§ The earnings of clergymen and ministers of religion, of all denominations, so far as derived from the voluntary offerings of their congregations during the immediately preceding year, shall not be regarded 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.
§ Mr. Forbes Hendry (Aberdeenshire, West)
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
The hon. Members who support this Clause represent every shade of religious opinion in the Committee. It may appear presumptuous that I, a new Member, taking part in my first Finance Bill debates, should move the Second Reading of this Clause. It is a rewritten version of a Clause which has been moved very often during the past forty years. I was horrified to hear it described as an hardy annual. As a simple churchman it has always been one of my cherished desires that the Easter offerings and other voluntary gifts from the people to their priest, minister, rabbi, or whoever he may be, should be freed from the incubus of Income Tax. It is a horrible and disgusting thought that the Chancellor should put his hand on the altar and take away the gifts of the people to their priest.
Hon. Members should remind themselves that there is a considerable amount of opinion on this matter in the country and I make no apology for bringing up this question once again. Nor do I make any apology for having rewritten the Clause. I do not presume to have any superior wisdom or powers of draftsmanship. I have rewritten it to help the Chancellor to accept a Clause which has received the support of the leaders of both parties over a long period. According to the record, this Clause, as originally drafted, was supported by the present Prime Minister and by representatives of religious opinion other than Anglican. Originally the Clause was designed for the Anglicans but it has been supported by Jews, Roman Catholics, Nonconformists, 566 members of the Church of England and every type of religious opinion that I could mention.
I tried to discover why the Clause has not been accepted in the past. It seemed to me that a similar new Clause on the Notice Paper—Easter Offerings—in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach) and other hon. Members had the one insuperable objection that it was discriminatory, and that seems to have been the reason why this Clause in its previous form was not accepted. It discriminated in favour of one body of Christians. I have tried to rewrite the Clause so that it will apply to every type of religious thought.
Of course, the proposal is discriminatory in that it relates to one type of person, a unique body of men who have a vocation and who are unmistakable. If we grant this concession to that body of men, as far as I can see there is no fear that any other body of men will claim the same privilege. In past debates parsons have been likened to jockeys and to waiters. There has even been a debate on the difference in tax treatment between the benefits of professional footballers and of professional cricketers.
If we are to discriminate, let us discriminate properly. If we think about it, we can see that there is no possible comparison between a parson and these other people. The parson does not go into his vocation to make money. He is called there. No one in his proper mind would think of the Church as a way of making money. We all know that in our religious feeling we are quite different from any other feeling. Whether we call the parson a rabbi, a priest, a minister or a pastor, we have great respect for him. We regard Church affairs quite differently from ordinary, mundane affairs. We cannot mistake our parson for anyone else, and if we grant this concession to parsons we shall be doing something which they deserve and which is unlikely to be taken advantage of by any other section of the community. Of course we are discriminating—but it is in favour of people who require our discrimination.
I have also discriminated in the type of earning which I ask the Chancellor to exempt from Income Tax. If a parson 567 is in a church which is heavily endowed, it seems to me that the endowment should not count for exemption. I am trying to obtain an advantage for the voluntary offerings to churches by the people of their congregation, which is entirely different from an endowment. I am in no way seeking to exempt the parson's private income. If he is a wealthy man with a private income, he can pay his tax in the same way as anybody else does. I am asking the Committee to accept the Clause in respect of the voluntary offerings of the congregation. If the parson has a salary—for example, an Army chaplain—then, of course, his payment for that job should not be taken into account when we are deciding which sums to exempt from tax.
The Army chaplain is a professional man who is paid by the Government in conformity with his professional status—and very properly so. But the ordinary parish priest or Roman Catholic priest or Jewish rabbi or Baptist or Methodist minister spends years of his life in a most expensive education, an arduous education, imposes upon himself a discipline and an austerity which nobody else would accept and at the end of it receives what can be compared with a labourer's wage. It may be argued, if he is a wealthy man, that he does not need this concession, but I have yet to meet the parson who cannot find an extremely good use for this money. It is given to him in gratitude for what he has done and will do, and if he himself does not require it, then, if he is doing his job properly, he will use the money where it will do the most good. I am sure that the majority of parsons would do that.
I turn to the question of denomination. There has been an objection to this proposal in the past, but this new Clause has received the support of practically every religious denomination. I have received every encouragement from almost every hon. Member to whom I have spoken on this subject—a great many of them—and discouragement from very few. Every religious denomination should be included in these provisions. We must remember that in the old days there was an Established Church which covered the great bulk of the inhabitants of this country—England 568 or Scotland—but that is no longer the case. The Clause should therefore apply to all denominations.
Over thirty members of the House of Commons support the Clause. They have signed their names to it. Many of them are not here, because they have forgotten it. Many of them in their day-to-day life forget about the Church, but when disaster comes the Church is there. It will be waiting for us, and it is up to us as members of the House of Commons to support our Church, whatever it may be.
Since most ancient history there has been a subvention from the State to the Church. We read about it in the Old Testament. It has been going on continuously. From time to time it has been abused, but the principle has always been there. I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that in changed conditions the most equitable way of supporting the different denominations into which we are unfortunately split at the moment is a subvention of this sort by way of relief of Income Tax for the person.
Every day the House of Commons meets for Prayers. Sometimes they are very sparsely attended, but we are there. On great days they are very well attended. In case there are any hon. Members present who have not attended Prayers for some time, I remind them that one clause in the prayer for Parliament is that the result of our councils should be to the glory of God and the maintenance of true religion.
Tonight the Committee has the opportunity of putting into practical effect the prayer which is said in the House every day. The amount involved is negligible. I do not ask my right hon. Friend to make any great inroads into the amount he raises in taxation. It will make no difference which we can count to any individual, but it will make a very great difference to the clergy, who look after our spiritual interests.
