HC Deb 27 May 1952 vol 501 cc1201-6
Mr. Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)

I beg to move, in page 69, line 8, to leave out from "the," to the end of line, and to add day following that on which this Act is passed. The object of this Amendment is quite plain and I shall not detain the Committee for more than a few moments. It is designed to bring forward from 1st August to the day after that on which this Act is passed the very welcome relief in Stamp Duty on conveyances which this Bill will eventually bring into operation. In a normal year it would not be possible to bring this date any further forward, but we are fortunate this year in having had the Budget about a month earlier, and, therefore, there is every prospect of this Bill being passed by the end of next month.

I think it is a good idea that the public should be given the benefit of the reduction in Stamp Duty at the earliest possible moment. I understand that some of my legal friends do not like this proposed arrangement, because 1st August has always been the day on which any change in Stamp Duty takes place. I hope that the Government will accept this Amendment, in which event the public will get the benefit at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. Michael Higgs (Bromsgrove)

One hesitates to suggest that what may be a concession might be inadvisable, but the amount of the concession suggested is very small indeed. The proposal is that the concession which was to have been given to transactions after 1st August should now be brought forward to the end of June or the beginning of July. I would say, first of all, that there is some value in certainty. Those who are now negoti- ating to purchase property at a price which will get the benefit of this concession should the Bill remain as it stands, will have completed their transaction for on or after 1st August, and they will make their arrangements according to that proposal. If the Amendment passes they will be left in a state of uncertainty. They will not know what date to suggest for the completion of the purchase, and what date to make their arrangements for moving and so on. I suggest that it is a point worth considering that there may be some advantage in giving a certain date.

My hon. Friend also mentioned another matter, about which those who practise in the law must be a little cautious. For some 30 years it will be necessary for those who look at the titles to property to remember the exact date on which this change took place. Solicitors and others who have to refer back to see whether deeds have been properly stamped must know the date on which any change of Stamp Duty takes place. We now know that for many years past all such changes have taken place on 1st August, and all we have to do is to remember the year. It might help those who have to do this routine duty many times a day in going through deeds to maintain that practice, which has been uniform from time immemorial. It will create difficulties for them, as well as for people who are making plans to buy property, if we depart from the old custom

6.0 p.m.

Mr. E. Fletcher

Some of us think that this is a bad and unnecessary Amendment. I hope it will be resisted, partly for the reasons given by the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. It proposes to introduce a date which would be uncertain, as distinct from one which would be certain

The only possible justification for the Amendment is the assumption that it would bring the concession forward to an earlier date. That would only be so on the assumption that the Bill is passed into law before 1st August. We know that the Government are fairly incompetent and that the whole of their timetable is completely out of gear. We do not know whether the Bill will pass before 1st August. Nobody can tell, with this Government. We did not know for a long time when the Budget would be introduced. Then the date was changed, and the Budget itself has been changed as we went along. I do not assume that the Bill will be passed on 1st August or on any other date. I make no assumptions about this Government and their Parliamentary time-table, or anything else

The hon. Gentleman should not assume that any Bill introduced by the Government will be passed by any particular date, or will be passed at all. It may, or may not. The Government are wise to make a provision stipulating a particular date, and not date the concession from the day after which the Bill is passed. For these if for no other reasons, I hope that the Amendment will be rejected.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The Amendment deals with a comparatively small point relating to the date on which the concession on Stamp Duty on conveyances shall come into effect. The Bill lays down "1st August." The reason that was put into the Bill was, first of all, because some weight was given to the value of certainty, to which reference has just been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs). Also, it was the anniversary of the date when, five years previously, the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) raised the duty. There was a certain tidiness in making the alteration five years afterwards.

I do not think that the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) made out a very good case for the Clause as it stands. If he is right, and the Bill is not law by 1st August, very great inconvenience will arise, if that date remains in the Bill. The reason why a specific date has to be laid down is that Stamp Duties are not covered by the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act, which is known as the "Bowles Act." Therefore, we cannot bring them into force under the authority of the Budget Resolutions. We need the Finance Act, and that is why it is done in this way.

We have had some reason to believe that it is desirable to bring this concession into effect as soon as possible. There is evidence that there has been delay in people going through with conveyances. In some small degree, perhaps, inconvenience is being caused to the public by way of delay in the provision of accommodation. Nobody wants to increase difficulties for any of his fellow-citizens in regard to accommodation. We are all agreed about that.

