§ The earnings of clergymen and ministers of religion, of all denominations, so far as derived from the voluntary offerings of their congregations in the immediately preceding year, shall, to the extent of one hundred pounds in each case, be disregarded as income for the purposes of any of the Income Tax Acts for any future year of assessment—[Mr. Hendry.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.476
§ Mr. Forbes Hendry (Aberdeenshire, West)
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
I do not propose to detain the House long, because in Committee this proposal, in a slightly different form, was debated at some length. You will recognise, Sir, that it is a lineal descendant of a new Clause about Easter offerings which stood on the Notice Paper, in Committee, in the name of my hon. and 477 gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach). I have made certain amendments to the proposal since it was considered in Committee.
I do not propose to go into all the arguments which I adduced in Committee, because, although my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not present throughout the debate, he is a man of such honour that he will have read all the arguments which were put forward, and I think that most hon. Members who are here now were present then. It is, however, necessary, to examine for a moment the reasons why my right hon. Friend's predecessors have not found themselves able to agree to an attempt to keep the hand of the tax collector out of the sacrificial offerings of churchmen of all denominations.
There is a great deal of disgust up and down the country and, I venture to say, on both sides of the House that these sacrificial offerings should be tampered with for the sordid purpose of running the country when they are given for purely spiritual purposes which are on a higher plane and which we in this House have a duty to regard.
In the past, proposals of this sort have been supported by the leaders of both sides, including my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. It is for that reason that, once again, I should like to go over the objections which have been made to proposals of this sort in an effort to try to ease the burden of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in dealing with my present proposal. I have tried to do that 'before. I have tried to explain why we are justified in departing from the usual principle of taxation—that there should be no discrimination between persons. I have tried to point out, and the Chancellor has agreed, that there is a unique difference between the clergy, of whatever denomination it may be, and all other people in this country. They are men of vocation. They are called to their spiritual work, not for any purpose of gain, but because they have a direct call from above.
The voluntary offerings of the people are, to a very large degree, sacrificial offerings. They are offered to God for the spiritual guidance and spiritual comfort given to them by the clergy. They are tokens of spiritual gratitude and are 478 not to be confused in any way, as has so often been done in the House, with tips to servants and others for personal services. In Committee, on 22nd June, the Chancellor said that he did notin any way place those kind of offerings on the same level as voluntary offerings to the clergy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd June. 1960; Vol. 625, c. 586.]By "those kind of offerings" he meant tips and gratuities of that sort. We have discriminated in favour of a unique body which cannot be confused in anybody's mind with any other body of men in this country. The Chancellor conceded that there was a very great difference in that case.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) put forward a very valid objection. He has a very logical mind. He said that this proposal would create a precedent and that it was illogical and contrary to all the orthodox principles of taxation to make a departure in this way. I suggest that this is a case where we should not be logical. The spiritual experiences which we all have from time to time are not logical things. They are matters of faith. They are very deep feelings which we experience. We cannot possibly measure these things in terms of pure logic. I suggest, with the greatest seriousness, that this is a case where we may disregard logic and the ordinary precepts and principles of taxation. This is a case where we ought to make a concession in very special circumstances.
The other objection which has been adduced in the past to a proposal of this kind is that it discriminates in favour of certain denominations. That was the case in the past, and it was so in the case of the proposed Clause in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham, which sought to exempt Easter offerings, because it discriminated in favour of one particular religious denomination. But my proposed Clause embraces all denominations—Christian and otherwise—in this country. Every proper religious denomination stands to benefit from it.
I suggest that I have got over one of the very grave objections to Clauses of this sort in the past. Since this subject was discussed in Committee I have given it further study and thought in the light of what was said then. The first real 479 objection which was raised in Committee was that there would be unfairness between one type of clergyman and another. Certain clergymen of different denominations derive their full stipend income from the voluntary offerings of their people whereas in other Churches, notably in the Church of England and the Established Church of Scotland, the income of certain of the clergy, at any rate, is derived from tithes in the case of England and teinds in the case of Scotland.
There would be a discrimination against a clergyman of the Established Church who receives a larger proportion of his income from other sources compared with the proportion represented by the voluntary offerings of his people. He would be in an unfortunate position compared with a Nonconformist minister whose stipend income came entirely from the voluntary offerings of his people. For that reason, I gave thought to this matter and I have further amended my Clause since the Committee stage by limiting the amount to £100 in each case.
