§ 3.45 p.m.
§ The Chairman
The Amendment in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell), in page 9, line 43, deals with men's outsize garments and does not deal with women's outsize garments. It may be convenient for the Committee to discuss on this Amendment the question of women's outsize garments. If that be the wish of the Committee, I shall allow discussion on the understanding that women's outsize garments are not discussed on the Fourth Schedule.
§ Miss Alice Bacon (Leeds, North-East)
I take it that that Ruling means that there will be no discussion on the separate Amendments to the Schedule. Nevertheless, the main principle of those Amendments stands, and I should like to ask whether they will be called even though we do not discuss outsize garments.
§ The Chairman
I shall not make any promise about what Amendments will be called and what will not when we come to that stage. I thought that the principle of outsize garments could be discussed now, and that that would make for a shortening of the discussion when we get to the Fourth Schedule.
§ Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)
While I am sure that we all agree that it would be most helpful that in the discussion we should include the question of women's outsize garments as well as men's, I trust that when we come to the general discussion of the various groups it will be in order, at least in general terms, to discuss women's outsize garments, and that if Amendments are called at the end of that group discussion, it will be possible to press one or two or whatever is the right number of those items, because we shall not have a chance of voting on them separately.
868 Further, I am sure you will have noticed, Sir Charles, that most, if not all, of these Amendments, apart from the differentiation which my hon. Friends and I propose between various sizes, propose an increase in the D level, which is not in any way related to the problem of outsize garments. Therefore, I trust that it will be in order to discuss the D level on those Amendments and, if appropriate, to vote on a certain number of them.
§ The Chairman
Yes, that is what I thought. The D level is rather a detail, but the principle of women's outsize garments, I thought, might be discussed with the Amendment affecting the men's.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
I beg to move, in page 9, line 43, at the end, to insert:(3) Any amount specified in the prescribed list in relation to a garment as hereinafter defined (not being an outsize garment or a special garment as hereinafter defined) made up at the request of the purchaser to measurements given by him to the seller and which has been cut singly by a special order cutter shall be deemed to he increased by fifteen per cent. of that amount.(4) Any amount specified in the prescribed list in relation to an outsize garment or in relation to a special garment shall be deemed to be increased by fifteen per cent. of that amount if not so made up and by thirty per cent. of that amount if so made up.(5) In this section—garment" means overcoat, suit, jacket, waistcoat, trousers, breeches or pantaloons, being in each case of men's or boys' wear;outsize garment" means a garment being an overcoat to fit a person having a chest measurement (measured over the waistcoat) exceeding forty-two inches, a suit, jacket or waistcoat to fit a person having a chest measurement (measured over the waistcoat) exceeding forty-two inches, or a waist measurement (measured over the trousers) exceeding forty inches, and trousers, breeches or pantaloons to fit a person having a waist measurement (measured over the trousers) exceeding forty inches;special garment" means a garment (not being an outsize garment) appropriate to a man not less than six feet three inches in height, such garment being an overcoat exceeding forty-eight inches in length, a jacket exceeding thirty-three inches in length and with a sleeve measurement exceeding thirty-four inches, trousers with an inside leg measurement exceeding thirty-four inches, or a suit comprising such a jacket and trousers.This is an interesting subject because one can see in this Committee the sort of people who might be benefited as a result of this Amendment affecting outsize garments. The name of the new Minister of
869 Transport occurs to us immediately, and then there is my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) and other people of that build. When I consulted the trade, I found that they refer to these people as those of "excessive figuration," which I thought was a rather good phrase to use in this respect.
All Statutory Instruments about Utility apparel in the past have recognised the necessity to modify prices for garments made to special measure, plus an extra allowance of 15 per cent. for men's outsize garments. It is an accepted fact that a certain percentage of people, because of this excessive figuration to which I have referred, cannot be suitably attired in ready-made garments and I suppose none of us would want them all to be clothed in sets of "reach-me-downs."
It is therefore necessary, when catering for this class of the trade, for a complete set of measures to be taken for each individual customer, and for the garments to be cut individually to a special pattern made to the measurements given. In most cases, one or more fittings would have to be given, I am informed, in order to ensure a satisfactory result. When we come to the making up of such garments, each has to be treated as a separate unit, unlike garments sold ready to wear, in which case many thicknesses of material are cut at once and bulk making up lowers the cost considerably.
The operation of this Finance Bill will compel the bespoke tailor to use very low-grade cloth and linings in order to make a suit come within the D level. I should like to know from whoever is to reply why it is that, while allowances were made under the Utility scheme for these considerations, presumably, the same considerations are not taken into account in the Schedule. For instance, let me take as an example, from the Fourth Schedule of the Bill:Overcoats, cloaks, raincoats, mackintosh coats, oilskin coats, fishermen's oilskin frocks and overall coats, being garments exceeding 42 inch in length and of Class B material.It is a fact that, in the past, under the Utility scheme, there was an allowance here of 26s. 4d. wholesale and 34s. retail above the Utility ready-made level for bespoke tailoring. There were also permitted increases for outsize garments of 15 per cent. No provision is made in this Schedule for any of these considerations, and the trade seems to think that 870 this is very curious. The figures I have quoted, plus the 15 per cent., are lower allowances than would be allowed in the case of a suit, and in this Amendment we suggest a far simpler form than even the practice that was allowed under the Utility scheme.
For the purpose of this Amendment, if a ready-made suit of standard size is represented by x, art outsize ready-made suit will be x plus 15 per cent. If it were a case of a suit which was made to measure, it would be represented by x plus 15 per cent., and, if the customer happened to be an oversize person, it would be represented by x plus 30 per cent. I take it that that proposition is simple enough for the Committee, and I hope that hon. Members will agree that we want fair terms for the trade. After all that hon. Gentlemen opposite have said on the subject, I am sure that they will not want men's suits to be produced in the mass, and will not want that degree of uniformity which would ensure that everybody could be identified through the tailor he employed.
I suggest that this is a reasonable proposal, that it is something which was catered for under the old Utility scheme and is something which hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will wish to be catered for now. I hope the Chancellor and the Financial Secretary appreciate that this matter touches a principle of very great importance to the trade, and that, before the end of the debate. the Government will say that they are prepared to grant some amelioration of the position.
§ Miss Bacon
Since we are discussing the principle of both men's and women's outsize garments in the debate on this Amendment, I should like to put forward the reasons we on this side of the Committee have put down certain Amendments to the section of the Schedule dealing with women's clothes.
I think it is important to get established this afternoon the principle that there shall be a higher D level for outsize and extra outsize than there is for normal sizes. The man or woman who is outsize has to pay more for clothes, and that is an anomaly in itself, but now, under the D scheme, no allowance is made for this fact, and that means that not only are such people paying extra in the amounts which they pay for 871 clothes, but they are also paying a tax of one-third on the extra material which they are called upon to buy.
It will be noted that, in the Amendment relating to women's clothes, we have followed the line of the previous Utility scheme; that is, in respect of coats and jackets, the allowance proposed is 7½ per cent. and 15 per cent., according to size, but, in the case of dresses, as in the past the allowances are 7½ per cent., 15 per cent. and 22½ per cent. This is the practice which was followed under the old Utility scheme, and it is a practice which worked out well. We have put in these figures because they are identical to the extra amounts which the wholesaler charges to the retailer for garments of these particular sizes, and it means that, if we accept these figures, a person who is outsize will no longer be paying extra taxation because of the fact that he or she is outsize.
With regard to women's underwear, it will be noticed that we have not followed the principle of percentages, but have instead put down the various amounts against each particular item. There is nothing very sacrosanct about these amounts, but it will be noted that in each case they are the old Utility scheme figures, and the increase is not nearly so much as the increase with regard to outer wear. The reason for that, I am given to understand by the trade, is that the extra cost of material needed for outsize under-garments is not such a great proportion as that needed for outsize outer garments.
I should like to reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell), has said. He has argued that there should be an allowance, as in the past, for bespoke tailoring, but I should like to emphasise that it is not only the small tailor who makes clothes to measure, but also the big tailor. Many of the multiple and other shops throughout the country also make men's suits to measure, and in some cases they also make women's suits to measure.
It may be argued by the Chancellor that it is not right to give an extra allowance to bespoke tailoring because a person can indulge in some kind of luxury if he can afford to have a suit made to measure rather than to buy one "off the peg," but I would point out that many people. such as deformed and crippled 872 people, who are difficult to fit, have to buy their clothes made to measure and cannot go into a shop and buy ready-made clothes. Because of this fact, I appeal to the Chancellor to make an allowance for bespoke tailoring, as well as an allowance for the outsize person.
I hope that most hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will regard it only as justice that those who have to pay extra for their clothes, either because they are outsize or because, in some way, they possess difficult figures, should not be called upon also to pay extra taxation. I hope, therefore, that the principle embodied in this Amendment will be accepted.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
From the point of view of my own purchases, I have at the moment no interest in this particular argument, but I am a little fearsome of the future, and that is one of the reasons I support this Amendment wholeheartedly. I am hoping that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. W. Fletcher) will add his weight in an effort to try to move the Chancellor to meet us on this point. I am also glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) is here because he will, no doubt, join forces with us, as he has a personal interest.
The argument for some alleviation for those people who are somewhat bulky and who require more cloth for their clothes, and who therefore have to pay more for their clothes than those of us who are slimmer, applies to both men and women. It is very difficult to sustain the argument that because of some physical peculiarity a person should have to pay more tax than someone who has not that peculiarity.
