HC Deb 18 June 1968 vol 766 cc967-97


Mr. Terence L. Higgins (Worthing)

I beg to move Amendment No. 207, in page 5, line 11, leave out 'from' and insert 'of'.

The Chairman

With this Amendment it would be convenient to discuss Amend- ment No. 208, in page 5, line 13, at end insert: 'and articles of any of the descriptions known as greeting cards'. and Amendment No. 214, in page 5, line 13, at end insert: (c) as from 30th April 1968 with the amendment of Group 26 by the addition to paragraph (a) of the words 'other than charity greetings cards' and the insertion after 'articles' of the words 'including charity greeting cards'.

Mr. Higgins

These Amendments arise directly from the debate which we had in the Standing Committee, in the sense that they seek to amend an Amendment which was made in that Committee. It is perhaps significant that, in the general air of confusion which surrounds many procedures of this Recommittal stage, we should be debating this subject.

Effectively what the Government did in the Finance Bill this year was to alter the basic structure of Purchase Tax. In place of the three rates which previously prevailed, they introduced a fourth rate, a 50 per cent. luxury rate. So the overall trend of Purchase Tax over the years towards narrower and narrower differentials and fewer and fewer rates was reversed. They have now adopted a policy which we do not believe is the right approach concerning Purchase Tax.

During the course of this exercise the Government have included in the 50 per cent. rate a number of items in Clause 5(b), including Diaries, calendars and similar articles. That is to say, they decided that, instead of having a 50 per cent. rate on diaries, calendars and similar articles, they should have only a 33⅓ per cent. rate. The mechanics by which this exercise was achieved was to lop off from the tail end of what had previously been in this category items which included greetings cards. It became apparent, from the feeling in Committee, that many hon. Members believed it was wrong of the Government to reduce the rate on diaries, calendars and similar articles, which we supported, without also reducing the 50 per cent. rate on greetings cards. I shall refer to some of the reasons why we thought that was so and add some additional reasons.

Amendment No. 214, which we are also discussing, is concerned with charity greetings cards. I should like to treat this as a probing Amendment, because it raises a number of difficult problems concerning the relationship between commercial greetings cards and charity greetings cards.

The essential point which we made in Committee—and we believe it to be a strong one—is that the Government, in their use of the Purchase Tax mechanism, are now moving more and more towards an arbitrary system where the pattern of consumption is being distorted. By use of the Purchase Tax mechanism, the Government are seeking to impose a certain pattern of consumption by saying that some things should be taxed more heavily than others. To the extent that this relies on some appraisal of whether the effect of the tax is likely to affect total sales and, therefore, total revenue, I think there is a reasonable economic case for arguing on these lines.

In economists' jargon, one would be trying to vary the tax according to the elasticity of demand. But it is a different matter when one tends to say that this or that item is good or bad in itself. We think that there is an economic case, but we do not believe that there is the value-judgment case for discriminating in this way.

We have had great difficulty in deciding whether there is any rationale between the four categories in place of the three which the Government have decided upon. On a subsequent Amendment we shall discuss some of the other items included in the various rates, but in this Amendment we are concerned with greetings cards.

One would not have thought that greetings cards, the average price of which is about 1s. 3d., and not more than 1s. 6d., would be regarded as luxury items and put into the same category as gold, jewellery, furs or luxury motor cars. The sending of greetings cards, while it may be very widespread, is not something one would think that the very rich had a great propensity to indulge in rather than the very poor. We suggest that the reverse may be the case. If that is so, surely the whole idea of Purchase Tax grading itself in this way, from the point of view of saying that this or that thing is good or bad, is false in this instance. Even on the economic basis, the argument that this is something which can stand a big increase in taxation is open to grave doubt.

Therefore, we believe that it is right and proper that the Government should look at this Amendment with sympathy and, at any rate, should reduce the rate to the same level as that which they are now charging, as a result of the Amendment accepted in Committee, on diaries, calendars and similar articles. We feel that if the 33⅓ per cent. rate is right in this instance for diaries, calendars and similar articles, it should be the right rate for greetings cards. For that reason we commend this Amendment to the Government.

6.15 p.m.

Turning to Amendment No. 214, nearly all charity greetings cards are sent at Christmas time, whereas greetings cards otherwise may cover a number of other events such as birthdays, anniversaries and so on. Very few charities send out cards of a general nature designed to raise revenue for their charitable purposes. There are one or two exceptions. The Mouth and Foot Painting Artists, Ltd., which employs people who paint cards using their mouths or their feet, because they are armless, sells charitable cards which can be used for a number of purposes, such as birthdays, and so on; but, by and large, the charity market is restricted to Christmas cards.

Two important points arise. The Committee will recall that we debated this matter on 21st June last year on a new Clause to the Finance Bill proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Horn-sey (Mr. Rossi). Alas, as a result of the pace at which Government legislation is being put through, my hon. Friend is engaged upstairs on the Prices and Incomes Bill, but he has asked me to say that he is sorry not to have an opportunity of again supporting the view that he put forward in the Finance Bill Committee last year.

My hon. Friend put forward a powerful case. His new Clause suggested that there was a strong case for the Government refunding Purchase Tax on charity greetings cards. My hon. Friend accepted—and I would probably accept as well—that difficulties may arise if charity greetings cards are excluded and other greetings cards are not, because may be that they will be more competitive in price and commercial interests will suffer. However, if some form of refund were made this would not be likely to be the case. This is debatable. Therefore, I think that we should treat this as a probing Amendment. If the Government accept the principle of the Amendment but suggest some other mechanism for doing it, I am sure my hon. Friends would not object.

A heavy tax is being imposed on charity greetings cards, which are not the most expensive type of cards. I gather that the average price of a Christmas card is about 7d., whereas the average price of an ordinary greetings card is about 1s. 3d. Consequently, in an earlier debate, the figures produced by the Government about the cost of making this variation in the tax rate were considerably exaggerated. The total revenue derived from Christmas cards is, therefore, correspondingly less than one might expect at first sight. Perhaps the Financial Secretary, if he is to reply, will be able to give some indication of the revenue raised from Christmas cards compared with other cards and how much the cost of these two sets of Amendments might be.

