§ Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison
I beg to move, in page 28, line 25, to leave out from "meals," to "for," in line 26.
We have already had a discussion in Committee, on the question of meals provided by firms for their employees. It was laid down in the Bill as drafted, that benefits in kind were to be computed in an individual's assessment for tax as being part of his remuneration, but it was expressly provided that meals provided on the premises by firms would not be so treated. It was stated that that was not the invariable practice, but a considerable number of firms do provide meals in outside canteens and when this was represented to the Chancellor he gave way and inserted in the present edition of the Bill the words:… in any canteen in which meals are provided …We believe, however, that the discussion we have so far had leaves the present position very obscure, and we wish to make Subsection (4) of the Clause read as follows: 1225… this section shall not apply to expense incurred by the body corporate in or in connection with the provision of meals for the staff generally.I suggest that the definition of whether a place is a canteen or not leaves room for very considerable doubt. Where it is the practice for a firm to provide meals generally for their staff—although perhaps not for 100 per cent. of their staff—there is a much clearer method of deciding whether or not that payment should be an emolument. For instance, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that if part of Lyons Corner House were set aside, and employees went to that place only for meals, with a meals ticket, it became a canteen. But he told us there was no definition of a canteen, which will cause a number of firms a great deal of thought. The Treasury would not lose any money if they defined who will and who will not be entitled to have this provision of meals discounted for taxation.
I would like the right hon. and learned Gentleman to tell me what would be the position of a firm which gave its employees meal tickets, which could be honoured in one or two local restaurants, for those members of its staff who could not conveniently get home. I know of a case where workers living near their works go home for their meals, but many cannot get home in the time available, and are given tickets to take to two or three neighbouring restaurants. What would be the position under such an arrangement? I consider that the Clause and the Bill would be clearer if the Amendment were adopted.
§ Sir P. Bennett
I beg to second the Amendment.
When we discussed this matter in Committee the Chancellor met our point of view, and we are grateful for what he did, but he will remember that my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Mr. Assheton) said that we would like to look at the matter further between then and now. We have done that. The Chancellor will be aware that when he was Minister of Aircraft Production during the war, he insisted on firms going to different parts of the country to establish branch works. Canteens were not then available, and are still not available. Headquarters staffs have had to get meals where they could, and have been lucky 1226 to get them. It is no good saying that canteens must be provided, because the caterers are not available and suitable arrangements cannot be made. Also, gangs of workers, with supervisory staffs, have been sent to different parts of country to do different jobs. Canteens cannot be provided for them either, and they have had to go for meals where they could get them. Firms have not been able to earmark a section of a local restaurant and say, "That is for our use." If the Chancellor will accept the Amendment, he will not lose anything; on the contrary, he will remove a certain amount of doubt.
§ Mr. Jay
As the hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel Hutchison) pointed out, the purpose of the Clause is to give relief in the case of meals provided in canteens—a legitimate activity and one which is to be encouraged. As he observed, the original form of the Clause would have given relief only in the case of meals provided on the premises of the employer in question. It was pointed out that in many cases the canteen might actually be on the premises of another firm, or might be a regularly used portion of a nearby restaurant. The earlier Amendment of my right hon. and learned Friend, and the Clause in the form in which it now stands, provides that relief will be given in the case of outside premises of that kind. The hon. and gallant Member asked whether this provision would apply where meal tickets are given to employees who get their meals at an outside restaurant. I understand that it would apply if the meal tickets were used by a number of employees at a restaurant where they regularly took their meals, but that if they were used at large numbers of restaurants in different parts of the district it would not apply.
§ Colonel Hutchison
I assume the Economic Secretary is not saying that the meal tickets must be given to 100 per cent. of the staff, but is referring to the staff generally?
§ Mr. Jay
That is correct, as I understand it. The objection to the Amendment is that if we omitted, as is suggested, the words:in any canteen in which meals are provided,the exemption would then be wideneu 1227 to cover firms who provided meals for their directors at expensive hotels, if at the same time they provided meals in a canteen for the staff generally. The Amendment would have that effect and that is wider than we wish or intend to go. It would not be right to grant this relief in such a way that the Exchequer would be partly financing expensive meals of that kind for directors or highly-paid employees. We cannot, therefore, accept the Amendment and we think that the Clause should stand in its present form.
§ Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Holderness)
The Economic Secretary has moved some distance in the right direction but a little clarification is still desirable. Should our Amendment not be made—I gather it will not be accepted—there is still need for a proper definition of a canteen. The Chancellor may remember that I put this point to him during the Committee stage. He said it was not difficult to identify a canteen and that, where the staff or the bulk of them went regularly to an outside restaurant under the meal ticket system, it would be regarded as a canteen for the purposes of the Bill. There are cases, one of which I know, where in a thickly-populated district a firm without a canteen, which desires that its employees—and office staff, in particular—should get their meals within a reasonable period of time, uses a meal ticket system by which the tickets are available in three, four or five different cafés in the vicinity. The meal tickets are available in all five cafés. This is no case of what the hon. Gentleman a moment ago called an expensive meal; nor would our Amendment make that possible, because the provision would still include the words "for the staff generally." Even if our Amendment were to be accepted, those words would remain.
Unless the word "canteen" is to be extended to cover those cases where the workers of a firm, and office workers, in particular, in order to get their meals within a reasonable time and without long periods of queueing, such as so often happens in outside cafés and restaurants, make use of four or five such establishments to overcome the difficulty, such places would not be covered, according to the words of the hon. Gentleman. I feel that there is surely some form of 1228 words which the Government could use without allowing any abuse in the way of expensive meals of the kind referred to. I am sure the Chancellor must know of similar cases, especially in a city such as Bristol, which has a number of these cafes. The spirit of the Clause would not be abused in any way if he could see his way to revise that aspect of the matter and deal with that particular difficulty.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I appreciate the point made by the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite), but if we tried to include a definition of the word "canteen" we should, in fact, narrow it down by doing so, because anything outside the definition would then be excluded. If the Clause is sensibly administered, a broad view can be taken of what is included in the word "canteen." Directly we start to define the word we shall get lots of cases coming outside our definition. It is wiser to leave the matter to sensible administration than to try to get down to a very accurate definition of the word.
Regarding the second point raised by the hon. and gallant Member, he will see that the Amendment proposed would not have quite the effect he is suggesting because, provided the meals were given "for the staff generally," it would not matter where they were given; that is to say, the ordinary staff could be fed in a canteen, other people could be given tickets to go somewhere else and the directors could be sent to the Ritz for their lunch. One of the things at which we are aiming is the habit which has grown up of expensive directors' lunches being charged to expenses. Everybody who has been to the big hotels in London will realise that that is one of the abuses of this scheme. We are anxious not to allow that abuse to continue. The Amendment suggested would inevitably allow it to do so.
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
With the leave of the House, I would like to ask the Chancellor a further question. He says the provision can be sensibly administered in those cases where a number of cafés must be used to deal with this problem. Let us suppose the firm in question, being in this difficulty, submitted their case to the Inspector of Taxes, before proceeding with their system of meal tickets spread over four 1229 of five restaurants. If the Inspector were satisfied that the suggestion was reasonable and did not abuse this provision, does the Subsection as drafted permit the Inspector to give that permission?
§ Sir S. Cripps
Such a case is unlikely to arise. We are dealing only with people earning over £2,000 a year. The schemes with which the hon. and gallant Member is dealing do not touch those people. I know of similar schemes, but they do not affect people with those incomes. I know of a solicitor's office in the City of London where the staff are given meal tickets, but they are not given to the partners and senior members. They are given only up to a certain level. The cases mentioned would not come within the Clause. We are dealing only with meals for high executives and directors, who are the only class of people included. All these schemes dealing with the mass of the lower-paid staff do not, therefore, come into the picture.
§ Mr. C. Williams
I was glad to hear the last explanation of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. We all agree that there is no wish to provide for expensive meals. The Economic Secretary dealt with the matter of hotels and I agree that there is no wish to benefit directors of hotels, but we want to make sure that the position of the hotel staffs is not worse than that of any other—
§ Mr. Williams
I apologise sincerely. I thought the hon. Gentleman referred to staffs in hotels, and that confused me.
§ Colonel Hutchison
In view of what has been said by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.