HC Deb 12 June 1967 vol 748 cc123-34
Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)

I beg to move Amendment No. 94, in page 33, line 24, after 'authority', to insert: 'or to capital issued by a docks or harbours authority under the Harbours Act 1964'. I am delighted that the chief poacher turned Under-Secretary is remaining to continue his happy trend of providing major concessions and agreeing to important Amendments such as this one.

This Clause exempts local authorities from paying stamp duty on their loans and transfers connected with those loans, and the Amendment is an endeavour to see that the various port and harbour authorities will be included in that exemption.

This is a particularly important Amendment to our major ports and docks. If the Amendment is not accepted, it will create an incredible disparity between the treatment of some of our major ports and docks as opposed to others. For example, Bristol, which is a local authority port, will obtain the benefits of the Clause. Liverpool, which is a port controlled by a non-profit-making public trust, will have to pay a considerable amount of stamp duty. I cannot believe that that would be the Government's intention.

In his Budget statement, the Chancellor made no specific mention of ports and docks. He said that local authorities would enjoy exemption, and naturally I concluded that part of the exemption would be extended to the various port and dock authorities. When I looked at the Finance Bill, I was surprised to discover that these authorities were not included in the Clause and, as a result, we have tabled the appropriate Amendment.

The Government have made it clear that they are anxious to assist in the various investment programmes in our ports and docks. I would remind the Committee that the "Little Neddy" dealing with exports considered that one of the most fundamentally important steps which could be taken by the Government was the encouragement of investment in ports and docks, particularly with the revolution in containerisation which is taking place.

This increase in stamp duty on loans probably will hit ports and docks to a greater extent than it will affect almost any sector of the economy. I wonder if the Under-Secretary recognises that it is likely that something like 6d. in the £ of all the tax raised by these new increases will come from the ports and docks unless this Amendment is accepted. It bears particularly heavily upon some of the areas which the Goverment say that they wish to encourage. For example, on Merseyside, the increase in duty will cost the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board no less than £187,500 during the next three years. I do not believe that the Government seriously wish to add to the costs of the non-profit making publicly-owned Mersey Docks and Harbour Board to that extent over the next three years. London will have to meet a similar sort of bill during the next three years, and some of the other ports and docks which will be affected include the Tyne ports, the Clyde and Belfast. In all, something like £375,000 will be taken in additional stamp duty from these ports and docks as a result of the investment programmes which they are having to carry out.

We noticed in his speech that the Under-Secretary stated how keen he was on logic and conformity, and I am sure that he would not want to see this Bill go through with Bristol treated in one way and the Mersey treated in another. Therefore, in order to obtain the consistency and logic which he now desires, I know that he will be pleased to accept this Amendment. It is because I know that he will spring to his feet with another sensible concession that I cease my remarks in order that the Committee should continue with further business.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Harold Lever

I do not want to imply that the persuasive moderation of the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) is less convincing than any which has preceded it, even though it may not be as effective in its consequence.

The hon. Gentleman's case is, unfortunately, defective in logic, in that he appears to be acting as though the exemption from duty of local authorities who happen to be running a dock or harbour was given to them because they happened to be doing that. The essence of the concession or exemption from stamp duty is that it is given to a local authority more or less as the Government give it to part of themselves—because a local authority is part of the governmental machine. In order to reduce—we cannot avoid—pointless transfer payments from the left pocket to the right one, we exempt local authorities.

Some local authorities may be docks and harbour authorities, but that does not mean that because of that we can exempt other docks and harbour people who are not local authorities. The essence of the exemption derives not from the wider connections of the local authority, but because of the administrative governmental connection, so that what the hon. Gentleman is really seeking to do is to transfer the concession granted to a local authority because of its capacity as part of the governmental machine to docks and harbour boards whose endeavours, however worthy, cannot qualify for the description which the hon. Gentleman has given.

There are objections, which the hon. Gentleman will see, to making this somewhat illogical jump, because once this concession is given to docks and harbour authorities, the case becomes much wider. The hon. Gentleman ought to be logical and table an Amendment to exclude all public utilities. Why pick on docks and harbour boards? Why not exclude other public utilities?

Mr. Nott

Hear, hear.

Mr. Lever

The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) says "Hear, hear", but we do not see any Amendment, either in his name, or in the name of anybody else in the Opposition, to this effect. If the case is that hon. Gentlemen opposite want to demolish stamp duty by giving wholesale exemptions, that is one thing, and it is a case which might meet with a responsive ear somewhere in the Treasury, but the point at issue is that we are discussing a somewhat illogical demand that because some local authorities are also docks and harbour authorities and get stamp duty exemption on their borrowings, all docks and harbour boards which are not local authorities should get a similar exemption.

