§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. J. E. S. Simon)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
In the recent Budget debate we had an opportunity to discuss the fiscal proposals of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer against the general background of the economy. Within the scope that he felt to be available to him my right hon. Friend proposed a number of important reforms in the fiscal system, and those are now embodied in this Finance Bill. The reforms fall into five main groups.
In the first there are major tax remissions and fiscal improvements. There is the reduction and reform of the Purchase Tax in Clause 1 and the First and Second Schedules; the recasting of Profits Tax in Clauses 20 and 21 and the Seventh Schedule; the increase of initial allowances in Clause 13; the halving of the Entertainments Duty on cinemas and the removal of the distortions inherent in the present structure of the duties on wines.
Secondly, there are measures to relieve particular hardship. In that category there are the extended benefits to the older members of the community; the relaxation of the expenses rule under Schedule E; the help given to churches and other charities in Clause 15; the relief to estates which at present have to pay two lots of death duties—Estate Duty—simultaneously or in rapid succession, and the remission and reduction of Stamp Duty on small conveyances.
Thirdly, there is a series of useful administrative reforms, of which the most important are probably the reforms of the vehicle licensing system, the time limits for appeals and claims to relief and the reform of the tithe redemption system, and the most immediately lucrative to the Exchequer, the winding-up of the Treasury Chest Fund.
Fourthly, there are certain measures for the protection of the Revenue, that is, to prevent one taxpayer obtaining an anomalous or inequitable benefit which has ultimately to be met by the general 32 body of taxpayers. These are the proposals to deal with dividend stripping, with revocable settlements and with enlargements of life interests for purposes of Estate Duty.
Lastly, there are provisions to give clarity to the law where either it has been interpreted in a sense contrary to what Parliament intended, or where doubt has arisen which has called in question the validity of transactions entered into in good faith on an understanding, or misunderstanding, of the law.
In this class there come the redefinition of "business" for Purchase Tax purposes, the declaration about settlements outside the United Kingdom, in Clause 18 (5), and the validation of the power of life tenants to give a title to property in satisfaction of death duty.
Although I have grouped my right hon. Friend's proposals in this way, I think that it would be more for the convenience of the House if I went through the Clauses of the Bill consecutively. I know that in a debate on a Finance Bill the House expects the mover to deal with each of the Clauses. But I do not propose to repeat the arguments for the major reforms which my right hon. Friend has proposed, because they were debated at length during the Budget debate. I propose rather to concentrate on those provisions which were not explored at any length at that time, particularly where the Clause may present some difficulty in interpretation.
There is another reason which leads me to deal with it in that way. During the debate on the Budget last year, the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) suggested that an explanatory memorandum, or notes on Clauses, of the Finance Bill might be distributed. That suggestion was studied with the care and seriousness which any suggestion from the hon. Gentleman merits, but in the result it was found not to be practicable. But I hope that by dealing with the Bill in the way I have suggested I may be of some assistance to the House in the way indicated by the hon. Gentleman.
Clause 1 and the First and Second Schedules embody one of the two major fiscal reforms proposed by my right hon. Friend, the simplification and reduction of the Purchase Tax. Except that the exemption for miners' protective boots 33 and helmets is restored, as my right hon. Friend stated when the Bill was published, Clause 1 and the First Schedule correspond with his Budget proposals and I do not think that the House will wish to hear any further comment from me at this stage.
I think, however, that I should draw attention to the Second Schedule, which is the culminating point of the rationalisation carried out by my right hon. Friend in the new Purchase Tax tariff. Apart from the substantive changes by my right hon. Friend, the draftsmen have taken the opportunity to make an improvement in the layout which will, I think, be generally welcomed.
§ Mr. Simon
At the same time it preserves, as far as possible, continuity between the old tariff and the new. I think that traders will find it convenient that 25 of the 33 groups in the new Schedule are the same number as in the old. My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), whose voice I think I heard just a moment ago——
§ Mr. Simon
—and who has—I think that we ought to pay him this tribute—persistently campaigned against the anomalies and distortions which we are now mitigating, will, I am afraid, not receive for some time yet the new edition of his favourite bedside reading, Notice No. 78. To allow time for the revision of the Notice, the Second Schedule is not to be operative until 1st October. That is a date convenient for traders, being the beginning of the first quarter after the passing of the Bill.
§ Mr. Victor Collins (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
Does that mean that the new "bedtime story", Notice No. 78, will be published on 1st October? Because, although the new Schedule is a very great improvement, to try to look at Notice No. 78 as it is at present—including all the amendments—is a positive nightmare. We should like to see the new revised Notice No. 78 as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Simon
It will be published before 1st October—I hope much before—and will come into effect on 1st October.
Clause 2 is necessary to resolve the situation which arises out of the judgment of the Scottish Inner Court of Session. This has cast doubts on the previously accepted definition of the term "business in Purchase Tax law and has left it uncertain how far local authorities are amenable to the Purchase Tax law. The matter is particularly important in relation to printing and stationery. The general rule as to the liability of local authorities for indirect taxation is quite clear; they are treated like any other taxpayer. It would, therefore, be a grave anomaly, if, through a weakness in the tax law, they were able to escape payment of Purchase Tax. Not merely would the loss of revenue be serious, but the inequity to commercial interests concerned, particularly printers in this case, would be quite indefensible.
The Clause will not be exclusively for the benefit of the Exchequer. A person who carries on a business of making non-chargeable goods is entitled to registration for the purpose of securing relief from tax on any chargeable materials used. Some local authorities and noncommercial concerns have availed themselves of this relief provision, and enactment of the Clause will put their title to do so beyond doubt.
Under the Clause the activities of local authorities and other non-commercial bodies are to be treated in the same way for the purpose of Purchase Tax as the activities of commercial bodies. They will be liable for tax on certain goods which they make for their own use, and they will have the same right to tax relief where they use taxable goods for the manufacture of tax-free goods. The Section is to take effect from 16th April, 1958, and the past situation will be cleared up by decision of the courts.
§ Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)
If I may interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman, may I say that it will save the time of the House if he can explain two points while he is dealing with Purchase Tax. First, is it the intention of the Government, when we come to the Committee stage, to take the Schedules with the Purchase Tax? Are we to take both 35 Schedules straight away after Clause 1 or after Clause 2?
Secondly, there is some doubt in the minds of hon. Members, despite his explanation, about the position of the Second Schedule. Are we right in assuming that the Second Schedule is really included for convenience, is a new classification or even codification of the Purchase Tax situation, but does not of itself introduce any tax changes? We are not quite clear what is meant by the phrase "comes into effect on 1st October". Presumably, all the tax rates in it are effective now. If that is not the position, could the hon. and learned Gentleman explain it to the House?
§ Mr. Simon
On the first point, subject to the convenience of the Committee it is proposed to take the Schedules with Clause 1. As the right hon. Gentleman surmised, the Second Schedule is consolidation. It is for the convenience of hon. Members, and when it is amplified into Notice No. 78 it is hoped that it will be for the greater convenience of all traders. It is the Notice No. 78 which is the modification which comes into effect on 1st October.
§ Mr. Simon
As the right hon. Gentleman says, the change in tax has already taken effect.
Clause 3 deals with the Entertainments Duty on the cinema and provides for the substantial reduction which operates from 4th May and for a simplification in the method of collecting the duty which will come into effect in the autumn. The reduction amounts to more than half the duty and averages £3,500 a year per cinema. The smaller cinemas benefit particularly.
The reduction averages 58 per cent. over all cinemas, but in the case of a small cinema seating, say, 500 and collecting £175 weekly from a price range of 1s. 3d. to 2s. 3d., the reduction will be worth £30 a week and will amount to 71 per cent. So there is a weighting in favour of the small cinema, and that is also reflected in the changes in the Film Levy, which my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade announced recently.
36 Subsections (2) and (3) of Clause 3 provide for a simplified administration of the duty. At present, Entertainments Duty may be paid in one of the two ways. The first is by adhesive Excise stamps, or Government tickets, and the second is on the basis of weekly certified returns. If the second method is used, security has to be given. Over 80 per cent. of exhibitors pay duty on the weekly return basis and probably more would do so were it not for the requirement of security.
We propose to change the system, providing only for payments on the basis of weekly returns. That will make for a substantial saving in administration, and it is not intended to require security in future save exceptionally where it is necessary for the safety of the Revenue. We propose to consult the trade associations about details of the new arrangements before they are introduced by Statutory Instrument to come into force on 5th October.
Subsection (4) abolishes the power of the Customs to delegate to local authorities and to the police their duty with respect to Entertainments Duty. It dates from 1916 and I do not believe it has been used since 1920 or thereabouts. In the circumstances, it can probably he repealed without fear of any disastrous repercussions.
Clauses 4 and 5 and the Third and Fourth Schedules together deal with the reductions in the wine duties. Clause 4 and the Third Schedule relate to imported heavy wines. As my right hon. Friend explained in his Budget speech, the reduction of 2s. a bottle goes some way towards correcting the distinct lack of balance between the duties on light and on heavy wines and the consequent distortions of trade and demand. According to my information, and, indeed, experience, the whole of the 2s. a bottle reduction is being passed on to the consumer. This is certainly the first reduction in the duty on heavy wine in living memory.
The opportunity has also been taken to consolidate the law relating to wine duties which would otherwise be found partly in the Finance Acts and partly in the Import Duties Act, 1958, where, of course, it does not properly belong.
Clause 5, and the Fourth Schedule, provide a corollary to the changes in the rate of duty on imported heavy wine, and 37 bring about a corresponding reduction for wines produced in this country. I am told that "sweets" is a statutory term which goes back to the seventeenth century. It is used rather than "wine" because it covers fermented drinks made from fruit other than grape and also mead and metheglin. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear."] I gather that many hon. Members are used to rustic drinks.
Clause 6 exempts methyl alcohol from Spirits Duty. As my right hon. Friend said in his Budget speech, this is a poison. I understand that it only became liable to Spirits Duty because, last century, the rumour went round that a German chemist had found a way of removing the toxicity of methyl alcohol without otherwise impairing its effects. Either the rumour was false, or else the German chemist died with his secret locked in his breast. At any rate, a precautionary measure has remained on the Statute Book to this day without the hopes or fears that were then enjoyed, being fulfilled.
The bulk of the Spirits Duty is repaid when the substance is used for industrial or scientific purposes. So, from 1st August, when the provision takes effect, both industry and the Customs will gain by the discontinuance of the present system. Perhaps I ought to add that it remains an offence for anyone to offer methyl alcohol as a beverage.
Clause 7 effects a considerable improvement in the administration of the vehicle Excise licences. It gives the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation power to prescribe periods that are not tied to the calendar year. New licences will be issued for periods of either four, eight or twelve months, and renewals of existing licences will also be for those periods. That will provide a considerably more elastic licensing system. It will allow the motorist greater freedom of choice of periods of licensing to suit his personal circumstances. It also, of course, spreads the work of the licensing authorities and the Post Offices more evenly over the year, and, therefore, avoids, we hope, the congestion which at present arises at the peak licensing periods.
Clause 8 is needed to overcome a difficulty which is likely to arise when Sections 1 and 2 of the Road Traffic Act, 1956, are brought into force. These Sections enable the Minister to set up 38 a scheme for the compulsory testing of motor vehicles. It may happen that some vehicles for which test certificates must be issued before they can lawfully be used on the roads will not have been used by their owners for some period of time. They may have been laid up in a garage, for example.
The result may, therefore, be that the owner of a vehicle cannot get an Excise licence unless he can produce a test certificate, he cannot get a test certificate unless he drives the vehicle to the test station and he cannot do that without committing an offence. To overcome this difficulty, Clause 8 provides that a licence shall not be required if the vehicle is being used on a public road merely for the purpose of proceeding to or returning from a test.
Clause 9 repeals a proviso to Section 6 (4) of the Finance Act, 1908. That Section transferred to the local authorities in England and Wales the power to levy certain local taxation licences, of which only gun, game and dog licences remain. It was provided in the Section that if the rate of licence duty were varied the duty would revert to the Crown. I am advised that the effect of that is to prevent a consolidation of the law in this sphere which is very much needed—it is old and prolix—because two codes of law, one involving the local and the other the national taxation would be required. This effects no substantive change in the law, but is designed merely to make possible the consolidation which is needed.
I turn to Part III of the Bill, which deals with Income Tax and Surtax. Clauses 10 and 11 are in common form. Clause 10 reimposes Income Tax at the standard rate of 8s. 6d. in the £ for the current year 1958–59 and provides that next year's Finance Bill may fix the rates of Surtax for 1958–59, which will not become payable until January, 1960. Clause 11 fixes the same rates of Surtax for 1957–58, which is payable on 1st January, 1959, in respect of successive slices of a single individual's income over £2,000 as were in force for 1956–57.
In dealing so shortly with those two Clauses I trust that I shall not be thought to be unmindful of the very heavy burden of tax which bears down on this country.
Clause 12 contains the three changes in personal taxation which my right hon. 39 Friend has felt able to make to assist those in special need. It extends the existing reliefs for old people—that is, the age exemption and the age relief—and the relief for those who help to maintain infirm or elderly relatives. These improvements were explained by my right hon. Friend and myself in the Budget debates, and I need not repeat the explanations which have been given. The improvements have been generally welcomed as worth while and well-directed reliefs.
Clause 13 is another relief, this time directed to industrial development and, in particular, to those developing concerns which are in the course of acquiring new assets. It increases the rate of initial allowances from 20 per cent. to 25 per cent. for plant and machinery and from 10 per cent. to 12½ per cent. for industrial buildings and expenditure on dredging. My right hon. Friend has already explained that this additional incentive to new capital investment is what he felt was appropriate for the present state of the economy.
Clauses 14 and 15 are the outcome of the consideration promised in the debates on last year's Finance Bill on proposals for modifying the Schedule E expenses rule and for giving relief to the clergy. Representations on the Schedule E expenses rule have been received during the year from many associations and institutions. My right hon. Friend has considered them carefully. Various forms of general wording have been suggested, but we have not found one which would not either let in expenditure which is inadmissible or create a wide area of doubt.
In Clause 14 we have embodied one proposal which received much support. Relief will be allowed for annual subscriptions to professional and learned societies with activities related to the employee's work. Subscriptions to associations such as the medical defence associations and the statutory registration fees, which are set out in the Fifth Schedule, paid by such people as architects and dentists as a condition of being allowed to practise, will also be allowed. The Commissioners of Inland Revenue will approve societies for the purpose of allowance of subscriptions by reference to the criteria which are laid down in the body of the Clause and subject, of course, to the usual rights of appeal.
40 The general test will be whether a society's activities are wholly or mainly of a professional or learned character. Where such a body also has significant activities of a different kind, such as the prosecution of salary claims, the Clause provides for the deduction of a fairly apportioned part of the subscription.
We have also examined again various suggestions for giving special tax relief to clergy including proposals for relieving Easter offerings and Church of England parsonages from tax. In the end, most of them have been rejected in view of the general undesirability of discriminatory reliefs from Income Tax, but my right hon. Friend has felt able to bring forward one proposal which should give some relief. It follows a recommendation of the Royal Commission, and is in Clause 15. It removes the anomalous disqualification by which charities, including the Churches, lose their exemption from Schedule A tax if property which they own is lived in by an office holder or employee with an income of £150 a year or more.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
Will the Financial Secretary be good enough to say whether it is intended to deal with subscriptions paid to learned societies by way of covenant? Until recently these had the advantage of enabling learned societies to recover the tax paid. As he knows, a recent decision in the Court of Appeal brought about a different result. Is Clause 14 intended to restore the position in that respect?
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
I apologise for interrupting the hon. and learned Gentleman again. Could he tell 41 us to what extent Clause 15 helps the clergy? I understood that he linked it with the fact that Easter offerings would not be exempted. How does the Clause help the local minister or incumbent of a parish?
§ Mr. Simon
It helps many ministers of religion and many of the Churches which at present, owing to the terms on which they allow incumbents to reside in their property, are penalised. Whether it assists the Church of England is a matter which we are exploring at the moment with the Church of England authorities. This provides an answer for the bulk of the churches which are now caught by the present rule, if I may put it that way.
I now pass to a very different sort of matter, to Clauses 16 and 17, which are designed to protect the Revenue against avoidance through the device known as dividend stripping. As they are not altogether easy to follow, perhaps the House will be patient with me if I try to explain the mischiefs which they are designed to meet, and the way they do so. The House will remember what is an essential feature common to all forms of dividend stripping. Two things are necessary. The first is a company, company A, which has large liquid reserves built up out of profits or income which have suffered Income Tax at the standard rate. The second is a company or institution, company B, which, for some reason or other, can substantiate a claim to repayment of Income Tax.
The rule of law on which they proceed is the rule of Income Tax law whereby a dividend paid out of profits or income which has suffered tax is deemed to be a gross dividend from which Income Tax at the standard rate has been deducted to leave the net dividend actually paid. Before the avoidance trick starts, the liquid reserves in the hands of the first company represent, capital of that company's shareholders, and if they take it out on liquidation they cannot, of course, get the Income Tax back.
The avoidance trick consists of getting shares in company A into the hands of company B and using the liquid reserves of company A to pay a dividend to company B. That, as I have said, is treated by the law as a gross dividend from which Income Tax at 8s. 6d. in the £ has been 42 deducted to leave the net dividend actually paid.
Company B, being in a position to claim repayment of tax, then gets back from the Revenue the tax deemed—I emphasise the word "deemed"—to have been deducted from dividends. The 1955 Finance Act precluded the recoupment of tax in that way by the dividend stripping devices then known, but since then other methods of dividend stripping have been found.
The first device is a sheer technicality. The House will probably remember that the dividend income arising to company B after the shares have been acquired from company A is caught by the 1955 Act only to the extent that it is not covered by company A's post-acquisition profits. Only the dividend that can have come from nothing but pre-acquisition reserves is caught. If company B interposes an investment-holding company between itself and company A, that intermediary can draw off the reserves from company A and then pass them on, in the form of dividend on its own shares, to company B. This is technically post-acquisition income and the 1955 legislation fails to operate. This is a sort of dividend stripping by proxy and Clause 16 (3) is intended to close that gap.
The second form tries to get round the requirements of the 1955 legislation that the shares used for a stripping transaction must constitute a holding of at least 10 per cent. of the class of shares in question. For this purpose, under the 1955 Act the Revenue could aggregate the holdings of two or more dealing concerns who were "acting in concert" in buying up shares in company A; but it is doubtful whether that wording, "acting in concert" is adequate where a person acquires a block of shares in company A and makes it his business to peddle those shares out in parcels of less than 10 per cent. to a number of independent dealing concerns. In other words, there would be no demonstrable collusion between the purchasers at the time they made purchases from the pedlar. The House will see that in Clause 16 (2) a formula has been devised to deal with that case.
Finally, and this is where the most serious inroads are being made upon the Exchequer, dividend stripping has 43 been practised on a large and increasing scale by companies with ordinary trade losses available for tax relief by set-off against other income. Sometimes an independent operator acquires the loss making concern and causes it to indulge in dividend stripping, but more frequently the trading concern itself does the stripping. The method is simple. Company B, with trading losses, acquires, say, the whole of the ordinary shares of company A, which has approximately £60,000 worth of liquid taxed reserves. Company A then pays out the reserves to company B by way of dividend, and the tax law treats that as gross dividend of about £100,000 from which £40,000 tax has been deducted. Company B, having made a loss of over £100,000, can claim repayment of tax amounting to the £40,000 which is deemed to have been deducted.
The House will see that these are not ordinary commercial transactions. This is a serious matter for the Exchequer. The Income Tax code is generous in its treatment of trading losses, but it assumes genuine losses to be set off against genuine income. Here, the income, as I hope I have made clear, is artificially contrived to milk the Exchequer. Clause 17 is designed to prevent the tax on a stripped dividend from being used to support a loss claim. However, if the loss-making company has genuine income available for setting off its losses, the Clause will not prevent recourse to that genuine income. Here, as elsewhere, we will welcome the co-operation of right hon. and hon. Members in Committee to ensure that loopholes have been effectively closed.
Clause 18 counteracts avoidance of Surtax by remedying a defect in the law relating to revocable settlements which has been revealed by a recent decision of the courts. On the main provisions of the Clause, there is nothing I need add to the explanation which was given by my right hon. Friend in his Budget speech, but I draw the attention of the House to subsection (5). That is designed to remove doubts which have arisen in the minds of the Government's advisers as a result of the form of the 1952 Consolidation Act about the application of parts of the settlement legislation to settlements executed outside the United Kingdom.
44 There is no question that the effect as well as the intention of the pre-consolidation legislation was certainly to cover such settlements and no point has been taken by any taxpayer that that is not still the position. However, as I have said, the Government's advisers have some doubts on the matter and to remove any doubts we thought it right to settle the matter by declaratory provision.
Clause 19 and the Sixth Schedule give effect to two recommendations of the Royal Commission about time limits for appeals and claims to relief. A uniform period of 30 days is to be the time limit for all appeals in which the time limit is now less than 30 days. For claims to relief and elections of various kinds, the time limits, with only two exceptions to which special considerations apply, will be either six years or, where the taxpayer is given the choice between alternative methods of relief, two years. In no case will existing time limits be reduced.
I now pass to Part IV of the Bill, which contains one of the most important of my right hon. Friend's reforms—the replacement of the present Profits Tax charged at different rates on distributed and undistributed profits by a single rate tax on total profits. Both my right hon. Friends, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Paymaster-General—and, indeed, I myself—dealt at some length in the Budget debate with the economic and administrative advantages of this change, but it might interest the House to glance at Part II of the Ninth Schedule, because that indicates the enormous simplification of the law which is effected by this reform. Perhaps I may once again remind the House that it follows a recommendation of the Royal Commission, and that effect is also being given, in Clause 21, to its recommendations about the treatment of nationalised industries, co-operative societies and building societies.
It may be of assistance if I now say a word or two about the Seventh Schedule, which contains the transitional provisions. The tax on profits for periods down to 31st March, 1958, which becomes payable this year, will be charged at the old differentiated rates of 3 per cent. and 30 per cent. Without specific transitional provisions it would be open to companies declaring dividends out of those profits after Budget day to allocate them 45 artificially 10 later periods, or to reduce them unduly and balance the reduction by a compensating increase for 1958–59 or later years—in other words, at the 10 per cent. as against the 30 per cent. rate. The effect on this year's revenue might be very serious.
It is a once-for-all problem, and we have sought to achieve reasonable fairness without too great refinement. No special provision is necessary for concerns which maintain the previous rate of dividend, having regard to reduced or increased capital. For concerns that reduce their dividends or allocate them to different periods we propose to introduce a system of "deemed dividends". Those will be based on the dividends paid during a standard period which could not have been influenced by knowledge of this year's Budget.
There are two safeguards in favour of the taxpayer. First, the total of the deemed dividends will not exceed the maximum amount which could have been distributed out of the profits of the period under consideration, leaving out of account the accumulated profits. Secondly, there is provision for a further review in two years' time to meet the cases where there is a continuing fall in profits, so that lower dividends would be sound commercial practice.
Finally, in connection with Profits Tax, I think that the House will welcome Clause 22, which provides that, subject to certain exceptions, assessments to Profits Tax and claims for "error or mistake" relief shall not be made more than six years after the end of the period concerned. The new time limit will not begin to operate until the end of this year, as reasonable notice has to be given to the Revenue and the taxpayer.
Part V or me Bill comes next and contains the Estate Duty provisions which were foreshadowed by my right hon. Friend in his Budget speech. First, in Clause 23 there is a provision designed to prevent avoidance of Estate Duty when a life tenant of settled funds purchases a subsequent interest—that is, an interest in expectancy—in those funds within five years of his death. As the House knows, the general principle of Estate Duty law is that duty is paid on property passing at death, whether it is free estate or settled estate, so that when a life tenant dies Estate Duty is chargeable on the 46 value of the property from which his interest arose.
Earlier devices to avoid this charge very frequently took the form of a sale by a life tenant to the reversioner of his life interest, and those were countered long ago. When such a transaction takes place within five years of the life tenant's death duty on the settled property is payable on that death. But the converse case—the one dealt with in this Clause, where a life tenant of settled property buys a subsequent interest in that property—is not covered, and this position is being exploited and is leading to a considerable loss of revenue.
May I give an example of what happens? Let us imagine that property is settled to pay the income to A for life, and after his death as to capital and income to B absolutely. If the life tenant A buys out the reversioner B the whole of the settled property is now his and duty is payable on the whole of it at his death. But his estate is depleted by the amount he pays to the reversioner and duty is lost on that amount, even if he dies within five years of the transaction. We propose to close this gap by charging duty in such a case on the consideration paid to the reversioner. All cases are not as simple as that, but perhaps the House would like me to leave to the Committee stage the refinements which are set out later in the Clause.
I might mention, though, that in some cases there will be an option to the taxpayer to pay duty on the value of the interest purchased instead of on the amount of the consideration paid. That is to enable the taxpayer to take advantage of any special relief which attaches to that interest, such as the 45 per cent. relief for agricultural land.
§ Mr. Peter Remnant (Wokingham)
Can my hon. and learned Friend clarify this case a little? It appears to me that the Estate Duty Office will get the appropriate rate of duty both on the amount that A pays for the reversionary interest and also on what is purchased by that sum. Does not the Inland Revenue get it twice over?
§ Mr. Simon
I do not think so—unless the reversioner also dies within five years. No doubt we can discuss that matter further in Committee.
47 Clauses 24 and 25 give relief in certain cases of what are popularly called "double death duties". The House will remember that there was a distressing case not long ago where a husband and wife were killed simultaneously in a common disaster and the wife, who was the younger of the two, was deemed by a fiction of the law to have survived her husband. The result was that his estate passed to her before passing to their children, and two sets of Estate Duty fell to be paid. The House will remember that my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) brought in a Bill to give relief in such a case. It met with some criticism on drafting grounds, but its object commanded general sympathy and on behalf of my right hon. Friend I undertook that the matter would be dealt with in the Finance Bill.