If my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer should think that my paltry figure of£100 is still too high, I am prepared, with the permission of the House, to suggest that he might accept a smaller figure—say£50. I think that many hon. Members would be prepared to accept such a figure so long as we could get the principle accepted.
§ Mr. Chapman
Could the hon. Gentleman say why he chose a figure of £100? Would that not cover every case, anyway?
§ Mr. Hendry
One reason for choosing a figure of £100 is that in many cases there might be a far greater sum than £100 involved. In Committee, one hon. Member referred to Nonconformist ministers and others, without endowments, receiving as much as £800 a year. It was considered that to exempt an income of £800 a year completely from taxation could not be justified. For that reason, I took the modest figure of £100. It was to some extent a purely arbitrary figure and, as I say, if my right hon. Friend thinks that it is too high, it is for him to say so and it might well be that the House would agree to a lower figure than that.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
Why does the hon. Gentleman propose a limit at all? If this is spiritual money and not secular money, why is there any limit?
§ Mr. Hendry
The reason is twofold. The first reason is that I am trying to establish a principle. After all, this matter has been argued in this House for upwards of forty years. Various Chancellors of the Exchequer have agreed that something ought to be done along these lines, but so far every Chancellor has failed to find a means of doing it. We hope that the present Chancellor, or one of his successors, will find a way of producing fairness in these matters. I would remind the House that in 1957 the then Chancellor of the Exchequer promised that he would look into this matter.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
Surely the hon. Gentleman has got this matter rather muddled. We have had this debate year after year for a good many years, and up till now, so far as my memory serves me, all that has been asked for in this connection is that Easter offerings should be exempted. The hon. Gentleman is going very much further than that, and, if I may say so, is becoming quite illogical.
§ Mr. Hendry
I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have listened more carefully to what I said.
The proposal relating to Easter offerings was quite unacceptable to many hon. Members because it related only to the Anglican community. So far as I understand, no other denomination in this country has an Easter offering. It was a discriminatory proposal. Various hon. Members of all religious denominations, including Jews and Noncomformists, all supported the proposal in principle, but a great many found difficulty in accepting it in that form because it was discriminatory, and the Churches of which they were members did not stand to benefit. So I have for that reason—logically, in my opinion—widened my Clause to include all denominations, Christian and otherwise, in this country.
I come to the next objection about which I have thought since the subject was discussed in Committee. It is this. I understand that certain Noncomformist denominations in this country do not pay 481 their clergy directly out of the offerings of their people. What happens in a number of cases, including, I understand, the Church of Ireland, is that a large part of the congregational income, whether from Christian liberality or from the freewill offerings of the people, is sent to a central fund and is disbursed from that fund. That obviously produces a procedural difficulty, but if we can establish as a matter of principle that a small sum, such as £100, or even £50, is permissible for exemption, then it should not be beyond the wit of these Noncomformists and other denominations to retain a small part of the voluntary offerings of the people for this purpose and hand over that small part to their parsons or ministers as part of their voluntary offering. I have tried very hard to meet the cases of all denominations so far as they have come to my notice.
Another objection was raised in Committee, and it was a very sincere objection. It was raised in a very moving speech by the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond). He said that there was another side to this matter and pointed out that a clergyman, possibly a very poor one—in his case, I think, a rabbi, although it does not matter whether it is a rabbi, a priest, or a minister—might feel that he should not accept a benefit that was not available to the ordinary run of mankind, and that he was being given some sort of privilege because of his spiritual position.
I was very impressed by that argument and gave it a lot of thought. I think that I have got an answer to it, and it is very much tied up with the question which I have already been asked, namely, why I decided upon a figure of £100. We who know the Churches and the clergy are well aware that a clergyman has a tremendous amount of outgoing which he cannot claim as an expense for Income Tax purposes. There is a lot of secret benevolence from the clergy in this country. We all know how poor Mrs. So-and-So was helped by the minister, or the priest. It happens every year. We do not ask these reverend gentlemen to keep an account of the few shillings spent on this or that object.
