The following Motions stood upon the Order Paper:
That the Purchase Tax (No. 8) Order, 1952 (S.I.,1952, No. 2119), dated 8th December, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 9th December, be approved.—[Mr. R. A. Butler.]
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Utility Furniture (Marking and Supply) (Revocation) Order. 1952 (S.I., 1952, No. 2124), dated 9th December, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 9th December, be annulled.—[Mr. Ede.]
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Furniture (Maximum Prices) (Revocation) Order, 1952 (S.O., 1952, No. 2125), dated 9th December, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 9th December, be annulled.—[Mr. Ede.]
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Before the Chancellor proceeds to move the Motion, will you give a Ruling on whether we are to treat this as one debate or whether there are to be three separate debates?
§ Mr. Speaker
I am obliged to the hon. Member. Before I call upon the right hon. Gentleman, I should ascertain the pleasure of the House in this matter. There is this Motion which the right hon. Gentleman is about to move, and there are also two Prayers. Although they are separate Motions, they all deal with furniture, and if it is the will of the House, but not otherwise, I am prepared to allow the debate on the Motion about to be moved to range over the three Motions, on the understanding that at the end, if it is desired to take Divisions on the Prayers, they will be moved formally. If that is the will of the House. I am prepared to agree to that course.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. R. A. Butler)
I beg to move,That the Purchase Tax (No. 8) Order, 1952 (S.I., 1952. No. 2119), dated 8th December, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 9th December, be approved.I feel sure that all Members whose names are attached to the Motions on the Order Paper will be satisfied with your decision, Mr. Speaker.
212 This subject was discussed at some length during the debate on the Finance Bill last May, and I do not think, therefore, that hon. Members will expect me to go in great detail into the considerations which impelled the Government to accept the conclusions of the Douglas Committee about the Utility schemes in general. We decided, on that advice. that these schemes should be brought to an end and that the D Scheme should be substituted for them. When we made that decision, we made it clear that this was a decision in relation to all Utility schemes, and it was not the Government's intention to continue with some and to stop others.
In the case of furniture, this was picked out by the Douglas Committee as a case in which the Utility Scheme was recognised as providing a guarantee of quality. The Committee therefore expressed the view that with the introduction of a D Scheme means should be found of guaranteeing existing quality standards. The Government accepted that view and that is why a D Scheme for furniture was not introduced at the same time as the other schemes last year, but was held over for discussions to take place with the furniture trade and with the Furniture Development Council about setting up voluntary standards of quality. Immediately after the Budget debates, the President of the Board of Trade asked the Furniture Development Council to evolve such standards, and the work which they have done is being used by the British Standards Institution in the preparation of British Standards for domestic furniture.
It was announced yesterday that the first two of these standards had now been approved, and they should be published very shortly. We have been assured by the trade that they will waste no time in getting the rest finally settled, subject to these being satisfactory, and I am assured that there will be no lowering of quality in the meantime. In order to do full justice to the Motions on the Order Paper this aspect of the matter will be dealt with in an interventions by my hon. and learned Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, because before a final decision is reached we wish to give hon. Members every opportunity of hearing our point of view on this matter. 213 It is now my duty to remind the House that the Finance Act of last year made special provision for a D Scheme for furniture, but left it to the Government to decide when this scheme should be introduced. In looking over this, we recognised that it was particularly important that manufacturers should know about the scheme and be able to study it when they were making their plans and preparing their designs for the important trade exhibitions due to take place this month and next—and so we came to the conclusion that we had better proceed without further delay, and a Treasury Order was laid before the House last month introducing a D Scheme for furniture.
It was Section 8 (and Part I of the Fourteenth Schedule) of the Finance Act, 1952, which provided that exemption from Purchase Tax in respect of Utility furniture and the power to exempt furniture by reference to the Utility or other Board of Trade mark should cease as from the coming into force of a Treasury Order introducing a D Scheme for furniture. So the effect of the present Order is to end the Utility Scheme and to substitute D levels as the basis for determining liability to Purchase Tax. The Order, as hon. Members know, came into force on 15th December, but is subject to the approval of the House.
The scope of the Order is limited to domestic furniture, which means that specialised office furniture is not included. Moreover, there are certain types of domestic furniture—if I may so refer to it—including garden furniture and sporting apparatus, such as rowing machines and billiard tables, which were outside the Utility Scheme and were therefore liable to tax, and we did not think it right that such articles should be brought into the D Scheme, since this would have the effect of reducing the amount of tax payable on them.
On the other hand, there are a considerable number of other articles which were never fitted into the Utility Scheme but which will now be in the D Scheme, so that the tax payable on them will be reduced. These include all kinds of cupboards, metal baby chairs, small tea tables, studio couches, school tables and church chairs—altogether a most varied list, which I think should provide some satisfaction to almost everyone present this afternoon.
214 In preparing the D Scheme great trouble has been taken to give as much freedom of design as possible and to try to get rid of the anomalies which existed in the Utility Scheme. To quote only one example—and one could spend one's time quoting many—of the frustrating effects of the Utility Scheme which, as the Douglas Report said, was becoming almost intolerable, ordinary cupboards, including those for hospitals and schools, could not be made as Utility furniture unless they were distorted into the form of wardrobes, sideboards, or book cases.
One cannot expect new ideas to flourish within the straitjacket of such immensely complicated specifications as were laid down in the Utility Scheme. Hon. Members have only to examine some of the specifications in the Utility Scheme to realise the cramping effect they may have on the development of new and original designs. One can hardly imagine the great craftsmen and designers of old, like Hepplewhite or Chippendale and their disciples, having to wade through pages of instructions such as these, laying down in great detail the permitted depth of shelves or the dimensions of carcase backs.
The advantages to the consumer, as well as to the trade, of getting rid of restrictions like these should not be overlooked by hon. Members; but in reaching that conclusion hon. Members should also reflect what are the D levels, because upon the D levels depends very much the satisfaction that some hon. Members feel about the amount of furniture that will be free of tax after this Order is approved.
I can give the House this general assurance—that it will still be possible for a family of modest means to buy all the furniture necessary for their home without paying a penny of tax after this Order is introduced, simply because the great bulk of such modest furniture which is needed to equip a home will fall under the D level. In fixing the D levels for furniture, as for clothes and footwear, the object has been to leave free of tax at least half the articles covered by each heading in the Schedule
§ Miss Elaine Burton (Coventry, South)
I have been trying to follow the right hon. Gentleman's argument. I think the assumption he was making was that furniture would be cheaper because it would not be taxed. As the retailers' 215 margins are going up from 33⅓ per cent. to a minimum of 40 per cent., I would ask him how he arrives at the conclusion that the ultimate cost will still be less.
§ Mr. Butler
I was making a general statement when I said that half the articles will be free of tax. With regard to the effect of price levels on the D Scheme, it would be impossible for me to make a prophecy, and to that extent the hon. Lady's intervention is valuable, because everyone must watch price levels in relation to the D Scheme. In textiles the price level has tended to go down and has operated in favour of the consumer and against the Revenue. In the case of furniture I can give no undertaking, because there have been indications of a change, as the hon. Lady has said; but it is perfectly possible that the movement might be the other way. I am obliged for the hon. Lady's intervention, because it makes my statement even clearer than I had intended it to be, which I think is very valuable.
It would be impossible to reach an absolute conclusion in regard to individual grades and types of article within each broad heading, and such things as expensive mahogany chairs or tables will bear a margin of tax; but at least half of all tables and chairs should be tax free. A special exception—in my view a most important one—has been made in the case of nursery furniture, where the D levels for cots, play-pens, cradles, cradle stands and babies' high chairs have been set at the top Utility prices, so that such articles which were previously tax free should in general continue to be so. Babies' low chairs are included in a group for which the D level is above the maximum Utility price. None of the ex-Utility groups of nursery furniture should bear any tax at all.
It has been represented to the Government that all such furniture should be exempt, but, after looking into the matter in some detail, I do not think there is a case for letting off the really expensive items such as cots with satin quilts. With that sort of exception, however, nursery furniture will be more or less as it was before at top Utility level and therefore free of tax.
Apart from nursery furniture, the scheme is based on the median principle, 216 which ensures that those who cannot afford the more expensive types of furniture will not have to pay any tax at all. As a matter of fact, a considerable proportion of Utility furniture was sold at, or very near to, the permitted maximum prices, and the median points—and that means the Ds, therefore—are consequently much closer to top Utility prices than was the case with textiles and footwear. This means that the incidence of tax on goods of top Utility quality is correspondingly lower. In fact, with perhaps one or two exceptions, the tax should not exceed 8 per cent. of the retail price of top Utility goods.
Let me give an example to the House. The maximum retail Utility price for a small settee with loose cushions was just over £35. The tax on an article of this price under the D scheme would be rather under £2 10s., or approximately 7 per cent. of the retail price. The percentage of tax for an easy chair with loose cushions would be about the same, that is, about 7 per cent. For a five-foot by three-foot dinner table of top Utility quality it would be as low as 2 per cent. Hon. Members will therefore see that, in accepting this Order, they are accepting something perfectly reasonable to replace the previous system.
At this point I must say a word about the implications of the scheme for the Revenue. It is expected that the revenue from furniture will be about £8 million in a full year. That is a small increase over the yield of the existing tax on furniture, which is estimated at about £5 million. It is, of course, a matter of regret to me that I should have to introduce any measure which results in an increase of taxation, but the House will realise that, in doing this, no new decision has been involved, because full warning was given at the time of the Finance Bill and the Budget debates.
The application of the D scheme to furniture was, and is, part of the Government's acceptance of the Douglas Report as a whole; and this was fully discussed in our previous debates. This scheme, as discussed in our debates, involved some sacrifices in revenue in certain cases which were offset by certain increases in others. It is against this background and against the background of our previous debates that I ask the House to accept the Order.
§ Mr. George Porter (Leeds, Central)
In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said—that he will get £8 million under the new scheme by comparison with £5 million under the old scheme—and in view of the reduction which is to be made in the tax on higher grade furniture, which will reduce the yield of the tax, is it not clear that he will receive all this additional tax from the middle class type of furniture, which is bought by middle class families, in addition to the amount which he will lose on higher grade furniture?
§ Mr. Butler
It is very difficult to bring out an equation which would be accepted, but, as I have said, about half the goods in each of the Schedules will be free of tax. But it is impossible to carry the assurance on how this will work any further than that. The fact that more money will eventually be raised means that extra burdens will be imposed, and it is always better to be quite frank about that, but the extra burden of £3 million at stake in this case is inconsiderable when set against the value of sales which, for domestic furniture alone, amount to about £125 million a year.
That, I think, puts the whole thing in perspective and, as I say, I believe that a family of modest means will be able to get the furniture they want largely without tax and, if they go up to a certain degree only, they will pay a very small percentage of the tax. I think, in view of the national needs at the present time, this will not impose any undue hardship on the taxpayer, much as I regret having to increase taxation in any way.
I am particularly sympathetic to the problems of newly-married young couples setting up house for the first time. Expenditure on furniture is usually a very big item in their accounts and many must wait for a long time before they can afford to fit out their homes completely. I do not believe, however, that this scheme need necessarily mean any very large addition to the cost of any furniture, and it will always be possible to buy good furniture that is free of tax altogether. That is why I imagine that hon. Members will attach the same importance that I attach to quality, which is of fundamental importance to those who purchase, and to those who attempt to purchase, below the D level, thus avoiding the tax.
The standards now being worked out by the British Standards Institution will 218 be quite different, in the way they are worked out, from the Utility scheme. They will be based, I am assured, on physical performance, which, I suppose, means the most active testing of the different types of furniture—perhaps by some of those outsize people whom I was unable to help in the course of the Budget debates. In any event, there are to be physical and practical tests of the furniture before it is passed for the standard, the design being to show up any physical weaknesses in the construction before goods are put on the market. These standards, combined with artistic standards, are, I think, of the utmost importance so that people may know what they are buying.
I believe that when they are introduced we shall have standards the quality of which we have not seen before. Furniture made in accordance with these standards will bear the British Standards Institution "Kite" mark. I hope hon. Members will help those concerned in making a success of this scheme when it is fully understood. I shall not pursue this matter further because my hon. and learned Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade is here, as I say, to deal with any points on this aspect which primarily affect his Department.
Let me say that the Government have proceeded with the D Scheme for furniture only after the most careful thought and after considering all possible objections. In a matter of this kind, particularly if you hold a position such as mine, you are always coming across those whose interest it is to preserve things exactly as they are and who will make the most alarming predictions about the consequences of any change whatever—sometimes before they know what the change is going to be. That is typical at this time of year and in my position.
It must, indeed, be a constant source of wonder to any Chancellor of the Exchequer to see around him, still alive and flourishing, industries which he had been told in previous years would be utterly ruined by his iniquitous schemes. That is why I was encouraged to read the following in a responsible journal of the furniture trade only a few days after the introduction of the D Scheme last December:In a general way, the actual amount of tax payable on individual articles appears to be 219 quite modest, and is most unlikely to sound the death-knell of the furniture industry.I was encouraged to read, elsewhere, that a paper which said of the D Scheme, in November, that it "bristles with difficulties," a month or so later admitted.Contrary to expectations, we have received a surprisingly small number of inquiries from either manufacturers or retailers concerning the D scheme, and we understand that neither the B.F.M. nor the N.A.R.F. has been unduly troubled by questions … with the exception of the calculation of the carcase volume of some of the cabinet furniture.Hon. Members will accept this technical language which is used in the trade.
That is the right spirit in which to approach this scheme. I think there will be an extra burden imposed. I think the trade will have many new problems with which to deal, particularly before their big trade fair, which is about to take place. But if that is the spirit in which the trade are accepting these changes, I wish them well in the complications with which they will have to deal, which the Government have imposed upon them.
§ Mr. Butler
From the consumers' point of view, I think that the drawbacks of the scheme have, perhaps, been similarly exaggerated. We no longer live in a world in which the user of furniture has little choice in these matters—in which he or she must simply take what is offered or go without. Indeed, I believe that the removal of restrictions on design, and the re-opening of what was known in previous debates as the "blind spot," should encourage the production of a greater variety of good quality furniture at competitive prices.
I hope that in view of the fact, which hon. Members will remember, that one of the fundamental reasons for the Government's accepting the D Scheme was to fulfil our international obligations, which were stated by the previous President of the Board of Trade, they will realise that these results may also be reflected in our export trade and in our international reputation. In these circumstances, I ask the House to accept the Order.
§ Mr. Harry Wallace (Walthamstow, East)
Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, may I put this point to him? I do so because he is the Chancellor of 220 the Exchequer. He expressed great sympathy with the newly married. I am sure he knows the difficulties of building up a home on workers' wages. Cannot he consider exempting the newly-married people from Purchase Tax altogether?
§ Mr. Butler
It would be beyond the ingenuity of the Revenue or Customs and Excise to devise a category which escapes tax in this way. Otherwise, I think there would be an undue and rash rush into the bonds of matrimony.
§ 4.12 p.m
§ Mr. Austen Albu (Edmonton)
I cannot say that the brief speech we have had from the Chancellor has warmed the House to acceptance of this extraordinary change. In fact, he has really brought no. arguments in its favour at all, and I am afraid I must take some time of the House to go a little more deeply into the reasons for the change and its introduction. It is probable that the Government realise that there is a good deal more in it than the Chancellor has so far admitted, because it is highly significant that the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself should come to the House to move the approval of an Order under an Act which has already passed through Parliament.
I suspect that the reasons the Chancellor has felt impelled to do this are two. The first is that he is no doubt aware that there is very considerable dislike on the part of his own supporters on the Government benches of this increase of taxation. After all, whatever the figures, it is an increase of taxation, particularly of taxation on goods used in the household. Second, I suspect that since the passing of the Finance Act the Chancellor and the Treasury and the Government as a whole have become aware of the full implications of the changes which they are making, of which they were certainly not aware at that time.
I would remind the House that the D Scheme for furniture was introduced into the Finance Bill almost absent-mindedly. No mention whatsoever was made of the intention to do this in the Budget, the only reference to furniture being in a speech by the President of the Board of Trade, who said it was proposed to leave furniture as it was; and he went on to say that it provided a good deal of quality specifications, and that he would conduct an inquiry to see what it was pro- 221 posed to do. On Second Reading of the Finance Bill, the Financial Secretary underlined this, because he said:The Utility scheme had largely outlived its usefulness—except, perhaps, in the case of furniture, where, as the House is aware, we are retaining it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 7th April, 1952; Vol. 498, c. 2300.]Even by the time of the Committee stage of the Finance Bill the Government were certainly not aware of what they were doing in introducing a scheme of this sort.
It was quite clear to us in debate that the Financial Secretary had not the faintest idea of how Utility operated or of the levels at which tax became payable, or of the amount of furniture sold which was subject to tax. He tried, by referring to median levels, to imply that somehow or other as much furniture would be relieved of tax as would have it imposed on it, and the Chancellor, by quoting some rather peculiar examples today, has pretended that that in fact is taking place. Of course, nothing of the sort is happening.
The Financial Secretary promised that there would be discussions with the trade and promised that there would be no rush in dealing with—in his own words—"this complicated and difficult matter." I suggest to the House that, despite that promise, not to rush the discussions—and I am referring not only to discussions about the D scheme and to the codes for the D Scheme, but particularly to quality standards—they have been scandalously rushed.
I suspect that this bright idea of introducing a D Scheme for Purchase Tax on furniture was thought up by the Customs and Excise because they thought this was a nice tidy scheme which fitted in, after all, with the introduction of the D Scheme for clothing and textiles.
The Chancellor today has shown in fact that he has not really understood what is implied, because, although he appeared to recognise the reason for the Douglas Committee's recommendation of a D Scheme for textiles, that is to say, the problems of international trade and imports, this does not, of course, apply to furniture at all. Practically no furniture whatever is imported, and the Douglas Report specifically recommended that the Utility Scheme should continue in operation for furniture.
222 I suspect that this proposal was introduced into the Finance Bill without any consultation with the Board of Trade. In fact, I remember very clearly that no Minister from the Board of Trade attended our debates on the Purchase Tax at all. We had to draw attention to the discourtesy of the Government in not having such a Minister present.
The truth is that the Board of Trade is an appallingly weak Department as far as the Government are concerned, and I imagine that the reason the Chancellor came today himself is that he cannot trust the Ministers at the Board of Trade to wind up the debate. We all regret that the President is unable to be present, and we are sorry that he is suffering from a painful illness, but the truth of the matter is the Board of Trade has shown itself ignorant of trade and industry, and I suspect that the Chancellor thought that he would do better to leave the winding up of this debate to the able advocacy of the Financial Secretary.
It is an extraordinary thing that a Government who pride themselves on having so many business men amongst them cannot include more than one of them amongst Ministers sitting on the Front Bench. I do not know whether the Chancellor regards himself as a business man or not, but apart from him there is only one business man amongst them, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour. I am sure that it is galling for hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that so few of them with experience in industry sit on the Front Bench; but there are not so many of them as some people think, and the truth is, of many of them, that the only experience of industry they have had dates from when they were first appointed to a board of directors.
The Chancellor made a great deal of play about the small effect of this change of taxation. Nevertheless, it is £3 million more taxation on household goods, and the fact is that it is going to increase Purchase Tax on household goods from £42 million to £45 million. There is no doubt at all that the D levels would be very much lower and the amount grabbed by the Revenue very much higher but for the fact that there was very strong pressure exerted from this side of the-House during the passage of the Finance Act, and as a result the level of tax has 223 been fixed at approximately 80 per cent. of the Utility level.
It means in fact that about 70 per cent. of the sales are now going to be tax-free. This will, however, increase by 20 per cent. the amount of furniture to be taxed, provided, of course, that people continue to buy the same quality furniture of the same specifications. This, of course, is by no means certain, because it is highly likely that in the circumstances people will be forced to buy inferior furniture.
Whatever the furniture manufacturers may since have said—perhaps after some discussions with the Chancellor or members of the Government party—the fact is that the first statement issued by the British Furniture Manufacturers' Association said:if the 'D relief' line is fixed at a level lower than the present Utility maximum prices then this will inevitably lead to a general debasement of present quality standards and will also seriously undermine the structure of the industry in that it will give very favoured treatment to large mass-production firms as against the bulk of the industry which is made up of small and medium-sized firms.This danger of deterioration of qualities is especially serious when we take into account the effect of ending of price control and Utility standards.
The principal worry of the majority of the trade, with which they are still worried, are the great complications and anomalies in the scheme. If the Government want to claim credit that they have got some of the trade Press, or some sections of the leaders of the trade associations, to say they are not so unhappy now about the scheme, I would remind them of the experience they had in dealing with the iron founders in relation to the Iron and Steel Bill. I would remind them of the fact that, although one or two have expressed themselves as satisfied, that does not by any means mean that the whole of the manufacturers are satisfied with this scheme. The scheme remains largely opposed. The "Cabinet Maker," a trade paper, said on 15th November:While it might be possible for the larger manufacturer, with his good clerical staff, to cope with the ramifications of the scheme it would be quite impossible for the smaller manufacturer. The amount of work involved in checking every individual article to see whether it came below or above the D line, the returns which would have to be made 224 to the Commissioners, and extra staff which the Commissioners would require to adequately deal with it, would be out of all proportion to the amount of tax which would be collected.They went on to refer to the ridiculous attitude of a Government which, on the one hand, subsidises the building of houses for the people and in another Department puts more tax on the furniture going into those houses.
The scheme treats furniture—this may have some relevance in view of what the Chancellor said about treatment of design—either as standardised boxes or as tables in which the only important thing is the area. Dressing tables are very hard hit, while mirrors are not included and still are subject to 100 per cent. Purchase Tax. A bed settee—a very important article in a humble home where space is of great importance—secures only the D line for a settee and no allowance is made for the spring mattress included in the bed settee. Bookshelves open at the back, front and sides, of good modern design, are not included in code F1 and have to pay the full tax.
