for their workpeople. May I ask the Chancellor, who has done much to give "the mixture as before" and to put into it some tonic which will help us greatly to face the future with some confidence, to go one step further and see whether in research he can help us now, and as regards double taxation to consider what can be done between this Budget and the next?
§ Mr. Wakefield (Swindon)
The Chancellor in his Budget speech made a reference to important proposals of a helpful kind for research, and in the Finance Bill some of those proposals have been implemented. This assistance to research in order to help industry, to help our export trade and to provide employment, will not be fully implemented unless the help is carried right through to invention. The fruits of research are inventions, and they are produced by individuals. Inventions are the products of individual minds. I would like to draw the Chancellor's attention to the fact that inventors are not as favourably helped as they might be. I asked him a Question the other day in which I drew attention to the fact that an inventor was not allowed for Income Tax purposes to deduct from the royalties he receives any expenses incurred in the invention. The Chancellor gave a helpful and sympathetic reply, saying that he would look into it. I have studied the Finance Bill, and I do not see there anything which will overcome this difficulty. I am raising it now because I hope the Chancellor may find an opportunity of looking at it before the Committee stage, and, if necessary, bring in an Amendment which will provide this relief. Otherwise, the principle of full help and encouragement to research will not be implemented.
In another Question which I asked recently I drew attention to the fact that if an inventor made an invention which was used by the Government for national purposes, he did not receive a royalty. I did not feel that the answer which the Chancellor gave met the point I was trying to make. If an inventor at the beginning of the war made a valuable invention which has been used in the war, he receives nothing for it. When the war is over he may put his claim before a 684 commission, and if he is lucky and gets good counsel to state his case, he may get something. I suggest that he ought to be given a royalty while the invention is being used. If a doctor gives his brains and the country employs him he is paid. If a member of the legal profession gives his advice, he is paid for it. They do not have to wait until after the war until some commission examines their work. A coalminer is paid money for hewing coal. He does not have to wait until after the war to see whether he ought to be paid for it. I suggest, therefore, that an inventor ought to be given payment now for the use of his inventions during the war. Otherwise, how can he live? If a manufacturer in this country is working an enemy-owned patent, the Comptroller makes an order granting a royalty of 5 per cent. I suggest that at least the same assistance ought to be given to our own inventors.
I hope the Chancellor will reconsider the position of an individual who gets a lump sum payment for his invention. That sum is spread over three or four years and is considered as income and not as a capital payment. Surely, the inventor has provided a capital asset, and if he sells it why should it not be treated as capital? If he sells it to a firm to work it out, the firm depreciates it as it would an ordinary piece of machinery, working off the capital value over a period of years. Therefore, an inventor who sells a patent ought to be allowed to treat it as a capital asset. If he receives a royalty, then he should be charged Income Tax for it, but he should be given an allowance for expenses. I know that the Chancellor is sympathetic to research, and I suggest that every possible encouragement should be given to our inventors and their inventions. One of the important ways in which this country will be able to exist after the war is through its export trade, and particularly the export trade we can do in giving to the rest of the world the benefit of our brains. Every possible aid, therefore, should be given to those men who make inventions. Only in that way will the full fruits of the proposals which the Chancellor has suggested for the benefit of research be implemented.
§ Mr. Benson (Chesterfield)
There is one small point with which I would like to deal. It has been mentioned a num- 685 ber of times by the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. O. Evans) and others. It relates to the postponement of the concession with regard to scientific research. It is postponed until some future appointed day. It is quite obvious that this concession, as now drafted, makes it impossible for it to come into operation while E.P.T. is at the rate of 100 per cent. If the concession were given now any expenditure by a firm on the subscriptions to scientific societies, or on capital investment for scientific experimental purposes, would be borne Too per cent. by the Exchequer. Quite obviously, the Chancellor is not prepared to allow that. Therefore, it is quite impossible for him, as the Clause is now drafted, to introduce this concession so long as E.P.T. is zoo per cent. I suggest that some modification has to be made because E.P.T. may last a considerable time. I cannot conceive that it will be withdrawn, or seriously modified in its percentage, until the war is finally wound up in all its phases. But it may well be that the defeat of Germany will come a considerable time before the final end of the war, and with that defeat there will be an opportunity of loosening the very strict and rigid control on all forms of activity and expenditure which are not directed towards the production of munitions. Already, in the United States, they are releasing their new war metals for private purposes. The defeat of Germany should lead in this country to loosening of controls and a greater opportunity for scientific experiment, which will be vital and essential when the change-over to civilian industry takes place.
If I have read the Chancellor's mind aright, when E.P.T. goes and Income Tax will still be 10s. in the pound any capital expenditure on scientific research or any subscription to scientific societies will be borne half by the firm and half by the Exchequer. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman modifies his Clause so that we get the concession immediately, and that instead of it being 20 per cent., as it is in the case of amortization of capital expenditure, he should reduce it to 10 per cent. I suggest that money which has been spent on scientific research which is not capital should not be allowed to be set against E.P.T., but it should be set against Income Tax. I think the House would welcome that concession. I do not think Members would demand that the whole cost of capital expenditure on 686 research or scientific buildings or subscriptions to scientific bodies should be borne 100 per cent. by the Chancellor, but they would be perfectly agreeable if the concession applied to Income Tax only.
§ Sir G. Schuster
The hon. Member talks as if every business in this country was paying E.P.T. Does he realise that there are large sections of industry not paying it at all, the iron and steel industry, for instance?
§ Mr. Benson
I am perfectly well aware of that, but if the Chancellor makes a concession it applies to those companies which are paying E.P.T., whereas if he modified it, cut it by half of what it is at the present time, he would be able to apply it generally. It really would not affect the companies that are not paying because they would pay half and the Exchequer would pay the other half. All we ask is that this concession should not be delayed, that it should be made available for the peace-time change-over and not held up merely because there is the possibility that it might fall too heavily upon the Exchequer. If any protection could be introduced I am sure the House would welcome it.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Anderson)
We have had an interesting Debate, in the course of which some interesting speeches have been made, constituting a valuable contribution to knowledge and giving, here and there, important warnings as to what may lie ahead in the still uncertain future. I would like to deal first with the observations of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence), who sketched out, in a way which I, personally, found most interesting and—if I may say so—valuable, a general picture of the position in which we are likely to find ourselves when the war with Germany comes to an end. He truly said that it is too early to attempt a complete, detailed estimate of our financial position on both sides of the account, but he expressed the hope that I should be able to give him certain assurances. He wished to be assured that the Treasury were getting ready for the situation which is likely to arise at the end of the war with Germany, and during the transitional period. I can very readily give him that assurance. There are many questions affecting the 687 future of controls, and the steps which it will be necessary to take in order to maintain, so far as possible, a steady level of prices, to guard against inflation, of which, as I have said more than once, the risk will be greater when the automatic restraints imposed by the war are relaxed. These, and other matters, we are constantly studying and preparing.
