§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
This is a very different Clause from the previous one. We have just been discussing a tax on entertainment. This duty of £80 is a tax on education, and I hope I may be able to persuade my right hon. Friend to accept the Clause. 1648 It is completely non-controversial in the sense that no one who has looked into the matter has ever been able to conceive any rational reason why this duty should stand. It is inequitable because it imposes a penalty, and a very heavy penalty, on a youth who desires to enter one of the learned professions. Finally, it is a duty which my right hon. Friend could give up on either or both of those grounds without involving himself in a loss of revenue which he might feel compelled to make up elsewhere. I am not sure what the figures are, but, on the basis that 500 clerks are articled every year, the total sum involved is £40,000.
1649 How does the duty work? The Stamp Act provides that a boy who enters into articles of clerkship with a solicitor, with the ultimate intention of practising as a solicitor and being admitted on the roll, has to pay a duty of £80 to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the privilege of being educated as a solicitor. I have heard it justified on the ground that you ought not to have too many entrants into the profession. I have heard other trade unionists argue that, and, therefore, I make no apology for my profession having thought that there ought not to be too many entrants into it. But whether or not there ought to be a limit or a tax on the entrance to the profession, surely no one in this Committee can think of a more inequitable method of selection than the question, "Have you got £80 which you can afford to give to the Chancellor of the Exchequer?" It is wholly unreasonable.
I have heard it asked, "Why bother about £80 the you pay the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in view of other expenditure, particularly the high premium you pay to the solicitor to whom you are articled?" I think on the whole that premiums in the profession are too high, and justification on the ground that would limit the entrants to the profession is every bit as bad as ground for retaining the £80. The profession ought to make great effort to reduce premiums, and to return, at any rate, a portion over a period of five years in return for services rendered. There is this to be said in distinction, however. The solicitor who takes the premium does do something for the money—
§ Mr. Silverman
—whereas the Chancellor does not. I think the solicitor does do something, and I am not sure that the solicitor who allows the clerk free use of his office is not doing a good turn to the clerk. What I think is completely outrageous is the idea that if a man or his father pays £80, somehow or other a high standard of probity and integrity can be produced in the profession. What I cannot understand is how the fact that the father paid £80 to the Chancellor of the Exchequer when one was 18 affects one's professional conduct 20 or 30 years later. Arguments in favour of the duty seem to me to be wholly artificial and 1650 completely non-maintainable. The duty itself seems to be inequitable, anti-social, against public policy, and certainly against public policy in these times. The learned professions ought to be equally accessible to boys and girls without great means, as they are to people with great means. Anything this Government can do to liberalise the learned professions in that way will be a step—perhaps only a small one—in the right direction.
§ Mr. Rees-Williams
I wish to support the contention made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). This impost has always seemed to me to be entirely reactionary. It was imposed, I take it, because in the old days people wanted to keep the profession select, and to keep it for a certain narrow class of the community, and not to throw it open to the best brains in the community as a whole. I cannot think of any other reason for the duty because, as has been so lucidly explained by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne, the amount which can accrue to the Exchequer in any year must be very small indeed.
There is another objection to this duty and that is that it stands in the way of the rationalisation of the legal professions of this country. Ours is the only country in the world still maintaining two legal professions, quite separate, with different types of legal education, and with very little connection between them until they come to the fee basis. I hope that in the course of time there will he one profession, at all events right up to the final examination, as is the case in practically every country in the world, and that boys and girls who go into this one profession will take the same examinations right up to the final stage. These boys and girls who go into the profession must have the best brains in the country among them. As we have seen, in so many cases those with the best brains have not always the best lined pockets. Therefore, we must take away from the initial fence this added bar of monetary impost. The case against this duty is so self-evident to hon. Members that it would be a waste of time to say much more about it, and, therefore, I merely commend the new Clause to the Committee.