The cogency of this has not overtaken me, and, much as I would like to listen sympathetically to the Amendment, I must advise the Committee to reject it if the hon. Gentleman does not withdraw it.

Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)

It seems to me that the Joint Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, whose knowledge on this subject I respect, gave the best possible argument for accepting the Amendment. It seems that because one part of the docks system is part of the governmental machine, it should be given advantages. I think that the best thing to do is to accept the Amendment and say that all the docks and harbour authorities should be treated alike.

I have no complaint against that part of the present system by which Bristol is singled out for particular advantages, but it seems an anomaly that Merseyside, which is the same distance from the other side of the Atlantic as Bristol is, should be treated differently. The history of the development by Brunel and others, and the rise and fall of the two ports, has been very much the woof and warp of this country's naval history. It therefore seems crazy that this anomaly should be maintained because of an absolutely fallacious argument put forward by the hon. Gentleman.

It is the intention of the Minister of Transport to abolish this anomaly next year by nationalising the docks. I am sorry that the right hon. Lady is not here to maintain an element of justice between two different parts of the docks system by persuading the hon. Gentleman that what my hon. Friend is suggesting is reasonable.

As there is a tremendous demand for exports to be increased and to reduce import charges, and because of the immense amount of capital needed to handle the new container traffic, I should have thought that anything that could be done to ameliorate the loss of those who devotedly administer our docks was reasonable. Despite the fact that there is nobody here from the Ministry of Transport, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reconsider his attitude to the Amendment.

Mr. Nott

I would be very much concerned about competing with the hon. Gentleman's logic which we know is of the highest order, but when he spoke about local authority borrowing going out of one pocket and into another he made much sense. He said that it would merely add to the Government's own cost of borrowing and the Government ultimately had to stand behind local authorities in their borrowing. Does this not also apply to public utilities? What my hon. Friend is suggesting is merely one example where public utilities might be exempted from this duty.

Is it not the case that ultimately the Government would have to stand behind the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and the Port of London Authority? Does not stamp duty merely add to the cost of borrowing for the P.L.A. and Mersey Docks and Harbour Board? Either the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board has to raise its charges, which is bad for the export trade, or the Government have to help public utilities in some other way.

Mr. Barnett

If we accept the argument that all public utilities should be exempted, would not the next piece of logic be that private industry, which is competing with public utilities, should be exempted so as to be fair? Would the hon. Gentleman agree with that extension of his logic?

Mr. Nott

I was not discussing whether it was fair. We know that there is nothing fair in the competition between the public and private sectors, but I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman might become an advocate of the theory that the two sectors should receive equal treatment. I was trying to say that, ultimately, public utilities were the responsibility of the Government, at least in practice if not in theory, and that they should therefore be treated in the same way as local authorities for stamp duty purposes.

Mr. Harold Lever

Perhaps I might try to clear up one or two of the points which have been raised. I recognise that this is an interesting debate which can be extended by linkage into all sorts of spheres, but I think that the Committee would be well advised to focus its attention more narrowly. After all, these boards have ordinary capital which they issue, and on which they sometimes pay dividends, and this is not exempt at the present time. Nobody has suggested that it should be. One knows that when a party has been in power for 13 years, and then becomes the Opposition, impatient perfectionism develops on their arrival on the Opposition benches. We can see that they have had time to reflect on the advantages of exempting docks and harbour boards from all stamp duty, but nobody has suggested this before.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who was very responsible and moderate in his approach, would not want to burst on the Committee with the shock of novelty the whole concept that we should abolish stamp duty on the ordinary shares as well as the loan accounts, of all docks and harbour boards, because if we do it for loan stock we should do it for ordinary stock.

Mr. Nott

I am not aware of any harbour authority which has ordinary shares. Could the hon. Gentleman give an example of one?

Mr. Lever

My information is that one was recently offered on the Stock Exchange. There is no doubt that some of these boards have ordinary stock. At any rate, nobody has suggested that it would be desirable to exempt them.

If we follow the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) and say that we ought to exempt all public utilities—although nobody has suggested this, it has come as a side-wind from this debate—it will represent a massive incursion into stamp duty.

That is not what the Amendment requires, but never mind. If we were to do that, we would raise serious problems, upon which I could not enlarge without becoming out of order. Local authorities who run certain businesses and trades would be exempt from stamp duty vis-à-vis their private enterprise competitors. That would raise another objection. Then we would find the hon. Member for St. Ives saying that we must relieve private enterprise competitors of local authorities of stamp duty. In other words, we should abolish all stamp duty. It is an interesting exercise, but it is hardly justified by the terms of the Amendment.

