HC Deb 05 March 1968 vol 760 cc377-97

10.31 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Fees for Game and Other Licences (Variation) Order 1968 (S.I., 1968. No. 120), dated 25th January 1968, a copy of which was laid before this House on 1st February, be annulled. In praying against this Statutory Instrument No. 120 I want to make it quite clear that it is not my intention to divide the House. It is only my intention to pray against the Order to seek greater information from the Financial Secretary. The first point that I want to make is that these eight licences mentioned in the Order were introduced as revenue-raising licences. Today they are valuable to many members of the community because of the protection that they give. I do not think that the House or even the Financial Secretary will in any way doubt the protection that is given under the Moneylenders Act, 1927, or the Pawnbrokers Act, 1872.

As I understand it, to be either a moneylender or a pawnbroker, one has to go before the magistrates and get a certificate to say that one is of good character, before one can embark on any one of these business, or take out any one of these licences. The very process of being licensed to lend money, or to be a pawnbroker gives the general public the safeguard that one is of reasonable character. Whether these two licences were introduced in order to protect the general public, or merely for the Treasury to cash in on what was, presumably, in those days, a fairly lucrative business, is something that I hope the Financial Secretary can tell us.

In praying against the other licences I am conscious of the great difficulty that we have got into since the ordinary 10s. gun licence was revoked. The advantage of the old 10s. gun licence was that it only cost 10s., so one did not break the law, provided one had a licence. Secondly, if someone went out to shoot illegally it was pretty certain that he never bothered to take the trouble to take out a gun licence, so that the gun licence, now abolished, was a very useful method of protecting people against illegal shooting.

Since the gun licence has been abolished most people involved in the enforcement of law and order do not say: "Thank goodness we have got rid of the licence and now have the 5s. shotgun certificate." Their general attitude is, "What a tragedy the gun licence has gone." This is because most people shooting illegally never bothered to take one out. The strongest support for the retention of the game licence and the gamekeeper's licence comes from the Gamekeepers Association of Great Britain. Naturally the fee is at all times prohibitive, particularly if a man has to pay it out of his agricultural wages, but the Gamekeepers' Association feels most strongly that it would be a tragedy if the licence was now abolished. The Financial Secretary keeps it on the Statute Book because he raises a certain amount of revenue.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

Order. On this Order we cannot discuss whether it is a good thing to have a licence or whether it is a good thing that a fee should be charged. All we can discuss is whether the fee should be increased.

Mr. Kimball

I think it is a tragedy that the fee should be increased. We should bear in mind the kind of protection that the licence gives. Although the fee is being increased, and most people feel that the increase is excessive, they are prepared to accept the extra burden because of the protection given by the licence.

I think that the Financial Secretary is increasing the fee without giving the House an assurance that he realises that, although the licences were originally devised as a revenue-raising exercise, they now have a rôle to play in the protection that they give to people in the countryside.

When a gamekeeper pays the new rate of £4 for his gamekeeper's licence, his first protection under the licence is against rumours in a village that somebody's keeper is illegally selling the owner's game. If the chap has a gamekeeper's licence, before anybody accepts or sells the game on his behalf, he has to register the chap's name, and the person with the gamekeeper's licence who is selling the game has to have written authority from the owner of the land to sell the game. So, although the Gamekeepers' Association feels that the increase from £2 to £4 is excessive, it wants an assurance from the Financial Secretary that the licence will not be abolished, because it feels that the licence gives great protection to somebody who is trying to carry out his job in a conscientious manner.

I am mystified by the references to Sections 7 and 13 of the 1860 Act. These two sections simply qualify the conditions on which gamekeepers' licences are held. I think it is worth making the point that if the licence fee is to be doubled, can we have an assurance that the penalties for taking game without a licence will also be doubled?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not think that the hon. Member can ask for an assurance on that point. It would not be in order for the Financial Secretary to deal with that point, because it does not arise out of an Order merely to increase the fees.