I think I have previously mentioned that the whole code of emergency legislation which, of course, includes many important provisions affecting our financial and economic arrangements, has for some time been under close scrutiny, close technical examination, with a view to seeing what provision can be dropped, what provisions might be continued with modification and what must be substantially continued as they are now in order to maintain stable conditions after the end of the war with Germany. I hope that just as we profited by the mistakes and lessons of the last war in the arrangements that we have made for this war, so we shall profit by the mistakes and the lessons learned after the last war and at the beginning of the peace in the arrangements we make for the immediate postwar period.
My right hon. Friend referred to what he called some pathetic illusions that are widely prevalent among people as to what may happen after the war. It is, I agree with him, most important that we shall all collaborate in destroying such illusions, because people must approach the difficult conditions after the war with a sense of reality. I fully agree with the right hon. Gentleman that, while the public would like to have a rosy picture painted, they do not want it unless it is a real picture, and the real picture cannot be very rosy. On the other hand, as he said, there is no reason for taking a pessimistic view of our future. I agree with him that we shall not be a poor country after the war, if we use our resources as they ought to be used. The effects of the war on our economy will be apparent much more in the region of distribution than of production. Productive efficiency should not be very seriously affected over a long period of time, and actual technical efficiency is the most important single factor in the productive capacity of the country. Priorities, high and low, will, of course, have to be part of the Government's 688 policy and administration after the war to almost the same extent as during the war.
I do not know that there is in fact very much in the picture that the right hon. Gentleman sketched with which I should wish to disagree. He wound up his summary by saying that, quite obviously, the public must look forward to a period of heavy taxation. I have myself, more than once, said very much the same thing. On the other hand, I think the public, who have borne great hardships without complaint, are entitled to some little hope of relief. We have to realise that there will be a period of heavy expense after the war. There will be a period during which the gap between taxation revenue and expenditure will still be considerable. It must be our aim to narrow that gap as speedily as possible. We must maintain a high level of tax revenue. We can only do that by maintaining the balance between direct and indirect taxation. We can only maintain the productivity of direct taxation by keeping the wide sweep which it now has.
Every citizen is interested in direct taxation, as well as indirect, and everyone will heave a sigh of relief when it is possible to make some mitigation of the present burden. I do not quite agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) when he says he does not care how high the rate of taxation is on the individual. We have to maintain a healthy and happy community, and I think it would not perhaps be rash of me to express the opinion that a material reduction in taxation within a reasonable period of time would be universally regarded as a desirable objective of policy. [Interruption.] The House is in agreement with me and does not think that I have been rash in my presentation of the position as I see it.
Before I deal with the matters which have been under discussion affecting the proposals foreshadowed in the Budget, with regard to the burden of taxation on industry, there are several matters of detail on which I should like to comment. My hon. Friends the Members for Streatham (Mr. Robertson) and Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett) referred in particular to motor taxation and the horse-power tax. I think they were disposed to criticise to some extent what I said in my Budget speech when I pointed out that 689 I had sought for a substantial measure of agreement as to the policy which should be pursued in regard to the taxation of the motor industry and had found a rather disappointing divergence of view. I made it perfectly clear that in present circumstances I cannot possibly forgo any substantial amount of tax revenue from whatever source, but I indicated—and I adhere to my position—that I should be glad to consider any plan for an adjustment of the incidence of motor taxation which did not involve any considerable sacrifice of revenue if I could be satisfied that the effect would be likely to encourage our export trade in motor cars. My hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston seemed to me to some extent to beg the question, but I think he recognised that what determines our capacity to export is the form which the demands of our home market for a particular product, such as motor cars, may take, and I thought he assumed—this is where I think he begged the question—that motor taxation in the form in which it exists in this country was the most potent factor operating in that regard.
On the other hand, it has been represented to me that home conditions—the state of our roads, our gradients, public taste and so on—are just as potent. I have been given to understand that in the view of certain people who have studied these matters in their technical aspects a reduction in the rate of, taxation on higher horse power cars might not necessarily have any effect at all in increasing the export market for those cars. [An HON. MEMBER: "The left hand drive."] That is a point, too. It has been represented to me that such a change would simply mean that the demand for foreign manufactured cars of those horse powers, on which the tax had been reduced, would be stimulated and that, as far as the export trade is concerned, we should be no better off. I am in a difficulty when I find a sharp divergence of opinion amongst those who may be entitled to be regarded as experts. I do not look, as my hon. Friend suggested, for unanimity of opinion in the matter and, if I can find a substantial body of opinion in favour of any particular change, I shall be very glad indeed to consider it.
I am well aware of the hardship to which my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham referred, in the case of people who maintain motor cars for some par- 690 ticular domestic purpose and are allowed only a very small quantity of petrol each month or each quarter. I have considered very carefully whether there was anything that I could do to lighten the burden of taxation which, as my hon. Friend pointed out, is certainly very heavy in those cases; but I fear that any change which would not be administratively most difficult to give effect to would involve too great a loss of revenue for me to be able to consider it in present circumstances.
§ Sir J. Anderson
That is so, there is reduction in insurance. There is also the fact that, even though the use actually made of the car may be small and the weight of the taxation converted into shillings per gallon may be very heavy, nevertheless, in many cases, the possession of a car constantly ready for use in any emergency is a very great boon, as many of us must be very well aware.
Clause 32 of the Bill was commented upon by a number of speakers. I gather that that is the only part of the Bill which might be regarded as, to any considerable extent, controversial. I do not think it would be profitable for me to take up time to discuss the matter in any detail, particularly as an opportunity will occur later. I would only say that the Clause has not been framed, as one hon. Member suggested, merely to save officers of the Revenue a certain amount of trouble in. separating the sheep from the goats. It has been framed for the purpose which my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh defined, in order to catch people who resort to practices which we would all regard as discreditable. That is the purpose of the Clause, and if it can be improved in any way in Committee I shall certainly be ready to consider any suggestions.
