§ (1) Paragraph (1) (a) of Rule 7 of No. V in Schedule A (which fixes the sum by which the assessment on lands inclusive of the farmhouse and other buildings (if any) shall, for the purposes of collection, be reduced) shall have effect as though a sum equal to one-fourth part thereof were substituted for a sum equal to one-eighth part thereof.102
§ (2) Paragraph (2) of Rule 7 of No. V in Schedule A (which relates to the allowance for repairs) shall have effect as though the words "one-fourth" were substituted for the words "one-eighth."
§ (3) Paragraph (1) of Rule 8 of No. V in Schedule A (which grants relief in certain cases in respect of the cost of maintenance, repairs, &c.) shall have effect as though the words "one-fourth" were substituted for the words "one-eighth."
§ (4) Subsection (3) of section twenty-eight of the Finance Act. 1923 (which amends paragraph (2) of Rule 7 of No. V in Schedule A) shall have effect as though the words "one-fourth" were substituted for the words "one-eighth."
§ (5) This section shall not have effect as respects income tax for the year 1951–52.—[Mr. Nugent.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
On a point of order. Do I understand, Sir Charles, that there is to be no opportunity of discussing season tickets or post-war credits?
§ Mr. Nugent
The effect of this Clause is to increase the allowance for repairs upon houses and buildings. This would change the statutory limit under Rule 7 and Rule 8 from one-eighth to one-quarter. Everyone knows that the statutory level of one-eighth is quite fictitious today and that the cost of repairs is very much higher than that. The last reliable survey which was made shows that the actual cost of repairs and maintenance was more than two-thirds of the gross rents of the properties.
I am referring to the survey made by the Ministry of Agriculture and the C.L.A. in 1946. That shows how completely fictitious is that level of 12½ per cent. The broad picture is that these rents, and Schedule A with them, have moved relatively little since pre-war while the cost of building has risen by anything from two to three times. It is true that relief can be obtained by making a maintenance claim or, indeed, by including the amount in Schedule D computation where that is appropriate, but if, by any chance, the owner of the property overlooks that, his proper allowance goes by default.
103 This Clause is directed to preventing that possible mistake occurring, which undoubtedly occurs from time to time. I am not asking that the allowance should be raised to a half or two-thirds. I am only asking that it should be raised to a quarter because I recognise that at present it might be said that, whereas building costs have risen so substantially, there might be an unpleasant danger in the future that Schedule A assessments might also rise and, if one lifted the statutory level too high, it might be wrong in the future. That is the reason why I am only asking for a very modest increase from one-eighth to one-quarter and I trust that the right hon and learned Gentleman will see fit to agree.
Mr. Vane (Westmorland)
If the Economic Secretary accepts the fact that the statutory allowance for repairs should bear some relation to the average cost of repairs of such agricultural property I am sure he cannot do otherwise than agree that the present figure of one-eighth must be changed and, if he accepts that, he will then no doubt think that the figure proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent) is really very modest. It may be better, on consideration, to put it a little higher still.
My hon. Friend has mentioned that the cost of repairs has risen out of all recognition over the last few years. I believe that if the Economic Secretary looks over the history of this matter he will find that it was fixed almost immediately after the First World War. At that time the figure of one-eighth probably had some reality, but today it has absolutely none. It is possible for the hon. Gentleman to reply that the maintenance claims provisions enable one who can say he has spent more than a certain average to recover the tax he has paid. But that would cause a great deal of extra work which, surely, the Inland Revenue would be glad to avoid.
Secondly, it would be giving a large advantage to the bigger property owner, whether an individual or a company, who has some sort of administration and can easily make this claim, which otherwise is not very easy. The vast majority of owners of single farms, with perhaps a cottage or two, do not employ a skilled land agent. I was once a member of the 104 profession and I say that probably it is a pity that they do not do so because perhaps they could recover more tax to which they are entitled.
There are a great many who pay the tax on the net assessment and think it altogether too difficult to go through the motions of making these small claims. It would be a great deal simpler if this figure and not one-eighth was brought into present day values and I hope that the Economic Secretary will agree that the figure of one-quarter is extremely modest and fair.
