HC Deb 07 July 1959 vol 608 cc1259-70

In Part VIII of the Income Tax Act, 1952, there shall be inserted the following section:— 217A. If the claimant, by reason of his blindness, is compelled to depend upon the services of a dog, maintained by him as a guide, he shall be entitled to a deduction from the amount of tax with which he is chargeable equal to tax at the standard rate on twenty pounds".—[Mr. Cronin.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

I propose to perform this task with reasonable celerity, in view of the lateness of the hour. Hon. Gentlemen must remember that this is a grave subject and, therefore, cannot be treated too cursorily. English tax law has recognised not merely the size of the taxpayer's income, but also his taxable capacity. For that reason, for several years we on this side of the House have moved new Clauses to give relief to disabled and blind people.

On every occasion those Clauses have been rejected by successive Conservative Chancellors. It therefore seems to me that the thing to do tonight is to approach the problem on a limited front, so we have chosen a very deserving type of case where the tax relief is clear-cut and simple. We want to obtain some relief for the blind man in view of his difficulty in paying tax on the expenses incurred in keeping his dog.

The purpose of a guide dog is to enable a blind man to go out of doors. With it, the man can travel to work, and can, therefore, save the rest of the community expense by providing for himself. It enables him to be independent, and so releases other people, who would normally have to accompany him out of doors, to perform more productive tasks or services for the rest of the community. It enables the blind man to get sufficient exercise and so keeps him in health, again avoiding his becoming a burden on the community financially through the National Health Service.

I need not say that possession of one of these animals has a tremendous psychological effect on the blind man in that he is able to get out and widen his social circle. It really makes an immense difference to his whole happiness and well-being. It is likely that now that blind children are receiving more adequate training there will in future be an even bigger demand for guide dogs.

Having a blind dog involves considerable cost. The dogs are usually Labradors, collies or Alsations. They are all big, and all consume at least 1 lb. to 2 lbs. of meat a day. I understand from the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association that the cost is at least 15s. a week for a blind man who has a family, and who can, therefore, supplement the dog's diet with scraps, or about £1 a week for the blind person who is a bachelor or a spinster.

This is a very heavy financial burden, and this new Clause goes only part of the way in giving assistance. I understand that even the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association has to give some of its money to subsidise people who possess guide dogs, and so is unable to use all its resources to provide more dogs. We ought not to neglect completely the aspect of the welfare of the animals themselves. We are a dog-loving nation and have a tradition of being as humane as possible to animals. If the new Clause were to be accepted, this would, I think, be the first occasion when an Income Tax concession would be directly applicable to a very deserving type of animal.

The Chancellor is aware that there is strong public feeling about this. The hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) raised the matter at Question Time on 9th June, and when the Chancellor turned down his request there was considerable indignation in the national Press during the next few days. I do not think that I can do better than quote John Gordon, who commented on this in the Sunday Express on 14th June—

Hon. Members

Do not spoil it.

Mr. Cronin

It does not spoil the case.

John Gordon commented: Another case for the Ministry of Common Sense—if we had enough common sense to establish one. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, asked to make the cost of keeping a guide dog a deductible expense on a blind man's tax claim, declined. Why? Because he explained the cost of getting to work isn't allowable against tax, and, in his view, a blind man's dog comes under the getting to work rule. Did you ever hear a more fatuous excuse for bureaucratic nonsense? I do not think that the views of John Gordon usually meet unanimous concurrence on this side of the House, but on this occasion he spoke with the voice of the nation.

10.30 p.m.

We ought to examine the Chancellor's objections. He has said that there is a rule that the expense of travelling to work is not an allowable expense, and it could not be departed from. If he consults his legal advisers—no doubt he has done so—he will find that the rule is based on the decision in Ricketts v. Colquhoun, in 1926. If he reads Simon's Income Tax, Vol. 2, paragraph 702, he will find that that decision was based on the fact that where a man lives is at his own discretion and travelling to work is, therefore, not in the performance of his duty.