As the D scheme stands at the moment, it is almost impossible for any person who can be described as an outsize or even as a larger figure to buy tax-free clothing. I believe that to be an anomaly which should be rectified. It is also true, incidentally, that there is no provision in this scheme for the easement of Purchase Tax on maternity garments. Although this, of course, does not affect the male side of the question, it is undoubtedly something that should be looked into.
873 During and since the war, outsize women have given up doing what many of them did before the war, and that is make their own clothes. As a result of the war and of the new systems adopted by the clothing industry, this practice has very largely fallen into disuse, and many of the outsize people who made their own clothes before the war are now going to the shops and buying them. Another factor which has helped to bring about this position is that nearly all the textiles bought over the counter bear Purchase Tax at the rate of 66⅔ per cent. That being so, it is much cheaper for people to buy through the ordinary clothing channels ready-to-wear garments and to have any necessary adjustments made to them.
The Utility scheme made provision for people in this category, and I do not think one can justify any new scheme which does not make provision for an extension of the easement given under the Utility scheme. By the abolition of the easement given under the Utility scheme, the outsize person not only pays the normal rate of tax, but is subject also to the uplift, which increases still further the amount of tax he or she has to pay.
I agree, in view of the complications of the D scheme itself, that any scheme adopted must be simple to operate. None of us would like to see the D scheme further complicated, but I believe it is possible for my right hon. Friend, in co-operation with the trade organisations, to produce a very simple scheme which will not add to the present difficulties of administration and will, at the same time, give what is wanted not only by the trade but by the outsize people themselves.
I support hon. Members opposite in asking my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to look very closely into this matter to see if he cannot make some adjustments in order to ensure that those with difficult figures shall not, because of their size, pay any more tax than is absolutely necessary.
§ Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)
When I first raised this matter in the House—and I think I was the first one to do so—I was met with a blank refusal by the Chancellor. He said that nothing at all could be done in this direction. Some of us followed the matter very carefully and raised it in the country as well, and I was very heartened to 874 receive a letter from the Chancellor recently saying that, following my Question and particularly, I think, my reference to the fact that in the Douglas Committee's Report no reference was made to out-sizes at all and that it looked as though there had been some omission, or at any rate that those preparing the D scheme had not noticed that there was no reference to outsizes, the matter was now being looked at, and that, while he could not give any special indication as to what he or the Committee would do, it was possible that something could be done about the matter in the later stages of the Finance Bill.
I can assure the Chancellor that this is a very important matter indeed. Statistics show that there are very great numbers of men and women in the country, particularly women, who are above the ordinary stock size. Some alleviation was given to such people under the Utility scheme by the allowance of percentages above size 42 in. bust. Because of the amount of publicity given to this matter and the request made by outsize women for something better in the way of clothing than they had previously been able to get, the manufacturers have recently been making a very special effort to deal with this question.
I think the manufacturers have done exceptionally well in producing garments which are of a much better cut, fit and quality than outsize women have been able to procure in the past; but they are handicapped by the fact that there is no tax allowance on the extra cost incurred in producing outsize garments. Under the D scheme, the tax, at any rate on dresses and blouses over size 42, commences to be paid at exactly the same level as for ordinary sized garments.
I do not want to stress this point too much because I think it is now agreed on both sides of the Committee that something was left out of the D scheme when it was prepared and has been left out in the Schedule that we have here. I am certain that the letter which the Chancellor sent to me conveys at any rate an assurance that the matter is under consideration and that something will be done in relation to raising the D level as it affects outsizes.
Had that guarantee not been given, I think there would have been much more agitation both in this Chamber and in the 875 country outside concerning this matter. However, I should first of all prefer to hear what the Chancellor's suggestions are and to see whether they meet the requirements of the manufacturers and purchasers of outsize garments of every description.
§ Mr. Malcolm McCorquodale (Epsom)
I should like to say one or two words following upon the remarks of the hon. and gallant Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock), if I may describe her in that way because, in her fight for fair treatment for those of us who are outsize, she has been very gallant indeed. I am sure the whole Committee will agree with that.
It is a fact that those of us who are for one reason or another outsize are exposed to all sorts of jeers and comments. My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), endeavouring to be kind just now, talked about our physical peculiarities—a remark which can be taken to mean more than one thing. It is also a fact that the Press, the music hall and the general public in many cases regard those of us who are outsize as fair sport and figures of fun. It seems rather hard that on top of that the Treasury should think we are fair game for being made to pay more Purchase Tax than anybody else.
I do not know whether the words of the Amendment are suitable to the problem, but I hope that the Government will be able to think kindly of those of us who are outsize. Most of us have to pay more for our clothes than the average small man, and to be asked to pay more Purchase Tax on top of that is rather hard. I am sure the Committee will agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange and myself that we should not be singled out for harsher treatment than other people. In conclusion, perhaps I ought to express my personal interest in this matter.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
After the weighty contributions to which we have just listened, it is with some trepidation that I address the Committee for a couple of minutes. I strongly support what has been urged on both sides of the Committee on this point. A few weeks ago I was speaking in my constituency and questions were invited. We have questions at our meetings, but I am not sure whether hon. 876 Members opposite have them at theirs nowadays. A question was put by a councillor very prominent in public life on Merseyside who weighs 18 or 19 stones.
He asked when there was going to be in the House of Commons a champion of the outsize man comparable with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) who has put up such a great fight for the problems of the not-so-slim woman. I said I was sure there was great sympathy on this point in the House of Commons, and now I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) will be willing to step into the breach.
As the De schedule stands at the moment, there is a tax on a man or woman because of his or her size. It is bad enough that these outsize persons should have to pay more for the material they have to have made up, but now, as a result of this D scheme, for the first time they will be asked to pay more tax on top of that. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell), quite fairly pointed out that in all those very complicated price schedules that the Labour Government maintained under price control, allowance was made for this consideration. I hope the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will say that he is willing to make an allowance under the D scheme.
I hope he is not going to try to sidetrack discussion in any way; in fact, I am sure that he will not. But possibly he might tell us that, as a result of the activities of the Ministry of Food, there will not be any outsize people in this country before very long. In that connection, I remember a Question I had to answer from the Front Bench opposite when I was told that the proportion of outsize people had greatly increased under the Labour Government and the production of outsize garments had been increased proportionately. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West, who sits beside me, reminds me that under the deflationary policy of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite there may be fewer people of considerable girth.
But even if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) loses weight under this Government, he is not likely to lose height. The problem of height will remain. As my hon. 877 Friend the Member for Leeds, West pointed out, this problem of outsize garments is not one of weight and height only. There are problems not related to weight or height but to special and detailed and, in many cases, local contours and configurations of personal dimensions. When the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) referred to physical peculiarities, I do not think he was referring to height or weight, and I believe his right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom misunderstood him.
There are peculiar configurations which involve having garments specially made and having bespoke tailoring. It seems wrong that, because a man's legs are a little long in relation to his body, his arms are short, his waist long, or his hips unusual, he should have to pay not merely more for the materials but more tax as well.
It may be that the Amendment is not considered by the Government to provide the right way of tackling this problem. I think it is probably the best way of doing it and in its detailed drafting it closely follows the relevant Utility Orders. It refers to very odd things like pantaloons and so on. I am not sure in what context they come up. Nevertheless, that was taken from the last Utility Order issued. I think, in March of last year.
If the principle is conceded by the Financial Secretary—and I hope it will be—an obvious difficulty is whether we tackle the problem by a general Amendment to the Clause in this way, providing percentage additions both on outsize and bespoke tailoring, or do it by a whole series of Amendments right through the Schedule, providing separate figures. My own view is that, from the point of view of the simplicity of the Bill, it is best to do it on the lines of this Amendment. This is a very simple Clause and the appropriate percentage of 15 and 30 can be applied by those whose business it is in the trade to apply it to all the figures in Schedule 4.
The Financial Secretary no doubt will give us his views. It may be considered that here, where in fact we are constructing a new tax—because that is what is before the Committee today—wholesalers and retailers should know exactly the appropriate tax figure for every 878 group of garments and should not be left to do the complicated arithmetic of the kind required even under our Amendment.
It may be the Financial Secretary will convince us that the way we propose is not the right way to do it: but if he accepts the principle, we shall be willing always to consider some other way of doing it. The important thing, which I am sure will be supported by both sides of the Committee and will be widely supported throughout the country, is that the principle be conceded that a man or woman who is larger than his or her neighbour, or who for any reason requires bespoke tailoring, is not doubly penalised by the Treasury requiring an extra tax.
§ Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury and Radcliffe)
I have no need to declare my interest in this matter. It is visible. I should like to support the Amendment and particularly the remarks made by the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock). It strikes me as very peculiar that at this moment when we have been discussing a health Measure and arguing about how much benefit should be given for various physical disabilities to every member of the public, we do not realise that fatness, in whatever form we find it, and various peculiarities of figure that arise from it are just as much an illness as the other illnesses we discussed under the Health Measure. I happen to be rather widely advertised as the fattest man in this House, and I am rapidly taking steps to try to lose the title; but I may say that as a result of that, I have received a great many letters from people all over the country pointing out the extreme hardship which exists, particularly in working class homes.
This is a matter of which nearly everybody makes a great deal of fun. We know the famous song "Nobody loves a fat girl." I am not applying that to anybody in particular, but I would say to the Treasury that there is no reason, because they do not love a fat girl, for them to proceed to penalise her by making her pay infinitely more for her garments than she need. I believe that that point of view may not have entered into the heads of those normal-minded 879 and normal-bodied men who control the Treasury at the moment.