§ Mr. Turton
There is only one argument I wish to put in addition to those advanced by my hon. Friends. At present the statutory allowance for cottages is in fact one-quarter. Therefore, if the Clause were accepted, the statutory repair allowance for cottages would be brought into line with land, agricultural buildings and agricultural houses. It is quite clear, surely, to hon. Members that the cost of repairing a cottage is no greater than the cost of repairing a farmhouse or farm building. If one puts a roof on the rate is exactly the same if it is a cow barn roof, the roof of a farmer's house, or the roof of a cottage, but we have the curious position that the allowance for the farmer's house and agricultural buildings is only 12 per cent., whereas for the agricultural cottage it is 25 per cent.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) said that this would particularly help the small owner. I think the Economic Secretary will find, if he examines the question, that whereas all large owners submit maintenance claims in respect of their property, of small owners who make claims, the fraction is less than 15 per cent., and that means that an injustice is being suffered by the small owner which is not suffered by the large owner.
I ask the Economic Secretary to look on the proposed Clause with approval and to accept it. It will cost the Treasury nothing; it merely means that a certain number of maintenance claims will not in future have to be made. It may cost a certain amount as some who do not now make claims will be allowed to do so, but it will also mean that some who do make claims now will not have to do so in the future.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John Edwards)
The purpose of this Clause, as I understand it, is to increase the allowable deduction in respect of land, land for this purpose including farms and other buildings. One of the arguments of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) was that it was desirable to bring the percentage allowed for land in respect of farms to the same point as that fixed for houses and buildings. I should have thought that that was on the whole not a good argument.
§ Mr. Turton
I quite agree. It was not the argument I addressed to the Committee. I said that the allowances for farm houses and agricultural buildings should be the same as that allowed for cottages.
§ Mr. Edwards
I am sorry, but with respect, the hon. Member was not saying that. [HON. MEMBERS: "He was."] No. The hon. Gentleman said that the allowance for land, which is defined to include farmhouses, should be the same as that for farm cottages. Is that correct?
§ Mr. Turton indicated assent.
§ Mr. Edwards
Very well. I am saying that that is one good reason for not doing what this Clause proposes. It is perfectly true that there have been changes in costs, but when those allowances were laid down very careful consideration was given to the relative costs of the different types of property concerned.
One argument that I have against the acceptance of this Clause is precisely the fact that the broad relativity that has existed over the years would be upset. I should think that it would follow logically, if this Clause were accepted, that we should have to revise the other scales of allowances so as to keep this broad relativity, which I think it would be right to do.
More substantially, the case against this new Clause has already been made in some respects. Hon. Members opposite have pointed out that it is possible to make a maintenance claim and in effect for the taxpayer concerned to be allowed to deduct the whole of his expenditure on repair up to the amount of the Schedule A assessment, and in some cases also to set it off against other 106 income if such expenditure exceeds the Schedule A assessment.
I cannot accept the view that it is reasonable to say that because people do not put in claims we should alter the scale of the allowance to meet that point. It is most unlikely that the average, or at any rate the good landlord fails to complete records of expenditure on which a maintenance claim can be based. Although I admit that there is some trouble in preparing such a claim I do not think that any hardship would be involved in leaving the statutory deduction as it is.
The cost, in terms of tax, which will be involved by accepting this Clause would, I am advised, be about £¼ million, that being the net figure after allowing for the fact that certain expenditure now relieved through the maintenance claim procedure would be relieved through the higher repairs allowance. Therefore, what hon. Members opposite are asking for is that apart from those landowners who at present spend above the figure of the repairs allowance but do not bother to make a maintenance claim the £1¼ million should go to people who have not incurred the expenditure which the higher allowance would purport to relieve, and who in my submission, have no equitable claim to relief.
The hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent) referred to this point, and said that he wanted, by the Clause, to correct the position which arose from those persons who had not put in claims not getting the relief. I think that the new Clause goes further than correcting that, because its effect would be that even if people did not go to the expense indicated by the new proposed level of allowance they would, nevertheless, get the benefit. I am sorry, but for these reasons I must resist the new Clause. It would be wrong to deal with one set of allowances without dealing with the whole of them. I believe that all landowners concerned have recourse, if they need it, to a maintenance claim which covers them completely in respect of their total outlay up to the total of their Schedule A assessment.
§ Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)
I wish to ask the Economic Secretary a question. Supposing that the amount claimed was roughly the same, either under the allowance when increased to the higher figure suggested in the Clause or by way of a 107 maintenance claim, would it not be more convenient from the point of view of the hon. Gentleman's own Ministry that the sum should be claimed as an allowance? It would be much simpler and would not involve the checking of maintenance claims afterwards. It would be a saving of staff for his Department and in the case of owner-occupiers I think that the increased rate would not mean very much difference. What we are suggesting would mean a saving of work in the hon. Gentleman's Department the benefit of which would in due course go to farmers. We are not really asking for anything; we are offering it.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
My hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent) made a case for this new Clause on the general understanding that prices of repairs have risen substantially in the last few years. The Economic Secretary to the Treasury has said nothing to contradict that view. This one-eighth allowance, as I understand the matter, was arrived at in relation to the general level of costs at the time, 1918, in respect of the proportion which annually or over a quinquennial period it was necessary to spend on farm buildings and cottages, etc., out of the income derived from the profits made in that activity.
When we attempt to show that costs of repair have risen enormously, to an extent sufficient to justify this moderate allowance being granted, the Economic Secretary does nothing to deny it. Yet he tells us that £1,250,000 would be the cost to the Exchequer in granting this concession for which the Clause asks. Is that not the measure of the injustice done to small farmers today because of their inability, through circumstances or through misunderstanding of the Income Tax and Finance Acts, to fill in and send in a maintenance claim? Are they not being put, by the depreciation in the value of money, in a position far worse than that in which they were in 1918, when automatically, by this provision, they got their percentage deduction? Costs have risen, but they can only claim one-eighth unless they have the knowledge and understanding to put in a maintenance claim.
The denial of this Clause and the refusal to allow £1,250,000 to be held back from the Treasury is, rather unpleasantly, 108 an indirect blow against the farming community. Is it not telling these small farmers that although costs have risen and though their cottages and houses cost much more to repair, all they can get, unless they have the resources to put in a maintenance claim, is the original one-eighth? The Economic Secretary has put up a very poor case, and if my hon. Friends wish to press this matter they will, although it concerns a small point, be well justified in taking it to a Division.
§ Mr. S. N. Evans (Wednesbury)
It is about time the farmers stopped feeling sorry for themselves. There are two things with which I have yet to catch up—a dead donkey and a satisfied farmer.
§ Mr. Evans
I am not expecting to meet the farmer first.
This Clause is a classic example of how privilege feeds the appetite for privilege. The agricultural industry has never been so prosperous in its life but because it is served by the most formidable propaganda agency that this country has ever known we are faced time and time again with fresh demands.
I do not think that this Clause represents the true feeling of the farming community. The demand is that certain allowances shall be doubled and that demand is made against the background of a £4,700,000 re-armament programme, at a time when people have to tighten their belts, when austerity is the order and must be the order of the day. This demand comes against a background of an industry which, last year, earned over £300 million, despite the worst summer and autumn in living memory, as against the 1938 increment of £60 million—a five times increase in profits against a 40 per cent. increase in production.
I hope that the Economic Secretary will stick to his guns. I am becoming worried about these farming problems. When the farmers talk every chandelier in Whitehall shakes. The farmers are becoming a privileged section of the community and that is a bad thing. In January, I talked with about 350 farmers at Worcester. They came through a foot of snow to argue the economics of the industry. They are very well aware of the fact that demands have been made ahead of what the industry really needs.
109 These farmers are very anxious to be partners in the national economy, not pensioners. They are very well aware that the dinner-jacketed political farmers' representatives in Whitehall are going too far. I ask those who represent them on the benches opposite, and outside, to realise that the nation is watching and beginning to get anxious about it. None of us wish to see agriculture go back to the depression of the years between the wars, but I am afraid that if unfair demands, such as are contained in this Clause, are persisted in there may well be a repercussion unpleasant to the industry.
We have all to tighten our belts. This is no time for any section of the community to be demanding privileges.
§ Mr. Evans
I understand very well that the Clause asks that Income Tax allowances in certain directions should be automatically doubled. The next proposed new Clause is even more outrageous and I may have a word to say about that. Meanwhile, I hope the Economic Secretary will stand firm, because dismay would be caused by concessions of this character.