Mr. Kimball

With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I trust it would be in order to put on record the fact that the original licence fee in 1812, when it was a revenue-raising exercise, was £3 13s. 6d., that this was considered excessive, and, by 1860, the fee was reduced to £3. Now we are raising the fee to £4, and I hope that the Financial Secretary will give an assurance that, whether he makes a profit from these licences, he realises their protective rôle to honest members of the community and will also give an assurance that they will not be treated in the same way as gun licences and suddenly removed from the Statute Book.

The other question I ask is: what will the Financial Secretary do with all the money he will get from the licence to kill game? He is raising this from £3 to £6. No one would object if it were felt that the revenue from this licence was in some way to be diverted into research and conservation. I understand that in England the money will go to the county councils, but in Scotland the money goes straight to the Treasury. But I hope that the Financial Secretary realises that game is now becoming a natural resource of increasing national value both for recreation and as an economic by-product of agriculture and forestry. Game conservation is an integral part of land use today.

I should like our system to be changed. The system for game licences in Scotland is probably better than the system in England. In England, the Treasury bears the Vote for all the money which is now spent by the Natural Environment Research Council, the Nature Conservancy as we used to know it. The difficulty under this Order is that most of us would willingly accept an increase in the game licence fee if we felt that the money would go to the Natural Environment Research Council for greater research into conservation and the habitat of game and all the other activities associated with the countryside. In fact, the revenue is to go to the county councils, and I do not see how we shall get it back into the research and development work of the N.E.R.C.

In Scotland, there is the shining example that the Treasury is now paying for the research which is being carried out by the Natural Environment Research Council into grouse and moorland ecology. This work has been paid for by the taxpayer since 1960. I should like to see a similar system in operation in England.

Finally, I remind the hon. Gentleman that there are a good many small farmers, quite humble people, who like to go into the countryside at the weekends to have a rough shoot, shooting a few pheasants or a few partridges. They put them in the bag, and they hope, if there is more than they can eat themselves, that they can sell at least a little of the product of their weekend's activity in order to help pay for their cartridges. But, in relation to the scale on which many of these people shoot, the sudden imposition of £6 for a game licence so that they may be able to sell the surplus which they cannot eat themselves will make it prohibitive. They just will not bother. There will be no way of enforcing it, and, in consequence—I say this frankly—country gentlemen and citizens will suddenly find themselves breaking the law.

I realise that my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), with his association with the Wildfowlers' Association of Great Britain and Ireland, will argue that this is all nonsense anyway, and we ought not to have a licence at all. I do not support that view because I believe the gamekeeper's licence in particular gives a certain safeguard and we should, therefore, keep it. But I am afraid that, with the fee at £6, many people who would never normally break the law will break the law.

Will the Treasury make a profit out of this exercise? Must we have a £6 licence fee in order just to cover administrative expenses? If, on the other hand, only £2 or £3 is required for administrative expenses, may we have an assurance from the Financial Secretary that at least the balance of the money will go back into the countryside towards conservation and the better management of game?

10.43 p.m.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) can often guess exactly what I shall say to the House, but on this occasion he is not quite right. I rise not to press for the abolition of game licences altogether. I want the Minister not to raise the fee by 100 per cent., as he proposes to do. I regard the game licence, as my hon. Friend does, as a useful and necessary licence which preserves a certain amount of order in the countryside, but I regard as quite unjustified a 100 per cent. increase in the fee for the seven or eight different licences which the Minister has put before us.

The doubling of the game dealer's licence is an extra charge which no doubt will be transferred to the customer, or the consumer, with perhaps a negligible effect on the price of the product being sold, but what I am concerned about is the 100 per cent. increase in the licence fee to kill game, from £3 to £6. This fee has not been increased for more than 100 years, but this, in itself, as the hon. Gentleman will be the first to admit, is not sufficient reason for raising it. The hon. Gentleman must give us some sound reasons for this increase before we accept this Order.

The licence fee of £3 for killing game is one of the simplest forms of collecting lucrative revenue which the Government have ever possessed. Why is it to be doubled now? What service have the Government given in the past to those who provide this money, and what double service do they propose to give in the future? If someone takes out a television licence, which costs a fiver, he can see what he is getting for his money, whether he approves of it or not. It someone takes out a licence for a motor car, he can drive up and down the motorways, the majority of which were provided by Conservative Governments. If someone takes out a driving licence, he can drive his car along our roads. What return will the Government give for this double fee of £6?