During the Finance Bill debates, we have spoken at great length about expense allowances given to businessmen 482 and others. Everyone knows that expenses legitimately incurred in earning an income, no matter whose income it may be, are admissible as a deduction for Income Tax, but we surely do not wish to ask these reverend gentlemen to note down in a little book every few shillings they spend on benevolence to Mrs. So-and-So, every bus fare, or the price of every sheet of notepaper that they have to buy. We all know that every clergyman of whatever denomination has expenses of that sort. I should be surprised if the figure of £100 is not related fairly exactly to those expenses which are incurred.
It has been announced that my right hon. Friend is about to retire. He has been a great Chancellor, as I think most of us will agree. I appeal to him to show his greatness in this case. I ask him to take the bull by the horns, admit the principle, and do something for the clergy. The cost would be negligible. It would make no inroads into the country's Budget. In 1957, my predecessor in my constituency put a Question to the then Chancellor of the Exchequer. The reply from the Financial Secretary at that time is reported in HANSARD, Vol. 568, c. 1294, to the effect that the cost of relieving the whole of the stipend income of the clergy from Income Tax would be about £1 million a year.
I am not asking for relief in respect of the whole of the stipend income of the clergy. I am asking only for an infinitesimal part, perhaps one-eighth, or something like that. We are left with a figure of a little over £100,000. Surely, £100,000 or a little more is a small sum to make the people of this great nation the protagonists of God. I appeal to my right hon. Friend to use this opportunity, which may be the last opportunity he has, not to make a vague promise that his successors will do something about it but to bring to reality that part of our daily prayers said in the House when we ask that the result of our councils should be to the glory of God and the maintenance of true religion.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
I support the new Clause the Second Reading of which the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West, (Mr. Hendry) has so movingly and persuasively proposed. The wicked old priests of the Old Testament used to dig a 483 fork into the offerings which the congregations made and everything that stuck to the fork belonged to the clergy and the rest went to God.
For over sixty years now, the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer between them have been acting like Hophni and Phinehas, in the Old Testament. They have been sticking their fork into the offerings which congregations make out of their affection for good clergy and anything that stuck to the fork has belonged to the Treasury. They seem to have acted on the religious belief that congregations should render unto Caesar not only the things which are Caesar's, but a percentage of what belongs to the clergy in question.
I hope that we shall at last make a decision on this question in our debate this evening. All the arguments were advanced in the very long and serious debate we had in Committee, and I believe that the Chancellor offered no effective reply to the plea which hon. Members on both sides made. There may be technical difficulties in separating what both sides have in mind in the various Clauses which have been put down on different occasions, that is to say, the stipend of the clergy, or the living of the clergy, from the voluntary offerings which people make in addition to the regular salary which is paid to a clergyman in any denomination.
Nevertheless, the House has declared over and over again in past years that the Treasury ought to forgo its part of such extra voluntary gifts. I believe that, if the Treasury will accept the principle lying behind the new Clause, it will have the technical skill to separate by a formula which it can devise the stipend of the clergyman from the extra voluntary gifts which a congregation makes.
In most of the requests which have been made to the Chancellor in Committee and during the Report stage of the Bill, important matters of finance have been involved. I can understand the Chancellor's standing by his Budget and his Finance Bill as a whole, but he can concede this without jeopardising in any way their main principles. The sum involved is very small. Neither the right hon. Gentleman nor, I believe, any Chancellor of the Exchequer would have the right to demand, to put it like that, the 484 loyal party support of his usual supporters in a matter of this kind.
I hope that we can persuade the right hon. Gentleman. If not, I hope that the House will register its own decision on this matter, since the Finance Bill itself is not in question. The total cost can be no more than between £500,000 and £1 million. It can mean very little indeed to the Chancellor, and it will add nothing to the inflationary spiral. It can, on the other hand, mean quite a lot to the poor clergymen whose fortunes we are discussing.
I must add that, if we speak as I hope we shall in this debate and, if need be. we vote as I believe we ought to do, we should, as Christians, make up our minds to tackle the problem which really lies behind this matter, namely, the inadequate pay of the clergy. Anyone who speaks in the debate or votes at the end of it in favour of asking the Chancellor to do something for the clergy but refuses himself to do something outside in the Church to which he belongs will, indeed, be a hypocrite.
§ Mr. Arthur Tiley (Bradford, West)
The hon. Gentleman has raised a very important point. Will he look at it in this way? In the light of his last few sentences, would it not be better for the House to send a message from this debate that we should pay our priests, our vicars, our curates, whoever they may be, properly? That is not a matter for us as politicians, or for my right hon. Friend. The message should be that throughout the whole Church our priests should be paid properly. I say that to the hon. Gentleman because he is making a very impassioned and sincere plea, but there is that other side to the argument. If we indulge in this method of legislating, we may tend to take responsibility from ourselves in the congregations.