§ Mr. York (Harrogate)
I do not think, Sir Charles, that you could have heard all that was said by the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), because I have never in my life heard a more irrelevant speech. I know that the hon. Member has a bee in his bonnet about farmers, but this has not anything to do with that and he must wait until another occasion to make one of his well known "feather bedding" speeches. His remarks were just about as accurate as the remarks he made about the cost of production when he informed the country at large that it cost only £10 an acre to plant potatoes.
§ Mr. S. N. Evans
Let us get this right. If the hon. Gentleman will consult HANSARD he will find something different.
§ Mr. York
I had better not pursue that too far. I do not think the hon. Gentleman really understands what he is talking about half the time. Certainly he is very misinformed on a number of things. But I will ask him this straight 110 question: has he ever read Rule 8 of Part V of the Income Tax Schedule?
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. York
I will hand it to the hon. Gentleman this time because, having heard his speech, I never expected he would be able to answer "Yes." Why I think the hon. Gentleman is so inaccurate is because he is talking about the agriculture industry having allowances doubled. The whole point of this Clause is a question of administrative convenience. The mere fact that the Economic Secretary was only able to argue against the Clause that he thought the balance would be somewhere around a million and a quarter with a capital value of hundreds of millions of pounds meant that the alteration in the allowance is a very minor matter. I doubt whether it would be a million and a quarter. I do not believe it would be.
§ Mr. York
Because, and let us be clear about this, there would be no cost at all until at least 1953 at the earliest. The hon. Gentleman did not deal with the last line of the Clause which specifically lays down that there should be no allowance this year. As he will realise, the assessment is made on 1st January after the end of the financial year to which the assessment applies, and therefore the earliest date on which any possible relief could apply is in 1953. I know that it is not his own opinion, but that it is the combined wisdom or otherwise of the Treasury, and I know how astonishingly conservative is the Treasury about changes in administration.
Regarding the Schedule A allowance, if we maintain this wholly un-realistic allowance we retain in the hands of the Treasury money which ought to be spent on the modernisation of farm buildings and houses. That is a most substantial point. The second point is perhaps one which is more a question of justice than otherwise. The maintenance claim procedure is extremely slow and clumsy. The claims are based on a five-year average. If the hon. Gentleman has ever tried to 111 work out maintenance claims—I doubt if he has, because it is not his line of business—he will realise that the repayment of tax coming back from the Treasury takes an extremely long time.
I give an example in the case of an estate with which I have been connected. Repayment of tax has at least been obtained from the Treasury five years after the allowance became due, and that is now-a-days a fairly common occurrence. These allowances are coming back after a very long delay owing to excess of work on the part of the Treasury.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that the type of case he has quoted is normal? It must be most unusual.
§ Mr. York
I certainly did not indicate that it was normal. I said that on occasions long delays take place. Most claims are at least two years in arrear. I do not think that the Economic Secretary could gainsay that. But this is only a detail to reinforce my argument. There is this long delay, this time lag. which takes money from the pockets of the people who ought to be modernising and keeps it in the Treasury, and that is a bad thing.
One should realise that on farms perhaps the most expensive item of repair and modernisation is the farmhouse itself owing to the fact that plumbing, for example, is a most fantastically expensive business today. Most farmhouses have a net annual value of £40 or under. Therefore, they are on a par with the cottages which attract an allowance of one-quarter, yet the farmhouse allowance is one-eighth. I hope that that point will sink in to the Treasury in years to come, and then perhaps they will take a rather more favourable view of this matter.
§ Mr. Pargiter (Southall)
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that farmhouses are rated in a way comparable to similar properties in urban areas?
§ Mr. York
The hon. Gentleman has not understood.
I do not know whether the Treasury realise it—they probably do—but, as a general rule, the small owner spends his money in considerable doses but at long intervals. Perhaps he spends £500 in one year, and he hopes that that will put the whole of the farm buildings into repair for a matter of 10 years. If the statutory allowance was increased it would help the owner to build up a small reserve to meet these big items of expenditure. That ought to be the view which the Treasury should take.