This Clause involves a completely different principle. We are not asking for relief in respect of a travelling expense which is at the taxpayer's own discretion. We are asking for a relief in respect of additional expense which is not at the taxpayer's discretion. It is a relief required because he is blind and needs a guide dog. It is in no sense a matter for the taxpayer's discretion, and, therefore, the principle does not apply. Of course, the Clause does not refer merely to blind persons who travel to work. It applies to widows and people of small means who are blind and to various categories of blind person.

The new Clause has great administrative simplicity. There can be no argument about the amount of the relief. It is clear-cut—£20. There can be no difficulty at all about deciding what a guide dog is. It is a readily definable category of animal, and the animal must be with the blind person. The cost will be very small indeed, if there is a cost at all. I understand that there are now 500 guide dogs in use, and there is a waiting list for another 200 guide dogs. At present, therefore, the concession could not cost more than £7,000 a year. I venture to suggest that that small sum would be much more than offset by the savings resulting from blind persons being able to work and keep in good health.

The Chancellor may suggest that this relief will be applicable only to Income Tax payers. I hope that he will not say that, because that is the excuse which has been given by successive Chancellors of the Exchequer for rejecting every progressive proposal from this side of the House.

I should be failing in my duty if I did not, in conclusion, refer to the very favourable treatment given to other categories of taxpayer. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are aware of the ubiquitous and ostentatious high living indulged in today which is paid for by expenses deductible from taxable income. Hon. Members will agree—to take one example—that the members of the Institute of Directors have never had it so good.

I suggest that, if the Government accept all these tax-free extravagances which are now ordinary commercial practice, and if they reject, year after year, the reliefs for disabled persons for which we ask, they should surely have the grace to accept this small new concession to give relief to a limited number of blind persons.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

I beg to second the Motion.

Mr. Amory

I wish that I could recommend the acceptance of this new Clause, but I cannot. I agree that the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) has made a narrow proposal which, by itself in isolation, would be bound to command all our sympathy. Unfortunately, it would involve starting out on a new principle and entering upon an entirely new kind of fiscal relief. The Clause deals exclusively with the blind, but I must, I fear, in describing the difficulties, stray a little into mentioning the problems of people who are severely handicapped in other ways. A Clause to provide tax relief for the 100 per cent. disabled was moved and rejected during the Committee stage of the Bill. However deep the sympathy we may have for the blind man with his guide dog, a sympathy which is bound to be reinforced with the admiration we must feel for the courage and almost invariable cheerfulness of blind people, we must not forget that there are others who are equally handicapped and whom the House would, I am sure, equally wish to help.

Among the blind themselves, there are cases in which, for one reason or another, guide dogs are not appropriate. Indeed, the provision of guide dogs is only one, and that a relatively small, part of the welfare services for the blind with which the community, through the Government, local authorities and voluntary efforts, assists. Of about 10,000 blind people in non-sheltered employment, there are fewer than 1,000 with guide dogs.

If help were to be given, it could not stop here. It would lead into an ever-widening field, because there are others who would be equally deserving, even among the blind. Some blind people have to have someone to take them to their place of work or to come and help them at home. In many cases, they have to recompense those people for their trouble and expense. Furthermore, blind people have to pay someone to drive them to and from their work because public transport may be unsuitable. Blindness is only one form of disability that rightly excites our sympathy. There is the poliomyelitis victim or the spastic, or the person suffering from multiple sclerosis.

My trouble is that I can see no way of justifying help for one class of blind people without extension not only to other categories of blind people, but to many seriously disabled people and many who are ill in various ways as well.

We all want to help people who are suffering need in those categories, but the question is whether this tax allowance is the right way of doing it. When this matter arose in Committee in the case of the 100 per cent. disabled, I had to say that I did not feel that it was the right way of helping people in need in those ways and that the right way was by giving direct help. If we rely on these taxation reliefs, it is a hit-and-miss principle. We would help some who may be in need, but we would miss helping many more who would be among the most deserving cases.

Very few blind people would be liable to tax. Therefore, they would not be in a position to get any benefit from this proposal. Many of those who are unemployable receive National Assistance, and those in receipt of National Assistance would not, at the same time, get a benefit under this tax proposal.