Now I would say a word about the question of patents to which the hon. Members for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards), Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) and Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) and others referred. As a matter of fact, I dealt with the question in my Budget speech. I said that it was proposed—there is nothing in the Finance Bill on the subject—in later legislation to deal with patents, in 691 common with other wasting assets, and inasmuch as it was proposed to make an allowance for taxation purposes in respect of the gradual depreciation of the value of patents, the money received where a patent was sold would be treated as income and spread over a reasonable period. That is inevitable, I think, and this must be my answer to the hon. Member for Swindon. We must look at the thing as a whole. If certain treatment is given to patents for Income Tax purposes in one respect, corresponding treatment must be given in other respects.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon spoke of the reward to inventors. I am not aware of anything in present arrangements to prevent payment of a royalty to any inventor though, as a matter of fact, it is a conspicuous feature of research work and inventions during the war, that in a very large number of cases the discovery which is of value is found to be the result of the collaboration of a considerable number of workers, some working outside, some working for the Government, and so on. It is, probably, inevitable that the question of a suitable reward for important inventions should be reserved to be adjudicated upon at leisure, when everyone concerned is less fully occupied with the actual conduct of the war.
Now one word about double taxation, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall and my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport referred. As between the Dominions and this country, as hon. Members are aware, there have been in force for a very long time arrangements for double taxation relief, but, as between foreign countries and this country, there have not been, with certain exceptions, any proper arrangements. I fully realise the great importance of this matter and the importance it will have after the war. Hon. Members who may not be aware of the fact may like to know that discussions have for some little time been proceeding between technical representatives of the United States and our own people at Somerset House, and I believe that an arrangement will result, possibly an arrangement on somewhat different lines from those obtaining in the case of Dominions Income Tax relief.
Perhaps I may now pass to say a few words on a topic which was raised in the 692 speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), which he has raised with me more than once and in regard to which, I think, he has hitherto considered my remarks somewhat inadequate. I refer to the question of new money. The hon. Gentleman has not been able to understand why the Treasury has found it difficult, if not impossible, to give any estimate of what might properly be regarded as new money. The fact is that no accurate estimate can be made. New money takes different forms. We have the increase in the fiduciary note issue, which, over the course of the war, has amounted to a substantial sum. Only the other day, £50,000,000 were added to it, and, as I informed the House, that is, undoubtedly, a form of new money.
Then there is all the new bank money; but I cannot tell, and nobody can tell, to what extent bank money that appears to be new is, in fact, new. I do not know what other transactions may have taken place in the conversion of existing assets, and I could not therefore, as I have told the hon. Gentleman more than once—without, I am afraid, completely convincing him—give a figure. The point I want to make is that if I could give a figure it would have, in my view, no practical significance whatsoever. The purpose of new money is merely to keep the wheels of our expanding economy running smoothly. We have to ensure that no new money is created to an extent greater than is necessary for that purpose. We have to keep two objects quite clearly in view. One is that excessive purchasing power is not allowed to exercise an impact on limited goods and services, and we must ensure, using to the full the technique that has been developed in Budget White Papers, that purchasing power, which is created in the course of the war for expanding production, is mopped up, so far as it is not required to finance the necessary services, in taxation and in saving. That is one important purpose we have to keep in view. The other is obviously that we ought not to pay to the banks for the accommodation they provide more than a reasonable remuneration. That purpose also I believe is secured under the arrangements which are in force.
§ Mr. Stokes
Will the Chancellor tell me what happens when the banks convert 693 Treasury deposit receipts into long-term loans?
§ Sir J. Anderson
I was going to deal with the position of the banks because that is a matter to which the hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) devoted some attention in a speech he made the other day on, I think, the Second Reading of the National Loans Bill. My hon. Friend spoke at some length on the cost to the Treasury of borrowing from the banks. He suggested, I think, that we were paying about £53,000,000 more each year than we were before the war.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The simple matter was the payment of one per cent. additional to what we were paying before the war.
§ Sir J. Anderson
The hon. Member brought it up and suggested it was enabling the banks to pile up excess profits in the form of big reserves which, somehow or other, escaped the vigilance of the Board of Inland Revenue. I hope to assure him on that. I speak on the matter now, because I think the Financial Secretary gave some undertaking that either he or I would take an early opportunity to deal with it. I have dealt briefly with the argument about new money, but perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to come now to his suggestions as to the build-up of the payments to the banks to which he referred. First, he suggested—I hope that I am not misrepresenting him at all—that as the total of Treasury bills and Ways and Means advances had increased during the war, by some 2,000,000,000—that was the figure he gave; the actual figure is rather more, about £2,460,000,000—and as the banks had one per cent. on that figure, that accounted for £20,000,000 a year. But actually the additional bills and advances are not held by the banks at all. The clearing banks held £50,000,000 less of Treasury bills last month than they did before the war, and, instead of increasing their income from that source by £20,000,000, their income is about £500,000 down. The Treasury estimate is that the additional gross earnings of the banks on those assets, which are represented by loans to the Treasury, are something like half the figure suggested by my hon. Friend.
But that is not the whole story. There is another side to the picture, because 694 while other assets of the banks have been increasing, bank advances have declined, and on those advances which they still make, the average rate of interest is lower than it was before the war. Moreover, the great increase in deposit liabilities means that larger outgoings in interest are paid by the banks to depositors. What happens is that State expenditure has to be financed. Money issues from the Exchequer. It finds its way quickly through the accounts of contractors and others back into the hands of the banks again, in the forms of deposits in respect of which advances take place. Interest may have to be paid. The banks have to be remunerated for their services. They lend the money back to the Government, and it is only reasonable and proper that a fair rate of interest should be paid, for example, when lending takes the form of what are called Treasury deposit receipts. The result of the whole transaction is that the banks' profits have not, in fact, increased during the war to such an extent as would render them liable to pay any Excess Profits Tax. I believe that to be the position over the whole field. That is certainly not due to any failure on the part of the Board of Inland Revenue to detect profits that ought to be brought into account.
§ Mr. Stokes
May I ask the Chancellor whether he thinks it right that the banks should have the power to convert these Treasury deposit receipts into long-term loans? They are creating new money by these receipts, and then converting them into long-term loans. Why should they be entitled to do that?
§ Sir J. Anderson
It is a matter which the Treasury have to keep constantly in view, that the banks should not receive any unreasonable remuneration in respect of the loans which they make to the Government. The point of my argument is that, so far at any rate, the banks have not been remunerated excessively for the services they have, in fact, rendered.
§ Mr. A. Edwards
Is it possible for the Chancellor to give us the figures? He says it is not enough for them to pay Excess Profits Tax. Could he not give us the figures of the earnings? Surely he has them? Is it a fact that, by this conversion process, the interest charges are increased from 1⅛ per cent, to 2½ per cent.? What is the reason for that?