A most important point is that repairs and modernisation on an estate, either large or small, depend far more today upon the taxation position than they do upon the actual condition of the buildings. The fact that taxation is so high, and the complication attaching to obtaining the greatest advantage from the allowances which are given, means that people have primarily to concern themselves with the tax position rather than with the necessity of work of this kind. An increase in the allowance from 12½ per cent. to 25 per cent. would bring a stability—indeed, one might almost say a flexibility—into the management of land. From the point of view of good accounting, sound financial policy and good management, this Clause has much to commend it.
Even if the Treasury turn it down today, I hope that they will reconsider the matter in years to come. I know that Schedule A is a most clumsy weapon. The maintenance claim and all these allowances do not permit the sort of accounting in which any sensible man would ever think of indulging. We ought to put the whole of this business on to Schedule D. Then we should have a proper accounting system. But the Inland Revenue will not consider changing over to Schedule D—
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)
I do not understand the Treasury point of view on this question. The Economic 113 Secretary would be well advised to reconsider this point. I tried to follow his speech with care. As I understood him, he argued first that this change would not make any financial difference, and that, under their maintenance claims people are already entitled to the benefit which would be given under the revised allowance. Secondly, he turned completely round and said that this would cost £1,250,000. I was totally unable to reconcile the two arguments.
The hon. Gentleman did not take into account the saving of money and time and trouble by the community who are responsible for the payment of this tax. We often hear arguments from the Treasury Bench that it is impossible to give consent to some proposal because it would be administratively inconvenient. Here we have made a proposal which would be administratively convenient. I had hoped that we should have a sympathetic reply on that account. In addition, this is a proposal which would be administratively convenient to the taxpayers, and it is about time that the Government took them into account.
The Government are always getting money out of them, but they do jolly little to make it any easier for them to pay. This is a proposal which would make it very much easier for people to pay. The time and the trouble, the consultation and the detail involved in the preparation of these maintenance claims is very great. If it was to cost the Treasury £1,250,000—which I do not believe would be the case—I am certain that the saving of time and trouble to the community would result in a very much greater financial saving. That in its turn would benefit the Treasury who would draw increased taxes upon the increased profit which would result from the increased savings of this section of the community. The Economic Secretary has been ill-advised, and I hope that he will reconsider the matter.
§ Captain Duncan (Angus, South)
I think it is right that a Scottish Member should support his English colleagues on this question. It appeared to me that the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) completely misunderstood this new Clause. This is not a case of dealing with the farmer. It is purely a question of land owning. The question of the farm arises only when the occupant 114 is an owner-occupier and, as most owner-occupiers are small farmers, it is obvious that they are the very people whom we are trying to help, while at the same time helping the Treasury.
The Economic Secretary to the Treasury talked about a loss to the Treasury of £1,250,000. Quite frankly, I do not know from where he got that guess. He has expert advice, of course, but on this occasion I am not prepared to accept that figure. I do not believe there will be a loss at all. There certainly will be administrative convenience to the Treasury because of the reduction in the work on the maintenance claims, if there is this increase from one-eighth to one-quarter.
The only possibility of a loss that I can foresee is if there are some landlords who, under the present circumstances in the country, are not spending one-quarter of their gross income on repairs on their estate or farm. The hon. Gentleman will be able to check that, because he has enormous resources from which to find out the actual cost of repairs to estates. There is the Central Land Owners' Association, the Department of Agriculture for Scotland and the Ministry of Agriculture here, all of them owning, running or managing estates, and most of them incurring losses. There is also the Forestry Commission, and there is the Crown, which owns land and farms in various parts of the country. There are all sorts of checks which the hon. Gentleman can make in order to see what are the actual costs of repairs.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. York) spoke about the cost of plumbing. Let the Treasury look into the expense of providing and maintaining wire fencing, which is enormously increased to something like three times what it was a few years ago. In spite of the advice which the hon. Gentleman has received, it really is nonsense to talk about a loss of £1,250,000 to the Treasury. I do not believe that there would be any loss at all; on the other hand, it would be a convenience both to those who run small farms as owner-occupiers and to other people as owners of land, who would have less work to do on compiling maintenance claims, while it would be a convenience also to the Treasury, which would have less work in handling them.