A firm makes a woven type of nursery chair but containing a musical instrument in the seat which used to be classed as Utility by the Board of Trade; it is now classed by the Customs and Excise as a musical instrument and pays 66⅔ per cent. [Laughter.] I realise that this may seem a joke, but what an arbitrary decision it is that two Departments of Government should take such a completely different view of the same article and that the manufacturer, who has been making and selling the article tax-free for two years, should now find himself subject to a tax of 66⅔ per cent.
A rather more serious case, which I think the House will agree is really a scandal, is that of a firm quoting for easy chairs for an old people's home. The committee buying these chairs considered that because they were for old people they needed to be two inches higher than standard. As a result, these chairs come under F (3) (c) (iii) and have a D. level of £2 10s. whereas they would have come under F (3) (c) (i) with a D level of £12. As a result, there is a tax of £2 on each chair.
§ Mr. Frederick Gough (Horsham)
If the hon. Member is referring to the old people's homes of West Sussex County 225 Council, as I think he must be, on application this was immediately represented as an anomaly and the tax was waived.
§ Mr. Albu
I have no doubt that if the manufacturer takes up every single case and there is a great deal of discussion and correspondence, some of these things can be put right, but a system of taxation which involves special concessions in every case is not usually a fair one, nor easy to operate.
As to the complications, the Customs and Excise have insisted, as is perhaps necessary in this scheme, that each item must be separately invoiced. They recommend invoices of up to 10 columns and 13 inches wide. That makes it extremely difficult for manufacturers using normal typewriters and invoicing systems. Some manufacturers have put forward the view that they would like to have a general sales tax on furniture as being the most simple thing to operate. I say right away that we on this side of the House would oppose such a general sales tax on household goods, absolutely to the bitter end. There are already enough regressive general sales taxes on consumer goods. We will certainly never agree to the substitution of such a general tax for Purchase Tax.
The full effect of what the Government are doing can only be understood if one considers the Orders for price control abolition and the abolition of Utility standards. Order No. 2125 abolishes price control completely. The Chancellor used the argument that competition will keep prices down without the necessity of price control. As one would expect, in view of the way in which the whole business is being treated, that takes no account of the nature or history of the whole industry and particularly of the extraordinary power exercised by many of the retailers.
It is not only that the industry is becoming highly concentrated on the retail side, but many difficulties arise because of the impossibility of building up or holding stocks by reason of the bulk size of the products. It is necessary to have a regular flow from manufacturer to retailer and consumer. This gives very considerable power to the retailer. The House will know of one large firm which already owns 700 retail stores and is doing between one-fifth and a quarter of 226 the retail trade. Recently it was trying to acquire another large section of the retail trade and it looked as if it was unsuccessful. But it now looks as if it will be successful in increasing its stranglehold.
The Order not only abolishes overall price controls but abolishes control of retail margins, which are already going up. Under the Price Control Order they were fixed at 33⅓ per cent. on cost alone without tax. Recently the manufacturers asked the National Association of Retail Furnishers to advise them as to what price they should put on the goods they were to show at furniture exhibitions. Most of such goods are not price-controlled or branded goods but are sold subject to a mark-up by the retailer. Manufacturers showing goods at a trade exhibition which the ordinary public attend want to put a price on the article. Retailers have recommended that they should put on a mark-up of 40 per cent. on cost including Purchase Tax.
That is not the end of it, because already there are retailers demanding settlement discounts: in the case of the more powerful firms of up to 5 per cent. theoretically for one month, but in actual fact it is 5 per cent. They are putting pressure on the manufacturers to comply with these conditions and they urge retailers to report to their Association so that the Association can write to manufacturers, as they are already doing, threatening to withhold custom if they do not comply. The general effect of this increased taxation and increased retailers' margins is to put up the retail price by between 10 and 20 per cent. for the same or equivalent quality of furniture.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
Before leaving the question of retailers' margins, will the hon. Gentleman make clear that a statement has been issued by the retailers' federation that this suggestion was made in respect only of the furniture sold at the Fair, and that it deprecates in general fixed margins being recommended by the Association and believes that margins ought to vary owing to the competitive conditions of various businesses?
§ Mr. Albu
No doubt that may be true. But if the Association, representing the larger section of the trade, appeals for 40 per cent. on cost plus Purchase Tax 227 as a fair margin, it is pretty certain that very few retailers will put less on.
I should like to quote one or two examples. A four-foot wardrobe, which used to retail at £37 6s. 8d., under the D scheme and the new mark-up and discount arrangements —assuming the manufacturer will have to increase his price by the amount of discount to the same extent—is going to cost £42 14s., an increase of £5 7s. 4d. A popular dining room suite. which was retailed at £52, under the D scheme will cost £60. an increase of £8. An easy chair which sold for £22 16s. 8d. will, under the D scheme, cost £27 15s., an increase of £4 18s. If we add together the retailer's mark-up at 40 per cent. and 5 per cent. settlement discount, it is likely that the retailer's margin of profit will be 32 per cent. on sales. This compares with figures which were recently published in the 1950 Census of Distribution of 24.8 per cent. for clothing, 27.3 per cent. hardwear, and 27.5 per cent. for the whole furniture group in 1950. It is likely under the new arrangements to represent an increase of 5 per cent. at least on a turnover of £160 million or £8 million plus £3 million or £3½ million Purchase Tax; that is, a total of £11 million. I do not know whether the economists would consider the effects inflationary or deflationary.
No doubt hon. Members opposite, speaking for the retailer, will argue that his costs have gone up and his margins have not increased. I would only point out that the volume of sales is very high now, and probably higher than before the war, for many reasons. I do not think there is any need for these increased margins if one looks at the figures of profits made by the trade. Taking, first, a Department Store—Maples in 1950, made a profit of £558,434; in 1951, £497,487; and in 1952, £636,177. The Times Furnishing Company, for the year ending 31st December, 1949, made a profit of £283,887; 1950, £585,025; and 1951, £719,163. Great Universal Stores, for the year ending 31st March, 1951, made a profit of £8,161,150 and for the year ending the 31st March, 1952, £10,007,555.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
Surely the hon. Gentleman knows that the Universal Stores cover a great variety of trades, and that furnishing is only one of 228 them. If he gives these figures, he should break them down or make clear that they do not apply only to furniture.
§ Mr. Albu
A very large part of the trading of Great Universal Stores is in respect of furniture, and if they are losing money on furniture it is difficult to believe that they could build up their profits by £2 million in the last trading year. No one can deny that the Times Furnishing Company, whose profits have risen from £588,000 to £719,000 in the last recorded year, is not a furnishing company.
It is no good the Chancellor of the Exchequer drawing attention to what has happened during the last three or four weeks. We are at the beginning of the slippery slope, back to conditions before the war, when retailers' profits for furniture varied from 100 to 150 per cent. I do not believe that 40 per cent. is going to be the end. One of my friends, selling to retail traders, says that he knows that retailers are putting 50 per cent. on what used to be Utility furniture. I am pleased to note that for the time being the Co-operative societies have agreed to keep their margin at 33⅓ per cent.
I turn to the argument that competition will restrain retailers' margins on prices. This can only be at the expense of quality. The retailers have themselves admitted this in their defence of the agreement which they have made to restrict competition in hire purchase terms. If they were not frightened of their own members and the way in which they behaved before the war and are likely to behave again, why could not they leave hire purchase terms to free competition?
I do not know why it is necessary to have restrictive agreements on hire purchase terms. The reason can only be because in the past customers buying this particular class of goods on hire purchase were unable to judge what was a fair price or fair quality. Most of this trade is done through hire purchase, and the average customer going to a shop does not pay £30, £40 or £50 for a suite of furniture; he pays so many shillings a week, and it is very difficult to judge a fair price when buying furniture under those conditions.
We all know how difficult it is for a customer to judge quality when buying an article in this way. Furniture is not the sort of article which he buys today. wears out and throws away tomorrow, 229 and loses only a few shillings. The furniture which he buys he has to live with for the whole of his lifetime. If there is consumer resistance for these price increases, the retailer, in order to maintain his margin, will force the manufacturer to supply a cheaper article, even of a lower quality. This he cannot do, because if we allow Order No. 2124 to go through, we shall have the complete abolition of the control of quality which was maintained under the Utility Scheme.
I will remind the House of the history of this scheme. This "imaginatively conceived scheme," as the official historian has described it—was introduced in 1942 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), as a guarantee of quality in the difficult times which we were passing through, so as to be able to supply furniture of a reasonably decent design and quality to people building up homes for the first time, or people who had been bombed out of their homes. The scheme was very popular during those war years, and the word "Utility" became, in the words of my right hon. Friend, a "noble title." No one will deny the influence which this scheme has had on standards in the furniture industry, not only during the war but after the war, when there was very considerable modification and relaxation.
I must take up the Chancellor of the Exchequer's argument that there was no freedom of design under the Utility scheme as modified after the war. There was great freedom of design. I am not arguing that completely new and revolutionary methods of construction were included under the scheme, but that is no reason why the scheme should not be modified so as to include these new and revolutionary standards of construction. That such a scheme was needed after the war is born out by the report of the 1946 Working Party, which says:Competition also led to low prices and thence through a depreciation in quality … The public generally buy furniture so seldom that their ability to assess quality and suitability is limited. … Responsible manufacturers tried hard to maintain a decent standard but were driven to produce articles which were in some respects inadequate for the purpose for which they were intended. At the lowest end of the trade, workmanship was skimped, poor materials were used and thoroughly shoddy furniture was produced.230 They went on to say:… we believe that an appreciable volume of unsatisfactory furniture against which the public might justly claim to be protected was in fact produced, that the quantity of bad furniture was increasing in the years immediately before the war, especially in the case of upholstery where so much of the materials and workmanship is concealed, and that the evil represented by the production of such furniture is sufficiently far-reaching in its impact on the lower income groups to justify very serious efforts to find a remedy.I want the House to ask itself if it is satisfied that these dangers have completely gone. Those who do not follow the industry very closely may at least take some account of reports in the trade Press. The trade Press is in a difficult position; it does not want to give the industry a bad name and yet it wants to report the facts. Here is an extract from the "Furnishing World" of 16th January. The heading is "Pressure to reduce quality, report frame makers." The report says:The question of the maintenance of quality in the production of chair and settee frames was considered at a recent meeting of the National Council of the Chair Frame Manufacturers' Association.It was appreciated that pressure was being brought to bear on members to lower their standard in view of the abolition of the Utility scheme.On the other side of the page there was the following:Danger of lower quality springsSmall makers' fearsFears that a debasement in the quality of springs for furniture would take place, were expressed at the first meeting of the new Working Masters' Section of the L.F.M.During a discussion on the D Scheme, a member said that some spring makers were offering lower quality springs and that any such debasement in quality could only react to the detriment of the industry.The "Cabinet Maker," on 17th January. also referred to this very serious problem. There have been many reports in the Press which indicate that already pressure is being brought to bear on manufacturers to lower their quality. A retailer said to a friend of mine, "What are all these screws for? Nails were good enough before the war."
During the debate on the Finance Bill it seemed to us that the Government accepted the view that no change should take place without some new new guarantee of quality being introduced. On the Report stage the Financial Secretary referred to the D Report—[Laughter.]—to 231 the Douglas Report—he may by now consider it a "D Report"—suggesting that before the D Scheme was introduced arrangements to secure standards of quality at least as effective as those under the Utility Scheme should be provided. He said that the President of the Board of Trade was having discussions with a view to proper standards of quality being inserted in the D Scheme. The Financial Secretary gave an assurance that it was not his intention to rush through the scheme or to put it into effect without proper time being provided for thought.
The Chancellor has announced—the Press had a notice today—that standards are now being approved. The Chancellor was careful. He said standards "are being" approved, I believe; I could not quite make out whether he said they "had been" approved, and I have no doubt that the Parliamentary Secretary will clear that up for us when he speaks. I must warn him that I shall look upon any statement that he makes with grave suspicion unless he tells us all the facts about the way in which these standards have been drawn up, discussed and approved.
I understand that no standards were approved or announced until Monday of this week. On that occasion, I understand, standards were agreed by the British Standards Institution, or its appropriate committees, for dining chairs. I understand that conditional approval was given for standards for case goods, which means wardrobes and cabinets, but that is only subject to the technical committee being able to work out the proper performance tests and then it is subject to circulation and unanimous approval without a meeting of the full committee. I should like to know from the Parliamentary Secretary whether that is the case. No standards have yet been approved, or have anywhere near reached approval, for tables and beds and important articles of upholstered furniture, with regard to which the problems are very difficult.
The British Standards Institution said in a statement to the Press on 9th December:… a good deal of further experimental work must be completed before satisfactory tests on frames, springing and the finished articles have been devised.The Institution advised retailers that they should not suggest to their customers 232 that any furniture with the "Kite" mark, the B.S.I. standard mark, will be available in the near future. But the standards which are now being approved are thoroughly unsatisfactory, and they are admittedly inferior to the Utility standards. To put it another way round, it is admitted that furniture which is inferior to the Utility will pass the present standard. I do not blame the B.S.I. They are working on something which is completely new.
The Chancellor referred to performance tests based on what might be the extreme weight borne by articles of furniture under different conditions. In company with the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) I have seen the way some of these tests are being worked out. I am sure he will agree with me that although extremely interesting work is being done by the research laboratory of the Furniture Development Council, these tests are being rushed through under extreme pressure. There is no doubt that they have been accepted reluctantly by the Furniture Committee of the British Standards Institution to meet the situation created by the abandonment of the Utility Scheme. I do not know what the full specifications are going to be, but I hope some specification of material content and structure will be included as well as the extremely experimental tests of performance.
§ Mr. Albu
I cannot give way; I have taken a long time and I ought to attempt to draw my remarks to somewhere nearer their conclusion.
It is admitted, I believe, by the British Standards Institution that a far more detailed investigation will be needed into the operation of these tests and that that may very well lead to modification and that there will have to be revision in the light of subsequent experience.
The truth is that the Treasury, completely ignorant of the industry, exerted pressure on the Board of Trade, who did not know much about it themselves, to do something about it, and to do it quickly, because, for some reason, they wanted to bring in the D scheme, and the Board of Trade have exerted indecent pressure on the British Standards Institution to bring out something in time for this debate. There is absolutely no doubt 233 about that whatever. In fact, the view of the British Standards Institution can be seen if one reads between the lines of the statement which they issued to the Press before Christmas:Even though the delay may entail some difficulties for the trade, it is generally felt by those who have taken part in the work—and it is certainly a cardinal aspect of B.S.I. policy —that no standard at all is better than a poor standard. Hence, while all interests are pressing forward energetically, the situation must be faced that some months are bound to elapse before suitable and generally-accepted voluntary standards of quality are ready to take the place of Utility specifications.I want to remind the House of the constitution of the British Standards Institution. It was set up originally for engineering products. It has expanded its activities over a number of years and built up its reputation in the technical field. It has little experience at all in the field of consumer goods. The Report of the Committee on the Organisation and Constitution of the British Standards Institution, in 1950, said that its experience of specifications for consumer goods was limited. In fact, it is only now beginning—[Interruption.]—I said "limited"; I did not say that it has no experience.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Henry Strauss)
I thought the hon. Gentleman was passing from a point which he had just made. He made a somewhat serious accusation against the Board of Trade, and presumably against me, that we had brought indecent pressure to bear on the British Standards Institution to bring out standards of some kind in time for this debate. I tell him quite categorically that there is not a word of truth in the allegation.
§ Mr. Albu
Can the Parliamentary Secretary categorically assure the House that all the members of his own technical staff, the technical staff of the British Standards Institution, and the technical staff of the trade, and the manufacturers and the trade unionists, are quite happy about the standards which they have so far approved and are happy that they will be able to bring out other standards at some reasonable time in the future?
§ Mr. Strauss
That is a very different question, but, when I come to make my speech, I shall certainly deal with the impression that I got from all when I met the British Furniture Development 234 Council, the employers and the trade unionists, in December, and I shall make it absolutely clear that no pressure of any sort was brought to bear upon them to produce any sort of standards. If it had been, it would have been rejected with scorn by that reputable body.
§ Mr. Albu
Truth is a many-sided matter and I do not know exactly what constitutes pressure. I ask the House to draw its own conclusion from the fact that the standards came out in the week in which this debate was going to take place when everybody knows that further discussion and further experiments would have been well worth while. Apart from that there is no provision for getting these standards known to the public and no funds for getting the "Kite" mark known.
It is a very serious thing which is taking place, and if the Parliamentary Secretary is to deal with it so much the better. It is absolutely essential to maintain the reputation of the British Standards Institution, which has done a magnificent job over a number of years. It is wicked to treat it as a creature of the Government, and whether justice has been done or not there is no doubt it appears as if the Government are treating it as their creature, to subject it to such treatment seems to me to be wicked. They are risking the reputation of an extremely valuable organisation simply because, as the "Manchester Guardian" said, the Government have "lost patience."
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with this very serious matter, because this is a large part of the burden of criticism that I make. I do not believe that the Government understand the working of this Institution, nor do they understand what they have done to it in forcing it to bring out standards which are going to bring standards for consumer goods into contempt.
§ Mr. Strauss
The hon. Member has stated several times that he hopes I will deal with this matter. It will be very difficult to deal with it if my veracity is not accepted. I tell the hon. Member categorically for the second time that there is not a word of truth in the allegation that the Board of Trade had brought pressure to bear on the British Standards Institution to bring out any standard before the British Standards 235 Institution was satisfied with that standard. I cannot say the thing more emphatically, and if the hon. Gentleman doubts my veracity I have nothing more to say to the House.
§ Mr. Albu
There is nothing further I can say on that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] I do not withdraw at all. The Parliamentary Secretary must explain to the House the condition under which the standards were drawn up, the way the committees were organised, the length of time in which the research department of the Development Council has been in operation, when the performance was first experimented with, the procedure in operation at the B.S.I. and whether there is any real agreement on this thing, and so on. If he finds, after that, that the House is satisfied with these standards, then I will leave it there.
I ask the Government to withdraw this Order, to restore control of the retail margins, to work out full and acceptable standards and then come back to the House again when we can debate the matter again.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)
The delivery of a maiden speech must be one of the very few occasions when a Member of this House appreciates to the full the truth of that old adage: it is good to speak, but it is better to remain silent. I wish, therefore, to ask the indulgence of the House on this occasion, because I intervene in this debate as it is a matter of great concern to my own constituents in Wycombe. That constituency, as hon. Members know, contains many manufacturers of furniture of all sizes, and is a centre—I might almost say the centre of the furniture industry.
Having listened to the speech delivered by the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu), which I followed with the closest attention, there is one thing upon which I find myself in agreement with him, and that is in his dislike of taxation on furniture. He will forgive me if I do not follow him in the other matters he raised because, by tradition, one is supposed to be non-controversial in one's maiden speech. Therefore, I will have to restrain myself and not reply to some of the points he made, much as I should have liked to do.
236 The art of taxation, I believe Colbert said, consists of plucking the maximum number of feathers from the goose with the minimum amount of hissing. There has been a good deal of hissing as a result of this Purchase Tax Order, but I think it is fair to say that since the Order was published there has been a slight note of some surprise and relief in the hissing which followed. I think the industry was quite pleasantly relieved at the rather more generous treatment they got from the Chancellor than had been anticipated, but the fact that the burden of taxation is rather less than was thought strengthens, rather than otherwise, the argument to remove taxation upon furniture, especially domestic furniture.
It has been estimated that the new tax will yield about £8 million in a year. I very much doubt whether the yield from domestic furniture alone will come anywhere near that figure, especially when we remember that the previous yield from all sources was between £4 and £5 million, and that the yield on domestic furniture only was not more than about £1 million. I would not have thought, therefore, that it would have been a very great burden on the Exchequer, if at least they fixed the new D line at the same height as the old maximum price under the previous Utility Scheme. It would not, I think, have been an intolerable burden for the Exchequer to decide to free furniture from this tax altogether.
However, I realise that the demands today on the nation's purse are such that the Chancellor may not be able to release any source of revenue, however insignificant, and for that reason I do not propose to press the point at this moment, except I should like to place on record the fact that I personally consider that Purchase Tax as a whole is an extremely bad form of taxation, imposing on Government and industry alike a complex administration which penalises craftsmanship and design. I hope that when the whole question of Purchase Tax is considered, as it may be in the future, that furniture will be among those given a first priority for relief entirely from this very bad form of taxation.
If we have to have Purchase Tax on furniture, the D Scheme is some improvement on the Utility Scheme which went 237 before, although I know that everybody does not share that point of view. Perhaps I might deal with one point that has been expressed both inside and outside this House, and particularly by the National Union of Furniture Trade Operatives, and that is the fear that the quality of the furniture manufactured will deteriorate as a result of the removal of the Utility specifications. I, personally, feel that those who take this point of view are allowing their zeal to protect the interests of the consumer, to cause them to be unjust to the manufacturers and, for that matter, to the retailers.
Why should it be assumed that there is a far greater percentage of unscrupulous manufacturers in the furniture industry than in any other industry? Why should it be assumed that retailers are not capable of recognising and rejecting inferior goods which might damage their goodwill, and why should it be assumed that they are not to be trusted to recognise and reject shoddy furniture? I think that that assumption is unfair to the trade as a whole.
We have heard that the industry is setting up its own quality standards and we will hear more about that. I do not know on what grounds the hon. Member for Edmonton stated that the standards were likely to be lower than those of the Utility specification. My own information is that they are likely to be higher, and furthermore, this effort of performance tests may have far-reaching and beneficial effects on the production of furniture as a whole.
I would remind hon. Members on both sides of the House that the situation in the industry is a little different from what it was before the war. It was one of the first to set up a joint industry council and it has its Furniture Development Council. Both these bodies are there and can be used, if necessary, to watch the interests of the furniture industry and to check any tendency that might manifest itself for a diminution and deterioration of quality. Recently there was a report in the trade Press of the Northern Trades Furniture Exhibition which dealt with furniture introduced since the D Scheme. There was no sign of a falling off in quality, rather the reverse, and the Press has given the Exhibition very favourable notice indeed.