The point is that the Government are imposing a tax on a form of activity which is designed to raise money for charity. We believe that that is a bad principle and that we should look at it very carefully. After all, the Government have recognised that, generally speaking, taxing charities ought not to be done.

For example, I understand that the revenue which charities receive from investments is exempt from Income Tax. Charities are able to claim back the Income Tax which they pay on revenue received from covenants. In the classic case of Selective Employment Tax, the Government initially imposed a tax on charities but we were able to get them to change their minds and remove it. There would be some consistency of approach if they, perhaps not eliminated but did not increase the Purchase Tax on these items to the penal rate of 50 per cent.

Charity cards have had a great increase imposed on them, and for a reason which may not be immediately apparent, because all charity cards are normally purchased at cost. I understand that the Inland Revenue adds to that cost the amount of mark-up which would normally be imposed if goods were sold on a wholesale basis. Until a few years ago—I think until the end of 1966— this mark-up was calculated at 50 per cent., which the Prices and Incomes Board might feel is high, but then the Inland Revenue increased the 50 per cent. mark up to 75 per cent.

On top of that notional wholesale figure there is imposed whatever the Purchase Tax may be. First we had the initial rate. It was then increased by the amount of the regulator. This was then consolidated, and now the Purchase Tax has been raised to 50 per cent. Effectively, there has been a whole series of increases in the tax burden imposed on charity Christmas cards, and perhaps the Financial Secretary will tell us what the percentage increase is now, as against the tax which was imposed on them in say 1964. It seems possible that the increased burden which has been imposed on them may be greater than the tax increase on almost any other category, certainly in the Purchase Tax range, and possibly across the whole range of taxation.

The amount involved is considerable. In the debate last year the figure was quoted of £8,500 being paid by the British Empire Cancer Campaign, but this sum will now be greatly increased as a result of increasing Purchase Tax from 27½ per cent. to 50 per cent. The overall burden on all these charities will be greatly increased. I shall not weary the Committee by going through them charity by charity, but the revenue which they receive from this source is very important. We therefore feel that this issue should be examined with the greatest care.

We must also bear in mind the overall position of commercial cards. We think that the best way to meet both cases is to make the Amendment to reduce the rate of Purchase Tax on the basis which we have suggested. We can find no basis for agreeing to an increase in the tax to the rate of 50 per cent. proposed by the Government. In the absence of any concession, but we are hopeful that there will be one, I hope that my hon. Friends will vote for the Amendments.

Sir D. Glover

I propose to refer particularly to Amendments Nos. 208 and 214. With regard to charity greeting cards, I was a little surprised when my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), in his able speech, talked about referring the profit to the Prices and Incomes Board because of a mark-up of 50 per cent. while the Inland Revenue uplifts it to 75 per cent., because a high mark-up is necessary if charities are to come out with any profit at all. I do not suppose that, in practice, a mark-up of 75 per cent. works out as excessive, but we are not debating whether the matter should be submitted to the Prices and Incomes Board.

I ask the Financial Secretary to look again at the question of charity greeting cards. As my hon. Friend said, nearly all these cards are issued at Christmas time, and it is, therefore, fairly easy for the Inland Revenue to control their sale. The problem of dealing with the matter if there is to be any Purchase Tax at all is very complicated, and I suggest that it is wrong for the State to extract its pound of flesh from a charity. Charity greeting cards ought to be free of the tax, as they were until comparatively recently. I think that that is the only answer to the problem, because whatever rate of tax is imposed on these cards, as my hon. Friend said, the difficulty is that one cannot have a separate system for charity greeting cards. They have to be lumped in with all the Christmas cards that are sold.

A charity not only has to pay the tax, but must have a mark up for the notional profit, and the wholesale profit, on to which tax is added. If it is not 50 per cent., but only 33⅓ per cent., it is still an enormous amount and alters the price of the card. If a card costs 9d., and there is a mark-up of, say, 4½d.— that is 50 per cent.—and then Purchase Tax of 33⅓ per cent. is added, taking into account the profit which has to be included to bring in a worthwhile return, that card will have to retail for about 2s. If a charity greetings card sells for 6d.—and that is about the price at which most charities try to get them out—if tax has to be paid, it is necessary to get out a card which costs about 2d.

This means that it is an inferior card, and the public will not buy it to send to their friends. Anyone who receives a charity greetings card accepts that it is not as nice a card as one that is sent for purely commercial purposes, and in respect of which the sender gets value for money. If someone receives a card which says that all the benefits from the card are going to a charity, he accepts that it is not as good as an ordinary commercial card, but he expects, and the person who sends the card expects, that it will look something like a Christmas card.

There will be great difficulty in getting out a Christmas card which carries this rate of Purchase Tax plus the Inland Revenue uplift for calculating the tax. It will be difficult to get out a worthwhile card to retail for about 6d. Therefore, apart from the added burden for the charitable organisations, they will find that over the years their turnover will drop steadily because they will not be able to provide as good a card as they were able to before Purchase Tax was brought in.

Therefore, while I would like to see the tax on charity greeting cards done away with altogether, I would certainly support any amendment to reduce the amount of Purchase Tax that the Government of the day are proposing to impose at any given time. I have great pleasure, therefore, in supporting Amendment No. 214.

6.30 p.m.

I come now to Amendment No. 208. I made a speech about greeting cards in the Committee upstairs. I was able at that time to use my own recent experience of hospital to tell the Committee at great length of the many greeting cards I had had from hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, saying "Get well quick". I told the Financial Secretary then what the result of this tax would be. Having told him what would happen I was suddenly taken back to hospital and, during my second incarceration, because of the evils of the Government, all I received were letters. People simply cannot afford any longer to send these cards.

Many of the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends and more on this side of the Committee were kind enough to write to me saying they hoped that I would soon be well, but would not be back in the House in time for the Committee stage of the Finance Bill; but they have been able to write only letters. One hon. Gentleman, who, presumably, was using old stock, sent me a card bearing the picture of a shoe saying "Get well quick. There is no one to put in your shoes in the House"—which, of course, was very nice.