Two out of the three possible ways of meeting the case received favourable consideration in the debate. One was simply to say that in the case of simultaneous deaths the rule of law to which I have referred should not have the effect of making Estate Duty payable twice. The other way was to make of general application the provisions of the 1914 Finance Act, which reduce the duty payable on a sliding scale in cases of quick succession but which, under the 1914 Act, are limited to land and family businesses. In the event, my right hon. Friend decided to give both forms of relief, and they are to be found in Clauses 24 and 25 and the Eighth Schedule.
Clause 26 rectifies an anomaly of the law exempting from Estate Duty the proceeds of the sale of certain works of art to public collections. Since 1896 there has been an exemption from Estate Duty for works of art of exceptional quality, though if the exempt work is sold Estate Duty becomes payable on the proceeds.
There was considerable concern after the 1914–18 war about the sale or export of important pictures from this country, and as a result it was enacted in the Finance Act, 1921, that the proceeds of the sale of exempt works of art should also be exempt where the sale was to the National Gallery, the British Museum and certain other comparable institutions, or to the National Arts Collection Fund. The object of the Section, which is now in the 1930 Finance Act, was to encourage sales to public collections in Britain.
48 It is obviously an anomaly that this exemption should apply to sales to public collections at auction as well as to sales to them by private treaty. At auction, after all, the vendor is not consciously dealing with a public collection in preference to an overseas or private buyer. He is simply selling to the highest bidder, whoever he may be, but if that bidder happens to represent a public collection the vendor gets the exemption as a fortuitous benefit. Clause 26 therefore confines the exemption to sales by private treaty.
Clause 27 remedies a recently discovered defect in the powers of certain owners to offer land and chattels in settlement of Estate Duty. Hon. Members know that the Inland Revenue now has considerable powers to accept land, houses and works of art in settlement of duty. These powers have been used to preserve amenity land and historic houses and their contents in the hands of the National Trust and to help the Youth Hostels Association and similar bodies.
It happens not infrequently that the persons who propose to transfer property to the Inland Revenue in settlement of Estate Duty are not absolute owners, but life tenants or other limited owners. We have recently been advised that a life tenant may have no power under the law to give an absolute title when transferring property in settlement of Estate Duty, even though he has such power in the case of an ordinary sale. Clause 27 seeks to remedy this defect. It does so by giving anyone who has the power to sell property to pay duty, power to transfer it for the same purpose.
There have, over the years, been several transfers of property by life tenants in settlement of Estate Duty. These properties have gone to the National Trust, the Youth Hostels Association, and so on. It is to protect the titles of these bodies, and, indeed, the rights of all the tenants and others which derive from such bodies, that the Clause has been made to apply to past transactions. This is not done to raise taxation. It is not for the benefit of the Inland Revenue or the Treasury. It is for the benefit of these voluntary bodies and those who may have relied on their title. It is in the nature of an indemnity provision, validating acts by individuals carried out in good faith in ignorance of 49 this defect in the law, and in the belief that the law was what this Section would now declare it to be.
There is one last thing which, perhaps, I should say about Estate Duty, though it is something which is not in the Finance Bill rather than something which is. I know that many hon. Members have looked in the Finance Bill for some provision concerning life assurance policies, in view of the undertaking for review which my predecessor, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), gave during the debate last year on a new Clause moved by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington. South (Sir P. Spens).
The matter arose out of a decision of the court in a case, In re Hodge, which was about to go to the Court of Appeal at the time; and my predecessor agreed that there would be a strong case for amending the law if the Court of Appeal confirmed the decision of the court below—as in the event it did. This was a case where Estate Duty was held to be chargeable at the death of the assured on a sum of money payable under a policy of assurance, although the policy had become the property of the beneficiary twelve years earlier and was then fully paid up; that is, twelve years before the death of the assured. I think that the House felt generally that Estate Duty ought no: to be charged in that type of case.
We are reviewing the whole question of the treatment of life assurance policies under the Estate Duty law, but I ought to warn the House that it is extremely complicated, and that we have not as yet been able to find a satisfactory solution to all the problems which arise. We have not, therefore, been in a position to put forward final proposals in this year's Finance Bill, but I am authorised by my right hon. Friend to announce a concession which will cover cases similar to that of Hodge during the period of our examination of the wider problems.
The concession is this. Where a beneficiary is absolutely and indefeasibly entitled to a policy of assurance for a sum of money payable on the death of another person, no duty will be charged thereon on the death of that person, provided that the beneficiary became so entitled more than five years before the death and the life assured neither 50 retained any benefit for himself nor paid any premiums within the five years. Where the other conditions are satisfied, but the life assured paid some premiums in the five years before his death, the claim to duty will be limited to the proportion of the policy moneys corresponding to the ratio between the premiums paid by the life assured during the five-year period and the total premiums. That concession will apply in respect of deaths after Budget Day, 15th April, 1958.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
While I am sure that the House will appreciate that concession, which changes a situation which the judges of the Court of Appeal described as shocking, are we to understand that what he has now announced as a concession will, in fact, be the law, although he has not put it in the Finance Bill?
§ Mr. Simon
It is an extra-statutory concession, and we hope to legislate on the wider field next year. There is power under the Income Tax Acts.
Clause 28 contains the Stamp Duty provisions. It lays down the new, reduced rates of Stamp Duty on house purchase announced by my right hon. Friend in his Budget. This takes a stage further the reductions made in 1952 and again in 1956, and is further evidence of the Government's wish to help those who save by buying their homes. Clause 29 makes a number of miscellaneous relieving changes in the Stamp Duty legislation, with which I need not trouble the House at this stage.
Clause 30 will carry into effect my right hon. Friend's proposal to extend until 31st August, 1959, the arrangements first introduced in the Finance Act, 1956, for financing the nationalised industries out of the Exchequer. The Clause also increases by £370 million the limit of advances that may be made in this way. I think that the House would prefer to leave these matters to be further discussed in Committee.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Will my hon. and learned Friend permit one question? [HON. MEMBERS: "In Committee."] This is an important matter of principle. On the last occasion when this matter was considered, on the Finance Bill in 1956, it was arranged by the Treasury that the discussion should take place at 4 o'clock in the morning. As a very large sum of money was involved and as a quite 51 inadequate discussion took place, and many of my hon. Friends and myself were frustrated, will my hon. and learned Friend give us an assurance that when we come to discuss this Clause in Committee ample opportunities will be afforded to my hon. Friends and myself?
§ Mr. H. Wilson
Before the hon. and learned Gentleman replies, may I ask him to recall that the debate on that subject came on much earlier than 4 a.m.? It was kept going until 4 a.m. by the exuberance and eloquence of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) and others. If the hon. Member considers that the matter was not adequately discussed, why did he not object at 5 o'clock, when the first speech was made from this side of the House, by myself, which took the better part of an hour?
§ Mr. Simon
I hope that no part of this Finance Bill will be discussed at 4 o'clock in the morning.
Clause 31 implements an assurance given during the passage of the Overseas Service Act, 1958. Pensions payable under that Act are paid by the Colonial Office, but in so far as they relate to overseas service this will, in effect, be met by the overseas Governments concerned. The Clause brings the tax treatment into line with what it would be if the overseas Governments actually paid the nonresident pensioner direct; it exempts so much of any such pension as relates to overseas service if the pensioner is not resident in the United Kingdom.
Clause 32 is designed to bring about improvements in the operations of the Tithe Redemption Commission. This was set up in 1936 and its operations were intended to be self-financing. Since then rising costs have upset the balance of the scheme. To promote more economic administration, it is now proposed to have annual instead of half-yearly collections of annuities. The compulsory redemption of small annuities has been progressing steadily and redemptions within the existing limit of £1 are now practically complete. The limit is, therefore, under the Clause, to be raised to £3 and power taken to make further increases in the future should these become necessary. These improvements should result in a 52 saving by 1961 of over 100 in the number of officials who administer the scheme at an annual cost of nearly £100,000.
Finally, Clause 33,the daintiest last that makes the end most sweet",provides for the winding up of the Treasury Chest Fund to benefit the Exchequer in the sum of £700,000. Treasury Chests have existed for a century or more in a number of British stations abroad as a means of obtaining local currency for Service pay and other Service expenses. This system is now obsolete and the War Office has taken over the business of providing local currency as part of its ordinary overseas administration. The last surviving Treasury Chests were closed down about a year ago and the Clause enables the balance in the Fund to be transferred to the Exchequer.
I apologise to the House for the length of time I have taken in explaining the provisions of the Bill, and I am grateful for the patience which has been shown. That is the Finance Bill. It is the implementation of a Budget which placed the stability of prices and the building up of our reserves genuinely as a first priority—which sought to create a sound foundation on which to resume the growth of the economy unattended with the dangers and injustices of the inflationary era. While keeping firmly to these ends, the Bill embodies bold and beneficent fiscal reforms, mitigates a number of hardships and reduces taxation on a wide range of goods.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)
It is no reflection on the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to say that his speech was rather a hotchpotch of a speech, passing from one subject to another. It was about as coherent as reading a page out of the Oxford English Dictionary, or a page out of the London Telephone Directory. That is no reflection on him, because that is the sort of Bill he has been explaining and defending this afternoon.
For the first time for many years, there is no single theme in this year's Budget. Whatever we may have thought of previous Budgets and Finance Bills, each of the last five Budgets had a theme to it. In 1954 the Lord Privy Seal presented a Budget of which the theme was to encourage investment. In 1955 the 53 same Chancellor presented a Budget in April the theme of which was to win a General Election. In the autumn of the same year he presented a Budget the theme of which was to find the money he had given away in April in order to win the Election.
In 1956 we had a Budget from the present Prime Minister the theme of which, quite fairly, was to encourage savings. In 1957 we had a Budget and a Finance Bill from the former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) which provided incentive to overseas trading companies to emigrate and to Surtax payers to stay at home, but in 1958, this Budget and this Finance Bill have no theme whatsoever, apart from what my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea. North (Mr. Jay) called "strength through stagnation."
I should like to say a word or two, not quite so fully nor in such an expert sense as the hon. and learned Gentleman, about one or two of the subjects raised by the Bill before I go on to Clauses dealing with dividend stripping and associated means of tax avoidance and retrospective legislation. The hon. and learned Gentleman's account of various methods of dividend stripping dealt with, or supposedly dealt with, by the Bill, I am bound to say does not suggest any reason why the House should show any undue tenderness to the sharks who have invented those particular practices.
First, I wish to say a word or two about Purchase Tax, on which we are hoping to have a powerful speech from the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro).
§ Mr. Wilson
We propose, with or without his help, to examine the proposals very fully on Committee stage. We welcome the streamlining of the system from seven rates to four. There were three under the Labour Government.
§ Mr. Wilson
There are many things about Purchase Tax which we feel the Chancellor has done on the wrong lines. We feel that his first priority should have been the elimination of tax on household 54 essentials, particularly on those for which it was introduced, or reintroduced, by the Lord Privy Seal in the aforementioned Budget of the autumn of 1955. In fact the Chancellor has extended Purchase Tax to some items which were not previously taxed. We have this chaotic business about miners' helmets and safety boots, which has never been explained to us. Is it true, as the Press says it was given to understand, that that was put in without the Chancellor's knowledge, slipped in through inadvertence?
There is also the tax on shopping baskets which, as the whole House knows, are to a large extent the product of the Workshops for the Blind. I cannot believe the Chancellor intended that to happen. There was a story that at the time of the 1955 Budget the then Chancellor did not know that these household essentials were to be included, but that when he found they had been included he left them in.
It is about time the Chancellor looked at what is happening to Purchase Tax arrangements. Does some gremlin in the Department of Customs and Excise slip these things in when he is not looking? Under a properly run system it would be one of the functions of one of his junior Ministers to look into this question. We understand the difficulties of the Chancellor. He has not got an Economic Secretary, and the Financial Secretary at the time of the Budget was obviously far too busy polishing his laboured witticisms about what happened in 1951 to know what was going on behind his back in the Treasury. Apart from this carelessness, I want to assure the right hon. Gentleman that we shall subject this part of the Bill to most careful and constructive scrutiny in Committee. As to the hope of the Financial Secretary that there will be no late sittings on the Finance Bill, I welcome the assurance that the Government intend to provide adequate time for the very thorough examination we propose to give the Bill.
On Entertainments Duty I shall only say that we welcome the concession. We pressed for substantial relief last year. Most of the points about Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue Clauses are obviously Committee points. I think I carry the hon. Member for Kidderminster with me on that, but I can promise the Chancellor a thorough 55 examination of those separate Clauses as we go along.
I would refer briefly to one of two. We think that initial allowances are a very timid gesture in the direction of increasing investment. The Chancellor ought to have reintroduced the investment allowances. This was the very year in which this could have been done. The House will recall that last year I suggested that the then Chancellor should have announced that investment allowances would be restored this year. It is a pity he did not do it, and it is an even greater pity that the present Chancellor has not re-introduced investment allowances this year. We shall move Amendments in Committee, and as far as initial allowances are concerned we shall also move Amendments to provide that the increase in initial allowances shall not apply to private cars owned by business firms.
I will not make any comment on Clause 15. The hon. and learned Gentleman has referred to the consideration given to the former Chancellor's promise to look at the whole question of Easter offerings and similar issues. When this was raised last year I suggested on behalf of the Opposition that there should be joint inter-party discussions on this matter because it is the sort of thing which we want to keep out of politics, but we have heard nothing from the Chancellor. I am sorry that the Treasury has done this entirely off its own bat. It would have been better if we had had inter-party discussions.
On the question of building societies, we welcome the fact that the Chancellor has done something for them, though not what the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) and my own party asked for last year. We asked for exemptions or for a very large reduction in the liability to Profits Tax on two grounds. The first ground was that they are not profit-making. In effect, they are a non-profit-making service, to make owner-occupation more widely possible, which all of us would like to see achieved. The second ground was that there is no equity element in the profits and, therefore, no capital gains are possible. They are distinctive in the sense that all building societies' shares are bought from and sold to the building society itself. They are not the subject of Stock Exchange dealings or of any capital appreciation.
56 Indeed, I suggested last year that the Chancellor might like to go wider and, by a Profits Tax concession of some kind, encourage other trading concerns, especially those rendering a service rather than performing an industrial function, to eliminate the equity element and the possibility of unearned capital gains. There is room in our tax system and in our financial system for a very big expansion of this kind of company organisation which rules out the equity element and the possibility of unearned capital gains. We shall certainly want to examine in Committee the method which the Chancellor has proposed, because we are not at all satisfied that he has been sufficiently generous. The 2 per cent. rate levied on a much broader basis is now 10 per cent. levied on a much narrower basis, but I am not at all certain that we shall be satisfied in Committee with what is suggested.
I turn to the effect of this Clause on the co-operative societies. In a year when the Chancellor has reduced Profits Tax liability by £16 million on private industry, he has more than doubled the Profits Tax liability of the co-operative societies. Indeed, while he has helped private firms to increase their dividends—in fact, fining them if they do not increase their dividends—he is making it harder for co-operative societies even to maintain their present dividends. We must recognise on social grounds that we on this side of the House, at any rate, draw a distinction between dividends paid to the rentier in private business, who often enjoys capital gains as well as dividends, and dividends paid to the housewife on the basis of her purchases. This additional burden, it should be recalled, comes on top of the discrimination two Budgets ago against the savings investment in co-operative societies. The Chancellor can certainly expect to hear from my hon. Friends on these matters when we debate the Amendments in Committee.
I turn to the subject of Profits Tax. I do not see any reason to change the view that I expressed the day after Budget day when I said that the Chancellor's proposal… rewards the firm which pays high dividends; it penalises the firm which ploughs back profits into productive investment, or even investment in gilt-edged.57 I quoted the Chancellor's own words in support of that view. I said that the ticker tape showed that on the Stock Exchange the morning after the Budget the more cautious and conservative companies in the matter of dividends were suffering, while those which had a large distribution of profits were being marked up. I asked the Chancellor if he wanted to remove the incentive to plough back company reserves and I asked also if he wanted to create an incentive to dissipate reserves and dividends. I said:Above all, at this time, after all that he and his colleagues are doing and saving about wage restraint and calling for a wages freeze, how can be justify using the tax system to give a positive encouragement to increase dividends?—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1958; Vol. 586, c. 183–4.]I said that he must be aware that over the past two years dividends had been increasing much more sharply than wages. If that was true on 16th April, how much more have recent events underlined that fact? Certainly our first assessment of the effect of the tax change on individual companies has been fully justified.
I would quote only two cases. The City column of the Spectator on 18th April said, referring to the Profits Tax concession:It favours immediately those companies which have distributed up to the hilt, and it will encourage those which have been ploughing back profits heavily to distribute more. It will have a profound influence upon future dividend policy.The following Sunday the Observer said in its City column:On the old basis a company distributing a high proportion of profits pays in Profits Tax a good deal more than 10 per cent. of its profits a company distributing only a small part of its profits pays rather less than 10 per cent. The dividing line occurs with companies distributing roughly one-third of their profits in dividends; for them, Profits Tax comes to about 10 per cent. under both systems. These groups of shares, such as breweries, department stores, tobacco manufacturers, shoes and leather, and property companies, which tend to distribute one-half or more of their profits, will benefit. They can pay the same dividend with a smaller tax bill, thereby releasing resources which could be distributed in additional dividends. On the other hand, companies which habitually retain a very high proportion of their earnings (usually to help in financing capital expansion programmes) will have a larger tax bill to pay so that their net profits will he reduced. Chief among these groups are oil, iron and steel, shipping, shipbuilding and chemicals.Here we have the distinction. The Chancellor is helping the property companies 58 and the breweries. I do not know whether the House would feel that it is the property companies and the breweries which need most help. Property companies have already had much help from the present Government. The right hon. Gentleman is penalising steel, shipbuilding and chemicals—industries which are basic to the economy.
I would ask only one question about the Clause which deals with subscriptions to professional societies. It is typical of the Government that they have drawn it in such a way that it allows the lawyers to get their trade union subscriptions paid but that no other trade unions will be eligible. Perhaps we may look at that question when we reach the Committee stage.
Now I come to the subject of dividend stripping—Clauses 16 and 17—and all the controversy surrounding it. First, let me deal with the Chancellor's decision to solve the problem by the use of retrospective legislation and his surrender to the pressure that was brought to bear upon him. The Chancellor owes the House an explanation. How did he come to put this into the Bill'? Did he not realise that there would be a bit of a row with his own back benches? Was he not warned about it? Had he no idea that there was a feeling in the House about retrospective legislation? Obviously he himself felt strongly. He felt that these sharks, these dividend-stripping gentlemen, needed dealing with. So he put the measure into the Bill. I think he was right to do it. Then the rats got at it and he gave way. We would like to know why he gave way. Did he feel that it was no longer important to deal with it?
§ Mr. Wilson
I was not referring to any Members of this House. If I had done so, in the first place I would have said "hon. and learned rats", and in the second place I would have been out of order.
I will say something in a moment about retrospective legislation, but first, perhaps one might spend a minute or two looking at the history of this dividend stripping. Known also as the Indian rope trick, dividend stripping is not 59 new. It was commented on in the Minority Report of the Royal Commission as one of the means of converting income that would be taxable when distributed into a capital gain, which is not taxable. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Rhodes) produced a great deal of evidence about this some years ago.
Certainly, by late 1954 it was clear that its use was widespread, was rapidly becoming more widespread, and ought to be stopped. It was clear that this device, quite legal but thoroughly unscrupulous, was involving the Treasury in heavy loss of revenue. The then Chancellor of the Exchequer, now the Lord Privy Seal, refused to legislate on this in his Budget of 1955, and for obvious reasons. It was obviously his duty to legislate on it, but he was too keen to get the General Election over and this Government back before they were found out. He included it, therefore, in his autumn Budget, by which time the Treasury had lost probably from £12 million to £15 million a year in revenue.
In its simplest form, dividend stripping went like this. A privately-owned company might have accumulated liquid profits of, say, £100,000. To distribute those profits would mean a heavy Surtax liability. The owner of the company, therefore, would sell it to another kind of company, perhaps a charity, or a company dealing in securities, and the vendor would thus get his £100,000 tax-free as a capital transaction, while the buyer stripped the company by a massive dividend transaction and then sold it for a small proportion of the price that he had originally paid for it. That was all well known to this House at that time.
In his autumn Budget, the then Chancellor set out utterly to eliminate this kind of transaction altogether. I want to make that clear, because there have been some arguments as to the coverage of the then Financial Secretary's warning. On Second Reading of the Finance Bill in that year, the Financial Secretary, now the Minister of Housing and Local Government, said:Clause 4 is designed to exterminate the small but ingenious tribe of dividend strippers.Exterminate them—by which I understand he meant to put an end to dividend 60 stripping and to this small but ingenious tribe. Later, he said:The Bill will catch and defeat every dividend-stripping operation where the shares are acquired after 26th October, 1955—Budget day. From that date dividend stripping will become unprofitable, and the dividend stripper will be put out of business—will be out or that business, anyway.Reading that, I do not see that anyone can suggest that the warning was too narrow to justify the present Chancellor's originally-proposed retrospective legislation.
I recall, as, perhaps, will other hon. Members, that while the Financial Secretary was moving the Second Reading, I interrupted him, and he very courteously gave way. I asked him why, in Clause 4 of that Bill he did not go boldly for the vendor of the shares—the Surtax avoider—instead of going for the purchaser. I instanced a parallel measure taken in Section 12 of the 1937 Finance Act which dealt with bond washing—collusive cum- and ex-dividend dealing—and I asked him whether his refusal to go for the vendor, which would be much more effective, was due to… a feeling that it would be the thin end of the wedge for a capital gains taxHe said:No, Sir. The only reason is that we want to make sure that it is absolutely effective in our object of killing dividend stripping … our purpose in so drafting it is to ensure that the Statute will be effective."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November, 1955; Vol. 545, c. 1664–6]Throughout the Committee stage, and again on Third Reading, the same determination to end dividend stripping was emphasized utterly to destroy this form of tax-dodging. We had that Bill, now an Act, which devoted three pages of Clause 4 and three pages of a Schedule to this purpose. As I have made clear, we feared, and we expressed our fears at the time, that those six pages would be ineffective. I suggested that the attack should be directed against the vendor, and said that the Government's proposal was like an attempt to prohibit burglary by legislation directed, not against the burglar, but only against the receiver of stolen goods, which was quite as ineffective. It was because we feared that the provision could be got round by these ingenious gentlemen, as it has been, that we asked for an undertaking that if new methods were found the Government 61 would bring forward new legislation, retrospective, if necessary. The then Financial Secretary agreed.
I believe that his pledge was effective in saving the Treasury large sums of revenue. Last January, when I had no idea at all about the Chancellor's intentions or what was going on, I said that three methods of dividend stripping had been devised but had not been put into effect because of the Financial Secretary's threat. It is quite clear that the Chancellor, by now giving way to pressure, has penalised those who were sufficiently scrupulous or fearful not to introduce the new methods, while yielding to those who have not.
In the past few months, evidence has accumulated about the new methods of dealing in tax losses, to which the Financial Secretary referred, and I hope that he does not feel that he is being comprehensive in mentioning three—there are probably thirty-three, for all we know. However, he mentioned three, and it is interesting to know that of the three he mentioned, two are straight avoidances of the 1955 Act. They are using that Act and, by interposing a holding company, or in some other way, are fiddling with it. Therefore, why there should not be any retrospective legislation I do not know, because such use of the 1955 Act for such a purpose was clearly covered by the Financial Secretary's warning.
On the third, the House will, perhaps, recall that during the Second Reading of the Finance Bill in 1956 I drew attention to the need to legislate about the use of tax losses. One of the means by which a great deal of this fiddling is being done is by this trade in the shares of more or less dead companies. During the Budget speech in 1956 I said that the trade was rather like the trade in dead Russian serfs described by Gogol in "Dead Souls". A great deal of these transactions have been in the shares of colliery companies. The amounts are very large. I think that the Chancellor's estimate of the costs of this type of transaction are patently absurd and go far beyond the figures that he has in mind. His figures, of course, are based on the tax so far reclaimed, but entirely ignore the tax avoided by this method, which far exceeds the amount of tax reclaimed.
The first comment I want to make on this story is this. If the Government had 62 taken our advice in 1955, these new practices would have been entirely covered, and the whole controversy about retrospective legislation would have been avoided. Had they gone for the vendor, as we suggested in 1955, we should not have had this problem, and the loss to the Revenue would also have been avoided. Many of those who honestly oppose retrospective legislation fairly say that Parliament's duty is to do its job properly, but the fact is that Parliament's failure then to do the job properly was largely due to the refusal of the Government and of hon. Members opposite to adopt our simple but effective method of dealing with the matter. We attempted to do our duty, but our suggestion was refused.
My second comment is this. There has been much argument about the extent of the warning. In my view, there is no doubt at all that the then Financial Secretary, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, intended to eliminate all forms of dividend stripping, and his warning should have been taken as covering all forms of this practice.
I turn now to the general issue of retrospective legislation. Let me first say that the whole House dislikes it. We on this side certainly do, and I am sure that no hon. Member in any part of the House would for one moment contemplate using retrospective legislation in matters of criminal law. We cannot have anyone on trial for his life for committing an offence that was not a capital offence when it was committed. In taxation, however, there are precedents—tough precedents—mostly with a highly respectable Conservative ancestry. The first case was, I believe, in the 1840s. Mr. Neville Chamberlain, in the Budget speech on 20th April, 1937, said:… if people persisted in devising these ingenious contrivances for defeating the intentions of the Legislature they must not expect to escape retrospective legislation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th April, 1937; Vol. 322, c. 1610.]He went on to invalidate some 11,000 legal trust settlements.
Sir John Simon on 25th April, 1938, said:These schemes of tax avoidance are so flagrant and are so deliberately devised to get round the legislation … that I shall have no hesitation in recommending that retrospective 63 effect shall be given to them as far as necessary, in accordance with the very clear warning I gave last year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th April, 1939; Vol. 346, c. 993.]We do not seek to base ourselves on Mr. Neville Chamberlain or Sir John Simon—we never have done so—but what we have seen—I hope the House will realise this—is the growth of a highly expert, professionalised, highly paid and thoroughly unscrupulous tax avoidance industry. On the Second Reading of the Finance Act, 1956, I gave many examples of what was being done by this professional tax avoidance industry, most of which has still not been dealt with. Other methods have, in fact, been worked out since then.