§ Mr. Dalton
I do not know why this proposal has not been made before. I 1651 have not searched all the previous records, but, speaking from memory, I do not remember having heard of it, and I have sat through a number of finance Debates on both sides of the House. This year we are increasing the Stamp Duty on a number of transactions. I have conceived the case for that increase to be that a number of transactions in sales of stocks and shares and landed property, and so on, were, in our financial situation, a suitable field in which to collect a little more money. But this, although it falls within the field of Stamp Duty, is a quite different kind of tax, and is, as my hon. Friends have said, one which operates to hinder people with ability but with not over-much wealth, entering this particular branch of the legal profession. Not only am I surprised that this proposal has not been made before, but that other similar cases have not also been taken up by hon. Members, including those who represent the other branch of the legal profession.
The issue before us is a very simple one. It is a proposal that this duty of £80 on articles of clerkship under the Solicitors Acts should be repealed. I think it is in line with educational ideas today that we should achieve equality of opportunity based on ability, rather than inequality of opportunity based on wealth in the activities of the learned professions. Had other new Clauses been put down—and there are other such cases—on comparable imposts, I would have looked at them with a sympathetic eye. I am convinced by the case which has been made that there should be a change in this regard. Perhaps a sheer and straightforward repeal might lead to anomalies. Probably the way to handle this would be to assimilate this charge to the charges now made on other instruments of apprenticeship; that is to say, there should be a rate of half a crown, which would keep it in line with other cases. Although there is nothing on the Order Paper today regarding comparable imposts, I would take the same line if those were hereafter brought forward. I do not think it is my duty to encourage hon. Members to bring these things forward, but those speaking for the solicitors are entitled to pride in their initiative. If my hon. Friends will not press this particular form of words to a Division, I should be very happy to put down 1652 a new Clause on Report which will give effect to what is desired, and which will repeal this charge, and substitute there-for a charge of 2s. 6d., as in other forms of apprenticeship.
§ Mr. Stanley
I am sure that everyone in the Committee welcomes the decision which the Chancellor has reached in regard to this duty. Indeed, I thought the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) made out an overwhelming case against it. I was a little shaken by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. Rees-Williams) because he put it wholly on the basis that this would lead to a combination of the two branches of the profession. I noticed a shudder go through the hon. and learned Gentleman who sits on the hon. Member's right. I rise, therefore, not to question the decision which the Chancellor has taken on this new Clause, but to question very strongly his attitude to what he calls the comparable case. The Chancellor is approaching this matter as if it were a game, it might be "Kiss-in-the-ring," or whatever you like, and because the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne has been so agile and so quick, he is to get the prize.
But questions of taxation are not a gamble. It is true that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne has—and we give him all the credit—exposed one hardship that occurs. In the course of examining that hardship, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has come across other comparable ones. [Interruption.] He said so. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne thinks I am wrong, but for the moment I must reluctantly accept the authority of the Chancellor that there is at least a prima facie case. If the right hon. Gentleman has come across a comparable hardship, it is his duty, at a later stage, to put down an Amendment to rectify it. It is not good enough to say, "I know there are hardships; try to guess them, and if you can do so by the time we reach the Report stage I will see what I can do. You cannot get the first prize—my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne has already got that—but you might get the consolation prize." I do not think that is the way to approach this subject, and I am sure that, on reflection, the right hon. Gentleman will feel the same. He cannot depend upon there being a representative of a particular profession in the House, and he cannot—and 1653 it is not right that he should—depend on that particular representative taking up the particular point. If the right hon. Gentleman has in his mind comparable hardships to this one, I submit that it is his duty, on Report stage, because he is to put down something on Report stage to meet the point which is now before us, to remedy these comparable hardships, as he is, in this case, remedying one which has already been brought to his attention. Frankly, I think it will be enough satisfaction for the junior branch of the legal profession to have got ahead of the senior branch, apparently, in doing something which will redound to their financial advantage, without emphasising that moral superiority by imposing a further financial penalty on the senior branch of the profession.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I do not quite know who the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) had in mind when he referred to the junior branch of the profession. Certainly, it could not have been mine, because mine is the older of the two. Nor do I think I ought to allow to go without challenge any suggestion that there is any financial advantage to any solicitor in the new Clause I have moved. I wish there were. Nothing would please me better than to get my £80 back, but I think that is unlikely, and I am not optimistic enough to ask the Chancellor to do that. I would like to say a word about comparable cases, and to assure the Committee that I was not seeking, in this new Clause, to make a small or partisan case in any way. If there are cases analogous to this, neither I nor any of my hon Friends would think they ought to be excluded because we happened to think of it first.