But people will not get cards of this kind any more, because the price will be too high, going up from 1s. 3d. to about 2s. One of my branch chairmen sent me a very nice greeting card with the post-script, "Don't do this again. The cost is too excessive. We cannot afford it". That will show the Financial Secretary what is happening as a result of the evil, Scrooge-like attitude shown by the Government towards these greeting cards.

The tax on calendars, for example, has been reduced, but in my view the tax on greeting cards is far more important. Cannot the hon. Gentleman accept this Amendment and bring the greeting card into the lower tax category? He cannot really be such a Scrooge, nor surely can his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as to think that his or my hon. Friends who send a "Get well quick" greeting card are in the Rolls-Royce class, that they are sending a gift beyond the wealth of diamonds.

This is something which the poor, the needy, the old and the lonely throughout the country use today to send people a message reminding them of anniversaries; and they do not expect to have to spend a fortune on such cards. Yet under this Bill they are to be bunged up with a 50 per cent. Purchase Tax on something which is bought by people wishing to send cheer to someone who very much needs it or to mark a birthday, anniversary or some other occasion when people want to be cheered up.

The Government are so lacking in the psychology—no wonder people vote against them—of what makes people tick that they feel that kind of greeting card ought to bear 50 per cent. Purchase Tax. If the Government seriously believe that that is where greeting cards ought to be in the broad spectrum of Purchase Tax, right in the top category, then I believe that a great many of the hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to have their heads seen to. Under this Amendment we are accepting that the Government, under pressure as a result of their mismanagement of our affairs, have this year had to raise a lot of money in the Budget. We are not saying, in this particular Amendment, that greeting cards should this year be exempted from all tax, but it seems completely wrong to put them in the top category, in the exclusive, expensive field of Purchase Tax. It is not as though to accept the Amendment would be to wreck the whole Budget. If the Government were to accept it it would show that they understood what could be called the human approach.

After all, the amount of Purchase Tax involved, even if this Amendment is accepted, would be a very excessive tax to put on the good wishes and generous spirit which causes people to buy greeting cards to send to their friends, relatives and acquaintances in sickness, to which I have drawn attention, or to show that they have remembered an anniversary, a birthday or a wedding. For the Government to be so out of touch with human thinking as to feel that that kind of gesture can carry a greater rate of Purchase Tax shows in a very simple way why they are so unpopular with the public at large.

I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary will be able to accept this Amendment which would cost very little money, but would bring an enormous feeling of well-being to a great many people—not wealthy people —throughout the country who use these cards to bring some light and cheer to friends who are ill or to those who are celebrating a happy anniversary.

Miss Joan Quennell (Petersfield)

I was tempted not to intervene, first, because as a member of the Committee, I was able to make a contribution at that stage and, secondly, because it hardly seemed necessary for any other member of the Committee to do so after the lucid and succinct exposition of the Amendment by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins).

It seems to me that these two Amendments deal with two quite separate issues. The first is the greeting card which is now sent widely throughout the country on all kinds of occasions. The second is the charity card. Both groups will now attract the highest rate of Purchase Tax. In Standing Committee, the Minister of State, speaking on an Amendment to this part of the Clause, made a curious definition. He described goods attracting Purchase Tax as being either luxury, less essential, or necessary. I believe that one would find it very hard to see how the chanty type of card could be described as a luxury.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) has said, this type of card, of the cheaper variety, is produced by all kinds of charities and organisations throughout the country in order to raise funds and to promote and advertise themselves and their cause. It is hard to see by any stretch of the imagination how such cards could be described as a luxury item. I suppose that it could be said that they are not entirely necessary, but I really begin to wonder, because so many of these organisations are seeking to raise funds for necessary purposes. However, that is not a point which comes into the Purchase Tax structure of the country.

There is another anomaly in those Amendments dealing with greetings cards. The cards commonly sent, although they will attract the luxury rate, are not generally used by the rich and those with a luxurious way of life. It is generally the old-age pensioner, the sick, the elderly and the less affluent who will suffer the swingeing impost of 50 per cent. and I would like to hear the thinking behind this curious decision, and whether the Treasury could not reconsider it.

Mr. Harold Lever

The points raised have been considered before and I have tried to look at them with a fresh mind, my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State said in Standing Committee that, in deciding the rate of duty, greetings cards were not one of the more essential items, and that is not unfair. What rate they should bear is a matter of personal judgment. I do not suggest that they are a great luxury of the idle rich, but they are the kind of article which can reasonably bear a fairly heavy rate, particularly since the amount involved in each purchase is so trifling.

The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) missed my welcome back in our earlier debate. He will not mind my saying that, if the tax deters him from "doing it again", that will be an additional reason in favour of it. Certainly, no one would question that the greetings card is a satisfying and emotional thing for the giver and the receiver, but if one takes the figures of the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), of 1s. 3d. and 1s. 9d., as typical for such cards, the difference between the proposed 50 per cent., and the present 33⅓ per cent. is a matter of ½d. or 1d. for each card, and is not a matter of great party political contest.

The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro), who did not intervene—and I am not asking him to —has said that the Tory Party is the motorists' friend. The hon. Member for Worthing would probably claim that he is the friend of the greetings card sender, and will probably make similar claims during our three days' debate. Unhappily, this Budget requires to raise a great deal of revenue. The cost of this concession would be £3¾ million, and, therefore, I can take no different view from that of my hon. and learned Friend—

Sir G. Nabarro

This matter falls under Group 26 of the list which the Chancellor moved after the Budget, comprising diaries, calendars and greetings cards. Is the £3¾ million the cost of the concession if only charity cards were exempted or does it relate to all cards?

