HC Deb 21 February 1955 vol 537 cc1009-24

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Purchase Tax (No. 2) Order, 1955 (S.I., 1955, No. 101), dated 19th January, 1955, a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st January, be annulled. This is a rather peculiar Order which the Government have put before the House tonight. We are praying against it not because we object to the reductions in tax which the Government are proposing, but because we wish to give the Financial Secretary an opportunity to explain briefly why he is carrying out these rather meagre cuts in the Purchase Tax and no others.

This Order cuts the Purchase Tax on fur coats, on paper serviettes and one or two other paper objects, and on mops. We would like the Financial Secretary to explain why he has made this peculiar selection. The Order ranges from mink to mops, but leaves out almost everything in between. It seems to us a peculiar and a misguided selection. We would have preferred to see the Government, at this stage, take an entire range of household necessities out of the range of Purchase Tax altogether.

I am sure the hon. Gentleman realises that there is large scope for such a change. He is still levying the tax on such things as soap, cutlery, linoleum, furniture, brushes, combs, sponges and all kinds of other things that could be quoted. None of those is by any stretch of the imagination a luxury object and the hon. Gentleman could make, if he wished, a modest contribution to keeping down the cost of living by taking off the tax, or at least cutting it, on such objects.

I have never understood why the present Government have departed from the policy which the Labour Government were carrying out in the Budgets up to and including that of 1951, of exempting each year a range of household necessities from Purchase Tax. With the exception of mops, virtually none has been exempted from the tax over these last three years. I would submit two or three reasons to the Financial Secretary why he might give us a rather more reasonable and satisfactory list than that contained in this Order.

I would remind the hon. Gentleman, first, that the present Minister of Pensions and National Insurance informed us as long ago as 1950 that it was the policy of the Conservative Party to sweep all goods out of Purchase Tax with the exception of certain extreme luxuries—those were the words used by the right hon. Gentleman then. Yet exactly the reverse policy is being followed now, because fur coats and other fur objects have been selected for one of the first reductions although the House has felt willing to describe them in recent years as luxuries. I do not say there is no case for making such a reduction in the case of fur coats, but it is contrary to previous statements on this subject that they should be given first priority in this fashion.

My other point is that there is at the moment considerable anxiety and fear of unemployment in the Lancashire textile industry. Would it not be possible for the Government, at a time when they are making these reductions, when they are extending the cuts to fur coats, which come within the general term of clothing, to consider making an immediate concession—before waiting for the unemployment to develop which many people in Lancashire at present fear—for cotton and other textiles which are again threatened with depression? I ask the Financial Secretary at least to assure us tonight that he will discuss such a possibility with the Chancellor between now and the Budget——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

If the Financial Secretary did that, he would be out of order.

Mr. Jay

I was merely putting the point, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that as we are considering a reduction in the tax on furs, I hope the hon. Gentleman will keep these other possibilities in mind.

10.5 p.m.

Mr. Bernard Braine (Billericay)

Perhaps I ought to preface my remarks by saying that I have a small, indirect interest in this matter in that I am connected with a firm which engages in the import and export of raw furs.

I am astonished at the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay). They seemed to be directed solely towards getting the words "mink to mops" in tomorrow's "Daily Herald." When he made refer- ence to the fur trade being a luxury trade, I understood at once the reason for the Prayer. His speech was a mixture of ignorance and prejudice. It is a great pity that the right hon. Gentleman did not consult his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) and his hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), both of whom have in their constituencies people who are employed in the fur trade and who, through the years, have suffered a great deal as a result of the burdens placed upon the trade by successive Chancellors of the Exchequer.

Mr. Jay

I do not think the hon. Gentleman could have listened to anything that I said. I did not say that it was a mistake for this reduction in tax to be made. I asked the Financial Secretary to explain why he had made it and why he had omitted other reductions which, in my view, might have accompanied it.

Mr. Braine

The right hon. Gentleman's sole argument, if I understood it correctly, was that the relief had been given to a luxury industry, and he asked why other articles had not been selected.

I rise simply to establish one clear fact, that the fur trade of this country is a craft industry which makes a contribution to the British economy out of all proportion to the number of people engaged in it. About 10,000 people are engaged in the processing, dyeing and manufacturing trades. Exports amount to about £25 million a year, even considerable invisibles; they add to the lustre of our national reputation for fine craftsmanship, and help to earn the bread and butter of our Welfare State.