In fact, with deference to my right hon. Friend, I do not think there are corn-parable cases. This is not the case of a duty paid on admission to a profession. We pay that anyhow at the end of the five years. At the end of the examinations we still pay to the Chancellor £25 for admission to the profession, and thereafter we pay to the him a Stamp Duty of, I think, £7 a year for our practising certificate. I have made no suggestion about any of these. Are there comparable cases in other professions? I know of no other profession except that of a solicitor where, as a condition of entry—not to the 1654 profession itself, but the right to study in order to become, at a later stage, a member of the profession—one has to pay, not merely a nominal fee, such as the apprentice does for his articles of apprenticeship—of 2s. 6d., but £80. If there are comparable cases, my right hon. Friend might well consider whether he should not include them. As I say, I do not know of any comparable cases. I want to say a word of great gratitude to my right hon. Friend for having met us on this point. We are really very grateful. In view of what he has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Mr. C. Williams
No. I object to the habit which has grown up on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite to seek to deprive hon. Members on this side of the Committee, who occasionally wish to speak on a subject, from doing so. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) gets up and asks leave to withdraw the new Clause before I have had a chance of congratulating him on his victory over the Chancellor. It would have been most untimely if I had not done so. Today, at any rate, he is getting his own way. I would also like, very respectfully, to support what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley). This is really a most extraordinary position—the Chancellor saying that no one has ever thought of this particular anomaly, and That if someone else connected with the legal profession finds some similar anomaly, then he will think of it, possibly in a friendly way, on the Report stage. Apparently, as my right hon. Friend said, the Chancellor knows what those anomalies are. Frankly I am not surprised, because I have never suspected the right hon. Gentleman of being one of those people who, when he knows that things are going on which, by accepting the principle of this new Clause, he admits are wrong, will necessarily go out of his way to get it put right. I am not surprised that that is the position.
If there is any crying injustice in a matter of this kind, if a sum of this sort is being paid, as I believe is the case, and if the Chancellor knows of it, he should not leave it to the private Member to hunt it down. When he has got as far as that in his knowledge, he should put down, on the Report stage, a compre- 1655 hensive Clause which deals with the whole matter, and clean it up. The only reason I was a little doubtful about the Clause was because the Chancellor has been so busy warning us that he could not make this or that concession, in one instance a concession so small that it was not even worth estimating. Yet the right hon. Gentleman, in accepting this, said there might be something like £40,000 a year involved in the surrender of taxation, and he referred to other instances which might amount to a considerable sum. It shakes my belief in the Chancellor, when he gets up from time to time and says he cannot afford these other reliefs which, for all I know, may be very much smaller in their cost. In my last words I would like to say that I believe I have found a solution. Although the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not a very kind man, he has a very soft heart with solicitors.
§ Mr. S. Silverman rose—
§ Mr. Silverman
On a point of Order. We are in Committee. I think it would be in Order to speak again, and if I speak again I shall ask leave to withdraw the new Clause.
§ Mr. Dalton
Perhaps we could save time if withdrawal is not admitted. I would suggest that the question could be put and negatived.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
Was the Chancellor just teasing the Committee when he seemed to imply that he knew of other crying injustices?
§ Mr. Nicholson
I have a very high opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I believe that he would willingly correct his statement if it was wrong. His iron manner hides an upright heart. Does he know of any other cases? I challenge him to tell us.