For the most part it is the intention of utilities to try to make a profit and run on commercial terms. The case for simply exempting them—on the ground that they are publicly-owned—from some of the commercial handicaps that operate against private enterprise would be a difficult one to sustain. In those circumstances, I hope that the hon. Member will reflect upon the point and feel that, in the circumstances, the Amendment should be withdrawn.

I give it to him that he has one point, in logic. If the stamp duty really were such as to make a great difference in the competitive position of different ports—and this was rather implied by the intervention of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster)—the matter would require looking at, but we are dealing with 10s. per £100 loan stock duty, and the Amendment can hardly be accepted.

Mr. Peter Walker

After the Minister's good performance, when my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) commented that he hoped that it would be some time before the Treasury had its effect on him, it is disappointing that in so short a time the Treasury should have had its full effect upon him. He mentioned the impatient perfectionism that Oppositions indulge in. In the years from 1951 to 1964 the Parliamentary Secretary has been in impatient opposition, and we were hoping that when he moved into the Government we would have some perfectionism and better treatment than this.

The Government claim that they are always seeking ways in which to help development areas and exporters. Until this moment there has been no tax upon port authorities raising loan capital.

Mr. Harold Lever

Does the hon. Member mean to say that there has been no duty of this kind at all until now? Surely that is incorrect.

Mr. Walker

The tax on the loan capital of non-profit-making port authorities has been substantially increased from 2s. 6d. to 10s. Until this time there has been a tax of 2s. 6d., and now, when the ports and docks are embarking upon an enormous reinvestment programme, owing to containerisation and similar developments, the Government decide to quadruple the duty on these ports.

The Amendment is so framed as to define those port authorities which are not private enterprise but are public trusts, and this is a way in which the Government could have made a small concession which would have helped a number of development areas. More than half the revenue raised from the ports comes from the Mersey, the Tyne, the Clyde and Belfast. If the Amendment were accepted those four development areas would be helped.

Secondly, it would have helped exports. The Government claim that one difficulty about giving concessions to exporters is that it would be contrary to various international agreements. This was a way which would have avoided that difficulty, without any great extension of principle. They could have assisted part of our industry and commerce which was helping both development areas and exporters. Instead, they have decided to stick rigidly to a Treasury brief, and I must ask my hon. Friends to divide on the Amendment.

Question put, That those words be there inserted:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 139, Noes 192.