§ Dr. King
I did not interrupt the hon. Gentleman in his intervention, because I thoroughly agree with its purport. I hope that, as a result of this and previous debates that we have had, the sentiments that he has expressed will reach outside this House.
But that does not absolve us from solving the problem which we have discussed as a matter of principle year after year. The gifts which congregations make out of their love and affection for 485 their clergymen ought to go to the clergymen and no portion of them ought to go to the Treasury. The people who make those gifts "cough up" in the ordinary way, as taxpayers, on every conceivable occasion with good grace, but this is not, in their opinion, an occasion when part of what they wish to give to the clergy should be diverted to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I add my plea to that expressed by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West, and I ask the Chancellor to make the concession. Let him modify the new Clause in any form that he likes. Let us not have people saying that they will not support it either because it goes too far or because it does not go far enough. If he would concede the principle, and this is why we have already mentioned in this new Clause the limiting sum of £100, then we shall be carrying out what I believe is a right and proper thing, and something about which the House has expressed its opinion over and over again since the war.
§ 5 0 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)
Briefly, I should like to support the new Clause, and, at the outset, to endorse what the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) has just said. It is perfectly true, and if the debate will do nothing else it will underline the fact that all of us in all our Churches get our spiritual leadership much too cheaply. I could put that in bolder and more definite terms, but I will not do so. This debate may, for some of us here and many people outside, underline in our consciences the fact that we do not pay enough for this service, above all services, which we want to have in our lives.
Another point is that we should realise—and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will say this, and I agree with him before he says it—that this will need some sorting out in order to make some kind of equitable arrangement. I hope he will be able to do it, because if we do not go about it properly we might, in trying to solve one problem, create a considerable number of others and be in a much worse state. Nevertheless, the fact remains that something can be done about this. I refuse to believe that it is beyond the wit of the House or people outside to devise 486 some kind of system to help those whom we most want to help.
Logic has been talked about. I do not believe that this is so illogical as it has been made out to be, because we already do many illogical things, illogical in the sense that they are coloured by human compassion, in our Income Tax legislation. We have marginal relief for old people, various other kinds of reliefs for dependants and people looking after members of their families, as well as other kinds of concessions where we believe there is a human need. Neither in past Finance Bills nor in the present one, nor I trust ever in the future, have we been, or are we being or shall we be, always logical in our tax concessions. In this, above all, I think that if we cannot afford to be a little illogical, then it is a sad day for our country.
My fourth and last point is that I should be very sorry to see the day in this country or in the House when everything we do is coloured and determined only by logic. Indeed, the House of Commons itself does much of its excellent work on the basis of things which are themselves very illogical. I would go further and say that the whole system of democracy is in many ways illogical itself. We all know that it is not the quickest or the best way, from the point of view of speed and logic, of attaining the government of the nation, but it is the right way—the human way, the way that is fair and equitable to all, if not the most speedy way. That is what we ask for in this new Clause.
We do not plead logic or the streamlined efficiency of the new age. We do not think that all people should necessarily have the same thing at the same time, until we can work it all out. I should be surprised to find anybody in this House pleading for this concession elsewhere just because clergymen would be already getting one. Nobody would go that far. We are not pleading this case solely on the grounds that these people ought to have a bigger payment from those of us who go to church and form the congregations—that is something which we all believe must be left to us, and is not a matter for the House—but in order that those who are our spiritual leaders may enjoy this reasonable, proper, even if illogical, human concession from the Chancellor.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I do not know how many debates on this subject I have heard down the years, but it must be lengthening out now pretty considerably. Up to now, no Chancellor of the Exchequer, in spite of the fact that most moving speeches have been made year after year from every quarter of the House, has found it possible to accede to a request of this kind. I think that we have to bear that in mind, for it is the fact that Chancellors of the Exchequer have found the reasons for not conceding the request pretty considerable, and they still are.
