HC Deb 06 December 1955 vol 547 cc187-9
32. Mr. Swingler

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what reply he has made to the letter from the British Pottery Manufacturers' Federation, dated 29th November, 1955, on the subject of the effects of Purchase Tax on the pottery industry.

Mr. R. A. Butler

I am considering these representations and will write to them shortly.

Mr. Swingler

is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this letter comes from a source not politically hostile to him, but it contains devastating replies to Treasury arguments in favour of a Purchase Tax on pottery? In considering it, will he not repent, confess his error and wipe away the tax?

Mr. Butler

The answer to that, briefly, regret, is "No, Sir."

35. Mr. Jay

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on future Government policy relating to the Purchase Tax.

44. Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on his future policy in regard to indirect taxation on consumer goods.

Mr. R. A. Butler

I have nothing to add to what I said on this subject during the Committee stage, namely that we have no ready-made scheme for a general sales tax. Hon. Members would be very unwise to underestimate the complexity and difficulty of introducing any such tax.

Mr. Jay

Does the Chancellor think it either wise or proper that his intentions about his next Budget, whenever that will be, should be made known by way of casual hints and leaks at private meetings upstairs?

Mr. Butler

I do not know what the right hon. Member is referring to. I made a statement in Committee which exactly corresponds with the statement that I have made here and which represents my view.

Mr. Jay

How does the right hon. Gentleman explain the fact that we had inspired statements in the Press last week that there was to be a sales tax, and a few days later inspired statements that there was not to be one? Could the right hon. Gentleman not clear the whole matter up by informing us now that he has no intention of instituting a sales tax?

Mr. Butler

The matter is set out absolutely clearly in the reply which I have just given. It corresponds with what I said in Committee, and no doubt will say during the Report stage. As for the Press, this is a free country and there is a free Press, and, as far as I am concerned, the Press can say what it likes.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

Why is the Chancellor so coy about his intentions? If he is not going to introduce it in his next Budget, why not say so now? It would obviate a great deal of unnecessary disturbance and speculation.

Mr. Butler

That is precisely the reason for the reply which I gave to the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay).

Mr. E. Fletcher

Does the Chancellor not realise that the contradictory statements which he is making are very disturbing to the whole of the retail trade and the public? Does he not think it is his duty to make a clear pronouncement as to whether he intends to introduce a sales tax in the next Budget?

Mr. Butler

I cannot add to what I have already stated, and it would be wise for hon. and right hon. Members to pay attention to what I have said in Committee and this afternoon.

Mr. H. Wilson

Whilst we are always ready to pay attention to what the Chancellor says in Committee, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is the second time in a month that an apparently concerted Press story has appeared—all on the same morning—about the Chancellor's tax intentions? Is he aware that the other story, relating to rumours that he might take off the kitchen taxes, caused even more disturbance to trade? Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that any statement, including any hints on this question, will be given to the House of Commons and not at private conferences with the Press and elsewhere?

Mr. Butler

All that I have had to say on taxes has been said in Committee. I have nothing to add to the many answers that I gave during the five-day discussions on the Purchase Tax Resolutions and during the Budget discussions, and I see no reason for the right hon. Member's statements.

41. Mr. Grimond

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if, in view of the change in the value of money, he will raise the figure of £500 worth of output under which Purchase Tax is not payable in respect of various craft productions.

Mr. R. A. Butler

I will bear this point in mind, though there would be great difficulty in raising the present limit. It already gives rise to complaints of unfair competition which are difficult to rebut.

Mr. Grimond

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the limit was originally fixed at £2,000, and that this suggestion of an increase over £500 seems to be the easiest way of saving some of the small craft industries from virtual extinction? I cannot believe that the fall in the value of money would make that difference.

Mr. Butler

I read and listened to the speech of the hon. Member on this subject in the debates on the Finance Bill. As I say, I will bear this point in mind, but I cannot give any undertaking.

Mr. John MacLeod

Will my right hon. Friend realise that the sum of £500 is quite unrealistic, particularly for the small producers in the rural areas, who collectively play an important part in the rural economy of the remote areas?

Mr. Butler

Yes, I am aware of that anxiety.