§ Mr. Dalton
It would be out of Order if I went too far. What we are now discussing is a proposal put down by the 1656 hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). The purpose of our Committee discussion surely is that hon. Members in all parts of the Committee should make proposals to the Government. The Government make their initial proposals in the Finance Bill, and the purpose of the Committee stage is for hon. Members to make proposals to the Government. Some are accepted; some are not. It is not the function of the Government in the course of the Committee stage to think up a new Clause supplementing this proposal.
§ Mr. Nicholson
Why did the right hon. Gentleman dangle these hypothetical cases under our very noses? The Chancellor introduced the subject and he should tell the Committe whether or not he was pulling our legs.
§ Mr. Stanley
I must protest against the last defence of the Chancellor. I do not think that he really means it. If nobody got up and said that it was nonsense, it might go on record as his considered view. Of course, he knows perfectly well that the Committe stage is used both by back bench Members for putting ideas before the Government, and for the Government on their own initiative to correct something which they wish to correct. If hon. Members look through our proceedings for last week, they will find several instances where the Government, of their own initiative, put down Amendments to correct something which occurred to them between the drafting of the Bill and the Committee stage. In this case, the right hon. Gentleman in accepting, rightly, the hon. Gentleman's new Clause, went out of his way to tell the Committee that there were other comparable cases, and he could not think why people had not put down Amendments dealing with them before. He went on to hint at one of them in regard to the profession of barrister. I imagine that there will be a rush as soon as the Committee stage is over of banisters anxious to put something down. He said that if somebody put them on the Order Paper by the Report stage he would be prepared to meet them. I submit that that is all wrong.
If the right hon. Gentleman knows of a case he ought not to leave it as a sort of test to the Members of the Committee to see whether they think of it also. If somebody thinks of it, then the profes- 1657 sion, who may not be well represented in the Committee, will get the benefit of it. If nobody thinks of it, then it is too bad. But it will not be hon. Members who have not thought of it who will suffer; it will be the profession which the right hon. Gentleman has in his mind, but about which nobody else has thought. I beg him not to treat the Committee in that way. If he really has—and I do not think he would have mentioned it if he has not—any comparable hardship, he should take the initiative himself on Report stage to clean up the whole of the matter. When he brings in a new form of this Clause he will also give hon. Members an opportunity of dealing with the other cases he has in mind.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen)
I would agree with the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) if I thought the Chancellor really had something in mind comparable to the new Clause which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman).
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
I do not think that he has. I heard him say that he had, but I think he was making a mistake or probably it was a joke. Whether or not it was a joke. I cannot think of anything comparable to this tax now imposed upon o young man entering the solicitors' profession. As far as I know, there is no tax comparable to it in connection with the senior part of the profession. In spite of what the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne said, it is the senior branch. There is a tax at a later stage on admission to the profession of barrister and there is a similar tax upon admission to the solicitors' profession but, as far as I know, there is not a tax upon the initial stage when a man wants to enter as an articled clerk. I think the Chancellor was making a mistake about that. If the Chancellor did know of a similar position, I agree with the appeal which was made. The matter ought not to be left to chance. If there is such a case, clearly it is the duty of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to put down an Amendment upon Report stage.
§ Mr. Dalton
Perhaps we may clear the matter up. I am doubtful if am in Order, but if the Chairman will allow me, I would say that possibly "comparable" 1658 was not the word which conveyed my meaning. There is nothing strictly comparable in that this charge, the removal of which I am prepared to agree to, is at the earlier stage prior to entry into the profession. It is an apprenticeship, as I said. I do not want to split hairs. What I had in mind when I used the word "comparable" was that there are certain other charges which may be compared with this in that they are also, in some degree, levies, as the hon. Gentleman said, upon entry into the learned profession. This is at the earliest stage, prior to entry in order to be qualified to enter. There are certain other charges which are levied—I have them before me here—
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
If the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne put down an additional new Clause not merely to deal with entry as an articled clerk, but to abolish the duty upon entry into the profession, where there was a comparable case between the solicitor and the barrister, would the right hon. Gentleman be prepared to consider that?