The Government play no part in helping to preserve the sources from which this revenue springs. It is very difficult for hon. Members on this side of the House not to feel that some dusty civil servant, or perhaps one of the new 50,000 or 60,000 civil servants whom the Government have recruited, has realised that this fee has not been raised for years, and has decided that that is a sufficient reason for raising it.

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

I think it is the Minister, not a civil servant.

Mr. Farr

Perhaps, as my hon. Friend says, it is the Minister who has done this.

Can the Minister tell us why, simultaneously, he has reduced the fee payable to shoot game, duck, and waders, and increased by 100 per cent. the fee to shoot pheasants, partridges and grouse? Where is the logic in this? I see that the Minister has sent somebody to the Box in the corner to get the answer. He should know it before he tables Orders of this kind. He ought to know that pheasants and partridges are far more easily reared in captivity than are wild fowl, and, indeed, that they are reared artificially, and on a large scale.

The Order refers to Section 2 of the 1860 Game Licences Act. Can the Minister confirm that under this Section "game" includes only deer, pheasant, partridge, grouse and black game, as defined in the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948? There have been various definitions of game, but the most up-to-date that I can find is in that Act. What does the Order mean by "game"? Does it cover only those which I mentioned? This is an unrealistic increase. We are used to increases under this Government, but a 100 per cent. increase for game licences and 200 or 300 per cent. for pawnbrokers and moneylenders is abnormal even for them.

Will the Government realise that shooting is no longer a rich man's sport but a pastime enjoyed by countless thousands of ordinary people? If they persist with this savage increase, it will seriously affect the ability of these people to pay for this privilege. There are over 30,000 members of the Wildfowlers' Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland who are particularly concerned at this proposal. The Association represents ordinary sportsmen who enjoy a day's rough shooting, many of whom could not afford this tremendous amount. They are not wealthy and already pay more than their fair share of the tax burden. Every time they buy a shotgun or cartridges they pay 25 per cent. Purchase Tax, and 2d. of the price of every cartridge fired is also Purchase Tax.

I ask the Financial Secretary to think again. It is not right that so many should have to pay this increase to a Government who do nothing to contribute—apart from what my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough said about Scotland—to the interests of this sport.

10.53 p.m.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Derbyshire, West)

The twin subjects of licences to kill game and the selling of game at all worried me when I was on the opposite side of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) brought out the anomalies and there are many stupidities in the present law. For example, I believe that snipe, woodcock and hare are excluded and it seems nonsense that a reduction on one side for duckwaders should be matched by an increase for pheasants, on the other. I hope that the Financial Secretary will reconsider this whole matter, to iron out the anomalies and investigate enforcement. I was always taught that any law which is difficult to enforce is bad, and it is difficult to see how this increase will be enforced. The Financial Secretary will be aware how easy it is to evade even the present charge. That is all the more reason why this matter should have been thoroughly investigated before the Order was brought forward.

While I join with my hon. Friends in deprecating the Order, I do not agree that hardship will be a cause to those who must pay the amount involved. My hon. Friend the Member for Gains-borough (Mr. Kimball) was right to say that the gamekeeper's licence gives a measure of protection. However, I deprecate the Order having been introduced in this way, without a review of the anomalies which exist, and I trust that the Financial Secretary will withdraw it and reintroduce it in a revised form, as he has power to do under the Local Government Act, 1966.

10.57 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

This is a mean and miserable little Order. The draftsman has not even had the decency to say in the Title to what it relates. It is said to relate to the fees for game and other licences, but it also extends to pawnbrokers and moneylenders. It is inconsiderate to the public who will be concerned with this Instrument that such a Title has been given to the Order.