Division No. 358.] AYES [5.17 p.m.
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Corfield, F. V. Gower, Raymond
Astor, John Costain, A. P. Grant, Anthony
Bell, Ronald Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Grieve, Percy
Biffen, John Crosthwaite-Eyre, Sir Oliver Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.
Biggs-Davison, John Crowder, F. P. Gurden, Harold
Body, Richard Cunningham, Sir Knox Hall, John (Wycombe)
Bossom, Sir Clive Currie, G. B. H. Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Dance, James Harris, Reader (Heston)
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.) Harrison, Brian (Maldon)
Braine, Bernard Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.) Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Harvey, Sir Arthur Vera
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Doughty, Charles Hastings, Stephen
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Eyre, Reginald Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel
Burden, F. A. Fisher, Nigel Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward
Campbell, Gordon Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Higgins, Terence L.
Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert Fortescue, Tim Hill, J. E. B.
Cary, Sir Robert Foster, Sir John Hobson, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Channon, H. P. G. Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Holland, Philip
Chichester-Clark, R. Glover, Sir Douglas Hooson, Emlyn
Cooke, Robert Glyn, Sir Richard Hordern, Peter
Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Goodhew, Victor Hornby, Richard
Howell, David (Guildford) Murton, Oscar Tapsell, Peter
Hunt, John Nabarro, Sir Gerald Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Hutchison, Michael Clark Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)
Iremonger, T. L. Nott, John Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Onslow, Cranley Temple, John M.
King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Page, Graham (Crosby) Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Knight, Mrs. Jill Page, John (Harrow, W.) Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Langford-Holt, Sir John Pardoe, John Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral) Percival, Ian Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Loveys, W. H. Pike, Miss Mervyn Walker, Peter (Worcester)
Lubbock, Eric Pink, R. Bonner Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
McAdden, Sir Stephen Prior, J. M. L. Wall, Patrick
MacArthur, Ian Pym, Francis Ward, Dame Irene
Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter Weatherill, Bernard
Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain Rees-Davies, W. R. Webster, David
McMaster, Stanley Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David Wells, John (Maidstone)
Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest Ridley, Hn. Nicholas Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Marten, Neil Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Maude, Angus Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Mawby, Ray Russell, Sir Ronald Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Scott, Nicholas Woodnutt, Mark
Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Sharples, Richard
Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Sinclair, Sir George Mr. R. W. Elliott and
More, Jasper Smith, John Mr. Timothy Kitson.
Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Summers, Sir Spencer
Abse, Leo Finch, Harold MacPherson, Malcolm
Albu, Austen Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Ford, Ben Mallalieu, J.P.W. (Huddersfield, E.)
Allen, Scholefield Freeson, Reginald Manuel, Archie
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C. Mapp, Charles
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony Marquand, David
Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice Gregory, Arnold Mendelson, J. J.
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Grey, Charles (Durham) Millan, Bruce
Barnett, Joel Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Miller, Dr. M. S.
Beaney, Alan Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly) Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.) Moonman, Eric
Bidwell, Sydney Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Binns, John Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Bishop, E. S. Hannan, William Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Blackburn, F, Harper, Joseph Morris, John (Aberavon)
Booth, Albert Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Moyle, Roland
Boston, Terence Hart, Mrs. Judith Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Boyden, James Haseldine, Norman Newens, Stan
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Henig, Stanley Noel-Baker, Rt.Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Oakes, Cordon
Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Hooley, Frank Ogden, Eric
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough) O'Malley, Brian
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.) Oram, Albert E.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Orbach, Maurice
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Hoy, James Orme, Stanley
Carmichael, Neil Huckfield, L. Oswald, Thomas
Carter-Jones, Lewis Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Owen, Will (Morpeth)
Chapman, Donald Hynd, John Paget, R. T.
Coe, Denis Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Coleman, Donald Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Pavitt, Laurence
Concannon, J. D. Janner, Sir Barnett Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Conlan, Bernard Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford) Pentland, Norman
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)
Dalyell, Tam Jones, Dan (Burnley) Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Darling, Rt. Hn. George Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Judd, Frank Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Kelley, Richard Randall, Harry
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Rankin, John
Davies, Harold (Leek) Lee, John (Reading) Rees, Merlyn
Delargy, Hugh Lestor, Miss Joan Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)
Dempsey, James Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Roebuck, Roy
Dewar, Donald Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Diamond, Rt. Hn. John Lipton, Marcus Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Dickens, James Lomas, Kenneth Rowland, Christopher (Meriden)
Doig, Peter Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)
Driberg, Tom McBride, Neil Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) McCann, John Sheldon, Robert
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) MacColl, James Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.
Ellis, John MacDermot, Niall Shore, Peter (Stepney)
English, Michael Macdonald, A. H. Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Ensor, David Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen) Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Maclennan, Robert Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Faulds, Andrew McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Slater, Joseph
Small, William Tuck, Raphael Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Snow, Julian Urwin, T. W. Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Spriggs, Leslie Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley) Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael Walker, Harold (Doncaster) Winnick, David
Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. Wallace, George Winterbottom, R. E.
Swain, Thomas Watkins, David (Consett) Woof, Robert
Symonds, J. B. Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor) Yates, Victor
Taverne, Dick Weitzman, David
Thomson, Rt. Hn. George Wellbeloved, James TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Thornton, Ernest Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick Mr. Ioan L. Evans and
Tinn, James Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.) Mr. Ernest Armstrong.
Mr. Harold Lever

I beg to move Amendment No. 38, in page 33, line 37, after 'instrument', to insert 'executed or'.

This Amendment and No. 39 are drafting, to add precision to subsection (2). They grant exemption from stamp duty with effect from 1st August, 1967, to instruments securing money lent to local authorities and transfers of local authority stocks and other securities for moneys which they are lent. This will be of interest more to students of Parliamentary draftsmanship than to those concerned with the substance of the Clause, and I hope that the Committee will accept these technical Amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: No. 39, in page 33, line 31, leave out from 'stock' to 'a' and insert: 'issued by, or other security for money lent to'.—[Mr. Harold Lever.]

Question proposed, That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Harold Lever

I treated the Committee earlier to an argument relating to the ordinary stock issues by docks and harbour boards and the existence of any such stock was questioned by hon. Members. I would not confidently assert now that any such stock exists and I hope that I have not misled the Committee on this side issue. I doubt whether any such ordinary stock exists.

Mr. Temple

Watching this Clause closely and following the debate, I greatly doubted whether any ordinary stock of docks and harbour boards existed, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has confirmed that it does not. We accept that, and we also accept the Clause as it stands.

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

I am appalled that the Under-Secretary should now be going into theory, in view of the fact that when he was on the back benches supporting his party he always spoke from practical experience. It is worrying to me that, now he is in the Government, he has become much more of a theoretician than many of his colleagues.

Mr. Harold Lever

The responsibility is mine personally and not that of my advisers. I was anxious that the Committee should not be misled and I was careful to say that I would not confidently assert that there was not any such ordinary stock of a docks and harbour board in existence. I have not said that I would assert the contrary, but I would not like the Committee to be influenced by such an argument in accepting the Clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 28 ordered to stand part of the Bill.