Some other matters are covered by the present scheme. For example, as the 238 hon. Member for Edmonton mentioned, there are a number of anomalies. I would like to mention one or two more of them. One is the exclusion of metal kitchen cabinets. The second is the very low D line on which dining room chairs have been put. As I understand the matter, the industry has made representations about these anomalies to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I feel sure that he will tell the House that the Customs and Excise Department will discuss this matter with the industry and will remedy the anomalies wherever possible.
The furniture industry has had a very long history, and, in particular, a very long history at Wycombe, where furniture making has been established for a long time. This industry is made up of a very large number of small firms, many of which employ only 10, or even fewer, men. Because of that, there is a much more personal relationship between these people and the job they are doing. There is the love of craftsmanship which one often finds associated with men who work with wood.
Furniture is not just an ordinary consumer item, but is much more than that. Furniture is something which you do not buy many times in a lifetime, but probably once, or at the most twice. It conditions and often influences our tastes, and it is an essential part of the background of any happy home life. For that reason, if for no other, this industry is not one best suited to bear a tax of this kind, however mildly administered. However beneficial may be other aspects of the scheme there must be some bad effects.
The House has listened to me with careful attention. I have attempted to avoid controversy and not to fall into errors against the rules and regulations of the House. I hope that I have, nevertheless, made it clear that although I welcome the D Scheme as a step in the right direction, giving greater flexibility and freedom of design, which should result in the production of better furniture than we have had before, I dislike this tax intensely. I hope that as soon as possible, and certainly after we have had some months' practical experience of the working of the scheme, it will be found possible to reconsider the matter, do away with the tax, and free the furniture industry completely.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
In following the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) I have a very pleasant duty to perform. It may be looked upon as a matter of some presumption on my part that I should be congratulating another hon. Member upon a maiden speech, since it is only about 15 months since I was in the same position. Perhaps the truth is that as my own ordeal was so recent I can all the more appreciate the excellent way in which the hon. Member has come through it today.
We can congratulate the hon. Member. He has been very fortunate in choosing a subject which is a constituency matter. He obviously knows about the subject on which he has been speaking. We were all very interested to hear him. We felt that he expressed himself clearly and well, and I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House look forward to hearing him on many occasions in the future—that is, until the next Election.
In spite of what the Chancellor has said this afternoon I can find very little evidence of marked enthusiasm for the Order. Even those who might be considered to be in favour of the Douglas Report showed little eagerness for the introduction of the D Scheme on 15th December. I wonder why there is this haste. We cannot let the Chancellor get away with it by saying that there is to be an Earl's Court exhibition and that there is an exhibition in the north of England. If that was the only reason why the Government were bringing this forward on 15th December, I think the Chancellor should have introduced the Order with an apology and not with an attempt at defence.
Is it really a matter of revenue, or is it one stage further in the policy of this Government of throwing additional burdens upon the poorer section of the community? The Chancellor cannot get away with the arithmetic that he has tried on us this afternoon. If the amount to be brought in from Purchase Tax is to increase by at least 60 per cent., as the Chancellor said, somebody has to pay that additional £3 million or £4 million. Since the amount of tax on the dearest quality of furniture is being reduced, obviously there is an increase at the other 240 end. While it might be true that a working man can still furnish his home with furniture that does not bear any tax, yet the range of furniture in that category is much more restricted than it was.
What evidence is there that the manufacturers or the retailers are in favour of this scheme? Most certainly, the National Union of Furniture Trade Operatives has been strongly opposed to the D Scheme from the very beginning. They are the people who make the furniture. Therefore, the point of view which they have to express ought to carry some weight.
In the January issue of the "Record," which is the Union's official organ, the General Secretary says this:It is sometimes difficult to make people believe that our Union membership, in pursuing the matter of consumer protection, has not a selfish motive. To the doubters, we can only give the assurance that if we are forced by public indifference to make junk in order to live, we shall make it. Our trade union strength will protect established wage rates and conditions of employment. We have not enjoyed any special monetary advantage from the operation of the "U" scheme, but we have found a pleasant satisfaction in the knowledge that our work in the factories has supplied inexpensive, soundly constructed and well finished articles of furniture, with a guarantee backed by Government licence.What about the views of the poor consumer? Obviously, the working man will not be particularly enamoured of this D Scheme, since he is likely to have to pay more for his furniture and he loses the protection of quality that he had under the Utility Scheme. I have no technical knowledge of the furniture industry, and, therefore, I want to emphasise one or two matters from the point of view of the consumer. Let us compare the position as it was under the old Utility Scheme with the position that exists under the new scheme.
Under the old Utility Scheme, more than 90 per cent. of furniture was tax-free and there was some guarantee of quality. Under the D Scheme, I suppose about 50 per cent. will bear tax and there will be no guarantee against ill-made and inferior articles. It is no use for the Government to suggest that competition will protect the consumer. It did not protect the consumer before the war or in the early days of the war, before the introduction of the Utility Scheme and of price control. I am sure that the case brought in the Eastbourne 241 County Court, of the bedroom suite made of sugar boxes will be within the recollection of most hon. Members.
The Douglas Report says, in paragraph 28:Enforcement of the specifications has, however, set a minimum standard of quality and has undoubtedly eliminated much of the very low quality cheap furniture which was made before the war.On the question of the taxation of furniture, I agree with the hon. Member for Wycombe that it is difficult to make out a satisfactory case for the taxation of furniture. The furnishing of a home is the largest capital expenditure which the average householder has to meet in his lifetime. We subsidise houses heavily and then we tax the very things which help to convert a house into a home. It is a crazy state of affairs and it would need a W. S. Gilbert to do justice to it.
When the Government decided to introduce this D Scheme for furniture, it is a pity that they did not accept the advice of the Douglas Committee. I want to call the attention of hon. Members to paragraph 128:In the particular case of furniture, the Utility Scheme still provides some guarantee against ill-made and inferior articles. Furniture is a type of product with which (because of its high cost and the ease with which serious constructional defects can be concealed) the consumer is in special need of protection. We are, therefore, of opinion that the Board of Trade should arrange that, with the introduction of a D Scheme, at least the present quality standards should be safeguarded.It should be stressed that the Douglas Committee recognised the value of the Utility Scheme as a protection for the consumer. It also recognised that the consumer is in special need of protection. Why? Because, it is impossible for the ordinary man and woman, whose purchases of furniture are so infrequent, to be an expert. Therefore, they are compelled to take quality on trust. With the removal of the guarantee there is a danger of inferior goods being placed upon the market. There is no fear in the case of the reputable manufacturer who will, for the sake of his good name, try to maintain high standards but there is a fear of what has been described as "the minority element, who 'break in' on the industry and 'break out,' leaving a trail of disillusioned customers."
It is therefore a pity that the Government did not accept the advice of the 242 Douglas Committee. Is it not also the fact that the industry repeatedly urged the Government not to introduce the D Scheme until there were satisfactory standards? If only the Government had included in the Order the compulsory marking of furniture it would have helped to some extent to bridge the gap between the end of the old Utility Scheme and the time when the British Standards Institution standards are available.
From what has been said this afternoon I am not clear how far those standards have been settled for the various classes of furniture, but I know that the B.S.I. have made considerable progress since they were asked to undertake this job. However, I am of the opinion that it will still be a considerable time before we can have the certification marks scheme for all classes of furniture. Therefore, while we are in this interim period, which is a dangerous one, the Government have made a mistake and it would be in the interests of the country if the House today rejected this Order. Of course, there is the alternative that the Government could withdraw it, but perhaps that is asking too much.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
I shall not attempt to follow the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) at any length, but I want to draw the attention of the House to his remark that no standard safeguards have been introduced following the end of the Utility Scheme. Later, the hon. Gentleman pointed out that the British Standards Institute have, in fact, introduced certain specifications and safeguards of whose full effect he was not advised. If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer during the debate on the Finance Bill, he would have learnt that the introduction of the D Scheme for furniture was put off until such time as safeguards of standard were ready and could be introduced with the scheme.
§ Mr. Blackburn
Will the hon. Gentleman kindly tell the House what standards had been agreed upon on 15th December when the Order was introduced?
§ Mr. Burden
It is clear that furniture sold during a short interim period since 15th December will have been made under the old Utility Scheme and that 243 manufactures after the introduction of the D Scheme will come along only at a later date—
§ Mr. Burden
I am answering it to the best of my ability. The safeguards are coming with the manufactures made and sold after the introduction of the D Scheme. Some of these specifications were made known yesterday, but some will arise after a period of trial and error. There are certain anomalies but it is quite wrong, and the hon. Gentleman knows it very well, to say that no safeguards have been laid down.
§ Mr. Burden
I am sorry, I have given way twice to the hon. Gentleman. I suggest that he and his hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) should wait a little because I am sure that their mournful forebodings over the introduction of the D Scheme for furniture will be largely if not wholly, as unjustified as were their mournful forebodings over the introduction of the D Scheme for textiles and clothing, the prices of both of which have dropped while generally the quality has been maintained.
§ Mr. Burden
The speech of the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) had an extremely mournful tone, except for a very short interlude which was a little more lively.
I was very pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall), who so recently came to the House, speak on this subject, which so closely affects the life of many of his constituents. I know that he has very carefully considered the question with the manufacturers in his constituency, which is probably the biggest furniture manufacturing area in the country.
Hon. Members opposite are very conveniently losing sight of one fact in regard to Purchase Tax generally. Opposition to the whole range of Purchase Tax comes much more strongly from right hon. and hon. Members on this side. We have the whole time been fundamentally opposed to the idea that the basic cost of merchandise should be increased by 244 the imposition of Purchase Tax. This is quite contrary to the pronounced attitude of right hon. Members and of many hon. Members opposite. Indeed, a pamphlet recently issued by the Fabian Society— "The British Purchase Tax"—says, in page 6:It cannot be too strongly emphasised that Purchase Tax has always been regarded primarily as a means of raising revenue. Every Chancellor since 1941 has been quite explicit on the matter: the 1950 Labour Government laid down that the Douglas Committee have 'due regard for the yield of Purchase Tax revenue.In view of that, and because of the statement by the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell), who made the definite pronouncement that Purchase Tax was a prime means of raising revenue, I find it rather difficult to understand the attitude of the Opposition. It has, in fact, remained for the present Conservative Government very largely to implement the findings of the Douglas Committee, set up by the Government of the party opposite, in order to bring about some reduction in Purchase Tax generally over the whole range of commodities. As the House knows, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer reduced the rate of Purchase Tax on a number of commodities in the last Budget.
With regard to the effect of the present scheme, most of the trade papers said that at first, some large firms feared that there would be a drop in sales, followed by unemployment in the industry. This was also the fear of some of the smaller firms. The same fear was expressed particularly by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite for the D Scheme on clothing and textiles, whereas exactly the reverse has happened. There has been an improvement in employment. Why should not the same happen in the furniture industry? I suggest to hon. Members opposite that it would be unwise to make too dogmatic a pronouncement.
A report in the "Furniture Record" of 19th December, says:A preliminary survey of the scheme shows that the majority of furniture which is now tax-free will remain tax-free.Already, therefore, it appears that some of the gloomy forebodings of hon. Members opposite are not accepted by the trade. It has been stated in the furniture 245 Press that the abolition of the old Utility Scheme and the introduction of the D Scheme will enable firms to enjoy a flexibility of design that has long been missing. According to reports that I have received from the trade and from the trade Press, the public are likely to benefit very considerably by improvements in general design as a result of the new scheme.
§ Mr. Burden
I cannot give the answer, because I do not profess, as the hon. Member does, to be an expert on furniture. I quote, however, from the trade Press, which, I assume, represents the views of men who are engaged in the trade and who earn their living in it. Let me give one very important example.
Under the old Utility furniture scheme, a body of traders who had been of great benefit to the furniture trade were abolished and their means of livelihood in the industry removed from them. I refer to the men who were known as wholesale furniture suppliers. Under the new scheme, they can come back into business, and certainly—
§ Mr. Burden
I have already given way to the hon. Member just as much as he gave way to me. Those wholesale furniture suppliers, who were very important from the viewpoint of the small manufacturer—as my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe pointed out, factories with up to 10 men who cannot, and are not equipped to carry out distribution; travellers on the road, showrooms, and so on—will get together with the small manufacturers, will advise them on design, work with them on questions of price, and help those small manufacturers, who are the essence of the industry, to come much more into their own than they have done in the past.
§ Mr. Burden
The hon. Member shakes his head, but I assure him that that is so and that the effect of these small manufacturers, mobilised and aided by the furnisher wholesalers, will bring out products that benefit the public, not only from the 246 point of view of design but also as regards price. I for one welcome the scheme, which enables them to come once again into the market.
There is general acceptance of the present scheme by the furniture trade. The same paper to which I have referred quotes Mr. Allan Janes, Secretary of the High Wycombe and District Furniture Manufacturers' Society, who says that there has been considerable satisfaction with the D Scheme. The same was said by the trade representative in Nottingham and has also been said in Scotland.
I know that there are anomalies, just as there were in clothing and in textiles, but I believe that with good will and understanding by the Department and by the trade, they can be ironed out and the scheme will be found to work satisfactorily. There are difficulties also of classification, but I have no doubt that the Board of Trade and the Treasury will work with the trade, and that where it is found that alterations can be made which make the application of the scheme much easier, my right hon. Friends will not be found lacking in their co-operation with the trade.
In conclusion, I must join my hon. Friends in saying that, in principle, and fundamentally, we are opposed to any scheme which taxes purchases, and we hope the Government will continue to pursue a policy which will gradually remove the shackles—and I believe they are shackles—put on industry by this imposte of Purchase Tax.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Miss Elaine Burton (Coventry, South)
The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) seems to know very little about this matter. Let me say straight away that I am not an expert on furniture, but I have tried to be sure of my facts before intervening today.
I felt that the hon. Gentleman, in his attempt to reply to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn), gave no answer at all. It is not even a case of going back to December when the Utility scheme was removed. As recently as this month the only specification that was anywhere near ready was the specification for dining room chairs, and the hon. Gentleman ought to know that. I assume he accepts that statement. If he believes one can go ahead with a great change in 247 the furniture industry merely because of proposed agreement on the standards of dining room chairs, then I suggest, as the Chancellor said yesterday, that he will believe anything.
§ Mr. Burden
The hon Lady's assumption seems to be that all furniture manufacturers are dishonest, and that they will use this as an opportunity to produce shoddy furniture. I do not believe that that is the case. I believe that it is their desire to maintain high standards. I am sure my hon. Friends would join with me when I say that the industry generally is not out to debase standards, but is out to improve them. I am sure that when the standards are arrived at—no doubt details will be given later in the debate—that will be made perfectly clear.
§ Miss Burton
I am glad I drew the hon. Gentleman to his feet. All I can say is that I hope he will pay me the compliment, however difficult it may be, of staying until I have finished, because at the moment I am dealing with the question to which he did not know the answer, namely, what standards were available. I am telling him—and I challenge anybody to deny it—that only this month the only standard that was anywhere near ready was that for dining room chairs.
I now find myself in rather a difficulty because of the intervention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade. I spent most of the Recess working on the question of consumer standards, one to do with textiles and the other to do with furniture. The conclusions to which I arrived were those reached by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu), which have been denied by the Parliamentary Secretary, so I must leave that. I should, however, like to say that I regard it as most unfortunate that, as I understand it, on Monday two meetings had to be held at the British Standards Institution.
I suppose those meetings produced the communiqué we have seen printed in the papers today. Will the Parliamentary Secretary tell us why the two meetings were suddenly necessary when the scheme had been a long time reaching that stage? That is the first question I ask. I will not talk about undue pressure, but it seemed to me that, most regrettably, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton said, the B.S.I. were being used as an 248 instrument of Government policy. Anyway, there was certainly undue haste.
The second question I ask the Parliamentary Secretary is this: Would he tell the House what consumer representation there is on this committee which deals with these standards? I raised the matter of textiles, and there was no consumer representation at all for that item. Will he tell the House what consumer representation there is on the technical committee dealing with these standards?
Perhaps I might now leave the hon. Member for Gillingham and turn to the next matter. This afternoon I interrupted the Chancellor, with some diffidence, because one does not interrupt the Chancellor just on the off-chance of making a remark. I felt—and I hope that the Financial Secretary will deal with this—that the Chancellor, maybe inadvertently, was conveying a completely wrong impression, both to this House and to the country. Yesterday, the Chancellor, in reply to a supplementary question, asking whether the furniture bought for normal working-class homes would be dearer. said:No, precisely the opposite is the case.He then went on to add:I will say no more today except that the major part, in fact, nearly all the furniture bought for modest homes, will be free of tax."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th January; Vol. 510, c. 20.]Does the Financial Secretary think I should be unfair if from that statement I drew the conclusion that the Chancellor wished to convey that this furniture would be tax free, and would, therefore, be cheaper? Would the Financial Secretary admit that would be a reasonable deduction to make from that remark? Well, silence usually means consent, so I will assume he agrees it is a reasonable deduction.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
The hon. Lady will also appreciate that my silence may not continue throughout the duration of the debate.
§ Miss Burton
As long as the Financial Secretary will deal with it, I will leave the matter.
The point I make now is the one I made to the Chancellor. A good deal of this furniture—I am coming to it in detail in a moment—may be free of tax, but 249 on every item of furniture the increase in the retailers' margin is from 33⅓ per cent. under the Utility Scheme to a minimum of 40 per cent. I say a minimum because the recommendation from the furniture trade has been that, at present anyway, the retailers' margin should not go up beyond 40 per cent. Hence the very simple arithmetical problem I am presenting to the Financial Secretary is that, although some of this furniture may be free of tax —as 90 per cent. of it was under Utility—as it will all have to pay this increased retailers' margin, most of the furniture on sale to the public will cost more and not less. I do not know whether silence again means consent. Does the hon. Gentleman think that that is a correct statement?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Lady really must not try to lead me into conducting this debate by the Socratic method of interrogation. I am taking a note of what she is saying, and if I have the good fortune to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, at a later stage, it may well be that I shall be able to deal with the matter.
§ Miss Burton
I would not argue with the hon. Gentleman on the Socratic method because I think he will have me beaten there, but on the question of the retailers' margin I have him beaten, because what I say is true.
I spent most of the Recess working on this for the simple reason that I could hardly believe that even this Government would bring in so shocking a scheme as this D scheme. I therefore wanted to try to find out from employers, trade unions, consumers and retailers whether the scheme was as bad as most of us think it is, or whether it had some things to commend it of which we had not thought. The only thing I found in its favour—if, indeed, it is true—is that some people say that under the scheme the production of good quality furniture will be helped. All I can say is that the unions with whom I discussed the matter saw no reason why, under this scheme, it should be easier to produce a greater variety or a higher quality of furniture than under the other scheme. That is all I have been able to find.
I and my hon. Friends believe that the way has been opened for dishonest firms to foist rubbish on the public. I challenge the Financial Secretary to tell us 250 one method by which dishonest firms can be prevented from foisting rubbish on the public under this D Scheme. I do not know whether he is saying that will be easy, but I hope he will produce at any rate one method.
When the Douglas Committee recommended that the war-time Utility Scheme should be made free of Purchase Tax they said that the industries concerned should be encouraged to adopt minimum standards of quality. They thought this was of most importance in the furniture industry, and everybody is agreed on that. As a result of that—and the Chancellor has already taken considerable credit to the Government for it—the application of the Committee's proposals to furniture was delayed at the time of the Budget.
It was delayed, the Chancellor told us, and so I think did the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), until a new scheme of furniture standards could be evolved. What rubbish. There have been no new standards for furniture evolved at all. There has been one matter of dining room chairs, and I think that the test is that a 23-stone man can move about on it without its collapsing. That would be a lot of use; that is not the test.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I agree that that is not the test. If the hon. Lady wishes to discuss this matter it would be better if she knew something about it.
§ Miss Burton
I am sorry that I have given incorrect information. It is a 16-stone man, not a 23-stone man. The statement was made by Mr. H. Binney, the Director of B.S.I. It was:A 16-stone man should be able to wriggle in a chair and women should be able to stand on dining tables without damaging them.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Tests may be designed to enable that sort of use to be made of the furniture, but the tests that are applied for technical purposes are not what the hon. Lady is talking about.
§ Miss Burton
We shall have to agree to differ. The amount of heavy usage to be applied to dining room chairs is an important point. Perhaps the hon. Member does not mind his collapsing under him, but I should mind. Agreement was difficult to obtain about standards before the Utility Scheme was abolished. So the Government killed the Utility Scheme and left agreement until later. Even the 251 hon. Member for Gillingham said agreements and standards of specification would follow. I took down his actual words which were, "If we would wait a little." I am not prepared to see the public fleeced while we are waiting for standards to be evolved.
§ Mr. Burden
Any scheme which may be introduced at this moment should be so flexible that if it needs amendment in order to increase the safeguards that can be done. This must be done very largely by good will between the Board of Trade and the furniture trade. I am convinced of that good will and I am quite sure that quite reasonable and proper safeguards will arrive and that the hon. Lady's forebodings are quite unjustified.
§ Miss Burton
I must go on. In any case, I do not think that voluntary standards are enough. There should be legal sanctions against rubbish in any form. A buyer cannot always be blamed for a poor purchase. It is not always his fault.
In the debate on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House, on 9th December, I raised this matter and had no satisfaction from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade on the question of consumer standards in relation to textiles. I only give this as an example and I hope that I am in order. I informed the House that there was at that moment an attempt by the wool manufacturers of West Riding to persuade B.S.I. that the term "wool" should be a process of spinning and should not be the actual fibre content of the cloth. I asked what the B.S.I. proposed to do with such an iniquitous proposition.