They should realise that fatness is an illness. It is often treated as a matter for mirth—girth leads to mirth—but it is really a very serious handicap to everybody concerned. They may not show it, but in due course the extra strain that is put on the whole of the body by fatness—I believe that statistics of insurance companies will bear me out—proves clearly that it is a form of illness. Therefore, why the Treasury, either under this Government or under any other Government, should not seek to alleviate rather than penalise, I find it rather difficult to understand.
In America the matter is handled rather better. When I go to New York, my first port of call is a place called "The Fat Man's Shop." I may say that I go into the boys' department. There are also "The Fatter Man's Shop" and "The Fattest Man's Shop"—this, of course, is under private enterprise—but I have not made the grade in those so far. I believe that the fact that one can go in and get every sort of garment—there is a woman's department, too—after paying prices only very little above the normal, may possibly contain a hint for the garment trade and the salesmanship side of the garment trade, too. Of course, owing to a more generous diet than that to which I am accustomed, I find in the United States that people of great size are more numerous than over here.
However, whatever the cause of the peculiarity of shape and size, there cannot be any possible reason why such people should be penalised in comparison with those who are more fortunate in being normal. I hope, therefore, that this will be regarded as a very serious matter.
This Amendment will not cost the Treasury very much, and I trust that the pleas which have been made by various hon. Members, whether out of understanding and sympathy or because they themselves are sufferers, will have an impact on the Treasury and that we shall hear from the Financial Secretary a sympathetic and reasonable answer, if not agreeing to this particular Amendment, at any rate to some form of words, thus extending to a great many people sympathy which they do not usually enjoy.
§ Mr. Austen Albu (Edmonton)
I should like to follow the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. W. Fletcher) who has been pleading for those who need outsize garments, and I should like to make a plea for those who need special garments.
Not being one of those engaged in the technicalities of the trade, I was interested to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell), make the distinction between outsize garments and special garments. Those of us who have to wear special garments—garments for those over 6 ft. 3 in. in height or with a sleeve measuring over 24 in. or an inside leg measurement of over 34 in.—have found it is impossible to buy these garments off the peg, whether it be a suit, a pair of sports trousers, flannel trousers, an overcoat or even a mackintosh. The result is that we have always had to go into bespoke tailoring.
My recollection is—this is going into the past now—that in the old days tailors used to make up on the swings what they lost on the roundabouts. I do not believe there was any difference in bespoke tailoring—at least not with the tailors to whom I remember going—between the price a man paid if he was my size or the price that he paid if he happened to be a more normal size. But since the war there has been a considerable difference, and now, as has been pointed out by many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, we are not only having to pay extra for the additional amount of cloth involved in making up a suit, but we also have to pay the increased Purchase Tax on the amount above the D level. Therefore, the change in our economic circumstances is very great indeed compared with what it was before the war.
Some of us who happen to have sleeve lengths exceeding certain normal dimensions find that we cannot even buy shirts "off the peg." I am glad to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation apparently supporting me. I am sure he has a good deal of sympathy with my plea, and I hope that he will whisper into his hon. Friend's ear and remind him of some of these things, for we really do need some consideration.
There is another matter in respect of which we are penalised. Those of us who are heavier—and taller people are generally heavier as well—wear out our clothes rather faster. The net effect is 881 that we are put to a much greater capital expenditure than smaller people are. I should have thought that here is a case which the Financial Secretary might meet out of pure altruism. I cannot quite make out from his appearance whether he is going to meet us or turn down this request, but I hope that the arguments which have been put to him will lead him to give us some sympathy.
This is a pretty serious case, particularly when one bears in mind that before the war those of us who had our clothes made up did not have to pay extra, for the tailors somehow managed to marry the big with the little, while today we are paying extra for the cloth and also in Purchase Tax. I hope that we shall not continue to be put to this additional burden and that the Financial Secretary will accept this Amendment.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
I hope that the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) will not expect me to follow him in the fascinating avenues which he has opened up concerning the varying rate of depreciation of a suit in accordance with the dimensions of the wearer. But I do, of course, concede that we are here dealing with a serious point which is of some importance to a substantial number of people. It is one for which, quite frankly, the solution is far from easy.
I certainly start with a good deal of sympathy both for the objects of this Amendment and for the considerations which were put forward in the very reasonable speech of the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell), in moving the Amendment. He laid some weight, as did the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock)—[Interruption.] I am sorry; that only shows the difficulty of the subject. He attributed some importance—if I may so amend my phraseology—to the fact that under the old Utility scheme some valuable arrangements were made. That is clearly a factor which the Committee and the Government must take into account in deciding upon the arrangements to be made under the D scheme.
Of course, it is material to point out that the incentive to have such a provision under the old Utility scheme was considerably stronger than it is under 882 the present one, for this reason: under the old Utility scheme, if certain arrangements had not been made in the Board of Trade schedules, outsize garments simply would not have been made. There would have been no likelihood of any trader finding it worth while to make them. Under the present proposals of the D scheme, that danger is very considerably diminished. It is simply a question of price adjustment, and it is now open to the trader to fix the price so as to cover the extra cost in which he may be involved because of the extra dimensions of the suit or dress, without the catastrophic consequences which those adjustments would have had under the old scheme.
We are dealing with a somewhat different problem. It is a problem which arises from the fact that those increased prices will involve some degree of increased taxation if the garment concerned—from the cost point of view—comes within the upper half of the output of the industry. This problem does not arise where the outsize garment comes within the lower half of the output—where it is below what is called, in connection with this scheme, the "median point." That has become almost a term of art in discussions on the D scheme. It only arises when a person desires to buy an outsize garment in the upper half of the price range.
§ Mr. Norman Dodds (Dartford)
Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that the trade have gone very carefully into this subject and find that there are very few such garments which come below the median point? That is really the problem. In the new D scheme, outsize people, whether or not they want to, have to go into the range which is taxable.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Gentleman may say that—and anybody who is in the trade and is connected with him or desires to talk to him can suggest that—but it is not in fact the case. I think it was the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) who pointed out that before the war there was no differentiation in price. Nowadays there is some, but it is comparatively small and there is really no reason why the trade, so far as that part of their output which is below the median point is concerned, should not produce comparable outsize garments which retail below it.
§ Mrs. Braddock
I hope the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that what he is saying is that manufacturers can make outsize garments at a price similar to that of the ordinary size. That may be so if they skimp the material and make the styles very ordinary, as they used to do. In the old days an outsize garment was nothing but a cross-over garment, tied in the middle with a belt so that it looked like a sack, and with very little material in the skirt.
It is the alteration in the standard of design and the amount of material put into the garment that has created the situation where an outsize garment cannot be made for the same price as one of an ordinary size. If the design is better, the style has to be better. That is why I said that the manufacturers had greatly improved the style of outsize garments. But to try to keep it at the same level, so that it uses the same amount of material as the ordinary garment, will mean that the outsize garment will be so skimped that we shall go back to the old type, because the manufacturer will have to continue manufacturing that sort of garment in order to get his price.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I think the hon. Lady is on a better point than was her hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dodds). The effect upon the quality of the garment comes closer to the crux of the problem of manufacturing outsize garments below the median point.
As the hon. Lady has so rightly said, she first drew attention to this problem. I think she will appreciate that the problem is not the same over the whole range of garments, but is more acute in respect of certain garments than of others. I do not think that that really varies the tenor of my argument. I am trying to put the question in proportion. Over a certain range it is still possible to avoid this problem altogether by buying below the median point, where taxation does not operate.
We are really concerned with the problem of the amount of increase for those who buy above the median point. I have taken the trouble to ascertain what it will mean in extra taxation in connection with one or two garments. In the case of women's pyjamas, the difference is 8d. on the tax for large, and 1s. 4d. for very large sizes. In the case of a woman's skirt, retailing at £2 13s. 4d.. there would be 1s. extra tax 884 in the case of a tall woman and 2s. in the case of a very tall woman.
§ Miss Bacon
In the figures the hon. Gentleman is quoting, is he merely dealing with the tax or is he taking into account the fact that there is an extra price being paid for these garments which has to be added to the cost price? To get the retail price one has to add one-third of the wholesale price, and then there is a tax on top. I think the figures come to much more than the hon. Gentleman has quoted. I have been doing some arithmetic while the hon. Gentleman has been speaking and I reckon that a woman of normal size, buying a coat at £6 10s., will pay £8 13s. 4d.; but a similar outsize coat, after allowing 15 per cent. extra for the outsize and 15 per cent. charged by the manufacturer, would cost £10 15s.—making an addition of over £2.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I do not think the hon. Lady and I are so far apart. The figures I am quoting are the only figures that would be affected by this or any similar Amendment dealing with the increase in tax, which itself is a product of the increase in price. Nothing that is proposed in this Amendment, or in the speeches which have been made so far, has suggested that anything can be done in respect of that part of the cost of the garment which is attributable to cost of production or the retailer's profit. It is related solely to the relief of the extra tax, which is a consequence of the extra price.
I do not think the hon. Lady and I are as far apart as I may have led her to think. I should like to quote another figure which relates to the Amendment, in that it relates to men's clothing. In the case of a man's jacket retailing at five guineas, the extra tax is 4s. I give these figures not to suggest that they are negligible—to a number of people they are important—but simply to put the matter in proportion, so that the Committee should be quite clear about the magnitude of the problem with which we are dealing.