I think they are more formidable now on this new Clause than they were on those we have had previously. Previously, the Chancellor has been asked to exempt Easter offerings, and there was a good deal to be said for that on sentimental grounds. It was a voluntary offering for services rendered by the spiritual head of a particular church to which certain people went, and it was felt, and I think is still felt, by a lot of people that it should not be considered as normal income. The test here which any Chancellor has to take into account is not whether the offering—the amount received—is the same each year, but whether it is recurring. If it happens every year, it is part of the individual minister's income, and that, I believe, is one of the tests, if not the acid test, which any Chancellor has to bring to bear when considering this matter.
If I read this new Clause aright, obviously the allowance is to be made for £100 every year, and, therefore, the assumption is that these offerings will be made year after year and will in time, if not from the very beginning, be looked upon as part of the permanent income of the clergyman or minister, and that is the difficulty which the Chancellor has to get over. Income is income, no matter who gets it, and a clergyman in this direction is in no different position from the rest of us.
There are other arguments, if I may use them, apart from this one, which I think are very much to the point. I doubt if some of the poorest clergymen or ministers would benefit from this new Clause. Their ordinary income is subject to tax and an extra £100 of allowances would probably not mean very much, if anything, to them, because some of them would not pay much tax, 488 anyway. If I understand correctly the intentions of the hon. Gentleman who moved the new Clause, what he wants to do is to help the poorer ministers and clergymen, and I am not sure that this is the way to do it. The right way is for those of us who go to church and chapel to look after our clergymen and ministers and see that they receive enough to keep themselves and their families and yet allow them to make those charitable contributions to the poorer parishioners or members of their churches who are in need.
At the other end of the scale, ministers or clergymen who have a living which is endowed would not, I assume, get any help from this allowance, because they would not be living, in any sense or shape, on voluntary contributions. Therefore, it will not be universal. The new Clause will not even help those whom the hon. Gentleman who moved it wants to help. It will be something which some ministers would get and many would not, and that is not the way to help them.
§ Dr. King
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. He has said that some clergymen would not get any benefit from this if their main income were derived from a living, but if a voluntary gift were made to such a clergyman on top of his living, he would benefit, surely, from the new Clause?
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
No. If it were one that occurred year after year—and, as I understand it, and someone will correct me if I am wrong, the only time when they get voluntary offerings of that kind is at Easter—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—I think there is a case for exempting Easter offerings, but I may be wrong about that and do not want to say any more. For the reasons I have given, and for others which I might give but which doubtless others will give, I hope the Chancellor will resist this new Clause.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Derick Heathcoat Amory)
I think we all know the depth of the feelings with which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) introduced his new Clause. We all respect those feelings.
In Committee on the Bill, in the discussion on the new Clause tabled then by my hon. Friend, I promised that I 489 would examine the tax position of the clergy between the Committee and Report stages to see whether there was anything that could be done on their behalf. I have in fact given quite an amount of thought to this subject in the last week or two. It would have been quite inexcusable on my part if I had not done so.
I think we shall all agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Tiley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire. South (Mr. Cole) and by the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) expressing the consciousness of us all that the main trouble here is that the remuneration of our clergy is very low. I am sure that there must be a number of other hon. Members who, as a result of this debate today, feel as I do: I have made up my mind that I will try to carry my responsibilities a little more seriously in this respect as a humble member of the Church of England than I have done hitherto. I do not know whether any others feel as I do, but there is no question about it that the more one thinks about these things and the more one is brought up against these facts the more one is conscious that one does not always get one's priority tight in deciding where help is required.
The question of exempting in whole or in part that part of a clergyman's remuneration which is represented by voluntary offerings, as has been mentioned, has been considered by a long succession of Chancellors over nearly fifty years; not only the question of Easter offerings, but of all voluntary offerings also; and, as has been said, the obstacles have always seemed insuperable to them. The greatest obstacle always has been considered to be the difficulty of discriminating in a manner which is contrary to the general principles of our tax law in favour of the income of one particular calling, however worthy, as against other forms of service to the community. Whatever decision we finally reach in this matter, we must face the fact that to do so, I think, would be to establish a new and far-reaching precedent in our tax law. As I said the other day when speaking in Committee, that is my view. I acknowledged also that that in itself was not entirely conclusive.
490 The argument that the receipt of offerings by an incumbent for services rendered is not a form of remuneration is, I think, hard to sustain in the light of the facts. Nor does the voluntary nature of the offerings offer any unique basis for special treatment, unfortunately. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton. South-West (Mr. Powell) put that difficulty very cogently in Committee.