Though it is not a very great matter, it seems, on balance, that my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) has made out his case. There would be some advantage in bringing this concession into force at the earliest date possible, which is obviously the day after the coming into effect of the Bill. That would enable people to get ahead with the completion of conveyances as soon as possible. The doubts that have been voiced from both sides of the Committee by members of the legal profession are based on the fact that the change would affect lawyers more than the rest of the community. The inconvenience to them, as to me, might be a very formidable matter, but it is for the Committee to decide. We certainly see no objection to my hon. Friend's Amendment going into the Bill.

Mr. E. Fletcher

This is an entirely new situation. When I spoke previously I had no idea that the Financial Secretary was going to accept what I regard as a thoroughly bad Amendment, he having, day after day, refused to accept a whole series of Amendments which we regard as very good. I should like, therefore, to pursue the matter a little further.

The Financial Secretary said that the first day on which this concession could take effect was the day after that on which the Bill is passed. I do not know why that is the case. I can think of a number of alternatives. We could put in "1st July" or we could put a reference to the day on which the Gibson Bowles resolutions cease to have effect.

The argument against making an indefinite date, such as the day after the day on which the Bill takes effect, is that it produces great delay and inconvenience to the legal profession and to people entering into contracts for sale and purchase of houses, who would like to know the date on which there is to be a reduction in the Stamp Duty. If they know that it is to be 1st August, they can fix the date of completion for then, so that they can get the benefit of the relief. Nobody wants to prevent people from getting possession of houses. We all sympathise with that idea. It may be much more convenient to have a definite date in the Bill.

The Financial Secretary has presumably some timetable in his mind when the Bill will pass. Under our financial arrangements, if the Financial Resolutions under the Gibson Bowles Act of 1913 are to have full effect, the Bill must be passed by 11th July, according to my calculations. The Budget was presented on 11th March, and four months have been provided for them by that Act. The efficacy of our Resolutions will cease on 11th July. Therefore, the latest date on which the Finance Bill can pass into law will be 11th July.

Therefore, it would be possible for us to state "12th July" or some other such date. I do not know whether the Royal Assent will be given on 11th or 12th July, or some date earlier in July. It may depend upon whether or not Mr. Speaker certifies the Finance Bill to be a Money Bill, which is not automatic. It may depend on what happens in another place. If the Financial Secretary is making any alteration to bring the date forward from 1st August, he might consider bringing it forward to a definite date like 12th July.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The difficulty about meeting the hon. Gentleman's point and the convenience of the legal profession—which I conceive in some degree to be important—is that if we say that it is desirable to bring the concession into effect at the earliest possible day, then the form of words used by the mover of the Amendment achieves that result. The hon. Member for Islington, East is not appreciating the fact that the date on which the Bill will become law is uncertain.

We are all concerned in this matter with the rights of another place. Therefore, if a particular date is named, such as the one suggested by the hon. Gentleman, which is the relative date under which the Gibson Bowles Act, it may well be the case that the Bill will become law at any rate a few days before that. If one names that date, then one is naming a date which is not the earliest date. If, on the other hand, one names a date considerably earlier than that, great inconvenience will arise if the Bill is not law by that date.

As I explained to the Committee, the Gibson Bowles Act does not apply to the Stamp Duties. Therefore, until this Bill is law, the Stamp Duties remain as at present, so that whatever may be in this Bill, those responsible for the collection of duty will have to go on collecting it until, at the very earliest, the day this Bill becomes law. If we put into the Bill 15th June and the Bill is not law by then, it will have no effect at all except retrospectively, with all the complication of repayment.

I am sure the Committee does not want to occupy much time over this comparatively small matter. The balance of argument seems to me to come down on the side of making it the earliest date and there is no doubt that it is the day after the coming into effect of this Bill. I know, Sir Charles, that you and the hon. Member for Islington, East will acquit me of doing anything to inconvenience the legal profession, and the balance of public advantage is in getting on with this as quickly as possible.

Mr. Fletcher

I hesitate to pursue the matter, but the Financial Secretary will defeat his own object if he does that. The legal profession are anxious to have a definite date. If this Amendment is accepted in its present form, although we know that the latest date for giving the Royal Assent is 12th July, it is not generally known, and therefore the profession and the public will not know when the Bill will become law.

Therefore, all these contracts will be held up because the parties will not be able to enter into them and fix a date of completion until they know whether the Bill has been passed or not. It is a real point and it is essential that a definite date should be put in the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.