I want to put the difficulties very frankly to the Committee. If it were desired to deal with this problem either on the lines indicated by the Amendment. or on other lines, the difficulty would be that it is of the essence of the D scheme—as I think the right hon. Gentleman the 885 Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) appreciates—that it should be as simple as possible and that it should eliminate, so far as is possible, the immense and voluminous complexity of the old Utility schedules. That is necessary not only for its own sake—as a good thing—but because a very large part of the work of operating the D scheme is placed not upon the shoulders of Government Departments—for whom, perhaps, this Committee may not feel undue sympathy —but upon the shoulders of the manufacturers and, perhaps even more, of the wholesalers.
The accepance of a detailed scheme with different D values for the three categories mentioned in the Amendment, of course, quadruples the number of Ds, produces infinitely more elaborate schedules, and would impose, without a shadow of doubt, very serious administrative burdens upon the wholesalers and manufacturers concerned.
§ Mr. Pannell
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate, of course, that we on this side of the Committee in opposition are in the same position of difficulty as the hon. Gentleman and his Friends were on the occasion of the last Budget, when they were in opposition. He will appreciate our difficulties of drafting and calculating. However, we have consulted the trade about this matter, and the trade is drawn to it as done in this way, as being simpler. It is very much simpler than the old Utility scheme. We have consulted the trade, and this seems to the trade to be the preferable method, and it would prefer, generally speaking, a method on some percentage basis.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
That is a further point, and it leads me to a further argument to which I was coming. It would increase the burden on the trade. It would not produce quite so complex a jungle as the old Utility scheme—it would take some years to do that, in any event—but it would mean a considerable multiplication, so far as the D figures are concerned.
The hon. Gentleman has been in touch with the trade. As he represents the city he does, I should have been surprised if he had not been. It is a fact that they are, not unnaturally, concerned with some of the administrative burdens which the scheme generally imposes on them, and, therefore, this Committee has, I 886 think, to consider very seriously whether, in order to relieve the appreciable burden —but not, perhaps, the very vast one—to which I have referred, it is right to impose this additional burden upon them; whether we do risk overloading the machine, so that the scheme does not work. That is really the practical problem to which, I suggest, the Committee should address its mind.
I now come to the specific terms of the Amendment. Before indicating my own views, perhaps I may be allowed to make a comment on them. Of course, it is based, as the hon. Gentleman told us, on the old Utility specification, nmutatis mutandis, not in a very convenient form from the point of view of an instrument of taxation. The hon. Gentleman referred to the percentages. The Amendment relates, not to the dimensions of the garment, in many cases, but to the size of the person who later on in the process is going to wear it. That was previously, under the possibly more rough-and-ready system required for price control, used in Utility specifications.
When we come to using it as an instrument of taxation, there is probably a need for a more precise and clear-cut line of demarcation, because the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there is a certain margin, in accordance with how well or ill-fitting the garment may be, between the size of garment and the size of the prospective wearer, and that is not a very satisfactory instrument for taxation. That is not an insuperable difficulty—though I think it makes the suggestion in this Amendment unworkable—because I do not think it would be impossible to evolve a scheme in which it was the measurements of the garment, and not of the prospective and future wearer, which were the main consideration.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
The hon. Gentleman is now, from his point of view, on slightly dangerous ground. This Amendment was drafted very carefully, and a lot of thought was given to this particular point. I know that there are two ways of doing it by measuring the garment or by measuring the person whom the garment is going to fit. I recall that one of the reasons one of the Utility Schedules was based on the person and not on the garment was, that it was not impossible for certain garments containing a small degree of elasticity easily to be stretched 887 and to attract a different price level—or in this case, a different tax level.
If he has made inquiries, the hon. Gentleman will know—I may be wrong about the details—that under the B.S.I. specifications for garments, the measurements are based, not on the garment itself, but on the person fitted; it is usually based on the body stripped—in certain appropriate cases wearing a foundation garment. One cannot go into the details: The hon. Gentleman can pursue this matter for himself; but I think—I am speaking from memory—that when we were providing for price control of men's suits and overcoats, the measurement used was that around the waistcoat.
I think that if the hon. Gentleman is going to proceed on the lines he indicates, it would be dangerous, not only from the trade point of view, but from the tax point of view, to base everything on the garment itself, rather than to use the method we suggest. This draft was not carelessly done or taken from a previous draft, but was the result of careful consideration.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I willingly concede that, but I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman has not persuaded me that the dimension of the person who is later on going to wear the garment is a very good yardstick when we come to precise figures of taxation. When we are faced with the fact that all above a certain point will attract a different rate of tax, it is really rather difficult to take that standard. It is a different matter when we discuss it in terms of standards, when we are concerned with Utility specifications; but an instrument of taxation does, perhaps, require more precision. That is one of the difficulties of the Amendment.
I think the right hon. Gentleman is on a good point in the case of garments which can be stretched, but there again, of course, we are up against the difficulty, perhaps, of providing any particular universal formula for all the very wide variety of garments with which we are here concerned, because, as some will stretch to a very considerable degree, others will not without disaster—as some of us with middle age coming upon us are apt to discover. This does illustrate that a straightforward formula like this has its difficulties.
888 That is the problem as we see it. We have, as I readily concede, a real problem which, if it can be relieved without undue complication and an undue burden upon the wholesalers and manufacturers. we should like to relieve. It is also one for which so far our investigations have not found a satisfactory solution.
What the Government propose to do in the light of the discussion which has taken place today is this. As. I said, the real rub of the thing is the burden that it throws upon the trade, both the wholesalers and the manufacturers, and we feel that it would be wrong, without further investigation, to throw that burden, which, our present information does suggest, would be a very onerous one, upon them; but my right hon. Friend is prepared to enter into discussions with the wholesalers and with the manufacturers with a view to seeing whether a satisfactory solution can now be worked out.
I do not want to mislead the Committee. That is not a firm commitment that it will be possible to do so. It is a commitment, no more and no less, to discuss with those who have to carry out any such decision the means whereby it may be or it may not be possible to carry it out. We are quite prepared to do that and to make all investigations that can be made.
§ Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)
If, of course, it is satisfactory to the trade, then will it be put into execution? Can we understand that from what the hon. Gentleman has said?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
No Government can commit themselves by giving a blank cheque to any trade and say that they will automatically do whatever the trade ask.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
I concede that. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter: I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman did not mean that at all.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
It is clear from what I have said what our general attitude is. We appreciate that this is a real problem and we should like to remedy it if we can. It will be in that spirit that we shall seek to find out whether, notwithstanding the somewhat unsatisfactory results of our previous inquiries—the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange, has already pointed out that, at 889 her request, the Chancellor made some investigations into this matter—a workable. practical scheme, fair and not unduly onerous on the trade, can be worked out and if it can, we shall be very thankful to put it into operation. That will be the spirit in which we will enter any discussions.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, there is one request I should like to make to him. We are all indebted to him for the way he has approached this problem, but there is one thing which was not clear to me and other hon. Members.
When talking about the discussions with the trade, he began by saying that he naturally wanted to avoid throwing undue work on the trade. We all sympathise with that point of view, but I hope he will not approach the discussions on the lines of asking the trade, "Is this worth it from your point of view? Do you want to have it, knowing there will be extra work involved?"
Even if there is additional work involved and the scheme is possible, I hope the hon. Gentleman will tell us that he is prepared to go on with it, because we have to consider not only the trade and the extra work involved, but also the position of the consumer. I hope that the hon. Gentleman in these discussions will bear in mind that the issue should not be decided purely in the light of the trade's reaction to the extra work involved, but that the consumers' interests will also be taken into account.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
My answer to the right hon. Gentleman is that already given to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Exchange, that neither the view of the trade nor of any other agency must be conclusive in this matter. All we desire is their assistance, as being the people who have to work any scheme, in illuminating the problem, on which finally Her Majesty's Government will have to make the decision, and for which they and not the trade are responsible to this House.
§ Mr. Dodds
If there is such a thing as sympathy in this Committee for a Government speaker, it will be accorded to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who has made tremendously heavy water in giving some sort of an undertaking. I 890 am sure that those who wish to see some form of social justice in this matter cannot but be disturbed by the very limits which have been gone to this afternoon. It was not until my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) pointed out that there is a consumer interest that the subject was considered at all. Up to that time it was all the shopkeeper and, the wholesaler.
I have got some sympathy for the hon. Gentleman, because it is obvious to those who have gone closely into this D scheme that, although there is an excellent case for dropping the Utility scheme because of the number of items that were in it —it was difficult for the ordinary shopkeeper to follow them—there is no excuse for the Government having gone to the other extreme. It is obvious that the survey was carried through by the Central Office of Information, and the evidence indicates that too much notice was taken of the bazaar stores that sell the small, skimpy garments. How can any Government justify the imposition of a tax purely and simply on the dimensions of the citizen? These people appreciate that if there is more cloth used there is a case for charging more, but this is a new departure in fiscal policy, and it needs more justification than has been advanced up to the present.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton said that there had not been a champion of the men in the House. It happens, however, that I got in even before my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock), who has put up such a wonderful fight for the women, because on the same day that the President of the Board of Trade announced his scheme I made a protest on behalf of those men who were outsizes. It is evident that very little thought has been given to the scheme. It can be described as the product of a bureaucratic mind with a passion for tidiness without the slightest thought of the sociological effect. The Financial Secretary tried to justify the scheme by stating that there was only a small increase in tax, but what about the principle involved in it? Why should an individual be taxed on his or her dimensions? It has never been done before. We must be very careful it is not started now.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange, and I put a general 891 Question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 25th March, and in his answer he said:I fear that the suggestion that there should. be separate D allowances for outsize garments and those of especial dimensions would unduly expand the scheme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 25th March, 1952; Vol. 498, c. 26.]Of course it would expand, but nothing to the extent of the Utility scheme. I speak here with the benefit of advice from the Co-operative movement in the working of this new scheme. They are not opposed to what is in the Amendment. They are selling to 10 million members, and they consider that there must be a question of sociological justice.