It is nearly two years since I said—I still maintain that I was right to say it—that if all the energy and ingenuity put by the City of London into the job of tax avoidance went into the job of increasing our exports and improving our balance of payments, we should have no gold problem and no balance of payments problem. These people deserve no sympathy. They toil not, neither do they spin. They do nothing to contribute to the invisible earnings on which the City prides itself. They are, in fact, parasites on the body economic, and extremely harmful and costly ones at that. They are, indeed, as useful to our economic system as are moths to wool. At every point where they come into contact with the Board of Inland Revenue, the dice are loaded heavily against the Revenue, and the Revenue needs fortifying in this matter. There was a clear warning. Some of the more scrupulous or more cautious people observed it, but others who were less scrupulous chanced their arm, and as a result of the Chancellor's surrender they have won. They gambled, and they have won.
Frankly, I respect right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, like the right hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Sir T. Low), who base their arguments on the rule of law as opposed to the rule of Ministerial warning. There is a great deal in the argument, with which the whole House feels a good deal of sympathy, but I think their argument would have been much more impressive if they had produced it in 1955 when the warning was given. At that time, I 64 think, the right hon. Member for Blackpool, North was actually a member of the Government.
However, the spivs gambled on the warning not being implemented. They counted on a big enough pressure lobby developing in the country, and it has been very carefully organised in the columns of the Press. Let there be no misunderstanding about this. I am not referring to the majority of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, for I am sure they were sincere in the matter, but they are just honest men who have been used by unscrupulous people to pass a bad penny.
If we are to say that in no circumstances is retrospective legislation to be used—that is the argument of right hon. and hon. Members opposite—I must ask where this will lead. The Chancellor's retreat has encouraged the profession to which I have referred to redouble its effort, to chance its arm still more. For every tax avoidance device which the Chancellor has scotched in the Bill, another ten will be springing up because of the encouragement that he has given.
It may be said that Parliament must legislate more restrictively. We shall certainly go through Clauses 16 and 17 with very great care. I promise the right hon. Gentleman that he will have the co-operation of some of the best lawyers and financial experts in the House, and that their advice will be given day after day, and if necessary night after night, in order to make the Clauses thorough. However, I am sure the House would wish to avoid getting into the situation that because a minority is anti-social our legislation as a whole must be so restrictive as to hamper legitimate trade and finance. That is the danger into which we are being forced if retrospective legislation is to be outlawed.
I think I have shown that my hon. Friends and I dislike retrospective legislation as much as hon. Members opposite do. However, we shall have seriously to contemplate one or other alternative sweeping measure to ensure that the Board of Inland Revenue is protected against these people. After all, Parliament has always been concerned to ensure that Her Majesty's coastguards have adequate powers to deal with smugglers. Smuggling does far less harm than tax avoidance, it is far less costly and it is much more romantic. We ought 65 at the same time to ensure that the Inland Revenue has adequate power to deal with the much more vicious crowd of people whose depredations are thousands of times more costly than those of any smugglers who have ever existed.
One method—let us see where this is leading us—will be to include in our general Income Tax and Profits Tax law the provision which governed E.P.T. legislation in the last war. That provided that where a transaction takes place primarily for motives of tax avoidance, it shall be for tax purposes null and void. That is a very sweeping measure, but even the right hon. Member for Blackpool, North would agree that, since it was in the law of the land, any decisions taken under it were being taken under the rule of law.
Another alternative which might well be dictated to us by the existence of this organised tax avoidance profession would be—my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) has frequently suggested this—that there ought to be an Administration of Taxes Act introduced to deal with various general questions of tax law and a number of recommendations of the Royal Commission. It could clarify and codify many questions of avoidance and other matters. I wonder whether such an Act might not contain a provision which would deal with the problem which arises when there is a sudden emergence of a new form of tax avoidance.
One of the problems of the Inland Revenue is that suddenly someone hits upon a new way of avoiding the law, and this gets round the City or the Institute of Directors, or wherever it is that these things are passed on. When it gets around, a number of people do it, and before the Treasury can introduce legislation in the next Finance Bill, the Revenue has lost millions. Could not we have a statutory provision so that when the Chancellor found these things happening he would have power to introduce an Order in Council or some other Statutory Instrument, which, on a Resolution of the House, could bring the development within the scope of the taxation law? It would have to be provided that these Orders would be embodied in permanent tax law in the succeeding Finance Act and that otherwise they would fall.
66 This proposal is certainly a sweeping one—it is one that we should have to think about twice before introducing—but it does not involve retrospective legislation. It would certainly be operating under the rule of law and not under the rule of Ministerial warning. In one sense it follows the pattern of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act, under which taxes can be increased or decreased on a Resolution of the House—as happens every Budget day—subject to ratification within four months by the Finance Bill. It would certainly stop the fleecing of the Revenue by sudden new developments which cannot be dealt with quickly enough by the annual Finance Bill.
The Government have failed here, and more widely, to deal with all the manifold methods of tax avoidance which are robbing the Treasury of millions of revenue and placing unfair burdens on the other taxpayers. Let us be frank. Before this Bill has even had its Second Reading, I am sure that those gentlemen will have found a dozen methods of getting round the Clause which deals with these matters.
Before I conclude, I wish to say something about the question of widening the tax base, if only because of the quite deliberate misrepresentation by the Prime Minister of some words that I used during the Budget debate. On that occasion I said:… a socially just Budget means widening the tax base by bringing all, or nearly all, forms of spendable income within the revenue net.Addressing the embattled ranks of the Primrose League, the Prime Minister quoted that and suggested that it meant that it was our intention greatly to increase taxation. The right hon. Gentleman entirely failed to quote the next two sentences. I will now quote them:The wider the base the less high the tax rates need be. This means dealing with capital gains, as we propose. It means a determined legislative drive against all the manifold forms of legal tax avoidance. The Chancellor is doing a little in this direction, but he has missed a great opportunity."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1958; Vol. 586, c. 185–6.]That was before he had surrendered, or I should have put it a great deal more strongly. That is the kind of misrepresentation which the Prime Minister is capable of indulging in. We all know that he is in difficulties with his back 67 benchers and that he faces many problems, but I must say that he fell a long way below the standard one would expect of a Prime Minister in, for party purposes, taking one sentence in a speech in this House out of context and putting it to his followers as a piece of party propaganda. I do not think any hon. Gentleman opposite would deny that.
§ Mr. Wilson
If I have ever done it, I hope that I have been called to account by the hon. Member concerned.
I want to say a word now about the wider issues raised by the Bill. The theme of the Budget debate, which was a good one, as I am sure hon. Members will agree——
§ Mr. Wilson
I did not realise that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) had contributed to it.
As I was saying, the theme of the debate was expansion versus stagnation. This was so clearly the issue that the Paymaster-General, the President of the Board of Trade, and, at the end, the Chancellor himself, devoted a great deal of time to defending the Government's stagnation policy and trying to prove that expansion was a dangerous thing to advocate. I will not weary the House by repeating the contrast between this country and the rest of Europe, where steady expansion has not led to crisis. Right hon. Gentlemen say that we cannot expand this year, or two things will happen: first of all, there will be a boom and a price increase, and, secondly, there will be an import crisis.
It is a fact, of course, that the cost of living has risen most in this country despite stagnation—indeed, in our view, because of stagnation. I will not repeat either the figures or our arguments to show that stagnation leads to higher and not lower costs. I will put to the Chancellor this question, to which I hope he will reply tonight. If he really believes the argument that expansion will mean crises of the kind he described, what will happen next year if the Government permit expansion then? On their arguments, will we not then suffer the inflation and the higher prices? It is all very well 68 the Chancellor saying, "We would like to swim, but we will not because we might get wet; we will stay on dry land and keep as dry as we can", because, when we do finally dive in, according to his argument, we shall still get wet. How, therefore, does the right hon. Gentleman think that, by waiting, we shall be less likely to run into crises when we do expand?
Even more ludicrous is the argument about an import crisis. Right hon. Gentlemen say that, with expansion, the demand for imports will shoot up and there will be a balance of payments crisis, to be averted only if we have import controls, raw material allocations, rationing of materials, higher export cost, and so forth. That was the burden of the speech of the Paymaster-General. The trouble is that right hon. Gentlemen opposite are still obsessed by the fate of the Lord Privy Seal. The 1954–55 boom led to an import crisis because it was uncontrolled, but, since then, the basic industries have slowly expanded their capacity and, in my view—I put this to the Chancellor—we could have a 5 per cent. increase this year quite safely without running into a balance of payments crisis. I will give three reasons to show that that is right.
So far from there being an import problem in steel and coal, we have today a surplus of steel—we hear of steel works going on short time—and there is certainly no question of our having to import coal. We have a surplus of coal and steel, and we have that surplus precisely because of stagnation in the rest of industry. Secondly, in the so-called "Butler" boom, the biggest import demand came from the motor car industry for sheet steel. Today, within stagnation, the motor car industry is booming more now than before, yet there is no crisis in imported sheet steel. I suggest, therefore, that we could expand, especially if we were to expand in terms of investment goods, without having that crisis. My third reason is that, even if more imported materials were needed as a result of expansion—there would obviously be some increase—the very favourable terms of trade would enable us to import 10 per cent. more materials this year than last without adding a penny to our import bill.
The year 1958, so far from being a dangerous year for expansion, presents the most favourable, uniquely favourable, 69 conditions for it. On the Paymaster-General's argument, we must have stagnation for ever and ever. I utterly repudiate his argument that expansion would lead to crises and import licensing. We do not envisage import licensing, except on dollar goods. We have import licensing on dollar goods now, and it does not lead to all the dreadful consequences outlined by the Paymaster-General. Where he entirely fails to grasp the essential point is in his failure to see the difference between an uncontrolled, "Butler" boom and a planned expansion.
If we were to take over now, with an economic system a long way below capacity, we would not envisage a rip-roaring free-for-all, consumption boom. The Chancellor is quite right to resist that. We would plan for increasing investment, first, in the public sector, in roads, railways, and so on, and, in the private sector, by investment allowances and other fiscal incentives. Above all, we would encourage, by every means open to a civilised modern State, expansion in those sectors which could do most to help our balance of payments.
A recent very remarkable book by the City Editor of the Observer, Mr. Shonfield, points out how very backward the shipbuilding industry has been about expanding to meet overseas demand. Help to the ship builders would have been a direct aid to our exports. The same might be said of sections of the machine tool industry. When we were in power, we had a problem with an important section of the building and civil engineering equipment industry, which would not expand until we gave a guarantee that we would purchase any units it could not sell. Those concerned went ahead and expanded. The next time I saw them, so far from wanting us to honour our agreement to buy any units they could not sell, they asked if we could find them a 7 million sq. ft. factory to produce some more. Private enterprise is very often extremely cautious in meeting world demands of that kind.
Equally, we would plan for expansion in import savers. During the Paymaster-General's speech, I referred to two instances. This was not simply import licensing. We invested in a carbon black factory which saved us from having to import carbon black. We greatly expanded the size of the sulphuric acid 70 industry of this country, using indigenous raw materials in place of imported sulphur. This enabled the chemical and other industries to expand without automatically putting a big strain on our dollar balance of payments. Therefore, expansion does not mean just import licensing and allocations. A planned expansion means making ourselves more independent of imported supplies.
I hope that the Chancellor will consider expansion again. We have a suspicion that his arguments—I am sure that he would be the first to agree if he thought about them—will not stand up for a moment and they are really a part of a carefully planned strategic manoeuvre. I am sure that the Chancellor is not himself responsible for it; it bears all the marks of the Prime Minister's work. Obviously, he is holding down demand this year and holding down production this year, ready to have a rip-roaring boom in time, next year, for a General Election so that we shall have, as we had in 1955, a boom, full employment, overtime, no short-time working, leaving, the consequences of an uncontrolled boom to be dealt with immediately after the General Election.
In 1955, of course, having denied during the Election that there was any crisis at all, the Government were faced, on getting back to office, with a crisis which has not ended or even been in suspense during the three years which have followed that Election. After the next General Election—no doubt, this is the policy which they are secretly hugging to their breasts—the mess will have to be cleared up by my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)
It seems that the word "stagnation", by the efforts of the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) and his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, has been enshrined in the folklore of the party opposite. After all we have heard, it seems no longer necessary for the right hon. Gentleman to explain exactly what he means by stagnation. All I will say is that, if the right hon. Member for Huyton really believes that he is right in saying that the economy of this country and its investment programme at the moment have the characteristics of stagnation, then he really should look up the meaning of that word.
71 May I say a word about the question of dividend stripping and retrospective legislation? I have no doubt that there are dividend strippers and people, as the right hon. Gentleman says, who get away with it at the expense of other taxpayers; but the right hon. Gentleman must give a little more weight to our dislike for any idea of retrospective legislation, involving as it does government by warning. Oue of our reasons for distrust and doubt is that we do not feel that, if and when the right hon. Gentleman finds himself at the Treasury, he can be relied on very far to pursue the paths of righteousness.
It is my wish to raise the question of the Merchant Navy, about which I have had a Motion on the Order Paper for some time, which is supported by over 100 of my hon. and right hon. Friends.
§ [That this House, while recognising the value of the recent increase in the investment allowance given by Her Majesty's Government to the United Kingdom shipping industry, nevertheless records its extreme concern at the difficulties caused to the industry by the virtual freedom from taxation enjoyed by ships flying certain flags of convenience, and, in view of the unique position of British shipping as the lifeline of an island nation, calls for further measures to strengthen its competitive power.]
§ I am profoundly sorry that the Government have not seen fit to allocate a whole day for the discussion of what is one of our most vital industries. Fifty years ago, half the shipping in the world flew the Red Ensign. Today, rather less than one-fifth does so.
§ By geography, tradition and interest, we are a maritime nation. It is all very well for us in this House and elsewhere to accept blandly the truism that the Merchant Navy has been our lifeline in war and is the artery of our trade in peace. It is all very well for us to give some acknowledgment from time to time to the contribution made by British shipping to our balance of payments. I never understand the reason why the Treasury approaches that figure in a way which seems to me entirely different from that in which it approaches the earnings of any other industry. I believe I am right in saying that the net contribution made 72 by British shipping to our balance of payments in 1957 was £220 million.
I sugegst to the Government and the House that it would be madness if we were to continue to shut our eyes to what the Manchester Guardian described the other day as
the real danger that the Red Ensign will be swept off the seas within a decade or so.
The most pressing problem at present undoubtedly is the flags of convenience and the increasing use of those flags. This affords to shipowners immense advantages, and those advantages are reflected very dramatically by the growth which has taken place over the past ten years of an enormous amount of new tonnage which can be and is fairly described as "mushroom fleets".
§ May I deal briefly with those advantages? First, there are the operating costs, which offer to a shipowner the chance of operating, for instance, a 10,000-ton Liberty ship at half the cost he would have to pay in the United States. Taxation is only nominal. These owners are obliged to pay tax in only pence or farthings, whereas our shipowners pay in pounds. I do not think anybody would quarrel with the proposition that the man who pays heavy taxation cannot compete with one who does not.
§ I hope it will not be suggested that the shipowner can be compared with the manufacturer who goes, say, to Liberia or Panama. The shipowner is in an entirely different position. He has the freedom of the seas, whereas the manufacturer in one of those countries finds himself short of skilled labour and far from his market. That is not the case with shipowners. There is also the consequent advantage that it is very much easier for these shipowners to obtain finance for new building. Lastly, which is a considerable consideration, there is the almost total absence of restrictions.
§ Let us consider for a moment the position of the countries who are responsible, or partly responsible, for the growth of the flag of convenience fleets, namely, Panama, Liberia, Honduras and Costa Rica. They require no control to be located within their jurisdiction. They have neither the maritime tradition nor a body of maritime law, nor the courts to enforce such law. They provide no training schemes, although it is easy for 73 owners to take advantage of their better financial position and cream off the personnel of the traditional maritime countries. They have no means of enforcing crew or safety standards. They make no contribution to defence or the maintenance of order on the high seas, and they provide no facilities whatever for world shipping. It is worth noticing in passing that over one-third of the tonnage now laid up in United Kingdom waters flies flags of convenience.
§ In short, these countries have enjoyed a unique windfall in shipping over the past twelve years and their owners have been in the happy position of having their cake and eating it.
§ May I weary the House for a moment with a few figures which give some illustration of the rapid growth that has taken place in the flags of convenience fleets since the war? Twelve years ago the fleets of the countries which I have mentioned amounted to about 1½ per cent. of the total of world gross registered tonnage. Today that figure is 15 per cent.—in other words, about half of the total world increase which has taken place in that time. In 1949, Liberia was a one-tanker state. It now has the second largest tanker fleet in the world. In one year, from 1956 to 1957, more new tanker tonnage was registered in Liberia than had been registered in the United Kingdom in the whole of the previous ten years.
§ It is also worth reminding the House of what was said by one of my hon. Friends on the Front Bench the other day, that the percentage of oil imported into the United Kingdom and carried in British ships has declined between 1954 and 1957 from 41 per cent. to 36 per cent. The rate of growth has been just as constant as it has been rapid. In 1946, these fleets totalled some ¾ million gross tons. In 1950, the figure was 4 million; by 1955, 9 million; and by 1957, 14¼ million.
§ That is a very dramatic growth, and the same story is told both by launchings and new tonnage. In three years, the share of the fleets of Panama, Liberia and Honduras in the total world launchings had gone up from 17 per cent. to 25 per cent., whereas ours had gone down during the same period from 18 per cent. to 15 per cent. I wonder if it is really tolerable 74 to this House and to public opinion, and last to the Government, that we should find ourselves, whose dependence upon our maritime trade is unique, in such a decline. Is it possible that we can continue to countenance such a disastrous trend?
§ I think I should give one more figure to remind the House that it is not true, as it is sometimes suggested, that these fleets consist simply of old and worthless tonnage. They consist in large part of new tonnage, faster and bigger than our own ships. Of new tonnage, that is, tonnage under five years old, the flags of convenience fleets have 1½ million, whereas we have 900,000 tons. Over half of Liberia's total fleet is under five years old.
§ I remind the House of the report of the O.E.E.C. in January of this year which called attention to this very rapid rate of growth on the part of the fleets of the flags of convenience countries and called attention, too, to the consequent diminishing influence of the traditional maritime countries with their well-known standards. It finally produced what is perhaps the most useful message to this House and to the Government when it said that in these circumstances it might well be that the Governments of the maritime countries would feel compelled to take some action so as to enhance the advantages of owning ships under their own flags.
§ Successive Governments have taken action in this matter. It is only fair to remind the House that in 1951, when the problem was nothing like so great as it is today, the Labour Government exceptionally retained the initial allowance for shipping, and last year my right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft), as Chancellor of the Exchequer, increased the investment allowance to 40 per cent. Both those measures have been helpful in their time; both can be taken as an earnest of the genuine appreciation which we in this House, in both parties, have of the needs and importance of the shipping industry. But the problem is still with us. Shipowners and trade unionists alike have expressed their alarm at the prospects, and the question remains for us as to what steps we should take now.
§ I do not believe that a course of flag discrimination would be wise or in the long-term interests of the industry or this 75 country. As the largest trading nation in the world, it must surely be to our interest always to set our face against discrimination of that kind. I do think, however, that there is certainly room for us to go further along the path which has already been taken of discrimination in tax which has as its object the placing of our merchant fleets in a position of parity from which they can compete with this new and quite unprecedented force which has become such a predominant influence on the seas today.
With any move which may be made for tax concession, there must also be a measure of international discussion, for 80 per cent. of these fleets are owned by Greeks and Americans. The large part of them, I believe, has been financed with American dollars. Expressions of opinion and criticism of America, in American trade union circles, as well as in this country and international trade union circles, have been strong indeed. The other day there was an article in the journal of the Seafarers' International Union charging the United States with
encouraging and sustaining a huge scab apparatus to undermine its own fleet and the fleets of its allies.
§ I do not believe that it will help us very much if we seek to allay our natural and proper anxieties. I would rather seek to stir those anxieties up and to see this problem aired properly and, as it should be, discussed more regularly in this House and given the prominence in the public Press which it deserves, having, maybe, a very much better advocate than I can be.
§ Certainly I would not seek to allay our anxieties by a show of righteous indignation. These owners of ships flying flags of convenience make use of what seems to us can properly and fairly be called a dodge. But they are not in any way breaking the law, and I think that for us to pursue them with abuse would be a waste of time. Nevertheless, upon the shoulders of the Government particularly there rests a responsibility.
§ It makes, in my suggestion, a mockery of our defence preparations, of our defence discussions and of our huge defence expenditure if we allow this trend of decline of our Merchant Navy to continue unchecked. I do not believe that the solution can be easily found, or that 76 when it is found it will be in any way simple, but I do think that the Government can most materially help by inviting the representatives of the shipping industry to discuss with them what can now be done and to discuss that against the background of the acceptance by the Government that this disastrous trend cannot be allowed to go on. I do not think that any discussion which proceeds upon the basis of telling an industry of this kind to go away and think out its problems and then come back to the Government with a solution, only then to have the snags in the solution pointed out with some vigour, is particularly helpful. I do not think it a bad idea that Government Departments and even Ministers should discuss these great problems with the industry most intimately concerned with this in mind; so that, having gone through the burden and heat of the discussions, they will be much more coy and shy and far more reluctant to turn down solutions which may have been worked out with great difficulty.
§ My hon. and learned Friend has many cares to shoulder. He has put to him regularly, as has his right hon. Friend, the problems of every part of the British economy. I have no interest whatever in the shipping industry. I am not even the representative of a maritime constituency, but none of us is so land-bound as not to face this matter as one of our prime national interests.
§ Therefore, it is with a great deal of conviction that I make this appeal. I ask the Government to treat this matter as one of urgency. I ask them to invite the leaders of the shipping industry to join in consultations now, to discuss how the strength of our Merchant Navy can be restored and maintained; and how we may be assured that the interests of our trade—even of our safety—can be safeguarded in the way in which I am sure no one would more readily acknowledge it is his duty to do than would my hon. and learned Friend. I hope he will take careful note of what I have said and convey it to the Chancellor.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
The speech with which he opened this debate was the first that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has delivered to this House in a Second Reading debate on a 77 Finance Bill. I wish to begin, therefore, by congratulating the hon. and learned Gentleman on the lucid way in which he went through the Bill, explaining the meaning of the Clauses. My preference, however, would be for the Treasury to have followed the advice given last year by my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) and issued to all hon. Members an explanation of the Clauses in the same way as it issues one to Treasury Ministers during the Committee stage discussions on the Bill. Such a document would have a practical value and assist every hon. Member who takes an interest in the Finance Bill. I imagine, also, that it would shorten some of our discussions.
So far, we have spent more than two hours on this debate and had only three speeches, so I do not propose to detain the House too long. But I wish to refer to one or two proposals in the Bill to which I am positive we shall have to return at future stages in our discussions. I was disappointed at the meagre result of the review of the Purchase Tax promised us by the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer a year ago. We were told that this tax would be streamlined, tidied up and made more simple to understand. It: is true that there has been a certain amount of streamlining of the Schedules, but we still have four different rates, which is one more than in 1951.
This tax was a war-time device, and after eighteen years it is still with us in practically the same shape as when it was introduced in the House in 1940. It is a clumsy tax. It takes more from the taxpayer than reaches the Exchequer. It creates, too, many anomalies. It is unsettling to retailers in a large number of different industries; and if it is levied on the wrong things—as occasionally Chancellors do levy it—it adds to the cost of living. Yet I take it that, at the moment anyway, no Chancellor of the Exchequer can do without it. Purchase Tax brings in nearly £500 million a year and it is the third prop to the Revenue, coming just after tobacco and well after Income tax, and its ancillary imposts. Therefore, there is no doubt that, any rate for the time being, some kind of indirect tax of this sort will have to be imposed.
In years gone by many of us were attracted by the idea of a universal sales 78 tax of modest dimensions. I was impressed by what the Chancellor had to say about such a tax during the Budget debate, but I do not think that we have heard the last of proposals for some sort of similar change or else to streamline the Purchase Tax, as the phrase goes, still further. I am sure that we shall have more discussions about the shape which this tax should take in the future.
One of the difficulties about Purchase Tax is that in the hands of a non-discerning Chancellor it fails to differentiate between a tax on luxuries and a tax on essentials. To illustrate my point, I will take musical instruments as an example. We discussed the tax on musical instruments during the finance debates last year. Some of us feel that this is a tax which ought not to be levied. It has, of course, now been halved. The Chancellor has reduced it from 60 per cent. to 30 per cent., and undoubtedly that will prove a tremendous help both to the industry and to professional musicians, who are almost alone in suffering a swingeing tax on the tools of their trade. Members of Salvation Army bands, miners' bands and factory bands will welcome this reduction, as will members of village bands all over the country. Youth clubs and schools will also benefit.
In my constituency we have what is known as the "Four Valleys Youth Festival" where the entries in the musical competitions have grown so much in the last few years that the organisers have wondered whether, in future, they must devote a whole day to this side of the activities. Because music and musical instruments play such a large part in the cultural life of this country, particularly in rural areas, I wish that the Chancellor of the Exchequer could have found it possible to remove this tax altogether. At present it still ranks with jewellery and furs as a luxury, and a luxury it has long since ceased to be. The tax, in fact, is almost the same as when it was imposed in 1940, during the war, when cultural activities had to be damped down. The income from this tax is negligible. The Chancellor has been getting about £¾ million annually. This year he will have about £½ million, and in a full year it will bring in no more than £400,000. But to a youngster trying to buy his own instrument the tax will still be, even at its new rate, a very heavy burden.
79 A tax on a violin will still be about £6, on a trumpet from £3 to £25, on a cornet over £6, and on a saxaphone from £8 to over £22. It may well be said by the Treasury that one of the reasons why the tax must still be levied is that one has to assist the export trade and that there is a fairly large export trade in musical instruments, particularly to America. Recently, however, owing to the American recession, exports there have begun to decrease, and there is now some fear that presently some unemployment may arise in the industry. Already, I understand, overtime has had to be curtailed. The tax on office and garden furniture in the present Budget has been reduced to only 15 per cent. It seems to me that it would have been a proper thing for the Chancellor to do to have brought the tax on musical instruments down, at any rate, to the same level, even if he could not see his way to abolish the tax altogether.