What justification is there for the Order to deal with pawnbrokers and moneylenders? These categories of people have their fees and profits regulated by Statute and no increase in the profits of either of those trades arises. I had the honour of promoting a Bill a few years ago to bring the charges of pawnbrokers up to modern standards. Their charges had not been increased since the 1872 Act. Their charges having been increased to a reasonable figure, their licence fees are now to be increased by 100 per cent.

I promoted that Measure for one reason among others, that one reason being the dwindling trade of pawnbrokers and the fact that that was creating in my constituency an unpleasant form of moneylending. I refer to "the dock gate moneylender" who stood at the dock gates and loaned £1 to a docker one week and took back £2 the next. waiting at the dock gates for the men to come out with their wage packets—and if they did not pay, they were beaten up in a back alley.

Pawnbrokers provide an important service, for example to help people meet hire-purchase payments. In bringing back the pawnbroker by amending his rate of charges under the Measure which I promoted, a public service was provided. It is unjustifiable that his licence fees should be increased by 100 per cent. and the moneylender's fees from £15 to £50 and £10 to £35. The Financial Secretary cannot say, "In the past few years the value of the money earned by pawnbrokers has increased". The fact is that pawnbrokers have had a difficult time carrying on business.

Pawnbrokers may be the subject of jokes at times, but experience in my constituency shows that they provide a service to the public which, if it was not available, would oblige workers to borrow money in an improper way which can lead to violence. The pawnbrokers' trade should be encouraged and their costs in this matter should not be doubled at this time.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

I look at this Order in perhaps a rather limited context or a limited framework of shooting in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Consequently, I cannot follow the arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) about possible injury being done to 30,000 wild fowlers by doubling the game licence fee. My contacts with game and those who kill it have been quite extensive in the Highlands. Very little hardship will be caused to those gentlemen.

In that part of Scotland it is an extremely exclusive sport enjoyed by a mere handful of people who are prepared to pay considerable sums to large armies of beaters who chase up the birds and drive them across the butts. I had experience of doing this as a student, and good money there was in it. It was quite remarkable to hear the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball), who organises this kind of thing, objecting to an increase of 100 per cent. over a period of a hundred years. He knows as well as any hon. Member how few people enjoy access to the sporting facilities of the Highlands of Scotland and how very limited is the number of people who will be called anon to pay this modest fee.

If there were any question of it being harmful to the interests of the casual week-end rough shooter, one might look at the provision somewhat differently. I dare say that there are many parts of the country where this consideration is operative, but in the seven crofting counties of Scotland week-end rough shooters are few and far between. Rather are the grouse moors and deer forests the private preserve and perquisite of a handful of landed aristocracy most of whom disport themselves there for only three to six weeks a year. I am not persuaded that the increase from £3 to £6 for the licence fee is anything but modest in these circumstances.

My only quarrel with the Government in producing this Measure is that they have not found it possible to discriminate between those who indulge in this kind of mass slaughter of grouse across the moors of Scotland for private enjoyment and those who occasionally go out and kill a bird for the pot. There is a world of difference between the activities of these two types of people. The hon. Member for Gainsborough made a remarkable speech with which I am sure no one in the Highlands would find himself in sympathy, about the importance of the game preservation side of the licensing system to the economy of the Highlands. It is a most outrageous suggestion that the licence is in some way related to preserving wild life. It is completely anachronistic.

If I thought that the Government were to spend one penny of this money on preservation of that way of life, I would find myself in the Lobby against them. I am delighted to think that this is simply a question of increasing revenue. If more can be squeezed out of these people who abuse the countryside in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, I hope that the Government will lose no opportunity of doing so.

11.4 p.m.

Sir Gerald Nabarro (Worcestershire, South)

I seek clarification of the enactments amended as set out in the Schedule, namely, of Sections 7 and 13. Section 7 is said to relate to a Licence to kill game taken out on behalf of a servant acting as a gamekeeper. The old fee is said to have been £2. The new fee is required to be £4. Section 13 is said to relate to a Licence to sell game to a licensed dealer. The old fee is said to have been £3. The new fee is to be £6. These are proposed amendments to Section 2 of the Game Licences Act. 1860.