The tax of 100 per cent. which flourished when the right hon. Gentleman was on the Treasury Bench virtually killed the trade. I have here HANSARD of 13th May, 1952, when this matter was considered in Committee on the Finance Bill. The tax was then at the rate of 100 per cent., and the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North said: To-day there is considerable unemployment, and I understand that if the proposals set out in the Schedule are not altered there will be a considerable increase of unemployment. The balance of the trade will be upset. The position would be that not only would the Treasury not gain an a result of its proposals, but, in all probability, through trade falling, manufacture declining and unemployment increasing, the revenue itself would fall. If that is a true statement of the position, and the trade says that it is, surely something ought to be done." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th May, 1952; Vol. 500, c. 1295.] It is a great pity that the right hon. Gentleman did not consult his hon. and learned Friend. He would then have realised the effect that Purchase Tax, although reduced successively from 100 per cent. to 50 per cent., has had upon the trade. I recommend the right hon. Gentleman to read the Report of the Douglas Committee, which clearly shows the terrible effect that Purchase Tax was having upon the home market in the case not only of furs but of other craft industries.

For the information of the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends who seem so quickly to have forgotten the situation then, may I explain why a home market is so essential and why we should seek to remove the heavy and oppressive burden on the trade which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has seen fit to lighten by stages. The overseas demand for raw furs and fur garments is seasonal and, therefore, a home market is absolutely imperative if we wish to maintain employment and safeguard skill. But the overseas demand is also selective. Buyers come to London because the London fur market can offer them the finest range of choice in the world. Importers cannot import furs on a large scale, and offer to buyers from all over the world a fine range, if they have no home market in which they may dispose of what they cannot sell overseas.

There is a second reason why the home market is essential. The right hon. Member for Battersea, North was at the Treasury long enough to learn something about the rudiments of business life in this country and I should have thought that he would know that a home market is essential because, although the bulk of our exports are in raw skins and dressed and dyed furs, in recent years, as the hon. Member for West Houghton (Mr. J. T. Price) will know, we have managed to build up a substantial export trade in manufactured garments. We have been able to compete with the people who had a monopoly in this trade before the war, and we have been doing very well. But it is impossible to export manufactured garments unless we can sell them, and we cannot sell them unless we are up-to-date in colour, fashion and design. A home market is necessary in order to experiment for that purpose.

The right hon. Member for Battersea, North and his hon. Friends know that this country can survive only on the basis of exporting quality goods. We must have a home market to ensure production. I say, therefore, that this Motion is based on prejudice and ignorance and is ill-conceived. I cannot think that it will receive the support of hon. Gentlemen opposite who know the position; who are anxious to safeguard this great craft industry and who are concerned about the employment of their constituents. If the right hon. Gentleman is at all jealous to safeguard the interests of workers in this industry I beg him to withdraw the Motion.

10.14 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I understand that the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine) was seconding the Motion——

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

It is not necessary for the Motion to be seconded. The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) is a Privy Councillor.

Mr. Willey

—but rarely have I heard a speech seconding a Motion which was so critical of the Motion.

Mr. Braine

On a point of order. I do not think that anyone listening to what I have just said could possibly imagine that I was seconding this ill-conceived and mischievous Motion. But I hasten to put the hon. Gentleman out of his misery by saying that in no circumstances——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Mr. Willey

I wish to point out to the hon. Member for Billericay that we made it clear from the start that we do not object to this Order. We are' merely asking for an explanation and surely we are entitled to do so. What disturbed me was the filibustering manner in which the hon. Member evaded any explanation. We want an explanation. We want to know why this selection has been made.

The hon. Member for Billericay dealt only with fur coats. Is not he concerned about mops? Does not he worry about thermometers, barometers, serviettes, paper covers, and table decorations? Is he not concerned with those—because the Government are; that is why we have this Order. Surely he will now agree that we ought to have an explanation, at any rate of all the points which he did not mention.

Mr. Braine

I hope that the hon. Member will do me the justice of realising that I was concerned that he was concerned about the juxtaposition of minks and mops.

Mr. Willey

Let us deal with the juxtaposition now. I shall put the question immediately to the Financial Secretary. Why do they appear together in this Order? I hope that we shall have an answer to that question. Is this the Government's decision upon Purchase Tax for this year? Is this all they are going to do? Is the Financial Secretary going to say anything about textiles? Everything said by the hon. Member for Billericay could be applied with much greater force to textiles.