§ Mr. Norman Smith (Nottingham, South)
I think there is a certain amount of effrontery in the arguments advanced from the other side of the Committee. It is perfectly true that the cost of everything is going up, and we all know that, but these maintenance claims deal with what is actually spent, and that is the answer to the argument advanced from the other side.
That brings me to the argument of the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), and the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Joynson-Hicks), both of whom alleged that there is trouble and difficulty involved in making a maintenance claim. I have been making one for years. There is nothing very difficult about it. I imagine that it is a job which any elementary schoolboy over the age of 14 could do. Indeed, what happened last week was that I was myself making a maintenance claim, and I took it to the accountant who does this sort of thing for me. The accountant said only last week—and I am not exaggerating" You have done all the work, Mr. Smith, and I think I ought to reduce the fee which I charge you." There was not much work in it.
The hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. York) spoke of the delay in getting the money. Apparently the Treasury put obstacles in the way. Well, it is their job to put obstacles in the way. It is their job to prevent the people who are making maintenance claims from cheating the Treasury. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend will reject these arguments.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and East Perthshire)
Could we have it made clear that the hon. Gentleman thinks that the Treasury should put obstacles in the way of the taxpayer?
§ Mr. Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)
The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. N. Smith), said that maintenance claims are very easy to make, and the Economic Secretary to the Treasury says they are some trouble. I should like to 116 tell them both that, in the view of many hon. Members, they are a very great deal of trouble. They get extremely complicated, even in the case of a small estate. Every claim has to be checked and every bill ticked off, whether it is the ironmonger's or the builder's account. One may receive an account for £70 and have to check every item, sending the bill along with the claim for the inspector of taxes to see.
There is quite a lot of trouble and difficulty in addition to that. The payments for wages have to be divided, and there may be complications because a carpenter has perhaps worked only three-quarters of his time on estate maintenance and the rest of his time mowing the lawn. Such payments have to be divided up. Then there are the expenses involved in cottages in connection with electricity, water and so on, and all these things take a great deal of time and money. Again, if one cuts timber on one's estate, one has to make an estimate of how much one has used. One does not measure it up, of course, but it is quite difficult to get a fair reckoning of what might be used. A boy of 14 cannot do all these things. In addition, there is the question of the telephone account, postal expenses and so on.
The whole point is that it is costing the farmer and the landlord a great deal of time and trouble, and in many cases he has to pay a secretary, or, as in the case of the hon. Member opposite, an accountant, to do the work for him. Worse than that, these claims have to be dealt with at the receiving end, which is the Treasury, where they are causing a great deal of time and trouble as well. Our object is to eliminate time and trouble caused to both the taxpayer and the Treasury.
The Economic Secretary said that the concession would cost £1,250,000. I do not know how he made his calculation, or whether he has calculated what he might save, if this concession were granted, because many people who are perhaps spending up to three-eighths of their Schedule A value, if they could put in a claim for one-quarter and know that they could have it settled straight away, would very likely forgo the other small amount. The trouble, delay and inconvenience are probably not worth the extra £10 or £15 to them. I believe, therefore 117 that the Chancellor might find that he would save himself an infinite amount of trouble, while also paying out claims which are just over the 25 per cent. figure. On those two grounds, I hope he will reconsider the matter.
§ Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I would not have intervened in this debate but for the remarks of the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), but before I deal with what he said, may I take up a matter with the Economic Secretary?
The hon. Gentleman talked about broad relativity, and I wondered where we were getting. He spoke of the broad relativity and relationship between one type of allowance and another which has existed for many years, and used that as an argument for saying that the Treasury were not going to consider this proposal for an increase because it would level it up with something which had always been above it.
I do not suppose that my hon. Friend who moved the Clause would have objected very strongly if the Economic Secretary had said that he was prepared to consider adjusting these allowances to the tune of a quarter and a little higher, provided that it was possible to maintain the same relationship. I do not suppose that he would have objected and he might have been prepared to withdraw the Clause on an assurance like that, but for the Economic Secretary to say he cannot possibly bring up these allowances to the level of others seems to me to be a very poor argument to advance.