The authority outside the Treasury on matters of this kind is the Gamekeepers' Association of Great Britain. The Association may be expected to know the law—better than the Treasury officials, I have no doubt. The Association has been at it for a very long while. It has advised me that the Treasury has doubled the fees for licences which do not exist anyway under Sections 7 and 13. Before we approve the Order, the Treasury should clarify the words in the Statutory Instrument, for it seems to the Association that the Treasury is seeking arbitrarily to double a revenue which has never existed in the past, anyway.

11.6 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Harold Lever)

I fear that my reply will inevitably cause a good deal of disappointment. Feelings are clearly running high on the Order, especially in relation to the merits or demerits of hunting, game pleasures and sporting activities in the Highlands. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) that he, on the one side, sees a profound philosophical difference between those who enjoy a little pleasant recreation in shooting game for the pot and those who, according to my hon. Friend, less worthily shoot game, not for the pot, but to enjoy themselves. I take the distinction and am sure that it has a certain validity, though I am not altogether certain that the birds affected would see the nicer distinction as between the particular objectives of those pursuing the game.

The Revenue is not the authority on game. The Revenue is the authority on revenue. My object tonight is simply to increase by a modest amount the sums of revenue that are to be brought in by these various licences. I regret that in the course of this I am not equipped, nor, according to my interpretation of your Ruling Mr. Deputy Speaker, would I be in order in doing so, to engage in the encyclopaedic imparting of information irrelevant to the purposes of the Order. I will, however, deal with those points raised that come within the purview of an Order to increase the rates of duty charged.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

The Financial Secretary does not seem to be leading up to answering the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro). Is he merely increasing a licence fee, or is he instituting two new licences, as has been asserted quite categorically? We have merely asked for clarification. We want a categorical reply. Have the two licences mentioned by my hon. Friend been in existence? If they have not, it is not a matter of increasing the fee, which is the only job the Treasury has to do, but of instituting new licences.

Mr. Lever

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me patiently, I will deal with that point, because we are not instituting any new licence fees. All we are doing is increasing existing licence fees. It will be open to the Gamekeepers' Association in this very democratic country, if it thinks that certain activities do not require a licence or that the licences referred to in the Order have no validity, to assert its view of the law. In case the Association asserts its view wrongly, there is a penalty which is quite modest in relation to a licence fee of £6. I will leave it to the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) to work out the odds as to whether it would be worthwhile in any particular case to challenge the matter.

All that I am doing tonight is to ask the House to sanction an increase in a number of fees. I am sorry to disappoint hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am not engaged on a moral purpose, unless the House feels, as we do, that the raising of revenue is, for its own sake, a moral purpose. Hon. Members seem to be in some confusion on this. They seem to suppose that we are only morally entitled to collect revenue from game licences if we devote it to the improvement of game. On that sort of proposition, we should tax lawyers not mainly to sustain the Revenue but to found colleges in which we could illumine the pages of our English law with new research, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, not to add anything to the Exchequer, but to enlarge theological knowledge in new and more modern seminaries. I could go through the list of revenue-raising activities in which, unhappily, no such thought has yet crossed the Revenue's mind, nor has any such purpose yet been magnetic enough to attract the Revenue's money.

All these licences have been increased because we think that it is useful to do so for a revenue-raising purpose. If it is any consolation to the hon. Member for Gainsborough, I do not find it unwelcome when the Revenue is engaged on its revenue-raising purposes if, as by a side wind, we educate, rehabilitate, constrict usefully, and encourage to good behaviour any of the citizens affected by the licences. This is not a regrettable matter but a source of satisfaction to us.

I noticed that the hon. Member for Gainsborough is in a sea of turbulence among his colleagues, and I have every sympathy with him. They seem determined to implant the obsolete grouse moor image on the Tory Party by seeking to annul the Order, but the hon. Gentleman, in a wise speech, sought to draw the attention of the House in a reasonable and moderate way to the consequences of the Treasury's revenue-raising activity, and he did not put his case unfairly.