Mr. Lever

This refers to the total cost of the Amendments. I could have worked out the cost of the charity concession, since charities are reported to account for under a quarter of the total turnover, so, presumably, the relief would cost the same proportion. But the fatal argument about granting such a concession is that it would allow charities to enter ordinary trade—that is all that this is—on preferential terms. Hon. Members will not support that, I think. One cannot tell greetings card traders, carrying on lawful business, that competition will be loosed upon them by people with a tax advantage as distinct from the profitable overall result which they have on their Income Tax, profits and dividend receipts. That is not the same as sending them into the market place with articles which other traders manufacture, but at preferential terms of Purchase Tax. It could not even be restricted to cards. Charities sell other dutiable articles, and we should, rightly, be pressed for other concessions.

Although I sympathise with the idea of greeting people, I hope that the hon. Member for Worthing, if he thinks that we are distorting the consumer pattern by charging 50 per cent., which I doubt, does not think that it is because the Government have a policy of reducing the number of greetings which people send. A false inference is often drawn that we increase taxes on the activities which we most dislike. This is wholly contrary to the purpose of the tax, which is to raise revenue; if we were trying to reduce or eliminate the activity we would hardly look to it as a source of revenue.

This is a matter of judgment, and mine is that taxation of these modestly-priced articles is one way of raising extra revenue, granted the assumptions of the Budget.

Mr. Higgins

Our point was that, although the sum involved may not seem much to hon. Members, it is often large to an old age pensioner or someone who likes to send or receive cards. I find it difficult to understand when we are told that the effect of a tax increase will not be much on the cost of living, but that the amount of revenue raised is much too big to be cut out of the Budget. I know that if the Government accepted the third Amendment that might not be the best way of giving relief to charity Cards, and that, if relief were given on the lines of last year's, which would not lead to an increase in price, since the charities would not pay tax but would have greater revenue for charitable purposes, this would be acceptable to us.

The overwhelming point is that the Government have set up four classes of which, I suppose, the top class is the luxury class, the next down is not the more essential items, the next consists of the almost essential items and the lowest is the essential items, although even that is taxed by this Government.

The Financial Secretary conceded that greeting cards are not a luxury and the Minister of State said that they are not one of the more essential items. It seems clear, therefore, that they should bear not the top rate of tax, 50 per cent., but the second rate, 33⅓ per cent., which is what this series of Amendments is designed to secure. Because of the disappointing reply of the Financial Secretary, I hope that my hon. Friends will divide the Committee.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:

Division No. 218.] AYES [6.50 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. Nott, John
Astor, John Goodhart, Philip Oeborn, John (Hallam)
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Goodhew, Victor Page, Graham (Crosby)
Awdry, Daniel Cower, Raymond Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)
Baker, Kenneth (Acton) Grant, Anthony Peel, John
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Grant-Ferris, R. Peyton, John
Bell, Ronald Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Pink, R. Bonner
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm) Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Pounder, Rafton
Berry, Hn. Anthony Hamilton, Lord (Fermanagh) Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Biff en, John Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Price, David (Eastleigh)
Bjggs-Davison, John Harvie Anderson, Miss Prior, J. M. L.
Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel Hastings, Stephen Pym. Francis
Black, Sir Cyril Hawkins, Paul Quennell, Miss J. M.
Blaker, Peter Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter
Boardman Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward Rees-Davies, W. R.
Body, Richard Higgins, Terence L. Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Bossom, Sir Clive Hiley, Joseph Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Braine, Bernard Hill, J. E. B. Ridsdale, Julian
Brinton, Sir Tatton Hirst, Geoffrey Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Holland, Philip Russell, Sir Ronald
Bryan, Paul Hordem, Peter St. John-Stevas, Norman
Buck, Antony (Colchester) Hornby, Richard Scott, Nicholas
Bullus, Sir Eric Howell, David (Guildford) Sharpies, Richard
Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.) Hunt, John Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Campbell, Cordon (Moray & Nairn) Hutch son, Michael Clark Silvester, Frederick
Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert Iremonger, T. L. Sinclair, Sir George
Chichester Clark, R. Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Clark, Henry Jopling, Michael Smith, John (London & W'minster)
Clegg, Walter Kimball, Marcus Speed, Keith
Cooke, Robert King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Stainton, Keith
Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Knight, Mrs. Jill Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Cordle, John Lancaster, col. C. G. Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. (Ripon)
Corfield, F. V. Lane, David Summers, Sir Spencer
Costain, A. P. Langford-Holt, Sir John Tapsell, Peter
Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Lew s, Kenneth (Rutland) Temple, John M.
Cunningham, Sir Knox Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone) Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
d'Avigdor-cSoldsmid, Sir Henry Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral) Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.) Loveys, W. H. Tilney, John
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Lubbock, Eric Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Digby, Simon Wingfield MacArthur, Ian Van straubenzee, W. R.
Doughty, Charles Mackenzie,Alasdair(Ross&Crom'ty) Wainwright, Richard CColne Valley)
Drayson, G. B. Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Walters, Dennis
Eden, Sir John Maoleod, Rt. Hn. lain Ward, Dame Irene
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) McMaster, Stanley Webster, David
Elliott.R.w.(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne.N.) Maddan, Martin Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Errington, Sir Eric Marten, Neil Williams, Donald (Dudley)
Eyre, Reginald Maude, Angus Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Farr, John Mawby, Ray Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Fortescue, Tim Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr, S. L. C. Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Foster, Sir John Mills, Peter (Torrington) Woodnutt, Mark
Fraser,Rt.Hn.Hugh(St'fford & Stone) Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Worsley, Marcus
Galbraith, Hn. T. G. Monro, Hector Wylie, N. R.
Gibson-Watt, David Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Younger, Hn. George
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh
Cilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Murton, Oscar TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Glover, Sir Douglas Nabarro, Sir Gerald Mr. Jasper More and
Glyn, Sir Richard Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Mr. Anthony Royle.
Albu, Austen Boardman, H. (Leigh) Cant, R. B.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Booth, Albert Carmichael, Neil
Alldritt, Walter Bottomley, Rt. Hi. Arthur Carter-Jones, Lewis
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Boyden, James Coe, Denis
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Coleman, Donald
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Bradley, Tom Concannon, J. D.
Barnett, Joel Brooks, Edwin Conlan, Bernard
Baxter, William Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Crawshaw, Richard
Beaney, Alan Brown, Hugh D. (C'gow, Provan) Cronin, John
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Brown,Bob(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,W.) Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony
Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton) Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury) Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard
Bidwell, Sydney Buchan, Norman Cullen, Mrs. Alice
Bishop, E. S. Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Dalyell, Tarn
Blackburn, F. Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Darling, Rt. Hn. George
Blenkinsop, Arthur Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)

The Committee divided: Ayes 173. Noes 234.

Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Parker, John (Dagenham)
Davies, Ifor (Cower) Kelley, Richard Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)
Dempsey, James Kenyon, Clifford Pearson, Arthur (Pontyprldd)
Dewar, Donald Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham) Pentland, Norman
Dickens, James Kerr, Russell (Feitham) Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)
Dobson, Ray Lawson, George Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Doig, Peter Leadbitter, Ted Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Dunn, James A. Ledger, Ron Probert, Arthur
Dunnett, Jack Lee, Rt. Kn. Frederick (Newton) Randall, Harry
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Lee, John (Reading) Rankin, John
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Lestor, Miss Joan Rees, Merlyn
Eadie, Alex Lever, Harold (Cheetham) Reynolds, Rt. Hn. G. W.
Edelman, Maurice Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Richard, Ivor
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Edwards, William (Merioneth) Lipton, Marcus Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)
Ellis, John Lomas, Kenneth Robertson, John (Paisley)
Ennals, David Loughtin, Charles Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth (St.P'c'as)
Ensor, David Luard, Evan Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Rodgers, William (Stockton)
Faulds, Andrew Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) McBride, Neil Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) McCann, John Shaw, Arnold (Illford, S.)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) MacColl, James Sheldon, Robert
Foot, Michael (Ehbw Vale) Macdonald, A. H. Shinweli, Rt. Hn. E.
Forrester, John McGuire, Michael shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Fraser, John (Norwood) McKay, Mrs. Margaret Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Depfford)
Freeson, Reginald Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen) Silverman, Julius
Galpern, Sir Myer Maclennan, Robert Slater, Joseph
Gardner, Tony McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Small, William
Garrett, W. E. McNamara, J. Kevin Snow, Julian
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C. MacPherson, Malcolm Spriggs, Leslie
Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Swain, Thomas
Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Hudderfield, E.) Swingler, Stephen
Gregory, Arnold Manuel, Archie Symonds, J. B.
Grey, Charles (Durham) Marquand,David Taverne, Dick
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Thomas, Rt. Hn. George
Griffiths, E. (Brightside) Maxwell, Robert Thornton, Ernest
Crifliths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly) Mayhew, Christopher Tinn, James
Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Mikardo,Ian Tomney, Frank
Hamilton, James (bothwell) Milan, Bruce Tuck, Raphael
Hamiling, William Milne, Edward (Blyth) Urwin, T.W.
Hannan, William Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Varley, Eric G.
Moornman, Eric
Harper, Joseph Morgan Elystan (Cardiganshire) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Walker, Horald (Doncaster)
Haseldine, Norman Morris, Charles R.(Openshaw) Wallace, George
Hazell, Bert Morris lohn (Abaravon) Watkins, David (Consett)
Heffer, Eric S. Moyle, Roland Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Henig, Stanley Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick Weitzman, David
Hilton, w. S. Murray Albert Wellbeloved, James
Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Neal, Harold Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough) Newens, Stan Whitaker, Ben
Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby,S.) White, Mrs. Eirene
Hoy, James Norwood, Christopher Wilkins, W. A.
Huckfield, Leslie Oakes, Gordon Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.) Ogden, Eric Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Hughes, Roy (Newport) O'Malley, Brian Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Hunter, Adam Orme, Stanley Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Hynd, John Oswald, Thomas Willis, Rt. Hn. George
Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn) Winnick, David
Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Owen, Will (Morpeth) Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St.P'cras,S.) Palmer, Arthur TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford) Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles Mr Ernest Armstrong and
Johnson, carol (Lewisham, S.) Park, Trevor Mr. loan L. Evans.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Gardner

I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 5, line 13, at end add: (2) Where an instrument included under Group 19 or 19A has been purchased by a registered blind person or person handicapped in such a way as to be unable to make use of books he shall be entitled to a refund of purchase tax paid on presentation of a receipted bill to the Commissioners.

The Deputy Chairman (Mr. Sydney Irving)

With this Amendment we can also discuss Amendment No. 36, in Schedule 6, page 56, line 31, after 'blind', insert: 'and those handicapped in such other manner as to be unable to make use of books'.

Mr. Gardner

Amendment No. 2 and the further Amendment are probing Amendments. I am very pleased to see that the Financial Secretary is to reply, because we know him as a kindly and generous man even if he is a representative of Her Majesty's Treasury. While the wording of these Amendments may not be perfect, and we recognise that we are dealing with the somewhat difficult problem of extensions and special concessions, we hope, while not wishing to stick to the wording of the Amendments, that they will give the Treasury an opportunity to think again about three basic points.

At the moment, the Purchase Tax Act gives some exemption to the talking book service which is provided by the Royal National Institute for the Blind. Schedule 6 to the Bill gives an exemption for record players and records which are specially adapted for use by the blind. We would like the Government to consider whether that exemption can be extended a little further to include tape recorders and tape recordings.

Secondly, we want to extend the exemptions policy to certain other categories, to almost totally handicapped people incapable of using books.

Finally, by the main Amendment we would like to provide opportunity for blind people and others severely handicapped to be able to obtain a refund of Purchase Tax which they pay on normal commercial tape recorders.

The growth of the industry which makes and services tape recorders is quite remarkable. It is a growing and very lucrative business. I suppose that my right hon. Friend, looking at this, decided that here was a ready source of revenue, and I quite agree with him. This is a market in which the young and affluent are very active, the people who, in the main, have the money to spend. It seems reasonable that while we are taxing record players we should, at the same time, tax tape recorders, but, when we do that, we also close a door on very many people. With the imposition of the new rate of 33⅓ per cent. on the machines and 50 per cent. on the recordings themselves we are likely to hurt perhaps a limited number of people, but a number of people to whom this Committee has always shown sympathy. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will be able to show some sympathy for them this evening.