§ Mr. Loftus (Lowestoft)
Is it not a fact that the late Mr. McKenna said that the cost to the banks of servicing the new deposits, to which the Chancellor has referred, was 1⅛ per cent.? Why pay 2½ or 3 per cent.?
§ Sir J. Anderson
I do not think that the rate which is paid on these new deposits is more than 1⅛ per cent.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I am not in a position to say to what extent these deposits may, eventually, be converted into long-term loans. I was dealing with the short-term loans, and I was concerned to make it clear that the Treasury have a vigilant eye always directed on these transactions, in order to make sure that excessive remuneration is not paid. I have not the total figures asked for before me at the moment, but they can be got from the balance sheets of the banks. The fact that the banks have not paid Excess Profits Tax when, in fact, they are liable to the same 100 per cent. duty as other concerns, is itself evidence that they have not been making excess profits
§ Mr. Woodburn
In dealing with Treasury bills, the Chancellor pointed out that, so far as the clearing banks were concerned, they had £50, 000,000 less than before the war. He is not disputing that, so far as the Treasury is concerned, the total was £1,000,000,000 before the war, and is £3,000,000,000, an increase of £2,000,000,000, and therefore the cost is £2,000,000 extra, compared with prewar. While he says that the clearing banks do not receive that, can he tell us to which sources Treasury bill income is paid?
§ Sir J. Anderson
I was dealing with the position of the clearing banks. If the hon. Member desires further information, perhaps he will put a Question down, and I will try to give him an answer. I am concerned with the methods employed in financing the war, and in giving him an answer to the points he raised in Debate the other day, and I think that I have succeeded in doing so.
§ Mr. Stokes
Let us have this point clear. I have asked again and again. The Chancellor says that he does not know what the banks have done with these Treasury deposits. Surely he has told me at 696 Question time that, by a certain date, which I forget at the moment, the banks have converted something of the order of £750,000,000 into long-term loans?
§ Sir Herbert Holdsworth (Bradford, South)
Is it not in the public interest that there should be longer term loans; and is it not because of that that the higher rate is being paid?
§ Sir J. Anderson
I was dealing with the general mechanism of war finance, and it is not always easy to bring out all the points clearly in the course of a necessarily short speech.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I do not want to take up the time of the House unduly. My hon. Friend has urged that shorter-term borrowings should be converted into longer-term borrowings; and, whatever rate of interest is paid, there should not be discrimination as between one lender and another. We should get into great confusion if we did that. Hon. Members must agree that, as compared with any previous experience, the financing of this war has been conducted on very economical lines—one might say, conservative lines. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)
It would be better, I think, if the Chancellor were allowed to continue, without being interrupted by hon. Members who have already spoken.
§ Mr. Stokes
The Chancellor answered the point raised by the hon. Member for South Bradford (Sir H. Holdsworth), which was put as a red herring across my track.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I think the, hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) is an expert on red herrings.
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Surely, when a matter which is exempted Business is before the House, and when we are not tied for time in any way, it is desirable, if a point has been raised in Debate, that it should be cleared up.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Exactly. That is why I suggested that the Chancellor should be allowed to speak.
§ Mr. Stokes
Can I put my point to the Chancellor? It is quite short. The Chancellor has admitted to me, at Question Time, that the Treasury have borrowed 697 from the banks on Treasury deposit receipts, and that they have converted £750,000,000 of those Treasury deposit receipts into long-term loan. What he has said, virtually, is that they have created £750,000,000 of new money, which he has borrowed, and then he has allowed them to convert that into long-term loan. Who benefits?
§ Sir J. Anderson
What my hon. Friend has failed to take into account is that the banks, like everybody else, have only a certain amount of resources which they can put at the disposal of the Government on long-term. When the Government borrow, they must pay a reasonable rate, and they are not entitled to discriminate between one lender and another. I really think that I have given the House a fair explanation. I cannot understand why my hon. Friend should be at all annoyed, because one thing seems to me to be perfectly evident, that is, that what I have said will provide him with a rich mine, in which he can operate for quite a long time to come, putting further Questions on the Paper. My desire is to give information and enlightenment, so far as I can, but we must proceed by stages.
May I pause for one moment, to give my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) an answer to a question which he put, about the sterling area? He was a little doubtful, I think, what exactly was meant by the sterling area.
§ Sir J. Anderson
Sterling is the currency in use in this country. That is all that sterling means. It is the currency of this country—pounds, shillings and pence.
§ Mr. Tinker
Will the right hon. Gentleman just give the definition ? He says "pounds sterling," but what does it actually mean? I do not know.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I believe there is some controversy as to the actual origin of the word "sterling." When I was young and studied economic history, as I did at one period of my life, I was told that there were people who came from somewhere in the East and were called Easterlings, and the currency in which they dealt came to be called sterling. "Sterling" came into use, both as an adjective and as a noun, to represent something on which everyone could place full reliance. That 698 is the best description I can give of sterling. Regarding the sterling area, if my hon. Friend will look at Statutory Rules and Orders No. 129 of this year, the Order dated 8th February, 1944, of which I shall be glad to send him a copy, he will find there a definition of the sterling area. He will see exactly what national units are included in the sterling area.
Now I pass on to a very important matter of debate concerning research and the provision that we propose to make, though not in this Bill, for dealing with the impact of taxation upon industry. Let me first make this general observation—that my Budget speech was not designed merely to put forward certain concrete suggestions for dealing with taxation. It was designed to express an attitude of mind towards the taxation of industry, and that attitude of mind will persist in our further examination of these proposals.
As to research, on which a large number of hon. Members have expressed regret that the provision contained in the Bill on the subject of taxation and research is, what I might call a delayed-action provision, I do not think that full account has been taken of the effect of the proposals in the Bill as they will work out in practice, and I propose to offer the House a word of explanation on that point. But may I say this first? I do not think I could agree to any provisions which enabled firms to claim relief merely in respect of funds set aside or reserved, either for research or for industrial development. It is a vital part of my proposals that the relief to be given should apply when the money is actually used, either for research or for replacement of equipment, or new buildings, or whatever it may be. I fear that, if I were to propose to put these provisions into force immediately, I should at once have demands, perfectly reasonable in the circumstances, that money immediately set aside for expenditure later on, should attract the relief which this Clause is intended to give. But, when I have said that, I have not told the whole story. I do not contemplate that firms that have the opportunity of incurring expenditure on research now, rather than waiting until the appointed day, should be denied all benefits from these provisions.
