§ 1. Mr. Nabarro
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is aware that, whereas blinds are normally chargeable to Purchase Tax at 30 per cent., a blind which is fitted with a circular peep-hole not less than three inches in diameter is free of tax; whether he will review this regulation at an early date; and whether he can make an estimate of the annual cost to the Exchequer of the present exemption from Purchase Tax given to blinds with sufficiently large peep-holes.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. D. Heathcoat Amory)
The tax on blinds (which is 15 per cent., not 30 per cent.) is confined to those for domestic or office use. According to trade advice, blinds with peep-holes are used only in shops. The answer to the last part of the Question is, "No, Sir".
§ Mr. Nabarro
But does not this fiscal discrimination encourage the sale of blinds with peep-holes? As the presence of these peep-holes is in itself an incitement to offences under the Justices of the Peace Act, 1361—that is, the "Peeping Tom" Act—would not my right hon. Friend remove Purchase Tax 950 from all blinds, thereby giving a modicum of comfort to law-abiding citizens?
My hon. Friend's knowledge is encyclopaedic. I had no idea that, among other things, he was an expert on peep-hole blinds. Naturally, I will take into consideration what he has said and look up the reference, but I think it is extremely unlikely that there will be grounds for adopting his proposal.
§ Mr. Chapman
Now that we have a new Chancellor of the Exchequer, can the right hon. Gentleman give us some indication whether before or during the Budget we shall have an attempt to rationalise these Purchase Tax problems? Does he recall that last year we pointed them out in great detail to the previous Chancellor and thought we had an assurance that the whole matter would be looked into very quickly?
What my predecessor said is, in fact, taking place. I shall, of course, continue listening to anything hon. Members have to say to me on these subjects between now and the Budget, and I shall take whatever they say into consideration in the general review of all taxation I shall be making before the Budget.
§ 2. Mr. Nabarro
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is aware that corn knives other than those having metal handles must pay Purchase Tax at 90 per cent., whereas a corn knife with a metal handle is free of tax altogether; whether he will review this anomaly at an early date; and whether he will make an estimate as to how the present Purchase Tax revenue received in respect of corn knives would be affected if all corn knives were subjected to Purchase Tax at 30 per cent. whether or not their handles were made of metal.
I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply which my right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) gave him on 17th December.
§ Mr. Nabarro
But is not this invidious distinction in the Purchase Tax on the handles of corn knives a relic of wartime arrangements, when it was thought desirable by the then Chancellor of the 951 Exchequer to discourage the use of imported hardwood, and there was no other purpose? Why should we still have these ridiculous anomalies a matter of twelve years after the end of the war?
In answer to that I will repeat what I said to my hon. Friend the other day—that it is very easy in these cases when dealing with one alleged anomaly to create further and worse anomalies.
§ 3. Mr. Nabarro
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is aware that a manufacturer of telephone directory covers has recently been informed that whereas a cover of appropriate size entitled: "Telephone Directory London E-K", is not chargeable to tax, a cover entitled: "London Telephone Directory", so that it may be used with various directories, is chargeable at 30 per cent.; what is the object of this distinction; and whether he will review it.
The ruling that this directory cover was taxable was mistaken and has been reversed. I thank my hon. Friend for bringing it to notice.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Does my right hon. Friend realise that, in the words of his predecessor, my modest researches in this context are now reaping their just and due reward?
No doubt my hon. Friend will feel much encouraged, but I hope he will not feel too much encouraged.
§ 4. Mr. Hector Hughes
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he aware that the Purchase Tax on musical instruments is prejudicial to the teaching, composition and playing of music in Great Britain, that it results in unemployment in the relevant manufacturing industries, and that the return to the Treasury from this tax is very small in comparison with the evils it involves; and if he will take appropriate steps to abolish this tax.
§ Mr. Hughes
But is not that a ridiculous sort of thing to say at this time of 952 the year? Will the right hon. Gentleman at least do this? As this matter has a grave bearing on education and on employment, will he, before his Budget, consult the Minister of Education and the Minister of Labour with a view to obviating this penalty on both education and employment?
No doubt I shall be giving a great deal of consideration to all these matters between now and the Budget.
§ 8. Mr. Janner
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is aware of the judgment of the Court of Session upholding Glasgow Corporation's contention not to pay Purchase Tax on their printing and stationery; how many other local authorities are now also refusing to pay such Purchase Tax; and if he will instruct the Commissioners of Customs and Excise not to take legal action against them.
The judgment in question related to a motor vehicle, but Glasgow Corporation have now commenced an action contesting liability to tax on the stationery they produce. It would not be proper for me to comment further on the situation.
§ Mr. Janner
Does not the right hon. Gentleman consider it absurd to levy Purchase Tax on local authorities for material they are bound to use at a time when they are already sufficiently heavily taxed in consequence of the Government's actions, and is it not a case of merely putting the money from one pocket into another and so increasing the rates in the localities?
§ 20. Captain Pilkington
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in order to help decrease the seriousness of road accidents, he will remove the Purchase Tax on crash helmets.
No, Sir. I very much doubt whether the small amount of Purchase Tax has any effect upon the number of helmets worn.
§ Captain Pilkington
My right hon. Friend will be aware from the papers I sent him from the Poole Accident Prevention Committee of the saving of the life of a man resulting from wearing one of these helmets. Is it not an untenable 953 position for the Government at one moment to strive for fewer accidents on the roads and at another moment to penalise the methods by which those accidents can be reduced?
The point I was making was that I do not believe that this tax is an effective deterrent or penalty.
§ Mr. Lipton
Has not the excuse of the Treasury hitherto been that it is not possible to distinguish between crash helmets and other forms of protective clothing? Has the Treasury now abandoned that excuse, or is it still the policy of the Treasury and of the Government to continue this stupid and indefensible penalising of useful safety precautions?