Then there is the difficulty, of course, as I think my hon. Friend recognised in his speech, of ensuring equitable treatment between ministers of different denominations and even between ministers of the same denomination, because according to the best information I have been able to get, I believe that direct voluntary offerings by congregations to the clergy would probably apply to about half of the ministers of religion in this country; and even within this field relief from tax for offerings would operate unequally as between two clergymen both doing equally good work and getting the same total income, one of whom happened to be in a benefice which depended almost exclusively on endowments, the other in a benefice where voluntary contributions played a very large part indeed.
One question which we have to consider is whether it would be fair to tax the recipient according to the source of his income, because the new Clause, of course, would be confined to voluntary offerings made direct to a clergyman by his own congregation, and, as my hon. Friend implied, outside the Church of England there is a wide variety of systems, and many Churches aim at a central pooling of resources from which stipends are subsequently paid out to local ministers. These central funds may be fed, of course, from sources other than the voluntary offerings of members of the Church. Out of these funds there may have to be paid many other expenses besides the stipends—quite necessary expenses of the Church.
In these circumstances, it is quite impossible to say how much of a minister's income comes to him from the offerings of his congregation, and the element of personal relationship, which is so largely relied upon, I think, by those who support the proposal, is of course absent.
491 These denominations might regard it as unreasonable that spasmodic giving by a congregation should attract a tax benefit which was not available to regular, methodical giving to the needs of the Church as a whole. I am sure that that is one problem we have got to consider.
I am bound to say that in these circumstances, like all my predecessors, I find it extraordinarily hard at present to see a way in which voluntary offerings by a congregation to its own clergyman can legitimately be treated as other than income. If they are income, then it is not easy to find grounds on which, with fairness to others who receive a modest level of remuneration for their services to the community, such income can be exempted from the application of the Income Tax. I do believe that in the course of time we should find it extremely hard to confine the exemption solely to clergymen, however hard we were to try. I wish it were otherwise.
However, I do not intend to leave the matter there. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South said, this problem does need some sorting out if we are to find a workable solution, and what I propose to do is to consult again representatives of all the main Churches to seek to find some relief which can be given without unfairness to others, and without too fundamental a breach of the principles of our tax law.
Although from what I have said the difficulties are obvious, I shall include in this examination a study of all the various forms which voluntary offerings take in the different Churches to see whether some grounds may come to light which would justify some degree of special treatment.
We will see whether a practicable way of helping clergymen might be to find some means of relieving the burden of Schedule A tax on parsonage houses as far as that falls on the incumbent. It might be worth investigating. I think it is possible something could be done there. In this respect, Schedule A tax, many clergymen of the Church of England are at present at a disadvantage compared with other ministers whose houses are regarded as in occupation of the Church and, therefore, exempt.
492 I am anxious that clergymen should avail themselves to the full of the tax allowances which are available in regard to expenses necessarily incurred in the performance of their duties. Here again I must adhere to the general principles of the law, but I understand that it is generally accepted that the law is at present interpreted generously in regard to clergymen's expenses, and that every type of expense which a clergyman could reasonably claim to fall within the expenses rule is in fact allowed. There may be a number of ministers who are not aware of the expenses which may be charged against taxable income. I should like to make sure that our present rules do, in fact, cover all appropriate and relevant expenditure and are generously interpreted, and if they are not, if there are any other expenses which could legitimately be brought within their scope, then we will consider what we can do.
The consultations on these matters will be entered into with a real hope of producing some positive result. I hope that in these circumstances my hon. Friend, recognising the difficulties with which I am faced in finding a fair solution and my anxiety to find one, will not press this particular proposal, which, I feel, in the light of our present evidence, really would not do the justice which we are all out to try to find a way of doing.
§ Mr. A. V. Hilton (Norfolk, South-West)
I regret that the Chancellor is unable to accept the Clause, but I am glad that he has not closed the door in our face and that he has promised to consult the various religious denominations on the subject. He said that he hoped that he might be able to find a way whereby help could 'be given to the people whom we have in mind.
I as a Methodist wish briefly to speak in support of the Clause. At the moment the Methodist Church is in conference and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) has just been elected vice-president of that conference. It is the first time that a Member of Parliament has received this honour. I am sure that the Methodist conference will receive what the Chancellor has just said with pleasure—the fact that he has not closed the door on the suggestion.