I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be bold. The wording of my Clause may not be acceptable. It may be too wide. My right hon. Friend has legal advice which is not available to me. If my right hon. Friend gives an undertaking to look at this, I am prepared to 569 withdraw the Clause, with the permission of my backers I should like my right hon. Friend to promise me that he will consider it between now and Report, and not do what was done in 1957 when this was last debated. It was allowed to be forgotten altogether. There was a change of Chancellor, and between 1957 and 1960 nothing has been done.
I ask my right hon. Friend to consider this Clause, and his advisers can tell him if it is too wide. If it is too wide, it is not beyond their capabilities to put it right. If my right hon. Friend does that, I ask him to give an undertaking to bring it back on Report, to be bold, and to do something to bring into practical effect the prayer which is said in the. House of Commons every day.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) has moved the Clause in a very able manner. He was right to make no apology for bringing up this subject yet again. If any apology is due to the Committee, it is from a long line of Chancellors of the Exchequer who, in spite of demands from all quarters of the Chamber, have resisted this appeal, which has been made year after year, as though they were Shylocks and as though their guiding principle was, "I hate everybody who is a Christian".
I remind the Committee that Easter offerings, which are the subject of the new Clause in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach), were exempt from taxation for a very long time until a series of rulings were made in the courts that they should be subject to taxation. Since then the House of Commons has been trying to get them back to the state in which they were before the legal rulings were given.
It is worth pointing out that the clergy of very denomination are underpaid. Never since the time of Chaucer's Poor Parson have they been doing such excellent work for so little money. There never was an age of such crude materialism as at the present time. I pay tribute to the work of the clergy, who in Christianity, like the teacher in education, are fighting against the growing spread of materialism. It is my privilege to meet many young clergy, and, despite 570 the poor pay, we are recruiting at present a fine body of young virile professional Christians.
Year after year we have advocated the simple principle that the money of which we are talking—the free gift from the congregation to its clergymen—has already had tax paid on it by the givers; that we do not tax Christmas boxes; that if a present is made to a man on retirement, the Revenue does not take a piece out of it; that we do not tax birthday presents, and that people who give freely, out of affection, out of love, out of faith, do not want part of their gift to go to the Government. Like all other human beings, the Christians in the community have no love or affection for the Treasury, and resent very much, if they make a gift purely out of good will to someone who is serving them well, that the Treasury should insist on taking some part of it.
There are ways of evading this. Givers could make their gifts in all kinds of surreptitious forms, but the very nature of the clergyman himself and of the Christians who make the gifts make it extremely unlikely that they would seek methods of evading the levy which the Chancellor insists on making on what the old Christians would have called "love gifts".
This subject has been debated year after year, and the hon. Gentleman was right in calling attention to the debate of 1957, which ended in an orgy of good will as the then Chancellor, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft), promised to look into the matter. He then promised to see…whether…it is possible to give effect to the desire to assist and encourage ministers of religion and the churches generally."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st July, 1957; Vol. 572, c. 844.]What has been done since then? As far as I am aware, nothing has been done to meet the unanimous wish expressed from both sides in that debate, as in previous debates. On earlier occasions we spoke of the Easter offerings, and I am very happy that as a result of the 1957 debate we have widened the term, because not every denomination makes gifts of this kind at Eastertide. The mover of the new Clause was therefore right to point out that it seeks to benefit all ministers of all religions, and that the 571 general principle behind it is that voluntary gifts ought to go in their entirety to those to whom they are made. I hope that the Committee will not let the Financial Secretary go away tonight until he has conceded what we have demanded for so long.
§ Sir Colin Thornton-Kemsley (North Angus and Mearns)
One evidence, if, indeed, evidence is needed, that this new Clause commands universal support in the House is the very large attendance in the Committee at this late hour. I support the new Clause very warmly because, as drafted by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry)—whose sincerity I am sure we all admire and respect—it extends to all denominations, and has no limits as regards when the gifts are given.
In the church that I attend when I am in the South at weekends, the custom is to give a Whitsun-day offertory to the assistant clergy, and the hon. Member for Southampton, lichen (Dr. King) has already spoken of the Easter offering. This new Clause has no such limitation. It is for all denominations and for gifts and free-will offerings given at all times of the year.
One of the troubles about the present arrangement is that it gives rise to abuses. Most of us know of cases where people have slipped a "fiver" in an envelope and have passed it to the parson at some other time of the year, or have put it through his letter box. It is not right that a law of this kind should give rise to means of evasion, and it is not very nice for the recipients of these gifts to get them in that way, since by nature of their calling they are particularly scrupulous about these things. I can well imagine that gifts received in that way may cause them to wonder what action they ought to take.
As has been said by other speakers, we are dealing with a class of person who are on a very low standard of income. That applies to nearly all the denominations. Not one of us in this Committee can be proud of the way that we pay our ministers of religion. They receive a very low income. When members of a congregation—often, as one knows, at personal sacrifice—give generously to the 572 free-will offerings for the incumbent of a parish, our plea is that no part of that gift ought to be taken by the Treasury.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I wish to make an appeal to the Financial Secretary, because I feel that an injustice is being done to a body of men who are not following a calling solely on the basis of securing money. If the clergy were in this profession, whatever the religious denomination, solely on the basis of what they receive in salary, there would be very few clergy indeed in the country.
It is not strictly true to liken these voluntary offerings to the gratuities that are paid in certain crafts and trades. There can be no likening of the voluntary offering that I make to my clergyman to the type of tip that I may give to a waiter when I am at an hotel. These offerings are made not because a service has been rendered to us but because of the recognition that the remuneration that the clergyman gets is so limited. Indeed, we ought to be ashamed of the way that we treat the clergy.