We want to know why this selection has been made. It covers a wide range, and we are entitled to ask the Financial Secretary about it. We are also entitled to know whether this is the Chancellor's statement on Purchase Tax for this year. I hope that we shall be told whether we can expect any further decision, or whether this incorporates the decision for the coming financial year.

We are entitled to ask why the hon. Member for Billericay was so concerned about fur coats, at the expense of textiles and other commodities. I understand that the concession in regard to fur coats is being made because there is so much evasion of tax that it is better to "come clean." The Financial Secretary should tell us whether that is the reason. All that the hon. Member for Billericay has said is wide of the point. I apologise for being drawn into this debate, but I hope that we shall have an unambiguous reply to our questions.

Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)

My hon. Friend has raised a very interesting point. To all discreet inquiries made by hon. Members on both sides of the House to the Treasury Bench in recent weeks as to the intentions about Purchase Tax, the stock reply, in accordance with traditional usage, has been that the Chancellor cannot anticipate his Budget speech. Why is the Chancellor presenting this Order?

Mr. Willey

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for so succinctly expressing my peroration. It is needless for me to continue further.

10.19 p.m.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

I have never heard such a weak case put forward from the Opposition benches as I have tonight. It seems to me that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) and the right hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Jay) might have got together before the debate opened, so that they could decide exactly what line of argument they should take.

I was very interested to hear the right hon. Member for Battersea, North discuss some of the items which are included in this Order, especially as he very carefully skated around the fact that my right hon. Friend has progressively reduced Purchase Tax upon the articles mentioned in the Order and upon others. For instance, he reduced the Purchase Tax on furs and on other articles which bore 100 per cent. tax when the right hon. Member for Battersea, North was at the Treasury, to 75 per cent., and the tax on articles which bore it at the rate of 66⅔per cent. when the right hon. Gentleman was at the Treasury, he reduced to 50 per cent. The tax on articles which, formerly, was at the rate of 33⅓ per cent., has since been reduced to 25 per cent.

It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to say that he wants an explanation of this Order. The simple answer is that, whenever my right hon. Friend the Chancellor sees the need of still further reducing Purchase Tax, he does so, and, in some cases, he has completely abolished it. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North asked why we should remove thermometers from the Purchase Tax range. One possible reason might be to enable hon. Gentlemen opposite to take more easily the temperatures of those of their hon. Friends who sit below the Gangway.

On the question of furs, which is a very important one in this Order, I am rather surprised that the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) is not sitting on the Opposition Front Bench tonight, because he is the right hon. Gentleman who referred to people walking about "dripping in mink." He, apparently, knows a lot about the fur trade, and, as I say, I am very surprised that he is not sitting in the place of the right hon. Member for Battersea, North. All I could see in the argument of that right hon. Gentleman tonight was that he tried to make the "Daily Herald" headlines with his remark about "mink to mops, and nothing in between," which, of course, is just not true.

Furs are not only for the rich, as right hon. and hon. Members opposite so often try to imply. There are many articles of clothing and other things which are far less attainable by middle-class and poor people than are fur coats. Fur coats are very desirable articles of attire, and are used by many people among the lower income groups. In the main, the fur trade of this country sell good quality, hard-wearing, warm garments at very moderate prices, and if the right hon. Gentleman does not agree with that I suggest that he should go to some of the shops in London and see for himself.

Mr. Jay indicated assent.

Mr. Burden

The right hon. Gentleman nods in agreement. That being so, why is there always the implication that any reduction in Purchase Tax on furs is pandering to the wealthy people who can purchase mink?

Why—if the right hon. Gentleman agrees with me—the sneer in the early part of his speech about "from mink to mops and nothing in between"? It just is not true, and the right hon. Gentleman knows it is not true. Indeed, the reason for this action is very evident. Had the right hon. Gentleman looked into the figures—figures which, I have no doubt, could have been given to him by some of his right hon. and hon. Friends—he would have seen that in 1946 the total value of retail sales in the fur trade was estimated at £8 million. In 1947, it rose to £9 million, but it has now dropped to between £5½ million and £6 million.

The estimated value of retail sales in the fur trade in 1937 was £5 million. The right hon. Gentleman will, of course, appreciate that since then wages have risen by at least three times in the fur trade compared with what they were in 1937. Then, of course, there was no 40-hour week and no paid holidays. These things, of course, we all welcome, and many of those concessions to wage earners were much overdue.