Sir G. Nabarro

The hon. Gentleman must not try to implant on me a grouse moor image. There are no grouse moors in South Worcestershire, but there are thousands of hard-working farmers and farm workers who enjoy a day's rough shooting—not shooting vermin, but shooting game, and it is on their behalf that this plea is being made tonight. Because the hon. Gentleman has not got a blade of green grass in his Manchester constituency, he need not suppose that enjoyment and recreation are confined to greyhound racing tracks. It also comprises rough shooting, which is the prerogative and pleasure of thousands of my constituents who are now being called upon to pay this onerous additional impost.

Mr. Lever

The hon. Gentleman speaks with passion of rough shooting and the Treasury's obstacle in the way of its continuance by the modest increase in duty we propose. What should be noticed is that this duty was first imposed in 1860 at £3. It is now being doubled. All I can say to the hon. Gentleman who waxes so eloquent at Treasury oppression in this regard is that most citizens would be very delighted if every other revenue we raised had merely increased in that proportion in the century and eight years that have passed since then.

It has been suggested that some dusty official has taken this from an ancient pigeon-hole, or some ancient official from a dusty pigeon-hole—I am not quite sure which—and that that is why we have brought it before the House tonight. But this is just part of the normal service my Department gives to the country. From time to time it reviews those licence fees which the citizens are asked to pay in order to contribute to the Exchequer, and increases them moderately and properly after due consideration.

I have dealt with the gaming licences. If hon. Members will keep a sense of proportion on this they will see that doubling licences every century should not unduly oppress the people whom they are keen to represent.

Mr. Farr

The hon. Gentleman said that he had dealt with "gaming" licences. But the House is in rather a quandary. Will he spell out for us game as covered by the Order? It is essential that we know which categories of game are covered, and whether or not they are the categories in the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948.

Mr. Lever

The hon. Gentleman is pressing me to challenge your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not here to define game, other than to say that these are the game covered by the game licences mentioned in the 1860 Act. That Act charged a game licence fee of £3. On behalf of the Treasury I am not responsible for defining game. I am, however, responsible for defining the amount of licence fee which shall be charged for game licences in respect of game as defined in the 1860 Act.

If the hon. Gentleman—I do not say this in any sense of discourtesy—has any curiosity to investigate this matter further, he can write to me on the subject, or, more directly, to the Home Secretary—because I would only have to pass his communication on to my right hon. Friend who is the person responsible for defining game for the purpose of these licences. I am the relevant Minister only for defining the amount of money that has to be paid for the licence. It is not through any lack of good will or lack of erudition in the areas which I represent, but I cannot help the hon. Gentleman with a comprehensive definition of the Order the sole purpose of which is to increase the licence fee in respect of game as defined in the 1860 Act.

The House might be interested in other licences which have been mentioned, by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), for example. It is true that pawnbroking is a declining trade, but there are other declining trades which also contribute to the Revenue. Here again, the fees have not been increased for a long time and, even as increased, they are very much below what the proportionate fee originally was. On the basis of the value of money, we would have been entirely justified in increasing the licence fee fivefold. Instead we have only doubled it. We have taken into account the point made by the hon. Member that pawnbroking is a perfectly valid activity. I dare say there are views on both sides of the House about all these activities. I am not here tonight to urge the merits of pawnbroking, moneylending or game shooting, or to attack any of these interesting occupations and recreations. I am here solely to urge upon the House that we authorise the modest increases in the charges made.

Mr. Graham Page

The hon. Gentleman is putting forward the argument that the Revenue is never used for discouraging or encouraging a trade, that it is merely used for revenue purposes. He is not prepared to give any consideration to the state of the trade for which he is doubling the licence fee. Surely he cannot so disregard the purpose of the revenue as to say that it does not matter to him at all how this increase will fall upon the payer of the revenue but that what matters is the change in the value of money over a century.

Mr. Lever

I said the very opposite. In the case of the game licences we have the suggestion that we should hypothecate the revenue to some nature conservation activity of an agreeable character. In this case we are not asked to take that into account. What I am invited to do is to have regard to the declining nature of the trade. As I have told the House, and particularly the hon. Member for Crosby who raised the matter, the Treasury is not unsympathetic to the point of view that he put forward and which he reiterated a moment ago, that this is not a trade which is particularly flourishing. Instead of multiplying the licence fee fivefold, which we might reasonably have done, we have merely doubled it. If we had multiplied it fivefold, we would have been rasing it in effective terms to its value as it originated in the Pawnbrokers Act, 1872. But we have had regard to the difficulties of the trade by merely doubling the licence.