The Federation of British Industries have been to the Board of Inland Revenue 699 discussing these matters, and this is the claim they have made: first, that it would be an injustice that taxpayers incurring research expenditure now should be treated less favourably than those incurring the expenditure after the war, that is, actually incurring the expenditure; and, secondly, they have represented that because of the treatment which it is proposed to give to research in this Bill there might be an inducement to taxpayers to postpone expenditure on research which can be incurred now until a later date. The Board of Inland Revenue and I felt that there was weight in their representations made on those points, and we contemplate that, as from the appointed day, the expenditure already incurred should qualify for relief. It may have been written off under existing provisions, and I will say a word in a moment about the existing provision, with particular reference to Excess Profits Tax. But when the appointed day comes, the outstanding part of that expenditure will qualify to be written off, as if it was expenditure incurred after the appointed day. If it is capital expenditure, it will be written off within a period of five years and we shall take steps to make that point clear.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson) raised a very important point in regard to Excess Profits Tax and the effect of Excess Profits Tax on expenditure on research, and a similar point will arise later in regard to the expenditure on re-equipment. I think that my hon. Friend overlooked certain important facts. The position is that under the existing law, for purposes both of Income Tax and of Excess Profits Tax, expenditure on buildings incurred for purposes of the war is entitled to be written down by a special allowance for depreciation to the residual value at the end of the war. These provisions will apply, as I have said, for purposes of the Income Tax and of Excess Profits Tax to capital expenditure on buildings in general, and, of course, will apply to capital expenditure on buildings and equipment intended for research. Then, at the appointed day, when the new provision for relief in respect of expenditure on research comes into operation, any residual expenditure will, as I have just explained, be treated as if it were expenditure incurred for the first time after the appointed day. This 700 is a very complete answer to the point that has been made and should give reassurance to those contemplating incurring expenditure on research in the immediate future. That can only occur to a limited extent, except in so far as the Government are directly concerned with research and give special facilities and special priorities for it. Now let me come to the important question of—
§ Sir J. Anderson
On land values, I have only this to say, that despite all the gibes that have been directed at the Government, a great deal of work has been done on the whole problem. A very difficult problem, indeed, it has proved to be, and the Government will put their views before the House of Commons at the earliest practicable date. Then there will be the fullest opportunity, and I have no doubt a very general desire, to debate the whole matter at considerable length. That is all I can say on that.
Let me come to the question on which my hon. friend the Member for Walsall spoke at considerable length early in today's Debate. He made a strong plea, with which I personally have very great sympathy, that in the discussions which are already taking place for the purpose of implementing the proposals included in my Budget Statement, although they found no place in the Finance Bill, the widest possible latitude should be allowed. I have already said—and what I said applies to both what I am now discussing and to research—that I could not agree to any plan which exempted from taxation money which is set aside, which is merely earmarked, for research or development, but which at the time when relief is claimed has not actually been applied in beneficial expenditure. I use the term to cover everything that we now have under consideration. Subject to that, however, I will certainly give the fullest consideration to any practical suggestion that may be made to the Board of Inland Revenue or to me.
The question of timing has been stressed by more than one speaker. I thought that in the plans which I outlined, with the provision for an initial payment, then for a depreciation allowance of varying rates and, finally, for a payment in respect of obsolescence when the plant or the building have to be 701 scrapped, I had put forward a plan which reasonably met the requirements of timing. However, it may be that there are other ways of achieving the purpose we had in view; it may be that there is something to be said about the rate of depreciation proposed in the case of buildings. I am perfectly prepared to look at all that, because, as I made clear in my Budget Statement, there is a great deal of work still to be done, before these novel proposals can be passed in a form entirely suitable for embodiment in legislation. I have not provided—as I made clear in my Budget Speech—for these matters in this Bill; on the other hand, I hope to be able to introduce legislation on this subject before the next ordinary Finance Bill, later in the year. I cannot make a definite promise, because I do not know how Parliamentary time will become available or, indeed, what the circumstances may be, but certainly that will be my aim—to have the whole of this important matter incorporated in a special Finance Bill to be introduced, as a suitable opportunity, before the next Budget Debate. I really do not know that there is anything more I need say, over and above the assurance that I have given to my hon. Friend.
The point about obsolescence of buildings is a matter about which there should be no doubt. Although I recognise that I did not refer to the point specifically in my Budget Speech, I rather left it to be understood when I said that there would be, for the first time, a depreciation allowance on buildings, that if the buildings were scrapped before they had been entirely written off, the outstanding balance would be allowed as a set-off against profits. I am glad that my hon. Friend has given me the opportunity, by calling attention to the point, to remove the matter entirely from all possibility of doubt.
I have referred incidentally to the question of Excess Profits Tax. This is a matter to which, apart from what my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield said in connection with research, no reference has been made, either in the discussions on the Budget Resolutions or in the Debate to-day. There is a close connection between assessment for Income Tax, and assessment for Excess Profits Tax, and we shall have to decide at the time for implementing these arrangements, exactly how such expenditure we 702 have in mind should be treated for Excess Profits Tax. I shall be ready with proposals under that head when the time comes.
§ Major Procter
Could the right hon. Gentleman deal with the point I raised, whether his Department will go forward in trying to bring small businesses into the Pay-as-you-earn scheme?
§ Sir J. Anderson
I made it clear when we were debating Pay-as-you-earn that, in principle, I was in favour of arranging our taxation system, as far as practicable, so as to ensure payment being made on current earnings and up to date. There is, however, a substantial difference between income under Schedule D and income under Schedule E. In the case of Schedule E income, we are concerned with employment. The rate of remuneration is normally known in advance. There are normally no expenses to be set against it. In the case of Schedule D, there is normally no employer and no single paymaster. There is normally a large number of paymasters. The amount of income is normally uncertain until after the event, and there are normally expenses, also uncertain in amount, to be set against the income. There are thus substantial differences for this purpose, between Schedule E Income Tax and Schedule D Income Tax. While it might be suggested that there is a limited field of Schedule D taxation to which the principle of Pay-as-you-earn could be applied, I am very doubtful whether we shall succeed, at any early date, in solving the practical difficulties that stand in the way of the application of the principle to Schedule D.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I am always considering all sorts of things. I have indicated that if I could find a practical solution to this question, no one would be better pleased than me.