493 It has been said on a number of occasions during this brief discussion that ministers of religion are not properly paid. That is true. I personally know many ministers, some of the Church of England and some of the Free Churches, who are receiving no more in remuneration than what ordinary labourers are getting. As the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) said, it is true that theirs is not a job but a calling, and everyone in the House, whether he supports the Clause or not, respects the wonderful work that ministers of religion are doing.
Even if the Chancellor were to accept the Clause, ministers of my own Church would be unlikely to benefit from it to the same extent as ministers of some other denominations, but even so, I still think that what the Clause proposes is a move in the right direction, and I only wish that it could have been accepted. Help for the clergy is needed now. The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Tiley) intervened to say that we as members of on. Churches ought to pay our ministers properly. I agree with that, but it is a fact, as we all know, that it is getting more difficult to do so all the time, in view of the unfortunate decline in congregations. We in the Free Churches find it particularly difficult to do so at the present time.
At the Methodist conference to which I have already referred it is suggested that we should pay our ministers more. I know from experience that that is going to be very difficult, but, despite the difficulty, we shall set about it and try to honour our obligation.
§ Mr. Diamond
Will my hon. Friend explain how, if members of a congregation are finding it more and more difficult to put their hands into their own pockets in order to pay their ministers adequately, it can be right that they should put their hands, through the Treasury, into the pockets of their fellow-citizens in order to pay the ministers of their own congregation?
§ Mr. Hilton
I think that my hon. Friend has got it wrong. The money is, in fact, coming from the same pockets, because the people who regularly attend our respective churches and regularly give to collections for their maintenance 494 are the people who on any special occasion dip into their own pockets, and, sometimes, dip a bit deeper.
The point that I am trying to make is that it has always been difficult for the Free Churches in particular, which are self-supporting, to maintain their ministers, and with the unfortunate decline in congregations at the present time, about which many of us are so sorry, it is becoming increasingly difficult.
I intervened in the debate only to say a few words about the Clause and to thank the Chancellor for giving some ray of hope that in the not too distant future he may, to some extent, be able to help the body of people about whom we are speaking and who are doing such very good work for the benefit of the people of this country.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
May I interrupt my hon. Friend to point out that the Chancellor has given much more than a ray of hope? He has indicated that ministers will now be informed that they can claim certain expenses, one of which is for the use of a room with heating and lighting in their own houses. That, in most cases, will come to more than £100.
§ Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)
I think that the speech of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor was encouraging, especially his reference to the advice to be given about the recovery of tax and also about Schedule A. However, I am in sympathy with the Clause and with the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) moved it and the way in which it was so ably supported by the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King).
There seems to be some idea that we cannot alter a principle. Who says that we in the House of Commons cannot alter a principle if we decide to do so? Who is telling us that the House cannot alter tax principles if it so desires? This is a new theory and the sooner it is debunked the better. Anyone who says that the House of Commons cannot—
I do not know whether my hon. Friend is referring to me, but I did not make that statement.
§ Mr. Yates
I was not referring to my right hon. Friend. I would not dream of doing so.
495 This matter was discussed quite a lot in Committee. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor says that certain people receive a special form of income and that we cannot make an exception in their case. We must not make exceptions for special classes of people who receive some special form of income.
What about my disability pension? Do I pay tax on that? Certainly not. That is part of my income. Is that not a special class? What is all this business that ministers of the Church should not be regarded as being in a special category? What are those people who take this view talking about? They run away with the idea that because something is logical or because it is a theory or a practice it should not be varied. We in this House decide what laws we shall pass. I should have thought that on this occasion it might have been wiser to say that the proposal in the Clause was one which my right hon. Friend should commend to his successor.
I do not wish to take up more of the time of the House in going into the matter, but it seems, perhaps, that the people who ought to be setting an example are those in charge of the direction of the affairs of the country. I should have thought that the high Court of Parliament might in its wisdom have decided to try to produce a modified Clause on the lines suggested.
In view, however, of what my right hon. Friend has said and of his suggestion concerning relief of tax, I would suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West that he might consider withdrawing the Clause on that undertaking. I would point out, however, that if an undertaking of the nature which has been given today by my right hon. Friend had not been forthcoming, I for one would certainly have voted for the Clause.
§ Mr. Hendry
In view of what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has said, and the opinions expressed by certain hon. Members associated with me, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.