Let us compare, for example, what has been done here with what the Chancellor proposes to do for heavy wines. One of the changes announced in the Budget speech, which surprised me almost more than any other, was the Chancellor's decision to reduce the tax on heavy wines to 12s. a gallon. The right hon. Gentleman will give away by this reduction £2½ million this year and £3 million in a full year. I can think of a number of directions in which that money could be better employed if the Chancellor has it to give away, particularly when one considers the reason he gave for making this change.
The right hon. Gentleman said he had come to the conclusion that not enough heavy wines were being drunk compared with light wines. He went on to say, with his usual candour, that he was not quite sure what would be the effect of this, and that it might well be that tastes had changed and that today, anyway, people preferred light wines to heavy ones.
§ Mr. John Arbuthnot (Dover)
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to interrupt? I think that the case the Chancellor made was that, in regard to light wines, when the duty was halved the revenue to the Exchequer increased within eighteen months to more than what it was before. If the experience of light wines is repeated in the case of 80 heavy wines, ultimately there may be an increase in duty coming in total to the Exchequer.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I take the point made by the hon. Gentleman. What he is saying is that, if the duty is halved, the revenue may go up as a result. We have yet to see, and the Chancellor was certainly not sure that this would happen. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman hazarded a guess that possibly changes in taste have meant that more light wine is being drunk because people prefer it, not because the duty on it is less than that on heavy wines.
In these days, when there are many demands for assistance by way of tax reduction, it strikes me as surprising that the Chancellor should have picked out this item, of all items, to make a concession which amounts, in a full year, to £3 million. I should have thought, to begin with, that the right hon. Gentleman would have preferred people to drink light wines, particularly when the incidence of drunkenness is going up and, last year, convictions rose to about 62,000. Also, we have to remember that in France this has become a great problem and that there they are taking what steps they can to discourage the drinking of all wines, both light and heavy.
I, for one, welcome the proposals the Chancellor has made for recognising the plight of the cinemas and reducing the duty by approximately 50 per cent. This, coupled with what was done last year, will undoubtedly go a long way towards assisting the cinema industry through these very difficult times. I see that the Chancellor estimates that the cost to the Exchequer in a full year will be about £14½ million. I do not know how near that estimate will be because, as all hon. Members know, the average attendances at cinemas have been going down year after year for some years now; in fact, average attendances have dropped by one-third during the last seven years.
On the other hand, costs have risen greatly. Repairs, redecorating and wages have all gone up. I speak here of the wages in cinemas and not of the salaries and payments which the stars get. The reduction, particularly the reduction on the cheaper seats, will help the cinemas in my division considerably, and I am glad to think that the Chancellor has done 81 what he has. It has not come a day too soon.
Before I sit down, may I refer to the change proposed in the Profits Tax which will be levied on building societies? Last year, as most hon. Members will remember, all-party support was given to a new Clause to last year's Finance Bill moved by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade). I think that only one Member during that debate spoke against the Clause. In all quarters, there was a feeling that building societies should be relieved of the Profits Tax on the surplus that accrues to them.
We had hoped that the pressure which was brought to bear on the Chancellor at that time would result in the concession being made in this year's Finance Bill. Unfortunately, nothing of the kind has occurred. The Chancellor appears to have accepted the view that building societies are not very different from ordinary trading concerns, whereas right from the beginning it has been accepted by Chancellor of the Exchequer after Chancellor of the Exchequer that there is a great difference between a surplus which accrues to a building society and the profits which are made by an ordinary trading concern.
When Lord Simon, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1937 was speaking on the National Defence Contribution, which was introduced at that time, he said:Building societies stand in a class by themselves. They are not in competition with retail traders. They are not engaged in ordinary trade activities. They play an important part in the solution and treatment of the housing problem."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1937; Vol. 326, c. 1298.]Corporation Profits Tax had by that time ceased and the second edition of the N.D.C. was being introduced. He proposed that building societies, previously exempted, should pay only 1½ per cent. The point I make is that as far back as 1937 it was recognised by the Treasury that building societies came into a difference category, yet today the Chancellor proposes to charge building societies 10 per cent. on the surplus which accrues to them, which is an increase in this tax of 500 per cent. in a single year.
It is true that a concession has been made; they are now to be permitted to deduct the interest paid to their investors. Nevertheless, this means an 82 enormous burden on building societies, and, in the view of many of us, an unjust burden. During the Committee stage of the Bill I think it will be necessary for those of us who believe that building societies are being unjustly treated to see what can be done to change this rate.
One reason that something should be done is that building societies pay no dividends and do not make profits in the ordinary sense of the term. Any surplus which they have is always placed to reserve. One of the difficult problems for building societies today is to build up those reserves. Although their assets have increased considerably over the last five years, the percentage put to reserve has fallen. Those of us who read the financial columns of The Times will have noticed from a report this morning that the reserves of building societies have fallen from 5.2 to 4.5 in the last five years.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
It is 4.5 per cent. of the total assets.
This creates a problem for the societies, particularly at a time when most of their assets, apart from those used for house mortgages, are in gilt-edged securities. Those securities have been falling. If we are anxious to see building societies progress and become a stable centre for savings in the community and a help to potential house owners, we must give this matter our serious attention. When we reach the Committee stage it will be necessary to call attention to this matter and to do what we can to improve on the proposal made by the Chancellor in the Bill.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. C. W. Armstrong (Armagh)
I do not want to make any general criticisms of the Bill but would prefer to congratulate my right hon. Friend upon it, and particularly my hon. and learned Friend on his presentation of it this afternoon.
There is, however, one feature of the Bill which causes great anxiety to us in Northern Ireland. I refer to the effect of the provisions for the alteration of the Profits Tax, which increases from 3 per cent. to 10 per cent. tax payable on profits distributed by American subsidiaries to their parent company in America. I am 83 concerned about the effect that is likely to have on American firms setting up industries in the North of Ireland.
The American firms which have already come to the North of Ireland no doubt calculated very carefully the tax advantages before they came, but in order to help them the Board of Trade issued a booklet called "Make it in Britain," and on the first page of the booklet is a letter signed by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. The letter reads:The object of this booklet is to tell manufacturers in Canada and the United States of America how to set about establishing factories in the United Kingdom, and what advantages lie in their doing so.Later it reads:… It has been suggested to me that the facts and figures are not yet sufficiently well known to all those who might wish to study them.Dealing with the particular point of Profits Tax, it says:… in the case of subsidiaries of companies managed and controlled in the United States or Canada (or elsewhere abroad), dividends, etc., paid to the parent company are disregarded for this purpose, so that for a wholly-owned subsidiary the rate of Profits Tax would be limited to 3 per cent.Calculations of the exact net effect, allowing for relief claimable in America against tax paid in this country, are very intricate, and further complicated because one has to allow for anticipated alterations in the American tax structure; but on any calculation it seems quite clear that this alteration in Profits Tax here is a very substantial discouragement to American firms to come to the United Kingdom. I realise that firms like Woolworths, for instance, which have both a generous dividend policy and also a substantial proportion of their equity shareholders in this country, may suffer no great disadvantage by this alteration, but unfortunately the type of company which comes to the North of Ireland is not of that type. They are wholly-owned American subsidiaries.
As is well known, unemployment in the North of Ireland is already tragic compared with unemployment in Great Britain, and the position is still deteriorating. One of our main hopes lies in attracting the immigrant manufacturer, and it would be a severe setback to us if he were to be discouraged 84 in this way. It also makes nonsense of the special inducements in the way of factory buildings and capital grants which are offered by the Northern Ireland Government to attract industries of this kind. I hope that my right hon. Friend will find it possible to make some modification to this Profits Tax provision to meet our special difficulties in the North of Ireland.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Financial Secretary will be the first to realise that it is not easy on the Second Reading debate of a Finance Bill to produce a connected discussion. Therefore, I trust that the hon. and learned Gentleman, the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Armstrong) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) will acquit me of any discourtesy if I do not follow them, or take up the various aspects of the Finance Bill which the hon. and learned Gentleman explained so lucidly.
It is much better to pick out one theme and to stick to it, and I shall confine my few remarks to what is not only the most important but certainly the most controversial feature of this year's Budget. That is the surprising and unprecedented capitulation which the Chancellor made before the Finance Bill was introduced, his complete change of attitude towards dividend stripping and making it retrospective.
It is worthwhile analysing the ethics of retrospective legislation, because it is obvious that in this instance the Chancellor has been misled, partly, no doubt, by what he read in the newspapers, partly by what representations were made to him in the City, and partly by his hon. Friends. He is unduly squeamish in not sticking to his original intention of giving effect to the warning uttered in 1955 and making retrospective the provisions against dividend stripping.
I will try to clear away some of the fog which has been created around retrospective legislation. Hon. Members talk about it as though on all occasions and in all forms it is something so abhorrent that it cannot be tolerated for a moment. I noticed in the correspondence in The 85 Times that several distinguished correspondents referred to the classic exposition on the subject of retrospective legislation pronounced by Mr. Justice Willes in the case of Phillips v. Eyre in 1870 in the Exchequer Chamber, with which the hon. and learned Gentleman is no doubt familiar. It is therefore not a new problem, and it is worth while quoting what Mr. Justice Willes said. He said:Retrospective laws are as a rule of questionable policy and contrary to the general principle that legislation by which the conduct of mankind is to be regulated ought to deal with future acts and ought not to change the character of past transactions carried on upon the faith of the then existing law. But to affirm that it is naturally or necessarily unjust to take away a vested right of action by Acts subsequent, is inconsistent both with the common law of England and with the constant practice of legislation.It is obvious that a distinction must be made between the three kinds of retrospective legislation, firstly, that dealing with criminal law; secondly, that dealing with civil actions as between one individual and another; and thirdly, financial or fiscal legislation.
Obviously, to make by ex post facto legislation something that was not a crime when it was committed a criminal offence and to punish the offender for it is something which we now rightly regard as thoroughly barbarous, although there are plenty of precedents for that—all the Acts of Attainder, for instance, were ex post facto in the criminal sphere and a great many of us thought that the Nüremburg trials suffered from the same defect. They purported by ex post facto legislation to introduce something new into international criminal law and to punish an offender for something that had not previously been recognised as punishable.
Nobody would object to restrospective legislation in criminal law seeking to exonerate somebody who had committed a crime. There are many instances in our Statute Book of indemnity Acts of that kind, which are quite sensible and which have the general concurrence of mankind. They are to indemnify somebody by a subsequent Act of Parliament for what was a crime at the time it was committed. That process has frequently been applied to Members of Parliament.
Secondly, there are civil actions as between one individual and another. There 86 again there are plenty of precedents. In fact, the case of Phillips v. Eyre was one of them. In that case, as the House may remember, the defendant, who was the Governor of Jamaica in a time of great civil commotion and stress, had taken upon himself the responsibility of taking certain steps for which there was no legal justification. As a result of his action, a great many individuals in Jamaica had undoubted rights of action against hint. The Legislature in Jamaica, a subordinate legislature, tried by ex post facto legislation to take away the rights of civil action that existed against the Governor of Jamaica. It was held, and generally thought to be rightly held, that that was not only a legitimate exercise of the powers of the Jamaican Legislature, but was sensible in the circumstances and in accordance with natural justice.
In retrospective legislation in fiscal matters, totally different considerations apply. In dealing with fiscal matters, if Parliament acts retrospectively, Parliament is not attempting to lay down that something was legal at the time when it was done is now to be considered illegal. Fiscal laws regulate the incidence of taxation as between the taxpayer and the State. It is pertinent to observe that there is inevitably an inherent element of retrospective legislation in all or nearly all fiscal matters. For instance, in the Finance Bill we are, as we do every year, providing what the Income Tax and Surtax rates will be. Surtax is levied on the incomes which people earn not in the previous year but in the year before that. In other words, except in the case of P.A.Y.E. payers at the time when people earn their incomes they do not know what the rate of tax and Surtax will be. They may calculate that this year's Surtax rate will be at a particular level, but they may find that in two years' time it has been increased and the measure of their spendable income changed accordingly.
In that sense, there is an element of retrospective legislation in every Finance Bill. The same is true of Estate Duty. People who are lucky enough to be able to build up fortunes—as some still can while we have a system which permits capital gains—are not able to make arrangements about how those fortunes will be spent, because they do not know what the level of Estate Duty will be at 87 the time of their death. Whenever Estate Duty is increased it applies retrospectively to fortunes accumulated down to that date in respect of people who die subsequently.
If this principle is doubted, I will quote what has been said in favour of it. There have been numerous occasions upon which it has been said that retrospective legislation in fiscal matters is justified. My right hon. Friend has already quoted what Neville Chamberlain said in introducing his Budget in April, 1937, and Sir John Simon, in April, 1939, also referred to it. I will not repeat either of their statements. I will mention what the present Lord Chancellor said on the subject. Speaking in this House in the debate on the Iron and Steel Bill on 28th April, 1949, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe—as he then was—said:However, I put this principle forward as quite unchallengeable; that the justification for retrospective legislation is that a reasonable and definite warning has been given to people likely to practise the matter to be struck at, and they have been given the opportunity to avoid that course."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 28th April, 1949; Vol. 464, c. 499–500.]Perhaps I may also quote from that quintessence of Conservative wisdom and policy—the present Lord President of the Council. What did Mr. Quintin Hogg—as he then was—say in this House on 15th June, 1950? He said:I do not see anything in principle objectionable, if people seek to pick a hole in an Act of Parliament deliberately to defy its purposes and deliberately to get round its provisions, to repair the hole retrospectively. I think they must expect Parliament to protect its own policy in that way, at any rate up to a point."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th June, 1950; Vol. 476, c. 708–9.]I do not want to weary the House with quotations. It is, however, not only politicians who have referred to the matter; the judiciary have also made statements about it. What could be more relevant to the subject than what was said by Lord Greene, Master of the Rolls? In 1942, he said:For years a battle of manœuvre has been waged by the Legislature and those who are minded to throw the burden of taxation off their shoulders on to those of their fellow subjects. In that battle the legislature has often been worsted by skill, determination and resourcefulness of its opponents. … It would not shock us"—88 that is, the judiciary—in the least to find that the Legislature has determined to put an end to the struggle by imposing the severest of penalties. It scarcely lies in the mouth of the taxpayer who plays with fire to complain of burnt fingers—especially after he has been warned.It is clear from those quotations and horn debates that we have had upon this subject that the test must be whether a clear warning has been given.
It is said by those who no doubt influence the Chancellor that in arranging their financial affairs people are entitled to make the best arrangements they can in accordance with the law as it then stands. But that is not the end of the story, because it is now recognised that in making the best arrangements they can, they must also take account of the clear and express warnings that have been given that retrospective legislation may subsequently be introduced. The common element in the subject is the doctrine of legitimate expectation.
If ever there were a case where a clear and unambiguous warning had been given in this House, it was in this case, in 1955. The warning was given over and over again. My right hon. Friend has quoted the first warning, given by the present Minister of Housing and Local Government when he introduced the Second Reading of the Finance Bill on 8th November, 1955. The matter was ventilated in some detail in Committee. Hon. Members on this side of the Committee pointed out that the relevant Clause in the Bill did not go far enough. We could see the loopholes that would be exploited unless the Amendments that we had put down were accepted.
The argument for those Amendments was cogently put by my right hon. Friend the present Leader of the Opposition, but they were rejected by the then Economic Secretary—the present Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education. We thought that he was wrong in rejecting them. He said that he thought it would be contrary to normal precedent to make the Clause retrospective without giving a warning. Hon. Members on this side of the Committee then said, "Well, the Clause will not go far enough. You want to make it watertight. Therefore, please accept our Amendments." My 89 right hon. Friend, the Leader of the Opposition said:I can only hope that should the object"—that is, our object in moving Amendments—be defeated in any way, and at some future Committee stage of a Finance Bill it is discussed, we shall not then have the argument put forward that an Amendment from the Opposition is retrospective.The Minister then said:I can give that assurance unconditionally."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November, 1955; Vol 546, c. 2229.]During the Third Reading debate the Financial Secretary, who was then in charge, gave this clear warning, in the light of what had taken place in Committee:… the dividend strippers have been given notice to quit. With the authority of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary has also put it on record that if clever people should discover ways and means of getting round this legislation, which is squarely directed against dividend stripping, the Government will not hesitate to stop any such loophole by further legislation, and to make such legislation retrospective."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th December, 1955; Vol. 547, c. 1022.]Therefore, we say that there is a clear abandonment by the Chancellor of his duty to protect the taxpayer and the Revenue against a group of individuals to whom my right hon. Friend referred as spivs and tax dodgers. But, whatever one may think about the ethics of the matter, if people did not heed the warning given in 1955 and have been able to reap very rich profits and rewards for themselves, the amount which the Inland Revenue has lost is indisputable. My right hon. Friend and others put the sum at over £10 million. The truth is that nobody knows the extent of this loss. It may be more than that.
§ Mr. Fletcher
It is because it is substantial that vested interests have put pressure upon the Chancellor to change his mind.
It was not very courteous to the House for the Chancellor, having first introduced 90 his Budget speech, to withdraw this aspect of it without having heard what hon. Members had to say about it in this House. If he had second thoughts he should have listened to the arguments put forward in the House before changing his mind. I hope that he will have a further opportunity of changing his mind because, under the terms of the Financial Resolution, we shall be able to put down Amendments to the Finance Bill to give effect to the Chancellor's original intention.
While I am conscious of the fact that we do not want to get the matter out of perspective——
§ Mr. Fletcher
—and while I myself do not want to get it out of perspective. I feel that, from the noises made by hon. Members opposite, they cannot be aware of the deep feeling of injustice and inequality that would result if the Chancellor abandoned the principles that have already been regarded as good precedents and as sound by his predecessors in taking effective and, if necessary, retrospective steps to protect the taxpayer.
It seems highly incongruous to me and to a great many of my hon. Friends that we have, on the one hand, a certain amount of industrial unrest, including a bus strike in which the issue between the two sides is not very much—a matter of £1 million or so—and, on the other, a Chancellor of the Exchequer apparently complacently giving up large sums to people with no deserts who have been warned that this device will be stopped, and who have, by calculated design, enriched themselves to an unknown extent at the expense of the general body of taxpayers. I hope that, when we come to the Committee stage, the matter can again be reviewed in the light of what I have said.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
I rise to give a general welcome to the Bill, warmly to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon the majority of the provisions in it, and to add my congratulations to those that have gone before to my hon. and learned Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury upon his admirable speech in opening our debate today.
Before I deal with the provisions of the Bill, I want to say a few words about 91 the inordinate length of time which the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) and the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) have devoted to this fascinating topic of dividend stripping. The right hon. Member for Huyton—and I wrote down his words at the time—said that the persons involved were a "small and ingenious tribe". I say, very ingenious and very small.
Only a few cases have been known in the last few years. There may be others which are unknown, but for the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that £12 million to £15 million of revenue is being lost by this ingenious device is, in my view, a gross exaggeration of the sum entailed.
Even that figure has been divided by seven times by the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond), who interpolated a moment ago that the sum entailed amounted to £2 million.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I will give way in a moment. A nugatory sum is involved, in comparison with the total national revenue, and while I would not for a moment, in any circumstances, defend the practice of dividend stripping, which is wholly bad, I do wish that hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House would keep it within proper perspective and recognise that only a relatively small sum of money is entailed.
§ Mr. Diamond
I only want to say that my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) was referring to the provisions of the 1955 Act when he talked about £15 million a year. I did not say it was £2 million. I said that it was definitely more than £2 million. I wish to put it in its proper perspective, and this is the largest item in this Budget so far as an Inland Revenue alteration is concerned.
§ Mr. Nabarro
We will argue that in detail in Committee. I take the opposite view.
As to the ethics of dividend stripping, let us consider here and now matters affecting the Daily Herald's finances, which may be very instructive to hon. Gentlemen opposite. Last year, the trade unions transferred control of the Daily Herald to Odham's Press, Ltd. The object of this transaction was to enable 92 Odham's Press to set off the accumulated losses of the Daily Herald against the large profits which Odham's Press, Ltd. were earning on their other publications. This means that a very considerable proportion of the continuing losses of the Daily Herald are now paid by the Exchequer in the form of loss of taxation receipts arising from the profits of Odham's Press, Ltd.
Surely this is a most flagrant case of tax avoidance, and might well come under the definition of dividend stripping. Be it in the mouths of hon. Gentlemen opposite to talk about dividend strippers when their official party organisation's principal publication is one of the main offenders in this matter?
§ Mr. Nabarro
Did the hon. Member say, "Nonsense"? I hope that later he will be able perhaps to satisfy the House that that particular transaction will not come within the purview of Clause 17. In any event, if the right hon. Member for Huyton is to have his way, and the net is cast much wider in regard to all tax avoidance matters, surely it is Odham's Press and the Daily Herald which must first come under the rigorous scrutiny of the Inland Revenue, for they will be found to be principal offenders in this context.
§ Mr. Joseph Slater (Sedgefield)
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us who wrote the statement which he has just quoted to the House?
§ Mr. Nabarro
I have taken care to be perfectly truthful. This is a matter of national importance, and I wished to be exactly word-perfect in what I said. It is an irrefutable case, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman, later in our debate, will be able to support my views on the iniquities of the action of Odham's Press and the Daily Herald.
I wish to say a few words about the Profits Tax. For my part, I am very pleased that my right hon. Friend has adopted the recommendation of the Royal Commission about the amalgamation of the two rates of Profits Tax, the 3 per cent. rate in respect of retained profits and the 30 per cent. rate in respect of distributed profits. We can argue this out in detail in Committee, but there is no doubt whatever that, 93 during the period of differential rates of Profits Tax, there has taken place an extraordinary distortion in the capital structure of companies. That is a matter of importance to the whole of British industry—the gearing of capital used, the amount of debenture capital, the amount of loan capital, and the relationship between one form and type of capital and another, has often been assessed against the background of two greatly differential rates of Profits Tax.
The Royal Commission was undoubtedly correct in recommending the amalgamation, and although, as my right hon. Friend rightly said, he is relieving industry of £16½ million of Profits Tax in a full year, the flat rate of 10 per cent. which is easily calculable is much to be preferred. He is acting in accord with the Royal Commission recommendation and this will be in the best interests of the expansion of industrial production.
Secondly, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on what he has done in regard to the Stamp Duty. It is significant that we are now building more than 100,000 houses a year for owner-occupation and that he now proposes to abolish the 2 per cent. Stamp Duty formerly charged. On a house costing £3,000 a sum of £60 previously had to be found by the occupiers, generally young couples, in addition to the cost of setting up their home and buying furniture. It should be noted that the beneficiaries of this tax remission will only be people buying their own houses, and because most of those people pay between £2,000 and £3,000 for the house the abolition of Stamp Duty on houses costing up to £3,500, represents an important concession.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Most of them are Income Tax payers and the slight increase in the Bank Rate is nearly halved by the fact that the increase they pay on the mortgage interest is an allowable charge against their Income Tax.
In the matter of capital allowances, my right hon. Friend has increased the initial allowance on industrial buildings from 10 per cent. to 12½ per cent. and on plant and machinery from 20 per cent. 94 to 25 per cent. On every former occasion in the last eight or nine years when the initial allowance, or any form of capital allowances, has been changed, I have endeavoured to make the point to successive Chancellors of the Exchequer that I still regard them—and still does the bulk of the business community—as an interest-free loan.
In the interest of companies which have made adequate provision for their future capital expenditure programmes and have money in reserve, this is very little help. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not suppose that an increase in capital allowances for industry is an effective substitute for a reduction in standard rates of direct taxation, which I regard as infinitely more important and helpful towards the general objective of industrial expansion, than the manipulation of these interest-free loans.
As to Clause 30, in Part VII of the Bill, my right hon. Friend will know at once that I am extremely critical of his proposal to continue financing the nationalised industries from Exchequer funds. I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Huyton to draw attention to what occurred in 1956 when, sadly, my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), my then hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South—Mr. Maude—who has since left the House, and myself, were obliged at 4 o'clock in the morning, to move an Amendment to these arrangements for Exchequer financing of certain nationalised industries. The result was that, when everybody was very tired and wanted to go home, we had an attenuated and entirely inconclusive debate. I hope that this year, when we discuss Clause 30, the discussion will be at a reasonable hour. As there are varying opinions on what to hon. Members in all parts of the House is a cardinal issue of economic and financial policy, I hope that it may be discussed at a reasonable hour and more fully than in 1956.
I shall devote the remainder of my speech to the question of Purchase Tax. My right hon. Friend has taken a short and faltering step in my direction—very short and very faltering. We have seen the end of the 90 per cent. rate, for which I am deeply grateful. We have seen a reduction from seven rates of Purchase Tax to four rates, for which I am deeply 95 grateful. We have seen the rates of Purchase Tax adjusted to 60 per cent., 30 per cent., 15 per cent. and 5 per cent., in place of the pre-Budget arrangements of 90 per cent., 60 per cent., 50 per cent., 30 per cent., 15 per cent., 10 per cent., and 5 per cent. The new arrangements of four rates are infinitely better than where the Socialists left them in 1951.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I quite agree. The right hon. Member always sticks his chin out. There were three rates, but they were 33⅓ per cent., 60⅔ per cent., and 100 per cent., which were much greater than the rates my right hon. Friend has now introduced. I say to my right hon. Friend that, while I am grateful to him for the notional—I emphasise notional—reduction of Purchase Tax in the sum of £41 million in a full year, I think that he must readily confess that all he has really done is to anticipate a yield of £490 million from Purchase Tax in the year 1958–59 as compared with a yield of £494 million in the year 1957–58.
§ Mr. Nabarro
It was less because consumption was a very great deal less, but I shall come to that in a moment. All that my right hon. Friend has done is to reduce the yield of Purchase Tax by £4 million in a total of £494 million, being a reduction of less than 1 per cent.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
When the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) talked about the Socialist Budget of 1951, he omitted to mention a great number of items which were not under Purchase Tax at all, but which were brought under Purchase Tax afterwards when the present Government came into power, namely, the famous pots and pans, the household group.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Those are points that I shall readily argue at any necessary length with the hon. Lady during Committee stage, because I think they are Committee points. The plain fact of the matter is that the overall rates of Purchase Tax were infinitely higher when the Socialists left office than they are today.