Whilst I do not want to depart from the sweet reasonableness that has been shown in the debate on this Clause, I do not think there would be any political significance in any vote on this issue. I think there comes a time—and this issue has been debated so often—when one can no longer merely plead in cases of injustice of this kind; and there would be no political significance if those of us who are in favour of the Clause went into the Division Lobby together, in the event of there being no concession from the Government Front Bench.
§ 11.15 p.m.
Major W. Hicks Beach (Cheltenham)
I understand that the new Clause—Easter Offerings—standing in my name, which deals with a similar subject, can be debated with this new Clause which was submitted in such moving terms by my hon. Friend, the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry).
This is a completely non-party matter which has been debated for a great number of years when we have been foisted off by various arguments by various Chancellors of the Exchequer of all parties. We have been told that if this concession were given it would open the doors to abuses. They say that this 573 Clause is an old chestnut, but that argument is a very old chestnut from the Treasury, too.
I am sorry we have not got the Chancellor of the Exchequer here because that might have meant we were to get a concession. If it is beyond the wit of the Treasury—
§ Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has just made the point that the Chancellor is not here. I do not want to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again," in order to get him here, but it would be a good thing for someone to go out and bring him in. We are debating an issue on which pretty clear undertakings were given three years ago, which have not been carried out. It seems a little unfair that the Financial Secretary should have to carry the burden of a fairly united Committee on this matter. The Chancellor should be here to hear the hon. and gallant Gentleman who is speaking and other hon. Members.
Major Hicks Beach
He can read it in HANSARD tomorrow. As I was saying, this is an old chestnut and a very good chestnut. A very genuine case has been put forward by all parties for a long time. In 1957 we had an interesting debate on the subject and certain undertakings were given, it is true. I hope very much that we shall have a satisfactory reply from the Financial Secretary.
It is really quite absurd for the Treasury to say that it is beyond the wit of their draftsmen to produce a Clause that could satisfy any inspector of taxes and the Inland Revenue. If it is beyond the wit of the Treasury draftsmen I will offer my services. The whole proceedings on the Finance Bill have convinced me of one thing—that the time has came when we have got to employ private enterprise to draft these Finance Bills.
We really must get down to this small concession to a very hard-pressed class of people. I hope that we shall not get a non-committal reply. If we do get a non-committal reply which does not promise us something in the next 574 Finance Bill I say straight away that I shall certainly divide the Committee on this subject.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
I was very interested indeed in the remarks of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach) until he came to his penultimate sentence in which he said that he hoped something would be done, not today but in terms of tomorrow. I hope he did not mean that. I hope that the Chancellor, if his heart was hardened before, will now, having been told what was said prior to his entry, soften a little and tell us what he can do about this new Clause.
This is the kind of Clause that commends itself not only to the denominations in the Christian Church but to other religious bodies in the country, including that to which I have the honour to belong.
I had the privilege of working in my early university days in Cardiff with many students who were men of the greatest sincerity who could easily have obtained high distinction in other professions. I am speaking not particularly about Jewish people but in the main about Nonconformists. Many of them came from the pits. They could have reached high positions in other professions but they were content to use the gifts with which they had been endowed to help their fellow men and women to a better spiritual understanding of life. They went out at weekends for a few meagre shillings to bring the message home in the chapels and churches of South Wales. I have the greatest admiration for men of that description, as I have of similar men in my own religious body.
I am sure that the Chancellor will appreciate that these men could have obtained far higher stipends than they receive in the churches and synagogues. and I cannot understand why this should not be taken into consideration. These are voluntary gifts made by members of congregations who realise the manner in which these men devote their lives to the service of their fellow men. These gifts are very different from gifts which are sometimes made in other circumstances. They are not gifts made to people who could well afford to keep their status and position without them.
575 If something in the nature of a seven-year covenant were made by the donor, there would be a remission of tax and the donor could give twice the amount that otherwise he would have donated. It is not very dignified for a man to have to make a deed of covenant by way of a charitable gift to a clergyman, nevertheless he could do so if he wished, though it might not be acceptable to the clergyman concerned. If a simple device of that kind were used, the gift could be made without the Treasury having the benefit in the long run.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
Lest anyone should feel that this is a way round which would make it unnecessary for the Chancellor to accept the Clause, I hope that my hon. Friend will recognise that receipts from such transactions are themselves taxable in the hands of the recipient.
§ Mr. Janner
I appreciate that. I am not suggesting for a moment that that device should be used. But that is not quite the answer, because the gift now given is given without tax relief of any kind. The individual could give twice as much, therefore, if he made a deed of covenant.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. F. Blackburn)
I hope that the hon. Member will leave that, because he is suggesting an alternative method.
§ Mr. Janner
I agree that it is not in order to discuss that, but I did not want the subject to pass without some indication to the Chancellor that the matter could be dealt with, if a person wanted to deal with it, in that different way.
I appeal to the Chancellor. This is a cause which ought not to be debated in this Committee. I do not think it is fair to the people themselves, about whom we are speaking, that there should be a long debate upon it. I certainly do not think that anyone in this Committee—I hope I am right—would venture to believe that this is not a proper and reasonable request. In these circumstances, I ask the Chancellor, if he has not already made up his mind, to give an indication that he will consider the proposal between now and Report, rather than leave it to another year.
Sir Charles Mott-Radcliffe (Windsor)
I very much hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will not consider this new Clause to be an unimportant one. Even though there may not be a long discussion on it, I hope that he will in no way underestimate the strength of feeling on both sides of the Committee, irrespective of party and irrespective of denomination.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry), who moved the Clause, rightly refused to apologise for the fact that it is a hardy annual, because it is a very good hardy annual. I can remember making a speech here fourteen years ago on exactly the same subject—at 7 o'clock in the morning. Successive Chancellors, from both sides of the Committee, have given lip service in general to the principle of this new Clause, but, when it comes to the point, they have done nothing whatever about it.