§ Mr. Burden
On a point of order. Does this really arise under this Order which is concerned with furniture? Is the debate concerned with definitions of wool cloths, which were laid down by the last Government who said that cloth should be described as wool if it contained 85 per cent. cotton?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I have been listening very carefully to the hon. Lady. She is giving an example and is in order.
§ Miss Burton
I have mentioned only one sentence as an example, and before I was interrupted I proposed to give one 252 or two examples to show why a purchaser should not be blamed for a poor purchase. I mentioned before the Recess that I had seen a viscose rayon fabric, with a pattern embossed on it by a printing process, on sale to the public and that if any water were applied to the pattern it would disappear. I also said that I had seen some rayon material with various shades of red and green dye and that if that material had been sent to the cleaners it would have simply disintegrated.
That is a shocking example to be foisted on the public and I am glad that the hon. Member for Gillingham appears to agree with me. An attempt should be made to protect the public from such flagrant fleecing. A law which protects the strong and does not stand up for the weak is a bad law. I submit that any law which makes it possible to foist rubbish on the public and about which the public has little or no redress is a bad law.
Do the Government realise that in no industry is it as easy to fleece the public as it is in the furniture industry? That does not mean that furniture manufacturers are dishonest. There is no trade in the world where a small minority, as they did in the past, will find it easier to foist inferior goods on the public. We were told by the Chancellor that he had very much at heart the well-being of the young people who were getting married in these days and setting up house. I am glad to know that, and I am proposing to quote some examples. I hope that both the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade will give some indication of their opinion about them.
Early this month two young people from the Midlands came up to London to see what they could do about obtaining furniture for their house. They hoped to be married this summer. I might say that, so far as I know, they are not of my political persuasion. They came up to look round at the type of furniture they would be able to afford. The Chancellor has said that furniture which should be bought for a modest home will be free of tax. I do not know what is the definition of "modest" in terms today, but if it means that people in the lower income group should be content with cheap and shoddy furniture then I resent it. I see no reason why people in the lower and 253 middle income groups should not want good furniture as much as people in the higher income groups.
Perhaps it would help in placing these two young people in their income group if I said that the husband-to-be is a teacher in a secondary modern school, is aged 28 and has had Army service. If anybody wants to ask the question I can give information about his income. These young people took the view, which I think is a very wise one, that setting up house is probably the greatest event in one's life and they wanted to set up their house in the wisest way possible. They said, and I fully agree with them, that the best thing to do was to buy as much of the best quality that one could and to do without other things until later when they could fill the rest of the house. In other words, they took the view that it is no use trying to fill the house with cheap furniture and that they would rather have two well-furnished rooms and then add to the furniture in the house as time went on.
They wished to find out whether they could manage on good Utility furniture. They went to a shop. I have the catalogues of that shop in my possession now. I do not propose to mention the name of the shop, but the Financial Secretary can see the catalogues if he wishes. These young people came to see me afterwards and brought the catalogues with them. I shall not weary the House by going through the whole list, but I should like to give two examples to the hon. Member for Gillingham and the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd). They were very interested in dining room tables. These tables were Utility furniture. The price of one of them under the Utility Scheme had been £13 13s. 6d. It had gone up to £14 18s. 9d., an increase of 25s. 3d., because of this scheme which the Government have introduced. It was Utility furniture tax free, as the Chancellor said.
The other table in which they were interested had been £13 15s. 6d. and had gone up to £15 10s., an increase of 34s. 6d. A sideboard which they looked at, also Utility, had been £22 18s. 9d. It was now £25, an increase of 41s. 3d.—three increases, which I hope all young people will note, brought about by this Government since they did away with the Utility Scheme. I will give a further example from these two young people and then I will go on to something else.
254 Outside the Utility range they looked at the inexpensive furniture. As they could not afford to furnish all the rooms in their house, they wondered if they should get individual items. They looked at a small armchair. It was £18 8s. 6d. Today, it is £20, an increase of 31s. 6d. A dressing-table was £23 13s. 6d. Today, it is £24 17s., an increase of 23s. 6d. A wardrobe—I do not know if the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade has given up—was £34 16s. 9d. Today, it is £36 11s. 6d., an increase of 34s. 9d.
Would the Financial Secretary tell us what comment he would make on those increases if, as the Chancellor says, they are free of tax? The prices have all increased. The articles are to cost more; and they are to cost more because of what this Government have done. The standard of the homes of this country will be affected for years by this taxation which the Government have imposed in this Order, and I believe those homes will be affected for the worst.
I will now go on to the matter of people who wish to buy good quality, reasonably priced suites when setting up a home, and I give these figures to the Parliamentary Secretary. A dining-room suite, which is, of course, a dining table, sideboard and four chairs, was selling retail under the Utility Scheme at £52. The factory price was £39, so that the £52 included the retailer's margin of 33⅓ per cent. I wish to emphasise what I have already said, that by the freedom given to retailers to increase that margin, and with the tax payable on the suite, the purchaser will pay £56 16s. 9d., an increased cost of £4 16s. 9d.
To give the Parliamentary Secretary some other examples, if we take a three-piece suite—I will take one listed at £5 below the Utility maximum price—under the Utility Scheme the factory price was £66 18s. 9d. The retailer's margin of 33⅓ per cent. made this up to £89 5s. Today, under the D Scheme, the factory price is the same. The tax is £5 8s. 5d. The retailer's 40 per cent. on the whole of that is £28 18s. 8d., and the cost to the purchaser today is £101 5s. 10d., which is £12 0s. 10d. more than it was under the Utility Scheme.
I do not know whether hon. Members opposite know what great benefit the lower-salaried section of the community 255 derive from bed-settees. Many of them live in small houses or in only two rooms, or in one room, and they find bed-settees of very great benefit. Under the Utility Scheme bed-settees had a factory price of £30. The retailer's margin of 33⅓ per cent. made that up to £40. Today the factory price is the same, but we have a tax on it of £3 13s. 4d. and on both of those figures there is the retailer's 40 per cent. A bed-settee which cost £40 under the Utility Scheme now costs £47 2s. 7d. under the D Scheme. I notice a great absence of interruptions from hon. Members opposite, because every one of those figures is correct, and they know it.
The last example I wish to give concerns easy chairs which under the Utility Scheme cost £17 2s. 6d. each, with the retailer's 33⅓ per cent., which made the cost to the consumer £22 16s. 8d. Today, under the D Scheme, the factory price is the same. The tax is £1 14s. 2d. with the retailer's 40 per cent. on both those figures, which gives a purchase price of £26 7s. So under this Government's scheme, the increased cost of each chair to the purchaser is £3 10s. 4d. I commend these examples to the House as examples of Tory philosophy. The Tories are always benefiting the better-off sections of the community at the expense of the less well-off. If they say they are not, then I should like them to answer these figures which I have given.
I wish to put this point to the Financial Secretary. In the trade as a whole, trade unions and employers are agreed that since the war the standards of performance, usefulness and appearance have risen. There is no doubt about that. As an inevitable result of what the Government are doing today, a drive for cheaper furniture will begin, and this will be met by the manufacturers lowering their standards. If the Financial Secretary disputes that, we have the Chancellor's estimate that he expects to get £8 million in a full year from this tax.
If the Chancellor insists on this estimate being fulfilled, and more and more manufacturers go below the D line to avoid paying the tax and so produce cheaper goods, we shall get the standards pushed lower and lower—I see I have not made it clear to the Financial Secretary. If the Chancellor is determined to take £8 million of taxation out of the furniture 256 trade, I think the Financial Secretary will agree that there will be an effort by manufacturers to produce below the D line to keep down the price of furniture so that more people will buy. If the manufacturers go below the D line, it will mean lowering the standard, and then lowering the standard again to produce that tax. I cannot put it more clearly than that, and I hope it is now clear to the Parliamentary Secretary.
I have some suggestions to make. First, I believe that the Merchandise Marks Act should be amended so as to make it compulsory for the name and address of each manufacturer to be placed on each piece of furniture until the customer buys it. It would not be the slightest use putting only the name. The Financial Secretary must know as well as we do that in the past many furniture shops just packed up over night and one could not track them down.
I realise that opposition may come over that even from the retail trade. I know the story which is perfectly true—although I do not intend to quote the name of the store—of a very well-known store in London which sent goods to a house in a plain van. The householder rang up the store and said, "Will you please send your goods to my house in a van with your name on it." The presumption, of course, being that one must "keep up with the Joneses," and that everybody must know the furniture was coming from that particular store.
Seriously, though, the point about which objection might be raised by the retail side is that most big stores like it to be thought that they make their own furniture. The Financial Secretary may know, what is very well known to people in the trade, that most of the very big firms are kept going by Government and hotel orders, and get their furniture made somewhere else. I wish to suggest very definitely that the name and address of the manufacturer be put on the article, and I should like also some description of the content put on the goods.
My second suggestion is that the British Standards Institution are accepting standards which are far too low and that this should be remedied. That applies both to textiles and to furniture. I would point out to the Financial Secretary that, if we are to have an official mark of quality on goods and if 257 that quality mark is too low, great harm will be done. The third point is that the D scheme is doomed to failure unless the Government are prepared to spend money on publicity so that people will know and buy according to the mark. I understand from the British Standards Institution that money is not available for a publicity scheme like that.
We on this side of the House can find nothing good in this scheme. We believe that it puts the shopper at a great disadvantage in the shop. Further, we believe that the young people setting up house today will have to pay more for all their goods. I hope that the Financial Secretary will try to answer the figures I have quoted.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
I sought to interrupt the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) during her speech because she was guilty of misleading the House as a result of an inadequate study of the details of this question. These performance tests and the fulfilment of the specifications laid down by the British Standards Institution are not carried out by a 16-stone or a 23-stone man wriggling on a chair. If they were, that would be something which I would not accept.
I recommend the hon. Lady to read the document which describes the specification of a dining room type chair and the tests to be carried out. It is necessary to print a considerable document listing a large number of specifications down to such details as screws and glues. It lists a whole number of tests—not people wriggling on chairs—designed to test the article in a thorough manner and it illustrates the rather Heath Robinson contraption, which the hon. Lady and I saw at the research station, designed to carry out these tests.
§ Mr. Porter
Can the hon. Gentleman say what is the final test on an armchair before it is approved? Is not the final test that of an ordinary person using the chair in an ordinary manner as anyone would?
§ Mr. Shepherd
Of course, the obvious test is normal use. Clearly, the object of any research organisation or standards institution is to define a series of mechanical tests which will determine whether 258 an article will stand up to a certain amount of reasonable use. If, instead of being rather bewildered as a result of being misled by his hon. Friend, the hon. Gentleman will read these specifications and tests, he will inform himself and save the House a lot of time.
§ Mr. Porter
The point I was making—and I should like to emphasise it—is that all the tests to which the hon. Gentleman referred are not tests for chairs. They are tests for those parts which go to make up a chair. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South was referring to the test of a chair. The test of that chair was that of a person sitting on it.
§ Mr. Shepherd
If the hon. Gentleman will only take the trouble, as I advised the hon. Lady, to study the number of tests to be applied mechanically to a dining room chair, he will find that they are considerable. They are applied on an apparatus which is illustrated in a document published by the British Standards Institution. I will leave that point, because it is no good trying to explain it further in debate.
I agree wholeheartedly with the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, except that I do not think that he will get his extra £3 million. I very much doubt whether, when 12 months have elapsed, we shall find that we have got more money as a result of the introduction of this new scheme. The fears which I had at the time of the Budget over the introduction of the scheme have not been realised. This is a much better scheme than anybody in the trade expected. I am perfectly happy to say that this is a scheme which will improve the furniture industry and the quality of the goods being delivered to the consumer. It may well result—and I hope to prove it later—in a lowering of prices to the public.
But nothing can convince me that Purchase Tax is other than a most cursed nuisance. Purchase Tax is the worst tax ever devised. It is even worse than the old window tax. Although hon. Gentlemen opposite appear to agree with what I say, I would remind them that it was the late Sir Stafford Cripps who said that he did not regard this as a temporary tax or as a war-time aberration, to be hastily swept away. On the contrary, he said, his view was that the Purchase Tax 259 had got to stay. In fact, the only significant steps to eliminate the difficulties arising out of Purchase Tax have been taken by the present Government.
The D levels were quoted with a certain amount of selection by the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South. From the D levels quoted in the "Furniture Record," it will be seen that it is not at all true to say that all the levels of D have been put below the maximum Utility prices. The "Furniture Record" of 12th December prints a table of 26 major items in the Utility specification. It shows that eight of the D figures are actually above the maximum Utility figure, two are equal and the rest are below. Therefore, it is wrong to say that all the prices of furniture must increase even at maximum Utility level as a result of the D scheme, because eight of the figures are above.
The abolition of the uplift is a major step which is wholeheartedly welcomed in the trade. Hon. Gentlemen are stretching ingenuity too far in their efforts to show that the trade dislikes this scheme. The opinions expressed by members of the trade leave no room for doubt. Sir Herman Lebus, who knows something about the furniture trade, said:I will say that furniture is going to be more satisfactory and at least as inexpensive or even cheaper than in the past.Mr. Binney, of the British Standards Institution, said:There is not the slightest reason to suppose that the prices will be higher than the Utility levels of the prices of products of similar quality.The retail distributors say:We welcome in particular the emphasis on quality standards and the freedom from price control which will give competition free play.Many people connected with the trade—in fact, nearly all of them—welcome this scheme as being something very much better than they thought it might be and a great improvement over the old arrangement. The Secretary of the High Wycombe Association said that the scheme could be regarded as being generous. He added:A preliminary survey of the scheme shows that the majority of furniture which is now tax-free will remain tax-free. It should also open up a wider market in the section of furniture which was formerly wholly subject to tax and which, from Monday, is only partially subject to tax.260 It is true to say that the trade as a whole welcome the changes brought about by the Government. In spite of what the hon. Lady has said, I believe that there is a real chance of reductions in the price of furniture as a result of these changes.
What happens when we have Utility schemes and Price Control Orders? On the whole, the maximum price tends to become the minimum. There is no doubt that over the last 10 years furniture manufacturers and retailers have done very well. It is extraordinary, and even ironical, that when a Government controls prices that usually results in the trade making more money than ever before. I am convinced that when the interplay of competition takes place there will be a very good chance indeed of furniture prices for good and medium quality furniture being lower than they have been under the Utility Scheme.
I am not prepared to support for one moment the idea that the retailers' margin should be 40 per cent. I agree with the view which has been expressed in this House that the dealers and retailers have had too much say in this industry. I should like to see more manufacturers branding their own goods and selling branded furniture to the retailers at fixed prices.
I would remind hon. Gentlemen opposite, who oppose this idea of the manufacturers being able to fix prices, how wrong it is to take a doctrinaire view of the trade. In this industry, it would probably be a good thing, from the point of view of standards, quality and even of price, if manufacturers branded their own goods and sold them at fixed prices through dealers. I am not defending the percentage which the dealers seek to obtain. I think that both manufacturers and dealers have made a lot of money, and can well reduce their profit margins and give the people lower-priced furniture.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
If the hon. Gentleman is not in favour of retailers' margins rising from 33⅓ per cent. to 40 per cent. or even higher, why does he not support the retention of the control over margins?
§ Mr. Shepherd
Because I do not want to see price control over margins at all. As I have said before, the whole effect of controls is very often to defeat their 261 own purpose, and I am perfectly certain that, if we allow normal competitive conditions to prevail, we shall achieve the more effective and economical distribution that we want.
I should like to see proprietary furniture being sold on a much larger scale than at present. Much has been said today about the maintenance of standards. The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) gave the impression that, as from the end of this Utility Scheme, there would be an immediate and gross deterioration in the standards of furniture manufactured. That is an unreasonable supposition. I am quite open to conviction that there is a danger of standards being debased, and I think that we should take all practical steps in our power to prevent it, but I do ask the House to have a sense of proportion.
It is not at all true to say that, between the wars and before the last war, all the furniture produced was shoddy rubbish —[HON. MEMBERS: "Much of it was."] —any more than it is true to say that most of the houses produced before the war were jerry-built. [HON. MEMBERS: "Many of them were."] I have been seeking from people with a great deal of knowledge of the furniture industry some estimate of the extent to which shoddy furniture was manufactured before the war, and the estimate of those with great authority in this industry is something between 5 and 10 per cent. [Interruption.] Some hon. Gentlemen say that is ridiculous, but that is not the view of those who have great experience and knowledge of the industry.
One must not assume that, because furniture was very cheap—and I remember three-piece suites being sold before the war for £5—it was necessarily rubbish, and we must not assume either that all the goods sold under the Utility Scheme were necessarily good. I hope the House will not take that view, because it is not true to say that all Utility furniture was good.
The hon. Member for Edmonton, who is not now in his place, quoted the Chair Frame Makers' Association as saying that they had been approached to produce cheaper frames, but let me read what the Bulletin of the Chair Frame Makers' Association says on this issue. It talks about debasing standards, and says: 262We do not profess to know the extent to which the fear is justified"—that is, the fear of debased standards.What we do know is that, under the Utility Scheme, a great deal of shoddy upholstery was produced. We have never blamed the Board of Trade. It was, we think, well recognised that the number of officers was totally inadequate.That is the view of the organisation which the hon. Gentleman tended to misquote in his speech.
I realise that there is a danger of debasement. There is always in any trade the man who will make a thing a little cheaper and a lot worse, and we want to prevent that, but I do not think that we can, at the present time, introduce statutory standards. These standards laid down by the British Standards Institution are necessarily provisional; they are not rush standards, as some hon. Gentlemen opposite said, but they are necessarily provisional. We are here dealing with a field with which no other nation has yet attempted to deal. It is a new field, and I should not like to say that the new specifications and tests laid down in this document will be final. They must necessarily be subject to the test of time. When we have acquired more knowledge of the efficiency of the performance tests, we should be able to introduce a statutory minimum level of performance, but that is looking a long way into the future.
Something has been said about the time that will elapse before these tests are available. One or two have already been produced, and I understand that it is not unreasonable to expect that, by June of this year, the whole effective range of domestic furniture will be covered, and that disposes, I think very adequately, of the views expressed by some hon. Members that it will be a very long time indeed before we get a complete set of specifications.
I do not believe that there is going to be a great debasement of standards, and I will give my reasons. First, the average man who makes something does not like making a rotten job of it. He takes a pride in making a good article. There is no satisfaction to him in making something which he knows is poor, and the real reason we had what shoddy manufacture there was before the war was intensity of competition, due to economic depression. [Interruption.] I am glad 263 that hon. Gentlemen opposite are agreeing with me, and perhaps I may pursue the argument.
It is true that the debasement such as we suffered—I think about 10 per cent. of the goods produced before the war—was caused by severe economic depression. Is it not reasonable, therefore, to assume, in view of the fact of the economy continuing at a fairly even level, that there will be no temptation, or a very much reduced temptation, in the immediate future to have such a debasement of standards as took place in the days before the war?
§ Mr. Shepherd
I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that I did not say that. What I say is that, if we have competition so intense that there are successive business failures, men who nave to manufacture in a small way have to go out and sell something cheap on Wednesday or Thursday in order to pay the wages on Friday. When things get into that state, there is a tendency towards the debasing of standards, but I do not for a moment believe that will be the case.
There are two other arguments which I think prevent any real danger of debasement, and the first is the method of distribution. There is not always an intervening wholesaler—the man who likes to buy something 2 per cent. cheaper than the price at which it is being offered, and who does not perhaps care very much about quality. In the furniture industry, there are practically no wholesalers, and the sales take place from manufacturers to retailers, so that there is not the same danger, because the retailer has to face the customer.
In view of the fact that most of the sales take place under hire purchase arrangements, clearly, so far as the retailer is concerned, there is a real interest to see that the article he is selling is a good one, because if it is not it will fail before the purchaser completes the payment. I hope that in the immediate future the trade will not go back to selling furniture over the longest number of years during which the purchaser has to pay for it and on the smallest deposit. 264 That was a very bad arrangement. I trust that in future the emphasis will be on quality.
I shall now deal with what I consider to be the advantages of this scheme, because I think it has some real advantages. There is a difference of opinion on this matter between hon. Members opposite and hon. Members on this side of the House. Hon. Members opposite want control; they want to tie everybody down. I do not believe that one gets people to produce the best by merely preventing them from producing their worst. We want a system which is flexible.
Nothing has been said from the benches opposite about the damaging effect of Purchase Tax and the Utility Scheme on what is generally good quality furniture. No one has said that if under the old scheme £5 was put on the value of a good dining-room or bedroom suite that put £35 on the retail price, but it is clear that that is what happened. Now we have a chance of producing furniture at a price perhaps a little above the old Utility price which will be very much better.
Businessmen know that by putting perhaps another 10 per cent. on the cost of an article that article can be immensely improved. There will be an opportunity in the next year or so for manufacturers to produce furniture of a much better quality. For 12 years we have had a stultification of design. We have had Utility specifications which, as I have shown, have not made certain that the furniture manufactured under them would give a good performance. All that such specifications did was to make certain that one got a certain number of components of a certain standard. They did not ensure that things were put together properly or that the finish was good. Such specifications have hamstrung our designers and manufacturers, whereas this new arrangement will free them.
The hon. Member for Edmonton said that designers and manufacturers were pretty free under the old scheme. I would point out to the House that if under the old scheme one wanted a very minor modification made in the Utility specifications, one had to obtain a variation licence and go through a lot of procedure before getting it. One often decided in the middle of such procedure that it was not worth going on with, and dropped it. 265 All this has had a damaging effect on our export trade. The hon. Member opposite said that there is no export trade. One of the reasons for that is the effect of Purchase Tax and the old Utility Scheme. About 12 months ago I came back from Germany, and travelling in the train with me was a Swede who was coming to this country. I asked him why he was coming, and he said it was to buy carpets. I then asked him whether he would be buying anything else. He replied, "No, I used to buy furniture from you, but not now." I asked him why he did not buy furniture from us any more. He said, "Because you no longer produce the kind I want to buy. The stereotyped stuff you have to offer is no good to us in Sweden. We are surrounded by countries which produce furniture in a variety of designs."