The best way is helping by direct assistance, particularly in the case of the blind. The special problems of the blind are, rightly, recognised in the scale of National Assistance benefit, which is substantially higher for them than for the normal beneficiaries. Indeed, when one partner in a married couple is blind, the new scale which we now propose is over £1 a week more for the blind partner than for a normal person. That is absolutely right.

There are special provisions for the earlier payment of old-age pensions and special legislation to enable the Minister of Labour and local authorities to give many other forms of help, assistance, encouragement and training to blind people, such as home visitors and teachers, workshops and hostels for them and special assistance in finding work.

Those seem to me the best and most effective ways of helping, and to be far more effective than anything that could b done in this field. I do not believe that helping by fiscal concession is really the way to help in these cases. Therefore, while deeply sympathetic towards the motives which have prompted the moving of the Clause, I must none the less say that I do not think it is a suitable or appropriate way of doing what we want to do. That being so, I must recommend the House not to accept the Clause.

Mr. H. Wilson

I want to say right away to the right hon. Gentleman that the answer which he has given is not really good enough and that I believe it offends the conscience of the whole House. His argument, and we are getting rather tired of it, is that he is sympathetic to what the Clause proposes but is not going to do anything about it. He then produces quite inadequate reasons for doing nothing.

The right hon. Gentleman's argument is that because the Clause would create anomalies he is allowing the injustice to continue. We had the same thing from him month after month in relation to post-war credits in respect of hardship. He then said that it would create anomalies and that it was not possible to find a definition of hardship. In the end he took his courage in both hands—and I pay a tribute to him for this—and dealt with the matter in the Budget. We gave him full support in resisting the pressure of anomalies that might result. On that occasion he was tackling a much more difficult problem than the one before him at the moment.

It is quite obvious that the right hon. Gentleman has listened too much to the advice of those who say, "You must not do this; it will create a precedent." Some of the most courageous decisions in the history of British government have been those which have created precedents in every sphere of life. I well remember the late George Tomlinson saying what happened when he arrived at the Ministry of Labour in wartime as a Parliamentary Secretary, and wanted to do something humane and reasonable. His civil servants said, "You cannot do that; it will create a precedent," to which George Tomlinson replied, "You fellows are good at following precedents; Ministers are here to create them." I think that on this occasion the Chancellor ought to have taken that line and recognised the force of these arguments.

We are getting near the end of the debates on this year's Finance Bill. Taking these debates in conjunction with the sort of thing we were debating a week ago yesterday, about the "spiv" State, take-over bids, and all the rest, I think that a horrible contrast is developing. And the right hon. Gentleman is doing nothing to remove it. He allows these things to go on in the City. They are created by private enterprise and laissez faire, and so they continue. When the right hon. Gentleman has a chance to make a very small concession to help an admittedly small number of people who are suffering great hardship he refuses to do so.

We have had this sort of attitude on the part of the right hon. Gentleman for a long time and it does not go well with the speeches that he makes. At a time when the Chancellor is enabling many people to make a lot of money he is refusing to do anything about the removal of the prescription charge which was imposed in a period of alleged stringency by the present Prime Minister. But, as I say, he allows large fortunes to be made in the "spiv" State.

Here is another case on which he could have taken action. It would not have been a very difficult thing to do. We are not pressing the point originally made by the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt), who suggested that this was a matter which should be allowed as a tax deductible item, as an expense of earning a wage or a salary. When the matter was raised at Question Time the right hon. Gentleman said, with some degree of logic, that we did not allow in our tax system any payment for getting to work. We are all in favour, for it would have opened a very wide door.

We can imagine company directors and others making hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds a year out of a decision of that kind. [Laughter.] I do not know what hon. Gentlemen opposite find amusing in this subject, but it would be very easy for someone living in, say, the West Country to travel up to London to take part in a monthly board meeting and to charge the whole cost of the journey. That relief would be open to abuse, and if hon. Members opposite think it would not the Chancellor can no doubt assure them on the matter.

10.45 p.m.