Although no specific promise was made in 1957 when this matter was last discussed, there was something like a pretty good undertaking given by the then Chancellor that he would have a look at the position of the clergy in general between then and the next Budget to see in what way he could best help clergymen. It is an undeniable fact that in the Budget of 1958 and in the Budget of 1959 nothing whatever was done about it.
I beg my right hon. Friend not to take this discussion too lightly. There are a number of arguments which could be put. I do not myself say that the right argument is that the clergy are—without any question, I should have thought—probably the most underpaid of almost any section of the community. That is a fact. I do not think anybody can deny it. I am not sure, however, that that is the right argument in the context of the new Clause. I do not think the right argument is that, as a matter of historical fact, for the first sixty years of the life of Income Tax, between 1844 and 1907, Easter offerings in the Church of England were not considered liable to tax at all. I do not myself know why from 1908 onwards what up to then had been a voluntary gift of appreciation to the incumbent, without any question of tax, should subsequently have been regarded as liable to tax.
577 I think the real argument is that the sum, the pounds, shillings and pence, which accrues to the Treasury from these voluntary gifts, made at various times, is infinitesimal compared to what the incumbent would gain if the gifts were free of tax. The real argument is also, if I may say so, in moral and psychological terms as well.
The other argument is that the whole system of taxing the gift to an incumbent, be it on Easter Sunday or any other time of the year, creates anomalies, and everybody knows it. I have been a rector's warden for a very long time and I am the patron of a number of livings. I know quite well how much the Easter offerings amount to. I assure my right hon. Friend that they vary enormously from year to year. They vary as much as 50 per cent., at any rate, in the country districts from which I come. It would be impossible for anybody in advance to guess what the value of the Easter offering would be for the purposes of calculating the income of the incumbent. It depends on whether Easter is early or late, on how many trippers and other people go to church and so on. It is not an assessable factor in the income of the incumbent.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware of the anomalies. If the parishioners give a turkey to the parson at Christmas as an appreciation of his services, the value of the turkey is not accounted for tax. If they give him a cheque at Christmas with which to buy the turkey, the value of the cheque is not accounted for tax. If they give him a cheque some time in the spring so that he can go for a summer holiday, the value of the cheque is not returnable for tax purposes. But once anybody goes to church on Easter Sunday and puts money into the plate where that sum by custom—and only by custom—goes to the incumbent, then that sum of money is returnable for tax.
In other words, the more generous one is on Easter Sunday, in respect of the Church of England, the greater the liability for tax. The more popular the incumbent is, the less may be the net value of the Easter offering. That is absurd and there is every sort of way of getting round it.
578 To put the argument on this rather low level, the Easter offering in respect of the Church of England in a sense is like a tip, and we have had all sorts of discussions in the House about tips being returnable for tax. Postmen get tips on Boxing Day and the tips vary according to how good the postman is and how much the household like him. Are those tips returnable for tax as part of the postman's wages?
Round about Christmas time, most hon. Members, feeling full of good cheer and the Christmas spirit, give a Christmas-box to the staff who so ably look after us during the rest of the year. I do not know, but I imagine that the sum varies enormously. Is what is put into the Christmas box for the staff accountable for tax?
§ Mr. H. Wilson
The hon. Gentleman should not make the Treasury more generous than it is. When known to the Treasury, Christmas boxes are invariably taxed.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
I should not like to argue the point, but I should be surprised if Christmas boxes were taxed.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
I do not want to get out of order or into a prolonged discussion, but I should be very surprised if the right hon. Gentleman could sustain that argument.
§ Mr. Wilson
I am sure that it is the case. I think that there is a concession in the case of savings certificates. I am not talking about gifts to relatives and so on, but if they are Christmas boxes related to services rendered, then, if they are known to the Treasury, they are taxed.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
Perhaps that was not a good example. However, that is a technical point and I do not want to argue about what is a Christmas box and whether it should be in kind or in cash and so on. That is a side issue.
All of us, on whatever side we sit and to whatever denomination we belong, feel that there is something slightly sordid and distasteful about taxing a free-will offering, voluntarily given by parishioners to their parson on Easter Sunday, or any 579 other day, as a kind of concrete expression of thanks to a man of high calling who performs the marriage service when we are married, who baptises our children when they are born and who buries loved ones when they die. I really do not think that when money is put into the plate on Easter Sunday for someone who performs those spiritual functions the Treasury need adopt too cynical or too rigid a point of view about the matter.
I hope that at long last my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will realise the strength of the feeling that exists about this issue and will not try to interpret too cynically in terms of pounds, shillings and pence the value of the moral and psychological arguments of our case.
§ Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
Perhaps it is not inappropriate that even at this late hour another Scottish Member should say something in support of the very excellent case put by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) and also of the sincerity which I am quite certain that he feels about this matter. I am very hopeful that the Chancellor is really going to do something in the matter tonight. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not be completely hidebound about it. If the Financial Secretary is to reply to the debate, I Hope that he will be directed to give an answer to the Committee which will meet the sincere points of view which have been expressed.
This is not a political matter. It is a matter of deeply held beliefs by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee to which the Government, and the Chancellor in particular, should pay regard. The sum of which the Exchequer would be deprived by the acceptance of the Clause would, I assume, be quite infinitesimal in so far as a lump sum is concerned. Therefore, if the answer is to be "No", I cannot understand why the Government are taking up such a hard attitude in the matter.
If we believe what we are saying tonight—and everyone who has spoken has been in support of the principle which we are trying to establish—I hope that we shall show the Chancellor that we are not being mealy-mouthed about the matter and just talking for talking's sake but are going to vote in the Division 580 Lobby in order to have the will of the Committee expressed.