The old Utility Scheme was most damaging to the export side of our trade, and I am very hopeful indeed that, as a result of this new Measure, we shall get a revival of the manufacture of the sort of furniture we can successfully sell overseas. What I think is important, and no hon. Member opposite has mentioned this point, is that we are in an age when design is becoming more and more important and when people are more design-minded than ever before. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members opposite say "Hear, hear," yet they want to prevent the industry from having freedom to design as it thinks fit. They want to impose their ideas on the furniture industry.
I welcome these changes and believe that we are going to see a much better era in furniture design and manufacture than we have seen for a long time, that we shall see designers designing according to their own ideas and according to what they think will sell. We shall see much better quality furniture than before. I am convinced that what my right hon. Friend has done is the right thing, and that, as a result of doing away with Utility standards, we shall get better furniture at lower prices.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Harry Wallace (Walthamstow, East)
I have listened with very great interest to what the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) had to say on this matter and about the benefits which he thinks will accrue as the result of this 266 Measure. For my part, however, I think it is a pity that the Government did not wait until June and give further consideration to these relevant matters in the meantime.
I have no special knowledge of this industry, but I have listened to what the workers have had to say. I have been through one or two factories, and my impression is that the worker should and does know what he is producing. When I was visiting these factories, the workers pointed out to me what was good standard and what was bad standard, what was good quality and what was bad quality, and I listened to what they said. I find that in their trade union journal they put forward the following proposition:We urge, as an alternative to the imposition of the D Scheme, (1) Immediate re-introduction of Utility Furniture Consumer Protection Scheme until complete and satisfactory B.S.I. Minimum Standards are available.I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade will clear up the point as to just what has happened, and whether the work of the B.S.I. has been completed. I am given to understand that it could be completed in June, which suggests that something has yet to be done. When a responsible trade union makes this suggestion, I think I must give attention to it. I also support the suggestion made, and again defended by the trade union, thatthe name and address of the manufacturer is attached to each article of furniture from the time of manufacture until in the possession of the customer.I cannot believe that if the hon. Member for Cheadle is right in his anticipation that the whole industry is anxious to grasp this opportunity to produce good and better furniture, we should get such a suggestion coming from the trade union. Are there not unscrupulous makers?
There is another suggestion that furniture made to comply with the standards of the B.S.I. should be freed from Purchase Tax. That suggestion appeals to me. I interrupted the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he was speaking and suggested that if he was really concerned about newly-married couples setting up home he might consider allowing them to buy their furniture free of Purchase Tax. The right hon. Gentleman said that such an arrangement would be very difficult to administer. I suggest that there 267 would be no difficulty at all. There must be plenty of precedents in the Civil Service and in the Fighting Services for finding out whether a man or a woman is properly married or not. Regarding the date of marriage, that should be quite easy to confirm. If the Government want to do something really popular, why not consider doing this? After all, do the Government not want to encourage the founding of good homes and happy married life? I think they might look again at that aspect of the matter.
What puzzles me about some hon. Members opposite is that they are fundamentally opposed to this tax but they are to vote for an increase of it. They welcome a reduction in Income Tax, and I do not complain of that, but today they stand up and say that they are opposed to Purchase Tax but they intend to welcome an increase of it.
§ Mr. Shepherd
The hon. Member ought to be fair. Our position about Purchase Tax is very clear. I think every hon. Member who has spoken from this side of the House has said that we oppose Purchase Tax in principle because we think it is harmful to industry, but we feel that the D Scheme is better than the old Utility Scheme and we are not anxious to keep Utility products. We want to get rid of the D Scheme and of Purchase Tax as quickly as possible.
§ Mr. Wallace
I am making the simple point that Purchase Tax is a tax which someone has to pay, and that, while in principle hon. Members are opposed to the tax, in practice they support an increase of it. I am sorry, but I do not understand their attitude. It is as if I went to a public meeting and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, in principle I am opposed to Purchase Tax and to Income Tax, but tonight I shall ask your support for an increase of Purchase Tax or Income Tax, or both."
Another point made to me by the men in the industry was that they did not attach much importance to exports. They said that their business was such, because of the cubic capacity taken up by furniture, that while what export trade is done may be important, it is not important for the industry as a whole. They said to me that 90 per cent. of the output of a particular factory, a very large and efficient factory, which has a very good 268 name, and where there are good relations with the workers, escaped tax under the Utility Scheme. I can give the Financial Secretary to the Treasury the name of the firm if he wishes to have it. I understood from what the Chancellor said this afternoon that 50 per cent. of that output will be taxed under the D Scheme. That is a very substantial increase. If I am wrong, I should like to be corrected, but if correct it is a very serious matter.
I shall not enter into a lot of detail or speak for long, but there are one or two other points I wish to mention. I have listened to the men on the trade and to manufacturers. I agree that there are manufacturers who are honest and want to do a good job, and who would not like to produce anything which was shoddy; in fact, I doubt whether they would do so. But I have heard these gentlemen to whom I refer say that under the D Scheme the unscrupulous manufacturers—whether they represent 2 per cent., 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. of the industry—will get a new opportunity and that it would need an army of inspectors to check them.
I should like to hear some suggestions from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade about how this scheme is to be policed, how the unscrupulous are to be stopped. I understand that under the Utility Scheme there was an investigation and the possibility of prosecution if someone did not comply with the standard laid down. Under the D Scheme the standard is to be a voluntary one. One knows what the unscrupulous can do when standards are voluntary. Perhaps we shall be told how the unscrupulous are to be stopped.
It is no use saying that the unscrupulous have come into being since the war. It is quite a few years since I was a young trade union official, and I know that there have always been unscrupulous people in the furniture industry, that there have always been shoddy products. I shall not go into the details about hire-purchase and the taking back of furniture after people had paid their weekly contributions. That is a tragic story, but it is not relevant tonight, and I must not allow myself to be carried away on that subject. But the idea that there have been unscrupulous people only since 1945 is just not true.
I turn to the question of margins. Before the war, in those happy days of 269 competition, with everybody trying to produce an article of good quality, I am told that margins went up to as much as 100 per cent. One of my hon. Friends has quoted some of the examples which the trade union journal has given. These were based on a 40 per cent. margin, but I am assured that under this scheme there is nothing to prevent the margin from rising to 100 per cent., even though the quality of the article is lowered until orange boxes re-appear once more as walnut or some such wood. There is no protection from that sort of thing under this scheme.
Therefore, we are justified in taking the view that this scheme is opening the door to a reduction or worsening of quality and an increase in margins and an increase in profits. Hon. Members opposite cannot complain about an increase in profits because from that side of the House there is usually a welcome for such increases. We shall see whether margins increase or profits fall.
I turn to the consumer's side of the matter. One of my hon. Friends gave figures from the trade union journal, and from the figures I have seen in it relating to a modest home for modest people—a simple dining room suite, a bed-settee, two easy chairs and a three-piece suite for the sitting room—including the margins and the additional tax under the D Scheme, the increase will be £30. Unlike hon. Members opposite, I also believe that under this scheme there will be unscrupulous competition and that a reputable manufacturer will find it difficult to defend and maintain good standards.
I think this scheme will lead to attempts to worsen the conditions of workers in the factories. That is already happening as a result of the depression which the trade has known quite recently. In the case of firms which have not the stability of some of the larger firms, it is difficult for workers to take a stand when they are told, "You are sacked from today; if you like to come back under changed conditions next week, you can do so." The trade unions in this industry have a difficult job; we all know that. I do not wish to particularise, but the difficulties are well known.
In addition to the lowering of quality which I believe will come about under this scheme, there is the position of workers earning £6, £7 or £8 per week 270 to be considered. I do not know whether hon. Members regard those as modest incomes; I regard them as very low. Taking rent as 40s., fares 15s. a week, and taking account of the increased cost of lighting, heating, etc., they have a difficult time already. I believe that under this scheme the homes of these people will cost more in maintenance and renewal. They will not be able to afford the expense, and employment will suffer. Indeed, I think that if a couple of healthy youngsters got playing about with some of the furniture which will be produced, they would ruin the happy home, and their father.
I am opposed to this proposal because it increases the tax, and there is no justification for an increase in the tax. I am not happy about the Purchase Tax at all. I know that we need revenue, but I do not think the Chancellor of the Exchequer should at this time impose an increase in this tax. I can tell him where he can get the revenue from if he wants to know. This proposal is very unfair and inequitable. It will be bad for reputable manufacturers in the industry, and I am absolutely opposed to it.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Henry Strauss)
think it may be fitting if I intervene at this stage, not to deal with questions of taxation, which will be dealt with by my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury when he winds up this debate, but to say something about quality standards and some other matters which particularly concern my Department.
The debate has been notable for two or three speeches. I think the whole House will join me in my admiration of the maiden speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) who spoke of an industry famous in his constituency. I thought also that my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) made a very valuable speech. He called attention to a most important matter, namely, the frustration of design that would have occurred had we left all these specifications in the Utility Scheme in existence. I should like also to say how much I agreed with the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Wallace) when he spoke of the pride and pleasure of the craftsman in this 271 industry when he was turning out good stuff, and his disgust when he was not.
That which originated this search for quality standards in the manner now being pursued was the Douglas Report and the speech of the President of the Board of Trade in the Budget debate on 13th March last year. The President of the Board of Trade explained the quality standards which he was going to attempt to secure through the Furniture Development Council and the industry in association with the British Standards Institution. I think the House would like me to give briefly the history of what followed.
In April, my right hon. Friend discussed this matter with the Furniture Development Council and asked them, in accordance with the policy which he had announced to the House, to prepare quality standards for furniture. I had a meeting a little time later with the British Furniture Manufacturers' Federated Associations, at the end of which they promised me that they would co-operate with the Furniture Development Council in working out these standards. By the end of September the Furniture Development Council had drafted performance tests for two groups of furniture, and they had three further drafts in preparation.
They then approached the British Standards Institution. At that stage it was the hope of the Furniture Development Council that the standards would be completed by the end of the year. This did not prove practicable. I am going to quote to the House in a few moments what the B.S.I. said on this subject. The decision to go ahead and introduce the present scheme in December was taken on a considered view of the public interest and on strong representations in the interests of this industry to end the uncertainty. My hon. Friend will deal with this when he winds up the debate.
§ Mr. Strauss
I think from the manufacturers. I can quote it, but I think it would interrupt my speech at this point if I did.
§ Mr. Strauss
Certainly not from the British Standards Institution. I am not certain, but I do not think this was dealt with by the Furniture Development Council. I have not looked at that point. It was decided that this scheme should come into force in December. The reason for taking that decision at that moment in the public interest, as we saw it, will be explained further by my hon. Friend.
I want to say what I did shortly before 15th December. I thought it right to meet representatives of the Furniture Development Council, of the trade union and of the manufacturers to find out the position regarding these standards. I saw these representatives at a meeting on 4th December, and they consisted of the Chairman and the Secretary of the Furniture Development Council, the employers' representative and Mr. Shanley, the Assistant Secretary of the National Union of Furniture Trades Operatives, who will be known to many in this House.
I was left in no doubt whatever that on certain points there was no difference of view among those whom I met. The Development Council, the manufacturers, the trade union representative and all the parties concerned believed in these performance tests; they were working on them as rapidly as possible, and they were determined to achieve success. I received the assurance that there would be no unnecessary delay.
They were perfectly frank; they did not want to make, and they did not want me to make, any promise as to a date when the standards would be completely agreed, and, of course, I promised that I would not. The reason for their refusal to make a promise as to a date was the very honourable ground that they were absolutely determined that the standards should be completely tested and discussed, to make quite certain that they were good standards, and to be as reasonably certain as these skilled men could be that the standards should be good and would be operated with success.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
On a point of order. A statement has just been made which is quite erroneous. I have been in the House for several hours continuously.
§ Mr. Strauss
If I was wrong, I apologise to the hon. and learned Member. I saw him a few minutes ago in his place but I did not know that he had been in the House for some time. I think it would be for the general convenience of the House that I should proceed with my speech. I was not aware that I had been particularly provocative.
§ Mr. Speaker
If the hon. and learned Member who has the Floor of the House does not give way, it is out of order for another hon. and learned Member to remain on his feet.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
The Parliamentary Secretary is telling the House that the trade union representatives were quite willing to have these quality standards and that they would do their best to get them as quickly as possible. Did they not suggest to him that in the meantime there ought to be an immediate re-introduction of the consumer protection scheme in regard to Utility furniture?
§ Mr. Strauss
It was not "they"; it was "he." He did not—not because he may not have thought of it but because that was not the subject under discussion at the meeting. He was very much more relevant than is the custom of the hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
The hon. and learned Member is being impertinent. I asked a perfectly legitimate question.
§ Mr. Strauss
The reason they did not and could not give any undertakings as to dates was their absolute determination that the standards should be carefully worked out so as to be thoroughly satisfactory ones. They all believed in the possibility of performance tests; they were working on them with all their energy and they were determined to make the scheme a success.
I was very sorry that the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu)—who also 274 has a great constituency interest in this matter and has, I know, made a considerable study of this subject—should have chosen to believe either that I would deceive the House or that the B.S.I. would deceive the public, and that there had been some pressure by the Board of Trade on the B.S.I. to get out a particular standard by a particular date. Had we exerted such pressure it would have been very properly resented by the B.S.I. and I again assure the House—and I do not think that on either side there would be great eagerness to doubt my word on this matter—that no pressure of any sort was brought to bear.
After all, is it such a remarkable coincidence that, when it had been generally hoped in September that standards would be ready by the end of the year, some of those standards should in fact be ready by the end of January? It is really not such a sinister coincidence as one would think from hearing some of the speeches. The B.S.I. enjoys a very great reputation. I think that is common ground among us all. We all want that reputation to be maintained and it is enormously to the public interest that it should be maintained.
The B.S.I. is doing most useful work, but it is independent work. I think it was the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) who, in the course of her speech, asked me why they had summoned their meeting this week. I do not know, and I shall not ask them; it is entirely their own affair.
Let me give some account of how they work. The basic research has been done and will continue to be done by the Furniture Development Council, but this work has been considered by the appropriate committee of the B.S.I. representing the industry, employers, employees and consumers. The hon. Member for Coventry, South asked me about the consumer interest.
§ Mr. Strauss
On this particular Furniture Committee they are two members appointed by the B.S.I. Women's Advisory Committee, and they are Mrs. Morgan Phillips and Mrs. Jenkins. There are also representatives of the National Association of Retail Furnishers, the Hotels and Restaurants Federation and the National Union of Furniture Trades Operatives.
§ Mr. Albu
The hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that normal experience of the B.S.I. is that it is a technical buyer and a technical seller. Can he tell the House whether any technical representative of the consumers was there to deal with these extremely difficult and new technical specifications?
§ Mr. Strauss
I am not prepared to tell the hon. Member, in answer to an interruption, how the B.S.I. does its work. The hon. Lady was good enough to ask me to answer a question. I was able to obtain the information for her and if the hon. Gentleman had asked his question in his speech, I dare say that I should have had time to look into it.
§ Mr. Strauss
The B.S.A. has nothing to do with it—that is why I referred to the B.S.I. If the hon. and learned Gentleman would consult any of the hon. Members around him, they would be able to explain the position to him.
§ Mr. Strauss
I do not think that anybody in the trade asked for taxation. I am not aware of it if they did so. The representations were that a decision was of great importance before the trade shows at the beginning of this year, and that point will be dealt with by my hon. Friend. I am not seeking to evade the right hon. Gentleman's point. My meeting had nothing to do with consulting them on whether this scheme should be introduced; it was to inform myself on the subject of standards. That was the object of this one meeting on 4th December which I have described to the House.
§ Mr. Strauss
No. It is a Treasury Order. When I began my speech, I said I was dealing with those matters which concern my Department. This, which is introduced by Order under the Finance Act—as the right hon. Gentleman remembers from the days when he was in office 276 —is a matter for the Treasury. I saw these gentlemen on the question of standards, which is a matter of the greatest interest to the Board of Trade.
The general nature of the standards is, as I think the House knows, that of performance standards, and the problem which the B.S.I. had to solve was how to achieve two things—quality for the consumer with freedom and flexibility of production. That was the twin problem, and it was entirely novel. Some hon. Members have mentioned the Working Party's Report on furniture, and they may remember the chapter in that Report on "Minimum Standards" which discussed precisely the advantages of performance tests.
There is one point with which I might reasonably deal at this stage. While one of my hon. Friends was speaking, he was challenged by the hon. Member for Edmonton to give one instance of frustration of design—something which ought to have been made but which could not be made under the Utility Scheme. I should like to quote to the hon. Member for Edmonton the example given by the Douglas Committee. If he refers to paragraph 59 (a) of that Report, he will read:Another example is taken from the evidence submitted to us on furniture. A firm recently produced chairs of a completely new design which are being used in the Royal Festival Concert Hall. Although this chair could have been sold within the Utility price for competitive chairs, it was not constructed in accordance with the general specification for such chairs, and so could not be included in the Utility Scheme. Purchase Tax would have prevented it being sold on the home market and so it could not be made in large enough quantities to make sales overseas a possibility.Hon. Members opposite speak as though there had been no hampering of trade by these Utility specifications. There definitely was.
May I remind the House of what the B.S.I. themselves said in their statement of 9th December last year? They said:To meet this need, the Furniture Development Council, with the active co-operation of manufacturers, distributors and the trade union concerned, has long been seeking effective ways of giving the ordinary consumer a reliable assurance that furniture is structurally sound, and hence strong and durable.As the result of this effort, the furniture industry is about to break entirely new ground. The Research Department of the Furniture Development Council is evolving a series of physical tests which, when carried out in 277 the manufacturers' works, will demonstrate whether or not a given piece of furniture is up to pre-determined levels of robustness and durability. Specially-designed test equipment will subject the furniture to stress, vibration and impact, so that weaknesses in structure or joints or in other significant features will immediately show up.Furniture which passes these tests, and which has also been made in accordance with good constructional practice as set forth in generally agreed specifications, will be marked with the B.S.I. "Kite" mark. Assurance that the test procedures have been properly carried out, and that furniture conforms to the general features of good construction, will be provided through inspection carried out in factories by a small but effective staff of B.S.I. inspectors. This general surveillance of quality will be an integral part of the scheme. Purchasers buying goods bearing the B.S.I. "Kite" mark will thus have an independent assurance on vital matters which they are not able to judge for themselves.The first stage in this plan is well advanced. Draft British Standards for most of the main groups of domestic furniture have been prepared. Each draft schedules the appropriate performance tests for the class of furniture concerned, and also lays down minimum requirements for the materials and components to be used and general provisions as to workmanship.In accordance with the British Standards Institution's normal procedure, these drafts are being widely circulated for comment by all the trade and other interests concerned. As and where necessary, the drafts are revised in the light of comments received, and circulated again for further comment.Not until there is wide agreement on the texts of the drafts will they be published as British Standards—or, rather, as parts of a single British Standard for domestic furniture.I will leave out a further paragraph. They went on to say:The present situation is that suitable tests have been completed for dining-type chairs and cabinet goods (wardrobes, chests of drawers, sideboards and the like), and, subject to general approval in the near future, the final documents will be published early in the New Year.It was the meeting this week which announced the final agreement on those two sets of standards.
§ Mr. Strauss
They are now being printed. Those two are now being printed, I am informed. So that there can be no misunderstanding I will give the actual words of the British Standards Institution in relation to this matter. This is on 20th January:British Standards for two important classes of domestic furniture were approved at a meeting held yesterday at the London head- 278 quarters of the British Standards Institution. The standards deal with wooden chairs and case-goods (sideboards, wardrobes, chests, etc.).Those are only two. As has been said, there will be others, in due course, dealing with tables, bed ends and upholstered goods.
I have explained quite frankly to the House that at one time we expected these standards to be completed by the end of last year and that, consequently, there would be no gap between the introduction of this scheme on 15th December and the completion of these standards. There is no dispute whatever that there is such a gap, and the reason is that on the ground of the public interest it was desirable to end the uncertainty of the furniture industry; and the Order was therefore made operative on 15th December.
I am not denying the existence of the gap. What I invite the House to do is to consider whether any disastrous consequences are likely to flow from it. May I put certain considerations before the House? By universal admission the trade as a whole desires the maintenance of high standards. I do not think that is disputed in any quarter. Retailers will demand from manufacturers furniture which bears the mark and complies with the standard, as soon as that mark can be placed on furniture. There is already evidence that that will be so, and it is quite obvious that that will be so if the public so demand.
I ask the House to consider this. At a time of a buyers' market, when it is known that these standards will come into existence and that retailers will demand furniture so marked when it does come into existence, is it likely that a manufacturer, even a bad manufacturer, will in the interval turn out shoddy stuff which cannot hope to receive the mark? Already, as is seen from the trade Press, there are inquiries from retailers to the B.S.I. about whether they can state to the public that they propose to stock furniture bearing the B.S.I. mark. There is every indication that as this scheme comes into operation it will be welcomed by the trade and by the public.
The second point which I invite the House to consider is this. In the meantime, there is a great deal of Utility furniture still offered for retail sale. In 279 one of the Orders made, which came into force on 15th December, we protected the Utility mark, so anything bearing the Utility mark will still give exactly the same guarantee of quality, in so far as there was a guarantee, as it always did. If these facts are taken in conjunction with the admitted desire of the trade to produce good stuff, I think that this gap, which I have candidly admitted, will not result in any of the disastrous consequences feared by some hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
When this D scheme came into operation, the existing control of production and price control had to end. Let me take production first. Production was controlled under Defence Regulation 55, which enabled us to regulate the production of furniture. Without the inducement of the tax-free nature of Utility furniture there is no inducement whatever for manufacturers to continue to make Utility furniture. If we had maintained the Order, it would have been simply throwing dust in the eyes of the public.