First of all, then, we are trying to extend the exemption given in paragraph 6 of Schedule 6 to cover more people, those who are also handicapped in a way in which they cannot make use of books. I have had one or two consultations about this. We are concerned with a relatively small number of people, people suffering from, for instance, multiple sclerosis, and others suffering from paralysis of one kind or another, and people who are temporarily handicapped and in hospital or other institution. The number of the people is relatively limited and that means that if we can make the concession it can be made at very little cost to the Revenue.

There is also the fact that the partial exemption extends to blind people using the talking book service. This exemption has served the blind community very well indeed over the years, but we live in changing times, and there are discussions going on at the moment about whether or not this service could be extended for use by other people, patients in hospitals, and it would seem odd if, because they are not blind they were excluded from the exemption given to blind people. With technological changes and new techniques there is the use of cheaper transistorised tape recorders, and the talking book service may become out of date, and in some ways it is already out of date.

There are at least two institutions providing a tape recorder service, the National Library, and another library providing a service for hospital patients and using closed tape recorders, that is to say, tape recorders which are not capable of recording. It provides a tape recorder on loan and supplies cassettes which can be fitted on the recorder, and which can be used for no other purpose.

It seems to me that this is a service which can bring light not only to the blind, but it can bring light, learning and enjoyment to very many sufferers. So I hope that the exemption, which we have had now for a while for the talking book service, can be extended to tape recorders.

That is the second Amendment. On this main Amendment, we are dealing with a much more difficult problem, and I appreciate that we are involved in special pleading.

There is a technological revolution which has produced small transistorised tape recorders which are now relatively cheap—or they were until the introduc- tion of the 33⅓ per cent. Purchase Tax— and they have opened the eyes, as it were, of many thousands of blind people. It has opened them not only to the world of the talking book recorded by an actor or other reader on behalf of individuals, but it has opened up a world of communication which was closed to them before.

By means of these small recorders, which are relatively cheap, it is now possible for blind people to write a letter or message to a friend or relative in this country or elsewhere in the world, who can listen and record a reply. This has opened to these people a very wide world of opportunity for correspondence, for understanding, for sharing in the life of our society which is open to all of us and is largely closed to them.

I appreciate that we are asking the Treasury to devise a scheme by which people can get a rebate. We suggest in the Amendment that the method should be that a registered blind person or a person who can produce a doctor's certificate saying that they are totally incapable of using books, should be able to go to the Commissioners, having bought a tape recorded in the normal way, and ask for the Purchase Tax to be refunded. It is a substantial sum of money for many of these people. The amount involved may not be very great from the point of view of this House, but if one is blind or handicapped, and is buying one of these tape recorders, 33⅓ per cent. on the bill is a lot.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will find all sorts of technical difficulties with the Amendment, and that is why I do not want to press him on the words. I accept that we are engaged in special pleading, but we are pleading on behalf of a group of people who are denied a great many things which we accept as normal. We are denying, particularly, a growing number of blind people who use tape recorders, the opportunity to make contact with their friends and relatives. I hope that, while my hon. Friend may not be able to accept the wording, he will look seriously at our suggestions, and if he canot accept them will suggest other means by which we can help these people.

Sir G. Nabarro

I rise to support the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Gardner) and I want, first, to correct what I am sure was a slip on his part when, during his speech, he said that for the most part people who buy tape recorders are the young and the affluent. The people who buy most tape recorders today are businessmen and those interested in the improvement of business efficiency. The productivity of the average secretary is increased by 50 per cent. through the use of a tape recorder and discs of one kind or another.

There are always in all quarters of the House of Commons especially sympathetic and receptive ears for any measure to help the blind. This is one way of doing it, although I am not at all sure, in view of a letter that I have had from the Treasury about the posting of tapes between this country and other countries, that it would be practicable or possible for the Customs and Excise to deal with this matter in the fashion suggested. I propose to support this Amendment, if necessary in the Division Lobby, in the interests of the blind and I hope that my hon. and right hon. Friends will do the same.

I want to bring a particularly difficult aspect of the matter to the attention of the Financial Secretary at the outset. Shortly after Purchase Tax was put on the machinery, I received a complaint from a constituent in Malvern, saying that tapes which travelled between the United Kingdom and other countries, between members of the Voice Respondents' Club—an international organisation whereby men and women, including blind men and women, record their voices in the form of messages—were arrested by the Customs and Excise on entering this country, and only released on payment of the Purchase Tax on the tapes.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

What a dreadful state of affairs.

Sir G. Nabarro

I quite agree with my hon. Friend, it is a dreadful state of affairs.

I took this up with the Financial Secretary and sent him the complaint from my constituent, drawing his attention to the obvious advantages, in the interests of international amity, of encouraging the Voice Respondents' Club. The Financial Secretary's reply was that, in future, would I arrange for members of the Club, all over the world to mark the exterior of the packages containing the tapes with words to the effect that they are tapes with recorded messages? Will I accept responsibility for doing this? What drivelling rot!

Many blind persons are concerned in this traffic in tapes. This incident happened only 14 days ago, and it is one example of the extraordinary difficulties there will be in operating a system of unilateral discrimination and relief in favour of blind persons in the context of purchase tax on tapes and tape recorders. It all underlines the fact that it was a thoroughly iniquitous fiscal act to put Purchase Tax on this equipment at all.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Gardner) on introducing this Amendment. I find it a little difficult to understand why he put it forward as a probing Amendment. The case is well made out, since talking books are exempted from tax. It should obviously be right for tape recorders to be exempted. I use tape recorders quite a lot for corresponding with my family in Australia, and I find them most effective. I do not expect relief from Purchase Tax, but, bearing in mind that blind people can correspond quickly and cheaply in this way without the services of another member of the family or without having to pay someone, it must be a good thing to allow them to have these machines free of tax.

I do not often disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro), but I have found that any tapes that I have sent through the post, shown as tapes containing correspondence, have not been made liable to Purchase Tax. As a blind person would use only one or two tapes, which could be sent backwards or forwards, it would not be unreasonable they they should pay Purchase Tax on the tapes initially. A concession can and should be made in allowing the Purchase Tax on the machine. I am sure that the Financial Secretary will feel in a kind and generous mood and meet the demands of his hon. Friend.