The Financial Secretary has a very bad brief. He said that the outsizes could get something within the non-taxable range. But that is not true. Take men's vests, class B at 4s. Where are the outsizes to get anything in that range? The same applies to ladies' nightdresses at 15s., where all are lumped in one class. Where will outsized women get those articles without tax? It is the same with item after item, and probably we shall refer to some of the individual items later on.
In view of what has taken place recently on this subject, the result is bitterly disappointing. We understood the Chancellor was having second thoughts; he said that he was particularly sympathetic. If this Government cannot find a solution to this problem, which is relatively simple compared with the problems they have got to face, then heaven help the people of this country.
§ Mr. Burden
I would ask my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to realise that this is a matter of great urgency and a decision should be taken very quickly. While this is hanging over the trade little business will be done, and there will be nothing to help with the present difficulties in the textile trade. For these reasons, I hope, that the matter can be treated as one of great urgency.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am very ready to give that assurance. I am very conscious of the fact that in all these Purchase Tax matters speedy certainty is of great value, to both the trade and all concerned in it.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
It is not surprising that the hon. Gentleman has given way a little under such pressure, as has been brought to bear upon him. Every speech, from both sides of the Committee, has been in favour of some allowance being made for the outsizes and the special sizes. This has been an interesting debate, certainly from the physical point of view. Sitting here, watching the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. W. Fletcher) and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock), in happy juxtaposition, engaging in a common wheedle before the Financial Secretary, I think it is not surprising that they succeeded to some extent.
I must say, though, that I agree that the Financial Secretary did make rather heavy weather in some of his observations. Let me just deal with one or two of his points to which we cannot attach the same weight as he seemed to attach. He said that no outsizes would have been made under the Utlility scheme unless there were an allowance. In any event, that is no consolation to the consumer, and we are dealing primarily with the consumer. What we are concerned about is that the outsize consumer should have justice.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
A square deal, or a round deal, or whatever you like to call it, but that he should have justice.
The second point which I found some difficulty in following was when the Financial Secretary said it was easier to keep under the D line than within the Utility scheme. Let him imagine that there was no outsize provision in Utility, and no special outsize provision under the D scheme. It would be no easier to keep under the D line than to keep within the Utility scheme. I must say, speaking for myself, I failed to follow the hon. Gentleman's reasoning on that point.
Then he said, "Well, really there is very little in it. There is a comparatively small amount involved."If there is a small amount involved, I hope that means there will be even more ready to make a concession which is costing comparatively little.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I should like to make that clear, as perhaps I did not make it clear in reply to an earlier 893 speech. The financial considerations of this matter are negligible. There is no difficulty over that. The difficulties are administrative, and administrative outside the Government service.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
I am obliged for that interruption, because that brings me to the form in which the allowance should be made. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) indicated, we were ourselves anxious to avoid an enormous number of different calculations, and it was for that reason that we adopted what my right hon. Friend called—I am not sure that I should entirely agree with him—this very simple Clause. It is at any rate simple to this extent. It provides for a 15 per cent. allowance in the case of bespoke tailoring and a 30 per cent. allowance in the case of bespoke tailoring where there is also an outsize or a special measurement involved.
I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell), am advised that there really is no difficulty. My hon. Friend, who has consulted the trade, has said that there is Do difficulty in applying a scheme of this kind, where there is just a straight percentage calculation, and at the moment we on this side of the Committee are in difficulty in appreciating what the difficulties of the trade can be in dealing with an allowance worked out by the percentage system contained in this Clause.
We are all very pleased to hear of the attitude of the hon. Gentleman and of the Chancellor. We take it that, as he stated, there is no difficulty at all from the financial point of view; that it is purely an administrative matter, and that he will consult with the trade. I should like to ask whether it will be possible for him to have his consultations with the trade and to inform the Committee of the position before we reach the Report stage. If that were possible it would ease the position considerably.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I cannot, I am afraid, give any assurance as to that, for this reason. The matter, is, in our view, a complicated one. The working out of a feasible scheme, though we are at least as anxious as the hon. and learned Gentleman that it should be speedy, may not necessarily be possible of achievement before the Report stage. The hon. And 894 learned Gentleman is, of course, aware, that that would not be an insuperable objection to action being taken before next year, because there is provision in the Bill under which action could be taken.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman.
There is one thing which I should like finally to press upon him. The primary consideration should be justice to the consumer and not really a question of administrative convenience here or there. I agree that it is to some extent a question of balancing. At any rate, we have sufficient indication of the working of the Utility scheme in practice, and we have here a much simpler proposal than what is in the Utility scheme, so it is extremely difficult for us to appreciate why the scheme we propose, the percentage scheme, should not meet any reasonable objection that the trade could have. Our information is that it would meet any objection of that kind.
§ Mr. Pannell
If the Financial Secretary cannot give us any undertaking to deal with this by the Report stage, it is reasonable, in view of the fact that he says the difficulty is purely administrative, and that the financial consideration is negligible, that he should tell us on the Report stage where he has got to by then.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Perhaps I might assist the hon. Gentleman. Subject to the rules of order, it would, of course, always be possible to put down a Question at any time.
§ Mr. Pannell
We are dealing with a serious Amendment and trying to make progress. I am not speaking about the odd Parliamentary Question that is put down. I am speaking about, let us say, agreement between the Government and the Opposition. We say we are satisfied with the Government's good faith on this matter, and if he tells us—and this is, after all, common practice in the House of Commons—that because of the time he cannot give us any undertaking by the Report stage, I think it reasonable to ask him to tell us at the Report stage where 895 he has got to. I do not want to be fobbed off by being told I have to put down a Question. I am not the most awkward person in the House; neither do I waste time at Question time in seeking information which is quite superfluous. We shall expect to get some sort of answer on the Report stage, and it is on those sorts of terms that we should ask leave to withdraw our Amendment.
The trade wants something to replace the allowance given in the old Utility scheme. What is worrying the trade at present is not the little bit of extra bookkeeping they will have to do, but the question of their sales. Sales are dropping; the difficulty in the retail trade at the moment is the indecision, and the trade are concerned about this. I may be wrong, but when the hon. Gentleman spoke about his consultations with the trade he gave me the impression that he was thinking more in terms of the wholesale trade. I would point out that this is a matter for the retail trade and not the wholesale trade. This is something that takes place in the Co-ops and in other shops, and not so much at the wholesale level.
If the hon. Gentleman looks through the schedules and sees the allowances that are made in men's and boy's wear throughout the whole range, he will see that to the inquiring layman they seem to be far more difficult than the simple percentage scheme which we suggest. I have consulted the retail trade on this, and I can assure him that they see none of the objections he sees.
The Minister suggested that as I represent a Leeds constituency I might seek information there, but I think that the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds (North-East (Miss Bacon) did go to Leeds for her information. I have also made inquiries in London, and I am assured that this would be the sort of system which would appeal to the trade. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Rhodes), who was former Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, was amazed at the heavy weather the Treasury were making of this.
We shall withdraw the Amendment because we feel sure that it is the Government's desire to meet this matter in justice and equity, and we shall ask the 896 Minister on Report Stage where the Government have got to in considering this matter, in the hope that he will then be in a position to accede to our request. I beg, therefore, to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Colonel Alan Gomme-Duncan) : I
propose to call the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll), in page 10, line 5, leave out "Treasury,"and insert "Board of Trade,"a similar Amendment in page 10, line 14, and also the Amendment in the name of the same hon. Member, in page 10, line 8, at end, insert:so however that where the effect of any such order is to increase the tax chargeable in respect of any articles, such order shall be subject to the approval of the Treasury.
§ Mr. F. J. Erroll (Altrincham and Sale)
I beg to move, in page 10, line 5, to leave out "Treasury," and to insert "Board of Trade."
The purpose of this and the other two Amendments in my name is to restore to the Board of Trade the powers which they always had under the old price control orders of the Utility scheme. The Clause. as amended, would give all the necessary powers to the Treasury. I quite recognise that in the past the Treasury have always had power to decide the rate of the tax on articles and to arrange for the collection of the tax on goods covered by the Purchase Tax scheme, but under the old Utility scheme it was administered by the Board of Trade, as also were the various price control orders which went with the Utility scheme.
The Board of Trade were primarily concerned with securing the flexibility of the scheme so that it would suit the best interests of the manufacturers, the wholesalers and the consumers. A number of people fear, as I do myself, that the passing over of entire control to the Treasury means that there will be introduced into 897 the operation of the D scheme that type of rigidity, particularly in details, which could be so harmful to the manufacturers and distributors of articles made within the D scheme.