To carry the argument still further so that the right hon. Gentleman may appreciate the doldrums into which the fur trade has slipped, I would point out that in 1937 the price of Canadian squirrel skins was 4d. or 5d. each, whereas it is now 6s. Ocelot were then £2; they are now £12. Ermine were then 5s., and they are now 30s.; and so on throughout the whole range of furs. Unwanted skins have not risen nearly so much. Indeed, in some cases, they have dropped, because the people do not want those skins.

In the fur trade, the public are the people who decide, and they do not agree that the men in Whitehall know best. If we look at these figures and compare these values with 1937, we shall begin to realise the need for the action which my right hon. Friend has taken. The trade has shrunk to about a quarter of what it was in 1937, yet the number of firms engaged in the industry making furs and dealing in skins is approximately the same.

The simple fact of the matter is this. The trade just could not go on and carry the weight of taxation that was being exacted from it. It was shrinking each year, and I have no doubt that, despite all his bias and his arguments, if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Batter-sea, North had been in the position of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and had received the same arguments, he would probably have taken precisely the same action.

There is another aspect of this matter. There was widespread evasion of the tax, which is something which those of us who have looked into it and who understand the difficulties fully appreciate. On the one hand, we had the industry getting right into the doldrums, and, on the other, the difficulty of collecting the tax. It is the belief of those engaged in the trade that this reduction will so narrow the gap between the advantage of evasion and the penalties, which are severe, that there will be far less evasion in future and that, in fact, because of this, the Treasury is likely to collect more tax rather than less from furs.

If the right hon. Member for Battersea, North will pause to think for a moment, he will realise that the people who were suffering because of this tendency to endeavour to evade the tax were, in fact, the reputable stores and retailers. They were suffering and losing their customers. Indeed, I hope the public will realise that, in taking this action, my right hon. Friend is not only endeavouring to help the trade, but that he has indicated that there is an awareness of the fact that evasion has taken place. Now that the gains from such evasion have been narrowed, and the penalties remain just the same, I would suggest——

Mr. J. T. Price

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am following his argument very closely, and I apologise for entering this debate so late at night. On the case presented by hon. Gentlemen opposite about the effect on the fur trade, and particularly on the skilled labour in the fur trade, I may say that I am well informed, as some hon. Members may know. Is it not a very dangerous doctrine to find expression in this House, that if certain people are evading the tax the way to deal with that situation is to give way to these threats of evasion? Surely that is the last thing in the world which the Treasury ought to be doing.

Mr. Burden

There is no question of giving way. These evasions have taken place, and I was expressing a view, which I believe to be correct and proper——

Mr. Willey rose——

Mr. Burden

I am sorry, but I cannot give way any more, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.

Evasion has taken place, but the removal of Purchase Tax will help the trade. If there is any evasion I have no doubt that the strongest measures will be taken to find out where it is, and that the fur trade will co-operate in bringing to light the people who are jeopardising the interests of the trade.

In reducing the tax from 75 per cent. to 50 per cent. my right hon. Friend has taken action that will be welcomed by the trade and will assist it to retain its stability, while making it possible for it to go to new markets overseas. It will also bring security to a large number of skilled men whose art we can ill afford to lose.

10.32 p.m.

Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)

It seems evident from the speeches we have heard that hon. Mem- bers opposite have no idea why this selection has been made. They have referred it almost entirely to the fur trade. I shall not argue against a single provision of this Order, nor comment on the very dangerous doctrine put forward by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden). I shall not get out of order by making a plea for the textile industry, which is a matter of very great concern to my constituency.

The fact that this Order has been brought forward has created confusion in some parts of the country. I think I am correct in saying that last year the Chancellor anticipated his Budget by putting forward his Purchase Tax suggestions much earlier. That has been done again this year in a very limited sphere. We have had no statement whether these are the final reductions. In view of the confusion, it is important that a statement should be made by the Financial Secretary so that we may know exactly where we are. I do not think anyone would object to the reductions made in the Order, but we are entitled to an explanation whether they are the final word of the Chancellor.

10.33 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Henry Brooke)

This is a Motion to annul a Purchase Tax Order. If it were meant as an attack upon the Order it would not be considered very damaging. I understand from what has been said by the Opposition that they are not attacking the Order so much as seeking an explanation why it has been made in this form.