§ Mr. Dalton
That is hypothetical. I am considering the new Clause which is on the Order Paper. When I said that there were others that were comparable, what I had in mind was that there were others of the same character in so far as in the solicitors' profession, at a later stage, there is an entry fee, into the barristers' profession there is an entry fee, and so on. There are one or two others of lesser importance. There is a charge also for notaries public in England and Scotland, and others not quite in the same field but again, in a very loose sense, comparable. There is a fee charged when doctors become fellows of the College of Physicians. These are all obstacles for entry into certain learned professions and, as such, some part of the argument employed this afternoon may be employed there, though not with the same force as when applied to this new Clause.
I am sorry that the use of the word "comparable" has, perhaps, resulted in some misunderstanding and extension of our discussion. I do not think myself that there is any other case so strong. Therefore, I do not feel it part of my duty because my hon. Friend has put this down, to go one further and put down others. I do not say that I would pass them on some later occasion. I do not put them in at all a high priority. If they were to get 1659 high priority, and here I repeat what I said before, I am quite sure that persons with the knowledge of the professions concerned would have taken the initiative and have put them down.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley
All I have to say to that is that we shall accept the invitation of the right hon. Gentleman and we shall put down all these Amendments on the Report stage.
§ Mr. Stanley
I understood, from what the right hon. Gentleman said, that if anybody put them down, he will accept them. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, I shall ask hon. Gentlemen to read it in HANSARD tomorrow, and I am sure that the words reported in HANSARD will be the words spoken by the Chancellor. If these cases are quite comparable, and the Amendments are put down and the Chancellor is not going to accept them, I do not see why he ever introduced them into the discussion at all. Certainly, my impression was that he introduced them because he said they were comparable cases, concerning which, if the Amendments were put down, he would be willing to accept them. We shall certainly take him at his word and put down these Amendments.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, West)
if it be true that the Chancellor has been mistaken about this matter, I am quite certain that the Opposition are very much more mistaken in the policy they are now pursuing. It is an astonishing claim that it is the business of the Chancellor to initiate questions involving the use of public money in this or any other way. It is the business of the Chancellor, as indeed of all treasurers where funds are concerned, to be extremely careful in the way they are handled, and, while it may be perfectly justifiable, as a matter of theory to say, as the Chancellor has said, that there are cases here and there to consider remission of taxation, it is not the business of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Finance Bill to initiate proposals for making further remissions of taxation. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) made out a case, and there ought to be some hon. Members who are sufficiently clear about the Committee stage who can, if there are 1660 other matters where further remissions could be made, come forward and propose them in a similar sort of way. I think the Chancellor is right in resisting, at this stage, at any rate, any further incursions in the direction which the Opposition are now trying to impose upon him, and I am surprised that the Opposition are trying to make a new financial rule placing upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer the duty of remedying all possible theoretical injustices in financial arrangements in the way that they are now suggesting. I am quite certain that the Chancellor is right in refusing any further concessions.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
It seems to me to be rather a pity that what looked like being a very happy party should be spoiled by a somewhat—I hope I say it without offence—grudging and ungracious response from the Opposition to a proposal which, after all, has been accepted by my right hon. Friend. The fact that the Chancellor did refer to cases which might be covered in part by the principle of this new Clause, although not completely comparable in other ways, might justify hon. Members in asking whether there are any other cases into which they might like to make an investigation among themselves. After all, this particular one, and indeed all the others, whether comparable or not, have been in existence for a very long time, and, if it is really true, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite said, that the Chancellor ought to look round and find injustices of this kind and cure them without the initiative of hon. Members in this Committee, then there have been a long line of Chancellors of the Exchequer before my right hon. Friend who omitted to perform that duty.
