HC Deb 16 May 1978 vol 950 cc258-429

(Clause No. 11; new clauses relating to stamp duty on house purchase, indexation for capital gains tax, deferred payment of duty on whisky or interest on repayments of overpaid tax.)

Considered in Committee. [Progress 10th May.]

[Sir MYER GALPERN in the Chair]

4.10 p.m.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Joel Barnett)

On a point of order, Sir Myer. The Committee will recollect that I was accused by the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) of misleading the Committee in some figures I gave. He said that I had given false figures. I remind the Committee of what was said at the time. It stemmed from the fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had said that Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise staff had grown by 20,000 between 1974 and 1978 and suggested that they could be cut so as to make a considerable saving.

I said on 8th May: Another big item which the Shadow Chancellor put forward for offsetting the tax cuts was a cut in the staff of the Inland Revenue and the Customs and Excise, which, he claimed, had increased by 20,000 since 1974. The increase between 1974 and 1978 was about 13,000, slightly less than the increase between 1970 and 1974, when it was 15,000."—[Official Report, 8th May 1978; Vol. 949, c. 915.] On 10th May the right hon. and learned Gentleman said: I have taken the precaution of checking the figures"— since he had previously spoken— and the actual figures are as follows. On 31st March 1974, the total employed by Customs and Excise and Inland Revenue was 94,800. On the same date in 1970 the total was 86,500. There was an increase during the four years March 1970 to March 1974 of 8,300 in round figures. Almost all of that, just over 7,000, was in Customs and Excise … The increase under this Government from the end of March 1974 to the end of last year has been 20,000."—[Official Report, 10th May 1978; Vol. 949, c. 1194.] Clearly, it would be right for me to apologise to the Committee if I had misled it and if the facts that I had given were incorrect. In fact, the facts that I gave to the Committee were correct, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman once again has his figures wrong. I must ask him to apologise and withdraw the serious accusation that he levelled at me.

In fairness, I should give the Committee the figures. The totals employed by the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise are as follows: 1st April 1970, 87,125; 1st April 1974, 102,152; 1st April 1977, 113,961; 1st April 1978, after adjusting for the effect of the Budget, 115,079. The increase is thus some 15,000 between 1970 and 1974, some 11,800 between 1974 and 1977 and some 12,900 between 1974 and 1978.

The reason for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's error is that he took the permanent figures and ignored short-term appointments. For example, on 1st April 1974 there were 7,303 people in post on short-term appointment in the Inland Revenue. Thus, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman told the Committee that I was wrong and said that the total employed on 31st March 1974 was 94,800, that was untrue. The actual total employed at that date was 102,152. I repeat that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has his figures wrong, and I ask him to withdraw the serious charge that he made against me.

Sir Geoffrey Howe (Surrey, East)

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that information. He will recollect that the figures that I gave in my speech on 10th May, from which he has quoted, were then stated to have been drawn from answers to Questions. The Questions were those answered in relation to Inland Revenue staff on 19th January 1978—this is column 310 of Hansard—and on Customs and Excise staff on 16th January 1978, at column 27 of Hansard. They are a familiar line of inquiry, which has been pursued by hon. Members on both sides over a number of years.

The right hon. Gentleman has not challenged the figures that I gave based on those Written Answers. The Questions were related to permanent staff and, as far as I know, there has been no disclosure in answers or anywhere else of the existence of the temporary staff to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred.

If one takes the inquiry a stage further, as clearly one should, and studies the annual reports of the Board of Inland Revenue—I look at the 119th report for the year ending 31st March 1976 and the 120th report for the year ending 31st March 1977—one sees that in each of those reports there is a chapter, chapter 4 in each case, entitled in 1976 "The Staff" and in 1977 entitled "Staff and Organisation". Those two chapters set out, in 1977, under the heading "Staff Numbers", detailed figures which coincide precisely with the figures given in the parliamentary answers to which I have referred. They refer—I quote from the most recent one, 1977—to the following: Staff Numbers—At 31st March 1977 the Department had 83,885 permanent staff. That is one of the figures I have been quoting— The table below shows the growth of staff numbers for selected years since 1939. We then turn to paragraph 53: The table shows that the 3,600 additional staff this year were needed, as in previous years", and so on. Therefore, throughout these reports the references are to staff and organisation—staff numbers. When the reports talk of the need for "additional staff", without qualification, they give the figures on which I have relied taken from the annual reports, and the figures given by Treasury Ministers in answer to Questions.

If one looks at the most recent report of the Commissioners of Customs and Excise for the year ended 31st March 1977, one finds a much more laconic reference. There is only one reference to the figures there: the number of staff in post on 31st March 1977 was 29,389.

The figures I gave were founded on questions directed, in each case over a number of years, to the number of permanent staff employed by these Departments. But there is nothing anywhere in any of the annual reports of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue to suggest that there is any difference between staff numbers taken in the round and the additional staff appointed this year and the number of permanent staff quoted in those figures. The permanent staff figures are those which I gave to the Committee and are entirely in line with the answers given by Treasury Ministers. For the purposes of the calculation I was giving, they are the relevant figures. They represent the permanent growth in the size of the staff of these Departments as reported to the House in successive parliamentary answers.

Mr. Joel Barnett


Mr. Stan Thome (Preston, South)

On a point of order, Sir Myer—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I confess that I find points of order one of the most difficult aspects of occupying the Chair. One is always told that one cannot say that anything is out of order until the point of order has been heard. But, having heard what I have just listened to from both sides, I think that the whole business is absolutely irregular. It has nothing whatever to do with the Chair. I am here to conduct the Finance Bill and to permit hon. Members to start discussing New Clause No. 1. Therefore, I do not propose to allow any further discussion on the point of order. There are other methods, well known to both sides, by which this matter can be raised. What has happened is irregular. I am therefore calling New Clause No. 1—Sir Geoffrey Howe.

Mr. Joel Barnett

Further to that point of order, Sir Myer. A very serious accusation has been made against me personally as a Minister giving incorrect information to the Committee. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has once again misled the Committee. I ask him to withdraw his accusation. It is quite disgraceful.

Sir. G. Howe


The First Deputy Chairman

Order. We are not going to carry on with this. We are here to discuss the Finance Bill.

Sir G. Howe

Further to that point of order, Sir Myer. I have quoted from the parliamentary answers given to Questions tabled by my hon. Friends. The figures that I quoted are founded on those parliamentary answers and on the figures quoted in the annual reports of the Commissioners of the Board of Inland Revenue, and the only figures quoted in those annual reports.

Mr. Joel Barnett

That is not true.

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. There are many methods whereby this matter can be pursued other than by addressing points of order to the Chair. I want to get on to the business that we have down for consideration.

Mr. Thorne

Further to that point of order, Sir Myer.

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)


The First Deputy Chairman

I am not taking any more points of order. I have indicated that quite clearly. The whole thing is irregular.

Mr. Ridley

I beg to move, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

The First Deputy Chairman

I am not accepting the motion.

  1. New Clause No. 1
    1. cc262-328
    2. INDEXATION OF CAPITAL GAINS TAX 25,956 words, 1 division
  2. New Clause No. 2
    1. cc329-54
  3. New Clause No. 3
    1. cc354-7
    2. REDUCED RATES OF STAMP DUTY ON HOUSE PURCHASE 1,916 words, 1 division
  4. New Clause No. 4
    1. cc357-403
    2. INTEREST ON TAX OVERPAID 17,547 words, 1 division
  5. New Clause No. 5
    1. cc403-29
    2. WHISKY OUT OF BOND 10,337 words, 1 division