§ Mr. Colegate (The Wrekin)
I shall not inflict on the House the speech I tried to make in the Budget Debate and which I have been trying to make to-day. I will confine myself to three short points which I think are rather important. I should like to refer to the currency agreement and to bring home to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that there is a great 703 body of opinion which does not agree with the idea that the currency agreement should come late in the Government's plans for post-war economic restoration. I cannot think that some of the views we heard in the Debate the other day would seriously commend themselves to any who have knowledge of foreign exchange or foreign trade. The idea that this Empire can exist on one or two bilateral agreements, on one or two bulk purchase agreements and other things dear to the heart of Dr. Schacht, is most dangerous. If we are to re-establish and improve our great international trade—and it is suggested by the Government that we need to increase it by at least 50 per cent.—then we must have, as a firm foundation on which to build, an agreement, first, with America on exchange matters, and then we must see that as many countries as we can persuade come into that agreement. Only in that way shall we get that great volume of international trade which is within our grasp, if sound economic principles are adopted by the Government.
If I understand the position correctly, I believe there is to be another Bill later, with regard to the new advantages to be given in connection with depreciation in industry, and especially in agriculture. I would like to put in a plea for reconsideration of the position as regards allowances to agriculture. May I remind the Financial Secretary that the new capital expenditure which agriculture is being asked to make dates from April, 1943? That is the date of the commencement of the Minister of Agriculture's four year plan. Farmers and owners have been pressed, and are being pressed now, to incur new capital expenditure without waiting for this new legislation. As you transfer from grazing to other forms of agriculture new buildings and so forth are required and special licences are now being given by war agricultural committees. A large part of the value of the concession offered to agriculture would be completely invalid, if it were offered only after three or four years' capital expenditure, which had been incurred at the request of the Government from April, 1943.
§ Mr. Assheton
Expenditure which has been incurred in this period will certainly 704 come into these depreciation allowances, so far as I understand the position.
§ Mr. Colegate
I thank the Financial Secretary; that is very helpful. I presume that there will be a Clause to that effect in the new legislation which we have been promised. I hope that the officials of the Ministry of Agriculture will co-ordinate their remarks with the policy outlined by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They are constantly referring to the advantages and inducements which are to be given to get new capital expenditure into the agricultural industry and I am not certain that that is fully understood by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Let me give the case of Death Duties on agricultural property. Here you have the extraordinary spectacle of the Ministry wanting you to put more money into agricultural property, if you are the owner. They want greatly improved buildings and capital equipment. But unless you are a young man, and have a long expectation of life, this will not be advantageous to your heirs. This matter should be reconsidered. I do not ask for a public inquiry or Select Committee but if a Departmental Committee could be set up I think it would be of great advantage. The Financial Secretary knows that we have had a Departmental Committee on Depreciation, before which some of us gave evidence. It has been very helpful, and I believe we could overcome a number of these anomalies with regard to Death Duties if the matter was considered by such a Committee.
I would like to give the case of one of the most striking and ridiculous anomalies I have seen, namely, that which arises in connection with Death Duties on the estates of those killed in action. There is, apparently, a very reasonable arrangement that, in the case of people killed in action, for the first £5,000 no Death Duty at all is levied, and after that the amount levied is substantially reduced, in accordance with a formula which depends on the expectation of life of the person killed. For example, if a young man of 30 is killed in action, with an estate worth £100,000, the duty would be approximately £25,000. There is a very substantial reduction owing to his comparatively long expectation of life and the sum paid might be as low as £3,000 or £4,000. So far so good, but here is the anomaly. If the person killed in action 705 has not attained commissioned rank, no Death Duty whatever is payable. Imagine the plots made available for playwrights and novelists. Imagine a widow being turned out of her home by reason of heavy Death Duties. At the last moment, a messenger comes with good news. "Your husband misbehaved himself and was reduced to the ranks the day before he was killed, and under the law of England not a single pound of Death Duty is payable." Is that logical? Is it reasonable? Can you possibly defend it? If a millionaire who is killed in action, has got no further than lance-sergeant, no Death Duties are payable. That is an anomaly for which there can be no possible justification and it contradicts every one of Adam Smith's canons of taxation. I feel justified in asking my right hon. Friend to have a Departmental Committee to inquire into the effect of Death Duties in certain cases, particularly with regard to remedying anomalies of the kind that I have mentioned.
I think the time has come to give up calling rearrangements of taxation concessions. The Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day, is more than a half partner in every trade, industry and occupation in the country. He is the biggest "bookie" in England, and the biggest stockbroker, as well as the senior partner in industry. He gets more than 50 per cent. on every so-called concession he makes, which is more a concession to himself than to the industrialist, the farmer or the other junior partner. He employs the junior partner to do his work, take part of the profits, and take all the losses, which he himself does not take. In all this legislation and these new Regulations, of which we must have more, because we have to make industry more productive, we have to be certain that we allow larger sums to be dumped back into industry. The Chancellor might think of it as a concession to some person or other, but he himself, as representing the Treasury, derives more benefit from it than the junior partner, the actual farmer or industrialist concerned.
§ Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)
I do not want to follow previous speakers in considering the effects of the Bill on industry; nor do I wish to venture to-day into the future financial position of our country, as has been done by many speakers in the Debate. I feel that the 706 ultimate end in all these matters is the happiness of the individual and that through a Finance Bill the people of this country will either feel the pinch or not, as the case may be. I learnt when I was young that if at first I did not succeed I had to try, try, try again, and that constant drops of water on a rock would sometimes wear it away. So I notice that the Chancellor has not put any provision into the Bill to give relief to that very hard-pressed section of the community—the elderly small rentier. I speak in all seriousness, because since I raised the matter on the Report stage of the Budget proposals I have received a large number of letters from all over the country, testifying to the crushing burden of the financial provisions for the war and the Budgets that have been imposed during the war on a small and pitiful section of the community, for whom I fear, few ever speak in this House. They are the persons possessing an unearned income of about £200 to £300 a year. They are mostly over 60 years of age and are often infirm. Very little indeed has been done for these people, neither, I repeat, do we hear anyone plead their cause.
I believe that some provision was made in an earlier Finance Act during the war to help people in reduced circumstances. I believe it was in one of the first Finance Measures of the war. In his reply, on the Report stage of the Budget proposals, the Chancellor of the Exchequer followed the note that he struck during the Budget Debate. He read a homily—I say it very respectfully—to myself and others for advocating relief of taxation for these people at this particular time. He warned us of the danger of an inflationary position, of the possibility of a rise in the cost of living and how subsidies could not be continuously increased, and, in other words, told us that we might get a breakdown of the "home front" structure, unless we took every care that relief should not be granted in this and that direction. I assure the Chancellor that we are not in need of any homily of that kind. On the contrary, many of us, even two years ago, read the same homily to the Government and to the Treasury, and although I believe the Treasury fully understood the state of affairs at that time, they took no steps in the matter. So, although we plead for these people, we understand fully the implications of the statement which the Chancellor has made.