§ Mr. Stanley
If I might interrupt the hon. Gentleman, may I say that that was not the point at all? The whole point is that the Chancellor has said that he has not got to look round, because he knows these particular hardships exist, and that if we find, in these circumstances, cases in which such hardships do exist, he is prepared to remove them. It ought not to depend upon the chance of some hon. Member hitting upon that case and putting down the right Amendment.
§ Mr. Silverman
Since everybody in the Committee, on both sides, is completely satisfied that this particular injustice ought 1661 to be put right, and since the Chancellor of the Exchequer is prepared to put it right, one might have thought that all we need say was, "Thank you very much," and leave the position where it is, so that, if there are other matters to be considered we could consider them when they are taken. I cannot myself see a distinction in principle between a moderate duty paid on entering a profession, or a moderate annual charge to enable one to continue to practise, and a tax on apprenticeships. May I now ask leave to withdraw the new Clause?
§ Mr. Nicholson
On a point of Order. I would not presume to teach you your business, Mr. Beaumont, because you know it much better than I do, but is it not the practice that, when leave to withdraw has been once refused by the Committee it cannot be asked for again?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The hon. Gentleman is in error. The leave is given or refused not upon the question but by the Chair taking the feeling and pleasure of the Committee. The Committee did not refuse leave to the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the new Clause. That would not be done until the question is put, and that question has not yet been put. Then, leave can be refused, but I have not yet put that question.
§ Mr. I. J. Pitman (Bath)
It seems to me that we have here two principles—the principle of the taxation of education and the principle of the taxation of vocation, and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and the hon. and learned Member for. Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris) were perfectly right in saying that there was nothing strictly comparable in the taxation of education with the apprenticeship form of education. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said two things. First, that he agrees that, in cases of this kind, in which there is taxation of education, it should, as in the case of solicitors, be abolished. He has also said that, as far as he knows, there are other cases of that kind, and he extends it to the case of taxation of vocation. In other words, people should be free to enter a vocation on merit and ability and not on the amount of money they may put up. The right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) has said that, if that is agreed, the Chancellor should work out the details in doing what 1662 is right in support of that principle. I think the hon. Member for West Ealing (Mr. J. Hudson) has said that it is not the duty of the Chancellor, as keeper of the money bags, to do this himself. I think that the Committee as a whole will agree that, where matters of principle of this kind are agreed, it is the duty of the Government to work out the details and give all taxpayers a square deal all round, so that it is not only one profession that benefits, but all the people in this nation who are entitled to benefit. I appeal to the Chancellor to let the Committee know what are the cases in which he will apply that principle.
§ Mr. C. Williams
We have been admonished, possibly quite rightly, because we ventured our opinion that when the Chancellor knew of an injustice he should put it right, and our attention was drawn to the fact that in Committee it is the Chancellor's duty to look after the public finances. It has also occurred to me that it is part of the duty of the Opposition, when a concession is made, to try to find out what that concession will cost, no matter how good or how bad it is. I have already put that question to the Chancellor, and if he had answered it we should have passed this point a long while ago. If the right hon. Gentleman makes a concession of this kind, which, obviously, he came thoroughly prepared to make, surely he is able to tell us something about the approximate cost to the taxpayer. I will not follow the right hon. Gentleman at any great length into his other arguments, but I would also like to know what will be the cost to the taxpayer of this new Clause. I hope the right hon. Gentleman can give me an answer to one or both of those questions, and after that I hope the Opposition will not be provoked by some other supporter of the Government into making more speeches. Hon. Members opposite always try to do that. I endeavour to resist the temptation, but it is a little hard sometimes.
§ Mr. Dalton
I am sorry I did not state the cost, but in the course of my remarks was led off on to another course. The cost of the new Clause is £100,000 a year.
§ Mr. C. Williams
In other words, it will be much larger than the estimate of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) who, I believe, estimated the cost at £40,000. If we can give this remission to able-bodied people, it seems 1663 very hard if we cannot make any remission in respect of the blind.
§ Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.