HC Deb 22 April 1947 vol 436 cc955-67

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

Mr. Dodds-Parker (Banbury)

There is one small but relatively important point I would like to put to the Financial Secretary on Part II of the Resolution. I will leave alone the first three items. The Chancellor may know why he arranged them in that particular order but I would like to refer to the next five items which form a group. As far as cricket, football, hockey and boxing are concerned, the list is pretty comprehensive, but as far as the last item is concerned: Rowing boats specially designed as racing boats, this omits, as is characteristic of Socialist planning, any form of propulsion for the vehicle. Perhaps the Financial Secretary would consider before a later stage, whether oars are included in "rowing boats"? It is not a very big item. A certain amount of highly seasoned timber and a certain limited amount of skilled workmanship are required. Those who have had knowledge of the Chancellor's history from his schooldays onwards are not surprised that he has remembered to include bats and balls and shinguards—and in particular shinguards.

Mrs. Manning

In the list in Part II the Chancellor has paid a great deal of attention to games played by boys, but there are certain games that are played by girls and I am interested in one of them. I am interested in a game which is played in the girls' schools of the people, the only game that girls alone play, and that is netball. If the Chancellor had thought about the games that girls play, particularly in elementary schools, he would have realised that a sports club in a girls' school should be able to obtain at reduced charges the apparatus necessary for this essential game. I hope very much that when he comes to reconsider this list he will include netball.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)

I wish to point out to the hon. Lady the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) that netball is not wholly a girls' game, but is played in many boys' clubs. There is a strong argument for its inclusion. I think that possibly there is a little Southern bias in the types of games specified. For example, we have hockey, but not lacrosse, which is very much played in the Midlands. To go further North, there is a game of which I suppose many hon. Members have not heard—shinty. One could almost say that it is the national game in the Highlands of Scotland. It is similar to hockey and is played with a stick with a loft on both sides. It is sometimes described as "hockey without rules," but it is nothing of the sort. It has rules, and is a very much older game than hockey. I hope that attention will be given to reducing the charges on shinty sticks and balls. Lastly, I suggest that squash rackets and balls should be included. This is a game played very much in schools, and after school age, and here it is not a question of large exports.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton (Brixton)

Many of us have had occasion in the last year or two to make use of the somewhat ramshackle taxicab, crawling about the streets of London, and I would like to ask the Financial Secretary to consider between now and the introduction of the Finance Bill, some degree of remission of Purchase Tax in respect of taxicabs. There is now an urgent need to replace the old London taxicabs, and make available to the London public and to visitors, whom we want to encourage to come to this country, new taxicabs with modern improvements. I am assured by people in a position to speak with authority on the matter that the London 'cab trade cannot afford to buy new taxicabs with the Purchase Tax of one-third added to the manufacturer's price. In effect, it means that when a taxicab is purchased on hire-purchase arrangements, the cost of the new 'cab will be £1,264, against the prewar price of £550. I hope the Financial Secretary will look into this matter with a view to seeing what concession can be made, a concession which will be of advantage not only to the public of London, but to visitors. We want to encourage them to come here to spend hard currency in the Metropolis.

Mr. Henry Strauss (Combined English Universities)

I wish to raise a point, not on Part II, on which questions have hitherto been raised, but on Part I, which mentions certain filters. On the whole I thought it meant to exempt filters designed to remove bacteria, etc., by mechanical means, but not including filters also employing chemical reaction. But the description contains one word which seems to me to introduce some confusion and doubt. That is the word "suspended." It says: Domestic water filters designed to remove bacteria and other suspended impurities from drinking water.… What is the objection to removing an impurity which sinks to the bottom? There must, presumably, be some idea behind these words, but the matter is not by any means self-explanatory. I want to know whether it is really intended that a filter which is designed and calculated to remove all impurities by mechanical means, some of those impurities not being suspended impurities, shall pay a tax. The point is a short one. I think the right hon. Gentleman has grasped it, and that either he or the Solicitor-General will be able to give a reply.

Dr. Barnett Stross (Hanley)

Representing, as I do, a Division where pottery is made, it is natural that I should be grateful for the fact that a reduced rate of tax is now to be charged for certain articles of hollow-ware. There was an anomaly, which we are glad has now been removed. Other classes of goods of this type, which we manufacture, are left out of the scope of this provision, particularly hollow-ware used in hospitals We should be grateful if the Chancellor would consider the whole of this class of goods, and reduce their price by providing that there shall be no Purchase Tax whatever on them. It is a small matter, but is of some consequence to the people who have to use these goods.

Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury)

I should like to support the plea that has been put to the Chancellor to cast a benevolent eye on netball and lacrosse, not from the point of view of their well-known effectiveness in improving the figure, but because the Chancellor has seen fit to avoid the difficulties of a tax on gambling on sport. It is obvious that these particular sports are unlikely to be the subject of pools by Littlewoods, or anything like that, and the more these sports are encouraged and made popular, the further away we shall get from betting in too great a degree as it is indulged in by people at the present moment. From that point of view, as well as in relation to boys' and girls' schools, I would like to add a word in support of these sports.

Mr. Eccles

I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher) and others have said. I had on the Order Paper an Amendment designed to redress what I thought was discrimination against the fair sex, by suggesting to the Chancellor that he should include netball and lacrosse. I would like the House to do something for girls. I admit that I would do it because I like girls, but as there are some Members who may not be convinced by that simple argument I think it right to state the case for netball. This is a game which is much more popular than is usually supposed. It is played by two teams of seven, on a small, hard court. As the court is small, it can usually be procured in public places and in built-up areas, which is an advantage. As the court is hard, it dries quickly, and that is an advantage in the British climate. How many girls play this game? I am informed by the All-England Netball Association that the clubs affiliated to their membership can count on about one million members, and that million is not the whole story, because there are many teams, I suppose, in Scotland and Wales, for example, which are not affiliated to the All-England Association. The great majority of the players of this game are office or factory workers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Schoolgirls."] And schoolgirls, but all of them, I should say, under the age of thirty, and at an age when they have not very much money. They have to provide themselves with their own personal kit, and beyond that they have to get the gear with which this game is played. What is that gear? There is the ball, which, hon. Members may be surprised to know, is nothing more or less than a small football. Therefore my first and very important question to the Financial Secretary is whether, as the Resolution now stands, a No. 5 size football, when purchased in order to be kicked by a boy, is to be exempt from tax, but, when purchased in order to be handled by a girl, is to pay tax.

The more expensive items of equipment for this game are the posts. The House knows that at the top of these erections are curious contraptions looking like waste paper baskets. The old fashioned kind of post is made of wood and rests upon a projecting base over which the girls often trip and injure themselves. Even in public parks and other places these dangerous erections are still in use, because it costs a great deal of money to replace them with the more modern type of post which rests upon a flat base. The modern type of post costs between £7 and £14 a pair, which includes 33⅓ per cent. Purchase Tax. If the Chancellor will take this tax off, he will not only make it possible to replace a great many of these dangerous, old-fashioned posts, but will encourage the formation of a very great number of new netball clubs.

I would only say one word on the advantages of this admirable game. It is very important, and I would ask the. hon. Ladies who are present to allow me to make an appeal to hon. Gentlemen, who for the time being at any rate outnumber them so heavily in this House. I put it to hon. Gentlemen, what is it that we really admire in the fair sex? As discriminating connoisseurs, what catches our fancy, what is it that raises our anticipation of pleasure enjoyable beyond anything else—is it not the athletic figure in graceful movement? Is it not the ability to tread a light foot on the dance floor? Nobody denies that netball develops these graces. The players of this game grow in speed, agility and shapeliness. I say to hon. Gentlemen that it is in our own interests to press the Chancellor to make this modest concession. Here we have the manly sport of boxing to be relieved, and the delightful game of cricket is to be exempted, while those who indulge in the sedentary sport of rowing are to be able to buy their boats free of tax. Surely the Chancellor ought to round off his beneficence and, as it were, through a budgetary kiss to the netball players, and show us that he is. as gallant to the girls as he is always mindful of the young men.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. C. Williams

I feel I ought to say one or two words following on what has been said by the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) but I really rise on this occasion because I might almost incur the charge from hon. Members opposite of being grossly discourteous to the Chancellor of the Exchequer if I did not take part in the Debate on this Resolution. Having made an appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on one of the subjects included in this Resolution, I think it would be wrong of me if I did not thank him most sincerely for including rowing boats. I asked him to do so last year and I have pressed him on other occasions. Therefore I feel that if I failed to thank him I should be discourteous. I feel sure that other hon. Members opposite, in fact everyone who has made proposals to the Chancellor, will try to follow my courtesy and thank him when they have the chance. As the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Dodds-Parker) said, on this matter of rowing boats it seems that the Chancellor got tired when he came to them, because he entirely forgot to put in oars. Earlier, when he was talking about cricket, he went into the most minute detail on things such as bats, balls, gloves, and bails. Now whereas it might be possible to play a game of cricket without bails, not even the Chancellor of the Exchequer with all his ingenuity could make a rowing boat go very far without oars. I think I am entitled to say that we ought to have a real answer from someone on this point before we agree to this Resolution.