The Amendment would make it possible for the Board of Trade to make small changes in the description of articles and specifications where appropriate, which would have the effect of perhaps reducing the tax here and there by a small amount or of rearranging it, while reserving to the Treasury the sole power to increase the rate of tax as a result of any changes. In this way, the Treasury would not lose any of its powers to fix the level of tax, and it would also retain all its powers with regard to tax collection.
The Amendment would restore to the Board of Trade and to the experienced and skilled clerks of the Board of Trade, who understand the complexity of this tax, the power to make such alterations as are bound to be required from day to day in the course of the movement of commerce in all parts of the country. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will see his way to accept the Amendment, which will enable manufacturers to deal in the future with the same Department and, very largely, with the same officials as they have done in the past, and thus maintain a continuity which is wholly desirable at the present time in the administration of this complicated tax.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ H. Rhodes (Ashton-under-Lyne):
I should like to express my opinion on this Amendment. It really does not make sense. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) had his opportunity last Thursday night to do all that was necessary in this matter by voting with us on this side of the Committee about Purchase Tax. [HON. MEMBERS: "I shall explain that in a minute. If the hon. Gentleman had his way, what would happen? We should have two operations. In the first instance, the Treasury would want to know how much revenue would be going to the Board of Trade, and saying, "Will you do the administration of this revenue business for us," and the Board of Trade would then express an opinion back to the Treasury, and we should arrive at the same place. In point of fact, I think 898 that what the hon. Gentleman really wants is to get rid of the whole thing.
The control which the Treasury has on the Board of Trade now is not healthy for the industry of this country. I suggested that at the time of the Budget, and I stick to my opinion. There is no flexibility, and it is a waste of time to expect the Board of Trade to go to the Treasury every time there is a question of difference in taxation.
There is an old history about this matter. The Douglas Committee, on page 61 of their Report, say:Many developments in the Utility schemes which were required to adjust them to changing conditions or to meet new needs were checked because the loss of revenue which would have been involved could not be accepted …"—It was a revenue consideration:Each extension had, of course, its impact on revenue, and this, we understand, was a major cause of the doubling of the rates of Purchase Tax on non-Utility textiles in 1947–48. We have gained the impression that both the Board of Trade and the Customs are concerned at the difficulties created by the fact that anon-revenue Department is largely responsible for administering a very important fiscal concession.So there was that turn between the Board of Trade and the Treasury on this question as to who conceded what.
Under the original scheme it was very necessary for the Board of Trade to administer price control at the production end. So long as it is nothing but a revenue raising device by the Treasury, I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Altrincham and Sale that the Treasury should be pushed out of the picture altogether by the removal of the tax. So long as this tax continues, so will the Treasury dominate the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Rhodes) has made a large part of my speech for me, I think, as a former Board of Trade Minister and a very handsome one at that.
The point on which he fails is that we are here concerned with the raising of taxation. I will not enter into the wider and more controversial topics that may arise on this, beyond saying that, whatever the functions of the Treasury, the fundamental and basic one is the raising of taxes. This is a matter of taxes and of the administration of an 899 important part of the national revenue. I must also call in aid, as did the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Rhodes), the very clear comments which were made in the Report of the Douglas Committee as to the unfortunate developments that follow once that clear line of principle is abandoned.
I can assure my hon. Friend that on all the economic aspects of taxation and all the effects upon the trade which the imposition of this kind of taxation involves there is day to day consultation and the views of the Board of Trade are always available to us, but, ultimately, when it comes to the levying of taxation and to the accepting of the responsibility to this House for taxation, that is a function of the Treasury. For those reasons it is not possible for me to agree to my hon. Friend's argument.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee(Newton)
The Committee is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyme (Mr. Rhodes) for having intervened in the debate. He is the only hon. Member who has had any connection at all with the Board of Trade who has intervened in the debate. It is a most remarkable thing that for two hours we have been discussing Board of Trade matters with nobody from the Board of Trade on the Government Front Bench. I should have thought that we could have expected something better than that from a Government of co-ordinators.
The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) has touched on a serious point. I appreciate that the Financial Secretary is right when he tells us that the Treasury must have control of taxation, but I should have thought that in the position in which we now find ourselves, in which great changes happen in a short time, in which a deflationary situation can arise in one part of the country in a short time, instead of regarding the sale of commodities as something which, in the last analysis, we want to do because we want to levy taxation, the Board of Trade should be brought more into the matter.
If the present recession in the textile trade is to be overcome, the Treasury is the last Department which should be dealing with it. The primary object of the Treasury, as the Financial Secretary said, is to levy taxes. There is something 900 far more important than that once we have unemployment in an industry and sales are lagging. I hope the Chancellor will see that he has the most effective liaison with the Board of Trade so that once the danger line for a commodity is reached, and the sale of the commodity is lagging because of the height of taxation, instant action can be taken.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I can very easily re-assure the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newton (Mr. Lee). There is the very closest connection on these matters, particularly on just the sort of situation to which he has referred. I feel that the Committee need not be disturbed about that.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
I have been looking round the Chamber, and there seems to be a singular dearth of Scottish hon. Members except in the Chair, Colonel Gomme-Duncan. In those circumstances, I rise to express the hope that in one matter the Treasury will not merely take the views of the Board of Trade but will also take the views of that inscrutable figure, the Secretary of State for Scotland, for it appears from the Schedules that the ignorance of the Board of Trade about the price and the nature of a kilt surpasses belief.
§ Mr. Erroll
From the nature of my hon. Friend's reply, I fear that there will be considerable staff duplication. He referred quite cheerfully to the fact that the Treasury will consult the Board of Trade when needed, which means that the Board of Trade will have to keep on all its officials who have been dealing with the scheme and the Treasury will have to build up a duplicate staff of officials to deal with the D scheme. Thus it looks as if we shall see a certain measure of staff duplication instead of reduction, and I am sorry that that should be the case in view of what we have said about the need to reduce staffs in Government Departments.
However, it may be that our fears are ill-founded, and it may be that the Treasury officials will be as alert as the Board of Trade officials have been. Perhaps we can leave the matter until next year, and perhaps my hon. Friend will give us an assurance that he will allow us to re-open the matter next year if the Treasury prove to be restrictive and obstructive.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. R. A. Butler)
This is a very important subject and I rise to say that there is no danger of duplication of staff. There is, if anything, a likelihood of a reduction of staff owing to the many specifications of the Utility scheme having been simplified. In the case of the Department administering this, the Customs and Excise, I do not anticipate that the administration of the D scheme will add to the staff. They are always very hard worked, but I do not imagine that this will result in an increase in staff.
My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) has suggested that he might raise the subject next year. I will go even further and say that for the next five years of the life of Her Majesty's present Administration he has my proud encouragement to raise the matter. I hope that the Committee will now be able to make some progress and proceed to the Schedules, which are of such importance to the D scheme.
§ Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)
I should not have intervened if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not spoken so vividly of the next five years. As my hon. Friends and I may be concerned with the matter from the other side long before then I think it is only fair that I should give the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) the necessary reassurance by saying that we shall be quite willing to listen, from the other side of the Committee, to what he has to say when he is again on this side of the Committee.
I must also add that he will probably receive the same answer as he has done today, because I happen to find myself in agreement, not perhaps surprisingly, with the Chancellor on the point that the Treasury are the best people, through the Customs and Excise Department, to administer taxation. I would add that the Treasury are just as interested in proposals which involve a loss of revenue as they are in proposals which involve an increase in revenue.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)
In view of the assurance which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell), has given should such a tragedy happen that he finds himself sitting on this side within the next five years, has he an assurance from his right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) that he will be in a position to answer my hon. Friend?
§ Mr. Erroll
In view of the assurances which I have had from both sides of the Committee, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Albu
I beg to move, in page 10, line 19, at the end, to insert:
subject to the substitution in that subsection for the words cease to have effect on the expiration of a period of twenty-eight days from the date on which it is made unless at some time before the expiration of that period' the words ' not come into effect for a period of six months and until'.Section 21 of the Finance Act, 1948, gives the Treasury power to change the classes of goods which are chargeable to Purchase Tax and to change the rates at which they are chargeable and also to change the articles within certain classes and groups. They can do this by means of an affirmative Order which must be approved by a Resolution of the House of Commons within 28 days.
I am not very keen—I do not know if many hon. Members are—on the alteration of taxation by means of Statutory Orders, but the purpose of the Amendment is to deal with certain classes of goods, and, although it may appear to be rather widely drawn, I want to direct the attention of the Committee to certain dangers which will exist if the subsection goes through in its present form.
The purpose of the Amendment is to ensure that a period of six months shall elapse before such an Order changing a class of goods or adding a new class of goods to the Purchase Tax schedules can come into effect. I particularly want to draw the attention of the Committee to the effect of the Bill as it stands on the furniture industry. The Committee have already decided not to remove from the powers in the Bill the power to impose a D scheme on the furniture industry, and the Financial Secretary, speaking in the debate on Thursday, said it was not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to introduce such a scheme without full discussions with the trade and that it was not intended to hurry the industry in the discussions which they are having at present on this matter with the President of the Board of Trade.
It is generally admitted that any scheme of this sort, in an industry such as furniture, will be one of great complexity and 903 that it will take at least 12 months before any such scheme can be worked out. That was the reason why we tried, last Thursday, to remove from the Bill power to take such action at all. We were not successful, however, but it is, nevertheless, very important that there should not be over-hasty action in this matter, even after the time at which there appears to be some agreement between the President of the Board of Trade and the industry.