On the other hand, the moneylender's trade has by no means declined. There, we are proposing to increase the fee from £15 to £50. Thus, the House can see the sympathetic consideration which we are giving to the pawnbrokers by keeping the licence increase down, whereas, for the moneylender's trade which, some hon. Members may regret or deplore, does not appear to be dwindling, we are increasing the licence fee from £15 to £50.

I know that it is difficult to write a love poem around the raising of revenue without any of the attractive ancillary objectives suggested by hon. Members. On the other hand, revenue has to be raised and this seems a harmless way of raising a reasonable amount of income. The Treasury is expressing no views hostile to people who shoot or do not shoot. We are just hostile to people who should have licences but do not have them. We are friendly to the proposition that it is time, after a century, to revise the rates of certain licences and that, in other cases, after a lapse of time of less than a century, some modest increase in other licence rates is justified.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

The hon. Gentleman has not been able to answer many of our questions. Surely there is a case for reviewing the whole question of these licences. While this is done, could not he withdraw the Order? He would not lose much revenue.

Mr. Lever

It is quite a useful amount of revenue, all of which goes to the local authorities both in Scotland and in England and Wales, and none to the Treasury directly. I may perhaps have given the impression that I was interested less altruistically because this money goes to the local authorities and not to the Government, but we have an interest in the local authorities having this revenue. It seems a harmless revenue. We are not discussing the whole merits of licensing but bringing the rates up to date. If hon. Members want the whole question discussed and thought about, that is not beyond; possibility. But it would be a striking departure from Treasury policy if, when an hon. Member thought there was a case for looking at something on which licence duty falls, we were, while considering the matter, to suspend the collection of the licence duties.

Sir G. Nabarro

That is not fair.

Mr. Lever

In this case, we are increasing the rate of licence duties—and I hope that I have justified it—having regard to what is involved. In the light of that, we think it right to increase one rate from £15 to £50 and to double the rate in another.

Sir G. Nabarro

In a consolidating Measure of this kind, involving substantial changes of principle as well as amount, and having regard to the fact that we are debating this only 14 days before the Budget, would it not be sensible to withdraw the Order and put the whole of the Amendments and this consolidation Measure into an appropriate Clause in the Finance Bill, which is where it belongs, and not muck about piecemeal with Statutes 108 years old?

Mr. Lever

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. This does not belong in the Finance Bill but in a Statutory Order. This is not because I say so but because Parliament has decreed that the regulation of these licences should be by the Treasury and by Statutory Order, and that is what is being done, with the co-operation and assistance of hon. Members.

Mr. Graham Page

But had this been included in the Finance Bill, the House would have been informed of the amounts expected to be recovered in revenue. Can the hon. Gentleman tell us the total he expects to recover from increasing pawnbrokers' licences? It must be a miserable amount and it is a miserable charge on the pawnbrokers.

Mr. Lever

We do not regard any of these sums as miserable. The amount may seem modest to the hon. Gentleman but the money goes to local authorities, which find it useful. Game licences will produce a gross revenue of about £170,000 this year. We expect that, when the rates are increased, those who have taken out licences before will take them out in future as well. We expect to receive £340,000 next year. We may be wrong and hon. Members may be proved right and a sudden outbreak of irresistible lawlessness will occur at the thought of paying twice the rate arranged in 1860. It may be that hon. Members will be proved right and the Treasury proved wrong.

The Treasury view is that in each of these cases we will, without damage to the Revenue, increase the amount which we get in. We think that pawnbrokers can afford to pay double. We think that people who want game licences can afford to pay double and will, and we think that moneylenders can afford to pay approximately 3½ times as much and we think that they will.