I am quite certain that clergymen in Scotland are very badly underpaid indeed. Many members of a congregation are motivated to contribute to these good will or voluntary offerings—call them what one will—in order to augment the income of the church because they regard the clergyman as a man doing very good social work for which he is quite unpaid. He is doing work that would very often become a Government liability if he were not doing it. Very often he is saving Government Departments expense which otherwise they would have to bear.
I notice that the Financial Secretary is smiling at his colleague; I hope he is paying serious regard to what is being said and is not being jocular about the arguments being advanced. If he has something to say, or to joke about, let us hear what it is. Some of us believe quite sincerely in what we are saying. It is not a matter for two Government Front Benchers to joke about.
A large part of the voluntary offering is in pennies and sixpennies, donated from wages which have already been subject to tax at the pay table. Working-class people would be very loath to give something if they realised that part of it was to be taken by the Treasury. It would be a very good thing if the Committee took the step that so many of us are advocating tonight. We would rise in the estimation of our people if we showed our good will towards the principle contained in the Clause.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
I feel very strongly about this matter. The Government of the day, whether they have been Labour or Conservative, have always behaved in the most extraordinary way. For the last fifteen years we have been fighting an ideological war throughout the world, during which time we have spent £10,000 million. The very people who are trying to keep the Christian ethic alive in the world—and this country is very unChristian at the moment—are the clergymen, and yet when those who believe in the Christian ethic try to show some sort of appreciation of the work done by these very underpaid people the Treasury steps in and takes part of the blessed money— 581 and the money has been blessed at the altar. If I wish to give my niece or brother-in-law a money present at Christmas, however, it will escape tax, because nobody will know about it.
When the amount involved is weighed in the scale; when we realise how underpaid these people are, whatever their denomination—Jewish, Roman Catholic, Church of England or Nonconformist—and that if they acted together as a class and formed themselves into a trade union they would probably be on strike tomorrow for a salary increase; when we realise how we get our religion "on the cheap" in this country and, at the end, when we remember that out of what we may give clergymen as some token of appreciation of the work they have done the Treasury takes 7s. 9d. in the £ and uses it to help run the State, we must come to the conclusion that we have our values all wrong, especially remembering, as I say, that these people are trying to keep alive the Christian ethic, which is the only thing that makes freedom worth while.
This is not the first debate we have had on this matter since I came into the House. I have never yet voted against the Government, but if the Clause is taken to a Division I shall vote against them.
§ 11.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Gower
I hope that, having heard the case stated, my right hon. Friend will not reject the principle embodied in the Clause. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) has extended the wording to include ministers of all denominations. I believe he said that he was prepared to consider an alteration in the wording of the Clause. I deem it probable that that will be necessary because undoubtedly the present Clause has one serious imperfection. There are ministers of some Free Churches whose salaries are derived entirely from the voluntary offerings of their congregations and therefore it is obvious that in its present form the Clause cannot be accepted. But I hope that my right hon. Friend will not take that as an excuse for rejecting the principle which is so obviously acceptable to hon. Members on both sides of the Committee.
We are here referring to an identifiable part of the community, the clergy 582 and ministers of religion, and it would be easy to frame a form of words to identify the beneficiaries. We have also a definitely understood subject matter, the voluntary offerings. The wording of the Clause could be altered to clarify what we all understand. Hon. Members have referred to people who have had no share in the increasing national prosperity. I know of clergymen, and certainly some Free Church ministers, who are probably the poorest people in their churches and they must be dedicated in an extraordinary degree to carry on under those conditions. The voluntary offerings are an act on the part of their parishioners to ameliorate to a modest degree the conditions under which these people do their work. I sincerely hope that my right hon. Friend will take account of the undertaking which was undoubtedly given in some degree in 1957 and will feel it possible to accept our plea tonight.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
It is part of the natural convention of these debates, especially on proposed new Clauses to the Finance Bill, that those who wish to urge an alleviation of taxation for some section of Her Majesty's subjects should occupy the debate and that it should be left to the spokesman of the Executive to explain the reasons against the proposed course, even when those reasons may appeal to many hon. Members on the back benches on both sides of the Committee, and even in some cases to a majority of them.
This is a very natural and perhaps I may say a proper convention, but I hope that I may be allowed to break it on this occasion by expressing a contrary view to those which have hitherto been expressed from both sides of the Committee. I hope it is not inconsistent for a loyal son of the Anglican Church to do so.
It seems to me that were we to add to the Bill this Clause, or a Clause having this kind of effect, we should be doing a wrong and an injustice. It seems clear to me that these payments are indisputably and unavoidably of the nature of income, and most of the arguments which have been used in favour of this Clause only strengthen the view that these payments are income. Neither their voluntary origin, nor the low pay of the recipients, nor the nature of the occasion on which the payments are 583 made, nor any of the circumstances, alters the underlying fact that these payments are part of the income of the recipients, and would be treated as income were they similarly given to other persons.
In those circumstances, I cannot feel that it would be desired by those whom we are trying to help in this way that a discrimination should be made—and I believe it to be a discrimination—in their favour and that they should not be taxed upon what is income in the same way as the rest of Her Majesty's subjects have to be taxed.
I hope, therefore, it will not be thought that there are not very much two sides to this question.
§ Mr. Ifor Davies (Gower)
I have respect for the point made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), but I must emphasise that we are dealing with people who are concerned with the things of the spirit rather than with material matters. Having regard to the sympathetic speeches from both sides of the Committee, I think that there is a case for an exception to be made. I do not accept the point made by the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) that there is a technical difficulty about this; there is no difficulty.
I speak as one who has had a very close contact with a denomination, for I speak as the secretary of a Congregational church, a position which I have held for many years. There is a crisis in the Church today because not enough students are entering the Church to maintain its great work. Students and ministers have to eat and live. There is a difficulty in recruitment in practically every denomination, and the acceptance of this Clause would help the position.
While I respect the point made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, having regard to the feelings expressed tonight I suggest that the House of Commons should make an exception for these people.