Some of us have a suspicion that in this matter the Treasury may want to go faster, not only than the industry but also than the President of the Board of Trade and his officials, and we want to be absolutely certain that, before such a drastic change is introduced into the whole conditions of the industry, there shall have been the fullest discussion and the fullest opportunity for consideration, not only behind closed doors but also out in the open air, in public.
There is general agreement that it is necessary to provide an alternative form of specifying standards of quality for the furniture industry, and one which is least restrictive in design. That, of course, is the reason why the Government have not introduced a D scheme immediately for the industry but are continuing discussions with the trade.
As was pointed out in previous discussions, when we were discussing the question of the relief of Purchase Tax on outsize garments, it is not only the trade which is concerned in this matter; there is also the consumer's interest. There is a serious danger that if a scheme were introduced by a mere change of the Order, operating within 21 days and perhaps very greatly increasing the prices and also removing the quality standards from the consumer, that would create very great hardship indeed.
Another point I want to put to the Financial Secretary is that the mass production part of the furniture industry, who are concerned with the present Utility scheme, are set up to manufacture furniture under the existing scheme, and they might have to make considerable changes in design and in manufacturing layout if the present scheme were drastically altered. period of six 904 months, far from causing uncertainty in the trade, would, in fact, give them time to make those changes, to bring out new designs, and to make the necessary adjustments in their production lines and methods of manufacture to deal with the new specifications and, of course, to deal with the radical change in the market which might take place following the introduction of these new tax schedules.
I suggest to the Financial Secretary that it is almost impossible to introduce a D scheme into the present manufacturing arrangements of the trade without causing very great hardship to the consuming public. Once a scheme has been worked out, then if we are to be sure and to satisfy our constituents, and if the consumer as well as the trade is to be absolutely certain that no mistakes are being made, we need a period during which the scheme can be discussed and during which we can look for the snags.
I do not believe that discussions taking place behind closed doors, and the consequent laying of an Order to be approved by this House within 21 days, gives an adequate safeguard that there will not be very serious hardships indeed. I therefore suggest to the Financial Secretary that he should accept this Amendment if he is sincere when he says that he does not intend to introduce a scheme of this sort in too great a hurry and without adequate discussion.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu), if I understood him aright, as I believe I did, put his argument for the Amendment solely on the ground of what might happen to the furniture industry. I understand his anxiety in connection with this important industry, but the Amendment, of course, goes far wider than that. It would impose this six months' period in the case of all Orders made under the D scheme, and for that reason alone it cannot be dealt with solely on the basis of whatever steps it may be necessary to take in connection with the furniture industry.
Perhaps I may begin by saying a word or two on the furniture aspect of the matter. The hon. Gentleman quoted, according to my recollection completely accurately, what I said last Thursday— 905 that discussions are taking place and that there is no intention to hurry them unduly. Of course, it will only be when the discussions have concluded that the question of laying an Order will arise, because until they are concluded we shall not know the contents of the Order.
So far as that Order is concerned, therefore, this Amendment would not provide any protection for the length of the discussions but would simply provide a period of delay after they had concluded; and although I must not be taken to prejudge what length of time may be necessary between the end of the discussions and the coming into force of the Order—that is no doubt a factor which will have to be considered in the discussions themselves—nonetheless, I think it would be a little arbitrary to say that in all circumstances there must be a further period of six months before any of the schemes can come into effect. That would unduly tie our hands because, as hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have said during the discussion of several previous Amendments, it is uncertainty and delay which do so much harm in these matters.
The Amendment cannot be based solely on the case of furniture, because it goes far wider than that. It would affect Orders in which the D line might be varied throughout the D scheme. It goes extremely wide. It would impose a freeze of six months during which no alteration could be made. That would create a quite impossible situation. If a change were to be made in one direction, the direction of a fall in taxation, the Amendment would tend to freeze trade for that period while buyers waited for the Order to come into effect. If, on the other hand, it were an order which would have the effect of raising taxation, then the Amendment would simply ask for forestalling of the Order on a very large scale, to the detriment both of the Revenue and of the simple running of the trade.
I appreciate the anxiety which the hon. Gentleman very properly expressed lest Orders of this kind be made with insufficient time to enable manufacturers to adjust their processes and to make their preparations, but I can tell him that we have, and shall have, that fact very much in mind in making these Orders. It would be quite a different thing, however, to say that no change 906 could be made by Order without this sterile period of six months during which the Order could not come into effect.
Let us consider what would happen in the case of a rise in prices. If prices were to rise sharply in respect of one commodity, the D factor, instead of being at the median point, might find itself right down at the bottom of the scale. There would be nothing the Government could do to remedy that, and to prevent consumers of the cheapest goods of the whole lot from having to pay tax under the D scheme, contrary to the spirit of the scheme and to the wishes of the House. We should have quite an impossible situation.
With his experience, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that under Section 3 of the Finance Act, 1948, the period of 28 days, and so on, during which the Motion for an affirmative Resolution has to be carried, is farily generally used for taxation proposals of this kind. It has been the practice to use it under the Import Duties Act, 1932, and under the Ottawa Agreements Act of the same year, and it is the one generally used for regulating Purchase Tax rates under the Finance Act, 1948. It has generally been found to be a not inconvenient procedure. It would certainly be deprived of the major part of its value if it were to have added to it for this particular purpose the very long gap of six months.
I am sure that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, although the Government understand the anxieties which prompted him to bring the Amend-men forward, it would be to introduce very serious difficulties in the operation of the scheme if we were to accept a very long freeze of this kind.
§ Mr. Rhodes
In his analysis of the position the Financial Secretary has asked us to consider the example of prices going up. Surely the greater necessity is to be able to maintain the D value when prices are going down. Then the D value would have to follow, or the amount of goods coming down below the D factor would be more than the Treasury could afford.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
What the hon. Gentleman says is perfectly true, but I was dealing with the position of the consumer. It is the fact that the D is being used at the median point to enable consumers in the lower half of the price range to get tax free goods. In the event 907 of a rise in prices it might well become the case that there would be no tax-free goods in that range. It is true that the converse affects revenue, but that is another question.
§ Mr. Rhodes
I was speaking of the consumer, too. The Financial Secretary has already said that the Government's only consideration in this matter is revenue.
§ Mr. Rhodes
Oh, yes, definitely. I was pointing out that the real reason why the Treasury want to maintain these provisions as they are is so that they can make a speedy alteration in the event of prices going down, as, of course, the hon. Gentleman's party hope they will.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ (Mr. Douglas Jay ((Battersea, North):
(I agree with the Financial Secretary that the Amendment, as it stands—which happened to be the one selected, if I may put it that way—would affect other goods besides furniture. If he could undertake to devise before the Report stage a different type of Amendment which would give us what we want relating to furniture only, we would be very glad to encourage him to do so.
The Government seem to be trying to rush ahead too hastily in applying the D scheme to furniture and the Purchase Tax to a much wider extent. They are asking the Committee to give them power to carry out this big change before it has been shown to be either desirable or possible to apply the D scheme to furniture. In our view it would be much better for the Government to convince us that the change was desirable and possible, and, having done so, to ask us for the necessary powers. In point of fact, they are doing just the reverse.
I am surprised that the Financial Secretary is so very unwilling to make any concession on this point, since in other matters he has shown himself willing to listen to the Committee. I concede that some of the things have so far been rather small. I have listened to all the debates on furniture in the Committee, and it still seems to me that no real case has yet been made out for the proposed change or for giving the Government these powers. It is admitted by both sides of the Committee and by the Douglas Report that 908 the Utility scheme was effective and useful in the case of furniture and was a reasonable guarantee of quality. Under the existing situation something like 90 per cent. of most types of furniture are tax free.
Why are we being asked, therefore, to hurry on and make this change? What is the case so far made out for applying the D scheme to furniture as well as to textiles? Since we had the debate on furniture last week the Chancellor made a general speech about the D scheme which, naturally, related to furniture as well as to other things coming under it. He based his whole case for the D scheme on the contention that we were in default on our international obligations and that we were unable by the existing system to apply tax exemption to imported goods. He explained the difficulty about imported goods and said that it wasnecessary to adjust the general scheme of Utility under the Purchase Tax and the imposition of Purchase Tax as well."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th May, 1952; Vol. 500, c. 702.]We have it on the authority of the Douglas Report that the argument about international obligations does not apply to furniture at all. The Douglas Report pointed out that a system of applying the Utility mark to imported goods was not merely workable but had been for some time working quite satisfactorily in the case of furniture products. Therefore the Chancellor's answer, on his own showing, is completely irrelevant to the furniture industry. In those circumstances it still seems unreasonable to us that, without having heard the case and held consultations with the industry which would have demonstrated whether some different scheme was or was not possible, the Government should want us to hurry on in giving them powers to extend Purchase Tax and end the Utility scheme with no more than a brief debate upon an affirmative Resolution.
We are disappointed that the Government are not willing to be rather more reasonable about this matter and to give us; rather longer time to deal with it. The Amendment is not one to be pressed, because it would not achieve exactly what we wish, but I still hope that the Minister will give some thought between now and Report stage to devising a method by which rather longer time can be given to the House before this change is made.