707 I have brought here a speech made by myself. I have done so because I never thought I was imbued with the spirit of prophecy. It was made on 9th September, 1942. As I am making a plea I have made so many times before, I think I should show the Chancellor that I am fully aware of the circumstances he referred to, and that I make this plea in spite of these circumstances. I remember saying then:The Chancellor of the Exchequer has subsidised food in order to stabilise food prices. A short time ago the subsidy reached the tune of £100,000,000, and at present it is, I believe, in the region of £127,000,000. Very shortly it will, no doubt, be further increased.And further,I am drawing attention again to this matter because constant increase of wages may have an inflationary effect which may lead to disaster for all, especially for the workers and small rentiers who have worked hard all their lives and saved for their old age, thereby sparing the country the expense of keeping them.I also said:eventually the Chancellor will be forced to increase prices themselves, with the resulting claim for higher wages. The climb up the vicious spiral will begin with all its disastrous consequences.I will add this too if I may:In 1940, the Deputy Prime Minister brought in the Emergency Powers Act, which definitely gave the Minister of Labour power to regulate wages. The Act itself says, 'prescribe the terms of remuneration.' The present Minister of Labour has taken no steps in that direction"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th September, 1942; Vol. 383, C. 228–9.]The rest of my speech was directed at the same sort of thing.
We cannot alter things now. "Prices will rise," says the Chancellor. "We have to take every care that we do not help anyone"—but the plea I have, quoted was made by me to the Government nearly two years ago. I still repeat my plea on behalf of the small rentier. I will not pursue that speech any further, as it became more damning to the Treasury as I went along. I would like to point out, however, in all seriousness, that these people are a very fine section of our community. One of the principles that I believe all three Chancellors have laid down in successive Budgets is that taxation must have regard to the commitments of people, the commitments of the individual on whom the taxation falls. Little regard has ever been had to the commitments of these people who, had 708 there been no war, would have gone happily along towards the end of their days, just being able to make both ends meet, able to obtain just the necessities of life, and to live quietly to the end. But these commitments have never been considered by the Chancellor in regard to these people.
The cost of living has increased by 30 points. They have had no increase of their unearned income. Very often their money is invested in two or three small houses for which they have worked all their lives. They are faced not only with the Rent Restrictions Act but War Damage payment, cost of repairs and so on. In addition to that, taxation has increased, the free allowance has decreased from £100 to £80 in the case of single people. Taxation falls on them at the rate of 6s. 6d. in the £. I could go on enumerating their difficulties. I could say indeed a score of other things about them. Many cases and letters have been sent to me giving instances of people being unable even to get proper medical care, unable to get new clothes, unable to get the necessities of life. I know one lady who had not been able to buy anything new for about three years, owing to the effect of taxation and this complete disregard on the part of the Government. Many of them have had to move from the houses where they have brought up their families and lived for years, and are living in the back rooms of towns amongst strangers. Even husbands and wives have had to separate. There is no consideration for these particular people. Why should such a desirable part of the community be crushed?
I come to another point. Their income has always been regarded, technically, as unearned income; but never was income earned so hardly. It was earned by their striving and hard work in the earlier part of their lives, by their self-denial and their sacrifice, and by their endeavour to spare the country the burden of keeping them in their old age. Technically, I say, it may be called unearned income; but if ever there was income which was entitled to some relief, income which was truly earned, it is the income of those people. We are constantly hearing pleas in this House on behalf of pensioners. Often I have supported them. My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) has pleaded their cause. I am 709 sure he will have sympathy with these people too, people who have always stood on their own feet. I will not pursue this question any further. I will not burden the House with any details; but I hope to put down an Amendment on the Committee stage, and I trust that the Chairman of Ways and Means will be good enough to call it. Then, perhaps, I can go, in a little more detail, into the cause which I have now pressed for two or three years, and to which the Treasury have been completely deaf. I am sorry to have detained the House: it was not my fault; but is my earnest wish that this cause should be heard.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)
I apologise for detaining the House. I listened with interest to the speech of the Chancellor, and to his statement on some remarks that I made some time ago. I accept his statement that, so far as he has been able to find out, the banks are not making excess profits, and that they have no hidden profits; but I gather, from the fact that he has made no comment on it, that he does not challenge the statement that this country is now paying about £20,000,000 more on Treasury bills than it was paying before the war, and about £14,000,000 on Treasury Deposit Receipts plus the £12,000,000 that has been converted into long-term loans. I could have replied further to some of my own points, but that was not my business. I recognise that part of the money which is being paid on Treasury Deposit Receipts is not bank money, but goes to customers of the banks, to the extent that the banks have paid their customers 1 per cent. on their deposits. But all the customers do not get 1 per cent. on money lying in the banks, and, therefore, it is safe to assume, in the absence of any information to the contrary, that the banks collect the greater part of that £14,000,000 which is now in Treasury Deposit Receipts. Certainly, the Treasury are paying out 14,000,000 more to somebody than they were before the war. The Chancellor says that the banks have £50,000,000 less in Treasury Bills than they had before the war. That may be technically true. The question is, Have the banks lent to somebody else to take out Treasury bills?
§ Mr. Assheton
A lot of these bills are held by Government Departments, and a lot more by overseas depositors.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Well, that was the gap that I wanted the Chancellor to fill up, and give information as to who held these Treasury bills.
§ Mr. Woodburn
If it is the Government Departments, of course, then that simply means a transfer from one pocket to another and the matter does not arise. The reason why I raised the point is because I think the House is entitled to know that these things are looked after. The mystery should be cleared up as to where this money from the country goes, who gets it, and whether it will be properly and effectively used, and not contribute to the building up of hidden reserves in the banks. I unreservedly accept the Chancellor's assurance that the Treasury are looking into it. I was in doubt whether there was not some way by which they might be putting a little on the shelf, and I wished to place on record that the facts, as I have stated them, are not challenged, except to the extent that the Chancellor has given an assurance, which I accept.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir William Allen (Armagh)
I have always felt that we from Northern Ireland should have some opportunity of making our views heard on the subject of finance and the Finance Bill. There seem to be some weird ideas that the Northern Ireland Government collect these taxes and pass them on to the Treasury, and, of course, this is fallacious. We have nothing to do whatever with the collection of these taxes. They are collected by persons appointed by the British Government and paid by the British Government, and they are passed on to the Treasury direct. Northern Ireland never touches a penny of the taxes so collected. These taxes are, of course, similar to those in force in this country, that is to say, Excess Profits Tax, Customs and Excise, Post Office, Income Tax, Surtax and Purchase Tax, and all are collected by the officials of the Government and passed on to the Treasury.
