HC Deb 18 October 1966 vol 734 cc18-20
22. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he is satisfied that the imposition of the Selective Employment Tax has resulted in the estimated increase in the Retail Price Index; and what evidence he has that the tax has been absorbed in increased efficiency and productivity.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Niall MacDermot)

It is too early to tell the extent to which the tax has been absorbed or passed on in retail prices.

Mr. Hamilton

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that there is growing evidence of growing feeling that price increases are being imposed with the excuse that they are due to the Selective Employment Tax? If these allegations come forward to him, what machinery is available in his Department to investigate their truth?

Mr. MacDermot

The machinery is not in my right hon. Friend's Department. Any particular cases of the kind which my hon. Friend has mentioned should be referred to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade or my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. The Government are keeping a close watch on the kind of case to which my hon. Friend has referred.

Mr. Frederic Harris

Does not the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the imposition of this regrettable tax is causing unemployment, particularly amongst older people? Was this the intention of the Government when they brought in S.E.T.?

Mr. MacDermot

I do not agree. If the hon. Gentleman has any information to support his assertion I should be glad to see it.

Mr. Mikardo

Will my hon. and learned Friend ask his right hon. Friend whether he noticed, when he recently spent a short and interesting time at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, that every bill presented to him had a supplement at the bottom in respect of Selective Employment Tax? Does not that constitute clear evidence that no attempt is being made to absorb the tax, as the Question puts it, in increased efficiency and productivity? Is it not also clear evidence that, far from shaking people out into other employments, all that is being shaken out is money from consumers' pockets?

Mr. MacDermot

Without knowing the percentage referred to I cannot comment on my hon. Friend's remarks, but if he thinks that the percentage was excessive I invite him to refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade.

Sir E. Bullus

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there is evidence of this in the Palace of Westminster? Already in the catering department there is an increased charge for meals in respect of this very tax.

Mr. Molloy

Does my hon. and learned Friend acknowledge that the present wholesale cheating that is going on, by which people are being fleeced under the excuse of S.E.T., is something which may wreck the appeals that the Government are making to workers to withhold demands for higher wages? If this sort of thing goes on, when people are selling goods across the counter and are using S.E.T. as a means of cheating consumers, a very serious situation will develop.

Mr. MacDermot

I can only repeat my request that my hon. Friend should refer any case he has in mind to the Minister responsible.