Now let me turn to the price Order. The price Order likewise was made completely out of date. First of all, the introduction of the tax altered all—or many of—the figures in the Schedule. Secondly, there was the fact that Utility goods would no longer be produced under the other Order. Therefore, when hon. Members ask for some price regulation, they are not asking—they cannot be asking, if they think the matter out—for the continuance of the existing Orders, but for the introduction of a new Order dealing with prices.
I suggest to the House that no case has been made out for subjecting the furniture industry, and that industry alone, to a wholly novel control of prices. I am aware that hon. Members and right hon. Members have quoted or will quote the recommendation by a retailers' organisation that the retailers' margin for certain purposes—marking goods at a trade show—should be assumed to be 40 per cent. Nobody can know, however, that, as a result of that recommendation, everybody will in fact ask for that 40 per cent. In fact, I think the hon. Member for Edmonton himself mentioned one important retail organisation which was not going to do anything of the sort. In 280 a highly competitive market, and a buyers' market, there is no reason whatever to suppose that any particular figure of retailers' margin will obtain in every case.
In this matter—because I think there are some right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite who seem to imagine that any withdrawal of price control must be some reactionary Tory doctrine—I should like to remind them of what was said in the Working Party's Report on furniture, and to quote this sentence, which they will find on page 15:It is our view that once design is freed from the control imposed by the Utility furniture scheme no form of price control will be effective, and that any attempt to impose it in a trade of this kind would give a purely illusory appearance of protection to the public.
§ Mr. Strauss
That was not my argument. My argument was that the price control Order against which the Opposition have set down a Prayer could not possibly survive the introduction of the D Scheme and I have explained the reasons for that. That is totally different from whether we could have any price control. The right hon. Gentleman and I could have a very interesting discussion on that, but it certainly would not be the price control of that Order. That Order certainly had to go, and I am saying that there is no reason for having by law a retailers' margin in the case of furniture, singling it out from all other industries; and I have read a statement in the Working Party's Report on furniture in aid of my argument.
I know there are many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who wish to intervene in this debate. I know that on an occasion of this sort there are many matters on which there is great difference of principle, emphasis, and so on, between the two sides of the House. Let me express the hope that on one or two matters there may, perhaps, be agreement. I confess that I have for many years been very much interested in questions of design, and some years ago I perhaps made more speeches on that particular subject than, I did on politics. 281 I cannot forget that in the 18th century this country produced simple articles of admirable design, construction and good taste, which made the industry famous throughout the world. There were not only Chippendale, Sheraton and Hepplewhite, but a lot of men whose names are unknown to us, who all did such admirable work, and I think that perhaps I shall be speaking for the whole House when I speak of the happiness to be derived in the home from the daily use of good and serviceable things.
Now, I have met the Development Council, the manufacturers, and a representative of the craftsmen. I know that they are determined to make British Standards a success. I believe the House will share the hope and determination that under this new scheme the consumer will be protected without the producer and the craftsman being unduly restricted, and that all will try to promote an industry worthy of our traditions and our skill.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Holman (Bethnal Green)
On this side of the House we certainly support the Parliamentary Secretary in his admiration of the artistic and delightful work of the great artisan traditions of our workers not only in the 18th century but down into the 20th century as well, but when we come to his apologia—I can call it nothing more than a prolonged apologia—for the fact that the new D Scheme for furniture has been introduced quite independently of the introduction of satisfactory new standards for furniture, then I must say that his case falls to the ground, although it was legally well argued; and I hope that the Financial Secretary, when he winds up the debate, will also give us an apologia for what has to be borne on the part of the taxpayer.
Let me remind the House that at the time of the Finance Bill, when we were considering the Clauses dealing with the deferment of furniture from the D Scheme, the Financial Secretary told the Committee:I can give the assurance that it is not intended, in a matter of this complexity, unduly to hurry those on either side of the industry who are now engaged in the discussions with my right hon. Friend the President and my hon. and learned Friend the Parliamentary Secretary.282 But a little later in the same debate he went further, and when dealing with the discussions which the Government were having with the trade he said:Their purpose, if I may repeat it, is to carry out the recommendation of the Douglas Committee to provide that before the D Scheme comes into operation, satisfactory provision for the preservation of quality shall be put into operation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th May, 1952; Vol. 500, c. 604–611.]"Shall be put into operation." I repeat that because it is the statement of an absolute determination to link quality of standard with the D Scheme for furniture, and I can understand why the Parliamentary Secretary, with his legal mind, was put up at this stage to try to blind the House, to some extent, to the pledges of the Government given as late as May of last year. Yet he made it quite clear that there had been no undue delays; that it was a matter of great complexity; that the technical people connected with the trade had been doing their best and were evolving standards effectively to deal on new lines with furniture.
In my constituency I suppose there are more small furniture manufacturers than in any other. Many of them are known as working masters employing, perhaps, only a boy or another man, and from time to time they have had great difficulties through the inevitable operations of the Utility Scheme, both under war and postwar conditions. Practically all the output of the large manufacturers, such as the one quoted by the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd), employing some 800 men, with mass production methods, will come out of the D Scheme. They have no difficulty in that respect. It is the small men, the firms with fewer than 10 employees, who will be worst hit by the new proposals; it will be their products which bring in the increased revenue of from £1 million to £4 million that domestic furniture is expected to contribute under this Order.
§ Mr. Shepherd
What grounds has the hon. Gentleman for saying that the small manufacturers in Bethnal Green, whom I know quite well, are making better quality furniture? Is it not a fact that most of the small manufacturers in Bethnal Green work for only one or two retail shops?
§ Mr. Holman
Certainly, some work for large firms, and others make parts of 283 furniture, and so on. But those who manufacture decent quality complete pieces of furniture will inevitably be hit by taxation under the present scheme compared with the D Scheme for furniture, which asks for no more taxation than was obtained prior to 15th December last. The small manufacturers will have to find the bulk of the additional £3 million in taxation proposed under this scheme. The mass produced stuff will not be affected.
I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary referred to the fact that we must not assume that all retail profit margins would be increased, and that he mentioned, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu), that the Co-operative organisations, who, I believe, produce about 7 per cent. of our furniture, will not increase their profit margin in any circumstances at the present time. It is impossible for the ordinary consumer to know what the profit margin is, or the normal price of furniture, when there are so many firms like that in South-West London, before the war, into which a friend of mine went and asked, "What is the cash price of that?" and the assistant said, "Oh, the cash price! I must see the manager."
It was so unusual to deal in any other way than by hire purchase, under which the profit margin, and indeed the price, could be effectively concealed from the ordinary consumer, who does not know very much about this type of product, because the cost was spread in weekly payments over so many years—very often three years. I am glad that the hon. Member for Cheadle seems to agree that with the reintroduction of an ever-increasing scale of payment over two years, at any rate for furniture, probably most consumers hardly know the total cost of the article until they go home and multiply the weekly payments by 104—and probably get the wrong result.
I consider that the Government committed an anti-social and evil act against the people by introducing this D Scheme on 15th December. Early in December, before 9th December, when it was brought before the House, they knew that the new quality standards would not be ready in full for many months to come. At least, that is the information I got from one of the leading manufac- 284 turers who is in close touch with their organisation. They were so complicated and still had to be discussed with the B.S.I., and they were so vague as to how it would go or whether it would have to be taken back and modified in this way and that, that it would be a considerable time before they come into operation.
The D Scheme was very interesting, and a tremendous simplification of the old Utility Scheme. It had that merit, and had the D line been placed on furniture at the maximum Utility price on various types of articles our opposition would have been far less intense, and we should probably have been satisfied to make only relatively minor criticisms. But foisting on to the consumer at this time an additional £3 million per annum is something none of us wants. I believe that back benchers opposite are equally with me here. It is a further bit of inflation, and it is taxation of a capital goods character as wicked, in some ways, as would be the taxation of machinery in our factories.
I still have some articles of furniture that were put by my parents into the bedroom I occupied at the age of five, 56 years ago. The bulk of the furniture in my flat today was bought at the time of my marriage, nearly 35 years ago. It will outlast the life of many a house that was built between the two wars. It was decent furniture—simple, nothing very ornate, but good. We want quality standards to operate. Not one but many have said to me over the last few weeks that the longer the gap between 15th December and the operation of quality standards, the less effective those quality standards will be, and the more difficult it will be to get both the manufacturers and the public to take them up.
Did any hon. Members on the opposite side of the House go out into the Lobby last night in response to green cards from workers in the furniture industry? If any did, they would have found among those men a considerable number who said, "The nail has already come back into our works instead of the screw." When a screw gets loose, whether it is in an individual head or in a piece of furniture, it can easily be tightened again, but if a nail gets loose, when one tries to hammer another nail into the existing hole that piece of furniture will 285 be wobbly, whether one's weight is 8 stone or 16 stone. I have seen some pieces of war-time furniture which will not last 10 years. I have sat on some of it, too.
It is a tragedy that some of that furniture went into young people's homes when they were furnishing for the first time. I want to see in every home decent, simple but strong furniture. These young people will want it to last for a lifetime, so that it may become a valuable secondhand piece of furniture for their children or others when they have disposed of it. That is what I want to see, and my strongest single criticism of the Government's action in introducing this Order on 15th December is that it should have been delayed until the new standards all come into operation, whether 12 months hence or any other date.
If the manufacturers as a whole who, I think, have their exhibition of furniture on 18th February—and I shall go and have a good look round—had known that the D Scheme would not be implemented until after the new standards were fixed and came into operation, they would not have been worried about the pricing and qualities of furniture for their next exhibition. It is true that they wanted this matter to be settled, but that was because they anticipated, quite correctly as it has turned out, that having introduced a Clause to this effect in the last Finance Bill, the Government would want to implement it within the financial year and that this might effect their exhibition, upset their prices and calculations and the business which they do on such occasions.
I think that the words in the Financial Secretary's statement, which I read out, were quite definite, and that there could be no two interpretations. I will repeat them:Their purpose, if I may repeat it, is to carry out the recommendations of the Douglas Committee to provide that before the D Scheme comes into operation, satisfactory provision for the preservation of quality shall be put into operation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th May, 1952; Vol. 500, c. 611.]The Parliamentary Secretary and, I think, the Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted that the full quality standards could not be in operation for many months to come, or only partially so; so why not let it go for another six or nine months?
286 I should like to say a few words about prices before I sit down. This is a Treasury matter, so I would remind the Treasury that bad money drives out good if there is sufficient bad money about. That is an old adage which must be very familiar to the Treasury. The same thing happens in a certain section of the furniture market. An article can be made to look very attractive, and one does not see what is underneath. Six months later, because there is a gas fire only a few feet away, the wood has become badly warped. That sort of thing has been within the personal experience of large numbers of people for many years past. The Utility Scheme produced some very good stuff at one end and some rather bad stuff at the other. It was not an absolute guarantee of quality, but it did provide a standard of the quality of production generally, as compared with the pre-Utility period, although different manufacturers have different standards and practices and some rotten and worm eaten wood occasionally got into Utility furniture and was not discernible for many months after purchase.
The market for furniture went through a depression some 12 months ago. It was getting out of that depression in the earl autumn. I think that that was the time when the Government came to the conclusion that they must not put on quite so much extra tax under this Order when it came out. The trade, when dealing with the general position of the D Scheme, came to the conclusion that the taxation would be between £10 million and £12 million if approximately 50 per cent. of the furniture was to be free and 50 per cent. taxed under the Order. I think that the by-election, when it was pending in Wycombe, modified their attitude considerably, and we got a figure which approximates now to £8 million under the No. 8 Order.
But why should the Government be determined to get out of a great majority of people with very modest means—and much more modest incomes when they get married than those of most of us in this House—taxation on furniture when at the same time they subsidise their house or flat? Why tax the contents of those houses or flats, which is equally important? In fact, one can live in a wooden hut and not be so miserable there as one would be on the bare boards and 287 with the bare walls of the most modern flat without any furnishings in it. This is quite illogical and quite senseless.
I can only believe that it is because of the anticipated shortfall in revenue of some £150 million in the present financial year that the Government are now looking for every little increase in taxation that they can possibly get, and that explains why this Order asks for four times as much taxation out of domestic furniture in the future as it provided in the past. Manufacturers tell me that inquiries are already coming through for less cubic capacity in wardrobes. We do not want to go back to diminished storage space in young people's rooms. We want them to have decent wardrobes—something that will take the width of one's suit at least. The Order will diminish that capacity.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Surely the hon. Gentleman realises that under the Utility Scheme the 3 ft. wardrobe had a wholesale maximum price of £20 10s. and that under the D Scheme the figure is £21 4s.
§ Mr. Holman
It is one of the small minority of increases under the scheme. That is why I said that, roughly, there would be a good deal less revenue in the case of the maximum Utility furniture than in the case of the new scheme. I agree that in some of the other sizes the figure is lower than under the maximum Utility Scheme. My general argument is not affected by the one specific example.
From a Co-operative point of view—today, that is the point of view of at least 50 per cent. of the consumers in the country—further taxation of these essentials of life should be avoided at all costs. We fear that even in a buyers' market, in which the consumer is only a very occasional purchaser of these capital goods, the inevitable innocence of the consumer will permit a great deal of wangling, to the cost of the consumer, on the part of the trade. There should have been a maximum price, which could quite easily have been maintained, on all the duty-free elements under the D line, as under the Utility Scheme. Everything that was tax free should have had a retailer's margin of a maximum of, say, 33⅓ per cent.
We should have kept the ceiling price, which would still be useful, even if 288 it is, under a buyers' market, above the actual price. Sometimes rapid changes or shortages occur in wood for furniture, and then we should see the producer knock his head against the ceiling, and if the ceiling is a good one his head cannot go through it. We should have maintained the ceiling for the time being irrespective of whether there is a buyers' or sellers' market. The price and the quality would then have been protected from the consumer's angle.
The Government have failed the country and misled the House by introducing the scheme before they had any effective knowledge of the quality standards to be introduced or could give a date when those standards would be effectively introduced. Those quality standards are of vital importance to the country, especially to those in the lower income groups.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Mr. J. N. Browne (Glasgow, Govan)
When the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) spoke about the D Scheme she said she had nothing good to say about it, and I took it that that was the view of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, but the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Holman) has struck a new note. I gather that he is in favour of the D line and of the scheme, but is not in favour of where the D line is drawn. None of us likes taxation and, to go that far, we must all agree with him even though we cannot help him.
However, the hon. Gentleman was a little strong in his criticism about the delay in introducing the B.S.I. scheme. I, and, I am sure, many other people, would rather wait for the best standards than accept something right now which is second best. However, I feel that the hypothetical difficulties and theoretical dangers expressed by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite need not necessarily come to pass and do not outweigh the already known practical advantages.
I welcome the Order in spite of some of its anomalies, and I want to mention just a few of the benefits which it will bring. First. as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) said, we shall get greater freedom in design and construction. This will be of lasting benefit to our people and to the industry. Secondly, there will be free progress in the development of techniques which will now 289 be made possible. I refer, for instance, to laminated timber processes which have been evolved for aircraft construction and were not possible under the Utility Scheme but are practicable under the D Scheme.
Thirdly, it is true that some articles which were previously top-grade Utility and were restricted in design will now increase in price perhaps by 10 per cent. but there are other formerly highly priced articles, of unrestricted design, which will now be reduced in price by probably 10 per cent. so that the one will outweigh the other. Fourthly, there is export, and we must do everything we can to increase the export trade. It is a proven fact that the Utility mark prevented or hampered the export of furniture.
Fifthly, at last, and for the first time for many years, the industry has complete freedom to make what the public want the way they want it. This is something to be proud of. Lastly, the Order means free competition in industry, which is dear to my heart. It is up to industry itself to reduce prices and improve quality.
Therefore, any criticisms of the scheme —and I shall venture some criticisms—are rightly addressed to individual points of the scheme. We want to reduce the amount of shoddy furniture. I appreciate and understand the fears of hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is hard to find a more simple yardstick than cubic capacity, but in some cases it has disadvantages. It has a serious result in that Scottish manufactured furniture of the light graceful type of which we in Scotland are so proud carries more tax than its counterpart in the cheaper standards.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government is, rightly, seeking to deflate the size of houses as far as possible while keeping to the standards of the Dudley Committee. But my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is seeking to inflate the sizes of the furniture which goes into those houses because it is now more profitable to make larger furniture in the cheaper ranges. There is no permission in the scheme for aggregating together articles which are mainly sold together, such as the separate pieces of a bedroom or dining-room suite.
As the scheme is now devised, something may happen which we do not want. We do not want the manufacturer to blow 290 out the size of the wardrobe unnecessarily in order to reach a given cubic capacity. It is far better that the cubic capacity should be where it ought to be, for example, in the dressing-table.
I would ask my right hon. Friend to consider aggregating cubic capacity, for that might solve many of our problems, or, as an alternative, fixing the D line for bedroom and dining-room furniture without relation to size. If either alternative was permitted, any slight loss in revenue would be more than justified by its reducing the tendency to provide shoddy furniture and by its enabling the manufacturer to adhere to more normal trade practice.
I have two other constructive criticisms to make. Paragraph 3 (c) of the Schedule fails to describe exactly what is an upholstered seat. There may be an opening here for great abuse. The D level means a difference in price of £9 10s. and this can be reached by putting a few wire springs under a padded seat, for that has a D line of £2 10s.
Lastly, I am glad that the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) is here as I want to refer to a point he raised and in no spirit of levity. I want to mention what is known as the woven fabric type of infant chair which, when a child sits in it, plays a little tune. Through a process of Departmental logic which I cannot understand, this is said to be a musical instrument and, therefore, bears tax at 66 per cent., but these chairs will long outlive their use as musical instruments and will be used as chairs. Therefore, I ask the Minister to reconsider that matter.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
I have in my constituency a considerable number of furniture manufacturers and furniture workers, and, as far as I can ascertain from the views they have put to me, and from the visits I have paid to furniture factories in an endeavour to find out what is the true position, I have come to the conclusion that all of them are entirely against the imposition of this D Scheme.
I have listened very carefully to the speeches made on the other side of the House. I tried very hard to find out if there were any arguments to be put for- 291 ward in favour of the scheme. Apparently as a last effort, a tremendous amount is being said about this scheme giving freedom of design, but I would point out that in earlier speeches of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury there was not the slightest endeavour to put forward this scheme upon that basis.
§ Mr. J. N. Browne
My suggestion that the design would be improved was not a last minute one, but was based on what I have been told by representatives of the furniture industry in Scotland.
§ Mr. Weitzman
That may be so as far as the hon. Member is concerned, but what I am saying is that not a single suggestion of this kind was put forward by any responsible Minister as a reason for the D Scheme being initiated. In fact, one heard this criticism from hon. Members opposite. None of them was in favour of Purchase Tax. Certainly, none of them was in favour of an increase in Purchase Tax, and, in addition, they were quite clear that there were many things in this scheme that were wrong as well as many dangers and many hardships that might occur in the future.
I have searched to find a reason for this scheme. I would remind the House that on the 8th May last the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that it was necessary to adjust the Utility Scheme in order to carry out our international obligations and tax exemption was not practicable because of the import problem. His case was that the British authorities were not able to apply the Utility mark to foreign goods and, therefore, exemption could not be given to imported goods as it was given to home-produced goods and that we could not discriminate against the foreigner as it would be a breach of our international obligations.
The whole of the argument by the Chancellor of the Exchequer was based upon the assumption that it was impossible to apply the Utility mark to foreign products. But, that is not so about furniture. It was made perfectly clear in the Douglas Report that it was possible to apply the Utility Scheme to the imports of furniture. Indeed, that was done, and, therefore, the argument put forward in favour of the imposition of the D Scheme on this hypothesis completely falls to the ground.
292 A good deal has been said about the burden of taxation that will be put upon people who cannot afford it as a consequence of the D Scheme, but to my mind a very important point is to be the danger of the lowering of standards. I was interested in the attempt by hon. Members on the other side of the House to push that matter aside, to gloss over it and to build up something on the argument about the freedom of design in the future. I would repeat the last words of paragraph 128 of the Douglas Report:We are, therefore, of opinion that the Board of Trade should arrange that, with the introduction of the D Scheme. at least"—I emphasise those words, "at least"—the present quality standards should be sate guarded.During the debate on 8th May the Financial Secretary to the Treasury made it very clear—I am sure he will agree if he remembers the speeches which he made then—that there was to be no hurrying on of the scheme. There was no question of rushing matters, and, indeed, the whole tenor of his speech was that quality standards would be safeguarded. He gave what amounted to a pledge that no scheme would be imposed unless the present quality standards were safeguarded.
What has happened today? I listened to the dulcet tones of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade when he said that this scheme was prepared to be put into practice in December because of certain promises that the standards would be provided by the end of the year. But they were not ready by the end of the year. What justification is there, then, for the breach of the pledge given by the Financial Secretary? I suggest that he reads his speech again, and I am sure he will find that there is no mistake about what was the tenor of that speech, namely, that the scheme would not be put into operation unless the present quality standards were safeguarded. That has not been done.
On the subject of this lowering of standards, I wish to read a paragraph from a letter written a few days ago by the chairman of the London Furniture Workers and Shop Stewards Council, in which he says:Our worst fears, consequent on the removal of Utility safeguards of standards of quality, 293 are at this early stage of the D Scheme being realised, for it has already been reported at trade union branches of the furniture trade that nails are replacing screws for chair seat brackets and for fixing back panels to wardrobes, etc.; 3–16th plywood for ends of wardrobes and fitted robes, and who knows what is covered up by moquette or rexine in the upholstered furniture—wormy, unglued framing and floor sweepings, etc.?That is not somebody talking about the future, but speaking about actual complaints made already because of the lowering of standards through the imposition of this scheme.