96 I have conducted a campaign, I readily confess, with the purpose and objective of ridiculing the Treasury's Purchase Tax arrangements. It has gone on for six months and comprised one hundred or more Parliamentary Questions. I propose, when the Finance Bill has obtained a Second Reading, to put down 50 to 60 Amendments to the Schedules. Probably in the next Session I shall put down a further 100 Parliamentary Questions designed to bring out the extraordinary inequalities, anomalies and, indeed, absurdities which still exist in the Purchase Tax Schedules.
The right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall), in typically disingenuous fashion, said earlier that he desired to see the Purchase Tax streamlined. My righ hon. Friend the Chancellor said in his Budget speech:Although I am no lover of the Purchase Tax and recognise its defects …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th April, 1958; Vol. 586, c. 72.]That was before proceeding to announce the changes. To complete the trinity, the President of the Institute of Taxation, in his presidential address on 29th April, said:The regrouping of Purchase Tax brought welcome reliefs in certain directions but I do suggest that Purchase Tax as a whole still contains many anomalies.As the right hon. Member for Colne Valley mentioned, we have come to regard Purchase Tax as a sort of sorting of the sheep from the goats on the basis of what are deemed to be luxuries and what are deemed to be essentials. What is a luxury item in time of peace? Can anyone define what a luxury is?
§ Mr. Nabarro
I quite agree. The hon. Member would regard that as an essential, but I regard a carpet just as much as an essential. I regard as an essential a television set. I regard as an essential a radio set. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), who is a Privy Councillor, has some precedence in catching your eye, Mr. Speaker. He might allow me to make my speech in peace and quietness. I am not a Privy Councillor and have no precedence. Does the right hon. Member wish to intervene?
§ Mr. Nabarro
A Jaguar is an absolute essential to the motor car industry because it is one of the biggest dollar exports that this country has got and, unless there is bulk production both for the home market and for export, competitive prices overseas cannot be maintained.
There is an argument to be adduced that every article subject to Purchase Tax is essential to one or other sector of the economy. To me, in times of peace and of an expanding economy, a luxury can only be defined as an article which I cannot afford myself. That is all. I cannot regard a mink coat as anything else than a luxury, because I cannot afford to buy my wife one, but there are very many people who, I have no doubt at all, will plead that mink coats with a 30 per cent. rate of Purchase Tax on them are not luxuries and ought to be taxed at a much lower level because of the important contribution they make to the export of furs.
One can argue endlessly as to what is a luxury and what is an essential. I say that, in time of peace and plenty every manufactured article is equally essential to the economy, and that an equally good case can be made for relieving it of the Purchase Tax or, alternatively, if one should, for increasing Purchase Tax on it. Does my right hon. Friend really claim that motor cars are luxuries, when we know that out of those used in this country between 75 and 80 per cent. are used for business and professional purposes? And when he allows exceptionally preferential rates of depreciation on them for business purposes? And does the Chancellor, or any hon. Gentleman opposite, really suppose that the chassis of a commercial road vehicle is a luxury—the single item of industrial capital equipment that attracts Purchase Tax, and at 30 per cent.? That is truly monstrous.
The plain fact is that although, in his Budget speech, my right hon. Friend may have said that a retail sales tax was a mirage, as he termed it. I thought that he was a little less than just, a little less generous than he customarily is to the vast body of public opinion in the country today—industrial, commercial and consumer opinion—that shares my view, which I want to impress on the Chancellor this afternoon.
98 I am not pleading for a retail sales tax. I am not pleading for a turnover tax. I am not pleading for the Purchase Tax. I am pleading only for one, uniform, nondiscriminatory rate of indirect taxation on certain consumer manufactured goods. Call it what one may. It may be a purchase tax levied at the point of wholesale, as at present, at a unifom rate of 20 per cent. on certain articles. It may be a retail sales tax collected over the counter in the American fashion—which means that the retailer does not tie up in his stocks any money in respect of tax—at 15 per cent.
It may be a turnover tax, as practised by the West Germans, at a very low level, and recently advocated, I see, in a journal called The Director, which estimated that a turnover tax applied at the four levels of raw material, manufacture, wholesale and retail would produce cumulatively the same amount as the present Purchase Tax if, at each stage, the rate was 1 per cent.; that is, a cumulative tax of the turnover type.
The plain fact is that the Purchase Tax was introduced in the war, and maintained after the war for entirely different purposes than those existing today. It was designed to depress consumption of manufactured goods, and, after the war, to free goods for export. Today, we are seeking to expand all manufactures, principally for export but supported by a buoyant home market. I say to the Chancellor that there is a vast body of opinion that supports this need for a single flat rate tax. I repeat, I do not mind whether he calls it a purchase tax, a retail sales tax or a turnover tax, so long as it is uniform and non-discriminatory in character.
I do not believe that women's cosmetics, or motor cars, or television sets or radio sets, taxed at 60 per cent., are luxuries, any more than a carpet, taxed at 15 per cent. is a luxury, or a commercial motor chassis, taxed at 30 per cent., is a luxury. Nobody in the House, when confronted with a series of articles of that kind, could define which one was more essential than another, which was a luxury and which was not. Therefore, I appeal to him not to dismiss as a mirage a single flat rate tax, but, between this year and next, to examine it objectively, in the interests of the economy as a whole.
99 My right hon. Friend has reduced taxation by a total of £108 million, in a full year, as a result of the financial and taxation proposals now before us. This means that, of the national income in 1958, taxation will take, according to my calculations, very slightly less than 5s. in the £. That is a significant improvement on the position in 1951, when the Socialists left office. Taxation then was about 5s. 9d. in the £ of the national income, and Conservative reductions in this regard are notwithstanding the huge increase in social welfare expenditure.
I hope that, in the next twelve months, my right hon. Friend will apply himself to the further objectives that I now give him. Next year, there should be very substantial reliefs in taxation. There should be a non-discriminatory, single rate of consumer or indirect taxation to replace the Purchase Tax, and the rate—and I shall explain this in Committee—should, I think, be 15 per cent. There should be 1s, off the standard rate of Income Tax, and the Schedule A tax should be abolished. Thus, the General Election to be fought on 29th October, 1959, will be won by the Tory Party.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)
I hope that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) will forgive me if I do not follow him in all the intricacies of his speech. He was certainly very stimulating, as usual, and has amused the House quite a lot, but I am inclined to think that he proved a bit too much. I understood him to say that he was in favour of a 20 per cent. tax on all articles. He did not call it a Purchase Tax—I do not know what he did call it, actually—but I think that what he was really saying was that articles bought by poor people—pensioners and the low income groups generally—would pay the same kind of tax as those with higher incomes. That, I think, is what the Chancellor had in mind when he spoke of the idea of this kind of tax as a mirage—
§ Mr. Nabarro
I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not wish to misquote me. What I suggested was a single, flat rate of tax applicable to all the articles at present attracting Purchase Tax, to yield the same revenue as the present Purchase Tax—[HON. MEMBERS: "A 100 sales tax."] Let hon. Members call it what they will. It was the Chancellor, in his Budget speech, who said that the rate would have to be 20 per cent.
§ Mr. Philips Price
I agree that that would be a simple tax, but it would be an unfair tax, and to us on this side it seems that the Chancellor had similar reservations when he made his Budget speech.
This Finance Bill aims to distribute £108 million of the Chancellor's surplus. I must confess that the Bill has a certain number of good points, but I am afraid that they are outweighed by the bad ones. For instance, we on this side are glad to see him taking steps to deal with tax evasion by means of dividend stripping. I speak for myself only when I say that here I do not take the view that it would be altogether wise to legislate retrospectively. I feel that it might hardly be worth while. It would put a lot of work on the Revenue officials for what might be a small return. These people who are clever enough to discover these methods of tax evasion will also be clever enough to hide their tracks.
I was much interested in the suggesgestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) to deal with the problem by some interim measure at any time between the passage of the Finance Bill and the next Budget statement. That is the kind of method that one might explore with a view to ascertaining what one can do to stop these clever people who, when the Budget statement is hardly out, immediately look for new ways of avoiding paying tax.
I think we can all approve of the increase in initial allowances on industrial buildings, plant and machinery. That is a step in the right direction. The hon. Member for Kidderminster said that it would be much better to lower taxes. I do not know whether that is a better way. The reduction of taxation would put money into the hands of industry and no one would know how it would be spent. At present the State keeps control over it, and some assistance can be given to those in the export trade who require to carry out improvements. I should like to know whether the provision will apply to agriculture. Will the landlord or owner occupier who improves his buildings, plant and equipment 101 be eligible for the increased initial allowance? I should like the Chancellor to assure me about that.
After those two points, I am afraid that the good things of the Budget seem to be exhausted. With regard to the provision in respect of Profits Tax, one can regard it only as a retrograde step. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in his 1950 or 1951 Budget used Profits Tax as a means of encouraging the ploughing back of profits into industry and discouraging high dividends. The Chancellor has done the reverse. In his Budget speech, he said that some companies which made lower distributions would pay more Profits Tax and that some making higher distributions would pay less. I should have thought that was the very opposite to what we wanted to do. It may make it easier for the Revenue officials to administer the tax, but it will have a very bad moral effect upon industry generally. How can one go to the leaders of the trade unions and to the workers generally at a time like this and ask them to show restraint if this sort of thing appears in the Finance Bill?
I do not know when I heard a more Liberal, laissez-faire speech than that of the Paymaster-General on the Budget Resolutions. I am sure that the Liberals of today have much more advanced ideas than the ones we heard expressed in that speech. They reminded me very much of the speeches that I heard when I first became a Member in the Parliament of 1929 to 1931, the sort of speeches which we heard from Mr. Philip Snowden, when Chancellor, advancing the Manchester School free trade ideas, out-liberalising the Liberals of that time—" Everything laissez-faire leave it all to chance."
The Paymaster-General was defending an economic policy which has resulted in the gross domestic product rising by only 1½ per cent. last year while investment in industry, both public and private, during the last five years has risen 41 per cent. In other words, in investment and improvements industry has done not too badly, having to a considerable extent responded to the call for improvements and efficiency. However, the Government, by their methods—by the high Bank Rate, the credit squeeze and freezing eredit—have prevented those investments from taking full effect. The consequence is that we are getting a very 102 low increase in production, and to a very large extent that is responsible for the continued rise in prices, or, at any rate, the lack of fall in prices. In other words, inflation can be caused just as much by failure to increase production as by lowering purchasing power.
In this respect I can quote no less an authority than the Economist, which holds very orthodox views. These words appeared in it on 26th April:What is really, and urgently, wanted is the frank recognition that this kind of austerity—the cutting back of investment in 1955; the brake which has been put upon production for three years; the holding-back of investment now, coupled as it is with the paring down of private industrialist's programmes as well—is particularly had for Britain. To say that expansion should be resumed, even if it means 'letting the pound go,' is foolish and irresponsible; but the frame of mind which accepts as axiomatic that expansion cannot be resumed without the pound being devalued is impossibly defeatist, and just as silly.Coming from a paper with such authority, that is something which should cause the Government very seriously to reconsider the policy which they are adopting.
The Paymaster-General argued that increased production would mean increased exports, which would strain the balance of payments. Actually, import prices have been coming down steadily on the world market, and that is very much to our advantage and we could very well afford to risk an increase in imports today so long as our exports remain buoyant. Moreover—this point has to be borne in mind—the increased production would lower the general overhead costs of industry. With a higher output, overheads tend to become a lower percentage. There again, we should have some advantage.
The Paymaster-General was practically arguing that we must stagnate or the £ will collapse. My right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton today showed that that is an absolutely false premise. Consequently, we say that the Finance Bill, where it is not downright bad, is at least weak and half-hearted. I agree that it should not encourage large rises in home consumption, but it should aim at assisting our export trade, doing more to encourage production for abroad. There ought to be measures in the Finance Bill to make it possible for firms engaged in the export trade to be given top priority in respect of credit, allowances and other help. What is being done in respect of 103 initial allowances is only very small. In other words, the Bill is an example of the Government's policy of laissez-faire.
A question which any Chancellor ought to consider today is how he can frame the Finance Bill in order to encourage home investment without endangering the value of the £. The Chancellor seemed to understand that, because later in the Budget Resolutions debate he referred to bigger foreign lending to assist our exports. In his opening Budget speech, he said that the problem of world liquidity and of ensuring the strongest possible basis for the trade of the free world was a matter of increasing importance and urgency. I do not believe that it is a question of "either … or", that we must either expand at home and abandon the sterling area or finance the sterling area and stagnate at home. It is not like that. But I believe that we cannot go on as we are going now. We must get help in some form of support for the sterling area.
I put a Question to the Chancellor some weeks ago in which I asked him if anything could be done to strengthen the International Monetary Fund whereby we might have American assistance in supporting the sterling area. I was glad that the Chancellor pointed out that the United States of America and the Fund frequently discussed the matter of the Fund's reserves. I put a supplementary question to him, and he said:I think that the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank have both done extremely useful work. … It may be that there is still more important work for them in the years ahead."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th March, 1958; Vol. 584, c. 207.]Clearly, the Chancellor realises that the situation today is not satisfactory, but we must try still further to keep the sterling area going without stagnating at home. I hope that that is what he is thinking about. It seems to me that we cannot do this without United States assistance via the International Monetary Fund.
Could not Germany help? Germany now has tremendous reserves of gold and hard currency. Could she not help by credits abroad also to assist in maintaining the sterling area? After all, the sterling area is not maintained particularly for our advantage; we are not running it for our interests alone. It is run in the interests of those countries which 104 find sterling a useful means of banking for their developments at home.
I do not take the view that, if we expand and push our home trade, we thereby endanger the sterling area. There ought to be some means by which the Commonwealth, and those countries which are not in the Commonwealth but are in the sterling area, could put their reserves into some international bank for the sterling area, which we might then ask the United States to underwrite. It may be said that that is asking too much of the United States, but I believe that it would not be.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
Will the hon. Gentleman not agree that if the European Free Trade Area comes to fruition all these things are likely to come about, but they cannot be done overnight and it is far better, if the European Free Trade Area is to come, that they should be done without any underwriting by the United States?
§ Mr. Philips Price
I am, of course, entirely in favour of the Free Trade Area; we ought to try to overcome the difficulties and push ahead with it. But I do not believe that it is entirely the answer. That is why I suggest something else also which, I believe, would really stabilise the situation and make it possible for us to keep the sterling area running and, at the same time, push on with our internal development. I do not, however, see anything in the Finance Bill to indicate that the Chancellor has this in mind for any immediate action. But, as I said, in the statements he has made and the answers he gave to me, he showed, I think, that he recognises the importance of the matter.
We on this side feel that the Chancellor has missed a great opportunity in the Finance Bill to go forward with the things which I have tried to suggest. We believe that it is a half-hearted Bill generally, in some parts really bad, and good in only a very few.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Mr. John Arbuthnot (Dover)
The House has listened to another speech from the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price) delivered with the sincerity which we all appreciate very much. He will not expect me to agree with him, however, in feeling that there is not much good in the Finance Bill. 105 I regard it as an excellent Finance Bill, particularly good in the overhaul of Profits Tax which the hon. Gentleman does not like. One of the great advantages in the rearrangement of Profits Tax and the reduction to 10 per cent. overall is that it will now be the shareholder with an independent mind who will be able to decide where capital can be employed to the best advantage in the national interest. With the excessive discrimination between distribution and non-distribution which has prevailed hitherto, there has been a tendency for companies which might not need capital for their expansion to plough back unnecessarily. The result has been that capital has not been employed with the efficiency in the past that I hope will prevail under the new arrangements.
This particular aspect of the Budget was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. Armstrong), who was concerned that the new rates of Profits Tax would militate against foreign capital, American capital in particular, which give employment in Northern Ireland. In my view, he is under a misapprehension. American business thinking of investing in Britain will not be discouraged from doing so because of the flat rate of Profits Tax, since that is in the main offset against American taxation when the profits are returned to the United States. I would go further and say that, if my right hon. Friend the Chancellor were to consider giving discriminatory tax relief to foreign-owned companies in this country, it would be a gross discrimination against British capital. It would be entirely wrong for British enterprise to be discriminated against in that sort of way.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) was in his most ebullient form this afternoon. He suggested—and the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West echoed the suggestion—that the Budget represented "strength through stagnation". I would much rather have strength through stagnation as in my right hon. Friend's Budget, which remits £108 million in taxation in a full year, than the type of stagnation which occurred in the last Budget of the Leader of the Opposition, who put up the rate of taxation by over £300 million. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to go rather adrift also when he 106 suggested that encouragement to larger distribution under the new rate of Profits Tax was depressing on the Stock Exchange shares of companies which have in the past been parsimonious in their distributions. That seems to be a non sequitur. I should have thought that it would have been much more likely that those companies would have been encouraged to increase their distributions, with the result that they would have been more likely to go up rather than down Stock Exchange-wise.
I think that I am the first Member to mention it since my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Simon), the Financial Secretary, made his concession on the Hodge case. I am grateful for the sympathetic way in which this type of case has been dealt with. Hon. Members on both sides have felt that the Hodge case revealed a state of the law which was grossly unfair and ought to be remedied. I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for what he has said. It will be very much appreciated as putting right a serious blemish hitherto in the law.
I want to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on three things that do not appear in the Finance Bill. First, I congratulate him on the fact that there is now no retrospective legislation in the Finance Bill, and I am glad that the hon. Member for Gloucester, West agrees with me in this. Hon. Members on all sides have an instinctive and very proper dislike for retrospective legislation, whether it is in regard to criminal law or taxation law. In my view, retrospective legislation is wrong, and I am glad that my right hon. Friend has concurred in that view and has deleted that retrospective part of his proposals from the Bill. Nonetheless, I welcome the proposal that my right hon. Friend has made to stop dividend stripping, of which nobody approves in any shape or form.
The second thing that I am glad to see is not in the Finance Bill is the proposal in the Budget to tax miners' helmets and protective clothing. As I think I represent more miners than any other Tory in the House, that is particularly welcome to me, and I was very glad my right hon. Friend removed that from his proposals. Despite anything that may be said by my hon. Friend 107 the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), who may suggest that this introduces an anomaly, I think that it is an anomaly which is well worth introducing.
The third thing that I am glad has not appeared in the Finance Bill or in any of the speeches on the Budget is that no exhortations have been made—no exhortations to play the game, no exhortations to patriotism and so on. My right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch), in a notable speech in the Budget debate, drew attention to the possible causes that might lead to inflation. He said that inflation might be caused through increased demand and one industry calling in labour from other firms at higher wages in order to expand itself and to earn larger profits. That he described as the demand-pull inflation.
The other cause of inflation was the cost-push inflation, where the trade unions demand more wages with the possible result that profits went down. He concluded that during the greater part of the period since 1950 it had been the demand-pull pattern of inflation that had prevailed and it was only latterly that the cost-push pattern came into prominence in our economic affairs. The fundamental thing is that whether inflation is due to cost-push or demand-pull, it can be cured by Government control over the volume of money and credit. It follows that the main theme upon which the Finance Bill must be and is in fact based is the essential need to guard the value of the £ and to stop inflation.
I am convinced that my right hon. Friend was right to limit the remission in taxation to £108 million in a full year. If we are to limit the amount of money to a figure which corresponds with production, it is important that we should step up production so that the national prosperity can increase. The Chancellor took one step towards increasing production when he raised the initial allowances in Clause 13 of the Bill. I suggest to him that there are further steps that may be taken, perhaps if not in this Finance Bill, then I trust in the next one.
I believe that production is held back by two things. First, it is held back 108 because of inadequate capital equipment. We know that in the United States the capital equipment behind each working man is three times the amount behind the British workman. Our production is also held back because inadequate use is made of our existing capital equipment.
If possible, I should like to see some means to encourage the greater use of the capital equipment and machinery that is already available to us—some form of tax incentive to persuade manufacturers to use their machinery right round the clock and not merely during one shift or, in a specialised case, a part of a shift during the day. Capital equipment is valuable. This machinery should be used to the full in order to increase production.
Whereas my right hon. Friend in the Finance Bill has raised the initial allowances, his ultimate aim ought to be to go considerably further and to allow industry to depreciate its capital equipment at any rate that it likes. The total amount that the Exchequer will have to bear will remain exactly the same over the full life of the equipment. If an industry decides to depreciate a particular piece of plant or machinery in one year, then there will be no further depreciation to come in future years during which depreciation is allowed at the present moment. The only safeguard that would be necessary would be to ensure that if industry does decide to depreciate for tax purposes it must also depreciate at the same rate in its own accounts. In this way the use of machinery to the full would be encouraged. I would rather see the problem dealt with in that way rather than by introducing investment allowances.
We want more capital plant and equipment. If we are to have them it is essential that we should have more savings. I should like to see my right hon. Friend give greater encouragement to personal savings, because I think that personal savings, particularly if put into equity investment in industry, will lead directly to greater capital equipment, greater efficiency and greater productivity. There has been a considerable increase already in the amount of personal savings each year. In 1950, they amounted to £158 million. In 1956, that figure had increased tenfold and is now £1,504 million.
109 I believe that there is scope for further encouragement in investment. Equity investment in industry is still in far too few hands. We have to try to encourage more people to hold industrial equity stocks. We have already ironed out the extremes in income, but now our task is to make sure that everyone becomes a shareholder and plays his part through his savings as well as through his work in boosting Britain's prosperity. What we need is not so much a redistribution of old wealth as the creation of new wealth by increased savings from those in whom the vast majority of current incomes are concentrated.
What can the Chancellor do about this? I would suggest that, as in Clause 28 of the Bill my right hon. Friend is giving remissions in Stamp Duty on house property, he ought to do something on the same lines for share transactions. The Stamp Duty on share transactions is still at the figure of 2 per cent. at which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) left it.
I would suggest also that my right hon. Friend should give a concession on, say, the first £15 income from equity investment in industry, just in the same way as he now gives a concession for investment in certain Government securities.
I would suggest that there is an urgent need for the Government to convene a conference. If we really want to see people investing more in industry, if we really want to see investment wider spread, with everybody becoming a shareholder, I feel that one of the ways in which it can be brought about is by the Government convening a conference. Its members should comprise the Government, the Stock Exchange, the banks, insurance companies, investment trusts, unit trusts and pension funds, and people of that kind. We have reached a position today where saving is almost as important as earning. If earning merits encouragement by tax concessions, personal savings ought to do the same. If personal saving can be further encouraged it will strengthen the value of the £, it will enable taxation to be reduced, it will increase productivity and exports, and will raise the standard of living of all the people in the country.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. A. E. Oram (East Ham, South)
This Finance Bill is a Bill of bits and pieces without a theme, as my right hon. 110 Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) rightly said, and therefore it is a little difficult to establish a theme in a speech, and one is faced with the choice between doing as the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) did and touching lightly on a great variety of topics, or selecting one or two items in the Bill upon which one has a contribution especially to make. I propose to take the second of those courses.
That is the reason why I shall not be commenting on the speech of the hon. Member for Dover to which we have just listened, beyond saying that I was most interested in the hon. Gentleman's view of the desirability of everyone being a shareholder. I am particularly interested in what he had to say since a good deal of what I shall say later has relation to the Co-operative movement. I would commend to the hon. Gentleman a study of the movement and its principles as the most practical way in which everyone can become a shareholder, because 12 million of us are shareholders in the easiest possible way in that great Co-operative movement. I hope that we shall have his support at a later stage when, as I think may be necessary, we move Amendments to the Bill in protection of the Co-operative movement.
The two topics which I have chosen for particular attention arc, firstly, the Purchase Tax and, secondly, the Profits Tax. The Purchase Tax has been called to the attention of the House in an unusual way recently at Question Time. We have had the threat put before us today that the process will be continued. The Questions by which we have been sometimes amused but more often, I think, a little bored, have been designed to call attention to minor and pernickety anomalies in the administration of Purchase Tax. I am more concerned to call attention to major anomalies, as I see them, in the present structure and application of the tax.
The first major anomaly is that any essential household articles should be subject to tax at all. In a Budget which makes possible considerable reductions in Purchase Tax—which I very much welcome—it ought surely to be possible to find the necessary reliefs for absolutely essential articles of domestic furniture. I refer particularly to domestic textiles and bedding and linoleum, which are absolutely essential in any home. It seems to 111 me that the Chancellor ought to have been able to relieve such articles from tax altogether.
Two other anomalies of a different kind are equally important. The first is that it is completely an anomaly, it seems to me, that traders are required by law, by hygiene regulations, to put into their shops equipment—refrigerators, hot water equipment and the like—and by another part of the law are obliged to pay Purchase Tax on it. I ask the Chancellor to look into that question to see if a scheme can be devised whereby items of that kind are relieved of Purchase Tax.
The other anomaly, which, I know, has been aired in this House on many occasions, is that when there are reductions in Purchase Tax such as are occurring this year, and which we welcome, there is an unwelcome feature in that retailers who hold stocks of the commodities have to bear a loss, because they have already paid tax on them. I know there are difficulties, but it ought to be possible to do something about that. The objection is always advanced that it is not easy to identify articles upon which tax has been paid by the retailer, but I suggest that in the instances we are particularly considering in this Bill the most important items upon which there are to be reliefs, such as refrigerators, washing machines and cameras—another important category—are just those items which can be identified. Therefore, it seems to me that the Bill provides an opportunity to introduce some pilot scheme whereby these longstanding complaints can at last be remedied.
The second major problem to which I would call the attention of the House is that of Profits Tax and the new proposals for merging the two rates into one. The hon. Member for Dover welcomed that merging. I cannot follow him in that at all. I echo the general objections which have already been expressed from this side of the House about this new proposal. The objection is that the new tax will fail to discriminate between the purposes for which the profits are used. By treating profits which are ploughed back in the same way, and subjecting them to the same rate of tax, as profits which are distributed, it seems to me the Chancellor is adding an inflationary factor to the economy 112 and also—and this is more important—is depriving himself of an important instrument of financial control which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) instituted in his Budget of 1947.