Perhaps the Chancellor was right in resisting that kind of relief. It was for that reason we tabled this new Clause, which would make the relief a straight personal allowance based on disability. We accept what the Chancellor says that there are other kinds of hardship, but we think that he should have the courage to deal with some of them as well. If the country can afford all the wasteful expenditure on the things I have mentioned earlier tonight, from advertising to lush business expenses and the rest, surely it could find the £7,000 or £8,000 involved if the Chancellor accepted the new Clause.

Mr. Holt

I am very disappointed with the Chancellor's reply. I suggest that tomorrow he looks at his speech. He will find that the first part did not tie to the second part. In the first part he said we could not go in for allowances of the type I orginally suggested because there were many other people who had disabilities and they were not included and he could not single out one group. In the second part he talked about people who have already been given various kinds of concession and allowances through National Assistance, the provision of pensions, and so on.

I am sure that nobody here wants one form of Amendment or new Clause more than another. All we are asking is that extra expense which a blind man incurs through having a guide dog should be recognised, and that in some way the Chancellor should help him meet the expense. I do not think that the question of expenses in going to work being chargeable or not arises, because the blind man who goes to work has an extra expense that other people do not have. There is a reason for regarding that expense in a different way. I do not mind whether it is dealt with on one basis or another.

The right hon. Gentleman elaborated the point that it was not right to deal with the matter in a fiscal manner, but he himself had already moved a new Clause by which he widened the benefit, the fiscal benefit, given to some people who are handicapped. He did it by increasing the number of invalid carriages to be exempt from Excise, by changing the weight factor from 5 cwt. to 6 cwt. There was an instance of handicapped people being exempted from some tax. Why, then, is it that like assistance is not given to another

person who is handicapped in a different way and gets about and does a proper job and earns a proper wage and is, therefore, not a burden on the State, as many other blind people are who, for one reason or another, do not do ordinary jobs, probably because they are incapable of doing them?

There is a man in my constituency whom I have in mind. I have put his case to the Treasury about four or five years ago. That man does a job as a telephonist at a Ministry of Labour office in Bolton. No doubt, other hon. Members can mention other similar cases from their constituencies. Men like him are not a burden on the State, but have overcome their handicap and carry out a proper job. But they have an extra expense in overcoming that handicap.

It is just not good enough for the Chancellor to explain, as he has done on previous occasions, his great sympathy without making an effort to meet us in seeing how the difficulty can be got over. If the new Clause is not adequate, or does not meet the case from the Treasury's point of view, it is up to the right hon. Gentleman to suggest something different.

Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 116, Noes 167.