I should like to draw attention to another aspect of the matter, and here I desire to read a paragraph from the letter of that gentleman, who was certainly in a position to state what the situation was. He says:With the ending of Utility has also ended the fixed margin of profit of 33⅓ per cent. to the retailer, and there is nothing to prevent any profit he cares to make. In fact, the danger of this happening is so great that a director of a leading retailing establishment appeals to other retailers not to take too many liberties with the public or they will 'kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.' Ninety per cent. of all domestic furniture, it is estimated is sold on the hire purchase, which was controlled at 20 per cent. on the cash price. This has also been removed with the D scheme, and there is nothing to prevent the return to the 'Never-Never' system when 120 per cent. on the cash price was not unusual.I submit that a number of factors make it conclusive that it is wrong and unjust on the part of the Government to put this Order into effect. First of all, there is no need to do it in the case of furniture, as I have shown. Secondly, there was a promise that there would be no hurrying and that standards of quality would be safeguarded. The Government have here left open the door to abuse by unscrupulous persons, even if it is only for a time. An hon. Member said that the standards of quality would be ready by June of this year. Surely, in this instance, the Government should at least have honoured their promise by waiting until those standards were ready. That they have not done. Voluntary standards of quality are, in any case, a poor substitute.
This is another example of the Government breaking their pledge and imposing a scheme which can mean only hardship and injustice to persons who can least afford to suffer from these things.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Partridge (Battersea, South)
I do not want to take up the time of the House for more than a moment or two in order to draw the attention of the Financial Secretary to an anomaly in this Order which I think was never intended. I refer to spring bases or, as they are sometimes called, "box spring mattresses." These never are and never have been what is called furniture, but for some reason—and I could give a possible reason—they are now classed as furniture.
This arose during the war when there was a shortage of timber and when, for administrative ease, timber was allocated by the furniture department of the Board of Trade. A divergence of the incidence of Purchase Tax has resulted from that now, which never occurred before. Until about a year ago the Purchase Tax on box spring mattresses and furniture generally, including bedding, was 33⅓ per cent. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his wisdom, during the course of the Budget debates, reduced Purchase Tax on articles of bedding from 33⅓ per cent. to 25 per cent. By reason of the fact that spring bases were still classified as furniture, they were left up in the 33⅓ per cent. grade.
One does not complain so much about the incidence of the tax as that this anomaly is a source of great inconvenience. Without in any way criticising the D Scheme or wishing to interfere vitally with the principle of the scheme, I ask the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to look into this matter to see whether the anomaly might be removed.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Mr. George Porter (Leeds, Central)
In rising to take part in this debate, I am aware that there is very little I can say that has not already been said. My only purpose in speaking is to give emphasis to some of those things. I speak as a member of the organised workers' side of the furniture industry.
I do not wish to deal with the financial aspect, except to say that the statements made by Her Majesty's Government on 30th December are sufficient for me in deciding the financial implications of the Order. In the Government publication in which those statements were made were these words: 295It is anticipated that at least half the furniture put on the market will be priced sufficiently low to be exempt from tax. Medium-priced (formerly top Utility) furniture will become dearer but the more costly items will be cheaper.I asked a question on this matter during the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I suggested to him that if another £3 million was to be derived from the furniture that was sold and the dearer items were to give less to the Exchequer, we were entitled to assume that the middle class of furniture would provide the £3 million which the Chancellor wanted. I am satisfied with what the Government themselves say, which is that those who have been relieved from taxation in the past are now to pay it, while those who in the past paid the bigger taxation are now to be relieved of it to a considerable extent.
Those who have any connection with this industry are aware of the conditions under which the Utility standard was introduced. Before that period, furniture of the bacon box or sugar box type was produced, made of wood that had been used in connection with other commodities. People who bought the furniture would not know its construction because, to paraphrase a poem. "The whole outside was beautiful and only the inside guile." That type of furniture was of no utility for any number of years.
Reference was made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade to frustration of design and he gave an example, the only example in support of his argument. A lot of chairs had been designed for use at the Royal Festival Hall, and when it was wished to export them, permission to do so, or to sell them in this country, was refused, because the chairs did not come up to the standard of construction, without reference to the standard of design at all. Obviously, if the standard of construction of those chairs had been what it should have been, the design would not have mattered. As far as many people are concerned, however, in the case of festivals it is the design and not the construction they are concerned about.
I understand that inquiries are taking place in regard to one firm which deals with furniture sales, but that has no relation to charging too much for an inferior article since the inquiries are being made 296 about a firm which is supposed to be able to sell furniture at an uneconomic price although it is of a good quality. If this scheme is accepted future development will not be along the line of giving something better than should be given for its price, but possibly the prosecution of people giving inadequate standards for the money they charge.
We are told that the majority of the furnishing industry is composed of reputable firms. Knowing what I do, and having been in contact with the industry for some time I agree with that, but what is the present position when we say that we cannot depend upon the situation which is being developed in regard to standards? The furnishing industry itself, comprising these reputable firms, has agreed in consultation with the Ministry that it will determine the standards to which everybody should be compelled to work.
The Ministry itself, when deciding that the use of the Utility mark should cease from a certain date, laid it down in the Order that those producing furniture after that date would be committing an offence if they used the Utility Order because the Government knew the value of the Utility mark on furniture. So even reputable firms, as a result of developments arising from this Order, may feel it incumbent to make changes which they have no desire to make.
Many hon. Members who bought a wardrobe at a reasonable price before the war, will remember, as I do, that it was impossible to hang their clothes in those wardrobes "athwart ships" as they say in the Navy—that is, across the carcase —because of the depth of the wardrobe. I was surprised how certain people were able to produce the articles they did. I thought I knew the trade from A to Z, but the way some people were able to construct furniture with the methods and materials used was beyond my concept as a craftsman. And this development may mean a return to the terrible conditions which some of us in the industry knew before the war.
It is my privilege to represent with other hon. Members the City of Leeds in this House and before and since I came to the House of Commons I have lived in the City of Liverpool. I know the terrible conditions under which furniture was produced then, in back alleys, in cellars—
§ Mr. Porter
Yes, in kitchens and even in the living rooms where families were trying to live. The women helped the men under conditions which meant that at the end of the week they had to take the finished articles on a handcart from shop to shop to find a buyer before they could get their wages.
The men in the industry will not agree to return to such conditions. They remember what it meant to them to have what hon. Members opposite call unlimited competition. It meant that because of the temperature in which they worked they had to take off their coats, waistcoats, shirts and frequently their singlets also in order to build something they could still be proud of and which would go on to the market to compete with the junk I have mentioned.
The men and the unions want a standard to which not only they but everybody else will be compelled to adhere and so produce the kind of article they want. The Working Party report stated:In taking evidence we have been impressed by the fact that there is an almost unanimous desire in the trade for the fixing of minimum standards and that many are in favour of their statutory enforcement.While we agree that, eventually, the standards of production may be even more effective than those that have operated under the Utility Scheme, we say with all the emphasis at our disposal that the standard of production will never become 100 per cent. effective, as those in the industry desire to see it, unless it is made compulsory for all concerned.
In my opinion, this is only another tax which has been superimposed upon the Chancellor against his better judgment. While there would appear to be a desire to appoint all sorts of different committees of inquiry, let us appoint one to find out, probably for the first time, who is to be responsible for the making of decisions similar to that which we are debating today: whether it is to be the Treasury who will be the bosses, or whether it is to be this democratic House, which has been appointed by the suffrage of the common people.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
I should like, first, to join in the tributes paid to the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall). Whatever some of us may have felt about the result of the Wycombe by-election, I am sure that none of us on personal grounds will regret the hon. Member's appearance in the House.
I am afraid that I cannot pay the same tribute to the speech this afternoon of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Indeed, I have never heard a more misleading speech in the House. The Chancellor had an air of guilty ignorance about him all the time he was speaking. I believe that the action of the Government which we are debating today is one of the most unnecessary and destructive into which even this Government have floundered. It strikingly illustrates three qualities for which they have become notorious: muddle, indifference to the public interest, and breach of faith.
Leaving aside the smooth evasions and sly understatements of the Chancellor this afternoon, let us look objectively at the real effect of the Government's policy as it emerges from all that we have heard in the debate. First, they have destroyed a guarantee of quality in a vital industry which has worked well, which was of value to the consumer and was an assistance to exports, and so far they have put nothing effective in its place. That is really not open to dispute.
Furniture, almost all speakers have agreed, is a product that is peculiarly liable to shoddy work—
§ Mr. Jay
—and which is particularly hard for the ordinary consumer to judge. Every expert authority agrees that the Utility Scheme achieved a great deal in preserving standards in the furniture industry. The Douglas Committee said that theenforcement of the Utility specifications had set a minimum standard of quality and had undoubtedly eliminated much of the very low quality cheap furniture which was made before the war.A member of the Furniture Development Council, in a letter to "The Times" a few weeks ago, in December, said:There is an awareness in the furniture industry that much unsatisfactory furniture was produced before the war, and satisfaction is 299 felt by manufacturers and representatives of those working in the industry that since the war standards of performance, usefulness and aesthetic worth have risen.Then he went on:These results have been in no small measure due to the existence of the Utility Scheme and of the tying of that scheme to Purchase TaxNow, all this is being swept away and there will be no effective guarantee whatever for quality over the majority of furniture products, so far as we know at present, for an indefinite time. If the Financial Secretary does not accept our view of this, I refer him to what the "Manchester Guardian" said on 11th December:Voluntary standards of quality are a poor substitutefor compulsory standards.
That applies whether we agree or not about the exact position of the present voluntary standards. Whatever they may be, they are purely voluntary. But so far as we have been able to learn today from the Parliamentary Secretary and others, even these voluntary standards only apply at present to a quite small proportion of the products of the furniture industry. As I understand it, they apply to dining chairs and to what are called "case goods." But the majority of products, including all upholstery, are at present without any standard, voluntary or compulsory.
Second, the Government have, of course, heavily increased the tax on furniture and, therefore, the burden on those setting up house for the first time, many of them with small means. What hon. Members opposite are being asked to do today is to vote for a 60 per cent. increase in the Purchase Tax revenue on furniture. That is not open to doubt, although one might not have learnt it from the Chancellor's speech.
The Financial Secretary tried to make out—rather disingenuously, it seems to me in retrospect—in the summer that this was merely a switch of tax and in no way an increase. But the Chancellor admitted this afternoon that there has been an increase in expected revenue from £5 to £8 million, which I think is 60 per cent. This deliberate and calculated new tax is, of course, inconsistent with all that we used to hear from hon. Members opposite in previous Parliaments about their 300 desire to reduce the burden of Purchase Tax and the cost of living, and all the rest of it. It is particularly inconsistent with the statement which the Financial Secretary made in reply to me on the Committee stage of the Finance Bill on 8th May, when he said:It is beside the point to ask me to justify the imposition of a new tax and heavier burdens on the housewife, when all that we are concerned with at the moment is the adjustment of Purchase Tax from the old system of Utility. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th May, 1952; Vol. 500, c. 610.]I must leave the House to judge whether an increase of £3 million may be most fairly called an "adjustment" or a "heavier burden."
This is not, of course, the only additional burden on the public as a result of this change. Furniture prices are also to be pushed up, and, as my hon. Friends have shown, in many cases have already been pushed up by increases in retailers' margins, as a result of the abandonment of price control. Under price control, the retailers' margin was limited to 33⅓ per cent. Already there is a prospect of its rising to 40 per cent., and there is nothing that the Government are doing to prevent its going much higher, even to the levels of 100 or 150 per cent. which were known before the war. Is, perhaps, the real motive of the Chancellor in this affair his desire to impose this new tax on those setting up house, and so to recoup himself with extra revenue for the housing subsidies which he pays with such obvious reluctance to his right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing? If that is not his motive, I do not see what it is.
Thirdly, in hurrying forward this change at this rate, the Government are acting contrary to the advice of almost all reputable authorities in the industry. In this case, extraordinary as it may seem, they cannot even claim to have the vested interests pushing them on. It is not merely the National Union of Furniture Trade Operatives who are opposed to this hasty abandonment of Utility standards before the B.S.I. has had proper time to work out substitutes. Can the Financial Secretary deny—his colleague from the Board of Trade could not—that the Development Council also were wholly opposed to this reckless haste in December last? Is it not the fact that they asked the Board of Trade for pledges that the change would not be made until some 301 scheme guaranteeing standards had been got ready? Indeed, many employers themselves do not agree that this "Kite" mark will give the same guarantee of value as that given by the Utility Scheme, or that these tests are satisfactory.
I will quote to the House a letter I have received from a Sheffield manufacturer. He says:The amendment of the Utility Scheme for Furniture is a retrograde step, inasmuch as the public will in very many cases have to pay more for articles which will of necessity become lower and lower in quality. The control of the manufacture of furniture by the Board of Trade guaranteed to the public a good, well-made article to defined standards and price. The substitution of a 'Mark' of British Standards Specification, unenforceable by law, will not retrieve this position.I think that is a very good summary of what is happening.
Fourthly, the Government have failed to carry out the main recommendation of the Douglas Committee relating to furniture, though this, again, one would not have guessed from the Chancellor's speech. In paragraph 128 the Douglas Committee said:Furniture is a type of product for which (because of its high cost and the ease with which serious constructional defects can be concealed) the consumer is in special need of protection.The Committee then went on to make the recommendation which has already been quoted today that if the D scheme were introducedthe Board of Trade should arrange that … at least the present quality standards should be safeguarded.Beyond any dispute and in the opinion of everyone who knows the industry well, that has not yet been done.
Finally—so far as this part of my argument is concerned—the Government have, in my submission, failed to keep faith with this House. As late as the Second Reading of the Finance Bill, as has been pointed out today, the Financial Secretary said that the Government were retaining the Utility Scheme in furniture. Again, during the Committee stage on 8th May, he said that the Government were holding discussions to carry out the Douglas Committee's recommendation— which I have just quoted—that there should be satisfactory provision for the preservation of quality, which he himself called a very "valuable and constructive" suggestion by that Committee. He went on to say that these Board of Trade talks 302 were in implementation of that recommendation, and it was with that preface that he said:I can give the assurance that it is not intended, in a matter of this complexity, unduly to hurry those … now engaged in the discussions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th May, 1952; Vol. 500, c. 604.]Again, in answer to anxieties voiced by us on Report, he said he could again give the assurance which he gave in Committee that there was no intention on the part of the President of the Board of Trade to rush through these discussions and to put them into effect without proper time for thought.
I claim that those assurances, taken together with the sentence quoted by the Financial Secretary himself from the Douglas Committee's Report, clearly conveyed the impression to all of us that the D Scheme would not be introduced, or the Utility Scheme destroyed, before guarantees of quality reasonably comparable with Utility standards had been secured. According to everybody who knows the facts about the matter, no such guarantees existed when this change was made in December, and very slender ones exist at the present time. Therefore, it is perfectly plain that the Government have failed to keep the pledges they gave to the House last summer.
To be perfectly fair to the Government, I have little doubt that it was confusion of mind which led them into this bad faith; and in order to substantiate this excuse for them, perhaps we may look for a brief moment at the basic logic of this whole controversy.
What purpose or aim is there, after all, in making this change in the furniture industry at all? The basic fact is that quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) in his enlightening speech a short time ago. The whole purpose of the D Scheme, and the whole problem which the Douglas Committee was asked by the previous Government to investigate, arose from the contention that Purchase Tax exemption for Utility goods was a breach by this country of its obligations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. That depended entirely on the argument that the Utility mark could not be applied to imports. In the case of furniture this was entirely untrue. Therefore, as my hon. Friend said, the whole argument falls to the ground. 303 The Douglas Committee reported that it had been found perfectly possible in the case of furniture to apply the Utility mark to imports and that the arrangement was working perfectly well. Therefore, the Douglas Committee—and here again, I think, the Chancellor was exceedingly misleading this afternoon—made no recommendation either that there should be a D Scheme for furniture, or that Utility in the furniture industry should be destroyed. All that it said was that if Utility was destroyed something equally good should be put in its place, and that the Government have signally failed to do.
I must say that when the Chancellor remarked, as I understood him this afternoon, that the Douglas Committee had reported that Utility was making the position "intolerable" in the furniture industry, he really did seem to me to be misleading the House to a remarkable degree. There is, of course, no statement in the Douglas Report that Utility had produced an intolerable situation in the furniture industry. Therefore, what conceivable gain can there be in bringing furniture into the D Scheme any more than a whole lot of products like motor cars, stationery, radio sets or many other things which are subject to Purchase Tax, except the desire of the Chancellor to raise more revenue from this particular product? Nobody wanted to see this decision rushed through in December—neither the workers, the public, the Development Council, the Douglas Committee, the British Standards Institution nor, according to my information, most employers.
Even so, if the Chancellor was determined to impose the D Scheme simply in order to get more revenue, there was still no reason whatever for abolishing the Utility system. It would have been perfectly possible to apply the D Scheme for tax purposes and, at the same time, to preserve Utility, which everyone has agreed to be of such value. The link between tax exemption and Utility could simply have been severed.
I have little doubt that it would probably have been wise to make changes in the Utility Scheme, and there is no reason whatever why it should not be flexible and freedom of good design be permitted within the scheme. Indeed, this new conception of a performance test could have 304 been brought into the Utility Scheme; but, at the same time, it would have been compulsory even though a change was made in Purchase Tax.
Why did the Government not adopt that solution? No reason whatever has so far been given for that; and one can only infer that the Government were apparently determined to destroy the Utility Scheme far the sake of doing so. That is why I say they show that remarkable indifference, which we always observe in them, to the interests of the ordinary consumer and the ordinary housewife, and also, in this case, to the quality of our industrial products.
But even if the Government were irrationally determined, for whatever reason, to destroy Utility for the sake of doing so and gratuitously to involve the furniture industry in all the complexities of the D Scheme, they could at least have preserved control over the retailers' margins. Indeed, surely when taxation is being increased at the expense of the housewife, there is all the more reason for retaining control over retailers' margins which have in the past notoriously tended to be excessive. Yet even this safeguard is quite wantonly thrown away, just when the public has got to pay more tax anyway.
The Parliamentary Secretary argued that he could not preserve the old system of price control because he had got rid of Utility. That was yet another argument for preserving Utility. But even if he had thrown it away, as I think he himself admitted, it would have been possible to have introduced some different form of control over retailers' margins. Even allowing for all the rest of this ill-advised change, he could still have done that. Yet the Government declined to do so. There again is a cynical proof of the Government's complete contempt for the consumers' interests, and I suppose of their doctrinaire belief in decontrol for decontrol's sake.
Even so, even if we were to accept all these muddles and perversities, there was no need whatever to rush on with indecent haste. If the Financial Secretary wanted to do all these foolish things, he did not have to do them in December. He could at least have waited until June. If I may quote the "Manchester Guardian" again, since the Financial Secretary 305 may not always agree with me, it said on 11th December:Why have the Government lost patiencenow after keeping the Utility scheme in being for some months just because they were waiting for these standards to be worked out? To quote again from the "Manchester Guardian":Why could they not have waited another few months until the trade had made up its mind?We have had no answer to that either. All we have had is the suggestion that the uncertainty, which of course the Government themselves have created—there would have been no uncertainty if things had been left as they were—had to be removed before the exhibition which was coming along. The answer to that is that if the Government had said perfectly clearly that the existing Utility Scheme would be continued until the standards had been fully and properly worked out and could be introduced over the whole field of the industry, then there would not have been any uncertainty at all. Therefore, that is really no answer to the question, and we still await an answer to that one from the Financial Secretary.
What is the real explanation of this discreditable story? I believe, having listened to all these speeches, that it is very largely the muddle in the Government's own mind. It is pretty painfully obvious that the Government—I am giving them credit for sincerity in their confusion—never really realised that the G.A.T.T. problem did not apply to furniture at all, and that, therefore, in this instance, as opposed to textiles, there was no case whatever either for giving up Utility or for the D Scheme. Neither the Chancellor nor the Financial Secretary has ever mentioned this vital point in any of these debates.
Indeed, today the Chancellor made the astonishing remark that one of the purposes of the decisions that he was defending today was to keep in accord with our international obligations. If he said that, and knew the Douglas Committee said that it did not apply to furniture at all, he was being exceedingly disingenuous. I am inclined to think that he was not being disingenuous, but that he never understood this point from the very beginning. The Board of Trade Ministers say very little about it, either 306 because they have not appreciated the point or because they do not really approve of the Chancellor's policy; I cannot say which.
I suppose what happened was that the Treasury Ministers had submitted to them a grandiose scheme covering textiles and furniture at the same time; they failed to notice that the only real argument did not apply to furniture, and they approved the whole thing without really understanding what they were doing. Having done so, they dared not admit that they were wrong. They then bullied the trade and the B.S.I.; and then, in the summer, the Financial Secretary blundered into giving assurances which he did not genuinely understand he could not keep. Even this afternoon I believe that the Chancellor did not understand that he had broken them.
So here we are: we have this monstrous, unwanted progeny, born out of a marriage between Ministerial confusion and the worst sort of bureaucratic rigidity. Just because there is a D Scheme for textiles, we have to have a D Scheme for furniture, regardless of all the real industrial and commercial facts.
How deplorable it is that effective protection for the consumer and the reputable firms—because these guarantees do assist the reputable firms—have now to be sacrificed. I wonder if, even now, the Chancellor would think again? Even if he does not care much for the quality of our industrial products, I know that he often preaches the need for a higher standard of ethics in our politics.
I am sure he is a great admirer of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, and I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, in the election campaign, would never have made important statements on policy without consulting the present Chancellor. I would therefore remind the Financial Secretary—not the Chancellor, because he is not here—that in an article which appeared in the "Daily Mail" on 10th October, 1951, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food said:The Utility Scheme has done a great deal for people, I agree. The Conservative and National Liberal Parties have no intention of abolishing the Utility Scheme, any more than they have of cutting down the social services.When he said that, I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary to the 307 Ministry of Food was writing as a Conservative or as a Liberal; one never knows. But I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, who intervened with great indignation today on the subject of veracity, to tell us whether he is willing now, in view of that statement, to uphold the veracity of his colleague at the Ministry of Food. Apparently he is not willing to do so.