Mr. Higgins

I am sure that the Committee feels that the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Gardner) moved this Amendment with the greatest sympathy and would agree with his motives. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) I am a little uncertain as to why he feels it should be a probing Amendment. The case which he deployed was extremely cogent and ought to be pressed if the Government are not prepared to concede it. If the wording of the Amendment is defective in some way, that can be remedied on Report and the Financial Secretary can indicate as much to us.

We feel that this is important. The hon. Gentleman rightly stressed the importance which has been attached to talking books, and the fact that these are specifically exempted within the terms of the Purchase Tax regulations. Technology is changing very considerably, and there are a great many recordings which may be of only transitory interest, but none the less of great topical interest to the blind.

The tape recorder which enables a tape to be used and then erased and something fresh circulated among the blind is a very important break-through. It would seem absurd to exempt a relatively obsolute form of technology, valuable though it is, and then not exempt the tape recorder. It is true that tape recorder prices have tended to fall, but the imposition of 33⅓ per cent. on the price to a blind person, many of whom are likely to be in the lower income group, is a very heavy imposition indeed. We ought to do all that we can to help.

One is a little uncertain as to exactly what the function of this recommittal stage is. We debated at great length in Committee the question of gramophone records, and the great delight which blind people derive from them was mentioned then. I hope that on Report we can return to the broader question of gramophone records, because in Committee not a voice was raised, apart from the Government Front Bench, against exempting blind people from payment of the Purchase Tax. I should have thought that the same would apply to the 50 per cent. tax on tapes.

On a later Amendment we shall come to the question of cassettes and similar items. We shall no doubt hear that there is difficulty in identifying the particular items which are used by the blind. One would have thought that this could be arranged. It is always the case that if there is a will it is possible to find an administrative system, particularly when blind people are normally registered. I should have thought that there is no reason why the exemption should not be made for cassettes.

I therefore hope that if the Treasury reply is not favourable the hon. Gentleman would feel that this matter should be pressed to a Division. We on this side of the Committee shall not vote against the Clause, because we recognise that in the economic difficulties which have been created by the Government a very tough Budget has become necessary. But we shall vote against the Schedule, because we cannot support the Government's change in the structure of Purchase Tax.

Mr. Harold Lever

I may as well get off my chest once and for all the assertion of those hon. Members who suggest that in descending one or two steps from the back benches to the front I have suddenly sustained occupational hardness of heart. I think that the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) put it more accurately in The Times this morning when he suggested that I was in this respect a poacher turned poacher. I have not changed in the slightest in my sympathetic understanding—if I had it then, I have it now—for the taxpayer, direct or indirect.

Were it in this case simply a question of ceding the tax relevant to the Amendments I should have no difficulty in meeting my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Gardner) and hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, who are very understandingly zealous to protect from taxation those who are handicapped, particularly people like the blind and invalids, who suffer a tyrant's stroke of fate from which the hale and the strong are exempted, and by contrast with which the miseries that afflict all of us in good health are minor indeed. I therefore approach the matter with the fullest sympathy.

All Governments have shown that they have wished to provide exemption of this kind. For example, all the talking book apparatus has already been exempted by the Government, as are tape recorders specially adapted for the use of the blind. If my hon. Friend is talking of the development of a new kind of tape recorder specially adapted for use by the blind, or almost exclusively in its nature usable by the blind, which does not enjoy that exemption by reason of its novelty and so on, I shall certainly see what can be done to help.

We have always sought to meet the case for relieving of tax items which are clearly identifiable by their nature as being for the use of the blind or the handicapped. All kinds of things—even specially designed cutlery for the use of disabled people—have been exempted. This has been the work of both Governments.

The hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) says that where there is a will there is a way, but the will must be measured in relation to good sense and the cost of administration. Once one allows the relief not on the basis of the design or nature of the goods but on the basis of the person who will use them, one is in very dangerous and uncharted country. Blind people are carried about in motor cars. They use all kinds of objects in common use, like gramophone records. We have never exempted these categories of goods because they are for use by the hale and the infirm alike. Where we can find a precisely definable quality in the article which enables us to say that it is adapted for use by a handicapped or blind person, I shall readily look at any concession required.

Mr. Costain

When a blind person uses a motor car it costs him no more than a person with sight. The difficulty here is that when a blind person writes a letter he must get someone else to do it. He may have to pay to have it written.

Mr. Lever

I was not dealing with the difficulty of the blind here, but the difficulty of meeting the Committee's good intentions towards them, namely that one cannot depart from the principle that the relief shall relate to an article identifiable in itself as being for the use of the handicapped. Once one does that, one imposes an obvious and almost impossible administrative burden.

The one exception was in 1945, when Sir Stafford Cripps allowed blind people freedom from Purchase Tax on wireless sets. He made it clear that it was a wholly exceptional provision, and that to multiply such concessions would place an impossible burden on the Inland Revenue. Once one starts to do this, one must set up an administration for each kind of handicapped person's requirements, not for readily identifiable articles, but articles in general use by well and handicapped people alike.

That the burden is utterly impossible has been recognised by all Governments. That is why the hon. Member for Worthing must have a care when he says that where there is a will there is a way. I am the last type of Member to accuse hon. Members opposite of lacking the will to help blind people when they were in office. I am sure that they were as well intentioned as any hon. Member in the House, but did not think it reasonable to find a way. I am sure that their will is as strong as mine is, but they saw as strongly as I do the obstacles to finding a way which make it impossible for any Government to burden its revenue-raising apparatus with the detailed administrative provisions that would be required once we set upon this path, which has been refused by all Governments.

Mr. Higgins

Does the wireless concession still apply?