Division No. 165.] AYES [10.50 p.m.
Ainsley, J. W. Fitch, A. E. (Wigan) McInnes, J.
Albu, A. H. Forman, J. C. Mahon, Simon
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Mann, Mrs. Jean
Bacon, Miss Alice Grey, C. F. Mason, Roy
Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.) Grimond, J. Mitchison, G. R.
Benson, Sir George Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Monslow, W.
Blackburn, F. Hannan, W. Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)
Blenkinsop, A. Hayman, F. H. Mulley, F. W.
Blyton, W. R. Herbison, Miss M. Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)
Boardman, H. Holt, A. F. O'Brien, Sir Thomas
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Houghton, Douglas Oram, A. E.
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.) Howell, Charles (Perry Barr) Oswald, T.
Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan) Hoy, J. H. Padley, W. E.
Bowles, F. G. Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Pargiter, G. A.
Boyd, T. C. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Peart T. F.
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Hunter, A. E. Pentland, N.
Brockway, A, F. Hynd, H, (Accrington) Popplewell, E.
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper) Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Price, J. T, (Westhoughton)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Irving, Sydney (Dartford) Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)
Champion, A. J. Janner, B. Probert, A.
Cliffe, Michael Johnson, James (Rugby) Redhead, E. C.
Coldrick, W. Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Reynolds, G. W.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) King, Dr. H. M. Rhodes, H.
Cronin, J. D. Lawson, G. M. Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) Lee, Frederick (Newton) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Deer, G. Lever, Harold (Cheetham) Ross, William
Diamond, John Lever, Leslie (Ardwick) Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Skeffington, A. M.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. McAlister, Mrs. Mary Slater, J. (Sedgefield)
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) MacColl, J. E. Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Fernyhough, E. MacDermot, Niall Sparks, J. A.
Spriggs, Leslie Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn Winterbottom, Richard
Steele, T. Usborne, H. C. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Storehouse, John Wade, D, W, Woof, R. E.
Stones, W. (Consett) Weitzman, D. Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Symonds, J. B. Wheeldon, W. E. Zilliacus, K.
Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield) White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.) Willey, Frederick TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Thomson, George (Dundee, E.) Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.) Mr. Wilkins and Mr. Simmons.
Thornton, E. Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Agnew, Sir Peter Glyn, Col. Richard H. Nugent, Richard
Aitken, W. T. Goodhart, Philip O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)
Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Gower, H. R, Orr-Ewing, C. Ian (Hendon, N.)
Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William Graham, Sir Fergus Osborne, C.
Arbuthnot, John Green, A. Page, R. G.
Armstrong, C. W. Gresham Cooke, R. Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)
Atkins, H. E. Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. Partridge, E.
Baldwin, Sir Archer Gurden, Harold Peel, W. J.
Barter, John Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth
Batsford, Brian Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Pilkington, Capt. R. A.
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Pitman, I. J.
Bidgood, J. C. Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G. Pitt, Miss E. M.
Biggs-Davison, J. A. Henderson-Stewart, Sir James Pott, H. P.
Bingham, R. M. Hesketh, R. F. Powell, J. Enoch
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Hill, John (S. Norfolk) Price, David (Eastleigh)
Bishop, F. P. Hirst, Geoffrey Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho
Black, Sir Cyril Hobson, John (Warwick & Leam'gt'n) Ramsden, J. E.
Body, R. F. Holland-Martin, C. J. Rawlinson, Peter
Boyle, Sir Edward Hornby, R. P. Redmayne, M.
Brewis, John Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Ridsdale, J. E.
Brooman-White, R. C. Horobin, Sir Ian Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)
Bryan, P. Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire) Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)
Burden, F- F. A. Howard, John (Test) Roper, Sir, Harold
Cary, Sir Robert Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. Russell, R. S.
Conant, Maj. Sir Roger Hughes-Young, M. H. C. Shepherd, William
Cooke, Robert Hutchison, Michael Clark (E'b'gh, s.) Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)
Cooper-Key, E. M. Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Iremonger, T. L. Stevens, Geoffrey
Corfield, F. V. Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
Courtney, Cdr- Anthony Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Kaberry, D. Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Kerby, Capt. H. B. Storey, S.
Cunningham, Knox Kimball, M. Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)
Currie, G. B. H. Langford-Holt, J. A. Summers, Sir Spencer
Dance, J. C. C. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Davidson, Viscountess Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)
D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Teeling, W.
Deedes, w. F. Lindsay, Martin (Solihull) Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
de Ferranti, Basil Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.)
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Longden, Gilbert Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Loveys, Walter H. Tweedsmuir, Lady
Doughty, C. J. A. Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby Vickers, Miss Joan
Drayson, G. B. Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.
du Cann, E. D. L. Macdonald, Sir Peter Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Duncan, Sir James McMaster, Stanley Wall, Patrick
Elliott, R. W. (Ne'castle upon Tyne. N.) Maddan, Martin Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)
Errington, Sir Eric Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R. Webster, David
Erroll, F. J. Markham, Major Sir Frank Williams, Paul (Sunderand, S.)
Finlay, Graeme Marlowe, A. A. H. Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Fisher, Nigel Marples, Rt. Hon. A. E. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Fletcher-Cooke, C. Mawby, R. L. Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Forrest, G. Medlicott, Sir Frank Woollam, John Victor
Freeth, Denzil Nabarro, G. D. N. Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Gammans, Lady Nairn, D. L. S.
George, J. C. (Pollok) Nicholson, Sir Godfrey (Farnham) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Gibson-Watt, D. Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch) Mr. Chichester-Clark and
Glover, D. Noble, Michael (Argyll) Mr. Whitelaw.