The most distressing part of this sorry and shabby tale is the blow to the reputation for quality of the products of a great British industry. This is not the way we are going to achieve success and solvency in the world. We shall do that by improving the quality of our goods; by building up their reputation at home and abroad; and by giving the workers pride in their jobs. That is precisely what had been done, steadily and patiently, by 10 or more years of the Utility Scheme.
Now this wretched Government come along, and not merely impose a higher tax and abandon price control, but smash the whole of this co-operative effort between Government and industry to improve our furniture products. The whole thing is really a shocking blunder; and unless the Financial Secretary has the sense and the courage to withdraw it now, I must unhesitatingly advise my hon. Friends to condemn it in the Division Lobby tonight.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
It has become almost a convention of the House for the Member to whom it falls to speak at this moment to preface his observations with the comment that this has been a useful debate. I think that with the possible exception of certain parts of the last few minutes that is really true.
I think a valuable purpose has been served by the fact that very real and sincerely held anxieties which have existed on this subject have had the opportunity of being deployed on the Floor of the House and, equally, there has been an opportunity, which I think my right hon. Friend and my hon. and learned Friend took to the full, to show how ill-founded most of those anxieties were.
At any event, I think all hon. Members who have listened to the debate—and I 308 have heard it all, with the regrettable exception of part of the speech of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Holman)—will agree that a great deal of very useful argument has been developed; and I can give the assurance that what has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House will be very carefully noted in connection with the future development of the scheme. As the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) so properly said, the debate has been distinguished by an extremely impressive maiden speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall), who, as those who had the pleasure and privilege of hearing him will unanimously agree, spoke with an authority, a knowledge and a confidence which is singularly rare in maiden speeches, even though it may often be attributed to them by those who subsequently pay the conventional compliments.
I think hon. Members will agree—and this, I feel, is the value of the debate—that any change of taxation, any change which affects the livelihood and the way of earning their living of a section of the community, gives rise to very natural anxieties. In this connection, there is a preference for the devil that one knows. It is in that context that the debate has been of value.
A number of speakers, notably the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) and the right hon. Member for Battersea, North, by seeking to concentrate their argument solely upon the provisions of this Order, gave a somewhat distorted impression to the picture as a whole. The right hon. Gentleman referred to an increase in taxation upon furniture and the hon. Member for Edmonton referred to "this sudden change."
Hon. Members will recall that the Order which we are debating tonight is merely the final stage in the implementation of the general substitution of a D Scheme for the Utility Scheme, most of the steps towards which were taken in the Finance Act, as it now is, of 1952; and, as hon. Members will recall, that scheme was put before the House as a whole and the House was then told that, by reason of the special circumstances referred to in the Douglas Report, action with respect to furniture was being deferred. It is, therefore, in that context quite misleading to begin referring at this stage to increases in taxation unless it is appreciated that 309 the whole of the Purchase Tax over the whole of the old Utility field is connected with this change. If hon. Members opposite are entitled to make a point of the fact that on this particular commodity some additional tax will undoubtedly be raised, it is, nevertheless, part and parcel of the same picture that in other parts of this general field welcome reliefs have been made.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I cannot answer for what the right hon. Gentleman had in mind; I can answer only for the facts which were available to his mind.
It must surely have been patent to him, as to other hon. Members, that in the application of a D Scheme based upon the median principle to a commodity in respect of which a large proportion had been within the Utility ranges, it was quite obvious that that must be a commodity on which tax would fall with increased force, whereas with commodities to which those ranges did not apply, the converse would be the case. I think the right hon. Gentleman is underrating his not inconsiderable knowledge of these subjects if he seeks to indicate that until December he lived in blissful ignorance that that would be the effect.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to a statement of mine during the Committee stage of the Finance Bill about its not being intended unduly to hurry those talks, or, as he put it, to "rush those discussions." I must leave it to hon. Members to judge whether or not that undertaking has been implemented to the full. These talks began as long ago as last April. Some nine months have elapsed since they began, a period at the end of which one might, perhaps, expect something to happen, and, at the end of that fairly prolonged period, it does not seem to me really open to the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that they have been unduly rushed.
Of course, it all depends, as Dr. Joad used to observe on the B.B.C., on what you mean by "unduly rushed." It is true 310 that it has taken the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues a great deal longer to evolve a policy of nationalisation, but, surely, a period of nine months for discussion of these admittedly intricate and difficult matters cannot seriously be suggested to be a violation of an undertaking that they should not be unduly rushed.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The undertaking, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, referred of course, to both. The discussions, as the hon. Gentleman is aware of course, began, as I understand it—my hon. and learned Friend will correct me if I am wrong—on the details of the D Scheme. The quality standards are, of course, a very important aspect of that matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Partridge) asked me a specific question, to which, I am glad to say, I can give him a specific answer. He raised the case of box spring mattresses. He indicated that those agreeable articles should, in his view, be classified as household textiles rather than as furniture. Their position is not altered in that respect in any sense by this Order. They have been treated in the past as furniture, and they continue under this Order to be treated as furniture.
However, this Order does confer upon them—and this, I think, may relieve my hon. Friend's mind—the not inconsiderable advantage of a D. Indeed, the Douglas Report itself commented, as one of the anomalies of the old scheme, that box mattresses did not have a D. They are now given a D, and, of course, to the extent of the D the amount of tax payable on them is substantially reduced. So I think my hon. Friend will feel satisfied that we have treated them fairly well.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd), in a very remarkable speech which was obviously full of great knowledge of the subject, made a point which I would very much commend to the House, that the greater freedom given by this scheme, as compared with the old Utility specifications, will be of the greatest of assistance in 311 designing, in that greater freedom of design now becomes possible.
If, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you have to design your furniture in accordance with Utility specifications of this complexity, or indeed sheer volume, it does have an inhibiting effect on new design and an inhibiting effect on variations from the conventional pattern.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The right hon. Gentleman opposite says, "Bad designing." If his attitude still is that that the Gentlemen in Whitehall know best about design, then that is a very consistent interjection, but if he takes the view, quite contrary to his own past expressions, as I do, that there are great abilities to be found even outside Whitehall, then I think he will appreciate the value of this freedom.
An example—a very good example—of the greater freedom in design is this. Under the old Utility scheme, if a sideboard were to have the advantage of Utility tax exemption, it had to be between 3 ft. 6 in. and 5 ft. long. If it was less than 3 ft. 6 in. it did not come within the Utility specification; if it was over 5 ft. long it was too expensive. That is a perfectly clear example in respect of that article, and there are others. Design was restricted to the not excessive margin of 18 in., and I am certain that those among the more progressive elements in this industry who are concerned to develop new design and new types will be glad that the heavy weighting against new and progressive design which the old scheme used to apply has now come to an end.
It is far from clear to me what hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite really want. There seem to be three possible courses. I very nearly said three alternatives, but I observed beside me my hon. and learned Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, who would have reproved me, and on the other side my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal, who would also have reproved me, perhaps for other reasons. There seem to be three possibilities. There is the possibility of operating the D Scheme as proposed in the Order before the House. There is the suggestion that furniture ought, by reason of its nature, 312 to be exempt altogether from Purchase Tax
Then there is the possibility of continuing in force the Utility Scheme. Now, what is it that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite want? When my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle said that apparently they wanted to keep the industry still clogged and inhibited by the old Utility specification there were cries of "No" from the Opposition benches. Only one or two of them, of whom the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) was one, took what I hope I may call without offence the extreme argument that there should be complete exemption of furniture from Purchase Tax.
Therefore, it is not really clear on which of the possible grounds hon. Members opposite are objecting to this Order. They apparently do not want to retain the existing method. Very few of them had the courage of the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde and suggested no tax at all. Really, the only competitor that holds the field is that contained within this Order.
I have conceded, and I concede again, that in the early stages of application of an Order of this sort there will, of course, be minor difficulties to be ironed out, but I suggest with respect that the right solution of these problems is the adoption of the principle of the median scheme, which owes its origin to the Douglas Report—and I remind the House that it was not my right hon. Friend but the right hon. Gentleman opposite who appointed that very distinguished and able Committee, and, who, if I may say so with respect, did a very good service to the country by appointing it.
I sympathise very much with my hon. Friends who have said they dislike taxation of any sort, and that they naturally express dislike of taxation upon each and every commodity as it comes to be discussed. All my instincts are in precisely the same direction. But it is the fact that under a variety of Governments since 1940 domestic furniture has, in principle, been subject to Purchase Tax, and at this time it is very difficult to draw a line of distinction between furniture, on the one hand, and carpets, refrigerators and other domestic fittings, which also bear tax, in many cases without D relief, on the other. In present circumstances, therefore, we are 313 forced to consider which is the most efficient way of imposing this tax.
I am bound to say—and this debate confirms it—that on a considered comparison with the old Utility Scheme, with the exclusions mentioned by my right hon. Friend in moving the Motion, this scheme, which is more widely and, I suggest to the House, fairly conceived, with its wider spread as far as categories of articles are concerned and its different point of impact, is really the more satisfactory system.
I come to the last criticism made with respect to the time-table. The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) suggested, in his closing words, that the application of the D Scheme should have been postponed until all the B.S.I. standards were ready. That was his proposal. I cannot think of a proposal more calculated to sustain and spread uncertainty over the industry. Quite clearly, the precise date for each cannot be announced. The scheme would have had to be postponed until an uncertain date, and such a postponement, as I should have thought anyone with any experience of the industry must appreciate, would have been the most damaging of all the courses open to us.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
That is quite wrong. I gave no undertaking in those terms, and the right hon. Gentleman knows that perfectly well. What I said to the House was that we were postponing the application of this scheme until a date by which we hoped that some progress would have been made with these quality standards. If he recalls the debate which took place in Committee, he will remember that that was the sole subject matter of the debate, since he, or the hon. Member for Edmonton actually moved an Amendment to take out of the Bill the power to make this Order, which would, of course, have postponed the making of the Order until the Finance Bill, 1953.
The whole argument in that debate, and our grounds for resisting the Amendment, was that we hoped and intended to be able to do what we have done—that is 314 to introduce this Order during the course of this financial year. Let me put this further point. The right hon. Gentleman referred, as did the hon. Member for Edmonton, in somewhat slighting terms to the suggestion that the trade show of the industry was a very material factor. I can tell the House that when I saw the manufacturers some little time ago, they were good enough to urge upon me very strongly that if we were introducing this scheme, they hoped that we would introduce it at a date well clear of their main trade show, which opens in London on 17th February. The reasons are indeed quite obvious. Pricing, design and sales arrangements are all affected by systems of taxation and the attached provisions, and it would be very difficult indeed for this great industry to arrange its show if the situation was still uncertain.
That, at any rate, was urged upon us by those perhaps most directly aware of the problems—the manufacturers themselves. It is surely very much better to accept what my hon. and learned Friend called the "gap" than to keep uncertainty continuing for the whole of this industry and, in particular, to keep uncertainty continuing over the whole of this industry, as the right hon. Gentleman now suggests, until a date which is by its very nature uncertain. We thought, therefore, that the balance of advantage for all concerned in the industry lay in ending uncertainty and bringing the scheme into operation.
I must say that we are at least as concerned as hon. Members opposite with the welfare, not only of an ancient craft industry, but with the individual welfare of those who work in it and of those who are concerned in its management. We are concerned too, of course, with the consumers of its products, and I would say to the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) that I have no reason whatever to say that what my right hon. Friend said yesterday was other than plain, clear, and, as always with him, completely lucid truth.
The Order has been in effect, as the House knows, since 15th December. The general reaction, as indeed the trade Press shows, has been one of some surprise at the ease and smoothness with which it has come into operation. I have said that such minor difficulties as may arise we will look at carefully, and the 315 Customs are already offering their expert advice and assistance to those in the industry who require it in the interpretation and understanding of what is basically a new scheme. That being so, and this debate now having taken place, and, as I have said, the Government welcoming the opportunity which it has given, I hope we may be able to say to the industry that, though we have perhaps differed from time to time as to what is precisely the best scheme for applying taxation to it, this scheme is now in operation and the industry now knows
§ the position it is in and is able to make its plans accordingly.
§ We hope and believe that it will be able to grasp the opportunity which the skill of its craftsmen and designers offers to take full advantage of the greater freedom it now has so that it may give a satisfactory living to those who earn their bread by it and may serve the community truly and well in the future as in the past.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 268; Noes, 231.319
|Division No. 61.||AYES||[9.13 p.m|
|Aitken, W. T.||Deedes, W. F.||Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Hylton-Foster, H. B. H.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Donner, P. W.||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)|
|Amory, Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Doughty, C. J. A.||Jennings, R.|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J.||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)|
|Arbuthnot, John||Drewe, C.||Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)|
|Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Dugdale, Rt. Hon. Sir T. (Richmond)||Jones, A. (Hall Green)|
|Assheton Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.)||Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Duthie, W. S.||Keeling, Sir Edward|
|Baker, P. A. D||Eccles, Rt. Hon. D. M.||Kerr, H. W.|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Lambert, Hon. G.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Erroll, F. J.||Lambton, Viscount|
|Banks, Col. C.||Fell, A.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.|
|Barber, Anthony||Finlay, Graeme||Langford-Holt, J. A.|
|Baxter, A. B.||Fisher, Nigel||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.|
|Beach, Maj. Hicks||Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F||Leather, E. H. C.|
|Beamish, Maj. Tufton||Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Fort, R.||Legh, P. R. (Petersfield)|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Foster, John||Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T.|
|Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.)||Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale)||Linstead, H. N.|
|Bennett, Sir Peter (Edgbaston)||Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir David Maxwell||Llewellyn, D. T.|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok)||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton)|
|Bennett, William (Woodside)||Galbraith, T G. D. (Hillhead)||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)|
|Bevies, J. R. (Toxteth)||Garner-Evans, E. H.||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.|
|Birch, Nigel||George, Rt. Hon. Maj. G. Lloyd||Longden, Gilbert|
|Bishop, F. P||Godber, J. B.||Low, A. R. W.|
|Black, C. W||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Gough, C. F. H.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Bossom, A. C.||Gower, H. R.||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A||Graham, Sir Fergus||McCallum, Major D.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Gridley, Sir Arnold||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.|
|Braine, B. R.||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Macdonald, Sri Peter|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Harden, J. R. E.||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)||McKibbin, A. J.|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Harris, Reader (Heston)||McKie, J. H.|
|Browne, Jack (Govan)||Harvey, Air Cdre A. V. (Macclesfield)||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John|
|Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T.||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||Maclean, Fitzroy|
|Bullard, D. G.||Harvie-Watt, Sir George||Macleod, Rt. Hon. Iain (Enfield, W.)|
|Bullock, Capt. M||Hay, John||MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Head, Rt. Hon. A. H.||Macpherson, Maj. Niall (Dumfries)|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Heath, Edward||Maitland, Cmdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)|
|Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Maitland, Patrick (Lanark)|
|Campbell, Sir David||Higgs, J. M. C.||Manningham-Buller, Sir R. E.|
|Carr, Robert||Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton)||Markham, Major S. F.|
|Carson, Hon E.||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Marlowe, A. A. H.|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Marples, A. E.|
|Channon, H.||Hirst, Geoffrey||Marshall, Sir Sidney (Sutton)|
|Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)||Holland-Martin, C. J.||Maude, Angus|
|Clyde, Rt. Hon. J. L.||Hollis, M. C.||Maudling, R.|
|Cole, Norman||Hope, Lord John||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.|
|Colegate, W. A.||Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. Henry||Medlicott, Brig. F.|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Mellor, Sir John|
|Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert||Horobin, I. M.||Molson, A. H. E.|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence||Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir Thomas|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Howard, Greville (St. Ives)||Morrison, John (Salisbury)|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Hulbert, Wing Cdr. N. J.||Nabarro, G. D. N.|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Hurd, A. R.||Nicholls, Harmar|
|Cuthbert, W. N||Hutchinson, Sir Geoffrey (Ilford, N.)||Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)|
|Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)||Hutchison, Lt.-Com. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)||Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Hutchison, James (Scotstoun)||Nield, Basil (Chester)|
|Noble, Cmdr. A. H. P.||Roper, Sir Harold||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Nugent, G. R. H.||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Nutting, Anthony||Russell, R. S.||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Oakshott, H. D.||Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)|
|Odey, G. W.||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.||Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N.|
|O'Neill, Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Savory, Prof. Sir Douglas||Touche, Sir Gordon|
|Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.||Schofield, Lt.-Col. W. (Rochdale)||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Scott, R. Donald||Turton, R. H.|
|Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-super-Mare)||Shepherd, William||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Osborne, C.||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)||Vosper, D. F.|
|Partridge, E||Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Peake, Rt. Hon O.||Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. Marylebone)|
|Perkins, W. R. D.||Smyth, Brig, J. G. (Norwood)||Walker-Smith, D. C.|
|Peto, Brig. C. H. M.||Snadden, W. McN.||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Peyton, J. W. W.||Spearman, A. C. M.||Watkinson, H. A.|
|Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Speir, R. M.||Webbe, Sir H. (London & Westminster)|
|Pilkington, Capt. R. A.||Spence, H. R. (Aberdeenshire, W.)||Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)|
|Pitman, I. J.||Spens, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S.)||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Powell, J. Enoch||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard||Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)|
|Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)||Stevens, G. P.||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Profumo, J. D.||Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)||Wills, G.|
|Raikes, Sir Victor||Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Rayner, Brig. R.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Redmayne, M.||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)||York, G.|
|Remnant, Hon. P.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|Renton, D. L. M.||Summers, G. S.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Robertson, Sir David||Sutoliffe, Sir Harold||Sir Herbert Butcher and|
|Robson-Brown, W.||Taylor, Charles (Eastbourne)||Mr. Kaberry.|
|Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)||Teeling, W.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Jeger, George (Goole)|
|Adams, Richard||Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Jenkins, R. H. (Stechford)|
|Albu, A. H.||Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)||Johnson, James (Rugby)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Fernyhough, E.||Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)|
|Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven)||Fienburgh, W.||Jones, David (Hartlepool)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Finch, H. J.||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.)||Keenan, W.|
|Baird, J.||Follick, M.||Kenyon, C.|
|Balfour, A||Foot, M. M.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||Forman, J. C.||King, Dr. H. M.|
|Bartley, P.||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Lee, Frederick (Newton)|
|Bence, C R.||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)|
|Benn, Wedgwood||Glanville, James||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Gooch, E. G.||Lewis, Arthur|
|Blackburn, F.||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Lindgren, G. S.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale)||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M|
|Blyton, W. R.||Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Wakefield)||Logan, D G.|
|Boardman, H.||Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||MacColl, J. E.|
|Bowden, H. W.||Grey, C. F.||McGhee, H. G.|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Griffiths, David (Rather Valley)||McLeavy, F.|
|Brockway, A. F.||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||McNeill, Rt. Hon. H.|
|Brook, Dryden (Halifax)||Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Macpherson, Malcolm (Stirling)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Grimond, J.||Mainwaring, W. H.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Hale, Leslie||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Hall, John T. (Gatehead, W.)||Manuel, A. C.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)||Hamilton, W. W.||Mayhew, C. P|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Hannan, W.||Messer, F|
|Champion, A. J.||Hardy, E. A.||Mikardo, Ian|
|Chapman, W. D.||Hargreaves, A.||Mitchison, G. R|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Harrison, J. (Nottingham, E.)||Monslow, W.|
|Clunie, J.||Hastings, S.||Moody, A. S.|
|Coldrick, W.||Hayman, I. H.||Morgan, Dr. H. B. W.|
|Collick, P. H||Healey, Denis (Leeds, S.E.)||Morley, R.|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Rowley Regis)||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)|
|Cove, W. G.||Hewitson, Capt. M||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Hobson, C. R.||Mort, D. L.|
|Crosland, C. A. R.||Holman, P.||Moyle, A.|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||Holmes, Horace (Hemsworth)||Mulley, F. W.|
|Daines, P.||Holt, A. F.||Murray, J. D.|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Houghton, Douglas||Nally, W.|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon P. J|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Oldfield, W. H|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Oliver, G. H.|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Orbach, M.|
|Deer, G.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Oswald, T.|
|Dodds, N. N.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Padley, W. E|
|Donnelly, D. L.||Irving, W. J. (Wood Green)||Paget, R T.|
|Edelman, M||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphill[...]||Janner, B.||Palmer, A. M. F.|
|Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Pannell, Charles|
|Pargiter, G. A.||Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)||Viant, S. P.|
|Parker, J.||Snow, J. W.||Wallace, H. W.|
|Paton, J.||Sorensen, R. W.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Peart, T. F.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank||Weitzman, D.|
|Plummer, Sir Leslie||Sparks, J. A.||Wells, Perey (Faversham)|
|Poole, C. C.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)||West, D. G.|
|Popplewell, E.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. John|
|Porter, G.||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Price, Joseph T. (Westhoughton)||Stross, Dr. Barnett||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Proctor, W. T.||Swingler, S. T.||Wigg, George|
|Pursey, Cmdr. H.||Sylvester, G. O.||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B|
|Reeves, J.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Reid, Thomas (Swindon)||Taylor, John (West Lothian)||Willey, F. T.|
|Richards, R.||Taylor, Rt. Hon. Robert (Morpeth)||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Thomas, David (Aberdare)||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)|
|Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Thomas, George (Cardiff)||Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)|
|Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Ross, William||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)||Winterbottom, Ian (Nottingham, S.)|
|Shackleton, E. A. A.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)||Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)|
|Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Short, E. W.||Thornton, E.||Yates, V. F.|
|Shurmer, P. L. E.||Thurtle, Ernest||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)||Tomney, F.|
|Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)||Turner-Samuels, M.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Slater, J||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn||Mr. Pearson and Mr. Arthur Allen.|
Question put, and agreed to.
That the Purchase Tax (No. 8) Order, 1952 (S.I. 1952, No. 2119), dated 8th December, 1952, a copy of which was laid before this House on 9th December, be approved.
§ Mr. Speaker
Is it desired to move the two Prayers on Goods and Services (Price Control) and on Supplies and Services (Furniture)?