§ Mr. Albu
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury has not been able to give us any real assurance that it is not the intention of the Government to introduce some sort of scheme in regard to furniture in much too short a time. What they do not realise is the very great change it will make to the consumer. I think we have said enough on this Amendment to make the Financial Secretary understand the seriousness of the matter for the furniture industry. In view of what he said about the general effect of the Amendment, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment made: In page 11, line 18, leave out "it," insert "they."—[Mr. Boyd-Carpenter.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)
Before the Committee agrees to this Clause, we should have a little more indication from the Financial Secretary of the way in which he regards this method of dealing with the Douglas Committee proposals. It is important that we should be agreed upon the general method by which these Schedules have been evolved. Naturally, we do not want to discuss the details at this stage but, after having listened to the manner in which the Financial Secretary replied to the discussion on the Amendment proposed by my hon. Friend dealing with outsize and bespoke materials, I have some apprehensions.
It seemed to me that the mind of the Financial Secretary, if not entirely closed, is almost closed to possible changes in dealing with this matter. As the Douglas Committee pointed out, it is important that we should, if possible, have this scheme working satisfactorily from the start, because it would be unfortunate if we found, having started the scheme, that there were objections to it and that alterations had to be made in it. That would bring an element of uncertainty into the trade which we all want to avoid.
There are two methods in the Schedules by which the rate of tax is to be decided. The first is the description of the garment or article. The second is the material 910 out of which it is made. I was disturbed to find that the Financial Secretary seemed to consider that distinctions between garments on account of their size would be so complicated that he could not feel an alteration should be made in the Schedules on that account. Yet that seems to me to be fundamental, because we are trying to avoid the complexities of the Utility scheme with its wide range of specifications of quality and method of manufacture.
For example, under the Utility scheme there were 781 specifications for men's shirts. We do not want anything approaching that number of D scheme specifications, but is it really satisfactory to have only one for a shirt of which there are such a wide variety of types? There are long sleeved shirts, short sleeved shirts, sports shirts, dress shirts and so forth. There is not even a differentiation on account of the material out of which they are made.
Similarly, there were 405 specifications for women's domestic overalls under the Utility scheme. Again one does not wish to have hundreds of specifications, but is it really sensible, wise or just to have only one? The article concerned may be a little bit of decorative muslin and lace as worn in high class restaurants, with little protective value, or the much more voluminous garment which a nurse has to wear for her hospital work.
Again, other garments are grouped together such as waistcoats, cardigans, jerseys, sweaters, pullovers, slip-overs and bedjackets. These are all to be together as though only one garment were involved. Yet these also are short-sleeved, without sleeves, long-sleeved and so forth.
As a matter of general principle these schedules which we are agreeing in this Clause have been drawn up in such a way as indeed to avoid the complexities of the Utility scheme, but they lead to all kinds of other difficulties. Speaking from the consumer's point of view, there is likely to be considerable dissatisfaction when it is discovered how the scheme works, because those who have drawn it up have gone to the other extreme; having had far too complicated a Utility scheme in its later stages, they have decided on the simplest possible D scheme. I cannot help feeling that it will lead us into further difficulties unless we consider it carefully. 911 I have mentioned the grouping of garments. There is the question of the materials from which they are made. The Committee suggested that only two broad distinctions should be made, those which were made out of a specified percentage of wool and those which were not. In certain circumstances they give some special level for linen garments. They suggest that it is not possible to mix a certain quantity of wool with other materials in order to qualify for the other tax, but I am told that in practice that is already being done to the detriment of the quality of the material. There is also the question of whether silk and nylon should be separately recognised. I do not feel strongly about that because neither of those materials entered into the Utility scheme, but from the trade point of view there may be something to be argued on that.
On the other general consideration, the question of sizes, the difficulty of the Utility scheme was that in order to meet quality specifications there had to be a complex series of Orders, but I cannot see that the same objection applies to size. Where definite measurements can be taken, where garments are normally sold according to definite sizes which are well understood throughout the trade and by the customers, I cannot see why the Financial Secretary should have indicated earlier that he was not prepared to consider variations according to the sizes of the garments concerned.
If he is not prepared to do that on suitable occasions, we shall have precisely what the Douglas Committee suggested we should attempt to avoid, incentives either to distort production or to manufacture far more of certain ranges, leaving people who need the other ranges far less well supplied than otherwise they would be. I hope, therefore, that before we come to the detailed discussion of the Schedules the Financial Secretary will indicate that he is prepared to agree that these Schedules have been drawn in an over-simplified way, and that he has a reasonably open mind on the matters to which I have drawn attention.
§ Mr. Burden
I want to refer to the position of the apparel industry generally. There has been a lot of discussion recently in the House regarding the position of the Lancashire textile industry, and I feel it has gone out that this area is the 912 only one which has been badly hit. Yet there springs readily to mind the situation in Yorkshire, the West of England, Northern Ireland and Scotland, such as Peebles and Galashiels. There has also been much talk of the benefit to the trade by the removal of the Purchase Tax from textiles only. I believe it is questionable at this stage whether the removal of Purchase Tax from textiles sold over the counter would help the trade considerably.
§ Mr. Pannell
Would the hon. Gentleman call attention to the fact that the Ulster Members are not in their places? The very people who were enthusiastic when there were publicised debates on this subject are conspicuous by their absence from the Committee stage of the Finance Bill when the real work is being done.
§ Mr. Burden
The hon. Gentleman knows very well that certain hon. Members for Northern Ireland constituencies have already expressed themselves forcefully on this subject. In my view, the recession is not so much due to sales of textiles over the counter having fallen off as to the fact that many of the ancillary trades are not in full production. The light clothing industry, for instance, which manufactures clothing for men and women—for men to a lesser degree, and in the case of ladies' garments manufactures practically everything except coats and costumes—comprises about 1,700 firms and employs 130,000 workers. In March of this year, there were 12,000 persons unemployed in that branch of the clothing industry, and that figure has since risen. There was also at that time, and still is, a considerable amount of under-employment. 6.0 p.m.
This branch of the trade employs mostly the textiles from Lancashire, and 70 per cent. of the non-wool cloth that is now made is used in the home trade. That branch of the industry absorbs about 30 per cent. of that class of non-wool textile. The apparel industries generally, which include those making outer garments for men and women, comprise about 6,000 firms of 10 or more operatives, and 25,000 concerns with fewer than 10 operatives. It includes the small tailor and workrooms in the big stores, and also includes a number of firms manufacturing footwear.
913 In December, 1950, 655,000 persons were employed in that trade. There are now 611,000, a drop of 44,000. Hon. Members should note that in 1951 the average employment figure for those industries had dropped from 655,000 to 638,000, which makes it perfectly clear that when hon. Members opposite were in office they should have realised that this recession was coming on the trade. Then was the time to start thinking, when they had the responsibility for looking into the future, and to decide what measures should be taken to prevent the crisis arising. But no such steps were taken. In March, 1950—
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
If it were the case, as the hon. Member says, that there were symptoms in those days that ought to have been seen and something ought to have been done about them, is it not a fortiori the case that something ought to be done about it now?
§ Mr. Burden
Certainly, and we hope that something will be done about it. But hon. Members opposite have done everything possible to imply that it is the fault of this Government that these circumstances have arisen—
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
Well, is it not? Mr. Burden: —whereas they know perfectly well that that is untrue and that they themselves ran away from the situation. There were 373,000 workpeople employed in tailoring generally. Added to the 130,000 in the light clothing industry, that makes a total of about half a million. The importance of this to the textile industry generally should be perfectly clear.
Seventy per cent. of the home production of non-wool textiles was used by the trade in manufacturing in this country. For woollen textiles, the proportion was even higher at 74 per cent. The recession in Lancashire and elsewhere is as much due—in fact, more due—to the recession in the clothing trade as to the purchase of textiles over the counter. A great many areas have been suffering as a result. The clothing trade in London, Manchester, North-West England, Nottingham—
§ The Chairman
How does the hon. Member relate these remarks to the 914 Question that the Clause, as amended, stand part?
§ Mr. Burden
I was relating the position in regard to the apparel industry, which is suffering very considerable unemployment at this stage, and I was going to suggest the ameliorative measures that might be taken to improve their position and also the position of the textile industries generally.
§ The Chairman
Whatever the ameliorative position may be, we cannot alter the Clause. It is only the Clause, as amended, that we can discuss now.
§ Mr. Burden
I hope, Sir Charles, that I may make this point. We realise that in the Clause there is a question of certain measures being taken to ease the position in the clothing industry by making concessions in regard to outsize merchandise. I sincerely hope that, as my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary has said, those steps will be taken. I hope, however, that when he makes his investigations, my hon. Friend will realise generally that concessions are needed in order to try to stimulate the flow of clothing and of materials, so that not only can we help the industry, but that revenue can continue to be raised by easing the flow of goods through the pipeline and to the consumer.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) in her very agreeable speech, made a rather unusual criticism of the Clause when she suggested that it might have undue simplicity. That is a rather refreshing criticism compared with those to which Clauses generally are subjected.
I realise, however, that there was a serious point in the hon. Lady's argument as to whether or not we had sacrificed equity to the consumer in favour of simplicity. It is always a very difficult question to find the precise point where the considerations balance, but certainly what the hon. Lady has said will be borne in mind when we come to the discussions on the Schedules, where, of course, the precise provisions are contained.
Perhaps I might say to my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), whose natural concern for the industry the Committee, I am sure, understand, that perhaps it might be more convenient to discuss the precise provisions with 915 which he is interested when we come to the Schedules, which is where those provisions appear in the Bill. We could discuss them more profitably then than in a kind of general discussion on the Motion that the Clause stand part. Perhaps my hon. Friend would be good enough to wait until we reach that stage.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.