Mr. Lever

I understand that it does. It was made clear by Sir Stafford Cripps that this was a departure from what was always regarded by all Governments as an iron-clad rule. He made it on the understanding that it could not be used as a precedent, and that he would not budge an inch, and would not expect any Government to budge an inch, from this position. In fact, no Government have done so. For example, it was pressed on the Conservative Government that the concession should be extended to bed-ridden and crippled people. The Conservative Government, in my view rightly, refused to have the concession extended, not for lack of the will but because the way is inimical to good administration of provisions of this kind.

I have given my hon. Friend assurances that if he will show me articles which are specifically and of their nature designed for blind people, I shall not be slow to consider sympathetically whether they have been covered by exist- ing rules, and if not to see how they may be covered.

I am grateful to him for raising the issue, because it enables the Committee to reinforce publicly the sympathy we feel for people in this situation, and strengthens my hand and that of my right hon. Friend in making such concessions within the general rule as can possibly be made. But I am afraid that I cannot go beyond that at present.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)

I always listen with considerable interest to my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury on matters such as this. Naturally, the Treasury's hands of horror are raised at the complications involved in administering a tax concession. One would imagine having heard of this horror on many occasions, that the Treasury's methods were simplicity itself. But if one raises tax problems on behalf of one's constituents, one finds that its methods are as complex, if not more so, than those of any other organisation.

I want to plead that here we may be justified in breaking the golden rule that one has to identify the object as something very specific. I accept that the rule has been equally applied by both sides, but I want to speak in a way which appeals not to both sides but to my hon. Friend, who is also a member of the Labour Party, which has made many attempts to define Socialism. The definition which appeals to me most is that of a system by which one gives according to one's ability and receives according to one's needs.

In the case of the blind, the need is for aid in communication. Of all the handicaps which can befall a person in modern life, probably the greatest are those which deny the means of communication. Communication is most important to leading a full life in the modern world, and as a result of technological developments it is inevitable that there will be a great many means of communication which can aid the blind or the handicapped but can also be used to help in a lesser degree many others and will therefore be purchased by those who are not handicapped.

The more we go on applying the rule of a clearly defined object for the blind, the less we will be able to grant this sort of special relief in taxation. The way indi- cated by the Amendment is by no means difficult of administration. It is possible to have recourse in every local authority to a register of blind and handicapped persons. If the Treasury want a second check, I am certain that the sponsors of the Amendment would not object to further consideration being given to one.

Mr. Harold Lever

That is not the problem. My hon. Friend says that there are innumerable other articles in common use to which the same argument will apply, and I hope he will see that that argument, far from being favourable to his case, is inimical to it. There is no difficulty in checking on a man who is blind. The difficulty lies in checking on the article and who gets the benefit of its use afterwards.

Mr. Booth

I understand the difficulties and the reasoning of my hon. Friend's argument. I appreciate that there are many other articles which can be of benefit to the handicapped and non-handicapped alike but whose benefit to handicapped persons will be the greater. But I press this point because I think that it would be simple, if it were necessary to have checks against abuse, to make such checks. Obviously, if a blind person purchased 50 tape recorders a year, one would have reason to suspect his motives. But if the check were made with both the blind persons' register and the tax office, there would be a safeguard against abuse. I urge that some consideration be given to this matter.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Aberdeen, South)

I had not necessarily intended to intervene, but I was interested in the line of argument put by my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary. Perhaps I have more sympathy than my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) with the difficulties. I accept that they are complex and present a real administrative barrier, but I must say that I regarded the Financial Secretary's performance with a small touch of cynicism.

I have the feeling that, if we had been looking at a much more straightforward suggestion for helping the blind, the Treasury would have resisted it on the different and more straightforward ground that it did not want to find the money. Let us take, for example, the financial aid given to the deaf. There is a £100 tax allowance for them at a cost of just over £750,000 in a full financial year. This concession was suggested by the Royal Commission in 1954 and since then the purchasing power of money has altered sadly. I have been told in a Written Answer by the Treasury that the equivalent today would be about £150. I may be a horrible cynic and too sceptical, but I have the odd feeling that, if I were to put down an Amendment to bring this allowance to £,150, which would be well deserved, it would be resisted, not because it would be difficult to administer and too complex but because of cost.

I realise that the blind have been well treated in some respects. According to the Civil Estimates for the old Ministry of Labour for 1967–68 compared with 68–69, the grants to local authorities for the blind have gone up from £1½ million to £1,624,000. The grants to voluntary bodies have also gone up. Given our financial stringency, and the number of good causes which have been squeezed, this represents a concession for which the blind will be grateful, although the figures are still miserably low considering their difficulties.

Having said that, I still think that there is a case for trying to help these people and finding a way to give them a little more financial support and assistance. In a strange way, I would have been happier if my hon. Friend had made it clear whether he would have been prepared to make some concession which would cost money if such a proposal had been put in a more straightforward way than this Amendment. If the objections to the Amendment are administrative, I am prepared to support him because it is probably unworkable, but I would like an assurance that, if hon. Members put down an Amendment for a straightforward concession which would not offend his administrative mind, he would look at it at least sympathetically.

Mr. Gardner

I am grateful for the support of the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro), the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) and the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), but I am not sure that we would necessarily assist the blind and the handicapped by trooping through the Division Lobbies. My concern was to have the debate and draw these problems to the attention of my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I am also grateful for what my hon. Friend said about the existing concession. I was under the impression that the Schedule did not cover tape recorders specially adapted for the use of the blind, but if that is so I am happy with that concession and perhaps we can return to the subject later on. My hon. Friend quoted the concession given by Sir Stafford Cripps and the difficulties involved in that departure, but it is not enough to say that there are all kinds of things that blind people use. We are discussing here something rather special —a special instrument that they use and from which they can get greater advantage than do other people.

We are discussing an instrument which has had loaded on to it a very substantial new tax. We are not discussing a whole range of things; we are asking for a special concession on this one instrument. I appreciate that there are considerable difficulties, and it is for this reason that I wanted a discussion on non-party lines. I was impressed by the advice of my hon. Friend who mentioned the allowance for blindness. If these administrative difficulties are insurmountable, it is time we looked again at the blindness allowance in view of the recent tax increases. I want to look at other possible ways of helping blind and other handicapped people. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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