§ Mr. Diamond
What I am about to say will prove unpopular. I will preface my remarks by pointing out that I learned my Socialism in a hard school, having been brought up as the son of a rabbi who had to live on very modest means.
584 This new Clause raises a matter of conscience. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) moved the new Clause admirably, and I would almost say perfectly. He made the case accurately that this is a matter of differentiation and that we are entitled to differentiate in respect of this unique and special body of people.
This is a matter of conscience for two people—the conscience of the recipient and the conscience of the giver. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) that the conscience of the recipient ought to be such that he would not want to be in receipt of charitable and special treatment from the Inland Revenue. As for the conscience of the giver, my conscience will not be mollified because a body of important persons who are doing a unique service to this country, which needs to be done now more than ever, are to be helped in this way and because my responsibility as a giver and a provider of adequate living remuneration for them is to be fobbed off on to the Treasury. If we believe that this should be done, we should do it ourselves.
I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) for not being present when he' moved the new Clause. I had some work to do which I found it very difficult to postpone and I am sorry if I missed several other speeches, too. I know how strongly hon. Members feel on this subject. It is a subject which we have discussed on a number of previous occasions, and on every occasion my predecessors have not found it possible to accept the validity of the principle which lies behind this new Clause.
I found the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) absolutely conclusive. All of us must feel that we are dealing with men who are devoted to a high vocation. Further, we all agree that in most cases they are underpaid. If all of us feel that, the right answer must be to raise their pay rather than to seek for discriminatory tax treatment. That is the way to solve the problem.
On a number of occasions it has been held that voluntary offerings of all kinds are income. That has been held by 585 courts of all levels. Coming to ministers of religion, nearly all clergymen obtain some part of their income in the form of voluntary offerings. I understand that many ministers of the free churches receive most of their income, in some cases all their income, in that form. In many cases the voluntary offerings are not made direct to the clergyman in the parish but are made to the central fund, and then payments are made out from that to clergymen whose stipends particularly need supplementing. Therefore, voluntary offerings of this kind are a more complicated matter than appears at first sight.
If all voluntary offerings were exempted, some very strange anomalies would arise in the treatment. A clergyman whose income was £800 a year, largely composed of voluntary offerings, would pay very little tax indeed, whereas a clergyman whose stipend of £800 was paid otherwise than by voluntary offerings might pay a substantial sum in tax.
My predecessor examined this question in 1957 with a real desire to find a solution. In 1958 we found one thing that we could do, and which we did, for the benefit of the clergy, namely the removal of the disqualification from charity relief in certain cases.
It may be thought offensive to compare voluntary offerings received by clergymen with the tips and gratuities received by other people, but exactly the same principle of taxation applies, and such offerings in tips and gratuities are subject to tax.
§ Sir D. Glover
I admit that tips and gratuities are subject to tax if the Treasury ever finds out about them. Does my right hon. Friend really suggest that the Treasury rakes in even 50 per cent. of the tax due on tips and gratuities given for services rendered? It is very offensive indeed to put offerings at Easter-time on the same level as tips and gratuities. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]
That is exactly why I referred to them in the way I did. I am not putting them on the same level. I was merely pointing out, because one or two hon. Members have spoken as if tips and gratuities are not taxable, that tips and gratuities are taxable whenever, and to the extent that, they come to the notice of the taxation authorities. I 586 hasten to say that I do not in any way place those kind of offerings on the same level as voluntary offerings to the clergy.
§ Mr. Loughlin
If the right hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that gratuities and tips are to be likened to voluntary offerings, why is he using the argument?
§ 12 midnight.
I was merely pointing out, because one or two hon. Members inferred that tips and gratuities were not taxable, that they are, in fact, taxable as far as they come to the notice of the authorities.
Another difficulty is that it has been held by every authority that voluntary offerings are income. If one starts exempting voluntary offerings from that ruling, where does one stop? It must be remember that, as well as the clergy, there are other devoted people who are rendering unselfish service at very low remuneration and, again, whose remuneration is partly in the form, directly or indirectly, of voluntary contributions—
§ Mr. Janner
Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that, for example, if someone were to make a gift direct to him in consequence of the great respect he had for the services the right hon. Gentleman renders to the country, the right hon. Gentleman would have to pay tax on it?
If it were paid as voluntary offerings are paid to clergymen by virtue of their office, it would be taxable.
§ Mr. Manuel
Every Christmas, hon. Members are asked to contribute to voluntary gifts for the staff of the House of Commons. Does the right hon. Gentleman call for a return of that? He knows that the money is given very liberally by many hon. Members. Does he call for a return, and deduct Income Tax?
Any contribution of that kind received as a voluntary contribution for the services they perform in the course of their ordinary duty is taxable—
—and as far as the information comes to the knowledge of the taxation authorities, tax is, of course, levied.
587 I must say that, for the reasons I have given, I believe that it would be absolutely impossible for me to accept this new Clause. All I can promise hon. Members—because I am aware of the sincere and strong feelings they hold—is that I shall look into this personally yet again, and see whether there is anything I can do in the direction in which they want me to go which would not do complete violence to the principles of our taxation system, but I simply could not accept this Clause without doing violence to those basic principles.
If I can find something that I can do in that direction before the Report stage, I shall produce something. I do not say that lightly, but I must point out that I shall be tackling something that has been tackled by my predecessors and by myself on previous occasions without being able to find more than the particular concession I have mentioned. I shall look at it with a sincere desire to find something I can legitimately do and, if I can find it, I shall bring it forward with the very greatest pleasure—
§ Sir D. Glover
While my right hon. Friend is considering that—and I am sure that we are all very pleased indeed with his remarks—will he take professional cricketers into account? The professional cricketer receives a benefit that is not graded to any given amount. He does not know what he will receive, and it is free of tax. That should be taken into account.