I see below the Gangway the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton), who made an appeal to the Chancellor. I am not sure whether if his appeal is refused he would vote against the Resolution but I feel that some of us would support him on the matter of taxicabs. It does come very hard on the small man. The appeal I would make is that there should be a definite reduction at any rate for the one-man firms, or the case of one man having one taxi or two—with possibly some prohibition that tie must not sell it during the year. I think this is one of the occasions when the hon. and gallant Member should have some support from this side of the House. Then there was the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Macpherson), the only Scottish Member in the House at the present time, who put in a word for the Scottish national game of shinty. That really would not cost very much money. It is only a matter of a ball and an implement to hit it with. I think there is joy in hitting a ball and it may have some advantages but it may be carried too far. From the point of view of the Scots people it would be a very small concession to make and I ask the Chancellor why they have been left out. Is it because the Chancellor was careless, as he was in the matter of the oars? There have been one or two occasions lately when the Government have seemed to suggest that a thing like a national game, does not very much matter. There is no Scotsman of influence in the Government today, so that it really does not matter; they treat the Scots any old how. But I will not follow that point any further.

There are one or two other points which I would like to ask about. We have heard about cricket bats and that kind of thing. But why are fives gloves left out? Fives is one of the most inexpensive games you could have; but it is left out. Things like cricket balls and bats are brought in. Now, I have a point of a different character to bring forward. We had last year, on one of the Budget Resolutions, something relating to skins. I believe the Chancellor has really allowed us to have skins free of tax under this Resolution. It will be noticed that line 16 of the Resolution reads: Floor coverings, including linoleum, but not including carpets, carpeting, rugs, matting and wooden floor coverings. Obviously skins are not rugs. They may be made into rugs. They are obviously not carpets, and I do not think they are linoleum; but they might be mats. There was nearly a promise, last year, from the representative of the Exchequer that things like deerskins or sheepskins. which are sometimes used as semi-ornaments, would be included. That is why he is trying, I think, to put them in on a low exemption by calling them "floor coverings." Am I right in assuming that "floor coverings" include skins? Would any kind of skin have to be called a mat, or would you get exemption from Purchase Tax for them under this Resolution? I am not certain on this matter, but I know there are some people who are very anxious to have more information on the question. May I draw attention to one detail which I think is important? I think the House ought to notice that while we are giving these other concessions, the basic rate is to be charged dental sticks and toothpicks. These are very small and useful things in connection with health, something on the lines of tooth brushes. I think the Ministry of Health could easily give good reasons why these should be included in one of the higher categories in place of some of the things which are there at present. Whatever may be the advantage of razor strops, and sharpeners supplied as part of a toilet set, surely the last two articles mentioned in Part III are of particular value, in view of the appallingly bad quality of the food which the Government allows us, and the small quantity of that food. The Chancellor need not have gone out of his way to tax toothpicks so heavily. It shows the little ways in which the Government like to annoy people.

Mr. Howard (Westminster, St. George's)

So far as I can detect any unifying purpose among these items before us it is that these articles will contribute towards the health of the people. The wise Use of most of these articles would improve the general health. Therefore, there is a good case for making them readily available, and I beg whoever is to reply for the Government to tell us what is the position of two articles not mentioned here. They are two articles of widely differing character, but they are things which can contribute as much to the health of the people as any of the items mentioned in the list. The first is the small sailing boat. There is no more healthy use of leisure time than to spend it with a small sailing boat. The other thing is the ordinary tooth-brush. What the health of the people would be if that brush were used more often and more regularly no one can say. Therefore, I would ask whoever is going to reply tonight for the Government to deal with these two items which are not mentioned.

Mr. Spence

I should like to support the claim which has been made that shinty should be included as one of the sports for which appliances can be supplied free of Purchase Tax. I think that, in common fairness, we have a good claim in Scotland to ask the Chancellor if he will include equipment for shinty among the sports gear which is to be tax free. I also support what has been said about the small sailing boat. Use of the sailing dinghy ought to be encouraged. I have it in mind that there are clubs for working men springing up, with boats sailed by the members, although those members may not be able to own a craft. The boats are owned collectively, and they give an admirable form of sport to people lucky enough to live near to places providing these facilities. We ought certainly to have Purchase Tax taken off the sailing dinghy, as apart from the yacht, if the Chancellor thinks he cannot go beyond a certain class. One could limit the class by size, or by size of sail.

I should like to refer to Part III—"dental sticks and toothpicks"—in order to seek an assurance that there is nothing ulterior behind this, that there is nothing grisly or grim about it, and that no secret has been given to the Chancellor by his right hon. Friend the Minister of Food. I would like to be assured that the reduction of tax is not being made in order that these goods may be cheaper to the public because there is to be a change in our diet. It does not mean, I hope, that we are to be fed on figs instead of meat. In fact, I cannot understand why they are mentioned at all because there are so many larger items which could have been mentioned in the same light.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I have been asked to reply to a number of questions, and I shall try to answer most of them quite briefly. First, I Was asked whether there had been a mistake and whether rowing boats specially designed as racing boats, should be understood to include all rowing boats.