My particular criticism is somewhat narrower. This proposed merger of the two rates is, in my opinion, open to criticism because it fails to distinguish sufficiently between the nature of the enterprises to which the tax is applied. The proposal in the Finance Bill is to have a uniform rate and to apply that to ordinary companies, nationalised industries, building societies and Co-operative societies, without any regard to the justice of the new arrangement as between the different categories which I have mentioned. I wish to offer evidence which I consider proves that this will lead to injustices, particularly to Co-operative societies.
In his Budget speech the Chancellor of the Exchequer said—quite fairly as it then appeared—Some that make lower distributions will pay rather more Profits Tax than hitherto. Some that make higher distributions will pay less. Only a few will break exactly even."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th April, 1958; Vol. 586, c. 65.]As I say, this sounded perfectly fair when those words were spoken. One can readily accept the general proposition that when a major change in the structure of a tax is brought about, not everyone will fare in precisely the same way. Some will lose on the swings and others will gain on the roundabouts. But what has emerged since the Budget speech, and what concerns me and a number of my hon. Friends, is that all Co-operative societies will lose. It is not the case that some will be worse off and some better off. All the Co-operative societies will be worse off, and many will be considerably worse off.
While the whole range of the Profits Tax payers will be relieved of about £16 million of tax, the Co-operative movement—we had the answer in this House a week or two ago—will find itself paying £1⅓ million more. Was that the intention when this Budget was framed? Was it the intention that a whole class of Profits Tax payers should pay more in this way while other taxpayers in general would pay less? I will give, as an example, the Co-operative society with which I am 113 most familiar, the Brighton society. I understand that the rise in Profits Tax payment for that society will be from something less than £3,000 to over £6,000, or double the amount which was formerly paid. There are plenty of similar illustrations which could be given. I want to know whether the phrase of the Chancellor about some paying "rather more" adequately covers cases where considerably more than double the previous amount is being paid.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was recently Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and he knows, therefore, that during the post-war years there have been interesting and welcome developments regarding farmers' co-operative societies. Having checked up with their recently-formed organisation, I understand that it is expected that in many cases double the amount of tax will be paid by the societies. When the Chancellor was Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food he encouraged agricultural co-operation, and one wonders why he has changed his tune now that he is Chancellor, and proposes to harm the organisation which he encouraged previously.
§ Mr. Simon
The hon. Gentleman is always so fair in debate that I know he would not wish to do an injustice to my right hon. Friend. He has suggested that in his Budget statement my right hon. Friend did not give a warning about the way in which the Co-operative movement would be treated. In point of fact, my right hon. Friend dealt specifically with the concessions made to Co-operative societies and then went on to say those concessions having been made, that the societies would now pay a flat rate of 10 per cent.
§ Mr. Oram
Yes, but the right hon. Gentleman did not give any indication of what would be the financial outcome in terms of millions of pounds. Listening to him making his Budget speech, one had no idea at all that it would be so one-sided in its effect on the movement.
How does the injustice come about? I maintain that it is through the effort to apply a uniform formula to types of organisations which are very different from one another. It is like taking a cow and a horse, putting identical harness on them and linking them to a cart, and then putting a milk pail beneath 114 each of them and expecting to get the same amount of drawing power and the same amount of milk from each animal, on the ground that they are both large domestic animals. A Co-operative society is a very different animal from an ordinary company. It has a different structure and serves different purposes. Its financial structure and purpose is different. I suggest that it is impossible to apply uniform treatment to such different organisations and expect justice to be done.
The main difference between a Co-operative society and an ordinary company is in the way in which the surpluses are distributed at the end of a trading period. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton pointed out, the main distribution of the Co-operative society is in proportion to the purchases made, and not the capital held. There are secondary distributions of interest on shares but they are made at a low and a fixed rate. The Royal Commission on Taxation of Profits and Income recognised that that made this distribution of profits comparable with loan interest in the case of other commercial institutions. The concession to which the Financial Secretary referred is that of allowing Co-operative societies to deduct this share interest distribution as expenses before Profits Tax is charged.
I have no quarrel about what is distributed. I quarrel with the treatment of the reserves of a Co-operative society as capable of being regarded as on all fours with the retained profits of an ordinary company. The sources and nature of capital for the Co-operative societies are very different from those of an ordinary company. The ploughing back of reserves is a far more important financial exercise to a Co-operative society than to a company. By and large, the Co-operative society shareholders comprise the wage-earning section of the community and not the investing public in the ordinary sense of that term. The average shareholding in a Co-operative society is a little more than £20.
The rate of interest paid on those shares is, by one of our fundamental principles, kept at a low level; it is fixed, and bears no relation to the current prosperity or otherwise of the Co-operative society. More important still perhaps, as my right hon. Friend the Member for 115 Huyton pointed out in the case of building societies, is the fact that the shares are not negotiable on the Stock Exchange. In other words, there is no element of capital appreciation. They are withdrawable, they can be paid for only to the society and they can be withdrawn only from the society. Therefore, they are always at par. This means that they are completely different in their nature from the equity capital of privately-owned companies.
Therefore, they do not, and are not intended to, attract equity capital from the investing public in the ordinary sense. To a very large extent we are a small thrift organisation of working people. Because the shareholders of Co-operative societies regard their pass books in the societies as a small savings bank, and exercise the freedom to withdraw their money at almost a moment's notice, the building up of collectively owned reserves in a Co-operative society is a very important financial operation. That is why it is wrong to put the reserves of a Co-operative society on all fours with the reserves of an ordinary company and to tax them in the same way. It is my contention that this new Profits Tax arrangement will hit at Co-operative societies in terms of the amount of money they will pay—with that I have dealt already—and also it will hamper their development by discouraging them from building their essential reserves.
Here again I come back to the position of the agricultural co-operative societies. Only a few weeks ago I had the opportunity, with a number of my hon. Friends, of visiting some of these societies in the south-west of England. I understand that a number of hon. Members opposite paid a similar visit to a group in another part of the country. Therefore, whatever one may think about the ordinary consumer retail society, certainly as regards the agricultural co-operatives, this ought not to be a party dispute, because there is a common interest in the fortunes of these organisations. We were told during our visit that their fundamental problem was one of capital, of getting together sufficient resources to do the things which it would appear from their protestations the Government are only too anxious that farmers should do, namely, help themselves co-operatively. Yet the way in 116 which this tax will affect Co-operative societies of all kinds will militate against them helping themselves.
This is why the Minister will not be surprised when I give him fair warning that if this injustice is not rectified by Amendments submitted from the Treasury Bench, as I hope they will be, my hon. Friends and I will seek to move Amendments to put the matter right. We feel that an injustice is being done and we shall exercise every opportunity to see that it is righted.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)
The House will have listened with a great deal of interest to the very skilful, if I may say so, special pleading on behalf of the Co-operative organisations to which we have just listened. I heard with particular interest the analogy of the cow and the horse. Had the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Oram) used the analogy of a cow and a mare, perhaps it might have been more in favour of the Chancellor, because one could get milk from both. Indeed, in parts of India they are often used as draught animals, both pulling together.
I was also interested to hear the hon. Member say that the capital structure of the Co-operative organisations is unlike that of the ordinary public companies. I agree with that, but he went on to say that there is no possible element of capital appreciation. I am not sure that that is correct, because I think I am right in saying that the dividend which the customers of a Co-operative society receive on their purchases comes into their hands free of tax and is in that sense a form of capital gain.
§ Mr. Oram
The hon. Gentleman may be aware that this point was investigated by impartial committees years ago and that the position is that the "divi" on purchases, which must be distinguished in its very nature from the dividend on shares of a company, is a deferred price reduction, and is, therefore, in no sense liable to be taxed.
§ Mrs. Mann
May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman, as one who purchases a great deal from the Co-operative societies? I receive a dividend of sometimes 2s. in the £ but often, when I analyse it, I find I have paid 3s. in the £ for the goods for which I get only 2s. afterwards, and even then my 2s. in the is subject to Income Tax.
§ Mr. Hall
I do not think that the last part of the hon. Lady's intervention is correct, but I am interested to hear that people have to pay more for their goods in the Co-operative stores than if they are bought elsewhere.
Now may I touch briefly on the question of Profits Tax? I support fully the Chancellor in his action in imposing one rate of tax instead of the two which have existed previously. As a result of the two rates of tax from which we have suffered for some years, we have been getting a rigidity in commerce and industry which was resulting in an accumulation of money in existing hands. The result has been great difficulty in starting new enterprises and developments because capital has been locked up in existing companies.
Furthermore, this has been resulting in an accumulation of liability to taxation when a company perhaps wanted to make a distribution or was to be reorganised or wound up. In some cases this was reaching astronomical proportions. For those reasons alone, I support strongly my right hon. Friend's action in reducing this tax to one flat tax.
§ Mr. Frank Beswick (Uxbridge)
If the hon. Gentleman is so keen upon expansion, would he agree it is a pity that in this case the Chancellor's action will have the result of encouraging Co-operative societies to distribute their reserves almost entirely as dividends, instead of using them for the expansion of their business? Also, contrary to what my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) said, inaccurately, money distributed by way of dividend is not liable to taxation.
§ Mr. Hall
I agree with the last remark; indeed, I said so earlier. Now I want to deal with one or two other matters before coming to my main point. I will refer briefly to what has been said about dividend stripping.
There seems to be a difference of opinion between the right hon. Gentleman 118 the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) and his hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), who spoke on the same subject. As I understood, the right hon. Member for Huyton was agreeing with right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House in saying that he thought it was wrong that we should have rule by Ministerial warning rather than rule by law, a view that was expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Sir T. Low).
On the other hand, the hon. Member for Islington, East seemed to think that rule by Ministerial warning was the right way. I do not want to go over the arguments for and against retrospective legislation, but if we are to have retrospective legislation for fiscal matters only—because the hon. Member for Islington, East exempted criminal law except in the case of giving an advantage to somebody previously unjustly penalised—then the advantage should not always be to the Treasury.
Most retrospective legislation which I have heard mooted in the House has been to right what has been an attempt by taxpayers to evade taxation and to recover that lost taxation in one form or another. If we are to do that we must also do it to restore to the taxpayer money unjustly taken from him. I will quote two examples. In the 1955 Budget we put right an existing injustice whereby it was possible for a taxpayer, through Surtax and Estate Duty added together, to pay more than 20s. in the £ in respect of legacies left to him.
I have a case in my constituency which, unfortunately, was assessed before the change in the law and in which my constituent is expected to pay 24s. 6d. in the £ on the legacy left to her. That is a gross injustice, and it was described as such during the debate. If we are to have retrospective legislation we should have it for cases of that kind in order that taxpayers unjustly mulcted of their money should have it repaid to them.
There is a provision in this Bill dealing with double Estate Duty; it deals with the case in which a couple have died simultaneously but the estate has been liable to pay duty twice. There have been cases of this in the past and there was a particular case which caused this change in the legislation, but there has 119 been no suggestion that the duty should be repaid. If we are to have retrospective legislation it must be in the taxpayers' favour, too; we cannot always have it in favour of the Treasury and never in favour of the taxpayer.
There are so many problems in opening up old assessments—and I am sure that the right hon. Member for Huyton agrees—that to have retrospective legislation in favour of the taxpayer is almost as impossible as to have it in favour of the Treasury. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why we cannot push the question of retrospective legislation too far.
A number of hon. Members have referred to Purchase Tax, and I want to thank the Chancellor very much for reducing the Purchase Tax on office and particularly on hall furniture, for which I pressed last year.
§ Mr. Hall
Yes. I was glad that my right hon. Friend also reduced the tax on garden furniture to 15 per cent. but I wish he had gone the whole way and made the tax 5 per cent. in all cases. I am sorry that he did not think fit to take the tax off furniture altogether and I agree with the hon. Member who suggested that household necessities should be free of tax.
§ Mr. Hall
We are all allowed a little special pleading now and again. There is no doubt that furniture is a household necessity, and I think that the time has come when we ought to consider leaving it outside the Purchase Tax range altogether.
I draw my right hon. and hon. Friends' attention to the fact that there has been a slackening of activity in the furniture industry which has been very noticeable for a long time in certain parts of the country, particularly London. Fortunately, in my constituency, Wycombe, where the best furniture is made, this effect effect has been noticeable only recently, but the time is coming when it will not be quite as easy to keep furniture factories in full production, as I am sure the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Collins) will agree.
I therefore hope that it will be possible before the next Budget to reconsider 120 the whole question of the taxation of furniture and the possible removal of even the 5 per cent. which remains. In any case, although it may not be possible to do very much about Purchase Tax at the moment, I hope that the Chancellor will consider the credit squeeze and other restrictions, including the hire-purchase restrictions and the difficulty of having the add-to agreement. That would help the industry a lot.
§ Mr. Hall
I hope to put down an Amendment of my own, and I shall vote for that.
There is a small item in the Purchase Tax schedules which is bearing Purchase Tax for the first time in many years. It is a small item, but it is important in my constituency and, no doubt, in many country constituencies. I refer to the Purchase Tax on oil heaters. It is a retrograde step to bring something into Purchase Tax for the first time. Hon. Members will recall that the tax was taken off oil heaters after the war because they were regarded as filling an essential need.
While coal is still rationed, many families have oil as their only alternative source of heat, and in country constituencies, in particular, many people who would like to be able to use the alternative gas or electrical appliances are unable to do so because those facilities do not exist. They are forced to depend on oil heaters. The family living in the country already suffers many inconveniences in lack of transport facilities and in amenities, and it will be a little hard for them if we impose this extra burden.
§ Mr. Nabarro
My hon. Friend will agree that I pleaded this case in detail on 26th March and drew the Treasury's attention to the fact that gas and electricity space and water heaters carried Purchase Tax at 60 per cent., although they used indigenous, home-produced fuel, whereas oil heaters, using imported fuel, attracted no Purchase Tax at all. That was exactly the wrong way around, and surely my right hon. Friend is right in levelling Purchase Tax on gas, electricity and oil space and water heaters all at 30 per cent.
§ Mr. Hall
The fact that my right hon. Friend accepted my hon. Friend's suggestion does not make me think that he was right. I do not agree with my hon. Friend in this respect. It is a matter which we can thrash out in Committee, and I will not pursue it further now.
I am sorry that my hon. and learned Friend had not more time to spend on Clauses 10 and 11, which deal with Income Tax and Surtax. I know that it has not been possible to make concessions to Income Tax or Surtax payers this year, but a few facts of interest are worth pointing out. I am the first to agree that the Government have done a great deal towards reducing direct taxation, As a result of measures taken in previous Budgets, 25 per cent. of the working population pay no Income Tax at all and a further 55 per cent. of the working population pay no more than up to 2s. in each £ of income earned. The greater part of the tax is borne by a very few people. In fact, 10 per cent. of income earners, including a man and his wife as one income earner for tax purposes, pay nearly 60 per cent. of the taxes. That is a heavy burden on a few people.
If hon. Members want some practical illustrations of the difficulties of those people who are supposed to be in what are laughingly called the higher income groups, they can perhaps get some pleasure, if they are masochistically minded, by comparing the purchasing value of incomes between 1938 and today. A man who was earning £1,000 in 1938 must earn £3,621 to get the same purchasing value today, after he has paid Income Tax and Surtax. If a man were earning £2,000 before the war, which is the level at which Surtax started then and starts today, he must earn £10,208 today to have the same purchasing value after Income Tax and Surtax. A man earning £3,000 before the war would have to earn £31,961 today.
A man earning £1,000 before the war was not regarded as particularly wealthy. He may have been moderately comfort- ably off, but he was not regarded as a wealthy man on whom we imposed a swingeing tax. He had to earn twice that amount before paying Surtax. It is readily accepted on both sides of the House that a sliding scale of taxation, whether of Surtax or Estate Duty, or any other tax, which does not take inflation 122 into account must rapidly result in hardship and injustice.
I was somewhat disappointed that there have not been some other changes in Estate Duty. I am always grateful for changes which improve matters, but I had hoped that something would have been done about the penal and confiscatory nature of Estate Duty as it exists today. To quote a few examples, values of estates today to equal in purchasing power, after Estate Duty has been paid, the net yields obtainable in 1938 have increased by the most extraordinary amounts. A small estate worth £5,000 in 1938 would have to be worth £14,900 today to give the same yield after Estate Duty.
To jump to £10,000 in 1938, today one would have to leave £34,000 to give one's legatees the same yield. An estate worth £25,000 before the war would have to be worth £128,000 today, five times as much, to give the same yield. In what is regarded as the bigger estates, an estate worth £50,000 before the war would today have to be worth £346,000, nearly seven times as much, to produce the same yield.
One can perhaps tolerate, if with ill grace, the idea of confiscatory Estate Duty if one feels that the money so taken by the liquidation of capital in the hands of previous owners is being used by the Government for capital purposes. However, it is used as revenue for expenditure purposes, and capital throughout the country is being destroyed as a result of the present system of Estate Duty.
I much prefer the system which we used to have. I noticed with interest when I was in Germany last year that it is the system used by East Germany, a Communist State. It is the system of legacy duty. I had hoped that we were to have something like that reintroduced. Perhaps there is still time for the Chancellor to have thoughts about this matter before his next Budget, even though that means putting it off for a year.
The relief in Stamp Duty on house purchase is a very welcome relief and will be of great value, but I still feel that the greatest benefit to those trying to buy their own houses would have been a reduction in the rates of interest. It is not strictly true that the increase in interest rates is more or less halved by 123 the fact that there is a tax relief on interest, because, by and large, young couples buying their own houses are probably not paying the full standard rate of Income Tax.
§ Mr. Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
I am sure that my hon. Friend will realise that that situation has very largely resulted from the amount by which Conservative Governments in successive Budgets have reduced the amount of tax which married couples with children have to pay.
§ Mr. Hall
I agree, and that shows how even one's good actions can result in hardship in special cases. Through the steady reduction of taxation under Conservative Governments, young couples often find that they do not get that taxation relief in the buying of their house which they had expected. I should have liked to have seen a greater effort to help those who are trying to buy their own houses. It is an essential social activity and there is no doubt that high interest rates have acted as a deterrent in many cases. That has had the temporary result of preventing many young married couples from owning their own homes and has affected the plans of some who had started to negotiate for purchase.
Having made those comments on the Bill, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his Budget and on the Finance Bill which has resulted from it. Within the very narrow limits which he had for manœuvre, he has manœuvred effectively, and, by and large, the Finance Bill is another example of the good, sound financial policy which has been consistently followed by the Government and which, I hope, they will continue to follow.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Wade (Huddersfield, West)
I will not attempt to refer to every Clause in the Bill, or to those provisions which I would have liked to have seen in the Bill. I can summarise the attitude of my hon. Friends and myself by quoting from a speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) in the Budget debate on 16th April, when he said:I have no particular quarrel with a great deal of what is proposed in the Budget. It 124 is the omissions which have caused anxiety."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1958; Vol. 586, c. 249.]I do not know whether there will be a Division at the conclusion of the debate. It has been very peaceful, but in case there is a Division I ought to clarify the views of my hon. Friends and myself.
If the issue had been whether Britain should be an independent nuclear, military Power, or whether the level of Government expenditure was too high, or whether the total burden of taxation was too heavy, I have no doubt we should have voted against the Government. If we were debating the failure of the Government to reduce the tax on petrol and diesel oil, we should vote against the Government. Although those matters are relevant, the precise issue on which we shall be asked to vote is whether the Bill should have a Second Reading, I am not entirely satisfied with the Bill, but it has some good points. My hon. Friends and I propose to put down several Amendments, and since the first stage is to give the Bill a Second Reading, we shall, therefore, vote for it.
On one occasion, after speaking for an hour, Mr. Gladstone paused and said, "Gentlemen, that was my preface", and then proceeded to speak for another hour. I do not propose to follow him in that respect, but I will say that that was my preface.
I welcome those Clauses which provide relief, for example, the relief given to those over 65, but there are several reliefs for which we asked a year ago and which are not included. I regret that the recommendations of the Institute of Chartered Accountants on the Schedule E expenses rule have not been accepted. The Government might have seen their way to accept those proposals. I do not think that Clause 14 will go very far to help professional people of modest means.
I shall confine myself to referring only to Purchase Tax and Profits Tax, still a formidable task. In his Budget speech, the Chancellor made a very convincing case against a sales tax, but I have never heard anyone make a convincing case for Purchase Tax. So long as Purchase Tax continues, there are bound to be anomalies and injustices and the most we can do is to try to reduce those to the minimum.
125 I want to take one example. Reference has already been made to shopping baskets and I want to refer to clogs and other wooden-soled footwear. It was somewhat inconsistent to take protective footwear out of the tax range while leaving clogs, especially safety clogs, within it. The wearing of clogs is rare in my constituency, but clogs are made there and I have some knowledge of the subject. Only about half a dozen to a dozen firms in the entire country make clogs.
The others are all below the level of turnover which would bring them into liability to Purchase Tax. The result is that some clogs will be subject to tax and others will not. Furthermore, the type of clogs which are particularly recommended are known as safety clogs and have to satisfy the very high standards set by the British Standards Institution. We therefore have the curious state of affairs that safety boots are exempt, but safety clogs are included in sufficient numbers to make them liable to tax.
There seems to be no rhyme or reason for this, except that on the Thursday following the Budget speech, 20 Questions were put down upon the subject of protective boots and only one in respect of safety clogs. I hope that the Chancellor has not assumed from that that the case for exempting protective boots is twenty times as strong as that for exempting safety clogs. However, I have had some correspondence with him on this subject, and I hope that the door is still open. He is a reasonable man, and I hope that he is, therefore, open to reason. It remains true that so long as Purchase Tax continues there are bound to be injustices, and the least we can do is to try to avoid unnecessary ones.
Turning to Profits Tax, I accept the general proposition put forward by the Royal Commission that the discrimination between distributed and undistributed profits should not be retained, but if a flat rate is to be introduced it is most important for consideration to be given to certain special cases to which the application of Profits Tax is inappropriate, and to non-trading concerns which have been caught, perhaps unintentionally, by the Profits Tax net. By increasing the rate to 10 per cent. the anomalies become all the more marked. I believe that the Chancellor would be in a stronger position in introducing a flat rate if, when doing so, he dealt sympathetically with these special cases.
126 I shall not mention the Co-operative societies, because they have already been mentioned, but I agree that they come into a special category. I want to give two examples. The first involves only a small amount of revenue, and I must declare an interest in it. I am a director of a small denominational insurance company. It is a limited liability company and its main functions are twofold. One is to insure chapels and manses against fire and other risks, and the other is, out of the profits from the insurance business to make grants to denominational charities. The beneficiaries are all recognised as charities by the Inland Revenue authorities for Income Tax purposes.
I should point out that there are only a few ordinary shareholders, and that an infinitesimal sum is paid by way of dividend. I am not raising the question of the imposition of Profits Tax upon the profits distributed to the shareholders. I do not think that one could question that. In the case that I mention the amount distributed to the shareholders is only £120, so there is nothing in it. The problem arises in connection with the grants to charities. These grants are not deductible in calculating liability to Profits Tax, and the rate will now be increased from 3 per sent. to 10 per cent. This will result in a substantial reduction in the amount available for charities.
§ Mr. Wade
At present, the rate is 3 per cent. As I understand, it will be increased to 10 per cent. Perhaps the hon. and learned Member will be good enough to look into the matter. We might be able to discuss it in Committee. The facts that I have given will illustrate the problem.
In the case of the Methodist Insurance Company, which is a similar company, it is estimated that the sum available for charities will be reduced by about £4,000, while in the case of the Ecclesiastical Insurance Office a larger sum is involved. According to the estimate that I have been given the charities which receive grants from this body will suffer to the extent of £12,000 in one year. This is the amount which the Revenue will 127 take in additional Profits Tax. The effect of the Bill is, therefore, to deprive certain charities of considerable sums. I do not think that the Chancellor could have intended this, and I hope that the point will be looked into in Committee.
My second example involves a somewhat larger amount of revenue. It has already been referred to, and concerns the special circumstances of building societies. We had quite a battle over building societies last year, and I do not propose to go over the same ground again. It has been mentioned by the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) and the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall). I welcome the decision of the Chancellor to allow interest paid to depositors to be deducted before calculating Profits Tax. Unfortunately, this has been offset by the abolition of the concessional rate and the consequent increase from 2 per cent. to 10 per cent.
There are four points to which I want to draw the attention of the Chancellor in this connection. First, the fact that building societies are subject to Profits Tax is largely fortuitous. It arose from the fact that they contributed to the National Defence Contribution in 1937. Secondly, building societies are not engaged in ordinary trading activities. As the late Lord Simon pointed out, in 1937, building societies stand in a class by themselves. Thirdly, building societies have no equity shareholders, and no one to whom they could pay profits if they made any. Fourthly, and perhaps most important, building societies surpluses are placed to reserves and by Statute these reserves must be invested in Government securities or first mortgages.
It is most important that the appropriate ratio of reserves should be retained. The building societies have had a very difficult time as a result of the high interest rates, and they have endeavoured not to follow the rise in the Bank Rate, but the Chancellor will be adding to their difficulties if Profits Tax is charged at 10 per cent. Already, for some years, the ratio of reserves to total assets has been falling and, as I understand, it will continue to fall even with the changes made by the Bill. Building societies have always contended that they should not suffer Profits Tax at all. There seems 128 to be a strong case either for abolishing the tax in their case or continuing the concessionary rate of 2 per cent.
These are exceptional cases, which call for special consideration, but in my view—I know that the Opposition do not agree with me here—they do not weaken the general principle that a flat rate is preferable to a rate which distinguishes between distributed and undistributed profits. So long as there has to be a Profits Tax there is much to be said for the flat rate. I agree with the observations of the report of the Royal Commission on this subject. In page 159 it says:Whether the company's retained profits are actually invested in the business depends on wide considerations affecting the economic prospect as a whole, including such inducements as may be offered by other tax measures not forming part of the Profits Tax itself. The mere retention of profits cannot be rated as an economic advantage.I think that that is correct. It appears to me that many of the criticisms levelled against the proposed change in Profits Tax have been misdirected.