I really think that my hon. Friend must allow me to play one ball at a time, if I may say so. I hope that hon. Members will not take what I have just said as a promise to produce something, but as a promise to do my best to find something if I can, and, if I can, I must say that I shall be looking in the very limited field of ministers of religion.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
We are coming to the point where we do not know how worth while some of these cancellarian assurances are. The predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman in 1957 gave an assurance which was much warmer-hearted than that which the present Chancellor has given. The only thing 588 was that he did not say that he would give an answer by the Report stage. He said he would give an answer by the following year. We never had a full report on the discussions of the problems, although I imagine that one of the big difficulties which arose from the consultations was the fact that different denominations handle this matter in a different manner, and that would create certain problems for the Treasury.
However, tonight the Chancellor has said that he will look at this matter between now and Report. This means, I take it—and I hope that representations can be made in appropriate quarters to ensure this—that when we reach the Report stage we shall have a chance of hearing a report from the Chancellor on the matter, which would presumably mean that an Amendment would be put down and would be subject to debate. I know that you cannot ensure that, Sir William; it is outside your control, but I am putting the point for the record.
I hope that the Chancellor will look at some of the anomalies in this matter. Some of the anomalies lead to outright hypocrisy in the matter of the taxation system. I understand that there is a considerable difference of treatment between the professional cricketer and the professional footballer. I should like to know why. This is all part of the same problem.
Secondly, to take the problem which one meets, indeed, in my own church, which I confess I do not attend as often as I ought—the resignation of the minister who has gone to other work after years of very good service. If, when he goes, the members of the church present him with a cheque or some other gift out of the love and affection which the congregation bear to him, that gift, I understand, is tax-free. If, on the other hand, by some careless drafting on the part of the church secretary—which I am sure would not apply either in the case of the church where my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. I. Davies) is secretary or, indeed, the church of which I am speaking—the cheque were handed over to the minister with a note saying, "Out of consideration and thanks for the years of faithful service rendered to this church," I think it would be taxable. It seems anomalous that the question whether a fairly heavy rate of tax is 589 levied should depend on a consideration of that kind.
One can see the difficulties—they have been mentioned by previous Chancellors—about the different denominations. When a denomination pays the whole of the income in the form of a regular weekly or monthly cheque—and even these weekly or monthly cheques fall behind in their payments, like Labour Party agents sometimes—full tax is paid. But in those Churches where there is an Easter offering or some other kind of offering, it would obviously be unfair if they became completely tax-free while other denominations paid in full. Therefore, the matter has got to be looked at as a whole, as between the various denominations. I think the Chancellor has got his work cut out between now and Report. I hope he will look at this matter constructively, and I will consider these various anomalies which have been raised.
I think it was the object of some of us on this side of the Committee to encourage hon. Members to back their eloquence with a little physical exercise. We were proposing to give them every facility to record their numbers in the manner prescribed by the House, but I should think that in view of what the Chancellor has said, it might be inappropriate to indulge in these activities tonight. However, in view of the great enthusiasm shown by hon. Members tonight, not to mention the threats of the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) and others, we hope that we shall have an opportunity in due course, should the Chancellor disappoint the highest expectations which have been expressed, to test how far these speeches—which will read very well in the local Press and will obviously make a very nice after-sermon point of conversation next Sunday—are matched by a sincerity which would justify a walk through the Division Lobby. We are denied that opportunity tonight, I think quite fairly, but another time will come.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
While I am personally grateful to the Chancellor for his promise to look again between now and Report to see what can be done, I want to put this point. I quite see the difficulty about the example which the Chancellor quoted, of the minister of religion whose sole income—I think he gave the figure of £800—was derived 590 from voluntary contributions, but that does not deal with the problem raised by the new Clause—Easter Offerings—in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach). No incumbent's sole income is derived from the Easter offering, and this is a problem I wish to ask the Chancellor to address himself to between now and Report.
I will, but I do not think there is any great hope of finding a fair solution by dealing with Easter offerings alone. There are so many other kinds of offerings at other times of the year and for other reasons. My present feeling is that one would have to look at the matter more broadly.
§ Dame Irene Ward
On a point of order. Is one not entitled to an opportunity? I rose at the same time as my hon. Friend. The Chairman does not know that I was not concerned in the withdrawal of the Clause. It has always been the prerogative—
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
Order. I must ask the hon. Lady to recollect the rule of the Committee. The Chair has the right to call any Member who catches the eye of the Chair. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) rose and caught my eye and I called him. I now call Mr. Hendry.
§ Mr. Hendry
I appeal to the Chair for guidance on that. What I was about to say was that in view of the assurance—
§ Mr. Hendry
In view of the statement made by the Chancellor, I am prepared, with permission, to place myself in his hands between now and Report.
§ Mr. Hendry
In my opening speech I said that if the Chancellor was prepared to give an assurance I would consider withdrawing my Clause. Although he has not given that assurance, he has gone a long way towards it, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw my new Clause on the distinct understanding that, if the Chancellor does not accept the principle and produce something on these lines on Report, I reserve the right to raise it again.
§ 12.15 a.m.
§ Dame Irene Ward
No. I was very anxious to ask my right hon. Friend whether he could kindly explain what machinery he proposes should be put into operation in order that we may know what his decision is on Report. I have been quite a long time in the House of Commons and I have always been interested in the technique that is used when assurances are given that something will be examined—which, of course, I accept from my right hon. Friend. But suppose that on consideration my right hon. Friend does not find a way to fulfil the pledges which he gave the Committee tonight. Unless there is some Amendment on the Order Paper on Report there will be no opportunity for the House to express its views on the matter. Although it will be possible to raise the whole question again on Third Reading, the opportunity to register a vote will have passed. How does my right hon. Friend propose to give the House an opportunity of discussing this matter and of registering a vote if he has to reject the pledge he has given?