The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) described it as rather a peculiar Order. He went on to make my task a somewhat delicate one, because its peculiarity appeared, in his eyes, to lie not so much in what it contained as in what it omitted. Clearly, I shall be out of order if I make a speech ranging over the rest of the Purchase Tax Schedules and explaining why my right hon. Friend has not proposed any change in the rest of the field.

Mr. J. T. Price

Why not chance it?

Mr. Brooke

I think it is not usual to expect the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to make the Budget speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at 10.35 p.m. on 21st February.

I should like to remind the House of what my right hon. Friend said on 25th January. Answering a Question on that day, he said: The Purchase Tax Orders which have just been laid before Parliament are in each case designed to deal with special situations which have come to my notice and which need to be rectified without delay.

Mr. Blackburn

Are we to understand from that that no other things have been brought to the special notice of the Chancellor?

Mr. Brooke

Perhaps I might continue my speech. I hope I shall be able to explain the matter lucidly.

In that answer, my right hon. Friend went on to explain that he was not proposing at that date to make a statement similar to that which he made early in February last year. He said: No inferences should be drawn from this. It is too early for me to say what, if any, tax alterations it may be right to make this year, and in any event there are a number of other taxes to be considered also, so it would be unwise to take my present statement as pointing to the likelihood of Purchase Tax changes in the next Budget."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th Jan. 1955; Vol. 310, c. 8.] I cannot this evening add anything to that statement.

Mr. Jay

While the hon. Gentleman cannot add anything to it, can he tell us—as it has not been made clear—why the Chancellor made a statement of that kind last year, but has declined to make one this year?

Mr. Brooke

I think I have given the right hon. Member the answer to that question previously in the House.

I explained that last year, in the view of the Chancellor, a situation arose where there was a holding back of purchases in anticipation of the possibility of further general Purchase Tax reductions in the Budget. The House will remember that in the 1953 Budget there had been general reductions and some people were imagining that the 1954 Budget might bring similar good things. In that situation my right hon. Friend decided that it was wise for him to make a statement. In his view, a similar situation does not exist at the moment.

I think that the duty which remains for me to discharge to the House is to explain briefly the reasons for the four items that are in this Purchase Tax Order. I want to try to elucidate in each case the special situations which exist. First, the fur trade. Up to the time of this Order furs were chargeable with tax at 75 per cent. That is a high rate of tax and it is quite clear that it was acting in a punitive way on the retail trade in furs in this country. Various branches of the fur trade are of considerable importance to our economy. London has established itself as a world centre for furs. Before the war the activities of the Nazis went far to ruin Leipzig as a centre of world trade. There was every advantage to be gained, from our point of view, in extending London's reputation. We were very successful in the direction of improving London's reputation as a world centre of the trade in fur skins.

Also, before the war there was established in London a profitable trade, which had formerly been in German hands, in the dressing and dyeing of skins for the international market. After the war, we were left with limited spending power for things like fur coats and, in addition, a very high rate of duty.

If I may respectfully say so, I think that the party opposite was never quite able to establish the right application of its theory of high taxes on luxuries. The cause and effect of those high taxes in the conditions of the post-war world are likely to strangle trade altogether. High taxes may be all right on luxuries when direct taxation is light and there is plenty of money about, but if crushing rates of direct taxation are to be imposed and then, added to that, there are high luxury taxes on costly goods, the craft trades may well be strangled. It would be most disastrous if we so shaped our tax machinery that we killed the craft trades that have been of great value to this country.

I am delighted that we are retaining in London the entrepôt trade in skins. There has been an improvement in the trade in recent weeks. Altogether, I have no doubt that the position is rendered more difficult by the limited home market for fur garments which is forced upon us by high rates of Purchase Tax. If that home market were to continue to decline, it would have at least two serious disadvantages. It would mean that the overseas buyers were not able to see goods of the highest quality on display in London shops, and if these things cannot be seen they will not be bought. Those wanting them will go and buy them elsewhere, and there are other capitals of the world which would very much like to attract buyers of high quality furs.

In addition to that, there are the dyeing houses which have developed so well in London, and I am advised that the home market in its recent state has been inadequate to provide continuity of employment between the seasons for the international sales. Thus, we were facing a dangerous situation. It was to steady this position and to give this craft trade greater strength at home for the future that my right hon. Friend came to the decision that 75 per cent. was too high a rate of taxation.