There are a number of criticisms which should and could be made against the distribution of ownership and of dividends in the post-war years. Some ordinary shareholders have undoubtedly gained more than the rest of the community both from high dividends and from capital appreciation, but I do not think that the retention of a special rate for distributed profits is the appropriate remedy. I would suggest that there are four valid criticisms that could be made about the distribution of both ownership and dividends.
First, inflation has in many cases resulted in ordinary shares appreciating in value, as compared with cash or National Savings. The remedy for this is to check inflation. Secondly, there have been a number of cases of substantial capital accumulations being built up, leading to tempting take-over bids. This has been encouraged by the discrimination against distributed profits, and the retention of the distributed Profits Tax rate would not provide the remedy, if a remedy is necessary. Thirdly, there are cases where substantial profits have been made, and where the benefits have not been passed on to the consumer by reduced prices.
I was interested in some observations made recently by Mr. L. E. Laycock, 129 President of the Leeds Chamber of Commerce, at Huddersfield, on 21st March this year, and reported in the Huddersfield Examiner the following day. Indeed, I actually heard him making these remarks. Mr. Laycock said that some prices had been put up unjustifiably, and the report of his speech continues:Asserting that profits had gone up out of all proportion during the last four years, Mr. Laycock said that production had gone up by 15 per cent. It would have been reasonable if profits had gone up by a similar amount, but the increase was 43 per cent. When you think of some industries—like wool textiles, where the profits have gone down by 28 per cent., and cottons, where they have gone down 50 per cent.—some of the others must have put up their prices quite unreasonably.Undoubtedly, profits in the wool textile industry have gone down and the industry is having a difficult time. It is not only the cotton industry which is suffering.
On the other hand, profits have been high in certain other industries, and are still high, and I think that the reason is that these latter industries have been far too sheltered, either by tariffs or by restrictive trade agreements. The remedy for this is not to impose a restrictive Profits Tax but a policy of ensuring a reasonable degree of genuine competition.
Fourthly—and I think this last line of criticism is fully justified—I would point out that the ownership of ordinary shares in industry is very uneven. A small minority of people hold the majority of the share capital, and the remedy for this is to create a much more widespread ownership of equity shares. I welcome what some hon. Members have said in this debate on that subject.
This brings me to my last comment on the Bill. My colleagues and I believe that one of the ways whereby the ownership of shares in industry could be more widely spread would be by encouraging employee shareholders. I am disappointed that there is nothing in the Bill to remove the obstacles which tend to impede the development of employee shareholding schemes. I think that that is one of the ways whereby we could bring about a very much more widespread ownership of equity shares, and I regret that nothing has been done about it. I do not think that the Government quite appreciate that, by showing so little concern about the distribution of ownership in industry, they are playing into the hands of the "Victory for Socialism" 130 movement, which I imagine they would not wish to do.
We have raised this subject in the past, and we hope to have the opportunity of advocating further developments in tax reform during the Committee stage of the Bill. So far, we have not succeeded in persuading the Government that these reforms are essential if employee shareholding is to receive the encouragement which it deserves. I hope that the Chancellor will be more sympathetic and more forthcoming than some of his predecessors.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
When the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) made his opening remarks, I thought the Government were in for a blistering attack on the Budget, but all he did was just a little chipping here and there. I feel that the hon. Gentleman and the Liberal Party generally, find themselves in very considerable difficulty over criticisms of this Bill, as do hon. Members of the Labour Opposition. Of course the Liberals are in a very difficult position because at the moment—I use the word without disrespect—they are rather like political chameleons.
On some days they are with us, and I must say they are mostly of that colour; but occasionally they feel they can get a little credit out of it without having to bear responsibility, and then they are as happy with the colour of the party opposite.
§ Mr. Diamond
Is not the hon. Member being unfair to the Liberal Party? On many occasions they vote with both sides on the same day.
§ Mr. Roderic Bowen (Cardigan)
Will the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) agree that the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) is particularly inaccurate in his observations in that respect?
§ Mr. Burden
I think it has been known for hon. Members of the Liberal Party to go into both Lobbies on some occasions. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] That merely shows their impartiality at certain times. Hon. Members in the Labour Party also find this rather difficult. We have had phrases describing this Budget as a "mouse of a Budget", and today there 131 has been a statement by a right hon. Member opposite that it was a hotchpotch of a Budget. There have been questions about certain Purchase Tax measures in relation to household commodities and other commodities have been singled out, but it is only by comparison that we can really tell how this Budget compares with others.
I wish to refer to the Budget Statement of the present Leader of the Opposition when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1951. I think this should be remembered. Referring to the difficulty about selecting articles for Purchase Tax, the right hon. Gentleman said:I must confess that, having studied the Schedules pretty carefully, I have come to the conclusion that there is no clear-cut distinction between articles which may properly be taxed and those which should not."—[OFFICIAL REPORT' 10th April, 1951; Vol. 486, c. 860.]I think all Chancellors have found that difficulty. I think that fundamentally all hon. Members intensely dislike Purchase Tax because it is a tax which artificially inflates the cost of an article before it goes to the public.
I propose to confine my remarks mostly to Purchase Tax. Some hon. Members opposite have referred to the small results expected from the alterations in Purchase Tax made by the Chancellor. In fact, of course, those results will be very considerable. If we compare the Purchase Tax changes that have been made on this occasion with those introduced in the last Budget of the party opposite, we find there has been a very considerable reduction. These changes affect some of the household equipment and appliances which have been referred to today. In 1951 the party opposite raised Purchase Tax on cars, wireless sets, television and gas and electrically operated domestic appliances from 33⅓ per cent. to 66⅔ per cent. They also raised Income Tax by 6d. They also raised the tax on school meals by 1d.
§ Mr. Burden
I am quite prepared to accept that but, if hon. Gentlemen opposite say that, they must agree that, whether by the actions of this Government or not, since 1951 the easement in the lot of the people has been very considerable. 132 If hon. Members care to look at the Budget proposals of Sir Stafford Cripps they will see that he gave a warning of what the country and industry have had to engage in since 1951—a very considerable increase in competition in the export markets of the world.
The position has changed—of course it has—but it is by comparison that we arrive at a true assessment of that position. Indeed, if this is a "mouse of a Budget", if, with concessions of over £100 million it is a "hotchpotch" of a Budget, it is far more desirable than that presented to the country by the party opposite on the last occasion that it had the opportunity.
There is a growing speculation and concern in industry as to whether Purchase Tax changes are now to be made only at the time of the Budget, because the Budget is presented in April, at a time when it is usual for stocks to be very high to cope with the summer buying demands of the public.
Ever since I have been in this House, and that is now eight years, I have consistently spoken on questions of Purchase Tax. It was because of the concern that grew up after 1953 about the impact on industry generally, and the losses that were then incurred as a result of changes in this tax, that representations were made to the Chancellor that, whenever possible, Purchase Tax changes should take place when stocks wer normally at a low level. The Chancellor was, therefore, empowered to alter the rates by Statutory Instrument, and that was a very desirable and very proper course. In the years that have since passed, there has not been the pre-Budget anxiety about changes in the Purchase Tax that then existed and which had a very harmful effect on normal trading.
What makes things additionally difficult is that at no time is there any guarantee that any changes made, whether up or down, will not be changed again very soon afterwards if the Government think it essential or advisable that an attempt should be made, by such an alteration, to conform to new economic circumstances. Is this really a wise use of the Purchase Tax? I certainly do not think so. These changes do not affect merely the articles that are subject to the changes. They have very significant side effects on the general pattern of spending.
133 For instance, the imposition of a high rate on a particular article will not necessarily cut down the total demand. Some part of the money will be diverted either to a substitute of lower quality carrying lower tax or to the purchase of other articles and commodities. When the Purchase Tax is used in this way, it is quite impossible for the industrial community to forecast the variation, or to make allowances before the changes actually occur.
The variations and distortions thus created affect production plans, close down production lines and interfere with normal buying programmes. They make it extremely difficult for the planned financing of stocks, and they inevitably render the cost of production and distribution higher than would otherwise be the case.
Surely, so long as Purchase Tax is retained for budgetary reasons, it should be conducted on Revenue considerations and not employed as an economic instrument, because that is causing considerable anxiety in the business world and will affect production very seriously in future. The abrupt change of rates of tax as a whole or on one specific classification, for example, is the sort of thing that creates difficulties.
I believe—here I join my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), who has found a great deal to say about anomalies, big and small, over a long time—that the Chancellor made a very good move in reducing the categories from seven to four, but it would be much more convenient and better and would encourage trade and industry generally if it were known that at last the tax had been levelled off into something more or less static by the introduction of one general rate. Only so can we be assured that there will be no significant changes which are likely to cause a pre-Budget boom and slump. We want that to be eliminated.
As to the recent concessions—excellent though they are and welcome though the general clearing up may be—there is considerable apprehension now because of the very great losses suffered by some firms as a result of them.
It is unfortunate that the Budget is introduced at a time when retail stocks, carrying full Purchase Tax, have been 134 built up. It is obvious that the Chancellor likes to bring major Purchase Tax alterations into his Budget proposals. However, I ask him seriously to consider whether it would be better to ensure no upset in industry by making the changes at an earlier date. If that is not possible, could he announce in January that, say, the following January certain alterations in basic rates would be made? That would ensure a levelling off of production and consumption, and Parliament could debate the subject in full during the Budget discussions. It is the sudden radical change which causes so much concern.
I am told that the recent alterations have led to a loss of between £6 million and £8 million on current stocks in retail stores. One large store in London alone, as a result of the Purchase Tax concession announced in the Chancellor's statement, has lost £35,000 on tax already paid. That is just one firm in London. It is not to be wondered at when, over the range of goods finding their way into a store, the total concession—this is a measure of what the Chancellor has done for the housewife—shows a tax reduction of 10 per cent. That is quite considerable, as I think even right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree, whatever they may say about this being a "mouse of a Budget."
I am glad that the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) is present. I am sure she will forgive me if I offer some criticism of what she has said on this subject. I have a great regard for the hon. Lady. Indeed, I spent a very happy ten days on the Continent with her on one occasion.
§ Mr. Burden
Of course. It was a pleasant occasion; we were members of a Parliamentary delegation. I then found the hon. Lady extremely pleasant company, and, if I may say so, a very good shopper. I think that she was wrong, however, to suggest that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade should have gone shopping with her. I would have accepted the invitation with alacrity because I know her ability, but I think that she was wrong in her reasons for asking my hon. Friend to go. She said that the Purchase Tax 135 reductions announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor had not been reflected in the prices in the shops. But, of course, statutorily, there was no obligation on any retailer to reduce his prices, because, on the date when my right hon. Friend made his statement, every article in the shops subject to Purchase Tax had had the tax paid upon it and there was no question of a rebate or that the retailers could get it back.
I suggest that it was very much to the credit of retailers throughout the country that, immediately my right hon. Friend made his announcement, they did reflect the effect of it in the prices of goods on which they had already paid Purchase Tax.
§ Mr. Burden
I would be very glad to give way to the hon. Lady, because I am sure she is under a misapprehension.
§ Mr. Burden
If there is any question whatever about it, I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will clarify the matter. I assure the hon. Lady that Purchase Tax is paid when the goods pass from the wholesaler to the retailer. I am sorry that the hon. Lady is misinformed. I happen to be a trader in goods subject to Purchase Tax and I know that there is a very great deal of misunderstanding on this subject.
§ Mr. Burden
The hon. Lady is quite wrong. There is no question of dishonesty about it. If a trader has already paid Purchase Tax on an article, he is legally entitled to recover that Purchase Tax from the retailer customer. The goods going into the shop with the new rate of Purchase Tax did not start to arrive in the shops until after 16th April. Everything in the shops on the date my right hon. Friend made his alterations in Purchase Tax had already been subject to tax at the higher rates and the tax had been paid. It is to the credit of the 136 traders of the country that they were prepared to accept the loss, which was very considerable, and ensure that the public enjoyed the lower rate of tax on goods on which they had already paid a higher tax.
Indeed, the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) questioned my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade on this subject last week. He asked whether my right hon. Friend would introduce legislation to ensure that wholesalers passed on Purchase Tax reductions to the consuming public. My right hon. Friend said that he would not. This is how the misconception arises. There is no question of passing on at all. Purchase Tax is paid by the wholesaler to the Government and by the retailer to the wholesaler. If goods have already appeared in the shops at the higher rate of tax, then retailers are legally entitled to continue to charge the old rate of Purchase Tax until all the goods in stock have been disposed of. But they have not done that. They have given concessions immediately the Chancellor has announced them.
There is another aspect, which I hope my right hon. Friend will appreciate. Whereas many of the big firms can afford to carry tax losses, these latest changes, welcome though they are, have hit very hard the small privately-owned shop which sells things like televisions, washing-machines, electric irons, and so on, because there has been quite a big tax reduction on those goods. I am told that many small shops have suffered losses of £700, £800 or £900 on the goods that they have in stock, because they have also passed on concessions.
There are two ways by which the damage that may result from these very desirable Purchase Tax reductions can be repaired. One I have already indicated, which is to ensure, wherever possible, that alterations in Purchase Tax rates are made when stocks are low. Of course, the best time is after the Christmas spending and before stocks start to accumulate in Late winter for the spring trade, which is January. The other one is whether some rebate scheme can be introduced. I do not think that that is feasible or possible. I think that the difficulties would be absolutely insurmountable. Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friend to inquire into the possibility 137 of making Purchase Tax changes when stocks are low.
There is another danger, which I feel sure my right hon. Friend has already considered. Times have changed rapidly from the days when there was such a buying urge that Purchase Tax changes did not matter very much. Even then, when it was assumed year by year that changes would be made in the Budget, there was a hold-off in buying and stocks accumulated at the manufacturers and wholesalers. That was all right and the impact was not so great when there was an enormous consumer demand as it was certain that retailers would ultimately take delivery. But today the position is rather different. Today there is, even in ordinary times, a cutting back of production in a very considerable number of industries which are affected by Purchase Tax, and if we are to have the added problem of firms holding off because they are fearful of building up their stocks at around Budget time then I foresee that the very act of introducing Purchase Tax cuts, which we all so much desire, may increase unemployment in certain industries.
I have here a notice by the Commissioners of Customs and Excise on Purchase Tax, "Revision of the tax schedule". In paragraph 8 I find this:Goods delivered before 16th April by a registered person under a taxable sale (e.g. to his unregistered customers)"—and if the hon. Lady thinks I am wrong, this will make it clear to her that I was quite right in what I was saying about Purchase Tax—and goods appropriated before that date by a registered person to retail trade or other taxable purposes (e.g. office use or hire purchase are not affected by the tax alterations.Here is the point I want to make:But goods previously sent out on 'sale or return' and similar terms are liable to the new rates of tax unless they have been resold or the transaction has otherwise been adopted by the retailer before 16th April.While there is the danger of a continued, heavy fluctuation in rates of Purchase Tax, it will bear most heavily upon the small manufacturer, for it will mean that, instead of paying and taking actual delivery of goods ordered when ready, many of the firms, in order to try to evade Purchase Tax losses, will ask that these goods shall be sent to them on sale or return, and they will be invoiced 138 only after the Budget statement has been made and when it has been seen there have been no Purchase Tax reductions. That means that the whole onus of carrying stocks for a long period will be on the manufacturers, and in many cases will be on the smaller manufacturers whose capital and general set up will not enable them to carry this responsibility. They will be forced out of business. In that paragraph is highlighted the danger to which I have been bringing the notice of my right hon. Friend for the last twenty minutes.
I think all of us are happy that there have been Purchase Tax reductions. I think that any movement which brings about a lowering in taxation is welcome in all parts of this House. I do not think that this is a hotchpotch of a Budget. I do not think it is a mouse of a Budget. Compared with the last Budget of the party opposite, it is a very substantial Budget which gives some very adequate concessions.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
I am sorry that my time to reply to the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) is so limited. I will as quickly as possible summarise the situation he has presented to us by pointing out that this year the Budget tax concessions amount to £30 million, next year to £41 million, but from the consumers' point of view the £41 million may go to the Surtax payers, for we have no guarantee whatever that any of it will be passed to the consumers.
From my investigations, I would say that the honest dealers, manufacturers and retailers who are passing on the benefit and who are suffering losses are 30 per cent. and those who are paying not the slightest heed are 70 per cent.
§ Mrs. Mann
I have not the time to be interrupted. The hon. Gentleman took too much of my time and left me very little in which to reply.
I would refer him to the reply of the President of the Board of Trade on 24th April, when I asked him what steps he would take to see that Purchase Tax relief was not offset by further price increases 139 at a later date. He said then that Purchase Tax is just one factor in the makeup of a retail price. On the same occasion, when he was asked what legislative steps he would take to see that manufacturers did not increase their prices appropriate to the Budget reduction, he said, none. So they have carte blanche to use that £41 million to swell their profits. That cannot be denied.
I know that firms say that they are selling their old stock. When I brought that to the notice of the President, he said that he hoped that when the firms had finished selling their old stock they would pass on the relief. He only hoped; he will take no steps to see that they do. When this Budget was introduced, I thought and said that it was a good Budget it was a housewives' Budget; it was a woman's Budget. There was a reduction in the tax on cosmetics and on greeting cards—and who but "Mum" sends greeting cards, "Get well quickly" or "Your birthday remembered"? Although he is a bachelor, the right hon. Gentleman actually remembered the babies' dusting powder and reduced the tax on that by 30 per cent. Then I found myself disillusioned. Like all women of my age who dare to trust bachelors, sooner or later they find themselves disillusioned.
When I went round a big retail store, I found that articles in Group 12 had been increased in price on 31st March in an intelligent anticipation of a tax reduction in the Budget. Another store reduced everything at once. That was an honest firm. The reduction on hats was supposed to be 10 per cent., but whether one had a hat priced at three guineas, four guineas or 30s. one was told that it was 6d. on every hat. In another very big retail store not far from this House specialising in all the articles in Group 12 and Group 6, I found that there was no intimation of the amount of Purchase Tax reduction. I paid 6s. 9d. for an article, and when I asked, "How much Purchase Tax reduction is in this 6s. 9d.?" the young lady said, "What?" I said, "How much Purchase Tax relief in this 6s. 9d.?" and she said, "Purchase Tax?—never heard of it."
Some of my friends went to the Electricity Board and found several items there—Frigidaire, Hotpoint, Goblin— 140 none of them bearing any indication of Purchase Tax relief. One of my friends got a letter from the Frigidaire people saying that they had wanted for a long while to raise their prices and surely my friend would agree that the best time to raise prices was just as the Chancellor gave the tax relief. Does the Chancellor agree with that? I hope he will tell us. When I went to the other electricity and gas boards, whilst they pointed out the three in which the Purchase Tax relief had been quickly offset the following morning by increased prices, they told me that for the others their agreements would not be renewed until after three months.
I meant to speak to the Chancellor about the iniquitous taxes he is still taking on safety gadgets, such as electric lighters, gas lighters, the Crayleigh safety device on cookers, and so on, but I have no more time. I must say in conclusion that whilst I started by thinking the Chancellor was a kind gentleman, considerate to all the ladies, I then found that he had actually taxed our shopping baskets. That is a tax which is to be imposed, but he should decide and define who is to get the £41 million relief. Is it the shopper or is it the Surtax payer?
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)
If he were here, I would like to congratulate the Financial Secretary on the lucidity and pertinacity of his exposition of this complicated Bill. I think that there is a lot in what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) about the desirability of having a fairly simple resume of the Finance Bill which we could all understand and which would enable the hon. and learned Gentleman to make a more lively speech.
On Part I of the Bill, on Purchase Tax, a number of my hon. Friends spoke, including my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann), in a racy and brief speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley and my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Oram). They all made criticisms and proposals concerning the changes in the Purchase Tax, as did a number of hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House, including the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), 141 who, it seemed to me, although I may well have been wrong, tended to exaggerate his own weight and importance in our councils.
All these things show that there will be a great deal of material for discussion in Committee on Purchase Tax and the Purchase Tax schedules. Indeed, a good deal of the Bill will provide much material for the Committee stage. This is a very complex, disconnected Bill and if we all do our duty by it, on all sides of the House, I do not see how it can pass through all its stages very quickly.
In Part III we come to a very important matter of principle which has been raised in these debates and is a very proper point for a Second Reading debate, namely, the anti avoidance Clauses 16 and 17, which raise the question of retrospection and tax avoidance. This has been a difficult question which has exercised minds on both sides of the House. It has led to some rather disingenuous special pleading, what my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) called the fog that has been created around this issue.
The Chancellor never proposed at any time retrospective legislation in the ordinary and normal sense in which that word is used. We must be clear what he was proposing in the first place. The right hon. Gentleman was proposing to compel a number of slippery and unscrupulous gentlemen to pay taxes which they ought to have paid in the first place. That is what the right hon. Gentleman was setting out to do. We must never forget that these slick and artificial devices for dodging tax are used at the expense of the ordinary body of taxpayers. What these clever men do makes honest men pay more in taxes than they would otherwise have to pay.
Nor can we forget that the Chancellor has quietly given these people, whom he himself roundly condemned in his Budget speech, an uncovenanted present of £2 million, a sum of money so casually given away which would do a good deal to help to settle the bus and other industrial troubles which we now face. The Chancellor's ignominous retreat over this has made things worse than they would have been had he never pretended to be courageous in the first place, by crumpling under the pressure he has undermined confidence in clear Government undertakings.
142 The right hon. Gentleman described this undertaking as a clear warning which was given two years ago—he said that in his Budget speech—and now he has run away from it and has undermined confidence in that sort of statement by the Government in this and other matters. He has given us yet one more example of what is becoming the habitual divorce between his fine words and his deeds.
I said that there had been much disingenuous special pleading on the question of retrospection, because if we stop retrospection without taking any alternative action to prevent tax avoidance we play into the hands of the tax avoiders. If we merely denounce retrospection without proposing some other method, this is putting ourselves on the side of tax avoidance.
The root of our trouble is that under the present system the counter-measures which we take are so slow that in practice they become ineffective. The present method, which has been used for a long time, is to insert one or two Clauses in an already overcrowded Finance Bill, and it is notorious how difficult it is to get anti-avoidance Clauses into Finance Bills because Chancellors, naturally, do not want to overcrowd them. These anti-avoidance Clauses are inserted only when the leakage of the revenue tends to reach scandalous proportions.
We must remember, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) reminded us, that these tax avoiders employ highly skilled experts. They always have fresh schemes ready. The avoiders can, therefore, count under the present system on a fair, or rather an unfair, run for each new device after the previous device has been stopped up. As things stand they are always one jump ahead of the Revenue, and, in practice, we therefore have a system of continuous, interrupted cheating of the Treasury. Directly one method is blocked up, another is used. We have an example in this very Bill. A loophole was stopped up in 1955, but they very quickly found ways round it.
Now the Chancellor has removed the only worry of these tax evaders under the present system—namely, the worry that retrospective action may from time to time take their ill-gotten gains from them. What we bitterly criticise the Chancellor for in this respect is running 143 away from his first position and putting nothing whatever in its place to deal with this problem of tax avoidance. By this vacillation, first standing up and then falling down, he has given a green light to tax dodgers. They know that they need not fear the one thing which they feared in the past—occasional retrospective action.
If we are to stop tax avoidance without retrospective action, we must drop this hopeless method of trying to put a few belated Clauses into the Finance Bill. We must have specific anti-avoidance legislation distinct from the Finance Bill. The simplest method is that proposed by my right hon. Friend this afternoon, a system by which the Government can issue orders to stop avoidance, particular avoidance measures, just as Purchase Tax changes can now be made by Statutory Instrument. Any Order would, of course, have to be validated by affirmative Resolution, or in the next Finance Bill.
However, the essential thing is that we should be able to act promptly and quickly, instead of retrospectively, directly a tax avoidance device of importance became apparent and was of a kind that was obviously against the intention of Parliament. I doubt whether many Orders would be needed, because if we could stop these tax avoidances quickly the game would cease to be worth the candle and people would not trouble to employ the experts if the Government could step in very quickly after the device had been discovered.
I hope that hon. Members like the right hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Sir T. Low), and newspapers like The Times, people who have proclaimed their equal abhorrence of retrospective action and tax avoidance, will support this sort of idea. I cannot find any other way in which we can reach both desirable objectives. It is very easy to denounce retrospective legislation and leave it there, but we all know that if that is all we do, there will be a great deal of tax avoidance.
We remain unalterably opposed to Part IV of the Bill, which deals with the Profits Tax changes and the abolition of the tax on distributed profits. It introduces a number of anomalous discriminations, especially against Co-operative societies, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, South pointed out. He 144 showed that the change resulted in grave inequities for Co-operative societies and it will be necessary to put the matter right when the Bill goes to Committee.
Apart from the anomalies which are created by the change and which can be put right in Committee, our major objection to the new proposals is that they positively encourage the distribution of dividends and do that at a time when the Government are trying to keep down wages. The timing of the change is extraordinary. It will unquestionably increase dividends and it coincides with a great campaign by the Government to hold down wages.
I do not know whether hon. Members who praised and cheered the change, this creation of undifferentiated Profits Tax, realise that the change has greatly strengthened the case for a capital gains tax. The minority Report of the Royal Commission on the Taxation of Profits and Income showed conclusively that a capital gains or capital Profits Tax was a logical adjunct of an undifferentiated Profits Tax because, as dividends rise, as they will as a result of the change, Stock Exchange values will automatically increase—the two being closely linked—and thus there will be a great shift in wealth in favour of the rentiers and rich people and against the poorer people.
The introduction of a single Profits Tax like this will have the effect of increasing capital gains, so the case for taxing them becomes even stronger than it was before. That is something which will be taken into account in future Budgets which are not produced by the party opposite.
We are strongly opposed to many things in the Bill, but one cannot judge a Finance Bill in isolation. As the Financial Secretary said, one has to take it as an expression of economic policy. The combination of the bad things in the Bill and its total failure as an expression of economic policy, its omissions and defects, certainly thoroughly justify dividing the House against its Second Reading. Above all, we are against the fact that the Budget and the Bill do nothing at all to get away from economic stagnation and, indeed, deliberately continue that policy. The signs are multiplying that this policy of stagnation is now being taken so far that it is beginning to produce an economic decline.