We think that we will get useful sums from it, although I should not like to make estimates in each case. Considerable sums are involved in toto and it goes to local authorities. Hon. Members will realise, on reflection, that these rates must be brought up to date and the product of these useful rates goes where hon. Members would want it to go.

11.27 p.m.

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

The House has been cheated or, if not cheated, treated with contempt. It is clear what has been done. The Government have put up their most charming Member. He has a charm and a flare with which he carries the House. He says that he is not interested in the merits of the case and that he knows nothing about it. He said that all he could do as the representative of the Treasury was to say that they wanted double the money.

I see that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture has anticipated what I was going to say. Why could not one of the Departments concerned have answered the questions put by my hon. Friends? No rule is laid down which precludes another Department giving an explanation before the representative of the Treasury makes the winding-up speech.

There have been technical questions, and no one knows more about Finance Bills than my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro).

Sir G. Nabarro

Or poaching.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

He certainly would not fit the uniform of a gamekeeper.

There is a serious point. When we have an Order like this we should have an explanation of the thinking behind it. I defy the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to produce any other Order brought to the House in the last 10 years on which the Explanatory Note has been as sparse as this one is. If we are not to have an Explanatory Note to the Order surely we should have some sort of explanation from a Minister. We now have present a representative of the Ministry of Agriculture. Why cannot he answer some of the questions my hon. Friends have put about game licences?

The Financial Secretary, with all his normal persuasive and charming flair, has come with an Order which will affect many people and said that the only explanation for it is that the Treasury thinks the time has come to double the charge. This is not treating the House

properly, and the solution is the one put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South. If this provision had been contained in a Finance Bill it would have been debated and explained by representatives of the Departments concerned and Parliament would have been able to do its job of making certain that an impost placed on taxpayers was justified.

This is almost a case where we must claim the protection of the Chair. We are in your hands, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have not been told why the increase is being made, but we are told that it is going to cost the taxpayers many thousands of pounds. I ask the Financial Secretary to think again.

Mr. Harold Lever

With permission perhaps I may speak again. It seems that hon. Members have not understood. The reason we have given is that, through the effluxion of time, all these licences have got out of date having regard to the date when they were originally fixed. These increases have all been agreed with the local authority associations all of whom welcome the increased revenue that they will get. I ask the House not to make heavy weather of this increase in revenue. It has been agreed to be useful by the local authority associations.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 17, Noes 68.

Division No. 84.] AYES [11.30 p.m.
Boardman, Tom Eyre, Reginald Russell, Sir Ronald
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Grant-Ferris, R. Scott-Hopkins, James
Carlisle, Mark Hill, J. E. B. Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Chichester-Clark, R. Kimball, Marcus
Cooke, Robert King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Corfield, F. V. Nicholls, Sir Harmar Sir Gerald Nabarro and
Currie, G. B. H. Page, Graham (Crosby) Mr. John Farr.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Kerr, Russell (Feltham)
Alldritt, Walter Edwards, William (Merioneth) Leadbitter, Ted
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Ellis, John Lever, Harold (Cheetham)
Bishop, E. S. Faulds, Andrew Loughlin, Charles
Booth, Albert Fernyhough, E. Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) McBride, Neil
Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury) Grey, Charles (Durham) McCann, John
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) MacColl, James
Carmichael, Neil Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Mackie, John
Coleman, Donald Hannan, William Maclennan, Robert
Conlan, Bernard Hill, J. E. B. McNamara, J. Kevin
Crawshaw, Richard Howell, Denis (Small Heath) MacPherson, Malcolm
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Howie, W. Manuel, Archie
Dalyell, Tam Huckfield, Leslie Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Hunter, Adam Newens, Stan
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Norwood, Christopher
Diamond, Rt. Hn. John Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Oakes, Gordon
Dickens, James Judd, Frank Ogden, Eric
O'Malley, Brian Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford) Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Oswald, Thomas Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich) Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Page, Derek (King's Lynn) Urwin, T. W.
Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.) Varley, Eric G. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.) Walker, Harold (Doncaster) Mr. Joseph Harper and
Ryan, John Whitaker, Ben Mr. Walter Harrison.