My right hon. Friend reached a similar decision in a similar case a year ago. The House will remember that early in 1954 he reduced the tax on jewellery from 75 per cent. to 50 per cent. and he did that with general approval. Undoubtedly, in that case, it prevented a similar dangerous situation from arising. What he is doing in this Order is nothing novel or astounding. He is simply applying to the fur trade the same remedial treatment which he successfully applied to jewellery.

The other items in the Order are of comparatively small moment. The House will have seen that this Order reduces from 50 per cent. to 25 to per cent. the rate of tax on paper serviettes, paper doyleys, paper table covers, paper table decorations, shelf paper, and similar articles of paper. If hon. Members have studied the Purchase Tax groups they will know that, apart from more elaborate productions, the main paper articles falling within the Purchase Tax Schedule are wallpaper and stationery. Both of these pay tax at 25 per cent.

Paper handkerchiefs and paper towels were totally exempted from tax in 1948 on the ground that they were largely used by workers in factories, and also on the ground that their textile counterparts were largely exempt because they fell within the utility range. But there still remained this rather odd item which I have mentioned and which continued to be chargeable at 50 per cent.

This, clearly, was illogical and it was unfair because, as I have mentioned, other paper articles were mainly chargeable at 25 per cent. Paper handkerchiefs and paper towels were totally exempt, and to impose a difference of 50 per cent. in taxation between paper towels on the one hand and paper serviettes on the other, is, if I may use the expression, really a bit steep. It is, therefore, to tidy up the Schedules and to remove an obvious illogicality that my right hon. Friend decided to bring this small 50 per cent. group of articles more into line with paper towels and reduce the tax to 25 per cent.

We come next to mops. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Battersea, North claimed great credit for his party for what he described as their progress in removing household necessities from the realm of Purchase Tax; but he forgot mops. There has been an exemption, almost from the start of Purchase Tax history, for household brooms and brushes.

Many mops may rightfully be described as household brooms or, more likely, as household brushes; but there are nowadays many articles on the market which are mops and are not household brooms or brushes; and I hope that the House will agree that the one sensible thing for us to do is to establish a firm exemption for mops so that all mops, brooms and brushes shall be treated alike.

I must now say a word about thermometers and barometers. These, as hon. Members know, may be made in many different forms. There are the scientific and industrial varieties, and tax is not charged on those. They may be made up, on the other hand, into many kinds of article. A thermometer may be fixed on to a silver mount, and there have been barometers mounted in many kinds of ways; sometimes there are thermometers in hat racks, and all barometers and thermometers of that kind—those which are elaborately mounted—will remain chargeable in whatever group the mount may fall.

For instance, a barometer on a silver mount will remain silverware for taxation purposes, and a hat rack thermometer will be taxed as an article of domestic furniture. But between those which are nicely mounted, and the industrial and scientific variety, there is the intermediate type; the ordinary thermometer which hon. Members may well have in their homes.

It was doubtful what rate of tax was properly chargeable on these. It seemed that they were still liable as domestic appliances, and, therefore, taxable at 25 per cent., but the position was in considerable doubt, and my right hon. Friend felt that the only clear thing to do was to lay down firmly that a barometer or a thermometer which primarily was a barometer or a thermometer, and not a silver-mounted article or a hat rack or anything else, should be exempt from tax. I hope the House will agree that that, too, was a special situation worthy to rank in the description which the Chancellor gave.

Mr. J. T. Price

Suppose that that section of the trade which deals with these elaborately-mounted articles to which the Financial Secretary refers is sufficiently resilient to put the thermometer and the mount in separate boxes and send them as two separate articles? If I were in the trade that would at once appeal to me as a way round the tax. It is the sort of practical point we must think about.

Mr. Herbert W. Bowden (Leicester, South-West)

Is that not a dangerous doctrine?

Mr. Brooke

I can only hope that the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) is not going to the thermometer or barometer trade. If he does I think that we shall find a way of countering him.

I have explained how these were special situations which my right hon. Friend felt should be dealt with without delay. In doing so he is in no way prejudicing, either affirmatively or negatively, what he may decide to do at any later date, for Purchase Tax changes need not be made at any one time of year—or any two times of year. They can be made at any date.

Mr. Jay

In view of the Financial Secretary's most painstaking explanation, which we sought to elicit and to which the House was entitled, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.