145 There has been fresh and very disturbing evidence, even since the Budget, that we are now beginning to enter upon an economic decline. The tonnage of laid-up British shipping has trebled since the beginning of the year. In this connection, I should like to say that hon. Members on both sides of the House listened with great interest and sympathy to the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), who spoke about the need to do something to preserve the British merchant fleet. Although there is a limit to the extent to which the State can give a subsidy to any sort of private enterprise, I agree broadly with the case that he made.
Unemployment rose by 2 per cent. last month—at a time of year when it should be falling. This is, therefore, a very much greater increase than it looks on the face of it. What I regard as the most important and disturbing sign of all, however, is that in the fourth quarter of last year—as we have only just discovered—the rate of growth of industrial investment fell, for the first time since figures have been kept. This is extremely grave. The shrinkage of industrial investment means that the source of our future expansion and wealth is drying up. This is an alarming sign, and gives us a very different picture from the one painted by the Paymaster-General in the Budget debate, when he told us of the continued expansion of investment. He must have known that these figures would come out the very day after he spoke.
This policy of economic stagnation lies at the root of our industrial troubles. It is incontestable—it is shown in the Economic Survey, in Table 7—that if production is held down productivity will be held down with it. If productivity is held down, wage increases become inflationary. It is an automatic consequence. If productivity is held down, it is not possible to get a natural increase of wages, and, at the same time, stagnation pushes up prices. Hon. Members opposite seem to forget that prices rose last year by 3½ per cent., and that when they are asking for wages to be frozen they are really asking for the standard of living of the men concerned to be cut by 3½ per cent.
The current experience in the United States controverts the theory lying at the root of the economic doctrine of the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) that stagnation must 146 bring about a fall in prices. That theory also lies at the root of the policy of his successor. They feel that if there is enough economic stagnation prices must come down, but in the United States at this moment the cost of living is rising rapidly. In the midst of a very grave recession, with very heavy unemployment and all that stagnation and going backwards, prices are not falling, because the economic recession and stagnation themselves push up prices by producing shorter runs and an insufficient spread of overheads. In these conditions, to hold down wages while prices are going up is bound to bring about industrial tension, disputes and trouble.
The Government are taking to very harsh and inflexible extremes a policy based on a doctrinaire economic theory which is so rigid and so abstract that it takes no account of the psychological and human reactions which are bound to follow upon it. There are many examples of this. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to be quite oblivious to the psychological link between rising dividends and wage demands. There is a clear, psychological link which they seem wholly to ignore. They also ignore all the consequences of creating the very widely held impression that the Government's general strategy is to have a showdown with the trade unions, and that their tactic is to isolate the Transport and General Workers' Union. The consequences of creating that impression are appalling for industrial relations both between employees and management and between trade unions and the Government.
A few days ago the Minister of Labour was making a lot of not being able to conceal his scorn and contempt. I would say that I cannot conceal my recognition of the skill, adroitness and foresight with which he is carrying out his tactical campaign to isolate one union. Nor can I conceal my amazement that he has so far departed from the great traditions of his office.
Another example of the way in which the Government ignore the human consequences that must flow from their economic policy is the idea that their whole aim is to save the £. I have no doubt that the Chancellor, when he replies, will be saying that to us again, but I must point out to him that there is more than one way of endangering the £. If we 147 have economic policies which either deliberately or, if we prefer it, inevitably, produce industrial strife in the country on a very large scale, that also must endanger the £. The trouble with this policy of economic stagnation is that it is creating social conditions in which it is almost impossible for the Government to achieve the ends at which they are aiming, and particular economic measures produce human reactions which counter the policy and frustrate it.
The very grave problem which my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) discussed in his excellent speech the other day only begin to be possible of solution if we resume the controlled, selective expansion of our economy. As long as we have stagnation in our economy, these great problems are not capable of solution at all, because it produces these secondary human and psychological reactions which defeat the purposes which are being pursued. It is our case that the Government, having taken over abstract theories, regardless of their impact on the people of the country, have bungled and mismanaged our affairs long enough. In every election, and in every possible way, the people continue to make their verdict clear that it is time for a change.
§ 9.33 p.m.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Derick Heathcoat Amory)
No doubt, the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) feels better for letting off a little steam. We have had a calm and sensible debate. Many of the points made, inevitably on the Second Reading of a Finance Bill, are really appropriate to the Committee stage. I have no doubt that on all the points that have been raised, and nearly every point raised today has been relevant to this Bill, we shall have a useful discussion when we come to the Committee stage.
The right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) said that it seemed to him that there was no identifiable theme in this Bill. I cannot speak for the right hon. Gentleman, but there is a theme running through this Bill. I have described it as the consolidation of the recent economic progress that we have been achieving, the practical reform of our complex tax system and a flexible and forward look to the future. Whatever the right hon. Gentleman may feel, 148 these themes have been widely recognised throughout the country.
I know that it is customary for the Opposition, on the occasion of a Finance Bill, to pretend that the Bill is scarcely bearable. It reminds me of the farmer who gave a free barrel of cider to his workers. When he went round and asked them how they liked it, they said that it was just right. He asked what that meant, and one old chap replied, "If it had been any better, we should not have got it, and if it had been any worse, we could not have drunk it." All I can say is that the legislative cider I have issued on this occasion seems greatly to people's liking.
In my Budget statement I said that the future weather was particularly difficult to forecast. Nearly a month has elapsed since then and some further figures have become available to us. We have had revised estimates of recent industrial production. Those revisions are slightly in an upward direction, I am glad to say. It now appears that industrial production has not, as in my Budget speech I indicated it might have done, dropped slowly, but has remained unchanged up to the latest moment.
I now want to refer to the latest investment figures, for the last quarter of 1957, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. It is true that there was a 5 per cent. fall in private investment in manufacturing industry in that quarter as compared with a year before, but the total figures for private investment, excluding housing, for that quarter were 3 per cent. up on the previous year. That included all private investment except for housing. I foresee the same pattern of investment for 1958 with total private investment fairly well maintained during the year. In other words, I have no reason to change the estimate I gave in my Budget speech.
It is true that the April unemployment figures show a slight further increase on the month, but the total is still 2 per cent. of the total labour force. In the United States recession there are no positive signs there of recovery yet, although it does not at the moment seem to be going significantly deeper. There has been another satisfactory gain in the gold and dollar reserves in April, bringing the total to £1,041 million, a far greater increase in recent months than was estimated by the fresh borrowing last year 149 and it has now reached a higher figure than has been reached since the autumn of 1954.
I think all those figures taken together pretty well confirm the general picture of our economic situation which I gave a month ago, although I want to say once again that we are at the moment at a very favourable conjunction of certain economic circumstances. The fall in import prices is helping to give us a favourable balance of payments at the present time. At the same time, we have not yet met with a reduced demand for our exports, nor have we lost any of the reserves as a result of the trading difficulties that certain parts of the sterling area are meeting. I wish to repeat, once again, that we must use this favourable period to establish definite stability and confidence in our currency before we embark on other tasks. Then we shall be able to withstand whatever stresses may eventually come to us if world trade and production should slacken.
The right hon. Member for Huyton asked, if we could not encourage expansion now, when could we? I think that was the substance of his question. I wish to give him this answer. We shall welcome and actively encourage a resumption of expansion just as soon and just as fast as that can take place without an increase in prices and without danger to our balance of payments. The sooner those circumstances are with us and we are able to do that, the better we shall be pleased.
The right hon. Gentleman also recommended planned expansion. That all depends on what is meant by "planned expansion." If planning of the detailed kind, with the multifarious controls that were attempted by the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues between 1945 and 1951 is the kind of thing of which he is thinking, I would venture to say that that is not the kind of expansion that would be in the interests of the country.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite have expressed strong opinions against the merging of the two rates of Profits Tax, but I think that they are rather isolated in their view, as this merging has been welcomed generally not only in this House but throughout the country. I can understand the first thoughts of someone who is faced with this issue, but I am con- 150 vinced that anyone who remains of the opinion, after full consideration, that the merging is a mistake, is wrong.
When I was in industry myself, I used to advocate retaining in the business as high a proportion of profits, when we could earn them, as was feasible, so I came to a consideration of this problem with, I think, a bias in favour of the differential rate. As I studied the problem, however, I was convinced that it was by no means as simple as one might be inclined to think at first sight. That was certainly the view of both the majority and minority Reports of the Royal Commission.
In these matters the object of us all is, I think, the same; to arrange Profits Tax so that it shall bear as lightly as is practicable on the financial needs of expanding industry. But we must look at this very carefully. The Royal Commission thought that the differential rate was not, on balance, justified on that ground, and it is significant that bodies representing industrial management, including the National Union of Manufacturers—which has large numbers of medium and smaller industrialists among its members—had asked for the merging and has welcomed the proposal made in the Budget.
It is true that, in the long term, the differential rates do tend, as, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) said, to distort the financial structure of British industry. If that is so, it must mean that it tends to weaken its competitiveness. Nevertheless, the majority even of those smaller firms that may have to pay rather more tax seem to welcome this proposal, because it eliminates for them the contingent liability for which they were feeling growing anxiety.
If I thought that this proposal would lead to an all-round and general increase in dividends then, on balance, I would not now have introduced it, but I do not think that it will lead to such a general increase. In the more competitive climate of today and tomorrow, industrial concerns are likely to find it by no means easy to earn profits on a scale that would make excessive dividends likely or feasible, even if they were desired.
I should like now to refer to two particular points raised in connection with this Profits Tax. Several hon 151 Members, including, I think, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton, referred to the effect that this change in Profits Tax will have on building societies and Co-operative societies. I should remind the House that the provisions of the Bill in each case produce exactly the effect recommended by the Royal Commission. The Bill treats these bodies on precisely the same principle as it treats other corporate bodies. I cannot see how one can complain of that treatment.
The hon. Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Oram) made a thoughtful speech. I always listen to his remarks with interest. However, I think that that is the answer that I would give him. It puts these bodies on precisely the same basis as other bodies. In the case of the Co-operatives, dividends paid to their customers and interest paid on their capital will be deductible before Profits Tax is assessed.
The second point was the effect of Profits Tax changes on subsidiaries in this country of American and other foreign companies. Apprehension was expressed that it might have a discouraging effect on such companies coming to this country. I cannot see any ground on which we could relieve foreign companies and their subsidiaries here of a burden of corporate taxation which falls on all concerns trading in this country.
I am sorry that I was not here, because of an engagement which I could not miss, to hear the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. Armstrong). I understand that he put his case in moderate and cogent terms. Certainly we do not want to do anything to aggravate the very difficult employment situation in Northern Ireland, but I do not believe that this factor is of sufficient weight compared with other far more important considerations to sway the decision of foreign investors. After all, this is a tax on company profits. British companies trading abroad have to pay tax to foreign Governments on the profits which they earn there, and I am sure we should not be justified in relieving foreign companies trading here of the effects of a uniform tax which falls on all our own concerns. To do that would put them into a preferential position.
152 I must refer again to the matter of retrospection in relation to dividend stripping because it was referred to by the right hon. Member for Huyton and the right hon. Member for Smethwick. The right hon. Member for Huyton asked me again why I had changed my mind. The reason is very simple, and I have already given it once. When I first considered this matter I was of the opinion that the strict wording given in 1955 justified the exceptional action of retrospection in this case. Subsequently I listened to the arguments that were put forward in the House and from many quarters elsewhere that the warnings might be held not to cover all the new methods which have been adopted since then.
Bearing in mind the strong arguments against retrospection as a general principle, I decided to give the benefit of the doubt—not to the taxpayer, for that would be the wrong word in this instance, although I have no sympathy whatever with the exponents of this practice—to those who put themselves in this position. Because of the importance of the principle I have felt that it would be right to give the benefit of the doubt and to forgo the amount of Revenue involved. I have no regrets for having changed my mind on that important matter.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
Since the right hon. Gentleman says he has done it because of doubts about the warnings, has he taken into account the evidence produced this afternoon, first, that the then Financial Secretary said that it was his intention to eliminate all dividend stripping, and, secondly, that of the three examples given by the Financial Secretary this afternoon two were clearly within the terms of Section 4 of the 1955 Act?
I have considered that, and I listened with interest to what was said. Those are precisely the points I took into consideration. I read the words that the Financial Secretary used at the time, and, as I say, on consideration of all the factors, I am not altogether satisfied that it covers all the new cases which have been introduced since. We shall have the opportunity of discussing the matter further later on.
The Purchase Tax has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members. It is gratifying that the reductions proposed have been generally welcomed. In my 153 Budget speech, I spent a certain amount of time, not too long, I hope, in explaining in some detail why I did not think that it would be practicable to change over to a retail sales tax. My impression is that the explanation I gave has been generally accepted as conclusive, but I hope that I made it clear also in my Budget speech that we ought not to turn our backs on the principle underlying most of these suggestions for a sales tax, the principle of levying indirect taxation at as low a rate as practicable on a wide range of articles.
I found myself generally in agreement with many of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) on this matter. The object of Purchase Tax is primarily to raise revenue, not to discriminate between one article and another. The reason we have not found it possible to reduce the Purchase Tax on cars is not that we regard cars as luxuries but that the revenue which arises from them is, in present circumstances, essential to the Exchequer. I think that many, if not most, hon. Members broadly agree with the principle I have mentioned. If they do, I hope that they will keep it well in mind when we come to discuss this matter during the Committee stage. Hon. Members cannot, logically, ask to widen the tax base in this respect, in the phrase of the right hon. Member for Huyton, and at the same time press for the exemption of whatever objects they or their constituents happen to be most interested in, whether it be pots and pans, shopping baskets, musical instruments, mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall), or the piggy banks dear to the heart of my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster.
The right hon. Member for Huyton asked why I put in my original proposal to tax miners' safety helmets and boots at the same rate as other helmets and boots. The answer is that there was, and is, a strong case for removing the anomaly which was represented by these particular exemptions. It was a trifling anomaly, the difference in the case of a helmet being less than 6d. an article. I decided to drop this proposal from the Bill because a fairly large number of hon. Members in the House thought that it was just a pity to include it and that it was a minor blot on an otherwise very good 154 Budget. Various other points about the Purchase Tax which have been mentioned will be discussed in Committee. No doubt, my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster will again be in very good voice. All I will say at this stage is that the reliefs total £32 million this year and £40 million in a full year, and that they will benefit people of all incomes.
If I may, I will now refer to the remarks made by the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann). Regarding Purchase Tax, she made complaints that some shopkeepers had not reduced their prices as soon as these proposals were made. I would remind her, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham has already mentioned, that there is no inherent obligation on a trader to reduce the prices when the tax has been paid. But the forces of competition achieve a great deal in this direction. In fact, there have been few complaints that shopkeepers have not reduced prices promptly.
The hon. Lady thanked me for doing the right thing about babies' dusting powder. If the hon. Lady ever hears any harsh criticism of me as Chancellor of the Exchequer, I hope that she will say, "At any rate, he did the right thing on babies' dusting powder".
I hope that they become aware of it as soon as possible. The hon. Lady said that she had started thinking well of me, but was becoming disappointed in me. That is very sad indeed for one who has always tried to be nice to ladies, but still finds himself a bachelor at the age of 58. I should like to assure the hon. Lady, because she asked me this question, that my intentions were, and are, honourable.
My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) made a most interesting and moving speech about the shipping industry. As he himself said, I think, as far as taxation is concerned the industry does receive the benefit of the exceptional investment allowance of 40 per cent. We recognise the vital importance 155 of that industry to the country. Its importance is absolutely unquestioned, and I think always will be, and we shall always try to see that its welfare receives the fullest consideration. If there are any special problems that he would like to put before me, I should be very glad to consider them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) made a speech which I was particularly sorry to miss. I am told that it was a most excellent speech, the kind of speech that one has come to expect from him.
I am rather surprised that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have decided to divide against the Bill. It really looks as if they may be pretty hard up to find something to vote against on the Government's policies and actions if they vote against this Bill. It is all very well for right hon. Gentlemen opposite to say that they are dividing because they disapprove of the Profits Tax proposal and the absence of any retrospective applications of the provisions for dividend stripping; but surely the point of a Second Reading debate is to enable the House to express a view whether the Bill is, broadly speaking, a good or bad Bill. What the Opposition are doing, therefore, is saying that this Finance Bill is a bad Bill.
The country can hardly be blamed if it concludes from this vote that the party opposite disapproves of the proposals to reform our tax system in several important directions in accordance with the recommendations of the Royal Commis-
§ sion; to reduce the Entertainments Duty; to increase the allowance for depreciation on industrial buildings and plant; to give further tax reliefs to elderly people with small means and generally to reduce taxation by about £50 million this year and over £100 million in a full year.
§ It is, perhaps, this last feature that right hon. and hon. Members opposite find completely out of line with their idea of a good, sound, Socialist Finance Bill. Certainly, if it had increased taxation instead of reducing taxation by £108 million, or even by £500 million, it would have been more in line with the kind of Finance Bill which the right hon. Member for Huyton would have to introduce to make any sense at all of the financial policies which his party has recently been recommending. The country generally will, I fancy, form its own conclusions from the Opposition's attitude to this Bill.
§ The Budget which I introduced a few weeks ago has, I believe, been regarded by people generally as a sound Budget and fair to all sections of the nation. The nation generally seems to approve of our decision to put the safeguarding of the value of our money, externally and internally, first among our aims. I am content to be judged in this matter by public opinion, and I am confident that this House will endorse this judgment by giving the Bill its wholehearted approval.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 315. Noes 247.161
|Division No. 119.]||AYES||[10.2 p.m|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Biggs-Davison, J. A.||Cary, Sir Robert|
|Aitken, W. T.||Bingham, R. M.||Channon, Sir Henry|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Chichester-Clark, R.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Bishop, F. P.||Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Black, C. W.||Cole, Norman|
|Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Body, R. F.||Conant, Maj. Sir Roger|
|Arbuthnot, John||Bonham Carter, Mark||Cooke, Robert|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Boothby, Sir Robert||Cooper, A. E.|
|Ashton, H.||Bossom, Sir Alfred||Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan)||Corfield, Capt. F. V.|
|Atkins, H. E.||Braine, B. R.||Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)|
|Balniel, Lord||Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Brooman-White, R. C.||Cunningham, Knox|
|Barter, John||Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton)||Currie, G. B. H.|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Bryan, P.||Dance, J. C. G.|
|Beamish, Col. Tufton||Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Davidson, Viscountess|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Burden, F. F. A.||Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Butcher, Sir Herbert||D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Deedes, W. F.|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald||Campbell, Sir David||Digby, Simon Wingfield|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Carr, Robert||Dodds-Parker, A. D.|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Hutchison, Sir James (Scotstoun)||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||Hyde, Montgomery||Partridge, E.|
|Drayson, G. B.||Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry||Peel, W. J.|
|du Cann, E. D. L.||Iremonger, T. L.||Peyton, J. W. W.|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond)||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Duncan, Sir James||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Duthie, W. S.||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.|
|Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Jennings, Sir Roland (Hallam)||Pitman, I. J.|
|Elliott, R. W. (Ne'castleupon Tyne, N.)||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Pitt, Miss E. M.|
|Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Erroll, F. J.||Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green)||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Farey-Jones, F. W.||Joseph, Sir Keith||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.|
|Fell, A.||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. Sir Lancelot||Ramsden, J. E.|
|Finlay, Graeme||Kaberry, D.||Rawlinson, Peter|
|Fisher, Nigel||Keegan, D.||Redmayne, M.|
|Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Kerby, Capt. H. B.||Remnant, Hon. P.|
|Forrest, G.||Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Kimball, M.||Ridsdale, J. E.|
|Fort, R.||Kirk, P. M.||Rippon, A. G. F.|
|Foster, John||Lagden, G. W.||Robertson, Sir David|
|Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Lambton, Viscount||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale)||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Robson Brown, Sir William|
|Freeth, Denzil||Langford-Holt, J. A.||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Gammans, Lady||Leather, E. H. C.||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Garner-Evans, E. H.||Leavey, J. A.||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|George, J. C. (Pollok)||Leburn, W. G.||Russell, R. S.|
|Gibson-Watt, D.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.|
|Glover, D.||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.|
|Glyn, Col. Richard H.||Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T.||Sharples, R. C.|
|Godber, J. B.||Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)||Shepherd, William|
|Goodhart, Philip||Lindsay, Martin (Solihull)||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Gough, C. F. H.||Linstead, Sir H. N.||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Gower, H. R.||Llewellyn, D. T.||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)|
|Graham, Sir Fergus||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (Sutton Coldfield)||Soames, Rt. Hon. Christopher|
|Grant, W. (Woodside)||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)||Longden, Gilbert||Speir, R. M.|
|Green, A.||Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby||Spence, H. R. (Aberdeen, W.)|
|Gresham Cooke, R.||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)|
|Grimond, J.||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick)||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||McAdden, S. J.||Steward, Harold (Stocport, S.)|
|Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||Macdonald, Sir Peter||Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)|
|Gurden, Harold||Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||McKibbin, Alan||Storey, S.|
|Hare, Rt. Hon. J. H.||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)||McLaughlin, Mrs. P.||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Harris, Reader (Heston)||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy (Lancaster)||Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)|
|Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||McLean, Neil (Inverness)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty)||Teeling, W.|
|Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Temple, John M.|
|Harvie-Watt, Sir George||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Maddan, Martin||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Hay, John||Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Head, Rt. Hon. A. H.||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.)|
|Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.|
|Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. C.||Marples, Rt. Hon. A. E.||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Marshall, Douglas||Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)|
|Henderson-Stewart, Sir James||Mathew, R.||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)||Mawby, R. L.||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Hirst, Geoffrey||Medlicott, Sir Frank||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Hobson, John (Warwick & Leam'gt'n)||Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Holland-Martin, C. J.||Moore, Sir Thomas||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Holt, A. F.||Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Wade, D. W.|
|Hope, Lord John||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Hornby, R. P.||Nabarro C. D. N.||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Derek|
|Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Nairn, D. L. S.||Wall, Patrick|
|Horobin, Sir Ian||Neave, Airey||Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester)|
|Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence||Nicholls, Harmar||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Nicholson, Sir Godfrey (Farnham)||Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold|
|Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)||Webbe, Sir H.|
|Howard, John (Test)||Noble, Comdr. Rt. Hon. Allan||Whitelaw, W. S. I.|
|Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)||Nugent, G. R. H.||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.||O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Hughes-Young, M. H. C.||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. D.||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Hulbert, Sir Norman||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Woollam, John Victor|
|Hurd, A. R.||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark (E'b'gh, S.)||Osborne, C.|
|Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh, W.)||Page, R. G.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Mr. Oakshott and Mr. Willis|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Griffiths, William (Exchange)||O'Brien, Sir Thomas|
|Albu, A. H.||Hale, Leslie||Oliver, G. H.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Oram, A. E.|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Hamilton, W. W.||Orbach, M.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Hannan, W.||Oswald, T.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Harrison J. (Nottingham, N.)||Owen, W. J.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Hastings, S.||Padley, W. E.|
|Baird, J.||Hayman, F. H.||Paget, R. T.|
|Balfour, A.||Healey, Denis||Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)|
|Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.)||Herbison, Miss M.||Palmer, A. M. F.|
|Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S. E.)||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)|
|Benson, Sir George||Hobson, C. R. (Keighley)||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Beswick, Frank||Holman, P.||Parker, J.|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Parkin, B. T.|
|Blackburn, F.||Holmes, Horace||Paton, John|
|Boardman, H.||Houghton, Douglas||Peart, T. F.|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Howell, Charles (Perry Barr)||Pentland, N.|
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.)||Howell, Denis (All Saints)||Prentice, R. E.|
|Bowles, F. G.||Hoy, J. H.||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Boyd, T. C.||Hubbard, T. F.||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Probert, A. R.|
|Brockway, A. F.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Pursey, Cmdr. H.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Hunter, A. E.||Rankin, John|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Redhead, E. C.|
|Burke, W. A.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Reeves, J.|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Reid, William|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Rhodes, H.|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Janner, B.||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Carmichael, J.||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Jeger, George (Goole)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Champion, A. J.||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pncs, S.)||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Chapman, W. D.||Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Ross, William|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)||Royle, C.|
|Clunie, J.||Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech (Wakefield)||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Coldrick, W.||Jones, David (The Hartlepools)||Short, E. W.|
|Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)||Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Collins, V. J. (Shoreditch & Finsbury)||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Cove, W. G.||Kenyon, C.||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Slater, J. (Sedgefield)|
|Cronin, J. D.||King, Dr. H. M.||Snow, J. W.|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Lawson, G. M.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||Ledger, R. J.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Sparks, J. A.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Stones, W. (Consett)|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Lewis, Arthur||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Deer, G.||Lipton, Marcus||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Logan, D. G.||Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)|
|Delargy, H. J.||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Diamond, John||McAlister, Mrs. Mary||Swingler, S. T.|
|Dodds, N. N.||McCann, J.||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Donnelly, D. L.||MacColl, J. E.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch)||MacDermot, Niall|
|Dye, S.||McGhee, H. G.||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||McInnes, J.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Edelman, M.||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)||McLeavy, Frank||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)||Thornton, E.|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Timmons, J.|
|Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Mahon, Simon||Tomney, F.|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.)||Usborne, H. C.|
|Fernyhough, E.||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Viant, S. P.|
|Finch, H. J.||Mason, Roy||Watkins, T. E.|
|Fletcher, Eric||Mayhew, C. P.||Weitzman, D.|
|Foot, D. M.||Mellish, R. J.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Forman, J. C.||Messer, Sir F.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Mitchison, G. R.||West, D. G.|
|Monslow, W.||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon, H. T. N.||Moody, A. S.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|George, Lady Megan Lloyd (Car'then)||Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm, S.)||Wigg, George|
|Gibson, C. W.||Mort, D. L.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Moss, R.||Willey, Frederick|
|Greenwood, Anthony||Moyle, A.||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Mulley, F. W.||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tillery)|
|Grey, C. F.||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. (Derby, S.)||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)||Woof, R. E.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Winterbottom, Richard||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Popplewell and Mr. Pearson|
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the whole House.
§ Committee Tomorrow.