HC Deb 27 October 1983 vol 47 cc418-9
9. Ms. Harman

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what proposals he is considering to end discrimination within the tax system against women.

Mr. Hayhoe

This is one of the many issues discussed in the Green Paper on the taxation of husband and wife. The Government are considering these issues in the light of the wide-ranging views expressed in response to the Green Paper.

Ms. Harman

Is it not unfair that, even when a married man and married woman earn the same, the married woman takes home less in her pay packet because she is paying more in tax? Is it not about time that the Government accepted the representations of the Conservative women's organisations, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the TUC to the effect that a much better way of arranging things would be to abolish the married man's tax allowance and instead subsidise families through child benefit.

Mr. Hayhoe

As the hon. Lady knows, it is possible for a husband and wife to elect to be taxed separately, in which case the situation to which she referred would not arise. As I have said, the issues involved are deep and complex. If the married man's allowance were removed, it would considerably reduce the threshold for income tax and increase the problems of the poverty and employment traps. Therefore, there are deep problems and no simple solutions to them.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Has my hon. Friend noted that, even if a husband and wife are taxed separately, if the nature of their occupations necessitates them living in different locations, when they retire and have to sell those locations one or other must pay capital gains tax, which they would not do if they were not married?

Mr. Hayhoe

The taxation system contains many anomalies with regard to the taxation of men and women. That is not in dispute, but it is difficult to find a widely acceptable way of resolving those differences.

Mr. Douglas

It is difficult for me to raise this matter, but will the Minister acknowledge that the tax affairs of Lady Carnegy—who has declared her unwillingness to continue in office as chairman of the MSC in Scotland as a result of disclosures relating to the Inland Revenue in Scotland and elsewhere—are extremely disquieting? Will he explain the way and method by which these disclosures came into the public domain——

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is difficult to relate the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question to the question asked by the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman).

Mr. Douglas

With respect, Mr. Speaker, my hon. Friend's question relates to the tax affairs of women. It is important that the Minister should explain how these affairs, which are "confidential", have come into the public domain, to the gross embarrassment of the Tory party.

Mr. Hayhoe

One thing is perfectly clear—it is wholly outside the traditions and practice of this House for the tax affairs of an individual to be raised in this way at Question Time.

Mr. Nicholls

Is there not a worse form of discrimination against married couples in that an unmarried couple living together can so arrange their affairs that if they accept responsibility for one child each they get both lots of single person's allowance and additional personal allowance as well? Is it not wholly wrong that those living outside wedlock have a better deal in that regard than those living inside wedlock?

Mr. Hayhoe

My hon. Friend draws attention to one of the difficulties of the present system. As I have said, it is easy to draw attention to the difficulties, but the problem is to find a widely acceptable solution to them.