The hon. Member for Wednesbury mentioned that he had been talking to farmers in Worcestershire and that many went many miles in the snow to hear him. I very nearly did myself, as I was near enough to attend, but unfortunately the snow was too deep. I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider very carefully some of the things which he goes about saying. Does he really believe that the line which he has been taking is in the interests of farmers as a whole? Does he really believe that this country can afford to do anything which is likely to discourage our farmers at the moment? Does he think we can afford to buy sufficient food from overseas if they fail us? Is he not prepared to give the farmers assured prices?
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman is out of order in asking those questions.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
With great respect, Sir Charles, the hon. Member for Wednesbury was allowed considerable latitude in developing his argument, and I was endeavouring not to go any further from the proposal before us than he did. I hope I may be allowed to try to deal with some of the points he raised.
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman does that, it might encourage him to get out of order again.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I naturally bow to your Ruling, Sir Charles, and I shall endeavour to keep my remarks confined as far as possible to the points of the Clause.
The hon. Member for Wednesbury objects to the idea of farmers being given any increase in this form of allowance, apparently on the assumption that, as a result, they will get more out of it. I do not accept that assumption; I think it quite possible that the Treasury may save by it. Even so, I should have thought that by far the most important thing was for us in this Committee to try to make the formalities to which farmers have to conform in order to present their accounts as easy and as simple as possible. This Clause is trying to encourage that it is trying to make it more simple for the farmer to get back something that he puts into his farm.
As several hon. Members have pointed out, this Clause is designed to help the small man in particular; and I should have thought the hon. Member for Wednesbury would have been one of the last who wished to discourage the small man from putting his farm in the best possible order. I believe that there are many small men today who would spend more on their farms if they thought that as a result they would not have to go through the rigmarole of form filling and application which makes life impossible for them. I know some who do not find figures as easy as does the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. N. Smith), who, after all, has a reputation which puts him in a very high category regarding 119 social credit, and I very much doubt whether the farming community could possibly achieve his level.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I mean, so far as filling up forms and understanding figures are concerned.
Regarding what the hon. Member for Wednesbury said, I can only say that I should have thought that anything which this Committee could do to make it easier for the small farmer in particular—though I see no reason why we should not do it for the big one as well—to improve his methods and to try to keep his farm in first-class order would be preferable to listening time and again to the old argument of the town versus the country and trying to divide those two communities. We should try to let the people in the countryside know that we realise they have their difficulties just as we in the towns have ours.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Baldwin
I am surprised that two hon. Members opposite have not contributed to this debate, because, although I do not want to taunt them to get on to their feet, I think they could have said more with regard to maintenance claims than any hon. Member who has spoken so far on this Clause. I refer, of course, to the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) and to the hon. and gallant Member for King's Lynn (Major Wise). With regard to the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. N. Smith), all I can say is that if he knows of any boys of 14 years of age who can deal with maintenance claims, he can find ready employment for them in the offices of land agents or Inspectors of Taxes who would thus be relieved of a great deal of work in connection with these extremely difficult claims.
With regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), I hope I shall have the chance of dealing with some of them on a later occasion. All I can say is that if he read Rule 8, as he said he did, he could not have learned much from it. Indeed, the speech that he made showed why he goes completely astray on agricultural subjects. Regarding what was said by the Economic Secretary, I think he completely 120 "missed the boat." He said that the cost to the Treasury would be £1¼ million. If that is so, it means that the Treasury are getting £1¼ million to which they are not entitled. We are not asking for any concession, but merely for some relief for the small owner-occupiers who have not the time to make out their maintenance claims, and I hope the Economic Secretary will realise that.
§ Mr. Nugent
To my mind, the Economic Secretary has not done much to answer this debate, although I cannot blame him if he does not answer all aspects of it. The attack from behind took him by surprise, and I venture to think that he did not have a brief to justify his Government's agricultural policy. No doubt he will defer answering his hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) to a future occasion.
The reply given to us by the hon. Gentleman was an argument for abolishing the statutory maintenance claim altogether, and did not answer the argument put forward by hon. Members on this side for raising it to a realistic level. The amount he mentioned as being the probable cost to the Treasury if it were raised to such a level is, I believe, far more likely to be an underclaim by small owners than anything else. If he and his colleagues are prepared to accept responsibility, then we must leave it to them. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.