§ Sir D. Glover
Could my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) remove one possible cause for 592 misapprehension? Nobody has spoken more strongly than I on this Clause, but it is entirely wrong to say that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave a pledge. He said that he would look into this matter. It would be quite wrong if it went on record that it was thought he had given a pledge.
§ Dame Irene Ward
My right hon. Friend gave a pledge that he would look at the question. I did not say that he gave a pledge to accept the suggestion. I am sure that my right hon. Friend would be the first to agree that he gave a pledge to examine the whole matter in the light of what has been said from both sides of the Committee. I do not think that there can be any dispute about that. But if, after examination, my right hon. Friend has to reject the implications in the sympathetic way in which he received representations tonight, on the grounds of impracticability, what is to happen? Perhaps the House could help him on the question of practicability. It is not only from the mind of the Chancellor or of the Treasury that ideas come forward. Other people can have ideas as well as Chancellors of the Exchequer. All I ask is that my right hon. Friend should explain to the Committee how the House will have the opportunity to discuss the matter if on examination he finds he cannot fulfil the expectation he left in our minds that if he can find a practicable way he will do so.
I am afraid that I cannot help much about what hon. Members may decide to put on the Order Paper on Report or about whether a Motion which they may put down will be in order. I must confine myself to the assurance which I have given, which is that I shall personally examine this problem with a sincere desire to find a solution at any rate in the direction about which my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite have expressed such strong views in the debate. If hon. Members think back they will conclude that I do not give that kind of assurance lightly, and I would not give it if I was not going to do my utmost to find a solution. In so far as I find a solution I shall myself have done something on Report which will provide a basis for discussion.
§ Mr. Hirst
I accept the sincerity of what my right hon. Friend has said. I 593 accept it absolutely. Of course I do, but some of us are reasonably experienced in these things in this Committee and we know the mechanics are difficult. My right hon. Friend has given an assurance that he will look into this. One would have imagined, of course, that after all the previous debates in previous years on this matter, and since two new Clauses upon it are upon the Paper, he would have done a good deal of looking into it before he came today. I am sure he has done. A good deal of his speech was an echo of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), whom I respect exceedingly highly, though I hope he does not expect me always to agree with him. I agree with him a tremendous lot—more, perhaps, than some people—but there are occasions, and this is one, when I do not.
My right hon. Friend has given an assurance he will look into the matter. Of course, he will, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) said, there are difficulties. It is one thing for the Government to put down an Amendment on Report. That is certain to be called by the Chair, but normally—although I cannot speak for the Chair, naturally—when a matter has been fully discussed in Committee on the Finance Bill, although it is in order for a private Member to put down an Amendment on Report, then at that stage there is not a hope of its being called—not a hope. I should not like to predict or challenge a future decision of the Chair. That would be most improper of me, but experience leads us to believe that will be the case.
I do not say that my right hon. Friend is taking advantage of that, but the fact is that this is an easy way out of the job, and I do not think that that easy way is very satisfactory. If only he had said, "I accept the principle. A case has been made out for discrimination." Nobody has doubted that it is discrimination. We do not argue that it is not. If he had said," I accept the principle, but I cannot tonight say that the words of the Clause are the right ones," it would have been different. He has not accepted the principle. He has not accepted the principle one little bit. All he has done is to give an assurance he will look at it, and he 594 ought to have looked at it ten times over before he came here. Personally, I am not satisfied. The Committee as a whole is prepared to leave it, but I want to go on record as saying that I am not satisfied.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
This is, of course, the easy way. The hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst) is quite right. If it had not been far our intervention in the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach) the Committee would probably have not got as far as it has, because the Chancellor would not have been here, and the Financial Secretary, who has a nice tight little brief from the Inland Revenue, would have given a hundred reasons why it could not be done and not one of the good reasons why it could, and we should have had an even bigger split on the benches opposite than we have had in the presence of the Chancellor. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Oh, yes. If anything like this had happened in the Labour Party there would be big headlines about it tomorrow. We have had far smaller occurrences than this that had made the headlines. It was, I think, due to our pressure that the Chancellor came in.
He is here, and he is to some extent responsive to pressure behind him—up to a point: it does not last very long—and he has given this assurance. I agree with the hon. Member for Shipley that it costs nothing to give that assurance, and I agree with him that the Chancellor, having seen the Clause on the Paper, should have given personal consideration to the matter before the debate.
This is not so much to look forward to between now and Report, but where I take issue with the hon. Member is this. He gave the impression, which I thought rather less than fair to the Chancellor, that the Chancellor by doing this would ride off on Report on the virtual certainty that if he did not put a Clause down there would not be one. What will be called on Report is entirely a matter for Mr. Speaker.
We have had the Chancellor's assurance that, if he decides to take any action, he will put down a new Clause on Report. There is no doubt that that would be called. However, if he decides that nothing can be done, then, although we 595 cannot anticipate Mr. Speaker's discretion, when an assurance has been given by a responsible Minister in Committee that he intends to study something again, I have never known a case when facilities on Report have not been given.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
That may well be so if the Clause is withdrawn, but as a result of the intervention of the hon. Lady the Member for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward) the Committee will now have to take a decision, whether we like it or not, and that makes a difference to whether we shall be able to discuss the matter on Report.
§ Mr. Wilson
Personally, I am very doubtful about that. My hon. Friend has made a rather narrow point and perhaps it has some validity, but one understands that those responsible for deciding these matters decide them in the light of what the House of Commons clearly wants and it is clear that hon. Members want another opportunity of holding the Chancellor to account, I hope more briefly than tonight, if he decides that he can do nothing about this matter.
Therefore, I hope that the hon. Member for Shipley will not be too unfair to the Chancellor about it. I agree that it was an easy way out, but the time to judge that is on Report.
§ Question put and negatived.