Then there is also a weird idea, that if all help were withdrawn from Northern Ireland, by the British Government, we should be in a state of bankruptcy. Anything more fallacious than that could hardly be said, because, as a matter of fact, there is a considerable credit balance. 711 There were times, of course, when there was very bad trade and the contribution was very small. Still, Northern Ireland was the only Government to balance its Budget in those very difficult years, not because of the British Government, but largely, I suppose, because of the way in which the Northern Ireland Government managed its financial business. Latterly, in 1942 and 1943 the Northern Ireland receipts from all these duties went to the benefit of the British Treasury, which got £27,000,000. Last year it was £32,000,000. I do not know what the Finance Minister in Northern Ireland will have said to-day, as it is Budget day there, but I shall be surprised if our contribution to the British Treasury is less than £35,000,000. The contributions which we have made from time to time are, of course, the same contributions as are made in this country, and the powers which were transferred to the Parliament of Northern Ireland provide the means by which we carry on our government. The proceeds of the Death Duties, Stamp Duties, Entertainments Tax, Road Tax, and part of the Land Annuity are retained by the Northern Ireland Government. We have liberty to vary the rates of those particular taxes, because they are taxes transferred to the Northern Ireland Government, irrespective of whatever the taxes may be over here. The United Kingdom retain the control of expenditure on anything that is Imperial, such as the Navy, the Army and the Air Force, and the National Debt.
Something has been said concerning the Death Duties. I have always a feeling that Death Duties are paid out of capital. They have to be paid by those who succeed, and paid over in hard cash to the Treasury, and it very often leaves those who pay the duties almost in a state of bankruptcy. Death Duties ought not to be treated as ordinary income is treated. Death Duties should be used entirely for the reduction of the National Debt. We in Northern Ireland are able to carry on by the revenue from services that are transferred, but in addition we also receive an allocation from the residuary share of the reserved taxes as an Imperial contribution. There has been appointed a general executive called the Colwyn Committee which meets the Treasury officials in Northern Ireland from year to year. The happiest relations exist between the Treasury Department 712 of Northern Ireland and the Treasury Department over here. There has never been any difficulty which has not easily been surmounted and settled by the Treasury over here.
Reference has been made to the fact that taxation bears more heavily on Northern Ireland because it is a poorer country. There are two methods of taxation. One is direct taxation and the other indirect taxation. Direct taxation comes from income. If a man has no income, he is not taxed. If he has income, he is taxed just the same as the people over here. Indirect taxation is taxation on commodities; mostly on commodities which the community everywhere has power to refrain from purchasing. For instance, in regard to the taxation of tobacco and spirits, there is no reason why people should pay these taxes at all if they do not wish to do so. Indirect taxation is largely a matter of taxation on luxuries. The people of Northern Ireland have contributed towards the war in addition to paying taxation. Their voluntary contributions amount to a very large sum for a small community of about 1,000,000 people. We have the same "Salute the Soldier" and "Savings for Victory" weeks, and by the end of this year that small community will probably have contributed upwards of £100,000,000 to help this country in the war.
Then there are one or two things I would like to point out in the Finance Bill, for which we are obliged to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There is, first of all, the relief to small businesses to the extent of £1,000, which will certainly be a great relief to our people. Another point is the re-equipment of buildings and additional buildings which in future may reduce taxation. Then as regards agricultural equipment, I think it is a great thing that we have a Chancellor of the Exchequer who is capable of seeing the difficulties under which farmers work their farms. Under this Finance Bill they are enabled to borrow sums at a much lower rate than they have ever been before.
§ Sir W. Allen
I see by the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Budget that there is going to be, perhaps not under this Finance Bill but in the future—
§ Sir W. Allen
Then there is the question of research. I think there is nowhere which will benefit more by research than Northern Ireland. Our staple industry there is linen. We have a research department, and I feel that the idea of the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to research will be very acceptable to the people of Northern Ireland. Linen is, of course, a very old industry, and it is thousands of years since linen was first used. It was used in the vestments of priests thousands of years ago. King Solomon himself brought yarn for distribution to the merchants in order that it might be woven, and if we dig up some of the graves of people who lived thousands of years ago, we find the bodies wrapped in linen. Research with regard to linen is only in its infancy, and I hope the result will be beneficial to that industry because it is one which supplies the largest amount of export. As soon as we get it to work again after the war I believe there will be a future for our linen industry beyond the conception of any human mind. The shelves all over the world are empty of linen, and factories are only waiting until the war ceases until they get into their stride again. I have no doubt it will be beneficial, not only for our people in Northern Ireland, but for this country as well.
§ Dr. Peters (Huntingdon)
I do not propose to follow my hon. and gallant Friend back to Solomon and bring his history up to date on linen. I rise to ask two or three questions on Clause 24. Here is a very good arrangement made with regard to a matter which has caused a great deal of trouble for some years past, and where there is an order of the court, apparently consideration will be given. What I want to bring home to my right hon. Friend is that in the practice of the law there are many cases where people 714 separate for one cause or another, by arrangement between themselves, and where there is merely an agreement or deal. I am wondering whether the Chancellor would consider applying the same principle in those cases to the cases that come before the court where an order is made. The principle should be extended to those cases. There is another point under Sub-section (4) which lays down:A claimant shall be entitled, in computing his total income for any year of assessment … to deduct sums paid by him in or towards the discharge of any such small maintenance payments required … to be madeby him. I cannot understand upon what high principle that is based. Here is a man who has been before the court and found guilty either of neglecting to maintain his wife and young children, or of persistent cruelty, or of being an habitual drunkard or something of that kind. Yet he is to be allowed to make deductions from his salary or wages, and it may be a considerable sum; while the poor man who stops at home with a nasty nagging wife and sits it out with his young children and provides for them properly, cannot make any such deduction. I do not know upon what principle that is based, but it seems to me quite wrong. I should like to add a word of appreciation for the way in which my right hon. Friend has met the suggestions from the Law Society for amendments to the law. As a lawyer, I must say that we very much appreciate what the Chancellor has done, and I hope that it will be found beneficial to the community at large.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read the Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.