11.30 p.m.

The short answer is that it is confined to racing boats and that it does not apply to any other type. The fact that oars are not mentioned is not a mistake or oversight but we cannot mention oars in this connection because an oar is such a universal thing that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to differentiate between one used in an ordinary boat and one used, say, by the university crews. A number of suggestions have been made for extending the list of sports which should receive this reduced Purchase Tax rate and I will see that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is made aware of the suggestions that have been put forward, particularly those which apply to girls and women. What has been done here has been to take out as hon. Members will have noticed what can be called the national sports and make a concession in their favour. Quite obviously we cannot exempt all sports and therefore we have to make a selection but as I say I will see that my right hon. Friend is apprised of the views put forward, particularly the view expressed on both sides of the House that some women's games at any rate should be included in the concessions given and he will no doubt consider it before we reach the further stages of the Bill.

The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) asked me whether fur skins and rugs made of skins were included or exempt—[Interruption.] At any rate he asked me what the position was. I have to tell him that rugs made of furs, do pay duty at 100 per cent. They are not included in any part of this Resolution.

Mr. C. Williams

I apologise for not having made myself clear. I was not referring to what the Financial Secretary called fur skins. Those are variable. The furs I was referring to were the product of the animals of this country, such as rabbits, or deer, or cattle, or sheep used for the purpose of ordinary rugs, and which cannot be described as fur rugs. It is a very distinct thing. Can I have an answer to that?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

The answer is that rugs made of fur of any kind do not enter into this Resolution at all. In so far as they are chargeable, that is, if they are expensive furs, they would be chargeable at the 100 per cent. rate. If they are of the more domestic kind, they pay duty at another rate, or pay no duty at all. It depends upon the fur, but it does not come within this Resolution at all, which deals with linoleum, floor coverings and the like. I think that is sufficiently explanatory to satisfy the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. C. Williams

The right hon. Gentleman is not exempting the things I am dealing with? I am trying to give the Chancellor an opportunity of dealing with them. They are skins made from deer, or sheep, or cattle. They are not rugs; they are skin coverings. Do I conclude that they are intended to be an exempted kind of floor covering?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

What I am trying to convey to the hon. Gentleman—I am probably doing it in an awkward way—is that floor coverings mentioned here do not include coverings of the kind he has in mind, namely, those manufactured from fur—rugs, or carpets or anything of that kind. What we have to deal with is linoleum. That, I think, is made perfectly plain. Carpets and rugs continue to pay 33⅓ per cent. which is the rate now charged. I was asked a question about taxis. Of course there will be an opportunity to deal with this at later stages of the Finance Bill—but I would like to say we have discussed this matter on previous occasions and the argument against doing what the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) suggests is the difficulty of knowing the use to which particular cars are to be put They are sometimes used as taxis. It is very difficult at the wholesale stage—the stage at which this tax is levied—to know exactly to what use the car is to be put. The suggestion that a special taxicab should be manufactured and that that should attract a rebate—

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

May I point out that I limited my remarks to taxicabs required for use in London, which are all special taxis and never used for any other purpose.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I am trying to make that point quite clear and to answer it in as short a way as possible. The difficulty is to discriminate in matters of taxation in favour of a small section of the people in one particular city in the British Isles. The hon. and gallant Gentleman will have the opportunity, as I suggested, of carrying the matter further to a more convenient occasion and I need say no more on that at the moment.

A question was put by the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss) as to the meaning of the words: domestic water filter designed to remove bacteria and other suspended impurities from drinking water, etc. Impurities if they have gone into solution would not be caught by this particular type of filter. The filter referred to here is a filter which does operate where impurities are actually suspended in water, and that is why those words are used. There is a differentiation between this type which does this particular kind of work and another type which may have to filter impurities which have gone into solution or dropped to the bottom. I hope the House will now let us have this Resolution.

Captain Crookshank

I have no intention of prolonging the Debate and I should like to say we are much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for saying that he will tell the Chancellor of the points which have been raised. Generally speaking, we agree with what the Chancellor said in his Budget speech, that this year we could not go much farther along the road of great changes in Purchase Tax because of the general financial situation. But, as the right hon. Gentleman will have observed, we reserve our right to raise a certain number of minor points. We have not had on this occasion the feature which we had last year, when the Chancellor came down and said, "We have so much to give away," and everybody scrambled for it. In the present financial circumstances that would be very unwise.

Consideration of remaining Resolutions adjourned.—[Mr. William Whiteley.]

Ninth and Subsequent Resolutions to be considered Tomorrow.